Blog Eight - Haines (Alaska)
10 May 2019
|Blog Eight – Haines (Alaska)
Tuesday 7 May 2019
We weren’t really on any timeframe today with the drive itself only being about three and half hours, although we expect to stop here and there as it is supposed to be fairly scenic. With that in mind we didn’t set the alarm but were still up and packed by about 9:00am, Alaskan time! Yukon is an hour ahead although we didn’t bother changing the times as it was only a day and no appointments.
We started off looking where we thought the information centre was according to a local at the pub last night but no luck. We did get back to the ridge from yesterday just out of town and took some more photos and then back into town. We were going to look for it in another direction but guess who was beside the road looking for a lift – yep our other pub friend, Bec from Pommieland. So we stopped, did a rearrange of the Jeep and shoved her gear where it would fit and she settled in behind Shania for the trip south to Haines. We told her that we were going to be doing some stopping on the way and that suited her as she usually doesn’t get the chance as she is generally in with people who want to get from A to B as quickly as possible.
And so we headed south along the Haines Highway. We normally don’t pick up hitchhikers, but because we met yesterday we were OK with it and wanted to help her out. In the hour and a half she was waiting for a lift, only three other cars had passed her and they probably weren’t going to Haines anyway. It’s a very isolated highway at this time of year! And so we started off down the highway and it wasn’t long before we came to Kathleen Lake. This is a very pretty place and the reflections on the lake are pretty spectacular – a good word to describe the whole area really. We took quite a few photos and Billy Bob tried out his new lenses on the mobile phone – photos attached.
As we headed further south Shania spotted a wolf in the distance crossing the road. It was a long way off and we didn’t really get a good look. The scenery seemed to get better as we headed further south and we also started to climb. A little bit further and we saw our second wolf, again crossing the road. This time it was much closer and we were able to pull up on the side of the road and view it for a short time before it made its way through the growth and out of sight. Wolf sightings are a lot more common on this trip than any other for us. As so we continued to climb and the temperatures continued to drop and when we had our frequent stops for photos and to view the surrounds the wind was also fierce. We stopped at the very top of the pass and the snow on either side of the road was pretty thick and it can’t have been too long until the road was last ploughed. We think that if we had been a few weeks earlier it would have been covered with snow. There was a lot of low cloud also so everywhere we looked it was white.
This view point was one of the best and coldest. It was about zero and the wind, although not as strong as down further, was biting. Still the area with its frozen lakes and snow covered mountains was worth getting out of the car for, although Bec didn’t agree and sat in the car as she thought it too cold. Big wuse! After here we started our slow descent and after an hour we reached the US border passing the Canadian border on the other side of the road. We were fine with the officer scanning our passports but Bec had to get out and fill out a form and pay $6 for the privilege of entering the US for a transit stop before heading back to BC.
We were off again down the mountain and the scenery changed within about 10 minutes. We went from winter to spring with all the trees now covered in small leaves and greenery as far as the eye can see. With spring and summer being so short this far north they have to grow as quickly as possible but it was amazing the difference is such a short time. We drove a short way to the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve along the river and stopped at the car park. No bald eagles, although we did see some artic turns so that was a bonus. Hopefully we’ll see more bald eagles further on our trip.
We then made it into Haines and stopped at the first place that does coffee – the Mountain Market. Bec shouted us a coffee and we were able to check out the little shop attached to it and it is a very good natural food store – with a liquor store attached. What a combination – everything you need to stay healthy! Bec was able to contact her friend of a friend she was staying with and he soon arrived and we farewelled our day passenger. We headed uptown to the visitor information centre and the guy there was a missionary back in the 80s and had actually done work at The Gap in Queensland. Hard to believe but there it is. We got some good brochures and also managed to fuel up as well. We also took a wander up the main street to look at what supermarkets were around and popped into the local IGA which has pretty much everything we want.
And so we headed for our accommodation. Oh the joys of roadworks. This time we had no advance warning and with the town being small not all the streets are marked. The one we needed to get to was blocked off and between both of us and Google Maps it had us stumped as to how we were going to find our place. However after about 15 minutes of driving and trying to figure out what was a street and what was a driveway we ended up driving down a dirt road for about 100 metres, following it around to the right and another 100 metres had us at our AirBnB! Street signs people – they’re important and don’t cost a lot so put them up and make them visible! Local government are generally pretty useless and this is yet another example. Ask the people of Ipswich or Logan!
So that was it for us on a day Shania thinks was the best day of driving we have ever done. Billy Bob puts in the top three along with the road from Jasper to Banff and the Glossglockner in Austria. Big call but it was a magnificent drive. All unpacked we felt the need of a vodka or two and settled in for the evening with another home cooked stir fry and sorting a few things out ready for tomorrow and the following days in Haines.
Wednesday 8 May 2019
Shaina was up early and decided to enjoy the weather while it was still OK. It is extremely changeable and at this time of year tends to be a bit on the rainy side. Still it’s not always 100% when travelling and you have to make the most of it. Whilst wandering the area Shania checked out the main street and also the foreshore and saw a bald eagle. She made it back and we had brekkie and we then headed off to Chilkoot Lake.
We drove all the way along the foreshore and saw the hooligan fish, or more correctly saw all the birds feeding on the hooligan fish. We also stopped in at the ferry service to check our departure on Saturday for Skagway so that was all good. We also drove out to a spur road that had houses all the way along the kilometre or so of road. It was a good spot and would get little traffic even in summer and is right on the inlet with great views. We took a few photos at the end of the road and admired the view of what the residents would have everyday. Sigh.
From here we drove out to the lake itself which was down a very potholed road with a sign at the start that states “Road Not Maintained”. Posting a sign doesn’t absolve a local government from actually doing what they should. Still why should this borough be any different to back home! So after the jolting ride along the river we arrived at Chilkoot Lake. The wind today was about 40 km/hr and possibly gusting above that – very chilly under cloudy skies. Still we got out of the Jeep and a five minute walk around the place before retreating to the warmth of the car. We took a quick driving tour of the camp ground and then headed back out the same way stopping ever so often for photos at various pull outs.
We made it back to town and decided to check out what downtown Haines has to offer. It turns out less than expected. The cruise ships start next week and apparently dock/tender once a week here whereas in Skayway they are nearly daily occurrences. It will be interesting to see the difference between the two towns especially considering Skagway has about half the population. We still managed to pop in and out of the shops and have a look around the town. The other bonus was Billy Bob had his flowing locks cut. He was beginning to look like a hippie!
There were a couple of interesting shops but not interesting enough for us to part with our $US. There were some knives that caught Billy Bob’s eye but with the price and also wondering what we can and can’t bring back into Oz no sales were done.
A quick sanga was had for a late lunch and we called into Jo’s natural food shop. We headed home for the day after poking around the town and surrounds and had a wine or two to finish the day with a very quick meal. A bit of typing and a lot of photo reviewing was done for the blogs but that was about it for our first full day in Haines.
Thursday 9 May 2019
The day started out very dark and gloomy and over the morning just got worse and then started to drizzle. A very lazy brekkie was had and we tidied up three blogs and sent them off for everyone’s viewing pleasure. Brekkie followed but the weather was still gloomy and getting worse as it was also drizzling and we couldn’t see the mountains at all for the cloud. Billy Bob had just downloaded a couple of weather apps and one stated that it would clear around midday so at 11:00 we headed off downtown to the local supermarket come everything shop – Oleruds. We headed home with our goodies and on the far horizon there was a glimmer of hope with a lightening of the skies. Hope at last.
And so we headed off in the gloom picking up a coffee for Billy Bob on the way and then off to Mud Bay and the start of the Chilkoot State Reserve. As we drove the weather continued to improve with the drizzle now stopped completely and the skies definitely lightening. The drive was another good one through heavily forested land where we turned off at the state reserve. We pulled over at the end of the road which also coincided with the boat ramp. The view was again fantastic and we could see another glacier from where we were standing across Chilkoot Inlet. We retraced our drive to the confusing Mud Bay Rd (reminds us of South Pine Rd at home) and continued on this all the way to its dead end. We passed a number of questionable residences which wouldn’t be out of place on a demolition site. We were surprised Jed and Aunty May didn’t come out of some of them they were that run down, but apparently still being lived in. We have included one such specimen in our photos for this blog.
On the return we stopped off at a jetty and pull out and had lunch overlooking the inlet. We’d bought a salad (can you believe it in the US) which was excellent and just took in the view – with a few photos of course! It was still early so we headed back to town and then onto the cruise ship terminal which also doubles as the fast ferry terminal to Skagway. We walked out on the pier under increasingly clearing skies and then took the short drive on Beach Rd to the Portage Cove Recreation Site, which is really just a trail head with a lot of forest.
With time still up our sleeve we headed back out to Chilkoot Lake to see if we could see any more wildlife and we did. We saw one stunning bald eagle that sat on an outcropped branch on the other side of the river. Shania managed to get him on her big lens but it was still a stretch and a bit of cropping may have to take place for optimal viewing. He seemed quite content and was watching everything going on, whether being cautious or looking for a feed we’ll never know. We also saw another one on the way back on a rock in the river close to the road. However Billy Bob got a little too close in the car and unfortunately he flew away. We continued back and stopped a couple of times for photos and to admire the view but we then headed home.
A quick pit stop and we headed out on foot to the Haines Brewery for a taste. It was a short walk just over 10 minutes and we were there and perusing the beer menu. A few things caught Billy Bob’s eye and we grabbed a couple of small ones and sat outside in the now brilliant sunshine! While we were at the lake we spotted a van of a tour company that does kayaking and rafting among other trips and we gave them a call while having our beers and have booked a rafting trip near the bald eagle preserve for tomorrow. We have crossed off everything we wanted to do so this will be a good experience for us. By all reports it is a very easy ride watching the river slide by as we sit taking the odd photo. We’ll see.
The wind was a bit chilly so we moved into a sheltered section, had a few more brewskies and then walked back home. A stir fry dinner was had and some research on Skagway was also done but that was about it for the day. A pretty easy one but we have now been on the go for nearly three weeks and it doesn’t hurt to have the occasional down day to recharge the batteries.
Friday 10 May 2019
Shania was up early for a walk and Billy Bob attended to minor duties eg coffee and breakfast! By the time Shania returned, had brekkie and were both organised it was time to head down to Tour Haines’ office and check in. We were a bit early but were able to have our wellies on and had a good chat to Steve the guide who was very interesting and great to talk to about any number of subjects. One thing that is common up here is that everyone we have talked to believes the climate is changing and it appears that Alaska is probably changing more than any other of the lower 48 (the other mainland states) and there is definitely concern about it. Still, it’s a Republican state so if they want action on it they have to change their voting and that appears something most Americans are unwilling to do.
We had a bit of a wait until the other two passengers arrived on the fast ferry from Skagway (where we are headed tomorrow). They arrived and she was your typical done-up yank, although very nice. Billy Bob thought it funny that we were going rafting and she touched up her lipstick on the way. The bloke was a bit strange and hardly spoke a word the whole way up, during the rafting or on the way back. They were from northern Florida in Jacksonville so maybe that explains it!
We were quickly off from the office as the other couple had to make the 2:00pm fast ferry back and there were a few road works, which we had gone through on the way down on Tuesday. We had a much better run though and it wasn’t long until we had travelled the 20 miles up the Chilkoot River to the rafting location set off point. There was a whole bus load that we assume had also come from Skagway. The cruise ship season has just started and there is now at least one ship in port until September in Skagway and as the season reaches peak season it’s not unusual to have four in town on the same day – this is the case when we are there in four weeks. Hard to believe with a total population of about 1000 and the ships docking have up to 2500 passengers on board! Luckily there are only one and two in dock when we are there over the next couple of days.
Anyhoo, we were soon swinging our legs into the inflatable raft and taking our positions in the middle on an inflated rubber cross section and we were away. Steve did a great job being both the oarsman and guide on the trip. And so we glided down the flowing river with Steve manoeuvring us through channels more near to the bank so we could have a better chance of seeing any wildlife. We did see a few bald eagles both in nests and on the wing – they are majestic birds and one of our favourites. Billy Bob’s gmail photo is still a bald eagle we saw last time we were up here 19 years ago.
There was increasing cloud cover and it turned a bit colder but overall the time seemed to just stand still and it was a bit of surprise when we were told that the end was just around the corner. We had a very informative trip and were given a lot of information regarding the climate, mountains, wildlife and flora of the area. We soon headed into the drop off point and were quickly out of the raft and onto the bus for the ride back to town. We were also given a goodie back of a sanga, apple, water and of course a cookie. The only thing missing for a truly American lunch was a packet of chips! Still it was a good sandwich but we were hungry and that’s always helpful to the taste. We said our goodbyes to Steve and gave him a generous tip and we were on our way back to town.
It didn’t take long and we had a two minute tour of Fort Seward before dropping our Floridians at the jetty where we also hopped off and walked the three minutes to the car. The driver was concerned it might be too far and wanted to give us a lift – funny. Apparently they do get passengers who struggle to make the distance. We drove back to our unit and grabbed the wallets and headed back to our favourite little shop for a couple of items and a coffee before heading back to do some chores in preparation for our departure tomorrow.
It was a good day with the rafting something we really hadn’t done before apart from a very different experience in South America. The quietness of the transport and Steve made it for us. And so with a meal of scrambled eggs and finishing up on the blogs and Jo wrestling with the PC for photos we called it a night. Haines has been good even though a few things were still closed but we made the most of it and it doesn’t hurt to have an easy few days as this finishes our third week on the road. Hard to believe it’s been three weeks! Maybe tonight we’ll win lotto and be able to extend the trip! Sweet dreams.