July 22, 2006

Got up at 3:45 a.m. so that we could get to the ferry by the 4:30 time mandated. We were supposed to be taking a ferry, the Malaspina, one of the Alaska Marine Highway ferries, to Skagway and it was supposed to leave at 6:15. Unfortunately, the boat ahead of us was delayed and therefore, so were we. Instead of leaving at 6:15, we didn't leave until after 6:30 and then, instead of only an hour to Skagway, we didn't get in until 8:30. The loading and unloading process was interesting though. Picture RV's the size of ours, some bigger and many smaller as well along with a bunch of towed ('toad") vehicles all having to get onto this ferry. Each vehicle is given a lane according to the footage of the vehicle. Then, the seamen simply start directing one vehicle at a time and getting them all parked and secured. Bob was the last one on - and he had to pull into the last spot which unfortunately also meant that he had to back out, up a long narrow ramp. The worst part was that it was low tide. Picture tides of 28 feet or so....you can imagine the angle of the ramp. But, we both made out fine.

Skagway is a typical cruise ship stop - some of the same shops as are in the Caribbean and Hawaiian ports, including Del Sol. However, they are located in old mining buildings that have been lovingly restored so the town itself doesn't have the "roughness" of the other towns. Outside of town though, the countryside reverts to the same junkyard properties as we have seen consistently in the North.

The drive up the Klondike highway from Skagway was magnificent. At first, it was rainy and foggy just as it has been for the past three days. However, that soon changed as the fog started to lift the higher we got up and the further away from the coast.

It is interesting how each section of highway that we are on seems to have a different character about its landscape. Skagway, like Haines, is surrounded by high glaciated mountains on a fjord. However, as you climb out of Skagway, the terrain is incredibly steep but breathtaking and occasionally, you can get a glimpse of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad tracks and/or the train itself which winds along knife-edged tracks leading to oblivion below. Needless to say, the road is similar in character and once again, I couldn't look down in spots.

The vegetation is also different. Instead of the lush rainforest of Haines, we encountered cold, windy, tortured tundrascape aptly called the "Tormented Valley". At White Pass itself, there are numerous alpine lakes with islands of stunted black spruce and tundra grasses and lichens. The wind was fierce as well.

Then, we cleared Canadian customs and began the trek up the southern section of the Klondike Highway, through Carcross (caribou crossing - didn't see any) and onto Jake's Corner where the road junctioned with the Alaska Highway. We are now on the Alaska Highway and staying at the Yukon Motel and RV park - actually a nice place on beautiful Teslin Lake.

When we first got onto this section of the Alaska Highway - on the way up weeks ago, it seemed so incredibly scenic. Now, however, it seem "ho-hum" after all that we have seen the past few weeks. However, the lake is lovely, the hills are high (about 6000 feet) and we can still see some snow on the higher peaks. It is wonderful weather as well - about 65 degrees and sunny!!!!! I actually had my sweatshirt off today - down to a long sleeved shirt.

We are heading out to take a walk to the town of Teslin shortly. Thanks to all of you who are keeping things together for us at home. Especially to Joe, Renee and Chelsea - who had to take care of Elsie's injured butt.

July 23, 2006

The first 154 miles today were great - nice road, relatively speaking of course and we were able to make good time. However, as soon as we turned onto the Cassiar Highway, Rt. 37, things changed. We were expecting this, however, because this highway has a really bad reputation. But, we had spoken with some folks who had taken it recently, and they said it wasn't too bad so....since we wanted to see the bears who fish at the creek there for salmon, we decided to go that way and stop at Hyder, AK on the way to Vancouver.

The road was bumpy, narrow, twisty and for at least 20 miles so far, gravel/dirt that had potholes and washboard areas. The scenery was nice but nothing spectacular compared to what we have seen in the past. The Cassiar Mountains were surrounding us for much of the way and they have traces of snow still. There are many many lakes and streams. We saw one mountain goat along the road but others we spoke with saw a bear and moose.

Picked some flowers at lunch along the roadside including one lovely lily-like multiflowered species but it didn't smell nice so I decided not to bring it inside. When I checked my wildflower book, I discovered that the plant is called the Death Camas/Lily. Nice!!!! Apparently, it is extremely poisonous if eaten and although we had no plans to do that, still, just the name was somewhat intimidating. Obviously, the smell was a "dead" giveaway.

Hooked up with another camper we have seen repeatedly on our journey. He is traveling solo right now after his fiancé had to go back to her job. So, we had dinner together. I finally cooked a real meal.

We are staying at the Dease Lake RV park in beautiful downtown Dease Lake, population 650 - although where they all are is unknown to me. I took Dixie for a long walk and did find some homes - mostly log structures. There is a branch of the Northern Lights British Columbia College here - consists of what can only be described as resembling the worst motel you have ever stayed in. Well, perhaps not the worst but the sign was bigger than the two wooden buildings that looked like some of the sheds we have in the back yards at home.

Finally, a word about the mosquitos. We think that B.C. does not stand for British Columbia but rather Bug Country. No matter what we do to keep them from getting into the coach, from burning the mosquito coils under the steps, to making a run for it...they get in and when we kill them, they bleed - probably our blood too. I have kept busy washing the windows from where we have killed numerous mosquitos. At least the horseflies, which are about as big as horses, are easier to control. Someone suggested spraying the screens with Lysol, but we haven't found a store that sells it yet. Ah, civilization.....

July 24, 2006 - Monday

Left Dease Lake and made the 247 mile trip in 9 hours. First 120 miles were tough; gravel, potholes, washboard. The rest was pretty good highway but couldn't go really fast because it was narrow switchblades going into the Cassiar Mountains. We saw two black bears, two spruce grouse, a red fox, stellar jay and other miscellaneous small brown birds and ravens. We passed by a dormant volcano with a main mountain and cinder cone as well.

The closer we got to Stewart, B.C. and Hyder, AK, naturally it started to rain., However, the ride from Medizian, B.C. to Hyder - about 33 miles- was really spectacular. Seems to be the best word to describe the beauty and power of the mountains. We passed alongside of at least six hanging glaciers. When we got to the Bear Glacier, it was breathtaking because it is actually a terminal glacier - it falls into Bear Lake and regularly calves pieces into the lake. While we didn't see this happen, it was an impressive blue steep faced glacier and very wide. Unfortunately, again, the weather was not cooperating - it began to rain and was very foggy as we started down toward the coast.

Again, the waterfalls coming off the glacier were incredible. It is impossible to capture the power and size and height of these waterfalls. They start right at the glacier face, then travel through these watermade canyons dropping for what looks like hundreds of feet in long steep steps. Some are multi-channeled like a horse-tail and others are just powerful volumes of water.

We also passed an Avalanche Delta - a large accumulation of snow from many avalanches during the winter and large is the operative word - it was huge and very imposing. No wonder they don't want you stopping along the highway even now. There is evidence everywhere of both snow and rock avalanches because the sides of the mountains are so steep. They even have placed the power poles in huge piles of large stones probably to put them above the avalanche route but also to prevent the rivers from washing them away.

Speaking of rivers....the Bear River is fed by all of the glaciers we passed and it was so wild that it actually made its own mist as it traveled to the Portland Channel, the fjord on which Hyder and Stewart are located. Whether the mist was simply a product of the raging river or the coldness of the river compared to the air temperature is unknown but it was certainly a torrent - probably one of the most wild we have seen on the trip which is saying something.

Tomorrow - going to the Bear Viewing Area of the Tongass National Forest and out to Salmon Glacier - hopefully, the weather will clear????

By the way, staying at Camp Run-a-Muck - appropriately named. You should see the truck - almost as muddy as it was before we washed it. As soon as we hit Alaska, the road turned from asphalt to mud surface - your tax dollars at work. Also, interestingly, no U.S.Customs - I guess they figure that no one would bother coming here to do anything other than fish, see bears and drop out.

July 25, 2006

Rained all night - pretty hard too. The fog was so thick this morning you couldn't see the mountains. But, we went to Fish Creek in the Tongass National Forest and did see a black bear fishing for the chum salmon that are clearly visible swimming upstream to spawn. The bear didn't have any luck and finally moved on to eat some berries along the creek. There is a long boardwalk viewing area from which humans can take photos of the bears and it was fairly crowded with people.

We then drove the self-guided road up to the Summit of Salmon Glacier which was quite a trip. The road was either mud (Alaska part) or gravel (British Columbia part) and wound its way around switchbacks up this narrow canyon to the summit where you could look down to see the Salmon Glacier as it wound its way down the mountain. We only got a few looks at the glacier though because the further up we got, the more foggy it became. By the time we hit the summit, you couldn't see the glacier at all which was several thousand feet below us - would have been an interesting view.

What we could see was very beautiful though and I counted 54 good sized waterfalls on the 20 mile trip up to the summit. Of course, I had to explore the summit area and discovered another world of tundra plants and small ponds with mountain streams everywhere. Since it was so foggy, it was really otherworldly in appearance and mood - mysterious and secretive. The tundra flowers were incredible though. There were many different species with the tundra heather blooming all over - it would remind you of one flower on a lily of the valley stem - a beautiful, white bell.

Drove back down the road and really got a good look at the torrential force of the various streams as they crashed over the boulders. Scary road though - much evidence of avalanches. Couldn't really stop anywhere because the road was so narrow and the avalanche/landslide danger was readily apparent.

Dixie and I took a long walk around Hyder - Hyder itself is only a few buildings but it is surrounded by the Portland Canal, a deep fjord and high snow capped cliffs. Again, it was unfortunate that it was so foggy. As usual, we brought the bad weather. But we did discover an old fishing vessel that was sitting on land after having seen better days, appropriately named the "Bob" who was himself, at that point, taking a nap. Hmmm.....

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