Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Late Fall Mountain Tour


Mt St. Helens pre-eruption
Once upon a time, way back in the twentieth century, a work assignment caused me to drag our little family from the Upper Midwest out to the Pacific Northwest. Family and friends left behind weren’t real sure what to make of us. Why would they move way out there? Have they lost their minds? Don’t they realize Oregon and Washington are populated by drug-using hippies and weird folks that just don’t fit in anywhere else? Ok, there were enough semi-normal people to make some jet airliners up in Seattle, but everyone else is just plain strange. Maybe, after a few months, they’ll come to their senses and come back to Wisconsin.

It felt like raw adventure. I’ll never forget my first close-up view of a snow-capped Mt. Hood as the plane skirted its flanks on the long final into Portland. I was mesmerized. It was the embodiment of a rugged pioneer spirit, the raw power of crashing landmasses, and a reminder of the impermanence of the status quo. In some small way we were following the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. I was changed.

Once a year or so, during that span of 8 years out here, Dar and I would load the kids into the family station wagon and head for Mt. St. Helens, about 40 miles north of our home in Vancouver Washington. The first time was about 7 or 8 years after the mountain de-topped itself in 1980. Windy Ridge was usually our destination, an area on the north-northeast side of the mountain, directly adjacent to Spirit Lake, the closest easy access point for urban explorers like us.

During the 1980 eruption, a massive landslide and the resulting lateral blast were directed northward, toward Spirit Lake and Windy Ridge. It blew off the top 1300 feet of the mountain and created a 2000 feet deep divot down through the core of the mountain. With all that pent-up energy suddenly set free, the blast moved across the landscape at more than 300 mph with temperatures that exceeded 700f degrees… killing 57 people who were unlucky enough to be in the area. It literally sterilized the ground to the point that nothing grew on this baked soil for years afterward. To reinforce the sense of lifelessness, the landscape of white-ish gray ash was also littered with lightweight light-colored rocks called pumice. The foamy air-filled rocks are so light they will float on water. A “fallout” produced during the eruption, pumice is created when superheated lava is quickly depressurized and cooled, and then carried out of the volcano by the blast.

Through a series of these visits during our 8 years out here we witnessed the land slowly, very slowly, coming back to life. Our first visits revealed no sign of anything growing, not even the smallest weeds. And this was 7 or 8 years after the eruption. But a few years later a few small tenacious snippets of green started to pop up through cracks in the baked crust.

Life was returning.

==========

In October, from the 15th through the 20th, we took a few days between grandkid childcare duties to take a closer “peek” at a couple peaks of the northern Cascades. But rather than explore the western slopes of our two targets, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier, (the slopes in easy view of the traveling masses on busy I-5 between Portland and Seattle… well, when visibility permits... which isn't often this time of year… but I digress), we thought we’d do the lesser-explored eastern sides. The normally “iffy” late Fall PNW weather was predicted to be nice for a couple days, so we hit the road before that could change. We had about 5 or 6 days before we’re due at our son and DILs home in the Seattle area.

Day One

Under mostly sunny skies, we started in Woodland WA and drove eastward along the Lewis River on the eponymous road. The drive from Woodland through Cougar and on up to Windy Ridge in the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is close to 100 miles, but it’s slow going. With the curves and slow-going, a traveler should plan for at least three, maybe more like four, hours. But the good weather and the lack of traffic on this weekday made for easy and enjoyable traveling. About the last third of the drive is on Forest Road 25, which is paved but not in the best condition.

Mt. St. Helens behind us
We found the intersecting road that goes into the National Monument toward Windy Ridge. For the first couple miles, memories of our family visits nearly 30 years ago were kindled. Things hadn’t changed much. The eruption had minimal impact at this point in the drive and adding 30 years to already very large trees just made them a little very larger. But after a few more miles, we entered the blast area and now I’m paying attention -- looking for change. You can imagine, if you try, how the blast raced over the ridges and hills here… creating devastation on some slopes and leaving others, in the lee of the blast, virtually unchanged. But the further into the Monument one goes the more complete the devastation is. And still is. Even after 35 years. I was anticipating more growth, more life, to contrast with my memories from my last visit. Don’t get me wrong. Life is returning. It’s just not as much as I was thinking I’d see. The ground was so utterly cooked that even after 35 years of seeds floating around and finding cracks in the soil in which to embed… after 35 years of growth promoting rain and sun… there’s still a long way to go.

We drove to the parking area next to Spirit Lake… the same one we had taken the kids to all those years ago… and hiked around the area. An overlook perched atop a hill, 368 steps above the parking area, provides a wonderful overview of the area and the hollowed-out mountain just 4 miles away. From this vantage point you can see inside the crater, through the eruption created breach on the north side, where the new growing volcanic dome inside the crater is visible… the plug that will one day blow away with the next eruption.

Forest Road 99
Wanting to retrace our route during one of our earlier visits, we took the less traveled Forest Road 99 northward. When things settled down after the eruption, sometime around 1985, somebody decided to spend some money on roads and facilities to handle the influx of anticipated visitors.

What’s interesting about this road is that it traverses a complete range of devastation from complete to nearly nothing at all. It’s a primitive road, only one lane wide in most places, with spaced wider spots to facilitate passing other vehicles from either direction. Well, they decided to completely re-pave this road with top grade quality asphalt. They also put money into very stately rock and mortar masonry monuments/signs to demark the border of the new National Volcanic Monument as well as a large state-of-the-art wayside park at Ryan Lake.

Well, it’s all slipping away. It’s neglected, not maintained, and rapidly deteriorating. It doesn’t appear they’ve spent a dime on it in the ensuing 30 years.. The nice asphalt road is being undercut by water in many places… and has actually washed away in a few. At least someone dumped a load of gravel into the gaping holes to keep the road open. Only the basic structure of the stately monument/sign remains… and that is leaning at a precarious angle in preparation for washout, collapse, and a slide downhill any year now. The state-of-the-art wayside park is similarly neglected. We felt like we were getting an early preview of the ruins from the once-great American Civilization. Our best guess as to the reason for the condition of the Monument over here is that resources and energy have been diverted to the Johnson Ridge Observatory over on the other side of Spirit Lake. This new facility is closer to civilization, and caters to travelers on I-5. I guess, from a bang for the buck standpoint, it does make some sense.

During our time on and along Forest Road 99, we didn’t see another person. Not one. The night we spent boondocked at the Ryan Lake wayside was one of the quietest and darkest nights we’ve ever experienced.

Day Two

The next morning we broke camp and headed north again to the junction of Road 99 and Road 24, which then heads on into Randall WA. The northern end of 99 looked even more neglected than the southern end… if that was possible. It was along in here that we did actually see another person, the one and only during those two days, a very surprised and wide-eyed fellow in a small pickup going south. I believe he was as surprised as we were.

We drove to the town of Randall, on US-12, and then eastward through Packwood. A few miles further US-12 takes a bend to the east but we took WA-123 to the north and into Mt. Rainier National Park. Since National Parks pretty much close up by this time of the year (budget cuts, idiot politicians, misplaced priorities…) there was no discernable official presence of any park staff whatsoever. I don’t know where they all go in the Fall and Winter… but there wasn’t anyone here this day.

Climb through Stevens Canyon to Paradise
The drive up to Paradise from the east side gate is spectacular. The road follows Stevens Creek, a stream descending the flanks of Rainier and a tributary of the Cowlitz. This little stream, not so little today as a result of recent heavy rains, has cut a significant canyon over the years. Stevens Canyon reminded us of the many similar canyons we drove through during our Alaska trip his past summer. And with the bright autumn blue sky, the Stevens Canyon drive was a real “trip” to remember.

Paradise Visitor Center - Closed
At Paradise, the parking lot was nearly full. Nice weather in Fall, especially in the PNW where people know what’s coming, is something to be savored. But despite the crowd, there was not one Park official to be found. I think it was a Friday and this time of the year the large Visitor Center is only open on the weekends… so it was locked up. The large Paradise Inn Hotel was likewise closed… only a handful of workers sealing it up for the Winter. There was one toilet facility that was open (thankfully), but that was it. Despite all these folks paying taxes and supporting the National Parks, and wanting to enjoy a great October day at a National Park, there’s no money to keep facilities or people on staff. We’d rather buy bombs and war machinery than spend a little on National Parks in the Fall. It’s amazing how many people are hoodwinked by career politicians into being fearful and going along with this bullshit. End of mini-rant.

We decided to hike “up the hill” a ways to see what we could see. Took Skyline Trail up to Glacier Vista at about 6400 feet of elevation. The glacier we’re closest to here is the Nisqually glacier, and the highest part of Rainier is right there in front of you… soaring another 8,000 feet into the bright blue sky… just a couple miles away. The clear air and unlimited visibility provided a rare visual treat.

Not being acclimated to 6000 feet of elevation, the vertical component of our hike was a good workout and a bit of a challenge. Felt good though.

Our camp on Summit Creek
With daylight growing short, we retreated back down the hill to the east in search of a camp for the night. The resources we had pointed to a small NFS campground off US-12 and a few miles further down a dirt road. Summit Creek Campground was a weird little facility. Perhaps 5 or 6 campsites… about as rustic as a drive-in campground could be. No other campers. Neglected, but with a stocked pit toilet. Difficult maneuvering, even for our 4WD pickup truck. We selected the most level site which still wasn’t very level. We’re in dense forest, the weather had turned cloudy and colder, and night was falling. Good night.

Day Three

Over coffee, decided to explore along US-12 to the east, the White Pass summit area, and Rimrock Lake. Stopped for lunch at a cafe at White Pass, where we perused a logbook of thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m impressed with the number of people that use that trail. Long distance hiking like that is attractive to me in some ways, but I don’t feel enough passion for it at this point in my life to take steps to actually do it. And that makes me sad. We make our choices, life goes on, and the world continues to turn.

Slopes decorated with Larch trees - the only Coniferous
tree that loses it's needles every year.

Rimrock Lake is a large impoundment of the Tieton River that provides water for agriculture and communities on the east side of the Cascades… the largest being Yakima. We drove the loop around the south side of the Lake and checked out (and noted) a few campgrounds and boondocking areas.

Continued on US-12 all the way thru Naches and to the edges of Yakima before turning around and going back to a NFS CG along the Tieton River called Windy Point. We picked a primo site along the river and set up camp.

Day Four

Inclement weather kept us in camp all day. A nice break in our excursion.

Day Five

Mountain Goat
Drove east again on US-12 to the junction with WA-410, which we took northwestward toward Chinook Pass. Another nice day kept us busy absorbing sensory inputs from the environment. WA-410, which follows the Naches River and then the American River to the summit of Chinook Pass and back to the west side of the Cascades. This is not an all season road. It’s closed in the Winter through the highest portion over the pass. During the Winter, there are only 4 routes through the Cascades in the State of Washington: US-2 (Stevens Pass), I-90 (Snoqualmie Pass), US-12 (White Pass, which we visited a couple days ago), and WA-14 along the Columbia River. The resulting sense of isolation is something savored by true “west side” Northwesters.

A peek at Rainier from Sunrise
Our goal for the day was the Sunrise area of Mt. Rainier National Park. That’s right, we’re going back into the Park. Paradise isn’t the only destination close to the mountain, the other is Sunrise on the northeast side of the peak. Of course, there won’t be anything open up there, but we’d like to drive up and see what we can. The closer we got to the pass and the mountain, it became clear that the peak was occluded by clouds, not a solid deck of clouds, but enough to keep it mostly hidden.

So it was over the pass, down the hill a ways to White River Road, and back up toward Sunrise. There were fewer people at the top than I’ve got fingers on my left hand, and the cool temps and wind kept us inside the truck cab for our planned picnic lunch. But for a few minutes, the clouds parted and treated us to a good view of the mountain from this side. A very enjoyable time.

Along WA-410 east of Chinook Pass
So now what? Time to think about a camp for the night. Our resources didn’t show many prospects further down the hill and toward the Seattle metro area. We ultimately decided to backtrack again… go back over Chinook Pass… to another NFS CG we checked out earlier in the day. Sawmill Flat CG was open and completely vacant, so we had the run of the place. We picked another pleasant site along the Naches River and settled in for the night.

Day Six

We started the day not sure if this would be the final day of our excursion or if we’d find another camp further down the hill for one more night. For the third time we drove over Chinook Pass and continued toward the Metro area. Didn’t find a camp for the night but did find a very good time at the Historic Mint Restaurant and Alehouse… lunch and good craft beer over which we reviewed the past few days.

Time to shift gears from explorers to grandchild care.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Alaska and the Far North: A retrospective

After a few weeks (OK… a couple months...) to put some time and distance between our summer trip to the far north and our “real” life back in the Northwest, I offer the following recap and some random thoughts about our northerly excursion. Let's just say the delay was for perspective. Yeah… that's it. Perspective.

There's no doubt that this was a big milestone trip for us. Not including our initial drive from Oregon to Wisconsin in May, we drove a bit over 10,000 miles during those 85 days. From Wisconsin, we angled through the Canadian Rockies to Dawson Creek, then to Whitehorse, Dawson City, the Dempster Highway to Inuvik (and Tuktoyuktuk), over to Chicken, Tok Junction, Wrangell St Elias NP, Valdez, Seward, the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, Willow, Denali NP, and Fairbanks, before steering a mostly southeastward course and slowly heading back to our Pacific Northwest home. During the trip we drove all of the Alaska Highway, the entire Dempster, all the Top of the World Highway, the complete Cassiar, and most of the other named highways in Alaska. We consider this our “survey course” of the far north, and fully intend to travel back in a couple years for another stab at the wild and wonderful country up there. After our experience this year, you couldn't keep us away.

A few statistics from our 10,000 mile, 85 day trip: All figures here have been converted to US dollars and US gallons. Fuel for the truck: 812 gallons which lightened our bank account by $2,881. An average gallon costs us $3.55. Most expensive gas was just shy of $5.00 in Inuvik. The truck averaged 12.5 mpg over the entire trip and we drove an average of a little over 100 miles per day. We spent $1,360 for camping and lodging, but there were no lodges or motel stays for us – we camped in the little pop-top camper for 85 days straight. In case you haven't already done the math, that's an average of $16.60 per night. So fuel and camping totaled about $4,200 for the three months of travel.

As for food, the assumption is that we'd have to eat wherever we are, whether traveling or not. We spent a few additional dollars by eating out more and groceries are certainly more expensive the further north you travel. But that was offset by our tendency toward simple meals and keeping things conservative. A strong US dollar helped a lot too. There'd have to be a lot of assumptions and adjustments made in order to do a real comparison between here and there, traveling or staying home, which I'm not going to do. In any case, it's just two of us and we're not big eaters. A wild-ass guess of an additional $10 or $12 per day would probably be as close as I could get to a half-way reasonable estimate of additional food expense. If we can make that assumption, $800 to $1,000 extra for food, the total trip cost was somewhere “north” of $5,000. For almost three months, we consider that reasonable.

Weather: Generally, it was a fairly good weather year to tour the far north, which can be rainy and cold some years, and spectacularly nice others. Unfortunately, warmer and dry weather often means more wildfires, and there indeed were a higher than average number of fires this year, at one point more than 300 fires going at the same time… just in Alaska. And fires mean smoke in the air, which can obscure otherwise spectacular vistas. We experienced a few days of smoke-filled skies, particularly both times we went through Tok Junction and on the northbound drive up the Dempster. Other than those, smoke was a minor issue. The only large rain event we experienced was during our Seward visit. There were a few other days of light or intermittent rains, but that's about it.

Bugs: Before heading north, we prepared ourselves with most of the suggested items to keep a person from being eaten alive by the bugs: head nets, clothes soaked with Permethrin, deet sprays, deet lotions, and a few preventative measures I've forgotten about. But whether it was the dryer year or we just lucked out, our preparations and sprays went largely unused. The worst bug experience we had was during our 2 hour visit to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean in far northern Northwest Territories, where you literally could not be outdoors without running and flailing your arms about like a madman. There were a few other campgrounds where we opted to curtail outdoor activities in the evening, but overall a minor irritation. We will not remember bugs being a big issue on this trip.

Crowds: Even though summer is the tourist season up there, we usually didn't feel the pressure of the crowd. Perhaps it was the places we chose to go and the things we chose to do, but more often there was a sense of solitude. Especially in the far northern Yukon, there just aren't many people around.

But if you crave crowds and all the gift shops and touristy trappings that come with them, spend time in the port cities along the ocean where dozens of cruise ships loaded with tens of thousands of people who want to “see” Alaska battle their way from port to port. It's another way to do Alaska, that's for sure. The hot spots for cruiser activity are deep water ports like Skagway, Juneau, and other larger towns in Southeast Alaska. Skagway, for example, literally dries up, boards up, and mostly evacuates after the last cruise ship heads south for the Winter. These days, Skagway's historic significance takes a back seat to mining dollars from tourists for an “authentic” Alaskan experience. I'm sure it's an experience… it's just not the experience of the Alaska we sought.

The Kenai Penninsula was crowded with dip-netters during our visit. It was the only place we found totally full campgrounds. And the spit in Homer was swamped with tourists, which kept our enthusiasm in check. We don't fish, so I'm sure those that do might have a different opinion. We'd like to experience the Kenai during the off-season during our next trip up there.

But it wasn't only the solitude we liked. Part of our experience was the collection of new acquaintances and friends made along the way. Because there are relatively few roads for the size of the geography, it's common to run into the same travelers more than once. Common bonds and interests abound that grease interactions and encourage even introverts to reach out and touch others in some way. I'm sure it's an aspect of being human… the need to connect. Being in an area with very few people just enhances that need. Contrast that with being in even a moderate size crowd, say in a shopping mall or on a busy street corner, where interactions between people are limited, even avoided.

There's no doubt we want to go back for another go at it. Like any trip to any place, you can't see it all the first time. And at least for North America, there's no other place that's like the far north.

Below are a series of additional thoughts and comments that I casually noted during the trip.

Wildlife: Most people report that you’ll see more wildlife alongside the highways in Canada than you’ll find in Alaska. The leading theory as to why this is blames it on people. There are more people that live along and travel on the roads here in Alaska than there is in northern Canada, and the density of people-activity has driven the animals that haven’t been hit by traffic or hunted further back into un-populated areas. Some believe there's a lot of poaching going on too. That moose you might have seen between Anchorage and Fairbanks may very well be in someone's freezer.

Another reason for not seeing wildlife is that many tourists have a bad case of “get-there-itis”. They drive as fast as they can and then wonder why they're not seeing anything. As one native Alaskan told me, “the animals are there… most people just don't take the time to really look. They expect the moose to step out on the road in front of them and pose for a picture.”

We saw just about everything we were hoping to see… more black bear than expected, fewer moose... a playful family of Dahl Sheep; bison; grizzly; elk; many eagles; humpback whales; dolphins; sea otters; seals; sea lions; and others not coming to mind right now.  With the possible exception of some grayish blur that ran in front of us on the Dempster, we don't think we saw a wild cat of any kind, or a wolf. Not seeing a wolf was a real miss in my book.

Big RVs: Long multi-month trips to Alaska can be done with big motorhomes or monster fifth wheels, but we think most people will enjoy it more in a smaller RV… ideally, the smallest rig that works for you. Any way you look at it, this is primarily a driving trip, and, in our opinion, you’ll enjoy the trip so much more with a small nimble rig that can go and park just about anywhere. We’ve observed big RVs white-knuckling their way along narrow shoulder-less roads, bouncing and rolling over uneven frost heaved road surfaces, spraying thick layers of mud and dirt onto and into every nook and cranny of their “toad”, and then spending hours scraping and scrubbing bugs and road grime from acres of glass and painted fiberglass. Dirt covered rigs are a way of life up here. When a shiny clean RV pulls into a campground, the others gather and talk about the guy that doesn't fit in. Additionally, large RVs are almost as wide as the narrow road lane they're on. The constant driver attention required to stay on the road doesn’t provide for much time to look around and enjoy the scenery.

I know… there are those who need their space and don't feel they can do it any other way… and that's OK. Do what works for you. And folks do drive these big things up there all the time. All I'm saying is that I believe many people will enjoy the trip far more with a small rig. I know we did.

Climate: I was a little surprised to learn that August is usually the wettest month of the year in Alaska. Locals don't think much of Summer and debate whether Spring or Fall is the best time of the year. We're thinking our next trip up that way will be during a shoulder season… either late spring or early fall… before or after peak tourist season and when most RVers are hunkered down in Arizona in deathly fear of little snowflakes. However, it'd be good to have a four-season rig before we attempt that.

The northernmost fine dining establishment
we ever found... Alestine's in Inuvik.
The bus is the kitchen.
Meals and Food: Despite being on a three month long road trip, we still have to eat. Under the assumption that we have to eat regardless of whether we’re traveling or at home, we attempted only to keep track of “extra” or larger food expenditures – and weren't real successful at that. Food is more expensive the further north one travels, but how much more is only a guess.

We’ve come to find that, while exploring, eating in smaller local restaurants or road-side lodges staffed by local folks (and not chains staffed by teenagers) is an enriching element of the traveling experience. If you look for the right situation, you’ll find interesting people who’ll let you in on their world. You’ll learn more about their lives, lifestyles, interests, and concerns. Those interactions make you feel more engaged with the place you’re visiting… and that place becomes a part of you in some way. During our travels we find we eat out every other day or so… sometimes two days out of three. We look for good basic food… nothing fancy.

When we’re tired from a day of travel or exploration, and neither of us feels like cooking something… and going out isn’t in the cards… we keep a ready supply of dehydrated meals in the larder. A staple food for backpackers and trekkers, they're simple to make. Just boil water, add, mix, and wait ten minutes. We’ve enjoyed beef pot roast, chicken and rice, beef stroganoff, spaghetti and meat sauce, and others, when the option would have been a peanut butter sandwich. Clean up is easy and they're usually right-sized so there are no leftovers. Very efficient and they taste reasonably good too. (about $5 to $8 per meal for two)

Modes of travel: The enjoyment a person gets from travel and exploring is largely up to that person. During our trip we observed every imaginable travel and camping mode one can imagine. I talked with bicyclists and motorcyclists who were tent camping and having the time of their lives… couldn’t imagine doing the trip any other way. And we talked with one couple who were traveling in an organized caravan with a 45 foot motorhome and were having a positively miserable time… couldn’t wait for the whole ugly ordeal to be over. And I’m sure there are other examples of love and hate with every other mode of travel. One's frame-of-mind, expectations, and how open-minded a person is to new and different places are probably the keys to a positive and enriching experience.

Staying in motels or lodges? Personally, besides the high cost, I’d get tired of schlepping my bags from car to room and back to car again every day.

RV Rentals? Renting a class C motorhome or truck camper is an amazingly popular travel option for visitors to the far north, especially tourists from Europe or Asia. For many, this is a good choice… certainly better than bouncing from motel to motel every night. But because I enjoy the drive up and back and I'm really a tightwad at heart, the cost (which can be considerable) and the time constraint on the back end would nag at me, limiting my enjoyment of the trip. What do I do if I feel like staying someplace an extra day or two but my two week rental has expired?

Tours or caravans? Not for me, but if you need the security and resources of a group led by a knowledgeable guide, it's another option.

Whichever way one decides to see the far north, try to get in the right frame of mind. We did three months in about the smallest truck camper you can buy, and had a thoroughly wonderful time.

Access to the Internet. We knew going into this trip that we’d have limited access to the Internet or cell phone systems. Since we didn't buy Canadian phone or data plan, we knew we’d be totally reliant on finding WIFI along the way during our time in Canada. Public wifi hotspots are found in libraries, coffee shops, cafe's and restaurants, at some campgrounds. But, in our experience, the wifi is either so busy or so restricted and so slow that it's literally un-usable for anything but the basics… if even that.

What I hadn’t planned on was the lousy data service we got from Verizon in Alaska. I did learn they’re building out their own system in the 49th state, but it’s slow going with all the small grand-fathered in cell companies who were first and are hanging on for dear life, milking it while they can. Because of the vast area you really only have a chance at service in and between the larger cities. For the few days we were there, we had very good service in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Because it’s on the Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, we even had good 4G data at our campsite in Willow… and we were there for 8 nights. For some strange reason we had good data coverage in Valdez. But anywhere else… from the Kenai Peninsula to Seward to just about anywhere else… zip. Nadda. I'm sure this will improve somewhat in the next few years, but with all the mountains and large areas of little or no population, wireless access is going to be a problem for many years to come.

Blogging: I did make a huge improvement to my blogging stress by changing from a daily to a weekly publishing schedule during our trip. By having one file to edit and add to as the week progresses… and a file that can even be worked on with my little tablet if I choose, it’s far easier for me to keep my notes up during the week and then stress out about finding an internet connect only on Sunday… or as soon as I can thereafter. I re-confirmed that daily blogging is not for me.

For a few days after leaving the sparsely populated north and heading back to the lower 48… oh, somewhere about the middle of British Columbia, I started feeling something… not sure what, but an uncomfortableness. Speed, hustle and bustle, everything moving so fast. Cars and trucks on the highway are quickly coming up behind us and passing, frantically going somewhere much faster than we need to go in order to get where we're going. Even an elderly woman who had to look through her steering wheel instead of over it, and who I guessed was zipping her canasta club to lunch, sped past us as we trundled toward Vancouver. So much activity… I want to go back to the quieter north.


“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh






















Until Next Time...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

On Blogging

Recently, it seems to me, there are a lot of bloggers that have either suspended their blogs or stopped blogging altogether. It's possible that my impression is due to the selection of blogs that I look in on, which are mostly the blogs of RVers and travelers. But then again… perhaps not.

Blogging went mainstream in the mid 2000s. When I started, in 2006, there were a good number of RV travelers that already had blogs. It was something new, something fresh, and the bubble of people getting into the RVing life in those years were quick to respond. In our first years on the road, (2007 – 2008-ish) the vibe was that every RVer needed a blog. In fact, there were seminars at rallies that expressed that very sentiment. Blogging rapidly became a fad, something expected, something assumed. But, like all fads and meteors, expect it to brighten and fade.

Since many bloggers were/are in it for the social networking aspect, it seems a natural evolution for blogs to migrate to tools designed for this purpose. I'm referring to today's more convenient and less time consuming options for keeping in touch with your “peeps”... Facebook, Twitter, etc., which now seem to be the locus of the “look at what I did today” bunch.

It's also possible that I'm looking at a generational phenomenon here. We've all seen a pickup in the number of younger working-age folks who have become RVers and are able to earn a living while they travel. Groups like RVillage and Xscapers are the new generation of travelers with their own methods of keeping in touch, while my circle of reference is a collection of old fuddy-duddy blogs.

In any case, it's not a surprise that the blogs of RVers are fading away. Sure, there will always be a hardcore few, but the bubble will deflate, and the world will continue to turn.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Un-Mothballing

Pretty darned pleased with
her new wheels.
Tuesday, Sept 15
We're up in the Seattle area at this writing for a couple weeks soaking up family time with our son, daughter-in-law, and our little grand-daughter. They have a gap in child daycare arrangements and we're excited by the opportunity to spend time with them all, and to really get to know the delightful little sprout.

Sandwiched between our Alaska/Yukon trip and this Seattle gig, we had about a week and a half back at our home-base in Oregon. I anticipated needing to wash the motorhome and car in addition to the truck and camper upon our return, but the elements were kind to the mothballed machinery and we only focused on the truck and camper for now. Camper was detached from the truck and both were scrubbed down. I'm a fan of waterless carwash products, but this job necessitated an old fashioned soap and water and lots of suds washing that would have made my Dad proud. The waterless cleaner was step two. The resulting squeaky clean duo were then re-assembled and made ready for our next outing, sometime in October, weather permitting.

Most of the first couple days back at the bushouse kept us busy getting it ready to live in again. Some may not know what's involved with properly preparing an RV for long term storage, but it's an involved list. Upon your return, the whole process must be reversed. With a motorhome, we feel it's important to fire it up and take it for a drive, something we do on a regular basis anyway. Motorhomes need to be driven. Nothing good happens to one that sits. And simply starting the engine and running it for a few minutes doesn't count. At a minimum, we take it for a 30 or 40 mile drive... which hopefully involves running the engine hard at times... 100%. With all the hills in this part of the country, it isn't tough to find places to really get the engine warm. That was the last thing we did when we parked it when we left in the Spring, and the first thing we did when we got back. Now that we're largely convinced of the benefits of small-rig travel we're talking about getting a fifth-wheel to park on our lot semi-permanently, and will sell the motorhome. Things change, life evolves, possibilities expand, and the world turns.

I haven't yet completed a recap of our trip to Alaska and the Yukon, as well as some thoughts and observations about the trip... but will have it up on the blog in the next couple weeks or so.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Travelogue August 23 thru August 29

This week began with us finishing up the Cassiar Hwy. and then working southward through British Columbia on our way back to Washington. It also marks the end of our great adventure to the far north. This is the last travelogue post for the trip.


Sunday, August 23 - Meziadin Lake CG to Smithers (day 78)
Meziadin Lake Provincial CG

Campsite at Meziadin Lake
Hey, sunshine this morning. Nice to see. Perused campsite when I got out of camper and saw no additional evidence of the bear that the campground host said had wandered around our campsite before we got here yesterday. We kept looking for him/her as we prepared to leave, but nothing.  Probably found a better berry patch further up the hill.

Just a short drive south to Kitwanga at the southern terminus of the Cassiar where we spent a little time checking out the historic church and totem poles referred to in the Milepost guide. A local native walked over and gave us a more detailed history and a little of the story depicted on the poles.

Hwy 16 runs from Prince Rupert on the coast to Prince George and then eastward from there. It’s a modern highway with painted lines, useable shoulders, and a good pavement… things we haven’t had an abundance of lately. But apparently good roads bring more traffic and we were beginning to feel the end of our trip to the far north. Much more traffic and crazy hustle-bustle… something else we haven’t had much of in the past couple months.

We stopped and watched native Indians net fishing near Moricetown.

We got as far as Smithers where we decided to stop for a beer and some local flavor at the Alpenhorn Bistro, Bar and Grill. We found a couple seats at the bar and fell in with a lively bartender and a few friendly locals. Needless to say we had a blast. One of them, a fellow named Stanley, offered to sponsor us if we decided to move to Smithers and become Canadians. If by some unexplained cosmic flash of stupidity makes Trump the next President, we will most assuredly take him up on his offer.

Our new friends at the Alpenhorn all decided that we needed to camp tonight at the Smithers City Park and Campground… which we did. Right on the banks of the Bulkley River, it was a convenient solution to our immediate housing need.




Monday, August 24 - Smithers to Fraser Lake (day 79)
Smithers City Park CG

More agriculture going on around here.
Had a good night at Smithers City Park CG. I mean, how can you go wrong? Right along the banks of the Bulkley River, full-hookup site for $24 Canadian, free WIFI that actually worked, and free hot (hot!!) showers to boot. Slept like an old man… a clean old man.

After our normal morning routine, the wheels were turning and the truck was heading southeast. Oh... but wait, we had to stop for a few items at the local Safeway. Then we were back on busy Hwy 16. Dar had scoped out another provincial park near Fraser Lake and that was our goal.

We’re on the Interior Plateau up here and a sign of that is a lot more agricultural activity. It looked and felt like Wisconsin most of the time. Found a good roadside park on the eastern end of Burns Lake for a picnic lunch.

Before long, after just 150 miles, we pulled into Beaumont Provincial Park and found a site for the night. The park is on the grounds once occupied by historic Fort Fraser, built about 1806. It was an outpost of the old Northwest Company until absorbed by the Hudson Bay Company about 1824. There is a substantial old log barn on the site which post dated the old Fort by quite a few years.

It’s really starting to get dark at night. The calendar is inching toward equinox and we’re further south every day. Dar commented that she’s having a little trouble sleeping now that it actually gets dark at night. I don’t seem to suffer from that particular affliction.


Tuesday, August 25 - Fraser Lake to Lac le Hache (day 80)
Beaumont Provincial Park CG

Another mostly sunny morning. Back on the road about 9:30am. Easterly, mostly, to Prince George where we bend mostly southward on Hwy 97. Stopped at visitor center in Quesnel (french pronunciation… no “s” sound) to make a phone call and check email. Continued through the “lake district” to Lac le Hache (french for lake of the hatchet) where we made camp at the eponymous provincial campground.

Inviting display of flowers at Quesnel Visitor Center.
It’s not uncommon to run into people you’ve seen in previous days or weeks as one travels through the far north. And tonight we ran into a solo traveler and fellow truck-camper we knew from our stay in Smithers. David lives on Vancouver Island and is slowly meandering back home. We shared happy hour and a campfire before retiring for the evening.


Wednesday, August 26 - Lac le Hache to Emory Creek CG (Yale, BC) (day 81)
Lac le Hache CG

Mostly sunny drive today with an increasing amount of smoky haze from wildfires east of here. We’re dropping almost due south through an area with a concentration of large log home and building manufacturers. Identified by the big cranes needed to lift the logs into place, each home is completely put together here, then disassembled and transported to it’s ultimate location where it’s all put back together once again… hopefully for the final time. It’s an expensive proposition, but these log buildings look marvelous.


The highlight of the drive today was a side-trip over a historic route used by early settlers and gold-rushers coming north. They’d follow the Fraser River canyon to Lillooet via riverboat and then transition to an overland route further north to towns still named 70 Mile House, 100 Mile House, and 150 Mile House. Those town names refer to the distance from Lillooet.

Not more than two feet to the edge of the road.
We, of course, were taking the route southbound. We left Hwy 97 at Clinton and headed southwestward. For a few miles the road is paved but in poor condition. Near Downing Provincial Park, the road becomes dirt and quickly changes into a very steep one lane road that was more challenging than I thought it might be. With confidence that we were on the right path provided by an occasional sign, we continued through what can best be described as an “E” ticket ride of thrills and chills on a road that often was, at times, nothing more than a narrow trail dozed out of the side of a steep hillside. No guardrails and only a couple feet between our wheels and a “Thelma and Louise” 1000 foot drop to oblivion… gave the navigatress heart palpitations. Eventually we reached the top and slowly eased down the other side… through a private ranch and on a less steep trail that eventually came out at the town of Pavillion. That 90 minute ordeal was enough to feed our adventurelust and fill the exhilaration banks for a while. What a hoot!

Excuse me... is this the road to Pavillion?

Then it was down to Lillooet on Hwy 99 through our first introduction to the Fraser River Canyon… another Wow on it’s own merits. At Lillooet we transitioned to Hwy 12, also following the Fraser to Lytton. That section of road included a couple gasps on the Yikes-meter too. From beginning to end, from Clinton to Lytton can’t be more than 70 miles by crow, but the route we took had to be far more exciting than the Hwy 97 route most people take through Cache Creek.

High above Fraser River Canyon

One lane through here... and no traffic control. You're on your
own to keep an eye out for oncoming logging trucks.

At Lytton we got on Hwy 1 and drove as far as Yale, just a few miles north of Hope. We found a campground that, apparently, used to be a provincial park but is now a privately run affair. Called Emory Creek CG, it looked and felt like all the other provincial park campgrounds we’ve stayed at. Why it’s private, we never did figure out. A good place to stop for the night.

Just a tad over 200 miles for the day.


Thursday, August 27 - Emory Creek CG (Yale, BC) to Bay View SP CG (Mt. Vernon, WA) (day 82)
Emory Creek CG

Broke camp and on the road again by 9:30. The air was very smokey as we neared the Vancouver area… probably from wildfires east of here. High pressure has been holding the smoke in the valleys.

The closer to Vancouver the crazier the traffic and hub-bub became. I’m not a slow driver, preferring to drive the speed limit on roads like this if possible. But 90% of the other vehicles on the road had a need to go considerably faster than that… including loaded logging trucks, school busses, and little old gray haired women driving their canasta club to the ice cream shop for dish of soft-serve.

Broke off Hwy 1 at the Sumas cutoff. Just a few short miles to the border crossing. An informative sign said the wait was approx. 20 minutes to make the crossing. Once in line with what had to be hundreds of other vehicles, the line inched along. After 20 minutes we’d moved about two blocks, with much further to yet go to get to the quizmaster. After an hour of idling and inching we were close. I held my tongue… my comments and suggestions that may have made me feel better for a moment but surely would have resulted in fines and a prison term.

“Where are you coming from?” “Canada” (where I’m sitting at, there is no possible other place I could be coming from.)

“Do you have anything to declare that you bought while in Canada?” “No” (prices in Canada do not make it advantageous to do so.)

“Any fruits or vegetables?” “One apple”

“Any liquor?” “Two cans of beer and a little wine sloshing around the bottom of a carboard box” (again, liquor prices in Canada are amazingly high, so why would anyone do this?)

“Any firearms?” “No” (Canada is concerned about bringing firearms across… didn’t know the USA is too.)

So we got through with a minimum of pain… other than some tongue spasms from trying to keep it under control. Drove south into Washington looking for a state park for the night. First one we checked out was Larabee, which we eliminated after some considerable time because it was fairly busy, had few level campsites, and just wasn’t up to the standards of the parks we’d stayed at in Canada.

We moved on to Bay View State Park which we found much more agreeable. Found a site and made camp for the night.



Friday, August 28 - Bay View SP CG to Kirkland, WA (day 83)
Bay View SP CG

Woke. Broke camp. Drove to our Son and Daughter-In-Law’s home in the Seattle area. Time to reconnect with family and see what homebase life is like for a few months.

I’ve said it before… there’s no feeling like “coming home” after a trip… unless it’s the feeling of getting ready to go exploring again.

The end of our trip to the Far North.

Thanks for following our trip to the Far North.


Travelogue August 16 thru August 22

We began this week in Whitehorse, the Capital City of the Yukon, where we lingered for a few days. From there, back on the Alaska Highway, the Alcan, through Carcross and down to the junction with the Cassiar Highway. As we dropped south on the Cassiar, we took a side trip to Stewart/Hyder.


This old DC-3 found a new life as a wind sock.
Sunday, August 16 - Whitehorse Local (day 71)
Wolf Creek CG

The campground is max'd out this weekend. Discovered the reason why: it's a three day weekend here in the Yukon called Discovery Day. Has to do with remembering the day they found gold on Bonanza Creek, a tributary of the Klondike near Dawson City. So, like folks anywhere, they're taking advantage of a summer three day weekend... one of the last, if not the last, of the warm season this far north.

We ran into town for a much needed internet fix and a laundromat. Managed to get a bunch of photos uploaded as well as my post for last week. Another reason we're lingering here another day was to exchange some money at a bank. Our Canadian funds are getting low. However, with Monday being a Holiday, that's going to have to wait until Tuesday.

Back at camp Dar prepared a sausage and vegetable hobo dinner that I cooked on the campfire. After an hour it was cooked to perfection. A great team effort.


Monday, August 17 - Whitehorse Local (day 72)
Discovery Day Holiday in the Yukon
Wolf Creek CG

Campsite at Wolf Creek CG near Whitehorse.
On the way into town this morning we visited a few RV parks and campgrounds for future reference. Had a few more supplies to pick up and had a light lunch at Tim Hortons (including absolutely no donuts despite Dar's plea to the contrary).

I've written in the past about food prices here in Canada (they're high), but I've also had trouble finding some specific items at any price. No-stir peanut butter made without hydrogenated oil is one. Haven't been able to find it outside of the US. Wonder why it's not sold in Canada.

Just like yesterday, the day started out sunny but quickly changed to all clouds. This afternoon, on our way back to camp, a light rain began. Kinda puts a damper on my outdoor cooking plans. Been thinking we need to begin tarping our campsite when staying for more than a day or two. Would expand our living space to include a little of the outdoors as well as some dry space for outdoor cooking.


Tuesday, August 18 - Whitehorse to near Teslin (day 73)
Wolf Creek CG

Broke camp and headed for town. Got a couple more items for the supply bin, stopped at the bank for a little plastic Canadian money, and we bid Whitehorse a fond farewell. Time to move on.

Dar wanted to run down to Carcross, a short side trip off the Alcan. She'd read about some first nation woodcarvers and really wanted to stop by to see what was being worked on these days. So we went to Carcross.

Originally known as Caribou Crossing, the name was changed... contraction-ated... to Carcross because the Canadian Postal Service often confused it with other communities with similar names. On the way into town we stopped at a sandy area known as the worlds smallest desert. It's not really a desert, just an ancient lake bottom that local weather conditions seem to keep around, but when you're mining for tourist dollars you'll try anything to keep 'em coming.

Carcross isn't much. The central attraction is the train station... it's the northern terminus of the famed White Pass and Yukon Railroad that runs between Skagway and here through some pretty rugged geography. The NPYR used to run all the way to Whitehorse and the narrow gauge tracks are still in place where they cross the Alcan just south of town. Any way you look at it, the narrow gauge railroad is kept afloat by tourism, principally tourist from the many cruise ships that stop in Skagway.

For you railroad enthusiasts out there, the YPYR track gauge is 914mm… or just a hair or two shy of 3 feet. Compare that to the standard gauge all other regular railroads us in North America of 1435mm or 4 feet 8-½ inches.

Besides the railroad station, there's the oldest general store in Alaska, a mini-mall of gift and craft shops, a restaurant, and the skeletal remains of a stern-wheeler riverboat that used to ply the waters of the area lakes. The old girl was set afire by vandals some years ago and the State of Alaska kicked in a million bucks to turn what was left into a museum of sorts.

We stopped in the restaurant, The Bistro, to have lunch, being famished from the 40 mile drive down here from Whitehorse. And, as often do in joints like this, we had a great time chatting with the staff and some of the few customers they had that day. It's late August and business has already dropped way off from the peak. I think they're kinda punch-drunk from a busy tourist season.

Keith Wolfe Smarch, famed Tlingit Carver
Right across the tracks from The Bistro, was the carving studio of Keith Wolfe Smarch... the place Dar really wanted to see. He's native Tlingit and has made a real name for himself in the carving world. His current project is a 70 foot high totem pole that will be a permanent part of the new heritage center being built on the edge of town. Made of red cedar, as are most totem poles in this part of the world, it's a massive job just to get the huge log made ready for carving... and then the year or more of detailed carving to finish the project. Very impressive indeed. He also shared with us some of his secrets and smaller masks and hats he's done recently. An enjoyable and informative stop.

About that time the train made an appearance. That's right... the narrow gauge White Pass and Yukon tourist train from Skagway. It kept me entertained as I watched it perform a turn around maneuver on the Y track maintained for that purpose. They like to keep the locomotive at the front of the train regardless which way it's going. Gives the passengers a more authentic experience and the engineer a better view of the track ahead. Would hate to bump into a bear or moose (or squirrel).

When we left, the wind was picking up briskly. It blew us all the way down the shortcut to Jakes Corners... back on the Alcan. From there we droned to Teslin Lake, and to a very nice government campground of the same name where we called it a day.

Campsite at Teslin Lake CG


Wednesday, August 19 - Teslin (on Alcan) to Cassiar Jct. near Watson Lake (day 74)
Teslin Lake CG

Cloudy this morning, with intermittent dribbles of rain. Left our lakeside campsite a little after 10am and the truck was barely warm when we stopped just a couple miles up the road at the Tlingit Heritage Center in Teslin. On the way north a couple months ago (when we were in more of a hurry) she noted in The Milepost book that she wanted to stop on the return drive. So we did. It's an excellent resource for the last 200 years of history of the Tlingit people native to this area. The noted wood carver we saw yesterday, Keith Wolfe Smarch, has many of his pieces here and used to work from Teslin up until a few years ago when he moved to Carcross.

A real mixed bag today weather-wise. Rain and a heavy low cloud deck kept mountain views limited. At higher elevations the temp dipped into the upper 40s and we even thought we could see hardened precipitation mixed in with raindrops… in another word, ice. Not sure about this as the evidence quickly dissipated.

Otherwise, it was an uneventful drive. After 150 miles or so, we were near the junction with the Cassiar and we decided to pull into “Nugget City” to consider our options for the rest of the day. Lunch in the Nugget City restaurant, Wolf It Down, can be described as meager portions for a high price. But it filled a void and gave us a place to pause. While Dar checked out the gift shop I wandered over to the RV park/campground to see what they had. We decided to toss out the anchor and spend the night. That way we’d be fresh and ready for our first leg on the Cassiar. Perhaps the weather will improve too.


Sign near start of Cassiar...  yes, you can drive south
to Alaska from the Cassiar Hwy.
Thursday, August 20 - Cassiar Jct (Nugget City) near Watson Lake to Boya Lake (day 75)
Baby Nugget RV Park

We're clearly in a rainy spell. Check of the weather last night indicated mostly rain the next few days. Past experience has taught us the weather forecasts up here are notoriously unreliable. But a multi-day trend (like a general propensity for precipitation) is often fairly accurate. I'm sure there'll be sun-breaks, but we'll have to deal with more rain than we'd prefer.

We're staged just a mile or two from the junction with the Cassiar Highway. Since we don't know how far we'll go today, we let the showers come and go this morning while enjoying coffee in our snug little camper. Finally got on the road about 11am during a weather break.

Just about the nicest campsite we've had all trip.
The Cassiar Highway is about 450 miles long, aligned north-south between here and the town of Kitwanga, on Hwy 16… The Yellowhead Highway, that runs from Prince Rupert on the coast and Prince George. Reports indicate it's a decent paved road, but clearly below the standards of the Alcan. The northern end in particular is narrow and has no shoulders or center-line stripes. I found a pace of around 45 to 50 mph to be about right most of the time. There's a fair amount of traffic and some large trucks that use it to shave off some miles between southern BC and the Alcan. Generally, it was a relaxing and very enjoyable drive.

But we didn't get far today. Stopped to check out Boya Lake CG. Once Dar saw the emerald green clear lake illuminated under a brief sunbreak together with an open campsite right on the shoreline, she "called an audible" and we stopped right then and there after just 56 miles. It is probably the most scenic campsite we've had during this trip. A real gem.


Friday, August 21 - Boya Lake to Kinaskan Lake (day 76)
Boya Lake CG

Woke to blue sky and broken clouds. Looks like a good driving day. On the road about 10am. First stop was at Jade City, a tourist-trap but of some notable interest when one learns that about 90% of the world's jade comes from the immediately surrounding Cassiar Mountains. Jade is almost literally everywhere. I’m sure I saw raw chunks of jade mixed in the gravel covering the parking lot. Dar picked up a few gift items for people back home.

It seems everyone driving by Jade City stops in. We observed a wide range of campers during our visit… from van conversions, to an Earthroamer, to a very interesting little 5th wheel made by Escape Campers. We met the folks with the Escape and they volunteered to show us the interior layout. Hmmm. There’s a lot to like about the little unit, but we’re not in a trailer mode right now. File the info away for future reference.

Through the Cassiar Mountains on a southward bearing, we wandered through Dease Lake, 40 Mile Flats, Iskut, and Tatogga. At some point along the way, the painted centerline appeared again… an indication we’re making progress toward civilization. Decided to make camp for the night at Kinaskan Lake CG.

The human condition causes us to seek out similarities and like-mindedness in others in order to combine into groups… probably for safety, survival, and sanity purposes. During our trip we’d often run into people multiple times as there’s only a limited number of routes to take and many of us are going the same places at the same rate of travel. And a bond of common purpose and destination would occur, sparking a personal contact that made life on the road a little more fun. At Kinaskan Lake we ran into an adventurous and interesting couple from Whitehorse that we had first met in Inuvik… almost two months ago. The common bond here is the 4 Wheel Camper each of us have. We do find we have a soft spot in our hearts for others that like and use these little rigs. In this case, direction and rate of travel had nothing to do with this serendipitous meeting. They recognized our rig as they happened into the campground on their way back to Whitehorse after visiting friends near the Smithers area. We had a long and rich conversation with them and hope for more path-crossings with them in the future.


Saturday, August 22 - Kinaskan Lake to Meziadin Lake CG (both along the Cassiar) (day 77)
Kinaskan Lake CG

Started raining about 4am, and continued light and steady until much later in the day. We've had our battles with the rain gods the last couple months, but not many all day rains. Today was nearly a total washout, as you'll see below.

We got the show on the road at our usual time... about 10am. Started the wipers when I started the truck and didn't shut them off until later in the day in Stewart. Back on the Cassiar, I'm sure the drive through the middle portion of it is gorgeous... but we couldn't testify to it. At times a bright spot would raise our hopes, only to be dashed on the rocky shoals of low ceilings and renewed rain. Just another sucker hole.

On the slow drive south, we did see a total of 5 black bear today. A couple of them were little more than fleeting glances... too fast for Dar's camera trigger finger. But the best sighting was of a sow and her little cub eating god knows what right at the edge of the road. They were totally unconcerned about us despite our stopped truck, in the lane of traffic, and the two of us snapping pics as fast as we could. They were literally just 15 or 20 feet away.

At the junction with Hwy 37A, we took it toward Stewart and Hyder. Glad we did too. The biggest tourist attraction here is bear watching along Fish Creek just outside Hyder. And being the good little tourists, we headed directly to the creek in the midst of yet another downpour. We found a few visitors, mostly huddled around shelters and peering longingly, hopefully, into the surrounding hills... trying their darnedest to will a bear into the open for that perfect iphone bear wildlife portrait.

We found a forlorn ranger on patrol, complete with umbrella and faint look of sadness on his boyish face, who said they had one bear early that morning, and another late the night before. But other than that, it's been pretty quiet. A local I talked to later said they're hopeful more fish and more bears show up next month.

Hyder bills itself as the friendliest ghost town in Alaska. I can't say much about the friendliest part, but the ghost town part is spot on. What a sad place that time left way back there in the dust. I can't help but think they're just missing some vision, some creativity, and some energetic people to clean things up and turn it around. I hope they do.

When a traveler goes from Stewart, which is in Canada, to Hyder, Alaska, one can do so without going through a border checkpoint. They probably figure that most people who go into Hyder are going to come right back out again, quickly. And since there are no roads that lead anywhere except back to Canada on the exact same road you went in on, there is little functional reason to maintain a staffed border presence. But good old Canada has their border check point right there under the Canadian Maple Leaf Flag, ever ready to snag folks who bought liquor in Hyder... or bought a gun... or picked up a terrorist to smuggle back into Canada. Never mind that there is no place to buy liquor or firearms that I could see in Hyder... they're ready in case one opens. I had to chuckle to myself at how serious this young border guard was taking his job. I'm sure in his mind the good folks of Canada are sleeping better tonight because he's on the job.

Here's a few more pics from our side-trip to Stewart and Hyder.