News from the North - August 9 thru August 15

The first half of this week we were in Haines. Thursday we left, and felt the melancholic divide that separates being on a trip from heading home. It's true, there's still much new territory to explore, but there's no way around the fact that we're closer to home with each day's drive.

Sunday, August 9 - Kathleen Lake on the Haines Highway to Haines (day 64)
Kathleen Lake CG

Broke camp and headed south to Haines. Along the way we checked most of the campgrounds for future reference. This is another out-of-this-world drive that words can't adequately convey. At times you find yourself taking it all for granted. Then, when you stop and think about what you're seeing, it's like your seeing it for the first time. One of the great views (I know... there are so many) here in Alaska is to see Chilkoot Lake from the State Park. Encircled by mountains, it Alaska at its best, geographically speaking.

Between Haines Junction in Canada and Haines in the USA, we crossed two borders on the short 150 mile drive. First, from Yukon Territories into British Columbia and then from BC into Alaska in the US. Keeping all these border and customs facilities open must be a real task.

Nearing Haines, the road closely follows the very wide, silty, and braided Chilkat River. Most of these glacier-fed rivers are full and flowing hard... the result of long warm days melting the mountain ice. This is also a bald eagle sanctuary as thousands of the big birds stop here for salmon snacks on their way south in October.

In Haines we made quick work of a few sequential tasks. First, was to see if we could book passage on the fast day cruise down to Juneau. Not cheap, but not sure when we'll be in a position again to see Juneau and one more state capitol. We got that booked for Tuesday.

Then, we made reservations at the Oceanside RV park for Monday and Tuesday nights. Time again for some laundry, showers, and a good battery charging. It also places us within a block of the boat dock for our Tuesday outing. No need to break camp for our cruise.

And on our way out to Chilkoot Lake State Park campground, stopped at the ferry terminal to see about the ferry to Skagway. Didn't book anything, but did confirm they have room for us if we choose to go that way.

On the way out to the State Park, we follow the Chilkoot River for a ways. It was very busy with people fishing and watching for bear. Very busy. Made us a little concerned that the campground might be full too. But there was no reason to fear... the campground had space for us. We made camp and called it a day.

black bear lunching on roadside fodder

our camp at Chilkoot St. Park outside of Haines

Monday, August 10 - Haines area (day 65)
Chilkoot Lake SRA CG

Rained overnight and into the morning. Moving to the RV park for a couple days for the usual reasons, and to be parked close to the city docks for our boat cruise to Juneau on Tuesday.

Was noon by the time we broke camp. On the 9 mile drive back to Haines, Dar kept a lookout for brown bear feeding on salmon in the river. And she spotted one, actually three... a large sow with two cubs. Just had to stop for that show. Got some good picks too.

According to a local, this is a familiar bear to the residents of Haines. Her nickname is Speedy. She recently was tranquilized so a large fish hook could be removed from her nose. Guess the two little ones also got a trip to la la land while their mom was worked on. She probably got the hook in the process of fishing herself, but it made me smile to fantasize that some unlucky fisherman hooked her while fishing... and got much more than he bargained for.

We stopped at the Rusty Compass for lunch... a small local cafe. Had a splendid time talking with the two brothers who own the joint, as well as other customers who wandered in. As far as I'm concerned they've also got the best WIFI in town.

Then it was out to the fairgrounds where we visited Dalton City, the movie set where the movie White Fang was shot. It also just so happened that the current home of Haines Brewing Company is located in one of the movie set buildings. We joined a steady stream of fellow beer connoisseurs eager to sample their concoctions. It's a lean efficient operation evidenced by the fact the owner and head brew master, Paul, was the one who waited on us. He was enjoyable and a wealth of knowledge on beer history.

We also ran into a couple that's going to be on the cruise to Juneau with us tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 11 - Haines area (day 66)
Oceanside RV Park

On the road to Juneau.

Wait! There are no roads that go to Juneau from anywhere else. The only way in or out is by plane or boat. Literally everything there, everything, had to be brought in from outside.

Set an alarm last night to insure we'd be up for the boat, but didn't need it. Out the door and into a seemingly persistent, perhaps permanent, light rain for the short walk to the dock. Walked right onto the boat and took seats near the front on the starboard side.

The Fjordland is a one-of-a-kind boat. She has no sisters. Glen, the owner commissioned it's design and construction about 15 years ago. With a true catamaran hull, it sits low in the water drawing 5 feet, and cuts through the chop and roughness of the inner-passage waters like a hot knife through butter. A much smoother ride than we were expecting. She can do close to 30 knots and today we were running at 26 knots. Has two 600hp Lugger diesels. Passenger capacity of about 50. We covered the 70 miles to the Juneau area in two and a half hours.

The geographic area of Juneau is immense... the second largest city in square miles in the entire USA. Of course, most of that area is wild and undeveloped... annexed by the city for some control over mineral rights. The population is only 32,000. The people of Juneau are used to rain... don't even notice it... as on average it precipitates 320 days per year. It gets, on average, 8 feet of rain plus 8 feet of snow.

A bus met us at the dock about 30 miles north of the city center (but still within the borders of Juneau), and we enjoyed the ride with a knowledgeable and humorous bus driver of English descent from Utah. We had about 3 hours to explore once off the bus.

First up was lunch. With 4 (that's right, four!!!) huge cruise ships in town, the place was crawling with tourists. We found a mildly busy fish joint called the Twisted Fish and had a lunch of local halibut fish and chips, washed down with some tasty craft beer.

The Alaska State Capitol
Then, on to the Capitol building... one of our main reasons for making the trip down here. Nothing is very far away in Juneau and it's a walkable distance even in the rain. Unfortunately, most of the building was off limits due to a large reconstruction project that won't be completed until 2017. We did meet our own requirements for having visited another state capitol, got a few pics, and left. It's not a very impressive building... a 4 or 5 story block office building with a little ornateness here and there on the exterior. The bus driver joked that this Capitol consistently ranks 50th among capitol buildings of the USA. We beg to differ. Florida's is still the ugliest Capitol that we've ever seen.

To kill a little time we stopped at the Alaskan Hotel pub.

Mendenhall Glacier (left) and Nugget Falls (right)
Soon we were back on the bus for a drive out to Mendenhall Glacier. On the way into the park we got a little show from a mama black bear and her cub. They crossed the road right in front of us.

During the hour we spent at the Glacier, we hiked out to Nugget Falls... about a mile each way. Recent heavier than normal rains had the falls roaring. In an effort to get closer we took a path through a creek, complete with randomly placed rocks on which to hop across without soaking your boots. Always one striving to provide entertainment and make people laugh, I was successful at this at least, if not staying dry, by loosing my balance on a tippy rock and doing a backwards ass-dunk in the creek. No injury except to my pride.

A humpback giving us a show

On the boat trip back we had a little more time to look for whales. And find them we did. We'd seen humpbacks in Prince William Sound while aboard the Lu-lu Belle, but we happened upon a group today that gave us a real show. They'd lay on their sides and slap the water with their huge pectoral fins. They'd breach, sometimes almost completely out of the water, not once but dozens of times. Big ones, small ones... they looked like they were having a party. What a treat.

We met a young woman today named Sionaid. But in her 20s, she's taking a few years to travel and see the world. If we ever seriously think we're living an adventurous life on the road... with our motorhome and truck camper, thoughts of Sionaid will snap us back to reality. She's been living now for a year out of her backpack and taking advantage of public transportation and serendipity to move from place to place. It's really all about attitude, isn't it? OK, maybe youth plays a role too. But when you're coming from a paradigm of a mini-mansion house hooked completely to the grid, automatically climate controlled, entertainment systems, multiple refrigerators, walk in closets, and so much space for all your stuff... all the comforts so many of us have come to expect, it's hard to understand the freedom and enjoyment of traveling light.

Wednesday, August 12 - Haines (day 67)
Oceanside RVP

Surprised somewhat that it hadn't rained overnight. But the dry spell didn't last. Most of the day it dribbled.

Kind of a chore day today. Not planning anything much. The RV park is hosting a crab potluck tonight. We did walk up to town for a few vitals, a "dish to pass" for tonight's potluck, and a dose if internet at the Rusty Compass.

The crab boil turned out very nice. Met more travelers with whom to share stories. This is the end of crab season up here, so this'll be the last crab feast of the year.

Thursday, August 13 - Haines to Dezadeash Lake (day 68)
Oceanside RVP

A more rushed morning than usual for us. We're leaving today and taking Sionaid to ferry terminal on the way out of town. My new little Nikon camera turned up missing this morning. Assume it was picked up by someone after the potluck dinner last night... hopefully a case of mistaken identity and not outright theft. Regardless, we're moving on without it. (Correction: Saturday night Dar unrolled her camp chair/sleeping pad and out rolled the camera. Lost is found. Sorry for the negative thoughts and assumptions about fellow travelers)

The day broke bright and clear. The sun felt so good. Best weather day during our stay. The surrounding mountains were stunning. Visibility must have been a thousand miles. Can't express how clear and distinct it was. Southeast Alaska gets very few days like this during the typical year. We're happy we could share one of them.

Drove north out of Haines, crossed the border into BC, and short while later, into the Yukon.

Stopped and lingered at a wayside not far from Haines Summit. Had lunch and soaked in the views. As we drove along Dezadeash Lake decided to go in and check out the campground. Even though it was early, decided to drop anchor and enjoy the bright warm day.

Camp on Dezadeash Lake

Friday, August 14 - Dezadeash Lake to Whitehorse YT (day 69)
Dezadeash CG

Of all the travelers who stay one night in a campground during their trip to somewhere else, we're usually the last to leave. What's the rush? About 30 miles north to Haines Junction where we pick up the Alcan again.

This, the road from Haines Jct. to Whitehorse, is the last section of the Alaska Highway that we've yet to drive. An easy road with a generally good surface and minimal grades and curves that traverses a wooded landscape backed by distant mountains. The highway route is cleared of trees and brush for a wide margin on both sides. For much of the way an earlier alignment of Alcan is clearly visible to the south.

We stopped at the junction with the Klondike Hwy to toast our completion of the Alcan... the Alaska Highway. From Dawson Creek to this point we did northbound. From Delta Junction to here we did southbound. The section from here to the Casiar we will have done both ways. It was a major bucket list item... and now it's finished. Mixed feelings about that. Glad we did it, but hate seeing the bucket list getting shorter. We must find some new things to add.

Since we stayed there on the way north, we knew the closest government campground to Whitehorse so we headed directly there. The other options are RV parks or Walmart. Wolf Creek CG is used a lot by locals and with this being a friday, we knew sites might be hard to come by. We arrived about 2pm and snagged the last open site. And not a bad site at all... sorta away from the large family groups and partiers. Lit a fire, savored happy hour, cooked dinner on the coals.

Saturday, August 15 - Whitehorse YT local (day 70)
Wolf Creek CG

Decided to extend our stay here for another three nights. Would like to see more of Whitehorse. That'll have us leaving on Tuesday. After scrounging together the correct change for the campground self-pay envelope, we drove into town. Stopped first at Yukon Brewing. Liquor laws in the Yukon are not conducive to a proper and satisfying craft brewery visit, but we made do with the tiny samples they had available and bought a few cans for the supply room. We're huge fans of craft beer in cans. It fits our system much better than bottles. More volume can be kept refrigerated in a smaller space, empty cans are much easier to deal with while traveling or out on a trail, and, really, cans are a superior package for beer.

The grocery store was next. This is our best bet for a full-size grocery for the next week or more, so we loaded up. Prices up here are high. How high? A guess, based on a few items I know we regularly buy in the US, is maybe 30 to 50 percent higher. The current exchange rate moderates that a bit, but it's still a penalty that must be paid to live in the far north.

Decided to do a hobo dinner on the campfire tonight. One hour of effort to keep the heat about right with fast-burning wood that didn't want to cooperate resulted in near perfection. Dar made the right amount and we ate the entire thing up with nary a scrap left over.

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