Driving to Brian’s “Real Alaska”

It took us two days to drive from Haines to Copper Center in the interior of Alaska. We finally made it to Brian’s “real Alaska”!

Barely out of Haines, we came to a downed tree and Brian whipped out his saw. He’s making a habit of clearing roads, this time with help from a local guy.

The weather was rainy and we went in and out of clouds, so it wasn’t as beautiful of a drive as it could have been, but we still enjoyed it. Parts of the drive, like the area near Kluane National Park in Yukon Territory, were especially pretty.

We had to go through customs to go back into Canada, and drive through the Yukon and then cross back into America on the Alaska Highway. The border into America was really interesting, because the trees are cut down in a strip as far as can see in both directions to mark the border.

On the second day of the drive the weather was clearer and the fireweed was blooming.

On the Alaska Highway we learned about frost heaves. If we drove over an area that was heaved up too fast it felt like a bucking bronco. In a car it may have just felt like a “whoop”, but with a trailer it wasn’t fun. I kept telling Brian to slow down and he occasionally listened. In Yukon they usually marked these with a tiny orange cone. Alaska isn’t quite as nice about it!

We took the Tok Cutoff Highway from Tok to the Glennallen area. The highway borders the west side of Wrangell St. Elias National Park, and we saw 7 moose on this part of the drive! We were able to pull off the road near a moose cow eating grass, and watched her for a bit before two moose calves came out of the woods to eat with her! It was the cutest thing! We saw another mama moose with calves a little while later.

We camped near Copper Center, Alaska at King For A Day Campground on the Klutina River. It was the end of King Salmon season and Brian bought a three-day king fishing license and fished. The Klutina River is a fast running river that is fed by glaciers and runs into the Copper River.

He didn’t catch any fish, but did enjoy fishing near bald eagles. We went for a hike one evening on the gnarly trail from our campground to near the mouth of the river about a mile away. We had to cross a couple small streams and a misplaced step disappeared my foot into mud made from fine glacial silt.

Day 679| Mile 70,330

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Haines, Alaska

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The first day of our visit to Haines we went to the Southeastern Alaska State Fair! Alaska is so big that it has multiple state fairs.

The first thing we did was get some fair food! We started with cheese curds, caribou corn dog, and cinnamon roll. Later we had fish tacos, dumplings, and a brownie. The fair food was all delicious.

The main event of the day was the lumberjack contest. The competitors seemed to be a mix of locals with some experience, and tourists with no experience. The first event was ax throwing, and I’m sure some of the competitors had never held an ax before, much less thrown one. It was very fun to watch though, as each competitor had three changes to hit a bullseye target, and were assigned points based on where it landed. I know what sport I’ll be trying next!

Ax throwing had the most competitors, and each of the other events had fewer. There was men’s and women’s versions of some events, and only men’s of others. When women’s chain sawing came up, there was only one woman entered, and they solicited other competitors from the crowd. I wanted to try, but Brian (who isn’t usually that concerned with safety) advised against it. They were using literally no safety gear! No glasses, chaps, boots, nothing. A girl from the crowd who had never used a chainsaw before did enter, and thankfully kept all her limbs, and even won!

There was an obstacle course event, where competitors had to climb over giant logs, attach a rope to the last log, run back into the woods, and over a floating log.

Perhaps the most dangerous event was starting a chain saw, balancing on a suspended splindley log, walking to the end, cutting off the tip of the log, and walking back. Amazingly we didn’t see any injuries! Several contestants fell off the log, but fortunately didn’t land on their running chain saws.

The lumberjack show was a bit long, but it was fun to watch. We also saw all the award winning arts and crafts and there was music too.

Since the fair was going on the first couple days of our stay, I had made a reservation at Oceanside RV about two weeks before, and we were glad to have it since the campground was full when we arrived. Oceanside RV is right on the water, with a beautiful view.

Unfortunately it’s hard to enjoy the view with no space between trailers to be outside. We’ve never seen trailers crammed together like this. After our second night there, the owner knocked on our door and asked if we could put our awning in so she could park a giant fifth wheel basically on top of us.

We did, and then she knocked again and said oh by the way, are you running your air conditioner? You can’t do that, the electrical system can’t handle it in this “record heat wave” (it was 71 degrees). So, with no AC and no awning we sat and stewed for a couple minutes before remembering our house has wheels. This campground isn’t the only game in town, there is exactly one other!

She refunded the rest of our weeklong stay and we drove over to the other campground in town, Haines Hitch-up RV Park. It didn’t have the beautiful view, but it had a picnic table and space and felt like an actual campground rather than a parking lot. This was the first time we left a campground before our reservation was over, and we were glad we did.

There are three small museums in Haines, and we chose to visit the Hammer Museum, which is a museum of hammers. They claim to have 5,000 hammers in their collection, with 2,000 of them on display.

The space was small, and there were hammers everywhere. There were medical hammers, musical hammers, auto body hammers, construction hammers, masonry hammers, pretty much all kinds of hammers. They were displayed artistically, and the employee was very enthusiastic, too.

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Brian was very surprised to learn that a particular type of auto body hammer is called a Roughing Out Hammer, since the only name he ever knew them by was Donkey Dicks (thanks to his father).

The Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is just north of Haines. During fall and winter there is a late salmon run, and bald eagles flock to feed. We didn’t see any eagles when we visited, but there can be up to 3,000 bald eagles there at the peak!

We spent over a week in Haines, so we had plenty of time to get to know the town. It was nice to have some time to relax, after a busy first week in Alaska, but it was probably a couple days too long. I feel like we did it all though. We went to the cannery to buy some fish which is in a picturesque spot.

We hit all the cute shops in town, visited the Alaskan Indian Arts gallery, and got fish and chips at Big Al’s Salmon Shack.

We visited both the brewery (Haines Brewing Company) and distillery (Port Chilkoot Distillery) in Haines, and were impressed by both. The distillery makes great cocktails, and Brian liked the spruce tip syrup.

Chilkoot Lake, and the river that flows from the lake to the inlet were great places to spot bears, since sockeye salmon were running up the river. A few nights we joined the many other cars that were patrolling the area. We saw a couple of bears each night, and saw bald eagles there too!

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We had heard that there was a mama bear (that they call Speedy) with three cubs, and I wanted so badly to see them. One of the nights we ran across them! I was so excited that I got out of the car (a safe distance away), and Brian drove up to see if we could get closer. We learned not to split up. Where he pulled over the car was right next the where the three cubs were playing and looking right at him! And, I had the camera. He couldn’t get out and get me for a bit though, since the cubs were right outside his door!

Fortunately, I was able to join him and we watched the family of bears for awhile. I felt a little unsure of how many of us were watching the bears and where we were standing, but fortunately the bears seemed to totally ignore the humans, and it was so cool to see them. The cubs were so cute! Seeing the family of bears was my favorite part of our visit to Haines!

Day 674 | Mile 69,649

Glacier Bay National Park

Half a million people visit Glacier Bay National Park each year, but only about 7,000 go to the visitor’s center in Bartlett Cove. That’s because it’s really hard to get to! The only way in is by small plane or ferry from Juneau. Since the park includes a huge bay, the most popular way to visit is by cruise ship. Cruise ships have been visiting Glacier Bay since the 1880s.

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Since we weren’t traveling by cruise ship, we took the ferry from Juneau to Gustavus, and booked a shuttle service to Bartlett Cove. We nearly missed the ferry when I stupidly asked Brian, “did you lock the trailer?” when we were almost at the ferry terminal, and he flipped a u-turn and raced back to the campground, where we found a perfectly locked trailer. This ferry was a smaller boat that went a little slower, so it was really pleasant to be on the outside deck. We saw a pod of orcas swimming and jumping into the air!

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Glacier Bay Lodge is the only hotel in the park, and also offers boat tours into the bay. We stayed at the park for two nights and scheduled an 8 hour boat tour for our full day there. The ferry and the boat tour were pretty pricey, and since we recently bought a bunch of camping equipment we decided to stay at the free campground next to the lodge. The campground had pit toilets, food caches (to keep food from bears and other critters), a warming shelter, and free firewood. We were surprised to find we were sharing the campground with just 3 other tents the first night, and just one other the second night. We had great weather and no rain which is pretty unusual in a temperate rainforest.

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Glacier Bay National Park is about the size of Connecticut, and was once covered by one enormous glacier. Since about 1750 it has been retreating, and now has retreated 60 miles exposing the bay. There are currently 7 glaciers that flow to the ocean, called tidewater glaciers.

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Because the glaciers have been receding at such a fast pace, the park has been a “living laboratory” for studying how the earth changes. When a glacier isn’t weighing down the earth anymore, the land rises, which is called isostatic rebound. Over time, mosses grow on rocks, then small forests, which eventually turn into mature forests.

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Walking on the Tlingit Trail took us past an immense humpback whale skeleton. “Snow” was killed in 2001 by a collision with a cruise ship, and the exhibit was funded by the legal settlement with the cruise line. It took 13 years to prepare the skeleton and create the exhibit, which includes 161 bones and weighs 3,729 pounds.

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At the end of the boardwalk we reached the Huna Tribal House, with totem poles out front. The tribal house was built in 2016 to honor the Huna Tlingit people, whose ancestors lived for centuries in the area that is now the park. The house is a gathering place for tribe members and a way to share their culture with park visitors. It also represents reconciliation and improved cooperation between the park service and the people whose ancestral homeland this is.

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The all day boat ride through the bay was fantastic. We left bright and early, and the weather was perfect, sunny and high 60s. The Fairweather Mountains were easy to see on such a clear day.

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It felt a bit chilly when we were moving. The first place we slowed down to look was South Marble Island, which was covered in Steller Sea Lions and seabirds. Brian was really hoping to see puffins, and was excited when we saw Tufted Puffins! He was sad when we left this island, he could’ve stayed all day.

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As we rode through the bay we looked for animals in the water and on the shores. We saw mountain goats and a grizzly bear and many bald eagles. There were sea otters floating on their backs in the water.

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When we got to Margerie Glacier there was a cruise ship there. Two cruise ships are allowed in the bay each day. When they pulled away, it was our turn to get close. There were small icebergs floating in the water.

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We stayed near the glacier for about half an hour, waiting to see if it would calve a chunk of ice into the water. It did a few times, though they were more like icefalls of crumbly ice into the water. The glacier made creaking and cracking noises, and when any ice hit the water there were huge splashes.

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Afterward, they served sandwiches for lunch, and we were starting to feel a little tired. I overheard someone talking to the park ranger about which shade of blue on his watercolor palette looks most like the glacier. Suddenly I remembered that my friend Ann’s dad Steve and his wife Aileen were traveling to Alaska and Steve is a watercolor artist. I confirmed it was them using some awkward interview tactics and it was so fun to chat with them about their Alaska journey! Alaska is a big state, but it’s still a small world.

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After the long boat ride, we were beat and took a nap in our tent. We loved camping at Glacier Bay, but the first night we were awakened by something loud running through camp! We sat straight up and listened, but whatever it was didn’t come back. The next day the mystery was solved when we saw a moose and calf walking through the campground. We watched them for a bit, but were careful not to get too close. Moose are more dangerous to humans than bears! Speaking of animals we didn’t get too close to, we also saw a couple of porcupines near camp.

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We packed all our food, and learned quickly that backpacking food doesn’t taste as good when we aren’t hiking several miles during the day. Each night we used the campground’s free firewood to have a fire and watch the long drawn out Alaskan sunset. The first night we met a couple from Israel. The second night there was talk of the Northern Lights appearing, so we stayed up until about 1 am hoping to see them, but they didn’t show up.

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On the ferry back to Juneau we were feeling pretty beat, so Brian followed the example of some of the other passengers, and made himself comfy on the deck. It was a busy couple of days, but we are really glad we went to the effort of visiting Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

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Day 664 | Mile 69,300

Juneau, Alaska

Planning the first part of our Alaska road trip was hard, because there aren’t roads connecting all the places we wanted to go.

After some indecision, I came up with a plan to see the inside passage on the state-run ferry, the Alaskan Marine Highway System.

  1. Drive to Skagway
  2. Take the ferry to Juneau with the truck and trailer
  3. Take the ferry to Gustavus without the truck and trailer to visit Glacier Bay National Park
  4. Take the ferry back to Juneau and pick up the truck and trailer
  5. Take the ferry to Haines and continue driving from there

Haines and Skagway are only about 15 miles from each other over water, but it’s about an 8 hour drive by road. By taking the ferry between them we would be able to do the beautiful drive to each, without repeating anything.

Taking the trailer on the ferry was expensive because the cost is calculated by foot, and the truck and trailer together measure nearly 49 feet! This is a time when having a compact truck camper or camper van would’ve had a real advantage. We had heard that we may need to back on, but on this ferry route they had us drive straight on and off. The only difficulty was making sure we had enough ground clearance to get up and down the ramps. It was close, and they did put boards under our tires to help at times.

It was a gorgeous ride, and even though it was expensive, it was cheaper than taking an inside passage cruise. I was amazed that there were mountains everywhere we looked, dropping right into the sea. It was suddenly clear why there aren’t more roads and developed areas. The ferry from Skagway to Juneau was fast, and being outside was windy and misty, but it was worth it to enjoy the view.

Our stop in Juneau was intended mainly to visit Glacier Bay National Park near Gustavus (since the only ferry to Gustavus is from Juneau), so I only planned a couple full days there, one on each end of our trip to Glacier Bay. This ended up not being enough time in Juneau, and I wish we had longer. Juneau is the capital of Alaska and its second or third most populated city (basically tied with Fairbanks). It’s also a cruise ship port, and at the base of mountains in a beautiful natural area, so there is a lot to do.

Just outside the city, the Mendenhall Glacier is easily accessible and visible from all over town. We walked to the viewing area, across the lake from where the glacier now ends. A hundred years ago the glacier was much bigger. There wasn’t a lake, and the glacier covered the area across the lake where the visitor center was built by the U.S. Forest Service.

While we were appreciating its glacial beauty, we overheard a woman contradicting the park ranger’s explanation of the impact of climate change on glaciers, and I could barely keep my cool. It upsets me to hear people treat science like Santa Claus, especially when they are telling it to their children. Fortunately the ranger was able to keep his cool, and he suddenly had somewhere else he needed to be. I had an interesting conversation in the visitor center with another ranger on the training they get on climate change and how to discuss it. Scientists predict that Mendenhall Glacier will be gone in 50 years. I wonder what the visitor center will be used for then.

We camped in Mendenhall Lake Campground, which is a beautiful mossy forested park. There were signs warning of bears in the area, and we saw a black bear in camp before we even found our site. There aren’t too many campgrounds in Juneau, which makes sense since there aren’t any roads into or out of the city!

Brian went to a fly fishing outfitter and bought a new fly rod for catching bigger fish like salmon. Apparently this is an involved process, so I went to the State Museum while he did his shopping. I only had about an hour to spend there before they closed, which wasn’t enough because there was so much to see here. The museum had artifacts and exhibits on the Native Alaskans, the Russian explorers, the sale of Alaska to the United States, Alaska’s mining history, the development of roads, and its path to statehood.

The state museum is in the same building as the state library, where they keep some historical records. I popped in there to see if I could find anything on my relatives, who lived in Alaska for about twenty years in the early 1900s. They were able to find my great-grandparents in a census record from 1900, which was fun to see, but that was about it. The mystery of what year my grandmother was born lives on, and it sounds like she might not have been saying “they didn’t have birth certificates in Alaska when I was born” just as an excuse to shave a few years off her age.

Across the Gastineau Channel is Douglas Island, where my grandmother was born, in 1911 or 1912, or maybe 1913. We drove across the bridge and stopped at one of the two restaurants in Douglas, The Island, for fish dip and pizza.

Afterwards we walked a bit of the Treadwell Trail, which has ruins and artifacts from the Treadwell Gold Mine. It was the largest hard rock gold mine and employed 2,000 people at its height. It began in 1881, and $70 million in gold was extracted before the mine flooded in 1917. During the mine’s operation there was a lot of mining infrastructure and a busy town. Now, the trail mostly shows where buildings used to be, and remnants of the mining process.

The trail led to a sandy beach (which aren’t common in Alaska), with the ruins of piers, and the saltwater pumping plant.

Brian tested out his new fly rod at Sheep’s Creek on the north end of Juneau. He caught a Chum Salmon. It’s a good thing he did, too, because there were so many salmon in the water that I may have doubted his purchase of a new rod if he hadn’t been able to catch one! The water was shallow in places and we could see the salmon backs as they swam up the river.

He filleted the salmon in the dark at the bear-infested campground while I kept an eye out for bears. We ate the salmon over a couple of days. Chum salmon aren’t really orange/pink like king and sockeye salmon, they have more of a white/grey color and the fish is less fatty, but we liked the flavor and texture. It was really interesting to try a type of salmon that we hadn’t had before.

Since we didn’t see any humpback whales in Alaska yet, I enjoyed seeing the beautiful new fountain that is near the bridge to Douglas.

On our next visit to Alaska we hope to spend more time in Juneau!

Day 666 | Mile 69,418

Skagway, Alaska

The city of Skagway started as a gold rush town, the “Gateway to the Klondike”. When gold was discovered in Yukon Territory in August 1896, a stampede began to reach the gold fields of the Klondike. 100,000 prospectors came between 1897-1898, and most came from Seattle on ships to Skagway or Dyea, just a few miles from Skagway.

Prospectors landing in Skagway or Dyea still had many miles to travel over land to get to the gold fields. Landing in Skagway meant taking the White Pass, which is essentially the route we drove in. Landing in Dyea meant taking the Chilkoot trail, which was a Tlingit trading route, and was more direct but very steep. Prospectors had to take a year of supplies, and travel was dangerous and difficult.

On April 2, 1898 there was an avalanche on the Chilkoot tail and about 65 men died and many are buried in a cemetery in Dyea.

In 1890 the White Pass Railroad was built connecting Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon.

These two things led to Dyea dying out by 1890, and Skagway enduring. By now the city of Dyea is completely gone and it has returned to nature, turning back into beautiful tidal flats.

When the prospectors got to Dawson, Yukon they found a thriving city, and no more available land for prospecting. So after months of risking their lives, most of them turned back and went home. At least they had an adventure, I guess?! The whole thing only lasted about two years.

I learned all of this becoming a Junior Ranger at Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park! The National Park Service has purchased and restored many historical buildings to their gold rush days.

Skagway is very different today than it was during the gold rush. Mostly, it is a cruise ship port. Every day in the summer, 1-3 cruise ships dock and thousands of tourists pour out. They roam the streets, and many of them take the narrow gauge White Pass Yukon Railroad inland. We decided not to ride the historic railroad, because we already drove in on that beautiful route. We did enjoy seeing the trains go through town.

We stayed at Pullen Creek RV Park, which is right next to the harbor, where the cruise ships dock.

Aside from visiting the historical downtown, which is now a mixture of cute shops and cruise ship port jewelry stores, we went for a few short hikes. The hike out to Yakutania Point isn’t very long, and there are beautiful views.

The hike to Lower Dewey Lake was pretty short but really steep, climbing 500 feet in less than a mile. We misjudged this hike, and somehow thought it wouldn’t be as challenging. It was about 70 degrees and sunny with no breeze when we were climbing up, and we were wearing long sleeves and pants. Even better, Brian had lit up a cigar before we started! We may have looked funny sweating and smoking our way up the trail. When we made it to the lake, the dense trees blocked some of the view.

There was a nice view of the harbor from the steep trail. We could see our trailer from the right angle.

We ate at Gold Digger Mine and Dine, which looks and sounds like a pretty touristy place, but it wasn’t. They served delicious Filipino food and were so nice to us. Brian ordered the Milkfish, and they tried to talk him out of it because of all the little bones in it. Brian loves to order things that people warn him not to! When he was done the cook came out to see how he did with the bones, and she was impressed! All the food was delicious, except for the shrimp paste they served with Brian’s fish. It tasted fermented and I wasn’t a fan of it. Brian ate it, though.

There isn’t a seafood market in town, but Woadie’s Seafood Restaurant sold us some raw halibut that Brian cooked. We also went there for their fish and chips. The fried halibut is good, but it was even better when Brian sautéed it.

I think some people avoid Skagway because of the cruise ship crowds, but we enjoyed our few days there. The drive in alone would’ve been worth the visit. In the evenings, when the cruise passengers are back on the ships, the place is a ghost town and feels so calm.

Day 661| Mile 69,268

Alaska or Bust!

The day we left for Alaska I felt so anxious! More anxious than I had felt about traveling since we started nearly two years ago. We’ve gotten pretty comfortable with travel, but going to Alaska somehow felt different. Maybe it was the horror stories about the road conditions, or lack of cell service and gas stations, or the multiple border crossings. We ran some last minute errands, made our reservations for the first two weeks in Alaska, got some Canadian money, and headed for the border. To be good border crossers we made sure not to have any fresh produce or meat, and under the duty-free limit of alcohol and cigars. We crossed at Sumas, Washington, and they asked us about our travel plans, and whether we had any guns or pets with us. That’s it, and the whole thing took about five minutes.

To get in the Canadian spirit we ate some poutine from Tim Hortons, and suddenly speed limits in kilometers per hour and gas sold in liters made a lot more sense. We didn’t make it very far into Canada on the first day. We pulled off at a rest stop near Hope, British Columbia. The section between Hope and Cache Creek is the Fraser River and Thompson River Canyons, and we didn’t want to drive through it in the dark and miss the scenery, so we saved it for the next day.

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We used the Milepost book, which describes the different routes to and in Alaska, mile by mile. It’s a helpful resource, but it has too much information, and can be hard to follow along. It mentioned Chasm Provincial Park, so when we saw the sign for it, we turned to take a look. The park was created in 1940 to preserve the chasm, which was created by glacial meltwater eroding a plateau made from lava flows.

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We stopped at the Walmart in Prince George for the night. There were about 20 other trailers and motorhomes there.

From Prince George, we took the Cassiar Highway route through British Columbia. This is the more rural route than the Alaska Highway.

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Descriptions of roads to Alaska often sound like horror stories, so we were curious about the conditions on the Alaskan Highway and smaller Cassiar Highway. The Cassiar Highway was narrow, without many shoulders or passing lanes, and the northern end didn’t have any center striping. Aside from a few gravel patches here and there, it was smooth with hardly any potholes. We were impressed that the rural road to Alaska (gravel patches aside) is in better shape than typical road in Michigan! There’s no cell service, and not a lot of services for travelers, but we filled our gas tank at nearly every gas station we came to, and didn’t have any problems. We saw gas pumps from all eras.

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There are beautiful totem poles standing in a row in Kitwanga and Gitanyow. I was wondering how we would find them, since the things I read just mentioned the town names. It turns out there are only about 3 or 4 streets in each town, so they weren’t very hard to find. There weren’t all in perfect condition, but the carvings were so interesting.

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We camped for two nights at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park. We got there about 9:30 pm, and the campground hosts pointed us to the last spot big enough for us. It was right next to tent campers that complained that our water heater was too noisy, tent campers should really have their own areas. It didn’t have any hookups, but it was a great location for our side trip into Hyder, Alaska.

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Hyder is the easternmost city in Alaska and the southernmost city that can be driven to. It isn’t connected to any other Alaskan city by road, so the only places to drive to and from are in Canada. There’s no border crossing to get into Hyder, but there is to come back into Canada. There are less than a hundred people living there now, and they call themselves “the friendliest ghost town in Alaska”.

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The hour and a half drive to Hyder took us through a canyon and next to Bear Glacier. We seemed to spend a lot longer looking at it than other people who pulled off to see it, maybe because this was the first glacier we saw up close. It used to cover the valley floor, but has been receding since the 1940s. Now there is a highway on the valley floor, and a lake at the toe of the glacier.

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One we got to Hyder, we stopped at the Seafood Express, also known as the fish bus. We sat outside in the sun and ate halibut fried, grilled, and smoked, and it was all delicious. Brian loved the smoked halibut wings, and got an extra one to go.

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We drove through the town of Hyder back into British Columbia down a dirt road that was the bumpiest road we had encountered so far, covered in potholes. Even the worst road is still passable by a regular car, not as bad as roads we encountered in the southwest.

We drove through a big valley, and after about 20 miles we came to the toe of Salmon Glacier. As we drove, the glacier grew and grew until it filled the entire valley and curved up the mountain.

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When we got to the Summit Viewpoint, we were looking down on the glacier from above, and it so clearly resembled a river of ice, coming down the mountain. Salmon Glacier is enormous, it’s the fifth largest in Canada. It really blew our minds.

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Many people turn around after the Salmon Glacier overlook, but we went further to check out Summit Lake that builds up on the north side of the glacier beyond the ice dam. Each year the dam breaks and the lake drains under the glacier and the river floods for a few days.

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The forest service maintains an observation deck at Fish Creek, and it’s the place in town to see bears catching fish.

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Unfortunately we got there before the salmon were running in the river, but fortunately, the bears didn’t know that. Around 9 pm a big grizzly bear came through looking for fish.

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He walked through the whole creek, and the crowd of twenty or so spectators followed him down the boardwalk. He didn’t find any fish, so he had to eat salad instead, and he mowed down some cow parsnip and grass. At the end, he was pretty close to us, and the forest ranger informed us that he could totally hop the railing and eat us alive. He had his bear spray out and ready, but the bear didn’t even seem to notice us.

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There were so many beautiful and interesting sites to see along the Cassiar Highway.

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We stopped for the night in Jade City, British Columbia, which isn’t so much a city as a store. A family mines jade in British Columbia and sells things carved from it in their store. They even have a reality show on Discovery Canada. Jade is expensive, but we bought just a little to feel good about using their free WiFi, coffee, and overnight RV parking. They were very friendly.

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When we reached the north end of the Cassiar Highway, we got onto the Alaskan highway and crossed into Yukon Territory.

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It drizzled rain for two straight days, which is pretty common for this area. It helped us make better time though, because we didn’t stop as much since the view wasn’t as nice. We did stop for a bear to cross the road in front of us. We saw 9 black bears near the road while we were driving to Alaska!

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We pulled into the Walmart in Whitehorse, Yukon at 7:30 pm, after dumping our tanks and filling water at the gas station next door. They must be used to RVers, the parking lot was full of them. At 11 pm we went out to see the sunset and walked around the parking lot and counted 68 overnighters in vans, motorhomes, fifth wheels and travel trailers! It felt like a campground. Just a few days later I read that this Walmart will no longer allow overnight parking at the end of the summer because it’s gotten out of hand. Brian enjoyed being part of the problem while he had the chance.

Driving to Alaska for blog-38

When we left Whitehorse, we drove south to Skagway, Alaska. It was only a few hour drive, but the scenery was so incredible that we pulled over whenever possible. Going through customs into Skagway went fine, and we laughed that the strictest border agent was the one stationed in Stewart, Middle-of-Nowhere British Columbia when we returned from Hyder, Alaska.

Driving to Alaska for blog-46

The night before we arrived in Skagway, Brian informed me that he doesn’t think it counts as “driving to Alaska” until we get to the interior of Alaska (rather than the panhandle/inside passage), so I celebrated alone. After a week of driving, we made it to Alaska!

Day 661| Mile 69,268

North Cascades National Park

Seattle is surrounded by three National Parks, Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades. We visited Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks in 2016, but we hadn’t made it to North Cascades National Park about 2 hours northeast of Seattle.

We nearly skipped it this time too, because we were getting so excited to head to Alaska, and preparations took longer than we expected. Instead of skipping it, we decided to spend one day there, driving through the park and seeing the highlights.

North Cascades National Park is managed along with the adjacent Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas, which together protect the rugged North Cascades mountain range. I think we technically were exploring Ross Lake National Recreation Area, which bisects the National Park and encompasses the area around Washington Route 20.

This area became a Forest Reserve in 1897. In the 1920s three dams were built to provide hydroelectric power for Seattle. During construction of the dams a steam engine was used to transport materials. ‘Old Number 6’ has been refurbished and is open to explore. We climbed inside to check it out.

The remaining wilderness was protected as a National Park 50 years ago in 1968. Most of the park is still wilderness. Aside from the main road that goes east/west through the park and the dams, there are few other man-made structures. The mountains are so rugged, but also so densely forested. We stopped at an overlook at Gorge Dam, near Gorge Falls.

Further down the road, we hiked about two miles round trip on a paved trail to Rainy Lake. It took us past a few waterfalls to an amazing lake. Directly across the lake two tall waterfalls flowed down the mountain and into the water.

Washington Pass is the highest point in the area, at 5,477 feet. The views from this overlook were incredible!

On the way back to camp we stopped at Diablo Lake Overlook. The weather has turned and the wind was howling. It felt like a storm was coming. We stayed just long enough to appreciate the lake’s interesting blue color and beautiful islands.

We camped at Alpine RV resort, which was nothing fancy but has a good location just outside the park, and a friendly camp host. I’m glad we didn’t skip this stop!

Day 650 | Mile 67,430

Seattle, Washington

When I returned from visiting my uncle, Brian came to pick me up from the Seattle airport. I opened the backseat door to the truck to throw in my luggage, and my friend Sarah was sitting there! She had arranged with Brian and flew in the night before to surprise me. It suddenly made more sense that Brian was so annoyed with me when I called and told him that my flight was actually 4 hours later than I originally told him.

Sarah and Brian had a whole day to spend before I got there (oops) and they went to the Ballard Locks to see the boats and ships go up and down. A few years ago I had visited the locks with Brian’s parents, without him, so it was only fair for him to visit.

They saw the Fremont Troll, which Sarah was excited about, since it features in a show she likes, “Once Upon a Time”.

They also visited Locust Ciders, and got flights, and played with their classic Nintendo games. Sarah was crazy about their ciders, and they had fun flavors like Vanilla, Honey Pear, and Watermelon.

The next day we visited Pikes Place Market. We wandered through the vendor’s stalls and bought some handmade items. We gawked at the beautiful flower bouquets and seafood vendors tossing fish. Across the street we visited the first Starbucks and got a couple drinks.

Speaking of drinks, our Seattle Cider Crawl continued with a visit to Citizen 6, where the food was tasty but we were bummed to find out they don’t make their own cider. Then onto Schilling, where they make many of their own ciders and also serve other makers’ ciders. I really liked that they color-coded the menu by the sweetness of the cider, since I like sweet ciders! They also had interesting flavors. We each got our own flight and were able to try most of the flavors. We ended up back at Locust, playing Nintendo and ordering pizza.

For Sarah’s last day in Seattle we ate Liege Waffles at Sweet Iron, and drank more cider at Capitol Cider.

Then we went downtown and toured the Chihuly Museum and went up into the Space Needle. Both of these attractions are pretty pricey, but buying the combo ticket made the price a little easier to swallow.

The Chihuly Museum was so colorful. I especially liked the piece with sea creatures in it, and the full room installation, Mille Fiore.

Outside there is a garden full of more glass art installations, and a big glass room with a huge sculpture inside.

We rode up the elevator about 160 feet to the top of the Space Needle. The Space Needle was built in 1961 for the 1962 World’s Fair. Part of it was under construction, but we walked around the area that was open and saw the views. The glass was angled, and there were angled benches, and sitting on the bench and leaning against the glass was hard for me to do!

We had a great time seeing the tourist sites with Sarah, and her visit was over too soon. After she went home, we moved campgrounds from the KOA to the Tall Chief Thousand Trails Collection RV Park. The KOA is close to the airport and an easy drive to downtown Seattle, but is basically a parking lot. Tall Chief is east of Seattle, and near enough to visit Bellevue or Seattle for errands, and is full of woods. Our site was roomy and nice. The campground has electric and water hookups only, and after 13 nights even trying to conserve water, our tanks were full.

We got together with my friends Christina and Casey and went out to a delicious dinner and then to a show with two folk singers. One played the banjo, and the other played the accordion. Capped off a with a couple beers, it was a really fun night!

We spent the next two weeks getting ready to go to Alaska, including an old favorite pastime, getting the truck repaired. First Brian took the truck to get an Airlift kit installed on the back axle to improve the suspension. While they were installing it, they noticed we had a broken leaf spring, and referred us somewhere else to have that fixed. Then Brian was reinstalling the heat shield (the clips had broken during the thousand oil changes we’ve gotten), and noticed oil leaking from the left turbo. So, he took the truck into a Ford dealership and we needed to have the left turbo replaced. Again. It wasn’t a cheap repair, but Ford worked with us on the cost, since we’ve had so many issues. Brian also got the shock we needed from an Airstream dealer and installed it.

We were hoping to be issue-free after that, but about a week after the Airlift kit was installed, one of the bags stopped holding air. The installation was done wrong, and the airline was melted by our exhaust pipe. So, Brian drove about 5 hours round trip to get them to redo it. It is tricky to get things like this done when we are in a new unfamiliar area each time. We try to read online reviews before picking where to go, but it’s always a gamble.

Brian’s obsession with poke continues, and we found the perfect place for him.

We also had a tasty meal at Taylor Shellfish. Their farm is north of Seattle, and they are the largest shellfish farm in the United States. They grow and sell oysters, clams, and geoducks. Brian really wanted to try geoduck, so we ordered the geoduck sashimi appetizer. Geoducks are the largest burrowing clam and can live up to 140 years. Our server brought out “a small one” that he said was about 6 months old to show us what they look like.

He let us know which part of the appetizer was the body of the geoduck and which was the siphon. It didn’t have a lot of flavor, but the texture was really interesting. It was firm and kind of resembles the texture of a cucumber. Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar was a great place to finish Oysterfest!

Day 647| Mile 66,806

Oysterfest on the Oregon Coast

Brian has been so eager to explore the Pacific Northwest, but when I asked him what he wanted to see, he only ever said “the coast”, and when I pressed him for more ideas he expanded to “oysters”. So, that’s what we did. We drove to the coast and ate a ridiculous amount of oysters and other seafood.

Once we were in Oregon, we enjoyed slightly lower gas prices than in California, but we couldn’t pump the gas ourselves, which felt strange. We also found it odd that Oregonians drink hot coffee drinks with a straw. Other than these quirks, we really enjoyed visiting Oregon!

Since we were interested in oysters, we stopped at the bays on the Oregon Coast, where oysters are farmed. Our first stop was Coos Bay, Oregon. It didn’t feel like a very touristy place, mostly logging, fishing, crabbing, and oyster farming.

Before we visited the first oyster farm, I gave Brian a pep talk on how it was only our first stop of many during our Oysterfest. We agreed that we wouldn’t go nuts. We walked past mountains of oyster shells into the small store at Qualman Oyster Farm, and Brian asked for three dozen oysters. We were told that we could get 50 oysters of mixed sizes for only a few dollars more, so for $30, we walked out with a big cooler full of small, medium, and large oysters. And the larges were really big! None of them were what I would call small.

We also went to Clausen Oysters and bought another two dozen extra-small and small oysters. So much for not going nuts.

At the marina we bought some crab at Fisherman’s Wharf to make crab cakes. At Chuck’s Seafood Market we bought smoked oysters and oyster sticks and salmon sticks.

Shucking all those oysters took a long time for Brian to do. I think I shucked one oyster. The big ones were so tough to shuck that Brian grilled them for a bit, then opened them, and finished grilling them with butter.

We stayed at the Oregon Dunes KOA, which has dune access for off-roaders. There were a lot of four-wheelers there, which brought Brian back to his four-wheeling days at Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Michigan. We weren’t sure if it would be the best place for oyster shucking and grilling, but our neighbors that pulled in one night were very complimentary of our picnic and we shared some grilled oysters with them. The next night the whole campground was treated to loud music, including dueling banjos.

The KOA is north of Coos Bay, so we crossed the Conde McCollough Memorial Bridge several times to get back into town. Built in the 1930s, it was the longest bridge in Oregon at the time, over a mile long. It was renamed after Conde McCollough, who was the bridge engineer who designed many of the beautiful bridges on Oregon’s coast.

Mingus Park is in the middle of the town and has a nice pond to walk around.

Shore Acres State Park has a formal garden and a rose garden. It was beautiful in the summer, but we heard it’s really nice when it is decorated at Christmastime.

Heading north from Coos Bay, we visited Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The dunes stretch 40 miles along the Oregon coast. At the advice of a ranger, we hiked just a part of the John Dellenback Dunes Trail, and instead of following it out to the ocean across a couple miles of soft sand, we turned to the left and climbed up the tallest dune in the area and enjoyed the view from the top. It was windy!

When we turned off of Highway 101 to see the Umpqua River Lighthouse, we stopped at Umpqua Triangle Oysters for another dozen. Brian wrapped these in bacon and grilled them.

We passed Haceta Head Lighthouse and an area called the Devil’s Churn, which is a narrow inlet that was once a sea cave before the roof caved in. We did the short hike down to it to see the waves crash in.

The next stop on our tour of the Oregon Coast was Newport, on Yaquina Bay. We stayed at the Thousand Trails Whalers Rest RV Park. Newport is the home of Rogue Brewery, which we visited. Brian had an IPA sampler, and I made my own with all the chocolatey and/or dark beers on the menu. The Double Chocolate Stout was my favorite.

Newport has a historic riverfront area with shops and restaurants, and a surimi (imitation crab) plant. We got chowder at Mo’s and walked around.

Oregon Oyster Farm is on Yaquina Bay, and we stopped in for a few dozen oysters.

The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse at the mouth of the Yaquina Bay was built in 1871.

It was only used for a few years before it was replaced by the Yaquina Head Lighthouse just north of Newport, which was our favorite lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. There were hundreds of Cormorants on the rocks near the lighthouse.

The Yaquina Bay Bridge was built in the 1930s and also designed by Conde McCollough.

Our last campground in Oregon was in Seaside, at the Thousand Trails Seaside RV Park. On the way we stopped at Nevor Shellfish Farm in Tillamook. They had beautifully tumbled oysters that were the most delicious ones to eat raw. We also stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, but they had a temporary visitor center open while they are building a new one.

It rained and rained and rained for 3 days straight. Brian took advantage of the rain to wash the truck and trailer, and was out there for most of a day. We didn’t see a whole lot in Seaside, partly because of the rain, but we did go down to Cannon Beach to see the famous Haystack Rock, which is HUGE, it’s 235 feet tall!

We also used it as a base to visit Portland, Oregon, even though it’s about a two hour drive inland. We spent a lot of time in the car on the two days we visited Portland!

We ate delicious biscuit sandwiches at Pine State Biscuit, and shopped at Powell’s Bookstore, which is the largest independent bookstore. I wandered around for ages before deciding on a couple Alaska guide books.

We went to Voodoo Donuts, and bought a few of the most sugary sweet, over the top treats. I loved the VooDoo doll donut, which was stuffed with frosting, and Brian liked the banana fritter with peanut butter and chocolate toppings.

Jamie, my friend since fifth grade, and her husband Adam and their kids live in Portland, so we visited with them and went out for dinner and beers.

Astoria is at the northern border of Oregon. We drove on steep streets up a 600 foot hill to the highest place. On the top of the hill is the Astoria Column, a 125 foot column built in 1926 and decorated with scenes from Astoria history. We climbed the 164 steps on the spiral staircase to the top. Passing people coming down was a tight squeeze.

The Astoria-Megler bridge, built in the 1960s, connects Oregon and Washington, and is 4 miles long!

We drove up to Oysterville in Washington and bought clams at Oysterville Sea Farms. The whole town is historic from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

We didn’t make any plans ahead of time, but we found a lot to see and do on the Oregon and Washington coast. I tried really hard to be spontaneous, but I’m still pretty bad at it. Driving on Highway 101 was really beautiful, on cliffs up above the ocean. By the end of our Oysterfest, we had eaten 12 dozen oysters!

Once we got into Washington, I flew to Tampa to visit my uncle. Brian stayed on the coast and had some fun without me. He bought a tool for clam digging (called a clam gun) and went south back to Oregon to go digging for Pacific razor clams. He drove right onto the beach and joined the other clam diggers, and found several clams two days in a row.

They are a type of burrowing surf clam with a trunk-like siphon on one end and a digger foot on the other. Some were huge, like the size of his hand. They are so big that unlike a lot of other mollusks that are eaten whole, they are shelled and have their guts cleaned out before cooking and eating. There isn’t a large commercial market for them and they are highly perishable so the best way to eat them is to dig them yourself. They look strange to me, but Brian sautéed them in butter and said they were delicious.

Then he moved up the Washington coast and scoped out tide pools in Olympic National Park. The tide was low for a few days, and he planned the stop around the tides. I was sorry to miss this, when we went to Olympic National Park a few years ago it had the best tide pools we’ve seen!

After a week of coastal fun, Brian moved to Seattle to pick me up from the airport.

Day 628 | Mile 65,878

Crater Lake National Park

Mount Mazama was once an 11,000 foot tall volcano in what is now southern Oregon. 7,700 years ago it violently erupted and collapsed into itself, losing about 3,000 feet in height. The remaining caldera eventually filled with water, creating a clear blue lake.

When we arrived there were some clouds, and it got cloudier as the day went on. The lake looked dark blue under the overcast sky.

The next day we went back, and in clear blue skies the lake was a vibrant bright blue. It was really interesting to see the lake under two different conditions.

Crater Lake has been protected as a National Park since 1902, the fifth-oldest. It is one of the snowiest places in America, and the snow that falls into the steep cliffs surrounding the lake provide the water. Since there are no rivers flowing into or out of the lake, and the watershed is small and entirely protected, the water is about as clean as can be.

Crater Lake is surprisingly deep. At 1,949 feet at it’s deepest point, it’s the deepest lake in the United States. The water’s clarity and the lake’s depth both contribute to Crater Lake being a so blue.

There is an island in the lake called Wizard Island, 763 feet above the surface of the lake, made of a cinder cone that has its own crater.

The pinnacles of rock on the cliffs surrounding the lake show some of the plumbing inside the volcano.

When we visited at the end of May, Rim Road that surrounds the lake was still partly closed. Since there is so much snow, and it lingers so long, the road isn’t entirely open until summer.

As we drove around the west side of the lake from south to north, it got snowier. We saw for ourselves why the road opens so late each year.

The temperature was in the 30’s at the rim of the lake. As we drove the road as far as we could, we saw the lake from as many angles as we could.

Every view was beautiful, and we eloquently said “it’s so BLUE!” every time we got out at an overlook.

After gawking at Crater Lake, we drove west toward the Oregon Coast. We discovered an intriguing food at Smokin’ Friday BBQ, the Hot Pork Sundae! Layers of pulled pork and mashed potatoes, with green beans and a cherry tomato on top.

The drive took us through the Umpqua National Forest, and we had to get out of the car to gawk more and explore the rivers and trees in the forest.

Oregon is a stunning state!

Day 610 | Mile 63,461