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