Monday, June 30, 2008

Everything Is Beautiful

This should have been day two in Hyder, but we decided that we had better move on and find tires before the holiday called Canada Day on July 1 and everything will be closed including towing services. First good thing that happened is a guest mentioned to us that probably only our rear tires were affected and Jeff realized that was right so he called around and found two tires (the only ones this chain had in northern British Columbia) and luckily in a small town right on our route.

We packed up and drove back to the car which was sitting as we left it. We decided that we could go faster if Jeff drove the car and I followed in the RV. As we turned onto the road a sow with two cubs crossed in front of us and it was a good omen. We had a beautiful drive and the tires held out all the way to the tire place.

Along the way we stopped for a picnic lunch and tried to enjoy ourselves. We passed Smithers where our group would stay the next night and continued to Houston, home of the world's largest fly fishing rod. Up here every town has to have something with a superlative. Think 35' skis or world's largest chain saw. Anyway the tire store was already closed so we left the car in their lot and found a nearby campground. We were so tired and needed to chill out, eat and sleep.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Two Bears

A Day in the Life

Today we travelled from Iskut to Hyder as the trek winds down and the action heats up. It was a day of lows and highs in that order. We woke up early as usual and got ready to leave. Ziggy and I had a nice walk around the grassy campground and we drove off up the long gravel road to the Cassiar Highway and headed 197 miles to Hyder.

Just as we turned onto the highway the campground owner stopped us to say that we were dragging our car and had ruined his road. Turns out that Jeff had not released the parking brake and the wheels were not turning. We were glad to get this news because we could have had a fire or worse if we hadn't stopped and it is hard to know this is happening with a towed vehicle. Anyway Jeff released the brake and we set off. The ride was like being in a fantasyland. Fantastic views in every direction. Mountains, valleys, lakes, trees, snow, shades of green. And, oh, road construction. We travelled on some gravel and came to a work site. After we passed a pickup truck pulled us over and the young guy said, "You have a flat tire and it's real bad." So we took a look and our rear right tire was shredded and hanging on the rim.

We were able to find a level area with good sightlines and we pulled over to put on the spare. This road has very few rest areas, pullouts, or even shoulders. As Jeff got out the spare tire and jack another worker drove up to tell us that there was a grizzly hanging out in the area and we should be careful. Luckily he hung around to protect us and even changed the tire. What a nice guy - so thank you!

The bad news is that the other tires all had flat spots from the dragging and the left rear was pretty worn. We decided to go on as far as we could. We drove slowly and after 70 miles we pulled into the only gas station we would see until Hyder and filled up. We had been checking the tires every fifteen minutes and they were holding up. I have to admit a little praying works. At the gas station I smelled gas and our LP (liquid propane) alarm went off. I grabbed Ziggy and got out quickly. When I went to tell Jeff he was noticing a water leak from under the unit. What else could go wrong?

The alarm was touched off by the gas pump which had no protective cover on it and Jeff got the water down to a drip as it was coming from a hose in the back. Two of our trek members came in and agreed to get things settled at the campground as we limped along hoping to get to the next major intersection.

We were very lucky to get to the junction where we turned to Hyder. On Tuesday we will come back to this junction and take the other arm. So we decided to leave the car there and pick it up on the way back. The tires are not a stock item and we can't get them in the Hyder area so we will try to get to the larger cities on Tuesday or Wednesday. We locked the car, left a note and parked it in a rest area where several of our group saw it. A few of them posed for a picture with the car. I'll update the story on Tuesday when we return there.

Feeling much better we drove on to Hyder and passed more incredible scenery. There are avalanche areas, hanging glaciers and a tidewater glacier on the entrance road. Lots of waterfalls too. You drive in on a two lane road and enter the town of Stewart, British Columbia. About 699 people live here and that's a metropolis compared to 100 in Hyder.

Stewart has two hotels, a few cafes, a gas station and some businesses along the narrow Portland Canal which goes out to the Pacific. Then you travel along the waterfront to enter Hyder, USA. The US doesn't even bother with customs as there is no way to get out so to leave you go back to Stewart and Canadian Customs.

We got to the campground which is called Camp Run-A-Muck and our dear helpers had things organized. It took until 4pm for everyone to arrive and we were pooped. At 6pm we went to dinner with several new friends. We have no car so everyone is offering to cart us around which is greatly appreciated. Dinner was at the Bus which is an old bus with a few outside and inside tables. They specialize in halibut and shrimp either fried or sauteed. It takes a long time to get your food and it was just okay. Several years ago they filmed the movie Insomnia here and Robin Williams ate at the bus so they had pictures and notes hanging on the walls.

After dinner six of us went to the town dump in search of bears. No luck so we drove out to the Fish Creek where a large boardwalk allows protected viewing over a stream. The bears come here to catch salmon, but thre are no fish yet. However, just as we were leaving another car pulled up and said two grizzlies had just walked down the road and entered the stream. We went back and sure enough the next hour was spent watching the two young bears play in the water and then cavort in the area next to the viewing platforms. The best was when they rolled around in sawdust near the new building and one scratched his back on the wall. One bear made number two prompting Jeff to say he had answered the age old question, "Does a bear sh-t in the woods?"

The down side was that I forgot my camera and the kindness of others provided us with photos. We finally came home and everyone who witnessed the bears had big smiles. We're all going back tomorrow because that's what we came here for. It is amazing to see the animals in their natural habitat and we are so lucky to be here.

It's after 10:30 and I'm tired so I'll post the pictures tomorrow.
Good Night.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Green Green

The road from the Alaska Highway to Stewart/Hyder is called the Cassiar Highway. It is beautiful, but not an easy drive. Luckily there's not much traffic and you count the other cars you see using both hands with some fingers left over. We pass some idyllic lakes and shades of green that even Crayola can't duplicate. A big brown bear on the side makes for good viewing too.

Halfway to our destination we reach the Jade store. Jade is the state gem of Alaska and is plentiful in this region of British Columbia. Of course we stop to shop and buy a few things.

Back on the road we finally reach Iskut and a pretty campground set on acres of grassy lawns with a good size lake. It takes most of the afternoon for everyone to arrive and then a quick dinner because tonight we are touring our neighbor's RV's.

The tour is a good thing because I really cleaned and got rid of dust, dirt and road grime on the cabinets and everywhere else. We had fun trapsing through each others mobile homes and seeing the decorations and clever ideas.

Friday, June 27, 2008


We are still heading south and retracing our steps. Now back in Watson Lake, home of the Signpost Forest. We are staying at a different campground and tonight is Bingo night.

Nothing special today and we hang out and have lunch at the campground restaurant. The biggest event is that I lost an earring and the whole place is gravel so I have little chance of finding it.

Bingo night starts with a potluck dinner featuring "heavy" appetizers and we all eat well. The comes the four games of bingo with multiple winner. Jeff and I have purchased silly prizes and each winner and all the losers get a prize and each can keep his own or grab someone else's prize. Needles to say the guy with the whoopee cushion was quick to unload it and a bottle of bubbles changed hands a few times. Hope everyone had as much fun as we did.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sue Me

My title today is fom Guys and Dolls and it is fitting because of all the complaints I've heard about my lack of blogging. People wrote that they were tired of seeing the musk ox each day. Well we had poor connections and weren't able to blog, but I am BACK and will fill in all the missed days!

I'm sitting in the passenger seat with my slide out dashboard table and laptop and writing away. We are back in Teslin Lake and have been retracing our steps. This time we are staying at the Dawson Peaks Resort and it is a nice camp with RV spaces, cabins and a small motel on the lake. My main activity today is photographing ladderback woodpeckers. There are a male and female who are systematically pecking holes in a few trees until the sap runs out. They are placing insects in the holes creating quite a stash. Unfortunately for them some squirrels have discovered the hiding place and they are licking up the sap and probably eating the prized bugs too. All makes for good pictures as well as some pretty wildflowers.

Tonight we are going up the road to another campground where another trek is staying. They are being led by our boss, David, and he wants us to make an appearance. While they are just starting out, we are on day 44 of 50. So the end is in sight. Everyone on our trip is busy making plans for the rest of the summer. Jeff and I have camping reservations in Whistler, Vancouver and Seattle. We hope to spend a month making our way home.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Born Free

We're still in Skagway and today we are totally free. Whoopee! Our group has left on a train trip to Skagway and we have the day to ourselves. We went to Skagway on our cruise in 1996 and also rode the train to Chilkoot Pass. While it is beautiful scenery and exciting, a day to sleep late and hang out sounds much better right now.

After taking Ziggy out for an early morning walk and seeing off the guests with our tailgunners as chaperones, we sleep until 11am. That feels great and now it's time to eat. We go downtown to the Klondike, our favorite, and Jeff has the fish and chips he's been craving. I had a spinach salad topped with cold, grilled halibut marinated in a honey, mango sauce and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Pretty good eating! Later we did mundane things like laundry and food shopping. A great night of cable TV topped off the day and we packed up to leave in the morning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Old Friends (Paul Simon)

Jeff and I are great partners and today we proved how easily we can work things out. We have two activities planned and Jeff refuses to do one and I refuse to do the other. Let's see how to resolve this...

Our daytime activity is a Yukon River cruise aboard the MV Schwatka. I find the trip enjoyable on the small boat that goes through the rapids where we had hiked in the beginning of the trip. We pass under the suspension bridge that we had crossed on foot and explore the wild river that the gold stampeders had to traverse with all their supplies. The big surprise was Jeff and Ziggy were standing on the bridge as we cruised underneath. Jeff took our picture and I took his.

Jeff took the evening shift which is a turn of the century vaudeville revue called Frantic Follies. It is reputed to be the most popular show in the Yukon and Alaska, but I would disagree. I find it Disneylike even though it is produced by Holland America and sitting though it last year was enough for me. The do have nice costumes and a few can-can numbers, but a night alone sounds much more appealing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

Today we endured the worst roads of the entire trip. Leaving Chicken we were on the same gravel road that was rough, but tolerable. After turning south on the Alaska Highway the road got much worse. Since we had driven north on it, they were resurfacing the road and it was just terrible and you really couldn't go more than 30 mph. So we bumped and shook all the way to Whitehorse where we were relieved to park.

Nothing memorable about the 281 mile trip except that we arrived safely and that's all that counts. This campground is a huge gravel parking lot, but I like it here. They have some wooded tent sites on one side and they make a good place to walk Ziggy. The RV's are parked in a row, head to toe, and not much space in between. Oh maybe we've been on the road too long when a gravel lawn starts to look good.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Brushy, Brushy, Brushy (with the new Ipana)

If you're old enough to know what the title means, then --- you're old. Anyway we are in Beaver Creek and now the title should make sense. We left Chicken and drove back to Tok and headed south on the Alaska Highway. We left the US and crossed into Canada with no problems and arrived at the border town of Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory, which is not much more than a few stores, an airstrip and a Holland America owned motel and RV park.

A group of us went to Buckshot Betty's for lunch and spent the afternoon resting after the driving ordeal that is expained in the next episode. Lots of the shops and restaurants have names for colorful frontier characters. Betty still runs this place and has it adorned with pictures of herself wearing a buckskin outfit. She also sells CD's just like everyone else. The food is just okay, what can you do to a tuna sandwich and tomato soup???

Tonight we are treated to a family style BBQ dinner and show at the Rendezvous Theatre. I loved this show last year and was anxious to see it again. Jeff is lukewarm about it, but is always ready for dinner. The two leads are very talented and I'm glad to see that they are still here performing. The male actor is in his 17th year and his female costar in her 7th year. It is a basic revue with dancing and singing and the story is the tale of the gold rush and settling of the area. Our favorite part is where he has cabin fever and sings a Tom Lehrer song "I Hold Your Hand in Mine." They also serve Baked Alaska for dessert so that makes up for any sins.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Chicken Dance

I know I used the same title last year, but the town is named Chicken so what else works? The drive today is an hour and a half and the road gets a passable grade. It is a beautiful day and the sun is shining and it is actually warm. It is also the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. That is especially meaningful when you are this far north and it never gets really dark anyway.

Chicken is an old gold mining area and now has three small commercial areas. We stay at the Chicken Gold Camp which is a RV park with gold panning, gift shop, cafe and gold dredge tours. Across the road is a bakery and gift shop and the third area has another RV park and gift shop. We spent the day trying our luck with the gold pans. I found two tiny flakes and after inserting them into a small vial with water - could not find them. Jeff and I went into the gold dredge and got the tour. It is interesting, but smelly and dirty. I did a little shopping and eating and spent the rest of the day asleep in the sun.

After cooking dinner we had a group dessert with the park owners. They served a blueberry cobbler a la mode and talked a little about the area and their gold mining experience. Part of the presentation is a quiz with prizes. While we didn't win anything a peculiar thing happened. The gal distributes torn up scratch paper to write the answers and then collects them. Obviously she reuses the sheets because I was given my paper from last year. It was so strange to look at the paper and see my name and handwriting on it. What are the chances? I kept the paper to remind me of the episode.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Like Bread & Butter

We sadly leave Valdez as this is the last water community we will visit on this trip. It is a long day driving over 250 miles to Tok. We go back the way we came for half the trip and then another highway to our campground. The scenery is spectacular with snow covered mountains and lush lakes and fir trees.

We stay at the Sourdough Campground as we did on the way up and we like it here. The sites are large and wooded. This is the place with the outdoor dinner and entertainment and the pancake toss. Tonight we are scheduled to go to a salmon bake on the main road. I have been trying to call the restaurant for days to reconfirm and the phone just rings and rings. So we drive over and the place is closed at lunchtime and I get a little nervous. They have a sign directing you to the next door restaurant for their RV park reservations so we drive over there. The hostess tells me the bad news that the salmon bake has closed. Oh dear, I have to feed 23 people in a few hours.

One of my strengths is organizing so I simply asked if this restaurant could accomodate us for dinner. Luckily they were able to make room for us and that is a good thing since it is the only place in town to eat that we can all fit in at once. I selected some menu items and set out to take dinner orders and we herded everyone over at the appropriate time. It all turned out well as they had a lovely salad bar and the food was good with nice size portions. One more catastrophe averted.

Before we went to dinner, Jeff and I moseyed over to the pavilion to watch some folks pick their guitars and sing. We enjoyed joining in the vocals and talking to the band members as they arrived for their show. Wish we could have stayed there and hopefully some day we'll go back. Jeff managed to borrow a guitar and join in for a song or two and it made his day.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Blow High, Blow Low (Carousel)

Day four is LuLu Belle day and the weather is cooperating this year. We wake up to glorious sunshine which is good since we are taking a boat tour out to Columbia Glacier. Now last year Jeff was violently sick on this cruise and he is steadfastly refusing to go this year. So I will escort the group and hope we get to see lots of sea animals.

We sail out at 2:oo pm and the sea is as smooth as glass. It's also still and warm as good as it gets for our excursion. The boat is very pretty and comfortble and we start out seeing a few puffins, sea otters and a shoreline with lots of sea lions. They are very loud and combative with each other and many have bloody wounds, but it is still exciting to see them so close in their natural habitat. Next come the whales and we see several humpbacks, but none will breach so we are content to see their backs and a few flukes (tails in the air.)

The day is enjoyable and Captain Fred gives narration all day so there is lots of information as well as the animals. We pass Bligh Island, named for the Captain himself, and the spot where the Exxon Valdez ran aground. We near Columbia Glacier and see huge ice bergs which keep us from actually reaching the glacier. After taking photos with the bluish ice we turn around and head home. Tomorrow we leave and begin to head home.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Day three in Valdez and the big event was getting my hair cut. More relaxing and walking around filled the day. The eagle feeding was another major production and some drives to look for salmon filled the time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rubber Duckie

Day Two in Valdez and a time to relax and revitalize. In the morning I walkd around the small town and took care of some things. Jeff and I drove over to the fish hatchery area which was deserted and kind of depressing. Last year this area was so full of salmon you couldn't see the water. This year the salmon haven't arrived yet so the tourists don't come and the gulls and sea otters patiently wait.

We took out our lawn chairs and sat by the water watching a few sea otters float on their backs. They are Jeff's favorite animal and pretty darn cute. Also spotted a couple of harlequin ducks and the male is just gorgeous. It is exciting to see them in the wild and not captive as we had in the Sea Life Center.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing and nothing as strenuous as last year's kayak and hiking trip to Valdez Glacier. We had dinner in a great restaurant overlooking the docks. Very good crab stuffed halibut with a cream sauce on top for me. There is no shortge of good food here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Second Time Around

Valdez - one of the most infamous names associated with Alaska. The oil spilling boat is long gone, but the town that suffered so remains. The old town of Valdez was destroyed in the 1964 earthquake and many children and longshoremen died that day. They rebuilt the city on a different site, added a new harbor and then the Exxon spill set them back again along with killing ocean life and the environment. But today everything is quite pristine and seems to be thriving. We even saw a Princess cruise ship the first to dock in Valdez since the oil spill.

The drive in is beautiful and you go through Thompson Pass and Keystone Canyon where Ziggy and I posed in front of the Bridal Veil Waterfall.We got everyone settled into the Bayside Campground and it's laundry time again. Once that chore is done we are treated to a display of bald eagles. What? A couple at the camp feed the eagles every other day. They purchase large buckets of fish and throw them on the ground for the eagles to snatch. Eagles have very good eyesight and they can spot the fish and then they swoop in and grab it in their talons. It all makes a great show for the tourists. I'm not sure it is healthy for the birds as they need to hunt themselves to survive, but I took lots of photos anyway. The funniestpart was the gutsy gulls who chased the eagles and tried to grab the fish. The guys threw stones at the gulls, but it did little to deter them.

The days we were in Valdez coincided with a yearly theatre festival. We were given free tickets to an original play and I went with three other brave souls. I really liked the show and think the actors and director did a great job. The playwright spoke to the audience and she is impressive and I enjoyed how she handled a delicate subject with pathos and humor.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Over the River and Through the Woods

We're not going to grandmother's house today, but to the Tolsona Wilderness Campground - my favorite! This place is really in the middle of nowhere and deep in the woods. It has streams running all around the sites and you can enjoy the sound of running water as you walk, eat and sleep. The down side is there are plenty of mosquitos so it's a good time to wear the mosquito net hats or some guests had electric shock fly swatters.

Tonight is cookie night so we spent the day getting ready and just enjoying the lush surroundings. We had Ziggy tied up outside to get some fresh air and she got bitten by some bug just above her left eye. Poor thing swelled up although she didn't seem uncomfortable. By morning she was back to normal, thank goodness.

Cookie night is a sugar nightmare as we provided several types of cookies and brownies with lemonade to wash it all down. We had a nice campfire and it was a pleasant evening.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Saturday and a visit to the Musk Ox farm is our activity for today. The farm breeds musk ox and does scientific studies on the herd. Separate pastures house the cows, steers, bulls and moms with babies. They have nine calves this year and the ones we saw are adorable. The animals were reintroduced to Alaska years ago and they are multiplying and doing well. The under coat of the musk ox is called quiviut and it is nine times denser than wool. It is highly desirable for warm garments and very expensive too. First Nation tribe women weave the quiviut into hats and scarves and it is sold in the co-op in Anchorage and here at the farm. I purchased a quiviut smoke ring when we first came to Alaska on a cruise in 1996. I rarely wear it because it makes my head and neck too hot.
Tonight we had a group dinner with Jeff and helpers cooking hot dogs and hamburgers.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Friday the 13th is only a problem if you are superstitious. I told Jeff that I was using superstition as my title today and he laughed and said, "Do you mean Suspicion?" So that is the title and that's all there is to it.

Anyway we drove safely from Homer to Palmer in an uneventful day. The first photo is a bald eagle on the beach. Next a gull on Tern Lake and finally an Arctic Tern in a lake. I have been waiting to see an Arctic Tern and even though it was far away I can blow up the picture and see his little black cap.
It was drizzly today and we retraced our trail back to Anchorage. There we shopped at Sam's and Safeway and got supplies for group events the next few days. Finally we arrived at our camp in Palmer where we will stay for two nights.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sailing, Sailing

Woke up to sunshine and a little warmer weather. Ziggy and I walked around the campground and I got ready for the excursion to Halibut Cove. At 11:00am Jeff and I and another couple drove over to the Spit to board the Danny J. This small boat is a ferry service over to the remote community and we sat on benches in the front. Along the way we circled Gull Island where thousands of gulls, cormorants and murres inhabit the cliffs. There was a great commotion and we saw a juvenile eagle resting on a ledge. Then an adult bald eagle flew over and all hell broke loose. The birds started flying and soaring and screaming. It finally calmed down, but was quite a show.

We arrived at Halibut Cove and found a picturesque community that can only be reached by boat or float plane. We were impressed by the houses and gardens. A few artists have studios here and we visited their galleries. From the dock you can access most of the buildings by boardwalks. Other homes are on islands and residents have small skiffs to run around. There is a floating post office and a floating coffee house. All in all it was totally charming. Our excursion included lunch reservations at The Saltry, the lone restaurant and surprisely good. It used to be a processing center for the herring industry but now offers lunch and dinner. I had chowder and a nice salad while Jeff chose a buffalo burger. They had delicious sour dough bread too.

The ride back was windy and they issued rain parkas which we all wore to keep dry. We got back to terra firma and shopped a little and went back to the campground. Had dinner in and watched TV. Tomorrow we drive to Palmer passing through Anchorage on the way.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lift Us Up Where We Belong

The weather is a little better today and the morning is taken up with laundry and hanging out. This afternoon we are going on a city tour. Shelley, our guide, picks up the group in a small bus and shows us the sights in town and on the spit. Then we take a harbor walk with a guy who tells us more than I ever wanted to know about fleet fishing boats and how they catch halibut. I can tell you the crews on these boats work hard and it is usually cold and long hours to bring in the food we eat.

Next stop is a mom and pop winery who use local fruits and berries in their brew. Lots of fun sampling the wines and eating smoked salmon canapes. Later Jeff and I had a romantic dinner at Captain Patties. We liked this place so much last year that we returned and like it even better.

After dinner we drove around looking for eagles and saw lots of them. Near the fishing hole there is a dumpster for fish scraps and we saw a large eagle dumpster diving along with the gulls. Also saw one on a telephone pole. After stopping for ice cream cones we made our way back and to bed.