To the Arctic Circle and Back in 2015

What a year!  We travelled to the Arctic Circle and back in 2015.

cartoon529-2Be warned, this is a looooong post.  But we hope you enjoy a quick tour back through this most wonderful year with some of Hector’s favorite images.

Island Girl traveled a total of 12,345 miles.

We stayed in 88 campsites (29 of them were overnights and 61 were dry camping).

Visited 10 States, 2 Canadian Provinces and 1 Canadian Territory. And 6 veterinarians in 5 states and 1 Canadian Territory.

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The Okanagan Valley

Okanagan 7We left Fraser Lake and this time really really headed south. We were on route to the Okanagan Valley for the last leg of our trip before crossing the border into the U.S. And as we entered the region, a few vineyards appeared here and there to entice us.

Okanagan 6Okanagan 1Okanagan 3Okanagan 5Okanagan 2The weather was still cloudy with some rain. So Angel got to wear her raincoat which we bought back in Maine on the first year of our walkabout. She really hates it, so we only put it on her when it is raining hard. But she looks so adorable in it!

We were now in a much more developed area of the country, with cattle ranches and farms along the way. Our plan was to break up the drive into two days, so we stopped to spend the night at the Walmart in Prince George.

The next day we drove to the Emerald Bay Campground, one of two campgrounds that are part of the Green Lake Territorial Park.

The campground was a bit of a drive from the main road, and we got a bit confused on the way there, but a nice lady drove up to us and helped us find our way. We always meet nice people in Canada.

Green Lake has a lot of lakeside homes around it, definitely a change from previous areas. And there were cows wandering about.

Fortunately, there was a cattle grate in front of the campground, so there were no cattle in the campground and there were lots of spaces available. This was the end of the season for the area.

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On the Yellowhead Highway

2015-09-13 at 15-27-08Our departure from Hyder and on the Yellowhead Highway was delayed a bit due to the search by Canada customs officials. But we also uncovered something very interesting. The previous night we heard a really loud bang that to me sounded like an avalanche gun. But one of the women at customs informed us that it was actually an earthquake in the fjord. It was a fairly small earthquake but one very close to the surface thus the loud bang.

2015-09-11 at 16-11-59We have heard about a couple of earthquakes while in Alaska, some of which fellow RVers actually felt. Ay, ay, ay. But we had other concerns – our inverter was still not working, and on our way into Hyder, the check engine light had flashed for a couple of brief moments. I wondered if Island Girl was trying to tell us that she was tired and needed a break. As we left Hyder, however, Island Girl seemed ok (except for no inverter).

It was another cloudy day and we went back on the Cassiar heading towards “civilization”, hoping to take care of Island Girl’s issues on the way. And the town most likely to be able to provide the services we needed was Prince George.

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But Prince George was a long way out so we were planning to take a couple of days to get there. Shortly after leaving Stewart we turned on to the Yellowhead Highway, and drove through several First Nation villages that are known for their totem poles: Gitwangak, Kitseguecla and Kispiox.

We just had to stop to look at the totem poles. Many of them were antique totem poles and some were in their original locations. Totem poles originally served as emblems of a family or clan and their kinship system, and symbols of their accomplishments, adventures, stories, rights and perogatives.

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Hyder, Alaska

Hyder 12Our main reason for visiting Hyder, Alaska was to see more bears. There are two salmon runs in Hyder, which is at the head of the Portland Canal, a 90-mile fjord. Salmon come up the ocean to the fjord and up the Salmon River to Fish Creek to spawn. And the bears frequent the creek to feed on the salmon.

Hyder 13Hyder 63The U.S. Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game manage a viewing platform that was built over the creek, the Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing Area, that allows visitors to watch the bears safely (for both visitors and bears) as the bears feed on the salmon.

We had initially planned to be in Hyder earlier in the season to catch the end of the salmon run but we took our time further north and got there quite late. But we also wanted to visit Hyder to see the Salmon Glacier, the world’s largest road accessible glacier.

Hyder 9Hyder 3We spent the morning walking around Stewart with Angel. It is quite a charming little town, with restored as well as rustic old buildings, and a number of shops and restaurants. The little grocery store there, Harbor Lights, offers great free Wi-Fi which we of course took advantage of.

We walked Angel over a boardwalk that was built over a large wetlands area, a very nice little walk.

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South to Alaska

Cassiar 13After our amazing experience watching the Aurora Borealis, we continued south to Alaska headed for our final stop in the 49th state, Hyder.

Cassiar 3We ventured up Canol Road for a little bit. This road was built in the 1940’s to provide access to oil fields in the Northwest Territory and is supposed to be a beautiful drive over the Lapie Canyon, but is not recommended for RVs. But we did get to check out the interpretive panels and some pretty rusty vehicles that were used in the construction of the road.

Cassiar 6Cassiar 7It was cloudy once again, we were definitely in a rainy period. So although there are picturesque lakes and mountains along the road, the mountains were not always visible due to the clouds.Cassiar 10Cassiar 8Cassiar 12 Continue reading

When the Sun Dances with the Stars

Squanga Aurora 4We made it to Whitehorse in time for Angel’s appointment. She has now been to veterinarians in ten states and one Canadian territory. Yikes! But we were anxious to leave the city to a more remote destination hoping to catch the Northern Lights yet again.

Our destination was a territorial park by Squanga Lake which we had seen on our way north and looked like a pretty setting for watching the Aurora.

Squanga Aurora 1Squanga Aurora 6Alaska Driving Day 15 Recap

Road Name: Alaska Highway

Road Type: 2-lane

Road Conditions: Generally good with frost heaves west of Whitehorse

Miles Today: 211

Driving Time: 4:15

Total Miles in Canada: 3090

Total Miles since entering Canada: 5454

We arrived to find the campground almost full, but we got the last campsite that fit our size RV!

Squanga Aurora 5Squanga Lake was quite lovely and it was a clear, still day. There was a boat launch that was a nice place to walk Angel to and was also a great spot for photography.

Squanga Aurora 3And the forecast was for a stronger Aurora Borealis that night than the previous night. Yay!

Squanga Aurora 2Usually, we are on the lookout for the Northern Lights just around midnight. The campground was very forested, so I decided to walk out and take a peek around 11 p.m. And I saw lights beginning to flash across the sky.

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Chasing the Aurora Borealis

Kluane Aurora 13Our original plan was to head to Hyder, Alaska after Haines, with a stop in Whitehorse but we made a few changes. We were now chasing the Aurora Borealis. There was a forecast for a strong Aurora on the evening of the day we left Haines.

Kluane Aurora 4We had to head out on the Haines Highway once again, since we made quite a detour to see Haines, which was totally worth it. Leaving quirky Haines was definitely bittersweet but driving through the spectacular Haines Highway a second time was certainly not going to be a hardship.Kluane Aurora 5

Kluane Aurora 2As we left Haines, we drove along the Chilkat River, the other beautiful river in town. So much beautiful nature there.Kluane Aurora 1

We were now leaving Alaska once again and crossing back into Canada. Going through customs was quite easy, with just a couple of the standard questions and a wave through. For some reason, it is still always stressful for me.Kluane Aurora 8

Kluane Aurora 16Kluane Aurora 6The weather continued to be cloudy but the views from the Haines Highway were still beautiful. We had a slightly better view of the mountains this time around and the clouds were much prettier.

Kluane Aurora 10Kluane Aurora 9Some of the peaks that were bare when we drove into Haines were now covered in snow. Winter is coming. Continue reading

The Northern Lights

imageWhen we planned our trip to Alaska, I never once thought about seeing the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, were something that I believed only happened in the dead of winter.

Then, when we stopped in Talkeetna and visited the Aurora Dora gallery, Dora, the photographer, told us that she had seen the Aurora Borealis as early as August 22nd. Dora gave Hector the name of an application that provides forecasts about the Aurora, based on NASA spacecraft observations of the sun. Hector began to monitor the app sometime in August.

WHAT ARE NORTHERN LIGHTS ARTIC CIRCLE CRAZY AURORA BOREALIS CARTOON EXPLANATION INTERESTING FACTS LEGENDS 1 (5)Hector discovered that there were a couple of days with strong Aurora forecasts during the time we planned to be in Haines. We checked the weather and found that one of those days also had a clear weather forecast.

WHAT ARE NORTHERN LIGHTS ARTIC CIRCLE CRAZY AURORA BOREALIS CARTOON EXPLANATION INTERESTING FACTS LEGENDS 1 (6)A couple of days later on the cloudy day with a strong Aurora forecast we looked outside late at night and saw light coming from the north behind a couple of the thinner clouds.

WHAT ARE NORTHERN LIGHTS ARTIC CIRCLE CRAZY AURORA BOREALIS CARTOON EXPLANATION INTERESTING FACTS LEGENDS 1 (7)That evening we in fact “saw” the Aurora for the first time ever, but it was just a faint colored light moving behind the thinnest clouds. There was one fleeting moment when an intense moving light pierced the clouds. It was not a photographable event but it was pretty amazing.

The following evening was the next strong Aurora forecast and to our delight, the weather was only partly cloudy that day.

haines Aurora 16That evening we headed back out to the same spot by the water. And this time we truly saw the Northern Lights.

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The Chilkoot Bears

Chilkoot 25We spent a lot of our time visiting the Chilkoot River in Haines. This beautiful river is where the salmon run, and where we found the Chilkoot bears, as well as eagles, seagulls and others vying for the nutrient-rich fish.

Chilkoot 66The Chilkoot is surrounded by forest and and empties into a lovely lake, the Chilkoot Lake, which in turn empties into another section of river, where we visited frequently.

Chilkoot 30Chilkoot 35The rain was beginning to catch up with us and we had a couple of pretty dreary, rainy days, but most days we made at least one visit looking for the bears. No luck the first couple of times, but we finally spotted a sow and her cubs at the mouth of the Chilkoot River where it then dumps into the Lukat Inlet.

Chilkoot 53These two cubs were our first grizzly cubs of the year! We saw several black bear cubs back in Yellowstone and we saw quite a few grizzly bears in Yellowstone and Denali, but no grizzly cubs.Chilkoot 55Chilkoot 45Chilkoot 34

Grizzly bear cubs have an adorable feature, they have white fur around their necks. Since they are born early in the year, during the sow’s hibernation, the white fur is almost gone on one of the cubs, but the other still has an almost complete white collar.

We watched the sow and cubs fishing along the beach. Then we saw another bear on the other side of the river mouth, also feeding. The other bear was working his (we assumed he was a male) way towards the beach where the sow and cubs were.

Chilkoot 8All of a sudden, he got in the water and started swimming towards the beach.

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A Day Trip to Juneau

Juneau 2While in Haines, one of our neighbors mentioned that they saw lots of whales on the ferry to Juneau. We were pretty happy with our whale watching this summer, but we never have enough of the whales, and thought it would be fun to take a day trip to Juneau.

Juneau 11An added bonus was that Juneau has drugstores and we could take care of filling Angel’s prescription. In fact, a lot of people in Haines take the regular ferry to Juneau to buy supplies especially since there are both a Costco and a Walmart there.

Juneau 3We were able to get a pet sitter for Angel and made our reservations for the day with the best weather forecast. Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated. And, after having had great luck the rest of the summer, we were off on a ferry on a completely cloudy, kind of dreary windy day. And the sea was quite choppy, in fact the day before they had to turn back once already underway and cancelled the trip, something that has happened only about twenty times over a several year period.

Juneau 1Juneau 8The good news was that the boat we were scheduled to go out on, the Fjordland, is a catamaran that sails pretty smoothly over rough waters. And when we set off the waters were quite still because we were at the mountainous end of the protected Lynn Canal.

Juneau 6Juneau 5Shortly after departing, we stopped to look at stellar sea lions on the rocks. There were several groups, all males.  This is the end of the mating season when they don’t eat.  Amazingly, these big fellows are usually much bigger than this! Continue reading