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.
We left Cochrane and our friends all too soon. But we have a long drive towards the Alaska Highway and are focused on making good time.
As we continue northward, I thought I would write a bit about our choice of route to Alaska.
There are two main highways across Canada towards Alaska – the Alaska Highway and the Cassiar Highway from the West. The Cassiar ultimately meets up with the Alaska Highway.
There are four main roads leading to those highways. Both the Eastern Access Route through the Alberta plains and the Eastern Mountain Route through the Rocky Mountains in Alberta lead to the Alaska Highway. The Western Access Route through Vancouver to Whistler leads to the Cassiar Highway. And the Central Route through central British Columbia can lead to either the Alaska or the Cassiar Highway. Of course, there are many approaches that you can take from the States and Canada leading to these routes.
Finally, the Marine Highway from British Columbia through the Inside Passage in Alaska is a great alternative. Ferry service provides access to several towns that are only accessible by sea or plane and stops in several towns on mainland Alaska.
Why did we choose the Eastern Access Route through the Alberta plains?
On our move day at Yellowstone National Park, we drove through seven miles of construction, which turned to mud due to recent rains. This was one of the reasons we chose to relocate, to avoid driving through construction zones more than once. And we wanted to be closer to the Lamar Valley in order to see more Yellowstone wildlife.
We stayed at the Mammoth Campground, near the North entrance to the park, which is the original entrance to the park. Read my review of the campground here.
Just after we got settled in and as I was finishing a walk with Angel, it began to hail. So far, we had rain, wind, cold, a bit of snow, and now hail. Ah, Spring!
In the morning, there was a herd of elk cows running through the campground. Mammoth Hot Springs is home to many elk, and they hang out around the town and nearby areas.
We had seen more wildlife than ever, but some of the best was yet to come. Our campground was a great jumping off point to visit the Tower-Roosevelt area and the Lamar Valley, both east of us.Continue reading →
Did you know that potatoes originated in Peru? Or that it was President Thomas Jefferson that introduced French fries to Americans when he served them at a White House dinner? Well, that is just one of the fascinating pieces of history and fun facts that you can find at the Idaho Potato Museum. And, by the way, John Adams thought Jefferson was putting on airs by serving such “novelties”.
The drive from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone was longer than we prefer, so we decided to overnight near the halfway point. When we realized that Blackfoot, Idaho, where the potato museum is located, was about the halfway point, we couldn’t resist. Where else can you get a photo in front of a giant potato with a big glop of sour cream and a giant pad of butter on top?
Bodie’s heyday was in the 1870’s, several years after gold was discovered there, and after mining on the other (western) slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range had declined. At the town’s peak, it had 2,000 buildings, including more than 60 saloons and dance halls.
Bodie had a red light district where miners spent their earnings. It was also known for robberies, stage holdups, and gunfights.
There is a legend of the “Bad Man of Bodie” who may or may not be a composite of several outlaws from the town.