The Final Chapter of the Great Alaskan Adventure, Maybe

In my last article I finished by saying we were underway on July 20th for Carmacks, Yukon Territory. You may have wondered what Carmacks may have to offer to be the lead in. Well, the only thing we were going there for was a place to spend the night. However, while there we found a really neat tile mosaic of a Loon. I was able to get a pretty good photo of it for all our Loon and Lark friends to enjoy. It is included in the web album that accompanies this article.

On the next day we stopped at a place called Braeburn Lodge because the Milepost book said that this place had world famous cinnamon rolls. You may recall that while in Chicken, Alaska the second time we bought one of Susan’s cinnamon rolls and we were very pleased indeed. The claim in the Milepost was as much a dare as anything else, so I decided we needed to stop at as many of the establishments with wild claims about their rolls as possible. The Braeburn Lodge cinnamon roll was gigantic. I swear it was as big as my head. We bought the thing to go and took it out to the motorhome so as not to embarrass ourselves while trying to eat it. I cut a wedge out of it like you would a pie. I then gave Connie the heart of the wedge where all the gooey stuff and frosting seemed to be concentrated. In her opinion it was only okay. From my perspective out at the drier and less gooey portion it was barely edible. Over the next several days I tried different tricks to make it taste better. It never got really good, but it did eventually get gone.

We would eventually stop three more times to try to beat Susan’s cinnamon rolls. The first place had an ad saying something about the best in the galaxy or some such nonsense. We were unable to validate this claim as there were no buns available and would not be for at least 45 minutes. We were not going to wait 45 minutes to buy something we didn’t really need. The third place we stopped was one of the nicest roadside cafes we had seen since leaving the lower 48. They too had great claims, but the product did not hold a candle to Susan’s. Our last stop for cinnamon rolls was an overnight stay. I got up early to get a fresh roll right out of the oven. I was truly disappointed as it was fairly evident that contrary to what I had been told the night before, the roll I bought was not fresh that morning. It certainly had the quality of a roll that had been in the display case overnight. It was not warm and the outer edge was very dry. I had to nuke it in order to choke it down. I think the biggest difference between Susan’s and everyone else’s was how the dough was handled. Susan minimized the kneading resulting in a much lighter and tastier product. The others were heavy and chewy. Were it not for all the stuff there would be no taste at all. As much fun as I had tasting cinnamon rolls from the far north, they did claim a toll on my weight. Prior to the great cinnamon roll contest I had been holding my weight in check which was fairly amazing because I had not been doing a lot of running. After the taste test was complete I was five pounds heavier and am now struggling to get it back off. I certainly could have mitigated the damage had I just tasted and tossed each roll. However, that isn’t in my make-up.

On Wednesday June 23rd we arrived in Haines, Alaska. The border crossing from Yukon Territory into Alaska was the best crossing experience we had during the entire trip. The border agent was polite while asking all the same questions we had heard before. Additionally, he actually stamped our passports without us asking. What a treat. He also gave us a little preview as to what to expect on the drive to Haines and while there. It was really nice to be treated like an honest person instead of a suspect.

The drive from the border to Haines is just beautiful. About 25 miles or so outside Haines is the place where hundreds of Bald Eagles spend the winter. It seems that every eagle that summers somewhere north of Haines winters just outside Haines. There have been literally thousands of Bald Eagles counted along the river in the fall. Some trees can have as many as 100 of these magnificent birds roosting. The other fall and early winter visitors to the river are the Brown and Black bears who stop by to fatten themselves up before crawling into their dens for the long winter naps. Of course all these predatory animals would not show up if there wasn’t a good reason. That reason is the late salmon run that occurs annually in this area. In the case of the Eagles, the relatively mild winter weather keeps them around after the snow starts to fly. For the bears, this seems to be their last stopping point before hibernation. However, we arrived in late July, way ahead of the salmon run and therefore ahead of the onslaught of bears and birds. That said, we did see a lot of Bald Eagles along the river. We had to work at it a bit, but we saw several birds of varying ages. There was a juvenile bird, likely this year’s hatch, which was getting some advanced flight training by an adult. The two would climb high in the sky and then engage in a dogfight with the adult doing complete 360 degree rolls talons at the ready. It was great fun to watch and it looked as though the two birds were also having fun.

While in Haines we stayed in a campground right on the beach. The motorhome faced the water allowing us to watch the cruise ships and Alaska Ferries sail by. For most of our stay there was a cruise ship in port. I got a really neat photo just after sundown one evening. Oh and by the way, we were finally far enough south and late enough in the summer that it was actually getting dark at night. What a relief that was. We had chosen this campground not just for the view, but because the owner had agreed to let us leave the motorhome there while we took the ferry to Juneau, the capital city of Alaska. Since it was a small RV Park we felt comfortable leaving the motorhome there as the owners would keep an eye on it for us. We parked the car at the ferry landing which worked out great as well.

My cousin Greg lives in Juneau along with his family. So, we had a place to stay and tour guides to boot. To make it easier for Greg, who works for the State of Alaska, we planned our visit over a long weekend. Greg’s wife Dede met Connie and me at the ferry and took us on a driving tour of the area outside downtown enroute to the family home. Over the next three days we got the royal treatment. We felt as though we had won the lottery and upgraded our tour to first class. We had a great place to stay, tour guides at our call who actually knew the area; great home cooked food as well as guidance as to which restaurants to visit.

One of the restaurants we visited is owned by Greg and Dede’s youngest daughter, Julie. While a freshman in college Julie became aware that there was no safe place for her and her friends to go late in the evening either to study or unwind from studying. To make a long story short, she wound up developing a business plan, finding an appropriate property and opened just the right place. She calls her establishment The Southeast Waffle Company and she and it were an immediate success. Since leaving Juneau we have sent everyone we have come in contact with to her for at least one meal while in Juneau. We hope she has continued success. She certainly has gotten off to a great start and seems to be prospering during this weakened state of the economy. I tried to nominate her business for a Shine A Light Award sponsored by American Express, NBC and i-Village. Unfortunately, my nomination did not get posted in time for the business to be spotlighted by the minimum of 50 visitors to the site. Therefore the nomination did not go forward to the next phase of the contest. Hopefully we will get another chance. At any rate, if you are ever in Juneau you have to stop at The Southeast Waffle Company and enjoy your favorite coffee beverage and one of the most unique waffles you can imagine.

While in Juneau we took the tram to the top of Mt. Roberts and got a really great view of the waterfront and most of the area surrounding Juneau. We also visited Mendenhall Glacier and the wonderful visitor center that does a super job of explaining how glaciers are formed and how they in turn change the surface of the earth they pass over. One of the most phenomenal things I learned about glaciers this summer is something the geologists call glacial rebound. This is the upward motion of the earth’s crust that was once covered by a glacier that has receded. In some areas that rebound can be as much as a few inches per year. It sort of boggles the mind to think that the great weight of all that super dense ice actually depresses the earth’s crust. It is equally as boggling to realize that the earth’s surface is so resilient that it eventually rebounds at least a percentage of that depression.

The web album linked to this article has some of the better photos taken while in the Juneau area. We hope you enjoy them.

Our return to Haines was done aboard the same ferry boat that took us to Juneau. We spent two more nights in Haynes and continued to explore the area. We were only slightly disappointed that the bear population was nowhere near what it would eventually grow to be this fall. We did get to see a few bears foraging along the river banks looking for fish, but eating anything that looked remotely edible. We watched one young brown bear working his way along a river bank just downstream of several fishermen. In fact when we first spotted him he had been able to urge a few fishermen to relocate from where they had been fishing. It was sort of amazing how the fishermen knew the correct answer without a lot of discussion. Anyway, the fishermen went upstream while the bear worked downstream. We watched for close to an hour and saw no one, not man nor beast, catch a single fish. My guess is that the fishermen were lucky that the bear didn’t know he was going to have a bad fishing day as he may have changed the menu.

Our time in Haines was really pretty relaxing and we got to take in some great scenery in the process.

We had made a decision early in our stay in Haines to leave via ferry instead of driving back out the way we arrived. We wanted to see Skagway and to drive north, then east and then south again just didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to us. The option was to take a ferry directly from Haines to Skagway eliminating a few hundred miles of driving and one more night on the road somewhere. In making this decision we gained an extra full day in Haines to await the evening ferry to Skagway. We also incurred a cost that more than equaled the cost of driving and staying the night along the way. However, we determined that the cost differential was minimal enough to not make a big difference in the end. The ferry we eventually boarded was the same ferry we had taken to and from Juneau. We were really getting accustomed to this ship. I was thinking maybe I should get a qualification card and start working on my certification as a crew member.

The ride from Haines to Skagway was pretty short. In fact, it probably took longer to load the ferry in Haines than it did to make the journey over to Skagway. There were a number of big rigs getting on the ferry that evening and the tide was way out as we started the loading process, so it was slow. To off load in Skagway the crew of the ship routed us in different directions with all vehicles eventually exiting through the same opening in the ship. Some had to back several yards to get to a place to turn to go off. Others, like me had to make a wide sweeping turn at the bow of the ship in order to head back down the opposite side from where I had parked. The turn was just a mirror’s width too tight and I had to do a little back and fill to get around, but I got off without incident. Connie went an entirely different way!

We spent three nights in Skagway. The highlights of our time in this little gold rush inspired town was to take the interpretive train ride up the valley, visit the townsite of another gold rush town, look for bears and spawning fish and of course sample the local dining and beer.

We accomplished all of that and had a wonderful time doing so. The train trip was a bit disappointing, but not a total bust by any means. I have included some of the photos we came back from that trip with.

It was not real easy finding good and good for you food in Skagway, but we did pretty well on both counts. What we did find was that the local brewery makes some of the best beer we sampled the entire time we were in Alaska and that is saying a lot because we have treated ourselves to some wonderful local beers every stop along the way. While in Juneau we had spent an afternoon with Greg and Dede at the Alaskan Brewing Company, makers of Alaskan Beer. They have several beers they brew and sell throughout Alaska and fortunately outside Alaska as well. With Dede as the designated driver, Connie, Greg and I sampled all of the beers available and did so with great smiles on our faces. Connie and I also visited the Haines Brewing Company at the State Fairgrounds in Haines where we sampled beer filtered through spruce tips. That was an interesting beer.

In Skagway the brewery is co-located in what is probably the best eating establishment in town. So, we not only got to sample some great beer, but we got a small sample of some really good food as well. To make the whole experience even more fun there is a fudge shop next door where we found dessert for several nights to follow.

An interesting side note about the fudge shop: we were talking to the proprietors and they told us that traffic through the store this summer was definitely not what it used to be. However, those who were coming in were spending more time in the shop and buying more. Therefore this one business was actually seeing an increase in revenues. I found that both interesting and refreshing. Of course we were there to help the local economy as much as we could.

Skagway exists because of the Yukon Gold Rush. For a short period in the 1850’s thousands of potential gold miners and others who would make their money from the gold seekers flocked by ship to what became Skagway. The gold seekers stayed in town only long enough to amass the great amount of provisions the Canadian government required them to carry into the Yukon before setting off to the north and east to places like Dawson City, Yukon Territory. The required provisions were supposed to be sufficient to sustain a man for six months to a year and there was a minimum weight requirement of 2000 pounds per man heading into Canada. Of course this meant there had to be horses and mules to carry these great loads. So, Skagway became a very large and prosperous hub outfitting those seeking their fortunes along the Yukon River. Many of those with such dreams never made it out of the valley as the climb out of Skagway was long and steep. Some fell to their death while others were consumed by the elements or the local wildlife. By local wildlife I mean all the wildlife between Skagway and the Yukon River a distance of over 700 miles.

In the early days of the rush not all prospectors came into Skagway to begin their journey overland. Several went instead to Dyea which is just on the other side of the valley from Skagway. Dyea eventually swelled in population to some 5,000 inhabitants before the building of the railroad out of Skagway caused its demise. Once the White Pass and Yukon Railroad was operational, there were few prospectors willing to cover the overland portion of the trip from Dyea. Nearly as quickly as the town grew it collapsed to what is now a single building façade with a few remnants of foundations and trees that were planted for decoration. We toured the town site and gained an appreciation for how life must have been there.

From Skagway we drove north and east following the same route as the train until we emerged from the glacially created canyon. At the top we turned to the east and made our way back to the Alaskan Highway.

The next highlight on our drive was the famous Signpost Forest in Watson Lake, Yukon Territory. During the construction of the Alaska Highway signposts were constructed indicating the distances to various places along the highway. One of the workers feeling a bit homesick added his own sign to one of those signposts indicating the distance to his hometown. Over time nearly all the “official” signposts have gone away, but near the location of the original additional sign a veritable forest of signs has grown. Most are placed by individuals marking where they came from, some with the distance to their homes. Each is unique and the entire forest is really overwhelming in size and variety. In the heart of the forest is a collection of some of the equipment that was used to build the highway. On its edge is a museum that does an excellent job of interpreting the forest and describing the construction of the highway along with the more or less continuous reconstruction that has occurred since the highway was completed.

From Watson Lake we continued east to the beginning of the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek, British Columbia. There is a large sign marking mile zero with a brief explanation of the how the highway came to be. Obviously this is a popular photo spot for anyone who intends to travel the highway or as was the case for us who have completed the journey. We took the appropriate photos to include a shot of me driving under the big sign in the motorhome.

Although we were done with the Alaska Highway, we were not done with the adventure. We continued to the southeast to get to Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. Jasper National Park and its neighbor Banff National Park are two must see attractions in Alberta. We tried to divide our time within the two parks by moving every third day or so such that we could see as much of the parks as possible without having to drive tremendous distances in the car each day.

That said, we spent the first three nights in a campground outside the town of Jasper and toured the immediate area. Of course there is a tramway that goes near the top of Whistler’s Mountain. From the top of the tram there is a trail leading to the very top of the mountain. We took the hike and we had to admit that we were forced to stop frequently to catch our breath. At each stop we took more photos of the panoramic view we were enjoying. At each stop those views had changed due in large part to the weather system that was passing through. By the time we reached the top there was a good bit of haze, but we got some pretty good photos anyway.

On another day we drove to Lake Maligne where we took a boat ride to Spirit Island which turns out to be the second most photographed location in Alberta. The most photographed location is Lake Louise. When our guide on the boat gave us that bit of historical trivia I was forced to wonder how anyone could possibly keep track in this day of digital photography. Certainly back in the days of film processors one could get an idea of which locations were getting a lot of play, but I somehow doubt there was any sort of national or international accounting office that keeps track of such things. It sort of reminded me of all those claims for the best cinnamon rolls in the world. Having said that, I suspect that there are plenty of records for professional images that are sold in the marketplace which would certainly give statisticians reasonable ideas of which attractions receive the most photographic attention.

The drive to and from the lake was wonderful in that each turn in the road provided us with another unique view of the mountains. We also were treated to great views of Mountain Sheep and goats as well as Black bears. On our way back to the campground we stopped frequently to look around and take photos. We had a wonderful day and the images we collected reflect just how beautiful the area is.

From Jasper we continued south and across the Columbian Icefields to our next camping area. We would travel back to the icefields for one of the greatest adventures of the summer, a trip via bus out on Athabasca Glacier. All summer long we had been teased by the seeming closeness of several glaciers we had visited only to discover that we were either not allowed to go on the ice for safety reasons or that the ice was not accessible without special equipment. At Athabasca Glacier the Canadian Government and their business partner Brewster have developed a special bus that can venture out on the ice causing minimal damage while providing a safe comfortable way for the average tourist to experience the glacier. We had a great time on the ice and got a few photos that are pretty neat. Like most North American glaciers, this one is receding. However, the rate of recession is slow enough that the bus trips to the glacier will be ongoing for several years. We had a super time on the glacier, but as you will see in the photographs the glacier induced wind was cold and fierce. I was forced to put my hood on to keep from freezing.

The photos we took along the Columbia Icefield Highway tell the story of the beauty of the area. We were truly in sensory overload as we drove along the highway watching the ever changing scenery go by. We stopped just south of where we got out onto the glacier to hike up to Parker Ridge. The hike was a couple of miles long, but more important was the several hundred feet in elevation change we had to deal with. Everyone we passed along the trail who was heading downhill assured us that the view from the ridge was worth the effort to get there. Truer words could not be spoken. When we got to the ridge we were nearly overwhelmed with the beauty. We decided to hike south along the ridge another quarter mile or so and boy, were we happy for that decision. However, the whole time we were going south I was thinking of the possible views to the north. We were already at some ridiculous elevation making each step an effort, but we decided to persevere and go to the northern extreme of the ridge. The effort to get there was really pretty monumental. I can tell you we saw no one our age at that end of the trail. The view from the northern end was just to die for. I am not sure the photos do it much justice, because everything is so big making it really hard to get a sense for dimension.

We spent two nights in this part of the park before heading further south towards Banff National Park. We were planning to leave the park via the west, so we did not go all the way to the town of Banff with the coach. Instead we camped at an in-park campground that was near the road we would eventually drive out on. When we arrived at the campground it was raining fairly hard. I made a decision I will forever regret by picking the first site that looked long enough to accommodate the motorhome. What we should have done was walk through the campground and investigate each site and pick the best site for ease of getting into and out of. Alternatively, we should have walked the path out of the site we did choose to identify any hidden obstacles. Obviously there is a reason I am discussing this. The reason is that upon our departure two days later I was able to inflict some $7,000 in damage to the coach as I landed the framework that defines the bays on the street side on a hidden tree stump. While trying to get the two bay doors that I damaged to shut I decided that there couldn’t be more than a few hundred dollars in damage on top of the cost of new doors. Boy was I wrong. It is really amazing what $7,000 of damage on a motorhome looks like. To the casual observer there is little to no visible damage. With the bay doors open the damage becomes visible, but doesn’t look that bad. There will be more to follow on this part of the adventure.

While in the Banff area we continued our exploration of the jewel of the Canadian National Park System to include a trip up the mountain outside the village of Banff via tram. It seems that we were unable to pass on too many trams we came across this summer. This one was pretty neat in that once at the top you could continue to the next level via boardwalk and paved trail. From the second level the view back to the gondola landing area was pretty neat to say nothing of the views in any direction across valleys to the peaks surrounding.

Our time at Banff was a little compromised by the least good weather we had experienced since Fairbanks, Alaska. It was either raining or threatening to rain the entire time we were there. We had wanted to take another tram trip just outside Lake Louise, but the midpoint of the mountain was completely incased in clouds making a trip to the top pointless. We did visit Lake Louise and although the skies were not wonderful the views were constantly changing as the clouds flowed by and we had a very enjoyable hike to the far end of the lake.

All in all our time in Jasper and Banff National Parks was well worth the miles we drove to get there. Even with less than desirable weather, we were able to see most of the highlights of the parks as well as exploring the in-park villages and enjoying the local flavors. We will go back.

As we drove out of Banff National Park to the west heading for Cranbrook, British Columbia we were a little heavy hearted to realize that our Alaska Adventure was essentially completed. We took with us thousands of memories and hundreds of photos and a promise to someday do it all over again only somehow differently.

We would spend two more nights in Canada, to sort of regroup and clean some of the Alaskan/Yukon Territory dust out of the coach. Those two nights were spent in the town of Cranbrook, BC. There was a Home Depot in town, so I was able to find some parts to make a temporary repair to the worst of the door damage I had done in Banff. Before we left the campground in Banff I had to wire shut the bay door for the dump station bay. While in Cranbrook I was able to move the latch outward as far as I had caved in the frame so that it would mate with the door side latch and keep the door from swinging in the breeze. That done, I felt much better about the situation.

We had chosen to go back into British Columbia so that we could leave Canada via Idaho. There were two reasons for doing that. The first was so that we could color in the Idaho portion of the map that shows all the states we have taken the motorhome to. The second and more important reason was so that we could more easily get to Plains, Montana where we intended to meet up with one of the Loons and Larks, Gayle, for a very short and small Loonvention. Gayle had insisted that we park in her front yard rather than pay to stay some miles away. I nearly made another costly mistake while trying to get the coach into the yard. It had rained nearly every day this summer in Plains thereby making the soil extremely soft. As I backed into the yard I could feel the rear end bogging down. Connie stopped me while Gail was fairly insistent that all was okay. When I got out and looked for myself I could see we were heading for trouble. My back wheels had cut groves so deep the axle was starting to drag on the grass. I immediately tried to pull forward and get out. Unfortunately for Gayle’s yard, my front wheels were turned and as I straightened them to pull forward I only dug a deeper ditch. We ended up putting planks under the rear wheels in order to gain enough traction to drive out. Although we did no damage to the coach, we really tore up the yard. Gayle and her significant other, Pat, seemed not to worry about the yard and instead were only concerned about the coach. We tried to compensate by taking them to dinner in the finest restaurant in the area. There is no way that the dinner compensated them completely for the forty feet of parallel ditches we left in their yard.

On a lighter note, we had a wonderful time visiting with Gayle and Pat and the coach was just fine parked just off the road but parallel to same. We just kept the living room slide in to prevent becoming an unintended target for late night drivers. Our short stay and visit in Plains was wonderful.

From Plains we drove to the North Gate of Yellowstone National Park. We spent the next three days exploring the park via car and stopping at nearly every attraction along the way. I am going to let the photos we took tell this part of the story as the visuals are far better than any narrative I can come up with. We camped at Mammoth Hot Springs Campground which was good and bad. It is a great campground and it is close enough to the gate that we had great cell service which meant we could access the internet. However, it is bad for detailed exploration of the southern part of the park. That fact was made more true this year due to a road closure of the western part of the lower loop. In order to see Old Faithful we had to drive some 85 miles from our campground. However, we made the drive and as I said we saw most every major and many minor attractions this great park has to offer. We determined that to do it right you have to stay much longer than we had in our plan. We will go back. Enjoy the photos and try to read the captions as I have tried to tell the story via photos and captions.

Click here to get to the photo album:

The Final Chapter of Our Alaskan Adventure

From Yellowstone we drove east to my old hometown of Sheridan, Wyoming. I had not seen my two Aunts for a couple of years so we had planned to spend a few days in Sheridan in order to spend some quality time with them. Of course we also toured around the area a bit trying to see what I could remember from my youth. It was helpful to have my Aunt Rose Marie along to fill in the gaps in my memory. Our visit to Sheridan affirmed in our minds that we need to spend more time closer to my family as too many years have gone by making relationships a bit less like family and more like past neighbors. We will work on a plan as we go.

From Sheridan we went to Cheyenne, Wyoming for another way-too-short pit stop and visit with my best friend from my school years, Stephan Pappas and his family. While there we introduced Stephan to friends we made while stationed in Italy who now live in Cheyenne, Jim and Beth.

From there we made the short drive to northern Colorado where we spent a few days with my sister and her family and my brother and his family. We were then off to the Air Force Academy where we sort of waited for our start date as campground hosts at Lathrop State Park.

Our time at Lathrop was to be one month. We had decided that if we could get the damage to the motorhome fixed in Denver following that month of working we should do so. So, while passing through Denver we met with the insurance company and a motorhome body shop to get the assessment and get the parts on order. We were surprised to learn that the job would take three weeks to complete. While we were trying to figure out what we would do for those three weeks without a home we got a call from the claims adjuster who told us that the lead time on the new doors was at least two weeks after we were scheduled to leave Lathrop. He suggested we get the work done in Georgia or Florida instead. We were happy that he suggested that as we had been trying to figure out how to ask for the same change in venue simply due to the long repair time.

So, following our one month stay in Lathrop we were set free to travel back to Kings Bay, Georgia where we will spend at least three months working as volunteer camp hosts and at some point getting the damage to the coach repaired. The new shop has the assessment, they agree with it and they have ordered the parts. We will see what happens. Late breaking news. The work has been completed and it only took 2.5 weeks. We have the coach back and it looks as good as new.

Well, this has been way too long and, as many of you have noted, too long in coming. It is my intention to take some time off from writing while we are here at Kings Bay. So, don’t expect any new posts for a few months. In the meantime enjoy the photos and if you feel compelled, give me some feedback so I can improve the product.

I will endeavor to post more frequently with fewer words once we get back on the road later this winter.



1 thought on “The Final Chapter of the Great Alaskan Adventure, Maybe”

  1. We are heading to Kings Bay next summer where John will be CO of the sub base I’m looking forward to catching up with you two. Find the good food spots before we arrive please!

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