We Are Back!

Washington-15Yes, we are back! Back in the lower 48 and back to blogging. I must admit that we needed a break after our Alaskan adventure. Time to rest, a break from driving and visiting places, and a break from blogging. In fact, this is the longest gap we have had from blogging since we began doing it three years ago.

We also needed some time to reflect.  In September we marked our three-year anniversary of being “on walkabout”. What an amazing adventure we are having. This was to be the end of the journey as we had planned it but we are extending for a year. So this will be a transition year as we decide on the place to begin our next chapter, and yes, there is another sticks and bricks home in our future. And there will be more adventures as well.

Washington 5Washington 3Washington-2Washington 9Washington 4Upon reaching the lower 48 there was lots to do. Every inch of Island Girl was dirty inside and out, and she had a couple of service issues. The Coquí was also filthy, as were our bikes and kayaks and there was the matter of our broken windshield and sunroof.

We have now made it to Portland and taken care of most of Island Girl and the Coqui’s issues, rested, and (loosely) planned our drive south for the winter. We also flew across the country to visit family and friends in Miami, while Island Girl and Angel remained with friends in Portland. Not exactly restful but it was wonderful. But more on all that later.

So where have we been since leaving Canada? We crossed the border from Osoyoos, British Columbia, to Oroville, Washington. Our plan was to drive the Cascades Loop and visit the North Cascades National Park on route to Seattle.

We scouted several National Forest sites searching for a campsite. And saw firsthand the after effect of the Okanogan fire, the largest in Washington state’s history. One campground had lots of trees down, some on the campsites. At times we could still smell the fire in the air. But now that and the other wildfires have been eradicated, thanks to those who risked their lives (and some who lost their lives) to contain the wildfires.

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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

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

North to the Arctic

Arctic 10Even for us, it was an ambitious plan. We were going to drive 400 miles roundtrip on a sketchy gravel road, the Dempster Highway, north to the Arctic Circle and back to our campground. The Dempster is the only road in Canada that crosses the Arctic Circle, so it was a chance of a lifetime. I have to admit I had visions of sleeping in the car. But my more rational self figured that we would get back sometime around midnight.

Arctic 8The three of us headed out at 5a.m. with lots of food and water. It was still dark and there was a light fog in the air. As we reached Two Moose Lake, which had quickly become one of our favorite spots, light began to filter through the fog and we were rewarded by one of the most breathtaking sunrises we have ever seen. I actually had hoped to see a moose (or two) at Two Moose Lake but this was even better.

Arctic 6Arctic 1Arctic 4 Continue reading

Tombstone Territorial Park

tombstone 28We stayed in Dawson City a couple of extra days waiting for the rain to subside before heading to our next destination, Tombstone Territorial Park in Canada’s Yukon Territory. The road to the park, the Dempster Highway, is a gravel road with a terrible reputation. So ideally we wanted to drive there when the road was dry. But ultimately we decided to move on even though it had rained the previous night and the road was sure to still be wet.

tombstone 2Fortunately, it was only 44 miles on the Dempster Highway to our campground. The road was not as bad as we expected. In fact many times we asked others about it, their answer was “it’s not that bad”. That is because the overall perception is that “the Dempster” is horrible from beginning to end. And that is not true. There are bad sections, very bad sections and the “not that bad” sections with maybe a couple of “hey, pretty good” sections thrown in.

tombstone 1tombstone 6Alaska Day driving day 12 recap:

Road Name: Klondike Highway from Dawson City

Road Type: 2-lane

Road Conditions: Pretty good

Road Name: The Dempster Highway

Road Type: 2-lane

Road Conditions: Well-graded gravel road with minimal washboard, but plenty of potholes, very muddy after a rain

Miles Today: 83 (includes a drive back to town from our campground for gas)

Driving Time: 2 hours

Total Miles in Canada: 2217

Total Miles since entering Canada: 4405

The signs are a little scary

The signs are a little scary

tombstone 7After arriving at our campground, we had to clean up our car, the Coquí, which was covered in mud and rocks. Fortunately, we had covered the windshield with a tarp, which helped just a little bit. Our collection of mud-covered rags keeps growing.tombstone 27 Continue reading

Dawson City

Dawson City 8To the yukon 36As we waited to board the ferry into Dawson City, Hector met the owner of Klondike River Distillery. He distills vodka off the grid, the only such distillery in North America according to him, and infuses each bottle with a bit of gold.

Dawson City 1But what was serendipitous was that Dorian’s “day” job is as a ranger at Tombstone National Park, our next destination! So he gave Hector an update on the fall colors. We had been concerned about driving up the Dempster Highway only to find that we were too early but he encouraged us to go and told Hector that the colors were definitely beginning.

Dawson City 2This was a great start to our stay in this interesting town. We chose to stay in a Yukon Government Campground just outside of town. We love the Yukon Government Campgrounds, they cost 12CAD, are located in lovely natural settings and offer free firewood.Dawson City 4

It is always a bit of a shock to our system to come out of a really natural and wild setting to a town (even a tiny one) full of people, and so staying at this peaceful forested campground just outside of town helped to keep us in balance.Dawson City 3

We kicked off our visit by going to the Farmers Market, which was really mostly an arts and crafts market as coincidentally it was the weekend of the Yukon Riverside Arts Festival.  We did buy one amazing head of lettuce though.Dawson City 6

Dawson is a very artsy town. In addition to the arts festival, it has the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture, the Dawson City Arts Society, the Dawson City Music Festival and the Yukon School of Visual Arts.

Dawson City 5Their Visitor Center, as almost all Visitor Centers in Canada we have visited, offers excellent Wi-Fi for free as well as tons of information.

Dawson City 13Dawson City 12As with all of these northern towns, from the tiniest to the largest, flowers are planted everywhere and maintained beautifully until the very last moment that they can possibly survive. Really the flowers are just spectacular.Dawson City 14 Continue reading

Our Last Day in Denali

Denali Day Seven 7It was hard to believe that a week had gone by, and this was our last day in Denali National Park with Hector’s “golden pass”. We were out for 13 hours the day before, and Angel and I were pretty tired, but Hector was on a photographers’ adrenaline high.

Denali Day Seven 20It was very cloudy so we left just after 6 a.m. Hector really wanted to make the most of this day, and his plan was to “get down low”, closer to the earth as much as possible.

Denali Day Seven 3Denali Day Seven 2Denali Day Seven 8We tried to take all of the scenery in as if we would never be back again. The beautiful fireweed with the mountains as backdrop, the braided rivers, the meadows, the glittering ponds.
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Denali, the High One

Denali the high one 1There are several opportunities to see Denali, the high one, from the road that runs across Denali National Park and Preserve. As the road rises from forest and woodland habitat in the lowlands to the subalpine meadow and open woodland, the mountain can sometimes be seen just peeking behind a closer mountain range.

Then, as the first two of four passes rise up to and down from the alpine area of low tundra, there are two places that offer a full view of the mountain (when she wants to be seen): Stony Creek and the Eilson Visitor Center.

Denali the high one 3We set out at 5:00 A.M. in order to catch the beautiful morning light and also to be ahead of the first morning buses. Since we began our drive at mile 29 by the Teklanika River where our campground was located, we had a large head start on the park buses that leave from the visitor center at mile 1.  We saw almost no-one early in the mornings, only the very occasional other car (park employees and service vehicles). It was truly special to be the only ones out on the road.  Absolute solitude.

Denali the high one 4We took Angel with us on all of the morning drives, as we never knew how long we were going to be out. National Parks do not allow dogs outside of the roads, visitor centers, turnoffs and other developed areas so it was a bit restrictive but we made it work.

Denali the high one 5Our second day driving in Denali was full of promise. The forecast was for a clear, sunny day, and we were excited about seeing the mountain for the first time.

That morning we encountered a dense fog as we went over the first pass, Sable Pass. Weather changes quickly in this area so we were a bit concerned about whether Denali was going to be visible.

Denali the high one 6But fog has a unique beauty. We came across a caribou feeding, silhouetted against the fog. It was a quiet and serene scene and a sweet encounter.

The fog continued as we drove on, covering the landscape. Usually when the “mountain is out” as they say around here, she is first visible up close from the Stony Point overlook.

Denali the high one 2And there is a dramatic moment when you come over the pass and the giant mountain appears.  But alas, when we got to Stony Point all was still white with fog.  Rats.

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Returning to Denali

Denali 2Eight years ago, when we made an all too brief stop at Denali National Park and Preserve, Denali, the mountain never revealed herself to us. That was a sign that we would have to return someday. Returning to Denali was one of the first things we planned for our trip to Alaska this summer. And our experience in the park has been much richer than we ever imagined possible.

Denali 7To preserve the wilderness in 1972, the 92 mile park road was closed to automobile traffic at mile 15 and a bus shuttle system was instituted. There was much controversy around this but the restriction has remained with some very limited exceptions.

Denali 13Denali 5Earlier this year when we planned our stay in Denali, I discovered that professional photographers have an opportunity to enter a lottery for a one-week permit to drive into the restricted area of the park.

Hector entered the photographers’ lottery, and about a month later found out that he won one of the permits. This type of access to the park is extremely rare, and we were flabbergasted and ecstatic.

Denali and the surrounding area were inhabited by Athabascans more than 11,000 years ago. Because of its remoteness, only a few Europeans came to the area; a few prospectors around 1898, climbers who began attempts to climb the mountain in 1903, then game hunters.

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