Tuesday, August 27, 2013

About That Skagway and Juneau (August 24 - 27)

Dear Family and Friends,

Hello from Skagway, Alaska! Skagway sits on the Taiya Inlet of Lynn Canal in the  panhandle of Alaska. Nine hundred twenty people live in the town and that number grows to thousands during the summer months because of the  cruise ship industry. The beautiful Alaskan fiords run along the panhandle and there are several stops for those cruise ships. Our RV site is owned by the city of Skagway and is located at the harbor area.

A view out the front window of our coach.

There are usually three ships in port when we wake up in the morning. They leave in the evening making Skagway a city for day trips only.

We spent four nights in Skagway. One of our tours was a ferry trip to Juneau, the capital of Alaska. The only way to get to Juneau is by plane or boat. There are no roads into the city. Our trip took all day and we were amazed at the wildlife we say along the way.

We saw at least 50 eagles, the most we have seen on the entire trip.

The skipper of the ferry piloting us through the fiords.


Gorgeous waterfalls thundering down from glacier fed rivers.

A sea lion rookery

Juneau was founded in the 1880's by Joe Juneau, an early gold rusher, who with the help of the Alaskan natives, found gold in the area.

Planes and boats in the large harbor at Juneau.

Looking up the hill to the government buildings.

Juneau Harbor

Juneau is a cruise ship stop.

After spending several hours in the city, we took a short ride to Mendenhall Glacier. This is one of the largest glaciers that we have seen on the trip.

Our return trip had our ferry picking up passengers (fishermen) from commercial boats. They were dropped off at Haines Point, which is 15 nautical miles from Skagway, but over 150 driving miles away.
Picking up a passenger

The next day we took a train trip on the historic White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad. Early visionaries in Skagway determined that this route would be of great benefit reaching the interior of Alaska. The trains have been in operation since they were first used in 1898. The WP & YR was declared an International Civil Engineering Landmark (an honor shared with the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty and the Panama Canal) in 1994. Today it is used by the tourist market.

Incredible scenery along the way.


Trestle Bridges

Narrow gauge train tracks

The American/Canadian border

Early gold rushers walked the narrow trail near the train tracks.

Tomorrow we start our trip back to the lower 48! Our route will take us through stops in the Yukon Territory and British Columbia. At this point we are at least 11 days and 1600 miles away from the border crossing.

Thank you for checking in with us as we continue on this incredible adventure.

Monday, August 26, 2013

About That Fairbanks and Destruction Bay (August 18 - 24)

Dear Family and Friends,

Our drive to Fairbanks took us along winding roads with beautiful mountains and rivers. Along the way, we could see the first sign of Fall with leaves turning a golden color. It is very hard to imagine Fall in August, but this is Alaska!

 Rainy and overcast for our drive.

 Fall colors are beginning to appear.

 The inevitable roadwork

In Fairbanks we took a paddleboat tour on the Chena River. On this trip we saw a replication of an Athabascan Fishing Village (think Williamsburg).

 Floatplane takes off as we cruise

 Susan Butcher's sled dog site. She won the Iditarod several times. Though she died a few years ago, her husband is still very involved with the dogs.

 Alaskan puppies (possible Iditarod contenders)

 The adult dogs are ready to take the driver on a four wheeler.

 After the run, the dogs take a dip in the Chena River.

 Caribou along the way

Log cabin with a sculpture of Granite (Susan Butcher's lead dog).

 The Athabascans used birch bark to make their canoes in the old days.

 Beautiful pelts made this $25,000 coat that was worn by Athabascan women.

 Continuing down the Chena River on the paddleboat.

We took a trip to the Ice Museum. Fairbanks holds the premier ice sculpting contest in March. The picture below shows a table and chairs. They are kept in a -40 degree room.

Although this blog shows some of the things we did in Fairbanks, it does not show all of them. After three nights in the city we started heading south. On the way to Destruction Bay, sixteen miles outside of Fairbanks, we passed Eilson Air Force Base.

 Beautiful mountain ranges on an overcast drive.

 Our trip to Destruction Bay (Kluane Lake) took us back across the Canadian border into the Yukon Territory.

 Very difficult driving with lots of construction and frost heaves.

 Destruction Bay and Kluane Lake.

We had a one night stay in Destruction Bay (so named because at one point in history, strong winds blew away the few structures that were there to support the building of the Alaska/Canada highway. The next morning we were up and on our way to Skagway, Alaska.
 Emerald Lake

Crossing the border into the USA

Our next blog will tell you about our time in Skagway. Thank you for checking in with us. At this point we have driven 4,539 miles and will begin our drive back to the lower 48.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

About That Anchorage and Denali (August 12 - 17 )

Dear Family and Friends,

Hello from Denali National Park! Before blogging about this pristine park, I will tell you about our stay in Anchorage.

We spent three nights in Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. There are 600,000 people in Alaska and half of them live in Anchorage. The city serves as the major transportation hub for all of Alaska. With a non-freezing Cook Inlet, container ships can come into port all year. We learned 1 in 11 people in Alaska have a private pilot's license. Float planes dot the many lakes. Many plane owners replace the  pontoons with skis for the wintertime.

Additionally, Anchorage is the ceremonial start of the Iditarod, which is Alaska's major sporting event. The entire route is 1,000 miles long (officially starting in Willow, Alaska on the first Saturday in March and ends at Nome, Alaska). Dog sledding has been very important in Alaska's history for carrying mail, and certain professionals (ministers, physicians, etc.) to outlying areas. Float planes and trucks now share in the burden. Alaska truly is the final frontier.

While in Anchorage, we took a city tour.

 An overlook of Anchorage on a very cloudy day. The Cook Inlet can barely be seen as it runs into the sky in this picture.

Our journey to Denali National Park from Anchorage lasted 6 hours and was 260 miles long. Along the way there were many signs indicating moose in the area. We did not see any on the highway, thank goodness.

Denali is Alaska's most well known national park. It was established in 1917 and contains 6,075,029 acres. The land is considered subarctic and contains Mt. McKinley (over 20,000 feet), the highest mountain in North America. It is also called Denali which is an Athabascan word meaning "tall one."
The only way to tour Denali, other than backpacking, is to take a tour bus throughout the park that lasts around 8 hours. There is one 92 mile road going into the park. We drove to the 66 mile point where tours turn back. This is what allows Denali to stay the way it has been for thousands of years. The pics below give an idea of the animals found in the park.


 The bus uses cameras to show the passengers what they are looking at in the tundra, many miles away.
This is the bull moose we saw at the beginning of the tour on the screen inside the bus.

 Lucky us, as we were able to see Denali (which is covered by clouds two thirds of the summer)!

 Caribou on the television screen.

 Willow Ptarmigan

 Spruce Grouse on the tree branch.

 Dall Sheep

 Caribou crossing the road in front of our bus.

 Grizzly on the television screen.

A final view of Denali, taken at the end of the tour.

On Saturday morning, Roger, Bear and I drove into the park to see the Visitor's Center and as much of the area as we could in a private car. 

 We were lucky to spot a moose.

 Denali (two days in a row is very lucky)

 Taking a break at the Visitor's Center

On Sunday morning, we leave for Fairbanks, where we will be spending four nights before starting back to the lower 48. Thank you for reading the blog and your interest in our Alaska travels.