Monday, June 28, 2010

I thought I would share a parting photo with you before we leave for the Arctic Ocean and a quick dip in the 29 degree water (after walking through the snow and chipping the ice away.) In case I don't make it back to blog again, this is how I want you to remember our trip.

After spending so much time in British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska we've bought into the whole living in the wilderness, hunting your own food, wearing buckskin, not shaving my legs or arm pits, making our own furniture out of logs, etc. Our first endeavor in this new life is a modification to the headboard in our 5th wheel. You have to be really careful getting into bed, but after that the view from the sheets is pretty cool!

Friday, June 25, 2010

See facebook page for more Fairbanks photos. We have been busy. We visited the El Dorado Mine, a working mine that offers the full gamete of tourist activities. We took a mine train ride into a permafrost mine where they explained the history of gold mining in Alaska and modern placer mining in Alaska. Because the ground here is permanently frozen (from ancient glaciers) mining is complicated. In winter they use steam to thaw the ground so they can dig tunnels and get the ore. Then they haul the ore to the surface and stockpile it until summer. When the weather warms they close up the tunnels to keep them frozen and begin work on the ore piles.  First they have to thaw the piles with steam, then the ore is washed in a sluice box.

To demonstrate the finals steps in mining the gold the El Dorado miners washed 7/8's of a yard of ore in a really BIG sluice box with a HUGE amount of water right in front of us. The sluice box is lined with astroturf, on top of that are metal screens for trapping the gold. Once the ore was washed the screens were pulled up and the material captured by the screens was divided between several gold pans.  Once they were done panning they had a considerable amount of gold in each pan. The lady in the picture said she had about $800 in gold in her pan. After the demonstration we got a chance to pan our own "poke" of pay dirt. It was fun, we learned some panning techniques, and got a little bit of color in our pans.

After the mine tour we went to see Dredge No. 8.  The tour of the dredge included lunch. They served us the best chunky beef stew with sourdough biscuits and blueberry crisp. This was the most complete and best preserved dredge we've seen. Because we arrived during the employee's lunch hour we got to see the dredge all by ourselves!  This dredge had many of it's buckets installed, something we had not seen before. Made it much easier to see how the whole process worked. They also had a spud on the ground by the dredge. This spud was mounted at the back of the dredge and was jammed into the ground. This allowed the dredge to pivot around the spud as it gobbled up ore for the trommel. I had no idea how HUGE the spuds were until Jim stood next to it! They also had several buildings with exhibits about how the miners lived and worked. In Alaska placer mining frequently unearths prehistoric animal bones. There were mammoth teeth, tusks, leg and pelvis bones and tons of other animal bones. Mining provided a wealth of information and material for paleontologists. Sometimes they find entire intact skeletons.  The dredge was powered by electricity from Fairbanks. In the summer the dredge used the electricity and in the winter the town used the electricity. 

We also visited Pioneer Village. While it was not Disneyland, it was interesting. There was a small main street lined with historic buildings from the gold rush era. They also had the biggest stern wheeler we've seen so far. With no roads in Alaska and several navigable rivers, boat travel was the only way to ship materials and equipment to Alaska. They had a gold mining display that included an old steam shovel originally used to build the Panama Canal. The park has an all you can eat salmon bake every night. They serve salmon, cod, halibut and prime rib, there's a huge salad bar, a dessert cabin, and of course an alcoholic libations shack. They had some interesting salmon themed wood carvings which Jim took advantage of.

After the salmon feed we saw a show at the Palace Theater. The show was very entertaining. They had a fashion show that included peeling about 20 layers of clothing and foot wear (apparently Fairbanks has the biggest temperature spread in the world with a recorded high of  99 and a low of 66 below.) Then there was the history of Fairbanks, the cancan with Fifi, the dance hall "girl" and the really cute snowbird skit. The chairs were a killer but the show was excellent! And of course, Jim is still making "friends" where ever he goes.

We drove out to the Chena Hot Springs Resort to tour the Aurora Ice Museum and take a soak in the hot springs. Ice museum was great, 20 degrees, beautiful carvings, and to top it off, a yummy Stoli appletini served in an ice martini glass. Then a dip in the hot springs (which was not nearly as nice as Liard Springs but sure felt good.)

Yesterday we saw a ton of moose on the road to Chena Hot Springs. There were a total of five cows, one had a last year's calf, one with a brand new wobbly calf, one foraging with a young bull and the other three were just grazing alone in deep roadside ponds. We also saw a HUGE bull moose feeding and a young bull  was just wandering through the Chena Hot Springs Resort. You have to look hard for the moose, in the ponds they are almost completely submerged. Amazing how long they can stay under water plucking vegetation from the pond bottom!  

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Today we arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska. Weather was sunny and almost 80. We spent the afternoon scouting the city to see what we want to do while we're here. We visited the University of Alaska Art Museum, a beautiful building with some incredible and unusual art. We stopped at a place called Creamer's Field Waterfowl Refuge. There was a flock of  sandhill cranes wading in a small pond that we stopped to photograph. The pond also contained redhead and bufflehead ducks, canada geese, gulls and small shorebirds. While we were watching the cranes a bald eagle zoomed overhead, circled the pond once, scared the bejesuts out of all the birds on the pond, banked hard, stuck his talons out and dove into the pond catching a redhead duck. We watched the eagle pluck the duck (feathers flying everywhere) and ate it.
So far we've seen black tail deer, black bear, grizzly bear, moose, caribou, lots of beaver, fat yellow bellied marmot and hoary marmot, cute little red squirrel, colombian ground squirrel, big horn sheep, stupid stone sheep, buffalo, red fox, porcupine, wolf and  rabbit. This is the Wild Kingdom in action! Still need a musk ox and elk.

We're trying to get a reservation for a private 4 wheel drive jeep trip into Denali back country $150 each.) Sounds better than paying $120 a piece to a ride a tour bus packed with 50 other people.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Well, here we are at the North Pole. Who knew you could visit Santa's house? Or see his reindeer close up? We got to do both today! We got to meet DonnerBlitzen and Prancer, all the other reindeer were sleeping in their barn because it was raining. The reindeer look really shaggy because they are losing their winter coat. But their antlers are SO BIG! After meeting Santa's reindeer we hurried to his house to meet Santa. Imagine our surprise when the elves told us that Santa goes to church! So we looked around his house, and the elves showed us all the toys they're making for Christmas.  We were not allowed to take pictures in their workshop (in case a toy is for some child we might know.) After lunch we went back and saw Santa and he remembered bringing us presents when we were little! How cool is that! Then he asked us how our grandchildren were doing and if we knew what they wanted for Christmas (I told him about the blue bike for Sophie and how much Grace loves dolls.) He did say that he knew Marshall, Chuck, Jim, Lon, Henry, Benson, Peter, Jack and brother Bill had not been good this year and would all be getting coal for Christmas. Santa said that used to be a punishment for bad boys, but this year with the energy crunch some people were actually excited to get coal for Christmas. We also got to wear elf hats and get our picture taken with Santa!  Tomorrow we drive to Fairbanks. On June 29th I'll be diving into the icy cold waters at the Arctic Circle!

Friday, June 18, 2010

June 16, we are in Chicken, Alaska. Population 5, Chicken has it's own year road US post office. Winters get down to minus 50 here. We toured downtown Chicken, took about 1.2 minutes to see the whole thing. Spent more time in the bar drinking local beer (yum!) visiting with fellow travelers. Ceiling and walls are covered in caps, panties and bras. The locals have a once a week tradition of cutting girls panties off with a bucknife (while they're wearing them) and shooting them out of a cannon. Once the undies are tattered they are stapled to the ceiling. Found a cap from Mike Friend RV, Chico on the wall where Jim is pointing. Also toured another gold dredge, the Pedro. Not as big as the first one we saw, but still amazing.   Correction, Jim points out that neither of dredges we've seen were worked on by his father, just a similar one to these. Jim tried his hand at panning again, he found just a few flakes. Here a few photos of Chicken and the Pedro. For more photos see my Facebook page. If you're not on Facebook you should sign up, it's super easy and free (so easy my Mom can do it if she tries.) You'll be surprised how many of your friends are already on it.

June 18, we are in Tok, Alaska at the Sourdough Campground. Last night we attended the live free musical entertainment.  For those of you with Facebook accounts I've posted 2 videos and some photos of the entertainment there. 

After the music they had the sourdough pancake tossing contest. Win and you get a free buffet breakfast! So everyone gets to pick two pancakes toss in the "buckit." Jim went first and missed, I tried and missed. Before the evening was over five people won breakfast. Pretty funny, everyone was hooting, hollering, laughing and having a great time. The Europeans were slow to get involved, but once they did the cheering really amped up. We plan on going again tonight. Thanks to my brother-in-law Ken for telling us about the place.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oh yeah, forgot the part about the mud on the Dempster Highway for the first 20 miles. It was just like the mud at Campo Mosqueda in Mexico - slicker than cat shit. You could feel the back end of the truck sliding around. Jim said it was like driving in the snow.

I think that striking it rich gold panning has about the same odds as gambling at an Indian casino. Jim panned for several hours today and found quite a few flakes, but we are still broke. I think he looks really cool with his official gold panning badge pinned on his hat.

The bright yellow dandelions edging the roads of British Columbia finally gave way to the pinks of wild sweet peas in the lower Yukon. In the northern Yukon we saw swaths of purple and blue arctic lupine along the road’s edge. The locals say in a couple of weeks all the roadside flowers will have gone to seed and in their place will be a massive display of hot pink fireweed covering the roadsides and surrounding hills.
On Sunday we drove a section of the Dempster Highway on Sunday. It goes from Dawson City to the Arctic Circle and the town of Inuvik (460 miles on a gravel road.) If you’ve ever seen Ice Road Truckers you’ve seen this road. This is the Yukon’s only all weather road. The highway itself sits on top of a gravel berm to insulate the permafrost in the soil underneath. The thickness of the gravel pad ranges from 4 ft to almost 8 ft in some places. Without the pad, the permafrost would melt and the road would sink into the ground. The valley floor which is mostly tundra, is squeezed between two mountain ranges. The great Yukon River is     born here. he valley which is dotted with lakes and ponds is a major stopping point for birds migrating north for the summer breeding season. This is home to the largest herd of barren ground porcupine caribou in the world (150,000.)

The Yukon is so wild, untouched and beautiful, so huge and full of wildlife, it makes you want to stay and explore. It’s easy to understand why some people come for two weeks and never leave.

We are now back on US soil. We drove the Top of the World road from Dawson City to Chicken Alaska on Tuesday. Long drive (110 miles) on mostly gravel road, with sheer drop offs, no guard rails, lots of pot holes, tons of dust, and incredible views. Glad the drive is behind us! So Chicken is a population of 17. They have a gift shop/cafe/liquor store/bar for their downtown. There is a gold dredge here that Jim’s father worked on when it was in California. So we tour the dredge today and then we are off to Tok, Alaska tomorrow. Jim says it’s a real town and hopefully will have good wifi so I can upload some photos.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Apparently I was wrong about the wifi at Whitehorse being SO SLOW. Dawson City has them beat by a mile. They actually ask you not to use Skype or try to download photos for fear you'll crash their wifi system
Just about ran over a huge black bear standing on the center line of the road on our way here today. We were so surprised by the bear we didn't pick up our cameras until he was walking away (got some great bear ass photos.)

Did I mention Jim and I have been wagging a silent war since we left Paradise? Because of the poor blood circulation in his feet from his diabetes, his feet are always freezing. So whenever I am not looking he CRANKS up the truck heater. Maggie and I are stripped down to our necessities, gasping for air in the sweltering heat. I put my window all the way down to get some relief and say " Let me know if this is too much air for you honey." Whereupon he turns off the heater (hooray!) Wish he'd brought some wool socks with him.

My back has been bugging me the last few days. Last night I got up at 12:30, took some Tylenol and cuddled on the sofa with Maggie while I waited for the Tylenol to kick in. It was still light out when I went back to bed at 1:30. Even the birds are confused by the light, they're all singing and pecking around. Weird.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A note to all dog owners......

Yesterday I gave Maggie some water and she didn't drink much so I poured the water back in the bottle. Later, I was thirsty and took a big gulp from my water bottle (you see where this is going don't you?) Well, as I was about to take a second gulp I noticed the water was cloudy and had floaters in it. I promptly had a coronary, gagging repeatedly, fighting the urge to throw up while uttering a long string of expletives. I then put down Maggie's water bottle and found mine and took a LONG DRINK while swishing to rinse my mouth of dog floaties. Just writing about it is enough to curdle my Special K breakfast. So remember, if you keep a water bottle in your vehicle for your dog be sure to mark it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Yesterday we were talking to a traveler from Missouri, she told us the following bear story.  A black bear climbed the ladder on the back of the RV, got up on the roof of the RV, clawed out the skylight above the kitchen and was trying it's best to get into the RV! The people in the RV next door saw the whole thing and scared the bear off. It ran to the front of the RV and JUMPED OFF! That's got to be at least a 10' jump.

Last night at 9:00 pm (the sun was still high in the sky) we decided to go get an ice cream cone at McDonald's. Saw a huge bird's nest at a turn out and stopped to investigate. It was a Bald Eagle's nest, about 20' off the ground right next to this heavily used scenic overlook for the Yukon River. Could not believe they were nesting there. Watched them both fly to a sand bar and take a bath. Then perched in the top of spruce trees to dry off in the sun. In the lower 48 eagles won't build a nest below about 80'. But the winters here are so severe the trees don't get very tall so they have to nest lower. Pretty cool.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

June 9. Random thoughts from the road.

All wifi sites are not created equal. I thought Watson Lake was slow.... but Whitehorse is REALLY SLOW.  So slow I can't load photos at all.

We drove through a huge area that had a forest fire two years ago. Now the woods are crawling with Canadians looking for morel mushrooms that only grow after a fire. Up until now, every time we've seen someone pulled over to the shoulder of the highway it's to watch wildlife. All these parked cars are very confusing to us senior travellers.

20 miles outside Dawson Creek (right after we got our truck back) the truck started making this terrible noise. Jim and I both had a coronary, he's saying NOW WHAT? and I am hanging out the window trying to figure out where the hell the noise is coming from. All I can tell is the noise is coming from somewhere at the front of the truck. Jim checked under the truck - nothing. He's drives some more while I hang 1/2 out the window listening. By now we are discussing turning around and going back to Dawson Creek to the transmission guy. Then I see something.......... I get out, Jim drives forward a few inches -VOILA! Stuck to the tire is a long piece of electrical tape which is slapping the truck every time the tire turns. So I pull it off and the sound goes away. I have a headache, I am sick to my stomach, my heart is racing,  it takes all day for the terrible feeling to away.

Like all reputable publishing houses I have a correction to issue. In an earlier posting I called the incredibly stupid sheep that stand in the highway licking rock salt off the asphalt rock sheep. We'll they're not the only stupid mammals walking the face of this earth. They are STONE sheep.

Yesterday we crossed the great divide. The mountains were gorgeous. Wish I could show you the photos. So now the creeks and rivers are running kitty whompass. Weird!

We stopped at the George Johnston Museum. He was a Teslin Tlingit (pronounced klink it) Indian. As a young man he purchased a camera and photo developing supplies. He could not read, but he figured out how to use the camera and supplies. He took pictures of everything. He had a knack for composition and subject matter and his photos are amazing. After his death in 1972 a film company interviewed friends and family and created a documentary about his life. In addition to the film there is this HUGE pictorial history of  his life and the Tlingit Indians.

Last night we had dinner at a real Mexican restaurant in Whitehorse - it was delicious. They served the best black beans I've ever had.  I also had a huge margarita with dinner. Jim ordered his dinner spicy, which surprised me. Afterward he said his lips were burning and he should have ordered his enchilada mild.

Maggie continues to be a good traveler and companion, we are lucky to have her!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The drive from Liard Hot Springs to Watson Lake was dotted with endangered Wood Buffalo. These animals are so huge you can't believe it. We stopped every time we saw Buffalo to take photos. During the drive we crossed from British Columbia into the Yukon.

Once we reached Watson Lake we visited the Sign Post Forest to put up our sign. Amazing place, more than 68,000 signs have been put up since the first sign in 1942. The whole story is included in one of the photos I am posting. Took Jim three tries to get the sign put up. It took 2 portable electric drills (both died), a borrowed ladder (which he fell off) and a ratchet to finally get it up! I will load more sign photos tomorrow, the Internet site is so SLOW here it's having trouble loading photos.

I hung the blackout shades in the bedroom today. The sun does not set until 11:30 and rises at 4:30 so we're having trouble sleeping. Tomorrow we're off to White Horse.

June 6. The drive from Fort Nelson to Liard Hot springs was amazing. We left the Peace River Valley and climbed up into the Central Canadian Rockies. We saw lots of Rock Sheep grazing at the very edge of the pavement. They lick up salt left from salting the roads during  winter. They are probably the dumbest animals I have ever seen. Liard Hot Springs was awesome. Mineral hot springs the size of Olympic swimming pools with crystal clear aqua waters. The pools range from 105 to 110 degrees. We also met so many nice travellers headed for Alaska like us, and we met a couple from Paradise! The boardwalk to the springs takes you through a forest filled with ferns, queen anne's lace, mare's tail, birch and aspen.                       
Don't forget to click pics to enlarge. June 5 spent the night at Fort Nelson. Not much here, but there was a great heritage museum. They had an old Studebaker with WWII head lamp shades which were used during blackouts. I knew about them, but had never seen them before. Jim found a new girlfriend, they had a really cool trappers cabin, more of those spruce logs with burls and a  gas pump that was 64 cents a gallon (oh the good old days.) On to Liard Hot Springs.

Friday, June 4, 2010

June 4.  Long day today, 282 miles to Fort Nelson. Slow driving because of really steep grades, huge sweeping curves, and more wildlife in the road warning signs then you can count. Thanks to eagle eye Jim we saw our first wolf and later a caribou. The road has long stretches where it is straight as an arrow for as far as you can see. BORING. The shoulders are mowed way back to the lodge pole forest to give drivers a chance to see animals before they run in the road. We drove by moose pieces in the opposing lane, blood everywhere. Hope no one was hurt except the moose. Drove a section of the old Alcan highway to see a wooden curved bridge built for the original highway and still in use today. Amazing what they were doing back in the 1930's.