Monthly Archives: August 2016
Fairbanks downtown park celebrate’s Alaska’s purchase
The next four days while camping in Fairbanks we will take care of some long overdue housekeeping duties.
The RV will get an oil change and some other mechanical checkups, making sure everything is sound because we still have at least 5,000 more miles to go before returning to Florida. Cleaning the inside of the RV will take another day. Martha will do the laundry in the campground and I plan to check tire pressure, etc., on the RV.
Besides, a cool weather front has moved in and rain is predicted the next four days.
We found a major grocery chain and restocked the cupboard and freezer and refilled some medicines at a local pharmacy. Drug stores in Canada do not recognize medicine refills from the U. S. We learned the hard way several years ago when traveling in Canada and ran out of a prescription medicine. It was necessary to find a walk-in clinic and have a Canadian physician fill out a script for refill then file for reimbursement for the doctor’s appointment and the med from our insurance carrier.
The Alaska Highway ends at Delta Junction, about 90 miles from Fairbanks. The 1,532 mile highway was built during World War II as a military route to carry supplies to military installations in the state.
Things break on a trip just like at home. With Don, our traveling partner, three businesses were visited hunting for a new barbeque grill.
Rain slackened on the afternoon of the fourth day so we spent several hours at Fairbank’s Pioneer Village, a 44-acre city park in the downtown area. Run by the Fairbanks North Star Borough parks department, Pioneer Village brings Alaska history to life with several museums, historic displays at several old buildings that were relocated to the park. There is no admission to the park.
The park opened in 1967 as part of the celebration of the centennial of the purchase of Alaska from Russia.
Included on the grounds is a 230-feet sternwheeler that carried passengers and cargo on the Chena River. It is now a museum.
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs 800 miles across Alaska
Since the Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay in extreme northern Alaska across the state to Valdez along the southeast coast, it criss-crosses many highways along the way giving visitors several opportunities to see the pipeline. Starting at the shores of the Arctic Ocean, the pipeline carries oil across rugged mountain terrain along with rivers and streams to Valdez, the northern most ice-free port in North America.
Some 420 miles of the pipeline is elevated on 78,000 vertical support members due to permafrost and 380 miles are buried. The high point is 4,739 feet at Atigun Pass, which runs through the Brooks Range at the Dietrich River.
According to pipeline operator Alyeska, the Trans-Alaska crosses three major mountain ranges and more than 30 major rivers and streams. The maximum grade is 145% at Thompson Pass which is near Valdez.
More than 17 billion barrels of oil have moved through the pipeline, filling 12,000 oil tankers at Prince William Sound, Valdez.
The pipeline construction employed 70,000 workers between 1969 and 1977, although actual construction time was three years and two months.
These pictures were taken along the Richardson Highway when we were en route to Delta Junction.
Reaching the end of Alaska Highway at Delta Junction, AK
The Gulkana Glacier is visible from the Richardson Highway and located 12 miles north of Paxson. Wildlife here includes both moose and bears. This view is taken southwest of the glacier.
Skies cleared for just an hour or so but long enough to get this cloud reflection on the 12-mile -long Lake Summit just past Paxson, population 33.
For a change, we left Valdez under clear skies and sent the RV up into the mountains again
Rainbow Mountain is 6,700 feet high and located near Paxson, AK. The reds and green and copper colors are volcanic rock and the yellows and pastels are siltstone.
through Thompson Pass and Keystone Canyon again and looked at the same mountain landscape, this time going north and naturally everything looked different. Maybe it’s the blue skies because three days ago when we drove through here headed south, it was mostly overcast and gray.
The frost heaves seemed to have grown larger during the past two days (ha) but we took our time and negotiated the dips and dos without problem. We stopped for lunch at Copper Center, confirmed with a local that the sockeye fishing had worsened and arrived in Glennallen at Northern Lights Campground mid-afternoon. For dinner, we grilled some of the fresh, bright red sockeye and headed out the following morning for North Pole, which is located near Fairbanks in the central portion of the state.
A well-painted old pickup truck was spotted outside a business in Copper. Less than 400 people live here near the banks of the Klutina River. We stopped here in an unsuccessful attempt to catch sockeye salmon.
On the way, we passed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline several times while it makes its way 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay in extreme northern Alaska to Valdez on Prince William Sound. Again, we found impressive mountain and lake scenery including the 12-mile long Summit Lake and the Alaska Range of mountains.
Summit Lake is known in Alaska as hosting the Annual Arctic Man Ski-Sno-Go Classic. Two members teams–a downhill skier and a snowmachine and driver. The skiers start at the 5,800 feet elevation and drop 1,700 feet in less than two miles to the bottom of a narrow canyon, where they must catch the tow rope from their partner on the snowmachine who then tows them more than 2 miles uphill at speeds up to 86 miles per hour before they separate and the skier finishes the race by going over the side of a second mountain and dropping 1,200 feet to the finish line. That’s according to Milepost Magazine.
The Alaska Highway officially ends at Delta Junction, so we pulled over at a visitor’s center and took more pictures. Constructed by the Army at the beginning of World War II, the 1,700 mile highway starts in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada and ends here at Delta Junction’s visitor center. The actual highway length is 1,422 because today’s route has been rerouted and straightened in some places shortening the actual distance. It has been a long and memorable drive.
We had a buffalo burger at a roadside stand and proceeded northwest to Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway which follows the big Tanana River to North Pole. Our campground tonight is on the Chena River and as usual, we hooked up the RV lifelines in the rain.
Earthquakes, tsunami’s and death in Valdez’ past
Poplar trees are losing their blooms in this part of Alaska. The air is filled with the white feathery blooms and looks like it is snowing as it piles up on ground and window screens. Such a peaceful natural occurrence here in a beautiful little town on Prince William Sound. Along with the Kenai Peninsula, Valdez is where Alaskans go on holiday.
Thank goodness the white stuff is only blooms. Since the largest snowfall ever recorded happened a few miles from our campground, this is not the place to be come winter.
One of the two waterfalls outside Valdez.
The campground where we are staying is within walking distance of downtown Valdez, where we will head shortly for exploring and dinner. While hooking up the RV lifelines to water, sewer and electricity, I noticed a power pole near our camp sight with a public tsunami warning speaker on top that will produce a very loud siren if a tsunami is imminent. I had not given thought to such a thing happening until I noticed the alarm speaker. Every time I walked outside I looked up at the alarm and hoped it was working.
Fireweed is a brightly colored flower that blooms all over the northwest, usually in large clumps. This photo was taken with Cobbs Lakes in the background. The lakes are located on the road between Glennallen and Valdez.
Valdez has reasons to be alarmed. Along with Seward, Kodiak, Whittier, Valdez and other Alaska coastal communities were mostly destroyed by the tsunamis after the 9.2 1964 Good Friday earthquake. The wave that hit Valdez was 30 feet high. The village of Chenega, located on Chenega Island, was hit by a 90-foot wave, claiming 23 lives of the sixty eight people who lived in Chenega at the time.
Seward, AK, which is on Resurrection Bay on the east side of the Kenai Peninsula and south of Anchorage, was also hit hard. One survivor told the story of seeing the first tsunami enter and circle around Resurrection Bay as they tried and failed to outrun it in their pickup truck. The truck was immersed in the wave but miraculously, it held together and the wave deposited them far up-shore and alive.
A Valdez resident watched in disbelief as the wave entered Prince William Sound and demolished the dock while visitors and workers ran back and forth trying to save themselves and finally perished into the sea.
We stood on the new Valdez dock and looked out into the sound and could not imagine the horror and devastion an unsuspecting tsunami could bring to this community. With a city-wide warning system, local residents will hopefully have ample warning to escape the wrath.
The earthquake opened ground fissures, collapsed structures and caused 139 deaths, 106 of them from tsunamis. The shaking lasted four minutes and thirty-eight seconds.
Mountains behind the Valdez Campground and our Winnebago Aspect (right) alongside a fancy Prevost bus.
Anchorage suffered major destruction. South of Anchorage around Turnagain Arm near Girdwood and Portage, land dropped as much as eight feet. Near Kodiak, some areas raised permanently by 30 feet.
There’s only one road out of Valdez and after a few miles, heads up the mountain through Thompson Pass and the Keystone Canyon. With ample warning, that road will mean life or death for many people, visitors and locals alike.
At least in Florida we have warnings when hurricanes are approaching. Earthquakes just happen and in Valdez, can likely be followed by water.
Pink salmon, sockeyes arriving offshore at Valdez
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline snakes its way 800 miles
Tents are lined up for campers at Valdez with snow covered mountains in background.
across Alaska and terminates at Valdez in Prince William Sound.
Valdez local fishing fleet has been working offshore for about a week and starting to bring fresh salmon into local canneries and processing plants. And no doubt the largest in town is the Peter Pan Seafood where we drove later in the afternoon and bought several fresh sockeye (red) salmon for the freezer until we arrive in Kenai and hopefully, catch enough to take back to Florida.
Although Valdez is economically supported by the oil industry and the Trans-Alaska pipeline, seafood also is a major contributor to the community. The fishing industry accounts for 740 jobs and fishermen caught 68 million fish, mostly pink salmon, that were worth over $34 million. The local fleet consists of 56 boats according to 2013 figures.
The small boat harbor is located downtown and is a popular place for tourists. We talked with several deck hands when they came ashore who had been out to sea for several weeks catching salmon and a variety of other species. The catch is transferred to larger processing ships offshore which allows the fishermen to stay longer at sea.
We drove around the harbor in hopes of seeing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline terminal but thanks to the 9-11 disaster, security keeps visitors about a mile away. There was nothing to see. We stopped briefly at Solomon Gulch Hatchery which produces pink and coho salmon for commercial and sport fishermen. The pink salmon return was just beginning when we were there but not in large numbers, although about a dozen eagles were perched in trees and in shallow water waiting for the fish to arrive.
Don and Sue, our RV traveling partners, shared their trip onto Prince William Sound aboard the tour boat Lu-Lu Belle into Prince William Sound over dinner at a local restaurant. They saw sea otters, sea lions, humpback whales, bald eagles and porpoises on the trip. The highlight, Sue said, was driving through the ice and icebergs to within a half mile of Columbia Glacier.
We will leave tomorrow morning and head north to Fairbanks. We will have an overnight stay again in Glennallen before arriving in Fairbanks.
Wildlife, mountain scenery highlights trip to Valdez
A pair of trumpeter swans were showing off their four youngsters in a small pond on the road between Tok and Glennallen, AK.
This colorful little pond was found on a dirt road about 10 miles west of Glennallen, AK while we were searching for waterfowl to photograph.
After surviving the eye-popping Top of the World Highway drive from Dawson City to Tok, AK, we settled into Sourdough Campground and unwound for a couple days. There were some hair-raising moments on the gravel highway getting here, particularly the narrow road sections with soft shoulders and 1,000 foot straight down drop-offs.
We took advantage of the campground’s pressure washer and blasted away some of the highway dirt and grime from 5,300 miles and six weeks on the road in the Winnebago Aspect RV and the Honda tow car. Martha enjoyed a free breakfast of pancake and sausages after winning a pancake toss contest last night against about 30 other campers here at Sourdough.
The following morning we awoke to cool temperatures (in the upper 40’s and low 50’s) and headed south to Glennallen, a distance of about 150 miles. Thirteen miles out of Tok, we passed a small pond and spotted a pair of trumpeter swans with small babies. The swans migrate to Alaska to give birth during the summer then wait a few months for them to mature enough to make the trip back south.
Mount Drum is not the largest mountain seen from Glennallen, but it is the most impressive when seen from the highway west of town. The mountain is part of the Wrangell-St. Elias range and stands 12,010 feet tall.
Taking a roadside break for a cinnamon bun on the road to Valdez.
Views from Highway 1, also called the Tok Cutoff or Richardson Highway were spectacular, despite the poor road conditions which kept the RV’s between 35 and 40 miles per hour for many miles to manage the dips, frost heaves and pot holes. We stopped for lunch at a scenic overlook of Cobb Lakes, a chain of three lakes with the huge Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains towering over the landscape. There are four big mountains in sight–Mt. Drum, 12010; Mt. Sanford, 16,237; Mt. Wrangell, 13,163 and Mt. Blackburn, 16,390. Although locals say the views of these mountains are really impressive during winter months, they are not a bit shabby to look at in summer. The view is helped considerably by having flat land in the foreground. We could spend the day just looking at the scenery.
One of the Cobb Lakes in a chain of three. The Wrangell-St. Elias mountains are in the distance on a cloudy day.
Glennallen is a town of less than 500 people at a crossroads of the Glenn Highway which extends southwest to Anchorage and the Richardson Highway which goes north to Fairbanks. Highway 4 goes south out of Glennallen to Valdez, a distance of 119 miles and our next destination. Valdez has the distinctions of being the southern terminus of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The Glennallen junction is referred to as The Hub and consists of a large service station/general store complex plus an outdoor ice cream truck, coffee wagon and sandwich shop.
Fishing partner Don casting for sockeye salmon on the Klutina River near Glennallen, AK.. Fish were not biting.
With Don, our Canadian traveling partner, we bought Alaska fishing licenses and gear-up for an afternoon of sockeye fishing on the Klutina River, about 20 minutes south of Glennallen at Copper Center. This will be our first attempt at catching Alaska salmon.
Unfortunately, the Klutina river was higher than normal and the river, rated as a Class III rapids, currents were running between 12 and 14 knots, local said. Few people were catching fish and we were not among them after an afternoon of standing in knee deep water and casting colorful artificial flies. In addition to the fast water, alaska fish and game reports indicated the sockeye return was smaller than usual.
One of two waterfalls a few miles from Valdez that are along the highway with plenty of parking for photos.
Taking a roadside break for a cinnamon bun on the road to Valdez.
After two nights camping in Glennallen, we headed south to Valdez under clear skies for a change and were treated to more spectacular snow peaked mountain views. Adding to the day’s excitement was a large moose that crossed the road in front of u, causing trucks and RV’s to brake suddenly to avoid a collision with the big animal. It is understandable why the big semi-trucks have huge moose guards across the front. A few minutes later, an eagle flew alongside of the highway for several hundred yards before veering away.
We stopped at a turnout within eyesight of Worthington Glacier, one of the few remaining glaciers in the U. S. accessible by paved highway and one of the most visited sights in the Copper River Basin. Heading on to Valdez, we drove through Thompson Pass, which has an elevation of 2,805 feet but has the distinction of being the snowiest place in Alaska. in the winter of 1953-53, a total of 974.1 inches fell on the pass but averaging 551 inches of snow per year. More than five feet fell on one day in 1955. The road, which is the only overland link to Valdez, opened to winter traffic in 1950.
Lowe River passes under the highway in the Keystone Canyon area.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 44
GALLONS OF FUEL TO DATE: 610
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE:5,427
TOTAL SPENT ON FUEL TO DATE: $2059.92
Scenery is spectacular on Top of the World Highway, Alaska
After four days, we are leaving Dawson City today, putting the Winnebago and tow car on a small ferry that will ford the mighty Yukon River and hopefully drop us off dry on the other side.
There is still no night.
Tales abound on the internet about the perils of traveling the Top of the World Highway.
A motor home is barely visible in this picture across the valley on top of the ridgeline on the Top of the World Highway.
Friends who have traveled this route have told us that fast moving passing trucks will fling rocks, causing havoc to on coming traffic and denting the front of the RV, breaking headlights and windshields. While we do not have any such frontal protection, there are RV owners with all kinds of gadgets across the front of their vehicle including one who taped a sleeping bag across the front grill to protect headlights.. Another used duct tape to affix rubber floor mats across the front.
We are prepared. Our traveling partner from Canada built a homemade “thingy,” he called it, to attach to the bottom of the rear of the RV and stretches like a skirt and attaches to the bottom of the tow car. This will stop the RV from flinging rocks into the front of the tow car. It will not, however, offer any protection against oncoming trucks.
Here is how the Milepost Magazine described the Top of the World Highway: “Allow plenty of time for this drive. This is a narrow, winding road with some steep grades and few guardrails. Watch for soft shoulders. Slow down on loose gravel and washboard. The maximum posted speed limit is 50 miles per hour. “
At about 3,500 feet elevation and almost above the tree lines, the road turned to gravel with bumps like a washboard and some above average potholes. We have slowed to 25 to 30 miles an hour to absorb the commotion. We are maybe 15 miles from the ferry crossing and have not met a single car. Maybe it has something to do with the road?
“The scenery at Mile 28 is breathtaking,” Martha writes in her journal. I’m too busy dodging potholes which is not easy in a 33-foot rig with a tow car. The road changes to something the road folks call “seal coated” which is dirt and rock with a wee bit of oil. It is better than gravel, however.
Our Winnebago Aspect taking a ride on the ferry connecting Dawson City with the Top of the World Highway across the Yukon River.
At this elevation, the outside temperature is a very cool 46 degrees but otherwise, a nice sunny and clear day for the trip. The Milepost magazine, the Alaska Highway traveler’s bible, says this road is not recommended on rainy days. I’m not sure it is recommended on a clear sunny day, either.
At 27 miles from the U. S. /Canada border and the scenery is every bit as described everywhere: breathtaking. We are on top of the ridge looking across to other snow peaked mountain tops and down across the valley. It is customary in the mountains to be down in the valley and looking up at the mountains.
About 90 minutes into the ride, we reached the border crossing where the elevation was 4,127 and well above the tree line. This is not the highest we have been on this trip, but still a very impressive sight to see.
The stop at the U. S. Border crossing was cordial, in fact after answering the usual questions, I asked the Customs agent if I could take a picture of the old Poker Creek log cabin customs building and to our surprise, he said. “Hop out. I’ll take your picture.” Which we gladly did without hesitation. This was an unusual gesture on his part since the customs agents are always putting on their best business face.
The Poker Creek, Alaska crossing is the most northerly land border point in the USA.
For the third time since leaving Florida, we changed our clocks back an hour as we crossed into Alaska and pulled over to a rest area and had lunch with our Canadian traveling partners.
The road is wonderfully paved and smooth as we pass the Welcome to Alaska sign and looked out across the valley at the fortymile River Region, one of several Yukon River crossing points for the fortymile caribou herd. Ten miles into Alaska, the road turns again to gravel and potholes. There were sections where the gravel road was barely passable for one vehicle, with sharp curves, soft shoulders and deep drop-offs without guard rails, just as described in the Milepost.
Road conditions changed very little past the gold mining community of Chicken, population 7, then to Tok where the road was a combination of gravel, dirt and some paved sections. We spent two nights in Tok; population 1,258 at a splendid place called Sourdough Campground and ate hamburgers and homemade potato chips in the campground restaurant for dinner.
The Top of the World Highway is 108 miles from Dawson City to Chicken and 187 miles to Tok and despite the road conditions, should be on every RV travelers agenda if visiting Alaska because of the scenery.
But, you only need to travel it once.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 42
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE: 5,297
GALLONS OF FUEL TO DATE: 593.3
TOTAL SPENT ON FUEL TO DATE: 1,930.74
Natives celebrate Aboriginal Day in Dawson City
n Cigty When 40,000 gold seekers descended on Dawson City in 1896, the local Tr’ondek Hwech’in natives vacated their summer camp on the Klondike and Yukon rivers and moved their camp downstream to avoid the newcomers.
About 450 First Nations people live in the Dawson area and many gather each Summer Solstice and Aboriginal Day on June 21 at the downtown Danoja Zho Cultural Centre. They dress in brightly colored and handcrafted native costumes for the celebration of the long days of June and play traditional music and serve refreshments, including native fry bread, to tourists and offer tours of the Cultural Centre.
We returned early in the afternoon to the campground and prepared the RV for travel tomorrow which will include taking a ferry across the Yukon and a hour or so later into Alaska and on to the famed Top of the World Highway. This combination gravel and paved road takes motorists from Dawson City, Yukon Territory to Chicken, Alaska. The views make it a favorite of Alaska bound travelers because the road travels along the ridge top of mountains and provides spectacular views from above the tree line.
Setting the sun on Summer Solstice Day in the Klondike
For more than a century, locals and tourists have gone to the top of Dawson City’s Mount Dome to watch the sun set on June 21, Summer Solstice day. We were among the crowd this year.
After taking in a gold rush era musical stage show at Diamond Tooth Gerties and dinner at a local restaurant, we dressed in multiple layers of warm clothing and drove to the top of the mountain, arriving about 11 p.m. and joining a crowd of several hundred people. The view from the top of the 2900′ mountain provides a striking panoramic view of Dawson City, the Yukon River and Klondike Valleys along with the Ogilvie Mountain range in the distance.
Trying to keep warm on top of Mount Dome on Summer Solstice day in Dawson City, Yukon Territory,Canada.
Performers at Diamond Gerties recreate the can-can dance for visitors.
The midnight sun never goes below the horizon in northern Canada on Summer Solstice day, June 21.
Youngsters provided a festive atmosphere while the older crowd brought lawn chairs and blankets and simply settled down to wait for the sun to reach the horizon. Locals added that this is a great vantage point to watch the northern lights in winter.
It feels like winter is here with temperatures in the low 40’s.
At midnight when the sun fell to the horizon and stayed there, an ultra light airplane flew around the mountain a couple times, adding to the celebration.
We waited until about 1 p.m. but the sun never disappeared then headed back to the campground.