Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Alaska '08, Epilogue

What a great trip, can't wait to do it again!

75 days, about 10,000 miles.

Next time more time anywhere along the ocean in Alaska. We found the coastal areas the best. More time on the Kenai, for Valdez and the Inside Passage. We would spend less time in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and yes, Denali. Top of the World highway is something to see but next time I would skip Dawson City to take time elsewhere.

Things we wished we would have brought (for tide pooling, boat rides and fishing): stocking caps, long underwear, flannel lined jeans, Xtra Tuffs, rain pants.

- Jon

Alaska '08, Day 75, Elkart IN to Cleveland OH

Mon Aug 25, 2008

Stopped in to see Mom for lunch and say hello. We got back into Cleveland around 3:30.

Nothing left to do but plan for the next trip!

233 miles today.

10441 miles so far!

- Jon

Alaska '08, Day 74, Chicago

Sun Aug 24, 2008

All of us rode the train into downtown this morning. It was a beautiful day to walk around. We stopped at the Billy Goat for lunch, went to see the "bean" and the kids played in the Crown fountain. There was a big crowd in Millenium park. We got back in time for pizza at Bill and Mary Beths'.

We headed out at 8PM so we could get out of town before the morning rush. We drove as far as Elkhart and stayed in a rest area.

125 miles today.

10194 miles so far.

- Jon

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Alaska '08, Day 73, La Crosse WI to Chicago IL

Sat Aug 23, 2008

Made it into Bill and Mary Beths' by 3PM. The kids all got to play, they were on eleven! Got some Portillo's for dinner!

260 miles today.

10069 miles so far.

- Jon

Alaska '08, Day 72, Wall SD to La Crosse WI

Fri Aug 22, 2008

First thing this morning we went up to Buffalo Gap National Grasslands visitors center, they had a nice display.

We walked through Wall Drug, bought a buffalo chip frisbee for Reed and Mark in Chicago, took some pictures on the statues out back.

We made it to La Crosse by midnight.

600 miles today.

9809 miles so far.

- Jon

Alaska '08, Day 71, Sundance to Wall

Thu Aug 21, 2008

We drove up to Devil's Tower. Nice views of the tower on the drive in. We hiked around the tower and the kids got yet another junior ranger badge! We even saw a white tailed doe and fawn along the trail.

From Devil's Tower we drove on through Rapid City on to Wall. We didn't have time for a stop in Rapid City, would have liked to drive the needles highway or run up to Sylvan Lake. We stopped in Sturgis to pick up some bike week stuff for Tommy and TC, bike week was first week of August. Lots of development in Rapid City. There is now a Cabela's along the highway, and there is now one in Mitchel.

We got into Wall around 6 PM, stayed at Sleepy Hallow campground like before. At sundown we drove a little ways through the Badlands park. Saw lots of mule deer and some big horn sheep. Hoped to see some owls but it was too dark by the time we got down to the prairie dog town.

364 miles today.

9208 miles so far.

- Jon

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Alaska '08, Day 70, Butte MT to Sundance WY

Wed Aug 20, 2008

Found an espresso-mat in Butte to get some good coffee before setting off this morning (Java Junction).

We rode through mountains and trees from Idaho to around Bozeman.

We stopped at the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument. We didn't have time for this coming home from Yellowstone in 2007 so I wanted to hit it. The visitors' center presented only objective facts; dates, who was there, troup/indian movements, timeline. Nothing about Custer's reputation, mistakes that were made or the Whiteman vs. Indian struggles. I guess they may have removed some of the subjective commentary as opinions changed over time.

We saw antelope and deer from Bozeman to Sundance. Some of the hay fields were being irrigated and you would see groups of antelope in the hay. One hay field had to have 100 antelope and deer.

Stayed in Mountain View Campground in Sundance WY.

528 miles today.

9005 miles so far.

- Jon

Alaska '08, Day 69, Seattle WA to Butte MT

Tue Aug 19, 2008

Rainy and cool again this morning.

We drove out of the rain and clouds within an hour of Seattle. Its a pretty drive up from Seattle over the mountains. Crossed the Columbia river within two hours of Seattle.

Spokane is 20 minutes from Coeur d'Alene ID. Lots of ski boat and camper dealers in Spokane.

Hit the Montana border just before sundown and drove to Butte. Stayed in a WalMart in Butte.

574 miles today.

8477 miles so far.

- Jon

Alaska '08, Day 68, Seattle

Mon Aug 18, 2008

Rainy and cool this morning, more like what I expect for Seattle.

We took the kids to the Space Needle and took some pictures from the top. Kind of cloudy but you could see the mountains north of Vancouver.

We drove along the waterfront and hit some of the tourist shops, found a good sourdough bakery.

We went back to Pikes Place to pick up more fresh fruit (cherries, nectarines, dates) and some seafood for supper. We had steamed mussels, shrimp and crab for supper, life on the road is tough!

- Jon

Monday, August 18, 2008

Alaska '08, Day 67, Seattle

Sun Aug 17, 2008

We drove down to Pioneer Square first thing today. Cheryl wanted to hit the Klondike Goldrush National Park. The kids got another junior ranger badge because this junior ranger book was different than Skagway's. The parks' display here is the best I have seen about the goldrush, better than Skagway's or any we saw in the Yukon.

We walked Pioneer Square and took some pictures of the buildings and totem poles. The weather today was sunny, hot and clear again so there was a ton of people downtown.

We hit Pike Place Market. It was jammed, they are celebrating their centenial this year and they had a mini festival today. This has got to be the best city market in the US. We got the obligatory picture of the kids on the pig.

We checked out the seafood stands, their tourist prices are more expensive than home but it is interesting to look since they have everything.

We picked up some Ranier cherries, last of the season, its getting late. Lots of fruits and veggies. And Cheryl got some flowers, their flower market is amazing and the prices are cheap.

Also checked all their art stands outside. Really a great place. There is something here for everyone.

- Jon

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Alaska '08 Day 66, Squamish to Seattle

Sat Aug 16, 2008

The driving was much easier this morning in the daylight. No problem when you can see the lane markings. There was construction all the way into Vancouver. Between the grades, turns and heaves Clinton to Lillooet to Pemberton, and the Construction Whistler to Vancouver, I would say this is the most challenging road I have ever driven a camper on .

We tried to park the camper outside Vancouver and run the jeep into downtown but we couldn't find a lot to park the camper. Everything was just too congested so we pushed on to Seattle.

We crossed the US border at Abbotsford (skipping the Surrey crossing because I remembered the crossing for the Fraser Canyon route). From there we took 546 to 539 to I-5 to I-90. After striking out at a couple campgrounds we were able to phone ahead to Trailer Inn in Bellevue. Turns out this is the same place we stayed in '96.

245 miles today.

7901 miles so far.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 65, Prince George to Squamish

Fri Aug 15, 2008

Prince George to Squamish

We stayed in the Wal Mart parking lot in Prince George. After looking at our alternatives for heading south we decided to take the road through Vancouver (Sea to Sky Highway) rather than going through the Fraser Canyon. Everything we had said the Sea to Sky Highway was more scenic.

Bought fresh fruit; plums, peaches, pears, and blueberries just south of Williams Lake.

Clinton to Lillooet

We picked up the Sea to Sky Highway just south of Clinton BC around 5 PM. The drive to Lillooet is over a hilly, winding, mountain road with some hairpin turns. The road is full of heaves and breaks. This area is dry and there aren't many trees. Lillooet is just across the Fraser River. It is a pretty big town and it is in the middle of no where, it is a tough drive in to here no matter which way you come.

Lillooet to Pemberton

Aftuer Lillooet the road climbs a side canyon and gets into wetter terrain thick with large evergreens. This stretch of road has some steep grades, 15%, hairpin turns and one lane bridges. I passed several motorhomes on this road, in the states they wouldn't allow motorhomes on a road like this. The road eventually drops down and follows a stream up through a pass and over to a rough looking indian town (Mt Currie?) and then into Pemberton.

Pemberton to Whistler

From Pemberton there is a relatively flat drive up to the ski town of Whistler. We got into Whistler at sundown; ~9PM.

Whistler to Squamish

South of Whistler they are widening the 2 lane mountain road to 4 lanes for the 2010 Olympics. They have the road torn up from Whistler all the way to Vancouver, with very little left untouched. They are blasting, building new bridges, and have the road routed all over the place. In some places changing as often as every 100'. By the time we hit this it was dark. Many sections of road were poorly marked and there was a steady flow of people coming out of Vancouver to go to the Whistler area for the weekend. Between the lack of street markings and the oncoming headlights it was very difficult to see where the lanes were routed and where the edges were. I got about 30 miles from Whistler, into Squamish, and called it quits. This was too tough to drive in the dark. We stayed in a hotel parking lot in Squamish.

181 miles today.

7654 miles so far.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 64, Prince Rupert to Prince George

Thu Aug 14, 2008

We arrived in Prince Rupert at 5:15 AM (4:15 AM Alaska/our time). The drive out of Prince Rupert follows the Skeena River. The Skeena River is really wide at Prince Rupert. Its hard to tell where the river channel is but it looks shallow all the way across. There are bolders all across the river and I couldn't see any channel markers so maybe this river is not navigatable. The road to Prince George doesn't go over the mountains but through them along the river. There are great views of the river, mountains and waterfalls all along up until just before New Hazelton. When 16 first meets the Skeena, the view reminds me of Turnagain Arm. After 30 miles or so the river narrows and then it is like the Klutina, swift whitewater, and further up it is glacial green. Lots of the 20' aluminum welded river boats here. We noticed lots of people fishing the banks. Looked like there were some fishing lodges from outside Prince Rupert to up around the Cassiar Highway. It was not raining but cool and foggy when we got off the ferry. Sun was shining by New Hazelton. By the time we got to Houston BC the sun was shining and it was almost 80 degrees. At the New Hazelton gas station a guy told me they get all salmon in Skeena River, springs (kings) to 35 lbs., cohos (don't call them silvers), sockeyes (only the indians catch them because they don't bite unless you "floss" them), humpies and steelhead. They are fishing cohos now. I see a lot of fly fisherman on the river. Lady in the gas station said you can get 20 lb s. steelhead, the record from here is 33 lbs. After Moricetown and Smithers you are onto the interior plain and this looks to be pretty good farm land the further inland you get. There are actually a lot of people living along here, outside the towns, not like the roads to the north. There looks to be an interesting indian village in Hazelton; 'Ksan Historical Village. We didn't have time to stop but Milepost says they have 7 communal houses and lots of totem poles. Moricetown had an interesting water fall on the Skeena that the indians dip net salmon but we couldn't get into the pull off.

518 miles today.

7217 miles so far.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 63, Ketchikan

Wed Aug 13, 2008

On the Orca whale watch boat in Juneau Cheryl heard from the one deck hand that there was one of the Deadliest Catch TV show boats in Ketchikan (Aleutian Ballad) so she wanted to check it out for Tommy since he is a huge fan of the show. We looked into the tour ( and it looked like something the kids would like.

They demonstrated long lining and pulled in rock fish. They fed one of the rock fish to an eagle.

They pulled a large king crab pot full of crabs. I didn't know this but the female king crab looks nothing like the male, the females have stubby legs.

They pulled a dungeness pot, a tanner (snow) crab pot

a line of prawn pots (full of prawns and seaweed crabs).

They had an octupus they had previously pulled from a pot and kept in a keg. Nobody got to hold the octopus, I think they're a little feisty.

Everyone got to touch or hold just about everything. The kids just loved this (although the audience was mostly adults)! Each of the deck hands and the captain told at least one story and walked around asking for questions about commercial fishing. By the end they handed around king crabs, red king crabs, dungeness crabs, box crabs, seaweed crabs, prawns, rock fish. It was interesting talking to the deck hands and the captains wife about how they got this idea rolling. One important aspect is they have an agreement with the indians so that they can fish indian waters because they are not allowed to set any of their gear in Alaska State near shore waters. Indian waters are not subject to Alaska law so they can do whatever they want (like feeding eagles).

3rd day of heavy blowing rain. We got soaked coming walking back from the Bearing Sea boat ride.

It was windy and blowing rain when we got on the ferry at 8:30 PM. The ferry went 9:15 PM to 4:15 AM so we got a room and slept the whole way. Around midnight the ferry hit open water and it pounded in the rough sea. I got up and watched out the window, it was pretty cool.

- Jon

The cats got sea sick and puked.

I want to live here when I grow up and go on the crab tour and ride the ferry everyday!

- Emmy

Alaska '08 Day 62, Ketchikan

Tue Aug 12, 2008

We drove to the south end of the road to Saxman Totem Village. This is an indian park vs. Totem Bite being a state park. They had over a dozen totem poles and a house.

Unfortunately there was no description of the stories the totem poles were telling. There was a guided tour but only for the cruises, the indians don't do any tours (or for that matter, give any information). We also noticed one of the cruise tour guides "embellishing" some of the stories. When we were at the Sitka raptor center a lady asked about some facts that she had heard on a cruise tour and the naturalist told her that she was told a story. I think you need to be careful, some of the guides are trying too hard to make people happy.

We walked Creek Street again. Today there were 3 harbor seals in there. They were feeding on the salmon, they would come up with them in their mouths.

We drove some side streets to look around at the houses and the boardwalks and stairs. We drove up to the native fish hatchery above creek street but it closed at 3:30 because all the cruise ships had left. We noticed most things in downtown Ketchikan close once the cruise ships leave.

When we got back we I took the kids and walked Clover Pass marina. We could see from the docks, true stars, moon jellies, lion's main jellies, and Cheryl found a sunflower star on the bottom. The docks had frilled anenomes hanging on them. Clover Pass rents the 20' aluminum boats for $250 a day plus fuel. Not a bad deal if you have 3 to 4 people. If Mike were here I would have been tempted to rent one and fish the morning and sightsee with the kids in the afternoon. I saw one group of 3 guys come in on one of the rentals and they caught a limit of pinks trolling. I am not sure its worth trolling for pinks but definately for silvers or kings.

2nd day of heavy blowing rain.

- Jon

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Alaska '08 Day 61, Ketchikan

Mon Aug 11, 2008

Totem Bite State Park is close to the campground so we ran down there this morning before lunch. It was raining pretty heavy but we still managed to walk it and take pictures.

Emmy and I looked through some tide pools at the state park. The water here is crystal clear and the tide pools are full of little hermit crabs and sculpins.

After lunch we drove to the north end of the road at Settlers cove. There is and interesting short rainforest trail down to the beach. We all looked through some more tide pools. Tide pools, hours of entertainment for kids! The pink salmon were jumping all across the pass out front too.

We drove downtown and walked a little in the rain. The kids wanted to ride the short funicular up to the lodge.

Driving around today I stopped and got a coffee at an espresso-mat. We first saw an espresso-mat in Seattle back in '96 and every town up here, big or small, Canada or Alaska, has at least one. We've been taking it for granted but they are serious up here about their coffee. This has got to be the highest concentration of espresso-mats.

- Jon

Monday, August 11, 2008

Alaska '08 Day 60, Ketchikan

Sun Aug 10, 2008

We got into Ketchikan around 3AM and parked in the ferry lot until 9AM before driving out to Clover Pass. Good thing, Clover Pass' sign is down for work or whatever so there was no indication from the road, just happened to see a camper from the road. The campground is tight. If anyone parks next to us I can't push out the slide. There are a lot of seasonals here. Maybe guides for the charter boats. For the most part they are in tents or slide ins. Lots of gear under patio tents at their sites. There is one across from us with a military/safari style 6x10' rectangular tent with a stove. They were smoking fish in the stove today. The campground has a motel with maybe 20 rooms and a large marina. There are maybe six 20' Hewes with "Clover Pass Lodge" on the side for coho charters. Water in the marina is really clear.

After getting set up in the campground we ran down to the South East Alaska Discovery Center so the kinds could finish off their Junior Ranger program for the Tongass Natl Forest from the ferry. This visitors' center is run by the Forest Service but has info for all the public land government agencies. The place looks new and has some really nice displays. The kids really liked this and the junior ranger scavenger hunt.

We walked around downtown, over to Whale Park and took some pictures of the totem poles and the funicular.

Walked the marina (berth 3). The city has decorated the marina light poles with stained glass! The docks, boardwalk and street downtown are all on pilings. Along the pilings we could see the occassional starfish and even a dungeness crab.

Down at Creek Street, on the Stedman St Bridge there was a group of fisherman trying to catch pinks with flies from the bridge. When a guy hooked a pink he would walk his line above everyone else and over to the foot of the bridge then walk down and land the fish.

We walked up Creek Street which is a historical section of town where they built on pilings along both sides of a creek in downtown. There were two harbor seals in there. I don't know if they were catching the pinks but I did see one holding a pink but it could have been a spawned out carcass.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 59, Sitka to Ketchikan

Sat Aug 9, 2008

Saw a few whales from the ferry. Emmy saw one "come all the way out of the water" right next to the boat.

Between the stops, 2 kids movies, meals and snacks the kids didn't really get bored.

Had a good halibut sandwhich on the ferry.

Kake was a rough looking indian town. Petersburg looked pretty small, had one camper get off. Nice houses in Petersburg. Wrangell looked bigger. The Wrangell Narrows start just after (south of) Petersburg. The narrows did not look as narrow as the passage just north of Sitka. There were quite a few fishing lodges on both sides of the narrows south of Petersburg. Saw lots of people fishing coho from 16' lunds.

We hit Wrangell at 9PM and saw the sun set. After that there wasn't anything to see until Ketchikan.

- Jon

Alaska '08 Day 58, Sitka

Fri Aug 8, 2008

When we were up at the Sitka National Historical Park visitors' center on Wednesday they told us the carver there, Tommy Joseph, was raising a totem pole Friday at noon in the state park. So we went down to the park about an hour early to watch. A big crowd showed up. The totem is a memorial to nature photographer Michio Hoshino who was killed by a bear in Russia some years ago. It was commissioned by his family and they asked the state if it could be placed in the park (it is in Halibut Point State Rec area, on the beach). The ceremony had some Japanese songs and prayers and Tlingit songs and prayers, a real mix of cultures. A Tlingit tribe that befriended Michio spoke as well as the tribe whose land this traditionally was. The ceremony kicked off a little late and went until about 2:00. At the end of the ceremony anyone who wanted could help pull the ropes. They had a log saw horse to pull it up to and ropes behind and on either side so it could be adjusted in any direction. It went up real quick and then they did a little adjusting side to side and it was done. The totem had symbols of the things Michio photographed; a bear, humpback and caribou.

The kids kept themselves busy on the beach during the raising by chasing shore crabs.

We walked through the National Parks' Russian Bishops house. You had to go on a 30 minute tour to see the upper furnished floors. It had been a long day for the kids today so we skipped the tour and wandered through the first floor which is a small museum. The building was built in 1843. It is a log hewn structure and was used by the church until the 1960s when it became too much for them to maintain. In 1972 the Park Service took possession and started restoring it. The construction is really interesting. The logs are hewn square with tongue and groove corners. It was built by Finnish shipwrites and logs are joined with shipwrite joints that allow the wood to flex, shrink and expand which probably explains how the building lasted so long. The floors and ceilings had two layers of wood with sand and gravel insulation between. Really interesting.

We walked around downtown. Its obvious they get a lot of cruise ships. For such a small town they had as many souvenir items as Juneau, just not as many stores.

We toured the Russian Orthodox Church. This one was far bigger than the one in Kenai or Juneau. This one also has many more icons.

Left the campground around 8:30PM so as not to deal with the entrance road in the dark. The ferry came in to Sitka (from Juneau early) so they loaded us around 1AM, left around 3AM. The boat backtracked most of the way to Juneau, maybe so they don't ever go onto open ocean. We stopped at Kake at 11AM,
Petersburg at 4PM, Wrangell at 9PM and Ketchikan at 3AM.

- Jon