1
Waterford

So here we go again. Some people might think that driving a motor home to Alaska from Pennsylvania even once is a little crazy. We did that in the summer of 2016 to celebrate my retirement from full time practice of family medicine. It was the fulfillment of a longtime dream for Barb and me. We were on the road for 12 weeks, by far the longest trip that either of us had ever taken. We had a wonderful time, albeit not without challenges, and it seemed like we talked about the trip almost every day afterwards. During that trip we were joined for two weeks by our good friends John and Linda Stempka, who had flown up and rented an RV for the two weeks. They enjoyed the experience so much that in 2017 they bought a motor home themselves and they took a couple good excursions last year.

John has been in the process of retirement now for several months and he is making it official in just three more days. He told me last year that he wanted to do a motor home trip to Alaska when he formally retired. Well, I volunteered for us to go along too, caravan style, and so here we go again.

On our last Alaskan trip we traveled in our 2008 Thor Hurricane, a 31 foot Class A gas engine motor home. Early this spring we decided to trade in the old girl on a slightly newer unit. Our “new “ motor home is a 2012 Winnebago Access Premier, a 31 foot Class C gas engine rig. We have taken it out for only one trip so far, to Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains. We are very pleased with how it rides and drives, significantly smoother and quieter than our previous motor home. Being a Class C configuration, it feels more like you are driving a pickup truck rather than a bus. You are sitting down lower in a smaller cab. It is far less intimidating for Barb to drive and so the hope is that she will be able to share more of the driving. We shall see.

We will be towing our 2014 Honda CRV. We had to replace our auxiliary braking system for towing and get the new motor home wired up for it, which was our major expense in preparing for the trip. We have been busy loading the motor home for the past several days with food, clothing, cooking utensils, tools, and everything else that we think we will need for a three month trip. As always, there will be things that seemed essential that we never used as well as needs that arose that were unanticipated, but that’s just how things go.

Our route this time will be a little different initially. On our last trip we traveled north through Michigan and then across the UP and along the south shore of Lake Superior and along US 2 into North Dakota. This time we are going through Chicago and across I-90 to the Black Hills of South Dakota, then going north into North Dakota. Again we will be going to Glacier, Banff, and Jasper National Parks on our way to the start of the Alaska Highway.

We plan on leaving in the morning on Sunday, June 17, with our first night destination being Elkhart, IN. Barb, Kate, and I will have an additional passenger for that first day. Barb’s mother will be traveling with us as far as Elkhart to meet up and stay for a while with Barb’s brother Dave, who lives nearby.

John and Linda will also have additional passengers on the trip. Their granddaughter Andrea will be traveling to Alaska with them. We are looking forward to having her along and seeing the experience again through her eyes. Their son and two other grandchildren will fly up and join us for a little while later on in the summer.

I am writing the blog this time on yet another format, through this Journo app. Hopefully it will be more user friendly than the blog host that I used on our western trip in 2017.

Thanks for reading and I hope that you will stick with us on this long trip.

The Winnebago, just about ready to roll down the driveway.

2
RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum

Finally, we are on our way! We have been counting down the days, then counting down the hours, and now the time to go is finally here.

We were up and on the road this morning by 8:30. First stop was to pick up Barb’s mom, after which we hooked up the Honda for towing. We drove 340 miles, all of it on I-90, on which we will continue until we get to the far side of South Dakota.

We arrived about 5:00 at the RV Museum and Hall of Fame in Elkhart, IN. We will spend the night here, without any utility hookups, which is sometimes called “boondocking “ by RV’ers. That works out fine for a night here and there, except that the temperature when we got here was well into the 90’s. Our RVs have air conditioning but we will have to run our generators for a while. We connected with Barb’s brother David here, and we all went out for dinner, which allowed us to escape the heat until evening.

We have been to the museum here before but John and Linda have not. The museum closes early on Sundays so we will visit when they open tomorrow morning.

The drive today was just great, blue skies, dry roads, and no traffic issues. Its been all flat land across northern Ohio and Indiana with large, good looking crop fields, mostly corn and soybeans.

It couldn’t have been a better Father’s Day.

Helping Barb’s mom into the camper.

The whole group at dinner, except Kate, who took the picture.

The RV museum

Its a nice, scenic facility, a nice place to spend the night.

Here we are, boondocking, us on the left, John and Linda on the right.

3
5740 Sky High Dr, Portage, WI 53901, USA

First thing this morning we made our visit to the RV Museum. The museum certainly has a unique collection of vintage and historical camping units of all types. Elkhart, you know, is the location of several major RV manufacturers.

After that we got on the road and put in 300 miles to our location tonight in Wisconsin, about 30 miles north of Madison. It was a less pleasant drive today. We had to get through the Chicago area, which means about two hours of heavy traffic with many big trucks and aggressive urban drivers. I compared it to a root canal; its something that you have to do, there’s no getting around it, you just have to endure it. And Illinois is all toll roads, but the kind of toll road where you have to go through a toll booth every so often and give them more money just to stay on the same road. I think we had seven toll booths

Once we hit Wisconsin the toll booths ended and the traffic was lighter but there was a long stretch of road construction. We did stop and go to a cheese store, I mean we’re in Wisconsin, come on. Then we ran into a heavy rain storm near Madison. We finally pulled off of the interstate to go to a campground. The campground that we decided on turned out to be kind of off the beaten path but I think we were all just happy to be off the road. We made a quick supper before the rain started again.

So today we completed a part of the trip that I wasn’t really looking forward to but now that we have that behind us I think the driving will get more pleasant and more interesting every day.

At the RV Museum

That doesn’t look like a very comfortable seat.

At the RV Museum

A vintage truck camper on a Studebaker pickup truck.

At the RV Museum

Finally off the road at a campground in Wisconsin. More rain is on the way tonight.

Kate and Andrea helping John, making something on his portable grill.

4
11275 377th Ave, Blue Earth, MN 56013, USA

The rainy weather continued by varying degrees all day today but we still had a pretty good day. We drove about 270 miles and we are camping tonight at a city owned campground adjacent to the county fairgrounds in Blue Earth, Minnesota. Its about half way across southern Minnesota on I-90. I know that we still have almost 3000 miles until we reach Alaska but today at least it feels like we are making progress.There was quite a bit of forest as we drove through Wisconsin whereas the countryside here is much more open, with huge farm fields. Like Garrison Keillor used to say on his radio program, we are “out there on the edge of the prairie.”

If you haven’t spent time in the upper Midwest you might not be too familiar with the Wisconsin Dells, but for the folks in this region it is a big destination. They say that its the water park capital and I can believe that. Another iconic attraction of the Dells is the duck boat tours of the Wisconsin River and its sandstone bluffs. The duck boats are old amphibious landing craft used by the US military during WW II and the Korean War. Despite the heavy rain this morning we took a tour. They drove us along trails through the woods and then down into the river. We saw some wildlife; deer, turkeys, and herons. We enjoyed the experience. There is lots to do at the Dells, but we needed to move along.

As we crossed Minnesota we saw the billboard for the Spam Museum in Austin, MN, home of the Hormel company. We stopped in to check it out. Its a really nice, upbeat place. You come out of there feeling pretty good about Spam after all. We ended up buying four cans in the gift shop but we didn’t buy any Spam tee shirts. I never knew that there were so many flavors and permutations of the classic canned meat product. They said that two thirds of their sales are in Asia.

Blue Earth, MN, used to have a Green Giant food plant, but I guess the company has left town. They still have the 60 foot Jolly Green Giant statue, right by the entrance to the fairgrounds.

After we got the campers set up it started raining very hard again, so maybe we will just watch a movie in the camper tonight.

Duck boat.

On the river.

On the river.

The sandstone bluffs.

The sandstone bluffs.

At the Spam Museum.

At the Spam Museum.

At the Spam Museum.

At the Spam Museum.

Camping at the fairgrounds.

The Jolly Green Giant of Blue Earth, Minnesota.

5
Chamberlain

We left Blue Earth, MN this morning and drove another 270 miles due west on I-90, much of the time driving in heavy rain. Fortunately it improved to just intermittent showers as we approached our destination for tonight. We are near Chamberlain, South Dakota, about half way across the state, at the campground of Al’s Oasis.

Chamberlain is where the St. Joseph Indian School is and much of the population is Lakota Sioux. We visited the Lakota museum on the grounds of the school and tribal land. There were excellent displays of information and artifacts.

Chamberlain sits on the banks of the Missouri River. The landscape along both sides of the river is very undulating with small hills and valleys. I guess that’s what they call coulees. It looks very western.

We got here early enough to get the laundry done, and Andrea got to swim in the pool between rain showers. I made a visit to the local NAPA auto parts store. I seem to have left the gasoline cap for the motor home at a gas station yesterday. I knew I was going to do that some day.

Flat, open grassland of South Dakota.

The Lakota Museum.

At the Lakota Museum.

Statue at the visitor center on the bluff overlooking the Missouri River.

View of the Missouri River from the bluff.

6
25175 US-385, Custer, SD 57730, USA

Today we finally have dry weather and blue skies again, and pleasant temperatures, too. We put in another 270 miles today, west on I-90 still, to the western side of South Dakota and the Black Hills.

We are in Custer, SD, at Buffalo Ridge Campground. We will be staying for two nights. We like the Black Hills and even though we’ve been here before we \240decided to take a day to see the sights. Besides, its all new here for Andrea.

There was very little wind today so we cruised across the South Dakota prairie with no difficulty. We stopped and toured the Badlands National Park and had an Indian taco for lunch at the visitor center. The badlands are just such a unique place.

We arrived at our campground in late afternoon and after supper we went into Custer State Park and drove the wildlife loop road. The wildlife loop is an 18 mile road that winds through a mixture of grasslands and pine speckled hills and is managed for wildlife, including a large free-ranging bison herd. We saw lots of bison, deer, and antelope, and of course the burros. Andrea fed them some carrots and drew a mob of burros, which she said was “AWE-SOME!”

And then to top off another good day we stopped in town for pie and ice cream before calling it a night.

Our merry band of travelers.

Amazing badlands

Rolling along.

The Winnebago in the badlands.

On a short trail.

More badlands scenery.

Love those badlands.

Bighorn sheep in the badlands.

Intrepid explorer.

Bison in Custer State Park.

Pronghorn antelope in Custer State Park

Bison wrecking a small tree.

Andrea and the burros.

Bison on the move.

7
25175 US-385, Custer, SD 57730, USA

Today was our day for site seeing in the area and we were blessed with continued good weather.

This morning John and Linda wanted to take Andrea to see Mount Rushmore, but Barb and I deferred. Its an iconic place for sure but we have been there a few times already. Kate decided to go with them while Barb and I visited the small downtown in Custer. We looked in a couple stores for wet-weather shoes for Barb and enjoyed a coffee shop that was in a former bank from the gold rush era. Custer was quite a hopping place in those days, according to the stories of the coffee shop owner.

We then drove the Needles Highway in the state park. The Needles Highway is a winding scenic road that takes you up into the mountains and through a section with odd rocky spires, hence the name. There are several narrow one-lane tunnels, tight hair pin turns, and steep drop offs, but it is beautiful.

Meanwhile, after visiting Mount Rushmore, the others went on a helicopter ride! That was a first for Katie.

We all met up again at the Crazy Horse Memorial. The Crazy Horse Memorial is a project of the Lakota Sioux, carving a statue of Crazy Horse out of a mountain, kind of like Mount Rushmore. Its an admirable goal but progress seems to be very slow. The visitor center is large and well done and interesting in its own right.

The plan for this evening is a return to the wildlife loop after supper. Tomorrow we will be traveling north, into North Dakota.

A relaxing cup of coffee in Custer.

Mount Rushmore on a beautiful morning.

Photo taken from the trail at the base.

The helicopter trip.

Happy Kate in the helicopter.

Aerial photo.

Aerial photo.

Along the Needles Highway.

The rocky spires.

Narrow tunnel entrance.

Tunnel.

Waiting our turn at another tunnel.

The Crazy Horse Memorial.

The Crazy Horse visitor center.

At the visitor center.

Dinner at the campground

Two whitetail bucks in velvet.

Herd of bison.

8
Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Today we traveled almost due north, 280 miles, through western South Dakota into North Dakota. We were mostly on secondary roads with only a little bit of interstate driving. What a beautiful drive! There must have been a hundred miles or more that we drove through unbroken rolling grasslands and buttes, stretching to all horizons, with very little human disturbance. There were scattered herds of cattle, a herd of bison, numerous pronghorn antelope, and both whitetail and mule deer. We stopped for lunch somewhere in the middle, at a roadside historical marker. That was about the only place we found to pull off the road.

We arrived at our campground in Medora, North Dakota, at about 4 PM and set up camp. Its kind of a muddy, crowded campground, but oh well, it will do for a couple days. Medora is on the edge of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Medora itself is quite a small town, really. The main street through town is only about three blocks long.

After supper we visited the National Park. The scenery is beautiful, with badlands formations, grasslands, sage and juniper. We saw numerous bison, mule deer, some wild horses, and literally thousands of prairie dogs. While standing at an overlook in the evening we could hear coyotes howling off in the distance, which was pretty cool.

We are going to stay here for two nights and enjoy the National Park some more. We may have more rain tomorrow, which will probably make our campground even more muddy.

Grasslands along the drive today.

Stopped for lunch.

Historical marker.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The red mud of Medora.

9
Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Today was our day to spend more time in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Rain was in the forecast but it held off until supper time.

We started the morning at the park visitor center. In addition to displays and information about the natural history of the park there was quite a bit of space dedicated to Teddy Roosevelt. He came to this area seeking to experience the frontier and to heal emotionally after his wife died in childbirth and his mother died on the same day. He hunted and had a cattle ranch here, and sought to “live the strenuous life “, in his words. He was a remarkable person. His cabin is preserved here near the visitor center.

Next we drove up into the park and took a few short hikes. We all needed to get some exercise after so much time in travel. It makes a difference to experience the park on foot at walking speed.

While we still had a little time and energy we walked the couple blocks of Medora’s business district. About that time a thunderstorm hit so we retreated back to camp for supper.

It was the kind of day that makes you reflect on your blessings; the opportunity to travel, the health to walk a trail, the vision to see the beautiful surroundings.

Tomorrow morning we will pack up again and head for Montana.

At the visitor center.

Teddy Roosevelt’s cabin.

On a trail.

Spectacular views, worth the walk.

10
11 US-2, Glasgow, MT 59230, USA

There was a bit of excitement in the campground last night. We had that thunderstorm that I mentioned. Well, at about 11:30 PM there was a loud crash two campers down the line from John’s. A large tree bough broke and fell on somebody’s camper. Fortunately it seems that there was only cosmetic damage.

We took a shorter drive today, only 210 miles, just to have an afternoon for chores like laundry and so on. Except for about 30 miles on I-94 we traveled on secondary roads in a northwesterly direction through the big sky country of Montana. The terrain was more grasslands with some occasional hills and buttes. There were some vast crop fields in the second half, with wheat and soybeans, lots of soybeans. What do they do with them all anyway?

We are camping tonight at the Cottonwood Inn and RV Park in Glasgow, MT. There is nothing special about Glasgow, as far as I can tell. Its just a typical western small town, on the railroad line, with grain elevators and tractor dealerships. There is one medium size grocery store, which we patronized.

We have had dry, warm, sunny weather all day today, which is much appreciated. There was a nice breeze this evening, perfect for sitting outside, enjoying a cup of coffee and a camp chair.

The broken tree incident.

The muddy campground in Medora this morning.

Barb drove the motor home for a while today...

... while Katie and Miley rode shotgun.

Big sky country in Montana.

The sunny dry campground this evening in Glasgow.

11
Comfort Inn Gateway to Glacier

Last night’s pleasant breeze that I mentioned kicked up quite a bit today, with gusts to 35 mph, which made driving the motor home challenging at times. On the other hand we had sunny weather and dry roads with little traffic.

We traveled 260 miles almost due west today on US 2 to the town of Shelby, MT. Shelby is about the size of Edinboro. We passed through several very small towns and the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation along the way. The towns are pretty much utilitarian and provide the essentials for making a living here on the northern plains and are definitely not touristy.

The countryside was pretty much the same as we have been seeing for the past couple days. I can now see some mountains off in the distance. I don’t know if those are the Rocky Mountains yet but we are only 90 miles from Glacier National Park so maybe they are. We will be at Glacier for the next two nights.

John and Linda are celebrating their wedding anniversary today, here in Shelby, Montana. You just never know where the adventures of life and marriage will lead.

Our campground here is part of a Comfort Inn hotel so we took advantage of the indoor pool and hot tub this evening.

We have been on the road now for ten days and we have traveled about 2100 miles, which means that we are a little past half way to Alaska, distance wise.

Fields and flat terrain.

Distant mountains.

Our camper, with the town of Shelby in the background.

12
Glacier National Park

Barb and I walked the dog this morning to the top of the hill above our campground and found a nice memorial park dedicated to the local sons and daughters who served our country in the military. Nicely done.

About an hour into the drive today the front range of the Rockys came into view, no doubts about it this time, with jagged snow capped peaks. It took more than another hour before we actually got there, but we have arrived at Glacier National Park.

We are camping just outside the St. Mary entrance to the park, which is on the east side. The view from our campsite is spectacular, and so striking after all those days of crossing the plains.

After setting up camp we went to the visitor center, then traveled several miles up into the mountains. After supper we went back for a presentation by the Blackfeet tribe, with traditional drumming and dancing.

I received word late last night that my brother passed away. It was not unexpected, but still the finality hits hard. He was diagnosed about a month ago with terminal cancer of the esophagus. He left this life peacefully and without pain at the home of his daughter in his beloved Smoky Mountains. He had spent most of his psychology career practicing there.

Scott was the epitome of a person who lives in the moment. Material things meant very little to him, only relationships, good laughs, and good memories. He had no enemies and his exploits will always be remembered fondly by those who knew him.

Funeral plans are unsettled at present. His wishes were for cremation and a memorial service. For now, we will continue the trip and adjust our plans as needed.

Rest in peace, brother.

Veterans memorial in Shelby.

Veterans memorial in Shelby.

Rocky Mountains in the distance, for real this time.

At the park entrance.

View in the park.

View in the park.

View in the park.

View from our campground.

View from our campground.

Presentation by Blackfeet tribal members.

13
Glacier National Park

First thing this morning John and I took the Honda and drove to the closest town, Browning, to buy a couple eye bolts and washers at the hardware store. Browning is on the reservation and is a predominately Native American town. I have a rock screen that fits between the motor home and car when we are towing, to help prevent stones from damaging the car. When I went to put it on a couple days ago I realized that when I changed motor homes I didn’t put the mounting hardware on the new motor home. No problem, we drilled some holes and installed the new hardware in no time.

In the meantime, Linda and Andrea did a horse ride. Andrea was a little spooked by how steep the trail was.

We spent most of the day traveling on the famous Going to the Sun road, the only road that goes across the spine of the park, east to west. It is thirty some miles long and winds along the side of the mountains, up and over the continental divide, and down the other side. There are vertical drop-offs in places and blind curves with spots that are barely wide enough for two cars. The views are amazing. It has to be one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the world. There was snow along the sides at the higher elevations. The road just opened for the season a few days ago.

We saw a group of Bighorn sheep and the highlight of the trip was a grizzly bear, not too far off the road. We were able to get some good bear pictures but no pictures of the Bighorn sheep this time.

When we got to the west side at the town of West Glacier there was a tourism/visitor center from the Canadian province of Alberta, which is our destination tomorrow. The young lady there was able to give us some good information, including a heads up about a wild fire close to our planned route a few days from now. We will have to check in to that further.

There was a bobsled on display there that was used by the Canadian team in the ‘88 Calgary Olympics. Barb and I got to try it out, but it remained stationary, of course.

Along the Going to the Sun road.

Along the Going to the Sun road.

Along the Going to the Sun road.

Along the Going to the Sun road.

Along the Going to the Sun road.

Along the Going to the Sun road. At the Logan Pass visitor center.

Along the Going to the Sun road.

First grizzly bear of the trip.

Didn’t make the bobsled team.

14
Banff Ave, Banff, AB T0L, Canada

We left Glacier National Park Park this morning and in only twenty miles we left the USA and entered the province of Alberta. The border crossing went smoothly for both us and the Stempka’s.

We stopped in the first town and exchanged some money at a bank. We traveled due north through ranch land for about the next 100 miles. We saw quite a few mule deer.

There are only three major cities that we have to negotiate on our route to Alaska; Cleveland, Chicago, and Calgary. Today was the day for Calgary. I wasn’t too certain how best to get around the city, so I trusted in the GPS. I discovered too late that the GPS preferred to take us through the city rather than around it. It wasn’t fun but we made it.

After Calgary we had another 80 miles to Banff and it was along this stretch that we did have a small mishap. We were going about 60 mph with John following closely behind me when a black wolf ran out in front of me at a full run. We had to brake hard to avoid hitting it, and while the wolf made out fine, however, Linda happened to be standing up in their camper at that moment and took a hard fall. Tonight she is pretty sore.

We are camping in Banff for the next three nights. The town of Banff is in the national park of the same name. Its a beautiful alpine town, sort of upscale touristy, and very popular. Its a bad time to be here because its Canada Day weekend and the area is very crowded with people. That’s why we are here for three days, all the campgrounds are full and require at least a two night stay.

The campground here is kind of odd. Your campsite is just a spot along the interior campground road, you just pull over to the side, with only an electricity hook up. The surrounding mountains are beautiful.

In the evening we went downtown and joined the throngs, mostly window shopping, but we did stop for ice cream. Then, before calling it a night, we stopped to have a look at the waterfall on the Bow River, which runs through town.

At the border crossing. Starting the Canadian portion of our trip.

Huge yellow field of canola.

Wild sunflowers.

No, this part wasn’t much fun.

Misty rain on the mountains near Banff.

Our odd campsite in Banff.

Mountain view from the campground.

Mountain view from the campground.

Ice cream in downtown Banff.

Bow River falls.

Bow River.

15
Banff

First thing this morning we did a hike at Johnston’s Canyon. Its a popular hike and I knew it would get crowded so we started out early. Sure enough, by the time we were done there was no parking left. Don’t come to Banff on a Canadian holiday.

Its a nice walk through a cool canyon along a rushing glacial stream. Barb, Kate, and I went as far as the lower falls, about a mile and a half hike, while John, Linda, and Andrea went all the way to the upper falls, about three miles.

After supper we went out on a loop of side roads looking for wildlife. We saw a number of elk, some deer, and one Bighorn sheep.

I bought gas for the car today in Banff. At $1.31 per liter that’s approximately $5.20 per gallon. Of course that’s in Canadian dollars, so its about $3.90 per gallon US. The price is likely to be higher when we are farther north.

At the trailhead.

Along the trail through the canyon.

The lower falls.

The upper falls.

Elk near the campground.

Elk near the campground.

Elk calf.

Whitetail deer near the campground.

Kind of scruffy looking Bighorn sheep that we saw.

View of Banff from an overlook.

16
600 Banff Ave, Banff, AB T0L, Canada

Well, Happy Canada Day.

Due to a quirk in scheduling (my fault) we didn’t have our same campsite reservation for all three nights in Banff. We had to change to a different part of the same general campground complex today. The problem was that we had to check out of one site by 11 AM and we couldn’t check into the next site until 2 PM, and the big Canada Day parade was exactly those same hours.

We threaded our big, clumsy rigs through the packed side streets because the main streets were closed for the parade. We parked them, barely, in the lot at the Bow River falls. We left them there and drove the cars to the base of the Sulfur Mountain gondola lift. Kate and the Stempka’s rode the gondola up to the top of the mountain while Barb and I went back and kept an eye on our campers.

They had a good time on the mountain, had pizza in the cafe, and saw Bighorn sheep. They said it was pretty cold up there and it actually snowed, on July first!

Our new campsite is back in the woods, more rustic, with no utility hookups. They give you free firewood here, but our sites don’t have any fire rings.

I haven’t heard whether or not there will be fireworks tonight. Maybe there would be too much risk for a forest fire. It wouldn’t get dark enough until probably 11:00, which is past my bedtime anyway.

There they go.

At the gondola base. No, those aren’t real Bighorn sheep.

View from the gondola.

Our new campsite.

Two Jack Lake, nearby.

Mountain sheep.

Elk in meadow.

It seems like it rains for 10 minutes every hour.

17
26 Folding Mountain Village, Yellowhead County, AB T0E 1E0, Canada

I’m happy to say that we left the town of Banff today. Its a nice place and all, its just that with the crowds and the holiday it wasn’t the type of camping experience that we were seeking.

So we headed north through Banff and Jasper National Parks. The parks are contiguous with each other and make about a 200 mile drive through spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery. Along the way we saw elk and deer and a black bear. In the morning we had both sunshine and intermittent rain when a fine misty rain would drift down from the mountains. Toward midday these conditions caused one of the weirdest weather events that I have ever seen. The sun was shining down through one these mists and cast a rainbow underneath it, right at treetop level. It lit up the forest like it was ablaze. I took pictures but they don’t do it justice.

We splurged a bit and stopped at the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre, This is a place in the park at 9,000 ft elevation, where a glacier descends from a large mountaintop icefield. They take you out on these specially built glacier buggies onto the glacier and let you get out and walk where they have marked it out as safe from crevasses. It was very cold, 37 degrees, and snowing lightly. Kate and Andrea even drank some of the glacial melt water. No thanks.

One side of the glacier is bordered by Mount Snowdome, which sits at the point of three continental divides. Run off from Mount Snowdome goes to the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Arctic oceans.

After the glacier they shuttled us to a skywalk. This was a semicircular glass bottomed walkway cantilevered out 900 feet above a canyon. We could see a white mountain goat working his way along a ledge below us.

As we continued our drive from there it rained continuously and remained pretty cold. We could see that the mountains had fresh snow and not too far above us either. I even saw a snow plow go by. This is the area where there was concern that a forest fire might alter our plans, but it looks like that will not be an issue.

Not long past the far border of Jasper National Park we stopped for the night at our campground. Its cold and raining and we are staying in for the night. Despite the weather, I’m pleased to be here and hopefully leaving the crowds behind.

Typical scenery on this morning’s drive.

Scenery this morning.

The strange rainbow this morning.

Arriving at the glacier.

At the glacier.

At the glacier.

Folks getting a drink from the melt water.

The glacier from a distance.

From the skywalk.

At the skywalk.

Its a weird angle, but this is looking straight down at a mountain goat.

The skywalk.

The skywalk.

Snow on the mountains.

18
Grande Prairie

Drenching rain continued all day today. We left from Jasper Gates RV Resort this morning, stopped in the next town of Hinton for gas, and then headed north about 220 miles through the small town of Grande Cache to the small city of Grande Prairie, Alberta.

Almost all of the drive was through evergreen and aspen forest with very little development. There was logging activity and mining and oil and gas drilling operations but no other businesses and almost no homes. The traffic was light. The only wildlife that we saw was a dead elk and a dead moose, both hit by vehicles.

The road was steep in areas and rough in others. It wasn’t an easy drive today.

We stopped and made lunch at the visitor center in Grande Cache. There was a nice little local museum there, with old photos and animal mounts.

We didn’t think we would need reservations at a campground on a rainy midweek day but we were turned away at the first place and called three others before we got a campsite. It was starting to look like we would be sleeping in the Walmart parking lot.

Our campground tonight is right in Grande Prairie, the Rotary RVPark, tucked into a corner of the campus of Grande Prairie Regional College. Its a nice little campground, next to a stream.

We are going to stay here for two nights to take care of chores before we start on the Alaska Highway.

The first road sign for Alaska

The Grande Cache visitor center.

Inside the visitor center

This canoe is 100 years old.

Former ranger station.

One of many construction areas.

Our campsite in Grande Prairie.

The stream by our campsites.

19
Grande Prairie

Happy Fourth of July!

Yesterday John’s Durango was making a loud clanking sound, like he was leaving the church on his honeymoon, dragging cans behind his car. Turns out on our rough drive yesterday he got stones up into his front wheels. He dug them out last night. His motor home has a solid rubber mud flap that goes all the way across the rear of his camper. We concluded that it was dragging on the ground and kicking up gravel when we went through construction zones. This morning we crawled under the camper and removed it, cut several inches off of the bottom with a hacksaw blade, and put it back on. Another bush fix accomplished.

Grande Prairie is about half the size of Erie and has grown rapidly in the past two decades due to the oil and gas extraction. It is a bustling place with a young population and lots of modern shopping and restaurants, although prices here are high. The ladies bought groceries, etc. , to get us restocked before we start the Alaska Highway tomorrow. Despite being in a city there are various reminders that we are far north, like the ravens and magpies and at 10:30 when we went to bed it was still very light outside.

We found out that our campground is a small part of an 1100 acre city park, Muskoseepi Park, from a Cree word meaning Bear Creek. There is a paved trail system that passes right by the campground, so Barb, Linda, Andrea, and I walked a couple miles of the trail today, enjoying our much improved weather. A part of the path had a stationary bike and other exercise equipment beside the trail.

We celebrated the fourth by having supper together picnic style.

Along the Muskoseepi trail system.

Along the trail.

Along the trail.

Along the trail.

Along the trail.

Happy Fourth of July.

20
Charlie Lake

It wasn’t long after we left Grande Prairie before we crossed into the province of British Columbia this morning, so now we are on Pacific time, three hours behind the folks back home.

Later in the morning we reached Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and the official start of the Alaska Highway. The highway is about 1500 miles long, from Dawson Creek, BC, to Delta Junction in Alaska. It was built in 1942 by the army in only nine months, on a mad rush to establish a land route to Alaska to counter the Japanese threat in WWII. It was a muddy mess for a while and wasn’t open to civilian use until some years later.

We stopped for pictures at the sign, the same sign that is on the title screen of the blog. There is actually a more official Mile “0” sign just around the corner, so I got a picture of that, too.

After lunch in the campers at Mile “0” we drove on another hour or two to a provincial park, Charlie Lake. It is woodsy and rustic with no utility hookups but all the mosquitoes you could ever want. . We finally have a campfire tonight. Would you believe its the first one of the trip, on day 19? \240We always either had rain or no fire ring every where that we camped.

So now we are finally on the Alaska Highway. We have driven over 3100 miles and we have about 1250 miles to the first town in Alaska.

Leaving Grande Prairie.

Entering British Columbia.

The Mile “0” Park in Dawson Creek.

The original Mile “0” sign post.

A large field of canola.

Getting a lesson in Dutch oven cooking, chocolate cherry cake.

Charlie Lake campsite.

Aspen forest.

Charlie Lake.

21
Fort Nelson

Today we drove about 230 miles north on the Alaska Highway to our campground in Fort Nelson, British Columbia. We got a fairly early start because we wanted to stop for breakfast at the Shepherd Inn. Its basically a truck stop but they are known for their large blueberry pancakes. A standard order is three pancakes but I don’t know who could eat that many. We all ordered only two and none of us could finish them. They were loaded with blueberries. I should have taken a picture!

On our way to the breakfast place a good sized black bear loped across the road in front of me, our second black bear of the trip.

We didn’t see anymore wildlife today. The road was in good shape but with several long, steep hills. The countryside was almost all forest, a mix of aspen and spruce. There was still a lot of logging and oil and gas work going on but very few businesses or homes.

After we checked into our campground the ladies went to visit a quilt shop nearby while John and I found a place to buy a fishing license for tomorrow. We ate supper at the campground restaurant, which wasn’t very good, and then got caught up with the laundry at the campground laundromat.

Going down the road.

A ribbon of asphalt in a sea of green.

Laundry time.

The Fort Nelson Heritage Museum next door to the campground.

Steelers fans are everywhere, even at a campground in Fort Nelson.

22
Muncho Lake Provincial Park

It was a good day on the Alaska Highway.

We traveled today from Fort Nelson to Muncho Lake, about 150 miles. We crossed two mountains and a few rivers. The road through this stretch is kind of bumpy but otherwise in good shape, with a tar and chip type of pavement that they call seal-coat. Truck traffic was light, maybe because it is Saturday. Traffic in general was quite light and mostly campers.

Today was the day that we passed the cinnamon bun place, Tetsa River Campground. Their sign says they are the galactic center of the cinnamon bun universe. We stopped, of course, and indulged. They really are great cinnamon buns, but maybe the setting has something to do with it, too. The place is in a log cabin, off the grid, and they have to generate their own electricity.

It was a good day for seeing wildlife, and we got pictures this time. We saw caribou twice, a black bear, mountain sheep, and a marmot.

We are camping in a provincial park right on Muncho Lake. The scenery is beautiful. The water is a Caribbean turquoise color and surrounded by steep mountains. There are no utility hookups and no cell service. This is the kind of place that makes all of the effort worthwhile.

John and I fished in the lake this afternoon. He caught a pretty nice lake trout, about 15” long, but nothing for me, yet.

We had a nice campfire together tonight until the bugs chased us in.

This guy was in front of us leaving Fort Nelson. Looks pretty loaded down and not expecting to see any gas stations.

Along the way. View point on Summit Mountain.

The cinnamon bun place.

One for each of us.

View along the way.

Caribou.

Marmot on the run

Stone sheep. \240

View along the way.

View along the way.

Black bear.

Caribou.

Caribou.

Nice campsite.

Fishing in Muncho Lake.

John’s lake trout.

Turquoise water.

Muncho Lake.

Glacial moraine.

Everybody left the campfire, except Miley.

23
Watson Lake

It was another beautiful day on the Alaska Highway. We only did 160 miles today, just rolling along and enjoying the trip. We had one stretch of construction, maybe 3-4 miles, where we had to wait and then follow a pilot car through a very dusty resurfacing project, otherwise the road was good. Its amazing and uplifting to drive through mile after mile of wilderness

We saw more wildlife today, a few groups of stone sheep and several groups of bison. The signs said that these are wood bison, l guess they must be different somehow from plains bison, but not really to my untrained eyes.

Today we stopped and enjoyed the hot springs at Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park. We stopped here on our previous trip and it was worth repeating. A hot soak feels pretty good after 3500 miles of driving.

We are “camping “ tonight in Watson Lake, Yukon. Our campsite has full hookups but is otherwise a gravel parking lot. That’s okay, we get our scenery out on the road. We’re just glad for the hookups, since last night at Muncho Lake we were totally off the grid, including no cell service.

A unique thing about Watson Lake is the signpost forest. It is a tradition to post a sign with your home town as you are passing through. The traditional was started during construction of the Alaska Highway by a homesick soldier. The last figure that I saw was 85,000 signs present. We didn’t have a sign last trip but we were prepared this time, as were the Stempka’s.

Stone sheep along the road.

Stone sheep.

Herd of Wood Bison.

The boardwalk to the hot spring.

The hot spring pool.

Hot waterfall uphill from the pool.

Where the hot water bubbles out of the ground.

Typical scenery today

At the Yukon border.

Our sign is in place.

The signpost forest.

The story.

Equipment used in building the Alcan Highway, 1942.

Equipment used in building the Alcan Highway, 1942.

This is our campground, not a used RV lot.

24
Whitehorse

Today we drove another 270 miles, a longer drive today, from Watson Lake, Yukon, to Whitehorse, Yukon. I have to say, so far at least, the Alaska Highway is in much better shape than when we came this way in 2016.

We stopped for a break in mid-morning and took a walk to Rancheria Falls.

We stopped for lunch in the small native village of Teslin. John and I bought Yukon fishing licenses there and we toured their heritage center. The folks there are Tlingit, the totem pole people. Tlingit are mostly coastal natives, but there are a few settlements like this one that are inland, where their ancestors would travel up rivers to trade with other tribes of inland natives. In one interesting station there was a native lady demonstrating medicinal plants that she gathered and uses.

We saw three black bears today along the road. No other wildlife but that was good enough.

We stopped for the night just outside of Whitehorse at the Caribou RV Park. After supper John, Andrea, and I went fishing in the Yukon River while the ladies went to look around Whitehorse. We had good success fishing. I landed four arctic grayling and hooked into several others. John and Andrea each landed one and lost others. Its hard to keep them on the hook! We kept four fish.

We’re getting close to Alaska now and anxious to get there.

At Rancheria Falls

At Rancheria Falls

At Rancheria Falls. This is Reideer Moss.

At Rancheria Falls. This is liverwort.

Approaching Teslin.

Scenery along the way.

At the Tlingit Heritage Center.

Tlingit canoe on the shore of Teslin Lake.

Black bear today.

Black bear today.

Arctic Grayling.

Our stringer of fish.

Our fishing hole.

At the SS Klondike paddle wheeler in Whitehorse.

25
Burwash Landing

This was the day that we encountered the road conditions that we remembered from our last trip. We had several stretches of road reconstruction where we had to wait and follow a pilot car through dusty or muddy coarse gravel. There were partially repaired potholes and some frost heaves. I guess they haven’t taken all of the adventure out of the road.

Both of our campers sustained minor damage. The mechanism for John’s retractable step came apart. We may be able to fix it but for now he tied it up with a zip tie. On my camper’s tires I have extensions on the valve stems and these are secured to the wheel cover with a bracket so that they don’t flop around and cause leaking while driving. One of the brackets broke from the rough road. I taped it down with some super sticky tape that John brought along. It will do for now. Both campers and both cars are very dirty but we will take care of that tomorrow when we get to Tok, Alaska.

The wildlife that we saw today included two deer and two large bull elk. No bears today. We stopped for lunch along the south end of a large lake, Kluane Lake.

We are camping tonight at a Yukon government campground somewhere between Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek. Neither of those are towns by the usual standards, just a couple businesses and a few houses after many miles of wilderness. The campground has no hookups and there is no cell service, but the sites are nice and they come with firewood supplied and they only charge $12 Canadian. The mosquitoes are pretty thick and they are happy to see us. There is a stream along the campground. John, Andrea, and I fished in the stream this evening and I caught one grayling.

What a pleasure it is to catch a native born grayling, which to me is a symbol of the wild north, from a stream somewhere in the middle of nowhere, in the Yukon. I could only daydream about such a thing when I was a child. I feel blessed.

Scenery along the way today.

Scenery along the way today.

Scenery along the way today.

Approaching Kluane Lake.

Scenery along the way today.

Flats at the south end of Kluane Lake.

Mountain where we stopped for lunch.

Kluane Lake.

Where we fished tonight by the campground.

Our campsite at Lake Creek campground.

26
1313.4 Alaska Hwy, Tok, AK 99780, USA

It took us 24 days but we are here, in Alaska. For the record, it was 4,246 miles from my driveway to the border by the route that we took. It feels like an accomplishment when you finally cross the border and enter the state.

It was only 34 degrees this morning at our campground, on July 11! The rough road conditions continued most of the way today, not so much construction as frost heaves and potholes. We just drove slower and took our time. This part of the Alaska Highway crosses areas of permafrost and it makes the highway buckle and crack. The telephone poles, where there are any, also melt into the permafrost and sink lower and lean dramatically.

We stopped for pictures at the border and crossed through customs smoothly. We visited the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge visitor center shortly after that. There was plenty of beautiful scenery on the drive today but not much wildlife. We only saw a couple tundra swans and a couple snowshoe hares, brown at this time of year, of course.

We reached Tok, Alaska, in the early afternoon and checked into our campground. We have full hookups here and cell service, although the internet is slow. Tok is a very small town but it is the first real town in Alaska and it has a good grocery store. First thing that we did was wash a layer of road mud off of the campers and cars.

John and I worked on his broken entry step and got it fixed with the help of some hardware parts from the NAPA store here in Tok.

Now that we are in Alaska our plans differ a bit from the Stempka’s. They want to move on tomorrow and take Andrea to see things in Fairbanks and Denali National Park. We decided to stay in Tok for tomorrow and skip Fairbanks and Denali for now. Instead we will gradually work our way south to Valdez and the Stempka’s will catch up to us there.

At our campground this morning.

Back on the road again.

Scenery along the way.

Scenery along the way.

Caribou crossing. We have seen plenty of these over the past few days.

We’re here! Success!

The dotted line that separates the US and Canada

The official marker.

At the wildlife refuge visitor center.

At the wildlife refuge visitor center.

At the wildlife refuge visitor center.

Permafrost effect on telephone poles.

27
1313.4 Alaska Hwy, Tok, AK 99780, USA

The Stempka’s took off for Fairbanks this morning, about 200 miles up the highway, while we took a day to just stay in one place, here in Tok. It was a day for “stores and chores “. We got the laundry done, restocked groceries, checked and topped off the oil, went to the visitor center and gift shops, that sort of thing. It was a cold and rainy day, only in the 50’s all day, so we also watched a couple movies with Kate.

In our various stops around town we talked with a few local people. A retired couple working here at the campground took the job as “workampers”; they get a free campsite and a small wage to work for the campground, one week on and one week off. It allows them to visit Alaska all summer at a minimal cost. A lady working at the visitor center moved to Alaska from Florida 25 yrs ago. She talked about the quiet winter life in Tok after most people are gone. It routinely gets down to minus 40 here.

By evening the weather had improved so we explored our surroundings a little, hoping to see some wildlife, but all we saw was a couple trumpeter swans and several snowshoe hares. Funny, we never saw one snowshoe hare on our last trip to Alaska. I fished for a little while in the Tok River but had no luck.

At our campground this morning.

Main Street in Tok.

There are a number of log buildings on Main Street.

A home in Tok.

A better look at their fish wheel.

Near the Tok River.

Fishing at the Tok River.

Snowshoe hare.

Another home in Tok. They don’t concern themselves too much with appearances here.

A church in Tok.

One of the nicer homes.

A street in town.

Another street in town.

28
Tangle Lakes

We’re on the road again. We left Tok this morning and continued on the Alaska Highway until it’s official end in Delta Junction, Alaska, Mile 1422. On the way there we finally saw our first moose of the trip, a magnificent bull moose that climbed up out of a pond and into the woods while we watched. He was too far away to get a good picture.

In Delta Junction we took the obligatory pictures at the mile post and went to the visitor center. Across the street is the Sullivan Roadhouse, a log cabin structure preserved for historical purposes. It was built in 1905, when Delta Junction was a spot on the wagon trail that connected the port of Valdez with the gold mining town of Fairbanks. Along with other rough and tumble roadhouses it served as an oasis for travelers on the trail. We talked with the docent at the roadhouse. She and her husband are retired from the military and they live just outside Delta Junction. She said she has moose in her yard all the time. She also said that where she lives she has no property tax, no state income tax, no local income tax, and no sales tax. How nice would that be!

From there we turned south on what they call the Richardson Highway, the modern version of that trail to Valdez. It was a nice clear day and we could see Denali, Mount McKinley, more than 100 miles away. We traveled up in altitude to above the tree line, with only chest high brush as far as you can see. After about 75 miles we turned west onto the Denali Highway. That road is paved, poorly, for the first 21 miles and then is gravel for the next 100 miles. It leads to and is the old way to Denali National Park, but we stopped at the 21 mile mark at Tangle Lakes Campground, provided by the Bureau of Land Management. With our “senior pass” discount it is only $6/night to camp here. It is remote, isolated, with no hookups and no cell service. I’ve never camped above tree line before. We even saw snow along the road on the way here.

After supper we walked down to where the Tangle River enters the lake. I fished for a little while in both the lake and the river and caught one grayling in the river.

We made a small campfire in the evening and made mountain pies. Even with a breeze there were plenty of mosquitoes to deal with.

They were mowing their sod roof this morning at this place in Tok.

You can see the moose but not very well.

The official end of the Alaska Highway.

At the visitor center. These are trumpeter swans.

At the visitor center.

At the Sullivan Roadhouse.

At the Sullivan Roadhouse.

Denali.

The Alaska pipeline.

Scenery along the way.

On the Denali Highway.

Snow along the road.

At the Tangle Lakes Campground

Fishing at the Tangle River.

Campfire on the tundra!

29
Glennallen

We only drove about 100 miles today, further south on the Richardson Highway, to the town of Glennallen. From here you can go west to Anchorage or south to Valdez, which is our plan for tomorrow.

Sockeye salmon season just opened yesterday on the rivers around here. This being a Saturday there are lots of Alaskans out fishing. I fished for a little while this afternoon on the Gulkana River but had no luck. After supper we drove down to the Klutina River and I fished again with the same results. I didn’t see anyone else even hook into a fish, so I’m thinking that there aren’t too many fish this far upstream yet. Local folks tell me that the season has been colder than usual and things seem to be running a little behind schedule.

Hopefully the fishing will be better down in Valdez.

One of the old Richardson Highway roadhouses that’s still in business.

Scenery along the way today.

Gulkana Village, where I fished in the river, is a native village.

Where I fished in the Klutina River.

The river is running high. Best to stay on the bank.

Another view of the Klutina River.

Scenery near Glennallen.

30
Valdez

We left Glennallen this morning and continued south to Valdez. Its a little more than 100 miles if I remember correctly, but there is some great scenery along the way.

Our first stop along the way was at the visitor center for Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Our route today skirts the edge of the park. The park is very mountainous with glaciers and a huge ice field, and much of it is hard to access. Some of the mountain peaks exceed 16,000 feet.

The road eventually has to cross some of those mountains. It takes you above tree line through Thompson Pass, with just low ground cover, and past a few glaciers, then back down again. As you approach Valdez you go through Keystone Canyon, alongside a rushing glacial river and between nearly vertical rock walls.

Valdez itself sits on a bay or fjord and is surrounded by snow capped mountains. Its a rainy place; there is Spanish moss on the trees.

Our campsite is right on the bayside with a nice view.

There is a really nice little information center just as you come into town that is run by the US Forest Service. There is a small stream out back that comes down off of the mountain and when we were here two years ago it was loaded with salmon, but this time there were none. The ranger said that the fish will be showing up soon and that they are in other nearby streams.

After supper we went out to explore the fishing. I landed two nice pink salmon and lost a few others. We saw several eagles and sea otters and there were big stellar sea lions out on a bouy. On the way back we took a side road and saw two grizzly bears, or “brown bears “ as they call them along the coast. What a great night!

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park visitor center.

Model fishwheel at the visitor center.

Variety of furs at the visitor center.

Fireweed is in bloom.

Soap berries are just starting to ripen. I understand that they are edible but not palatable. I didn’t try them

Rugged looking camper from Switzerland.

Scenery along the way today.

Approaching the mountains.

Worthington Glacier.

Going through Thompson Pass.

Going through Thompson Pass.

Waterfall in Keystone Canyon.

Another waterfall in Keystone Canyon.

Driving through the canyon.

Welcome to Valdez!

At our campground.

View from our front window at the campsite.

Waterfall behind the Forest Service information center.

Fishing in Valdez.

Got one.

The darker patch in the water is a school of salmon swimming past.

Brown bears.

31
Valdez

Today makes one month on the road. It has gone fast for us. I guess one odd thing is realizing that we are past the middle of July, with summer half over but the weather here still feels like it should be spring with summer yet to come. Even the cottonwood trees are still shedding their cotton.

We’ve been gone long enough that I found a place to get a haircut today, and I made an appointment for an oil change on the motor home next week.

There is a decent little grocery store here and we restocked our supplies today. The Stempka’s rejoined us this afternoon. They visited Fairbanks and Denali National Park and then drove the 100-plus miles of gravel road on the Denali Highway to come back over this way. They said the scenery was spectacular but they didn’t see much wildlife. A passing truck threw up a large rock that caused some cosmetic damage to the front of their motor home.

John, Andrea, and I fished this afternoon. John and I each caught two more salmon but none for Andrea. We had our salmon for dinner tonight, cooked on the grill.

After supper we went back to the same place to fish but now the tide had come in. Strangely enough there was no sign of the fish there and we didn’t catch anything. We moved down the road a little to where the state has a hatchery and the stream there was packed with fish, and not only that but the sea lions had moved in and were chowing down on one fish after another. Flocks of gulls were diving and screaming and trying to get any left overs or wounded escapees. The sea lions were bellowing and the scene was magnificently chaotic.

After that entertainment we went looking for the bears again. We saw one come out of the woods and walk down the road following a bicyclist, but it lost interest and disappeared back into the woods.

Back at the campground we got ice cream cones and went to the campfire. This campground makes a community campfire every night, for anyone to attend. I kind of like those. It gives you a chance to talk with other campers and hear about their experiences. There’s always more to learn.

Valdez small boat harbor this morning.

John and Andrea with John’s first salmon of the trip.

The stellar sea lions were very active this afternoon. This is the closest that one came to us when we fished in the afternoon.

A group of sea lions near the hatchery.

Sea lions hunting salmon.

This one has a salmon.

The community campfire.

32
Valdez

This morning John and I got out early and went to our fishing spot. Where we have been fishing we are on a steep rip-rap shoreline and casting into the bay. Well, this morning the tide was very low, so we had to climb down even farther. The lower rocks that were revealed by the low tide were deceptively slippery and I took a hard fall on my right flank. Ouch! It took a minute to catch my breath after that one. My comb was broken in three pieces but so far I think that was the only fracture. I still managed to catch two salmon and lost a couple others, but I paid the price this time. When we were done fishing I literally crawled back up on my hands and knees and went back to the camper for Tylenol and an ice pack.

This afternoon we went to the Valdez museum. Its a small museum but it does have good displays about the major events in local history, including the gold rush era that really established the town, the great Good Friday earthquake of 1964 and the resulting tsunami that essentially wiped out the town, and the days of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Twenty three people in Valdez died in the earthquake and there was a 90 foot tsunami wave. The town was destroyed and rebuilt nearby. Today Valdez is about the size of Waterford or maybe Edinboro.

About supper time a Valdez police officer came through the campground asking everyone to stay near their campers. He was trying to chase two young black bears out of town and he had chased them into the tree line beside the campground. That little patch of woods ends in a dead end at the water, so sooner or later they would have to cross the wet meadow in front of us or go back into town. We saw them briefly a few times but didn’t get any pictures. They’ve had quite a problem with bears in town this year.

One of the salmon that I caught this morning.

At the Valdez museum.

At the Valdez museum.

This is a salmon berry, supposed to be delicious, but not ripe yet.

The tree line and the wet meadow.

The sky was finally clear enough tonight to see the top of the mountain in front of the camper.

33
Valdez

Last night at about bedtime Kate and Andrea talked John into going out to look for bears. They saw two brown bears out by where we have been fishing and got some good pictures. This was at about 11 PM but you’ll notice that its still pretty light outside.

We left our campground this morning but decided to stay another night near Valdez by boondocking out by the fishing spot. Yes, where they saw the bears last night. There are other campers doing the same thing so I guess we will be pretty safe. First, however, we parked the campers at the visitor center and walked to a diner and treated ourselves to lunch out for a change.

My back injuries are a little better today, so that’s a good sign. When we got out to the fishing area there were lots of fish close to shore and I couldn’t resist climbing down those rocks again. At least its a beautiful day and the rocks were dry. It was worth the risk; I caught eleven salmon this afternoon, all on my flyrod, and John did well, too.

So tonight we are parked along the waterfront, across the bay from Valdez. We are just off the side of the road but its a dead end road. From our windows we can see harbor seals, sea otters, stellar sea lions, and eagles. Just a little bit ago Linda was sitting outside her camper when a passing truck stopped and said “Hey lady, there’s a bear across the road behind you.” Sure enough, there was a brown bear maybe 40 feet away. She took a picture, from inside the camper, but I’m unable to transfer it to the blog.

We will be watching for bears when the light gets lower tonight.

Brown bear last night.

Brown bear last night.

Loading a muskox onto a trailer at the visitor center.

Okay, it was a taxidermy muskox \240

Great salmon fishing this afternoon.

John has one on.

Got him!

Boondocking by the bay.

34
Tolsona Wilderness Access Rd, Glennallen, AK 99588, USA

We didn’t see any more bears last night.

We woke up to a glorious morning, and there were lots of fish rising and jumping clear out of the water all around the bay. I couldn’t resist fishing one last time so I threw a few more casts and caught one more salmon. John did the same.

By mid-morning we were on the road again, back up through Thompson Pass. The Stempka’s had not been to the Wrangle-St. Elias National Park information center so we stopped as we passed. At Glennallen we turned west on what they call the Glenn Highway, which leads to Anchorage. Alaskans seem to always refer to their highways by name instead of route numbers. Maybe its because they don’t have all that many highways.

About 15 miles past Glennallen we pulled into our campground for the night, Tolsona Wilderness Campground. Its a bit rustic, down a dirt road a ways, but we are camped right beside a stream. Its also pretty thick with mosquitoes.

John and I fished in the stream for a little while before supper and we each caught one grayling and I also caught a small rainbow trout. We released all of the fish.

In the evening, we braved the mosquitoes and had a nice campfire beside the stream.

John and Andrea fishing in Valdez this morning.

Barb and Miley at Thompson Pass

Some of the mountains of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

John with a grayling he caught. Hood up due to mosquitoes.

The Tolsona River here at the campground.

Evening campfire.

35
Palmer

We enjoyed camping in the woods and beside a stream but we couldn’t take much more of those mosquitoes, so we happily moved on today to Palmer, Alaska.

Palmer and Wasilla are fairly close to one another and are the main towns of what they call the Mat-Su Valley. This is an area about 45 minutes to an hour north of Anchorage, near the confluence of the Matanuska and Susitna Rivers. Its a prosperous and growing region. Palmer was started by the federal government during the Great Depression as an agricultural colony, more or less. They recruited farming families from northern states and gave them land here. The effort met with mixed success, but Palmer is still here and still about the best farming area in Alaska.

Our campground tonight is actually on a farm. It just opened this year. The owners have been farming here for 26 years and decided to develop a small campground on part of their land for summer income.

The drive here along the Glenn Highway passed through some beautiful mountain scenery. We drove past a few large glaciers. We stopped for lunch at the Sheep Mountain Lodge, a log cabin establishment that we enjoyed on our last Alaskan trip.

In the evening we drove up to Hatcher Pass, a scenic mountain road that starts in Palmer. It was a beautiful clear evening for that, and we saw hang gliders up near the summit. We followed the road all the way to the far end, which was farther than we thought.

Cloud of mosquitoes around the Honda this morning.

Scenery along the way today.

Scenery along the way today.

Scenery along the way today.

Scenery along the way today.

Scenery along the way today.

Mountains and glacier.

Sheep Mountain Lodge.

View from our campsite.

Miley met the cattle.

Little Susitna River.

Near the summit of Hatcher Pass.

Near the summit of Hatcher Pass.

Hang gliders.

Hang gliders.

36
2010 S Church St, Palmer, AK 99645, USA

We wanted to stay in Palmer for a few nights but I couldn’t find a spot for both of us at any one campground so this morning we had to pick up and move from our farm campground to another place about five miles away, actually closer to Wasilla than Palmer. This one is a more standard campground, but the location is convenient.

After we checked out of the campground this morning we drove the campers to the Fred Meyers store in Palmer for some major restocking of provisions. We stayed in the parking lot there for lunch and then on to the next campground.

It was a beautiful day weather wise, sunny and mid 70’s, warm enough for short sleeves.

In the evening, Barb and Linda took Miley to the do-it-yourself dog wash in Wasilla, while John and I went fishing at Eklutna Tailrace. We didn’t catch anything.

So all in all it was a pretty mundane day. Believe me, we heard about it from Kate and Andrea.

Last evening the mountains near our campground took on a pinkish hue. This was at about 11 PM.

Insulated boxes for taking your flash frozen fish home with you on the plane. At the Fred Meyers store.

Fellow landing a salmon at the Eklutna Tailrace.

Our campground for the next two nights.

37
Palmer

We went to the United Methodist church this morning in Palmer. The attendance was only about twenty people, including the six of us, but it was an uplifting and meaningful service anyway. They don’t have their own building; they meet in the basement of a commercial building. They had a guitarist for the music. Very nice.

Later we went to the Iditarod Headquarters near Wasilla. I’m a fan of the Iditarod, and this is where the race starts every year. We met an Iditarod musher and his team that ran the race this year, and some sled dog puppies, too.

After that we went to the reindeer farm in Palmer. Kate and Barb enjoyed that very much.

Wherever two or more are gathered...

Fireweed and mountains on the wall hanging.

Iditarod headquarters.

At the Iditarod headquarters.

Sled dog puppy.

Dog team.

At the reindeer farm.

At the reindeer farm.

At the reindeer farm.

Moose.

Young moose.

Elk calf.

Today was the beginning of the next phase of our trip, when family and friends from “the lower 48” start to fly in and join us for a little while and so we left Palmer to head south of Anchorage, to the Kenai Peninsula.

But first things first. John and I both took our motor homes in for an oil change. Its been a little over 5,000 miles since we left home. We went to a garage in Palmer to get the job done.

Next we drove down through Anchorage and along Turnagain Arm to the far end. Anchorage is a medium sized city but still very Alaskan. You can see snow capped mountains and fish for salmon right downtown. The city parks have moose and brown bears. The city sits alongside Cook Inlet, between the ocean and forested mountains.

Turnagain Arm then is a long narrow bay that comes off of Cook Inlet. It is surrounded by steep mountains and is basically a fjord. There is only one road to the Kenai Peninsula and it runs along the edge of Turnagain Arm. Traffic on that road can be pretty heavy and everyone is in a hurry.

We are camping tonight at Portage Valley Cabins and RV Park. It is at the end of Turnagain Arm and therefore at the entrance to the Kenai Peninsula. It is in a beautiful valley with mountains and glaciers around us. There’s nothing fancy about it, pretty much just a gravel lot with some utility hookups, but its a really nice setting.

After setting up the camper we drove to the little ski town of Girdwood, which is nearby, just to check it out. There is also an old gold mine near there where for a fee you can still pan for gold but we passed on that for now.

In the evening we enjoyed the community campfire and visiting with the Stempka family members who flew in this afternoon.

Time for preventative maintenance.

Scenery along Turnagain Arm.

Ski lift at Alyeska Resort.

Our campground at Portage Valley. It looks like another of those gravel lots.

The community campfire.

Rustic cabins at Portage Valley.

38
64911 2nd St, Hope, AK 99605, USA

Its only forty miles or so from Portage Valley to Hope, so we took our time this morning, but still got to Hope before noon.

Hope is a bit off the beaten path. Its a little piece of old Alaska, more like a bush community. The buildings are mostly log built, the streets are dirt, and its just a cool and funky little town. It is on the shoreline at the mouth of Resurrection Creek, which gets a good run of pink salmon. Our campsite is about fifty yards away from the creek.

Everyone was excited to get fishing when we got here and we immediately started catching fish, one after another. It was a great opportunity for the three Stempka grandchildren to learn how to catch fish on a flyrod, and in time they all did. I caught so many that I lost count, but around two dozen. We had pink salmon for supper, with more in the refrigerator.

My brother Cliff and our friend Joel showed up at about supper time, having flown into Anchorage today. They will be with us for about a week, for the fishing.

It was another good evening for a campfire.

At the Portage Valley campground this morning.

Entertaining the Kenai Peninsula.

On the road to Hope.

Camping in Hope.

Main Street in Hope.

Old homestead in Hope.

At the Hope museum.

Our stringer of fish.

Got another one.

Fishing with my brother.

Campfire time.

39
Hope

We stayed here in Hope for another night. John and Linda drove their car and family to Seward early this morning to catch a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park. Our group stayed in Hope and fished for much of the day.

It seemed like it was the day for folks to bring their kids to fish as there were quite a few families fishing today. Many seemed focused on getting a limit of fish to take home.

Cliff and Joel were die hard fishermen today. I finally got them to quit at supper time and join us for dinner in the camper. We all landed many fish today, certainly dozens all together but we weren’t keeping track.

The Stempka’s saw a cow moose and calf just outside of Hope this morning and lots of marine wildlife on their tour; humpback whales, sea otters, stellar sea lions, dall porpoise, puffins, etc.

Cow moose this morning.

Lots of fishing today. Fish cleaning station in the creek.

Joel taking a break on the bank.

Hope has a population of around 200.

The Hope library and library gift shop.

Evening at the mouth of Resurrection Creek.

Evening in Hope.

After catching several more salmon this morning we left Hope and traveled about 50 miles further onto the Kenai Peninsula to the town of Cooper Landing.

Cooper Landing is on the banks of the Kenai River where it starts as the outflow of Kenai Lake. The lake and river are a turquoise blue color from glacial melt water.

In the afternoon, Cliff, Joel, and I went fishing. This is supposed to be the time for catching red salmon, also called sockeye salmon, but the run is behind schedule. We each hooked into salmon; Cliff and I each landed one and had others that we hooked but lost. We also caught rainbow trout and Dolly Varden trout.

Kate and the Stempka kids went horseback riding this afternoon.

It was a good first day in Cooper Landing.

Kenai River.

Cliff fishing in the Kenai River. Fish cleaning table in the water. Fishermen’s ferry in the background.

Joel fishing. Notice that the state provides a metal stairway into the river.

Kate and the Stempka’s went horseback riding this afternoon near Cooper Landing.

40
17245 Frontier Cir, Cooper Landing, AK 99572, USA

Today was the day for our much anticipated guided fishing trip on the Kenai River. This was a 13 mile trip by drift boat. It was just the men on this trip. I had done this once before with good success but it was a first for the others.

Cliff, Joel, and I were in one boat and John Sr. and Jr. were in another. I caught a small Dolly Varden trout right away and I thought maybe we were in for a productive day. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. In our boat, I caught a decent sized rainbow trout later on and then was it, no other fish caught. Cliff had two fish on and lost them both, Joel never felt a fish. Very disappointing.

In the Stempka boat, John Jr. caught two sockeye salmon while John Sr. had one fish on and lost it.

Oh well, that’s how fishing goes sometimes. We all had a great time on an amazingly beautiful river. How can we complain

Meanwhile, Kate and the Stempka grandchildren went on a raft trip on the river. They all had fun, too.

Drifting on the Kenai River.

On the Kenai River

Raft trip.

41
397 Wyatt's Windy Rd, Girdwood, AK 99587, USA

Well, here we are back in Portage Valley. Tomorrow morning we are going out on our halibut fishing trip, leaving from the port of Whittier. Whittier is near here but its on the other side of the mountain. To get there you have to go through a three mile long one-lane tunnel. On the hour traffic goes in one direction and on the half-hour it goes the other direction. In addition, the Alaska Railroad uses the same tunnel and has to have their turn from time to time.

We had time this morning to fish one more time in the Kenai River. I tried hard but I didn’t land any salmon. Cliff and Joel focused on catching trout and both of them caught some fish. We did see a black bear on the other side of the river from us. He would come out from the woods, grab a fish, then take it back to the woods to eat it.

This afternoon Barb, Kate, and I drove up the road a few miles to the Portage Glacier and we tried out the tunnel just to get oriented before the big day tomorrow.

After supper we went to the community campfire, that I mentioned last time we were here at this campground. Cliff and Joel are staying here, too, in one of the cabins. They have seen two moose in the five days that they have been here.

Moose that Cliff saw.

The bear that we saw today.

Glaciers near the campground.

Another moose that Cliff saw.

Sockeye salmon on top, chum salmon bottom right, Dolly Varden bottom left.

Campsites near the pond at Portage Valley.

Barb walking Miley.

Scenery along the way.

Evening campfire.

42
Portage Valley Cabins & RV Prk

Today was the day for our next scheduled fishing excursion, a charter boat trip on Prince William Sound for halibut and salmon.

The trip was out of Whittier. We made it to the tunnel on time and with only a little chaos and confusion we were off. Our boat was only a 26 foot boat and we filled it up with just our group. In fact, Joel ended up going on a different boat than ours.

It was a long boat ride out to where we would be fishing, 70 miles actually, and it took two and one half hours. Fortunately, the seas were pretty calm. Prince William Sound has numerous islands, and while we were passing through a channel between two islands we went right past a black bear swimming across the channel. Further on we saw orcas, killer whales, but they were quite a ways off.

The weather was foggy and drizzley all day but the fishing was very good. Our six fishermen in our boat ended up with 180 pounds of fish fillets, from 8 halibut, 18 silver salmon, 2 pink salmon, and 4 rockfish. In his boat, Joel caught a 60 pound halibut, which was the biggest fish on his boat, and a second smaller halibut, giving him 37 pounds of halibut fillets.

About halfway back on our return trip we got an urgent call on the radio from another charter captain nearby. He had hit a submerged log floating in the water. His engines were damaged but no injuries. We turned back and picked up his passengers. He replaced his two propellers right there on the water and was able to take the boat back into port under its own power.

We took our fillets to the local fish processor, who will freeze them and send them to our homes later.

Barb, Kate, Linda, and her granddaughter Mackenzie didn’t go fishing. Instead they went to the Alaska Wildlife Center, which is close to our campground. It is a large center for the rehabilitation and study of Alaskan wildlife.

On our way. \240

Scenery along the way.

Scenery along the way.

What we caught.

Two great fishermen.

At the Wildlife Center.

At the Wildlife Center.

At the Wildlife Center.

43
509 Ballaine Blvd, Seward, AK 99664, USA

This morning there was a black bear in our campground. We didn’t see it but lots of other folks did. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

Also this morning we said goodbye to Cliff and Joel. They had to catch their flights in Anchorage today. It was a first visit to Alaska for both of them and they both said it was too short, that they will definitely be back again. I know the feeling. It sure was great to spend some time with them up here.

And also this morning the Stempka’s left bright and early. They are going north to Fairbanks again. Their son John and Andrea, his daughter, will be flying home late tomorrow from Fairbanks and they wanted a chance for son John to see the gold dredge there before they leave. The other two grandchildren, Joe and Mackenzie, will still be with us for another two weeks but its goodbye to our traveling companion Andrea.

We left Portage Valley later in the morning and traveled south on the Kenai Peninsula to Seward, about 75 miles or so. Seward is a coastal town on the east side of the Kenai, at the head of Resurrection Bay and surrounded by mountains. Its a pretty place, for sure. It is a port for shipping and for cruise ships and is the southern terminus for the Alaska Railroad. Despite all of that its still just another small town, not a city by any means.

The town provides numerous campsites along the waterfront and that’s where we are camping for at least the next two nights. The sites aren’t spacious but you can’t beat the view.

After setting up camp we went to the grocery store and then a quilt shop that Barb saw. This evening we are just going to go down by the harbor and look around.

Camping in Seward.

Camping in Seward.

Shopping district in Seward.

Small boat harbor in Seward.

Fish cleaning station on the harbor.

Orange fish on the right are yellow-eye rockfish. To the left of them are lingcod. To the left of those are some large halibut.

44
Seward

It was good to just spend a relaxing day in Seward today.

In the morning we drove out to Exit Glacier, a few miles out of town. The area is part of Kenai Fjords National Park. We have taken the hike to the glacier overlook in the past so this time skipped that part.

We retuned to town and after lunch Barb wanted to get the laundry done and didn’t care to go with Kate and I to the Sealife Center since we were also there two years ago.

In the evening we drove to Lowell Point, along the shore of Resurrection Bay, down a rough narrow dirt road that is squeezed between a sheer mountain edge and the water. There are a few homes and a couple not-so-nice campgrounds out there. We had hoped to see some wildlife but didn’t see any.

The town of Seward has quite a few waterfront campsites. Turns out that the reason is that the 1964 earthquake and tsunami that I described previously wiped out the homes and businesses along that part of the waterfront, so the town built campgrounds along the water instead. That’s not a particularly comforting thought. They do have signs showing the tsunami evacuation route and they test their sirens every day at noon.

The view across Resurrection Bay from our camper this morning, with fog along the far shore.

Exit Glacier.

Lots of Cow Parsnip here, which can cause a blistering rash.

This is Alder, which is often used for smoking salmon.

This is the dreaded Devils Club. Notice the spikey thorns.

Sea lion at the Sealife Center.

Just a statue but it shows the nasty teeth of a stellar sea lion.

Harbor seal at the Sealife Center.

Murre at the Sealife Center.

Kittiwake at the Sealife Center.

Horned puffin at the Sealife Center.

Baby sea otter at the Sealife Center.

The five species of Pacific salmon, in spawning colors. Top to bottom: king (chinook), chum, silver (coho), red (sockeye), and pink.

Looking down Resurrection Bay, which is technically a fjord.

Along the road to Lowell Point.

Shoreline homes at Lowell Point.

Kayak group preparing to go out at Lowell Point.

Thick woods at Lowell Point.

45
37321 Summer Pl, Sterling, AK 99672, USA

We packed up and left Seward this morning but not before stopping by the bookstore and also going out for a lunch of local fish and chips.

Then we drove over to the west side of the Kenai Peninsula, about 90 miles from Seward, to near Soldotna. We set up camp at a place called Alaska Canoe and RV Park. Its about 10 miles outside of Soldotna. Its a woodsy place, seems to cater to fishermen. Our site is pretty small and we had to shoehorn the camper between spruce trees but we got it in and at least we have full utility hookups for a change.

Before supper we drove in to Soldotna to check things out, including the fishing. Soldotna has become a busy place, not as big as Palmer or Wasilla but not a small town, either. It is still a fishermen’s town, being right on the lower Kenai River, and it is famous for being the place where the world record king salmon was caught.

This year the red salmon run has been quite a bit below average for some reason. I fished for a while near the Kenai River visitor center, where they have a fishermen’s boardwalk along the river. I caught one baby salmon about six inches long. I saw a few fish caught on the opposite side of the river but not on my side.

After supper Barb wanted to look for wildlife on some of the back roads. We ended up on a part of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. It seemed like a pretty wild and remote area but the only wildlife that we saw was a covey of ptarmigan, which was pretty cool. We went as far as a rustic little forest service campground on a place called Dolly Varden Lake, then returned back to our camper.

Our campsite in the woods.

Kenai River visitor center.

Fishermen along the lower Kenai River.

Fishermen’s boardwalk.

On the evening exploration.

Ptarmigan.

Scenery this evening.

Campsite at Dolly Varden Lake.

46
Homer

Today was one of those days that we seem to get fairly often in coastal Alaska, chilly and socked in with rain and fog all day. The high today was only in the mid fifty’s.

We left the campground this morning and stopped at the Fred Meyers store in Soldotna for a few groceries and other items. That store is very RV friendly and allows boondocking in their parking lot. They even have a dump station and port-a-johns.

We continued on along the western coastline of the Kenai Peninsula, down to the end of the road in Homer. Its too bad it was such a dreary day. The views across Cook Inlet are beautiful on a clear day but we couldn’t see much of anything today. Barb did see a moose just off the road but we didn’t get a picture.

We are camping tonight out on the Homer Spit. The spit is a long narrow sandbar extending out from town a few miles into Katchemack Bay, sort of like Presque Isle back home but narrower.

After setting up camp we went exploring and we found a little shop called Kilcher Country. We are fans of the show Alaska The Last Frontier, which features the Kilcher family and their homestead, which is near Homer. We stopped in and met one of the family members, August Kilcher, and of course we bought a few momentos.

RVs boondocking at the Fred Meyers store in Soldotna.

The store provides a dump station and port-a-johns.

View from the bluff above Homer.

Otto Kilcher’s former machine shop in Homer.

The Kilcher Country store.

Kate and August Kilcher.

Vehicles loading onto the ferry at the Homer Ferry Terminal.

47
Homer

Adjacent to our campground is a popular fishing location. Locally they just call it the fishing hole. Its an oval shaped basin of sorts that is open to Katchemak Bay and into which the state releases salmon smolts and so the salmon return there as adults. I fished there this morning. Salmon were jumping all over the place including right in front of me but I never hooked a fish and I didn’t see anyone else catch anything either. I don’t have an explanation let alone an excuse. There was a sea otter with a baby and two harbor seals swimming around in the fishing hole as well.

So then we took a ride into Homer and went to a coffee shop and enjoyed a cup along with a bagel and the local newspaper. Next we visited the Pratt Museum. For a small museum it was pretty nice. One of the best things they had was a monitor with a live feed from Gull Island out in Katchemak \240Bay. It is a big sea bird nesting colony. The camera could be moved and zoomed and included audio of the birds.

From there we went to the visitor center for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, and then to Bishop’s Beach, a public park along the waterfront.

Barb fixed up some of our halibut for supper tonight. Best tasting fish you can eat, in my opinion. Afterward we browsed through the little shops along the spit and with it being a mild and sunny evening we all had an ice cream cone.

At the fishing hole this morning.

Looking from our campground back towards the mainland.

Looking from the mainland out across Katchemak Bay.

At the Pratt Museum.

At the Pratt Museum by the Gull Island monitor.

Nesting murres on the monitor.

At the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge visitor center.

Katchemak Bay and Homer spit as seen from the bluff above town.

Boardwalk along the slough at Bishop’s Beach.

Bishop’s Beach.

Homer small boat harbor.

Shops on the spit.

Shops on the spit.

More fish cutting, on the spit.

Glacier view from the bluff.

48
44332 Sterling Hwy, Soldotna, AK 99669, USA

I mentioned previously that Homer is close to where they film the Discovery Channel reality show Alaska: The Last Frontier. Yesterday we called the Kilcher homestead and they were able put us in with a group to take a tour. So we checked out of our campground this morning and drove down the spit a ways and left the camper in a public access area along the shore, then drove the car out to Kilcher road. Its only 13 miles from town.

The sign at the beginning of their road says “4-wheel drive vehicles only”, and it is a bumpy rough road with steep drop offs, one lane for the most part, and maybe a mile down to the homestead. There was about twenty of us in the tour group and it was led by an in-law, Mike, married to a sister of Otto and Atz, two main characters from the show. We were given lots of information about the family, the homestead, and the show, and we got to tour the original homestead cabin. The highlight, though, was when Otto Kilcher rode up on his four wheeler. He spent quite a bit of time with us, the fans, but then he had to get back to work.

After lunch back at the camper we drove back up along Cook Inlet to Soldotna. This time the weather was clear and we got to see the big snow-capped mountains on the far side of the Inlet. There are still active volcanos over there. That’s where Katmai National Park is but its only accessible by airplane.

We decided to try boondocking at the Fred Meyers store in Soldotna, as I described previously. We’re not that crazy about the campground options in Soldotna and we just needed a place to park for the night.

Parked for the day in Homer.

Meeting Otto Kilcher.

The Kilcher homestead cabin, built in 1940’s.

The switchback road to Kilcher beach.

Otto doing some work with his tractor.

Wagon seen on some episodes.

“Johnny popper” tractor seen on some episodes.

View of snow-capped mountains across Cook Inlet.

49
33350 AK-3, Willow, AK 99688, USA

We had an uneventful night of boondocking in the Fred Meyers parking lot and we thanked them by buying some groceries and our gas there this morning.

We drove about 220 miles today, off of the Kenai Peninsula, through Anchorage and Wasilla, north to Willow. Along the way we saw a black bear this morning and a moose this afternoon. We are in a campground right on the banks of Willow Creek, which is a pretty good salmon stream. Its about the size of Elk Creek back home. We were able to catch up with our friends, the Stempka’s, who are heading south as we head north. In fact, we’re camped right beside them tonight, like old times.

I fished in the river today. There are lots of salmon in the river but they seem to be well into spawning mode and are not too interested in taking a fly. I still landed three salmon, two pinks and a chum salmon. One of my goals for this trip was to catch a chum salmon, something that had eluded me until today.

Tonight we got together with the Stempka’s and sketched out a tentative travel plan going forward. After they visit the Kenai and we go north for a few days we will meet up again in Palmer.

We parked the camper at Potter Marsh bird sanctuary while we had lunch.

Chum salmon that I caught today.

Male pink salmon that I caught today. Alaskans call them humpies.

Camping along Willow Creek.

50
135 Denali Hwy, Cantwell, AK 99729, USA

It was another rainy day in Alaska.

We left Willow Creek this morning and continued traveling north. It wasn’t long before we had to go through a long muddy stretch of road construction, but then we pulled into Talkeetna for a short visit. We had pie and coffee at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, which is still run like the old time Alaska roadhouses. Its in an old building with old and casual furnishings. You can still get a room there for the night. They serve great hearty food, with family style seating at big tables. You never know who you’re going to have breakfast with. Next, Barb and Kate browsed through several of the shops and then we moved on.

We are camping tonight at Cantwell RV Park. Cantwell is a little village, of sorts, a native village, about a half hour south of Denali National Park. Its actually more like several widely scattered rural homes and a few struggling businesses. Its close enough that after supper we drove the car up to Denali and drove in via the park road as far as you are allowed in a private vehicle, which is about 15 miles.

It was an epic drive for wildlife, maybe because it was evening and gloomy weather. We saw six moose, including two bull moose. Plus, on the drive back to Cantwell a large black bear crossed the road right in front of us. We didn’t get a picture of the bear but we got lots of moose pictures.

Willow Creek this morning.

Road construction.

Pie and coffee at the Talkeetna Roadhouse.

The Talkeetna Roadhouse.

Windy, rainy, gloomy.

Scenery along the way today.

Entering Denali National Park.

Moose in a pond.

Moose by the road.

Moose calf.

Bull moose.

Scenery in Denali. Many of the stream beds in the mountains look like this, like a gravel pit. I think its because they are left over glacial moraines.

Scenery in Denali.

51
Fairbanks

We left Cantwell this morning in the rain but the weather improved to just cloudy as we traveled north 150 miles to Fairbanks.

We are “camping” tonight at Pioneer Park, right in Fairbanks. Actually we are just staying in the parking lot, for a minimal fee. There are no hookups here but you can fill up your water tank and the gas station down the street has a free dump station. Pioneer Park is a city park. There are some little shops in old homestead cabins that were relocated here, and a few other minor attractions.

Fairbanks is the second largest city in Alaska, yet the population is less than 33,000, making it only one third the size of Erie. Its an outpost of sorts, the farthest north of any North American city, and the service hub for everything north of here in Alaska.

We went first to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center in downtown Fairbanks. It is about the best visitor center that we’ve seen on this trip, with very good displays on the native culture of the Alaskan interior and Fairbanks life through the seasons.

Then we went gold panning. We went to a place that we liked on our last visit. They have an active gold mine and they bring in a pile of their unconcentrated pay dirt that you can pan as much as you want, plus you have to buy a small bag of their partially concentrated pay dirt for $20. You can also pay more for more concentrated dirt. We each found a little gold, Katie found the most, but nobody got rich today.

In the evening we went to Creamers Field, a bird sanctuary near the college. There had to be at least forty sandhill cranes in one of their fields.

Alaskan poppy, at the Cantwell campground.

Scenery along the way to Fairbanks.

Moose antler arch near the visitor center

A couple of gold diggers.

Entrance.

Pioneer homestead cabins turned shops.

Old paddle wheeled river boat.

Old rail car.

52
Willow

Our parking lot camping at Pioneer Park worked out okay, and I’m glad we made time to visit Fairbanks during our trip, brief though the visit was.

We turned back to the south this morning, back past Denali, all the way to Montana Creek, near Talkeetna. We traveled about 260 miles today. It was was pretty cold this morning, 47 degrees, and it struggled to hit 61 for a high, with rain off and on. In fact there was new snow visible up on the mountains. We’ve also noticed traces of fall colors here and there.

We stopped at a place near Talkeetna that makes birch syrup. There aren’t any maple trees here so they tap birch trees in the spring. It takes much more birch sap to make a pint of syrup than it does for maple sap. The taste is much different than maple and very good, kind of buttery tasting actually.

Our campground tonight is the state campground on Montana Creek. Again we have no utility hookups. Montana Creek is normally about the size of Elk Creek but with all the rain we have been having it is running high and off color. I fished in the creek tonight and caught two pink salmon. I hooked into several others, including a big chum salmon that snapped my line much too easily. Kate and Barb picked a bunch of high bush cranberries, which are getting ripe now. They’re not really a cranberry but they have a similar tart flavor, maybe more like currents. Last time we picked some and Barb used them to make jelly that was delicious.

Tomorrow morning we are going back to Palmer. I’ll explain more about that later.

New snow on the mountains.

Along the way.

Montana Creek campground.

High bush cranberries.

I had written previously about the passing of my brother Scott. Tomorrow is the day for his memorial service back in our hometown in Pennsylvania. There will be an interruption in our trip and in the blog for a few days as today I am flying back to Pennsylvania from Anchorage to join my family and friends in remembering my brother.

Kate is accompanying me on the flight home and she has decided not to fly back to Alaska but instead will remain back in Pennsylvania.

Barb is staying behind in the camper, with the dog. She is in the campground in Palmer, the Paradise Alaska campground where we stayed earlier in our trip. We felt that this would be a safe place for her and fairly convenient to the Anchorage airport for me. The Stempka’s will also be coming to that campground in two days, which will be good for Barb. Their two grandchildren will be flying back from Anchorage in a few days and then we expect to start the trip home together soon.

So there are no pictures today, this being a somber occasion. Please check back in a few days. We have some more interesting travel ahead, after this short time-out.

53
2230 S Old Glenn Hwy, Palmer, AK 99645, USA

My short trip back to Pennsylvania has been completed and I arrived back in Palmer at the camper in the early morning hours today. It might take another day or so to straighten out my internal clock but its good to be back in Alaska with Barb again. I’m grateful to my sisters for providing transportation from and to the Pittsburgh airport, and to all of the family and friends who gathered to remember my brother.

After sleeping in and having a good breakfast Barb and I drove the car to Anchorage and we went to the Bass Pro Shop store. When I left the house for the trip to the Pittsburgh airport I forgot to grab my trusty raincoat and I left it at home, which was easy to do on a sunny warm day in Pennsylvania, but I can’t do without a raincoat here. I found a good replacement at a good price. It was interesting to look around the store and see the various Alaska gear that we don’t see back home, like two and three pound sinkers and jigheads as big as your fist for halibut fishing, and moose calls and muslin game bags for moose and caribou hunting.

Next we went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage and met up with the Stempka’s there. We watched a traditional dance performance by members of the Tsimshian tribe from southeast Alaska, near Ketchikan, and a demonstration by young athletes who participate in the Native Olympics games. They do this competition where they jump up and kick a suspended hackeysack ball and land on their feet again. They keep raising the ball until only one person can do it. The record is 9 ft 9 inches. We had lunch there, a reindeer sausage sandwich.

Its been cold and rainy all day and except for walking the dog we stayed in the rest of the day.

The Alaska Native Heritage Center.

Tsimshian dancers.

The jump kick competition.

Like this.

Looks easy enough, right?

Scenery views while walking the dog on a rainy evening. Palmer farm land.

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16360 Elk Rd, Palmer, AK 99645, USA

Sometimes it amazes me how much it can rain here. It rained most of the time that I was gone and it has continued since I came back. Finally this evening it isn’t raining and the cloud cover is breaking up a little.

Today was the day that John and Linda put their other two grandchildren, Joe and Mackenzie, on a plane at the Anchorage airport. Linda went through security with them and waited at the gate until they boarded and their parents were at the gate in Seattle to greet them. It all went well.

Barb and I didn’t do anything special. We went out for lunch at a great restaurant in Palmer. The pie was memorable, I should have taken a picture. I got the oil changed in the Honda this morning and we bought a few things at the store, preparing to leave the more “civilized “ part of Alaska tomorrow, finally. We’ve been in Palmer for a week now, that’s about the longest that we have stayed in any one place while camping.

I did go fishing this afternoon at the Eklutna tailrace. Once again I didn’t catch anything there. I’ve read that its a good fishing spot but I’ve been there several times and I’ve yet to see it happen. I meant to take some pictures there for the blog but I totally forgot to do so. Sorry about that.

Instead I only have one picture for tonight. Our campground here is pretty close to the Alaska state fair grounds. The fair starts next week and they are already making preparations and setting up the rides. We won’t be here for the fair and that’s okay with me, except I think the agricultural exhibits would be interesting. The big vegetables that they grow here due to the the long daylight hours are kind of legendary.

The state fairgrounds. A little soggy right now.

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Red Eagle Lodge

First thing this morning John got the oil changed in their car, and then we pulled up stakes and left Palmer behind as we headed east on the Glenn Highway, into the less populated portions of Alaska. Barb was a little sad to leave Palmer, which she really grew to like, and for me it underscores that we are on our way out of Alaska and that our time here is short.

As the highway passes through the mountains east of Palmer the scenery is spectacular. The road is kind of narrow and winding with steep drop offs in some areas. Fortunately there was no wind today but it was still a white knuckle drive here and there. The foliage was starting to change a little to fall colors. In some places we saw people picking berries, blueberries I believe, even in the rain.

We drove about 180 miles, to Glennallen first and then northeast on what is called the Tok Cutoff. The Tok Cutoff section was especially less traveled and just looked “wilder”. It had many frost heaves and potholes. At supper time we turned off on a wide paved pullout with an historical marker to make supper and boondock for the night.

Scenery along the way today.

The Matanuska Glacier.

Scenery along the way today.

Scenery along the way today.

Scenery along the way today.

The broad and braided Matanuska River.

Scenery along the way today. Fresh snow on the mountain tops.

Stopped here for the night.

The fireweed flowers are almost done for the year. They say that when only the top is in blossom that the summer is over.

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Tok

Sunshine this evening! How nice!

We woke this morning to more rain and 41 degrees, but on the horizon there was an edge to the cloud cover. Rain continued intermittently until late afternoon as we traveled another 100 miles to the town of Tok. Just since arriving the skies have finally cleared.

Our route on the Tok Cutoff skirted the edge of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Wrangell-St. Elias is America’s largest national park but it is not easily accessible. There are only two roads into the park and both are mostly rough gravel roads. Today we drove in on one of those roads, the Nabesna road. We parked the motor homes at the ranger station at the start of the road and after a visit to the ranger station we drove John’s car 29 miles in on the Nabesna road. Somewhat surprisingly, the only wildlife that we saw was trumpeter swans. John and I tried fishing in a couple places but we had no luck. We turned around when the road came to a creek that you had to cross by driving through the water. Not that we couldn’t do it, it just seemed like a good place to turn around and move on.

Amazingly, in talking to the young female ranger at the ranger station we discovered that she was from Waterford! She graduated from Fort LeBoeuf High School and had been a patient at my old office! You just never know.

So now that we are in Tok we are only 90 miles from the Canadian border. We are going to stay here for two nights. We are hoping that with clearer skies we might be able to catch some northern lights before we start heading south. The challenge will be staying awake long enough to watch for them.

A small stream along Nabesna Road. We tried fishing here but had more luck with the berry picking.