Saturday, November 18, 2017

Little Cayman Getaway

It was time to take a get away trip, but i wasn’t feeling up to the jet lag.  I wanted to go diving, and I knew I wanted it to be good, but wasn’t sure where to go that was reasonably close.  I debated over Bonaire, again, but was just not set on it.  So I did a little more research into Grand Cayman, and finally settled on nearby Little Cayman Island.  We only had a week to spend, and it was only a 2 hour time change, so I shouldn’t have any jet lag issues going home.  

Little Cayman is a small island about 50 miles to the north east of Grand Cayman.  It is small. About 12 miles long, and a population of 180.  Only 3 dive shops and “resorts” exist on the island.  It was perfect!  Because it was so remote, it also meant it was a little more difficult to get too.  We had to overnight in either Grand Cayman island or in Florida.  The route I picked had us overnight in Tampa, then switch to Cayman airlines in the morning.  I thought if we were on the same airline from Tampa to Little Cayman they couldn’t lose our bags.  But the flight was 30 mins late into Grand Cayman, so we ended up with only 30 mins to clear immigration and customs, re drop our bags with the airline and make it back thru security to the gates.  They decide to search ALL of David’s items, I had time to go to the bathroom, and he was still being searched at security.  They started calling our names for final boarding when david finally cleared security and we ran the short distance to our gate to board the small twin turbo prop plane.  Well, 30 mins was not enough time.  When we landed after our short flight to little Cayman, our bags were not on the plane.  This was the last flight of the day to Little Cayman, so we would have to wait til morning for our bags.  I had not packed a spare set of clothes in my hand bag, so I was stuck with what I was wearing.  The Club we stayed at really shined in their customer service here.  They got us set up with complimentary rental dive gear so we would not miss our first day of diving.  Thank goodness for wet suits to cover my lack of swim suit!   By the time we returned from diving, the resort had retrieved our bags from the airport and had them waiting in our room for us.  Excellent service!  

I decided to stay at the Southern Cross Club, and it was an excellent choice, as you can tell from just taking care of us for not having our bags at arrival.  The dive boat and crew were great as well!  They set up all our gear and changed out tanks at every dive.  No need to lift a finger! The food was absolutely delicious.  Our room was right on the beach, we  could open the drapes each morning and lay in bed and watch the water.  Or step out to the porch in the afternoon to read and watch the gorgeous scenery.  They also had a few toys to play with in the afternoon.  Kayaks, SUPs, and bikes all were included with the resort stay.  

Each day after diving we’d head back to our room and shower off in our private outdoor shower, which also overlooked the water and beach.  Heaven!  

The Club provided Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner every day.  It was fabulous to not have to think about where or what to eat.  And did I mention is was absolutely delicious? Every day!

The diving was great.  We enjoyed each dive site and were treated to new creatures or corals.  The first couple days were a bit rainy so the light wasn’t as good, but I found using my flashlight helped add the missing light back in.  It didn’t matter that the lighting wasn't super, as I watched a nurse shark and grouper run around trying to get to a lion fish that was tucked up inside a cove.  We stayed there for at least 10mins watching the 2 fish go in and out trying to get a snack of the lion fish.  It was pretty cool.  It was also fun to look up and see the rain falling on the water surface.  Ive always loved watching the rain fall on the top of the water, I enjoyed it just as much from down below. 

Since Southern Cross Club is a very small resort, 14 rooms,  we had the opportunity to get to know some of the other guests.  We really enjoyed chatting with them each day, reminiscing on the dives, discussing life, and making new friends.  It really was an enjoyable time.

We tried on the kayaks and made it across the lagoon to Owen island for an afternoon.  Another day, we took the bikes out and rode along the small airport out to the west tip of the island and viewed the waves crashing on the north shore.  Another afternoon we took out the SUPs and tried out Stand up paddle boarding.  It was a first for both of us.  When the wind blew, I was like a big sail, and the board struggled to obey my paddle and just kept turning me around.  Nonetheless we persisted and made it across the lagoon.  

As the sun came out for the last couple of days we enjoyed beautiful sunrises and sunsets!  All from our porch or the beach just in front of our room. Southern Cross Club has numerous repeat visitors, that come year after year.  I understand why.  

                             sunrise our last day

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Alaska to Idaho - the final leg

Meziadin lake, BC

After our delay the day before, we were almost back on track. After driving til 10pm, we found a great lakeside camp spot in a BC provincial park. It was a beautiful view in the morning.
We had chosen to take the Cassier highway thru BC to head south. It is a less traveled road, and supposedly went thru more towns than the ALCAN. However, there weren't really many towns on either road, but the towns Cassier passed thru were tiny with no services really. The scenery was beautiful, even in the drizzling rain. Mountains, and lakes, and rivers, and narrow bridges, and grasses and trees, beautiful. The road was much more narrow, no shoulders at all. We didn't see any wildlife the first day, but in the morning as we drove the last 3 hours to Meziadin lake, we saw a black bear along the side of the road. He ran into the bushes as we went whizzing by.

We finally reached our stop at Meziadin Lake. I had planned to be here 2 nights so we could have a full day here, but we were just a few hours behind schedule. We arrived at lunch time, and luckily found an open campsite on the lakefront. Even though it was raining, it was still quite pretty. We made a quick lunch, and hopped back in the car for a side trip, leaving the trailer at the campground. An hour away are the towns of Stewart, BC and Hyder, Alaska. The town of Hyder, while on the Alaska Panhandle can only be reached through Canada. The National Forest there has a Bear viewing area where the bears come to a river to catch and eat Salmon fresh from the stream.

The drive was beautiful. We had to drive through this incredible canyon to get there. It was hard to see the full view through all the low clouds and drizzling rain, but you could tell the mountains around us were tall. There were hundreds of waterfalls pouring down the walls. We passed Bear Glacier with a beautiful blue glow along the edge of a small lake. The river along the road was rushing and full, and a bit muddy from all the rain flooding down on it through the waterfalls. It was an incredible drive!

We arrived in the drizzling rain to the Forest Service Bear viewing area, to find out that the rain affects the bears! While they don't mind being wet, when it rains for a few days in a row, the water level in the small stream increases and the clarity is affected. This makes it harder for the bears to catch Salmon. Couple that with the fact that the Salmon had been running in the area for 2 weeks already, so the bears were okay taking a break from eating Salmon for a few days of rain. We did see a bear, but we'd already seen bears, several on our trip. I wanted to see them grab and eat fish! No such luck. But we did see the Salmon, and that was pretty cool. It's really quite shallow in this stream, so you could see the backs of the salmon sticking out of the water as they swam upstream. That was pretty interesting to watch, even in the rain.

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After talking with the rangers about the area, we decided to drive further up the road to see the Glacier that carved the area. Salmon Glacier can be seen by driving an hour up the rough gravel road. We stopped at the toe of the glacier and decided to continue on to the summit view. It was a beautiful drive and when we reached the summit viewing area we were glad we had made the drive. It really was spectacular. As many glaciers as we have seen at this point in the trip, you would think we would be done viewing them. But they truly are incredible and beautiful!
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As we drove back to Canada thru Hyder we stopped to see the Fjord, but the low cloud cover prevented us from seeing the fjord walls, but it is amazing to think that right off the end of the dock its 5-600 feet deep.

Passing back to Canada required a Customs and Border Stop. We passed no booth on the way into the US here, but were questioned entering back into Canada about where we had been and what we had done.

The next morning we enjoyed a restful morning. We weren't in a rush to pack up and leave. We had the campsite until 11am so we enjoyed the view and rested up for our 2 day drive home. David had talked to the campsite manager, who told him they fish for Sockeye Salmon in the lake. Maybe we should have booked a short fishing trip to take some yummy Salmon home.

I spent about an hour that morning finally taking photos of Calvin and Savannah. Savannah was struggling to smile so David pulled out some tricks to help her feel like it was a professional photo shoot-- a personal fan to get some blowing hair shots! That had Savannah laughing!

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That rest of day we spent driving into the night. We passed near long burning forest fires in the area. They had shut down numerous campgrounds. We eventually found a rest stop to spend the night at. In the morning we made a couple of stops at a few stores looking for some of Grandma's favorite cookies to bring home to her, and a shirt for Grandpa. No such luck on finding the shirt, so we ordered a great Canada t-shirt on Amazon.

We finally approached the border crossing and the line was sooo long! I couldn't even see the border crossing pavilion. The road was a one lane road thru a town. I can't imagine what the locals think in trying to get home in that area. As I looked around though, I noticed a sign that said on Saturday and Sunday RVs and trailers should use the Commercial Truck border crossing area- one block to the west. Knowing that the line would most likely be shorter, we headed that direction. Only one Truck was in front of us. Although as we pulled up, I spotted wild Blackberries on the side of the road and the kids all hopped out to go pick some. We all wished we'd had more time, but too soon the truck in front of us pulled away and it was our turn to approach the border patrol, and the kids all came running back to the van. Soon enough we were back in the USA.

We passed thru Seattle, and headed towards home. We made a stop in southeast Washington for peaches. Yakima Valley is full of fruit trees. I bought 3 boxes full of ripe peaches to can and freeze in the next few days.

From here we drove and drove. We made it home just after midnight and to bed by 1am. It was a long, fun trip! But I was so glad to sleep in my bed!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Alaska to Idaho - Stop 1

Kluane National Park 

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We weren't in a hurry to leave Denali, so we took our time packing up and stopped to dump the trailer tanks and refill on water. Since we had time, we cleaned up the van a little too. It needed it!

From Denali we drove up to Fairbanks, and took a slight detour to the north side of fairbanks to stop at a "visitor site" of the Alyeska Oil Pipeline. There were a couple of signs and displays of "pigs" that they put inside the pipeline to monitor. There was some info about how and when it was built. It was an interesting stop but it left us wishing there was more info offered. We'd seen the pipeline bridges over rivers before but didn't know thats what it was. Now we know. The pipeline runs from the North of Alaska, all the way to an ice free harbor in the south, where it is then shipped.

From here we drove through The North Pole, Alaska. Off the highway we could see candy cane street lights and business signs. It looks like they try to live up to the towns name.

As we head towards Tok we were hoping this road would be better than the one we took from Tok towards anchorage. We were grateful to find that it was. It was raining so a good day to drive. We stopped for the night just a few miles outside of Tok at a state park for the night. It was along a river that was clearly flooding from the rain. The kids thought it was funny to see a picnic table and campsite nearly under water. We found one that was not drowning in water to sleep for the night.
The next day we were up and going early. We had several hours ahead of us of frost heaves and gravel roads under construction. We arrived at the Canadian Border a few hours later, where they wanted to see each of our children through the window. They were a little more questioning then when we crossed from Montana into Alberta.

And a few hours after that, and now with a completely dirty car, we arrived in Burwash Landing where we had booked an afternoon flight into Kluane National Park. We set the trailer up in a little clearing near the airport, and turned a movie on for the kids.

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This was the smallest plane I have ever been in. There were seatbelt for 4, this included the pilot. And I'm pretty sure the seatbelt would be useless. But I put on the lap belt anyway. And off we went, into the mountains and clouds.

It was beautiful. The glaciers are amazing, and you could see how massive and long they are. They run for miles. They sometimes merge and come out of multiple valleys to create once massive glacier running through a large valley. And the ice field is amazing to see. It gave us perspective as to how this was all happening. Being above the ice field and seeing the tops of the mountains sticking out of the snow, and understanding how the valleys between all these peaks are covered in ice packed snow. It was awesome! David loved it and said he is now rethinking the pilots licensing thing again.

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After our 2 hour flight, we picked up the trailer and headed south another hour to stop in Haines Junction for Dinner at a local diner there, Frosty's. Burgers and fries, and it was just okay. 20 minutes down the road we arrived at our campsite along Kathleen lake. We found a campsite and got set up quickly. We arrived in time to catch the end of the ranger's program. The Park Ranger is a native, and in Canada they call that First Nation. She shared some of the traditions and culture of the First Nation in the area.

The kids were thrilled to have a campfire that night. They were counting down nights we were in the Yukon, knowing that when we reach BC, there would be no more fires as they have a fire ban in effect because of forest fires in south east BC.

This was by far the coldest night of the trip. It was cold! And not long after we went to bed, the propane went out... not more heater. I was glad I had put on warm pjs that night. We all slept well, but no one wanted to get out of their warm bed in the morning. Finally David got up to check to see if we were really out of propane, and then Isabel braved the cold to run up to the bathrooms. She hopped outside and declared, "oh! the sun feels so good! It's a refrigerator in the trailer." She was right, it was much colder in the trailer than outside at that time in the morning. We started a morning fire and heated up water for hot chocolate. We turned on the generator and ran the electric oven to bake cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

Then we headed down the trail to the Lake. Isabel, Benjamin, and Matthew did an Explorer book challenge to see who could keep their feet in the lake water the longest. It is COLD glacier water. It was a tie, they all hung in there until they all agreed for it to be a tie. We walked along a short trail on the lake edge, around the point and then enjoyed the view of this glacier carved lake.

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After heading back to the trailer, we packed up to head on that afternoon, getting closer to home. We stopped by the Visitor Center in Haines Junction for the kids to turn in there Explorer books and pick up their last park dog tag. We had lunch on a picnic table in the sun, while Savannah tried to use the wifi to access her Math work, and I caught up on some bookkeeping work myself. It was a productive stop in light of the lack of cell phone service we've had.

From here we headed a couple hours down the road to Whitehorse, Yukon. The largest city in the Yukon to stop at a couple of stores. We were looking for a Canada shirt for Grandpa, and grandma's favorite Canadian cookies. Neither could be found in Whitehorse at the 2 stores we stopped. So it was time to drive just a little further on our path to look for a campground.

We stopped that night at the Teslin Lake Campground. We made dinner, enjoyed our last Campfire for the trip.
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In the morning we woke up early to get an early start on a 12 hour drive. We left at 7:30am and got 1 minute down the road when David pulled over and said "Somethings wrong", and when I looked back in the mirror I could see smoke at the back of the trailer. And as we hopped out of the van, you could smell the burning rubber. We found the source. The tires on the trailer on the passenger side were rubbing each other causing the burning. The trailer suspension system had snapped and caused the tires to be out of place and next to each other. So we turned around, and very slowly drove the short distance back to the campground, but parked the trailer in the open rest area outside the campground. David further checked out the suspension leaf springs and confirmed they were broken, and on both sides. He made a few phone calls to see if he could find a shop that could fix them, and he found the parts in Whitehorse. We were so grateful we were broken down somewhere that had cell service, as we have rarely had cell service at our campgrounds. He decided he would try to remove the springs himself, then drive the 1.5 hours back to Whitehorse in the van to pick up the parts and then reinstall himself. We hunkered down in the trailer while he was gone, as it was drizzling outside. The kids worked on school work and then played minecraft on devices. They were having a castle building contest. Matthew went with David on his parts journey. When the raining stopped, Isabel and Alexander and I made a short hike down to the pretty lake. After 3 hours, David returned. While he put the new parts on, we had lunch and were ready to go as he and Calvin finished the job. I am always so impressed that David can solve so many problems and fix so many things!

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Finally, after 3pm, we were ready to hit the road! We made it 7 hours before stopping for the night, with about 3 hours left for the morning to get caught up on our route.