I'm back in. Girdwood, this time at the public library, which was closed the other day. Girdwood is about 15 miles from where we're camped so we have to plan a bit in order to make the trip here. Today has been the first day it hasn't rained in a few days and it's nice to see the sun. We're hoping it will clear up enough to take the tram up the mountain to get a few pictures but it doesn't look promising. In the meantime I'll post a few that I've already taken of the surrounding area.
This is where we're parked - very clean, well maintained campground without hookups.
A homestead in Hope, AK
The following are along the Trail of Blue Ice - right outside my door!
These are pictures of a typical morning on Turnagain Arm:
This next one is Portage Lake and Glacier:
The following are Byron Glacier and the short walk we took to get there:
Currently I'm sitting in the car at the Aleyska Resort in Girdwood logging on via their wi-fi. Since the battery is almost dead on my computer I'm going to post this as quickly as possible and download the pictures when I have more time and battery life.
The plan was to stay in Denali National Park but plans have a way of changing and we ended up south in the charming railroad town of Talkeetna. Most of the town is on the National Register of Historic Places and full of log cabins and railroad buildings. Talkeetna has served for decades as a staging area for Denali climbers. There are many outdoor eateries and since it was a sunny day we tried two of them, the brew house for sweet potato fries and spicy mayo dip washed down with a sampler variety of Alaskan beer. After a stroll down Main Street we ended up at West Rib for their famous hamburgers. It was featured on the Food Network so I was anxious to give it a try. However, they weren’t as lenient about letting the dogs on their patio so we finally had to settle to take out and eat back at the campground.
But first, to backtrack just a bit and how we ended up here. The plan was to head to Denali National Park after we left Fairbanks but after a camping neighbor mentioned that we may wish to make a reservation in Denali first because they couldn’t get in on the date they wanted, we decided to make a phone call. I was told that while camping sites are assigned on a first come, first serve basis, reservations are made in advance (during the busy summer season) and when I called the reservation center listed on the website I was told the campground we desired to stay in was full until July 8th. The campground is called Teklanika (Tek for short) and located 29 miles within Denali Park. You can only drive your car 15 miles into the park but you can drive your motor home 29 miles in if you stay at this particular campground, the only RV campground within the park, and you are required to stay for a minimum of three days. If you are towing a car you must leave it at the Wilderness Access Center, which is located at the entrance to the park, for the duration of your stay. Once you are in the campground your motor home must not leave the site you are assigned until you are ready to leave the park. Upon making a reservation you can also purchase a shuttle pass, which is good for the duration of your stay. Here’s how that works: you are guaranteed a seat on the shuttle the first time you use it, usually the day you arrive or the next day. You figure out the farthest point of interest you might wish to see; if they have room on the shuttle for that location, on the day and time you want, it’s all good. If not, you pick the next farthest point of interest – in our case, Wonder Lake happened to work out for availability so we got a shuttle pass to Wonder Lake-just in case we want to go that far. I say this because in our case, Wonder Lake is the farthest we’re allowed to travel within the park unless we purchase another park pass – which you don’t really want to, do since they’re almost $31 a piece. After your reserved shuttle tour you may take a shuttle based on availability and only to points of interest between Tek and Wonder Lake.
So- back to our reservation. I was told we couldn’t get into the park for a three day consecutive stay until July 8th and since that’s two weeks away we needed to revise our plans a bit. So we decided to head south toward Anchorage and The Kenai Peninsula for the next two weeks. Okay….if I’d known then what I know now about the absolute beauty of the Kenai, I may have taken my chances on finding a campsite in Denali when we drove through because I’m not sure the next two months would be sufficient to take in all this beauty and we have only two weeks! So far it’s topped my list as the most beautiful place on my trip. More about that tomorrow.
I am Bearfooting in the Eden of Alaska – The Kenai Penninsula. “Bearfooting” is a verb that means having a good time on the road but it’s also a state of mind – when your journey becomes more important than the destination. You know you are bearfooting when you wake in the morning and you don’t even remember what day of the week it is, and what’s more – you don’t even care! I am so there!!!
Today we drove south of Anchorage along the Turnagain Arm on the Seward Hwy in the Chugach National Forest to the Portage-Wittier Access road. Four miles down that road is a campground called Williwaw and that’s where we’ve decided to park our rigs for the next two weeks. It doesn’t have hookups but it does have very spacious, well maintained sites. In fact, we’re both parked in a double site(which we got a great deal on, due to dad’s Golden Age Passport) and still have plenty of room. You can’t see your neighbors, only the mountains and glaciers that surround you. It’s very quiet except when I decide to turn on my generator like now, when I need to charge up my camera batteries and work on the computer!!
There are numerous hiking trails right outside my door. With each hike I become a little less timid about the possibility of meeting up with a bear or moose. I carry my bear bell but prefer listening to the sounds of the birds, the waterfalls and the streams I walk beside.
We plan to make this a base camp and then venture to other areas of the Kenai by car. This evening we went to a charming ski resort town called Girdwood to celebrate my birthday. Mom and dad treated me to a lovely dinner at Chair 5, a local favorite. After dinner we drove around town up to the Alyeska Lodge where they have a tram that takes you up the mountain to a ski lodge. I hope the weather clears up enough that we can take that trip. At the lodge they serve you halibut and chips and Alaskan Amber. Sounds worth the trip to me!
The weather has been cool and rainy and I still find it beautiful. I wonder what will happen when the sun comes out. I won’t be able to stand it!!
Yesterday we drove the car to the small unhurried community of Hope, located 88 miles south of Anchorage on the South side of the Turnagain Arm. We explored town a little (doesn’t take long in a town with the POP of 130) and then decided to eat lunch at Tito’s Discovery Café. What a great choice! The food was delicious and the pies are legendary. Of course we had to try the Creamy Chocolate Pecan pie for dessert. We drove back after lunch, full and satisfied.
Today we drove into Anchorage because we heard the weather was supposed to be better in Anchorage and we wanted to go to the Weekend Market, which is like a Farmer’s Market with vendors selling their produce, crafts, local fare. As we drove farther north the weather was getting worse rather than better. Unlike yesterday when I was decked out in full rain gear, today I opted for a t-shirt, sneakers, and fleece jacket. After all, it wasn’t raining at the campsite and I’d heard it was supposed to be even better farther north. Big mistake – first rule of Alaska – prepare for everything! It was cool and rainy the whole time we were there. Lucky for me, mom had an extra raincoat that I borrowed which kept me relatively dry and I did end up buying an “Alaska” souvenir baseball cap. In talking to one of the local vendors I was told that 50-60 degree weather was fairly normal for summer temperatures in Anchorage and if it reached 70 they considered it hot (as she shows by fanning herself). Another vendor I talked to is planning a move to Oregon because he gets a lot of supplies shipped to him from the lower 48 and then the majority of his product (Maple Syrup) he ships back out again. Since he’s getting tired of the long, (8-9 months) of cold winters (30 degrees below zero) and it’s more cost effective for his business to be in the lower 48 he is opting to move.
Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska and even though it has its fair share of tall buildings it still retains a small town feel. I enjoyed the market and a small stroll around town, stopping in a few local gift shops along the way. I wanted to get some local Halibut to ship home but the shop I was looking for ended up to be closed on Sundays. It’s another great excuse to head back to Anchorage another day – maybe sunnier next time – for a little sightseeing and shopping. They have so many trails to explore.
After driving back to the campsite I took Cooper for a leisurely walk around the campground. It’s a fairly large campground and I was about half way around when I was stopped by the camp host asking me if I’d heard about the bears that were roaming the campground. He said there were two of them and a camper’s dog chased one into a tree and then the bear chased the dog right back to his owner (which dogs are prone to do) and the owner ran for his motor home. I said I would be on the lookout, as I kept a tight hold on Cooper. Sure enough, I rounded the next corner and what did I see but a small black bear crossing the road in front of me. I casually had Cooper sit and kept my distance and the bear nonchalantly walked into the trees. How exciting and dang it – I forgot the camera – again! I was told by some other observers that the other bear was along the direction I was headed so as I took off I was singing and making lots of noise and thankfully making it back without another encounter.
Skipping ahead a few hours: I decided to watch a little TV. One way to do that without hookups is with an inverter which converts AC into DC and lately I’ve been having trouble with that whole thing. I keep blowing the 15 amp fuse that controls my battery charging panel, my refrigerator (very important) and the DC receptacle that my inverter plugs into. So I thought I’d solved the issue by turning off the fridge when watching TV so I wouldn’t draw as much current, but this time I couldn’t even get enough current to turn on the TV. Looking at my battery panel, the current had dropped to almost 7amps which is way over in the red zone. Not good. So plan B fell into place, which is to turn on the generator so I can watch TV and charge my batteries. After watching a few episodes of 24, the First Season (I’m hooked) I turn off the generator and my batteries are still in the red zone and after turning my fridge back on the solenoid won’t fire either. Scratching my head….. Okay, big trouble. Back to knocking on dad’s door. Thank God he takes pity on my electrical inaptitude. First, check the voltage on the batteries….checks out good….so that’s not the problem. Check the battery panel…..take battery panel apart…..go up on roof and check solar panel……check fuse box for voltage……all check out. Well, we could try putting a 20amp fuse in the fuse box. Dad explains the electrical consequences of that move so I’m aware of what to look for in electrical overload. We put a 20amp in, plug in the inverter and pop…another blown fuse. Scratching heads again at this point…. Well okay……long story short - to make it simple and not bore you to tears – it turns out my inverter is bad and causing my fuses to short out. (I’ve gone through about 8 fuses so far) I’m jumping for joy that it’s just the inverter because at this point I was thinking ahead to how I was going to buy a cooler to store all the stuff in my fridge and freezer until I got home (and where in the heck I was going to put it) and then money flying out of my pockets once again to fix whatever the problem might be this time! Poor dad….I keep knocking on his door, pulling him out of the warm comfort of his motor home to help me solve my electrical problems. I don’t know what I’d do without him. Thankfully, I always learn in the process but each time something goes wrong it’s a little different than the time before – another curve ball thrown my way. One of these days I’m gonna figure it out on my own, darn it! I’m going to learn about all this electrical mumbo jumbo converting AC to DC, amps, voltage, wiring, etc. and not be INTIMIDATED!!!
Well….I happen to have another inverter on hand and a new extension cord (all thanks again to dad) and I plug everything in, cross my fingers and wait for another fuse to blow…..nothing but the sweet sound of 24. Whoopee! Now it’s not that I’m a big fan of TV – I’ve enjoyed not having it on most of the time but I’ve just gotta see how Jack Bauer’s day is going to end! So….I’m all settled back in….laying on my sofa bed with Cooper curled at my feet and I happened to look out the window and what do I see? You guessed it – a black bear sitting not four feet away from me. I take a double look and sure enough, it’s a bear alright. I very calmly get off the bed, trying not to alert Cooper to what’s right outside the window and reach over to get my camera. I turn it on and take aim just as the bear saunters off into the trees. I never could get a good shot of him. I suppose I can go hunting for the good shot tomorrow….that is if I ever get up the guts to go outside the motor home!
Mom & Dad were nice enough to drop me off at The University of Alaska Patty Center, where the run begins. There were approx 3500+ participants all pumped up and ready to roll. The music was blaring, we were jazzercising and stretching out, preparing ourselves for the 6.2 mile run which finished at Pioneer Park. From there it was only a short walk back to where I'm camped.
Many of the participants dress up in costume for which they're awarded prizes. There is a race rule that if you start in costume you must finish in costume. I felt for the Alaska Grizzly mascot - I bet he was sweating after the first mile!
Here are a few more costumes:
Jazzercising to warm up those muscles:
There was contagious excitement in the air. Of course, the sun was still shining on a balmy 70 degree evening. After singing "The Star Spangled Banner" , we lined up in the street- fastest runners to slowest walkers- the gun went off, the loud boom & smoke of the cannon signaling it was starting time! As I wound my way through the local neighborhoods, I gazed in marvel at all the supporters who stayed up late to cheer us on. They had their grills going, music on the radio, sprinklers directed toward the street to cool us off. There were even kids shooting big bazooka water guns and throwing water balloons at the participants. Everyone was clapping and cheering, celebrating the long days of summer. It was like a huge continuing party winding through the streets of Fairbanks! In a land where winter brings minus 40 degree temperatures and the sun isn't up long before it sets again, it's no wonder this time of year brings out the joy in so many.
Even though it was cloudy, with smoke from a nearby fire in the air, you could still see the sun-
Getting ready to start -
The fire and smoke of the cannons. I'm glad I decided not to bring Cooper!
And we're off!
The run ended at Pioneer Park where volunteers handed out water, Power aid, watermelon and orange slices. I'm sure the celebration lasted well into the morning! Since I could barely move at the end of 6 miles, it was a good thing I had a short walk home to work out the kinks! It's a run I'll long remember, in a city full of warm & friendly people. What a lovely place to spend summer solstice!
Today I became a little more educated on the Ice Park that I'm currently staying in for the week. According to the Anchorage Daily News:
The World Ice Art Championships are billed as "the largest ice sculpting competition in the world." Teams of artists who often make their livings by creating fantastic ice carvings for cruises, fancy weddings, major banquets, etc., vie for the ribbons in abstract and realistic styles that include single- and multi-block categories.
With the cold of Interior Alaska on their side, they're able to shape astonishing figures with exquisite detail, sometimes cantilevering hundreds of pounds of ice high above the ground with minimal support. Some carvings are three stories tall; the Guinness Book of World Records is currently checking to see if one sculpture hasn't broken the record for height.
Oddly, when the event started 21 years ago, the sponsors had carving-quality ice shipped from Seattle to Fairbanks in the middle of winter. Then they discovered that they were sitting on the Holy Grail of frozen water -- "Arctic Blue Diamond Ice," forming clear, blue and rock-hard in a pond at the Ice Park. Now ice from the park grounds is shipped around the world. It was used for this winter's ice carvings in Anchorage's Town Square. A few years ago, some was ordered by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly for a show in Jerusalem.
In terms of attendance, the Ice Park may be Alaska's single biggest arts happening. Organizers say 40,000 people visit during the short lifespan of the sculptures.
Sadly, this may be the last year that this event is held in Fairbanks. The understanding by which the Ice Park has operated on land owned by the Alaska Railroad since 1995 is about to expire. When the federal government initially ran the railroad lease agreements for railroad land it was rather haphazard; it's said there were some getting land for about $10 a year. In 1985, when the state took over, the Legislature insisted such disparities cease and mandated that the Alaska Railroad get "fair market value" for all land leases. That's a significant chunk of change for the land that the Ice Park currently sits on. The Railroad has been working with the Ice Park for about 13 years, trying to do a long term lease and haven't been able to make it happen.
a heroic depiction of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Breesby Louisiana carver Dawson List missed out on the judging when the top half couldn't be completed in time to add to the bottom half.
I would love the opportunity to view this someday. It has to be spectacular in person. To think that only a few short months ago, this RV park where I'm staying was transformed into a snowy winter wonderland full of dramatic ice sculptures created by artists from around the world.
The closest I got on this day was a visit to the Ice Museum downtown in the Old Lacey Street Theater. Inside, The Ice Showcase is an 8,000 cubic foot walk-in display case that maintains a constant temperature of 20 degrees. Inside are the results of hours of work on over 40,000 lbs. of world-famous Fairbanks ice. Understandably, I didn't venture into the Showcase since I only had a t-shirt on, but was satisfied with viewing the sculptures from outside the case, within the confines on the warm auditorium.
I watched a theater presentation called Freeze Frame, which is a dynamic large screen multi-image presentation that tracks, from start to finish, the process of Ice Art.
It's always fun to learn something new. I have a new appreciation for the piece of land my motor home is parked at for the week.
If I were to have a bucket list then traveling the Alaska Highway would be on it and today I could say
I DID IT!
We reached mile 1422 in Delta Junction today around lunch time so we celebrated with a little of the Buffalo sausage I bought. I also bought Cooper a huge smoked Buffalo (?) bone, which he enjoyed later!
We traveled on and reached Fairbanks around 3:30pm, which is late for us. We're usually parked in our site by noon but before we left Tok this morning dad had to put his car back together after he had the base plate reattached.
"almost" good as new!
I had a RV park all picked out in Fairbanks for it's great location. It was close to Pioneer Park, downtown, the University, shopping, etc. When we pulled into the park it looked deserted so we weren't sure if it was even open. The sign on the door said they were however, so we ventured in. We were thinking of staying put for a week since the weather is good and there seems to be a lot to do. This park advertises a discounted weekly rate, which is nice - a lot of campgrounds don't - only monthly discounts. We were also concerned about being able to receive Internet inside the motor home instead of having to walk to the office to connect. The electric and water hook ups were a little different as well. Multiple sites seem to share the same power pole.
We walked around, trying to find a site close together that might work for both of us but we just weren't getting a good feeling about the place so we unhooked the tow car and parked the motor homes outside the front gate and drove to another RV park - only this one was 9 miles from town via the expressway. It was nice but just more remote than I wanted to be for the week. We had one other park to check out which was a little closer to town but still not as close as the first park. They were packed. They had a few sites left but there was a problem with the water so no water hook up. The sites were also very close together.
Okay, by this time we were tired and hungry so we drove back to the original place (it was looking better by the minute) and decided to just stay for the night. Since being able to receive Internet service inside the motor home was a high priority for us, we drove around the campground until we could connect.
I haven't figured out what these black panels are for!
Once we got everything hooked up, had a celebratory beer and dinner, then everything looked a lot rosier. Maybe I can stay here for a week after all, because.... really....am I going to spend my time in this motor home or out exploring another great new town?
It started out to be a beautiful day in The Yukon.
Frost heaves. I have learned to give due respect to road signs and orange flags warning of what’s ahead. Of course that’s not always the case. Sometimes you don’t receive any warning at all before your motor home heaves and rolls at the same time you’re trying to dodge pot holes and the deep groves from a road that’s built on perma frost. Sometimes you even get a little construction and gravel thrown into the mix. All this while it’s raining (think mud) and you have today on the road! The 200 miles from Burwash Landing takes us about 8 hours to complete.
Pay attention to this sign!
and these flags
heaves and rolls
equals 8 hours to get to Alaska!
All goes fairly well considering – until we reach the Yukon-Alaska border. We pull in to the turnout to mark the occasion with a picture of the “Welcome to Alaska” sign.
That’s when we notice dad’s base plate is NOT attached to his tow car any longer! The only reason the car was still there at all was that it was barely holding on by a bolt on the driver’s side. After this incident we heard a story or two about those that have driven over that road, losing their cars altogether and never finding them again! I guess you could say dad was one of the lucky ones!
After a head scratch or two he ties what’s left of the tow bar to the engine with rope, washes the mud off the car and then mom gets to drive it into Tok. But first we get to wait in line at the border crossing.
They asked a few more questions than they did to get into Canada but all went fairly well. I forgot to tell them about the Yukon beer that I bought in Whitehorse! Thank goodness for mom that the road improved considerably for the last 90 miles into Tok. It was nice to see miles and gallons instead of kilometers and liters! And the gas was less expensive, but not the camping fees. Win some, lose some!
So we pay for two nights here in Tok because tomorrow dad heads into town to see about getting the tow bar reattached and the car damage fixed. I’ve been told that the last stretch of road we drove on is as bad as it’s going to get. (Famous last words!)
Today I will wash the filth off my motor home. I could pay $15 to wash it myself at the wash station or I could just quietly hook up my hose at the campsite and do it here. No soap of course and I’ll conserve on the water but $15? They brag that for that price you’re not monitored on the water usage but it still wouldn’t be worth it for my little 24 footer. Most of the time I’ve just been using a spray bottle and my rag to wash it. Today, however I need to get some of the mud hosed off first!
Oh, and speaking of Frost Heaves, did I tell you what happened the day before yesterday? We had another bumpy ride (just a warning of what’s to come) driving into Burwash Landing and my Yukon Beer? Well, it fell off the dinette bench seat (I know – stupid to put it up there in the first place) and landed with a crash on to the floor. Yes, broken bottles and foaming beer rising up to meet my nostrils. Cooper looking at me like “now what?” I can’t keep driving so I pull over to the side of the road, pick up the broken glass, roll up the sopping rug, mop up what I can of the beer and then drive to the nearest rest area so I can dispose of the glass and try to clean the carpet. Now the motor home reeks of beer! I try to wash everything in Burwash Landing but with a town of only 88 people, do you think anyone actually works? Even though they have a Laundromat, none of the machines work and there isn’t anyone, and I mean no one to ask. Town consists of the Laundromat and one other building, which is locked up tight without lights on. So I lug everything back to the motor home and throw it into the bathtub. First thing I did in Tok was the laundry! Oh, the little mishaps of owning a house on wheels!
I may walk into town later to see what’s happening. I still need to get the oil changed – maybe I can get a better price quote than I did in Whitehorse. It’s started out to be a beautiful day but I hear the weather’s about to change so guess I’d better get busy. At least I gained an hour of time yesterday and I have cell phone service! No broadband for the computer though, unless I want to pay roaming charges – so I walk to the lodge to hook up to very slow Wi-Fi Internet. They have a nice room to chill out in with table, chairs, sofa, recliners (even a bar that opens at 4pm) and soft Frank Sinatra music over the television!
do dada go hv i (pronounced doe-dah-dah-go-huh-ee)
Translated: "Til we meet again" in Native American.