Saturday, June 30, 2012

Friday, June 29: Sunny and beautiful! Hot shower and a quick breakfast before we pack up and head head for Homer. We decide to stop at the visitor's center here in Kenai first and find that the area has a very interesting history. First the Russians came; they were interested in trading for furs with the natives, and eventually built a fort here with a church and a school. The European influence began with Captain Cook's visit in 1778 and then the US, once the government purchased Alaska in 1867 (Seward's Folly) and the traders and miners came. We decide to take a walking tour of their historic buildings, starting with an enjoyable stop at Veronica's Coffeeshop in a historic cabin. We come upon yummy frybread at a church garage sale, and then I buy a leather coat for $5 at a rummage sale along the road. I put it on--b-r-r-r! We walk through a lovely art gallery in a 50s fire hall/city jail; the cell, doors and all, is still there housing the gallery office. Ron got a tip on a great spot to shore-fish from a teen on the beach last night, so we head there for a picnic lunch. We turn on Kalifornsky Road (a native went to California and loved it so much he changed his name!) in Sodoltna, heading for their city park, Centennial Park. We watch the fishing (not much luck; they say maybe the reds will be running next week) while we eat, then, after I wash out the dishes in the Kenai River, we get serious about heading for Homer. It's a beautiful drive along the Cook Inlet, with the mountains that make up the Aleutian Islands across the inlet. We stop to photograph the recently active volcanoes, Iliamna and Mount Redoubt, over 10,000' high and see eagles soaring over the beaches. Then we see the broad expanse of Kachemak Bay with Homer Spit ( formed as a glacial moraine) curving off toward the Aleutian Chain. We check into our beautful cabin on Beluga Lake (a landing area for float planes) in Homer, then meet Sue and Chuck at the local hangout down on the Spit, the Salty Dawg, for a couple beers; there are dollar bills tacked all over the walls and ceilings there! We find out the cabin the tavern is in is one of very few buildings on the Spit that survived a fire in 1930. ( I also find out that my favorite beer, MGD, is the #1 selling beer in Alaska--I've fund my people!) The waitress recommends Captain Patty's for great seafood. Ron has sable cod and I have razor clam chowder and watch the harbour seals out the window; I can also see the cone of the old volcano, Augustine. Lovely evening, then we head for our cabin and a good night's sleep.
Thursday, June 28: Rainy and cool. Up and download photos by 8am. Ron decides to go back toward Wasila and tour an old mine site. I'll pick away at the photos, do my yoga and pack up. Ron's back about noon; Ron reports: "Armed with my raincoat, I left the cabin heading for the Independence Gold Mine in a drizzly downpour. My first adventure exposed itself as a detour. A bit of foul advice by a flagperson put me off track and back in town! A better piece of advice by a different flagperson and 45 minutes later I was winding my way up a 30-mile s-curve. The weather cleared a little, exposing lush green junglesque hillsides bordering a churning glacial-green creek. Road crew members were out fixing some rock slide areas. Passed through a public gold-panning area; no claim needed, just go and find it. Finally arrived at the site where time has stood still for about 80 years. This old gold mine site housed over 200 workers, mostly single. The mine created employment for over 20 years; in the early days the wives got to town only twice a year for personal shopping. Many of the old buildings were open to walk through. You could almost hear the echoes of laughing and cussing spewed forth by the hard-working young men of the day. Man's ability to create place to work and live in the most remote and difficult conditions rocks me every time I see it!" A quick bowl of soup and we're on the Seward Highway to Anchorage; we see the first mall in Anchorage--Sears, then it's 4-lanes with the Chugach Mountains on our left and the Cook Inlet on our right. We stop and read about the beluga whales which come up the Cook Inlet (yes, Captain Cook was here too!) to what's called the Turnagain Arm--a place of extremely high tides--33'! We remember this route from our bus ride to Seward to board for our inner passage cruise. We stop to take photos of a female Dall sheep and her lambs, then we see there are a lot of dead trees here because the 1964 earthquake caused this area to sink and the trees were immersed in salt water. There's a view of a big glacier ahead (Spencer) as we turn south for Kenai on the Kenai Penninsula, then a beautiful drive through the densely forested mountains with beautiful perched lakes. Things flatten out a bit as we get into the floodplain of the Kenai River and pass through Soldotna and finally Kenai; we arrive at the Beluga Lookout on the beach where the Kenai River meets the Cook Inlet about suppertime. Beautiful spot. Sue and Chuck suggest a great seafood spot for dinner--Louis'--and they are right! Then we take a long walk across the bluffs and down along the beach. We go to investigate a quaint old Russian Orthodox Church and "bookmark" a cute little coffeehouse for tomorrow! Pretty chilly by the time we get back. I'm ready for bed and a movie, but nothing's on so I play my computer game till lights out.
Wednesday, June 27: Partly cloudy and cool this am. Beautiful view of the Chugach Mountains out the front window of our cabin. The Emmons are going to head for Kenai today; we are going to stay another day ‘cause we are intrigued to find we are in the Matanuska Valley where the Colony was set up in 1935 to give farmers hit hard by the Depression a place to settle and farm. We heard about it at Finnchoir because several families from South Range, Superior and Wentworth area were involved. There is a video out about it too. I have a good internet connection here so I get up early and get nearly a week’s worth of notes uploaded. I’ll do photos later. I fix French toast for breakfast, a leisurely day. I run a load of wash while Ron goes to the visitor’s center to line up our day. We are heading for a tour of a musk ox farm, but first we stop at an overlook on the huge glacial river, the Matanuska, a fabulous sight. When we reach the muskox farm we see an old barn left over from the Colony project has been refurbished for the museum. The herd was started in the 50s from muskox from Canada (they are extinct in Alaska); the goal is to domesticate the muskox—a 200-year project. Meanwhile they are supported by grants and garments made by native women using qiviut, the soft, warm, waterproof underhair of the muskox. The animal hasn’t changed much since the Ice Age. They are suited to endure the extreme conditions of the Arctic tundra. We also stop at the Palmer Museum and learn more about the huge vegetables that are grown here, one of the reasons the Colony was built here. We find out there are several buildings left from the Colony days (which basically failed); we find the old dairy co-op which produced Matanuska Maid items, and we have coffee and dessert at one old building re-done as a lovely restaurant. After supper we take a walk around the campground just to give our legs a good stretch, then hit the hay.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tuesday, June 26: It’s 46⁰ and pouring rain as we pull out of Denali RV Park—this is the sub-Arctic desert? Miles of scant spruces and permafrost, foggy conditions and continuous rain, and then a black mountain with streaks of white comes looming out of the fog. We’re following the Nenana River (“na” means water in Athabascan) through the mountains now, and it looks really high. I’m not sure how long it’s been raining here, but this should mean the end of the scant snow pack we saw in Denali yesterday. We turn off on a spur road that deadends in Talkeetna—where the Talkeetna, Susitna and Chulitna rivers merge (see the nas?). This was a summer fishing camp for natives, and then a trading site for trappers and miners. The historic Nagley’s General Store (since 1921) still takes gold and furs for cash or trade; we stop there for a few groceries--they also take cash! Then the sun peeks out for a little while and we have a bite of lunch in the town square.(As we stroll through town, there are painted mooses in front of a lot of the businesses and historical sites; they will be judged on July 4, then auctioned.) When coal was discovered near here the railroad was extended from Anchorage to Fairbanks through here; we take a walk on a railway bridge over the swollen river. Now Talkeetna is the kick-off point for all those intending to climb Denali. We see we are in the Mat-Su Borough (Matanuska-Susitna); Alaska has boroughs instead of counties. The Emmons have already arrived at the Big Bear RV Park and cabins (yippee) in Palmer, and we barbeque chicken and snack on smoked salmon and brie from Negley's while we wait for dinner. Lovely sunny evening! We spend some time planning our stops till 4th of July in Anchorage, then turn in in our cozy cabin. Life is good.
Monday, June 25: Partly cloudy and warm this am as we head for “glitter gulch” to board our shuttle for the park. (There is a huge development of fancy hotels, shops and eateries near the park; Princess has a hotel there!) There are very few vehicles allowed in the park (400,000 visitors a year!)--mostly busses and a few private vehicles by strict permit only. The park is called Denali, the native name for the highest (20,320’) mountain in North America (means “the high one”); the mountain was coined “McKinley” in the late 1890s by a gold prospector as political support for then-president William McKinley; Ohio legislators have consistently fought changing the name officially to Denali—they want to continue to honor their native son. Our busdriver, Rebecca, a former teacher, has been trained in videography and the history (natural and otherwise) of the park; I called her the busdriver Nazi—she said to ask questions, and when you did, she snaps, “I’ll be getting to that!” Whew! We saw an amazing amount of wildlife on our 70-mile trip, considering the park is 6 million acres! First off, we saw an aging female and her calf from last year eating in a pond in the taiga up to their knees; the taiga is white spruce and dwarf willows and birch on the permafrost. Then caribou on a sandbar in the Savage River, named for one of the many Toms prospecting for gold in the area; he was a Cherokee, so they called him Tom Savage.) We spotted a couple of new birds for us, mew gulls with black and white striped tails and a golden eagle. We saw a herd of 14 Dall sheep on a mountainside and then five more at our rest stop on the Teklaneka River, a braided river, silty with glacial flour and pretty much fishless. Rebecca was able to zoom in on wildlife with her camera and project them on video screens throughout the bus—really nice. We saw eight grizzlies during the eight-hour day, including a mother and two cubs, AND two actually making little grizzlies while we watched—Rebecca said we got the grand slam of tours! Not to mention the snowshoe rabbit and the two ground squirrels which tried to commit suicide under the wheels of our bus. The most beautiful sight was the Polychrome Mountains; unfortunately the road up there was twisted and narrow at 4000’, including a spot builders called Poison Point—one drop kills. We only got a peek at Denali, pretty much wrapped in clouds; but we were able to make out its snowy summit. (There are to be 1200 climbers on Denali this year; only 50% will make it. Since the first ascent in 1913, 120 have died trying.) There are 92 miles in the park as of 1938, with some private land at the dead end. The road is only open four months, May August; sled dogs are used to patrol in the winter. Toured the lovely Visitor Center before catching a shuttle back to our car. Light supper and lights out—we’were all pretty zonked!
Sunday, June 24: Up early, another beautiful day! Blog a little (poor connections lately, can’t post to the blog!) then time to pack up and dismantle the tent. Great pancakes with Emmons at Sourdough Sam’s, then on the road for Healy AK. My ears pop as we head up into the mountains. They are low rounded hills, misty and wooded, with spruce growing in the permafrost. We laugh as we go through Nenana (means a good place to camp between the rivers) where the river of the same name merges with the Tanana; someone from there would say, “I’m from Nenana on the Tanana!” (I guess you had to be there—maybe we’re getting road crazy.) We pass through some burned over areas (they don’t fight the fires unless they endanger humans), then we see the tall peaks of the Alaskan Range (of which McKinley—Denali—is the center, highest peak—it’s good to see the mountains again, pretty flat around Fairbanks. We see smoke off to the west; we hear there are fires also in CO and AZ—and floods in the Twin Ports—a wild summer. We pull into McKinley RV Park at last; unfortunately it is Dogpatch II! Thank goodness when Chuck et al arrive he is able to get his money back; Ron and I have reconnoitered while waiting for them and found a spot advertised as “clean, comfortable, and reasonable”—and it is! I think our good fairy is watching over us today! Unfortunately Denali RV Park has no camping, only cabins—darn! Chuck fixes a great steak dinner, then we google tickets for an 8am Denali bus tour tomorrow. To save time in the morning, we take a trip down to the park store and pick up our tickets, and Ron treats us to huckleberry ice cream cones—what a guy! When we get back, Ron and I take a 45-minute hike up to Antler Ridge and back; I definitely take my walking stick with the bell on! It’s a lovely walk through the permafrost and up the mountainside and we end up high above the campground. (You can just see the tops of the camp buildings in the photo far to the upper left). There a several new wildflowers and the vistas are amazing! We see a big pingo--a rounded mound pushed up in the permafrost; the opposite is a thermo-karst--a sink left by melting. Ready for bed when we get back—up early for the bus tomorrow!
Saturday, June 23: Warm night, finally cooled off about 3am—still light! Lovely working on the blog in the cool of the morning with the breeze from the river coming in the tent. Ron sleeps in a bit, late breakfast, then off to &^(-&@# for a fan and some window coverings. Quick lunch, then we meet the three Emmons at the paddlewheeler dock for a trip up the river. Good thing to do on a hot day. The boat came out of Binkley Boat Works, established 1898 by a man that came north to build boats for the gold rush miners. The Binkley Family still runs the tour boat business after five generations. The paddle-wheeler is flat bottomed (only draws 39”). Our trip took us up the Chena River to the place where it merges with the silty Tanana. There were video screens to see the tour guide talk about the beautiful log houses we passed (one where the Reagan’s stayed in 1984) and we saw a float plane take off and land, and a sled dog demonstration at Susan Butcher’s home; (she passed away in the early 2000s; she was a four-time Iditarod winner, with a record-breaking three times in a row.) We got off at a re-creation of a Chena Native Village (Athabascan) and learned how they survived with the cold and the long dark days over 12,000 years ago where the temperatures vary the most on the planet (+90s down to -80s)!—the stone and bone culture. We saw a winter hunting camp with temporary shelters covered with moss or hides and a pen of reindeer (domesticated caribou). We saw a fish camp for summer gathering and drying of salmon with a fish wheel that moved with the current and caught the salmon. (The kings start coming about July 4th.) And we saw a permanent cabin that evolved after westerners came with meager items inside and a “cashe” built up on stilts to keep supplies from animals. We also heard how the women treated hides of moose, beaver, caribou (has hollow hairs for extreme warmth) and bear; and we saw a beautiful winter parka. The native guides wore the cotton version for summer. It was a beautiful day on the river. We picnic at our beautiful river site for supper and then a surprise carrot (birthday) cake and ice cream for Sue and me (June 15 and July 12) from the Emmons. Great ending to a great day!
Friday, June 22: Slept in a bit, washed a load of clothes and off to the Riverside Campground (on the Chena River) to hang out a couple days before heading toward Anchorage. The camera is working today; we were charging it on a switched outlet—no wonder it didn’t work! Sue fixes us a nice turkey sandwich and iced tea for a picnic outside, (Penney likes it by the river too) then we go to the Up North Gallery (artifacts, arts and crafts of Alaska) at the U of AK—wonderful. My favorite is the carvings in ivory and Blue Babe—a 36,000-year-old steppe bison mummy—the whole body! The architecture of the building is amazing. We decide to go back to the Pump House for supper. It’s a beautiful day to sit outside by the river and have an elkburger, sweet potato fries and spinach salad—yummy and watch the boats go by. We tried the beer sampler; I am in love with “hefe” beer! Met a local named JR Ramos who says, “Don’t miss the Spit! (meaning Homer Spit) and when JR talked, you listened—as did everyone else in the restaurant—reminded me of my Dad. Then back to the campground for ice cream and strawberries and conversation. Sue and Chuck’s daughter is coming in tonight, but we can’t wait up. Too sleepy—haven’t caught up from yesterday yet! (Turns out her flight was really late--routed back to Seattle ‘cause someone left the cap off the water tank to the toilet, an icicle formed and the drag used up too much fuel—had to go back and re-fuel to make it to Fairbanks!)
Thursday, June 21: The wakeup call comes way too early, but off we go with our backpack loaded with two meals, water and our new camera. We head for the airport where the tour company is--they do air tours up north too—and by 6:30am we are on the road in our nice, 24-passenger motor coach for our big adventure. Ron reports: “So we got up at 5am to start a 16-hour drive over bumpy roads to go to some place where there is nobody, no buildings—just a sign. Sounds like torture—I thought we were on vacation! Well, it is the Arctic Circle (66'33"); I guess that’s pretty cool. Seventeen souls hungry for adventure set out for a 410-mile roller coaster ride. Alan was our bus driver—guide, naturalist, storyteller, movie show-er, and general purveyor of goodwill to all. We were a captive audience, literally, and of all the hours of potential dead airtime in the bus, Alan cheerfully led us through topics ranging from Alaska’s great governors to all the different geology we were passing through (the tors were cool), every detail of the old mining days to the planning, preparation and execution of the infamous Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. He said he was acquainted with just about everyone in all his stories. He was the epitome of the great Alaskan storyteller, and the thing is, I think he was telling the truth! He really was a C-130 transport ground manager for the pipeline and had shot eighteen moose, innumerable caribou, and was project coordinator for many construction projects, including the pipeline. He is close to 70 and loves the Alaskan outback and telling everyone about it. We got to climb up on tors that have been pushed up by the permafrost; and meet people living off the grid. We got to feel the permafrost and the stunted black spruce that live there; every natural thing from here to there, we learned about! This potentially boring trip came alive with Alan telling us about the native cultures and every other imaginable thing about Alaska.” So, went the wonderful day! I can’t close without telling you 10 things I learned on our trip to the Arctic Circle: 1—Fairbanks is built on loess (fine, glacial soil) in the floodplain of the Tanana River, largest glacial-fed river in Alaska. 2—Fairbanks is in a sub-Arctic Desert, only 11-12 inches of rain a year (like Phoenix). 3—Moose are in the deer family and the largest are in Alaska, and they are fast, have good hearing and are fearsome fighters with their hooves. 4—There are more caribou than people in Alaska. 5—The pipeline is 800 miles long, half of it being above ground, and there has never been a leak caused by a designing problem. 6—The pipeline is immune to rifle shots and fire. 7—Eight oil companies went together to put in the pipeline to Valdez and, first off, the road to the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. 8—Alaska has two types of natives, the coastal-nomadic Inuit and the Athabascan river people. 9—Alaska bought a money-losing railroad from the US and made it a paying proposition; it’s the last flag-stop railway in the US, meaning you can stand on the side and flag it down for a ride. 10—Alaska has more coastline than any other state in the union, and 96% of Alaska’s income is from oil. Oh, did I tell you our new camera didn’t work?!! What a déjà vu (happened on the Great Wall too!). but we met a couple of people on the trip that promised to send us pictures! What a nice, but LONG, day!
Wednesday, June 20: Up early to finish up blog and pack. We need to be out by 10am and Ron is heading out to get the oil changed after breakfast. Had a nice meal with some of the other guests from Netherlands and England—interesting political discussions. Our kitchenette for the next two days isn’t ready, so we call Sue and Chuck and meet them for coffee at a Farmer’s Market. Fun to mill around and get caught up on things! We go to a LARS (large animal research station) run by the University of Alaska and see muskox, caribou, and reindeer. We make plans to meet for supper at the Pump House (refers to a piece of mining equipment that sprayed water to remove overburden before placer mining) on the Chena River just outside town, and leave to check in and pack. Have time before supper for a nice walk through the U of A botanical gardens (Georgeson Gardens) on the grounds of their ag experimental station, then meet Sue and Chuck for a great meal—I have a super salmon fillet and Ron has reindeer—yum! Make a stop to pick up a new camera; the picture-taking button fell off ours! Then to bed early—5am wakeup call for the trip to the Arctic Circle tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tuesday, June 19: Sunny and 50s! A tour came in last night so we had a fancy, hot breakfast today! Packed up and on the road to by 9am. We drive toward the Alaska Range we'll have to pass through to get to Fairbanks. We see the scant forests of the permafrost again today, some of it burned, when we almost collide with a cow mooose and her calf! We'll be following the Tanana River as we travel today; it's also the name of the campground where we'll meet up with Chuck and Sue Emmons, college friends, later in the week. Crossed the Robertson River, wide, with spots of ice still in it and silty from the Roberson Glacier where it is born. The huge Gestle River is similar. Got some good shots of an eagle in a treetop shopping for roadkill, and spot a shy little red fox. Had our first glimpse of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, and passed through Delta Junction, a surprisingly broad agricultural area, the actual end of the Alcan as the road from there to Fairbanks already existed over 20 years before they began the Alcan. The weather has warmed so much we actually travel with the windows open--a first on this trip! No windshield wipers today, only our second day we figure. We pass a huge airforce base, heavily secured, called Eielson AFB, for Carl Ben Eielson (1897-1929), Alaskan pioneer/explorer/hero, who made the first flight from North America over the North Pole to Europe; there's also a mountain mear Denali named for him. We drive through Fairbanks (there's another Army base in town!) and find our way to Chena Hot Springs; it's a very picturesque drive, and our dip in the rock pool is wonderful! We spend a delightful time watching a cow moose feeding in a pond; they sure can hold their breath a long time! We find our B&B, have a bit of supper, hang our suits out to dry and head for the grocery store. By the time we get back they are dry! I do a little cooking for next week, there's such a nice kitchen here. It's a really warm night sleeping--such a change from what we've been used to!
Monday, June 18: Slept in a bit, then a nice continental breakfast at the lodge dining room. There’s a huge grizzly mounted there—impressive! Spent the morning catching up on the blog and washing a load of clothes while Ron checked out the visitor’s center, mailed some cards and washed the car. Lots of dust from the top of the World Highway on our little Passat! Walked around town for a couple hours. Tok is mostly an on-the-way spot than a destination. They’ve had a lot of rain too, and the wildflowers are profuse. Alaska’s state flower is the forget-me-not, and they’re even growing on a little sod-roofed cabin on the grounds. Got back just as the rain started. Ron went out for Thai food—what a treat! Hard to cook burgers in a downpour! A little cards, a reading and I’m zonked!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sunday, June 17: Happy Father’s Day, Ron! (Gave him an Illustrated Robert Service; after having been in Dawson and the area, the photos are familiar places.) Slept pretty well in the Passat—nice and warm; we both wore our eye masks. It was light when we went to bed at midnight. Before leaving, Ron wanted to go see Dredge #4, a Park Service site of the largest wooden-hulled dredge in North America. Ron reports: "I talked my poor wife into accompanying me to the site as it is the last year tours will be given on and in the barge; next year it will be look from the outside only. We will call our tour guide Faye, but she is the Einstein of gold-digging barges. What a tour! After she was done with us I think I could run one by myself. It cost over $400,00 to build in 1912 and took two years, but once it got running, it produced over $80,000,000 in gold at $20 an ounce over a 40-year span. At $1600 an ounce now, you do the math! There actually is a very modern gold rush going on now. Last year $92 million was taken out of the Dawson area." Saw a little black bear on our way back to Dawson, then drove to the top of Dome Mountain. We could see all of Dawson below, and the Top of the World Highway that we would be taking today. Nice trip over the Yukon on the ferry, then off we head for Tok on what’s called a ridge road ‘cause it’s over the mountains rather than in the valleys. The road is good and wide, some paved, some gravel and on a side road we see our first grizzly! We see snow again and the shadows of the clouds on the mountains are beautiful. We are traveling above the treeline. The vistas are stupendous and soon we reach the border, the most northerly crossing into the US. The road narrows and is dirt, very twisty, and no guardrails—I am a little nervous, and then it starts to rain, so now it’s slick besides. God bless my good driver—he is unflappable! But I think he is as relieved as I am to reach Chicken Alaska and hot food. (I’m told they were going to name the town Ptarmigan cause they ate so much of it there, but they weren’t sure how to spell it; everyone knew how to spell Chicken, and it kind of tasted like that anyway!) The road improves into Tok. We pass a huge area of burn (the growth is scant because of the permafrost—now it really looks barren) and then roadcuts that are like dunes—really strange. We find the Golden Bear Resort—the staff is so friendly! Time for a hot shower and a hot meal! PS by Ron: The folks I heard talk about the Top of the World Highwas as a nice ride on a good gravel road must have been raised up herding Dall Sheep from mountain top to mountain top where ther is no oxygen. After we finished the run from the US border to the first town of Chicken, I call it the "urine, feces and vomit highway" and it was all in the fron seat of our car to prove it!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday, June 16: Up early. This lovely hotel has laundry facilities, but only one of each, so it’s “first come, first served.” After breakfast Ron goes to the Visitor Center again, and they help us find a camping spot—lots of gravel and rvs, but it’s not Dogpatch! By the time we finish the wash, pack up then set up camp, and have lunch I’m ready for a nap. Ron heads off on a placer gold mine tour while I post the blog and relax. Ron reports: "The young fellow taking us out to see a working placer gold mine was as full of stories as some fishermen--and about the same credibility. The trip in balance was everything I had hoped--big equipment, a town of 3500 now down to five, one of them being the driver's nana. His grandpa started the place in the 50s. Apparently he made millions but lived the high life and left nothing to his son or grandsons. Many cool mastedon and ancient buffalo bones are found in the permafrost, forty feet of which has to be removed before hitting a four foot gravel layer on top of the bedrock. That's where the gold is for these guys. Had a ball with four people from Switzerland. We learned how to pan gold and I came home with six flakes in a vile of water, but we saw enough gold to make a suit out of, and we heard about some pretty murky dealings--trading gold for your soul!" A bite of supper and then a trip to Diamond Gertie's, the oldest casino in the Yukon, with bawdy songs by Diamond Gertie and can-can dancing by her girls--pretty athletic! We take a drive by the cabins of writers Robert Service and Jack London. And back to our cozy tent for cards and shut-eye.
Friday, June 15: Sunny and 40s as we leave Whitehorse and turn off the Alcan onto the Klondike Highway. Not long before we pass the turnoff to Tahkini Hot Springs. We will stop for a dip on the way back, no time today. Long trip ahead. We are following the Yukon River with the Yukon Plateau on the west and mountains to the east. We have been advised not to miss Braeburn Lodge, where they serve great cinnamon rolls—they are big enough to serve a family of four! We make a stop at Lake LeBarge, a long and wide portion of the Yukon, made famous by Robert Service in his poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” a Yukon classic. There’s a loon on the lake! Later we pull off for a closer look at Conglomerate Mountain, an uplift of fine-grained lava mixed with the round stones of glacial moraines and waterways—sometimes called puddingstone. When we reach the Five Fingers Rapids on the Yukon we find out the five pillars that create the rapids are made from the same puddingstone; the crossing was very hazardous to goldminers coming by water to Dawson City. We also see a layer of white ash in the roadcuts, another sign of volcanics in the area. The vegetation on this plateau we’re traveling on is very stunted; it is underlain by permafrost which only allows poplars and small lodgepole pine to thrive; and some of the pines are tipped (drunken forest) because small pockets of the permafrost melt dropping parts of the shallow roots of the pines into depressions. The bright colors of the Spring flowers give some relief to this desolate landscape—purple arctic lupines, scarlet vetch, yellow hawksbeard and white fleabane daisy. We stop for gas at Carmacks and learn that the man who had the first post here, and named the town after himself, was the one whose gold find started the Klondike Goldrush of 1898-99. Though there are frost heaves and potholes to watch out for, the road is fairly good, and we are relieved as we pass through Pelly Crossing, one of the areas they are working on after the washouts; the bridge is onelane, but passable at slow speed. As we near Dawson City we start to see the dredge “worms,” long rolls of gravel that are left when huge dredges work the floodplain of the rivers looking for placer deposits of gold. The Yukon and the Klondike merge at Dawson City and we take a ferry across to find our hostel. It looks like someone dropped it from Dogpatch in the Osarks! No electricity though, so the man gives us our money back and a girl at the Information Center helps us find a room for the night. Nothing for tomorrow though; it’s Highland Games Weekend, and the city is teeming with tourists. We’ll have to camp tomorrow, but anything is better than where Daisy Mae, Li’l Abner, and Mammy and Pappy Okum live! We have a little supper (still full from the cinnamon roll!) then take a long walk all around town and on top of the dike they built to keep DC from flooding. It’s like a wild west town with many historic building preserved. We end up at the Sourdough Saloon and partake of a “sourtoe cocktail,” a shot of Yukon Jack with a real, mummified miner’s toe in it—“you can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have got to touch the toe!” Ask me for the story when we get home (or google it!) Turned off the light at 11:30pm and it’s bright as mid-day! Yikes!
Thursday, June 14: Up early and good internet, so I get caught up on the blog. Sometimes the text uploads well, but the photos just won’t go. Kind of a serve yourself B&B so I fixed us pancakes and off we go to explore Whitehorse, the capitol of the Yukon. There are lots of government buildings here, and beautiful murals painted on the sides of some of the buildings. The banks of the Yukon are fine soil rather than rock; winds off the glaciers blew "loess" from their end moraines and from rocky deposits of glacial meltwaters. to form thick soil deposits in this area. Spent three hours downtown: checked out the Visitors Center; the stern-wheeler that used to take goods up the Yukon to Teslin and down to Dawson City; found the “Baked” coffee shop/bakery where all the locals hang out—great scones!; visited the Old Log Church (1900), oldest building in Whitehorse still on the same spot; got gas and groceries; then south on the Alcan to the Beringia Interpretative Center. During the most recent periods of glaciation the sea levels dropped because so much water was going into the glaciers and not melting out. A huge area around the Bering Sea became dry land. They call it Beringia. This area became grassland and supported a lot of special animals and plants, and drew humans from Asia to North America. When the climate warmed and melted the glaciers, the grassland changed. Many species (like mammoths and giant beavers) became extinct, but the humans adapted and stayed. The Yukon (and parts of Alaska) were part of Beringia, so there are a lot of skeletal remains of wooly mammoths, etc. in this area. Miners unearth them all the time! Beautiful museum, and the prime exhibit is a cast of a wooly mammoth found near Kenosha WI. Long day, lots of fresh air. Read the latest Kay Skarpetta book and z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wednesday, June 13: Rainy and in the 40s as we start out early for Whitehorse, Yukon Territory—at least a 5-hour drive in good weather and on good roads. Didn’t get far before we stopped to help some of the people we met yesterday with a flat. Only a few gravel stretches and a one-laner to show for all the damage from the washouts and rockslides; we breathe a sigh of relief. Young people have written messages on the sandy sides of the ditches with light-colored rocks. Mostly flat stretches till we leave the Yukon Plateau and begin working our way through the beautiful peaks of the Cassiars. We actually see a valley named "George's Gorge"; there was a wrestler named "Gorgeous George" and my dad called him "Georgous Gorge!" We’re following the Rancheria River and stop to see one of its beautiful falls. We cross a continental divide again; to the west everything flows into the Yukon and then the Pacific Ocean, and to the east, into the Arctic Ocean. We decide to lunch at Dawson Peaks Resort; they have outstanding rhubarb pie we’re told. Would you believe they are out of food? They had 33 people for 5 days during the road closing and were just going to Whitehorse today for supplies. Darn! We stop to take pictures of the bridge over the Nisutlin River, the longest water span on the Alcan, before heading into Teslin, which has one of the largest native populations in the Yukon. We want to see the George Johnston Museum, about a gifted photographer/trapper/store owner of Tlingit heritage who captured the life of his people before the Alcan “invasion” devastated their hunting/fishing grounds and their culture. Very moving story. They even have his store inside! After leaving Teslin, we pass over the Teslin River Bridge that was built with a very high clearance so steamers from Whitehorse could bring in supplies to Teslin, the only way till the Alcan was finished. Not far before Whitehorse we cross the massive Yukon River, the fourth largest river in North America. It is estimated that some 50,000 prospectors followed the Yukon to Dawson City during the Klondike Goldrush (1898-1899)--our next stop. We play peek-a-boo with a moose as it feeds in a bog, then it seems like it takes forever to drive through Whitehorse to our B&B—and it does—it is 162 square miles in area, with a population about the size of Superior. Our B&B belongs to a lady who remarried after a divorce and moved in with her new husband; she didn’t have the heart to sell the home she raised her son in, so she turned it into a B&B. There are four others staying here—kind of like a dormitory. We share the kitchen and the bathroom. I’m happy to cook out of the rain! Sweet dreams, Dear Ones. We miss you.