July 1 Thursday
A long drive to visit Eagle
Our day to soar with the eagles had come at last, and since eagles are birds and what they say about birds is that the early bird gets the worm, Linda had the alarm set for 5 AM, and it no sooner went off than she was bounding out of bed. Still feeling the effects of hours of pothole dodging while driving the coach yesterday, I followed but without quite the same level of enthusiasm. By the time I got ready she was mixing up the eggs, milk and flour for the french toast she was going to fix.
The reason for all this was because we had a 80 some mile drive from the campground to Eagle, and with the Eagle town tour starting at 9 AM, we had to get an early start or we would arrive late. We estimated it would take three hours to travel that distance, so an early start was necessary. I knew I had to get us there on time, before time actually, or I was going to be in big trouble. With the eagle being the second greatest of all birds, after the chicken of course, and even though Eagle was only the name of the town, not a place you go to watch for eagles, this was a very important trip for Linda.
Walker Fork Campround, where we were staying, is on the Taylor Highway, and with Eagle being at the north end of the road, we at least weren't going to get lost during the drive. Linda was all set up for any questionable turns we might encounter, having programed the GPS, and having the Milepost open in her lap. I must say we have really used the Milepost, stopping at many interesting places along the way north that we otherwise might not of known about. Beside, we are back in the States and the road signs are once again what we have looked at most of our lives.
There were many spectacular views along the road, but for safety reasons Linda took very few photos. After all, if you take your hand off the arm rest you are tightly gripping, to take a photo, the door just might come unlocked, it might just open, your safety belt might just fail at that moment, the driver might swerve to miss a pothole, and even though he was only going 15 miles an hour, you might fall out and tumble over the edge down into a steep ravine.
Stopping to take photos, either from inside the Explorer or out side was permissible, and I soon learned that when she said to stop, I stopped. One section of the road is along a razorback ridge with sharp dropoffs on either side. Parking at one end, Linda walked over near the edge, her term for where she standing in the middle of the road, so I could take her photo in that hazardous location. Actually she did walk over to the edge, plus the photo doesn't show what it was like. Two feet from the edge the trees look normal, ten feet out from the edge and what you are seeing is the tops of the trees growing far below.
Further along they were doing maintenance work on the road. Using a roadgrader, they clean out and deepen the ditch, piling the dirt on the road, then make another pass pushing the dirt off the road on the opposite side. That dirt then makes the berm and is one of the reasons they tell you not to drive onto the berm because it is soft. All this made for a very interesting drive, and for once I was being told I was driving too slowly. From Linda's point of view it looked like a freeway, from mine it was the first cousin to driving on an ice rink. Reality was somewhere between, but for once I was erring, wrongly in Linda's opinion, on the side of caution. Hey, the last person who wanted to be late was me because the only thing that could be worse than a mad grizzly was what was sitting beside me, especially when I really mess things up.
We made it with 15 minutes to spare, even though I had to drive for the last half hour through the rain and drizzle. I'm not really sure what Linda expected Eagle to look like, but it sure wasn't much. There is a NPS visitors center with a passport stamp location, and I had to laugh because Linda had her's in hand as we walked in the door and her first question was, "Where's your stamp?" That woman sure knows what she wants, and lucky for me, I'm one of the things on her list.
Other than the fact the tour didn't start from the place it was supposed to, and that it also was a half hour later than the posted time when it did start, it was okay. The problem was that after having been on all those outstanding Parks Canada tours, those good old USA tours we used to think were so good, aren't quite that good anymore. The tour consisted of visiting several buildings from a long abandoned military fort where most of the buildings had been removed to build the town's airplane landing strip. The other place was the historic courthouse/museum, and here we didn't even get to see the courtroom until I asked about it and they took me up the outside back stairs to the second floor and unlocked it, saying there wasn't much there. I actually thought the displays and exhibits up there were more interesting than what was on the ground floor, but maybe my interests are different.
One of the fort structures we visited was the mule barn, and you could tell that animals had been stabled there the moment they opened the doors and you walked in. There was definitely a fragrance in the air, and Linda immediately remarked, "It smells just like a barn." She was definitely right on with that comment. What caught my attention was the floor. It had a patina, texture and look that was unique. The rough grain of the wood, the harder knots rising above the surface and the rows of nails combined to create something unique. It's times like this that I wish I knew more about taking photos than just pointing the camera and pushing a button, because that photo in no way shows what my eyes were seeing.
At first glance that may look like a couple of the local inhabitants doing some weeding, but I can assure you it wasn't. Once it was pointed out that the ground was covered with very tiny, but also very delicious strawberries, it didn't take some of the ladies, Linda included, long to step out from under the cover where we were listening to facts about several old Fairbanks Morris engines and do some grazing.
I had to try my hand a picking a few, then a few more and then a few more, finally deciding I'd let the retired rancher from Oklahoma talk with the guide about engines while I joined Linda in picking a snack. One thing that surprised me was that they didn't have anything relating to Tisha's time in Eagle, on the tour. Our guide was very knowledgeable and told us where her cabin had been and also where the school was located, but that was only in response to our questions. He also pointed out that while the book was based on facts, there was also a great deal of the the author's invention in it. Reminds me of that Robert Service quote, Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, and after hearing about some of the ways the facts were twisted, we could understand why.
About the time the tour ended so did the rain, so we grabbed our lunch and had a Yukon River farewell meal on the bank high above it at the great bend where Eagle is located. We were in the old section of Eagle, and up river along the bend was where some of the newer parts of Eagle used to be. That was changed in 2009 when the great ice jam occurred and the residents could only watch as building after building was ground under or carried along with the ice.
They had a book with photos inside the NPS visitors center and it was hard to believe the ice could have been that high. They've rebuilt a few of the places, but Eagle is still suffering from the effects of that jam and flood. Another interesting thing about the town is that it is a transfer point for tour buses. One route is from Skagway to Eagle, the other from Anchorage to Eagle, with Eagle being where the passengers change buses. Oh, and I forgot, there is also a river cruise boat somewhere in that mix. All this made for many people milling around the old town area for about an hour.
The local ladies have a tent set up across from the transfer point, and they spend three hours every Wednesday evening in the winter making jewelry and other craft items to sell to the people on the tour buses, giving them something to do and making some money for the Historical Society. We did pick up that while they appreciated the tourists, they had other thoughts about how the tour bus drivers act. Even the locals don't like meeting the buses on the roads in and out of town, and try to time their trips accordingly. Seems the buses have a, I'm not slowing down and I'm not pulling over because I'm just too important, way of driving. It was just something they learned to live with, just like the weather and the long winter nights.
Once our visit was completed, and yes we did stop to look at the cabin and also the school that was associated with the book Tisha, we headed back along that same dirt and gravel road we had driven coming up to Eagle. This time it wasn't that we're going to be late refrain I heard, oh no, on the way out I noted the bear was getting in some hibernation time. I did find a good way to arouse her anytime anything interesting came up, just hit a few potholes and she was instantly alert, eyes open and darting to the edge of the road to make sure we weren't going over the side. Passing a burned area, I stopped to take a photo of the profusion of fireweed that covered the hillside. Linda called the white puffy flowers in the foreground, rabbit's paws. That wasn't what they were, but they sure were soft like rabbit fur. Linda looked them up in our book on native plants when we got back to the coach and it was cotton grass, and those fluffy tops were used much like cotton.
Driving along one of the ridges we could see rain falling in the distance, down in the valley where the road was descending. It took a while but eventually we caught up with it. It was most interesting as there were times when only a moderate rain was falling, and other times when you quite literally could barely see the road it was coming down so hard. Traffic really isn't a problem on the road as we saw two vehicles on the drive in this morning and four on the way out in the late afternoon, and everyone was very courteous, driving slow when you meet and pass.
There is not much along the 64 miles from Eagle to where the road meets the "main" section highway from Dawson to Chicken. The one business that was open was for sale. I couldn't help but think that this the perfect opportunity for someone who was thinking of changing careers. Someone used to running their own business, someone who had been raised on wild game, someone who could get balky equipment to work, someone who enjoyed the north in the summer but wanted to head south in the winter.
Then as I looked at that sign it struck me how important it was to have just the right person buy this place. Obviously it was owned by the Taylor's, and Taylor Highway was named after them. How much better to have it owned by the Smiths and rename the road, Smith Street, or the maybe the Arthur's and call it Arthur Avenue or the Lycoming's and call it Lycoming Lane. Yet somehow none of them was that perfect fit, then it struck me, the perfect name, Randall Road. How nice it would be if there was someone out there with that name and the above mentioned talents who was looking for a new career opportunity.
We arrived back at the coach just a few minutes after five, meaning we had been on the go for 12 hours, and well over six of them I had spent driving on a road where you needed to constantly pay close attention. To say the least, I was tired. Meanwhile, Linda acted as if she had a good nap during the day, and plunged into fixing dinner and cleaning the floor. What a wife, I'm so lucky she's so tough. After dinner, the strain of those hours of keeping us from plunging off the road caught up with her and before I knew it she was off to bed.
I was also tired, but had something I need to get done in the next two days. Read the rest of Tisha, because most of the story is set in Chicken and that is where we are headed to next. I'll say one thing, if you have trouble falling asleep when the sun is still up, just put in a day like we just did and going to sleep is absolutely no problem.
July 2 Friday
Having a hen of a good time in Chicken
Not being sure how bad the road was between Walker Fork to Chicken, we opted to install the gravel shield before we left the campground. Based on the results so far, it really does make a big difference, and the only damage we have suffered was the first time we drove on a gravel section and didn't use it.
The section of road we are taking today may be short, but it also has, to quote the Milepost, "CAUTION: Expect winding road with some extreme hairpin curves and no road shoulder or guardrail." In a way that is laughable because we haven't encountered any guardrail along the highway since we left Dawson, or before for that matter. After driving it, yes it was all those things but it wasn't that potholed, and as long as I drove 20 to 25 mph we had no problems what so ever. Every time we would meet someone I would pull over slightly and stop until they were past. While that wasn't really always necessary, it served to keep Linda happy, and that was all that really mattered. Besides we were in no hurry, with the drive today being a distance of 16 miles, which took us a little more than 45 minutes.
So just what does this road look like? Here is a section that was was being graded. Two RVs approaching us and the grader working in our direction of travel, making it so we couldn't pass, but also filling in all the potholes. Based on our past experience it is safe to say before driving the Top of the World and Taylor Highways we didn't know what a pot holed road was, even though we thought we did. The good thing is that there are many other roads up here that are reported to be far worse than these two, meaning relatively speaking, this wasn't all that bad. Something tells me Linda won't buy that line of reasoning, which may be good, as it will keep us off those other roads.
The drive really isn't that bad and one shouldn't take from these comments that it would be best to stick with the Alaska Highway and bypass Dawson and the Top of the World route. By taking it easy you will have a trip worth remembering, just be prepared for either dust or mud depending on whether it is dry or wet. As we sit in the campground it is the easiest thing to tell which direction people drove to get here. The ones coming from Tok on the paved road have a clean RV, the ones coming from Dawson have part of the highway on their RV. All in all, the experience and views are more than worth the drive.
As Linda remarked, "One minute the sun is shining with just a few clouds in the sky, and the next it is raining." We could see why they talk about people having trouble with the road being slippery when it rains, as many sections are more of a dirt road than a gravel road. That's when getting in a hurry could cause you problems. We just drove at a comfortable speed and generally stopped when meeting someone, particularly in any of the bad stretches of road.
Having arrived in Chicken, we selected an RV park, got a boondocking site, the hookup sites were all taken by a gold panning club here for the Fourth of July Holiday, and settled in. Several things about Chicken became readily apparent, the place exists because of the gold and the tourists, and things aren't what you might be used to. There are three places in Chicken and each generates its own power. Outside of that, what the above sign trumpets them as now featuring, says it all.
There was one thing we absolutely had to do when we were here, and it wasn't long before we were doing it. Linda had read about what took place in this room and how this door connected two very important rooms in a young woman's life. It is a book that is everywhere, and one that many people traveling through this country read. Now here was Linda standing in Tisha's quarters and the door was the one through which Tisha had passed so many times to the schoolroom next door. To say that Linda was happy at this moment doesn't even begin to explain her feelings. It was also a wonderful time for me, one of those I can't believe I'm really here, moments.
We also couldn't believe that we were the only ones taking the tour of Old Town Chicken, the town where Tisha taught school. It is privately owned and the only way to visit it is by the tour given at 2 o'clock each day. We got to go in building after building and Nate, the young man who gave us the tour was excellent. He had obviously done a great amount of research, and was not opposed to telling us that either he didn't know the answer to our question or the records were unclear, though he generally was able to fill us in on many of the details of the history of the buildings. It was like being back in Canada and taking a Parks Canada tour, it was so good.
As was the case in Eagle, we learned that one should understand the book is not history, but rather it is a novel roughly based on facts. This is the back section of the store owned the Mr. Strong in the story. The store Tisha had a key to. Only it wasn't Mr. Strong's, there was no Mr. Strong, it was the store of John Powers. Books, movies and reality TV shows, and to think how many people believe they are true.
Up near the current Chicken Post Office is a display that has the remains of a dredge that once sat next to the Taylor Highway. A few years ago it was was torn down because it was becoming a safety hazard and a few of the parts were placed here. As you can see, Linda seems to have a perchant for the controls, the same as she did with Dredge No. 4 back on Bonanza Creek.
Chicken can be very confusing according to one of the guide books, something that is definitely true. Chicken Goldpanner, Chicken Gold Camp, Old Chicken, Beautiful Downtown Chicken, all of which are Chicken, make for different experiences. One place gave us a blast from the past. Linda has always remembered a night at the church we we used to attend when two little twin brothers, only a couple of years old, threw a major crying, kicking and screaming fit at one of those dinners churches are always having. Who would believe that in Beautiful Downtown Chicken, of all places, she would find one of those boys. But then again, if Zach's mom, Barbara, hadn't posted on Facebook that he was working here this summer, we would never have known. Social media strikes again.
For someone who has spent her entire life loving chickens and collecting anything that has to do with chickens, this place is the mother lode of things chicken. Everything here has some connection to chickens, even the outhouses. I don't know how many people would want to pose in front of this to have their photo taken, but Linda sure did.
Linda even discovered the fact that there are actually chickens in Chicken, and one wasn't just any ordinary old chicken, it was her favorite breed, a barred rock. As might be expected, it wasn't long before they were good friends and just clucking away.
The view out our front window is also interesting.
Among the small chicken items Linda bought was another bumper sticker, no that speaks volumes about where we have been and the kind of roads we have traveled. I had been over looking at the dredge, when I saw her waving. I think she is one happy girl to be in Chicken. The only thing we didn't do was to buy a chicken dinner, but the bean soup stew she made was very delicious.
It had been a great day, the weather had cooperated, the visit to Tisha's schoolhouse was far better than we expected, Linda got to touch an actual chicken, and we were only a half mile or so from once again being back on paved roads. If that doesn't make for a great day, I don't know what does. Starting tomorrow things will change, as we head towards the coast, though it will take some time to actually get there. Our plans had originally been to do the Fairbanks, Denali, Kenai loop by starting with Fairbanks, but now we have decided to do it by going to Valdez, then the Kenai, followed by Denali and Fairbanks.
July 3 Saturday
Traveling to Tok
The obvious reason for our being in Chicken is that it would have been impossible to travel to Alaska and NOT stop at a place with that name, given Linda's love of all things chicken. One of the unexpected pleasures was having this view out the front of the coach when we got up and going this morning. However, we weren't the only ones who were enjoying it.
There is group boondocking nearby, and grandpa, grandma plus their granddaughter, were off to do some prospecting this morning. Then, just just as they passed in front of the dredge, the little girl's father came running over, stopping them so he could take a photo, and giving Linda a chance to take a turn at the photo fun.
We had another short drive planned for today with Tok the destination because that is where we had my repaired hearing aid sent to General Delivery. We did want to arrive before one o'clock just in case the Post Office was only open until then on Saturday, but with the distance being some 80 miles we didn't think the drive would take long. Besides there wasn't much listed in the Milepost to stop and look at along the way, so we had time to go on the 9 AM tour of the Pedro Dredge, which was the name of the dredge we see out our front window.
The dredge is a National Historic Site, and last night we had spent time looking at the outside, but we wanted to also see the inside and the tour was the only way to do that. One thing about Chicken, almost everywhere you are, there are parts from some type of mining equipment, as is the case with these dredge buckets. Linda noticed right off how much smaller they were than the one she had sat in beside Dredge No. 4 on Bonanza Creek.
Unfortunately they would only give the tour if four or more people wanted to go. This morning there were only three and so they cancelled the tour. What a difference from the attitude down at the Goldpanner and the tour of Old Chicken. In fact everything about the Goldpanner had given us a good feeling while here at Chicken Gold Camp we had felt just the opposite. From the argument they were having with a guest when we walked in yesterday to the kids speeding around the place on ATV's and the poor selection of merchandise in their store, if there is a next time for us to visit Chicken, we will stay here again, but will instead stay at the Goldpanner. And in case you're wondering, other than the ten dollars we spent to boondock here, we never spent another cent with them. And none of this gets into how Linda really felt about them, meaning its a wonder there wasn't the smell of burnt chicken feathers in the air when we left.
About a mile beyond Chicken the road changes from gravel to a paved surface. One needs to be careful in their choice of wording, for just because it is paved doesn't always mean it is better. Overall you can drive faster and the ride is smoother, but unless you watch for the warning signs, which may be a sign, a flag alongside the road, or simply a change in the appearance of the road surface, it's not going to be fun. Every once in awhile we would see someone coming the other way, suddenly start bouncing up and down like a yo-yo when they drove over one of those sections. Note the big dip at the flag in the above photo. trying hitting that at 60 mph, or even 40 for that matter.
The sign at the end of the Taylor Highway makes it easy to know which way to turn. It was simply amazing how wide and smooth the Alaska Highway was now that we were once again on it. Still, we wouldn't have passed up the opportunity to drive the Klondike, Silver Trail, Top of the World and Taylor Highways to drive on a better road, or to save time. Because we'd spent most of the last week driving at slow speeds, dodging potholes and frost heaves, it took awhile to get back up to normal highway speeds, even if the road was in great condition.
Arriving in Tok, our first stop was at the Post Office. I'd manged to stay out of hot water, arriving before one o'clock, but unfortunately we were still late. We forget that this isn't the big city up here, and Monday thru Friday are good enough for the Post Office. Guess too many years living in California has us spoiled. With Monday being the official Federal Holiday, we couldn't get my hearing aid before Tuesday, so that meant a small change in plans. We decided to unhitch the Explorer and drive around to the local RV parks to determine which one we wanted to stay at for the next three nights.
It was while we were getting ready to unhitch the Explorer that one of those "gotcha' moments occurred. I couldn't figure out where Linda was, and when I called for her, she said she was checking to see if we had a cell phone signal. I told her that we had a very strong signal and it was time to unhook the Explorer. A bit later she announced we had five bars, and I was lucky to have guessed right about the signal. In reply I simply suggested she turn around. She did, then she wanted to know what she was supposed to be looking at. I told her to look up. The loud OH, and laugh that followed got me to also laughing.
We had hoped to find an RV Park with a clear view of the southern sky so we could switch our Internet satellite, but had the view we needed. We could have parked in an open area of town and made the switch, but when in the park, the trees would have blocked the signal meaning we still be dependent on park wifi, so we decided to forego the switch for now and find a park with good wifi. That turned out to be the Sourdough RV Park, and that's where we are now, near the office with a good, strong signal. With the forecast calling for rain over the Fourth, it looked like the way to go.
We haven't had electric since leaving Dawson, so when I opened the electrical bay door there was a present waiting for me. Even though there is a rubber seal around bay doors that extremely fine dust found its way in. I'd read on blogs about this happening, and now we were joining that select group. When, or if, it stops raining, the air compressor should make short work of getting rid of that coating of white powder. A quick peek let me know that every compartment had dust in it, though it was much heavier in the ones at the back of the coach.
We had one other critical need, which was to restock our refrigerator, which had more empty space on the shelves than food. We agreed we would only be buying things for lunch during this trip as we were both hungry, and there would be time later to do some real shopping. That went out the window before were were ten feet inside the store. Guess we were suffering from too many weeks of not being inside a familiar type of grocery store. I have to say that those Tim's jalapeno potato chips had us bumping hands inside the bag once we got back to the coach, and that was just the first thing we unpacked.
The difference from the view we had this morning and what we had this afternoon was major. No dredge in a town with six residents, now it was the Tok Cutoff and all the traffic going towards Valdez, Anchorage and the Kenai. It gives us a glimpse into future, where we are going and what we will see. No more meeting six vehicles during six hours of driving, now it is six vehicles a minute. Both are Alaska, and both lead to fascinating places. For now we will take it easy for a couple of days and simply enjoy Life.
July 4 Sunday
Fourth of July, Alaska style
How can it be that no matter where we are in the US on the Fourth of July, it rains that day. I don't know how many times I was disappointed as a little boy when the Fourth of July festivities were cancelled or postponed because of rain. However, something tells me that a little rain isn't going to stop anything up here.
It did stop us, and so we skipped the community church service that was to be held in a open tent and also the parade. Yesterday at the visitor center, the young woman who was providing us with information joked that while the locals all enjoy the parade, the tourists caught in the traffic backup on the section of Alaska Highway through town that is blocked off for the parade, don't seem to appreciate it as much. We weren't going to get caught in the traffic jam, after all since we are three day resident's of Tok how could we consider ourselves tourists, and of course by the time the day was done we realized we should have gone to both the service and parade, rain or no rain. Darn, another opportunity to do something neat that we missed, but there is always another around the bend in the road.
By the time the rain stopped we had our fill of the Internet and reading, and so we decided to check put the afternoon festivities. It was something we had never seen before, mud bog racing, which was being held at the dog mushers association grounds just outside of town. As it was explained to us yesterday, "Just look for the airport on the right and all the cars parked just beyond it. You can't miss it." Actually we did miss it, not the location, the time. Linda thought it started at two while I thought it started at three.
She proved to be much smarter than I was, because by arriving an hour early we were able to drive back into town and get in the last of our grocery shopping. Even though we had bought a few things just after getting into town yesterday, we were still almost out of meat, with one package of Mexico shrimp and two turkey burgers to our name. We were pleasantly surprised with the prices in the market even if the selection was a little limited.
Outside of the meat section, many of the items were in very large containers and carried the Costco, Kirkland, label. I can just see people who have traveled up the highway, having shopped at all the small grocery stores along the way, going into the first market upon reaching Alaska and putting one of the plastic wrapped packages of 48 rolls of toilet paper in their cart, just because they can. I'm just saying that people "could" do that, not that they or we would. Neither did we buy any bird seed, though after checking out what they have, it appears arctic birds have arctic tastes.
After dropping the groceries off at the coach, we headed back out towards the airport, and sure enough, just beyond it were a number of cars and trucks. As we walked from the Explorer to where the action was taking place, three "mud tracks" could be seen, with spectators standing on one side and mud encrusted ATV's and a few people on the other side. There were also some mud colored shapes moving around the ATV's that had a resemblance to the human form.
For the next several hours, we along with several hundred other people, had a great time watching the contestants do what everyone watching probably wished they themselves could be doing. The racing was on ATVs, but the drivers were all ages, both male and female. In fact we decided it was more fun watching the girls and ladies compete than the boys and men, though the men sure can make the mud fly.
This little guy was too short to sit on the seat, and he also had trouble getting stopped at the starting line. The two men trying to get him back to starting line were so patient with him, then they simply waded in and helped push him back. The longer we watched the more apparent it became that no one really cared who won or lost, sure there was prize money involved, but that wasn't what was making everyone laugh and have a great time, it was just the shear joy of being part of something special.
Sometimes the racers seemed to just fly down the track as these two fellows are. It's fun to get up close and really watch the mud fly. Linda got so close she managed to get a little mud splashed on her feet, or so her story went. That surprised me because she was usually very close to me, so maybe the tale of the wayward mud has more to do with her splashing herself trying to get back out of the way than the racers slashing her. Or maybe I'm just jealous because she got splashed and I didn't.
The technique for getting through the worst section of the track, particularly with the younger riders, was to rock the machine from side to side. We particularly enjoyed watching this girl in her races as she would sometimes be seated, other times standing, and then when the machine really slowed she would seemingly stand on the seat bracing her feet against the back rack and rock that baby right out of there. Problem was she was so quick at changing positions, or I was so slow in taking photos that I never caught her in her top of the seat stance.
Here is the kneeling in prayer before the race position. These two ladies put on a great show and it was during this time that I could she something in Linda's eye. I asked her if she would have done this when she was younger and she replied that yes she would have. Sometimes we are just born to late, but at least the girls of today have the opportunities to do things they never could have, had not our attitudes and women's lib not happened. It boggles my mind how any intelligent person can think the authors of the Declaration on that first July 4th, or the writers of the constitution after the war for independence had been fought, did so with the thought that what they were creating was the very best it could ever be. It was a snapshot in time, and the times today are different. We can have different approaches to the problems facing us, but we need to do something to solve those problems, not merely be against the position of those who are trying to do something. My bit of patriotism on Independence Day.
It wasn't all machines racing down the track, as there were also human races. Here is the age four and under group getting lined up to race about twenty feet to be the first to grab a twenty dollar bill being held over the track. As you can see, all the parents are into giving the kids last minute instructions on how to race down the track. Meanwhile the kids are more interested in just what is this brown ooze is that mommy or daddy has dropped them down in the middle of. All the spectators really got a laugh at one time because one of the kids started crying and soon all of them had joined in.
What a difference a few years makes. The 18 and up contestants really got into the thick of things, and when you try to run too fast through the mud, sooner or later your going to do a face plant.
No, it's not The Creature from the Black Lagoon, nor the Swamp Creature, it's the Tok Mud Monster, though just a few seconds before it had been an upstanding member of the Tok Fire Department.
You certainly have to be tough to live up here, but you also have to be resourceful. Got to love the portable showers available to the contestants.
We ended the day by walking around the edge of the RV park and the nearby road, picking some bolete mushrooms. Unfortunately about two thirds of them had that fly infestation that ruins them, but with so many, we still had more than we could eat for supper. It had been a very good Fourth of July, and quite different from last year when we enjoyed a picnic on the Island of Rab overlooking the Aegean Sea. The great thing about Life is that no matter where you are, if you have the right attitude, it's worth living.
July 5 Monday
A day for doing next to nothing
Today was a day of rest, with just a few exceptions. One of those was washing the Explorer. Two dollars for five minutes and we bring a bucket of soapy water if we want any washing other than a high pressure spray. It did knock off all the mud that collected in the wheel wells and on the undercarriage, but the body was still streaked with road grime when we finished. However it was better than nothing, especially since the RV park had a rule against any vehicle washing at the site. It's easy to see why, because with all the mud that would be washed off over time the sites wouldn't be gravel any more.
I don't know if that bit of cleaning was infectious or not, but when we finished and returned to the coach, Linda got out the vacuum cleaner and started sweeping. It is amazing the amount of grit and gravel that finds its way inside, and no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't seem to get it all.
Linda reminded me there was one other job that needed to be done, blowing the dust out of the inverter, battery and electrical compartments. From the looks of the air compressor it is easy to see why this needs to be done.
Linda had brought out a bandana, and when I asked what it was for, she proceeded to put it on my face. Once the jet of air hit the compartment I could see she was a pretty smart lady. We never did figure out where the openings where that were allowing all the dust to get into the compartments, but since we are pretty much done with gravel roads, it should stay clean. Besides blowing out the dust, we also wiped everything down with a damp cloth, and it made a great improvement.
Tomorrow we will hopefully be getting my hearing aid from the Post office, then heading towards Valdez. We've decide to not go all the way, but rather stop and visit the Copper River area for a couple of days before heading over to the Kenai. Some days just are and this was one of them.
July 6 Tuesday
Roller coaster ride and two opposites in customer service
Great start to the day this morning. It was nice and light out at 3:45 when I woke up, soon had some things I had been putting off about the website cleaned up, then it was time to fix coffee and breakfast. Linda had expressed a desire to get up earlier today, so I figured the aroma of coffee and eggs filling the air would assist her in that endeavor. The best part was when she complimented me on the eggs. For some reason I have again veered to the overcooked side, while she is an undercooked egg girl, but today I got back onto track. With a start like this who knows what the day will bring.
Linda's reason for the early start was so we could get to the post office when it opened. I sometimes think that is what she misses most about fulltiming, getting the mail everyday. As a little girl she wasn't allowed to bring in the mail, but as my wife, it's her and only her responsibility, to get it. My package was there, the repaired hearing aid, and once I had it back on I realized there may have been something other than just her desire to physically get the mail that was motivating her. Anyone who has a spouse who normally wears hearing aids, then can't wear them for a while, can relate to this. To those that don't, lets just say the aggravation factor was immediately reduced by 99.99 percent. As I wrote in a Homepage article about 18 months ago, I can hear clearly now.
Before leaving the RV park we needed to wash the coach, something we hadn't done when we arrived on Saturday. When I stopped at the wash station Linda noticed the front step hadn't retracted all the way. Just what we needed with the Tok Cutoff frost heaves coming up. As I was power washing the coach, Linda came over and yelled that maybe the step mechanism was just dirty, and to wash it off, which I did. Wonder of wonders, I'm married to a very smart as well as a beautiful woman. We then gave the steps a number of chances to partially work by opening and closing the door, but they functioned perfectly each time. Problem solved, hopefully.
The road from Tok to Glennallen has two things going for it, neither of which is speed. I fact one of the blogs Linda follows reported a member of the caravan they are in destroyed their towbar while driving from Tok to Valdez. Of course the carvans do it in a day, and while it's looking like we may skip Valdez, it will still take us three days to get to the point where we are heading towards Anchorage on the Glenn Highway.
The first thing this highway has, is great scenery. There are many areas like the above along the road, sometimes with towering mountains in the distance. Linda was following the Milepost, and sure enough, when it mentioned an area where Trumpeter Swans were often seen, there they were. Unfortunately her timing with the description, the place the swans were swimming and the condition of the road made for a great glimpse, but nothing else, as we passed by.
We were also looking for a place we could stop that would allow us to connect to the Internet with the MotoSat. To be precise, a place that had an unobstructed view of the sky in the area of 140 degrees where the 127 satellite is located. Then we could call MotoSat and get switched over to 127. We finally found a good place and Linda assumed the role a "patient person".
Anyone who knows Linda, knows that the patience gene was left out when she was put together. When she is on hold for long periods of time, or waiting for a call back that doesn't come, the term 'a voice dripping with acid' barely describes her phone demeanor. We spent some 2 1/2 hours parked alongside the road, with two contacts from MotoSat, and the setup still wasn't done. About an hour of that was waiting for a call back that she was told would be in a few minutes. Fortunately there was a nice cool breeze blowing, so by having the windows of the coach open the temperature inside was at least livable. At least we can now receive the 127 satellite, though there is another contact needed so we can transmit. For that we are going to wait until we are in a RV park, or boondocked, and just use their call back request. Otherwise we might run out of free cell phone minutes while on hold for so long.
I'd mentioned above about someone tearing up their towbar, and this photo is an attempt to show what the road was like. We learned the easiest way to watch for upcoming frost heaves was for Linda to watch the white lines alongside the road. The waves in them give away the upcoming heaves. Meanwhile I was watching the road for variations in color and also the telltale tire marks that show where someone didn't slow down in time. We were like pilot and copilot facing difficult conditions, and it made the drive more fun than work. More than once Linda got out a warning just in time when my eyes were focused further up the road. I'm sure everyone has their own technique, but between going slow and keeping four sharp eyes on the road, we had only one or two unexpected minor whoopees.
Our day ended at the Gakona RV park, along the Copper River, and included free wi-fi. The owner, who checked us in, was everything you would want in someone who dealt with customers. Such a refreshing change from the poor excuse for customer service we got from MotoSat. It was a day that could have been filled with frustration, and indeed there were a few moments, especially for 'I don't like to be put on hold', Linda. We decided we needed to relax with a movie, so the day ended with our watching Men in Black, laughing and enjoying Life.
Then just when you think it can't get any better, Linda serves the rhubarb pie she made earlier in the day with ice cream on top. What a day, what a Life.
July 7 Wednesday
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, bigger than Switzerland with mountains higher than the Alps.
The great thing about RVing is that there is something for everyone. One might say we and the other diesel pusher parked next to us gave birth during the night, and these two little puppies emerged, but that's not correct. They pulled in last evening, unpacked for an hour or so, disappeared inside for a while, then emerged to sit around a campfire and visit with each other. They have their way of traveling and we have ours, but at least we both are traveling. For all those people who would like to visit Alaska, but just can't for some reason or other, the answer is simple. Yes you can, so just do it.
The drive today was once again less than 100 miles, plus we could see that the Milepost was showing a number of interesting stops along the way. The road was a repeat of yesterday, and it didn't take long until we met our first frost heaves. Johnny Horton was singing North to Alaska, and my mind was elsewhere when Linda brought me back to reality with the call, Frost Heave. There was also a light rain falling, which made it more difficult to see the road, further allowing those pesky heaves to sneak up unawares.
The answer was simple, slow down even further, and let everyone pass us by that wanted a dippsy doodle ride. With the rain everyone was driving with their headlights on, so the bouncing lights gave us an additional warning of upcoming heaves. We also made a stop for diesel even though we didn't have to. Not being sure whether we would be boondocking or staying in a park with hookups for the next several nights, we decided to top the tank and then we wouldn't need to fill again before Anchorage or Seward, so we stopped at the junction of the Richardson and the Glenn.
You'll have to excuse Linda's look of exasperation, because it truly was all my fault. That is a lady on a mission if there ever was. National Parks Passport book in hand, she was on her way to get it stamped when I asked her to stop so I could take a photo. Maybe that look she was giving me should be called the, 'hurry up and take the darned photo, I've got something important to do', look.
Then when we arrived at the visitors center, I looked for the cancellation station as they call it, but couldn't find it. Then I looked around for Linda and can't see her either. Made a little circuit of the building and there she was, saying not so nice things about the Park's special stamp because it wasn't working like it should. The sign said i was self inking, but it wasn't, making Linda a not so happy park visitor. A healthy dose of ink from the stamp pad solved that problem, and she had her stamp in the book. Get here in front of one of those stamps and she's a woman who won't be denied.
As is the norm, there was a book store in the visitor center, and it wasn't long before Linda had found a book on wild Alaska mushrooms, same one the campground hosts back at Walker Fork had loaned us to read. Maybe it was one of those passing fads, but whatever the reason we both decided that our wild mushroom picking days were probably at an end. Then Linda saw this head net and it reminded us that maybe we have just been lucky, or maybe there is some other reason, but we have as yet to plagued by bugs of any kind. We've still got a couple of months up here so we will have to keep our fingers crossed.
Before leaving the visitors center we watched the park movie, then looked at the displays they have set up in several buildings near by. It is an interesting park, the largest of all the National Parks, it has a glacier that is bigger than Rhode Island. The problem is the difficulty in being able to access its sights. One way to see a few things is to take the McCarthy Road, a former railway, now a road, that ends just before the town of McCarty and only five miles from Kennecott. We got the info we needed for our day trip tomorrow from the Ranger desk, then set off to drive to Chitina where we hoped to stay several nights and use where we were staying as a base for our drive to McCarthy. As we exited the visitors center Linda had to get her usual "pose beside the park sign", photo taken.
Chitina is somewhat off the beaten path and a ways further down the Richardson, but before we got to the turnoff for the Edgerton Highway, we took the old Richardson loop road through the town of Copper Center. There wasn't much there, but Linda was intrigued by the description of this log chapel. It wasn't that old, having been built in the late 40's, but it was right beside the road, even if it was up on a hill, so we pulled off. The door was unlocked and she started to step inside, only to see this.
Not only was it being repaired, there wasn't a floor in it. She had a good laugh over that one, and even though there wasn't much to see, it had still been fun. That's why we like to stop at so many things as we drive along, you never know how the experience is going to turn out.
The Edgerton Road turned out to be just about what we had expected. Narrow, steep grades, severely frost heaved in sections, we even drove through blowing dust, but the views more than made up for the slight inconveniences of the pavement. Between the mountains of the Park in the distance, and the broad, eroded Copper River valley below, it made for a pleasant though slow, drive.
Our first choice in campgrounds was a no go. Fortunately we didn't drive the coach to it, rather we unhooked and drove the Explorer. Down by the Chitna River, it was full of fishermen. The guide book said you will have the place to yourself unless the salmon are running. It sure looked like they were with all the people we saw with long handled nets. We ended up staying a few miles before town in a little park that wasn't fancy, but served its purpose.
In the evening the clouds cleared, the sun came out, and we discovered why the RV Park was called Wrangell View. Tomorrow was going to be big day, with the long drive to McCarthy-Kennecott, and all the sights to see, so after a piece of rhubarb pie with ice cream, it was lights out.
July 8 Thursday
Kennecott, more than copper
At 7:45 we drove away from the coach to start a long day's adventure to the towns of McCarthy and Kennecott. It's another of those places that few people go to, but that we are drawn to visit. The description of the road you must travel to get there probably keeps many people away, but we often find that is the very reason places are described the way they are, seemingly to keep them from being overrun by visitors.
Just beyond Chitina, the road, which was once the railway, passes through this narrow gap. In a way it is the passage from one world to the next. There isn't any magical change that occurs, but as you travel further and further along the road to McCarthy, you go further and further away from the world you have known.
One thing we noticed was how the scale of things seemed to change. Whether the rivers, the roadside lakes, or the distant mountains, everything had a special grandeur that either we had not seen before, or is special to this place. It is 60 miles of gravel road from Chitina to McCarthy, little of it straight, some of it with more potholes than road, but all of it worthwhile.
Driving so far off the well worn path of the major roads, we thought we might see an abundance of wildlife, but that was not the case. We did see more than our share of rabbits, and Linda saw the occasional eagle overhead, but once again we had a mooseless and bearless day. The speed limit is 35 mph, though there are sections where you could drive faster if you were careful and knew how to drive on loose gravel. But they are offset by the stretches of potholed road, some of which are monsters. There were times when Linda just held on and laughed, saying she realized there was just no way to miss them.
About 17 miles in we came to one of the best parts of the trip, the Kuskulana bridge, a railroad trestle, now topped with a 525 foot long single lane wooden deck, 238 feet above the river. I got out and walked across the bridge, taking photos, and then Linda drove the Explorer across by herself. I teased her about it being a white knuckle drive, but she said it wasn't so bad.
When I asked how she felt when she looked down, she said she didn't. Didn't look down that is. When I inquired if she had taken any photos through the windshield I only a got a strange look. You might know that look. It's the one that says 'Take my hand off the wheel to take a picture, don't you know the second I'd do that the car would veer sharply to the side, crashing right through the heavy metal guardrail and sending me tumbling into the canyon below where I'd be smashed to bits before being incinerated in the ensuing fire'. I wanted to tell her that only ever happens on TV and in the movies, but didn't have the heart, afterall she really had done a great job in driving across by herself.
Just to prove she did it, here's photographic proof. This is one of those things our kids won't believe unless there is photographic evidence, so beside photos, I also took a video of their mother's fearless solo crossing of the high and narrow bridge over the deep chasm.
I'd mentioned earlier the road was built over the old railway, and the guide books mention that some of the rails were salvaged during the war, but the ties were left in place and when the road was built they mere covered them with dirt and gravel. Which means that the ties and spikes are still there. As we drove along I would mention it whenever I saw a tie, but for some reason Linda always had her head in the Milepost or looking at some distant scenery. Eventually it became a joke and then I saw the first rail sticking up through the gravel. Being told I were going to stop the next time I saw one, I did. Above is the one woman search party that went out to find that elusive rail.
The elusive rail as documented by Linda and nearby she also found some ties. They were much wider than the standard ties of today, and some were turned in different directions, but it proved that I wasn't just seeing things, the rails and ties were really there.
The road does not go through the mountains, but there are mountains in the distance. This spot, with a lake in the foreground and these snow covered mountains showing through a gap in the nearby mountains, was one of those picture postcard views. Unfortunately the camera does not show what the eye sees, but that is just another reason why it is worth taking this drive.
At a wide spot in the road we passed by a cairn garden, and of course Linda had to add one of her own. It may not be the tallest, the most elegant, or the best balanced, but it is all hers and she was justifiably proud of it. Oh yes, I did add one also, though the first strong breeze will likely reduce it to rubble that someone else can use to construct their own creation. Good thing I wasn't a structural engineer as I have next to no talent in that direction.
When we finally arrived at the end of the road, we parked in the shuttle bus parking lot, which is free for daytrippers, then walked down to the pedestrian bridge. You can't take your vehicle into the towns, though residents and other workers can, but the shuttle bus runs on the half hour for much of the day and only costs five dollars, which is more than worth it. Crossing the bridge, the view of the glacier in the distance was complimented with the silt laden water rushing under the bridge.
It was at this point that I made my first error of the day, a bad habit I was to repeat more than once before the day was done. Wanting to spend time in McCarthy before going up to Kennecott, and thinking the town was quite close to the river I suggested we walk instead of waiting for the shuttle. Bad move, really bad move on my part. Lets just say the town is not quite close to the river and leave it at that. I enjoyed the hike, but she who was along did not, no way, no how.
As we finally walked into town, there was the shuttle bus getting ready to leave. At this point Linda veered over towards it, not wanting to walk around McCarthy for a half hour waiting on the next shuttle, and soon I was out the 20 dollars for two roundtrips and we were on our way to Kennecott, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as there was more to see and do at Kennecott than we could actually see and do in a day.
Kennecott is an old mill town, and the place where the veins of the most highly concentrated copper ever mined, were found. It also is the origin of the "Kennecott" in Kennecott Copper. The company simply abandoned the town in the late 1930's, then years later made a huge donation to the National Park Service that included much of the town and mill buildings, as well as the railroad right of way from Chitina to the town. How many times we have seen the ruins of mills, looked at the old pictures and wondered what it must have been like. Now we were getting a chance to see into the past. Doesn't get better than this.
While some of the buildings are in ruins, or partial ruins, the NPS has, and continues doing a wonderful job in stabilizing, and in some cases, restoring the old structures. We walked around town, visiting the buildings that were open to the public, stopping at the visitors center, well, actually stopping at the visitors center first and getting that all important stamp in Linda's book, and always enjoying the past.
It is remarkable what remains. Take these huge boilers in the old power plant for example. While the generators are gone, almost everything else is still there. The comment that was made about working in the mines and at the mill was that all the jobs were hard, but some had side benefits. Working in the winter at the power plant was one of those benefits due to all the heat generated by these diesel fuel powered boilers.
Dominating the town is the 14 story mill building which received the ore via tramways from the actual mines high up in the mountains above. Then the ore was crushed, sorted and concentrated as it descended to the bottom of the mill where it was finally sacked and loaded into rail cars for shipment by rail to Cordova, Alaska, then shipped via steamer to Tacoma, Washington where it was smelted.
While this may look like a group hardened veterans of the mill getting ready to go to work, it is only our tour group getting ready to descend into the inner workings of the mill. The tour was outstanding, as our guide, Kate kept us riveted to her stories and explanations for the entire two and a half hours. I know that I am enthusiastic when I give tours, but compared to Kate, I'd rank as a bore. That girl had it all and more, plus she's a student whose goal is to become a medical doctor some day. We know she will not only reach her goal, she'll also likely reach the top of her profession.
Here's Linda learning how the several floors of shaker tables functioned to extract the last of the ore from the rock slurry at the bottom of the mill. This was before the modern floation process, and was greatly dependent on cheap labor rather than chemistry. It was hard to believe that only 35 men were working in the mill at one time, though many more were required for the mining and support roles. The other thing was that all this took place before the invention of the railroad hopper car, so all the ore was bagged and then stacked in rail cars for transport. How far we have come in the past 100 years.
Once the tour was over we set off on a little hike. It proved to be a little more strenuous than Linda would have liked, something she was quite vocal in making sure I knew. That didn't deter her from continuing, primarily because she knew our final destination. It required a good deal of walking on very rocky surfaces, as well as crossing swift running streams.
When we reached this point, I asked her which way she wanted to go. Her posture and facial expression speak volumes, but the most tell-tale indication of the direction she wished to go is found in the finger pointing off to the side.
Root Glacier was our destination and for the past hour we had been walking along its moraine. It was interesting to me because I had the idea that the rocks of a glacier were all rounded from the grinding action. Not so at all. The foot of the glacier is covered with rock, boulders, gravel and fine rocks, with the ice showing through in a few places. It is moving forward at the rate on 100 feet per year, but is also melting at the same rate, so it is a static glacier, neither retreating or advancing.
Linda on her final descent along the edge of the moraine to the glacier.
There is no high bluish white face to root Glacier. No large chunks of ice crashing down into the water, sending up huge waves and floating outward to become icebergs. Root is a landlocked glacier, covered with gravel and melting, sending our streams of water that combine to become a river. I am actually straddling the interface between the glacier and the moraine in this photo. You can see the crack running between my legs where the edge is. That is a rather awesome feeling, realizing the unbelievable power of the glacier is literally at you feet.
The ice is covered with gravel, but the gravel layer is actually quite thin, the ice showing through at may points. Here Linda points to a patch of ice that is showing. It also makes walking on the glacier not nearly as easy as it looks. We watched several people climb up the slope at the very toe of the glacier and then have an extremely difficult time coming back down without crampons on their shoes. I went up just a dozen or so feet and it was enough for me. Linda being the smart, went up just a few feet. Still it was worth it just be out on a glacier.
It was really long day, and we weren't back at the coach until almost 9:30, nearly 14 hours after we left this morning. To say that we were both tired was an understatement, plus we also noticed we had a flat tire on the Explorer when we arrived. It could wait to morning, and with Linda having a bowl of yogurt and heading to bed, I soon followed, but not before having some rhubarb pie and ice cream. There are some things in Life that simply can not be ignored, and that dessert is one of them.
What a day it had been, one that so far exceeded our expectations as to be beyond description. We know that the next time we come back, and there will be a next time, we will probably fly from Chitina to McCarthy and then stay for two or three nights in Kennecott before returning. With the coupons in the tour saver book it would be affordable, and it would serve as another fabulous mini-vacation. Life simply doesn't get much better than this.
July 9 Friday
Valdez is coming
First things first this morning, and the first thing staring at us was that flat tire on the Explorer. It hadn't magically re-inflated during the night, so it was going to have to be changed. There were a couple of problems with that, the first being that we had noticed that everytime someone went outside their RV to do something like wash the windshield or get ready to go for the day, people started collecting around the RV, and soon a gab session was going on. We knew they weren't in a group, but just seeming to a bunch of friendly people.
Now one thing I did not need was a group of people standing around talking while I changed the tire, offering advance about something I have probably done more times than most people have. Since we were in absolutely no hurry to leave, the drive to Valdez being just a bit over a hundred miles, it meant time to work on the Daily Journal and have a leisurely breakfast.
Once the crowd thinned, I aired up the tire, confirming the leak, but also making it much easier to get under the Explorer to place the jack. Didn't take long to change the tire, and it looked like we had cut the tire in a grove in the tread. Then it was time to pack up and start towards Valdez. We had really been up in the air about going to Valdez, but with the great time we have had so far heading that way, we have decided to drive to the end of the road and find out if there is the proverbial pot of gold there. We know there is the "black gold" of the pipeline oil terminal, but we wanted to to discover if there any golden opportunities to simply be tourists.
We sometimes post our view to the front, but today, after we pulled out of our site and were hooking up the Explorer, it was the view to the back that was magnificent. Not a cloud in the sky, Mount Wrangell in all its glory in the distance, we know we will be back to this place. If you stay here, you might want to park at site number 11 up near the iron Ranger. If you do, don't back straight in, park like we did, at an angle so you can see the mountains. It's a water and electric site for only 15 dollars, not bad at all.
It was amazing how different the view along the Edgerton Hwy was, now that the clouds were gone and the sun shining. Driving in two days ago, the mountains and the clouds blended together. Today the snow covered mountains glistened, making us wonder what sights and scenes the drive to Valdez would bring.
The drive to Valdez wasn't as hard as we thought it might be. Sure there were a few sections that had some frost heaves, but virtually the entire drive was at normal highway speed. Crossing this stream we had one of those flashback moments. Two years ago we had spent time in the small Swiss village of Frutigen, the town my ancestors had lived in for centuries. To get from the place we staying in Frutigen, down to the rail station, we had to cross over a stream whose color was exactly the same as this one. The Alps, glaciers, Alaska, glaciers, the world in many ways is the same wherever you go.
This was the best drive we have had so far in the trip in the oh, ah and did you see that, department. Worthington Glacier, a mountain glacier, was near the road, and we marked it down as place to drive back up to during our stay in Valdez. We were already increasing the length of our stay based on the scenery we were seeing.
It wasn't only the water that reminded us of the Alps, it was also the way the vegetation covered so much of the mountains, and also, how steep the mountainsides were in some places. We agreed the Alps had these mountains beat in waterfalls, but that's not a complaint, just a difference we observed. Sometimes we go to a place and it strikes us as "the place". The Valdez area was showing possibilities of being such a place.
Unfortunately it wasn't such a wonderful place today for some people. Driving out of town to the only shop that repairs tires, we were over taken by a number of emergency vehicles. Their destination was just down the road from ours, a mobilehome that was engulfed in flames. We hoped no one was hurt and when we drove by later in the evening after going out to Allison Point to see the bears, we noted it was in a very poor neighborhood, the very people who could least afford to have something like this happen to them.
The stop at the tire repair shop proved to be very inexpensive, at at least in the short run. They didn't charge anything for dismounting the tire and showing me it was toast. Unfortunately the only way to get a new one was to have it shipped in or wait until we could get to the Anchorage area. We decided to live dangerously and wait until we are in Anchorage to get a new one. Only time will confirm the wisdom of that decision.
We also checked out the meeting point for the glacier cruise we will be taking tomorrow, and Valdez being a small town, we can walk to it in ten minutes from the RV park where we are staying. We have a great site and Linda was soon busy cleaning of the protective coating of bugs we had picked up during today's drive. She wondered how many bugs we had splattered and I was wondering if there was even a spot on the windshield that was clear glass. It seemed every bit of it was covered with bug bodies, bug innards, or bug juice. She wanted them off so we could see those snow covered mountains in the distance.
When we had been out, we had also stopped at the local market. The name on the outside was the Eagle Market, but it was actually a Safeway, and Linda was in buying mode. That Safeway card means savings to her and increased revenue to Safeway. We certainly did our part to help the local economy, though all the Rainer Cherries, cantaloupe and other fresh fruits and vegetables won't be long for this world.
In the evening we drove over to the fish hatchery, a place the bears are suppose to come to feed. Wasn't to be tonight, but we did have fun watching people catch salmon nearby. It's one of those occurrences that makes you think, if they can do why can't I. But then if it was so easy to catch salmon wouldn't everybody be doing it? Not being fishermen we will probably be watchers, but then again, who knows.
Before returning to the coach we drove down to the end of the road to see the pipeline terminal, or at least what little of it is visible from the entrance. It had been a great day, the scenery awesome, and coupled with the zucchini/onions, salad and chicken we had for dinner we were happy. Of course I was even happier once Linda served rhubarb pie and ice cream for dessert. Life just keeps getting better and better.
July 10 Saturday
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby! Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise.
It may have been raining but it wasn't going to rain out our plans for the day. The coupon book was going to get paid for, and it was a Stan Stephen's Cruise that was going to do it. Linda had called for reservations when we arrived yesterday, so we needed to be at the dock at 11:00 to check-in and pick up our tickets. It, being a six hour glacier and wildlife cruise, which includes a light lunch.
We were about half way to the pier when I realized I'd forgotten something and told Linda to go ahead, I'd be there later. It was a five minute walk from the coach to the pier, so it wasn't like I was going to be late. Besides, it was now 10:55, Linda wanting to leave early so we be sure to be on time. Meaning be there at 11:00, with boarding starting at 11:30, and the ship departing at 12:00. So why did I get the idea she was thinking I was going to miss the boat. By hurrying a little I arrived at 11:03 and all was well in the world of promptness and punctuality.
While we waited, a steady stream of fishing boats passed by, both entering and exiting the mooring dock area of the harbor. Directly across from where we were waiting, boats were unloading their catch at the Peter Pan Seafoods processing plant. Between that and the seemingly endless rows of fishing boats moored nearby, there is no doubt that fishing plays a major role in the local economy. However we didn't come here to fish, we came to sightsee, and it wasn't long before we boarded the boat and settled in for a long day of hopefully, cool adventures.
So where do you sit when you go on one of these cruises. With the rain and the cold, inside seemed to offer the better ambiance. But would the warm wide seating of the lower cabin, or the smaller, crowded upper cabin be better. Whichever it was I wanted a window, and one glance at the seating style told me it the upper would be better. I'd tried to get us as close to front of the line as possible, and it was good enough to get the last window seats in the upper cabin. There are better seats, but they were still good enough for us, especially as most of the people sitting outside eventually got so cold they moved down into the lower cabin, so we could then go outside and take good photos whenever the opportunity occurred.
The ride out to the Columbia Glacier is a long one, but the monotony is broken up by sometimes cruising close to shore for wildlife viewing opportunities. This blue water was in stark contrast to the gray choppy surface of the open water a short distance away. Linda had bought some non-drowsy dramamine this morning, and for some unfathomable reason I took one. She has to take them or she gets miserably and violently seasick. I on the other hand never have been seasick, heck I've never even been uncomfortable, but for some reason I took one for the first time ever this morning. Wrong thing to do, big time. I remember once in college taking no-doze to stay up and study for an exam. I was out like a light. Same thing with this non-drowsy medication. Can't really say it made me drowsy, cause it made me fall asleep before I got drowsy, and then sleep for most of the trip.
I did wake up for lunch, which was a wonderful clam chowder with bagel and cream cheese. I could sense Linda watching to see if I went back to sleep before eating my Oreo's, but she wasn't getting them, they were mine. Linda had a delicious vegetable soup since she didn't trust her stomach with a meal of clams, clams not one of her favorite foods.
Among the wildlife Linda saw were these two Bald Eagles.
We must have left the shoreline and ventured out into the open Sound, because next thing I knew, Linda was shaking me and saying something about ice in the water. Now you put yourself in my place. Here you are sound asleep and and someone is waking you saying about icebergs and water. The first thing that goes through your mind is, maybe this is a Titanic moment. The next thing is how beautiful the ice is, and from then on all vestiges of sleep have been wiped away.
The first few bergs were well photographed, but soon the novelty wore off, most people sought out warmer quarters and those of us who were really into the ice took over the nice outside locations. Linda made a comment about me sure waking up when we got to the ice, and since the ice was what I came for, I had to agree.
Deeper and deeper into the ice field we went, but even with ice pretty much all around us, we were still some 13 miles from the face of the glacier. While the surface of the water was covered with ice, most of it was small pieces, though the larger icebergs did show up on the radar screen. Hopefully that was a radar screen and those small dots were bergs.
Linda had described her experience of 10 years ago, when she was in an ice field during her cruise, as sounding like bacon sizzling in a frying pan. I had to agree that was a fairly accurate description. The sound never stops, it is just there. At the same time we were shrouded in fog, making for a very eery scene.
We were both having a great time, but the Capt. wasn't satisfied, wanting to give his customers even more, so eventually we moved to an area where the fog had lifted, giving a better view toward the glacier.
As we were leaving we entered an area where the ice seemed to take over all our senses. The intense blue of these pieces was in sharp contrast to the white and grays of much of the ice. We could occasionally see large pieces of rock trapped in the floating ice, making us think back to the Root Glacier we had walked on just a few days ago.
One of the crewmen fished a piece of ice out of the water and came around with it. As you can see, Linda wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to hold it. For someone who hates to handle cold objects, she sure is displaying a huge smile, but doing something like this will have that kind of effect on you. For ten years I've been hearing how much fun Linda and her sister Katherine had on their Alaska cruise, and now it was our turn.
We saw huge rock and gravel covered behemoths floating in the distance, pieces that were of such intense blue as to seem artificial, and some that took on personalities of their own. This one could aptly be named "toadstool on a raft." I now know why so many people go on these glacier cruises, and something tells me we may be going on another before our time in Alaska is over. After all, the book does have a coupon for a glacier cruise going to the other end of Prince William Sound from Whittier. Editor's comment: also a tour from Seward.
The glacier is in the distance, and the intervening 13 miles are almost solid with large icebergs making it impossible for boats to approach any closer than we were. The amazing thing is that the we are only seeing a small portion of the glacier's face, and we have learned that the size of ones like the Columbia are almost impossible to comprehend from the places we have to view them. I remember the glacier we flew over when down in Juneau that was so big it was impossible to see it all, even from the air.
As we were docking, the Capt. mauvered the boat using the outside controls. This is Stan Stephen's Cruises, and that is Stan at the controls. It was more than worth the money, especially if you have the tour saver book, and taking this cruise is something we would heartily recommend to others.
As we exited the Glacier Spirit there was a sea otter busily feasting on some goodies near the dock, drawing a crowd, and making for a perfect ending to the day. It was another of those pinch me days we seem to having lately, making a trip to Alaska all it was said to be and more.
I have a relative who, few years ago, bought an RV that had been to Alaska. He had nothing but trouble with it, blaming it on the roads in Alaska and telling us that we shouldn't go to Alaska because we would destroy our coach. He might have have been correct in why that RV was in such bad shape, but he was wrong in his generalization that going to Alaska is a mistake.
We've also been told we would be robbed or killed if went to Mexico in our RV and questioned as to why we would want to go to Europe when there is so much to see in the USA. Those of us who have done, or are doing those things, know the answer to why we do it, and it is probably futile to try and show those who always say no why sometimes you should say yes and take a chance. So here we are, living Life with that capital "L", and hardly able to wait to see what tomorrow brings, and I didn't even mention the killer whales we saw today.