Day 13 – Homer, AK

Miles today: 11

Total Miles: 4709

Today and tomorrow are “rest” days in Homer, AK, before heading back towards home.  Not a lot of pictures today, and I didn’t take a picture of the halibut (they are kinda ugly).

I went halibut fishing this morning with Inlet Charters- Across Alaska Adventures who set me up with Captain Mike Huff and “Wild Thing”.  We left Homer around 6:30am (finally the sun coming up and me waking up at 4:30am was useful) and travelled about 32 nautical miles west-southwest of Homer deep into the Cook Inlet to fish.  The water was about 200 feet deep and fishing was pretty simple – drop your line to the bottom and “jig” it up and down 2 or 3 feet.  Halibut feed on the bottom and hit the bait from underneath.  Amazingly, at least to me, catching fish was not a problem; the problem is the slot.  Most of the fish are under 28 inches and you can only keep one fish over 28 inches.  More or less, you have to catch one as close to 28 inches as possible and then one over 28 inches.  Eventually, I caught my “big” one and we were back in port by noon.

On our way out, sea otters were everywhere and they look pretty much like any picture you can find on the internet or in a book.  It is cool to see them “live”.  We were able to see a humpback whale breach, but getting a picture is kind of like getting a picture of lightning – it didn’t happen.  On the way back in, Captain Mike pointed out a number of active volcanos on the horizon and explained that many erupt on a regular basis without any fanfare.

The other thing to note is the beauty and clarity of the water.  For those of us used to the Gulf of Mexico – this ain’t the Gulf of Mexico!

Tomorrow is a full rest day, so I’ll probably check back in on Thursday as I start back home.

Day 12 – Anchorage, AK to Homer, AK

Miles today: 223

Total Miles: 4,698

Not a long drive mileage-wise but this was one of the more taxing drives from a mental standpoint.  That, and I didn’t sleep worth a crap last night.  This whole sun-up at 4:30am and sundown at 11:30pm is really starting to screw with me.

Anyway, the trip south from Anchorage starts on the Turnagain Arm and the scenery is pretty neat.  There is one spot along the road where the locals have a pipe into the rock and they fill water bottles with the melting ice.  You don’t see that everyday.

Further south you move into glacier country.  At the turn-off to Whittier, you access the Chugach National Forest and the Byron Glacier Trail.  I visited this same spot about 5 years ago but in late July.  Today, the ice pack was still almost solid to the ground.  I tried to take a picture, but you could see “blue” ice not that far up the snow bowl.  There were also sign warning of avalanche danger and there was a snow shelf on one of the peaks that didn’t look to stable.

At the junction of AK3 and AK1, I took AK1 – the Sterling Highway.  This road leads through the Kenai River valley (which is very touristy, but very beatiful) and saw loads of people rafting, boating, and fishing.  The people fishing were so many in number that I’m not sure how exactly they were able to cast a line, especially the those fishing with fly tackle.

As you make yourself further west, you eventually reach Soldotna and the City of Kenai…again extremely touristy.  From Soldotna, you turn south and drive along the bluff of the Cook Inlet until you reach Homer.  I drove to the literal “Lands End” where AK1 dead ends into the ocean.  The number of people (tourists, fisherman, and locals) was amazing to me.  They call it the “spit” but it is basically where all the boats launch.

I apologize for not posting pictures, but like I said, I’m pretty wiped at this point.  I have been driving at least 8 hours a day since June 1 with only an extra rest day in Calgary about 7 days ago.  I plan to rest a little more on the way back.  I’m in Homer for two full days and three nights with a full rest day on Wednesday.

As I have now driven as far west on a “connected” road as you can in North America, I have to think about what I’ve seen over the past 12 days. Sometimes, we need a reminder of the true expanse and greatness of the world we live in – this trip has done that for me, and, I’m only done with the out-leg of my trip.

One last thing, for those wondering, the driving the road to Alaska is an experience in itself.  There are a ton of things to do along the way, but just driving the road is something to take in by itself.  Something I would recommend to anyone who wants an experience outside of driving an hour here or there.

Day 11 – Tok, AK to Delta Junction, AK to Fairbanks, AK to Anchorage, AK

Miles today: 562

Total Miles: 4,426

OK, the title is a little long but that’s because I didn’t take the most direct route from Tok to Anchorage.  In order to “finish” the Alaska Highway, I had to make my way to Delta Junction which is about 90 miles north of Tok.  There’s not quite as much fanfare on this end of the highway – just a sign and a small shop.  In case its not clear, the Alaska Highway ends in Delta Junction, AK after 1422 miles.

Along the way, there are so many rivers and streams that taking a picture at each one is not feasible.  So, here are a couple of pictures that show basically what Alaskan Rivers look like – including an ice flow.  I will tell you that this is a smaller river, but they all fan out and cover an area that can’t be described by word or picture.

If it looks wet, this is why…

It rained in Central Alaska for the first time in several weeks and really helped with the wildfire problems.

One thing I found interesting is that Delta Junction is a big grain farming/cattle raising/agriculture area.  Given all the trees and northern-ness, I would have though it would be difficult.  But, there were several grain elevators, cattle ranches, and hay fields in the area.

Between Delta Junction and Fairbanks, there wasn’t a whole lot to take pictures of other than trees.  As you get closer to Fairbanks, you pass Eielsom Air Force Base – no pictures allowed – and all of the training aircraft used by the base.

Next was North Pole, AK.  Santa had some company at his “house”.

From Fairbanks, it was quite scenic but the rain and low cloud deck made driving difficult, stopping a bad idea, and taking pictures impossible.

Having said that, this is one of the more scenic drives in Alaska and takes you over the Nenana River, by Denali National Park and Preserve and later over the Susitna River and the Matanuska River.  When the rain finally stopped, here are some pictures of the landscape.

The mountains are so much more dramatic than those in the “lower” 48.  They seem to just erupt from the ground instead of growing out of the ground.  Another difference is that there is a large valley between the mountains and you don’t really drive “in” the mountains but rather between them.

One thing I saw but didn’t get a picture of was a cow moose with her twins  along the road in the Denali preserve.  Even though they were a 200 yards/meters away, she was impressively huge and the calves were equally impressive.  If the female was that big, the males must be enormous.

The drive into Anchorage was otherwise unspectacular other than the Chugach Mountains come into view (and they seemed to have quite a bit of snowpack left for this time of year).  Starting with Willow, Houston, and Wasilla, the suburbs of Anchorage are growing and modernizing.  Anchorage itself, based on the last time I was here, has really cleaned up and has a much more modern feel.  Definitely a “lower 48” feel.

One last note.  I was reminded today that, while accessible, the distance between Fairbanks and Anchorage is about 360 miles with not a lot in the middle.  I passed a parking area near Denali (south about 30 miles) where a tour bus and several RV’s were pulled over attending to at least two people with CPR (it looked like it anyway).  I’m not really sure what happened but these people were over 2 hours from Fairbanks and almost 3 hours from Anchorage (I met 3 ambulances headed north as I drove south).  You have to accept the possibility that if something happens, you may not make it back.

 

Day 10 – Pictures

Rather than try to update the last post, here are some pictures on the road from Whitehorse, YT to Tok, AK.

This is a small herd of “wild” Yukon horses along the road northwest of Whitehorse.  According to some locals, they are feral horses that were let loose/escaped from miners in the area.  People still feed them, but they roam free.

This is a picture of one of the peaks that make-up the Kluane ice fields.  One of the largest terrestrial ice fields in the northern hemisphere.  The runoff feeds streams and rivers which eventually drain into Lake Kluane.

Speaking of which, this is a picture of Lake Kluane.  Another large, natural glacial lake in the Yukon.  Unlike the US, there is no development other than a small community, Destruction Bay, and the lake is relative pristine.

Entering Alaska.

The US customs/border check at mile 1221 of the Alaska Highway.

A lake along the road just after the border check in the Wrangell-Saint Elias National Refuge/Preserve.

More Arctic Lupine (I’m gonna call them Alaska Bluebonnets) along the road.

This is the Tanana River.  Because of drought its quite low and the boat ramp is about 30 feet from the water.

 

Day 10 – Whitehorse, YT to Tok, AK

Miles today: 410

Total Miles: 3,864

Limited bandwidth again tonight, so, I’ll post pictures tomorrow when I get to Anchorage.

The drive from Whitehorse to Tok is just as stunning as every other day since Dawson Creek.  At some point, you are on scenery overload and can’t grasp the sheer magnificence of what you are seeing anymore.  It takes something increasingly more stunning to leave an impression.  Other than what is described below, the one thing I’ll remember from today was the Alaska Highway “whoop-te-doos”.  Long stretches of roads where the tundra/ground has buckled, and, if you aren’t careful, will send you airborne for a short distance – even at posted speed limits.

While there was some wildlife along the way (a couple of coyotes, a rabbit, and numerous whooper swans), the highlight of today’s drive was from Haines Junction, YT to Tok, AK.   At Haines Junction (the road splits, one to Haines, Alaska and the other the Alaska Highway to Tok), you kinda run smack dab into the St. Elias Range and the Kluane Ice Fields.  This is an are where the mountains become increasingly  taller and are covered by glaciers.  You could even see blue ice on one of the peaks where an avalanche had occurred!

The next visual wonder was Kluane Lake.  Created by runoff from the Kluane ice fields, this lake is truly pristine and a color of blue you won’t find in many places.  There is little to no development except for a small community named Destruction Bay.  Otherwise, it is almost completely unspoiled.  One thing to note is that because I’m here sort of early in the season, the lake is still down about 5 feet and I had to navigate a bridge in a “brown out” dust storm.

At Beaver Creek, YT (the most western settlement in Canada), is the Canadian border check (coming south); however, the US border check is some 20 or so miles north of the Canadian checkpoint.  Traffic headed north only stops at the US checkpoint and traffic headed south only stops at the US checkpoint.  You figure it out.

Driving into Alaska, AK2 follows the Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Refuge.  A stunning area of Spruce, Aspen, Poplar, and Alder trees dotted with natural lakes.  Of course, unlike Canada, mailboxes and electric lines start to reappear – sad, really.

The fire danger is quite high rights now as it is most every summer, but I did run into some rain today.  Just enough to turn the dust on my truck to mud.  I’ll need a car wash before I come back!

While I’ve tried to keep politics out of this blog, I just want to mention how nice its been to listen to XM radio for most of this trip and get away from the US news.  Today, when the signal finally cut out for good (and because I was tired of listening to the only album I had on my phone), I found the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) station.  I found their commentary enlightening and straightforward.  Not really yes or no on any particular subject, but, rather everybody’s got problems – get over yourselves.  One commentator stated that he felt, regardless of political affiliation, Americans are so self-focused they can’t see the forest for the trees.

 

Day 9 – Muncho Lake, BC to Whitehorse, YT

Miles today: 443

Total Miles: 3626

Leaving Muncho Bay, BC, the terrain remained much the same but the road began to widen and level out as I left the Muncho Lake Provincial Park.  I still can’t believe the raw beauty of the area and the jewel of a hotel/lodge.

Today’s drive wasn’t as exciting as yesterday as I began to leave the mountains, or, maybe, its that I’m on scenery overload.  Everywhere you look there are small, large, and really big creeks and rivers and lakes.  The Laird River, the Teslin River, and the Yukon being the largest.  Quite frankly, these rivers make the rivers at home look like muddy bogs.

There are lakes and ponds everywhere.  It is so hard to describe the raw beauty and almost as hard to stop and take pictures.  Again, imaging a Texas FM or RR but being the major highway with no guardrails and little if no shoulder.  The few times I did stop I had to make sure I didn’t have and traffic within a mile or two.  Although, that was easier than it sounds.

Otherwise, a pretty routine drive.  The only thing I’ve noticed is that traffic is beginning to pick up the closer I get to Alaska.  Oh, and forget cool weather, it was close to 90degrees in Whitehorse today – and no a/c.  It’s a neat town, but its really uncomfortable when its this hot.

Here are some pictures from today.

This is the Trout River which flows out of Muncho Lake.  This was the first hour or so of the drive.

Next was the Laird River.  While they look similar, the Laird River is two to three times the size of the Trout.

So, the Laird River Basin host a population of Wood Bison.  A cousin of the Plains Bison, this is a group of cows, calves, and young bulls.  I was stopped for construction where these were feeding.  Ironically, the road has allowed plentiful grass to grow and the Bison, while few in number, congregate in the area between the pavement and the forest.  Needless to day I don’t want to find out the damage they could cause to a vehicle. 

This is a full grown bull laying in a “waller” dug out into the side of the road.  I would estimate he weighs north of 2,000lbs.  Just a few miles before this, a full grown bull walked into the highway and laid down!  Fortunately, I could drive around, but several large trucks and RV’s weren’t so lucky.

Next, and I know the picture isn’t the best, is an Arctic Lupine.  We call them Bluebonnets in Texas.

The next three pictures are from Whitehorse, YT (Yukon Territory), Canada.

Yukon River (The water is really that blue.)

Native totem pole.

 

“Sea” gulls.

An old train used by miners in the 1800’s.

Day 8 – Grande Prairie, AB to Muncho Lake, BC

Miles today: 519

Total Miles: 3176

From Grande Prairie, I made my way to Dawson Creek and “Mile 0” of the Alaska Highway.  Crossed the Peace River (again) at Fort St. John, BC and continued towards Fort Nelson for gas.  After filling up, the Alaska Highway began in earnest as you enter the Rocky Mountains.  The drive is absolutely spectacular!  Imagine a Texas FM or RR twisting its way along rivers and through mountains.   Amazing!  I have no idea what is in front of me, but the drive today was worth the trip by itself.

Lots of wildlife today.  Finally saw my first moose (although it was road kill); several more mule deer; a black bear; a whole herd of Stone sheep (on the descent from Stone Mountain no-less); and a bull moose.  I’m glad I was following a road sweeper (semi-truck) at the time.  I don’t want to find out what kind of damage a moose can do to a car.

I’m staying at a hotel/lodge/cabin/campsite run by a Swiss family in/on Muncho Lake (and yes, the saw my name and wanted to know my family details).  This is one of those “picture” lakes and I’ll post pictures tomorrow as I have limited bandwidth tonight.  Also, there’s no cell service (and hasn’t been for the last 150 miles).  Hopefully, it’ll pick up again at some point tomorrow (at a minimum in Whitehorse tomorrow night) and I’ll be able to make some calls and text again.  Kinda weird and nice, at the same time, being without the ability to communicate at will.

Like I said, I have numerous pictures and a few video clips of the drive I’ll put up when I can.  So, check back then.

As an aside, anyone making this trip should strongly consider NOT staying in Grande Prairie.  The town is pretty much a oil & gas hub that has tripled in size in the last 5 years.  Pretty grungy and dingy.  Drive on to Dawson Creek which is only another 1.5 hours up the road.

Also, it is light at 5:00am and doesn’t get completely dark until after 11:00pm.  So, lots of daylight to drive and drive and drive.  You almost need to force yourself to stop after 10 hours (which I am trying to do).

Day 7 – Calgary, AB to Grande Prairie, AB

Miles today: 465

Total Miles: 2,545 (includes driving around Calgary yesterday)

OK, did a really crappy job of taking pictures today, but, here are a couple.  The first is a barn/house/? just outside of Red Deer, AB.  The second is one of many beautiful railroad trestle bridges across Canada.  This one is made entirely of wood!

As for the drive, Calgary is in the middle of plains and farming country.  As you get into Edmonton, you start to get into what is technically a boreal forest environment.  Not mountainous, just lots and lots of trees and massive rivers.  I crossed the Red Deer river at Red Deer; the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton; the Athabasca River (which was huge and originates from the Rockies and feeds the Great Slave Lake) at Whitecourt; and, finally the Peace River just before getting into Grande Prairie.  I really wish I could have gotten pictures but there was a lot of large truck traffic and it simply wasn’t safe to pull over.

From Edmonton, I drove Alberta Highway 43 which is also called “Moose Row” for the apparently large number of moose that are seen/killed along the highway every year.  Almost the entire stretch is poplar/spruce forest with marshes and bogs everywhere.  Unfortunately (maybe fortunately), no moose were to be seen today.  The only wildlife I saw was a mule deer doe and numerous ravens and magpies.

Grande Prairie is to the west of the Peace River Valley and is farming/ranching country again.  Surprisingly, I saw a herd of cross-bred cattle with horns.  Not the Shorthorn breed, but plain old cross-bred cattle of all colors.  This is unusual because almost every rancher here has a favorite breed/color and that is all they have.  Grande Prairie is also a booming oil town and the smell of sulphur oil is pervasive.  Population is about 70,000 due to the oil activity.

Weather is same as Calgary – lows in the lower 50’s and highs in the lower 80’s.

Tomorrow, I’m on to Dawson Creek and the start of the official Alaska Highway and I’ll be spending the night in Muncho Lake, British Columbia (BC) at mile 462 of the Alaska Highway.