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.

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.

Leaving Seward for clearer skies – Day 35-36 (July 23-24)

Seward gets a lot of rain, especially the last few days. Friday, the visibility was about 500 ft., so I went to the library to process photos, Jackie went to the laundry, and then we left up the Steward Highway to find blue skies.

Swan landing on Tern Lake, Alaska
Trumpeter Swan landing on Tern Lake, Seward Highway, Alaska

The Seward Highway.

We stopped overnight at a pullover, and the next morning, when we took off, the storm was breaking. I stopped to photograph the amazing landscape as the swirling clouds and rapidly changing light created a fantasyland that would fit in a “Lord of the Rings” movie. When I put the camera back in its place in the Tahoe, I told Jackie “This is why I came to Alaska!” If you ever come to Alaska do not miss the Steward Highway – even if it is storming!

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Foggy morning on the Seward Highway.
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Lifting Storm – Seward highway
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A rapidly changing landscape on the Seward Highway

Meeting People in Alaska

When we stopped for breakfast at another pullover, we met Bobbie and Richard. Their motorhome had bit the dust and left them stranded there since the night before. They hopped in with us and we dropped them off at their home in Anchorage. We had a great time gabbing up a storm and getting to know them. Everyone in Alaska has an interesting story and meeting people as we travel is a delight.

Bobbie and I hit it off since she likes to photograph too. We stopped to photograph a few times, and then Bobbie took us through The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center with her season pass so we could photograph the Grizzlies there. She is a live-wire – she revealed she had recently give up belly dancing so she could photograph more. In four months she will be 80.

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Grizzly after a bath – at the Conservation Center, Seward Highway.
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Swamp along The Seward Highway.

The Eagle River Nature Center Review:  5 STARS!!!!!

By afternoon, we made it to The Eagle River Nature Center, about 10 miles north of Anchorage. We took a couple trails and got the feel of Alaska up close. Trails are where the action is. There is nothing better than walking through the landscape to learn it’s “personality and moods”. It is like getting to know a person – you have to spend intimate time with them.

creek at Eagle River Nature center
Creek at Eagle River Nature Center
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Up close at the creek
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On the Trail at Eagle River Nature Center
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Jackie on the Trail
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Rare species of “Wood Nymph” hiding along the trail. These creatures are so frequently seen that some think they are mythical. I found this one quite shy, but very pleasant.

The young folks running this place were very friendly and helpful. (They even bent the rules to find us a place to park our rig – since the lot was full and there were no other options. That is a rarity.) I had heard of this place through a photographer on-line who mentioned it as a good place to photograph. It is also a great place to take kids. It only cost $5/ car to park. You can spend an hour or a day here. The center is just a few minutes down the end of Eagle River Road off the Glen Highway, and the drive itself is a treat. Plus—-you just might see a moose up close like we did!

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This Alaska Moose was so focused on his dinner, he ignored all the commotion from the excited folks on the trail just a few feet away.