This represents the non-technical part of my trip log to Alaska. If you wish to read my aircraft observer notes click on "Observer Notes" or if you want to read the whole thing click on "The Whole Enchilada". in my homepage: http;//rams.atmos.colostate.edu under the subheading of Alaska98.
In May of 1998 my wife Vollie and I drove to Fairbanks, Alaska where I participated in aircraft flights in the NCAR C-130 as part of the FIRE/SHEBA field program to study Arctic stratus clouds. The following is my trip log that contains both my aircraft observer notes and the adventures of driving, camping, and kayaking in Alaska. For those of you interested in only the observer notes I have prepared a separate file entitled "FIRE/SHEBA Aircraft Notes". For those interested in only the travelogue, I have prepared a separate file entitled "Driving, Ferrying, Flying, Kayaking, Biking, and Hiking Alaska 1998".
Begin Alaska trip.
We, first got underway at 1300 h. Our route north on I-25 took us through Casper, WY and onto I-90 where we stopped for the night at a RV park in Sheridan. Aside from a few light showers the trip was uneventful. Highs were in the mid-fifty's. Sheridan is located in a pretty valley with snow covered peaks nearby. I can't say that the town is all that attractive, though.
Up and on the road by 7:00, we drove to beautiful downtown Billings and turned on Hwy 87. The drive north to Great Falls, Montana is through rolling prairie with not much to break up the landscape except small herds of pronghorns.
At Great Falls we headed north to Canada on I-15. I took a driving break and while Vollie drove I took a nap in the camper. After about an hour or so nap I woke to find Vollie driving with the gas gauge on empty! She took me literally about filling up at the last place in the US since the Canadian fuel prices are so much higher. But we made it on fumes and headed into Canada. My goal was to make it north of Calgary so we wouldn't have to deal with Monday rush hour traffic.
Like Wyoming and Montana, the drive north to Calgary was though pretty boring prairie with some attempts at dry land farming. The roads were open-access, four-lane divided with posted speeds of 110 km/hr which allowed us to clip along at over 70mph. The highways dumped us into towns with stoplights, but at least on Sunday the traffic wasn't bad. We had a little trouble finding the right highways around Calgary. There wasn't any posting for through traffic to Edmonton. In contrast to Montana and Wyoming towns, Calgary is pretty up scale. The houses we saw through town were nicely landscaped with shrubs and flowers. North of Calgary we found a "quiet" RV park nestled between a freeway, a railroad track, and under the takeoff pattern for Calgary international! But we were tired enough to sleep well anyway. At least we got showers.
On north to Edmonton before 7:00. I thought the countryside would look like the Colorado/Kansas plains as it parallels the Rockies, though they are mostly out of sight. This area is also known for its hailstorms. I was pleasantly surprised to see it was mixed aspen forests with a few conifers and lots of cattle grazing and wheat farming. We took the truck route around Edmonton and headed northwest on Hwy 43. The roads became two-lane with posted speeds of 100km/hr and with light traffic and few towns, we could maintain 65mph. The altitude dropped to 2200 ft, so that temperatures have maintained highs in the 50's and the trees are in fuller leaf than Fort Collins. Sunset last night was about 2100h, and sunrise this morning was before 0700.
The entire area north of Calgary was in a smoky haze from forest fires. A DJ on the radio said the rainy weekend had rescued the fire danger and now only three fires were burning. To the NW of Edmonton we got close enough to a fire to observe slurry bombers making passes over the fire. It was mostly cloud-free except for the cumulus over the fires.
Along the drive north of Pink Mountain and the Trutch Mountain bypass, we saw three moose and two caribou. The Trutch Mountain bypass is new since we drove up here in 1987. We have covered over 1800 miles so far. Even at an altitude of 3800 ft the temperatures were over 65F. The aspen are just leafing out at that altitude so it is like at home. It is 2030PDT and the sun hasn't set yet! It still is over 60F. There is a pleasant smell in the air from something budding out. I only stopped so Vollie could get some supper. I'm fasting today. We're north of 57 degrees latitude.
Up at 0500 in a twilight. We kept the windows open all night. Cool but nice. We ran into our first area of construction at Steamboat mountain. We had a 7 minute wait to follow the pilot car. Warming up quickly again. Saw one more moose this morning. They sure don't like my deer whistles.
Then we saw two bears. The first was a yearling who was eating grass. Later we saw a large black bear very close to the road. It did a rapid 180 degree turn towards the bushes when it heard our deer whistles.
Along Stoney Mountain area we encountered three separate herds of stone sheep. They are similar to our big horns but have a reddish color on their backs. Being close to the road, I got numerous photos of them.
Almost immediately when we crossed into the Yukon, the temperature dropped 10 degrees into the 40's and it became overcast with showers. I guess we got north of the omega-block ridge. The mountains were scenic, but mostly in showers.
We camped at Teslin in a RV park with shower, but on the lake which is mostly thawed. We woke to the cry of a loon--no rooster here!
A 0700 start and on to Whitehorse. We bypassed Whitehorse but did get to see the reportedly worlds largest weather vane made of a DC-3 mounted on a turntable.
North of Whitehorse the road narrowed and became generally rougher, although for stretches I could make 70mph. In a marsh next to the road Vollie spied two moose grazing. With a backdrop of snow covered peaks, I couldn't stop myself from taking several pictures. The road made its way around Kluane Lake and on the far side we saw cars stopped watching a number of pure white sheep. I believe they were Dall sheep in their winter coats. There were families of adults and lambs. I took a bunch of photos with my 200mm telephoto. A guy in a truck that stopped 15 minutes or so after we did asked if we had seen the grizzly by the lake a way back down the road. Either we were too busy looking at the mountains or the grizzlies weren't there when we went by. Other than lots of rabbits, one eagle, and what we think was an osprey, that was about it for the day.
After almost exactly 100 hours since we left the house we entered Alaska. We stopped in Tok to fuel up and then drove on to Moon Lake (the lake is shaped like a crescent), to camp for the night. There we saw some beautiful ducks with green heads, white bodies, and brown wings, feeding in the partly frozen lake. There were also some swans on the far side of the lake. Aside from a couple in a motor home from Florida we were the only ones there. They had a deal where they were delivering the motor home from California rent free.
Just had a squirrel climb the camper ladder and peak in. Vollie is worried that next it could be a bear! We're 190 miles from Fairbanks and could have made it there before dark (that's not saying much this time of year), but since our apartment is not free until Sunday and I can't get a flight in until Friday, at the earliest, there is no rush.
Road north to Fairbanks was rough but little traffic. Saw one moose but otherwise uneventful. Arrived at the base of operations at 1100, 2 hours less than 5 days drive.
I attended the 1300h briefing. Tomorrows pre-flight C-130 weather briefing is 0715 and and the science briefing at 0745, takeoff 0900 return about 1900. Next C-130 flight is Monday 17th. We found a private campground next to the fairgrounds on the outskirts of Fairbanks to camp until our room in the apartment building becomes available. It is only 0.5 miles from the apartment building and about 5 miles from Fort Wainright.
Since my next flight was on Monday, we decided to do some exploring on the weekend. On Saturday morning we got up early and drove to Denali National Park. We saw a large moose beside the road on the way. The drive took us about two hours. The road in the park is open for 30 miles and one can drive all the way. Normally one can drive only to the end of he paved road which is only 20 miles in. We saw little wild life on our drive in, probably because it was too cool for them to move about much. At the point the road was blocked off there were many cyclists heading further in. Vollie and I walked in about 4 miles. At one point people mentioned seeing a grizzly but we missed it. I was surprised that Vollie marched on toward the bear siting with no concern at all.
It was a nice day for hiking with temperatures rising to the 50's. On our drive back we encountered some caribou very close to the road. They were in velvet just regaining their antlers. We camped at the only campground open in the park--Riley campground near the entrance. By evening the single loop they had open was nearly full. I enjoyed observing and feeding some gulls flying along a stream with ice/snow covered shores.
We woke to sub-freezing temperatures, but I put the camper heater on to warm things up a bit. Because it was clear, we drove back into the park about 10 miles where Vollie got her first view of Denali (McKinley). It was still 70 miles away, but its fully white appearance made it stand out among the Alaska Range. Still it was not as spectacular as the view from wonder lake. Unfortunately, Wonder Lake won't be accessible until after we leave. We then took a short hike to Horseshoe Lake and then headed back to Fairbanks for the 1300 briefing. I'm scheduled to fly on tomorrows flight.
After checking in to the apartment and taking a brief nap, we took our kayak to a state park in Fairbanks and paddled the Chena river. As we removed the wind tattered cover on the kayak, a kayaker walked over and remarked that he could see why we covered this beautiful wooden kayak. After chatting a bit he asked where we were from. When I told him Fort Collins he asked if we knew Glen Liston. I said indeed we did as we have skied with him and Katherine a number of times. He said his name was Mathew Sturm and that he has been on several expeditions with Glen and knew him quite well. What a small world!
We paddled upstream along the river until the current got too strong at one spot. We would have had to carry the kayak through that area to go further. So, we headed back down stream in sunny 60ish weather. Just a beautiful day. I am sitting here at 2220 in bright sunlight in my tee-shirt. It is hard to get in the mood to go to bed.
I elected to not fly today as it was supposed to be cloud-free and mainly involve radiation experiments which I consider very boring. Instead I visited the Geophysics institute at the University if Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). There I met with former students Jerry Harrington and Peter Olsson. They showed me around the department and introduced me to a number of the faculty including Glen Shaw. I had a nice chat with him. The institute is located on top of a hill and from Peters office there was a nice view of the Alaskan range and occasionally Denali. It is a generally pretty campus in a modern context (as opposed to an Ivy League look). Its position on a hill overlooking town gives it a dominating appearance relative to the town.
I did a lot of biking around town since my truck was in the shop having my front disc brake pads replaced. It is not too bad a town to bike in but when forced to ride on sidewalks I find it the most dangerous when crossing streets. There are several bike paths that parallel the main streets and expressways. It is generally a biker friendly town.
Fairbanks as a city it the epitome of non-urban planning. It has a smallish old downtown area that is a mix of a few larger office buildings, post offices, log cabins, bars, and more bars, and restaurants. The remainder of the town is scattered helter-skelter over another 3 to 5 miles surrounding downtown. You find a section that is residential, then a cluster of businesses, then more residential and a few businesses. There are a couple of modern shopping malls with the usual McDonalds type of restaurant chains surrounding them. The residential areas(if one can call them that) are a mix of modest and sometimes upscale homes, very few "trophy" homes, and lots of what could be nice looking homes except for 10 years accumulated junk(cars, motorcycles, ATV, RV's, and many snowmobiles) around them. Peter Olsson says Alaskans never throw anything away! Then there is the blue tarp. Almost every yard has at least something covered with a blew tarp. When flying over the area the first sign that there is a home in the forests is a blue tarp!
After a heavy supper in an Italian restaurant, and reeking in garlic, Vollie and I took a walk through a wildlife refuge enjoying the forest smells, sounds, and views of the sandhill cranes. This is one of the nice features of Fairbanks, one only has to walk to the edge of town before one is in the wilderness and the wildlife just encroaches on the town any time it likes.
I spent part of the day visiting the Geophysics Institute (GI) at the UAF. Jerry Harrington, Peter Olsson, Glen Shaw and I had some fun science chats. They arranged for me to give a seminar on the 22nd.
In the evening Vollie and I visited the Olsson's mountain home. It is a large log home overlooking the valley. Ute served an excellent meal of haddock, potatoes, and a veggie quiche-like dish that was quite good. Their mountain lifestyle is much like ours in Colorado if you substitute moose for deer.
I gave a well attended seminar at the GI. Considering that they are on break and with along weekend coming up, I was happy about the attendance and the discussions. The focus of my talk is how alterations in the dynamics of BL stratocumulus by variations in CCN and IFN effect the cloud albedo.
Vollie and I took a hike on a BLM trail, called the White Mountain Trail, about a 40min drive north of Fairbanks. The trail was well marked and maintained and meandered through alpine areas and black spruce bogs. Board walks were installed in the bog areas. We saw plenty of animal signs including fresh moose and bear but didn't see anything other than some marmots. On the way up I caught a brief glimpse of a black animal about the size of a fox with a long black fluffy tail--it probably was a fox. The hike was about 7-8 miles long. We met several couples also hiking. One, was a dentist that grew up in Fort Collins.
We returned to the apartment, and after a brief nap, I attended the briefing where it was decided to fly on Sunday. Then we drove through some neighborhoods north of town with nice views of town and the mountains. If I lived in Fairbanks that would be the area I would want to live. Then we drove to the top of a small ski slope, called Birch Ski Area, on the edge of town with nice views again. It was still sunny and warm with temperatures in the 60's at 9PM.
Today we joined Jerry and Debra Harrington and their dog Katy, on a 15 mile loop trail off the Chena Hot Springs road. The trail called the Granite Tors trail, is about 50 miles from Fairbanks. On the way there we scared a large moose with our deer whistles. The trailhead was at a campground along the upper Chena River. It began at an elevation of 800 ft MSL and followed along the river where there were bumper to bumper campers lined up along the river bank. it then ascended through birch and black spruce forests to a rock outcropping with a nice view. It then dipped into a valley and then ascended a mountain side. The trail became muddy with snow blocking the trail at several locations. After slipping and sliding for a ways we finally reached a plateau at an elevation of 2800 ft. The plateau was above tree line in alpine terrain. The ground ranged from muddy swamp to dry hummocks that were very spongy to walk on.
At several places there were rock outcroppings, some of which resembled Stonehenge. We eventually made it to a cabin in a wide open area. The cabin is not a rustic log cabin but a small cabin with modern siding, a few benches and a wood stove. About 50 ft from the cabin we decided to have our lunch on one of the hummocks. Sitting there in the sunshine with temperatures in the 60's was very pleasant. Several hiking couples passed by as we ate. Looking across the valley at a hillside about a mile away I noticed this black shape slowly moving about. With my binoculars we could clearly see it was a black bear. It was foraging for food and either didn't hear us or didn't care as it went about its business.
We continued on, eventually reaching an altitude of 3200 ft, and climbed around some rock outcroppings. At mile 10 the trail began a steep descent over roots, and muddy parts. My toes and knees were taking a real beating. There was little chance of surprising a bear or moose as Katy and Debra wore bells that jangled and Jerry kept up a continuous stream of chatter.
Eventually we reached an area where the trail was a boardwalk for 1.5 miles or so. It meandered through skinny black spruce forests. At one point I remarked that the hillsides looked like they were covered by Saguaro cacti. Occasionally the trail was covered by ice flows and the nearby stream was iced covered. This seemed strange as the temperatures in the low lands were in the 70's. Very tired, muddy, and sweaty, we finally completed the 15 mile loop just as a thunderstorm began to drop some rain. We hiked from 0900 to 1715.
Boy, did that shower feel good!
The day began with a 0800 conference call with Pete Roohr's committee to sort out what to do with Pete's dissertation. I wonder what that call cost? If you are wondering what our recommendations were--forget it.
Today was a flight of a different sort. Dave Rogers and I shared the rental costs of a Cessna 172. Since he had checked out with the local FBO, he served as pilot in command. But, we shared in the flying. Our goal was to fly up to Denali and get a close up view of the mountain. We flew about 2000 ft above the terrain to get a close up view of the country side and maybe even see some wildlife. At times I flew the plane beneath some cumuli to take advantage of thermal lift and pick up airspeed. Once a sailplane pilot, always a sailplane pilot.
Dave proposed we stop at the airstrip at Denali National Park for lunch before proceeding to the mountain. As we got closer to the mountain, however, we could see the lower levels of Denali glowing in the sunlight, while it was clouding up to the south near the Park airstrip. So, using our handheld GPS's we headed directly for the mountain. After climbing to 9000 ft we moved to within 9 miles of the summit. We got great views of the mountain including its glaciers and peaks. Only the very summit was covered by clouds.
We then descended through a break in the lower clouds and flew over still-frozen Wonder Lake, then on to Katishna over the lodges and landing strip nestled in the valley. From there we headed back towards Fairbanks keeping an eye out for wildlife. While I was flying, I noticed a black spot on the beach of a small lake and rolled out to see what it was. Yes! My second sighting of a black bear in as many days.
It was no problem finding Fairbanks as the 14 to 20 knot winds were stirring up dust along the river. Fortunately the winds were right down the runway so landing was not a problem.
Headlines in the newspaper today is that a family of three, mother, father, and 10 year old drowned in Chena Lakes Park about 20 miles from Fairbanks. The suspected cause is they were chased in the water by a grizzly. There was plenty of bear sign at the scene and there was a grizzly reported in the area.
I went on a jog this morning before breakfast in the Creamery Bird Sanctuary. There I encountered a cow moose on the trail. She eyed me, I eyed her. I jogged ahead and she turned and ran for a bit. Then she turned and looked at me--I stopped jogging. I moved forward again and she turned and ran off in the bushes.
It is quite amazing how much the foliage has changed in the 10 days we have been here. The leaves on the birch have gone from just budding out to full leaf. They put out a beautiful bouquet that makes trashy Fairbanks seem pleasant. In the beach forests it has gone from no grass to violets and a variety of undergrowth.
Today we check out and head for Denali. On the Park Highway to Denali we had to wait for a cow moose and its calf. At the National Park we obtained a permit to camp at Teckanica. With this permit, one can drive your vehicle to mile 29, further than otherwise permitted. Along the way we spotted numerous caribou lounging on the tundra. Then along the river bank we spotted our first Brown bear, alias Grizzly. It was foraging along a riverbank about a quarter mile from the rode. His palomino fir gleamed in the sun. What a beautiful animal!
With some great views of Denali 70 miles away and then a large moose, we finally made it to our campsite along the river.
At 0845 we were at the bus stop outside of the campground. We took the bus as far as it would go this time of year which was Toklat, which is just across the bridge over the Toklak river. Along the way we saw a bull moose, numerous caribou, and at least four grizzlies. One, only a couple of years old, came out of the bushes just in front of the bus, and gave us an excellent close up view of him as he headed up the hill and across a snowfield.
At Toklat Vollie and I headed up the road in bright sunshine. Every so often we were treated to perfectly cloud-free views of Denali. We climbed up a hill where we had a lunch while viewing the mountain. Besides Denali we also had great views of numerous mountains in the Alaska Range. There were also several species of flowers in bloom, plus purple pussy willows! We turned around after hiking in about 5 miles. We climbed a hill to 4000 ft to get one last view of Denali and its closest neighbor. At this point Denali was only 38.2 miles away according to my GPS.
After a fast-paced mostly downhill walk we caught the 1600 bus. Aside from some close-up views of Dall sheep, and a few distant grizzlies, the return bus ride was relatively uneventful. We had supper in the sunshine with a bottle of wine to celebrate the days adventures.
Still in Denali, we caught the 0845 bus to the Polychrone Rest Area. In strong winds we headed back along the road. There we viewed the cloud covered mountains, looking very wintry, and down the 700 ft precipice beside the road. We also encountered a pair of hoary marmots, having a gray-black coat. We also had close up views of Dall sheep and about every 100 feet or so we encountered another ptarmigan. After crossing the east fork river bridge in very high winds, we stopped for lunch at the old cabin built by Adolf Muire. He did a study of the wolf behavior in the area, and showed that they were not responsible for the decline in the Dall sheep population, but cold winters instead. We ate under the porch of the log cabin while sitting on a bench out of the wind. We met a couple who had been backpacking along the East Fork. They mentioned having several bear encounters, often closer than comfortable. While the bears did not exhibit aggressive behavior, they were forced to make numerous diversions through the willow thickets to get by them.
We then continued on up the road towards Sable Pass viewing a few distant caribou, ptarmigan every hundred yards or so, and snow covered hills. A ranger in a truck advised us there was a sow and three cubs near the road on the other side of Sable Pass. We decided to grab the next bus, without any debate! Indeed, only a mile or so after we were picked up we encountered the foursome in a narrow canyon just 50 feet or so up a steep slope next to the road. What a sight! They were digging up roots and in the process throwing rocks down next to the bus.
We then took a nap after returning to camp, and after supper, broke camp and drove out of the Park. As it was at low sun angle the caribou and moose were moving about more. Most exciting was the viewing of a cow moose and two very young calves about 100m from the car. The moose totally ignored us, and laid down to nurse her calves.
We drove south and then west on the Denali Highway. It is a 135 mile gravel road that meanders through tundra and black spruce forests, across rivers, and views of many snow capped mountains and lake regions. After 75 miles I noticed a noise and stopped to check it out and found we had a flat tire. I pulled off into a pullout, and changed the flat, which fortunately was serviceable. I decided to spend the night where we sat since it was 10:45 when I finished and I was tired. So we bedded down in broad daylight.
We woke to drizzling rain. After we went down the road about 10 miles we encountered a Fairbanks man who managed to drive his car in soft mud about 10:30 last night and got stuck. We got out the winch cable and hauled him out. We proceeded on to Tangle Lakes that Glen and Katherine had recommended. However, being about 35F in drizzling rain, and besides the lakes were frozen, they were none too inviting. So, we continued on over rough, frost-heaved road to the intersection of Alaska 1, where we got our tire repaired.
The drive down Alaska 1 is nothing short of being spectacular. With views of the Wrangle Range including numerous glaciers, it is hard to beat. The road was rough with long stretches of gravel construction and frost heaves. After Palmer we entered civilization on a freeway into Anchorage. We decided to drive through Anchorage and continue on to Seward. A joke I heard about Anchorage is that the nice thing about Anchorage is that it is only 25 miles from Alaska.
The drive around Cooks Bay is as spectacular as any fiord I have seen in Norway. Snow covered mountains and glaciers are everywhere. At first we had light rain showers as we entered the Kenai Peninsula but it then cleared for a mountain vista ride across the peninsula. We entered Seward at 6:30PM in bright sunshine and the snow-covered mountains surrounding Resurrection Bay shining brightly--awesome! The forecast is for rain tomorrow--damn that is when I hoped to paddle the kayak.
Darn, the forecast verified! The mountains are covered in clouds , it is drizzling, temperatures are in the upper 40's, and the winds are over 10 knots. To get a feeling for small town USA, I had a screw strip out my glasses frame. I fixed it temporarily with duct tape while at Denali. So while in the 'big' city of Seward I decided to find an optician to fix it. I was sent to an office building where a M.D. and an optometrist were located. What I found was some office staff who schedule appointments for the weekly visits of the M.D. and twice a month visits of the optometrist! Then I tried jewelers, but found they only sell jewelry, not repair it. So I bought superglue and fixed the glass frames with it.
Then I actually unloaded the kayak for a short paddle, but just then the winds strengthened and it started raining. So, we decided to visit Exit Glacier. It is a glacier of modest proportions that is an offshoot of the Harding Ice Field. We could walk to the foot of the glacier, but not the overlook trail which is still in snow. From the trail we spied three black bear and a mountain goat on the hillside. I'd like to get a closer look at the mountain goats because they are beautiful animals.
We returned to Seward and had a very nice dinner, Vollie of Moussaka, and me charbroiled haddock. We camped in a forested city campsite away from the windy coast and listened to the rain on our camper.
Another busted forecast, we woke to a bright sunny morning. Because of the lousy forecast of weather, I arranged for us to take a catamaran(stinkpot) tour of Resurrection Bay and Aialik Bay. With the mountains gleaming in the sunshine, we cruised along at 28knots with occasional stops to view sea otter, sea lions, orca (at least 6), 10 gray whales, two black bears (which I spotted), at least 6 mountain goats,, puffins, cormorants, murre, and kitti?? gulls. The views of the mountains and islands, and glaciers were spectacular. As we motored up Holgan Arm I saw a U.S. Forest Services cabin, which I want to get dropped off at and rent sometime. It is an easy paddle from there to the Holgate tidewater glacier. I understand there is another Forest Service cabin in another arm of the bay. It definitely was an enjoyable tour.
I am writing this in the setting sun at a picnic table 50 ft from the water at 10:00PM with a great view of the mountains at Millers Landing. It is a rustic place; very Alaskan. I hope the weather holds to go kayaking right out of our campsite, first thing in the morning.
Today we kayaked from Millers landing to Cain's Point where we hiked to WW II Fort McGivilry. The morning paddle was through calm waters for about 5 miles. The trail rose through a rain forest with moss and dense vegetation. Aside from Vollie's bear bells ringing, all that could be heard in the forest was the singing of birds. At the top were old bunkers and mounts for 6 inch guns. Naturally there was an excellent view of the entrance to Resurrection Bay.
Upon returning to the water, we paddled a bit further to see if we could find some more mountain goats. No such luck, so we headed back down wind with a strengthening wind. In fact the seas got large enough that I had to work to keep the boat from broaching. The waves were over 3 ft and I could hear them coming as they were breaking just behind my butt! We finally got back with me pretty tired from over three hours of paddling, especially the effort to keep on course in a following sea.
After lunch and a shower we packed up and headed to Anchorage. There we had an excellent salmon dinner for $10.95 each. We then drove on to Palmer where we camped in the municipal campground. The forest in the campground is dense deciduous trees and looks just like the forests where I grew up in Upstate New York, complete with mosquitoes! The climate here is moderated in the lee of the mountains.
Today was a heavy driving day. We left Palmer in heavy rain, and arrived at Pine Lake campground outside of Haines Junction at 8:00PM in a downslope wind storm. The road surface on Alaska 1 is the worst we have driven, including the gravel Denali Highway. It was good that we drove most of it earlier to see the views of glaciers and the Wrangle Range as they were in clouds all the way. We were in fog a great deal of the way. That made for some very tiring driving.
The only wildlife of distinction was a cow moose which we crept up on by driving slow enough for our deer whistles not to sound an alarm.
Kluane Lake looked very different than on the way up. It was now an emerald green, whereas it was ice covered before. While temperatures were in the 60's in Chinook-like conditions, the wind was blowing at 30-40kts. Naturally there was a forest fire near Haines Junction that fire fighters had to fight in those winds.
The Pine Lake campground is very new and is on the shore of 10 mile long Pine Lake. It even has a swimming beach, but I couldn't get interested in swimming knowing it was ice covered 3 weeks ago. We had a minor disaster today: the syrup bottle opened up and leaked out of the fridge and covered the floor, our packs and things. So we had quite a mess to clean up and we hope we are not visited by bears tonight.
Today was an easy 4 hour drive from Haines Junction to Skagway. I decided to catch the ferry at Skagway because we had not been there, but we have been to Haines. The drive is about 46 miles closer to Haines to catch the ferry than is Skagway. The drive from Whitehorse to Skagway is very scenic and overlooks Emerald, Nares, and Tutshi lakes, the latter two are very large. It goes over White Pass with rugged snow covered mountains on both sides of the road. We then descended to Skagway at sea level. The commercial part of the city is made up of 1897-era or look-alike buildings of the Klondike gold rush period. it is an attractive, generally not trashed-out (a la Fairbanks) but touristy town.
We did the town! By that I mean we put our camper in the ferry line, and had lunch and supper there and walked most of the town. We also took about a 7 mile hike in the hills over town around Lower Dewey Lake, and to Sturgill's Landing. The trail first climbed 500 ft up the side of the mountain. It reminded me a bit of hiking in Bergen, Norway. It then meandered through thick forests. At one point it opened up into a marshy area which was thick with beautiful flowers. It then descended to sea level along the Taiya Inlet. To our surprise there were picnic tables, and an outhouse. The return was again up 500 ft and down again. The trail along the far side of the lake was very rough and at one point I miss-stepped and twisted my ankle. This was the first time that I sprained my ankle since I began jogging in 1977. Before that I sprained it regularly.
It is now to bed in the camper in the parking lot and up at 3:00AM to drive on the ferry.
There was no need to set my alarm as the unloading of the ferry resulted in a loud "thump-thump" as the vehicles crossed the ramp at 2:00AM. After a shower and a nap in our windowless cabin, we had breakfast and set up camp on the deck chairs on the upper after deck. From there we viewed the wildlife including bald eagles, humpback whales, Dall's dolphins, orcas, sea lions, and the people lounging on deck. We also took catnaps, recuperating from our disrupted sleep.
We had a 3.5 hour layover in Juneau, but due to my ankle injury, we decided to lounge, catnap, and recuperate rather than go into town. I also had an opportunity to observe 5-6 bald eagles soaring on the hillside overlooking the harbor just a 1/4 mile a way. They weren't getting enough altitude for me to try soaring here in my DG-400. In all of Alaska I saw one Sweitzer 2-33 trainer. I guess that soaring is not real big in this light plane-oriented state.
After sleeping in to 7:30 in our dark cabin, we awoke to another beautiful sunny day. We had intended to wake up at 1:00AM after Petersburg stop and view the narrows near Wrangle. The alarm went off but neither of us could wake up to go out on deck. The pitch black cabin and the gentle rocking made us sleep like babies! We 'did' Ketchikan on our 4 hour layover. This included a tour of town in an English double-decker bus and of a Tlinket center where we saw totem poles being carved and a number of older poles. It is a pretty town in this weather, with lots of flowers blooming including rhodendrum, daises, poppies, larkspur, lilacs, and columbines of many colors.
The tides here vary by 27 feet. The docks really go up go up and down!
We again slept soundly last night and awakened to 50 ft overcast. Later it cleared a bit and the sun broke through for a while. Then we entered Queen Charlotte Sound where the air cooled, ceilings lowered to 50 ft or so, and we experienced sea swells.. Fortunately the winds were light so we only experienced the swells. Still the eastern shore, when visible, looked very inhospitable with breakers all along the coast. I sure wouldn't like to be paddling a kayak along this exposed coast! I estimate it would take 9 hours of continuous paddling to get to more protected waters further south.
In the afternoon the winds turned northerly and increased in speed. The fog then dissipated, and we were able to sit in shorts and T-shirt on the afterdeck. The hillsides became heavily forested and often clear-cut as we reached Vancouver Island. Snow covered peaks were often visible behind the coastal hills.
I got some exercise on the ferry by walking the decks. A complete circuit on the main deck was 1/8 mile, but running is not permitted. After breakfast I walked three miles and then about sunset Vollie and I walked another 1.5 miles. Besides the exercise, one has the opportunity to see the scenery on all sides of the ship.
We arrived in Bellingham at 7:20 Alaska time in cloudy 50 degree weather. I originally thought we were arriving 7:00AM Pacific Time, just like airlines give arrival times in local times. So, we got underway about 9:00AM PST, and stopped for the night at a KOA in Mountain Home, Idaho. It looked green for that normally dry desert country. The KOA manager said it had been abnormally cool and wet there. One period in May they had something like 14 straight days of rain.
We hit the road about 7:15AM PDT and got home about 7:00PM MDT tired but glad to be home. Our dog Donner was very glad to see us.
End of a long but fun trip.