The End of the Great Alaska Adventure Road Trip: The Canadian Rockies to Montana – Day 77-79 (Sept 3-5)

From the start of the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek to the Montana border is 690 Miles. We took 43 east, 40 south, 16 to Jasper, and 93 south to the Border. We stayed overnight at the very nice city campground at Grand Cache and the overflow parking lot near Lake Louse in the Canadian Rockies.

It rained every day – of course. There were some clear moments to photograph in the Canadian Rockies – although some of the photos here were taken by keeping a plastic bag over the camera until I pushed the shutter. Even then, rain smeared the lens and I often had to wipe the lens and try the shot again quick before the next drops hit. The atmosphere and rain drops on the water gave an interesting look to some of these shots.

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Wetlands near Jasper
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Reflections in the Canadian Rockies
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Athabasca River
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The Classic Canadian Rockies Scene
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I would never have got this shot without my new Alaska Boots!
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Stormy weather in the Canadian Rockies
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100% Pure Canadian Rocks
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Fresh snow in the Rockies
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Just a hint of fall

A Final Summary

It was labor day weekend  in the Canadian Rockies. I have never seen so much traffic there. After many weeks of wilderness, the masses of humanity, noise, and stress of competition on the roads was overwhelming. We both were ready to get out of the car and stare quietly at the wall for awhile. Our senses were overloaded from a VERY long stretch of scenery viewed through busy windshield wipers.

This was the first time on our trip that I got a serious case of scenery burnout. The brain can only process so much before it goes into pause mode. I have found the best cure for scenery burnout is HIKING. Hiking allows the brain to be entertained and busy at a “normal” level of sensory input. Your processor can keep up, and rest when you rest. Too much extended driving time through scenery will eventually overload your senses and you will feel “bored” even in the most beautiful place. In the rain, we drove constantly with few times to hike. By the time we pulled in the drive at Chad and Sally’s, we were ready to quit traveling. I haven’t even drove through the Bison Range since we have been here. Believe me, when we start home to Ohio, we are taking our time and stopping often to hike.

We drove over 10,000 miles above the border. We were gone 79 days. (This is not counting our time to, from, and in, Montana). This was the adventure of a lifetime for us. I never dreamed I would actually get to do this. It is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It is going to take me a good while to process all this and readjust to our normal daily life.

Thank you for going along with me. I have enjoyed your company. A shared experience makes a larger experience. I appreciated the comments on Facebook, even when I don’t usually respond unless it is a direct question.

I will probably maintain a sporadic blog when something happens in my head, even if I am not going anywhere in particular. If you know me, you know how full of words I am, and this allows me to blow off steam before I explode from the internal pressure. I will post a notice on Facebook when I post a blog. KEEP IN TOUCH!

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Dawson Creek at last! – day 74-76 (Aug 31-Sept 2)

It was a long, wet, cold, drive down the Alaska Highway. Not one clear day the entire length. We felt a sense of accomplishment when we got to Dawson Creek at the end. I am elated that we had the opportunity to drive this road. It has been an adventure – but once is enough. I have too many memories of health problems, camper problems, car problems, and weather problems – not to mention the huge amount of time and money it took. That is all part of the adventure of The Alaska Highway. If you ever get a chance – DO IT!

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The end of the road – for us. We missed Dawson Creek on the way up, since we took Rt. 37 instead.
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Our rig at milepost zero in Dawson Creek. We are amazed we made it through in one piece…sort of.

The Northern Rockies

The only place on the entire road that I would like to revisit is the stretch through the Northern Rockies in British Columbia. That was my favorite spot – but it was all obscured by thick overcast and constant rain while we were there. I also liked the stretch near Haines Junction, around Kluane Lake, and along the Alaska Range.

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A wetland in the Northern Rockies
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Alaska Highway through the Northern Rockies. Note the new snow on the peaks. A couple days previous, it snowed on the road at the Pass. This is our reminder to keep moving south.
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A very mellow, clear river in the Northern Rockies. No time to cast for a grayling – but there are some large ones in here.
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The high country in the Northern Rockies has numerous flash flood gravel beds like this one. For miles, it looked like a huge bare gravel pit along the road. I wanted so bad to hike up one of these canyons – probably not a good idea in the rain -although this geological formation is a result of spring floods, not fall rains.
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The mountains were obscured and it was raining too hard to take the camera out for long – but the foggy atmosphere created an intriguing and mysterious place that I will always remember.
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Our last fond memories of the Alaska Highway as it wandered along beautiful lakes and rivers through the Northern Rockies.

After Dawson Creek and The Great Alaska Highway, we went through the Canadian Rockies and on to Montana. That will be the next and last post of The Great Alaska Adventure Road Trip of 2016!

Skagway, Alaska – Day 73 (Aug 30)

From Haines, we took the ferry to Skagway. In one day we toured the town and drove the loop road back to the Alaska Highway. We stayed overnight at a pullover and then headed toward home in the rain.

The Ferry to Skagway

For $170 we took our camper and Tahoe to Skagway on the ferry. It was a one hour trip and the shortcut saved us many hours of driving – plus it was an exciting new experience.

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On the ferry
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Neat stuff to look at on the ferry
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Passenger “A”
passenger-2
Passenger “B”
jackie
Passenger “C”
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Partners in Crime and Adventure

Skagway –  Tourist Heaven.

Skagway has 1,000 residence and 900,000 visitors each summer. There were three mammoth cruise ships in the harbor when we were there. The downtown is a few blocks long and a couple blocks wide, so you can imagine what the sidewalks looked like when we were there.

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Skagway sidewalk
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Skagway Streetcar
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Skagway Downtown and Cruise Ship
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Skagway Hombre hangin with the wrong crowd

Skagway has an amazing gold rush history – at one point it was the largest city in Alaska. It was also the setting for Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”. Many of the storefronts and the general feel of the downtown still maintains an aura of days gone by. The main clue that breaks the spell is the extravagant jewelry stores, which seem to be 30% of the business.

Route 3

Route 3 is he only road to Skagway. It goes over White Pass and ends at the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse. Rt. 8 at Carcross is a shortcut going east to the Alaska Highway.

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High country on Route 3

 

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All this rain has to go someplace.

 

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One last look into Alaska at the border. We didn’t look long – it was cold, windy, and raining – time to get back on the Alaska Highway toward warmer weather.

The Trip to Haines, Alaska – Day 71-72 (Aug 28-29)

Aug 27 we left the Denali Highway and headed down the Alaska Highway towards Haines, Alaska. This trip took us almost two days. It included the worst section of the Alaska Highway, through the Yukon near the border. For us, it was a nightmare.

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Glacier view from the Richardson Highway
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Delta River beside the Richardson Highway through the Alaska Range before the Alaska Highway.
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Fall starting in the Alaska Range

The road and our experience mellowed out at Haines Junction, and the Haines Highway (leading back across the border into a small piece of Alaska) was just as beautiful as the literature claimed – or even more so – since the fall colors were in full bloom.

Haines was under thick overcast, but that never stopped the Grizzlies catching salmon near the town road where everyone could observe from the safety of their cars. We were only there one day and then took the ferry to Skagway and headed straight down the Alaska Highway toward home.

The Trials and Tribulations of Wandering Through the Wilderness.

It has been said, “It is more fun to tell about an adventure than it is to experience it.” After our trip down the Alaska Highway in the Yukon, we would agree.

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Our first morning on the Alaska Highway started early – and with promise.
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In the early morning light after a storm, even an old burn is beautiful.
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Near the border, the Alaska Highway goes through miles and miles of Boreal Forest of thick stands of scraggly, monotonous Black Spruce.

About an hour into the Yukon we stopped at an overlook. The Tahoe would hardly start, kept trying to die, and would only keep running at high throttle. We didn’t dare let it die. We didn’t know what the problem was – only that we were in dire straights. We were about 2-3 hrs from any possible mechanic, and that spells a BIG tow bill. Plus, I wasn’t wanting to sit in the cold rain waiting for who knows how long before someone would see our dilemma and stop to help. Traffic was rare, and there was no cell service. So, we kept the gas up, the gear low, and dodged and bounced through mud, potholes and frost heaves at 25 miles per hour for a couple hours – praying the engine would not die and leave us stranded in the middle of this vast and desolate place.

We eventually passed a cell tower near a small isolated native village and  connected with  Chad – our Montana Mechanical Crisis Consultant. He diagnosed the symptoms and confirmed our suspicions that we had probably got bad gas at the last station before the border. We had stopped at a rundown remnant of a “Wilderness Resort”  because gas in Canada is MUCH more expensive. We never realized until later that this place was going out of business and they were emptying their tanks. Most of the ancient pumps were closed, and we evidentially got the last old gas from the bottom. Our only hope was to keep running till we got to Haines Junction and a fresh tank of gas.

With nerves jangling and prayers ascending, we FINALLY pulled into Haines Junction with an empty tank – and shut off the engine. We filled with high test and held our breath when we hit the starter. It ran like a charm and hasn’t missed a beat since!

The Incredible Haines Highway

Everyone says the Haines Highway is worth the drive. We agree! Especially when it is alive with fall color. We drove it in the rain, so photography was limited, but it was Jackie’s favorite scenery  of anywhere on our trip. For miles the road runs along the edge of the Kluane National Park – the best part of the Yukon. This park adjoins the Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska -which by itself is six times the size of Yellowstone.  Together they make up a “UNESCO World Heritage Site”, an international park set aside by the United Nations as a special place for all mankind to enjoy.

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Late evening on the Haines Highway.
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Even the side ditches are interesting.
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Another photo taken in the rain and wind. Kluane National Park from the Haines Highway.
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Early morning near the pass on the Haines highway. Strange light through the storm clouds created an eerie atmosphere.

The Grizzlies at Haines

The highlight of Haines, for us, was watching the Grizzlies fishing for Pink Salmon spawning on the Chilkoot River near town. They had lost their fear of people and would wander through traffic jams, ignore flocks of photographers, and jump into the river after the Salmon. It was simply amazing. After all this, it is going to be a transition to settle back into our daily life in Ohio.

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Bear Sign. It reads in part: Yield to Bears on Road. Always respect Bears.
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Griz at Rest.

 

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Bear fishing – method #1.

 

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Bear fishing – method #2.

Rain, rain, come again some other day – Day 63-68 (Aug 20-25)

If the devil is “Prince of the Air”, I sometimes wonder if that means he has taken control of the weather. At least it seems like it in Alaska this past week. We have set tight in Cantwell for 7 days now, determined to outlast the rain. Last night it cleared up and the report all week promised partial sun today. We woke excited about driving the Denali Highway until we looked outside. The clouds are on the ground and the report is 40% rain today. We are leaving anyhow, hoping it clears up this afternoon. The color is almost prime, and the nights are supposed to be in the 30s this week.  It is time to go home.

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The rain is good for mushrooms – they are everywhere in the woods. These beautiful, but poisonous Amanita muscaria are common and abundant in Alaska this year.

This waiting has been relaxing. We finally caught up blogging, slept late, did laundry, watched movies, and explored locally as much as we could in the rain. We went out to eat a couple times, but it’s a long drive anywhere, and only a couple choices locally. Also, a hamburger and fries are $13 here in nowhere land. Yesterday, the storm broke enough to get a few photos that I am posting here. Maybe you will see why we are waiting for these mountains to be visible.

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Clearing storm on the Parks Highway near Cantwell.
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Late last evening along the Denali Highway. Can you see why we are waiting for clear skies to drive this road?
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Parks Highway yesterday. About two miles from our campsite. Not a bad place to hang out awhile.
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Sunset on the Denali Highway.

According to the plan, our next stop and internet service will be Haines, Alaska. That is almost 800 miles and 3-4 days. Over a 100 miles of that is rough gravel with potholes. The rest is good to poor pavement – with frost heaves, fall colors, and miles of marvelous mountains. SEE YA LATER!

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On the Parks highway. This made me late for supper.

Journey to Denali – Day 61-62 (Aug 18-19)

Denali is the icon of Alaska. It is the top destination of most visitors to The Last Frontier. At 20,000 ft. it stands head and shoulders above all else in North America. Everything about Alaska is BIG – but this is the biggest and most spectacular Park of all!

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Denali Park Landscape – The Alaska Range.

We gave it our best!

Thurs, Aug 18, we left Fairbanks for “The Mountain”. We stayed overnight at a pullout just minutes away from the Park. The weather report said 20 % rain. When we woke at 5:30 AM, the report was 10% chance of rain. When we boarded the shuttle at 7:15, it was raining – and it rained most of the day. We took the first shuttle to Wonder Lake and stayed till the last shuttle left – all afternoon watching the clouds for just a glimpse. We never saw The Mountain.

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The road to Denali. This is the Savage River – about mile 15 – as far as you can drive without special permission.
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A distant view of a Grizzly and her 3 cubs
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Tour bus on the park road.
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Caribou grazing on the tundra slopes.
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Waiting at Wonder Lake for the weather to break
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Tourist picking blueberries at Wonder Lake. This is the only thing you can pick or disturb at this National Park. You never want to do this here without your bear spray on your belt.
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Wild blueberries are abundant everywhere in this part of Alaska. There are almost as many folks here with buckets as guns.

Last year, over half a million people came to the Park. Only 1 out of every 3 saw Denali. This year even fewer will see this illusive wonder. This summer, the park received more rain in one month that it usually does in one year. Denali is famous for making its own weather. It is big enough that it heeds the wishes of no one but God.

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“Foothills” under “The Mountain”

Since our trip inside the park we have been sitting at a campground just down the road, listening to it rain day and night, for 6 days. We are waiting for the weather to break and fall colors to peak, so we can drive and photograph the Denali Highway on our way back east. We had hoped to see Denali when it stopped raining. The Mountain has not showed its face in all that time. It is supposed to break up some tomorrow. We still keep hoping – but the snow is not far away, so we must leave tomorrow. We were very disappointed. But that is the way it is in Alaska. Most of it is outside the control of man. That is why we are here.

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Typical landscape in the Alaska Range
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Tundra moss is very strange to walk on.  Sometimes you can sink in 6-8 inches.
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Bull Moose chowing down by the side of the road.

Praise God for His marvelous works to the children of men

We were not sorry we came to this special place. Even if we didn’t see the main attraction, we saw more than we could contain. Moose, Caribou and Grizzlies were common. The clouds broke up a little on our way out and the scenery was wonderful. Photography is limited on a shuttle bus, especially if you are stuck on the wrong side of the action. The pros that get the spectacular photos get special permits to drive the road and stay 7 days. We were there only 13 hrs and it took most of that to discover the tricks. If I get here again, I will do it different.

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Tundra fall colors

However, anyway you see this place, with any weather, it is always an inspiration. I am just thankful that this nation has preserved these places for future generations to experience. I hope all my grandchildren get the opportunity to pick wild blueberries at Wonder Lake, see the evening light brighten up the tundra,and sit on a shuttle bus alive with excited people from all over the world as they laugh at Grizzly Bear cubs wrestling on the hillsides.

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Evening in the park.