Alaska, at lasta!

From Anchorage, AK

(will I ever write fast enough to keep you with me in the moment?)

7-22-2019

Whitehorse, YT

Whitehorse is a major stop in the Yukon Territories. We ‘camped’ nose to tail again (a method that pretty much forces folks to explore the area because the campground is utilitarian and not resort-like at all). Whitehorse is named for the whitecaps that in winter freeze hard in the Yukon River. They are said to look like the manes and tails of white horses rearing and prancing. I’m grateful to have, so far in my life, avoided Whitehorse in the winter. 

Whitehorse is an up and coming area filled with oil and gas workers and service folk providing shopping, restaurants and arts to sourdoughs and visitors alike. The town is small and sports a Canadian Superstore (Super Walmart-ish), Walmart, a wonderful museum and several historic buildings to visit. 

The Yukon River was flowing at a clip that didn’t seem fishable but since we were told that there were fish to be caught, several of us licensed up and hit the river. It was nice wading out in to cast and play in the river. The water wasn’t super cold, chilly but not numbing. We caught no fish, but the time spent was lovely. No photos, sorry, we were all fishing.

Our group visited the SS Klondike Historic Site and learned about the flat bottomed paddle wheelers that plied the Yukon ferrying supplies and resources north and south. It was certainly a perilous trip threading through giant fingers of rock dividing the river with the danger of snags, gravel bars and fire ever present. Photos are better teachers than I, The huge carts of wood would fuel the Klondike for about an hour. Since only so much wood could be carried, the boat had to pull to shore to reload frequently with one man carting the wood down to the boat! This was gold rush time so gold and other minerals were brought downriver for smelting. Each bag of over 110# was handled by individual men eleven times from the mine to the smelter, moving from place to place. Folks worked hard for little pay in those days – most hoping to strike it rich on their own claims. 

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We also visited the MacBride Museum – this new facility is filled with explanations of life for regular folks. There are quite a few dead animals beautifully mounted in one room. Examples of a house, telegraph and radio office, a mining claim, and in the basement is a very nicely displayed history of building the Alcan Hwy. By this time, we’d seen many of the photos and read much of the story at other museums – still I have to share a couple pics with you…

Barb is wearing a buffalo overcoat – it took both of us to lift it off the rack! Those things were HEAVY! Folks were stonier back then as well as being incredibly hard workers.

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There are many places we couldn’t fit in – the Old Log Church Museum, Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center (mammoth fossils) and the Yukon Visitors Center. The old saying that “So much to do – so little time” is certainly true!

Destruction Bay, YT

Next drive was up the road into increasing smoke and haze. Destruction Bay, YT – so named for a storm on the lake that blew in and destroyed an Army Camp building the Alcan Hwy. The owner of our overnight stop is a sourdough who has lived there for years. He moves a bit south in the winter these days but had a great history presentation of the area. Loren is quite a character! Some of us went on a walk past the local curling barn to the lake and enjoyed the beautiful rocks, flowers and birds.

The next leg of our trip earned a red pen notation in my log book: HORRENDOUSLY BAD ROAD! Frost heaves up here resemble canyons and rolling hills! Most of the road has been gravel (we put yoga mats over our car windows to prevent them being smashed by oncoming cars and our own thrown rocks). We’ve slowed down and pulled to the far right side when trucks came barreling toward us and still… Barb and I got a starburst chip in the RV windshield.

Aside

Let me explain something about Adventure Caravan’s travel days. Our guests leave the park within a time frame, we say Wagon Master out at 7 am, Tail Gunner out at 9 am, for instance. Guests leave within that frame of time. Some travel within sight of each other, others alone. Being Tail Gunners, Barb and I are last to leave and putter along taking in sights along the way and often meeting up with the gals on this trail or that milepost. Fireweed is pervasive. I love it’s neighbors and friends.

Some of our puttering along pics… We drove through burning trees (for the second time in our lives together…).

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Something else I’d like to share – we prepare meals for our guests frequently. Nothing earth shattering, well… kind of fabulous because we make really good food. I’ve been responsible for making meals for our Vegetarian/Vegan guests and have been delighted to please folks with good tasting food (quite a number of meat eaters have gone in for the non-meat options). You know how I love that!

We passed through US Customs and Immigration to finally land in ALASKA at TOK (pronounced tōke), along the Tanana River. It would take a better person than I to share the amazing landscape and incredible rivers accurately with you! I don’t know enough words even. With the smoke, vistas have been obscured and still the things we can see are incredible.

Breathe friends and don’t forget to ask someone for a “Minute” and have a 60 sec. long hug (no expectations, just relax into it).

Smokey, said the bear.

July 9, 2019

The rivers here are all Missouri River and Mississippi River sized and often run thick with white or tan glacier flour. It’s hard to convey how large and powerful they are and how spread over valley floors braiding out and running hard in a wide channel.

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As you can see, we’re fascinated by the wildlife. We’ve seen: Black Bears, Moose, Elk (herds), Fox, Grizzly Bear, Wolf, Caribou, Wood Bison, Mountain Goats, Ground Squirrels – aka gophers, Thin Horned Sheep, The Common Cinnamon Roll in it’s habitat, Mountain Goats, and Dall Sheep and birds: Bald and Golden Eagles, Osprey, Red Tailed Hawk, Red Shouldered Hawk, Kestrel, Broad Winged Hawk. Cooper’s Hawk, Mew Gull, White Winged Crossbill, Chipping Sparrow, Three-Toed Woodpecker, Common Yellowthroat, countless other avian friends.

Fires are burning away up at Dawson City, Swan Lake and around Anchorage and Fairbanks. The smell of smoke is so strong at times it reminds Barb and me of the fires around Portland, OR a couple years ago. Sometimes it sits right on the road – obscuring our path, sometimes it lets us see the mountains towering around us. A fellow traveler, Diane, said the mountains look like a Georgia O’Keefe painting, their forms soft grey, lavender, and silver as they stack against the horizon.

The forest up here – lots of Blue and Black Spruce – has been attacked by the Spruce Beetle – same results as Pine Bark Beetle elsewhere. Some of the trees are ancient, 75 – 150 years old, but they still look like young trees compared to places that have long growing seasons. They don’t grow to massive sizes having only a three month growing season.

We stopped in Teslin, named by the Tlingit (Klink-it) peoples it means “long narrow waters”. Teslin is on the shore of Teslin Lake in Nisutlin Bay – yes, the lakes are so gigantic they have bays! Barb and I visited the George Johnson Museum. Mr. Johnson was a “revered Tlingit elder” according to the Milepost. He was also a progressive thinker. A collector of his people’s history and photographer who preserved the people and their lives and artifacts. Mr. Johnson was also a fur trapper and helped set the routes for the Alcan Highway. 

As if the above weren’t enough, George Johnson bought and had barged up the Rivers, the first car in the Yukon Territory! He didn’t let the fact that there were no roads deter him – he hired folks to clear the trails so he could drive around the community. There was no gasoline in Teslin so Mr. Johnson used Naptha (it was less expensive anyway). In the winter, the car was painted white and used to hunt wolf on the frozen lake. 

We talked with a Tlingit woman who was there showing off her amazing beading skills. The photo shows the two sides of a little purse she’s beading for her granddaughter who is about two years old. Esme had never beaded a hand before but she traced her granddaughter’s hand and went for it anyway. The Tlingit have an extensive tradition of fine beading through moose and other hides.

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And… did I mention we went to Laird Hot Springs? No photos, hot spring. Laird is back in the woods down lovely boardwalks over the warm bog that never freezes. A bathing site since before the Athabascan people discovered and sought warmth and the rich plants that grow year round in the runoff of the stream.

Lots of folks were enjoying the two level heat pools. Both of them were in the natural stream bed with a slight dam between the two. All of us enjoyed the sulphur water, the heat and the chance to r e l a x z z z z.

Breathe…

Watson Lake!

Got to the park and settled in Nose to Tail style – overnight, that’s a fine system to park a bunch of RVs. Two rigs share a pedestal (power & water) and on one side we’re back to back and on the door side – door to door. Works great!

And now we give you…

The Famous… The Infamous… The Incredible… SIGNPOST FOREST!

See if you can find your community in these photos. They show only a fraction of the 86,796 signs that were counted up to April this year. We added one when we hung up our Caravan sign:

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Hinton, AB to Dawson Creek, BC

Columbia Ice Fields, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

Driving from Banff to Jasper National Park was uneventful. If moving along a road that offers mind boggling vistas around every turn and over every rise. We met a Blinking Raven at a pullout where we paused to photo an ancient glacial moraine lake. The flowers, waterfalls, vistas… well.

 

The weather had calmed considerably from the previous week’s snow storm – though it was cold, we didn’t have to drive in snow or ice. Our group planned to dry camp overnight so when we arrived after a short drive, everyone quickly leveled – so our refrigerators keep working properly – then took off for the Skywalk and Glacier Explorer adventure. Sadly, I was not one of them.

I stayed cozy in Scout laying around with A-fib and reading “Minds of Winter” by Ed O’Loughlin. It is historical fiction and involves the tight circle of explores of the Arctic, Antarctic and poles therein – with, of course, a contemporary storyline as well. I’ve read several books about Alaska in the last few months and Barb tackled James Michner’s “Alaska” – which she’s already planning to read again. In may ways, setting the stage for our adventures by steeping ourselves other’s visions and historical accounts.

The Columbia Icefields are a huge plain of ice from which the glaciers descend. There are  four glaciers in the area. One glacier the group walked on was at least 1000′ deep (and shrinking from the very activity of our and other groups).

Open from May to October, 230 workers live in barracks with common areas. The workers are from all over the world. Barb describes the huge vehicle that goes up onto the ice field, “The machine costs 1.8 million dollars and travels at 18 miles per hour. The tires were taller than the tallest in our group. They run the machine through a glacier water bath before climbing onto the glacier to cool the tires and damage the ice less. Our driver’s name was Angela and she was from Manitoba. All drivers are well trained in the science of the ice field and in managing the huge machine. At the downhill end of a glacier is a ‘moraine’ composed of gravel and dust washed from under the glacier as it retreats.”

June 29 – 30, 2019, HInton, AB

Along our route were a startling array of waterfalls, including one mountain cliff that had hundreds of falls. We stopped at Athabasca Falls to see the river scouring a crevasse as graceful as water itself. The water was still the milky color signaling high concentrations of glacier flour. We walk down into a crevasse the water abandoned, it’s  hard layered rock walls sculpted and rounded to softness.

The river water along here became less white and more blue. Barb says it has to do with the glacier flour and it’s inability to absorb blue and green colors, therefore refracting those. Whatever the phenomenon is, the river adopts a pale milky sky blue color. The river basin is flat here and water creates a shiny tapestry around and through the gravel. Barb says the nature of the material left behind by the glacier is to compact so densely that it won’t let water pass through thereby creating a ‘braided river’.

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We popped out of the National Parks on a wet, rainy day to coast down to Hinton, AB. Barb and I are last of everyone (tail gunners) and pulled in to the park in just time to set up and assist with an AVC tradition (drumroll): Wampums! A dessert treat. 

Okay, a wampum requires a special stick. It consists of a 1/2” dowel with a 2” dowel attached at one end – well attached. The 2” dowel is sprayed with non-stick stuff. Then we “WAMP” a pack of those refrigerator crescent rolls on the edge of the picnic table. You know the ones you whack on the counter and they kind of explode? Those. 

The wary victim then picks up a triangle of crescent roll and artfully wraps it around the 2” dowel – creating a pocket. She then carries this questionable delicacy to the open fire and (presumably) gently toasts the roll (several rolls became fire fodder, slipping off into the flames). When the little rolls are toasted, one slips the pocket off the stick, fills the hollow with some kind of canned pie filling or chocolate and tops the whole mess, with canned whipping cream. No matter how skeptical our guests were… these toasty goodies got rave reviews! 

Everyone enjoyed grocery shopping in Hinton and we all went to an amazing trail system that wound around and thru a beaver habitat complete with beaver dames, huge beavers and yet more wild flowers! 

July 1, Dawson Creek, BC

After a long – 280 +/- mile drive, we pulled in to Dawson Creek, British Columbia. I vividly remember our family trip – in a truck camper – and arriving here in Dawson Creek! The town has grown about 75% in fifty-six years though. 

Barb and I drove out to Kiskatinaw Bridge, the first curved bridge in Canada. The first one was destroyed by ice jams that broke free and took the bridge with it. This one was built in 1942 – it was the first and now is the only curved bridge in Canada and one of the last in North America. It consists of 500,000 board feet of creosoted BC fir that was shipped in from the coast. More than 100 men worked on the bridge and only one lost his life when he fell to his death on the ice, yes… they built during the winter. The new bridge that bypasses the Kiskatinaw was built in 1978 when they straightened the Alaska Highway. 

I walked out on the bridge and though fifty-six years of experiences have buried the memories, teared up pretty badly remembering my dad and his determination to take his girls on an adventure of a lifetime. We traveled in a truck camper and ‘the kids’ didn’t sleep inside. My sisters and I stuck close to the camper though… we saw plenty of bear.

Today we also did “Photo OP” at Milepost “0” and the Welcome sign. It was super fun and the museum there had an incredible collection of all things necessary for family life in a pioneer train station. 

BC is wide open country compared to the Rockies we’ve been traversing. Gigantic fields of canola (like in Alberta), cattle and trees. Lumber is a huge product here also – lodgepole pines making up a plywood and siding industry that is substantial. 

Dawson Creek has all of the essentials but no big malls. There is Canadian Tire (a combo of Walmart and Home Depot) and Safeway grocery store. Cannabis is legal in Canada and there are a couple of shops on the highway.  They have a skate park, senior center, hospital, schools and all the civic necessities. The sky is pale, pale blue (now that the clouds have pulled back) and stretches forever. 

Tomorrow, we go north to Fort Nelson. This is Day 13 of our 58 day trip. It’s a long drive 282 miles and is followed by a short travel-day to Laird Hot Springs where we all will bask in the waters that bathed 1820’s gold rush stampeders. 

p.s. some photos have captions, just click.

Digging Canada’s National Parks

Banff National Park, Canada 

June 25, 2019

After arrival at Banff National Park and the Tunnel Mountain Campground, we ate dinner and at about 8 pm B and I took off for a walk up the Hoo Doo Trail. For our horticulture pals, I took photos of flowers along the way. The hoodoos will one day be eroded away as they’ve lost their protective tops. Watch the mountain. We started walking at about 7:45 and ended our walk after 10 pm – in the light. The sunset shot light to the tops of the Rockies.

With the group we discovered Lake Louise, Lake Moraine, the Summer Gondola/chair lift and Banff’s Bow Falls. Words (almost) fail me here. 

Lakes Louise and Moraine are glacial and so sport a shade of turquoise that could have come from an early mine in Arizona or New Mexico. Clear, pure, thousands of years old water filled with gazillions of ancient ground rock particles that reflect the slightest light to GLOW. The blue is unearthly against the grays, blacks, silvers and deep greens that surround the lakes. 

From the Lake Louise Summer Gondola we ride the ski lift from four to six thousand feet. There, miles away Lake Louise radiates blue-green light in her nest of dark trees, gray scarp &, talus slopes. Though clouds cast dramatic shadows the sun brightens just as many swaths of hill and mountainside. 

June 26

Today is a fine and ‘free’ day – that means no formal planned activities for the group. Barb planned and led a bird / elk / bear spotting walk. 

We found the small, untidy Three-Toed Woodpecker in a tree right beside the trail at about 8’. This bird rammed her beak into the edges of scaly pine bark, ripping off the scales and feeding madly enough that it didn’t seem to notice us (a group of 8). 

Two galls went back to camp and on the way spotted a bear – texting us to let us know. 

The remainder of the group opted to forge ahead and found a small herd of Elk – with mom’s and babies – the young bull had a beautiful set of velvety antlers. We observed many trees with bark scraped off by the itchy antler set. 

We also photographed three types of scat, some pika, a red ground squirrel and more mountain views. 

There’s a farmer’a market today (Wed.) in Banff so several of us drove in to town for it and for a loosely organized LEO (let’s eat out) at a local pub. The farmers market had great offerings of British Columbia (BC) and Alberta produce – I stocked up on organic yellow patty pan, a russet tater and some local cherries. There was also a Mead stand and I bought a couple of fine artisan mead offerings. Down the aisle were two distilleries so, naturally I had to stop and smell the… junipers. Lovely local Gins – great tastes but pricy for my CA$ so I tasted and walked on. 

The brews and food were roundly praised by our table of 12 – great dinner getting to know another couple and their meeting and love story. My element for sure (as a Systems oriented MFT). Both Barb and I are reveling, we are in our community! Grateful for the gift of being unguarded and accepted. 

Tomorrow we head to Columbia Ice Fields.

Breathe

2019 Alaska RVW – AVC Trip

Trip Log, 6/19/2019

Great Falls, MT to Hill Spring, AB, Canada

From this point on, prepare for tons of photos. When words fail… photos will tell the tale.

At this moment, we’re on 15 North driving from Great Falls, MT to Hill Spring, AB. Barb and I are filled with joy and anticipation to be on this journey at last. Seems like we’ve been planning and waiting forever.

All of the RV’s have been inspected by Barb and our tail gunner trainee Mary. Small things fixed, tires filled, safety checks performed and they’re ready to go. Kris, our other trainee, and I did all of the interviews and made sure we noted any medical and dietary issues as well as how excited everyone is to see, learn and do.

Yesterday was a full day of Orientation, welcome dinner and Travel Brief. It was time for everyone to learn about how the trip will go, what to expect, and the responsibilities of each adventurer. Our Wagon Master, Tina, is very engaging and a thorough & informative presenter. Lots of laughs and many questions were answered. After a great Welcome dinner, to bed and everyone checked out in the morning.

Barb and I are tail-gunning along behind everyone, hoping that there will be no problems and that everyone sails right through the border and up to our next stop at the Great Canadian Barn Dance & Family Campground.

Green pastures stretch, rolling and bumping across the country and copses of low trees and bushes are splashed with pink roses of several hues. Acres of azure sky high above cloud banks, ten different colors of green on the ground seem to pull water from the deep gray cadet blue clouds that look like inverted buttes. 

Stopped in Shelby, MT for gas $2.82, last gas in US. Thirty-four miles to Port of Sweetgrass & passport time!

Phew, made it across the border with our two catz! AND we arrived at our terrific campground out here on the rolling plains of Alberta. B and I are parked at the end of a row facing a little lake. Sweet!

We passed swaths of golden fields of yellow flowers and rose flowered fields. Hummm… cultivated. What would be those colors? And on hillsides, pinks mixed in with near black bushes… Alberta is the Wild Rose Province.

(It’s the next day now…) This morning we hopped on our bus to go to the Remington Carriage Museum and up to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump UNESCO Site.

Turns out, the giant yellow fields – many circular and irrigated by motorized sprinklers, are Brassica Rapa (a variety of rapeseed) used to make canola. Canada is the largest producer of Canola, hence the name: Can-ola – ‘Can’ for Canada and ‘ola’ signifying oil.  The rose-pink flowered fields are flax another of Alberta’s star crops. And the pinks mixing in with conifers and short bushes, roses for sure.

Remington Carriage Museum is a HUGE collection of carriages – with emphasis on Canadian carriage companies who helped build and settle the Canadian West. From tiny carriages children drove turkeys to pull to very impressive carriages that would transport groups of friends out into the countryside with picnic supplies, this museum seems to have it all. They have an early car designed and made by a Canadian Carriage company as well.

We toured the museum and took a carriage ride pulled by a pair of lovely blacks called Pepsi and Karma. Karma was a “Canadian” a horse that descends from Arabian, Quarter Horse and Percheron stock. Black’s are used here at the museum and they have 27 horses.

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Does anyone else see the dog in the clouds up there?

As we approached the Buffalo Jump Heritage site, the bluffs rose from the plain, rocky and gold against the green. Our driver shared his knowledge of the area: Indigenous peoples here over the years have been repatriated to some of their lands, measured in sections. This area comprises the largest amount of reservation land, in area, in all of Canada.

Photos: the buffalo jump, a Yellow Bellied Marmot, Tail-gunners three (Mary, Liz, Kris)

June 21 is Indigenous People’s Day and we were in the right place at the right time as Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Site is today celebrating. The staff on site are indigenous folk and their community dance to celebrate. Every dance was gorgeous but the Hoop Dance left me… poof, mind blown. 

But wait there’s more…. We had dinner and after that a concert! These folks at the Great Canadian Barn Dance & Family Campground put on a rocking, foot tapping – a bunch of us got up to dance – concert of great tunes. A great end to a very interesting and mind boggling day. 

Hearts full.

Breathe.

Wyoming, Words Fail

The Road, I-90 to Montana

6/10/2019 

What a surprise Sheridan, WY turned out to be! First, we needed a new water heater plug and went to Dalton’s RV to see if they had one. What a great store – tons of parts and a very nice RV repair facility attached. I even did a bit of impulse shopping. Recommended.

Next, we went to King’s Saddlery on Main Street. Main St. is an attraction in itself, most of the old buildings are old and well kept (including the Mint Bar). King’s is a love song from and to Don King, master saddler and all around grand character. The store has a high end western art gallery and tons of practical stuff for ranch folks to use and a secret… go out the back door, cross the alley and go in the black door.

Banks of racks 15’ tall with 2,900 ropes of every material and size known to man straight ahead! Saddles surround you. Most are labeled with the owner’s name, maker, year and whether they are for sale or not. Not ten but more like fifty saddles. Go through the door on your left and you’ll find the King’s saddlery museum. It is simply fabulous. We spent hours there reading and touching and talking to folks. Fabulous! So many saddles from the long past to recent, with documentation!

Don King, the patriarch of a ranch family became a master saddler whose work influenced Western saddle making deeply. Don pioneered a type of decoration – a full flower with leaves both furled and unfurled. The pattern is continuous – all over the skirts and prominent on other parts of the saddle. We learned of the three schools of decoration and when they became prominent among other things.

Second, we got up and out early to drive over the Bighorn Mountains and back on 14 and 14A. Three words: snow, wildlife and vistas! The photos will speak.

Wyoming Sunset Meditation:

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Breathe.