Saturday, June 30, 2012

Alaska -- Day 45

Who goes to Alaska and spends a day cleaning and working on the computer? That's what we did today. This is our home and sometimes we need to take care of it. When we were recreational RVers, we would start a trip like this with a newly cleaned trailer, inside and out. We were getting away for a while, so we didn't want to do ordinary, every day activities if we didn't have to.

Today we live in our RV and we didn't start the trip with everything cleaned up. Because we drove through lots of dust the past couple of days, we needed to vacuum and mop the floor. Then John started cleaning the ceiling fan and tops of some cupboards. We are in much better shape, now. And you know what? It feels good to do normal, every-day tasks.

Because of the cost of using our broadband internet card in Canada, we have been depending on free wi-fi in RV parks. Since we haven't had a secure connection, I haven't been monitoring or updating our finances. I keep all our financial accounts in Quicken and update them online. Almost all of our bills are paid automatically, on line. Since we are now back on US territory, we can use the broadband card again, and I have had lots of work to catch up on.

It started raining sometime during the night and kept it up till about noon. When it stopped, we walked around the campground for a while, then drove into town (all of 3 or 4 blocks) for fuel and to do some shopping.

Since leaving Santa Ana NWR in Alamo, TX, on May 1, we had driven 6,203 miles when we crossed into Alaska. I wonder how many more miles we will put on before we get back to Colorado, and then Arizona, in September and October. We plan to take the Alaska Marine Ferry from Haines, AK, to Bellingham, WA, in August, so we won't drive nearly as many miles on our return trip.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Alaska–Day 44

Today we entered Alaska!  We have spent a month in Canada.  Now we have about 6 weeks in Alaska.  It was just a short drive, 113 miles, to Tok.  Within the first half hour, we saw a bear.  Although it is brown, it us a black bear.


At the Yukon-Alaska border, a group of passengers from a Holland-America tour bus were taking each others’ pictures at the Alaska welcome sign.


A few more miles and we came to the US Border Station.  We saw lots of the Border Patrol while we were in Texas.  It was good to see them again today.  I forgot about the rules against bringing in fresh fruits and veggies.  I had to turn over tomatoes and some grapes.  I don’t understand it.  We went to a store in Tok and bought more tomatoes grown in Mexico, just like those I had to leave behind.


Crossing back into the US means we don’t have to tax our brains as much.  We are back to miles and gallons, Fahrenheit and pounds instead of kilometres, litres, Celsius and kilograms.  Yea!

We saw this old truck on a hill above the highway.  It must date back to the building of the Alaska Highway.


On the whole, the roads are much better here than in Yukon.  The first 14 miles past the border station were new and very smooth.  Then there was some frost heave.  But it isn’t as bad as yesterday.

The road borders the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, which has includes hundreds of lakes, many unnamed, and hosts a great number of birds, both nesting and migratory.  It provides habitat for migrating sandhill crane and nesting trumpeter swan.  We hope be to able to see a little of the refuge while we are here.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Alaska–Day 43

Today we had great scenery as we drove from Whitehorse to Beaver Creek.  But about all I can say about the road condition is, “yikes!”  At first we planned to stop at Congdon Creek Provincial Park along Kluane Lake.  But it was cold and threatening rain, so we decided electrical hookups would be good.  Just look at these mountains.


Kluane Lake is the largest lake in Yukon.  It covers approximately 154 square miles.  In addition to the hundreds of thousands of acres of timber we have seen in Yukon, the amount of water in lakes and rivers is amazing.  Earlier today we drove near, but couldn’t see, Kusawa Lake, which is 45 miles long and averages 2 miles wide.  Here are a couple of pictures of Kluane Lake.


The wildlife that we saw today was three horses on the road and two bears on a hillside.  Here is the mama horse and colt. Dad was bringing up the rear, making sure the colt got across the road.


A little later we came on this black bear, which is brown, and her black cub.


If you have never driven in the north, you may not know what frost heave is.  Quoting The Milepost, “According to Public Works Yukon, much of the soil along the north Alaska Highway is of glacial origin and unsuitable for road embankments… ‘Anything that causes the permafrost to melt will cause the ice-rich soil to liquefy, and liquid soil has little strength and will settle or subside.  Then if this soil refreezes during lower air temperatures, it will expand or heave.’”

Here is what the highway looks like in patches of frost heave.  Look at the white lines along the sides. It shows where the bumps and dips are.


So what happens in the RV when we drive on these roads?  Look at this.


Again from The Milepost, “Vent-like structures alongside the highway here are part of the Alaska Highway Permafrost Research Project, which is testing specialized construction minimize melting.”   Drivers in future years will benefit if they get this figured out.


The condition of some sections of the road is awful.  But there is almost no traffic, which allows us to go as slow as we want.  Along some stretches of the road today we went between 30 and 40 mph.  Most days John has been staying between 50 and 55.  We have more time to take in the scenery.  Plus, we are getting 13+ miles per gallon at these speeds.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Yukon River Quest

This is the longest canoe and kayak race in the world, 444 miles down the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City.  It began at noon today.  There are 68 teams, 187 paddlers from 13 countries, including Israel and Latvia.  Paddlers range in age from 18 to 80 and go solo and in teams of up to 8 people. 

Just after 9 this morning, paddlers were getting reading for the race.  Boats were on the river edge and gear was being stowed.  The race course crosses Lake Laberge, a 31-mile long widening of the Yukon, the first big hurdle.  The water is very cold and paddlers may encounter waves up to 5 feet high.  It was only 51 degrees when the race began.  They will hit the lake later this evening.



The paddlers mass on the lawn next to the lake and then, at the start signal, they race to their canoes and kayaks.  Within less than 2 minutes the first boats were on their way.  In 7 minutes the last canoe was underway.




There was quite a crowd watching the start, wearing a great variety of clothing.



Some people had signs, supporting their favorite team.


One photographer went all out (into the water) to get his pictures.


Racers go to Carmacks, 112 miles by car, 2 hours 18 minutes, where they have a mandatory 7-hour rest break.  I don’t know how fast the best racers make this part of the trip, but anyone not getting there in 32 hours is disqualified.  The second leg is Carmacks to Dawson City, 219 miles, 5 hours 15 minutes by car.  The record winning time on the water is 42 hours.  I can’t imagine!

If you want to follow the race and see the results, go to: Race to the Midnight Sun

Alaska–Day 42

Yukon government, Yukon River Quest and Yukon history highlighted our day here in Whitehorse.  There was so much, I will split it into two posts.

The Yukon Government building, constructed in 1979, is a very modern looking building.  We visited because The Milepost, the bible for traveling to Alaska, described a mural and tapestry there that we wanted to see.


The 120-foot acrylic resin mural traces the history of the development of Yukon. These pictures in the collage don’t quite fit together, but they are in order, left to right.

2012 June2

We asked at the information desk about the tapestry in the Legislative Chamber, measuring 18 by 12 feet, that is an abstraction of the fireweed plant, Yukon’s floral emblem.  We were given a short tour by Fay, who showed us the chambers and told us something about the legislature.

John and Fay


The assembly has 19 members that are in office for a 5-year term.  There are three political parties, the Yukon Party, which is a ruling (majority) party; the New Democratic Party, the opposition; and the Liberals, who are the third party.  Apparently, the debates in the legislature can be as vigorous as you see on TV in the British parliament.  But, outside of the chamber, Fay says they are friendly to one another.

The banners on the walls show the symbols from the Yukon flag—mountains, streams, mineral resources, and the Cross of St. George representing the British Commonwealth.

We also visited the McBride Museum of Yukon History.  There we saw many of the animals of Yukon, such as the beaver and musk ox.


They have the cabin home of the real Sam McGee.  Robert Service and McGee both worked for the same bank and Service liked McGee’s name.  He asked permission to use it in a poem he was writing, “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”  You can learn more about the poem and Service on the web.


Whitehorse got its name from the rapids on the Yukon River that reminded First Nation people of the manes on white horses.  This hotel sign at the museum shows the white horse symbol of the town.


People living in the wilds of Yukon needed a place to keep their food safe from bears and other wildlife and away from where they were sleeping and eating.  They would build a cache like this for storage.


Today most goods shipped across the oceans and the country by ship, train or truck are placed in containers.  The White Pass and Yukon Railroad developed the first containers to speed and simplify shipment of goods from Yukon to the outside world.


We even saw a sewing machine that was used to make sails for the Klondike stampeders sailing the Yukon River to the gold fields.  I am really partial to Singer sewing machines.  My mother worked for the company, they paid a scholarship that helped with my college expenses, and I own a Singer.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Alaska–Day 41

There are lots of things to see and do in Whitehorse.  when we were here eight years ago, we drove around town, shopped for supplies and did the laundry.  This trip we are spending three days exploring the sights.  On our first trip, just the excitement of being in the RV was often enough.  And we didn’t take the time to really explore and savor what is available.  We have more experience; we also have aged and, hopefully, have a better attitude toward what we are doing.

We visited the largest weather vane in the world, a DC-3 mounted on a pole and perfectly balanced so it rotates to show the wind’s direction.  We saw it rotate while we were there.  Amazing! The Douglas DC-3 is called the Model T of airplanes.  First used in 1936, by 1938 it was carrying 95% of US freight and was in use in 30 countries.  This particular plane was built in 1942 and after use by the US military during World War II, in 1946 it was converted to civilian use and sold to Canadian Pacific Airline.  It made it’s last run in the Yukon in 1970. 


Our next stop was the SS Klondike, a steam-powered sternwheeler that carried ore, supplies and passengers on the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City from the 1930s through 1955.  River boats were put out of business when the Alaska highway was opened to civilian traffic after WWII.  Roads were open 12 months a year.  The river was only ice-free for five months each year.


When we first went to Banff National Park, we bought annual Canadian National Park passes.  We used them to come and go from Banff, Waterton Lakes, Jasper and Icefields Parkway National Parks.  The Klondike is a national monuments and so our passes covered the expense of tickets—$6 each.  We got our money’s worth from the passes.

We had a really good tour leader and learned so much today. We learned about the steam boiler that moved the ship.  Here are the steam tubes at the rear of the boiler.

steam tubes

Each hour the boiler burned one cord of wood—shown here.  The fireman worked a four-hour shift, rested eight hours, then was at work again.  He had to throw one log into the firebox every 30 seconds.  This pile is one cord of wood.  Since the upstream trip from Dawson City of Whitehorse took four days, think of how much wood it took.  The boat made several stops along the way to pick up wood.


This photograph shows a huge wood pile somewhere along the river.  Earlier on this trip, we learned that John’s great-great grandfather was a wood-cutter, supplying fuel to river boats on the Missouri River in Montana.

wood stacks

The crew used a wheel barrow to move the wood on board, 1/3 cord at a time, weighing 800 pounds.

1/3 cord of wood

In addition to wood, the boat carried food to Dawson City, which had no land access to the outside world.  It also carried silver ore to Whitehorse for shipment by rail and ship to smelters in Idaho.


Kegs of beer were on board for the crew and passengers and for delivery to towns along the river.

beer barrels

Bags of silver ore were shipped to Whitehorse, then moved by rail and ship to a smelter in Idaho.

loaded silver sacks

These are bales of burlap bags which were used to ship the silver ore.

empty silver sacks

Mail also was shipped on the river.

mail bags

This is called the telegraph, a wheel attached to cables and pulleys that allowed the pilot in the wheel house on top of the ship to communicate with the crew in the engine room, two decks below.

telegraph to the pilot house

Here is the other end of the telegraph, in the wheel house.


This is the emergency brake, used when the crew needed to stop the boat in a hurry.  It took five men to move this brake lever.

emergency brake--5 men

This is the observation room where 1st class passengers could enjoy the scenery and relax.

observation room

These are photos of the kitchen, where meals were cooked for passenger and crew, and the pantry for the food they would eat.