Journals, Photos and Videos

Leg 1 - We're Off! To Wheatland, WY

After completing the final touches (loading the fridge and freezer), doing some serious organizing and shoveling off the top of the slide, we were able to depart. Our objective was Wheatland, WY. This was a 225 mile leg but since we didn’t get on the road until 12:45, we chose to do somewhat less than our typical 300-350 mile leg.

We were further delayed because of a soft tire on the RV. Pumping up the tires to 110 PSI is a non-trivial task especially when you’re starting at 40 PSI. Our generator supplied the power to the compressor and, voila, we were back in motion in about 30 min.

When we left, the temperature was about 40 but within a half hour, as we approached Denver, it was up to about 60+ and remained there until we reached Wheatland. The drive was pleasant and uneventful and we arrived at 5:30 at a very nice RV park called Mountain View RV Park just off I25. We haven’t seen the mountain view, but the managers were pleasant and helpful. We have the prerequisites - WiFi and Cable TV as was electric, water and sewer. We had a pleasant, productive evening. While Maureen had a conference call, I got our Macs connected to external drives and the internet, We are now in business.

On the way, we did stop at Johnson’s Corner Truck Stop for lunch. That was fun because we drove past it almost daily back in 1967 when Maureen, Andi and I drove to Denver to visit newborn preemie Doug (2# 13oz at one time and he spent many weeks in Children’s Hospital in Denver). At the time, we lived in Loveland. We put on a few miles - it was about an 80 mile round trip.


Leg 2 - to Billings

We got a late start due to an Angus problem. He got ill during the night and woke me up at 3 to go out. He did his duty and came back in and I went back to sleep. At around 4:30, I heard the unmistakable sound of a dog throwing up. Maureen joined me to clean up 3 piles of barf. He went out again to have diarrhea. After an hour dealing with this, we returned to bed and woke up at 9:30. I took Angus for a walk and he had 2 more diarrhea incidents and 1 more serious barf. We’re sure that this reaction was due to over-indulgence of people food. He improved significantly during the trip to Billings.

Speaking of the drive to Billings... It was a bit aggressive since we left at 11:30. It was 385 miles. The drive was great until we got within 100 miles of Billings. The temperature dropped from 60 to 36 and it started raining. By the time we parked at 6:30, it was snowing. As a result, we were totally set up within 15 minutes.

On the way, Maureen made her driving debut. Although driving a big Dodge Ram 3500 and pulling a 38’ RV is intimidating, once you get behind the wheel, it is amazingly easy. Of course dealing with tricky rest stops and truck stops causes a bit of adrenalin. Maureen drove about 2 hours and was very comfortable.

We chose the Yellowstone River RV Park and Campground because several reviews were quite positive. We weren’t disappointed. It is very nice and has all the required facilities. The only issue was that it is still closed for the season. However, typical of RV parks, they left the connections (electric, water, cable and sewer) available and provided an envelope at the office for us to pay for the stay on the honor system.

Because of the weather, we will likely stay here a couple of days. It will be a pleasant respite because it will give us a chance to do some organizing.

Day of Relaxation in Billings

Rather than deal with the unpleasant weather, we chose to stay in Billings and do some organizing and relaxing. It also gave us some time to work on the Journal. There’s no question that Angus appreciated the break as well.

We spent a few days in Billings last year and had a less than spectacular impression of the city. Nothing we saw today changed the impression but we do like the Big Sky feel to the area.

With any luck, we will leave here at 10 AM tomorrow and get to Great Falls, MT tomorrow. There is a Charles M Russell museum in Great Falls. He was one of the best western artists. With any luck, we’ll get to see some of his famous works.

In the first picture, you see a glimpse of the Rear Living room (the RL in our Bighorn 3670RL). It’s really comfy and a bit cozy. The second picture is the Bighorn all set up.


Leg 3 - to Great Falls, MT

We must have an affinity for rivers. In Billings we were on the banks of the mighty (or dry) Yellowstone River. Tonight, in Great Falls, we’re on the banks of the mighty Missouri River. In this case, mighty is apropos. This also is especially fun because the Missouri played on important role in the exploration and expansion of the West. The Lewis and Clark Trail exploited the Missouri.

The drive here from Billings was very pleasant. At one point we were climbing a pass and drove through a wind farm that was harvesting the wind which wasblowing in our faces. You can imagine what it did to our gas mileage. At this point the temperature dropped to 32 degrees. It was entirely overcast for the whole 250 miles.

When we arrived, we went to the Charles M Russell Museum in Great Falls. He is one of the most famous and successful artist of the Old West. His paintings of the West as exibited are moving and exciting. He painted everything from Sitting Bull (of Little Big Horn fame) to buffalo hunters to wildlife. We were amazed at how prolific and artist from drawing, to paintings and sculpting.

When we walked out of the museum, the Big Sky was clear and sunny. What a pleasant sight after the snow experience in Billings.

Maureen broke out her felting supplies. In 2004, she became the teddy bear expert. This year, using the books of Birgitte Krag Hansen from Denmark to learn a new craft. Can’t wait to see the results.

Tomorrow we will be crossing the Canadian border and stopping in Calgary. Calgary is the gateway to the Canadian Rockies and home to the Calgary Stampede Frontier Days and the host of the 1988 Winter Olympics. We may spend an extra night there and drive up to Banff - one of our favorite places on earth.

Oh - if you’ve been following this journal. Angus is back to his old self.

Leg 4 - to Balzac, AB, CA

There was a little smile on our faces when we departed Great Falls, MT heading north to Canada. We had heard on the news about the snowfall that was descending on Colorado Springs. Is there no letup for Palmer Divide?

We got on the road after a pleasant stay at Dick’s RV Park in Great Falls. The day was sunny,bright and there was a slight wind blowing in our faces. You can guess the impact of that on the mileage in high-profile vehicle. It was a pleasant drive, however.

This leg was a bit long, but we got an early enough start. Going through Customs at the border was easier than we anticipated. We stopped 800 ft prior to the crossing at a rest stop to have lunch and take a brief break. Then we proceeded to the Customs gate expecting a 1/2 hour process. There was no one in front of us and, after 10 or so questions from a very humorless border officer, we were on Canadian highways. We did have to present our passports but there were no questions about Angus. We had his health certificate and shot record available and are sure will be needed when we re-enter the US in Alaska.

Our next major problem was converting kilometers to miles and time. That’s a pleasant problem to have.

We passed through Lethbridge, which is a medium sized, neat city on either side of a deep canyon with a beautiful river. We then ticked off the kilometers to Calgary.

Our time calculations were a bit shaky since it put us into the Calgary 5:00 PM Friday traffic. It was a bit of a challenge with several quick stops and some rough roads. Calgary is a major city with the traffic and construction that you would expect. Our destination was a campground in a small town a few kilometers north of the city. We arrived at Balzac and Whispering Spruce RV Park at 6 PM.

The RV park was a bit of a challenge since the spot they gave us was about 42 feet long. Parking a 38 ft RV is a 42 ft spot is a pain at best. Additionally, the roads within the park were all recently dried mud and with the associated ruts. The quick stops and rough roads in Calgary and the rutty RV park meant that the contents of the RV were getting jostled around.

And they were. Maureen had to do a lot of cabinet door closing and moving of objects before opening the slides. We got all settled, albeit with nothing but electric and no WiFi - thus the delay in updates.

Leg 5 - to Edmonton, AB, CA

We got off at 11 AM, the official check-out time, for a comfortable 179 mile drive to Edmonton. We were happy to get out of Whispering Spruce and on to Edmonton for a couple of days of relaxation. We have now gone 1,332 miles which is about 40% of our 3,369 mile trek.

We have seen many wide loads in our travels. But this one was intimidating. Think about the fact that we’re towing an RV that’s 13 ft high. We pulled way left - onto the rumble bumps - and managed to get by - barely.

We actually drove straight through to Glowing Embers RV Park, just west of Edmonton. The park is a vast improvement from last nights experience and we will stay here until Tuesday. That will give us a chance to go to the West Edmonton Mall. It’s the first of the massive malls, like the Great America Mall in Minneapolis. We’re not much for shopping, but when I visited this in 1986, I was amazed. It’s more that a shopping center, but that’s a tomorrow activity.

The stop will also give us a chance to restock a bit and get us ready for the leg to the beginning of the Alaska Highway (the AlCan). The kickoff for the Highway (Mile 0) is in Dawson Creek, BC which is 356 miles WNW of Edmonton. We will likely do it in 2 legs because the roads will be a bit rougher and the wind, of course, will be blowing in our face again. This only seems to happen when we are moving.


Day 1 in Edmonton

We ran into a slight problem when we checked in. They haven’t turned the water on for the general population here at Glowing Embers. We “filled” the fresh water tank only to discover that it would only get to 2/3 full. This is a known design with a couple of work-arounds. It looked like we would have to tear down everything and do a refill on Monday.

There are many full-time RVers that have water, sewer and large propane tanks to deal with the cold winter. Alberta is booming because of oil fields and these are folks who are here for the well-paying jobs. In fact, the guy who sold us our RV sold 4 to folks from Alberta just 2 weeks ago.

Here are some pictures of Full-Timers. Note the permanence. Also note that one of these has even got a little business going on the side with the little signs advertising Windshield Repair. This also provides a tax deduction I’m sure.

The lifestyle is actually a very pleasant environment. I was walking Angus this morning and noticed that one of our neighbors had connected a LONG hose to a full-timer’s water and I asked if I could borrow the hose. He, of course, said sure and let me refill our tank. The full-timer came over and gave me a hand as well. We shared our air compressor with him. It was apparent he is a full-timer from the way he had his RV protected from the weather and he had not had access to a compressor as his tires were quite soft. Once filled he was a “happy camper” living level once again.

Shortly after that, a fellow who was driving by and saw that we were from Colorado and had to stop and BS for a while. He introduced himself as Bob and said had lived in Leadville for 15 years and stopped to reminisce. This brought our next door neighbor over and Maureen and I spent about 15 minutes talking about Rving goodies, Colorado (and the snow in Colorado Springs) and other fun topics. Most of the people we meet are well travelled and have interesting travel stories.

We then headed to West Edmonton Mall. But that takes an entry of it’s own.

Day 1 in Edmonton - the WEM

After stopping by one of the many RV dealers to pick up a couple of things, we proceeded to the West Edmonton Mall. It was more overwhelming then I remembered. We chose the entrance to the Galaxyland Amusement Park (yes - in the mall). After passing through the doors, we were standing in the middle of a squirrelly, full-size roller-coaster. As the car passed over our heads, the noise was unbelievable. There were 2 or 3 serious rides that exceeded anything that I had ever been on in my entire life.

After leaving that section, we entered any area devoted to young kids. (Speaking of kids, our favorite business yet was in Great Falls, MT. It was called “Check a Kid” - a children’s day care.)

After stopping at the Red Piano Bistro for a Cajun lunch (has to be the most northern Cajun restaurant and it was good), we walked passed the hockey sized skating rink, we went to the T & T Grocery Market.

It is a full-sized Chinese market with everything you would expect from an incredible variety of foods as well as brands...... Peking duck!

With Maureen’s love of Oriental cooking, we spent about an hour getting a few items at incredibly reasonable prices.

George’s Olympus point and shoot camera has been a great asset as it can fit in a pocket and give you the luxury of capturing a “snap” discretely as opposed to Maureen’s camera which could never be misconstrued as a discrete object. However discrete it may have been, it was at the section where they were preparing food for the in-store buffet that Maureen got busted! As it turns out no pictures were allowed in the we got one more.


Pre-Leg 6 - to Dawson Crrek

It is highly likely that we will be out of WiFi range for the next 2 or 3 days. We are heading WNW out of Edmonton, through some fairly small towns and facility free areas. Our vague intentions are to make it to Dawson Creek today. The sight-seeing opportunities, the weather and the road conditions will determine how far we get.

Dawson Creek is significant for 2 reasons.

1. It’s “Mile 0” for the Alaska Highway
2. It is in British Columbia - Pacific Coast time.

Even now we are far enough north and west that it doesn’t get dark until after 9 PM.

Time to close up shop. Be back soon.


Leg 6 - It's Dawson Creek!

We’re at Mile 0 in Dawson Creek. Also we are at mile 1,688 of 3,376 of the trip to Cooper Landing. Half way.

We left the Glowing Embers RV Park in Edmonton at 10:30 with only moderate expectations of getting to Dawson Creek, BC. It would mean a 357 mile drive, which is a bit over our daily objective.

The weather was perfect. There was no wind, no precipitation until we crossed in BC, the roads were great with a few bumpy exceptions and the opportunities for real sightseeing were essentially non-existent. This is not the best time of the year for scenery because the growing season is still around the corner. The temperature hovered between 48 and 60.

Magically, however, almost the instant we crossed the British Columbia border, it started raining. Also the wind picked up and the temperature started dropping. By the time we pulled into an RV park, it was 38 and extremely windy with gusts that we figured at 40+ mph.

It was a very pleasant drive. The Alberta countryside is either agricultural or densely forested. The potential for spectacular beauty is obvious - but not in mid-April.

We’re spending the night at the Northern Lights RV Park. It is a neat park just outside of Dawson Creek, overlooking the town. We were being buffeted with some pretty strong winds which indicate some sort of weather front approaching.

We opted to go out to eat to sort of re-live our passing through Dawson Creek in 2004. This is the pub that we enjoyed during our first trip to Alaska in 2004. It was equally pleasant this time with the proverbial hockey game on 5 TVs. It is the playoffs.

Dawson Creek does have its fair share of chain restaurants, but this one was perfect. We’ll return to the “Mile 0” marker in the morning for the photo-op.


Leg 7 - What a mistake!

We awoke to a brilliant blue sky and bright sunshine - at 6 AM. That was too early to start stirring, so we went back to sleep and woke up at 8:30. Surprise. It was snowing and windy. After debating whether to stay at Northern Lights RV Park in Dawson Creek or to proceed to Fort Nelson, 282 miles to the north west, we chose to delay the decision until 10.

When 10:15 rolled around, it had stopped snowing and we decided to depart. After closing the RV, we left for downtown Dayson Creek for the “Mile 0” photo-op. It started snowing a little, but the roads were clear and we felt good about the next leg. As you can see by the flags, the wind picked up again with gusto. The snow started picking up a bit at mile 50, but the roads remained clear. The wind was getting worse. We had an opportunity to stop in Fort St. John but passed it up. This was the second dumb decision. As it turns out, we learned once you are on the rad you are ON THE ROAD. There precious few (if any) roadside rests, areas where you can pull off to the side of the road, no shoulders on which to park.....when you were ON THE ROAD you were ON THE ROAD!

hortly after Fort St. John, the roads started to accumulate snow. Roads then became slushy and when we slid the stress became more apparent. We then had to switch on 4-wheel drive to maintain stability. Additionally, the terrain became much more hilly - of course. We attempted to stop at an RV park (the Old Shepherd which was advertised in the 2009 of the “Milepost”) but they were no longer an RV facility and we had to push on.

Facilities in this area are few and far between so we didn’t know what to expect. Fort Nelson was still about 200 mile away. Milepost - the Alaska Highway travelers’ bible, mentioned the Pink Mountain RV Park. We hoped beyond hope that it would be open and have at least power and not prove to be another Old Shepherd.

It finally popped into view and we pulled in at 3:30 feeling like we had been on the road for 12 hours, even though it had only been 4 strenuous hours. We did not care if they had any amenities as we are pretty self sufficient with electricity, water and sewage aboard the RV.....we merely wanted a flat space in which to park and get off the road. This was easily the most challenging drive I can remember. There was a 14,000 lb, 38 ft RV behind us.

Lois, the attendant, was a little taken aback and said that she wasn’t sure what she could do, but there was no doubt she would make it happen. She directed us to a wide-open spot with power next to a large truck. It wasn’t excessive power, but it was enough.

(pictures taken the next morning)

The temperature still hovered around 20 and would no doubt drop into the teens. This, of course, exposed us to a large use of propane and a potential of water freezing issues. One of the propane tanks was empty and the other had measured a reasonable amount the previous day. We kept the thermostat set to below 60 and a supplemental but very weak electric heater turned on. We actually watched some previously recorded programs on the Directv DVR as well as worked on our journal, pictures and a movie. Although a bit chilly, it was not unbearable.

Maureen cooked a great meal and we eventually went to bed around 11. I had a bit of trouble sleeping because I was stressed about the water and the propane. At one point I got up and check the outside temperature (17) and turned down the heat to 52. I did get to sleep after that, but not for long.

The next day on Pink Mountain

It happened. We ran out of propane. I would guess that it ran out early in the morning but couldn’t be sure. Additionally the pump, which is used to send water out of the storage tank, was not working.

The propane issue was easily resolved by carrying the 2 tanks down to the office to get them filled. The trip down was easy, the tanks are a bit heavy but not a big deal. The trip back was going to be a bear though. Filled tanks are quite challenging.

Bill, the propane attendant was off doing some chores in another part of the park so Lois, the attendant at the store and the lady who the night before when we were desperate for a place to stay was going to find us a place to park come hell or high water, asked a 12 year old boy to go fetch him. The boy walked out to a pickup, hopped in and drove away. Soon he came back and Bill showed up a moment later. I asked him how old the boy was and he told me his age and said that there are so many back roads here that it was commonplace for 12 and younger to drive. When he was finished, he grabbed the boy’s pickup and delivered the propane to our RV. Bill then helped me install it and I went in and cranked up heat the heat unreasonably high. Problem one solved.

Problem 2 was a bit more challenging. Somewhere in the bowels of the RV, there was a frozen line. The Bighorn is tested to 0 so there shouldn’t have been an issue. There is a heater vent in the basement that was slightly blocked that may have caused the problem. Though the temperature was going to get up to 30, we had to do something to get additional heat to the water sysem. I took one of the heaters and placed it in the basement connected with an extension to the neighboring power source. Although it’s not resolved yet, there has been some indication of improvement.

The outside temperature has escalated to a blistering 33.8 so much of the snow and ice is falling from the RV and truck. We’ve opted to stay an additional night here since it is $18 a night and they bailed us out yesterday as well as tomorrow promises to be close to 50. When we went back to the store and hear the “locals” talk of the storm from the day before and how it was the worst of the season especially because of the wind and blowing begin to realize how bad the storm really was.

Each time we run into a problem like this we try to take a lesson from the situation. We DID learn once “YOU ARE ON THE ROAD YOU ARE ON THE ROAD” on the Alaska highway, so if there is a hint of bad weather WAIT.....especially at this uncertain time of the year.

We are also learning many lessons about preparing the inside of the cabin for travel. Each time we think we have everything solved......we learn another lesson. For example, today all seemed perfect but the road at times was incredibly bumpy and it really jars the inside of the rv. When we set up tonight and opened the rv we found that the satellite receiver as well as other items bounced out from an upper cabinet and landed on the floor....small damage to the receiver but frightening inittially when you open the rv and see it on the floor! We do have to become experts at the child cabinet locks.

For the
remainder of the day we recovered from the Wednesday’s drive. It was really a tense experience. We tried to help nature get some of the ice off the vehicles with the heater and knocking it off wherever we could have an effect.

We also wandered around the grounds a bit for exercise. It really feels remote and relaxing here. We purchased some water - just in case the pump doesn’t respond to the heater. I read and worked on the journal. Maureen did some work on pictures.

We finished off the day with another stroll through the campground where we ran into Bill again who showed off his “new” truck. It is a cool 1990 Suzuki pickup with the driver controls on the right. The truck actually came from China by way of Grand Prairie, AB. Grand Prairie is a booming city that has a large oil industry. Bill was rightfully proud of his new vehicle since it gets 60 MPG and is in great shape. It looks like the perfect truck for this area.

The snow of last night has turned into the mud of today. Lois had warned me about the mud but it won’t cause us any grief. The roads are clear an we will be psychologically re-charged to get to Fort Nelson tomorrow. It’s only a 142 mile stint, but we that sounds perfect in our current frame of mind.


Leg 8 - to Fort Nelson

We were off at 10:15 fully fueled and ready to go. Our destination was only 142 miles north - Fort Nelson, BC. The weather was almost perfect (almost because the sun was obscured). The temperature ranged from 34 to 46. What a relief. We needed an easy leg and we got one.

The route took us through the Northern Rockies which are about 3-5,000 feet. The highway, which was 99% perfect, wound up and down for about 1/3 of the route with a few challenging grades. We actually went down a 10% grade on Wed. That, of course, means that we had to climb one on the other side. The entire 142 miles was wilderness with 1 town between Pink Mountain and Fort Nelson. Oh - that other 1% of the highway? We hit 2 sets of potholes that were way sucky. Don’t know how we didn’t blow one of our 10 tires.

This leg was totally uneventful and we arrived at the West End RV Park in Fort Nelson at 1:30. The site is very pleasant. We started setting up the RV and very quickly the neighbors came over and helped us out and started BSing. We ended up talking with 4 different couples and really enjoyed our arrival.

Many were also on their way to AK to work for the summer. The professions of these retired folks varied from teachers, CFO of a hospital, sky-diver/construction worker, former officer at a prison as well as a family of 3 who were going to work on road on heavy machinery, mom driving the pilot vehicle and the college age daughter the flag lady on the crew. It appears we are going to meet many interesting people from many walks of life on this adventure.

Update on issues. The last you heard, we had a pump problem. It appears that the pump “problem” was that the fresh water tank was empty. At any rate, the pump is working and Maureen was able to do do 3 days worth of dishes (who ever thought someone would be happy doing days worth of dishes?????).

Tomorrow we plan on making a fairly aggressive drive to Watson Lake, Yukon Territories - 319 miles. It all depends on the weather. We are a bit spooked by lousy weather and things look spectacular starting on Mon. We’ll see tomorrow. The next leg sounds like more Northern Rockies so it would be best to be smart. The scenery would be improved as well.

Some Fun Information

While frittering away a pleasant day of rest in Fort Nelson, Maureen reviewed this site and made some key changes to many of the photos that are worthy of a re-look.

I did a bit of research and ended up with the following:

That’s some serious North! Tok is the farthest north that we will get on the trip out. We are contemplating trying to get north of the Arctic Circle. We will try to do that during one of our off periods if we are convinced that the roads won’t destroy the Ram.

Another interesting bit of North American geography. In Haines Junction, YT, we will be at the Gateway to Canada’s Kluane National Park (5,440,000 acres). Kluane shares the border with US’ Wrangell-St Elias National Park. (13,175,901 acres). Wrangell is the largest NP in North America. Kluane and Wrangell-St Elias combined is 18,615,901 acres. In the ranking of states by size, this would put them as the 40th largest state in the US.

So there!

Leg 9 - to Watson Lake

We just completed an amazing drive of 319 miles from Fort Nelson to Watson Lake. We got off to an 8 AM start in somewhat overcast skies but a promise of sunshine. We were prepared to complete the drive through the Northern Rockies to Watson Lake.

The initial 50-60 miles were very pleasant and we really appreciated the scenery and the sunshine. We then started to climb and the snow covered mountains start to surround us. For some unfathomable reason, the Army Corp of Engineers in 1942 chose to build the Alaska Highway from south to north instead of just getting through them from east to west and then going north.

The results are two-fold. First, it is incredibly spectacular. That’s a challenging superlative for people that live next to the Rockies in Colorado. Second, there are many climbs and descents that are challenging but become hazardous after snowstorms even in late April.

Of course, that’s what we ran into. When comparing the altitude of the Colorado Rockies and the Rockies in Northern BC, the passes don’t sound too challenging. But they are. We left Fort Nelson at 1600 feet and crossed passes of 4,100, 4,500 and 3,800. Summit Lake (at mile 83) was a long climb on snowy and steep roads. Although highly nerve racking, the Dodge Ram, in 4-wheel drive, handled the climb without a problem.

The road, at this point, was narrow and snow-packed. We reached the summit very concerned about the impending descent. An amazing thing happened next. We started going down and the road widened and was relatively clear as well as a gradual decent not the 10% grade that we had already experienced. Also there were several vehicles in front of us going extremely slowly. That was fine with us. After about 10 miles, the 3 vehicles in front of us pulled off the highway to allow us to pass and we proceeded down comfortably with no problems. We had no problem following them as it kept us at a reasonable speed and allowed us to stop and take pictures and not worry about traffic following us.

We finally got down the mountain and pulled into the Toad River Lodge to get some fuel and to take a break. As I was going into the office after filling the tank, I ask a guy at the pump filling his panel truck what we had to look forward to. It turned out that he was pulling a 3,00 pound trailer over the same pass and as he approached the Summit Lake pass, he lost all traction and ended up jack-knifed. His wife went ahead to warn descending vehicles. One of the first cars to approach him offered lend him some chains. They both chained up and proceeded over the pass. It turns out that he was one of the vehicles that was in front of us when we started down the mountain. We saw them turn off the road not knowing they were removing the chains. Later when we downloaded the video we saw where they were jack-knifed off the road.

During times like these, it was easy to wonder what we were thinking. However, after leaving Toad River Lodge, it was easy to understand the pull of the Alaska Highway and the adventure of Alaska.

First we passed Muncho Lake. It was 7 miles long at an altitude of about 3,200 feet and still completely covered with ice and snow. We continued traversing the Rockies, but now at a much more enjoyable pace. The sky was blue, the scenery was awesome and we finally found our first critters.

Then, after 2,158 miles from Colorado Springs and 467 miles into the Alaska Highway, we came across a wandering herd of buffalo. We were on the edge of a ravine. We had been forewarned by buffalo signs - both road signs and poop. The sight of them was very satisfying.

Maureen learned just recently through Nina’s cousin, Brian McCarthy (of San Diego, CA), that she has a cousin, Maureen, who live in AK for several years. Thanks to Brian they were introduced and Maureen P (guess which one!) has given us advice on what to see and what to look out for on our trip. Maureen told us we would see plenty of buffalo along the highway and we should be careful driving.....she did not disappoint.

We then passed about 10 small herds and continuous signs of buffalo for the next 100+ miles. No exaggeration.....but can you imagine people cheering when they see buffalo poop and hope they can say they see if for 100 actual miles? Well, it did happen and we did see buffalo at the 100 mile area to validate our claim!!

We were then on the glide path for Watson Lake and were glad to arrive at 3:30. We’re staying at a totally functional RV park (Downtown RV Park) within easy walking distance of the famous Sign Forest. The Forest was started by a soldier from Danville, IL in 1942 who was homesick while working on the construction crew of the ALCAN Highway so he placed a sign pointing to IL and announcing how far it was to home. Other soldiers soon followed suit and thus the beginning of the Sign Post Forest. Visitors to Watson Lake added signs and to this day it has grown to 61,000+ signs.

During WWII the US needed a way to get supplies up to Alaska for the soldiers so an engineering miracle took place. Military and civilian personnel constructed the now Alaska Highway in 8 short months and 12 days which then provided a land route for supplies and troops to Alaska during WWII.

When grocery shopping have you ever “bumped” into the same person many times while traversing the isles? Well, that is what happens on this trip to AK when you all have a similiar goal. “Bob and Mary” who are headed to Skagway and are parked 2 slots over form us, saw the buffaloes also but saw 2 fighting....that had to be a fun experience. We have seen others that we have “camped” with and expect to leapfrog each other all the way to Alaska.

Leg 10 - to Whitehorse

We again got a reasonably early start from Watson Lake. Actually the only redeeming values in Watson Lake seemed to be the Sign Forest and the nice showers. Even the WiFi was silly because you had to be in the laundry room. I actually tried it for 10 minutes - more out of curiosity than any real expectation of getting things done.

We made an early stop in Nugget City, about 8 miles outside of Watson Lake and had breakfast. This was because of a recommendation in Milepost. While our breakfast was sizzling away, I asked Dave (the manager/cook/everything) how to pronounce Tlinglet (the name of the indigenous natives in the area). He proceeded to tell us an incredible history of the people and how they were so badly treated in Alaska by the Russians prior to the sale of Alaska to the US. He then raved about James Michener’s Alaska which we have brought with us.

The drive to Whitehorse was glorious. The sun was brilliant, the skies were cloudless (except for occasional contrails) and the scenery was amazing. We will soon be posting a few movies to help you appreciate what we’re experiencing.

I should mention the physical highway. So far it has been 99% perfect. We hit and avoided a few potholes and the much dreaded frost heaves have been non-existent. The passes got a bit narrow but even then, the highway was very well maintained. We do expect a bit of a change on the last 2 legs to Tok.

We arrived in Whitehorse and pulled into a totally functional RV Park/Motel. It did have excellent WiFi and a multitude of channels on its cable system. They even had a Detroit NBC station and 2 Seattle stations. Why Detroit? We used the great WiFi to call all the kids but it was too late to talk to the grandkids. We’ll get better at that in Alaska.

Another thing worth noting is that the sun is shining brightly at 9:30 PM. It starts to fade around 10 and total darkness hits around 10:45. It should be similar to what we’ll experience this summer in Cooper Landing. In fact, we’re expecting to see even more daylight.

Leg 11 - to Burwash Landing

We woke up a little bit late but we planned a fairly relaxing day so we were fine. We intended to leave between 11 and 1 and head to Haines Junction and stay in the Kluane RV Park which was only 95 miles.

We called Geoffrey and, when we mentioned that we were in Whitehorse, he said that we had to go to the Mexican restaurant for lunch. With a little research, we found the name of the restaurant (Sanchez Cantina). What you see in the picture is almost the full kitchen in which they prepare the meals. This is the epitome of “hole in the wall” that turns out to be a hidden gem! If anyone is in Whitehorse this is a must!!

After wandering down by the Yukon River for exercise and photos, we went to the Cantina. Geoffrey had mentioned that it was more authentic than anything in the Boulder/Denver area and it absolutely was. I had delicious beef enchiladas with mole sauce and Maureen had Chili Rellenos stuffed with potatoes and cheese. They both were great.

We went back to the RV and packed up and took off. The ride to Haines Junctions was spectacular. With the spectacular views of the peaks of Kluane National Park constantly in view, we were visually entertained and amazed. Arriving at the Kluane RV Park at 3:30 and were hit with our first disappointment. The camp was unable to open because of the great amount of late snow they received. They were sure (and we agreed) that if anyone attempted to park in the slots, they would lmost definitely get stuck.

So it was onward to Burwash Landing - the next available campground. It was about 60 miles north and would shorten our next leg to Tok to a more comfortable drive.

This took us along Kluane Lake, a massive lake nestled among snow covered peaks. Kluane Lake is located in the southwest area of the Yukon. At approximately 400 square kilometres, and 70 kilometres long, it is the largest lake contained entirely within the territorial border. The Alaska Highway follows most of Kluane Lake's southern border, and the drive offers many spectacular views of the lake. The Yukon communities of Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay are located on the southern shore of the lake.

This also brought us to our first unpaved highway. There was a 5 mile stretch of excellent dirt road that barely slowed us down. We actually had to reduce our speed soon after leaving Whitehorse. We started encountering the dreaded frost heaves. They can cause havoc in the RV. We found that by dropping from 62 (100 KPH) to 55, the impact of the frost heave was minimized or eliminated.

Burwash Landing provided the less than bare-minimum power (15 Amps - like your home). However if you do more than plug in the computers, the breaker blows in the office. So we had to pass on the microwave / convection oven and use the gas stove.

The view is striking, however. This is out the rear view window of the rv. Not quite that of Kluane RV Park, but certainly the best we’ve had yet. They also only have WiFi in the lobby, which is by far the biggest issue. We had intended to stay an extra day in the area but we’re opting to go on to Tok tomorrow.

Alternate transportation available at this rv site.


Travel Update

We would like to take this time to thank all of you (and you know who you are) who have made comments on the blog.

Needless to say, we have enjoyed documenting our trip in the blog and sprinkling it with pictures so we will have it for posterity. We are also able to share the trip with our children, grandchildren and friends until everyone is able to take a similar trip if they wish. And if you do take a trip, consider writing a blog for your own pleasure and so we can comment on it!

In 1965 we took a trip from MA up to Niagara Falls, NY and proceeded to travel across all the Canadian provinces with the grandiose delusion of going to Alaska. We met up with an amazing Rocky Mountain (first time we had seen the Rockies) blizzard in Banff, CA, you can probably imagine how our bug functioned in the snow. Banff, to this day, is still one of our favorite places on earth and with the new fallen snow it was an absolutely a Hallmark moment.

That was the best thing that happened to us, as we in our naiveté, thought we could make AK in our 1961 VW bug without any extra supplies i.e. extra set of tires, extra warm clothing....even a shovel would have been nice. We made the executive decision to change our plans and head south through the western US states and and we eventually settled in Denver (5 mos pregnant with Andrea).

During the trip, I kept the first ever blog! Well, we still have the spiral notebook which has made the “to do” list. One day we will transcribe the commentary and put in pictures taken during that trip and compare it to our current trip.

Just for a visual -- then -- 1961 VW Bug, tent (we had never camped), and only the items we could fit in or on the bug....(you get the picture) -- now -- 2008 Dodge Ram 3500 Diesel dually Mega cab (Angus has more room in the back seat than we had in all of the VW), 38 foot Heartland Bighorn with half of our worldly possessions!


We plan an entry to show the technology we have access to on this trip.......the epitome of being 2 geeks!

Update on the travel:

We are currently in Burwash Lading, Yukon and have completed 81% of our trip to the Kenai Peninsula....for those of you keeping score, that is 2735 miles of the 3369 miles from CO to Cooper Landing, AK.


Leg 12 - to Tok, AK

We’re in Alaska! What should have been an easy, relaxing 4 hour drive was anything but. The condition of the road from Burwash Landing to the border (100 miles) was horrible at best. We actually expected it but still were taken aback.

The campground that we stayed at last night was almost great. We parked between the peaks of Kluane National Park and Kluane Lake. The backend of the camper was about 20 yards from the edge of the lake which was entirely frozen. Although we didn’t have access to WiFi in the RV, there was a strong signal in the lobby which was really awesome and stayed open all night.

What was wrong then? The power was too sub-par. It was 15 Amps but blew their circuit breaker with the slightest usage. We were glad to have stopped there though. It was a great alternative to the RV park in Haines Junction which was under water.

We discovered just how hard it was on the RV when we stopped for lunch shortly after crossing the border. When Maureen opened the door to get our lunch. she was greeted with the entire contents of the freezer lying on the floor. And the freezer was closed, not only when we started but when we stopped for lunch. We had apparently failed to fully secure the freezer completely.

The chaos didn’t stop there however. The couch (a HEAVY sofa bed) had bounced about a foot from the wall. All the drawers in the kitchen were open, as you can see in the picture. A plastic cabinet that we put in for convenient storage found its way into the middle of the living area. But other than initial shock, there were no serious consequences and once more we have a lessons learned. (We need a to do an entry on the lessons we have learned!)

Maureen spoke with a fellow traveler who pulled into the spot next to us and he said that the only solution is to chill and spend most of the 100 miles from Burwash Landing to the border at 25 MPH. We will take the advice of a guy who had made the same trip 13 times. Certainly the voice of experience.

The scenery continues to impress. On our left, the Kluane Mountain Range was inspiring all the was to the border. When we entered Alaska, the impressive scenery disappeared - for a while. After a few miles, Wrangel-St Elias came into view. It was with us all the way to Tok. We will visit Wrangell in a couple of days. (Check the entry “Some fun information to understand the size of these parks.)

It turns out that we never saw that sight on our 2004 trip because of extensive forest fires and overbearing smoke. We were a bit taken aback with this discovery. The 2004 Alaska fire season was the worst on record in terms of area burned by wildfires in the U.S. state of Alaska. Though fewer individual fires formed than in 1989 when almost 1,000 were recorded, more than 6,600,000 acres (26,700 km2) were burned by the approximately 700 fires that ignited

We plan on regrouping here in Tok. There’s not much here but the campground is very nice - maybe the best we’ve stopped at on this trip.

Leg 13 - to Anchorage

We are closing in! Today’s leg is a bit aggressive but worked out perfectly. We headed south and west on the Tok Cutoff Highway (Rt 1), with the St Elias mountain range directly in front of us. From the time we started until the time we landed in Anchorage we almost never were deprived of these or other majestic peaks.

We had discussed the idea of parking the RV in Glennallen for an evening and driving to Kenny Lake, about 30 miles southeast and on the edge of Wrangell-St Elias that offfered us jobs after we had already accepted positions at Wildman’s.

We opted to bypass this alternative since we couldn’t close the loop with the proprietor. (We got the confirmation e-mail the next day that they would be there and enjoy meeting us.) We will return to Kenny Lake Mercantile later this summer to visit for certain.

Actually, the thought of relaxing in Anchorage for 3 days was very appealing. But, back to the drive.

The highway started in perfect condition and we sailed along totally enraptured by the sights that surrounded us. Again, the skies were perfect and we were making good time - although that wasn’t all that important. After about 80 miles, we encountered some roughish roads. But we are the first to admit that it’s impossible to complain about rough roads after the horrible conditions on Leg 12. We did however, sustain some relatively serious damage to a new table and some to shelving in the closet. We plan to work on the table and make the repairs in the rv park over the weekend. The weather is reaching the high 60’s during the day so it will be pleasant to work outside on a project......tho’ I would much rather not have a project.

We left Wrangell in our rear-view mirrors shortly after passing through Glennallen. In fact, this was the only period for the entire trip when we didn’t have mountains in sight. Soon though, another range popped up on our left. This range continued all the way to Anchorage and included a spectacular section of glaciers that felt like they were in touching distance.

We passed through Palmer at 4 PM (and waved to everyone in town for Maureen P!) and headed on to the Golden Nugget RV Park in Anchorage. It is located with 15 minutes of downtown, just off the highway. We were their first RV customer of the season and one of the ladies from the office was ecstatic.

Being an avid RVer herself, she loves to see the season commence and all but welcomed us with red carpet treatment. While we checked in at the office she went and scouted out the perfect location for us and then gave us a personal escort leading us to the spot with her truck....a pilot car of sorts.

Just as we started to follow her we felt something wrong with our “rig”. Turns out the emergency safety break had been pulled out and we could not move. She very patiently waited for us while we resolved the issue. We resumed the procession to the “perfect” spot when the break cable got caught on the hitch while making the turn into the spot and was pulled out bringing us to another screeching halt. Undaunted, she waited while we resolved the issue and to see if we were satisfied with her choice.

When she realized we were pleased, she left us to set up and went home for the weekend seemingly pleased with the treatment she given us and it was now 5:55pm on Friday and they close at 6:00pm.

As it turns out, we were the only campers in the entire park and all the spots looked pretty much the same to us but we really did enjoy the treatment afforded us. It was wonderful to have running water, sewer and.....nooooooooo.....the electricity is not turned on and the office is now closed and will not be open until Monday! George quickly jumped in the truck and was lucky enough to find the last person in the office who was able to help us out and turned on the electricity to the parking spots.

They have several full-time residents, but the traveling RVers weren’t eligible to use the park until May 1. In fact, they are still preparing the park for the season and the lady informed us the showers could be used but they were still cleaning up ash from Mt Redoubt eruptions but more about that later as this morning (Mon) we heard “The 2009 eruption of Redoubt volcano continues. A vigorous steam plume, rising to altitudes up to 18,000' above sea level, is visible in moonlit webcam views”.

It is lonesome here but we love it.

A view out the window early Saturday morning. This is “our” row and we counted 5 others that were completely empty....yes, pretty lonely.

(As it turned out, Sunday the 2 class A rigs that we played “leapfrog” with along the Alaska highway, pulled in to the park as well as 2 other rigs. Man, it is getting crowded!)

We’ll do a bit of shopping to stock up for Cooper Landing and leave for the Kenai Peninsula on Tuesday morning. It’s a 102 mile jaunt that should take 2-3 hours with expected photography stops.

2 Days in Anchorage

We decided to spend a couple of days “relaxing” in Anchorage. On Saturday, we did a little running around to do a bit of shopping as it seemed to be a good idea to stock up on some of the basics.

Some observations:
For the most part, the prices of groceries and miscellaneous goodies from Target, Barnes and Nobel and other chains are very comparable to those in Colorado Springs. The price of diesel - not so much. We paid $3.29 per gallon yesterday. We paid about $2.19 in CS when we left. Surprisingly restaurant meal have been very competitive as well - and they have no sales tax on food. We don’t expect this trend to hold for the Kenai Peninsula since it’s a bit remote. Canadian restaurants, however, did not follow suite as we were charged $40 + for an average breakfast one time of eggs, hash browns and bacon!

This morning, I took Angus for a 3.5 mile hike into the Russian Jack Spring Park. It was a glorious day at 68 degrees and a slight breeze. We actually went about a mile further than intended but a short-cut turned out to be a dead-end of a maze of trails in a strange forest. Instead of guessing the best trail, we retraced our steps to exit the park. Too many stories of curious grizzlies to take too many chances.

While Angus and I went on our trek, Maureen stayed behind organizing, yet again, the cabinets and basement trying to figure out the perfect solution to protect the contents in the RV from the potential hazard the road has in store for travelers. She took everything out of the cabinets and basement and rearranged all items in stackable containers we purchased at Target.

We have had too many “lessons learned” about drawers opening, items bouncing around, dishes breaking, tables breaking etc etc. Ah, a general consensus among other RVers is speed......they all told us to slow to 25 over the bad areas or permafrost heave areas. We have tried baby locks for cabinets but really needed our kids to install them as we failed when trying one on the pantry door. When we are settled in Cooper Landing we will give it another try.

After going to a wool store for Maureen’s new felting craft, we went to Barnes and Nobel to satisfy our book store habit. Got some great Kenai and Alaska books and maps as well as a new novel and some Mac magazines.

We returned to relax before embarking on a massive RV and truck washing task. It was a non-trivial exercise, taking us over 2 hours to wash both the RV and truck but thoroughly gratifying. Remember the pictures from Pink Mountain RV site? We have carried that dirt with us .....until right now, that is.

We won’t be embarrassed tooling down the road to Cooper Landing now.

We’ve actually decided to stay here until Tuesday. There are a few more things that we would like to get done before we embark and it sure is a nice break from driving.

Time for a refreshing reward for a long productive day.....’scuse us while we have a Margarita and put our feet up!


Leg 14 - to Cooper Landing

Well - guess what! We have arrived in Cooper Landing. We left Anchorage at 10:30 AM all nice and sparkly. We soon got on the Seward Highway and headed south east(?). We had to skirt Turnagain Arm, a piece of the Cook Inlet. A beautiful part of the Alaskan landscape where we saw Dall sheep scaling the cliffs during our last visit to Alaska in 2004. We will return to this area to see if we can have that experience again.

We then proceeded through a wild bird sanctuary where we saw several species of water fowl and one lone bald eagle. It was an auspicious start to our drive. As we proceeded south east, the Chugach Mountain Range rose majestically in front of us and we passed several avalanches have left the telltale remineremnantsnts of snow on the railroad tracks.

When we got past the Turnagain Arm and headed back south west, we had to traverse these mountains. We faced this challenge several times on this journey so this 102 mile drive looked to be a piece of cake. We did have to go as high as 2,200 feet but the road was substantial and either well maintained or well posted so there were no surprise rough spots.

The scenery continued to amaze all the way to Cooper Landing. We are convinced, though, that Sarah has eliminated all wildlife with the “shoot them from airplanes” approach to wildlife management. We got one fleeting glimpse of a likely caribou on all of the Alaska roads that we have driven on this trip. In fact, other then that, we’ve only seen the buffalo in BC.

We do anticipate seeing our fair share of wildlife here in Cooper Landing and the rest of the Kenai Peninsula. This location is famous for the brown bear (read grizzly) feasting on salmon when they are running. Moose, elk, wolves and a myriad of other creature inhabit the peninsula. We have been told by several people to be sure NOT to put any food outside as it attracts the bears that have been see around this area.

After arriving, Wildman’s didn’t disappoint. It is a well kept convenience, liquor, souvenir, and Laundromat. We also got to meet Cheryle and Jerry the owners, Heather the manager, as well as Ryder, Carol, Aaron, Ron and Stephanie. More about the people later as we get to know them. It is a small town and as you can imagine everyone does their fair share of contributing, some in many ways.

We managed to get backed in and setup in about an hour. There’s much left to do but we’re well situated and ready to get going. As we were about to set up, a bald eagle flew over us. That’s either got to mean good luck or we looked like carrion. It was a cool start though.

This is our new location for the next several months....not bad, eh??

Here are a few views off the deck of the Wildman’s , and out our front door

We have to start a new chapter now. Future posts are going in “The Alaskan Adventure”.