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Published on August 7, 2017, by admin in Alaska Trip.

Grizzly fishing.

Grizzly fishing.


Hyder is a little town on the southern tip of Alaska. Mining kept the town alive back in the early 1900’s, but the few businesses along the run-down main street have all closed, and junk is piled in front and between the delapitated buildings. About the only businesses in town are an RV park, a gift shop, and a little girl across the road selling lemonade.

Tourist come here to visit Fish Creek, a feeding ground for bears when salmon are swimming upstream to spawn. The forest service has built a walkway high above the stream for people to watch the bears fishing. It costs $5 for a pass to use the walkway.

I traveled up to the viewing platform last night and stood at the railing with a hundred other visitors, waiting in anticipation of a bear fishing show. For an hour nothing happened, and then, one at a time three black bears came out of the bushes and tried their luck at catching a salmon.

The first one jumped into the stream but the fish were too quick and he came up empty. The next two just walked along the river bank and never tried to catch a fish. There was a lull for quite a while and many people gave up and left. Just as I was ready to leave a large grizzly stepped out of the reeds and into the water.

The ranger said he was a regular to the area and they even had a name for him – Dogbear. Dogbear walked up the stream and caught a fish on his second try. He carried it to an island and tore flesh from the salmon while the prey continued to thrash and flop. It was all quite gruesome to watch, even though you know the salmon are destined to die after they spawn. After he was done with the fish, two bald eagles flew in to scavenge what was left.

While the grizzly was fishing, no black bears came around. I asked the ranger if they chased the other bears away and he said a grizzly will kill and eat black bears. Momma black bear will send her cubs up a tree when a grizzly is about. Grizzlies are bad-tempered and mean! I asked if any bears had ever come up on the walkway. He said one time a small black climbed a tree and stepped over onto the platform. They took people down the emergency exit and then chased the bear off the walkway.

Hyder, AK and Stewart, BC are both on the same body of water, seperated by a natural fjord. Stewart has a few more business and seems to be prosperous. You can drive into Hyder without going through customs but on the way out you have to clear customs. I asked a local why they check one way and not the other. He told me that years ago Canadians would come to Hyder to buy cigarettes and liquor and bring them back into Stewart. The officials didn’t want to be cheated out of duty on things bought in the US so they put up a border crossing. That’s what he told me but who knows if that is true.

I took a ride on Honda to Stewart this morning and then rode up to Bear Glacier in the afternoon. I’ll go up to Fish Creek again tonight and head out in the morning.

 
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Published on August 6, 2017, by admin in Alaska Trip.
On the Cassiar Highway.

On the Cassiar Highway.

I was in for a pleasant surprise when I turned off the Alaskan Highway at Watson Lake and headed down the Cassiar Highway. In Richard’s blog, he tells about the terrible condition of the road, filled with frost heaves and dips so bad that he was only able to drive 35 mph a lot of the way. I was dreading the road conditions of the 400 mile drive to Hyder, AK, and reconciled in my mind that it would be a long, slow couple of days.

A lot can change in 10 years. Almost all the Cassiar Highway now is new. It is still narrow in places, but the first 100 miles were smooth as glass. After that there were a few gravel spots that were being fixed but no badly damaged areas at all. The road is narrow in places with sharp dropoffs so I took it easy and still made good time.

I realize that I haven’t talked much about the condition of some of the awful roads up here, and I want to chronicle my opinion before I forget the punishment poor Minnie and I have gone through. The joke is that the Yukon and Alaska get 9 months of winter and 3 months of road construction. Roads up here are always in battle with the brutal temperatures of the north, and Mother Nature will make you pay when you try to put a road on her frozen ground.

I’m not sure why they call them “frost heaves”, they are more like “frost sucks” in my mind. To me, a heave is something sticking up, and these imperfections are mostly dips and holes. It happens when the black asphalt heats up from the sun and melts the frozen ground, causing the asphalt to sag into a depression of great depths.

To be fair Minnie has a couple disadvantages over other vehicles driving the Alaskan highways. For one thing, she has a short wheelbase. I guess someone designing Winnebagos figured it would be easier to drive an RV if you could cut corners like a car. The trouble with that theory is that it leaves a long section cantilevered behind the rear tires to bounce and swing like a dinosaur tail. Now add a motorcycle hanging on the back and you have even more instability.

When you hit one of the frost damaged sections of road with a little too much speed, the first thing that happens is the front end falls as if the road has disappeared into an abyss. Then you are rocketed up with bone crushing force into a brief instant of zero gravity, before being slammed back to the road in a test of the integrity of your tires and front suspension.

And as all this is going on, your back tires have already entered this dip to mimic the front end in a much less graceful way. But it’s not over yet! Imagine several dips in a row! When you finally come out the other side, you have been on the roller coaster ride from Hell, and you probably have a mild case of whiplash.

I think the worst road damage I have seen is when one side of the lane has sunken, causing Minnie to drop wheels on the same side and set up a side-to-side rocking. At first you feel like you might roll over and you overcorrect to bring the rig back to a straight line. In the next second, the tires on the other side hit the dip while the first side is bounced back up, tossing everything back the other way. When you stop for the night, you find out how secure things are in the cabinets.

Dall Sheep?

Dall Sheep?

There has been no cell signal along this highway. I’m camped just off the highway in a nice, hidden campsite. I should be in Hyder tomorrow.

I made it to Hyder. Staying at the Camp Run a Muck RV park. I paid for two days and may stay longer. Little bit of Wi-Fi.

 
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Published on August 3, 2017, by admin in Alaska Trip.

I have been scooting south quicker than I originally intended. I decided to put in a couple of good driving days and maybe save a little time for the Cassiar Highway and the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper.

Familiar sight in Yukon and Alaska.

Familiar sight in Yukon and Alaska.

I’m back in Whitehorse tonight after driving the Tok Cutoff and Alaskan Highway that I missed on the way up. I stopped at a few pullouts to read signs and take in the views of the Saint Elias Range – Canada’s highest peaks. The weather today was gorgeous and I could see every mountain crystal clear.

The Tok Cutoff road was one of the worst roads I have been on and the first section of the Alaskan Highway past the border of Canada was not much better.

I texted with a couple I met up here that were going to Hyder after I told them about the bears feeding on salmon. They were there yesterday and saw plenty of salmon swimming upstream but no bears. I hope I will see bears.

 
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Published on August 2, 2017, by admin in Alaska Trip.
Columbia Glacier

Columbia Glacier

My visit to Valdez Alaska turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences I have had so far on my trip. On the Stan Stevens Glacier and Wildlife Cruise, we witnessed the greatest calving event that anyone on our boat had ever seen. Crew members on our boat who have been coming to the glacier for years said they have seen nothing like it. But let me back up a bit…

Valdez is one of those seaport towns that gets a lot of rain from clouds trapped by the coastal mountains. It would rain off and on for the two days I spent in town, but there were two museums to wander through when the drops would fall.

Museum in Valdez

Museum in Valdez

There is a lot of history that took place in Valdez. It started as Gold Rush town where thousands of Stampeders landed to start their trek to the goldfields. The miners had to hike over the treacherous Valdez Glacier before facing the pass through the mountains.

In March of 1964, Valdez was hit by a massive earthquake of 9.2 magnitude, turning the ground to liquid waves, that heaved and broke for a terrifing five minutes. The town was injured so badly that it was decided to move everyone to a new location where the ground was more stable. The old town of Valdez lasted two more years as a new town was built four miles away on bedrock.

In 1977, Valdez became an important seaport for the Alaskan Pipeline terminus. The natural deep water of the port allowed easy access to oil tankers to load millions of barrels of oil on ships bound for refineries in California. Perhaps the most famous event to occur off the Port of Valdez was the grounding of the Exxon Valdez in1989. The tanker leaked 10 million barrels of oil into the waters of Prince William Sound before they could contain the spill.

All these events and more were on display in great detail in the museums in town. I spent several hours looking through the memorabilia and then wandered through town looking for a cruise boat tour. I found a company that offered a cruise to Columbia Glacier and booked passage for the next morning. Then I headed a few miles north of town and found a secluded spot to camp for the night.

Foggy cruise start

Foggy cruise start

The weather the next morning was total fog until we motored out of the bay into Valdez Arm. Then the fog lifted and we had great views for the rest of the trip. Our boat was only one-third full so everyone had room to move about and see the sights. It was quite chilly outside the cabin area when the capitan would bring the boat up to cruise and everyone would scurry inside out of the wind. You were allowed to go anywhere on the boat and I enjoyed spending some time up in the wheelhouse talking with the capitan and asking questions.

Sea Lions

Sea Lions

We saw sea lions, sea otters, Dall Porpoise, Harbor Seals, Orcas, and several different birds. Even though we couldn’t get real close to some of the animals, it was great fun to watch them in their natural habitat. I didn’t get many good pictures of the wildlife but I will have the picture in my mind always.

About to calve.

About to calve.

Fir seals on an iceberg

Fir seals on an iceberg

As we came closer to Columbia Glacier, the capitan had to weave in and out through the icebergs. He would even push through some of the smaller pieces of ice until we were about a quarter mile from the massive face of the glacier. Everyone on board waited in hushed anticipation to see if we would be privileged to see the glacier calve. Some days the glacier is quiet and many tours never get to see any activity on the face of the glacier. We were about to witness a spectacular show.

It started with several small slides every minute or so, and then we could hear loud cracking and rumbling as huge sections of ice broke from the face and plunged into the sea. It seemed like the whole face of the glacier kept breaking and falling, pushing up large waves, and sending ice flying into the air. As the largest pieces broke into the water they would bob up in slow-motion, towering high above the face of the glacier and then turn over and crash into the water. When it was over it seemed the face of the glacier had retreated the length of a football field and house-sized icebergs floated towards us on rolling waves.

The crew were as awestruck as the passengers! In all their years of coming to Columbia Glacier they had not seen any calving like that. A couple of people got it on video and said they will post it to YouTube. It was a great time. I’m really glad I went.

After the tour I decided to drive up through Keystone Canyon and over Thompson Pass to look for better weather and maybe miss the road construction by Worthington Glacier. I made quick stops at the old Valdez townsite to read some plaques and stopped to marvel at Bridelvail Falls. The construction workers were gone and the traffic was light so I made a good choice to drive in the evening.

Bridelvail Falls

Bridelvail Falls

My next move will be towards Tok and then down the into Canada on the Alaskan Highway again.

 
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Published on July 30, 2017, by admin in Alaska Trip.
Hike to Thunderbird Falls

Hike to Thunderbird Falls

Alaskans love their weekend toys! If you live up here for any length of time, you probably have some combination of the following adventure vehicles: airplane, RV, fishing boat, ATV, snowmobile, mountain bike, and maybe a lesser chance because of the weather, a dirt bike.

It was quite evident to me as I left Anchorage and joined the Glenn Highway on my way to Valdez that ahead lay a popular area for off-roaders. I met trailer after trailer of vehicles pulling ATVs.

Motanuska Glacier

Motanuska Glacier

The road passed through some very pretty mountains and was quite smooth for most of the way. I stopped to take a picture of Motanuska Glacier, a long river of ice and snow that reminded me of Ruth Glacier in Denali. I added a little gas in Glennallen and found a scenic pullout a few miles south on the Richardson Highway headed to Valdez.

I just wanted to mention again what a good time I had visiting with Kleenex in Anchorage. She went out of her way to take me hiking in Whittier, drove me all over town to shop and show me the sights, and include me in a hike and outdoor potluck with people from her church. Thank you, Renee!

 

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