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.
Their Visitor Center, as almost all Visitor Centers in Canada we have visited, offers excellent Wi-Fi for free as well as tons of information.
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 →
After our fabulous time in Homer, we prepared to drive towards Denali National Park & Preserve. The plan was to resupply in Anchorage and then spend a day in funky Talkeetna along the way. But we almost did not get going as planned, because I had a horrible night with what I believe must have been food poisoning. Hector and I both ate pork chops, and he did not get sick, so I am not sure what did me in.
In any case, I was exhausted by morning, not having slept much. But we decided that I would sleep and Hector would get everything ready and drive to Anchorage. It was the first time that I did not help with setting up for a travel day and I felt terrible about it. But I had stowed a lot of the inside stuff the previous night so it was not too bad for Hector.
So, indeed, I slept while Hector drove. By the late afternoon, I was feeling much better and was able to help out with a couple of chores in Anchorage. We dry camped at Cabelas once again; easy in easy out.
The next day we got a bit of a late start as both of us were pretty tired. But we made it to Talkeetna in the late afternoon. This time we just dry camped in a gravel pullout on the side road that leads to Talkeetna (yes, we are so glamorous sometimes).
Alaska Day driving days 6 and 7 recap:
Homer to Anchorage
Road Name: Sterling Highway to Seward Highway
Road Type: 2-lane
Driving Time: 5:00
Anchorage to Talkeetna
Road Name: Glenn Highway to Parks Highway
Road Type: Mostly 2-lane with some 4-lane sections near Wasilla
Road Conditions: Very good throughout, some construction. This is a very heavily travelled road connecting Anchorage to Fairbanks so it is kept up as far as we have travelled.
Homer is a popular spot on the Kenai Peninsula, and we had heard very good things about it. But frankly we did not know very much and had no specific plans prior to arriving there. But we did know we wanted to try to stay on the Homer spit. A long skinny peninsula where the town’s boat harbor and many tourist activities are centered.
We drove over to Homer on the Sterling Highway, a beautiful road that we had driven earlier in our travels. The Kenai River, super popular for fishing, runs alongside part of the road. There are a number of towns along the way, including Ninilchik, where we made a brief stop at the Transfiguration of our Lord Church, a Russian Orthodox church founded in 1846. The church and its cemetery are quite picturesque and are one of many examples of Russia’s historical influence on Alaska.
Alaska Day driving day 5 recap:
Road Name: Seward Highway (a short section) to Sterling Highway
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: Seward Highway is generally good, Sterling Highway is good but quite narrow for a bit after Cooper Landing, including a mercifully not too long windy section with no shoulder and a guardrail on both sides where a motorhome like ours barely fit with another large vehicle on the oncoming lane.
Miles Today: 173
Driving Time: 4:15
Total Miles in Alaska: 1228
Total Miles since entering Canada: 3222
The road ends at Homer. Beyond Homer lies more of the roadless Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Archipelago. Alaska is both our westernmost and easternmost state. How can that be? The end of the Aleutian chain lies over the international dateline. And just north of Homer on the Sterling Highway is the westernmost section of paved road in the entire USA.
We camped in Seward, Alaska with Joyce, our friend who was visiting from Denver, for the first four days of our stay. During that time the weather alternated between mostly sunny and beautiful and cloudy and rainy – a good representation of Alaska in the summer.
On one of the nicer weather days, we explored the (little) town pretty thoroughly. Seward is a fairly touristy town and has a good number of shops and restaurants for its small size. There are also quite a few lovely murals throughout the downtown area.Continue reading →
We went back to the city of Anchorage for a few days. Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, with almost half of its population concentrated there. And like all cities, it has its problems; including a high crime rate and homelessness. And Alaskans like to joke that Alaska is thirty minutes from Anchorage.
We settled in at the Golden Nugget RV Park, read my review here.
The city of Anchorage has a lot to offer, and we were intent on discovering some of its positive aspects. Starting with a visit to the Anchorage Market & Festival a fun weekend downtown market with lots of crafts and prepared food and a very diverse crowd. Next up was a stroll around the compact downtown and a visit to the sod roofed Anchorage Visitor Information Center, a beautiful log cabin structure.
On Sunday, we took a tour up to the town of McCarthy in a 12-passenger van, on our way to the Kennecott Mines in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. To the surprise of a couple of passengers, Angel went with us. But she quickly settled in, and sometime into the ride, one passenger commented that they forgot she was there because she was so quiet. She is such a good girl!
The road up to McCarthy and Kennecott has a very bad reputation. One person even told us that if we were to drive up there we would need two spare tires. But the Wrangell St. Elias National Park ranger told Hector that the road was in the best shape it has ever been. Which did not matter much since our car was not working.
The ride up on the van did confirm that the road was not as terrible as some people were saying. Yes, it is sixty miles of gravel road that gets progressively worse as you get nearer to McCarthy. And, yes there is a very long stretch of road that has a washboard. But our van made it through just fine. Well, sort of.
The road is a 2-lane road, but just barely accommodates two cars in places. The driver of a rental class C was coming down the opposite lane at a pretty fast speed and never slowed down. He popped Kevin’s (our van driver) side mirror to the point that the glass shattered. After talking to the driver of the Class C, Kevin told us that his mirror flew off and hit him in the head. He was ok, but the damage was going to cost him.Continue reading →
This day we had a really short drive into Whitehorse, Yukon so we took it pretty easy in the morning. We really liked the Marsh Lake Yukon Government Campground, although there were quite a few mosquitoes there. Fortunately, we were able to get by with some natural mosquito repellent, and the campfire helped. We have several levels of repellent, from natural to frighteningly chemical.
Day 8 driving recap:
Road Name (s): Yukon Highway 1
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: Excellent as this was mostly in “suburban” Whitehorse
Miles Today: 31
Miles driven from Canadian border: 1624
Miles on the Alaska Highway: 887.4
Driving Time: :50
Whitehorse is the largest town in these parts. It is both the capital of the Yukon and home to over two thirds of Yukon’s 35k human residents. In the Yukon Territory there are significantly more moose than there are people!
It is a great place to refuel and restock. On the way in, we stopped at Integra Tire, which provides free sani-dump service with a fill-up. We got gas, dumped, got a water fill, a propane fill and a free bag of ice. All in one place, very convenient. But they are a very busy operation so it took quite a while.
Then we headed to Walmart, where we were clearly not the first to think about overnighting. It was pretty jam packed with RV’s. I honestly have never seen so many in one parking lot.
But we found a good spot and settled in. It is a great location right in town and once again, they had WiFi and it was working pretty well when we arrived in the middle of the afternoon. This Walmart actually has a sign outside indicating where RVs are allowed to park overnight – amazing.
Next stop was the Visitor Center, a beautifully decorated building with lots of great information. There are quite a few museums and other activities in town, and this is the place to get the details on all of them. They also have really good WiFi.
Yesterday was another driving day, day 2 on the Alaska Highway and our third in a row. We are moving through at a slightly faster pace than we originally planned at this point. It is great to have that flexibility.
Last evening, before we stopped at the rest stop for the night, we noticed a sign about construction work down the road. Since our motor home has a rear radiator, we read that it is possible for rocks to get propelled into it causing damage. Hector planned to install a rock screen to shield the radiator and had already purchased mesh wire for the job. So this morning he installed it. And, while he was installing it, it began to rain lightly. But he perservered.
Tip of the day: Attach wire mesh as a rock screen for rear radiators.
Cut the wire mesh to appropriate size, attach it to chassis or other hard metal brackets using zip ties.
Today’s driving recap:
Road Name: BC Hwy 97, Alaska Highway
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: Relatively smooth. Occasional gravel breaks or rough patches.
Miles Today: 271
Miles driven from Canadian border: 1068
Miles on the Alaska Highway: 343
Driving Time: 5:30
The scenery changed slightly with more forested areas with lots of pine trees and hillier terrain with mountains in the distance. There are some steep grades in this part of the drive, reducing our average speed. We spotted our first bears today, all three were black bears, and black in color as well.
The first gave us our closest look, he crossed the road and then walked along the side of the road for quite a while. He had quite a thick, wet, shiny coat, and no doubt had taken a dip in the nearby river. And now he was munching away at some greens.
The others went back into the forest when they saw Island Girl approach.
The morning rain shifted to cloudy conditions with some very pretty clouds, then to a sunny, warm afternoon. I was not expecting it to be this warm, so it was a nice surprise.
We stopped at the Trapper’s Den Wildlife Emporium just before Fort Nelson. The shop sells native crafts, moccasins, mukluks, fur hats, and lots of other stuff.
They even had camo lingerie (Wilderness Dreams!). It is a small but cute store with a very nice proprietor. She was talking to a couple of other locals in the store, and their accents were very Fargo-esque.
Next we noticed a Tim Hortons next to the gas station where we filled our tank, so we stopped to eat lunch and use their Wi-Fi.
And then continued to the Fort Nelson Visitor Center. Just across the way is the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum. The theme of the museum is transportation, and just in front of the entrance there is a monument commemorating the workers who helped build the Alaska Highway.
Then you enter the first building and oh boy, there is almost too much stuff at this museum. Pioneer artifacts, taxidermy displays, including an albino moose cow.
A display of artifacts from the Alaska Highway construction, antique telephones, a small general store display, antique signs, old radios, maps, an antique jukebox and more.
Outside there are all kinds of antique trucks and antique heavy equipment used in the building of the Alaska Highway as well as some fabulous vintage cars in a large garage on the property. And lots of license plates and tools.
Last, but not least, there are several buildings from the era of the Alaskan Highway, mostly there to display more artifacts – a typical house, a church, a log cabin.
Several young men were around to open the buildings and provide information about the artifacts inside. All for CA$5.
I think it must be tough to be a place “on the way to something else”. And so the people here make a heartfelt effort to provide visitors with the opportunity to connect with some of their history. Good for them.
We left Fort Nelson planning to spend the night at a rest stop about 50 miles away. Everyone we spoke with and everything we read said that this next part of the drive was the prettiest on the Alaska Highway, and there would be lots of wildlife.
As we left, we encountered some steep climbs and the mountains grew nearer. We climbed to the summit of Steamboat Mountain at 3,500 feet with beautiful views.
The first rest area we reached had a motor home sitting in the one spot with a view so we continued to the next one. There was a fifth wheel in the next overview but it had a wide area open with views so we stayed there. A beautiful spot.
We settled in and watched a bright red sun setting in the sky. We know the best is yet to come.