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.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Alaska - Stop 3

Denali National Park 

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After getting our laundry all done, we headed over to the park wilderness center to find out about bus shuttle tickets. While we were camping at mile 29 in the park, where they only let cars go if you have a campsite booked, we still had to get tickets to ride the bus if we wanted to go further into the park.

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I thought I had done enough research months back when booking my campsites for the trip, but as I was trying to look up trails to hike and must see things in Denali, i was finding I had not done enough research. I knew we'd have to ride the bus past our campground, however, I did not know the bus takes 3 hours to go 35 miles into the park. I also did not know there aren't very many trails in the park. They like to "encourage" you to hop off the bus at anytime and trek anywhere you want, no trail needed. However, this "encouragement" comes with strings attached. You only have confirmed seats on the bus your initially ride on. So, if you get off the bus, you can flag down any bus, they will happily pick you up-- if they have seats available for you. Most busses that pass thru the park are full, and most people do not get off the bus- other than to use the restroom at rest stops, and then they get right back on. This makes it really hard to get off the bus and explore. Especially with a large family. Oh and busses run 30 mins apart, so maybe one bus would have room for 4, and the other 4 would be left waiting 30 mins for the next bus to come along. This is a terrible idea. Next difficulty with getting of the bus-- they require all children under the age of 7 to ride in a car seat--What?!? We were literally riding on school buses, they've been modified to have individual seats, but still compartmentalized, Why would you need a car seat?? Well I asked... they say it's the law in Alaska, and they enforce it. If you don't have one, the Wilderness center may have one to loan you. I asked them how in the world do millions of children in our country get to school everyday without car seats. They told me safety was there number one focus, and that this was the REAL wilderness. I asked them if their drivers did not know how to drive on a road that has only their busses on it. But the real question here is-- How do you hike with a car seat????

So the other issue with their "encouragement". They are constantly telling you how far you need to stay away from the wildlife. And they mostly talk about bears, wolves, moose, and caribou. Along with sheep, that's mostly what you see. But I think this freaks people out, and they do not want to hike and run into these animals.

Our first evening there we made a short hike out to the river and rock beds. The kids had a great time throwing rocks. Then we sat thru the ranger program in a light drizzling rain. From the program I learned they want to keep the park as a preserve. They want to discourage hiking trails, and roads through out the park. They want to keep the animals there, and the people out. They don't want it to become another yellowstone or yosemite. I'm not sure what they mean by that though. I didn't know those were "bad" parks.

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So the morning after we got there, we got on the bus, but since we were 29 miles into the park, we didn't get on with everyone else, so there were not 8 seats together on the bus for us. And that sucks to spend 3 hours on a bus spread out. Not much for a family activity. And who wants to spend 3 hours stuck next to other people's kids? After some shifting we gathered 5 seats together, and the other 3 kids were just a couple rows in front of us. SO it wasn't too bad.

The nice thing about the bus, is there are 50 people looking for wildlife. The bad thing about the bus, is there are 50 people looking for wildlife. Lots of spotters, but then we stop for everything! yup- sheep up on the mountain, so far away they look like rocks... again. Every Caribou gets stopped for. And of course bears are the big attraction. And I'm happy to stop for bears, but again when they look like rocks on the mountain and you have to use binoculars to see them... I only need a couple minutes to stop, not 10. We did see 8 Grizzly bears on our drive there, but very far off, they look okay after I used my zoom lens, and then zoom in even more. And just where were we going on the bus? We picked to go to the Eilsen Visitor Center, at mile 66. The question was were we brave enough to get off the bus there and stay awhile. Every ranger I spoke to "encouraged" us to go there. They have staff that helps you find room on a bus back if you choose to stay longer than your assigned bus.

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The day had been overcast, but as we rounded the corner nearing the visitor center, we were treated to a view of the Elusive Mount Mckinley, aka Denali. We snapped some quick photos, and enjoyed the view for a few moments before arriving at the visitors center. As we climbed off the bus, the Denali was once again covered by clouds. Lucky us!

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We took courage and did get off the bus. The kids turned in their packets and received their junior Ranger badges, and we perused the displays in the VC. We'd eaten lunch on the bus, so now was a good time to go for a hike. We found a spot to store the car seat at the VC, and extra food. The hike choice was to either go down, and then up on the way back. OR go up first and then down. The kids picked the latter. So up we went. We hiked the Eilsen Alpine trail. Through out all the park they tell you there are no trails, just make your own and hike, but here at the Visitor Center they ask you to only hike on the trails. We found that a little ironic. Again I think this is part of their plan to keep you from exploring any part of the park.

So up we went! We summitted the peaks above the Visitors Center. The view was beautiful! Savannah really wanted to hike off trail as they had been saying all day until we got to the visitor center. So we explored the area up top after we reached the end of the "maintained trail" and in the end we discovered our own path down back to the visitor center. The kids had a great time picking the path down and traversing the landscape. We stopped for a while to pick a bag blueberries. Had the Hunsaker family not taken us the week before, we would not have known the bushes we were walking on were blueberries, as they are hidden under the brush. Once we arrived at the bottom, some other tourists told Calvin they watched us walk the whole way down. Which was funny, cause it took us at least 45 minutes.

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David talked to the staff organizing busses and it worked out, we were the last to board the next bus leaving in 7 minutes. Just enough time to use the potty's before our 3 hour bus ride back. Of course since we were the last on the list for that bus, we were the last to board, and had to ask people if they could make room for us to sit as a family. It worked out in the end and we were all together. On the way back we stopped more to pick up hikers, but we only had a few empty spots so we could only take a few with us.

We also ended up seeing a few more bears. A mama Grizzly and 2 cubs eating fairly close to the road, but down in a ditch. That, I would say, was a good bear sighting. As they were close enough to see with our own eyes. No need for binoculars.

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In order to camp at the Teklanika campsite you have to sign up to stay 3 nights. In the end we only stayed 2. The morning after our full day on the bus, it was drizzling, so after breakfast we packed up and decided to head out early. This would give us a little extra time to spend in the Yukon, in Kluane National Park. But first, breakfast... Pancakes with Blueberry syrup from the blueberries we picked on our hike. Yum!

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