(This post took me hours and hours to upload. The Verizon signal is strong here, but internet performance is almost non-existent. I ended up using the Library’s WiFi, but even that had extremely poor performance. So, instead of getting this uploaded Sunday afternoon as hoped it is now late Monday afternoon as I get ready to publish this post. It took me two trips to the Library to get enough bandwidth between all the other users to get all the pictures uploaded.
We did go looking for bears, but as of this posting we haven’t seen any yet.)
We finished out our time in Fairbanks nicely. We had the drive out to Old Murphy Dome Road followed by a picnic lunch at Birch Hill Recreation Area. Birch Hill Recreation Area is primarily setup to provide cross country ski trails, both groomed and natural. It is a beautiful spot with at least 60 to 80 miles of trails. The weather was in the mid-60s with mostly sunny skies. It was delightful sitting out on the picnic table eating our lunch while catching up on some of our subscribed You-Tube channels. Breann decided to come along with us as well, helping the time to feel even more complete. Some quick stops at thrift stores looking for items on our shopping list (including more books) rounded out the family afternoon.
Taking advantage of a larger city Hilary and I decided to go out to a movie. We went and saw the new Jason Bourne movie. We were not very impressed. The action is very gritty and there is very little dialogue, even by Bourne movie standards. We also thought there was way too much graphic violence for a film rated PG-13. We enjoyed the opportunity to get out together and the theater itself was very comfortable. We just would not recommend the movie to others and would not see it again.
Thursday morning we picked up a few last minute supplies and then picked up our 25# bag of gluten free oats at Sunshine Health. Now it was TIME TO LEAVE! By about 1:00 we were on the road heading out of Fairbanks. We even had fair weather for our drive – sweet! The bus was running good, the tires were humming along nicely on the newer pavement, and the light winds were trailing us. It was good to be on the road again.
Heading south-east on the Richardson Highway we passed Eielson AFB about 20 miles outside of Fairbanks. I took a quick picture to text to my brother (after we stopped, not while driving) and watched a KC-130 tanker practicing final approaches. We learned from the Milepost that Eielson has the 2nd longest runway in North America at almost 3 miles in length. It is long! We saw F16s, F18s, KC-130s and other planes sitting in their designated spots. Eventually the base will get F-35s once they are operational according to what we learned on a local Fairbanks evening news show. Thanks to the F-35 assignment the base appears to have a bright future. Between Eielson and Fort Wainwright the US Military contributes significantly to the local Fairbanks economy.
About ten miles west of Delta Junction we stopped to look at the 2nd longest river crossing for the Trans Alaska Pipe Line. The Pipeline crosses the river by suspension bridge instead of going under the river. Going under the river was usually considered cheaper and easier by the Pipeline engineers. However, the Tanana River is a very fast flowing river and is known for its ability to scour the river channel bottoms from all the glacial debris carried along by the river water. The engineers worried that even if placed deeply below the river bottom the pipeline could still be exposed sometime in the future. (The longest river crossing is the Yukon River.)
Next up for us was the Delta Junction visitor center where the end of the Alaskan Highway monument is located. We did the normal tourist activities – took pictures, read displays, browsed the visitor center, and walked the grounds. I also took a couple pictures of the old equipment used to build the Alaska Highway and sent a picture of this old D7 to my other brother who works extensively with large equipment in his job. He would definitely appreciate how far along the bulldozer technology has come since the 40s. With our end of the highway pictures safely captured on the memory card of our camera we continued east on the Alaska Highway with our next destination just 9 miles down the road.
The Delta Junction area has a small, but thriving population of local ranchers and farmers. Yaks, Buffalo, Reindeer, hogs, goats and more all raised locally and then processed at the local USDA inspected processing plant just east of Delta Junction. The plant has a small store front named Delta Junction Meat Market. We didn’t want to pass up on the opportunity to support the local farmers and ranchers and also get some meat advertised to be anti-biotic and growth hormone free, etc. We were disappointed to find many of their sausage and meat stick products had MSG in them. Thankfully not all their products contained MSG and we were able to walk away with some Reindeer meat sticks, buffalo burger, and pork sausage. Yum!
We ended our day another twenty miles down the road at Gerstle River Wayside. After getting camp setup and diner completed Hilary and I went out exploring a few of the side roads in the area. One road went about twenty miles north along the Gerstle River almost to where the river merged with the Yukon River. Along the way we saw three foxes playing in the middle of the road. They were shy and did not let us get close enough for a picture unfortunately. So, now we’ve seen Alaskan Red Fox. Cool
Friday was another traveling day on our way towards Haines, AK. We left a little later in the morning heading towards Tok. Tok is the last good place to buy diesel in Alaska and is well worth topping off the tank given the high prices in Canada. Along with a diesel fill we also took advantage of the RV dump station provided for free to customers of the Chevron station. Before heading out of Tok I took advantage of a good cellular signal to take care of some last minute online business.
For the past few months I’ve been staying in touch with a friend from the Bus Conversions Bulletin Board who is also traveling in Alaska this summer. We had been trying to connect up somewhere in the state, but our travel plans tended to take us in opposite directions of each other. As it worked out we ran into each other at the Chevron station. Dan and Sandy Cerrato had been hanging out in the back parking lot of the station while waiting to close on the property they just purchased in the Tok area. Unfortunately for us they were leaving just as we pulled in to head up to Fairbanks to close on the property. We were at least able to say “hi” in person before they had to hit the road. Maybe we’ll be able to meet up again later down the road when they start their southward journey.
Leaving Tok we continued south on the Alaska Highway with a stop at the Tanana River crossing. I had seen a lot of black sand bars on the river’s edge when we had come through back at the beginning of June and wanted to stop this time and check out the black sand. Walking around the edge of the river we realized the water level was much higher now than it had been in June as we were not able to see any of the sand bars that had been visible at the beginning of June. So, yes, it has been a very wet year here in Alaska.
We did manage to find some black sand along the edge of the river. The sand turned out to be glacial run off silt. It was extremely fine grained in texture and felt very smooth in our hands. We played with the sand noting how it behaved like a solid under pressure and then became liquefied again when shaken (think earthquake). We all ended up with muddy hands. I used a rock on the edge of the river to stand on to reach into the water from while Breann decided to go to the boat ramp. Unfortunately for her, the boat ramp was coated in mud and her slick bottomed crocs were immediately transformed into skates. One moment she was standing and the next she was on her rump in the water and the mud. Thankfully she was not hurt and we all enjoyed a good laugh at her expense.
Our day ended at a pull over about twenty miles from the US/Canadian border. It was quiet and relatively dark overnight (sunset was around 10:15). We slept well, better than we had in about a week.
Saturday we got on the road intending to make it all the way past Haines Junction. This would have been about a 220 mile day. Our border crossing went quickly with the usual questions asked. We were not hassled at all and were wished a good safe journey south. The change to our day’s plans began even before getting in to Canada when we had to wait twenty minutes for a pilot car to follow through a long section of construction before we even made it to Canada. Then we hit two more very long sections of construction in Canada with waits and very slow driving speeds along about 40 – 50 miles of dirt road.
It was getting to be mid-afternoon when we started driving along Kluane Lake. Kluane Lake is a very long and narrow lake that reminded us of Flathead Lake in Montana. Just like Flathead Lake, Kluane Lake also tends to create its own weather. In our case it was high head winds sweeping northwest up the lake. As we drove down the lake we were awed by the views and the color of the lake water. We stopped at a designated pull out and walked along the beach for about a half hour just enjoying everything. The effect was very much like being on the north shore of the UP of Michigan along Lake Superior. Fall has begun here as well, adding beautiful yellows to the scenery from the changing Willow tree leaves.
As we were pulling out Hilary told me the views were so breathtaking that had the pullout not been posted “no camping” she would have said we should stop for the day. I agreed! About ten miles further down the lake we found THE spot. We had a fantastic lakeside parking spot not 10 feet from the water. We were also far enough away from the highway that it was barely noticeable as vehicles went by.
Since it was still early in the afternoon Hannah, Hilary and I set out to explore the area a bit. We quickly encountered the Kluane National Park and Preserve visitor center, but realized we had arrived just after they closed for the day. Looking through the windows of the visitor center we discovered the main attraction in this area were the Big Horn Sheep. Looking up at the steep mountain sides we saw four distinct groupings of the Sheep grazing on the sage way up the mountain. The sheep were so far up the mountain sides that they looked like little dots of snow. With the telescope mounted at the visitor center we were able to see these dots of snow were actually sheep laying down, grazing, and moving about the sides of the mountain. Very neat!
In the area was also the link up point where the official opening ceremony of the Alaska Highway was held. We walked the ½ mile interpretive trail up to the location and enjoyed the views of Kluane Lake and beyond. Check out the menu for the occasion!
Slims River is the major source of water on the south end of the lake. Slims River forms a very wide delta where it dumps into Kluane Lake. We noticed the majority of the delta was dried out making an island further out accessible across the delta. It looked like a fun walk across the delta and had to go. The delta is made up of glacial silt and is very fine in texture just like the sand at the Tanana River bridge crossing we checked out the day before. This time we took our shoes and socks off and walked barefoot. The glacial silt felt very nice on the feet, even the sections where crusty salts were left on the surface.
After our walking about and exploring we drove back to the bus. Along the way Hannah mentioned she wanted to go swimming in the lake. Now keep in mind, it was about 68 degrees out with the lake water temperature cooler still. I told Hannah if she really wanted to go I would bring her back to the mud flats so she could swim where there weren’t large rocks. She talked her sister into going in the water with her so we drove back the mile or so to the mud flats (Slim River Delta). It was cold! As they prepared to walk into the water I told them to make sure NOT make me come out to rescue them. I was happy to watch them get in the cold water, but no way was I going in myself.
This parking spot turned out to be one of the best spots of our entire trip. The sunset was fantastically beautiful providing a fitting end to our day.
Today, Sunday, 8/14, we continued on our way arriving in Haines mid-afternoon. Guess what, it is raining again with rain expected the next few days. Oh well, we’ll make the best of it! This evening we intend to go out and see the bears feeding on Salmon. The visitor center staff told us to expect the primary feeding from around 7 – 8:30 in the evening and around the same time in the morning. You know where we’ll be later this evening. We are determined to see a grizzly bear in the wild before ending our trip!
For our stay we found a great pull out about five miles east of Haines. We have a primo spot overlooking the water. The ferry terminal is visible from our location. I’m looking forward to watching the ferries come and go the next few days. Okay – I’m off to get this post up loaded.
- 8/11, Thursday: 128 (Gerstle River Wayside)
- 8/12, Friday: 160 (20 miles west of the Canadian Border)
- 8/13, Saturday: 165 (South End of Kluane Lake)
- 8/14, Sunday: 200 (Haines, AK)