Zion National Park protects 229 square miles and is known for its steep Navajo Sandstone cliffs and narrow canyons. It is hard to believe that 250 million years ago those same cliffs were sand dunes in a vast desert.
In addition to checking out the city of Tucson, we made sure to get out into the Sonoran desert garden. Tucson is in the Sonoran Desert and is surrounded by mighty saguaros and many other fabulous desert plants. During this visit,we were super excited that we were going to be in the desert during the springtime bloom for the first time ever.
Tucson Mountain Park is a 20,000-acre county park that is adjacent to Saguaro National Park West (there is a Saguaro National Park East on the other side of town). Offering many outdoor opportunities on the West side of town. Hiking and biking are popular.
Our friend Jean knows a TON about the native plants and we always learn new things from her about the diverse vegetation that is everywhere. Our problem is we can’t remember it all! But we are getting better at it.
What a year! We travelled to the Arctic Circle and back in 2015.
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.
Our arrival in Portland was the start of a flurry of activity: cleaning out Island Girl inside and out, vet visits, shopping, visits and outings with friends and a flight to Miami and back. So here comes a tale of two cities.
On our way to Portland, we stopped by the Blue Beacon to have Island Girl and the Coquí washed. Though we were planning to do further cleaning, this initial wash was a way of getting some of the excess Canadian and Alaskan grime off both vehicles.
We also replaced a damaged wheel cover on Island Girl and while we were at it removed the valve extenders on our back tires as a precaution (we have heard of many problems with these). We went with some simpler valve extenders, a little harder to use but more durable.
And we stopped at the auto glass repair place to get the windshield and sunroof on the car replaced. We finally had a clear windshield, after months of staring at a bullseye! And the tarp and duct tape sunroof is gone!
Our friends Tim and Becky generously allowed us to park Island Girl on their property near Portland. We spent the next several days emptying out Island Girl’s basement compartments and generally cleaning out all the nooks and crannies inside and outside, removing much of the dust that had accumulated there from driving on all of those gravel roads in Alaska and Canada. What a summer!
Best of all this gave us the chance to hang out with Tim and Becky. We enjoyed several get togethers to catch up on our lives since we saw each other last winter in San Diego.
There was something we really liked about the quirky town of Haines when we visited eight years ago. We had some delicious fish and chips for lunch and a beautiful float down the Chilkat River, where we saw lots of eagles.
But this was also the place where we almost missed our cruise. After our rafting trip, we had scheduled a ferry back to Skagway, our port of call. We scheduled the next to last ferry that would get us back in time so that if something went wrong, we had one more ferry we could take.
When we got to the dock we found out that one of the ferries damaged a propeller and was out of service so the entire schedule was disrupted. Now there was no ferry scheduled that would get us back to Skagway in time. This is the danger of going off on your own from a cruise, they will not wait for you if you are late. We freaked out.
Because of an extremely nice and resourceful lady at the ferry office, we were saved. She got one of the tour cruises that had gone out from Skagway and was on its way back there, not scheduled to stop in Haines, to detour and make a very brief stop at the dock. We literally had to run down the dock and jump on the boat.
She also arranged for the cruise line to have a car at the dock ready to drive us straight to the ship on the other end. And we just made it! One little door was open on the side of the giant cruise ship. And we jumped in with seconds to spare.
So Haines had a really good vibe for us and we have been looking forward to returning. Now we were back. Driving down the Haines Highway after crossing the U.S. border we saw the Chilkat River that runs alongside the road. To our disappointment, but not terribly surprising, we did not see many eagles.
The Haines area is known as The Valley of the Eagles because thousands of eagles come to the ice-free section of the Chilkat for a very late salmon run in November, but most of these visitors leave between spring and summer. But there are still several hundred resident eagles that you see all the time around town.
And the town has a lot more to offer than eagles. There are museums, a brewery, a distillery, a farmers market, shops and restaurants, hiking, boating, fishing and more. This little piece of Alaska is connected to other Alaska towns by sea – ferries take you to Juneau, Skagway and on to other towns in the Inside Passage.
But it is also pretty isolated, and the only road to town is part of Canada. There is no drugstore here, which we found out when we needed to refill a prescription for Angel, there is no really large grocery store etc.
And yet there is something about this town. The Tlingit were the first settlers in the area about 11,000 years ago and the first to discover its riches: the abundance of fish, game, and edible plants and berries.
We left the Dempster and headed back to Alaska. Our next to last stop in Alaska was going to be Haines, a town we first visited on our last trip there. On that trip, our cruise stopped in Skagway, but we had our hearts set on seeing eagles, so we took a ferry to Haines, where we rafted on the Chilkat River and saw about 30 eagles. It was quite a memorable experience.
On the way, we crossed the mighty Yukon River that was once the travelled by sternwheelers transporting miners and their supplies.
We stopped at the Montague Roadhouse Historic Site. A log cabin ruin that used to be a hotel, bar and restaurant, whose walls are still fairly intact. As I stood inside the structure, I could feel the energy of the stories that have been a part of this place.
And in honor of the old roadhouses, we stopped at a present-day roadhouse, the Moose Creek Roadhouse. It has a gift shop, and a restaurant, and lots of folksy art about the place. Continue reading
We 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.
Fortunately, 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.
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
After 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. Continue reading
As 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.
But 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.
This 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.
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.
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 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.
As 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. Continue reading
It 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.
We 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.
The forecast for this morning was for partly sunny weather. Sunny meant that it would be brighter earlier so we set out at 5 a.m., although we wondered if the smoke/haze would still be around. It was not very sunny, but also not hazy, and there were puffy clouds in the sky.
The mountains on Polychrome Pass had some very interesting clouds around them. And the sunrise over the pass was quite pretty. Hector was really pleased with this morning light, and with the variety of days that we had in the park so far.