Sunday, July 27, 2008

Alaska '08 Day 45, Copper Center to Valdez

Sat July 26, 2008

It is about 100 miles from Copper Center down to Valdez. The first half is flat across the plain. The second half crosses the coastal mountains.

Just before Thompson Pass you see Worthington Glacier, it really looked blue in the overcast fog. Thompson Pass has the tall road markers for snow like White Pass (Skagway) or Tahneta Pass from two days ago. Just after you crest the pass the road crosses the Lowe River as it threads through a narrow canyon. The river enters several canyons on the way down to Valdez. You can raft through some of these canyons. One of these canyons has a cliff several hundred feet tall with a couple of waterfalls (Bridal Veil Falls) right along the road.

We got into Bear Paw campground in Valdez around noon. Mike is going with Don and his group to Cordova to fish for 3 days. He needed to get Jen setup in the campground before he caught the ferry over to Cordova at 3:00.

By the time we got into Valdez the weather had gotten pretty bad, steady cold rain. So we didn't do too much. We went to the visitors' center and the grocery store (groceries are much more expensive than Homer!?).

113 miles today.

6285 miles so far.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 44, Klutina River

Fri July 25, 2008

Our outfitter took two rafts, 8 people, down the river this morning. We had an extra guy in our raft and they had 4 people from the Princess Lodge in another raft with another guide (Pete).

Since they think the fish are just entering the river today we started only 4 miles up instead of yesterday's 14 mile start point . Bummer, not as fun of a raft ride today!

While we were fishing I saw a black bear down river on the other side. A couple minutes later we watched the bear try to swim across the river. He got about half way across the river, into some white water, and turned around. I guess it was too swift. I couldn't believe a bear would try to swim the river being that it is so fast. Bears probably regularly cross the river but at slower spots. Dusty thought the bear tried to come across where he did because he smelled us or our salmon roe bait.

Also lots of eagles again on the river today. When we crossed the Glenn Highway Klutina bridge this morning there were 3 bald eagles on the gravel bar west of the bridge.

Within the first hour on the first hole Mike hooked into a king and we got it a shore. It put up a great fight. A couple minutes after that Don got one also. I rotated down the shore to the lowest spot in the eddy and hooked up right away but the line snapped immediately. As soon as the line broke I watched the river, I knew the fish would probably surface and try to throw the hook. Sure enought a nice king tail danced across the river trying to throw that hook. After those three it was pretty slow for a couple hours. Evidently the fish move through in groups. I hooked again and lost it within 30 seconds and then had nothing for a long time. I took a break and our 4th man, Herbert, moved into the lowest spot on the hole. Dusty gave us 10 minutes and we would move to the next hole down further on the river. Within a couple minutes of Dusty giving us last call Herbert hooked up with a big king. Herbert didn't really know what he was in for. He hooked up and the fish took off and he didn't know what to do. Mike yelled to the guide, Dusty, and he was able to talk him through it. Dusty asked me if we should move or stay since I was the only one without a fish. I made the call to stay if we got 3 fish there were probably more. They moved me back to the lowest spot in the hole. After maybe 10 minutes I hooked a big king. What a great fight. You cannot bring these fish to shore until they tire. We let it run out in the current and tried to get the fish up. It wanted to stay down in the current. Dusty made a couple attempts to net it but the fish just wasn't tired. I fought that fish 10 minutes or more until it was tired enough we could get its head up and bring it into shore. Dusty got it in the net and it was a male with the big hooked nose and toothy beak. When the fish first comes head up out of the water and you see that beak and the size it just seems like a monster. In the end it was a great day, everyone caught fish and right from the first hole. Today made up for all the work yesterday for no fish. When the day was over it looked like most groups on the river were getting fish today. For me I got a chance at world class king fishing as we passed through this area on our way to Valdez. Most people pay a lot of money to fly up here for a week just to come here and fish this river. What an experience!

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 43, Klutina River

Thu July 24, 2008

We got picked up at 5:30 by the guide to raft the Klutina for kings. It was just Mike, his friend Don and I on the raft today. Initially he wanted to start close to the end/bottom of the river because the guide had got some fish earlier in the week at the bottom. We drove back just off the Copper Center Klutina bridge on some little goat trail only to find out that there was someone on that spot and one group had camped along the river (not allowed) and one of the jet boaters was running groups up to holes and dropping them off (also not allowed). So we had to change plans and go to the top of the river and raft down, getting to the lower holes later in the day. The ride to the top of the river (14 miles up) is up some little dirt road that is all ruts and holes. I can't believe they can run vehicles up here. The guide drove a 4x4 Ford van pulling the raft and the truck was pretty beat up. Better luck tomorrow...this was just the practice run.

Our guide, Dusty, is from Wyoming, originally a trout guide, and is up here to work the summer to give it a try. He says he likes it and will be back next year.

The Klutina River is white water the whole way, no smooth water and it runs really swift. The guide says it is the 4th fastest river in the country. The water is cold and you get wet. Its really a pretty river, we saw bald eagles and king fishers all day long. We saw a lot of reds rolling along shore, a lot of people in the campgrounds are fishing reds. We saw a few kings roll nearby and they are huge. We even saw one that either broke a line or picked up a lure from the bottom but it jumped at least 3 times completely out of the water with an orange lure in its mouth. We first saw it from the raft as we came down river, it porpoised, completely out of the water and it was over 30 lbs. Once we got ashore that same fish jumped vertically out of the water 3 times as it crossed the river, really impressive!

They run two kinds of boats on the river; rafts with oars and jet boats. We saw 4 or 5 jet boats on the river today. The guide was telling us that one of the jet boats motor quit and without power they can't control or steer the boat. The river is swift and you can get into trouble pretty quick if you can't steer, there are all sorts of boulders and snags. When this boat lost power everybody on board bailed out and the boat got caught up on a boulder, flipped and sank. It sits in the river today, they don't know how they are going to get it off the boulder. Its in the picture below but its hard to tell what it is, it just looks like a white boulder in the water.

It was a tough, long, cold (maybe 60 today), wet day on the river. I never got a hit, the guide says Mike had two hits and Don had one hooked for a minute or two. We only heard of 1 king caught on the river today.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 42, Long Lake to Copper Center

Wed July 23, 2008

In the morning we took the kids for a ride in the canoe. We found some schools of larger trout. A loon came right up to the canoe, paddled around then dove under the canoe. The water was crystal clear and we could watch him swim underneath us, a better show than at an aquarium!

We headed out on the Glenn Highway for the Klutina (Copper Center). The Glenn Highway from Long Lake up to Sheep Mountain is a lot like the road from Poker Creek to Chicken, grades, sharp turns and sharp drop offs. The only difference is the road is paved. We couldn't make any time through here but it sure was picturesque.

There are great views of the Matanuska Glacier, the biggest glacier we have seen yet.

At Sheep Mountain we took a break to look for dall sheep. We spotted a group along the ridgeline with binoculars.

From Sheep Mountain to Glennallen is a high plain with only a couple small, isolated, rough looking communities. At Tahneta Pass, just beyond Sheep Mtn, the road is marked with tall reflectors for snow plows, they must get lots of snow across this plain in the winter. Lots of ATV trails and camps along here.

Glennallen is not much of a town. It's a long way from anything and pretty much a midpoint for travel Valdez to/from Anchorage or Fairbanks. Other than that there are a few sockeye/red and king salmon runs in the area in June and July.

We stayed in "King for a Day" campground in Copper Center. Kind of a rough campground, geared entirely for fishing. The sign below outside the shower says it all. People fish the banks for reds and kings and some jet boat guides operate out of here. The guides live in the campground all summer under some pretty rough conditions.

We needed to contact our king salmon guide and my brothers friends before we fish tomorrow. To give an idea of how spread out this area is we were down in Copper Center, we drove 20 minutes up to Glennallen to get a salmon tag then another 20 minutes up to the Gulkana to talk to the guide and another 10 minutes beyond to the Riverview B&B where my brothers co-workers are staying. It took us almost 2 hours to hit those 2 places and come back to the campground.

The Riverview B&B (at Gakona) where my brother's co-workers are staying is really nice. There are a lot of rough places here and this B&B is just out of place. The buildings, grounds and interior of this place are immaculate. The son of the owners traps in the winter and we had an interesting discussion about how he traps, lots of work in the worst temperatures.

We talked to some people in the campground, it sounds like the king run hasn't really started yet (pretty late).

116 miles today.

5971 miles so far.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 41, Homer to Long Lake

Tue July 22, 2008

We headed out from Homer this morning, we want to make it to Long Lake on the Glenn Highway, maybe 40 miles beyond Anchorage towards GlennAllen. We need to make Glennallen/Copper Center to fish with a guide and some of my brothers co-workers on the 24th and 25th. From there we will head to Valdez for 3 days.

Jen wanted to stop at the "Town of Living Trees" chainsaw woodcarver in Soldotna. This guy had all sorts of carvings on the property. We took pictures of the kids with carved moose and bears, riding a giant king salmon and on a carved carousel. The carved salmon were really cool but a 2 foot one was about $100. The carved carousel was all Alaskan animals, caribou, moose, dall sheep, walrus.

The neighboring business was another carver that did carved log cabins. He carved bear heads onto the log ends and salmon onto the eves. His cabins are really amazing but I am sure it adds a lot to the price of a cabin for all the carving. A 10' row of running salmon was like $2000.

We stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center at Girdwood on the way back to Anchorage. The center is an animal rehab and breeding center. They have some moose, black bear, brown bear, musk ox, caribou and elk. This is the closest we got to a brown bear or a moose, we walked right up to the moose.

Mike picked Long Lake as a place we could boondock on the way across the Glenn Highway to Glennallen. There is a lake right along the road with a pull off with an easy place to launch a canoe. We had a loon come in to our end of the lake at sundown and a kingfisher was grabbing small trout right in front of us. The lake was full of small trout and we tried casting for them from the canoe. Lots of small trout came up and took a look at the lure but we couldn't hook any.

312 miles today.

5769 miles so far.
- Jon

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Alaska '08 Day 40, Homer

Mon July 21, 2008

We were supposed to leave today but we are a day ahead of schedule and we could have left for Soldotna again or do an extra day in Homer. Cheryl and the kids are going to have more to do in Homer so we stayed here. Mondays the Pratt Museum has "Marvelous Mondays"; story time and activities for kids so we went up to see what it was about. They had a turtle story and a turle project for about 30 kids and everyone gets into the museum free.

The city pool (Homer Highschool) had open swimming tonight so we took the kids up for a swim for a change of pace.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 39, Homer

Sun July 20, 2008

We took a halibut charter today. Mike got us reservations on the "Big Easy" of Alaska Saltwater Adventures. They put us together with 4 other people (a retired couple from Portland and a couple from California). Weather at the spit was great, no wind. But on the radio we were hearing 25 knot winds around dangerous Cape/Port Graham. Captain Steve decided to chance it because we would be close to shore. We had a rough ride out and there was a little chop and roll but not too bad. We fished two places; first around flat island in 80 feet of water then later out towards the middle of the inlet on a hump in 200 feet. We fished the first spot until the tide got too fast then moved. We jigged 2lb lead with a 24" rope leader with herring on a big circle hook. We just jigged slowly on the bottom. I picked up the first fish, about 15-20 lbs. All the fish we got were about this size, no big fish. Lost quite a few, hits were pretty quick. We moved when the tide ran so fast our lines ran off and we had a hard time finding bottom. After this the wind dropped a little and we ran out into deep water to fish a hump for the "next tide". Here you got a hit within a minute of hitting bottom, most times almost immediately. Again, I lost quite a few. The captain let Mike and I sort, I threw 4 in a row back. Got pretty tired reeling in all that way. Had to reel in for each lost fish cuz they usually cleaned your bait. When you hooked a fish sometimes I had to lay the rod on the rail. The last reel in of the day I was so sore and tired I didn't think I would make it. The other 4 on the boat had a harder time getting fish and stopped once they got their limit of 2 and did very little sorting (one couple did no sorting). Everybody was done while Mike and I continued to catch and release until the tide changed and the captian suggested we keep the last fish and head in (around 1:00). While we were out we saw puffins, otters, a minke whale and several humpbacks. One humpback surfaced within 200' of the boat. We caught two cod (~20lbs), used them for bait cuz they were "too wormy".

After fishing I met up with the kids for an "Under the docks" tour in the marina. The docks have all sorts of barnacles, mussels, anemones growing below the water line and they take kids out to lay on the docks and look underneath. Its better than any tidal pool because these critters are never above the water since the docks float. You cannot believe all the stuff; huge tree anemones, tube worms, and huge see stars.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 38, Homer

Sat July 19, 2008

Today the weather was clear and no wind, temps maybe upper 60s.

We walked bishops beach at the 10AM low tide. We found hermit crabs, a couple of small sculpins and Emmy found a 6 rayed star. The kids were pretty happy even though I didn't think it was much better than right out front of the campground.

We drove skyline drive above town. Kind of hard to find, easy if you have a ap. Great views of the spit and Kachemak bay. At the east end we ran into fog and turned around.

Later in the day we checked out some of the shops on the spit. The spit was jammed, no place to park, lots of people. I picked up a Salty Dog Saloon T-shirt. The place reminds me of Captain Tony's in Key West. The inside is tiny and dark and the walls are covered with dollar bills people have signed.

After supper Mike and I walked the marina looking for the boat we are going on tomorrow (The Big Easy/Alaska Adventures). We stopped in to the salty dog saloon for a Homer Brewing company IPA served in a Sobe Ice Tea bottle.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 37, Sterling to Homer

Fri July 18, 2008

Sterling to Homer

We want to get down to Homer early before all the beach spots are taken in the city campground by weekenders so we headed out at 7:00.

We stopped at The Moose is Loose bakery at the Soldotna Y (across from the city fishing park). We got a moose snack (a frosted/glazed donut about 10" in diameter) and a 10" tall maple frosted glazed donut ginger bread man. The biggest donuts I have ever seen!

We saw lots of moose (5) just after Soldotna. We saw a cow with twins and had a cow moose run out across the road in front of the camper.

Just after the Soldotna Y the road rises and we could see Mount Redoubt. We had a beautiful clear day and all along there were views out across Cook Inlet to the 3 volcanoes; Mount Redoubt, Mount Iliamna, Mount Augustine.

We hit the city campground (Mariner's Campground) before lunch. Mariner's is the first campground on the spit (Cook Inlet side) and has great views across toward Seldovia. We were able to get 2 sites right next to each other.

We visited the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Visitors' Center. This is probably the largest and nicest NWR visitors' center I have seen, better than even Ding Darling in Florida. We hit it just right, they had a kids discovery lab that was open a couple days a week and it was open when we were there. They had a classroom lab, 8 tables with different subject staffed by a volunteer. They had projects and a couple fish tanks, the kids really liked this.

We walked the slough trail behind the visitors' center. It is really short and goes through the slough down to Bishop's Beach. There were about 20 sandhill cranes back in the slough. I saw a couple dancing around, flapping their wings, and squaking and one even picked up a stick and threw it at another. I found out later this is a common mating ritual with sandhills. We walked out onto Bishops Beach, they say at low tide there are tide pools here, it was high tide. We'll come back here when the tide is low (there are some good minus tides, really low, while we are here).

The kids and I walked the beach out in front of the campground looking for tide pools. We found some ponds in amongst some gravel patches that had anemones and hermit crabs. Lots of eagles on the beach.

Mike asked around at the spit bait store and there are no silvers in yet, we had hoped they would be around so we could fish off the beach. There are people fishing the hole but no one is catching anything.

80 miles today.

5797 miles so far.

- Jon

Friday, July 18, 2008

Alaska '08 Day 36, Seward to Sterling

Thu July 17, 2008

We wanted a day in a full service campground for laundry and showers after coming off 3 nights boondocking (Seward) heading for 3 more (Homer) so we found a commercial campground (Moose River RV) halfway between Seward and Homer in Sterling.

We drove up to the town of Kenai, they are dip netting reds now and I wanted to see it. The king run is just about over on the Kenai and the reds are starting. The dip netters were out along both banks of the Kenai and there were a lot of boats on the river.

We went back and saw the old Russian Orthodox Church (~1895). It is really small but pretty.

The national wildlife center told us the red (sockeye) salmon are running the Kenai river (the Russian is done and wasn't very good). The Kenai reds run is looking pretty good at this point. The lady in the campground office told us they were getting limits (3 fish) in 30 minutes at Moose River across the street at Isaak Walton state park. Earlier in the day we stopped at a city park in Soldotna . At the edge of the park they have a walkway along the river. It was packed with fishermen and everybody was getting fish.

After dinner Mike, Jen and I went over to Isaac Walton park across the street. It is $5 to park at the boat ramp, there is like 6 parking spots. We walked back to the merge of the Moose River and Kenai River and there was a half a dozen guys fishing the Moose. Everybody was catching some so we gave it a try. Initially we had the wrong gear (small pencil lead weight with 36" leaders and flies). A local told us to use 2 ounce keel weights and 18" leaders cuz we had no current here. When you feel the weight hit a fish, set the hook. Once we switched to this we started catching fish. The problem is this is snagging and all the fish we got were foul hooked. We caught some sockeyes that were almost 8 lbs., really big for reds. Mike and I probably brought in 4 fish each. We mentioned to one of the locals that we wanted to keep some so we wanted some legal hookings and he said go around the corner to the Kenai and fish with the pencil lead/long leader rigs there. We did and I snagged another nice fish and Mike got one with a legal catch. I had some trouble getting the hang of flipping ~15' of line. The idea is the reds swim up the river with their mouth open. When you feel a hit it may be your line going through the mouth of a salmon so set the hook. This appears to work. The guys in Saldotna were flipping (kind of like fly rod fishing).

87 miles today.

5503 miles so far.
- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 35, Seward

Wed July 16, 2008

Today we did a 5 hour wildlife cruise through Resurrection Bay. The weather was rainy but it did not affect the wildlife. We saw otters and bald eagles, Dall's propoise, puffins, murres, a pod of orcas, Stellar's sea lions and humpback whales.

As we ate dinner back at the camper a harbor seal was working the pilings out front. We've seen otters, eagles and seals right off the beach in front of the camper.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 34, Seward

Tue July 15, 2008

Today we toured the Alaska Sea Life Center. They have a great display local animals and fish. Anna really liked the puffins. They have a tank where you can see the puffins (and other seabirds) dive and swim underwater. The puffins "fly" underwater, they don't just dive. The have a sea lion and some seals. You can see just how big the sea lion is from below when you look into his tank. He has to be 15 foot long and 10 foot arm to arm.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 33, Anchorage to Seward

Mon July 14, 2008

We set out for Seward today around 9AM, it's a short drive, ~120 mi. The drive takes you around Turnigan Arm and through a pass over to the south side of the Kenain Penninsula. The Kenai is mostly mountains and the roads and towns are all at the base of the mountains on the ocean or in passes. Today was an overcast day, like everyday we've had in Anchorage. The tops of all the mountains are hidden by clouds but you can see they are covered in snow. The drive around Turnigan Arm rivals any national park. We saw lots of bald eagles along here.

We got into Seward around 3PM, we made lots of stops or pictures. We stayed in the Seward city campground, no services but right on the beach, great views of all the mountains around the town.

After we got setup at the campground we drove up to Exit Glacier. The Glacier is maybe 10 mi out of town. There is a 1.5 mi trail from the parking area up to the glacier. The trail itself is pretty interesting. There is dense growth really low, glacial wearing on the rocks as you climb and at the top great views back at the mountains.

After dinner we had a campfire on the beach and watched for bald eagles. Tonight we had one juvenile bald eagle that came down the the pilings right in front of us.

127 miles today.

5289 miles so far.

- Jon

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Alaska '08 Day 32, Anchorage

Sun July 13, 2008

We went down to the Anchorage Farmers Market, about a mile away. It's really not a farmers market but more like a crafts and souvenir market. Some of the art was really nice and somewhat expensive. Lots of photograhpy, fur, antler art, and indian style art (by non-indians). They also have food vendors and we got some excellent salmon quesadillas!

We walked around downtown to look in some souvenir shops. The city has hung a lot of giant flower pots. Many of the small flower gardens have huge tuberous begonias. The city has salmon statues on display around town that they gave to various artists to paint or cover like Cleveland has guitars. They are getting ready to celebrate 50 years of statehood in 2009.

We stopped at the Ulu Factory down in the flats below the Farmers Market, we wanted an ulu for pizza and quesadillas.

We went back an took a look at Ship Creek, it's right behind the Ulu Factory. There were maybe 2 dozen people fishing today, they are between salmon runs right now. I saw one salmon, looked like a silver salmon, I think that is the next run to start late this month.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 31, Anchorage

Sat July 12, 2008

We visited the Alaska Native Heritage Center. They have displays about Athabascan, Aleut, Inupiaq, Yupik and Tlingit/Haida/Eyak/Tsimshian peoples. They have a small display inside on each and then outside they have a house or structure outside for each. They put on various demonstrations and talks and we saw the native games demo and a native dance demo. For the games they demonstrated a standing long jump where you start on your knees. They kicked a ball on a string where you start sitting with one leg in your hand and leaning on your other arm. They had some high school kids that could start from a sitting position and spin into a one armed handstand and kick the ball when it was like 7 foot in the air. They also have an event where they kick the ball in a one legged kick where you start and land on the leg you kicked with. For the dance they had 6 to 8 men who played a skin hoop drum and 6 to 8 women who danced. The dancing has the hand motions of a hula. The kids really liked the shows and crawling
through the houses.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 30, Denali to Anchorage

Fri July 11, 2008

This morning we set out for Anchorage. Really a pretty drive, all mountains down to Cantwell and Willow Creek. We saw a bald eagle and a golden eagle before Cantwell. There are a couple of salmon streams along here; Montana, Sheep and Willow creek. It didn't look like anything was running now but you can see there are several campgrounds and outfitters and Willow Creek has a walkway on either side of the river so fisherman don't destroy the riverbank. It looks like all these places get really crowed when the salmon are running.

In Wasilla we visited the Iditarod Headquarters. They had a movie, gift shop, husky pups and a sled dog ride. The kids got to hold all the puppies. Mike and Jen bought the kids a dog sled ride. Here the sled was a wagon with ATV tires pulled by 10 dogs. We got some good pictures of the kids, they really had fun here. Even Emmy has now put her stuffed animals into a sled team.

Just after Wasilla you see the mountains of the Kenai. Really a pretty drive into Anchorage. It was overcast and raining (fairly common here) but the clouds where high enough you could see the mountains all around.

250 miles today.

5162 miles so far.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 29, Denali

Thu July 10, 2008

At 9:30 we caught a bus to Toklat river, about half way into the park (mile 53). This is a 6 hour ride, Wonder Lake was like 11. This is about as far as I want to go with the kids. We didn't see as many animals as I thought we would but the scenery is amazing and we did get to see Mount McKinley with no clouds (hadn't even planned on this since it is somewhat rare). Polychrome pass has some really great views across the valley to the Alaska Range. Polychrome pass is a cool ride. The busses drive up through Sable Canyon then up along a ridge. The road is one lane, hairpin turns, steep grades, and steep rolloffs. To pass one bus stops at a wide section and waits for the other to crawl past. We got lots of good pictures and saw caribou, dall sheep, golden eagles and a moose. But no grizzly bear, most people do see grizzly bear. Both kids did really good for a 6 hour ride.

After the bus ride the kids finished their Junior Ranger books and we went over to the visitors' center and got their badges. Emmy got one too, she did the whole Junior Ranger book.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 28, Denali

Wed July 9, 2008

We took a free bus from the visitors' center to the dog kennels for the dog sled demonstration. This is a really popular thing to do at Denali. They have maybe 2 dozen or so dogs in the kennel and 3 rangers walking around answering questions. They let you walk around for 20 minutes or so then a ranger does a demonstration where he talks about dog sledding and hooks up some dogs and goes around a short track. The rangers emphasize that this is not cruel to the dogs, they are bred for this and this is what they want to do. Evidently the dog sledders catch a lot of flak from the animal rights groups. The ranger also stressed that they use the dogs in the winter to re-supply the back woods cabins. The dogs are functional, they are not here for the tourists. Prior to 1960 everyone had dog teams for the winter. In the 60s snowmobiles started replacing the dog teams. The snowmobiles were not reliable enough, they don't always start and they run out of gas. The dogs proved to be more reliable and safer, they always run and if you get stranded in the snow you can keep warm with your dogs. For the demonstration a ranger
hooks up 5 dogs to a sled and runs around a short loop. They had 3 rangers handling the dogs (who get really excited when they see the sled). It was all the ranger could do to hold on to the sled when he set them off. I couldn't believe how fast the sled goes. 5 dogs can pull an empty sled pretty fast. They say they can go as fast as 15 mph but after a while they fall into a trot. On this short track the dogs don't run long enough to trot.

This afternoon aunt Jenny had sled dog project for the kids. Anna and Jen made dog sleds out of popsicle sticks. Anna really got into this. She made a sled, put together a dog team out of littlest pet dogs and filled the sled with littlest pet supplies. Emmy found leaf rubbings (from the ranger backpack kit) more interesting than the dog sled team. Emmy also did a wolf footprint cast out of the junior ranger backpack kit.

After dinner we went to a ranger talk in the campground ampitheatre. The talk was about the arctic ground squirrel. It was geared towards kids and Anna really liked it. The arctic ground squirrel is a keystone species in the park, just about every predator here eats them especially the golden eagle and
red fox.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 27, Fairbanks to Denali

Tue July 8, 2008

We set out for Denali at 8AM.

We stopped in Nenana which is a major Yukon river barge tug port. In the spring Nenana puts a pole out on the river ice and watches for the pole to move downstream to indicate the river thaw. This is a big thing here in the winter/spring. The pole is a large black and white tripod of logs maybe 20 feet tall. The top of the tripod is connected by a cable to a clock on shore. When the ice breaks and starts flowing the tripod moves and pulls the cable stopping the clock. The town visitor center had a display on it,
one of the old tripods, dates of each years thaw (May 14 2008). They bet on the exact time of breakup and anyone can enter for $2.50. 2008's price was over $300,000.

Nenana also had a rack of "split" fish. The fish (salmon) are freeze dried in the winter then air dried in the spring and fed to the dog sled dogs, bones and all. The process of drying the fish makes the bones soft so the dogs can digest them.

We have reservations for 3 nights at Denali's Riley Creek but we are one day early. We got into Riley Creek at noon and thought we might be able to get a walk in site but no luck. We started calling around and a lot of the nearby commercial campgrounds are full. We were lucky to get a site on the phone at Denali RV park & motel.

We drove in to the Denali Visitors center, pretty crowded. They have a small museum display of the animals, trappers and indians. We picked up the Junior Ranger info for the kids. They even have an activity backpack that you can sign out for kids to use. The backpack has animal and plant identification books, experiments, journal, footprint casting mold, binoculars, all for free. I think the idea is the backpack can go on the bus to keep kids busy because its a long ride for kids. We got tickets to ride the bus the last day we are here, Thursday. We'll take the shorter 6 hour ride to Toklat River. The long ride to Wonder Lake is about 12 hours.

After the visitor center we drive out to savage river turnaround. It is 13 miles back and is the furthest point you can drive a car. From there on it is park buses only to control traffic flow. We didn't see any animals on the drive back but we did at the turnaround. We saw ptarmigan (>6) down along the river in the brush. A couple of them had chicks. They were running all over, making lots of noise.

We hiked the trail to the top of Savage Rock.

On top there were arctic ground squirrels all over. Young ones were wrestling on the hill side and would roll down the trail.

Someone in the lot said they saw pika here but we didn't, that would have been cool, never saw a pika. There was a snowshoe hare and a baby hare running around the parking lot edge. The hares have really big rear feet, out of proportion for their size.

On the ride back I stopped at a pull off that looked over a beaver pond and we saw a 2 or 3 beaver swimming back and forth.

149 miles today.

4908 miles so far.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 26, Fairbanks

Mon July 7, 2008

Mike and Jen took us to 2 moose they saw by the highway exit ramp in a creek. We went and took some pictures. Looked like a young bull and cow, maybe 1 year old siblings.

Jen also took us to the BLM visitors center. They have a big visitors' center with a movie and kids activities. The kids really liked this place, we stayed here over an hour.

After supper we went to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North. They didn't have a really big display but it is really nice. They had all the Alaska animals and several examples of Mammoths and other ice age animals discovered in the perma frost.

- Jon

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Alaska '08 Day 25, Fairbanks

Sun July 6, 2008

We drove up to University of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Station on the north side of Fairbanks to see the musk ox farm. They run a 1 hour tour where they talk about the musk ox and their research. They also have a lot of caribou they are studying.

On the way to UAF LARS we stopped at Creamers Farm, there is a bird watching path. There were 50 or so sandhill cranes, pretty close to the platform, got some good pictures.

Anna made candy sushi with Aunt Jenny.

Aunt Jenny had movie night for Anna and Emmy. Movie and popcorn, the high point of the day!

- Jon

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Alaska '08 Day 24, Tok to Fairbanks

Sat July 5, 2008

Easy drive today, 200 miles on good, flat roads.

Stopped in Delta Junction, end of the ALCAN, and got the kids a certificate for travelling the ALCAN.

Stopped at Santaland in North Pole. Talked to Santa, mailed some postcards so they get the official North Pole AK cancellation and fed the reindeer.

We got into Riverview Campground in North Pole AK around 7PM and met up with Mike and Jen! ! !

205 miles today.

4759 miles so far.
- Jon

Friday, July 4, 2008

Alaska '08 Day 23, Dawson to Tok

Fri July 4, 2008

We left to catch the ferry around 8:30, I didn't want to get stuck in too big of a line. We hit it right, we waited for 3 ferries, maybe 20 minutes, there were 3 campers and 2 semi trucks ahead of us. The semis go on the ferry alone.

The Top of the World Highway is amazing. I don't remember too much of this highway from '82. On the Canadian side the highway is paved most of the way and follows a ridgeline mostly windswept of trees. The border patrol said that in May and August they have caribou all over the place. In the summer the caribou have all moved north. The last part of the Canadian side is dirt but it is graded, wide and mostly smooth.

On the US side the road drops down into a valley and follows a river and the road changes. Instead of being straight and high on a ridge line it is turns and hills. The road is rough. It looks like there is a heavy stone base for the road and in lots of places the road is warn down to the base. There are heavy washboards, blind turns and many very narrow places. I had to stop twice to allow oncoming traffic to pass. The most narrow/blind part is the part after Walker Fork. The road climbs the side of a valley and it is a lane and a half wide with a steep roll off and many blind hills and turns. I met a semi along here and a group of campers. I stopped for the truck driver so he could pass and he barely slowed down, he knew exactly how much lane is truck took. As for passing campers well some just come as close as they can to you. The US side is paved south of Chicken but is full of potholes and frost heaves. I could average about 25 mph in the US gravel and maybe 35 mph on the paved part until we were 20 or 30 miles south of Chicken.

I am glad we drove the Top of the World but I wouldn't want to have to go back through there anytime soon. The Top of the World is a great drive but the US side is nothing to see and really scary/bad road. But if you were to turn around and go back at the US border you would go 400 miles south to Whitehorse and from there you would be 400 miles to Tok so this was the shortest route.

We stopped in Chicken at the Gold Panner and "downtown", both just tourist traps. The "downtown" is rough looking but what I remember of ALCAN tourist traps. From Chicken to Tetlin Junction (ALCAN) is a long drive through nothing, no one lives out here. The area from the border to Chicken has been mined for gold and in places still is being mined today.

Once you hit Tetlin Junction you turn onto the ALCAN and the road is great. Once you hit Tok you also hit civilization, there are a lot of people living in this area. We made it into Tok about 5PM (9 hours on the road to go 188 miles) and stay at the Sourdough Campground. They had a 4th of July picnic with free salmon and country music! I bought some "reindeer on a stick", tasted like kielbasa. In the morning they have all you can eat sourdough pancakes.

186 miles today.

4547 miles so far.
- Jon