Sunday, August 29, 2010

Scenic Idaho

True to our word we did kick back in Coeur d’Alene and relax for a few days. Coeur d’Alene was really a big surprise as it is a beautiful little town at the top of Lake Coeur d’Alene which is the headwaters of the Spokane River. Our campground was right at the junction of the Lake and the River. There was a nice beach and Jake got to do a little swimming, yea! The town is really nice, now a resort community, but in its day the silver capital of the west. There are a lot of beautiful old home and buildings that are fully restored. We had two wonderful dinners on a floating restaurant next to our campground. Compared to the prices in Alaska and Canada, this place was a bargain and the food was great.

We made an appointment with the mobile wash man to wash the coach and he did a fantastic job. It looks as good as new. We took the Jeep through a touchless drive through car wash with the bikes still on the back and paid for the super deluxe wash. The bikes do not look too bad, but the Jeep really needs a good hand wash. Oh well we have a lot more towing to do, so it is going to get dirty again. We also had a chance to do many of the little things on the coach that we have put off while traveling. On the fourth day we were full of fuel and water, empty of waste and very refreshed. We decided to head out and do the scenic loops of Idaho’s highways.

Jake and Linda at the edge of the
largest wilderness areas in the lower 48. 
Our journey took us down US 95 to Lewiston and then across US 12, the Lewis and Clarke trail. The drive across US 12 is perhaps one of the prettiest drives that we have done. It follows the Clearwater River and then in Lowell turns up the Lochsa River through the Bitterroot Mountains. We stopped and camped in the national forest campground in Powell, ID. It is one of the nicest campgrounds that we have been in with huge sites that backed onto the Lochsa River and they even had electric, a rarity in the national forest.

Four wheeling in the Clearwater NF
There are a number of forest service road in the area, one being the Lolo Motorway built in the 30’s by the CCC. It was designed as a fire service road, but is open to the public. It runs along the spine of the mountain, is 100 miles long and follows the original Lolo trail used by Lewis and Clarke. Before tackling that in the Jeep, we decided to take a few easier trails. One leads up to a remote lake, eight miles back. All started well until we reached the portion that went up the mountain. The sign said one lane road with occasional turnouts. It was one lane all right but the turnouts were minimal. Linda was terrified that we would meet another vehicle and would have to back down. The road was also cut into a bench on the side of the mountain and the views down were spectacular or terrifying, depending on your perspective. After only two miles at a rather large turnout on a hairpin, the order was given to turn around and go very slowly back down. Linda checked at the ranger station about the Lolo Motorway and the lady said it was a lot like the road we did, except the drop off was on both sides. Any one want to buy a little used Jeep and a library of off roading books?

Linda at the Lochsa Lodge
A special treat for us was that the Lochsa Lodge was located at the entrance to the campgrounds. It is one of those do everything places that we encountered in the Yukon and Alaska; gas, store, lodging and a restaurant. The difference here was the place was beautiful, the food fantastic, the people ultra friendly and the prices very reasonable. If you are ever in the area, you have to stop here.

Linda and her pony, Sherman
OMG does that hurt!
Besides everything else, the Lochsa Lodge also offers horseback riding. Linda inquired and told them that her husband weighs 300 pounds, of which they said, no problem. They have one horse that is part Clydesdale and she would handle him. So the next thing you know we are signed up for a one-hour trail ride. When asked about our experience we said that we had ridden before in California, Australia and Tasmania, which is all-true. What we did not tell them was that it was all over 15 years ago and Mike was 70 pounds lighter. Our moment of truth was when we arrived at the corral. Mike’s horse, Bear, was huge and the first thing he thought was how am I going to get on this thing. Don, our guide, was very understanding and lowered the stirrup down as low as it would go. Mike put his foot in and lifted up. The problem now was that he could not get his other leg over the horse’s rump. The ever-helpful Don lifted Mike’s leg over the saddle. Now, not only was this horse tall it was big and round and it pulled Mike’s legs into a split position that they may have never been before. The pain was immediate. He equates it to straddling a wine barrel that is bouncing up and down. He should have quit right then, but no, Mr. Macho told Don that everything was fine. Linda of course, just bounced up on her steed, Sherman, a miniature pony, and was doing quit well. We are not sure what Mike was thinking, but off they went into the bush. Linda says the ride was wonderful. It was through the forest and along a path that Lewis and Clarke took when they first traversed this area. Mike’s only thought was when will this end. Don, our extra friendly guide turned our hour ride into an hour and a half at no extra charge. By the time we finished Mike’s legs were numb and his back was spasming. Don told Mike his legs might be a bit weak when he tried to get off. Mike told him that his legs we numb and he was going to need a lot of help. They did not have a crane available, so Don put down a few bales of hay and walked Mike to them. Again Don had to help get Mike’s leg over the horse’s rump and Mike slid down onto the bales of hay. After a short rest, he was able to crawl back to the Jeep on his own. We are happy to report that after only two days he is able to walk again. What were you thinking!!!

From Powell we crossed the Lolo pass over to Lolo and route US 93 which we took south to Challis, there turning onto Idaho route 75 which we took to Sun Valley, ID. That route follows the Salmon River most of the way and is for the most part was a very scenic drive.

Smoke from the fires in the Sawtooths
It is fire season here and we have seen a number of fires along the way. In Powell there was a lighting strike near the lake where we were Jeeping to and it started a small fire. The smoke turned the sun a dull red. Along 93, there were a number of fires and the smoke was pretty thick. Near Stanley, where we camped one night, the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway was closed for three days because of a fire. We passed by one tent camp set up to house firefighters. Our hats are off to these courageous men and women who spend weeks at a time out working in the bush to protect life and property from these devastating forest fires.

We are now just south of Sun Valley in a small very tight RV Park. But it does have cable TV and it is allowing us to watch the Steelers/Bronco game tonight. We have found that we are in Bronco Country and it is best for us to watch the game in our coach instead of a local bar. Go Steelers!

We hope that you all have had a wonderful, fire free week.

Take care, Love,
Linda, Jake and the Fat Man

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Alaskan Highway South

Last Monday we got the oil changed on both the coach and the Jeep. They were both done before noon and a heavy smoke enveloped Fairbanks from a nearby forest fire. We decided it was time that we started to head back south.

We decided to do something that we have never done before, and that was to drive the complete Alaskan Highway. We have driven all of the Alaskan Highway before, but never all in one segment. We had also never drove the highway south of Watson Lake, so it would all be a new experience. We originally had planned to go to Chicken and take the Top of the World Highway to Dawson City in the Klondike area of the Yukon, but there was more flooding and the highway was again closed. Going back down the Cassiar Highway was also not an option as it is closed due to a forest fire.

Woodland Bison along the Alaskan Highway
 in the Yukon Territory
The Alaskan Highway was built in 1942, by the US Army and in only 8 months. It was supposed to be a supply route to Alaska in case the Japanese invaded. It is 1400 miles long, 1500 if you include the road from Delta Junction to Fairbanks. To put it into perspective, that is equivalent to building a road from Miami to New York, only there you would have a little better conditions. The original road was all dirt, now it is all paved, or used to be all paved. There are few bad spots on the road today, like the hundred miles of hell between the US border and the Burwash Landing and the hundred miles of purgatory between the Haines Junction and Whitehorse. Other than that, the road is in pretty good shape and can be easily driven at 45-55 mph. There are a few construction zones that will slow you down and the ever-famous red flags signaling a break in the pavement. The secret to driving the highway is to have no schedule and take it slow and easy. From Fairbanks to Whitehorse there are no stoplights and only one stop sign. From Whitehorse to Fort Nelson, there are no stoplights or stop signs. That is a total distance of over 1200 miles and it is pretty desolate out there. The last 300 miles of the highway is pretty busy now with the shale oil and gas boom going on in that area.

Stone Sheep in the Stone Mountain Area
Over half of the little service centers along the highway are now closed. Those that are still open are getting a pretty good buck for their services. We found diesel fuel at Muncho Lake at 1.699 a liter. That works out to about $6.32 a gallon with the current Canadian currency conversion. Fortunately we did not need any fuel and could get down to Fort St. John were it was a lot cheaper. The least expensive we found fuel was in Grande Prairie, Alberta, where it was an equivalent of $ 3.30 a gallon; less than what we paid in most of Alaska. Fortunately for us, in Canada, diesel is six to ten cents less per liter than gasoline.

We finished the Alaskan Highway in Dawson Creek, BC. From there we drove south on the Big Horn Highway to Jasper. And then went down on the Ice Fields Parkway through Jasper and Banff National Parks. This is normally a beautiful drive through the Canadian Rockies, but for us the visibility was obscured by smoke from a forest fire in Williams Lake, BC. It did not clear up until we started out of Kootenay NP.

Jake has had enough
and tries to escape
We spent four out of our five nights in Canada at a Wal-Mart. We didn’t plan it that way, they were just there at the end of the day when we were done driving. The Wal-Mart in Whitehorse was by far the busiest that we have ever seen and there were over 50 RV’s there. Most of the others had 15-25. Why do we stay at Wal-Mart’s? They are right off the road, easy to get in and out of and are paved (no mud). You can also pop in and buy any grocery items that you might need and most camping supplies. We would not call Wal-Mart a destination, but it certainly is a convenient stop. Most of the Wal-Marts welcome RV’ers and at many of them we were able to find a free Wi-Fi close by.

The way back from Alaska was mostly just continuous driving. We were up early and on the road before the crack of noon. We drove most of the day, stopping only for fuel, food and rest room breaks; driving well into the cocktail hour. We ate most of our meals in the coach, except and for a $17 chicken sandwich at Muncho Lake and an excellent breakfast at the Toad River Lodge. They had a nice ad in the Milepost and we had to see it. After seven days and 2200 miles of continuous driving, we are all starting to suffer from “coach fever”. The worst is Jake who is refusing to get back into the coach and has to be dragged back.

We arrived back in the States in Eastport, Idaho, fifty miles west, five weeks and 6500 miles from where we left in Montana. We were almost out of fuel and booze, because Mike refused to buy anything in Canada when he knew it would be cheaper in the states. We are now ready to do all of those things in Idaho that we planned to do before that last minute decision to go to Alaska. The problem is that we cannot remember what we were going to do.

We are now in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho and are going to park the coach, unhook the Jeep and relax for a while. Both the coach and the Jeep need a good wash job. That will be a priority to get both of them cleaned up. After that, we will try to remember what we had planned and then make a big loop through the mountains of Idaho.

We hope that you all have had a wonderful week.

Take care, Love,

Linda Jake and the Fat Man

Sunday, August 15, 2010

At the end of the Road in Alaska

Linda at the Hatcher Pass Lodge
Weather wise, we certainly had a mixed week. We arrived in the Anchorage area last weekend with beautiful day. We did some shopping and fueled up and then headed up to Hatcher Pass to spend the night. There is a lovely state parking lot that we like to camp in at the Gold Mint Trailhead. There was a lodge across the street that we normally eat at, but they were closed. That night it rained quite a bit, but by morning had cleared up again. We dropped the Jeep and headed up to the summit of Hatcher Pass. On the way we stopped at another lodge and had a wonderful breakfast with a magnificent view. We made it to the top pass before we turned around and headed back to the coach.
Jake, Mike and Linda at the summit of Hatcher Pass
With such a beautiful day we decided to head down to the Kenai. The weather is never good there and we hoped to catch it on a nice day. Our luck didn’t last and it started raining before we got past Anchorage. We spent the night at the Kenai Princess Lodge RV Park, always on one of our favorite stops. It is right on the beautiful Kenai River and has a wonderful, but pricey restaurant. The next morning we pushed in the rain onto Homer.

Linda ready for lunch at Halibut Cove
Linda warmed up after the hot buttered rums for lunch
In Homer we got one of the premiere campsites (gravel parking spot) right on Kachemak Bay between the Fishing Hole and the City Harbor. The view of the bay plus the mountains and glaciers surrounding Homer was great; especially because the weather had cleared some. Earlier in the year a good friend of our visited Homer after taking a cruise and took a ferry to the little artist colony of Halibut Cove. She loved it and told Linda about it. It was Linda’s whole purpose for coming to Homer. As soon as we arrived, she bought tickets for the ferryboat and made lunch reservations at the only restaurant in the area. We were lucky the next day as rain was forecasted. We could see it all around us, but not where we were and that was outside on an old ferryboat. But it was cold. When we arrived we went to the restaurant and were told we would be sitting outside. One of the other customers mentioned hot buttered rum and that sounded good to everyone and after two it did not seem so cold anymore. We did enjoy lunch, but have to say two soups and a shared appetizer plate for over $100 does seem high. Of course we did have six of those hot buttered rum things.

From our campground on the
Homer Spit looking at the Grewing Glacier
After great weather in both Valdez and Homer we though our luck my hold out in Seward. We have been there four times before and it has always rained. So we left Homer and headed over. No luck this time as it was overcast and raining, so we pulled the plug early and headed out of the Kenai. As we were passing through Anchorage we heard on the radio that Anchorage just set a new record for the most consecutive days of rain. We just kept on going on the Parks Highway. We wanted to take the Jeep up the Petersville Road which is supposed to have great views of Denali. We camped that night at the end of the road and listened to the rain on our roof. The next morning the rain was still falling so we gave up the idea of the Jeep adventure and headed north.

Mt McKinley - Denali
When we got to Denali National Park the skies had started to clear and we thought that we might be have a chance to see McKinley which is normally in the clouds. We dropped the Jeep and started into the Park. We drove as far as we were allowed to take a private vehicle, but the mountain was still hidden in the clouds. We were also looking for bears, but did not seen any. We did see a few caribou, but they were not close enough to get any photos. Just before we arrived in Fairbanks, we finally got a view of Denali. It was the first time we could see it since our first trip in 1999.

Yes it was 95 in Fairbanks!
We are now in Fairbanks and believe it or not, it is 94 degrees. That is downright hot for Alaska, although it is dry heat. It is supposed to cool off tomorrow, so you don’t have to feel sorry for us. This is the end of our Alaskan loop. From here we will start back to the lower 48 sometime at the beginning of the week. It will take us about a week to get back and we will be without a cell phone and probably without much internet.

We hope that you all have had a great week.
Take care, Love,
Linda, Jake and the Fat Man

Saturday, August 7, 2010

North into Central Alaska

We have always liked Haines. It is a very friendly town and has an old Army fort that was turned back to the local government. Haines did something unique with theirs and sold most of the houses and building to private enterprises. Some are now single-family homes, some condos, some B&B, two are hotels and others are gift shops, museums or civic centers. They are almost all well kept and really add the charm of the town. The central parade grounds are now a lovely park. The area is surrounded by lovely state parks and national forest. Bears and Eagles congregate along the Chilkat River, especially in the fall. Haines certainly has it charm, but after a few days of the typical Alaskan Culinary Experience, we decided to move on up the highway. That experience by the way is mediocre food, in a run down dump with poor service and outrageous prices.

Chilkat River and Chilkat Mountains
The weather turned great again on Sunday, all sunshine and blue skies. How nice was it? We had to use our air conditioner for the first time since leaving Colorado and yes it still worked. Our ride up the Haines Highway was spectacular. We hit the Alaskan Highway and were shocked to find the worst road that we have ever been on anywhere on any of our trips. This part of the highway was not the best in 2006 when we were here, but now it is has deteriorated by ten fold. It made our experience on the Cassiar seem like a new freeway. Fortunately, it was only for a hundred miles, but it was the longest hundred miles that we have ever driven. When we hit the Alaskan border, the road got better. It was all gravel and under construction, but the crew wasn’t working as it was about 7:00 PM. The road surface had been filled, graded and compacted and was pretty smooth. Without the crews on the road we flew through. As soon as we cleared the construction area we got off on a pull out to spend the night.

Mike washing the vehicles
We stopped at Tok the next day to get fuel. It is one of the more reasonable places for fuel cost along the Highway; diesel fuel was only $3.79. The place we filled up offered a free car or truck wash with a fill up, so we took advantage of it. It is not really a car wash; it is a pressure washer in the back of the station that they let you use. It is the first time we have washed the coach since coming up here and it and the Jeep really needed it. Those construction zones take their toll. Mike spent over an hour there blowing off two thousand miles of mud and dust. Not a great job, but at least now we can see the original color of the vehicles.
We left a little after one in the afternoon and planned to drive down across the Tok Cut Off and stop early for the evening. The Tok Cut Off is also not in great shape and we were bouncing quite a bit. But the weather was beautiful and impulsively we decided to drive to Valdez and see if the weather was good there so that we could finally see the town. It was only a mere 250 more miles on not so good road, but with drop dead gorgeous scenery. We got into Valdez about 8:00 PM and the skies were just starting to cloud up. For the first time in three trips we could finally see why they call it the Switzerland of Alaska. It is surrounded by high glacier capped mountains. Yes, it was worth the 12-hour drive as the next morning it was foggy, overcast and raining.

Linda and Jake at the Valdez Harbor
The fog lifted early and in spite of the rain we were able to take the Jeep out and do a little exploring. We drove up to the Valdez Glacier, where its huge moraine is now used as an informal campground. We also drove over to the terminus of the Alaskan Pipeline. We were hoping for a tour, but the area is closed to the public. We did a little off roading in the Jeep until we hit a spot that required us to ford a stream and Linda said turnaround. We also visited the old Valdez town site. In 1963 following the Good Friday Earthquake, Valdez was hit with a 60-foot tsunami and was completely destroyed. The survivors decided to rebuild the present day city five miles west in an area that was better protected from the sea. There is nothing left where the old town was. They still take tsunamis as a serious threat and evacuation routes are clearly marked. During our visit and tsunami test was conducted over loud speakers located through out the city.

In the not so Alaskan tradition, we did have a couple of fine meals there were no more expensive than the slop we had in Haines. We do not want to knock Haines too much as there are a few nice places to eat there, just not the places we picked, trying to save a buck.

Kenny Lake Mercantile
Thursday we drove out of Valdez and were on our way to Chitina, McCarthy and Kennecott. We stopped at Kenny Lake Mercantile to park the coach. It is pretty typical of what you find along the road in Alaska and the Yukon, a do everything place. They have a gas station, diner, hotel, laundry, hardware, grocery store, bakery, sporting goods, bait, tire repair RV park and to our surprise Wi-Fi. Everything you need except for liquor, which we did not need. We drove the Jeep down to Chitina to check at the ranger station on the condition of the McCarthy highway. There we met Dee and Judy Johnson, who are also motorhoming with a Jeep. We decided to meet the next morning and drive our Jeeps to McCarthy together; misery loves company.

Narrow spot on the McCarthy Road
The McCarthy Highway is 60 miles of dirt and gravel built on the old Copper River and Northwester Railroad bed. The write up on the road is pretty ominous; narrow, slippery, sheer drop off with rail spikes and steel still embedded and no services along the way. Make sure that you have at least one good spare tire and plan a minimum of three hours one way. It looked like Mike was finally going to get his off road driving adventure and you can see why we were both glad to go along with another Jeep. It turned out to be quite different; in reality it is just a dirt road. Parts of it were pot holed and you had to drive slow, but much of it was good gravel and you could drive the 35 mph speed limit. The road is wide enough in most places for two cars to pass, although you both want to slow down or stop in doing so. There was no steep grades and where there was steep drop offs there was heavy concrete barriers. No, we would not want to take the coach down, but there were some pick up campers and small Class C coaches on the road.

Linda and Jake in Kennecott
Our objectives McCarthy and Kennecott cannot actually be reached from the road. You have to drive to the end and then walk across a footbridge and then catch a shuttle. They bring the shuttles and other vehicles across the river in the winter on the ice. Kennecott is an old mine and mill town about five miles past McCarthy. It is party owned by private individuals and the National Park Service and is partially restored. It is very interesting to see and they have a very nice lodge and dinning room there. Most people spend at least one night and do some hiking and glacier climbing in the Wrangell St. Elias National Park. We just did a day trip in and out and had beautiful clear and warm weather to do it in. And we made it unscathed except for quite a bit of mud and dirt covering the Jeep.

We are now heading towards Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. We hope that you all have had a wonderful week.

Take care, Love,

Linda, Jake and the Fat Man

More photos at:

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Souteast Alaska

Our foray into Southeast didn’t start too well with the rain and fog coming over the Chilkoot Pass. Of course it was still a lot easier for us than the miners of the 1898 Gold Rush who had to hand carry a years worth of supplies over the top to reach the Yukon River and sail down the river, north to the gold fields in the Klondike area. The story is that of the one hundred thousand that started only 3,000 actually got to stake claims and of that 3,000 only 300 got rich.

Linda enjoys the ferry ride to Juneau
Saturday morning we were glad to see (yes it is light up here at four in the morning) that the rain had stopped and the fog had lifted. It looked like it would be a nice day for our ferry trip to Juneau. On the sail down the Lynne Canal, the National Forest naturalist aboard pointed out the Rainbow Glacier and said it was a rare treat to be able to see it. The Lynne Canal is not really a canal, but it is the largest and deepest fjord in North America. Things were looking up, but in typical Alaskan fashion began to deteriorate again as we approached Juneau. The massive Mendenhall Glacier was obscured by low clouds and the rain reduced the visibility. The Chamber of Commerce in Juneau puts out a brochure that has frequently asked questions in it. One of the questions is, “Does it rain everyday in Juneau?” Their answer, “No, some days it snows”.

After we arrived in Juneau we headed to the closest and only Wal-Mart to spend the night while we waited for another early morning ferry departure. We were surprised when they told us that they do not allow any overnight parking. So we headed over to their competition, Fred Meyers, where they do allow overnight parking. Fred Meyer’s will now be our favorite city “campsite” while in Alaska.

Boards have to be placed under the
wheels to keep the coach from
bottoming out.
Sitka is the only city in SE along the major ferry route that we had not been to before. People that had been there before raved about how nice it is, so we had to go see it for ourselves. It is the town with the most Russian heritage of any SE Alaska. We took the fast ferry, Fairweather, over. It took a while to load ours and the other motorhomes and trailers as the tide was down and the ramp was steep. Boards had to be placed under the tires to lift the back end. It was quite an operation, but very professionally done by the crew. Everyone got loaded with no damage to any of the vehicles or the boat. The ferry runs fully loaded at 36 knots and it is fantastic ride up through the Peril Straits and all the narrows that you have to weave through to reach Sitka. You actually do not reach Sitka, but Baranof Island which Sitka is on. The ferry dock is about eight miles out of town.

Our Campsite in Sitka
Our ferry reservations had us staying in Sitka for five days. We arrived and immediately drove to a campground just outside of town. It is located at one of the City marinas and we were worried about it being full. It is described as RV parking with electric, as opposed to a campground. So we were not surprised to find that it was just a big parking lot. We were surprised to find that it was paved. Most parking lots here are dirt, which in Alaska means mud. We were also surprised to find that it was almost empty. We nosed the coach in and faced the harbor on our right and Sitka sounds and this islands on the left. It was a beautiful place and less than a quarter mile from downtown.

Once we were situated and plugged in we took the Jeep in to see the town. Five minutes later after driving through all of town, we wondered what we were going to do for the next five days. It was a nice little place, but the emphasis is on little. This is definitely a fishing destination. There are five major boat harbors in and around town. And they are all full and full of fishing boats. This may be the only place that has more boats than people. It looked like we were either going to fish or learn how to relax.

Monday there are no cruise ships in town, so we figured it would be a good day to tour and explore. Then we found out most of the stuff is only open on the days the cruise ships are in. Monday we did hit a rarity as in the afternoon it cleared up and the sun came out. We took advantage of this phenomenon and drove south out of town into the National Forest. We finally got to do some off road driving in the Jeep on a FS dirt road. It was beautiful, the forest that is, not the road. That night we had dinner at the Channel Club, a wonderful, but pricey, restaurant on the water with a beautiful view. Life is good and it gave us a completely new appreciation of Sitka and the surrounding area.

Archangel Dancers
Tuesday, two cruise ships came in and it was crowded. But everything was open. We got to see the Archangel Dancers, which perform Russian dances in an effort to preserve the Russian heritage of Sitka. There are 34 ladies that volunteer their time and efforts in the program. We did learn that not one of the 34 is Russian. But they did a wonderful job and the costumes were magnificent. Sitka also has a number of museums and historic sites which honor the Tlingit natives, Russian fur traders and American influences in the area. Tuesday also gave us our second nice day in a row and we took advantage of it, by driving north into the national forest and taking a couple of walks on the beach and in the magnificent cedar forest.

Wednesday and Thursday it returned to normal weather cool and overcast, but at least no rain. The folks here are beginning to talk about a drought as it has not rained all week. We did get a chance to relax and see more of the historic spots.

Mendenhall Glacier looking in Auke Bay
On the return trip to Juneau, the clouds did lift and some sunshine did peak through. We were greeted this time by a magnificent view of the Mendenhall Glacier as we approached the docks. We only had one night in Juneau, but this time at least we have a reasonable departure time and did not have to be at the ferry dock until one in the afternoon. Friday it was dropped dead gorgeous by anyone’s standards. Not a cloud in the sky, no wind and temperatures in the 70’s. The ferry ride to Haines was wonderful and the views magnificent.

Humpback Whales bubble feeding
We were treated to a very special treat on our ride and that was humpback whales bubble feeding. This is when the whales circle a school of herring blowing our air which traps them. The whales then close the circle and take turns rushing to the surface feeding on the fish. We have read about it before, but this was the first time we saw it. It was spectacular as the whales launched themselves out of the water. Unfortunately, we were too far away to get any good pictures.

We didn’t arrive in Haines until after 8:00 PM. Most all of the campgrounds were full because the SE Alaska State Fair is going on here this weekend. In true Alaskan fashion we just pulled off the side of the road on a pull out and “camped” for the night. We had a magnificent view of Lutak Sound out of our windshield with the snowcapped Chilkat Mountains in the background. This morning we were greeted with another pod of whales breaching in the Sound in front of us.

Our weeklong string of good weather also came to an end today, as it is overcast and raining. This also ends our foray into SE Alaska. We will probably spend another day or so in Haines and then drive over the Chilkat Pass on the Haines Highway and back into Canada, before reaching central Alaska.
We hope that you all have had a good week. We have heard that it has been really hot in the lower 48. We are happy to report that we have not had that problem, here in Alaska.
Take care, Love,

Linda, Jake and the Fat Man

For more photos see:

Friday, July 23, 2010

North to Alaska

It did seem like a last minute decision to turn the coach north and head to Alaska, but that is what we did. Before leaving the Keys we did do all the planning and got all the material ready for an Alaskan trip and we had always said we were headed that way. We both thought that we would not be traveling that far this year.

But, the pull to the north was just too strong to resist and on Monday, 19th we crossed the Canadian border at Roosville, British Columbia and started the trek north. We thought that it might be a bad omen when it started to sleet. But that turned out to be just melting hail from a nearby thunderstorm. The first night brought is to Radium Hot Springs and to our surprise most all of the campgrounds were full. We did manage to find one that had some opening and then found out why. It was $63 a night, the most expensive campground that we had ever stayed in. Linda did remind Mike it was Canadian funds, so that with the discount it would only be a little over $61.00. We only wanted a place to park for the night and sleep. And who would want to swim in Radium anyway?

Jake and Linda at Bow Lake, Banff NP
The next day we had a magnificent drive through Kootenay, Banff and Jasper Canadian National Parks. We saw a lot of wildlife along the road and had beautiful vistas of glacier-capped mountains, lush valleys and ice blue lakes. The Ice Field Parkway is a wonderful drive if you ever have a chance to do it. That night we ended up in a Wal-Mart in Prince George, BC. We counted 23 other RV’s of all types “camped” there. Linda said that if we averaged the last two nights camping that it was only $31.00 a night.

The coach rolls 100,000 miles
The next day in Smithers, BC we hit a milestone. No, that is not something on the road. We turned a hundred thousand miles on the coach. Don’t they say that the first hundred is always the hardest? While we were there, Mike insisted on stopping and getting a picture, we took advantage of the “cheap” fuel. It was only $.96 a liter. That is just a hair over a quart, or $3.75 a gallon. We say cheap as we have seen it as high as $1.24 a liter. And that is diesel; gas is another dime a liter more.

Hyder, Alaska, not much there.
We made a decision earlier to by-pass the beginning of the Alaskan Highway and take the Cassiar Highway, Rt. 37, north to Watkins Lake. We made a slight detour off that and drove down to Stewart, BC and crossed over to Hyder, Alaska. Yes, we reach the southernmost town in Alaska in just three days. Fish Creek in Hyder attracts a large number of bears when the salmon are running. When we got there the salmon had just started up the day before and the bears had not found them yet. Other than the bears, Hyder does not offer much, so we did not stay. Besides we had already seen two bears on the road driving up.

Thursday we regretted our decision to drive the Cassiar. The first half (250 miles) was fine and was just resurfaced. The second half was horrible and in terrible shape. We hit bumps and ruts that jarred our teeth. We could not even look at the beautiful scenery because we had to continuously dodge the pavement breaks. When we finally hit the unpaved gravel section, it was a relief as it was much smoother than the paved portion. That relief was short lived though as we saw a cloud of dust behind us and that was inside the coach. Jake was totally stressed out and Linda kept telling him it was OK and that it would be better soon. We think it was today that he realized that we are going back to Alaska and not home. That night we “camped” in a pull out well off the road on a pretty lake just south of the Yukon border. We were all by ourselves and Jake could run free. Linda made Mike throw the ball for Jake until he dropped and that took a while. The next morning we were greeted by the plague of the north, hordes of mosquitoes. Mike made a quick retreat back to the coach and yelled to Jake to get it done, he was on his own.

Black Bear before Jake chased it off.
Just as after we pulled out there was a bear on the other side of the lake we camped on. It was right along the side of the road and we were able to stop and get some photos. Now Jake has always been kind of a wuss. Mike had the side window open and Jake saw the bear. He gave it a couple of his big dog barks and the bear ran off. That did not do much for the bear photos, but it did certainly help Jake’s self esteem; he was so proud. Now we do not have worry about bears anymore, we got us a bear dog!

The weather really got bad as we turned back south near Whitehorse and started over the Chilkoot Pass to Skagway. We had rain showers off and on all day, but now it was raining continuously and the fog restricted visibility at times to only 100 feet. This is a beautiful drive when the weather is nice, but not today. We pulled into Skagway on Friday night, tired and exhausted from the drive. It is a nice little town, when it is not raining. We are going to bed early and to get ready to catch the ferry early tomorrow morning (5:30 AM check in) to Juneau and Sitka.

This is a little different that what we planned when we started. Our original plan was to go up to Dawson City in the Yukon and cross the border there and go to Eagle and Chicken, Alaska. The problem is that the road was washed out last week, killing one person and stranding others for days. We will check on the road condition on our way out to see if they have it repaired. Dawson City has always been one of our favorite stops on these trips.

As always cell service and internet has been a problem this week. We are hoping that now that we are in Alaska it will be better, at least the cell service. Wi-Fi hotspots are hard to find and free ones even harder. If you have written or called, be patient, we are not ignoring you on purpose. We hope that you all have had a fine week.

Take care, Love,

Linda, Jake (Bear Dog) and the Fat Man

Jake is now the Dude!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Big Sky Country

We are in the Big Sky Country of the Great State of Montana. We came out of Yellowstone and headed up US 287 to the Madison River Valley. We passed Hebgen Lake, a man made lake from the Hebgen Dam Project. Following that we ran into the most God-awful place that we had seen in a long time. A small lake had drowned out all the trees and the whole mountain was scarred. We thought it was another dam project gone bad, but it turned out to be earthquake damage. There was a huge earthquake in 1959, the 4th worst in US history. One side of Hebgen Lake dropped 20 feet and it created a 35-foot wave that overflowed the dam. Everyone though the dam had burst. That earthquake also caused a landslide that bought one whole side of the mountain down and the debris rolled half way up the other side. That dammed up the Madison River at this point and created Earthquake Lake. Thankfully this is a lightly populated area, but it still stranded hundreds of people and killed scores. The amount of material that slide of that mountain to create this dam is calculated to be ten times the amount used to create Hoover Dam.

Further down the valley we stayed in the town of Ennis. The river valley here was carved long ago by glaciers and it over 20 miles across surrounded by huge snow capped mountain peaks. The river is king here and Ennis is one of the fly-fishing capitals of America. Also along the river are numerous rafting and kayaking companies. Our group stayed dry, except for the libation.

We enjoyed a day trip over the western mountains to the old mining towns of Virginia and Nevada Cities. Adler Gulch created a boom with placer gold discovered in the 1860’s and once had 35,000 people living along its banks. Nevada City is a ghost town now, but still has an operating inn, bakery and saloon. Virginia City now has few hundred residents but continues in the 1800’s motif. Both are worth a visit if you are in the area. We also did a day trip over the other side of the mountains to Big Sky Ski Resort and had a wonderful lunch at the top of the mountain at the beautiful Moonlight Peak Resort.

The highlight of our Montana trip had to be our stop in Helena. It is the state capitol and a beautiful little town. We stayed at our first “free” campsite at the local Wal-Mart. That free night cost us over $1000 in prescriptions, groceries and miscellaneous junk we put into our cart as we toured the store, not once but three times.

The highlight of Helena however was not our Wal-Mart experience, but dinner that night with Suzanne Bessette. Suzanne’s whole family dived with us all over the world for many years. We watched Suzanne grow from her early elementary school days. She is now a practicing environmental attorney in Helena working with wind power issues. We had not seen Suzanne for almost 15 years and it was wonderful to catch up on what has been going on in her and her sister Jeannine’s lives. Jeannine is just finishing a master degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Michigan. Suzanne says that she will be returning to her hometown of Ann Arbor and take the Michigan Bar exam. If you know of anyone who is looking for professional help, we can highly recommend both of these ultra intelligent, highly experienced ladies.

Our next stop on our way north was Glacier National Park. Here we drove the Going to the Sun Road, the backcountry dirt roads and experienced the bike paths. All were wonderful and offered fantastic and varied views of this national gem. Many of the peaks still support glaciers and the valley walls are steep and deep. The glacial runoff produces clear turquoise lakes. Mule deer roamed our campground as well as all along the road. On one bike trip we had a brown bear cub only about 50 feet off the trail. Of course we did not have a camera. We were a bit concerned about where its mother was, so we did not disturb it and continued on our way. In the high mountain passes, we saw a number of mountain goats and even one big horn sheep in a construction area. The park was extremely busy, but we still really enjoyed it.

We all know that it is a women’s prerogative to change her mind. After issuing orders last week, that the coach would turn around at Glacier and head back south, the General now says, “North to Alaska, Let’s go, Let’s go, Let’s go.” So tomorrow morning (Monday, July 18th) we will cross the Canadian border head towards the Alcan Highway on our way to Alaska. We have no internet or cell service now and we are not sure when we will get this message out. We will not have any cell service in Canada and we will there for about 8 days to two weeks. We are going to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory before we hit Alaska. We do hope to have some internet service along the way taking advantage of Wi-Fi hotspots. If you need to get a hold of us, please try first by e-mail and if unsuccessful please call Jim Richards at Rec Diving, 248-549-0303 and he might be able to get a hold of us with a computer call.

We hope that you have all had a wonderful week. We have more photos of Montana posted at:

Take care, Love,

Linda, Jake and the Fat

PS We have not told Jake yet that we are driving another 3000 miles north.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Heading North

The fantastic scenery continues as we head north. Our first stop was in the town of Montrose. From there we visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It is an amazing canyon with extremely steep walls of solid rock. Next we went to Grand Junction where we toured the orchard areas near Palisade on top of the Grand Butte. We were told to try the peach ice cream and were not disappointed. Also in GJ is the Colorado National Monument. We did not expect much as we thought it was just another large butte. We were very pleasantly surprised to find large canyons of multicolored rock. The 25-mile ride along the rim is spectacular and we would highly recommend it to anyone that is in the area.

We exited Colorado via route 139 and went through Vernal, Utah up to the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area on Utah-Wyoming border. The Flaming Gorge Reservoir was created by damming the Green River. It is a beautiful place and we had a campsite in the national forest overlooking the lake. From there we moved over to Bear Lake on the Utah-Idaho border. It is a very large lake formed by an earthquake. The multi hued blue colors reminded us of the Great Lakes, although much smaller.

From Bear Lake we drove north on US 89 up the Snake River Valley to Jackson, WY, Grand Teton National Park and finally to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is by far the gem of the NPS. We have visited before, but never in July. Yes, it was crowed. Every room was booked and all the campgrounds filled by early afternoon. We were lucky to be able to stay three nights without reservations. We drove over all the ring roads taking in the sights. The wildlife was abundant, especially bison or buffaloes. We were also lucky enough to see a brown bear with two cubs and two different black bears. Elk and mule deer were also abundant, but we did not see any moose.

Problems the last two weeks? Well, we did have a couple. Leaving the campground in Grand Teton NP we had a close encounter with a wooden post. It won. Fortunately there was not much damage to the coach and it did not affect anything on the coach. Frank and Linda were very lucky as a part on the tow bar that connects their car to their motorhome failed as they were exiting an expressway. The safety chains held and they suffered only minor damage to the plastic bumper on their car and none to their motorhome. It also happened just as we were leaving Grand Junction. We found a replacement hitch on Craig’s List. A couple hours and less than a C note later, they were back in business.

We are now in Montana where we said good-bye to Frank and Linda. They are now slowly on their way back to Pittsburgh. Before they left we surprised Linda with an impromptu birthday party. We will continue our way north. The Coach Captain would still like to drive to Alaska, but the General has overruled him and said that we will stay in the lower 48 for the rest of the summer.

We hope that you all have had a wonderful 4th of July and are enjoying some beautiful summer weather. We have more photos of Colorado and the Yellowstone Area posted at: We also have had very limited internet connections. While we do love to hear from you we do ask that you limit your messages and please do not include any large attachments.

Take care, Love,

Linda, Jake and the Fat Man

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rocky Mountain High

We have been over a mile high for the past two weeks as we crossed southern Colorado. The highest we have been was to the top of Pikes Peak when we hit 14,110 feet. And yes, we could really feel the effects of the altitude. No, we did not hike up, we rode the cog train. We were joined by our good friends Ed and Carol Christini who drove down from Ft Collins for the weekend. Ed was President of Scuba Schools International and Carol owns an insurance agency that insures scuba businesses nationally. It was great to see them again and we had a wonderful visit.

From Colorado Springs we moved to Manitou Springs where we visited the Garden of the Gods and the Air Force Academy. Manitou Springs is a beautiful little town. Then we started to drive west through the mountains to the town of Cripple Creek at over 10,000 feet. Cripple Creek is the most productive gold mining area of Colorado. As the gold mining started to slow, new gold was found in the form of casinos. If you want to donate to the casino fund, this would be the place for you, but beware the altitude may affect your judgment.

Next we crossed over the Wilkerson Pass with a beautiful view of the Collegiate Mountains. We camped in Buena Vista on the headwaters of the Arkansas River. This is a white water kayaking and rafting heaven. No, we did not try; it looked a little too scary for some members of our group. We did take a side trip to Leadville and tried to find some records from Mike’s grandfather, who naturalized here in the early 1900’s. We were unsuccessful, but did like the town. We would recommend lunch at the Silver Dollar Saloon, in business since 1879.

We also made a side trip to Aspen and had lunch at the famous Woody Creek Tavern in the village of Woody Creek north of Aspen. There we were joined by an old friend, Bill Carlson. Bill and Mike used to work together from 1970-75 at the Oakland County Health Department. They spent a few hours catching up over a wonderful lunch.

Colorado is covered with mines and old mining towns that have long ago gone bust. One of the ones we visited was Vicksburg, where residents maintain their families’ old log cabins for use as summer camps. On the way back we followed an old railroad grade that went through a number of old one way tunnels carved out of the rock.

Colorado is also the 4 wheeling capital. We bought books and maps and stocked our Jeep with safety equipment and radios so that we could participate. Our first foray was on the Hagerman Pass Road. It is a forest service road that runs over the pass at 11,925 feet. It is dirt and in most places almost a full two lanes wide. To get over the pass you obviously have to climb a mountain. That seemed to be a problem with the riders in back seat that were crying and puking as they looked over the side down the mountain. We never did make the top and had to turn around at a trailhead parking area. The powers to be then made a rule of no 4 wheeling on dirt roads, only on paved ones. We next crossed over Independence Pass which is 12,095, on our way to Aspen on the paved highway number 82. The back seat then voted that we had to stay on only paved roads with guardrails. Anyone want to buy a very lightly used, well-equipped Jeep Wrangler?

We continued to drive west to Gunnison, where we did a side trip to the ski resort of Crested Butte. We are now in Ridgway. It is the end of our drive into Southwest Colorado; from here we will turn the coach north towards Alaska. No, we have not made up our mind yet whether we will go to Alaska or not.

From Ridgway we had a number of wonderful side trips. The mountain scenery of Colorado is absolutely breathtaking. We visited Ouray, where we wanted to stay, but was booked for the 4th of July. Ouray is called little Switzerland, as it is built in the bottom of a very narrow mountain valley. We drove the Million Dollar Highway to Silverton. It is the terminus of the Durango and Silverton railroad and it is a pretty neat old west town. We also went to Telluride, the famous ski resort town. They offered free gondola rides to the top of the mountain which we took advantage of. Our final visit was to the old mining town of Ophir. Ophir had a population of 9600 in 1881. It now has about 96 people.
Problems the last two weeks? In Colorado Springs we were able to find a garage that specialized in air conditioning and after two visits was able to fix our dash a/c problem. At least it has worked for a week and a half, a new coach record. Both coaches overheated coming over Wilkerson Pass, 9500 feet. Knowing we had higher passes to cross, we both had the radiators steamed cleaned in Buena Vista. But again they only cleaned the outside which was easy to reach, not the inside under the coach. The results? We both heated up again crossing the Monarch Pass, 11,312, but not as bad as before.

And how is Jake enjoying the trip? When the coach is stopped he loves it, especially if he gets to meet new friends. He still is not a happy camper when we move. Fortunately for him most of our trips are less then a couple of hours.

We hope that your past week as was nice as ours. We would like to wish you all a very Happy 4th of July.

Take care, Love,

Linda, Jake and the Fat Man

And Linda and Frank Archer, our traveling companions