Thursday, July 29, 2010

Trying to Catch Up!

It has been a busy time and wifi has not been available in a way I'd like. So tonight I'll try to catch up on what's been happening. We left Skagway one morning a few days ago and headed up the Klondike Highway. Similar to the drive to Haines or Valdez, the scenery was awesome! The word is probably over used, but the mountains and the lakes, waterfalls, bright sun and blue skies made it so beautiful. That's correct, I said sunshine and blue skies! Isn't that grand! Coming out of Skagway, we saw a hare, a gray fox, and I nearly hit a black bear. We took the Klondike Highway to the Alaska Highway to the Cassiar Highway. About an hour from the Alaska Highway we pulled into a rest area at Cotton River and spent the night. The picture below was taken from behind our camper.

The Cotton River as seen from our camper.

It was a quiet night except for the burble of the water over the rocks. There was no sign of bears, but there were plenty of warnings about leaving food out. In the morning, the dogs had a nice swim where another brook runs into the Cotton River. They were having a heck of a time running into the rapids and being taken down stream. There was no danger as the rqapids in this section pour into a large pool of slower water.

The pictures below were taken on the way. In a lapse of thinking, I showed Helen how to take pictures in burst mode, the camera takes two pictures a second as long as she hold down the shutter button. We have thousands of pictures now, but many are practically the same

Some unknown lake on the Cassiar Highway.

Just one of thousands of waterfalls on the route.

I don't know where this was taken, but it is a typical shot.

Helen got this pretty picture, and 255 more of the same.

Bear Glacier, about 20 miles outside Stewart, BC

Another one of Bear Glacier.

We got into the Bear River Campground early and got one of the few spaces still available. Actually, there was a lot of room, but a caravan was coming in the next day, taking all available spaces. The first order of business was to go to Hyder to check it out and also to visit "The Bus". It's an old school bus that is used for all the cooking. The meals are eaten out front in the open air or around back in side. We were told that the food was excellent, and it was. Diana Simpson is the cook, and she prepares the fresh halibut that her husband, Jim, brings home every day. If you want fresher fish, you'd have to eat it raw on the boat.

Diana Simpson and Kelly, owner/cook and server at the bus.

The Bus, THE restaurant of note in Hyder.

After our meal at "The Bus" we drove up to the wildlife viewing area about 4 miles north of Hyder. There, in the Tsongas National Forest, there is a salmon run. This, of course, attracts the bears in the area. Unfortunately, there was no parking left and there was a disagreement with the ranger, so we left in a huff, which is another name for a Jeep. As luck would have it, a short way down we encountered a car in the road. He was stopped so he could watch a grizzly sow and her cub. I know that the grizzly aka brown bear comes in many colors, from blond to black. We've seen them from blond to medium brown. This one was a dark brown and she had a black cub.

Mother Grizzly and her cub.

The two bears sat there for a while watching us. Then they s l o w l y ambled down the road a few hundred feet. Then they made a right turn and went into the woods. It was as if they just melted into the woods because there was no evidence of a path.

Now they're out for a stroll.

After these two left, we continued home, only to come across another grizzly with her two cubs. This sow and her cubs were very black. Seeing the black cub above and the two cubs with the second sow, I think that there is a very satisfied black grizzly somewhere in the woods.

The next day we took a ride up to Salmon Glacier. The drive is not too bad on the way up because I was on the mountain side of the road, though "road" may be too nice a term, wide mule path is more like it. The trip down was done with white fists as I firmly held the steering wheel. All the while I was praying that there would be no one coming around the corner, forcing me too close to the edge. Fortunately, I was able to ride on the left side of the path almost all the way down.

Salmon Glacier, British Columbia

There is no straight drop at this point. You can see the trees in the picture below that show the edge is a long way from where I'm standing. Still, what if I should stumble and fall toward the precipice? What if there was an earthquake? You can never be too careful!

Peering over the edge, but not too close!

Below is a picture taken as you come from Stewart, Alaska into Hyder, Alaska. At the border, the pavement disappears. There is no pavement in Hyder. There are about 50 year round residents of Hyder and another 500 year round residents in Stewart. In the 1920s, there were more than 10,000 people here.

Main street in Hyder reminds me of a main street right out of an old western movie. It is a blighted area with little to offer young people. Interestingly, Hyder was chosen for one of the sites in the movie "Insomnia" with Robin Williams, Al Pacino, and Hillery Swank.

Hyder, Alaska, U.S.A.

Tonight I'm writing this from a campground in Prince George, British Columbia. The wifi is about perfect and free and the showers are endless and free. I've got to say bye as I head for my turn with the hot spray.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

About Liarsville.

I meant to give a little history about Liarsville in yesterday's blog, but I got blogged down. In the late 1800s, when gold from Alaska was delivered to Seattle, it started the famous Alaska Gold Rush. Well, most of the gold was actually in Canada and it was a very long haul to get to the gold fields. Of course, with the first news of the gold, newsmen Rushed to the Alaska ports to cover the event. This was big news in the lower states and sold a lot of newspapers. The reporters arrive in Skagway and made their way along the relatively level plain at the base of the mountains only to find that the actual gold fields were several months of arduous marching away. Most of them stayed at a base camp just before the mountains and filed their stories from there.

The stories falsely portrayed all the men getting rich with gold and this fueled much of the Rush of the late 1890s. The truth was that very few found any gold, that even fewer found gold in any quantity to get rich. Most prospectors didn,t find enough gold to pay their expenses and many died trying to get over the passes and across the glaciers. Entering Canada, the RCMP insisted that anyone proceeding further had to carry a years supply of food, clothing and provisions. Some could not afford it and had to turn back.

The real "gold" was made by the entrepreneurs who sold to the prospectors, the outfitters, the saloons, and the brothels. Thus, the area was thought of as being a den of liars and was dubbed Liarsville, which it stands to this day.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Soon after I finished yesterday's blog I fell asleep and I really needed it. Later, Helen wanted to go out to dinner and suggested the "Red Onion Saloon" just down the street. We're in Skagway, and everything is just down the street. We got to the saloon and entered. It is done up like the saloon of 1900, with a saloon downstairs and a brothel above, and staff dressed in period costumes.

They had a cast of very colorful people and the place had great atmosphere. As we looked, we noticed that all everyone had at their table was beer. Thinking that this might be just a saloon, we decided to go elsewhere.

As we were walking back to the car, we looked in the window and saw a couple eating hamburgers. Apparently you could get food, but very few people were doing so. I think that it's because most of the people in town are from a cruise ship, and why should they pay to eat in town when they have food that is better and free on the ship. We drove toward the cruise ship and ate at the Skagway Fish Co. Helen had a salad and a bowl of clam chowder, I had the chowder with a steak sandwich. It was all very good.

Early this morning we had arrangements to take a train ride to White Summit, which is the border between Alaska and Canada. It was a 21 mile trip and actually took us into Canada, but since we didn't get off, we didn't need passports. The trip took us from nearly sea level to almost 3000 feet. In places the grade was very steep. Moreover, in many places we could not see anything near the side of our railroad car. The scenery was awesome for almost all of the trip, but those sections where I could not see anything because we were so close to the edge tended to scare me. This is one of the two engines that took us up the slope.

Below is a picture of our motorhome taken from the train. It looks almost as if we were right beside the train..........we were! Fortunately, this train is strictly a tour train and does not run at night. Nor does it run very early in the morning, so it was no problem. Whatever noise it made yesterday, it didn't waken me from my nap.

Below is our train heading across a trestle and into the first of two tunnels. When we were on the trestle, I could see nothing outside the window except for the valley floor many feet below. It gave me a queasy feeling.

On the way back down we could see the remains of an old steam locomotive snow machine. These would cut through the deepest drifts, throwing the snow a long way from the rails. This one met its end as the result of an avalanche or track failure.

In the afternoon, Helen and I attended a Salmon Bake and show at the Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp. We had a 2 for 1 coupon book, so it was $45.00 for the two of us. It started with an all you can eat buffet with grilled salmon, chicken, rice ,beans, pasta salad, Caesar salad, coffee, tea, blueberry cake, and corn bread. At Alaska prices, the meal alone was worth the money. In addition, a lot of people were dressed in period costumes. The young lady below is from Melbourne, Australia, and acted the part of a gold town floozy.

The musician pictured here kept us entertained during our meal with songs and music from his concertina and fiddle. He is originally from Fairbanks and finds the weather here to be "mild".

This is part of the show that the crew put on for us. It was light farce and a lot of laughs. I think everyone had a good time.

After this, it was time to pan for gold. Each one of us got a small prospecting pan with a little dire spiked with gold particles. Between Helen and me we have enough gold to cash it in for about a penny, if that. At least it's a souvenir to take home. Yesterday we were less than thrilled with what Skagway had to offer, but we agree that we, again, had a good time. Another pleasant surprise.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Off to Skagway

Yesterday was our day to take the ferry from Haines to Skagway, and what an adventure that turned out to be. I checked with the ferry office to find out when we could park in the terminal area because we had to be out of the campground at 11:00 AM and we supposed to report to the ferry office at 8:00 PM. I was told that anytime after 2:15 would be fine. Well, we had other things to occupy our time, so we didn't get there until after 4:00. What a surprise! There were about 30 motorhomes already there. We went to the office to get our tickets and were told to disappear until 9:00 PM. There were problems with the loading ramp and the boat could not be boarded. Of course, boarding the boat was impossible because there was no boat there! We were supposed to get placed on the boat between 8 and 10, at which time the ship would leave Haines for the one hour trip to Skagway.

We drove down the street a ways and pulled off the road. I walked up to the terminal a few times and saw that nothing was happening. No boat! Finally a little after 8 we moved the RV and Jeep to the terminal lot and we parked in the assigned lanes. Helen, in the Jeep was the very first in her lane and I was the very last in mine. The ferry was coming from Juneau and would not be there until 11. Then it was 12, and later 1 AM. It actually docked at 12:40 AM.

Then the loading crew went to work.......sort of. First all the people and vehicles getting off at Haines had to disembark, and that took a long, long time. And finally they started boarding the out going cars and RVs. We have used ferries several times in the past, four times in Canada and once in Washington state. It was done in a very efficient manner and the whole crew worked as a team in each case. The offloading and onloading was done quickly and in a controlled manner. Not so in Alaska. It took over two hours to unload and load the ship. We didn't get going until almost 4 AM.

The first inkling I had of problems was in the way the ferry is loaded. All the ferries we have been on, the vehicles enter from one end and exit the other, a straight line, right through. This ferry had the loading door on the side near the bow, so you had to drive in and make a sharp left turn to get parked. OK, there were side doors on the front, but there were doors in the rear, so the ferry would back into the dock in Skagway to drop us off.

The ship, the "Malaspina" was a very comfortable ship and plies the waters between Skagway and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. It has numerous staterooms, a movie theater, restaurant, and several comfortable lounges. We only had access to coffee and that was given begrudgingly by a gruff old kitchen attendant. Helen and I didn't realize what had created all the trouble, but we soon learned. A caravan of almost thirty campers were supposed to depart on the 7:15 AM trip on Thursday. After all of the towed cars and a few campers were loaded, the ramp broke, so the ship left for Skagway with only a partial load. All of the campers in front of me were ones that were supposed to be on the early trip.

That settles the situation with the ramp and the stranded campers, but what about the ferry. We found out that the ramp was only a part of the problem and had nothing to do with the late arrival of the "Malaspina". The ship had developed a serious leak prior to arriving in Juneau and had to be repaired. That's what caused the long delay. Only after divers fixed the leak and certified seaworthiness could the ship leave port. In the meantime, the Ferry Authority had lost track of the caravan and didn't really make plans for them on the next trip. At the end of the line, I was worried that I might be "bumped" to a later trip. Meanwhile, Helen was at the front of her line and would be gone.

Miraculously, they fit us all aboard, with enough room left over to fit two small cars or a few motorcycles. Now, we're all aboard and the ferry heads for Skagway. We were talking with the people in the caravan and heard their tales of being there at 5:30 AM on Thursday only to finally board the boat at 3:30 AM Friday, 22 hours. They were a likable, spirited group and they made the best of the situation. Late in the afternoon, they had a pot luck dinner right there in the parking lot and seemed to be having a good time.

Now, we are heading into Skagway and I'm waiting for the ferry to turn around and back in, so we can just drive out. To my horror, it continued straight in and I could see the loading ramp on the side. Would we have to back our rigs out of the ship? No, we would turn around on the ship and drive out in forward. That sounds nice, but remember what I said about the little amount of room remaining after we were all loaded. The crew had to do some juggling to create enough room for the first two campers to get out. One very long 5th wheel had a devil of a time. Finally it was my turn and I backed into a corner as directed, cut the wheel all the way and I was free.

Since I was near the end getting in, I was the third vehicle getting out. I wanted to stay and see how they got the 45 footer out, but chose to depart as fast as I could. I drove a very short way and pulled over to wait for Helen. I used the time to walk both the dogs and settle down. We wanted to find a place for breakfast, but the effort was futile. I found an open area and we pulled in. Helen smelled the cooking bacon on the ship as the kitchen crew was preparing for the trip back to Juneau. People on this leg get full restaurant service. With the fresh thought of bacon in mind, Helen chose to cook breakfast herself. Delicious!!

Now I'm in the Mountain View Campground listening to the rain on the roof. AGAIN????? Helen is totally exhausted, but not quite enough to keep her from the many shops along the strip. The town is crawling with people now as a cruise ship came in, dumping a few thousand people into this small town.

Eyes are starting to close..........

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More in Haines

I got a good fire going last night and we had some company. The only warm spot was very close to the fire pit. Fortunately I had a lot of wood, so we had a blazing fire for quite a while. In fact, I have plenty of wood for tonight. As we were soaking up the heat, we saw three cruise ships pass on their way south from Skagway. Here, Helen is chatting with one of the campground employees who also was drawn by the fire.

This morning we got up to a slew of crows serenading us with the morning noise opera.

We also found that this little town was about to be over run with a flood of people from yet another visiting cruise ship, the Statendam from Rotterdam. I was surprised to see such a big ship in this little harbor. When we went out, the streets were full of new tourists.

Helen and I were on our way to Kroschel Wildlife Farm, owned and run by Steve Kroschel. Steve's credential run to the incredible, having worked as a nature photographer for National Geographic as well as working with animals to produce several well known commercial films by Disney.

The first animal we came across was this gray wolf. We were told to keep your hand out of the cage, but he seemed as docile as one of our labs. He was in the cage with Mario Bassani, Steve's partner and showed no hostility at all.

Here is Mario with a Great Snowy Owl, the largest owl on the continent. He claimed that the talons on this bird could easily crush his hand with it's talons. The Snowy Owl is not bothered by wolves, bears and such because it's beak and talons can do so much damage.

The animal below is hybrid fox, a cross between the Red and Gray Foxes. This is becoming quite popular in the area. I was a bit surprised because this fox has a whit tip on it's tale. Red foxes can come in many shades and colors, but always has a white tip on its tail. Gray foxes come in various colors and shades, but do not have the white tip. These had a white tip and I would have thought that they were Reds.

This is the resident Grizzly bear. A young female who was orphaned when a hunter shot her mother by mistake. She is already HUGE, and she's only half grown. Steve was hand feeding her with a spoon, a mixture a lot like oatmeal. She, like all the other animals here, is more of a pet than not.

This fine example of a Pine Martin. Also very tame, he can be allowed out in the open as he doesn't run away. We all got the chance to feel his fur and he was very compliant. I want one as a pet.

Helen and I have a soft spot for moose. here we had two females who were ever so mellow. They'd wander against the fence where we could pet them and they were as docile as can be. We were told that moose were actually ridden in Siberia many years ago. They could easily out run a horse, so the Czar ruled that they could no longer be trained to ride and that usage and ability has been lost.

Here are the two beauties. We got the chance to feed them. Now what do you think they eat? Well willow leaves comes to mind as does pond weeds. However for this interaction we were given bananas to feed the moose. Yes, they go wild over bananas! I also got a chance to pet both of them. I'd like a moose as a pet, but I think Florida would be too warm for them.

This is an Arctic Fox in his summer outfit. In the winter he is pure white except for the black tip on its tail. This is a very shy animal and, I guess, a little hyper. We could not pet this one.

Believe it or not, the animal below is one of the most feared in the forest. It is the Wolverine. It will chase away wolves and even grizzly bears. You'd never know it to look at this one as he allowed Steve to handle him quite a bit.

This is the prime member of the cat family in the far north, the Lynx. It is a very beautiful animal with HUGE feet. This animal stayed in the cage while we stayed outside. Steve spread his paws to show us his claws. Awesome!

And this cutie is a porcupine. Another animal with a sweet personality. Later I got the chance to pet a young porcupine and he was very tame. This is one animal that you don't want to rub the wrong way and it's another animal that I want as a pet.

We also saw several animals in the weasel family. Mario told us of a woman in the area who came to him because something was biting her goat's ears. Mario investigated and found a small weasel living in the barn. Each night it would nibble a bit of the goat's ear. He was trapped and relocated and the problem was solved. The 7 inch critter below is the type of weasel responsible. He's too cute not to be my pet.

Mario is another wildlife videographer who has been in the business a long time, documenting the lives of a number of animals, from the small weasel to the polar bear.

At the end of the presentation, Steve held up a jar of moose droppings offering a prize to the first one who could guess how many poops were in the jar. Well, I really know my S**t. I won! Thankfully, I didn't win the jar of moose droppings, but an ink drawing of a wolf. The downside to the whole day is that we had to share the experience with a crowd of people from the cruise ship. They were mostly European and oblivious of other people. They would often get right in front to take a picture and just stay there, not allowing anyone else to do the same.

The thought of spending so many days in a little place like Haines was almost dreaded at first, but we had to wait until we catch the ferry to Skagway. We had a great time here and will remember this as another high spot of our Alaskan Oddessy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Helen and I have been here in Haines, Alaska for a few days now and, as usual, we're having a good time. Yesterday we took the dogs for a swim at Chilkoot Lake only to find it elbow to elbow with fishermen. On the way back to the campground we found a little brook running into the bay, actually called Lynn Canal. The water was extremely cold, probably because the brook comes from snow melt in the mountain behind us. They were in and out of the brook in seconds and then tried the canal. A short dip and they were done. Helen gave them a quick bath in the brook to wash off the salt water and soon her hands were frozen. We gave the dogs a brisk rub down with several towels to dry them and make them warm. Then I collected some driftwood to use for a fire.

The first picture below is Helen, enjoying the ambiance with The two dogs. The second picture is me in the same setting with the Canal and the mountains across the way.

One of the minor hassles we have at this campground is the large number of crows hanging around all the time. They sit on the tables and beg for food. Apparently it has been a good system as they are rather fat and lazy. The bad part is that they create such a racket at various times of the day. One of the times is early morning, which is around 3 or 4 here in Haines. This picture shows a few of the vagrant crows.

I was able to sleep through this mornings cacophony, but the banging woke me up. Thinking it was much later and someone was at the door, I got up in a haze and shuffled into my pants. There was no one at the door. The banging was Helen banging on the ceiling to scare the crows off the roof. I couldn't believe how early it was and I was sure I wouldn't get back to sleep, but I was wrong.

Later we took a ride to an animal park, but it was closed. On the way back we saw a sign saying "Porcupine Crossing". We decided to investigate and found the following sign.

We drove over ten miles into the woods and found a place that looked like it was set up for a mining experience, but there was no body there. It was an awesome ride and we should have turned around much earlier than we did.

The road went from two lane to one, and got narrower and narrower. Eventually the bushes were scraping the Jeep on both sides. The picture below shows an area of slides. Please note that the rocks on the left side of the picture have rolled down the hill and ACROSS the road! Some weighed much more than our little Jeep and we did not tarry in this area.

Helen took the two pictures below. The first showing local architecture and the second local beauty.

The last stop on the way back to the camper was at Dawson City. Years ago, the Disney Studio filmed the movie "White Fang" in this area. When they were through, they were going to burn down the set and return the area the way it was. The people of Haines pressed Disney to give them the set and then it was moved to it's present location at the Haines County Fairground. It really is a bustling location during the fair, but is also house a few business all the time. There is a T-shirt printing business, a micro brewery, a knitting store and a restaurant.

From Haines
I went back down toward the lake and got another load of driftwood for a fire tonight. We have an excellent day planned for tomorrow, but that will be in the next blog. Sometime I feel like I'm ready to head home, but there is still so much to see and do. Thanks to the information from "Celebrating 20" we're going to try the Cassier Highway back to Jasper. So much planning and so much more to do.