Sunday, September 10, 2017
We woke to 36 degrees. A bit chilly. We are heading to Tok today. This was our first stop when we came into Alaska and it is our last stop out.
Once we leave Glennallen, we get on the Tok Cutoff, a nice road with dips and hill’s. That’s the best I can say for this stretch of pavement. Fortunately, we only have about a hundred forty miles to travel and then we are at Tok RV Village, the same campground we stayed at when we first got here. We do a hasty setup, unhitch Sergio and go to Wolfhawk Shipping to pack up and ship our guns back to the US. We hadn’t planned on doing this again, but since we cancelled the ferry and are traveling back through Canada, we need to use Barb’s services.
The hurricane is fast approaching our family, so I am texting and calling and getting updates. They are predicting it to be a cat 2, hitting somewhere by our family, on the southwest part of the state. Compared to the cat 5 she was forecast to hit Florida, a cat 2 is a blessing. She’s still going to do a lot of damage, but if everyone took heed, lose of life should be minimal.
When we get back to the campground, we hook Sergio up and get ready for tomorrow’s journey into Canada.
I am texting the kids and barbecuing steaks in Tok, Alaska at the exact moment my family and friends are being slammed with a category 2 hurricane.
Saturday, September 9, 2017
Well, this is it! We are officially starting our journey back to the lower forty eight. We will be encountering some new places and things, and we will be going through places we have already been. I am sad. Even though the weather has been less than perfect and I did not see everything I wanted to see or do everything I wanted to do, I have enjoyed myself immensely. I have experienced more than most and I am thankful. I have become an Alaskan. We were no longer tourists, but we were living Alaska. Now we start back to the land of cell service, internet, television and stores that get me what I want and don’t cost me a small fortune. But first, Canada, where things will get worse before they get better.
Instead of taking the longer route, back through Denali and Fairbanks, we are going to do the Glenn Highway and Tok Cutoff, to get us to Tok, the first place we stopped when we got to Alaska. We are now in push mode, meaning no sightseeing, but being road warriors and getting gone as soon possible.
Our destination for tonight is Glennallen, about 305 miles from Seward. Skip wants to meet us at the junction of 1 and 9, for breakfast, but we decline. We have a long way to go on a bad road. We have to go north, back through Anchorage before we can turn onto Glenn Highway. Up to this turn is all familiar territory, after, until Tok, the great unknown.
We have no problem driving to Anchorage. The beluga whale watch signs are up, so the pullouts are packed with cars, RVs and people waiting to get a glimpse. We drive on, to Palmer, the beginning of the Glenn Highway. Here is where it gets hairy, especially in an RV. This is a twisty, turny, roller coaster ride with no guard rails that will drop you straight down the high mountain if you should make any miscalculation. If you are going in the other direction, no problem. If you are going in our direction, big problem, especially for the passenger who sees first hand the drop and hopes the driver keeps the coach on the road. Beautiful views, but a bit of a white knuckle ride.
The road does calm itself down after a while and the first thing we notice is how yellow everything has become. Where just a week or so ago, all you saw were various shades of green. Now every tree, shrub and bush was some sort of yellow. The only green is the black spruce trees and they are such a dark shade of green they almost appear black. The fireweed has turn a dark russet. A beautiful site. Fall has arrived. With a vengeance. Winter isn’t far behind.
Cell service is sporadic. We’re trying to keep in touch with the kids and friends in Florida. Irma is due to hit them tomorrow and stress levels are high on both ends. The good news is she has been downgraded to a cat 4. Not the ideal situation, but certainly better than a cat 5. I am monitoring cell service, and when I have it, text them and call Tolsona Wildlife Campground, fourteen miles west of Glennallen, to see if they can accommodate us for the night. I get no answer, but leave a voice mail.
We are just about to Glennallen and still no return call. We find the campground and pull in. We pass campsites and have to cross over a creek with a scary old wooden bridge, that doesn’t look like it could hold me, never mind Claudia. The sign on the office door says they are closed today, but pick a site and pay in the morning. There is a phone number to call, which I do, and find out the owner is babysitting. He tells me which sites will work for us, so I walk ahead while Alex has to turn Claudia around to go back to the sites we just passed. The last of the sites was the best for us, so I signal Alex drive on down. We pull in and set up. All eighty five sites are on the creek. It is quite pretty and very quiet. All you hear is the creek and one somewhat angry squirrel. I don’t know what he was upset with, but he definitely wasn’t happy.
It was a clear afternoon, so we barbecued and relaxed outside.
Friday, September 8, 2017
Miracle of miracles, it’s not raining! I can actually see blue sky!
Our itinerary is Exit Glacier and the Alaska Sealife Center. Since it’s nice for the moment, weather changes in a heartbeat, we decide to go to Exit Glacier first. Take advantage of the blue skies while they last.
The drive to Kenai Fjords National Park from Seward Highway is about eight and a half miles. They have a visitor and learning center. There’s not much to this building, but well worth the stop to learn about our ever diminishing glaciers. The story goes, when snow falls, it contains about 90% air. After it melts and freezes, it is about 50% air. Now that light, fluffy snow is somewhat heavier. After four to ten years of this pattern, that same snow is only 10% air. It is now very heavy. Pile thousands of pounds on top of each other, and you can see how and why glaciers can transform the landscape. They carve out holes that fill with their melting snow, called kettles, move giant boulders hundreds of miles, and create mountains and valleys. Not bad for a century’s work!
There are several trails you can hike to get to different areas to view the glacier. We take the shortest, easiest one, about .8 miles. It doesn’t get us close enough to really see the glacier. So a decision has to be made, hike further and pass on the Sealife Center, or forget the glacier and go to the aquarium. As much as I love, aquariums, seeing a glacier up close and personal wins out. At the rate glaciers are receding, who knows if I can ever see one again in my lifetime. Less than ten years ago, the viewing stand we stopped at had the glacier right in front of it. Now you can’t even see it from that same spot. It has receded and vegetation has taken over the area it once inhabited.
The trail up to the glacier is a 25% grade. Alex opts to stay behind while I do the half mile climb. It was a bit of a hike, but the views were amazing! You can get to about fifteen hundred feet of the glacier. There is a black cavernous hole at the bottom of it that pours out glacial melt at alarming rates. The glacier itself has the glacial blue color with gray dirt streaks. This is a memory to last a lifetime. So glad I made the climb.
It’s time to do my decent. At least it’s all downhill. When I get to the top of the trailhead, I see a nice sign pointing to a trail for the parking lot. Hoping this is a shorter, easier hike, I start down the trail. It is better and in a few minutes I am on a paved path leading to the visitor center where I find Alex chatting with a young Jehovah’s Witness missionary couple from South America. We all walk to the parking lot and say our goodbyes.
It’s too late to go to the Sealife Center, again, so we head over to The Crab Shack for lunch, located in the marina part of town, where the cruise ships come in and the fishing boats go out. I convinced Alex to have rockfish again, this time in the form of fish and chips. I had snow crab. I am happy to say, the rockfish was not over cooked and tough like the last time, but tender and delicious. Before we left, I had to use the restroom. This bathroom goes down as one of the most bizarre I have been in, and I have been in some weird ones.
It was drizzling as we walked down the street checking out the different stores. We crossed over to the water side and went along the marina. The rain was picking up and we were starting to get wet, so we called it a day and headed home. We had things to do before pulling out tomorrow to start our trek back to America.
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Guess what? It’s still pouring!
We decide we’re going to brave it and go into town to the Alaska Sealife Center.
We have no television and our phone and internet is spotty, but we have been trying to keep up with Hurricane Irma. We have two kids, grandchildren and friends all in the path of this beast, not to mention our POD with everything we packed up from the house we sold. We are concerned. Irma is looking like she’s making a run for the west coast of Florida, where our loved ones live. Phone call and text messages are going back and forth this morning with everyone, sharing news and offering advice. By the time we leave, it is after one.
We have to make a not so quick stop at the Post Office and now it’s two o’clock. The Alaska Sealife Center overlooks Resurrection Bay. We walk to the Center and learn winter hours have the Center closing at five. Admission prices are $24.95 for adults and $21.95 for seniors over 65. We won’t have enough time to see everything, so we decide to have lunch at Seward Brewing and go to the Center tomorrow when we have more time. After we eat, we walk the main street of town and go into the shops. We got very tasty gelato at Sweet Darlings. The young woman who waited on us had beautiful red nails. I complimented her and she told me she was overdue to get them done. Needing my nails done, I asked where she went. I thought I could go to her local shop. Turns out, she has to drive to Soldotna, 100 miles, away to get them done. There is nothing local. And she goes to the same place I went to. It’s an entire day just to do her nails.
Afterwards, we head back to the car and wander the shoreline at Resurrection Bay. It is raining and cold. The only wildlife we see are some birds. Time to retreat to the warmth of our Claudia.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
It is hard to believe, but Alex has been retired one year today! Wow, time flies.
It poured all day. Buckets of rain. And more buckets of rain.
We stayed in and did our last minute trip planning and paperwork. We made calls to campgrounds to made sure they would still be open. It’s getting cold at night, 30s and 40s, so electric is vital to keep warm. Without electricity, we have to run the generator all the time and that’s not something we want to do.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
I had left a voice mail message with Soldotna Animal Hospital yesterday asking if they could get us in this morning. They called back around eight thirty and gave us an eleven o’clock appointment. We ate, got dressed, packed up Princess Poco Loco and Prince Vino Loco into their harnesses and leashes and set out for the vet. By twelve we were back at the coach, shots and paperwork completed. After a fast lunch, we got everything ready and left Soldotna for Seward in the pouring rain.
It rained the entire ninety miles to Seward. We were trying to connect with our friend Calvin and his wife who were in Alaska on a vacation, which was given to them by their children as an anniversary gift. Today they were in Seward and we were trying to get together for dinner. It was the only time our paths would cross in Alaska. Phone and internet service in Alaska is poor at best and when the weather is bad, forget it. Posting to our blog happens when I can get service, and then I get an argument when it comes to pictures. So, it was no wonder that Alex called and texted, but we never did connect.
It continued to pour all through the rest of the day and into the night. Needless to say, we stayed in.
Monday, September 4, 2017
We are spending today planning our new route and getting our ducks in a row for the journey back though Canada. How much fuel, how many nights in a campground, what food do we need, cat supplies, how much cash we will need to get and convert to Canadian dollars or what Alex calls funny money.
When we are finished, we are going with Skip to Froso’s Family Dining on the Kenai Spur for pizza and what will be our last night, at least for awhile, in Soldotna.
Sunday, September 3, 2017
Peaceful sleep didn’t last long. Now we were in open seas, high seas. The boat was pitching and rolling. I could hear our neighbor next door retching. Guess they weren’t used to be on the water. All I could think of was my poor fur babies in the hull, alone and scared, with the boat rolling all over. Alex and I both slept, but not the peaceful, restful sleep we wanted. It did calm down a bit as we got closer to Homer. Before we knew it, the PA was announcing our arrival in Homer in thirty minutes. We got dressed and made out way to the dining room and got a quick breakfast of eggs and bacon for me, sausage for Alex. Then they were calling for us to go to the car desk and prepare for disembarkation.
I went to Sergio and Alex went to Claudia. We agreed that I would wait in the adjacent parking lot till he came out. Once he did, we went back to the top of the hill to hook up Sergio. Then I found out his tale of exiting the Tustamina. A crew member put a hook under the front of the coach in the generator compartment when we boarded. The hook was stuck. Probably from all the shifting with the rough seas. Alex found him banging away with something trying to get it loose. The crew member got his buddy to give him a turnbuckle and he continued to bang away till he go the hook loose. Alex tried to stop him, but the guy told him he knew what he was doing and didn’t seem happy Alex was interfering. End result, bent bracket. Alex had to take a chock off the left front tire or he would have run over it driving off. On the elevator, they had to move cables to get him to clear the mirror. Then they had to stop the elevator’s accent so he could move back and forth to clear whatever was above. They needed boards under Claudia to get her off. The Alaska Marine Highway may think they can handle large coaches, but RVers would strongly disagree! In addition, our fur babies suffered mal de mer, sea sickness, all over the coach. Table, counters, sofa, pillows, bedspread. You name it, they hit it. When the ferry system says you can go to your pets every four hours, they lie! Never again!
When our tales of the Tustamena was recounted and Sergio was hooked up, we set out for Soldotna. The Kodiak ferry trip convinced us not to continue our ferry journey back to America, as Alaskans call the lower forty eight. That decision having been made, we had to go to the vet to get Princess Poco Loco and Prince Vino Loco two shots that were expiring on the fifth. This would enable us to get new health certificates for us to travel through Canada, again, something Alex vowed never to do. We had already been to the vet in Soldotna, so we figured this was the best place to get this accomplished. Plus we would see Skip again before leaving the forty ninth state.
Rather than have Skip move his coach and inconvenience him, yet again, we decided to stay in Fred Meyers’ parking lot. Being Sunday of the Labor Day weekend, we didn’t expect to get the vet accomplished till Tuesday, but we could do some restocking of our supplies to get through Canada. When it was dinner time, we piled into Skip’s car, and went to St. Elias Brewing for great pizza, beer and wine. Then it was home to bed to make up for last night on the rocking and rolling express.
Saturday, September 2, 2017
Today we pay the price for the beautiful day we had yesterday. A bad storm is coming in, just in time for our ferry ride back to Homer tonight.
We spend the day packing up and getting ready. Our Coast Guard neighbor is telling us he doesn’t know if we will sail. The Coast Guard is pulling their boats back into port. Not getting a warm and fuzzy feeling. The wind and rain pick up as the day goes on. We have dinner and do our final preparations. Around eight thirty, we pull up stakes, say our goodbyes to Chad and head to the ferry terminal.
It’s raining. This is a tiny staging area compared to Homer. Alex has to keep Claudia in the street area in front of some semi container boxes that are being offloaded from a cargo ship next door. We go inside to check in. I ask if we will be sailing, since the weather is getting worse. The woman behind the counter tells me the ferry stops sailing when the seas reach twenty five feet. We are just under that. Oh, goody! She asks us if we have guns, if ammo is separate from the guns, stamps a gun on our boarding passes and off to the staging lines we go to wait. Cars keep coming. The place is packed. We have a school bus filled with teenagers. Ugh! The workers are doing their last checks of all the vehicles. When the purser comes to check on me, she asks if we have a cabin, to which I say no. She points to the teenagers and asks if I am sure, but now I don’t have time to go inside to get one. Oh, dear! It’s around ten, and they start the loading process. Claudia is first. Keeping my fingers crossed.
Crossing fingers didn’t work, as I found out later. The crew told him they didn’t think they could get him on because of Claudia’s size. They wanted him to retract the mirrors, which don’t retract, they have electronics in them. After some hemming and hawing, they finally pulled their cabling to get him onboard. They backed him all the way down the boat and had the passenger side, the side with the only door, parked about a foot from the wall. He couldn’t even get the steps down. There was barely enough room to open the door to get out.
When they call me forward, I get my first look at the Tustamena. She is way smaller than the Kennicott. Tiny. This is what we are going to be crossing the high seas on??? Then it’s my turn to get on the elevator. Instead of the six cars, there are only two of us. When the elevator turns, Sergio’s back end is facing the inside of the boat. I get to back up the length of the ship. Yippee! The good news is Claudia is next to me but on the other side of the staircase. I decide to take our sleeping bags, hopefully to use in a cabin. Alex is setting up the kitties, so I head upstairs to find a spot. This is nothing like the Kennicott. There is a forward area, where the screeching, howling teens are, that has long tables with benches and recliners that don’t fully recline. In the aft, there are four small tables with benches. There is no one in here, so I take up residency at one of the tables and wait for Alex. There are vending machines and a microwave in this section. A giant Keurig gives you coffee for $2 a cup. Within moments, the screeching, howling teens arrive, descending like a swam of insects. The din is deafening. I know this isn’t going to fly. I have got to score a room. When Alex finally finds me, I inform him of the situation and he immediately tells me to find the purser and get a room. I keep checking her office, but everyone is still on the dock checking passengers in. I hang out at the office window and eventually she arrives. I’m in luck! We have a room. I get Alex and we go find out haven for the night.
The stateroom has a sink to your left as you open the door. A wall separates it from the two berth beds. The rest of the room was just enough space to walk in with a ledge seat under the window. Not the Waldorf, but it would do. We dropped off our stuff and take a stroll on desk as we set sail. We have a brisk wind blowing, but the rain is just a mist. She has to turn around. In order to do that, she has to sail down into the bay to make the turn. Bonus for us, we get to see all of the dock area and Near Island by night then the city of Kodiak as we sail out to sea. Once we clear land, we head back to our stateroom. We spread out our sleeping bags, me taking the upper berth and Alex the lower. Within a few minutes we were asleep. Much better than trying to sleep with the screeching, howling teenagers.
Friday, September 1, 2017
It is actually a nice day today. The weather forecast was right for a change.We took a ride north to Fort Abercrombie State Park and White Sands Beach to see what we missed in the rain the other day.
I don’t know why it is called White Sands Beach, I can’t see any white sands anywhere. People were there with their dogs and kids running in the surf. Everybody is out when the weather is nice.
Next, we drove from the northernmost part of Kodiak Island to the southernmost point. Along the way, we encountered a cattle ranch and wild bison. We stopped at Surfer’s Beach. It is not quite the southernmost end of the island, but very close to it. It is a place where people camp, and yes, surf. There are waves, nothing like what you see in the Atlantic, but waves. It was beautiful. The winds were blowing, so it was very, very cold. Water had cut paths through the sand beach. They were like streams. We couldn’t get across to the shoreline without wading through and getting wet. I wasn’t about to brave the icy waters and get soaked, so we stayed on dry ground.
We continued to the end of the road. To our surprise, we found a government installation, called Space Something or other, with missile silos. This is one of the locations the US has to launch a strike missile or counter an incoming attack. In other words, a prime enemy target. Pretty scary stuff, but nice to know it’s there. Especially, with what is going on with North Korea.
We have driven well over a hundred miles today, traversing the island from one end to the other and back to camp. It was a hundred miles round trip to the southern end of the island from our campground. Today was one of the rare beautiful days we have had in Alaska!
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Since it wasn’t raining this morning, we figured it was a good time to wash Claudia and Sergio, then we could head out after lunch and do some exploring. They were filthy and this would probably be our last chance for awhile. Even though the main roads are paved, the side roads are the loose gravel, dirt combination. That yuk gets on the vehicles and they bring it onto the main road. From there it gets all over everything. So we washed and scrubbed and several hours later Claudia and Sergio looked shades cleaner, lighter and brighter.
Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we were done and putting everything away, it started to rain. That ruined our plans for exploring, so out came our killer Disney jigsaw puzzle and we spent the rest of the day driving ourselves crazy working on it. It’s only 750 pieces, but man is it a tough one.
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Even though it’s raining, we are going to Near Island. There is a bridge that connects Kodiak Island with Near Island. It is a short drive to the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center. Inside the Center, there is a large, oval, freestanding aquarium (it holds 3500 gallons!), and a touch tank that allows visitors to handle intertidal organisms, like anemones, crabs, and other critters. You can learn all about the local sea life from the exhibits around the tanks and on the walls.
When we leave, it is only drizzling, so we take the short drive to North End Park and hike along the cliffs overlooking the big island, Kodiak. Kodiak is the second largest island in the United States, after the big island of Hawaii. From this trail, you can see everything that is going on along the shoreline. Curiosity has us drive down the adjacent road and we find St. Herman’s Harbor, a boat basin, where commercial and pleasure boats are both moored. From here you get an entirely different perspective of Kodiak.
We were told about a beach not far from our campground where the sea throws sea glass onto to its shore, so we decide to go sea glass hunting. It’s about a half mile hike from where you can park your car along the road to the beach. As you are hiking, you can hear the sound of the waves getting louder and more forceful. This is part of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge and no doubt about it, we are in a rainforest. Everywhere you turn, you see trees and ground ladened with moss or lichen. It is clear why they call this the Emerald Isle, everything is green. When we reach the beach, we discover it is a cold, stone covered shore with giant rocks jutting out of the sea. There is a young woman with her two small sons collecting sea glass for her to use in her jewelry making. She says the picking are slim today because of the storm we had the other day and she is right. We’re finding small pieces, not many of any great size, but still we got a few pocketfuls to remind us of of stay on Kodiak. We hiked back to the car as the rain started in again and took the short ride home.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
The storm has passed. It’s still gray and cloudy, but no rain, yet. So we take a trip over to the Visitor Information Center and pick up some information and learn that yesterday’s storm wasn’t normal. These kinds of storms happen, but not frequently. We are told if you go to the end of Near Island, you can see the downed trees from the last storm last year. Great! Just our luck!
Next stop, across the street to the Baranov Museum. The Baranov Museum is a local history museum in the oldest building in Alaska, a National Historical Landmark in Kodiak, known as the Russian American Magazin or Erskine House. The exhibits show Kodiak’s Russian era (1741-1867), early American era (1867-1912) and modern era (1912-present). Although it is a small building, it is packed with history and artifacts. This was of particular interest to Alex with his Russian heritage. So many of the items for sale and on display reminded both of us of his mom and the things she had. Bittersweet memories.
It was lunchtime and our stomachs were letting us know, so we walked down to Henry’s Great Alaskan Restaurant to grab a bite. Alex tried the Alaskan Cod, which is a different fish from its Atlantic cousin. He wasn’t impressed. But the beer was good and cold, so all was not lost.
The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center is across from the Baranov Museum. This is the place to learn about Kodiak wildlife and ecosystems in their exhibit hall. There is a complete skeleton of a 36 foot male Gray Whale hanging from the ceiling. He was found dead on Pasagshak Beach on May 28, 2008. It took several years to clean the bones and construct the skeleton.
It was still early and since we were on the north end of the island, we drove up to Fort Abercrombie State Park and White Sands Beach in the rain. I did get out of the car to take a look around, but the wind was strong and it made the rain come straight at you, so I didn’t stay long. I was getting soaked so it was back in the car and home.
Monday, August 28, 2017
When we woke, we had breakfast. Mark had to take care of his U-Haul paperwork and get his uniforms and other things out of the storage locker. He was due to report for duty today. He and Alex went off to do the errands, plus make sure we didn’t have a problem with our stay through the week. When they got back, Alex grilled the salmon for lunch, while Mark showered and pressed his uniform. While he was eating, he was getting texted that his boat was coming into port and he need to get there ASAP. He finished eating, we said our goodbyes and off he went to his first assignment. He was going to be out on his ship for the next twelve days.
We just settled into the coach and our jigsaw puzzle, when it started to drizzle. The drizzle turned to rain. The rain turned to a deluge. The winds picked up. The pine trees were bending to the ground. The other trees were shedding their leaves and limbs. The ground was being buried by water. Our only neighbors, the chaplain, packed up and went to the base, or so we assumed. We were on our own. No phone, no internet, no television to tell us what was happening. It was like being in a nor’easter or tropical storm, only in a coach. The topper on the full slide was stretching to heights it shouldn’t be stretching. We had to close the big slide. We were rocking and rolling all night long. Somewhere near dawn the winds died down. Poor Mark was out on a boat in this. What a way to start a career! That which does not kill us makes us strong. Except bears, bears can kill us! Sorry, Alaska humor.
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Mark came over for breakfast. It turns out, he pulled his truck into the same pullout we were in. He was at the far southern end and we were on the far northern end of the large pullout. None of us knew the other was there. We couldn’t see each other. He came all the way from Florida driving the U-Haul with his pickup truck in the back of the U-Haul. Each night he crawled into his sleeping bag and slept in his pickup, which was inside the U-Haul. At least this time, he was just in the pickup.
After breakfast they guys went to take care of Mark’s U-Haul and get us checked into the Coast Guard campground. You can only use this campground if you are retired or active military, work for the military or are sponsored by someone in the military. Alex tried, but anyone who just served their stint can’t get in. So Mark was a dream come true.
When we got to the campground, we met our neighbors, also from Florida. Chad and his family were living in a twenty four foot trailer waiting for base housing. Tight space for his wife, two kids and two dogs. Chad is the chaplain. We chatted for awhile, then got to setting up camp. When we were finished, I went to Safeway and Alex and Mark went fishing. They caught two salmon, Mark a pink and Alex a dog salmon.
Mark ate dinner with us and we spent the night talking. We couldn’t let him go back to his pickup truck to sleep, so he grabbed his sleeping bag and camped out on our sofa.
Saturday, August 26, 2017
Daybreak brings another wet day. The three of us get breakfast and watch as we get closer to Kodiak Island. We exchange contact information. Mark is going to get us into the Coast Guard campground once he unloads his U-Haul. He says he doesn’t need any help unloading.
When it’s time to offload, Sergio is one of the first. Alex and I agree that I will go find a spot where we can hook up while he waits his turn. I go to the Visitor Center to see if I can get campground info, in case the Coast Guard campground falls through, and learn about the island. When I get there, the parking lot is empty so it looks like a good spot to hook up. The problem is, it’s closed on Saturday. The ferry comes in on Saturday with tourists, but the tourist center is closed. Makes perfect sense.
Walmart is my next stop. We need a few things anyway so this is as good a spot as any. I text Alex the location and wait for him to call. It’s a very long time before he calls and he is bat crap crazy when he does. They had trouble getting him on the lift. They had to use boards to get him on because Claudia is so low to the ground. Plus they had problems with another car that was low to the ground as well. It tipped, right front down and left end up in the air. Needless to say, he was upset when he finally got off the boat. The lack of sleep didn’t help. We stayed on the phone while I directed him to Walmart. We did our shopping, hooked up Sergio and went in search of a spot to wait on Mark.
We found a spot close to base in a pullout by the water and had lunch. I saw a sea otter fishing close to shore. Mark was still tied up with his unloading. It got late and the guys agreed to do the campground in the morning. No one would be at base to take care of it at the late hour anyway. We had dinner and went to sleep early.
Friday, August 25, 2017
Check out time is noon and we plan on staying until the bitter end. Check in time for the ferry in midnight, so we need a place to hang out for twelve hours, with a forty foot coach, and a car, in a city!
We take a slow ride, leaving Anchor Point and our nice campsite behind, and head to Homer as the rain begins to fall. There is an overlook, before you make your final decent down the mountain into Homer, where we decide to pull into and have lunch. It’s cloudy and drizzling. Before it starts raining really hard, we take a stroll around the area and notice the fog is coming in. Then we go back in Claudia and have lunch. By the time we are finished eat, the fog has consumed the land. You can’t see a thing. It lasts for a few minutes then moves on, only to come back a few minutes later. That’s Alaska weather. If you don’t like it, wait a few minutes. It will change, but not necessarily for the better.
After lunch I go on a scouting mission to find a place on the Spit where we can go, preferably one that won’t cost us anything. The Alaskan Islands & Ocean Visitor Center won’t let us stay there till midnight and suggests the seven day free parking lot. Once I drive around the lot, I discard the idea of staying there. It’s a mud hole with huge lakes in the lot and totally uneven, plus it’s a hike to get back to the main road. Our friend, Skip is going to meet us in Homer for dinner and I’m not fond of leaving the coach and car so far from civilization while we’re out. I did spot another parking lot sandwiched between the expensive RV campground and the city campground, next to the Fishing Hole, a favorite angler site. I drive over to check it out. Turns out, it is free day parking and there is a relatively dry, even spot close to the highway with easy in and easy out. So I head back to our temporary site to get Alex and we make our way down to the Spit.
A little while later, Skip is done with his tasks and stops at our new homesite. It’s too early for dinner, so we hang out in Claudia for awhile, then pile in Skip’s Explorer and go to Kannery Grill, a new restaurant in Homer proper. Alex tried rock fish. He wasn’t impressed. He said it was chewy, like over cooked lobster. My steak was delicious and Skip’s burger was gigantic. We say our temporary goodbyes, set the alarm for eleven and take a nap. It’s going to be a long night.
Once the alarm goes off, it’s pack up and drive to the end of the Spit and the Ferry terminal. We check in at the terminal, get our boarding passes and stickers for the vehicles and get in our designated lanes to wait until called to drive onto the ferry. Claudia, being the biggest, goes first. There are several U-Hauls, people moving onto the island, probably on the Coast Guard base, but nothing compared to Claudia. The U-Hauls go next, then the cars. Sergio, being so small, is last. They have us drive onto the ferry into this channel like trough, which turns out, is the elevator. There were five other cars on with me. Then the elevator drops you down into the boat and slowly turns the trough so you can drive into the belly of the ship. One by one they assign you a spot and tie your vehicle down. Quite the unusual experience for me, quite the hairy experience for Alex. Then they are shoeing you out and up to passenger desks. Alex texted me his location and I went up to meet him. Mind you, our fur babies have to stay in the coach the whole trip with the coach closed up and no electricity.
When I finally find Alex, his is talking to a young guy. Mark, was one of the U-Hauls that was loaded on. He is being stationed at the Coast Guard base on Kodiak and is moving from the Jacksonville, Florida area to serve the next two years as a machinery technician, an MK3. They are talking boats, and fishing and all sorts of guy stuff and before you know it, we’ve adopted him. We go to the cafeteria for coffee and snacks. We sit around the forward lounge talking till somewhere after three. We hunker down to sleep on the benches.
Thursday, August 24, 2017
Today it is pouring! Really raining it’s heart out. I don’t mind today because we need to do laundry, trip planning and getting ready to move on down to Homer tomorrow for our trek on the ferry to Kodiak Island. This should be interesting!
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
We decided to head on down to the Homer Spit again today for lunch at Boardwalk Fish ‘n’ Chips and to do some site seeing. Boardwalk Fish ‘n’ Chips is at the end of one of the boardwalks right next to the parking lot. Alex had halibut as his choice of fish. It was a nice big chunk of fish on a skewer for twenty something dollars. Kind of pricey. I’ve found that local seafood is more expensive here, where it is caught, then in the lower forty eight. It doesn’t make sense.
After lunch, we went to Alaskan Islands & Ocean Visitor Center. This center provides visitor information but also is a museum where you can learn the history of Alaska and it’s native people. It starts thousands of years ago with the native population’s way of life and progresses you through the Japanese invasion during World War II, all the way to the present. Few people may realize that Japan invaded Dutch Harbor and the western most islands of the Aleutians during the war, which then turned Alaska into a strategic US military asset still valuable today.
When we finished touring the center, we took the trail down to the water. There was a path though some interesting trees, which was a shortcut, so naturally we took it. The views down at the water were beautiful. If it was a clear and sunny day, they would have been spectacular.
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
The weather isn’t terrible today. It’s cloudy, as usual, but it’s not raining. I can live with this. Still in the 50-60 range, but it doesn’t feel like it as long as it’s not raining or the gale winds aren’t blowing.
We’re going to the Samovar Cafe in Nikolaevsk. This town is one of the old Russian villages still in existence. We stop at the old Russian church first. It is locked so we can’t take a look at the inside. They are building a new church right next door. It is a bit more modern than the original, with vinyl siding.
The road perpendicular to the church takes you to the Samovar Cafe, an old wooden house painted a bright turquoise. The Cafe serves borscht, piroshki, perogies, dessert and Russian tea. There are Russian gift items for sale as well. Somewhere on the property is a bed and breakfast, though I didn’t see anything that resembled one. It is run by Nina, a Russian woman of undetermined age. Everyone on the Kenai Peninsula knows Nina. Nina is, how should I delicately put it, a pushy, bossy woman with plenty of rules. You cannot take photos without permission and permission costs $20 for four photos. To sit on her enclosed porch, even if you are eating food you bought, costs $20 for thirty minutes. She is forceful when it comes to buying her food, pushing you to buy one more thing. The chairs in the kitchen/gifts shop are tied up, so you can’t sit, even while waiting for your food. She is a strictly cash business or you can use PayPal. Oddly, after she adds up your bill on her calculator, she tells you 2017 has a 20% increase in price and points to yet another sign. Why wouldn’t you just increase your prices and not tack on another fee?
Alex liked being there. It reminded him of his mom and his Russian upbringing. He had a good time chatting with her. We bought food to go, borscht, piroshki with potatoes, pelmeni and a tea made of raspberries and strawberries and all sorts other other things. It tasted fruity and sweet. The bill came to forty seven dollars, so Alex gave her fifty and said to keep the change, then put five dollars into the church fund. I guess that softened her up, because the next thing we knew she was dressing us up in traditional Russian garb and taking our picture. All in all, a strange experience.
Monday, August 21, 2017
It rained through the night. By dawn it stopped. Around seven, Alex woke me to a moose in our front yard. She wandered in front of us then disappeared to our right. A few minutes later, while we were looking for her, two other moose appeared in front of us. We believed it to be a cow (female) and her calf because of distance and perspective. They were just munching away on the brush, when right in front of the driver side of the coach, no more than five feet in front of us, appeared a very big momma moose. Below us were her two calves. I say appeared, because that is what these creatures do. They are three quarters of a ton, silent as death and magically, poof they are right in front of you. She started her decent down the hill to her calves. They calves came running to her. The next thing, all three were running towards the Inlet. They came up somewhere on the other side of the campground and just casually strolled out the driveway. An awesome site to see!
The weather got nice so we headed to the beach to check it out. You can see Mount Iliamna, one of the volcanoes that make up the Pacific Ring of Fire. Fortunately, she is quite, although on those rare clear weather moments, she often has a little cloud above her, which I am told is the steam she gives off.
The game plan was to head back to the coach for lunch, then go to Nikolaevsk, another Russian town. But we decided to just head straight there instead. We were counting on a sign to point the way, since we didn’t take the brochure with us, thinking we were coming back. I should know better. Signs are a rarity in the great white north. There was nothing to put us in the right direction except my memory of what I thought the road was named. So we decided to drive the fourteen miles to Homer instead.
Homer, as the locals say, is a quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem. It was established on the north shore of Kachemak Bay at Homer Spit in 1895, and was named for local prospector Homer Pennock. Kachemak is Russian for “high cliffs on the water”, although another interpretation says it means “smoky bay” derived from the smoke coming from the smoldering coal seams jutting from the clay bluffs. Today, there is no smoke, but erosion dumps an estimated 400,000 tons of coal in the area for residents to use as winter fuel. Coal mines operated till the late 1800s. People came to mi e gold while others came to work in the fishing industry or canneries.
There is a long narrow bar of gravel known as the Homer Spit coming out 4.3 miles from the Homer shore. It is the end of the Sterling Highway, the southern most point. It reminds me of the Florida Keys, in dimensions, long and narrow, but Key West in look and feel. There are all kinds of restaurants and shops that line the narrow strip of land. Charter companies will take you fishing, flying and just about anything else you might want. It is home to a major dock facility, with big boats coming in and out.
Since we are here, we go to the absolute end of the road where the Alaska Marine Highway ferry terminal is. We will be going on the ferry to Kodiak Island at 2 am Saturday morning, so this is a good time to scout out the area. We take a walk on the beach and I put my hands in the water to see how cold it is. Surprisingly, it isn’t that bad. I’ve felt worse, but I’m not swimming anytime soon.
One of the local landmarks in Homer, is the Salty Dawg Saloon, think Hogs Breathe or Sloppy Joe’s in fame, but Captain Tony’s in look and feel. Dollar bills tacked all over the bar, low ceilings, pool tables in the other room, drinks and hot dogs for consumption. They do have an outside deck area if you don’t want to be inside. This is our lunch stop. Afterwards, we walk along the boardwalk and check out the shops, stopping, of course, for ice cream at Spit Licks.
It’s late in the afternoon and the weather is turning cloudy and it’s starting to rain again, so we head back to Anchor Point. Once we get home, it starts to pour, again. I’m getting a bit soggy!
Sunday, August 20, 2017
Moving day. We have a drizzle breaking down camp. The rain picked up a bit while we were driving to Kyllonen’s RV in Anchor Point, only a twenty mile drive south. Because of our size, we are getting the back end of the campground, sites numbers 12 1/2 and 13. While I’m checking us in, Alex unhitches Sergio and then goes down to scope out the site and figure out how to get us in. After several K turns, we are in position. Dave, the owner, comes down to see how things are going and we start chatting. The rain is picking up and so is the wind. The flag is flying straight out. By the time we’re done talking, it’s coming down and we still have to level, connect and do slides. Because of the utility locations, it takes two water hoses and two sewer hoses to get us connected. But this is a cool spot. We’re looking out over the wetlands to Cook Inlet. Our patio side is huge with nothing but the trees as a border. Our back end is against trees that border the road to the beach, and our dining and living room windows take in the rest of the small park. The best spot ever.
By the time we’re done setting up, we’re cold and damp, even with rain gear. This weather just goes to the bone. Hot soup for lunch does a great job of warming us up. We don’t plan on going out in this monsoon, so we get out our 750 piece Disney jigsaw puzzle that is kicking our butts and get to work on it for the rest of the day.
Saturday, August 19, 2017
It’s not raining. It’s not sunny, but at least it’s not raining.
Being that Alex is of Russian heritage, we are going to the Russian Orthodox Church here in Ninilchik. There is a cemetery that has both members of the church and veterans buried there. A very beautiful and somber place perched on the top of a hill overlooking Cook Inlet.
After walking through the cemetery, I love cemeteries, something peaceful, historic and sobering about them, we head to the fair. With Alaska being so big, they have three state fairs broken out by region. This is the Kenai Peninsula State Fair, for folks in the southern part of the state. As we drive up the place is packed. Cars are parked everywhere. The day has turned sunny, so everyone is out. We pay our $6 senior admission fee, get our hand stamped and start into the fair. I’ve never been to a state fair, so this could be fun. There are vendors selling clothes, crafts, gadgets and food. Two separate stages host different musicians throughout the day. The 4-H club has the winners of best flowers, biggest vegetables and animals on display. There was a cabbage that was bigger than a medicine ball. They’ve got pony rides, a rodeo, a petting zoo with goats and where else could you see pig races and a fish toss but in Alaska.
We stopped at Roscoe’s for a late lunch, early dinner. Another great place for pizza. Afterwards, we drove around and found our way to the old, original town of Ninilchik on the beach of Cook Inlet. It has some local artists housed there and it is where the charter boats set out. We wandered down on the beach in the sunshine, a rarity this summer. All in all, an interesting afternoon.
Then we head home. After dinner, around eight, Alex looked out the window to the west and the mountain range was visible. Remember, it’s still daylight till ten. We hopped in the car and drove back to the beach to get a better view of the mountain range.
Friday, August 18, 2017
It is pouring rain today. Not a drizzle, which can be typical, but a deluge. We wanted to go to the Russian church today, but unless we want to be drowned, I think we’ll pass. Instead, we are staying in and watching all of the Hunger Games movies. I read the books years ago, and I have to say the movies did not disappoint.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
We are going to Ninilchik, a Russian fishing village founded in the mid 1800s. Its name means “peaceful settlement by the river.” There are about 300 permanent residents here where the Ninilchik River flows into Cook Inlet. When you stand at the beach, you can look across to the Aleutian Range and see active volcanos, Augustine, Iliamna, Redoubt and Spurr, one of their sisters further down the islands erupted last month shooting ash 30,000 feet into the air. The Ninilchik River and Deep Creek are famous for salmon and the beaches are excellent for razor clamming.
We’re staying at Alaskan Angler RV Resort & Cabins, a stone’s throw off the Sterling Highway. They are all back in sites with 20/30/50 amp service, water and sewer. Laundry, showers, wifi and, wonderfully, cable. TV! We haven’t been able to get television in quite some time. This will be nice. They have fishing charters for halibut and salmon and will clean, and even ship your catch. There is a cleaning station if you are out on your own and need to clean your fish or clams. Their office has a cute gift shop with a book swap.
It’s raining and muddy as we set up camp. Once we’re done, we go in for some lunch and to get the cold out of our bones. Alex turns on the TV and does the channel scan. Nothing! Check the connections and still nothing. So, it’s off to the office only to find that someone left the other day without disconnecting the cable and tore up all the cables and connections to the sites in our area. They said they would see if they could get someone to fix it. In the meantime, we said we would see if we could connect where there was still service. So it’s back to our wet site and connecting to terminal after terminal till we get it to work. Suddenly, we have nothing, only snow on the television. Alex goes outside and fines the guys are working on it. About thirty minutes later, we are back in business. There’s only eight channels, but it’s nice to be in touch with the outside world.
It’s raining pretty hard so we’re staying put today. The State Fair starts tomorrow. I hope the weather is better.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
It’s back to Walmart in Kenai today to pick up Alex’s medicines and return, and hopefully replace, our psycho DVD player. We accomplish both tasks, then we satisfy Alex’s curiosity for a McDonalds Denali Mac, basically a Big Mac but bigger, Alaska sized. Ah, the power of advertising.
Kenai has a market at the Chamber of Commerce every Wednesday, so we take a stroll through. There are local artisans selling their creations and vendors selling hot dogs and other food. After a quick stop at Three Bears for wine and Corn Nuts, we head back to pick up Skip for an early dinner at St. Elias. Pizza, beer and wine for our last night in Soldotna.
I’m still getting kicked by my sinuses, so we make it an early night. I setup the new DVD player in the living room and I still have the same problem. Now my focus is on the television. Since both the TV and DVD player are wifi compatible, I put both on our network and discover the television needs a software update. Then it needs a second. To prove it’s not the DVD player, I hook it up in the bedroom while the living room TV is doing its updates. The player works perfectly on the bedroom TV. Internet service is very slow in Alaska, so checking the DVD player on the living room television will have to wait till tomorrow when it finishes the updates. Hopefully, the updates make the player happy. If not, there isn’t another Walmart until Kodiak and we don’t get there till the end of the month.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
It’s a rainy day, again, so today I am making red gravy, meatballs and sausage for Skip. My allergies and sinuses are killing me, so it’s not a great day. This weather is reeking havoc with my head.
While I’m cooking, it’s time to troubleshoot the DVD player. I google our DVD player and download the user manual. I can’t find anything about the player turning off every fifteen minutes. A wide consensus on the internet, for every make of DVD player, says heat can make it turn off. I move the player. Still it turns itself off. Next I work on the TV. Still it turns off. I call Sanyo support. After an hour of trying everything but standing on my head, we give up and decide to return it. It will be back to Walmart for this puppy.
Monday, August 14, 2017
We have to go to the Kenai Walmart today to order Alex’s medicines for the long trip down the Alexander Archipelago, our Alaskan Ferry leg of the trip. We had planned on getting the meds in Juneau, but they closed down the Walmart there, so we had to improvise. We use Walmart for prescriptions, since they are all over and can access the info from anywhere. He’s too early for renewals, so he has to get a vacation override approved from Medicare.
So we drive the twenty miles to Kenai and get the ball rolling. We know we will have to come back once they get the approval and fill the scripts. We do a little shopping, wander around a bit, then drive home.
After dinner, the three of us watch “We’re the Millers” on our new DVD player that turns itself off every fifteen minutes. Guess I’ll be doing some troubleshooting.
Sunday, August 13, 2017
It’s bacon and eggs for breakfast for the three of us. It’s looking like it might not rain, at least for a little while. The boys decide they want to work on projects around the house and coach. Outside they go and I do my thing inside. They get a few hours before the rain starts, again. It’s getting close to dinner anyway, so they call it quits. Can’t win with the rain!
Saturday, August 12, 2017
We are back on the Skip Adventures Tour today. First up, breakfast at the Moose is Loose, a truly awesome bakery that adds about five pounds to your waistline just by walking in. The place is packed and there is a reason for that. The donuts, pastries and cookies are superb. They have coffee and teas that compliment the baked goods. This little place on the south bound side of the Sterling Highway in Soldotna past the Kenai Spur Highway also sells tee shirts, clothing and various other moose themed items.
After we get our food and drinks, we head to a table in the back room. There we meet Skip’s friend, Judy Hall, and her friend and employee, Dave. They are getting ready to head south to her RV park, Alaska RV Park, in Bowie, Arizona. They are RV snow birds, Alaska in the summer, Arizona in the winter. Judy is in her nineties and was a country singer, traveling around the country with some of music’s best. Her RV park, she’s looking to sell it, was a place where all her musician friends came to jam. They are very nice people and we tell Judy we will be in Arizona in the winter and stop by.
Lunch is at Pizza Boyz in Soldotna, again on the Sterling Highway. The pizza wasn’t bad, but not as good as St. Elias. We spend the rest of the afternoon checking out the area and take a short hike at Funny River. The trail runs along the Kenai River. Then it’s dinner at our joint homesite.
Friday, August 11, 2017
It is pouring today. An all day rain. There are a few breaks in the action, but not a pleasant day at all. Add to the mess, it’s cold, 50s. So this weather goes straight to the bone. Not the kind of day you want to be outside. So we have the fireplace on and we’re staying in working on our Disney jigsaw puzzle. Dinner at our place when Ship is finished with work.
Thursday, August 10, 2017
It’s a rainy day, so I am making gravy, meatballs and sausage, that’s tomato sauce for those that do not understand what I mean. That’s pretty much the day. Add in cleaning and other odds and end chores, and the day is done.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Prince Vino Loco has been sneezing a lot with a weeping eye, so I made an 11:30 appointment for him at Soldotna Animal Hospital. We get his harness and leash on and the howling starts. Alex carries him to the car and the sound intensifies. Once we are in the confined space of the car, his crying is deafening. This continues the short, but loud, drive to the Vet.
We were very pleased with the doctor. She did a very thorough examination and even put dye in his eyes to make sure he hadn’t gotten any scratches. She concluded that he has feline herpes. She gave us the name of baby nose drops we should give him and she said we should continue with the Lysine that he normally gets. On the return trip home, the noise wasn’t quite as bad.
I’m planning on making red gravy, tomato sauce, tomorrow, so we make a stop at Safeway to pick up the necessary ingredients. Being Wednesday, Soldotna Park hosts vendors selling their wares and food. It is raining again, but we venture over to see what it is all about. You can see that many of the vendors didn’t bother to show with the rain. After wandering around, we take a soggy walk on the walkway they constructed for the anglers to have fishing access. Alex talks to a few of the guys fishing in the rain, then we go home to dry and warmth.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
This morning, I had to get up early, seven o’clock. This is too much like work. Yuck!
I eat a fast breakfast, we get dressed and start the three hour, one hundred fifty mile journey from hell to Anchorage. We only had one traffic snafu for road construction and ended up in Anchorage after eleven. Our first stop is to Quest Diagnostics for Alex’s blood work. You have to plan ahead for acquiring medications and routine medical tests. We will not have access to both once we start the ferry system down to the states, so this had to be done now. He couldn’t have breakfast, so we set Quest for our first stop. That having been taken care of, we grab a fast Whopper at Burger King, to kill the hunger, before setting out to make our shopping stops in the big city. First up, Best Buy. The last of our DVD players died two days ago and we couldn’t find just a plain Blu-ray player anywhere close by. Everything was wifi with apps. Living in an RV, we have other options for internet connections and apps, plus with all the bouncing, the players don’t last forever, so it doesn’t pay to get expensive, high tech models. You go through them too quickly.
Best Buy has no plain models, so we head to Walmart. We find a player that is just a player and after picking up a few other things, pay and head for our next stop, Bed Bath & Beyond. I’m looking for a small tea pot and a roasting chicken rack. My roasting rack either got packed or tossed and my last chicken cooked in the coach was not to my standards. Having found both, we pay and head to Stanton Optical to pick up our glasses. At Stanton, they bring Alex his sunglasses, but can’t find mind or the frames they were supposed to order to fix the pair that he just got from them and broke when he tried them on a few weeks ago. We’re getting the typical, “They’re not in yet” line. Alex tells them we called to confirm that all three were in yesterday, plus we got two message from them today telling us the glasses were in. They find mine, but his frames are MIA. Finally, somebody checks in the stock cabinet and finds a frame, so they use that one. A little before three, we are heading back to Soldotna.
The Sterling Highway, or 1, is one lane in each direction, with few passing lane options. We’re making good time out of Anchorage, but get snagged before Cooper Landing with a boat being towed and several different types of RVs behind him. Any time I made when we first took off from Anchorage is now lost behind this parade going anywhere from five to thirty miles below the speed limit. Add the constant shifting, Sergio is manual transmission, and it was not a fun ride home.
The plan for dinner tonight is St. Elias Brewing in Soldotna. We meet Skip back at the house and head on over. St. Elias is a family owned restaurant and brewpub offering rustic Neapolitan style pizzas, gourmet salads, sandwiches and desserts. They have an on sight brewhouse that produces handcrafted ale. There are up to 10 ales on tap, as well as a wine menu, including some Alaskan made varieties. The 7 barrel brewhouse produces all of the house ales, as well as cream soda and rootbeer.
Alex and I both choose to build our own personal pizza. Skip chooses the Brewhouse pie. Once again, we found great pizza! Puddle Jumper Ale, Williwaw IPA and Pinot Noir rounded out the menu. Good food, good company, good night.
Monday, August 7, 2017
Today, Skip is working and we are taking care of the personal stuff that you have to do, like checking to see if our glasses have finally made it to Stanton Optical back in Anchorage. If you remember, we ordered them a few weeks ago. We had hoped to get them before we were too far past Anchorage, but it never happened. So now we have to make the three hour trip back to Anchorage. That will be tomorrow’s project. Then tonight, we join forces and enjoy dinner together.
Sunday, August 6, 2017
Today we are on the Skip Adventures Tour, with our friend Skip as our tour guide. On the tour is Soldotna, Kenai and Nikiski.
We pulled out of the driveway and when we got to the end of Skip’s property, a quick look to the left revealed two moose. You can just make out their brown tail ends in the picture. Moose are nastier than bear, so you don’t push it with them, plus this was a momma with her calf. You really don’t push this combination! As we are driving to Kenai, two caribou bolt out from the left side of the road and make a dash across the highway. It happened too quickly to get a picture, but it was really cool to see these creatures just living their life in the middle of civilization!
Skip has to make a business stop in Kenai, so he drops us off at Walmart so we can do more of the supply stocking. On this trip, we are looking for sleeping bags for the ferry crossings that will bring us back to the lower forty eight. We have a bunk bed berth for the long crossing, Whitter to Juneau, but we took the cheap route and didn’t get their linens. That would add a few hundred to the cost of the berth compartment. So now we need sleeping bags for that leg of the crossing and any of the other shorter sailings that happen during the night. More to come on this as we get to the maritime segment of our journey. We decided on bags that will keep us warm down to twenty degrees.
Skip picks us up from Wallyworld and we head to Paridiso, a Greek Italian restaurant, that reminds me of diners in the NYC area. Next stop is Captain Cook State Recreation Area on Cook Inlet. It has forests, lakes, streams and saltwater beaches, though I don’t think anyone would want to go swimming, the water is freezing cold and the visibly is zero to none. There is plenty of wildlife; moose, bear, coyote, wolves, Beluga whales, harbor seals, beaver, muskrat, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, arctic and common loons, golden-eye ducks, mergansers, thrushes, warblers, and jays. We, of course, only saw birds. I don’t think the wildlife in Alaska likes us very much!
Standing in one of the overlook areas, you can see all of Cook Inlet. On a clear day, you can see the surrounding mountain ranges, Aleutian and Chigmit, and even Denali. If you look closely, you can see mountains in the distance surrounded by clouds. We were not, however, lucky enough to see Denali.
After a beautiful, warm and fun day, it was time to return home.
Saturday, August 5, 2017
We are moving today to our friend Skip’s house in Soldotna.
When we first left Florida, it was a novelty to wear boots, something you don’t get to do often in the Sunshine State. But now, after four months of cool, wet weather, the novelty has worn off. I want my sandals back. I want to wear a short sleeve shirt. Well, today the weather gods have given me my wish. It’s warm and sunny. Short sleeves and sandals. Yippee!
Skip’s house is a short drive from Watson Lake, about a half an hour. We pack up and head south on the Sterling Highway after lunch. We’re going to stop at Fred Meyers, the super store on steroids, to dump and stock up on some supplies, then head to Skips’s, which as he puts it, is right next door. This is Alaska speak. The reality is, it is three quarters of a mile behind Freddy’s.
After we setup, it’s burgers, brew, wine and conversation.
Friday, August 4, 2017
Moving day again. We’re heading to Watson Lake, a little known place to tourists, but well known to locals. This gem was given to us by our friend, Skip.
We have trash to dump before we leave and the bear proof dumpster is at the entrance to our campground loop, there are five campground loops. Normally, we hook up Sergio as soon as we pull out of our spot, but today, Alex feels it is best if Sergio and I lead Claudia and Alex through the bumps and dips on the road out to minimize the coach’s bouncing. Keep inside damage to a minimum. We don’t need everything being tossed around from the road. So, the game plan is, Sergio and I take the garbage to the dumpster at the loop entrance, and Alex and Claudia will meet us there. We get everything ready and Alex tells me to take off and he will meet me there. I take off and meet a very nice park worker named John. He opens the bear proof dumpster for me and I load in my trash. We are chatting and time is passing. I realize too much time is passing and Alex should be here by now. I am facing a dilemma, do I keep waiting here or do I go back. It shouldn’t be taking him this much time, he was all set to follow me out. Something is wrong. So, I decide to go back to our camp site. As I get there, I see that Claudia isn’t in the spot. I continue a bit more and find her at the bend in the road with Alex on her driver side. This can’t be good. And it’s not. Between the dirt and sun shining on the windshield and side mirrors, and the tight turn, the huge boulder on the driver side disappeared from view and jumped out to impale Claudia. Three basement panel doors to be exact. So we slowly worked Claudia around the mean turn, Alex driving and me directing. At the entrance to the loop, Sergio took the lead and we managed to get down to the entrance parking lot without any further incident. We hooked up Sergio and started to Watson Lake, pleasant mood left at the boulder. So, a word to the wise, big rigs beware of Russian River!!
Watson Lake is a short trip from Russian River, just down the road as Alaskans put it. The sun that was on the mirrors and windshield at Russian River was still out giving us a rare sunny day, even when we got to the lake. There are only three official campsites at Watson Lake, but there are other places for small vans or tents to set up. We were the only people there and took the site closest to the water. It was peaceful and very pretty. This is a fishing lake where people come with their small boats, kayaks or canoes. They can launch them down a boat ramp and spend the day on the water. Alex tried his hand at fishing, but this is a lake where you definitely need a boat to get out where the fish are.
By five, people started to roll in. A couple with their moody teenage daughter and small toddler set up a tent camp across from us. A Class C took the last spot. Two vans took up residence in front of the tent campers and all night, till eleven thirty, people kept coming looking for a place to stay. When we woke up in the morning, we had a tent next to us that set up during the night.
Thursday, August 3, 2017
We didn’t find gas on our way here, so we decided not to use the precious little we had left and stay in to finish off our jigsaw puzzle. It only took us about two and a half hours and we were done with our 1,000 piece puzzle. That surprised us. We thought it would take the day.
Our friend Skip had stopped by the night before on his way home to Soldotna and told us where there was a gas station, so we took the ride to Grizzly AK and got Sergio a full tank of go go juice. Now we didn’t have to worry about running out of gas. While we were out for the afternoon, we wandered around and checked out the Kenai River, the museum, the ferry to our side of the river for fishing and Quartz Creek, another popular spot to fish.
Back at camp, I played music and did my awful singing to keep the bears away while I barbecued.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Today is moving day. We are off to the Russian River Campground in Cooper Landing. The Russian River Campground sits between the Russian and Kenai Rivers. Anglers love the campground for its unique location, where salmon rest before continuing upriver to spawn. The campground is at an elevation of 400 feet on the Eastern Kenai Peninsula in the Chugach National Forest, which spans more than 5 million acres of arid tundra wilderness, jagged mountains, deep fjords and glacier-fed rivers that surround the Prince William Sound. The Russian River is the most popular sockeye salmon stream in Alaska and a top-rated spot for rainbow trout. Hiking, biking and boating round out the menu.
This is a tough campground for big rigs. Not just the narrow roadways, but the bumps and dips in the road, not to mention two gravel areas that you need to drive over to go the mile and a half to the campsites. We finally get to our site and back in. Since we are dry camping, there isn’t much to do outside, so we are setups in a flash.
This place is serious about it’s land and wildlife. They have designated trails they want you to stay on. They built a series of staircases from the campgrounds down to the river with a boardwalk path alongside the river that has break points or fishing stations that let you get into the river to fish. Since this is primo salmon country, and bears love salmon, there are plenty of bears. Everywhere there are warning signs of bear sightings. There are rules on what to do if the bear comes along and wants the salmon you are reeling in. There are rules on where to keep food, in the bear proof containers provided, how far all your gear, any gear, should be from your person, three feet, and trash should never be let outside and only put in the bear proof trash bins. Ever so slightly scary, but, even with all of this bear talk, we gear up to check out the river and the fishing.
We pick one of the staircases across from our campground and descend to the river walk. The Russian River is to our left as we walk towards the area where it meets the Kenai River. There are some people fishing in the river, but we learn that the first salmon run is pretty much over and the second won’t be happening for another week or two. No one is catching much of anything, but there is some trout. When we get to the point, there are anglers all over. The ferry brings them from the other side of the river. Anyone coming from fishing the river says the same thing, no salmon, so we head back to camp.
With dry camping, we try not to cook inside, so dinner tonight is on the barbecue. Again, more bear rules, don’t leave the barbecue unattended and don’t leave it out after you are done cooking. To make noise, I play music and sing. If the music doesn’t scare the bear away, my singing surely will.
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
We have next to no gas in Sergio and we only found an abandoned gas station at the very end of the road. Alex asked where we could get gas at the camp office and found that the abandoned station wasn’t abandoned after all. They sell gas to the tune of $5 a gallon. The next closest gas station is 88 miles. That being the case, with the skies being cloudy, we opt to stay in, get ready to move tomorrow and work on our jigsaw puzzle.
Monday, July 31, 2017
After breakfast, we pack up the fishing gear and head to the bridge. We find a parking spot, grab the gear and hike down to the river. There are several other anglers already at the river, but nowhere near as many as the day before. I am not a big fish lover and freezer space is tight, so Alex is only going for one fish. After some trail and error, he arrives upon the right combination and lands a salmon. Once you catch it, you have to kill it by smashing in it’s skull. Then its off to the cleaning station to gut and fillet it. Alex started the process and I finished it off. This was our first salmon, so it wasn’t perfect, but it would do. We dropped it back at the coach and headed out to explore.
We started out going up Resurrection Road. It was a gravel road that took you higher into the mountains. We found the river and stopped to check it out. In the distance, we could see a wooden bridge and a few people fishing. We went in search of the bridge, which it turns out, is part of Cugach National Park. One of the guys who works at our campground was hanging out there. We followed the road to the end of the line, then turned around and started back down. We turned onto Palmer Creek Road and once again headed up the mountain. This was a steep, steep climb with lots of hairpin twists and turns. At the top, you could see all the mountains and Turnagain Arm.
By this point, our stomachs were starting growl and Sergio was running low on gas so we headed back to camp to make dinner. Since we don’t have a broiler in the coach, we marinated Alex’s catch of the day and baked it for dinner.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
Since we can’t get into the Alaska Dacha Campground until 2 pm, we sleep in and have a slow, lazy morning doing some things around the coach. After lunch, we pack up and drive the five minutes to the site. The place didn’t have any advanced signs and the one on the property was off the road, so naturally we missed the turn. We took a left down Resurrection Road and found the Post Office, which was on our list of things to do. Happy accident that got us to cross it off the list and gave us a place to turn around.
Alaska Dacha is a small campground, open all year, that is apparently up for sale. We got a pull through site with 50 amp service, water and sewer. There was only one travel trailer in the campground besides us. Compared to our spot on the Hope Highway, this was nice and quiet. We were still on the highway, but trees and buildings buffered the sound. They have a motel, in addition to the RV sites, that is above the small grocery store on the property, which is the only game in town.
Once we were setup, we drove into town, such as it is. This is a small town, population 192. It was once a gold mining town, now it is a weekend retreat for Anchorage residents mostly interested in fishing.
First stop was at the bridge where we heard the salmon were running and everyone was catching them. Man, was this place packed and, yes, they were catching them, one right after the other. When you looked down from the bridge, all you saw were fish, hundreds of fish, swimming side by side in the river for as far as you could see. People were just throwing a line in and reeling back a fish. They had a public cleaning station at water’s edge. Evidence of roe, blood and carcasses were in the water. There are limits as to how many you can catch, but who knows how well the law is respected. We have been told that even though we are amazed at the number of fish in the river, the amount has diminished over the years.
We found the road to the heart of the historic town and parked. The main business there is Seaview RV, Cafe and Bar. That pretty much takes up the town. A public restroom and a gift shop, with a be back soon sign, makes up the rest of it. The heart of the town is right on the river, so the place was packed with people fishing and hanging out at their trucks or campers. We wandered down to the river to get an education on how to catch salmon. Everyone was very helpful in answering questions and telling tales. The scenery was beautiful and we had fun watching and learning. Tomorrow Alex will try his hand.
Saturday, July 29, 2017
Rained again during the night. Can’t see much today. The visibility is bad. The mountains across the water are covered in clouds. We are staying in and working on this monster 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that has been kicking our butts. Tomorrow we move into a campground in town. I will miss this spot.
Around five, the clouds cleared. We pulled out chairs, grabbed drinks and sat outside. There are no words in the English language to describe the beauty we are looking at. The biggest mountain in front of us has its left upper most edge traced in snow. Its right edge is obscured by clouds. The mountain to the far right of it has clouds tickling them all around. The pointed mountain in front is perfect, in shadow and light. The ones behind it, they are playing with the clouds. Almost every one of the mountains has snow trickling its way down in every nook and cranny it can find. And the whole time, the bore tide is moving water in and out. If you ever wanted to feel one with the universe, this is the time and place. It is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. I could stay here forever!
The Class C from last night is back again. We met the guy from the C. Very nice. He’s lived in Alaska in Anchorage for thirty years. He gave Alex tips on fishing,especially the Russian River, a spot we are heading to in a few days.
Friday, July 28, 2017
It got windy during the night and rained, again. We woke up to cloudy, windy and cold, again, in the 50s. We are still boondocking on the Hope Highway. This spot is just so beautiful. We’re watching the bore tide do it’s thing. Fascinating! I can’t stop watching this phenomenon. It is simply amazing how nature does her thing on such a precise schedule and with such conviction. We are on bore watch. Anytime you go outside or pass a window, you have to see where, in nature’s schedule, you happen to be. It is such a peaceful feeling watching this passage of time on nature’s schedule. Like there is nothing else in the world that matters. If there were no sound of the cars, RVs and trucks going by, you could almost feel like time didn’t exist. This isn’t a very busy road, so you can feel lost in time for a few moments. I’m loving it!
Just a cold, raw day, inside watching the world go by with plenty of people drifting into our space, including a Class C that pulled in front of us, nose to nose, for the night. Whatever happened to personal space? For such a big state, why do I always feel so crowded?
Thursday, July 27, 2017
Today we are continuing our journey south. Our first stop is the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. Just 40 miles from Anchorage, this premier year-round 303-room hotel offers both summer and winter fun. In winter, it has ski slopes from beginner to expert, offering 1,610 skiable acres and over 669 inches of snow annually. There are seven total lifts which take you to a vertical rise of 2,500 feet. Not my thing, but heaven for skiers.
There is a 60-passenger Aerial Tram that takes you from the hotel, which sits at three hundred feet elevation, up to the top of Mount Alyeska, at 2,300 feet in six minutes. At the Upper Tram Terminal, there is an observation deck giving you a three hundred sixty degree view of the Turnagain Arm, seven glaciers, and the peaks of the Chugach Mountain range. You can have lunch at the Bore Tide Deli or dinner at the Seven Glaciers restaurant while taking in the beautiful views. That is, if the weather cooperates. Telescopes are also available along the deck. Alyeska Resort has 76 named trails for exploring, berry picking and even hiking on a glacier.
We had planned on boondocking, dry camping, at the resort for $10 a night, but after driving around the RV lot, decided to just take the tram ride, have lunch and move on. The RV lot might not be bad for a fifth wheel or travel trailer, but a nightmare for a Class A or C. The RV area is nothing more than a gravel, downward sloping parking lot. Leveling is near impossible without lots and lots of boards. We saw one travel trailer that had to have had a foot or more of board under his back end to get level. Not good for a forty foot motor home.
If you pay an extra $10 for your tram ticket, you get a $20 voucher for the Bore Tide Deli. A no brainer! We paid our $32 senior fare and boarded the tram, which leaves every fifteen minutes. Even with the cloudy weather, the views were magnificent. We learned that the Turnagain Arm, the body of water we could see on the climb up, changes its water every six hours. It is a full body of water until the tides change. Then all the water is drawn out and it becomes a mud flat.
When we got to the top, we headed straight for the deli. We were hungry. Pastrami sandwiches in the clouds never tasted so good. And lunch was all part of the price of admission. On the ride up, the tram operator said the temperature on the mountain was ten to fifteen degrees colder than at the hotel. She was right. We wandered around a bit, but we hadn’t come prepared for hiking, plus a sign didn’t make us feel warm and fuzzy about venturing out. Since we still needed to find a place to stay tonight, we hopped on a downward tram and headed back to Claudia.
It is late in the afternoon and we are going south on the Seward Highway scouting out a place to stay for the night. We pull into a few pullouts, but decide we want to find a more quiet and pretty spot. Since our next stop is Hope, we decide to make our way there. The road into Hope dead ends in the town, so we are hoping for a more quiet spot. Less traffic going to town. After a few rejections, we find a gorgeous spot right on Hope Highway.
The body of water in front of us is Turnagain Arm. Turnagain Arm flows into Chickaloon Bay which then goes into Gompertz Channel and finally makes its way into Cook Inlet and out to the Gulf of Alaska. Turnagain Arm and Knik Arm surround Anchorage on the north. They produce what is known as bore tides. The “bore” is a tidal phenomenon where the leading edge of the incoming tide clashes with the flow of the outgoing tide to form a wave that travels up a river or narrow bay. They can only occur in long, narrow channels, such as this. These two waterways boast the second highest tides in North America after the Bay of Fundy.
If you remember on our ride up the tram, the operator told us Turnagain Arm changes water every six hours. Our timing was perfect. The weather turned sunny and we were outside marveling at the beautiful scenery, when we noticed the wave action. White caps were forming, pushing up and into the channel. The outgoing tide was fighting with the incoming tide and it was losing. As we stood watching, the mudflats in front of us started to disappear. The water was finding its way in, getting higher and higher. Within two hours, the mudflats were gone, replaced with the sea. It was quite interesting to watch the battle of the seas.
During the bore transition, we were barbecuing some hot dogs. Easy dinner. The side of our coach was no more than five feet from the guide rail. A car pulled into the pullout in front of us and a young guy gets out. He just walks right along the coach between Alex, the barbecue and me. Not much room with the grill there, but he just plows through making a comment about us scoring a great spot and starts taking pictures. And he wasn’t the only one to do this. Amazing! Welcome to Alaska!
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Raining, 50s cloudy and gray. Getting things packed up and ready to leave Chugiak tomorrow. Hiking the South Fork Trail doesn’t seem like a great idea, not a big fan of wet. A good day to catch up on our TV watching.
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Gray and rainy. You can’t even see the mountains across the road. I watched them disappear into the clouds during the night. The forecasted high for today is 59. That coupled with the rain makes for a pretty miserable day. A day to stay indoors with the fireplace on and work on our 1,000 piece dinosaur jigsaw puzzle.
Monday, July 24, 2017
Another gray day. Not raining, just gray. And low 60s. I am getting tired of the color gray. We are both starting to look forward to the warmth of the southwest this winter.
Alex wanted to try his hand at fishing again, so we are going to Mirror Lake. Since it is a week day, we are hoping for less people.
It is a short ride to Mirror Lake from our campground. The lake is right off the Glenn Highway. As you come off, you bear right and you are there. There were only a handful of people scattered around the entire lake. Perfect! Alex tried his luck at several different spots, but came up empty. He spoke with a local who was launching his boat. This was another of those lakes that you need a boat to catch anything. He did reel in a foam pad, the kind you use to knee on while working. We could always use another one of those. So the fishing trip wasn’t a total loss!
By around four, the temperature started to drop and we decided to call it a day. I did use the foam pad to sit on while I barbecued the steaks for dinner. Not a bad day.
Sunday, July 23, 2017
A quiet, gray day. NASCAR is on, so Alex is watching the race. I’m catching up. Later we take a ride to Anchorage to exchange our Soda Stream canister at Bed, Bath & Beyond and get dry cat food at Petsmart. Not very exciting.
I bought king crab legs at Three Bears the other day, so we dined on king crab legs and fettuccine. Yum!
Saturday, July 22, 2017
It is a beautiful day, sunny and warm, in the 70s. We’re going to Eklutna Lake. The long lake is fed by Eklutna Glacier and is a popular spot for picnicking and kayaking. A long trail, about thirteen miles, runs the northeast side of the lake, for taking a walk or bicycles and on certain days, ATVs. At the end of this trail, another trail might get you a glimpse of the glacier, although the rangers we spoke to said they have gone out thirteen miles and never saw it because it has receded so much. I don’t think we will be glacier hunting today.
Since it is Saturday and a rare sunny day, the place is packed. There are people and dogs and kayaks and bicycles everywhere. We should have realized that when we paid our $5 parking fee and had to park in the overflow lot, about three quarters of a mile above the lake. Easy walk down, steep hill back.
The trail around the lake had so many bicycles on it that you were spending all your time moving out of their way. You couldn’t relax and enjoy the beautiful lake and mountains. After an hour or so, we headed back. Too many people and Alex’s knee started to swell. He stayed at the bottom parking lot by the lake while I hiked up to get the car.
On our way back to the highway, we stopped at Thunderbird Falls. Alex made the attempt to do the hike, but the steep incline you encounter at the beginning of the half mile hike to the gorge observation deck did him in. His knee wasn’t cooperating. He waited there while I hiked the next half mile to the falls observation deck. Again, crowded with people, dogs and kids. You don’t have to worry about wild animals on theses trails. I had to wait to get to the railing for a better view. On my way back, I took the creek trail, which takes you down to water level and in front of the falls. The temperature at the creek and falls was a drastic change, like standing in a refrigerator. These falls and creek are feed by glaciers and the cold they gave off was amazing. It was like I descended into another world when I got to the bottom of the trail. Lush foliage, running water, rock formations all made for quite the scene. While these are relatively short hikes, they are steep grades.
I made my way back to Alex and we headed back on the highway to Mirror Lake, a place Alex wants to try and fish. Mirror Lake is a stone’s throw off the Glenn Highway. If we thought Eklutna Lake was crowded, this was worse. Cars and people and boats and dogs and kids. There was nowhere to move or park. Forget fishing on a day like today. During the week might be better, when everyone was back at work.
We stopped at the firehouse in town, which we have been told is the best place to see the mountain. We’re still chasing the lovely lady. Since the day is sunny, not totally clear, but a bit hazy, we thought we might have a chance. There were mountains. We didn’t know what we were looking at. We thought we knew which one she was and when a fireman came along, we asked. We had the right mountain. She wasn’t clear, but you could tell it was her. Sad part is, on Thursday we saw her very clearly when we were driving, but didn’t know it was her. At least now we know what to look for.
Back at home, we propped up Alex’s knee and put the ice pack on it. He was done for the night.
Friday, July 21, 2017
Our friend Skip did the tourist trek around Anchorage with us today in his motor coach. He drives his coach around like it is a car. Amazing! After we sat and drank coffee in our coach, we piled into his and toured the city, stopping at Cabela’s, Bass Pro and a few other stores. We had lunch at the Arctic Roadrunner, a place next to a creek, with great burgers, that he and his family built way back when.
Back at our coach, we had drinks before heading next door to Bella Vista Pizzeria. No, I did not have pizza! We had a nice dinner with Skip, his sister, Carol, and his brother-in-law, Les. Then we had drinks back at our place. Another nice day.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
I got up around seven to use the bathroom. There was this pale yellow disc in the sky. When I got back to bed, I told Alex what I saw. He starts to bound out of bed when I tell him it is just the sun, something we hardly ever see.
Since it looks like it might be a nice day, we pack up and head to Chugach State Park. We pay our $5 parking fee, gear up and start down the Rodak Trail behind the Eagle River Nature Center. It is an easy hike and before we know it we are at the Beaver Viewing Deck. Beautiful mountain views with the handy work of the beavers seen in the stream. Farther down the trail is the Salmon Viewing Deck. If the salmon had been running, we would have see them here.
At the Four Corners Trailhead, we take the Albert Loop Trail to head towards the river. The weather is becoming a mix of sun and clouds. At Eagle River, we find a low spot to cross over to what looks like an island now, but would be under water when the river is high. With this beautiful scene, we sit down and have our lunch.
On the hike back, the bugs start to get bad, so we try to pick up the pace. No more casual stroll. By the time we get back to the car it is around six. This was a nice four mile hike with very few humans.
Back at the coach, dinner is barbecue ribs. Just as we are finishing up, there is a knock at the door. Our friend Skip is standing there. He had been planning on coming up on Friday, but decided to take off and show up early. We spent the night chilling and drinking. A very pleasant day!
Wednesday, July 19, 2027
It started raining about 4 am, right after Alex said, “At least it’s not raining “.
It rained all morning and into the afternoon. We figured the best use of our time would be to head the thirty miles south to Anchorage and take care of replacing Alex’s eyeglasses that were lost to the Chena River and start stocking up on the supplies we are going to need once we go to Kodiak Island and start our ferry trip through the Alexander Archipelago. Things in that area are scarce and more expensive. Alex got two pair of glasses and so did I. Our distance glasses would be ready in an hour, our sunglasses would take two weeks.
While we waited, we went shopping. We got a few bamboo trays at Bed Bath & Beyond to keep the stuff on the top shelf in the medicine cabinet organized and stable. Petsmart was the next stop to get another cat bed so each of our fur babies had their own bed and some cat food. Cats like what they like to eat and they don’t care that we might not be able to get them their favorite foods once we leave the area.
By this time, we needed to go back and pick up our glasses. We each got our glasses and were instructed to try them on to check the prescription. Mine were fine, Alex not so much. They used his prescription for close up and not distance. The manager said they would fix it now and it would just take a few minutes, which it did. As soon as Alex picked them up to try on, the hinge popped and flopped. They looked for another pair of the frames, to no avail. The solution was for him to use the glasses now and they would get another pair that would be there when we came to pick up our sunglasses. They would put his lenses in then. Not ideal, but at least he could see again.
It was dinner time so we opted to be bad and grab a Whopper at Burger King. The thought of a half hour drive home and then waiting till dinner was ready didn’t appeal to our stomachs.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
We are heading south and our friend, Skip, who lives on the Kenai Peninsula, suggested Bobby’s RV Park in Chugiak. His sister lives in Chugiak and he was planning on visiting her on the weekend, so this would be a good place for us to connect and a home base for us to explore the Anchorage area.
Bobby’s is a first come first serve campground, so we get up early, early for us, and head out in hopes of getting a spot. This is not your typical lower forty-eight campground. It is listed in Milepost and does offer 30 amp service with water and sewer, but looks nothing like a campground in other parts of the country. It is more of a local Alaskan kind of site, but at $24 a night, it’s perfect.
It is rainy again, so after setting up, we head off to Eagle River and Walmart to replenish our supplies. Then we head back. Now that we are further south and a month past the summer solstice, we are noticing the change in daylight. The sun is setting at 11:09 pm tonight and rising at 4:59 am. You actually are starting to see darkness during the night. Not pitch black, but definitely dark for an hour or two. The change has begun.
Monday, July 17, 2017
Woohoo, zip lining!
We have a 2:00 zip lining experience. Before we go to Denali Zip Lining, we drive the fourteen miles to Cubby’s, the local grocery for milk. Six dollars and fifty cents for a half gallon of skim milk. Then we drop the milk and Sergio back at the campground and walk the few feet towards town. We stop at the zip line company to confirm and find out we need to be back by 1:30. That speeds up lunch a bit.
Being pizza junkies, we go to Mountain High Pizza at the corner of C Street and Main Street for a couple of slices and a Dr. Pepper. Another great pizza experience. Then it’s off to Denali Zip Lining.
Our zipline team meets in town and we take a three mile van trip to the forested ridges above the town of Talkeetna and the mighty Susitna River Valley. Our tour guides, Mary and David, suit us up then take us to our zipline ground school. This is a twenty foot long zipline about six feet off the ground. We are instructed on where to put your hands, how to stop, how to get yourself straight if you start to twist and how to get to the other platform if you should stop midway. Each of us has to demonstrate our skills on the zipline to pass training. Then we are off to the first of nine ziplines, three suspension bridges, a rappel and a spiral staircase. Each of the ziplines grows in length or speed. There are some that are fast, some that are long. One is 500 feet, the last, over Reflection Pond, is 560 feet. As you are zipping over the boreal forest, we get to see spectacular views. As a change of pace, here are three suspension bridges we have to cross, each varying in length and construction. You bounce and balance all the way across. Before you get to the last three zips, you repel down from one platform to another. Three hours later you are back on terra firma, exhilarated with a big smile on your face.
It was around five when we got back, so we decided to have an early dinner at Wildflower Cafe and Main Street Suites. I left Alex at the bar and walked back to the campground to get Sergio. It was nice day so we sat at a table outside. I had awesome crab cakes, not with blue claw, but king crab. Mmmm! Our waiter, Jaren, suggested curry seafood and it was delicious.
Properly feed and our thirsts quenched, we went home.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Today we are leaving Denali, not part of the thirty percent club that get to see the mountain. We still have other chances in Talkeetna and points south. I am going to keep my fingers crossed.
One place that has a to die for view of Denali, is the Igloo on 3, the Parks Highway. You cannot miss this place on your way south. The Igloo was built to be a hotel, but failed. Now it is an abandoned relic deteriorating along the highway. Our friend Skip, a local, turned us on to this place. So, naturally, we stopped. We didn’t get to see Denali, but checking this out was fun.
Our home for the next two nights will be Talkeetna Camper Park. We have a pull through with thirty amp service, water and sewer for $45 a night. No cable and no antenna service either. Expensive and jammed into to boot. Behind us we have the highway. On the other end of the campground, about two hundred feet away, is the Talkeetna Train Depot. On the other side of the railroad is the airport. Trains, planes and automobiles. We are covering all bases. The planes quite down in the evening and the cars traffic slows. I wish I could say the same for the trains. They ran frequently in the early evening then every couple of hours during the rest of the night. Hearing the sound of the wheels on the tracks wouldn’t have been bad, but the train whistle was frequent and loud. The first blast would wake you with a start.
Once we were set up, we drove into town, a ride of about five minutes, at most. Talkeetna started out as a trading post that grew into a riverboat supply base after the gold rush in 1910. A few years later, during the construction of the Alaska Railroad, Talkeetna became the headquarters for the Alaskan Engineering Commission, which was in charge of the construction. After the railroad was completed, the town suffered a decline. These days, Talkeetna serves as a stop on the railroad and the starting point for Danali climbing expeditions, as well as tourists coming to the artistic community to see the breathtaking views of Denali and the Alaska Range. There are several historic buildings and the town is on the National Register of Historic Places.
I really fell in love with this artsy town. Old buildings, artistic creativity, great food, beautiful views and great drinks. What more could you ask for? We wandered through the shops and had a late lunch, early dinner at the Denali Brewpub. Alex had reindeer meatloaf. He is the adventurous foodie, me, not so much. Afterwards, we walked down to the end of Main Street to the river, to see the mountain range and, once again, hope to see Denali. She didn’t show her face, but the view was magnificent. Three rivers, the Talkeetna, Chulitna, and Susitna come together with tremendous force.
Then we wandered home. Zip lining tomorrow.
Does anyone else hears things when they are sleeping and wonder if it is in your dream or really happening?
I had this experience somewhere Sunday after we went to bed. In my sleep, I heard one of the fur babies throwing up. I never know if that is real or something I imagine. Maybe I want it to be my imagination. Anyway, somewhere around four am, Alex’s phone rang and woke us up. I said, “That’s yours”. Alex bolted out of bed to get to his phone on the kitchen table and the next thing I heard was him slamming the floor. Turns out, one of the kitties exploded right in front of the fireplace. His right foot when into it and slid, causing his right leg to go forward while his left leg went backwards. The vomit went everywhere, on the fireplace, the couch, all over him. He is lying on the floor covered in it, in pain while the dam phone is ringing. A Florida number, four hours ahead of us. Many paper towels and wet sponges later and the house was cleaned up. Alex hit the shower to finish off the job. We went back to bed with an ice pack on Alex’s knee, the one he had replaced last year. Great way to start our zip lining experience!
Saturday, July 15, 2017
Alaska may be the land of the midnight sun, but it doesn’t show itself very much. Cloudy and rainy again. Not full blown downpours, but a constant drizzle that just makes everything a mess. And gray, so tired of everything being gray. Even the green of the foliage looks gray.
I have been told by people who live here, that Alaska in the summer can go one of two ways, hot and dry or wet and cool. Dust or mud. We got mud. And temperatures in the 50s and 60s. You can count the number of 70 degree days on two hands and the 80s on one hand. That’s not just Alaska, but every place we have been since leaving Florida. We have also been told, that this kind of summer usually means an early and cold, snowy winter. Not something I want to hear.
This is our last full day in Denali, tomorrow we head south to Talkeetna. We’re basically vegging at home. Since we stayed in all day, we decided to venture out for dinner to Prospectors Historic Pizzeria & Alehouse yet again for the best pizza in Denali and most other places. Got to get our pizza fix on.
The place was packed, a forty minute wait. We made our way to the bar, when Alex had the brilliant idea to get the pizza to go, if it was possible. It was, but then we inquired if we could eat it outside. We could, so we ordered drinks and our pizza and I went outside to wait out a table. We didn’t give up our spot in line for a table. We were hedging all bets. We were hungry. I finally snagged a table and a few minutes later, Alex came out. He barely sat down when our slice of pizza started buzzing and we went back inside. By this time, the bar was pretty empty so we decided to just eat there. The pie was excellent, as usual, and the onion rings, that looked like a tower, were great! Always a great meal. I will truly miss this place!
Friday, July 14, 2017
The haze is better this morning, not great, but better. We are going into the park, not to hike but check out the Denali Visitor Center and the Murie Science and Learning Center. Indoor stuff to do that keeps the weather away.
But first, we have to drive out to mile nine on the Parks Road, a spot where you can view the lovely lady, to see if she is showing herself. She is not, so we go to the Denali Visitor Center. Wow! A surprise. It is a mini museum. We learned about all the animals, insects and vegetation in the Park. The poor caribou is an incubator to too many bugs! Ick!! There is a whole room on early mining days and more on climbing the mountain. They also have an area on fossils and rocks. Make sure you pull out all the drawers on all the displays or you will miss a great deal. On the main level, there is a three dimensional view of the mountain range and surrounding area with all the shuttle bus stops marked. A very interesting place.
Next, we head over to Murie Science and Learning Center. This was not as much fun for us. The Center is geared towards young kids. With the exception of a central computer station that shows you different aspects of the area, everything else is kid interactive. The kids can have a blast. Us, not so much!
Thursday, July 13, 2017
There are sixty-five wildfires burning in Alaska right now and one mega wildfire in Yukon, Canada. As a result, you can’t see much of anything. The campground we are in is across the street from Mount Healy. Today, you can’t see the mountain. It is covered in the fire haze. Healy is 5,700 feet and all you can see is the base. Not a good day to be outside. It’s a binge day to catch up on TV.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
The weather forecast says today will be sunny. If we are going to see the mountain, today looks like the best shot. Since you can’t go past the fifteen mile mark in your own personal vehicle, we decide to take the green shuttle bus to Wonder Lake, one of the best spots to photograph Denali, if she decides to make a rare appearance. Only thirty percent of tourists get to see the lovely lady. We had inquired about the bus system earlier, and were told you could take one of the shuttles and get off at any of the stops then get back on another bus and get off somewhere else. Sounds like a good plan.
There are four Shuttle Buses. The maximum speed limit anywhere in park is 35. I say this so you can do the mental calculations. The Toklas Shuttle goes 52 miles into the park at a cost of $26.50 per adult. It takes 6.5 hours round trip. The Eielson Visitor Center costs $34.00 and goes 66 miles into the park to one of the spots designed as a good spot to see the mountain. It takes 8 hours round trip. Wonder Lake is an 85 mile trip costing $46.75, taking 11.5 hours round trip. The last spot is Kantishna, 92 miles in, $51 and 13 hours round trip. Along the way, there are tent campgrounds.
We went to the Wilderness Access Center to purchase our bus tickets. The good news was there were two seats left for the last bus out to Wonder Lake. The even better news was, our senior park passes got us a discount. The very, very bad news was we would only have a few minutes, maybe thirty, at best, at any of the stops. Wait, what? This isn’t what we were told. Turns out, if you are on the last bus out, you’re basically taking a ride out and back, stopping at all the pickup points for a few minutes. We can get off to check out the scenery, but how many times and how long we stopped along the way to see wildlife, will determine how long the stop is. The more wildlife stops, the less time at the pickup points. The bus pulls out at a designated time, no lagging around. So, because we were going to Wonder Lake, we stopped at Toklat, Eielson and finally Wonder Lake. A ride that should take three hours or so, turns out to be five and a half one way. We never knew it wasn’t a straight shot to the destination of your choosing. And we do the same thing on the way back. We thought we would have a few hours at Wonder Lake to hike and possibly get to Reflection Pond, where so many great photos of the mountain are taken. Not going to happen! To do this, we would have had to have taken the first bus out and the last back to get a few hours at the lake. Instead, we spent hours at the other stops, campgrounds included, that we weren’t looking to see.
The bus was packed with tourists from all over the country and the world. Everybody comes to see the tallest mountain in North America. While this was not one of the narrative tours, the bus driver does point out interesting facts and items along the way. Something that we were interested in hearing. Unfortunately, we had crying babies and very talkative millennials, which turned out to be Park Rangers on their day off. I am all for education, but young children, toddlers, really don’t belong on an eleven hour bus trip searching the woods looking for wildlife. They were confined, bored, cranky and not happy campers. Equally, the Rangers may have seen this and done this before, but everyone else on the bus has not and really isn’t interested in their personal life and schedules. This wasn’t starting out good!
Now the wildlife hunt begins. Somebody sees a caribou. With binoculars or my 800 mm lens, you can tell its a caribou. It’s a mile or more away. Not a great photo. Still everyone spends umpteen minutes climbing over each other on the bus to shoot pictures of what will look like dots on the scenery. We move on. A bear. Same scenario. More caribou. Oh, look, Dall Sheep. Little white dots on the top of a mountain so far away you can’t be sure with 800 mms or binoculars. They moved. Must be sheep.
At each of the designated shuttle stops, everyone piles out of the buses. If you can get out quickly, you might get off a few shots of the scenery without hundreds of people in your shot. The sun is out, but we are bogged down in a heavy haze. Wildfires and the recent eruption of a volcano in the Aleutian Islands has minimized visibility. You might get to use the restroom before you have to get back on the bus and move on. When you are hungry, you can eat whatever you have brought along. There are no vending machines or restaurants. We packed sandwiches, fruit and snacks. There are a few trails that people have forged off the stops. But on our tour, there is no time to hike them. This is speed tourism at its best.
We finally get to Wonder Lake. We can’t hear a word the bus driver is saying at this point. We determine we have thirty minute, based on her little clock sign hanging on the dash, to hike to the lake and use the restroom, if needed. We are at the back of the bus. By the time we get off, everyone is pretty much gone, so we follow a group of people. Turns out they were going to the campground, which is not by the lake. Now we have no clue how to get to the lake. None of the signs point you to the lake. Camp host, restrooms, service roads, but not one sign that says lake, that way. It is kind of hard to see a lake through wooded land. We ask someone who points us in the right direction, and we start off, but one look at the time tells us we may not make it to the lake in time to catch that last bus back. We abort the journey and head back to the bus stop. We are only halfway through the day!
The return trip was the same as the trip out. Everyone spotting wildlife, everyone climbing to one side of the bus to shoot dots. The only difference was the bus driver was packing more speed. I guess she wants to get back. She was getting a bit testy with the riders on the return trip. We did have a wolf and one moose close to the road. The moose and her calf were within the fifteen mile zone, so she was surrounded by cars, RVs and people just crowding her. Not very smart. The bus driver was telling everyone to get back in their vehicles in case she had enough and decided to charge. The bus driver radioed to the Rangers to get someone out there to keep everyone safe. We moved on. It was after nine at night when we got back to the Wilderness Access. We hadn’t had dinner yet. Both of us had enough. We were tired, hungry and very disappointed with the whole experience. We saw more wildlife and it was closer when we were on the Alaska Highway, including a bison chasing a car, than we saw on this bus tour. Alex said no more bus tours. Find things more personal, even if it costs more. These bus tours are for people who just want to say they have been here and put a few snapshots in their scrapbook.
The saving grace of all this, if there was one, was the mountain wasn’t showing her face today. We weren’t going to be part of the thirty percent club today.
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Another gray, cloudy, drizzling day in Alaska. The mountain is skunking us again. We decided to drive the eleven miles to Healy, a little town north of us, where I am told, a good many of the people who work in Denali live. We drove through Healy on our way to Denali and this is where we landed from our rafting trip, so we thought we would check it out. There are no grocery stores anywhere from Fairbanks to Wasilla, a good three hundred plus miles. So if you live anywhere in between, you have convenience stores where you can buy basics at a higher dollar amount, or you go north or south. We have been told that Three Bears, a fairly big Alaska company with paws into grocery, gas, sporting goods, among other things, is building a grocery store comparable to Safeway in Healy. This is exciting news. No more long treks to get supplies. We saw the construction site of the new store, right on the Parks Highway.
There wasn’t much to see in Healy. There’s the usual one stop shop on the highway with RV park, motel, gas, food combination. We found the Post Office. A side trip down one street yielded a stocked lake that is called Otto Lake. This peaked Alex’s interest. A good place to fish with a boat, but a little harder from the shore. There is a golf course on the opposite side of the street and an RV park next to the park on the lake.
With our exploring complete, we headed home.
Monday, July 10, 2017
The weather is better today, not sunny, but not raining, so we are going to hike the Horseshoe Lake Trail. I don’t know if the 3.2 miles listed includes the extra loop to the Nenana but we hiked both. This trail starts at the railroad tracks, has an elevation of 250 feet with grades from five to twenty percent. The trail is composed of native soil with roots, rocks and compacted gravel with log checks. I counted one hundred eighty-three log checks as the grade changed from top to bottom, or worse, bottom to top. Thankfully, there is a bench near the top where you can sit and admire the view of the lake and surrounding mountains. And catch your breath.
We took the loop north of the lake, which takes you to the Nenana River. This is the trail we saw from the rafting trip the other day. On the return side of the lake we saw our only wildlife, two very big beavers climbing a hill. Their handy work can be seen on the lake, so we had been on the lookout for them.
For dinner, we headed to Denali Park Salmon Bake, recommended by Phil. We didn’t go to the best Salmon Bake in Alaska in Fairbanks, so we figured we would try this out. We discovered it was really a restaurant, not a salmon bake. This place looks like it has survived several earthquakes and maybe a landslide or two. The floors aren’t level, the walls aren’t plumb, the entire place has the feeling of one of those cartoon crooked houses. And this is before any alcohol is consumed. The food, though, was very good. Alex had plank salmon, cooked with spices on a wood plank and I had an amazing rack of ribs that I couldn’t finish. At 10:30 on Mondays, they have a poker game, with no buy in, where you can win freebies, like dinner, drinks or tour trips. There is trivia, too. At this hour, the place becomes a hang out for the locals who are getting off work. Not the salmon bake we were looking for, but a great place nonetheless.
Sunday, July 9, 2017
A rainy day in Alaska. Skunked by the mountain again, so we are just hanging out at home. We went back to Prospectors Historic Pizzeria & Alehouse for Denali’s best pizza. It was crowded, so we sat at the bar and met Phil, the bartender. I told him I was not a beer lover, as I ordered my Malbec. Phil said it was because I didn’t find a beer I liked, so he brought me a sample of a beer that was cherry flavored. Cherries are my favorite, something I never mentioned. It tasted nothing like a typical beer. It was actually good. He brought me another sample, almost as good, but I am still a committed wine drinker!
Saturday, July 8, 2017
Today is white water rafting on the Nenana River with the rafting company that lives next door. Denali Raft Adventures offers five rafting experiences. They have a full 9.5 hour trip down the Nenana River, that includes lunch and Class I, II, III and IV rapids for 12 and older. The Four Hour Scenic trip has Class I, II and III rapids, good for five years and older. Likewise, the McKinley Run covers the same age level and Class I, II and only one III, but it is only two hours. Canyon Run is two hours as well, for twelve and older. This trip is two hours and includes Class II, III and IV rapids. We are doing the Healy Express, which combines both the McKinley and Canyon Run. For almost all of these trips, you can either sit and watch the scenery go by while the guide paddles, or you can paddle along with him and get the true feel of not getting dumped into the rapids. We chose to paddle.
Not being morning people, we booked a 12:30 pm trip. The rafting company runs these trips all day from seven in the morning, finishing around 9:30 – 10 at night. Remember, twenty-four hours of sun. Once you arrive at the office and check in, it’s off to the back porch to gear up. You get a dry suit, life vest and booties and if you are doing the Canyon Run, you get a helmet. People who opted to paddle get their very own paddle. Dress warm, including two pairs of heavy socks. Even though your body won’t get wet, the water that will be hitting you is around thirty degrees and it does transfer the temperature into you. Your feet will be spending time in the water that gets in the raft, hence the two pairs of socks. You do not have shoes on, you are in the dry suit with boogies over them. If you want to wear neoprene gloves or, they even say rubber kitchen gloves, your hands will stay warmer. When everyone is geared up, and instructed on safety, you load the bus or van and head off to the start of your trip.
The beginning of our trip launches from Denali Village, a resort lodge, a mile or so south of the Park entrance. You get assigned to a raft based on your trip and whether you are paddling or not. We were in a raft with Boy Scouts from Washington. Not little kids, but young men. Our guide and main paddler was Chaz. Once everyone was on board, we set off down the Nenana River. This river is glacier feed. The water is ice cold and has the most unique shade of gray green from the silt carried by the glacier. We were told there were no fish in the river at this time because the fish can’t breathe with the silt.
The first half of the trip is the easier McKinley Run. The rapids are shorter and easier, but waves of water still get you. Especially the front of the raft. In the first spot on the right, was Blake, one of the Boy Scouts. He looked like Owen Wilson, so naturally, that was what we called him. He seemed to be the target of every wave. They had other Scouts in another raft, so competition ensued. Water fights, races, hazing and typical good fun. We ran the Nenana through the edge of the Park. If you’re lucky, you can see wildlife along the shores. You can also see people hiking the Horseshoe Lake Trail. We only saw two owls.
About two hours later, we land on the shore about eleven miles down river. This is break time, and where we pick up people who are only doing the Canyon Run and dropping off people who were just doing the McKinley Run. The guides use this time to pump up the rafts and switch around equipment for the Canyon Run, then we are off again. Here’s where the fun really begins! The rapids on this stretch are longer and more powerful. They have names like “Cable Car”, “Coffee Grinder” and “Ice Worm.” Two hours of rolling, wet fun all the way to Healy, which is north of the Park and the campground. We are going down river, which is north, not south. Since we are on the west side of the Continental Divide, the rivers here flow north, not south like we’re used to. Something to wrap your head around. The Nenana will eventually join with the Tanana River, then the Yukon River before making its way into the Bering Sea, hundreds of miles away.
When we land at Healy, we strip down the top half of our dry suits and begin to get warm again. You can’t take them off unless you want to walk around in your socks. It’s been a cloudy, drizzling kind of day, which adds to the cold you feel. The guides and other staff load the rafts, oars, life vests, helmets and other gear on to trailers while we load ourselves into the buses. At this point, it is about 5:30, a exhausting but fun day. Once we’re back on the porch, we can take off the dry suits and get our shoes back. There are photos of our adventure on a bulletin board for sale. A professional photographer took them from the shore while we were rafting down the river. We didn’t buy any, we weren’t in a great spot to be seen in the photo.
We took the long walk home to rest our happy, weary muscles.
Friday, July 7, 2017
Today will be our first venture into the park. You can drive your own personal vehicle the first fifteen miles of paved road, but after that you have to take a bus to get into the interior, with the exception of one campground that requires permission. Along the fifteen mile stretch, there is a Post Office, Riley Creek Mercantile, the Backcountry Information Center, the Wilderness Access Center, Murie Science and Learning Center, Denali Visitor Center, Park Headquarters and the Sled Dog Kennels. There are eighteen different trail heads, most of which start close to the road, others join up later on the trail. They vary in distance and intensity, from .15 miles to 9.5 miles and zero grade to twenty-five percent. Something for everyone. The interior trails can be reached by the bus system.
We drove the mile to the Wilderness Access Center to get a trail map and information. This is where you can grab a bite to eat, buy tour bus tickets or shop in the gift shop. There is parking for RVs and cars, but you may have to drive around a bit to get a spot. It is crowded.
We decided to go the full fifteen miles to the Savage River and hike the Savage River Loop Trail. It is a two mile hike with virtually no grade or elevation, a good first day hike. Break us in easy. We found a parking spot, geared up and set off. The weather was partly cloudy and in the 60s. One thing we have learned during our stay in Alaska, is not to rely on the weather forecast. Weather here, especially in the mountains, changes whenever it wants and does whatever it wants. You have to be prepared for just about anything. Dress in layers and bring rain gear.
It was beautiful walking along the Savage River looking for wildlife. The trail is narrow, two foot wide with rocks and roots. It is well traveled so you will be sharing the space with a great many people. Sadly, that was the only wildlife we saw with the exception of sea gulls and Arctic Ground Squirrels. Everywhere we have gone in Alaska, so far, we have found sea gulls. It is very weird to see gulls this far inland, but there they are.
There is a bridge at the halfway point that serves as the Kodiak moment. There is a side trail at the bridge, with brook included, that is not part of the trail system, with probably a twenty-five percent grade, that gets you to the top of some hills where you are given some pretty nice views. There is some snow, glacier melt, complete with blue, working its way down one of the mountains. Well worth the climb.
On our way out of the park, we stopped at the Sled Dog Kennels, open year round, from 8 am to 5 pm. You can drive there or take a free shuttle bus. They offer free demonstrations during season at 10 am, 2pm and 4 pm. Since the dogs only work in winter, they are free to do demonstrations in summer. The demonstrations show how rangers and dogs work together in the park. During winter, the rangers only mode of transportation to some more remote areas is dog sled. You can tour the kennel and pet the dogs, dog permitting. I understand the dogs are necessary and doing a important job, but being an animal lover, I don’t like that these poor animals are chained to a three foot square log doghouse with only six feet of chain to wander around. The ranger says they like it. They jump on their doghouses and are happy. I say, that is all they know and it is their security with all these people around. The whole thing depressed us, so we didn’t stay long.
Thursday, July 6, 2017
Today we head south on 3, to Denali National Park home of the tallest mountain in North America, at 20,310 feet. Formally called Mount Everest, Denali sits amid 6 million acres of Alaska’s interior wilderness. The park is home to grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou and Dall sheep. You can bike, backpack, hike and engage in mountaineering.
Our home for the next nine days is Denali Rainbow Village RV Park & Motel, about a mile north of the Park entrance. This campground experience is one of the oddest I have had so far. On June 26th, I called to book a reservation. I talked to Barb, who wasn’t sure they could accommodate us for the length of time we wanted to stay. They had a caravan coming in on the eighth. A caravan is a group of RVs, usually part of some club or tour group. They have a planned itinerary, stay a few days and move on. Barb had the worse salesmanship I have ever encountered. She kept telling me that they were just a parking lot, they were not a resort, there was no pool, there was nothing to do except hiking and photography. I was trying to impress upon her that was the point of coming to Denali. Finally she got it and told me she would work on it, maybe we would have to move spots, she would try to work on a full hookup, she would let me know. A few hours later she called back and said the owner was dumping a load of gravel on a spot they don’t often use, leveling it so we could stay there. Great! We reserved for nine days.
The campground is behind what the locals call the boardwalk. When we checked in, we discovered we didn’t have a sewer hookup. Nine days without sewer. There were some words about what we asked for versus what we were getting, with Barb included in the fray. We called it a draw and set out to our spot. We disconnected Sergio and I went down first to get the lay of the land. I parked next to a coach in the row in front of our spot. I had to signal to Alex to stay put and walk on down.
Site number 69 is at the absolute northern end of the campground. It is a back in site. To the right of the site are three cabins and then coaches. To the left, with about thirty feet between us, is a building which houses Denali Raft Adventures. Before we could even back in, we had to get the rafting company to move their buses. The site really isn’t very long, our back tires were at the very edge. The rear of the coach was hanging over into the woods. We did have the thirty feet of space between us and the rafting company. There was just one teeny, tiny problem. The rafting company starts at seven in the morning and stops around ten at night. During that time, their buses and vans are blocking us in and twenty to thirty customers are going in and out of the building via the front door and back porch where they gear up. We had to move Sergio three times before we could sandwich him in between Claudia and the cabin.
It was a picture perfect clear day. The mountain was out today. A rare occurrence, but by the time we got setup it was too late, so we decided to walk the boardwalk and see what was there. Shops, restaurants, grocery stores and tour companies line the boardwalk. So much for nothing to do here, Barb. We cruised the boards from one end to another.
We walked across the street to the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge looking for a pizzeria I saw in one of the tourist magazines, but we couldn’t find it. So we went back to the boardwalk side to check out Prospectors Historic Pizzeria & Alehouse, which claims to have been voted number one in Denali. With forty-eight Alaskan craft beers on tap and brick oven pizza, they weren’t lying! One of the best pizzas we have had in a long time. Right then and there, we decided we would be back a few more times before we leave Denali.
On our way back, we stopped into the rafting company to book a white water trip. We couldn’t get in for the next day, so we booked a trip for Saturday. Then we made the long trek back home.
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
We visited the local grocery store today for bread. It is a combination hardware store and grocery all rolled into one. It doesn’t have everything, only the basics, canned goods, cereals, some frozen and of course bread. Same thing for the hardware part, just the basics.
Alex found out that there was a stocked lake down the road a bit, so he decided to try his hand at fishing. We took a ride over to check it out. You always hear the stories about the big, bad mosquito population in Alaska, but they don’t tell you about the rest of the insect world that attacks you. We had these killer flies that kept attacking. Even after we were in the car, they kept attacking Sergio. They followed him all the way onto the highway. Nasty things!
Back at the coach, Alex geared up and I decided to stay in and work on our new jigsaw puzzle. Around fourish Alex came back all smiles. Even though he was doing catch and release, he had a great time catching rainbow trout. They were biting and he was having fun. When he settled back in, he started working on our dinosaur jigsaw puzzle with me. We tickled our brain cells with the puzzle till dinner.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
We’re off to Nenana, about 60 miles south of Fairbanks. Nenana is a tiny town of 420 people, based on the very knowledgeable woman who works at the Visitor Center. The town’s glory days were in the 1920s, when it served as a construction base for the railroad. On July 15, 1923, President Warren G. Harding drove the golden spike at Nenana signifying the completion of the railroad. If you look in Photographs and Memories under June 26th, Pioneer Park, you will see the actual railroad car he rode in during his Alaska tour. The sad thing was he died not long after, on august 2nd.
Our home for the next two nights is Nenana RV Park and Campground. It is a small campground in the middle of the town, but since the town is so small you don’t even fell that. We get to pick whatever site works for us. This is 30 amp with water and no sewer. They have a dump station. The sites are pull through and close, something we are getting used to. The picnic table sitting lengthwise is the distance between sites. Each table is painted a different color, orange, purple, turquoise, blue. They offer a Good Sam discount and a military discount. For once the military discount was more than Good Sam, so it was $31 a night.
When we pulled in, we could hear 4th of July celebrations going on in the town. After we set up and had lunch, we walked the few blocks to the center of town to join in. We missed the parade that morning, but they had three-legged races, egg toss and a tug of war. We got a cup of ice cream from one of the vendors for $1.50 each. The “cup” was one of the red plastic drinking cups filled with really good ice cream. What a bargain! We strolled on down the main street past stores and bars to the train depot, which houses the official railroad museum and a gift shop. There is a monument commemorating the driving of the golden spike on one side of the building. On the opposite side of the train tracks is the port and the Tanana River. The train depot services mostly freight trains, but in the summer months there are a few passenger trains that come through.
When the festivities were over, we walked back through the streets to our campground. This was a very nice slice of Americana, something we don’t see much of in the lower forty-eight.
Monday, July 3, 2017
It’s another cloudy, rainy day.
We have to take a trip to Verizon to see if Alex’s phone can be saved. After a week in rice, it still can’t read the SIM card. He can connect to the internet and get email, just can’t get phone calls or texts.
Robert, the Verizon guy, puts a new SIM card in, but the phone still won’t work. Still no phone calls or text. He determines the SIM card reader is shot. So Alex has to get a new phone. He wants a good old fashioned flip phone, being a self proclaimed non-techie, but Robert tells him he’ll have to go to the lower forty-eight to get one. So the compromise is an iPhone 6, an upgrade but something he is familiar with. There’s only one problem, when Robert starts the process of transferring data from the old phone to the new phone, he needs Alex to put in his Apple password, which Alex doesn’t know off hand, so we have to go back home to get Alex’s notebook, then back to Verizon. With the phone upgrade complete, we set off to Walmart and Fred Meyer to stock up on last minute items till we get to Wasilla. Tomorrow we head for Denali and there are no supermarkets there.
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Looks like it’s going to be another living day. It started to drizzle around 2AM. The rain steadily picked up. By the time we woke, it had been raining all night and there were puddles everywhere. And it kept on raining, not the light rain, but a good downpour. Time to be a couch potato and watch some TV.
I am grateful for the cable in this campground, especially on a rainy day like today. We’ve got HBO, Showtime and Starz. Never had it better at a campground. And the picture is clear! We’ve gotten to see some good movies, some old favorites and some we’ve never seen before. Some oldies but goodies were Sister Acts one and two and Wild Hogs. Always funny. Love Whoopi Goldberg! Among our new viewings were Loving, Lincoln, Free State of Jones, Danny Collins, Righteous Kill and Snowden. All good, but I have to say I loved Danny Collins. I’m a big fan of Al Pacino and he knocked it out of the parks on this one. Could just be me, but I’ll like anything he’s in. Robert DeNiro is another of my favorites, so having the two paired in Righteous Kill was great. Now that I know the story, I want to see it again and catch the clues.
The rain paused for a few moments here and there, but never really gave you the opportunity to play outside. We enjoyed being couch potatoes. It is something we have not done often in our lives.
Saturday, July 1, 2017
Today is another living day. Home and NASCAR.
There is a night race at Daytona that translates to three o’clock our time. So while Alex watches his boy Junior make left turns, I make oatmeal raisin cookies and relax. I could get used to this retirement stuff.
Friday, June 30, 2017
Today is what I call, just a living day, puttering around the house and doing a whole lot of nothing much, just odds and ends. We did take a trip to Fred Meyer. Fred Meyer is Sam’s Club on steroids. Food, clothing, household stuff, electronics, pharmacy, liquor store, jewelry store and gas station all rolled into one. One awesome place to shop. The only problem is the noise level. I have never heard a store with more noise!
Since we will be heading south on Tuesday, and won’t have much civilization till we get to the Kenai peninsula, we decided to get stocked up. I still have trouble getting used to the high cost of food. Sticker shock at the register. The nice part of shopping at Fred Meyer is that all your purchases, if you have a rewards card, go towards gas rebates, and they sell diesel as well as unleaded. And they give you coupons, mostly for stuff I don’t need, but you get coupons.
Afterward, we headed home for ribs on the barbecue. A nice peaceful day living in Alaska.
Thursday, June 29, 2017
Every cloud has a silver lining.
I have been wanting to go to a hot spring, but Alex poo-poos it. Since he took an unscheduled swan dive into the Chena the other day, his bones have been aching, so it didn’t take much convincing to get him to agree.
Chena Hot Springs Resort is exactly fifty miles from our campground. It is an easy ride, if fifty miles can be considered easy. It’s just a left and a right turn, then the road dead ends at the resort. You can’t get lost. It is even on Chena Hot Springs Road. This is a geothermal powered community that even has a 7,060 square foot greenhouse that produces their lettuce, tomatoes and herbs year round. It maintains 75 degrees even in minus 50 degrees, a 125 degree difference.
We were going for the hot springs, but they have a pool, hot tubs, restaurants, gift shop, a hotel and campground, plus the Aurora Ice Museum. The Ice Museum is kept at a geothermal 25 degrees, even when it is eighty degrees outside, and has ice sculptures and a bar that serves Appletinis in an ice-carved martini glass. They give you a parka, but sandals don’t work well in that temperature. Admission is $15, plus $15 for an Appletini.
We got there a little after noon, so we went to the Trails End Lounge for lunch before changing into our swimsuits and going to the springs. The food was really good. Great fries. I had a grilled chicken sandwich and Alex had a salmon burger, something different. There were quite a few people in the restaurant, including kids. We didn’t know at the time, but the loud mouth talking to a couple of young guys eating at the bar was the owner. He was speaking so loud no one else could have a conversation. If that wasn’t bad enough, his tales were not G rated. Talking about sex under the Northern Lights isn’t really PG conversation with the kids there. Eventually, the two guys finished eating and the owner left. All the patrons let out a collective sigh of relief and began laughing and talking about this guy. Our waiter told us he was the owner and it was not the first time he’s held court, but how do you tell the boss he’s a jerk. It just shows you money can’t buy class!
When we finished eating, we paid our $13 senior admission and went to the lockers to change. Make sure you have quarters for the lockers. If you open it up, it costs another quarter to lock it up. With your admission, you can go in and out of the hot spring as often as you like and stay there till 11:45 at night when the spring is shut down. The Hot Springs Rock Lake is adults only. No kids. Quiet relaxation is the goal. We spent the rest of the day soaking and relaxing in the hot mineral water. It was cloudy, so the temperature was just right. When the wind wasn’t blowing, you could catch the scent of sulfur. There is a water spout with considerable force where you can stand and have it pound your body. A sprinkle fountain can help cool you down. The lake is not deep, you can stand anywhere. Rocks and concrete blocks allow you to sit around the edges. The bottom is a fine gravel. Most of the water has a consistent temperature, but certain spots around the edges, where the hot water is pouring in, can be so hot you think your skin is going to peel off. You can see the steam rising off the water.
After we were sufficiently relaxed, around five, we headed to the locker room for a quick shower. The hot springs was cooler than the locker room. With all the water on the floor and the heat, trying to get dressed was a challenge. We needed a cool down period outside before heading home. I have to admit it, I fell asleep by nine and slept till nine the next day. And it was such a wonderful sleep!
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
We visited the Georgeson Botanical Gardens, which is on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. The five acre garden hosts a variety of research and educational programs. Research at the garden involves a variety of plants including annual flowers, vegetables and perennial ornamentals with an emphasis on Alaska native plants. They experiment to learn the best way to grow in this different climate with twenty-four hours of sun and a shorter growing season. They have a small industry centered on peonies, which have been exported to retail and wholesale markets since 2007. Because of the northern environment, flowers bloom later than other regions, giving them a competitive advantage. Everywhere you turn, there are peonies of different colors. Big, beautiful blooms.
Since this is a university, there is a section just for kids to learn and explore, not only plants, but science. This water experiment shows how to generate electricity.
It was a beautiful day, perfect for an enjoyable walk through the gardens of roses, peonies and other fragrant flowers.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
A home day today. Just hanging and doing normal living stuff.
Monday, June 26, 2017
We went to Pioneer Park today. The Park opened in 1967 as the Alaska 67 Centennial Exposition to celebrate the 100 year purchase of Alaska from Russia. A few land transfers later to State then city and it eventually became Pioneer Park. Admission is free, but some museums and activities do charge a fee.
The Park is a mixture of museums, displays, shopping, dining and activities. Many of the early homes and buildings from Fairbanks have been moved here to create a little town street. You can read the history of each one as you stroll by. There are several museums including an air museum and a railroad museum. My favorite was the SS Nenana, an old ship that was filled with dioramas, miniature three dimensional scenes, of towns in Alaska as they were in days gone by. Such detail, right down to chickens on fences. You can take a ride on the Crooked Creek & Whiskey Island Railroad or picnic while watching the kids at the playground, play miniature golf or kayak. There’s a nightly comedy review and an Alaskan salmon bake. Stop at one of the old buildings for lunch or ice cream. And don’t forget shopping. From souvenirs to locally hand-crafted pieces, there’s something for everyone.
We had a great time wandering through the park. Lunch was a “No Name” sandwich at Cynthia’s Panini, chicken, cheeses, peppers, olives. I kid you not, that was what they called it. Very delicious, but our favorite was Frosty Paws. They had the best soft ice cream! We might have to stop back again since the park is right in the middle of Fairbanks.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
We woke to animal scratching. Never a good sign! We knew it wasn’t the cats. This was coming from the ceiling over the driver seat.
We were planning on going to the Georgeson Botanical Gardens, they were doing a birthday celebration today, but critter hunting seemed more important. The best guess was it was a mouse. Alternative guesses were a vole or squirrel. Alex didn’t think it was a squirrel, but after the locals told him how small squirrels are in Alaska, a squirrel stayed on the list of suspects.
Because we had the cockpit TV taken out, we had a small access panel in the cabinet that Alex was able to remove so he could look inside. But no critter. We tried putting peanut butter on wax paper at the entrance to the opening in hopes of luring it out. I stood ready with my electric bug zapper tennis racket. Still no good. So it was off to Home Depot to get an arsenal of weapons.
Hunger struck, so we made a stop at KFC. The tab was $46.07 for a 12 piece bucket of chicken with sides. I can’t get used to the high cost of living in Alaska. I won’t miss the huge grocery bill or high cost of grabbing a meal out.
We came back with mouse traps and glue traps, and the poor thing didn’t stand a chance! After everything was in place, Alex decided to walk up to the Chena River at the back of the campground and attempt his first Alaskan fishing expedition. I decided to stay behind in the motor home and relax with some TV.
About an hour or so later, the door opened. Alex was asking for help. It seemed that while he was standing on the raised bank of the river fishing, he lost his footing, he thinks, and went headlong down into the river, barely missing his head on the rocks. He lost his prescription glasses and hat. The current was taking him downstream. He had to swim to shore with sneakers on. He did manage to hang on to his fishing pole. I swear the man is going to kill himself and leave me a widow!
In addition to the lost glasses and hat, his iPhone was also a casualty. He never usually takes his phone with him. I am always reminding him that the mobile in mobile phone means it goes with you so you can be reached at any time. As he was leaving to fish, I mentioned he might want to take his phone in case he needed me for anything. So this one time, he did take his phone and he went swimming with it. We pulled the SIM card out and put everything into rice in hopes that it will dry out the phone. Time will tell.
He hit the shower, his sneakers went outside to dry and his clothes went in the washer. My handy dandy heating pad was pressed into service and that was the end of my husband for the day.
Oh, nothing in the traps yet and no noise in the ceiling.
Saturday, June 24, 2017
Today we are going to strike it rich! We’re panning for gold!
We booked the Gold Dredge 8 tour aboard an old train. The first thing you encounter when you pull into the parking lot is the Trans Alaska Pipeline. The pipeline runs from Deadhorse, on the Prudhoe Bay at the Arctic Ocean, all the way to Valdez on the Prince William Sound at the Gulf of Alaska. It is a major source of income to Alaskans. This year every man, woman and child gets $1,100, a share of State’s revenue from the pipeline. As one Alaskan put it, “It’s like getting a second tax refund.”
A stop at Gold Dredge 8, no longer in operation, and we learn how gold was brought up from the river dirt by buckets on a conveyor system. We learn the many steps in the process to separate it and how it was melted down into 56 pound bars that were then wrapped in brown paper and sent through the US mail to the government. A fast mental calculation of the weight and the price of gold, gives you a small fortune being sent through the mail with no security.
The train stops at a recreation of a gold mining town, which is, where we pan for gold. This is one way gold is found, by tiny flakes or nuggets, in the silt of rivers. There are other methods that involve heavy mining. We are given a bag of the silt and head for the panning area. We try our hand at panning and between the two of us, we get $24 worth of gold. You can turn your gold into a locket, bracelet or in our case, a magnet that is a mining pan with a gold locket holding our gold in the center. You can buy mining pans and bags of the silt in their gift shop, so now that Alex has been bitten by the gold bug, he gets a pan to try in our travels. Then it’s back on the train and back home.
Friday, June 23, 2017
Back to being tourists today.
The state runs two fish hatcheries, one in Anchorage and the other here in Fairbanks. The Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery, in Fairbanks, produces Rainbow trout, Arctic char, coho and Chinook salmon. They utilizes modern recirculating aquaculture technology. We decided to check it out.
You cannot get into the actual area where the fish are being raised, but you can watch through glass windows. Alex thought the operation looked like a treatment plant. You can see the fish in the different stages and sizes of their life. When the fish are large enough for release, tank trucks equipped with oxygen are backed into a loading bay within the hatchery, and a fish pump, like a large vacuum cleaner, pumps the fish from the rearing tanks into the truck tanks. The fish produced by the Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery will provide fishing opportunities for 137 landlocked lakes. There is a 5,000 gallon fish tank in the visitor center, which is open 8-5, but only manned after twelve noon.
After lunch, we head over to the Sternwheeler Riverboat Discovery on the Chena River in Fairbanks for a three hour tour. No Gillian’s Island here, the river is only four feet deep. The first thing we encounter is a sea plane demonstration. A bush pilot lands, takes off and maneuvers on the river. Next we stop at the kennels of the late Iditarod Champion, Susan Butcher, run by her husband and daughters. We get to see the sleds dogs in action as they race around the lake area pulling a manned ATV.
Then it’s off to the spot where the Chena meets the Tanana River. We turn around there and stop at an Athabascan Indian village just as it was hundreds of years ago, complete with a summer fishing camp. There we learn the Athabascan way of life and how they caught hundreds of salmon and smoked them to feed not only all the natives of their group, but all the sled dogs as well. The dogs each eat a salmon a day and they have roughly a hundred dogs. That’s a lot of salmon to make it through a long, cold, dark winter! The natives smoke and eat the better grade of salmon, while the dogs get the lesser grade.
When we get back to the dock, we stroll through the large gift shop. They have a restaurant there, but it is only in operation before the boat pulls out. Don’t plan on grabbing a meal after you come back.
Fairbanks can get down to forty below in the winter. The coldest ever recorded was seventy-two below. If you have ever wanted to wrap your head around that kind of cold, you’re in luck here. They have a 40 Below Experience and it is just what it says it is. You can go into a freezer that is that cold to see what it feels like. And I can tell you it is cold!
Thursday, June 22, 2017
Today, we decided to make it a good housekeeping day. After all the dirt and damage from our trip getting here, the coach needs a good cleaning, inside and out.
First thing is closing Claudia up and driving over to the area for RV washing. After a thorough washing, we went back to our site. I’m spending the day cleaning inside Claudia and doing lots of laundry to get all the dirt out of everything, while Alex is working on the outside and underneath to get all the bugs and road tar off her. Not to mention, check for any other damage.
Not an exciting day in Alaska, but one that is necessary.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Today is the first day in a long time we can sleep in. No mad race to pack up and hit the road. The only problem is the lack of darkness. The sun rises at 2:57 AM. Add to the fact that it didn’t set until 12:46 AM and you have twenty-four hours of daylight. Takes some getting used to.
Since we are in the North Pole, we are going to see Santa Claus and explore the town called North Pole. Alaskans have an interesting sense of humor. We pass streets named Bullwinkle Court, Snow White Lane and Flying Squirrel Road, to name a few. Add in Santa Claus Lane and Kris Kringle Drive and you really can start to believe. Very cool! The street lights are painted to look like candy canes. This town is Christmas 365 days a year. Everything is geared around the Christmas theme, business names, menu items, streets. It is home to the world’s tallest Santa, standing at 42 feet. You can meet Santa and shop at the Santa Claus House, where you can find all things Christmas, plus other Alaskan made items, clothing and souvenirs. If you haven’t seen our visit with our old friend, Santa, check out the video under the “Where’s Ola?” Section.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
We’re going to the North Pole. Every little kid’s dream! And some big ones, too!
The roads, since we got into Alaska, are a thousand times better than in Canada. They are paved with blacktop, not that gravel mixed with whatever it is. There’s still a few heaves and patches, but not the rig damaging kind.
We pass Eielson Air Force Base, established in 1943, on our way to Riverview RV Park in the North Pole, about ten or so miles outside Fairbanks. We’ve reserved this campground for a week, with the possibility for a second week. The campground is on the Chena River and the main reason we picked this Good Sam campground, all amenities being equal, is because it offers a free RV wash. Take as long as you want. Most places in Alaska and Canada offer washing, but it is a certain dollar amount for either time or length. It gets expensive. Another reason we picked this place is cable, they have good cable.
We have a pull through, but need to unhook to get us in. We also have to use an extension on the sewer to be able to reach. In campgrounds, it’s placement, placement, placement. Our neighbor on the driver side, a fifth wheel, has their awnings out and they practically touch our coach. Another tight site.