Saturday, May 31, 2008

Some Kind of Wonderful

Well we’re still here at Denali and it’s still wonderful. Slept until 10am and felt great because I needed the rest. I took Ziggy down the road to a beautiful walkway built above the Nenana river. There are great views and we saw a frozen waterfall. After she ran around and enjoyed the fresh air we went back to get Jeff. He and I drove over to the park and watched the movie at the visitor center. I remembered that it was well done and worth a second viewing. Afterwards we took a short hike on a trail near the visitor center and I visited the gift shop and got a cute tee shirt.

We decided to drive into the park and find some animals. We saw a male ptarmigan standing in the middle of the road and just down a bit was a big, bad wolf. I think it may be the same one I saw yesterday and again she was walking down the shoulder and crossing the road in front of cars and buses. Very so often she’d stick her nose in the air and smell for prey. I know it’s a girl because she squatted and peed. She continued walking and we drove off, but saw her again later on our return trip.

We saw some caribou in a field far off and that was it for today. Even Denali was shrouded by clouds. We went back to the RV to get ready for our evening adventure. A few hardy souls have signed up to go on an ATV tour. We joined seven other people from our trek to drive in Rhinos, two person ATV’s. You sit side by side and they are quite stable, but I had no idea what we were in for.

A small bus picked us up after we signed releases and watched a short training film. We drove out a half hour and then turned up a rocky road. This is the same road that the character in the book and movie “Into the Wilderness” lived. Apparently he had hiked here and found an old bus which he used as a home. I have not read the book or seen the movie so I won’t tell you about it. Suffice it to say that this is definitely the middle of nowhere and the roads aren’t so great.

We arrived at the staging area and got helmuts and goggles and were assigned to our Rhinos. Our helmuts plugged in so we could hear directions and we are off on quite an adventure. Jeff drove and did a great job as we arrived home safely and just a little wet. We traveled in a line and had three guide vehicles with us. The first part was rocky and full of holes, but then the road ended and became a trail. It was one lane and trees and shrubs were right at the edge of the dirt/gravel road. Later the roadway became a muddy river. Jeff has written all about this trip and I can tell you it was lots of laughs.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Little Red Riding Hood

Friday, May 30th and I am in ecstasy. We are staying at Denali National Park and I have already seen some amazing sights. Let’s start at the very beginning.

Woke up in North Pole and reluctantly left the Fairbanks area. The weather was gorgeous - sunny and clear. Our route took us southwest through mountainous roads with beautiful views. Our only stop along the way was in Nenana. This is a tiny town with a great gimmick. Every year they hold a raffle called the Ice Classic. Basically they put a tower out on the frozen river with a large bell near the top. When the ice melts the tower begins to float and the bell rings. So, these clever townspeople hold a lottery to see who can guess exactly when the bell will ring. Each ticket is $2.50 and you get to choose a date, hour and minute. This year the ice melted on May 6th and one lucky woman from Anchorage won over $308,000. Jeff and I had a ticket, but obviously not the correct information. So we bought two tickets for 2009 and we’ll try again. Hope nobody else chooses our exact time and date so we can get all the moolah.

Drove on and had a great view of Mt. Denali from the highway and then we arrived at our campground just up the road from the park entrance. Now the official name of the mountain is Mt. McKinley, but the natives call it Denali – The Great One. It is hard to describe how I feel when I look at this mountain. It is the highest I’ve ever seen and it is massive as well. Pure white as it is totally covered in ice and snow and towering over all the other mountains, Denali is extraordinary. I ask my self why this mountain pushed itself up so much farther than the others and I guess the answer is the same as why some people push and achieve so much more than others. Just extraordinary.

We checked into the camp and unhitched the car. I assigned the spaces for our guests and then we waited for them to arrive. Jeff just looked at me and said, “Go.” So I hopped in the car, drove to the park and traveled 11 miles down the road to the first lookout where you can see Denali. I am so lucky as this is a crystal clear day and I could see the entire mountain clearly with no clouds. This may be the best view I’ve had in the three visits I’ve been lucky enough to have in this park and each lasted a few days. So I looked at it through binoculars, photographed it and just stared for awhile and then decided to go home.

Now the rest of my little trip was exciting too. Just passing the sign that says Denali National Park is intoxicating, but soon after I was driving in on the two lane road a large, gray wolf ambled by on the opposite shoulder. I stopped right there and put down my window to take photos and I got some good ones. I was a little nervous because this is a real wolf and he could jump in my car, but he wasn’t too interested in me and continued on – maybe to Little Red Riding Hood’s house.

I also saw a ptarmigan, the Alaska state bird (no it’s not really the mosquito), but couldn’t get a picture. On the way back I saw a stopped tour bus and they were watching two large moose grazing near the road. I stayed there for 15 minutes and took about a hundred photos. Also saw a raven, a magpie and a snowshoe hare. Not bad for a quick drive.

Back at the RV Jeff and I decided to book an ATV tour for tomorrow night with some of our new friends. On the walk back from the office we were forced to indulge in some ice cream in warm, waffle cones. Oh twist my arm more.

Dinner tonight is at the Cabin Nite which combines a meal with entertainment - Alaska style. Our group walks across the highway to the McKinley Lodge, a hotel run by Holland America and full of cruise passengers. Then we trudge down a steep hill to the log cabin theatre. We are greeted by costumed wait staff and we go inside and sit at picnic tables where we have assigned seating. Our waitress is Amber and if we need anything we swing our checkered napkins around our head and yell for Amber. It is amusing the first few times. The barmaid, Kitty, dished out kisses for $1.00 and she was quite popular.

The meal is served family style - biscuits, salad, ribs, salmon, corn on the cob, baked beans, potatoes and blueberry cobbler for dessert. It sounds better than it tasted, but you could eat as much as you like and the entertainment was good. The cast sang and told stories and it was fast paced and short enough to keep your interest.

Jeff did not attend the dinner and preferred to eat alone and then took Ziggy for a ride into the park. They saw a bear with two cubs, but were not in a good position to take pictures.

Enough excitement for one day. Tomorrow we hope to do some walking in the park and we are scheduled to go on an ATV trip in the evening.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ice Cube

This entry is devoted to our excursion in the ice museum at Chena Hot Springs. Our tour was a half hour, but it was an amazing spectacle and so much imagination and talent. The inside is entirely created from ice and kept at 20 degrees. There is lighting and seat coverings and almost all the comforts you could want.

Upon entering and donning a parka you look into a large room which contains a raised bar area, living room and sculptures. There is a large chess set and a life size work of two horses with jousting knights. The back of the building is a hotel with four bedrooms and we were told that no one has stayed more than an hour. No wonder - it is cold in there.

Each bedroom has a theme and one has walrus throws and there's also a Christmas room with a decorated tree (all ice) and a polar bear room with the bear carved into the headboard. A raised area is designated as the chapel and people have actually gotten married there. We ducted low and entered an igloo and sat inside at a little table with fur covered stools. The biggest area is the bar where they will sell you an Appletini in a carved ice glass for $15. We passed on that deal since the souvenir glass melts before you get home.

Anyway we thought this place cute and creative and definitely not something you would find in South Carolina.

The Long and Winding Road

Today we drove to Chena Hot Springs. This is a new resort area northeast of Fairbanks which is built on and around a hot spring. The one and a half hour drive is through beautiful country with lots of trees and lakes. We only saw one moose, but I bet that thousands live in those woods. There is a large state recreation area just before the resort and there seems to be lots of fishing and hiking.

The resort is rustic with cabins and camping areas plus a lodge and activity centers. The centerpieces are the large indoor and outdoor pools with the spring fed water. Not as pretty and natural as Liard, but much less chemical smell. We found a lovely dining room at the lodge and had lunch. Then we took a hike to the beaver dam which we never found, but the walk was nice. We decided not to dip in the thermal waters so the highpoint of the trip was a visit to the ice museum. I expected a freezer like Jeff visited the other night, but this was very elaborate.

The whole thing looked like a quonset hut but had pipes in it to circulate the cold air. It was 20 degrees inside and they had warm parkas to wear over your own coat. I had on four layers before adding their parka plus a hat and gloves so I look like a stuffed animal and felt like one too. But I was nice and toasty. The photos and descriptions are in another blog.

After the ice experience we drove home to relax and get ready to pack up tomorrow. We are heading for Denali, on the A list for any trip to Alaska.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Macho, Macho Man

Today is Wednesday, May 28th, and I am finally caught up with this blog and not writing from memory. Our campground in Fairbanks has good internet service and I am able to upload pictures and get e-mail. Delightful!

Today is kind of gloomy with small periods of sunshine. We got to sleep late and our group left to sightsee at 9:30am. (I add the am because you can often go out late because it never gets really dark here). Our first stop was the botanical garden at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. This school is situated on a hill overlooking the city and is the northernmost university in the US. The campus is impressive, but the gardens are just being planted so not much to see. That didn't stop our ladies from buying up a storm in the gift shop.

We continued on to the Museum of the North which is located on the campus. The gleaming white building is a few years old and made of dramatic shapes set on the highest point of the campus. They have excellent exhibits on the settling of Alaska, native life, gold mining, wildlife and interesting art galleries with classic and modern art. The photo shows me sitting in an elaborately decorated outhouse.
The best thing about the museum was that Jeff left early to do our laundry while I enjoyed looking around. Our laundry room at the campground had been under repair and just reopened this morning and not a moment too soon. It takes a real, macho man to not be afraid of a little housework. He cooks too!

After the museum we visited the Farmer's Market which is run here two days a week and features plants, produce (in season), Alaskan made crafts, and FOOD! In addition to a falafel stand they had popcorn, breads, pies, strudels, candy and more... I got Jeff a new heating pad since he has been using my flowered one with the pretty scent and also a large knish type pastry with a sweet dough and mashed potatoes inside. He deserves some treats since he is my laundry man.
This afternoon we'll relax and tonight we are having a pot luck dinner in the campground meeting room. Jeff is busily cooking a pot roast and it smells good.
Now I am back from dinner and it was a success. The folks in our group are lovely and they all pitch in and have a good time. Lots of food and good conversation makes for a nice evening. Everyone brings a dish to share and you supply your own plate, fork, napkin and drink. At the end we throw everything away and take home the leftovers. Works real well for me. Tonight it is raining and I plan to concentrate on Sudoku and nothing more.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Santa Baby

May 27th and we are still enjoying Fairbanks. Today we have an early morning cruise on the Riverboat Discovery and it is a well run excursion. Our pink bus takes us to the dock and we board for a four hour tour. Oh No! That sounds a little scary, but we are on a river and cannot get lost. The three level paddle wheeler is built for comfort and besides seating has gift shops, food concessions and narration. We get to see a float plane take off and land next to us and then a stop at the Susan Butcher dog kennels. Susan and her husband were both Iditarod winners and their grounds along the river house many dogs and training areas. Susan passed away a few years ago and her husband and daughters still live here and entertain tourists in addition to their work with the dogs. The photo shows summer training where the dogs run in front of a tractor to simulate a sled. Most sled dogs are a mix of Malamutes and Huskies and are medium size dogs.
Next stop is the village where we get off the boat and visit a native camp and a reindeer paddock along with lots of narration and informational displays. Back on board we are treated to smoked salmon dip on crackers. This is in case you are hungry after the complimentary doughnuts and coffee served earlier. We finally land and hit the gift shop and then return to the campground.
Ziggy has been a very good girl on this trip, however, she is dirty! Her neck is filthy from wearing her choker collar and she constantly rolls in the dirt so she smells too. Luckily I found a place to bathe her and her appointment is this afternoon. Jeff and I drop her off in North Pole and continue to the Santa Claus House.This is a place where you can purchase anything Christmas any day of the year. Last year we met Santa and Mrs. Claus and posed for pictures with them. Santa even let me pull his beard to make sure he wasn't an imposter. This year the rotund, jolly couple were off for the Memorial Day weekend and their chairs were empty. One of the sales associates asked if we'd like to sit in their seats and have our picture taken. So here we are and don't we make a merry couple (of what) in our holiday hats. The price tags are still on the chapeaux just like Minnie Pearl. Look out Santa, we are looking for jobs.
We visited the reindeer paddock to make sure Rudolph and friends were enjoying their summer break and did a quick run to the supermarket. Picked up Ziggy who looks marvelous and clean and got back to camp in time to turn around and go out to dinner. Eleven of us were heading up to Fox, AK to a highly recommended restaurant. It was fantastic and the first time in a long time that Jeff could not finish his meal. The specialty was prime rib and the medium size cut was a huge slab of meat that Jeff said was delicious. Top that with a gigantic prawn that melted in your mouth and you get a good idea of some fine eating. I had the prawns and we all enjoyed the salad bar and baked potatoes. These folks up north do know how to eat right.

Monday, May 26, 2008

America the Beautiful

Happy Memorial Day! We are enjoying our stay in Fairbanks which will be five nights. Today we have a lazy morning and then we leave to explore the oil pipeline where Jeff poses with the sign of the "retired pig." The pig is actually a device which travels inside the pipe to facilitate the flow of oil, but if the shoe fits...
We continue on to the El Dorado Gold Mine. This is my third visit here and I still find it exciting. It was a working mine and after a touristy train ride you get to see how placer mining is done and then each guest is handed a bag of paydirt and you are off to pan for gold. It is quite comfortable as you sit and the water is warm, but it gives you an idea of the process. I did my best ever finding $17 worth of gold flakes and a baby nugget in my pan. My necklace which held our gold flakes from the previous visits is full, so Jeff bought me earrings to hold the newest gold.
Now it is time to eat and we are off to a Salmon Bake. The gluttonous feast is held at Pioneer Park and it is all you can eat salmon, fried halibut, prime rib, beans and salad bar. Drinks and desserts finish off the menu and we are stuffed but happy. A stroll around the park helps to work off the calories and Jeff decides to enter the 40 degree below room. This is actually a freezer that you go into and do some experiments like throw a cup of boiling water in the air and watch it disappear. They gave Jeff a parka, gloves and hat and off he went. Inside he also used a frozen banana to drive a nail into a board. The photo shows him coming out and then in a state of brain freeze he began to swing on the kiddy moose swings. He has thawed out and is doing much better now.
The last photo shows me and a guest in front of the little pink bus. The campground owns two of these beauties and they are distinctive. When the cruise passengers on their comfy tour buses see us coming they are aghast. We do make a fashion statement and can always find the bus in a crowded parking lot.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Highway to Heaven

Today we finish our drive on the Alaska Highway when we reach the official end in Delta Junction. It is about 200 miles from Tok and another beautiful day of scenery. We have great mountain views of the Alaska range all covered in snow and lots of rivers and streams. At Delta Junction there is a visitor center and we take photos and Jeff purchased a bumper sticker for the RV which says "I Drove the Alaska Highway and Survived." I also greeted the unofficial state bird of Alaska - the mosquito.
Farther up the road are the some good places to visit, but we are anxious to get to Fairbanks with only one stop at the Knotty Shop. These clever entrepreneurs offer a free ice cream cone if you bring in their ad from the Milepost. So what if it is only 10:30am. BTW - the Milepost is the bible of the Alaska Highway offering a mile by mile listing of services and spectacles. They have listings for every scenic pullout and even tell you if there is a trash can available. It is a necessary aide for the traveler.
Our campground is in North Pole, AK and a very comfortable place. Unfortunately their cable TV and laundry aren't working, but we are roughing it a little. Gas is only 4.09 so we fill up and that is a good thing because the price went up the next morning.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

You Ain't Nothing But A Hound Dog

Oh Yeh - today we go to Tok, Alaska! It's good to be back in the USA and we leave the beautiful Yukon and it's not so great roads. On the way we pass through some cute towns including Burwash Landing, home of the world's largest gold pan. Along the way we see a majestic bald eagle sitting in a roadside tree. We pulled over and had a staring contest with him for quite a while. He was large with a bright yellow beak and feet and of course a pure white head. We also started seeing snowshoe hares. They are large bunnies with really large ears that stand straight up. In the winter they are white like the snow, but in the warm months they turn gray/black.

The best part of the day was a series of small lakes with swans. I finally got to see the large trumpeter swan and it is exciting. They are so gorgeous with long, graceful necks. At one pond I got out of the RV and walked over some gravel to the edge of the water. The swan couple swam out so I got a great view and then went around in circles so I got some great photos. Then a van pulled up and four Asian men got out - each with a camera equipped with a telephoto lens. They ran down to the bank and started snapping away and chattering. This frightened the swans and they flew away. I already had my pictures and it was neat to see them fly.

At the US/Canadian border we stopped to take some pictures and then crossed into Alaska. The roads got better and the gas prices cheaper. The first town we reach is Tok and we stay at the Sourdough Campground which is lovely and lots of fun. The sites are heavily wooded and private. I took a few guests into town to see a display of gold nuggets and a sled dog talk. We got to hold the puppies and they are so sweet.

Later the campground had an outdoor dinner and entertainment. They have picnic tables in a covered pavilion and serve reindeer chili or potato soup in a bread bowl. Dessert was blueberry pie. A band played oldies and rock 'n roll and special guest Elvis came back from the dead to make an appearance. The night ended with a pancake toss where we threw actual stale pancakes into a tub to win a free breakfast.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Eve of Destruction

We're heading further north and west and Ziggy is our "scout." She loves to look out the front window as though she's directing us and Jeff has devised a new restraint system for her. This one works well, so far, and has her on a leash attached to a hook suspended from the wall cabinets. It is an engineering marvel, but keeps her out of the driving area and she seems happy. One of her favorite places is the couch behind the driver where she looks over Jeff's (or my) shoulder.
The scenery today is beautiful, although the road isn't always smooth. Lots of bumps, frost heaves and pot holes. Most areas are marked with a red flag so you can slow down. Sometimes, like in the photo, the road turns to gravel or dirt. The mountains in the photo are the Alaska range and they have lots of snow and ice making the views breathtaking. The frozen Lake Kluane is pretty special too. We stopped at Sheep Mountain to see the Dall Sheep on the slopes and saw one baby lamb.
Our campground is on Lake Kluane in Destruction Bay, and it is grassy and picturesque. They do have lots of bears in this area so there is no garbage service and you take your trash with you. Luckily we saw no bears during our stay. We did have a pot luck appetizer party and had lots of good food. I had the bright idea of making tiny meatballs and found that two other gals were just as clever as me. We ended up with plenty of choices and we all ate well. Later we had a campfire and I read a poem by Robert Service, a famous poet of the Klondike. Jeff entertained us with some guitar music and led us in round singing. We roasted marshmallows and I think everyone enjoyed the evening.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


This morning we are up bright and early to visit the SS Klondike, a grand old stern wheeler which ran on the Yukon River. In her heyday she ferried passengers and cargo up and down the river in the warm months and was dry docked when the river froze the rest of the year. The Canadian Park Service gives tours of the ship and also has an informative movie. Our group had a private tour and enjoyed seeing the cargo and passenger areas and learning abut her history.

Later Jeff and I led a hike through Miles Canyon to Canyon City. This is a wooded area along the banks of the Yukon River where the Klondike miners waited for passage to the gold fields. Many spent harsh winters while dreaming of striking it rich. The hike begins by crossing a shaky bridge across the Yukon and follows dirt trails which can be a little strenuous. It was a brisk day and I enjoyed getting the exercise. Other than walking Ziggy we sit and drive or we're busy eating, so a hike was quite welcome.

After returning safely we did some shopping (for more food) and I got my nails done. Last year I met a lovely lady who has a nail salon in her home. Her name is Pamela and we got along great. She did my nails on the trip up and back last year and we enjoyed talking about her upcoming trip to Italy. This year she was able to tell me about her wonderful trip and I look forward to seeing her again on our return.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rhythm of the Rain

I know it looks sunny in the photos, bit it rained today so we had a free day to explore museums and other sights in Whitehorse. Jeff and I visited the Transportation Museum which displays different ways the folks in the Klondike got around including old vehicles, trains, sleds, boats and aircraft. Then we went to the Beringia Center which features geological information about the land bridge between Asia and North America. There are displays of prehistoric animals including my giant beaver "friend" in the photo.
The other photos are Jeff and me practicing our spear throwing in case we ever have to hunt for food. Later we had a delicious dinner at the Klondike Restaurant to give thanks that we don't have to hunt for our food. We had eaten here twice last year and were anxious to try it again. I had the halibut and it was as good as I remembered. They grill the fish and top it with melted brie and a berry sauce. Just like mother used to make. Jeff had ribs and now he is complaining that I don't give him a finger bowl with warm lemon water to wash his hands at each meal. Get over it!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Food, Glorious Food

Oh yes, today is a diet disaster. We left the beautiful lake where it was sunny, but very cold and drove straight to Mukluk Annie's, a famed restaurant with all you can eat breakfast. We were waiting for them to open at 7am and had the place all to ourselves. The buffet feast was scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, biscuits and homemade blueberry pancakes cooked to order. I only had the pancakes and couldn't even finish one, but proclaimed it delicious! Jeff did his best with the buffet, but one serving was enough.

We left and continued driving and found ourselves pulling into the driveway of Johnson's Crossing Bakery. This place is famous for cinnamon buns and we got two to go. They are huge and I'm still looking at them at 5pm and wondering what were we thinking. Oh there is always tomorrow morning when hunger may strike. We are eating in for lunch and dinner and did do some grocery shopping today. Do not worry about us as we are not starving out here in the wilderness.

We arrived in Whitehorse around 10am and got things organized at the campground. Our fellow trekkers arrived soon after and we all trudged downtown at 1pm to check out the visitor center and city hall. Whitehorse is a small urban center and is the capital of the Yukon and it's largest city. There are lots of murals on buildings and beautiful mountains surround the area. Now we are back and near collapse after so much eating and fresh air.

Hey - what's for dinner?