Our "Alaska Adventure 2010" was one of the highlights of our seven years as fulltime RVers. As the adventure was rolling along we made regular commentaries on Hurley Travels blog about the scenery, people and experiences of this last frontier. If you would like to read them, those stories are still available by clicking on either a blog subject or the blog archive of the months between May and August of 2010, both in the left column.
The following is a brief summary of the trip. I broke down the total experience into our stops, with headings that include the mileage between locations, the overnight parking place, hookup details and cost. Perhaps this will help some other travelers who want a perspective on what to plan in what amount of time. Of course, your travel style will determine a great deal about your personal trip.
Or.....who knows! Maybe we will use this summary to plan a return trip for those glimpses that we passed by too quickly on the first trip. So, for many reasons, here's our Alaska page that summarizes the whole shebang.
Preplanning: For at least six years we knew we were interested in taking the Alaska trip, but only decided about six months in advance that the summer of 2010 was the time to Just Do It. We didn 't have a specific itinerary for this trip beyond Jerry's long-standing hope to travel every inch of the 1400-mile Alaska Highway. What we did do was gather impressions and advice from books, online and from people who seemed to love sharing their Alaska stories. Paying attention to friendly advice of other rvers, we purchased our copy of The Milepost and the Alaska Camping Guide written by the Churches. The Frommers guide also added to the conversation. And we sure enjoyed reading "RVing Alaska and Canada" by Charlie Marshall. She's a fellow Escapee who informs and entertains with stories of her repeated trips. Of course, preparing included ordering our Alaska TourSaver booklet that contains the valuable discount coupons for a boatload of activities. We are so very appreciative of all those rvers who shared their experience online and in person. The suggestions were helpful in many ways, from insight into crossing the border in an RV to heads up on expenses. Yes, I would say the preplanning contributed quite a bit to enjoying the trip. Besides, the more we learned the more anxious we were to get there.
Our Itinerary: Our type of planning gave us a broad view of the landscape, clues on what we would encounter and a few pre-chosen stops. A specific itinerary was not our goal. We wanted to go with the flow. But, we did keep a calendar. So we are able to recreate the trip as it developed; our encounters with people, places, activities and the wide-open spaces. Other than a few unexpected medical and car problems and the predictable weather interference, everything went smoothly. Our Alaska Adventure 2010 lasted 94 days, from crossing into Canada on May 21 and back into the U.S. on August 22.
Our Route: We took what is called the "East Access Route" in the Milepost. Basically, that means leaving the U. S. from Sweetgrass, MT into Coutts, BC. Travel from there in Canada was on Highway 4 north to Highway 2 north to Highway 43 west to Dawson Creek, BC. Then we followed the Alaska Highway all the way to the end in Delta Junction, AK, followed by exploring of most of the highways in Alaska at least once. On our way out we took the Alaska Highway again, with a stop in Haines. And then the Cassair Highway south, stopping briefly in Hyder, AK. And finally, we followed the Yellowhead (16) and Highways 97 and 5 south into the U. S.
Here's how it went:
May 21: Coutts, Alberta, Canada to Granum, AB (140 miles, 1 night @ $30 - Granum Campground, electric hookup)
Our chosen border crossing was at Sweetgrass, Montana into Coutts, Alberta. We stayed the night before in a city park in Shelby, Montana, about 50 miles south of the crossing. Lake Shel-oole had electric and water hookups for $18.00 and was a short distance outside Shelby where we found a grocery and drug store for items we needed. Our crossing into Canada was easy going, just a few minutes for customs officials to examine our passports and ask whether we were carrying guns or restricted food and why we were entering the country.
The problems started north about 100 miles when the winds picked up to about 40-50 miles an hour. We were on stretches of flat open country and the wind took hold of our awning and yanked it to get our attention. Sooooo...we looked in our trusty Milepost (or was it the Churchs' book??) to locate a campground a little earlier than we might have in better weather. Granum Campground turned out to suit us fine for the evening. We were happy to watch families populating the campground for their big holiday weekend as the wind whistled.
May 22: North to Edmonton and west to Whitecourt, AB (352 miles - 1 night @ $0 - WalMart, boondocking)
This was a scenic day, peaceful driving along Highway 2 north and 43West. We started seeing the snow lingering along the roads and coyotes near the WalMart where we stopped for the night. Here we discovered how much we liked the super O'Kanagon beer sold in Canada. Also, over these past two days we were informed that our particular type of debit card does not work in Canada stores, despite the advance assurances we had. Oh well, just a small obstacle to overcome - the credit cards or cash always work.
May 23-24: 43 West to Dawson Creek, British Columbia (252 miles, 2 nights @ $0 -WalMart, boondocking)
Our journey on day three brought increasing white-capped mountains, even some snow flakes for effect. We stopped for lunch and our first diesel fill-up at the Valley View Esso. Cost= 93.9 liter. Computes to about 3.50 per gallon. No surprises here since we had our alerts to the higher prices. In fact, we soon found this price wasn't as bad as it could get. But, it's part of the plan, right?
Our stop for this evening was the WalMart in Dawson Creek. Online sources gave this one as a popular spot for rvers and that was true. Their special parking area is out of the way and alongside a hotel with open wifi. We ended up staying two days since we wanted to explore a little at the "official start of the Alaska Highway." They have a nice train depot-type museum where we watched an enjoyable historical movie about the building of the Alaska Highway at the start of WWII. We had fun exploring in the surrounding area and talking with fellow rvers from Texas, North Carolina and New Jersey, all kicking off their Alaska Highway trips. This town was also our introduction to the popular Canadian restaurant, Horton's. I would describe it as a cross between Dunkin Donuts and Panera Bread. The drive-up window for donuts appears to be a constant line-up (or maybe a queue, as they say.) We had soup and sandwich lunch that was excellent and reasonably priced. (Oh, by-the-way, we also found today that our particular Visa debit card does indeed work in Canada if used at a bank ATM.)
May 25: Dawson Creek to Ft. Nelson, British Columbia (285 miles, 1 night @ $0 -IGA, boondocking)
The first day of traveling the Alaska Highway (97) was sunny and crisp, lined with spruce and aspen and more snow-capped mountains. At 1:29 p.m., at 190 miles from Dawson Creek we spotted our initial lumbering, ugly-mug moose at the side of the highway slurping up the greens in a pond. Aren't they weird-looking creatures? After 285 miles up and over in B. C. we decided we would stop by the IGA in Fort Nelson that was reported to be friendly to rv parking. Even though their parking lot is not large, the manager welcomed us to pull off to the edge and "have a good night." It was.
May 26: Fort Nelson to Liard River Hotsprings, B. C. (191 miles, 1 night @ $0 -Liard Hot Springs, boondocking)
On Day 6 Ferd carried us through more spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies. The wildlife viewing was exceptional on this segment, bears having breakfast on greenery, moose observing us, stone sheep munching on the rocks at the roadside and bison roaming in the open fields. There were so many rivers and lakes sprinkled into this scenery we were almost getting used to the beautiful panoramas when we decided to make the overflow parking lot at the Liard Hot Springs our stopover spot. It was nice taking a long walk near the hot springs, but we passed on jumping in this time. By the time we retired for the night, we were joined by a couple other overnighters. When we woke in the morning, there were two young men with their tent pitched in front of us and other roadies populating the parking area. We offered coffee to our two male companions and had a nice chat about their destination, summer jobs at a resort.
Then we were on our way as was everyone.
May 27: Liard River, B. C. to Teslin, Yukon Territory (302 miles, 1 night @ $12 -Teslin Lake Govt. Campground, boondocking)
More awesome mountain views, several furry black bears, a bulgy-nosed moose, some raggedy-coated bison, and lots of valleys with swiftly-flowing-springtime-runoff rivers. It's everywhere!
But of special note today was our midday stop at Watson Lake for the Sign Post Forest. This place is unique, that's for sure. There are thousands of signs that people from every corner of the world have posted as a sign that they were there. We added our sign in a perfect spot just waiting for us. The Sign Post Forest is a museum that tells a story as well as any exhibit or movie. Enjoyed wandering around. This day's overnight spot was the Teslin Lake Goverment Campground. Pretty place on a lake at $12. The government campgrounds have no electric or water but they are a good pulling off spot.
May 28: Teslin to Kluane Lake, Yukon Terr. (253 miles, 1 night @ $12 - Congdon Creek Govt. Campground, boondocking)
Travels today were warm and pleasant again, 65-70 degrees. How could we tire of the spruce trees reflected in the mountain lakes? We read about another government campground on a lake and it was just the right distance for us. So, we stopped at Congdon Creek, situated on Kluane Lake. This became one of our favorites. The smells of the pines, roomy parking spots and the scenes along Kluane Lake make it a place you want to revisit. We would return on our way back and will again if we venture down this road.
May 29 - 30: Kluane Lake, Yukon, to Tok, Alaska (239 miles, 2 nights @ $30 - Tundra RV Park, water and electric at site, dump available)
We started off this day with a mama grizzly and her cub having breakfast as we slowly cruised by them. After enjoying the morning on the road, we stopped at Buckshot Annie's roadside cafe for a close-quartered meal with their yummy home-made bread. This is a small place with only a few tables, but that means you get to chat with Canadians and other travelers during your lunch. Not long after lunch we crossed into Alaska without any fanfare. Then we began experiencing the frost heaves in the highway that we heard horror stories about. They are marked well with orange flags though. So, we slowed down and had no problems. For our first overnight in Alaska, we selected the Tundra RV Park in Tok. They have an RV and vehicle washing area that is definitely a must after the dusty roads on the way in. In fact, there are several washing areas in Tok and they are well used. We stayed two nights to clean up the vehicles, have some Internet time after our break in Canada and gather lots of information from Tok's helpful hosts at the Visitors Center. This was also our time to learn more about the fires that burn every summer. Smoke and firemen both shared our campground.
May 31: Tok to Fairbanks, AK (206 miles, 1 night @ $0- Sam's Club, boondocking)
Even though there was some possibility we might get turned back on the road due to forest fire, we set out north on Highway 2 (still on the Alaska Highway) toward Delta Junction. We saw the firefighters changing shifts, marching into the charred remains of the forest. But we were only delayed a short time. Our stop for lunch was at Delta Junction to mark the end of the Alaska Highway, 1440 miles. Then continued on the Richardson Highway to the North Pole, where we had to stop for a visit with Santa and his reindeer, of course. This day's trip ended in Fairbanks. To get the lay of the land before roosting for a few days, we found the Sam's Club lot for our first night. Again, there is an out of the way area that's great for rvers overnighting and we could also make the usual perusal of Sam's for anything that we might decided we needed.
June 1 - 3: Fairbanks, AK (5 miles - 3 nights @ $12 - Pioneer Park, boondocking, water available)
The second day in Fairbanks we moved across town a short way to Pioneer Park, the community's historical theme park that is also a delicious salmon bake outdoor restaurant, air museum, railroad museum and picnic area. There is a designated area of the huge parking lot, next to trees, for rv overnight parking - no hookups, so we made sure beforehand to have empty waste tanks and full water tank. During this stay in Fairbanks we went downtown to the Fairbanks Community Museum, visited the Pioneer Park railroad, mining and airplane exhibits, drove five miles out of town to get a close-up look at a portion of the Alaska Pipeline. While out and about we had dinner one night at the Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox, a few miles north of Fairbanks. It was good food, but reminded us of many of the Friday's-type restaurants everybody knows. There was still more to be done, but it was time to be seeing more places.
June 4-6: Fairbanks to Denali National Park (120 miles, 3 nights @ $14 - Riley Campground, boondocking, dump and water available in the park.)
We wanted to perhaps get a jump on the crowds by making our visit to Denali National Park early in the summer. So this was one of our predetermined destinations for early in June. We didn't make any advance reservations, as most people do if they are going later. We were able to move right into Riley Creek Campground for our first three nights, just outside the main entrance and visitors center. There are many activities that one can take part in around this entrance area that are free. Ranger programs in the campground, nature programs, and the dog sled demo where you can meet the animals are some we enjoyed. The next day we booked a shuttle bus trip into the park, to Toklat River. It was a clear day and we were among the fortunate 30% of visitors who actually see Mt. McKinley in all its splendor. There it was, standing tall and clear of the usual cloud cover. Awesome!
June 7 - 10: Denali National Park - (29 miles, 4 nights @ $8 - Teklanika Campground, boondocking)
Our next move was 29 miles into Denali NP. When we arrived three days earlier we were able to book four nights at Teklanika Campground. Besides the shuttle buses, only those with a campground reservation can drive on the road to this point, thereby cutting down on the human activity deeper into the park. It was fun staying at Teklanika, far from the roar of the crowd. Additionally we boarded another bus to venture still further to the end of the road in the park, getting a full view of grizzlies, caribou and breath-taking nature. We would choose this one again also.
June 11: South on Parks Highway - (150 miles, $0 - Pulloff on Parks Hwy, near Trapper Creek, boondocking)
This was our first rainy day in Alaska. Some say rain is the usual summer weather, but we had at least 50% clear days during our residence. But on this particular day as the rain continued to be heavy in the afternoon, we decided to stop a little earlier and just relax. We found a pulloff area suitable for overnighting, with a couple of neighbors already positioned for the night. For reference purposes, this spot was a few miles north of Trapper Creek on the Parks Highway. We listened to a very entertaining local radio broadcast, KTNA in Talkeetna, enjoying the quaint look inside a slower-paced, more simplistic community. Not having tv or Internet for long intervals during this trip resulted in a lot more radio and music and book reading. Not all bad.
June 12-13: South on Parks Highway to Eagle River, AK (100 miles, 2 nights @ $0 - Fred Meyer, boondocking)
Continuing south on the Parks Highway, we passed through Wasilla to Eagle River, just north of Anchorage. Nancy's had dental problems, so we chose this town to hunt for a dentist. Since we had heard about the Fred Meyer stores permitting overnight parking, we stopped in to give it a try. Fred's turned out to be a good overnight spot for us. There is ample room, good lighting, quiet, safe and we found the shopping to be more reasonable. At this location we had Internet, so we blogged, read and made a dentist appointment for the next day. Besides, we discovered their delicious clam chowder at the hot soup bar.
June 14-15: Eagle River Campground (5 miles, 2 nights @ $15 - Eagle River State Park, boondocking, dump and water available in park.)
In our two days of looking around in the Eagle River area, we found the Eagle River State Park Campground just a few miles out of town, situated in the woods. So for the next two days we moved in. Eagle River seems like a bedroom community for Anchorage. It has all the conveniences, including a nice local restaurant, Johann's, where we sampled their steak and halibut. Nancy's dentist appointment resulted in another dose of antibiotics to kill out the remainder of infection. And we were soon looking south on the highway again.
June 16-17: Eagle River to Hope, AK (120 miles, 2 nights @ $18 - Sea View RV Park, 15 amp electric hookup)
Highway 1 south from Eagle River took us through Anchorage, into the Turnagain Arm, to the Seward Highway. Then we turned right, north, on the Hope Highway, to the tiny town of Hope. The SeaView RV Park at the end of the road, next to the inlet, was our home for two nights. In that short time we got quite a sample of the lifestyle in this miniature Alaskan town with one restaurant and one bar, a few shops, a mining museum and a volunteer local library. Having a couple of beers in the Sea View Bar, we met locals who shared their stories and a few Alaskans who travel 100 miles or so for the jam session once a week in summer. From this spot we took a couple of rides into the surrounding forests, along Resurrection Creek, where we discovered local gold panners working their claims. Hope would definitely be on our list of places to revisit also.
June 18 - 20: Hope to Soldotna, AK on Seward and Sterling Highways (90 miles, 3 nights @ $0 - Fred Meyer, boondocking)
The trip from Hope to Soldotna was just another one of those days of outstanding scenery. We had some rain but it cleared in time for us to see the combat fishing on the Russian River near Sterling. Watching the boating charters, the locals lining the banks and hearing the constant chatter about the fishing conditions over our three months, we came to understand more clearly why this is a fisherman's paradise. Arriving in Soldotna in the early afternoon, we again went to check out the Fred Meyer for parking. Well, the welcome mat is spread widely here. Signage explains where to park your rv, choosing marked spots at the side of the store or on the perimeters. They provide a free dump and water and trash. We settled on the edge near grass and trees just in time for the store employee to greet us and inform us we were welcome to stay three nights. Why not?
On a recommendation from the friendly host at the visitors center, we tried Buckets restaurant across the street from us for their halibut. Makes my mouth water right now. While in Soldotna we located a place to fill the LP tank-- Wow, here's a shocker -- $4.35 a gallon. Oh well, it's our vacation, sortof. With everything setup and filled up, we spent two days messing around. We drove over to see the town of Kenai, shopped for smoked salmon and halibut at a fish processing store in town and Jerry made a great pot of chili for a day of reading and relaxing.
June 21-22: Soldotna to Ninilchuk, AK (45 miles, 2 nights @ $10 - Deep Creek Beach State Park, boondocking)
From Soldotna we went south on the Sterling Highway, along the Cook Inlet. Since we were looking forward to stopping at Deep Creek State Park and Recreation Area (again, from our reading online and our books.), we had a short ride of only 45 miles. We found a place to park along the shore with a view across the inlet of the Aleutian Range, including Mt. ReDoubt, an active volcano. This is a popular fishing boat charter launching area, but there are no launching ramps as we are accustomed to seeing. They use tractors to drive the boats out and then to pull them back out. We enjoyed watching the expert young men drive the tractor into the water and drag out the boats. This is also our first stop exposure to the abundancy of bald eagles. They swirl overhead in groups and swarm on the shore when the tide leaves the remnants of fish carcasses for their feasting. Ninilchuk was also the spot where we saw summer solstice....amazing. Brilliant oranges and bright blues lit up the sky near midnight on June 21 signaling the beginning of summer.
June 23 - 29: Ninilchuk to Homer, AK (40 miles, 7 nights @ $15 - Mariner's Park, Homer City Campground, boondocking)
Just another 40 mile trip south on the Sterling Highway was Homer, the end of the road. We went all the way out on the Homer Spit, a peninsula jutting out into Kachemak Bay. That's where we situated ourselves for seven nights. There is a free dump in town where you can also get water, so we had no concerns. Our parking spot faced the beach and we had entertainment watching the beachcombers, children, dogs, boats and windsurfers. There are tourist shops on Homer Spit where Nancy did some cruising. We found some good clam chowder again and picked up fresh halibut from the local fishermen. One day, after talking with a local official, we took the Jeep out for a beach run. There's a wildlife refuge in town that's interesting and the ride on the road into the hills above town has beautiful views looking over the Spit and the Bay. If we returned to Homer, we would also take the boat trip out to Kodiak Island.
June 30: Homer to Eagle River, AK (240 miles, 1 night @ $0 - Fred Meyer, boondocking)
There are only so many roads to take in Alaska. But even though they are repeated, you don't really tire of the views. Once again we took Sterling Highway, this time north, around Turnagain Arm meeting Seward Highway and through Anchorage to Eagle River to the Fred Meyer Store yet again. Another night, sure. More of that great clam chowder.
July 1 - 5: Eagle River to Talkeetna, Ak ( 90 miles, 5 nights @ $20 -Boat Launch Campground, boondocking)
We stopped in the town of Talkeetna to hunker down for the busy July 4th holiday. Since we were there by the 1st we found a pretty nice spot at the Boat Launch Campground just outside town. Talkeetna is about two blocks long and contains an historic hardware store, a bandstand for concerts in their park, several restaurants and shops and the offices for mountain climbing and airplane excursions to Mount McKinley. First on our list was to get a reservation at the Talkeetna Air Taxi so we could fly over "the mountain" and land on a glacier. We needed some lead time so we made a reservation for the 14th and planned to return. The July 4th parade was great. There were all the perfect small-town ingredients; local businesses and groups created floats in a Moose theme on the backs of flatbed trucks and local string bands and fraternal organizations added the patriotic music. Afterwards, we enjoyed meeting other visitors in Talkeetna's historic saloon.
July 6 - 8: Talkeetna to Eagle River, AK ( 90 miles, 3 nights @ $0 -Fred Meyer, boondocking)
Then.....another trip south to Eagle River, this time we needed some mechanical work on the Jeep and a friend we know from Anchorage recommended a good shop. So, it was another two nights stay in our Fred Meyer.
July 9: Eagle River to Matanuska Glacier on Glenn Highway (95 miles, $0 - Matanuska Glacier rest stop, boondocking)
As soon as the Jeep was healthy again, we were on our way east on the Glenn Highway. This stretch of highway was quite narrow and winding with steep drop offs to the river on one side and a cliff wall on the other. By 95 miles we were ready to stop at the Matanuska Glacier rest stop. We found an attractive parking spot for the night with bright purple fireweed all around and a nice glacier view.
July 10 -13: Glenn Hwy to Richardson Hwy to Valdez, AK (204 miles, 4 nights @ $25 - Valdez Glacier Campground, 50 amp electric hookup; dump and water in campground.)
This morning we awoke to bicyclers in our rest stop. For the 204-mile drive east on the Glenn and south on the Richardson we were accompanied by teams of racers, weathering the pummeling rain and sleet. They were partaking in the Fireweed Annual Bicycle Race which draws participants from thousands of miles away. to the two days of various length races. We stopped for breakfast at a mountain lodge and met two cyclers from San Francisco getting ready to ride their portion of the race, through the mountain pass. We were sure glad that we were in our warm cozy home just rolling along.
We pulled into Valdez around 4:00 p.m and found a roomy site at the Valdez Glacier Campground - with electrical hookups no less. This was unusual. The campground had modernized recently and installed about 20 new sites with electric. The location worked out well being a few miles outside town. It was rainy during our Valdez time, but we still enjoyed watching the salmon running and the young people catching their limit in the bay. We took in a couple of local museums, learning about the history of the great earthquake of 1965 and how the town rebuilt a few miles away. Since we were outside town we also had the chance to see a young black bear visiting the pizza parlor on our way back and forth to our spot. But one Tuesday when we had decided to get a ticket for the Stephens Glacier Cruise regardless of the weather, the sun shined brightly. The cruise was a highlight of our Alaska trip. We saw many wildlife, from sea otters to whales, and the glaciers were breathtaking.
July 14: Valdez, north on Richardson Hwy. (175 miles, $5 - Paxson Lake BLM Campground, boondocking)
Heading north on the Richardson, we covered 175 miles, stopping at the Paxson Lake BLM Campground. Then we had a decision to make: Take the Denali Highway west in the morning over a wilderness area on about 100 miles of gravel and dirt road. Most people avoid this highway, but that made us more curious.
July 15: West on the Denali Highway (102 miles, - $0 - Overnight at a lovely gravel turnout, boondocking)
At the cutoff for the highway in the morning, we stopped for breakfast at a rustic-looking inn. After an interesting meal, we asked the innkeeper how the road was. He assured us that he had three busses of tourists coming for lunch after their trip across the Denali. So..., of course, we had to do it. It was definitely slow-going, rough, muddy and, on this day we had drizzle and fog all day. This is another one of those roads where you scarcely see other travelers. We had fun. Especially the overnight on a pulloff area. The rain stopped and we had a huge rainbow just for our viewing. Peace. Nature. Escape.
July 16: South on Parks Highway to Denali (80 miles, $10 - South View Camping Area, boondocking)
Leaving our spot on the Denali Highway with a motorhome and jeep coated with mud, we noticed a traveler coming from the opposite direction, but then saw they were dead stopped in the road. After six weeks in Alaska, we knew what that meant - wildlife in sight. Sure enough there was a lady moose chomping on breakfast in the pond. Of course, we stopped too. She just kept enjoying her greens, occasionally lifting her bulbous nose to look at us. Nice start to our day.
When we reached the Parks Highway again, we headed south towards Talkeetn again, hoping to keep our appointment with Talkeetna Air Taxi that we had postponed already due to overcast weather. There's only a few places to find overnight camping along this stretch as you get closer to Denali NP, so we chose to stop overnight at the Denali South View Camping Area just off the highway.
July 17-18: Denali to Talkeetna (40 miles, 2 nights @ $0 - Gravel parking area, boondocking)
Our travel on the 17th was only 40 miles, south to the Talkeetna Spur Road where we stopped at the area they call the small ski hill (It really is used for that in winter.). We stayed two nights here, cleaning the Jeep, getting groceries at the IGA and enjoying some relaxing time while we hoped the weather would clear for our airplane ride over Mt. McKinley.
July 19-20: Talkeetna (2 miles, 2 nights @ $30 - Camper RV Park, 30 amp electric and water hookups; dump available in park. )
Well things were not looking promising for anything flying, but we did choose to move into the Camper RV Park in town where we had Internet reception, electricity and all the amenities. This park is next to the Alaska Railroad, where tourists unload every day to spend time in town. It adds some flavor. While we were hanging out, Nancy did some more shopping in Talkeetna and brought home a gourmet pizza from the Mountain High Pizza Pie restaurant. It was delicious until Nancy broke a tooth. Another dental visit coming up. So after we were sure that there would again be no flying to the glacier for us, we set out south again for Eagle River.
July 21: Talkeetna to Eagle River, AK (100 miles, $0 - Fred Meyer, boondocking)
We never tired of any of the roads in Alaska. The scenery is that beautiful. So we traveled 100 miles to our Fred Meyer Store and more great clam chowder. The friendly dentist that we found the last time through filed off Nancy's tooth, saying it would be fine for the duration of the trip.
July 22: North from Eagle River toward Fairbanks (271 miles, $0 -Overnight at large gravel pulloff south of Fairbanks, boondocking)
With a latte from Fred's in hand, we were once again on the road, going north. This journey we covered 271 miles on the Glenn and Parks Highways, with the customary rest stops for beautiful landscapes of mountains, wildlife or wildflowers, sometimes to include camera shots. Again, the Milepost alerts about points-of-interest helped us decide about pull-offs. Today we remembered that a couple from North Pole, Alaska, had recommended a place they stop when taking a road trip on their Harley. So we made sure to find Rosa's Cafe in Healy for a late lunch. Rosa turns out to be a congenial and animated Vietnamese lady married to a GI. The family decided to make their home in Alaska and open this restaurant. We had a super turkey dinner and and even better conversation with an interesting lady. About 70 miles south of Fairbanks, we found a spacious pulloff for the night.
July 23: North on Parks Hwy to Nenana (50 miles, $0 -Cultural Center, boondocking)
As happened a few other times, we awoke with others sharing our parking area. This time it was a young couple with their sleeping bags in the back of a station wagon. They both worked at a ranch for the summer and were taking a short trip on their day off. We enjoyed these people encounters a lot. But soon we all went on our ways. This day's trip was only 50 miles. Reading our Alaska books we came across the info on Nenana, a tiny town on the Tenana River where barges run up river in the summer season taking loads of provisions and the train passes through and over the trestle bridge. We pulled into town and stopped in the welcome center to ask if there was anywhere we could park the motorhome for a while to look around. We were told to pull on through town to the Cultural Center and that no one would mind at all if we parked there, even overnight was fine. Add this 24-hour period to our list of favorites as well. We visited and learned about traditional native fishing with the host at the Cultural Center. We found a cafe with friendly folks sharing stories of the town. And we purchased our lottery tickets for the annual Nenana Ice Classic. Each year thousand of locals and passers through wager on the exact time that the ice will break up on the Tenana River. We sure hope to have the winner.
Nenana Ice Classic lottery.
July 24 - 29 : North to Fairbanks (50 miles, 6 nights @ $25 -Fairbanks Elks, 30 amp electric hookup)
After a browse through the Railroad Depot Museum and Mexican chorizo breakfast at the Nenana Cafe we made our 50-mile journey into Fairbanks. There were a few more things we wanted to do in the "big city." This time we settled in at the Fairbanks Elks Lodge where we had electricity. They even offer free use of the washer and dryer inside the lodge. Also close by the Elks lodge is a Chevron station offering a free dump and water.
The next morning we notice a few people hanging out along the Chena River just behind our rig and heard sounds of some kind of party. Little did we know this was the weekend of the annual Duck Tape Parade. Floating down the river was every imaginable type of watercraft made with duck tape. It was a riot! The Elks became our home for six nights while we did more exploring in Fairbanks. We walked through downtown, found Gulliver's, a second hand bookstore deluxe near the university, stuffed ourselves at the Alaska Salmon Bake at Pioneer Park and had some rare TV reception. The big town also afforded us the chance for shopping at Sam's Club and a good car wash for the Jeep. We concluded after our second visit to Fairbanks that it is a big enough town for all the conveniences, but still felt small enough that it isn't overcrowded.
July 30: Pioneer Park (5 miles, $12, boondocking)
During our Fairbanks stop, we moved for one night over to Pioneer Park. This was the day we were going to the dump and to fill the LP tank and it was close by. Also, Jerry had been having some annoying pain in his left arm. To be safe, we decided to get it checked out at the hospital near the park. After an EKG, medications and consultations they concluded that the pain was from his continuing nerve and neck/spinal condition. Fortunately, there was no heart problem.
July 31: Fairbanks Elks (5 miles, $25, 30 amp electric hookup)
To be sure the situation was settled, we stayed over one more night at the Elks Lodge.
Aug 1: Fairbanks to Chistochina River (235 miles, $0 - Rest Area/Trailhead, boondocking)
Feeling well, it was time for us to look to another Alaska scenic route. This time we went south on the Richardson Highway to the Tok Cutoff, and then north again. We wanted to travel these last two highways to complete the major routes. This was a bumpy and seesawing ride in many places as the road had heaved from the spring thaw. Going slowly for these conditions is the only way to take it. Besides, the Richardson and Tok Cutoff in this central area of the state has more of the awesome spruce-covered mountains and valleys. That evening we were lucky to find a rest area well off the road near the Chistochina River where we watched the clouds come and go around a volcano in the distance.
Aug 2: North to Tok, AK (88 miles, $0 -Chevron Station rv parking area, boondocking)
We traveled only 88 miles from our overnight resting spot at Chistochina River to Tok, Alaska. This section of the Tok Cutoff highway included lots of frost heaves, but still afforded those outstanding scenes as we slowed to ride the waves. Our goals in Tok were to use the washing facilities for Ferd and the Jeep and fillup on fuel. We accomplished these things at the Chevron Station and parked for free in their designated parking area where others were sharing the facilities. This Chevron offers a .10 cents per gallon discount with fillup = $3.89. It was a peaceful night.
Aug 3: Tok to Kluane Lake in Yukon Territory (237 miles, $12 - Congdon Creek Campground, boondocking)
This morning we had breakfast at the popular local restaurant that escapes my recollection at the moment. We traveled 237 miles southeast on the Alaska Highway in 5 hours and 23 minutes, maximum speed 68 mph. That high speed would not have been very often since the frost heaves increased considerably since we traveled this same road into Alaska in May. The orange flags warned of upcoming road destruction and construction crews stopped us occasionally when we reached an area where they were doing the annual repairs. We did manage to enjoy the views of the Wrangell Mountains and the frequent ponds nestled in the bottle brush spruce trees. Then we stopped at one of the same campgrounds we had enjoyed on the way in, Congdon Creek on Kluane Lake. It is a $12.00 government campground. Another nice evening.
Aug 4-5: Southeast on Alaska Highway to Haines Junction, B.C. (70 miles, 2 nights @ $27 - Kluane RV Campground, 30 amp electric and water hookups; dump available) This is the day we had some unwelcome surprises. After only a couple of miles on the road this morning we noticed a burning smell. Since we had an electric fan running to circulate some air, we thought that was the problem. We made a quick stop and switched to another fan. But no, the smell continued. It took us three stops, examining the inside and outside of the motorhome, to realize our right side air bag had deflated and the smell was the burning rubber of the tire rubbing on the underside of the mh.
Jerry manuevered the system manually to adjust it upward and we drove very slowly and monitored as we went. The 70-mile trip to Haines Junction was a long one. But we got into Kluane RV Campground for the night. Then we found an Internet cafe at the Bakery in town so that Jerry could contact helpful friends on the Foretravel Forum about our issues. They gave us suggestions which he was able to implement temporarily until we could get to someplace for repairs. We stayed in this RV park for another night, visiting with other rvers from Louisiana and Missouri and doing some laundry. At a rate of $27.00, it was the perfect solution we needed at the time.
Aug 6 -13: Haines Junction, BC to Haines, AK (152 miles, 8 nights @$20 -Haines Elks Lodge, 30 amp electric, water and dump hookups)
Then it was on southward on the Haines Highway. This was a favorite stretch because it is 150 miles without habitation or commercialization. There are no fuel stations or towns. There are just vast views of rolling hills and valleys and mountains and lakes. More eye-fulls of nature. This isolates Haines in the winter, that's for sure. Planning ahead for our home in Haines, we had two or three options for parking. But when we saw the Elks Lodge was convenient and reasonable and uncrowded and full hookups, we chose it. This became our home for eight days. And Haines quickly became one of our favorite towns. There were lots of reasons we liked this town. I wrote about some of them in the blog posts. But just quickly I would say it involves the general small-town, friendly atmosphere, the setting of a seaside town surrounded by mountains to explore, Al's Seafood Stand, Mountain View Cafe, Burger Night at the Elks, Bald Eagle Foundation, Fogcutter Bar, the ferry to Skagway and salmon fishing areas at Chilkoot Lake where we could just watch people.
Aug 14: Haines, AK to Whitehorse, Yukon (250 miles, $0 - WalMart, boondocking)
We retraveled the Haines Highway, the only way out, and enjoyed it just as much this time. Then we also continued on the Alaska Highway south to Whitehorse, Yukon, a total of 250 miles. The overnight at the Whitehorse WalMart it seems is customary for many rvers making their way in or out of Alaska. It's located conveniently and provides that eternal opportunity to fillup and stock up and be on your way again.
Aug 15: Whitehorse to Cassair Junction ( 260 miles, $0 - Parked in line, boondocking)
This day's travel took us south on the Alaska Highway (1) toward the Cassair Highway junction, a total of 260 miles. On the way we saw smoke from forest fires fogging the valleys and obstructing some of our views. We had been keeping track of the fires that were reported on the Cassair Highway because we knew we might not be able to take that route. When we reached the junction we learned that there were pilot vehicles leading trains of travelers down the stretch of about 100 miles in the fire areas. But, the worst part of this news was that the caravans were being led only once a day and that was not guaranteed to happen. After conversations with other travelers already in line behind the National Forest Service roadblocks, we decided to stay overnight and hope to go down the Cassair in the morning. Meanwhile, we thought it wise to fill our diesel again. The price at the Junction 37 Service Station was 1.09 per liter. We had a very interesting experience that night. We talked to people from Ontario and British Columbia, Canada and Missouri, Florida, California and Massachusetts. Everyone was lined up in place for the anticipated trip, with lawn chairs and awnings out. There was an RV Park there but no one was going to get out of line. Also, about 25% of the lineup consisted of those sleeping in their cars or trucks. It reminded me of lining up on 16th Street for the Indianapolis 500 as we walked up and down the line saying hello and hearing stories.
Aug 16: Cassair Highway south ( 230 miles, $0 - highway pulloff, boondocking)
After a good night's rest, we got lucky. About 9:30 a.m. we saw our pilot truck approach and we were on our way. As we followed along in a procession of about 100 vehicles we were wondering why all the hullabaloo. We did see smoke and a lot of burned out areas, but it didn't seem we would have been in danger. Well anyway, we were soon released and all of us continued on our own. We made a few friends the night before and saw them at our lunch stop at a roadside area near a lake. In fact, when we stopped at a gravel pulloff for the night we got more acquainted with a couple from Pennsylvania also on their first trip through Canada and Alaska.
Aug 17-19: Cassair to Hyder, AK (230 miles, 3 nights @ $22 -Run-A-Muck RV Park, 30 amp electric, water hookups)
There were reports that the Cassair Highway was rough traveling. On this 230-mile stretch we did encounter a few miles of gravel road, but overall it was smooth traveling. The gravel road is packed but threw rocks up into the radiator area and chipped the front of the Jeep. These kinds of roads are why it would be good to have protection such as a guard that some travelers attach to the motorhome and tow vehicle.
We stopped at Bear Glacier on the way into Stewart, B.C. and Hyder, AK, and enjoyed the close up view of the glacier feeding into the river along the road. In Hyder we went to the end of the road and selected Run-A-Muck RV Park for our home. This stop and Hyder itself turned out to be another special one. We loved watching the bears fishing for salmon and the cubs interacting with the mamas at Fish Creek. The ride up the mountain road to Salmon Glacier is fantastic. Hyder is unique in its tiny way. We found yet another outstanding halibut restaurant. The Seafood Express, a converted bus, provided us with more scrumptious fresh halibut and Alaskan ale to accompany it.
Aug 20: Hyder, AK to Fraser Lake, B. C. ( 335 miles, $0 -Fraser Lake Visitors Center, boondocking)
Moving along toward the U.S. on Glacier Highway east to Cassair Highway south and Yellowhead Highway east, we took 335 miles off the mileage. Again, we continued checking the leveling system, readjusting as we needed. There were still fires burning on this route. When we stopped at the visitors center in Fraser Lake we learned more about the threats to the residents in the area. But we were assured we were safe and settled into a boondocking site in the parking lot for the night. They were welcoming in Fraser Lake. In fact, there was a free dump also near our parking area.
Aug 21: Fraser Lake to 100 Mile House, B. C . (303 miles, $0 -Safeway Grocery, boondocking)
This 303-mile day covered some beautiful passageways through Canada's lovely scenery. We traveled east on Highway 16 to 97 south and enjoyed the route. When the time came to stop, finding a place to overnight in the town named 100 Mile House wasn't as easy as the night before. At the visitors center we were told we could not park in any of the local commercial entities. We did look for an RV park but only found one that was full. So we drove on down the road and found a Safeway to stop and look a little further in our camping references. Meanwhile, we went inside to buy some soup for our dinner. When we saw the manager we inquired about parking where we were for the night. She was very willing for us to stay. Then the storm came and went while we had hot soup. The evening ended with a beautiful sunset across the boggy flatlands out our window. Things turned out nicely for our last night on our "adventure."
Aug 22: 100 Mile House, B. C. to Omak, Washington, USA (345 miles, $0 -WalMart, boondocking)
I think we had mixed feelings setting out on our travel on August 21. This would be the final day of our Alaska Adventure 2010. We were ready to go "home" in a way but this was the end of quite an exciting time. But we filled the day with more gorgeous scenery and didn't think much about anything melancholy. The resort towns and orchards and vineyards in British Columbia occupied our attention. We reached the border crossing about 4:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. There were only a few vehicles in front of us. This crossing experience was a little different than when we left the U. S. three months earlier to the day. We were instructed to pull forward and stop so that an official could come onboard. She was polite as she asked her standard questions about any fruits or vegetables, guns or alcohol. And, of course, if we were transporting any animals or plants. We purposely did not stop at the tempting fruit stands on our trip the day before out of fear we would be turning them back to someone at the border. But I did remember we had a few tomatoes from a few days ago. Those were turned over and we were on our way, passing the longer line of Canadians lined up making their way back to their homes after a weekend visit in the U. S.
Since Omak, Washington, is a short 40 miles south inside the U. S. , the Wal-Mart in Omak sounded like a good stop for the first night in the country while we made more plans. It was okay overnight but on a busy highway intersection.
Alaska Aftermath - (3 miles, $20 - Stampede Campground, Omak, WA, 30 amp electric, water hookups)
The next day we moved to the Stampede Campground at the nearby community park, taking a little while to investigate this rich agricultural area and let the dust settle. This pleasant campground was our home for about a week while we made a few more plans.