Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Denali National Park

Scenes from the drive North to Denali National Park.

Denali National park is the size of the state of Vermont.
 I try to imagine what Winter must look like with snow deep.

This is a typical Alaska roadside scene. Rivers with huge boulders,
 water as blue as the sky and tall slender trees.

 The name Mt McKinley is not used by locals as this name was chosen by an Ohio state senator disregarding the local Denali tribes. The local people call the mountain Denali Mountain.

I will have pictures of Mt McKinley later and its two peaks, the tallest 20,230 ft.
 I have been looking at the snow capped Denali mountain for last 150 miles as I drive North.

Monday, June 17th, I drove North to Denali National Park  from Anchorage about 250 miles.

Next week I camp at the Techlanika River site about 35miles into Denali. This camp site is the same area the book " Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer was written about. Chris McCandless, the young college grad who went to Alaska to show he could live a minimalist life in the back woods. Four months later his body was found by a hunter. Recently there were three German college students who went to the same area and were trapped in the abandoned structure Chris McCandless had died in. Luckily they were found and rescued.

When I hike next week into the backwoods of Denali I will not be looking for the structure Chris McCandless was found. I will be enjoying the immense scenery and looking for grizzly bears that could be a problem.

I will be going to Fairbanks to be at the Midnight Sun celebration. I hear it has developed into a week long party with druids who dress up in costume. Hopefully not like 200BC druids and there will not be any human sacrifices or cannibalism.

The real reason to come to Alaska has been to see the untouched beauty of the vast landscape. The wildlife that is so close it is impossible to not see moose, black bear and elk out especially in the morning and early evening. I have seen grizzly bears usually at higher mountain trails, although I saw three grizzly bear along roadside one morning from 15 feet away. With the sun up almost 24 hours a day it is easy to see what is around the area. At this moment it is 1 am and the sun is as bright as 11 am in the morning and it will be this way for the next week until after June 21st when the days will slowly shorten for Winter. 

Along the Alaskan Highway 3 is the Nenana River. 
On a very hot 93 degree June 19th, an adult bull moose was up to his ears in the cool river.
How deep does the river need to be to submerge a moose?  See picture below.

This moose was seen along the road that leads to the backwoods of Denali. 
This moose is over 7 foot tall at his head. There was a Japanese photographer maybe 5 feet tall standing within ten feet of this moose. She was asked to get back in her car by park employees. 

This is a juvenile grizzly bear from the Kenai Peninsula last week. Foggy last weekend, Homer, AK.
I saw two large adult grizzly bears with a cub eating sweet grass along the highway.
 Thought it best to not disturb the grizzly bears with the cub. A dangerous place to be at the time.

  Kachemak Bay, Homer, AK on Kenai Peninsula. Foggy at 1:00 in the afternoon.

There will be more photos and comments over the next six days while I stay at Denali Campgrounds.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

The rain didn't stop. Everyday that I drove the rain was heavy at times and the temperatures were in the low 40's to upper 30's since the glacial mountain and valleys acted like a huge refrigerator.

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory is a larger town by backwoods mountain town standards. I had gotten used to the lack of services in the mountains, but now I needed car parts to continue driving in the rainy weather.
Whitehorse, YT has a Napa store and now I had hope of buying the electric wiper motor and repairing my wiper. I was getting tired of cheating death at every winding mountain turn with no guard rails.

The Napa store confirmed I needed a $800  electric motor replaced to make the wiper work again. They had no parts in stock and they only get deliveries once a week. It would be a week before parts are available. Now I was desperate so I tried the local salvage yard. My father would be proud of me digging up my used part to fix my own vehicle. I still remember being scolded because I bought a new part as a teenager repairing the family car. I wasn't real happy about not only having to fix my own vehicle but having to cannibalize used car parts that are greasy, dirty and remember freezing cold to fix my own car.  So I find the local junk yard and when I told the junkyard guy I needed a 2005 Chevy wiper motor I was told "Mister nobody here drives a car that new." Again, I would drive another day without my driver side wiper working.

 Next town is Tok, Alaska.
I was looking forward to being home to the USA. It had been almost a month without familiar use of English. Tired of litres of gas, paying with Loonies, Toonies and driving 110 km/hr and feel like I'm standing still. Don't get me wrong the Canadian people were very nice. But I'm used to services and parts being available, give me some US consumerism any day. One evening I had a long talk with a gentleman from British Columbia and he said the Canadian's really like to come to the US to shop, buy gas and have our heath care system. They have a carbon tax that has made gas very expensive and all products delivered to stores are given a carbon tax. The bad part is the carbon tax money goes to the general fund and the government wastes the money. The national health care in Canada is so poor that people who can afford to travel leave to have treatment but a health care tax is added to all products making everything more expensive. He is worried he will have no place for health care when Obamacare is the required health care standard.

First I needed to get through US Customs, I had heard it would be harder to get back in the US than it was to enter Canada. I arrive at the US Border Crossing station, "Do you have anything to declare" I was asked in a not so happy tone. It made me glad to hear the not so nice American way of doing business. God Bless America. "Nothing to declare". Let me see your papers. Sure I thought, I need papers. I, born here, need papers. But no, I was cool and behaved myself. I was allowed to pass and drove on. Immediately the roads were smoother, the Sun shone bright and all was good with the world. Really the Sun came out and the roads were not rattling my fillings out of my teeth anymore.  

I drove to the first town in Alaska, Tok. As many isolated towns are they are self-sufficient and have people within their town, who make it possible to survive the long Winter without outside help.  And they have a Napa store, I was sure the part would be there waiting for me. I asked the clerk for the part, told him my problem and he said "You don't need no part. If one wiper is working and the other is not, there is only one motor for two wiper blades". "Just tighten the nut on the blade that won't move" He showed me the nut, I took out my socket set and tightened the nut. It works, no $800 charge and only took three turns of the nut. This made my day.

Things got better from the minute I crossed into the US. Next was the gas I bought, only $4.00 per gallon. Yes, higher than back home but still good news to me, better than $7.50/gallon in Canada. The best part was the offer of a free car wash with a fill. A fill was considered 25 gallons. With an RV I could get a free car wash every day. It was a do it yourself pressure washer car wash but unlimited water and a bucket with soap and a long handled brush no charge. After muddy gravel roads with pot holes in the Yukon and log trucks coming head on, the Roadtrek looked more like a 20 foot long Tootsie Roll than an RV.  I cleaned up my language of what my RV really looked like. After the car wash I needed a good place to camp. Drove a ways down the road and saw a big sign $10 Boondocking, Free Shower included. I am really beginning to like this town of Tok, Alaska. First they save me $800 on repair, then a free car wash with low cost gas and a free shower when boondocking for only $10.00. What else could happen? Well I found out. In the town square they have a 15 foot tall glass box with a stuffed moose inside. My kinda people.

Tomorrow I drive to the city of Anchorage. I had visions of McDonald's milkshakes. Shopping on every corner. I decided since I had just put 6,500 miles on the Roadtrek in the last 28 days I will have a Chevy dealer check the engine and tires. I had synthetic oil put in at Great Falls, Mt and that was 3,000 miles ago. The oil will be good for another 3,000 miles. I have a college friend in Anchorage so it is time to call him.

I'll be back to Tok, Alaska on my way home. I'll be sure to get a picture of the moose in the glass box and the Boondocking sign with Free shower to add to the blog.

July 1st I board the Columbia Ferry, a 280 ft ferry that will take me and my Roadtrek the 1,900 miles Inside Passage from Skagway, Alaska to Bellingham,Washington. I will have a real private room with exterior window with shower and bathroom. The best 5 1/2 days of the trip I hope.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Northern Canadian Rockies- Muncho Lake, British Columbia

Northern Canadian Rockies- The Lodge on Muncho Lake, BC.

After driving 500 miles on winding mountain roads that are under reconstruction
 this lodge seemed like an oasis. 

 Things learned about remote high elevation mountain campsites.

(1) The nights freeze even if it is mid-June. It was not uncommon to have 30 degrees by 2-3 am. Being awoken by the cold temperatures the first night was a surprise. I don't like to use heat if not necessary while camping. Here the heat was necessary.

(2) Remote campsites can charge whatever they want for services because the closest services are a 4 hour drive away. Warning to self: Don't let your gas tank get less than half empty or you will be vulnerable to the high cost of gas in the mountains. Or worse, no services and run out of gas in the middle of nowhere.     While sitting in the lobby of the large log cabin of The Lodge using the WiFi to write my blog I heard repeated customer complaints about the cost of gas, meals and even using the shower. The gas in Canada is  measured in litres. There are 3.8 litres of gas in a gallon. The Roadtrek RV has a 31 gallon tank, so that is 118 litres. I usually stop for gas at half empty I will need approximately 60 litres at $1.39 per litre that is $84.00 dollars for half a tank. In the good old USA I could fill my entire tank for between $86 - $100.  At the Lodge the Swiss- German owner of the Lodge has a customer who has no choice but to pay more for gas. The price is not marked at pump and the credit card is left with the front desk. The cost of gas at the lodge is $2.39 per litre or $143 for half a tank of gas. Customers were surprised by the price and I heard many complaints while sitting in lobby. Imagine paying almost $300 to fill your tank of gas. What people didn't know until they left is that just down the road two miles is an old place with gas pump for a dollar less per litre. Luckily, I had filled my tank full only two hours earlier before arriving at the Lodge and the Roadtrek is somewhat gas efficient. I still had 200 miles of gas left before I left the Lodge that morning.

(3) Remote mountain villages do not have auto repair services or even part stores to do it yourself. The rough roads had caused my one wiper blade to stop working. Duct tape to the rescue!  Visibility on a winding mountain road is essential. Canada didn't spend any money on guard rails on steep 2,000 to 3,000 foot drop offs. Many winding roads were above the tall pine tree tops. I imagined falling thru the trees to my demise as my windows were opaque from the heavy rain. On a more pleasant thought, the Lodge is a nice place to stay and I decided to stay three days to rest, do my laundry, enjoy a long hot shower and work on my blog. Think again. The shower costs $1.00 for 4 minutes of shower time. Desperation makes one do desperate things. It was the best $5.00 I had spent on my trip. Still it is irritating to stop in middle of shower to keep feeding the meter.

The Sauna was a nice place to rest in a warm cozy place.
 Of course a Sauna,what else would you expect from a Swiss- German.

My campsite was close to Muncho Lake with  mountains in background.
I especially enjoyed the Paper Birch trees that reminded me of my grandfather's cabin
 on the northern lake of St Helen in Michigan. Maybe Grandpa is responsible
 for my long trip North to Canada and Alaska. Thank you Grandpa Jim.

In the morning I would walk down by the waters edge and watch the Mountain Goats and their babies walk the sheer rock edges in the morning sun. Their white coats and four long legs would show up well against the contrast of the dark rock ledges and dark bark of pine trees.

There was a small fishing boat to fish the cold mountain waters. 
The metal boat was similar to my Grandpa's boat but much nicer.

For the more adventurous there is a small plane available to fly to a remote fishing cabin overnight.
Only $550 for the 24 hour fishing trip. If only Grandpa had a plane! Now that's dreaming.

 In the world of clamorous cities and ubiquitous social media, mountain scenes
 like this one seems like the perfect antidote. Filled with this kind of immense scenery
 how can one not become grateful for the years of  life God has given us,
 and know it is up to us to put life in our years. 

 The glacial waters have a turquoise color, reminding me of the beautiful Traverse Bay, Michigan.

 Now I am off to Whitehorse,Yukon Territory. Ever closer to Alaska, just West of my present location.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

British Columbia- Dawson Creek --------- Mile Zero on Alaskan Highway

Have now crossed into British Columbia province from Alberta province.

Mile Zero of Alaska Highway.
It will still be several days before crossing customs check at Alaskan US border.
Our Roadtrek group has split to see different things in area.
Tonight everyone is to get together for a group photo.

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 Banff wecome sign in English and French

Banff is named after Banffshire, Scotland the birthplace of the first settlers who built the Canadian Pacific Railroad through the Canadian Rockie mountains. Banff has an elevation of 4,537 ft making it the highest town in the rockies.

 Banff's downtown shops look like chalets.

My favorite shop is the Candy shop.

Jasper, Alberta - Icefields TransCanadian Glacier Parkway

The Trans-Canadian Glacial Icefields Parkway that leads to Jasper, Alberta backwoods campgrounds.

On June 3rd I started on the 214 mile Glacier Ice Field Parkway drive to the backwoods of Jasper, Alberta. I noticed the 41 degree temperature was dropping to 38 then to 36 degrees as I drove up the mountain.

 Icey Glacier Lake along the Icefield Highway. This scene looks very much like January not June.
Notice the clouds are low. The roads are not icey but there is ice all around the highway.

Ice fields Falls

Whistler's backwoods campground Jasper, Alberta, Canada
This campsite is only a few miles West from Ketchikan, Alaska.
At sunset on first night of camping there was an animal that ran by my window at about 40 mph.
At the Parks Check-in I was warned of Grizzly bears that come out at night.
The animal was an Elk calf and it's mother running from a predator in the woods .
The next morning while walking to the shower facilities I was greeted by the mother Elk, the calf .

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Glacier National Park - St Mary's, Montana

Glacier National Park has spectacular views that will take your breath away.  So will the thousand foot drop offs where Logan's pass traverses the park from East to West.

Glacier National Park has the St Mary's River, the St Mary's Falls and is located in the town of St Mary.
So, why is everything named after St Mary?

Father DeSmet, a Catholic priest, was caught in a heavy snow storm coming off the Divide on the Old Beaverslide trail. When the stormed cleared, the first thing he saw was the face of St Mary. Today many people use the face of St Mary as a landmark to help guide them safely off the mountain.
The face of St Mary appears in the rocks of Single Shot Mountain.

The road into Glacier National Park is called Going-To-The-Sun Road because of the height of the road.
I camped at the Rising Sun campsite, a primitive campsite meaning no water or electric to hook up to and back in the woods with all the wildlife.

The view I had in the morning from my campsite at Rising Sun CG. The rising moon is in the sky.

In the morning a resident black bear met me on the trail. The Park Ranger told me the Rising Sun CG is on the bear walk path to the lake and creek below. I decided to find some other campers to share the bears with and moved to an area with electric and water.

This became a regular occurrence with me in the RV and the bears walking very close.

Glacier National Park.

The St Mary's River.

The St Mary's river as it runs to the town .

Falls in Glacier National Park.

Rapids downstream from the falls

 Mountain Sheep far off on top of the mountain.

Mountain sheep has noticed that I have stopped on side of the road. 

 Sheep is closer but not sure if it is safe to come closer.

The are sheep are so friendly I believe if I opened my door to feed it, it would be in the RV.

This blog is under construction until I can find a strong WiFi signal to complete the job. Moving to Jasper Alberta, Canada tomorrow maybe I can find better WiFi.

Great Falls, Montana - Lewis and Clark Trail

Great Falls, Montana was to be a place to rest up for a while from the long trek from coastal Carolina.

 First I stopped for some free coffee at a Rest Stop along the highway just Southeast of Great Falls. The guy working at the Rest Stop was a Good Sam camper himself and from the area. He told me of the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center and the Giant Spring nearby where huge trout could be found in a circular flow of fresh underground water bubbling up. This made me curious, no rest for the weary.

One thing lead to another I had found the great falls that Great Falls is named after.

 It was a beautiful day for a walk along the Missouri River.  There I saw a group of boys catching trout from the spring creek coming off the Missouri River and they couldn't get the hook out of the fishes mouth. Who better to ask but a dentist with time on his hands. Dentist to the rescue, fish was saved, boys were happy. Time now to wash my fishy hands.

 This is a smaller falls along the Missouri River.

 This is the fresh water Giant Spring that the boys were catching the trout.

 Water from the Giant Spring form a rapids as the water flows into the Missouri River.

The migration of the Swallows from Capistrano migrate through Great Falls. Some have become residents for the Spring and Summer months.

This Blog is under construction .  WiFi is very hard to find in the mountains since satellite is only way to get WiFi, I have been at Tim Horton's Coffee shop for several mornings now and have little done for the time.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Devils Tower National Monument

At 5:30 am I hiked to the top of the trail around Devils Tower. It was 45 degrees and very still, the only sound was the wind whistling through the Ponderosa Pine trees. The valley below has a river run through where I camped for the night. The camping was primitive but very peaceful.  Just as the entire park is.

 Devils Tower from the start of the hike to top of trail.

The Northern Plains Indians have a legend that the great bear from the sky has made the vertical scratch marks on the Devils Tower.

There are sacred "Prayer Ribbons" left by the Northern Plains Indians.

Devils Tower is made of Igneous rock (previously molten) from a volcano that had sedimentary rock and soil around the cone of volcano. Over the years the sedimentary  rock and soil eroded away leaving the Tower. The scratch lines are due to the cubic structure of the rock eroding away.  In other areas of Wyoming and Montana can be seen smaller "towers" of rock of similar structure.

View while driving into Devils Tower Monument Park

At the entrance to the park are hundreds of Prairie Dogs and their mounds.
While walking across the Prairie Dog town there was an alarm sounded. The little doggies popping their heads up to look and then ducked back down into their holes. Now I know how "Wack a Mole" was thought of as a game. Sorry little doggies.

Now I am off to Billings, Montana as an intermediate stop on the way to Great Falls, Montana.

Billings has a Rim View of their city as Billings is surrounded by mountains and high ridges on two sides.
When I left for Great Falls, Montana the next morning at 4:00 am the city was all lit up very bright.