From Jasper National Park, Canada
To Haines, Alaska
July 8, 2019. OK, so today is Day 8 of our trek to Alaska. Yesterday we wanted to camp in Jasper National Park but everything was full. There were thousands of people, hundreds and hundreds of cars, and hundreds of campers, trailers and RVs. We did have cell coverage while in the town of Jasper so we called ahead and booked 2 nights here in the KOA in Hinton, Alberta. The KOA has Wifi so we are connected to the world again.
Today started normally with me up first, make my bed, make coffee, and have a bowl of cereal. When ME smells the coffee she starts stirring. After breakfast we both worked on the computer until lunch. I did email, both read/write, and some news to catch up on. As a news junkie I start getting the heebie-jeebies after a couple days without. Lunch was normal as well, peanut butter sandwiches, hot Bugle chips, pickle spears, baby carrots and water.
The day was beautiful, sunny, with a very slight breeze and around 65 F. We drove into Hinton and found the visitor’s center. I went in and ME took pictures of the large cougar sign in front of the building. To say “building” is not enough . . . The visitor center takes up about one block with the rest of the grounds having beautiful log seats, walkways, some flowers and lots of grass. A beautiful setting for relaxation. There were 3 young women inside and no other visitors. I asked “What is there to do here in Hinton?” I was told Hinton has 2 great museums but they are both closed on Sunday & Monday. Next Question: So what else is in the area for travelers to see? All three said in unison, “The Beaver Boardwalk.” One of them pulled out a copy of the Hinton 2019 Visitors Guide, opened it to the map and, using a green highlighter, started at the visitor center and drew the directions to the Beaver Boardwalk parking area.
The Beaver Boardwalk
The boardwalk is in a wetland area that is about 800 x 600 meters. It includes Maxwell Lake and part of Happy Creek. The local folks have built a beautiful boardwalk in, around, and thru the wetlands, which includes a large beaver condo where more than a dozen beavers live. There are beaver dams throughout the area sorta blocking the water from running down the creek. The area is filled with wetland plants, with several flowers in bloom. The warning sign at the parking area says to watch out for Cougar, Wolf, Elk, Deer, Black Bear, Moose, Beaver, and Coyote. I wanted to see the beavers, but the sign also said they are active around dawn and dusk, so I missed them. ME sat on the bench at the entry while I walked the boardwalk. There were many places where water was escaping the beaver pond and flowing to the stream. But there were sticks and mud dams at all the places. Now to be honest not all of the sticks/trees in these dams were chewed down by beaver, unless, of course, the beavers in Hinton have chain saws built into their mouths. But everywhere there were sticks and small trees that were clearly chewed down by beavers. My guess is that the folks that built the boardwalk also help the beavers maintain the pond. It was a beautiful walk. I stopped several times to sit on benches and listen to the water flowing. Some of the benches were in areas that were shaded, a bit moist, not buggy and just wonderful. At the 2/3’s point of my walk I saw a couple. The man had a Route 66 hat on. I asked how they were doing. And he asked if I left my wife on the bench by the parking area. I said yes. He said she was wondering if I was OK. That is when I started back. I had left ME on that bench in the sun, but did not leave her the car key.
I wanted to take a stick that had been chewed off by a beaver but I thought better of it. If every visitor took a beaver stick, the place would not last long . . .
Go beavers go, have a happy beaver life. JMS
We played Cribbage and Jim won 3 games to none; we actually only played 2 games but he skunked me, which counts as a double win. Tomorrow must be my day to win. I’ll let you know. ME
July 9, 2019. It was a cold and muddy mess for Jim to have to do the work of breaking down camp. When we left at 9:15 a.m., the temperature was 49 F and it had been raining since around 8:00 p.m. the night before.
Just prior to turning north onto Highway 40 towards Grande Cache and Grande Prairie, Alberta, we saw a large herd of elk. Because it was so foggy and drizzly, we couldn’t get very good pictures, but you could see that on a sunny day the photography could be stunning. Even though the weather wasn’t great, we enjoyed the drive through the mountains. We saw a lot of caribou signs, but no signs of caribou.
About 5 km after we had gone through the town of Grande Cache, we came upon a backup of cars, trucks and RV’s. It was immediately apparent that there had been a very recent mudslide. One young man who was trying to drive his pickup around the slide got stuck. He walked up to the big rig behind us and asked the driver if he could pull him out. And so he did, but you could tell that no vehicles were going to get through until a large frontend loader could get there to move the mud, so we turned around and went back into the town of Grande Cache for lunch at A&W. Jim tried the Poutine, because it is a local favorite: French fries with cheese curds and gravy. Not bad.
As we approached the town limits on our way to lunch, a police car was stopping traffic going towards the mudslide and turning people around, telling them that it would be about two hours before traffic would be allowed through again. We went back to Ollie after lunch and moved our vehicles so that we could see when the traffic was moving again. It turned out to be just an hour and a half. By the time we drove back to the area, both lanes of the road were completely cleared and traffic was moving in both directions.
Our drive took us to Wembley, AB where we stopped to visit the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum. The building has very interesting architecture, and the exhibits are excellent. We spent about an hour and a half there, then drove on to our campground in Taylor, BC. The mountain road had road grades up to10 degrees, and believe me, that’s steep!
We didn’t get to the campground until after 7:30 p.m., so we were pretty hungry. Jim made dinner (salad, spam and noodles with herbs out of a box), and after we did our few dishes, we played cribbage once again. Today’s results: Game 1 – ME; Game 2 – JMS. The end of Day 9. ME
July 10, 2019. After breakfast of coffee & cereal, with a banana for me and raspberries for Jim, we left our campground for what would be one of our longer driving days so far. We hadn’t been gone for long when we saw a bear running across the road. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a picture before he had run into the forest on the other side of the road. When we were160 km from Fort Nelson, we saw another bear just off the road, but at 110 km/hr we couldn’t get a picture of that one either. However, the third time was the charm; at 142 km from Fort Nelson, we got a nice picture of a black bear eating along the road, two km later we saw our fourth bear, and at 129 km from Fort Nelson we got a picture of our fifth bear siting of the day. It looks like they are eating clover flowers, which grow in abundance along the edges of the highway.
I had my eyes closed while we were listening to an audiobook, Bury Their Dead, by Louise Penny. When I closed them it was very cloudy and dark, but when I opened them a short time later, the day had turned beautiful with bright white clouds on a deep blue sky. It took my breath away.
Played two extremely close games of cribbage; Jim won them both. ME
July 11, 2019. The Internet finally worked very early this morning, while other campers were still sleeping, so I got up and did work to catch up on our travel website.
We saw a bear right after we got on the road, then another. By the end of the day we had seen four bears, a moose, and two mountain goats.
Today the mountains took on a new look. Instead of heavy forestation, we saw our first glimpse of Rock Mountain, its bald top appearing from behind the greenery we have been used to seeing. Around every curve of the serpentine road was something new and astounding. Because we were often in avalanche areas, there were no places to pull off the road. But every time there was any little piece of extra real estate along the road, we took advantage of it and pulled over for pictures. We ate lunch in Ollie in one of those areas. What amazing ambiance for a peanut butter sandwich!
In the early afternoon we were driving through the Rock Mountain canyon, which was a very long, winding road, with signs out to use your headlights because of extreme dust. No exaggeration in that statement. As we were driving through the canyon we were stopped by a construction flagger who came up to us and said it would be about a 12 to 15 minute wait. While he was there we started talking to him. He was an indigenous Canadian, very friendly. Jim was telling him about the bear we had seen that morning, and he told us about recently seeing his first silver back grizzly at the age of 63. He also warned us about buffalo on the road ahead, which we have not yet seen because we stopped at Liard River Hot Springs & Campground shortly after getting through the construction stoppage. Hopefully we’ll be seeing them tomorrow on our way to Teslin Lake in the Yukon Territory. We’ll be seeing Alaska soon! ME
The Hot Springs Experience
I really do not do things this a way on purpose, honest. On day 11 of our Alaska adventure we stopped at our planned campground. We had been told by many before and during our trip not to miss the Liard River Hotsprings. Accordingly I had it on our itinerary. We pulled off the Alaska Highway and the first order of business was to drive thru the RV park and pick a site. Then come back to the ranger shack and register/pay.
We drove thru looking at all the open sites. We chose #50 because it was the last of the open sites, had a bit of sun on the picnic table, and was closest to the hot springs parking lot. After a 4-1/2 drive we did not want to walk any further than necessary to get to the hot springs.
After checking in, paying and backing into site 50 we had lunch on the sunny picnic table. It was wonderful but they did have a few tiny mosquitoes. You could not feel them bite so you had to feel them land on your skin or see them. They were very fast. I could kill them about 1 out of 5 tries.
OK back on subject before ME hits me…. A while after lunch I read the campground information regarding the hot springs and the hanging gardens. During the 1940s when the AlCan Highway (name changed to Alaska Highway in 1952) was being built the construction crew built a 700 meter long boardwalk out to the hot springs. It is 700 meters thru a warm swamp.
I asked ME if she wanted to go but she was busy drawing a tattoo design for Emily Rutschmann. So I headed off by myself. I took a bag with a towel and a change of undies and socks. After walking thru the park, the kiddies playground and the hot springs parking lot I found the end of the boardwalk.
OK so 700 meters is a bit less than ½ mile. But after a 4-1/2 hour drive and a good lunch. Well it was not all that bad. It was a warm day and the swamp was full of flowers, ferns, grasses, and trees. The info said there were 14 different orchards in the area. So I enjoyed the walk. At the end there are men’s and woman’s changing rooms which are group areas with hooks on the walls. On the other side of the changing rooms there are steps down into the hot springs. The area is about 100 meters long going from where the hot spring water comes out of and down the hill. It flows thru the first or hot area which is 10 meters by 40 meters. Then there is a cement damn with 2 shoots where the water flows into the second area (cooler) which is 10 meters by 60 meters and narrows at the left end. The farther you go to the left the cooler the water gets. Both areas are about 1 meter deep. So there are plenty of families with children of all ages.
First I walked up the ramps/stairs to the top of the hanging gardens. Tons of trees, ferns, some flowers, and lots of tufa. (If you do not know tufa forms when heated water flows up thru limestone to the surface of the earth. As it flows thru the limestone it dissolves some of the calcium carbonate from the limestone. When it flows onto the ground the calcium carbonate plates out and forms what looks like stone.) I took some pictures and even believe I got one of the orchards.
After the handing gardens I went into the changing room where I discovered I had forgotten my swimming trucks. Dilemma…. Too tired to walk back 700 m get the trunks, then another 700 m to the hot springs and 700 m back to our Ollie the trailer – OR – Just go in the hot springs in my boxers and pretend the boxers are swimming trunks. Guess what I did.
BTW the hot springs were wonderful. Very relaxing, and compared to other hot springs almost NO sulfur smell. JMS
Jim and I played Cribbage again tonight. I won game #1 and Jim won game #2, which turned into two wins because he skunked me.
While we were finishing up our cribbage game, we were invited to join our neighbors at their campfire. Earlier in the day we had met them at a turnout. I talked to Wayne while Jim was taking pictures, and he told us they are from Saskatchewan. About two hours after we checked into our campsite for the night, Wayne, Linda and their granddaughter, Page, arrived and found a spot near us. A nice coincidence.
We went over to their campfire about 8:30 p.m. and when Linda commented to Page that it was 11:15 p.m. and past bedtime, we were shocked, since it was still quite light outside. The “quiet time” at the campground is 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., so we were being rowdy and breaking the rules. It was such a good time, and we got to find out about their lives living in a small rural community in Canada, and about the high school Page goes to in which her sophomore class has 9 students. We also learned about plum pierogies and enjoyed Linda’s oatmeal coconut cookies. I’ll be looking for recipes!
Great people and a great time. Now we know people from Saskatchewan! ME
July 12, 2019. It was very cloudy with intermittent rain from the time we left our campsite about 8:30 a.m. until late afternoon when we were finally able to see a little bit of blue sky. However, the weather did not keep the animals from being on the move. We first saw one bear, then another, then one buffalo, then another bear, and another, then a herd of about 50 buffalo, then another bear, then another herd of about 30 buffalo, and finally a snowshoe hare. It was simply amazing.
Today’s route meandered back and forth between Yukon Territory and British Columbia, ending this afternoon in Teslin, a Tlingit (pronounced Kling-it) community of about 450 tribe members here in YK. We visited the George Johnston Museum and the Teslin Tlingit Heritage Museum. Both museums were much more than you would expect from such a small population of people. They are remarkable carvers, and their beadwork is very impressive. At the Heritage Museum, Corrine, a Tlingit from the Eagle clan of the tribe, was sewing beads onto what will be the front of a vest for her son. I watched and learned a few techniques I may be able to incorporate into something of my own design. She and Mary, who worked at the George Johnston Museum, were very eager to answer questions. And their Uncle Sam, an elder in their tribe, was at the Heritage Museum to answer any questions about the history of their people, or any other questions about their lives and customs.
Now we’re back at Ollie trying to get today’s journal entries written so we can go up to the restaurant associated with this campground, where they will give us a code so we can use the internet for one hour. After possibly eating dinner there, we’re going to stop by the showers and get fully clean for the first time in three days. Washing up just isn’t the same. ME
July 13, 2019. When we left the campground at 9:35 a.m., it was 57 F, and once again cloudy. In fact, we were awakened by rain beating on the roof and windows this morning. We haven’t seen much sun for days. Today is our final day in Canada; we can’t wait to set foot in Alaska!
In the Yukon Territory we have mostly been driving long distances without seeing anything but trees, mountains and wildlife. The road is intermittently dotted with very small towns, like the one we stayed in yesterday with a population of about 450, so driving into Whitehorse this morning was a bit of a surprise. Although the population is only around 26,000, it feels like a very big city. It even has a Walmart, which was very helpful to me because they stock AfterBite, a little relief for the mosquito bites I’ve been suffering with for the past two days. Another thing that was different today from the past few days was that the only wildlife we saw (if you can call it “wild”life) was three crows and a seagull.
Yesterday and today we drove through areas with hills along the roadway that were compacted sand. People had been using them to make a kind of removable graffiti, using stones to make words or hearts or expressions. I would have done the same if it had been safe to stop along the roadway while we searched for enough rocks to write our names with. Maybe next time.
About 2:00 p.m. we got to our campground in Haines Junction, Yukon Territory. Jim got us settled in while I made lunch, and then we went across the street to the Da Ku Cultural Center. Like the Cultural Center and Museum we had visited the day before for the Tlingit Tribe, the First Nation artwork displayed there was beautiful. One of the most haunting was a display of large clear plastic faces suspended from the ceiling, representing the spirits of family members who are no longer with them.
The Cultural Center was also the place where WiFi is available, so we spent a couple of hours catching up with people and things. It is so strange to be completely cut off from the people you know, and what’s going on in the world, as evidenced by Jim’s encounter with a motorcyclist this morning standing in line at the bakery who was just leaving Alaska. Unbeknownst to us, Alaska currently has the largest wildfire in the country. He was leaving because he couldn’t stand the smoke. I hope this doesn’t impact our trip; Alaska is such a large place, it seems like we should be able to find a place to enjoy, even if it means altering our itinerary. ME
Game 1 – ME
Game 2 – JMS
July 14, 2019. As we drove the 156 miles from Haines Junction, Yukon Territory to Haines, Alaska, deep gouges began to appear in the mountains and there were fewer and fewer trees. Ice fields can be seen on many mountaintops through gaps in the very heavy fog. For most of the morning drive it was just like being inside of a cloud. As we got closer to the border, the trees returned.
Finally, after almost two weeks since our trek began, we saw the sign that we were leaving Canada and re-entering the United States. The customs process took just a few minutes, and then we were in our home country again. It felt pretty good, even though we had enjoyed Canada for the prior nine days.
The drive to Haines is about 45 miles from the border. More and more houses could be seen, and it was clear we were entering a community. Although the population of Haines is only about 2,500 full-time residents, it caters to the tourist trade, so it is warm and welcoming.
After getting settled into our campsite at the Haines Hitch-Up RV Park, which is located within the town of Haines, we drove around the village to see where everything was that we had previously read about. We ate lunch at a fish & chips food truck. Jim had halibut and I had rockfish, which he tells me is cod. They were both excellent.
Several of the locations we wanted to visit were closed, even though their signs said they should be open. We found that odd. Later in the evening I started thinking about it and realized it wasn’t Saturday like we thought; it was actually Sunday, and we were reading their hours of operation for the wrong day. To be perfectly honest, early in the day I was trying to figure out if it was Tuesday or Wednesday, so we have disengaged from working and are definitely in retirement mode.
We took roads up into the mountains and saw houses nestled into the trees, commanding excellent views of the ocean inlet at the harbor in Haines. On our way back we saw people taking pictures of the beach. We stopped and walked over to find that a bald eagle was picking at the remains of a salmon, and then off he took into the sky, being chased by a very persistent crow. It was magical to watch. A pair of eagles also sat atop a post at the cruise ship dock for probably 20 minutes before one took off and then the other. Haines is home to the largest congregation of American Bald Eagles in the world, the reason Jim wanted to come here. He thought this would be the time we would see the most at one time, since the salmon are running. It turns out that the best time is in November, so we will have to come back. Yeah!
In the evening we went to dinner at a restaurant that serves Thai food. Very good and very expensive! Afterwards we went on a drive on Mud Road to check out the fish packaging plant Jim wanted to visit. It was a beautiful drive along the water, and wherever you looked up, you could see mountains engulfed in clouds. Another great day on our Great Alaskan Adventure.
I can’t believe this is the end of the second week of our trip. Like a great relationship, this experience seems both brand new and as if it’s been going on forever. Since we may never get back here, we are trying to soak up every view, feeling, smell, taste . . . This is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. ME
End of Week 2