Sunday, August 1, 2010

Final Alaska Musings

If you are an Alaskan, don't allow work to interfere with ATV riding, snowmachining, salmon fishing, rafting and canoeing, bicycling and hiking.

If you are an Alaskan living along a highway and you want to get rid of stuff, lay it out on the highway with a for sale sign on it.

The number of beautiful mountains in Alaska would drive the natives crazy if the ceiling were not 500 feet on six of every seven days.

The best hamburgers in Alaska were
1. Kenny Lakes RV Diner (The Willow Woman). Congrats to Ms. Kim Morse.
2. The Monderosa-Mile 309 on the Parks Highway near Fairbanks
3. The Crows Nest-Above Honkey Tonk Row just outside Denali National Park

The best soup in Alaska is made by Kim Morse at Kenny Lakes Diner.

The best fish dinner in Alaska is at Rays Waterfront Diner in Seward.

The worst fish dinner in Alaska is at the Pumphouse Restaurant in Fairbanks.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

In the Lower Forty Eight

This afternoon we passed through the border at Osoyoos and are spending the night in Omak, in a motel. Given the 96 degree weather, we decided we could use some A/C. It took five days from Fairbanks to get to the U.S. border, and it will be only two more to Napa.

This kind of driving is something we do well, although it is not particularly relaxing. We did pass some extraordinary scenery, Muncho Lake in northern B.C. long mesas in the northern Rockies, and the delightful Okanagan valley just before getting to the border with Washington state. Problems in the first few days were caused by the Canadian system of summer road repair. Basically, cars are halted for up to fifteen minutes by a flag woman/man, and then a pilot car takes the string of cars slowly up a single lane road. Sometimes these stops take up a full hour. And then, fifty miles down the road, another repair. But by the time we left Prince Rupert, the system changed so that cars can go both ways, although slowly, through the repair zone.

Hitting Penticton around 4:30PM in the hot sun revealed everyone doing as much water based stuff as possible, including floating down between lakes on every type of inflatable contraption known to man. We bought a crate of peaches (this was after Nick warning Mary "Don't even think of buying a full crate of peaches!") north of the border and, fortunately, were allowed through customs into the U.S. with them. They are fantastically good.

It looks like we can make central Oregon tomorrow (that will finish off the hot weather for sure), and we will try to camp. We have a great chili dish that Mary made, and it only gets better. That and a salad and a beer will be a great final dinner in the camper.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

If You Want to go South, First Go West and then North

Denali National Park, despite continuous rain, fog, and cold weather, is a wonderful place to view wild life. Mr. Fox here was hunting for arctic squirrels and couldn't have cared less that we were nearby. Mr. Wolf, below, however, was wary as hell of us. But he wanted the shoots of some tender grass very badly, and apparently he had no choice but to come real close to our bus. He is part of a pack of Toklat grey wolves, and he may be recovering from a Moose kick that sent him about twenty feet into the air earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Mr Bear below was intent on his meal of soap berries, which apparently taste like, well, soap. He can't be choosey since he must gain a few hundred pounds in a hurry to make it

through the winter. All in all, a pretty good day's work. In addition to these fine specimens we saw many moose, golden eagles, lots of bears and cubs, and even a gyrfalcon, apparently a rare bird for those who are building their life time list.
We are ready to come home and tomorow we start down the Alcan. More later. This trip has been a blast.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hiking in Denali-July 19

After suffering through another rainy day on the road, we arrived at Denali National Park yesterday. After a halibut stew dinner, oh my, was that good, thanks to Mary's cooking skills, we hit the hay. Early this morning we caught our bus to the hiking site. The hike itself was through tundra and snaggy willows, quite a struggle but less so for us than a couple of other hikers. Some of us abandoned the stragglers, who was in the capable hands of a ranger, and hiked back to the road for our return bus ride.

During the ride we saw many grizzly bears, beginning to descend to river banks since the berries have ripened. We also saw caribou (nowhere near the grizzlies) and Dall sheep. The ability to see so much wildlife is reason enough to come here. Mary temporarily lost her camera today after Nick had taken one bear shot. It was turned in to lost and found and is now in our hands. But, as a result, nothing in the photo department.

After a couple of days of feeling low about the weather, we are pretty pumped for the last few days of our journey (to remote cabins in Denali) prior to turning the rig south for the long journey home.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Posting to Blog

July 15, No Internet Connection, Rain-Weary, and Wondering What to do Next


This posting is being prepared offline, despite the availability of a storng wifi signal nearby. Unfortunately the computer is showing signs of advanced age and it is so far refusing to link with a communications device.


The scenery is most likely magnificent in Valdez, but the persistent fog has kept the ceiling to about 100 feet since we arrived late this morning.


We wandered out into the boat harbor and were able to buy some fresh and delicious sockeye salmon at the retail outlet of Peter Pan Fisheries, one of the processing plants here. Cooked up on the sauté pan, and served with boiled potato and chard, it was sensational. Almost as good as the tequila we sipped during the meal. This is a nice RV park and we got our showers in and laundry done in very little time.


We talked about what to do next. We both are tired of constant bad weather, and our curiosity about what is around the next corner has diminished after more than a month of travel. We have a reservation at a nice lodge deep in Denali National Park but that stay only begins in a week. We may see if we can advance the dates of that segment. Were it not for that commitment, Mary and I agree that we would probably turn the nose of the truck south and head for the lower forty-eight.


Here are a couple of Alaskan vignettes for the reader:


We walked into Kenny Lake RV Park's diner last night after returning from Kennicott/McCarthy. We had low expectations but we felt pretty good after the long day, and it was nice to sit in something other than a bouncing shuttle bus. We began to talk about whether it would be fun to drive up some bad roads and visit Chicken and Eagle, both on the way to the Taylor Highway and the Yukon. Eagle is where John McPhee spent most of a year writing "Coming into America", his highly personal and good book about Alaskans. One of the local fellows, sitting with his wife while waiting for their dinner, said "You aren't going there soon." He pointed out that a heavy rain the previous day had washed out sixty miles of road that we had planned driving over. Another couple let us look at their Anchorage newspaper, and the story was there. Apparently many cars and trucks are stranded along the broken road, and one vehicle was found submerged.


Our dinner arrived, and we feasted on the best burgers we have tasted in a long time, and even better curried rice soup. I noticed that the cook was also doing all of the waiting on tables, and wondered if she could finish, since there was quite a crowd. But her daughter showed up soon and things moved pretty well.


This morning I returned to the diner for coffee and chatted with Kim Morse, the woman who cooked dinner for us. She has very recently purchased the diner, and is renaming it "The Willow Woman Diner". She in fact is pretty willowy, that is, flexible and strong. Kim looks like life has been hard, but she still has beauty in her eyes, and her attitude is terrific. She has some visions on how to change the menu, but she said that they have to use up what was in the cooler and on order first. She loves the local produce that is available in the short summer months. Her soup is a borrowed recipe from a Thai pull-through diner about one hundred miles up the road. I congratulated her on the good dinner and said that things were pretty busy when we left. "Oh, you should have stuck around. We had some real excitement around 10:30. Apparently the horse belonging to another local up the road went prancing down the highway in front of the RV Park. That set the cell phones buzzing and soon someone road the horse bareback for a few miles to return it to the owner. Anyone who happens on Kenny Lakes should go to this diner for a fun experience and good food.


The driver of our shuttle yesterday was pretty sure she didn't want to go to a wedding that she was committed to later this week. "He is such a nice man, and none of us can imagine why he is marrying his fiancé. He is forty and she is sixty. My husband said if she was hot, that would be one thing, but that isn't the case. She did hard drugs for thirty years, and some of us think she is still doing them. She is terrible to his kids. We are thinking of giving them a rafting trip on the Copper River and shoving her off." My guess is that this could be a very short lived marriage.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


A punishing 58 mile dirt and gravel road is about the only way to go by vehicle into Wrangell St. Elias National Park, and so off we went in a shuttle driven by a skilled guy named Edward. We crossed a footbridge and were taken by another shuttle to the Kennicott Glacier Lodge, a large but simple operation. We had a room with bath down the hall. We were comfortable enough. Our time was divided between hiking along the glacier and examining the remains of Kennecott Copper Corp's initial and fabulously rich copper mine. The above photo was taken during a six mile hike we took this morning.
This picture is one of several taken of the the mill constructed to take most of the non-copper content out of the ore. We toured the inside of this mill, guided by a nice young graduate student from Virginia named Neely. It was a three hour extravaganza, starting at the tip and descending stage by stage through the mechanisms used to refine the ore. A good use for an absolutely miserable rainy day. Check Facebook out for more pics.

On our way out we were rewarded by this wonderful sight of a Moose with her calf, placidly munching trees and acquatic vegetation.

This strange picture was taken along the Copper River. Alaska residents and natives are allowed to use fish wheels to trap salmon. There was not a lot of activity today, because the salmon are between runs. It is amazing that these fish can come up this glacially fed, silted up river.
More later. We are most likely headed to Valdez next, of Exxon spill fame.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Here the Next Sunset is July 14th

Mary and Nick arrived at Lake Iniakuk via light wheeled aircraft and float plane several days ago, to find this lovely main house, operated by our hosts Pat and John Gaedeke and John's partner Angela. While our first two days were overcast and rainy, any tension we had (not much given our laid back Alaska vacation to date) left in a hurry.
When the sun came out we took a tremendous hike, 2,500ft vertical gain that tired our puppies, but look what it got us! The views were unbelievable. We took a nice rest, ate our lunch and kicked back to hear the bees and lazy flies buzzing behind closed eyelids. No mosquitos at this sunny spot either.

Float planes were the way to go. This photo, taken while exiting the Iniakuk lodge and headed to Bettles for our return to Fairbanks, illustrates the isolation. Literally hundreds of rivers like this meander through a pretty flattened out country. Most of the rivers have one closed off oxbow after another along their routes.

On the first day with no rain, we crossed Iniakuk Lake in a fast outboard, towing these neat German built rubber canoes. Wooden seats snap into these boats and we put folding legless camp chairs on the seats to increase comfort even more. One can load these canoes up with a lot of gear and the draft is still around six inches. We went out the exit river a short distance to the Malamute fork of the Alatna River, and then into the main stem of the Alatna. We had a fine shore lunch, and then continued down river to our eventual take-out. The float plane landed right on the river, coasted to our gravel bar, and in twenty minutes we were back at Iniakuk, enjoying hot tea.
We will make a longer blog posting about this portion of the trip in due course.