Home stretch…

 

Oh, gosh. It’s hard to leave Stewart – Hyder. Here’s a bit more. Hyder side of the border.

Then the border… with a sign of the frisky Hyder residents sentiments.

Then a wasps nest on the rock wall across from the border and a reminder to think Canadian numbers.

From Stewart – Hyder we made our way back to the Cassiar Highway and down to Prince George.  As the miles ticked under our tires, Barb and I reflected on the whole trip. There were stressful times, times of laughter, uncountable a-ha, great intakes of breath “hihhhh”, “Ohhhhh” and OMG! moments and discoveries – personal challenges met by those of us who stepped forward to take them.. Uncountable vistas more mind blowing than the last. People so friendly and welcoming, willing to share their stories and lives with us. Growth, personal and as a group – we grew into the things we saw and did along these many miles.

 

 

Stewart, BC – Hyder, AK

  • This post, like the previous ones and probably future one’s as well, is thrown out to our readers and the ether after the adventure has ended. For information about journeying with us… sent us a note at twogalsgo@gmail.com.

Well, first we had to leave Skagway – go back to Alaska – (Rotary International Inusuk). Then through the TORMENTS.

Then to change out a flat tire for our friend BE and her sister.

Then a quick stop at the famous BC Jade place where there was a couple from Chile on their motorcycles.

Then cool wooden deck bridges and Inuksuk placed by a fishing spot.

And, hard to imagine, more bears and glaciers.

And finally Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK.

Smashed together with a single border crossing between (the BC side, the US apparently doesn’t care since Hyder is darn small). Stewart is a respectable lumber town with small businesses, restaurants, traveler trade places, and a port for floating logs out to big ships to haul off to elsewhere (this is an Alaskan term, I borrow it here).

  • Gore alert. Stop reading HERE and do something else if you don’t want to look at how the natural world operates. Gore ahead.

What were we doing in this odd little valley? BEARS. Yup. Other than the rebelliousness of it’s citizens, Hyder boasts a National Park center that happens to perch over a creek into which spawning salmon pour each year. Of course spawning salmon, for the most part, are finished with their lives and die right there in the creek which attracts those most cumbersome looking of creatures – bears. grizzly and black bears like morning fishing. Real early morning!

Hyder, AK bear 2.jpegHyder AK bears.jpgHyder, AK bear 3.jpegHyder, AK Bear 4 .jpeg

And after noshing away, this big grizzly (reported by the rangers to be the largest they’d seen in a couple of years) hopped up, munched some berries that also bordered the raised walkway and moseyed off. That was the first morning when Barb got up early and I did not. So 8′ away she watched a grizzly tear into a salmon. Humph. The early bird does seem to get the worm.

oodvxES7Tb+7sAtL6UcyEgfullsizeoutput_19bffullsizeoutput_19beIMG_4758IMG_4774IMG_4775IMG_4780

Not much was happening in the evening. Just lots of salmon dying and struggling to get upstream. Hope you can see the amount of salmon. It’s in the hundreds of thousands each season.

The fox hangs out at the border crossing. The logs are Stewart type industry. The place is just pretty though.

I want you to get cozy with bears here…

IMG_4796IMG_4799IMG_4804IMG_4808IMG_4812IMG_4815IMG_4822IMG_4824IMG_4832IMG_4833IMG_4839IMG_4845IMG_4852IMG_4855IMG_4811That orange stuff around the torn up salmon? Eggs. Not every egg makes a fry.

The bears put on a lot of weight this time of year. They eat a lot and salmon are not their only food. What an amazing thing to be close to! I have to say it: it was a beary-good-time.

Sure was pretty there. Quite an experience for those who got up early and stayed up late. The rangers talk about having to BAM! do noisy scares of grizzly who want to climb up onto the boardwalk. They talk about years of salmon decline and bear decline. So we who visit now, snapping photos and internally reveling in the experience of being here in this moment may be some of the hundreds who have it, while in the future many may not.

Tok to

ncukyvRJSgmpYIUq2jujFg

 

58666476588__DD93BB33-24C4-41AE-A1A0-9B9D5147B91D

From Tok, we made our way to Skagway, AK.  If you have a map you see that once Anchorage is passed the second time, there is a main road – quite inland – and then spur roads that go down to the seaports. So from Valdez, we went back up the spur road to the main hi-way, then headed south then took another spur down to Skagway.

This spur road was my favorite! The landscape was incredible. Something one might see on a sci-fi movie or Game of Thrones. After gliding along gorgeous lakes and normal forests we came upon THE TORMENTS! Holy moly. Unbelievable.

 

4dWOK+XRSLysI6FM8imWSAxv5MkCHcQUuHXgt3DmKfHAIMG_0171Here are the TORMENTS (isn’t that name just perfect?). The land was potholed with lakes and ponds and pots of water all reflecting the amazing blue skied sunny day.fullsizeoutput_18edfullsizeoutput_18eafullsizeoutput_18e7The land went flat and TORMENTED for miles and then began it’s usual descent to the port.

On this trip we made eight border crossings between Canada including into and out of Skagway. (above). By this time, we were all old hands and kept our passports handy. It isn’t at all like crossing down at the lower 48 though. The agents were often funny and friendly and had good tips for the road.

So… what do you do in Skagway?

Go “gambling”

Go restored-building-visiting:

H3a9nqELR7O3cx3BJx%wwg13J0m%+8RsGyhxmKW6ro3w

Ummm… go dancing? In a dance hall? without a costume? with a friend who is a super good sport?

Or how about visit a building made of driftwood (they must have had a lot of time on their hands back in the 1800’s):

KU9nNWJHQuydXUF6CmSk0QJThzkFM9QmS2lUtGwlLcjw

eofimYT8Rgubwg9+H2OUnQIMG_0289Or… lets just get out of town. 3YeUFWhKSG+l15Z+FOLLDQIMG_4635fullsizeoutput_18d8IMG_4646On yet another nice day…fullsizeoutput_18bd7aSAhdv4QUKcUBQzX4aZyAfullsizeoutput_18befullsizeoutput_18c2When we reached Juneau, everyone headed off in their planned directions. Barb and I went to meet Susan and Robin, friends from the SF Bay Area, for lunch. They were heading out on a boat to go pelagic birding and wildlife viewing for a week. Though we were a bit jealous of the birds they would see. LOL.

The ship headed back to Skagway and we all went out to eat and talk about the day.

So what else do you do in Skagway? How about take an old (renovated) train up and around the canyon that the folks climbing from the sea to the goldfields took – well, when there was finally a train, the gold was mostly claimed.

Then we climbed out of there, back to the main road to make yet another trip down a spur road to Stewart, BC – Hyder, AK.

Valdez, another one…

  • this page is posted after the Alaska Trip ended. Better late than never.

If you dream of Alaska and fresh caught fish, of chartering out into water so cold and pure and fish wild as the day they were hatched, then this post is for you. Diane, Mary and I chartered with Dave and his lovely wife and went out for the day salmon fishing. We went out pretty deep. Dave uses outriggers to catch fish – seemed like cheating until he popped that weight off and you were on your own. No simple matter, outrigger let loose when the bite happened. We set the hook (or didn’t) and convinced the fish to come aboard (well, Dave hauled them in with his net…).

Look at this day!

IMG_4456prxNdelMTLGRlllxVuMacAsO5kGPqvT2WDIQbUgheX0QbHLGMFrcT8aZOwJP26HXQwCydDkQFmyJqm6YwAxrAgKlANP%9T+u8MALYOAwN9wwWLRuGb3SbK3hEjWYQMsyAQYFuXQi+JdjS78%SrjwbrSXapIPTM2QuJBwiasROA5b8%t2Q4R1CrLYusSnSQNgFxCypygHRVyZYok6yXaQlgzRYg8qtsT2GHCg3amlxr9g7aD7i6JuQeKiBUXzHV%oCAP+uK22jRR2+XbFy1ZZLmHgjf8tGC4KQrC8Fz5eRlkdJgcOKApQwLR5S%TqGfeWq4bwWe had an absolutely capital day. Sunny enough to take jackets off. Sea otters, puffins, murre, kittiwakes and murrelets iced the cake, for sure.

How did we do?

+gRL0FYhRiygIiPPc8vCFQ9EpZdLDjQ5O95XFS%vQeFwynU4WKYKTCyG2cncoIpruwI even kept the bellies and my son smoked them for me. My recipe was too salty, though. With hope we can try again another time.

That night at camp we had a pj party in the laundry room – everyone told of their days. Wait… What did other folks do? They went bear watching and to a salmon ladder and to the dump to watch eagles and messed around in Valdez. I wasn’t there so can’t really attest to the fun they had – though Barb was an eagle and bear watcher and she reported having an amazing time. I’ll see if she will write an edit to this post to talk about those days.

Remember Thompson Pass? Well, to get out of Valdez, we had to climb that mountain again. Phew. Scout is a trooper, she managed to get us out of the hole and back up to Tok.

Valdez

  • these blog pages are being posted after the Alaska trip ended.

There is so much to the beginning and middle of any journey. Somewhere between the middle and the end, the miles began to pass with alarming speed. The calendar said that three quarters of the journey had gone beneath our wheels. Barb and I were thinking about campground reservations beyond Prince George, BC, as were other women. 

And yet. Here we were passing Worthington Glacier (you followed the links and saw how interesting this thing is, right?) looking down on it from the highway.  

This road goes up – Thompson Pass is reputedly the snowiest place in Alaska (and famous for challenging ski and snowboard runs – heli-skiing anyone?). There are tall poles along the roadside with markers to let the snowplow drivers know where the edge of the road is and where the shoulder begins. 

After Thompson Pass we descended, way, way, way down passing Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail falls (these must be the sixth so named since we left the US). Very pretty stops. 

In Valdez our group went on a Colombia Glacier Tour with Stan Stevens Glacier and Wildlife Tours. It was a day trip with soups and snacks provided. The captain narrated so we learned lots. Did you know that the glaciers on the sea side are named after US Universities? Harvard, Columbia etc. 

IMG_4304

IMG_4313hWtxVYeiQlqa2jQBRTipLwIMG_4325IMG_4328IMG_4333QQmMN0otS6a8MBrx+am9egIMG_4346IMG_0046p+A84Z%VQzal4PnJiYxG7Q3DWU3RyMQSGhJ72%K8Kn+gIMG_4379IMG_4411IMG_4420IMG_4467fIBKlRlKvdZAQcx3gMgIMG_4492IMG_4524IMG_4530+WAcaiOgTEK9ZVrDO7aWTwIMG_4584ge6LIrUDT2y5I6nXQaWBRwAITpQvINToeQb2%pGrXMAg+QJQMYHzSAKjwTtqdAt0RQIMG_0078

We’ve turned the corner towards the Lower 48…

July 29, 2019

I always thought the drive down to Homer from the bluffs was breathtaking. The spit reaching out into the huge bay, the mountains, glaciers, glisten of the sea, the boats making their way… I hadn’t been to Seward though. 

The drive down and around to Seward was entirely different than the Homer experience had been. To Seward we drove through a pastoral valley… I talked about it here in my last post. It was… shoot, I’ve already used the word breathtaking. This drive raises the previous one by a power 2. So, Homer = 10,

Seward – 10* with the * being a tiny 2.

After enjoying the many offerings of Seward, we climbed back to the valley and back through Anchorage (with a stop at The Moose is Loose for more cinnamon bread) (smelling the toast as Barb prepared her breakfast made me resent my gut mightly, for it’s problem with gluten!).

From Anchorage, we made our way to Palmer. Palmer is the “bread basket” of Alaska. The soil is so rich, the sun so enduring (16+ hours a day), the water so laced with glacier minerals… well, they grow the HUGEST vegetables! Like a 247# pumpkin – in the 3 months before winter sets in! Beets that are 7# and cabbage heads the size of beach balls. 

After dramatic mountains, striking lakes ponds the color of emeralds (yes, Emerald Lake was on our route) and verdigris, this valley spoke calm soothing peaceful afternoons to me. 

Palmer started out a heavily forested valley. When the States were in desperate straits in the Great Depression our esteemed government decided to relocate farmers and their families to this outpost of civilization. So many people volunteered to make the journey folks had to be turned away. 

When the ships and wagons brought the original families to the valley, they were not met with farmland but instead huge trees. Since they had to travel when the ice had broken up, they arrived when summer was waning. The government  sent along trained engineers and proctors who held a generous bank and plenty of tools and supplies to set the valley up. By winters arrival, all the emigrants had a shack to shelter in, if not a home. 

In short order a school, trading post and government building were set up and life in Palmer began. Remember, this was during the depression – 1930’s and 40’s. For folks who were used to ‘civilization’ creating a life in Alaska must have been an incredibly difficult proposition!  The folks who talked to our group were all descendants and they shared family stories that really brought the settlement to life. 

AND then was the drive to Valdez, Alaska! Oh my gosh.

August 1, 2019

When we departed Palmer we drove the Glenn Highway. We turned right on Richardson Highway, AK 1, south. Passed through Glenallen and Copper Center. Typical Alaska towns of 100 to 500 people. 

Most of the roads in Alaska ribbon out for semi-trucks that bring in supplies of all kinds. They pick things up in the seaports and bring stuff up from the Lower 48 and Canada. They haul rocks, lumber and fish to ships. I talked to a trucker for a while one day. 

Getting gas after Glenn Hwy, I chatted with a full-time trucker who drives six trips back and forth per year through BC, the Yukon Territory and Alaska. No matter where you go in Alaska – road construction is happening. Gravel. My trucker pal said he especially dislikes the ‘weekenders’. Guys who drive on the weekends and are paid by the load, they make more money speeding like crazy from place to plac

Previously on the route, Scout’s windshield had been popped (and repaired) and we’d lost a fog light as well. Trucker said that every single trip (and he makes long distance six trips a year) he looses a windshield. He laughed and said that’s why he drives a split window tractor – he about always has one windshield that’s clear!

By this time, both Barb and I were feeling pretty inured to splendid mountains and blue laced glaciers… can you believe it?

First off, the road down to Valdez follows the usual rivers and streams. In this case, as in much of Alaska, the water flowed north. Yup. Not down to the sea. Clue – mountain range ahead.

Once again, no matter how jaded I thought we were, Barb and I had our minds blown. The drive down to Valdez is more striking, more astounding than the previous two had been! It’s nuts. 

Barb and I, as Wagon Masters, needed to boogie ahead of everyone else. We check in to each campground, designate sites for each rig based on size and folks need to be near the bathrooms and to put gals who like to park in adjacent spaces together. It’s a bit complicated depending on the amount of time we had before the first rigs arrive as well as the state of the campground map. 

So, boogie we must, but on this drive we were not going to miss an important stop, the Wrangell – St. Elias National Park! Barb and I are avid National Park visitors and we have an ancient NP Passport book we’ve been filling with stamps since we started RVing together 33 years ago. 

Wrangell – St. Elias NP is similar to Denali NP in that there are few roads and much wilderness that is nearly untouched. The Visitors Center is small and serves mostly hunters and travelers like us. It wasn’t a lengthy stop but we saw tons of pictures of the park and it’s wildlife. Along AK 1 drivers are treated to views of the Wrangell Mountains – Mt. Blackburn 16,390’, Mt. Wrangell 14,163’, Mt. Sanford 16,237’ and Mt. Drum 12,011. 

https://www.nps.gov/wrst/learn/nature/geology.htm

Within the park are four mountain ranges, the Wrangell, the St. Elias, the Chugach, and the Alaska Range. Ten volcanos have been identified within the park with Mt. Blackburn being the most recently active. This is where that massive 7.9 earthquake hit in Nov. 2002. The earthquake literally upended, flipped, cracked, slid and shook the park into a completely different sort of topography than had been quietly resting for thousands of years.

Okay. Maybe not so jaded. 

Then around a bend comes an eye popping view of Worthington Glacier.

https://www.alaska.org/detail/worthington-glacier

https://www.alaska.org/guide/valdez-to-worthington-glacier

The drive from Valdez to Worthington Glacier –https://www.alaska.org/guide/valdez-to-worthington-glacier

Unlike many of the glaciers we’ve seen, Worthington isn’t in a high mountain pass or valley dripping into the sea – this is a valley glacier.  It’s about 5000 acres. The road we’re on is above the glacier so we can see its blunt face, charcoal colored top layer and cracks glistening with blue ice.  

 

Seward, Alaska

7/25 -26/2019

Homer, AK to Seward, AK

Barb and I used our free day to go back up to Soldotna to visit Dr. Ned and Charlissa Magen and their lovely home. After touring the house and looking at the Kenai River – right outside the front windows! We were treated to some tasty crackers and cheese dip, I wish I could get my hands on that recipe!

Our son, Morgan and their daughter, Maurissa live in Portland, Or. We got to see Maurissa’s two daughters, Julissa and Arianna for a few minutes when they finished their day at camp in Soldotna. They both seemed exhausted and probably didn’t even remember us as we’d only spent time with them last year. 

Charlissa and Ned also gave us some cookies and a loaf of Cinnamon Bread from a local bakery – The Moose is Loose.  It was a short visit and our hosts were most gracious about our need to get back to Homer. BTW – Barb shared two slices of the cinnamon bread with Tina & Claudia! Barb just loved that stuff and parsed it out for as long as she could.

The coastline of Alaska is interesting… Not like the Gulf Coast where we live in south-east Alabama, at all! Towns along the Gulf are stitched together by Hwy. 98 a two lane meanderer and soaring bridges over bays. 

No, the Alaska Coastline is so rugged that to get from one place to the next requires a drive from the sea, through mountains (they look like MMM and you drive through the middle of the M’s).  Roads snake between peaks that rise nearly vertically from the edge of roads, ponds, rivers and valley. Those guys aren’t super high (no Denali’s down here) but they’re rugged! Of course, most of the tops are ground off by the glaciers that once buried them and there are high U shaped drops between peaks where the glaciers slipped and slid downwards. 

We drove back up the same road and took a right at the Seward Junction. The ride is indescribable – or it would take reams paper and thousands of words to attempt. Again, we came through an incredible mountain pass to descend to the ocean. 

The Seward valley is well populated and we drove back in through a neighborhood to find our campground. 

Just minutes from town, we drove down to the Alaska Sealife Center and parked along the waterfront. Oh boy, did we have fun! The Sealife Center not only educates, protects and rescues sea life, but they house an aviary like none other! The aviary consists of a raised pool, about at eye level for a 5’6” or taller person. The walls have windows to look into the two story deep pool. Rocks surround the pool and viewing area, these climb about 30’ toward an open sided roof. Who lives in this place? Oh golly, how about Tufted Puffins? Murre? Murrelet? Black Legged Kittiwakes with their Red Legged cousins? How about Spectacled Eider? And what about the darling Rinocerous Auklet? Yes indeed, these rescued fowl are right there, no barriers. When Tufted Puffins swim deep, their tufts leave trails of tiny silver bubbles glistening behind.

The Sealife Center also hosted us for a “Puffin Experience” – speaking of interesting. We listened to our guide discuss the Center and the birds who make their homes there. She also produced, from several cat carriers, a Tufted Puffin and a Rhinoceros Auklet. Oh my gosh, the Auklet was hatched at the Center and somehow became imprinted to humans – he really likes to hand out doing these talks and showing off! And the PUFFIN! These birds are the toucan’s of the sea with those vivid beaks and sharp colors! Barb and I just loved being at the Center. (Octopus above is made of trash reclaimed from the sea)

Seward also was the jump-off spot for an incredible tour of Kenai Fjords and several glaciers. We watched for whales, had a yummy lunch and chilled out near the glacier. There was lots to do and see, the naturalist from the National Parks Service really was challenged by our group! 

Barb and I went to the National Park and climbed up to Exit Glacier. Even the drive up to the park was educational. Every so often from about 5 miles out a sign reported “1897”, “1910” etc so we saw years of recession of the glacier. As we walked the trails up to the lookout points, we met a couple of rangers. With one, we talked about the plants and edible berries along the trails and how quickly tall trees had filled the moraine as the glacier receded. With the other ranger, up at the second look out, we discussed the rapid melting and slippage of Exit and other glaciers in Alaska.

In the last ten years, there as been more melt and ice loss than in the entire previous 90 years. Read that again. In ten years there has been more frozen fresh water lost than in the previous 90 years. Fresh water. We must have fresh water to live. So… the glaciers melt and in Alaska and many other places, the fresh water goes to the sea and becomes salt water and concomitantly raises sea level.  Glaciers are banks. “Bank of Fresh Water.” Once it’s tapped out, there is no federal reserve.

Here’s a link to a National Geographic article. It paints the picture nicely. Though the article misses the drive up from Homer, another exceedingly scenic route – it says some lovely things about driving in this part of Alaska.

*If I goofed up the location from which the Bear Flights departed, please forgive me. Seward