Monday, August 30, 2010

I have developed a huge respect for Alaskans. They are hardy, resourceful, hard working and independent. Now that we are out of Alaska I thought I would share some things I've learned about Alaskans:
You might be an Alaskan if:              

You might be an Alaskan if you think tarps are
roofing material.  

You might be an Alaskan if you went fishing and this is your catch.

You might be an Alaskan if you call these “speed bumps.”

You might be an Alaskan if this is how you get around (and you have skis, floats and wheels for it.)

You might be an Alaskan if you use this to edge your lawn (mooring lines.)

You might be an Alaskan if you're unabashedly patriotic.


You might be an Alaskan if this is what your yard looks like.


You might be an Alaskan if you think this is a motor home.

You might be an Alaskan if this is where you keep your antlers.

You might be an Alaskan if you believe Alaska is a foreign country.

You might be an Alaskan if this is your house boat.

You might be an Alaskan if you think Tyvek is siding.


You might be an Alaskan if this is your neighbor.

You might be an Alaskan if you believe in these words.


You might be an Alaskan if you use one of these to fish for salmon.

You might be an Alaskan if you are PROUD to wave the stars and stripes.

You might be an Alaskan if you have one of these (plug is for engine block and oil pan heater and the electric blanket for the battery.)

You might be an Alaskan if WalMart has these in their parking lot (electric outlets for your engine block heater, your oil pan heater and the electric blanket wrapped around the your battery.)

You might be an Alaskan if you need a BULL BUMPER.

You might be an Alaskan if this is your house.......

And this is your boat.

You might be an Alaskan if you call this a mobile home.

You might be an Alaskan if you can legally ride this in town.
From Skagway we drove to Dease Lake. The next day we drove to the town of Telegraph Creek. 70 miles one way on a dirt road to see what John Muir called “the northern Yosemite.”

Locally it’s called the Grand Canyon of Canada. Carved by the Stikine River, basalt cliffs rise a thousand feet above the fastest navigable river in North America.

The canyon is really beautiful, especially this time of year with all the trees turning color.

Settled by the Tahltan First Nation, the word Stikine means the Great River. To this day, Tahltan fish camps line the river. Every summer families return to fish, put up salmon, tell stories and reconnect with family. Each camp has specially constructed sheds for air drying salmon. Most of the year the camps are empty, the Tahltans have moved away to the cities to find work.

Loved this little house at fish camp. Spruce logs and old saws painted a happy blue and moose racks on the roof, what a fun place!

Here's the salmon drying shed. Small spruce logs are nailed to the frame with gaps in between to allow air to flow.

At the end of the road is the town of Telegraph Creek. 350 people live in this tiny turn of the century town. Tourism is the towns only industry, B&B’s, jet boat rides, kayak & canoe trips and fishing pay the bills here. 

We were having lunch at the only cafe in town when in walked two Canadian Mounties. The Mounties said Telegraph Creek is a REALLY QUIET duty posting. 

At least half the buildings are abandoned. It's a shame so much of the towns history is is rotting away. This house had beautiful retaining walls in the back. The Mountain Ash tree in the front makes such a pretty picture. 

OK, so much for the canyon and town. Let’s talk about the road. Did I mention it was steep, really narrow, steep, tortuous, steep, lots of drop offs, steep. Here are my favorite signs from the drive.

For all you metrically challenged Americans 20 km/h is 12.4 mph.

 Here's one of the many 180 degree switch backs. It was tight turning for our big truck.

Did I mention all the whoop dee doos?

This is what a 20% grade looks like from behind the wheel.

We also saw a Black Bear sow and cub on the road. So cute!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

OMG, we are in Hyder Alaska, population 50. We had breakfast at the Glacier Inn this morning and there was a sign that says "Get a warm Hyder welcome - get Hyderized. So Jim says "you should do that!" Turns out this warm welcome includes a shooter of undisclosed alcohol, no smelling, tasting, etc, just a straight back shot. So I am thinking, we've got all day, Jim will forget. Dinner time comes and we are back at the Glacier Inn for burgers and Hyderizing. I stall as long as I can, but eventually it's time for my shooter. Kris the bartender pours my shot from a bottle in a brown paper bag; she goes over the rules, gives me a glass of water as a chaser and says bottoms up. Jim is there to memorialize the whole thing in photos. I chug the shooter straight down and then the whole glass of water and I am sure I am about to go blind! Then Kris takes my shot glass and sets the remaining alcohol fumes on fire! Kris unveils the bottle of mystery alcohol, its Everclear 151 proof grain alcohol! The label says CAUTION Extremely Flammable, Handle with Care and WARNING Over Consumption May Endanger Your Health. Kris gives me a card that certifies I have been Hyderized. I think I deserve a medal! 63 years old is no time to have your first shooter!

I had planned to blog about Telegraph Creek Road and the towns of Hyder, Alaska and Stewert, British Columbia but I don't think I will be able to think straight much longer. Farewell.

It's 3 hours later, I can still see, so maybe it wasn't so bad after all. Of course my throat feels like sand paper, I have a headache and my eyeballs hurt! Jim's eating a pudding cup (with Maggie's help) wish he wouldn't scrape the cup so LOUDLY!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

For those of you who have been following our adventures, you may remember the bars we have visited during this trip. For starters there was the bar in in Chicken, festooned with hats, bras and panties. A tiny, but lively place in the middle of nowhere. Then there was the bar in Homer, the Salty Dog. All decked out in thousands of autographed one dollar bills. Filled to the brim with locals and tourists from all over the world. And who could forget the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau, with dead animals arrayed on it's walls. In between the honky tonk piano and the patrons it was hard to hear yourself think!

Skagway has the Red Onion Saloon. During the 1898 gold rush the Red Onion was a bordello. Alcohol was served on the first floor while the upper floor, with ten tiny rooms, satisfied more than a prospector's thirst.

Today the Red Onion is decorated with antique bedpans, urinals, photos and paintings of working girls from the era. The food was really good and the beer on tap was ICY cold. The most interesting thing about the place was the waitresses. Every time they set down a drink I expected a "wardrobe malfunction." Jim really enjoyed the place.

The day we left Skagway there were four cruise ships in port. They had disgorged 10,000 tourists onto the town like a plague of locust. Each person trying to make the most of their six hour visit. Some wanted to shop till they dropped; others wanted to kayak in pristine alpine lakes; the young wanted to be hauled into the mountains to bicycle  downhill (11.5% grade) back to town; still others took helicopter rides
over glaciers; or rented jeeps and went 4 wheeling in the hills. It was absolutely crazy so we beat feet out of town.   

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We are now in Skagway, on the east coast of the Lynn Canal. A few days ago we were in Haines, which is 15 miles across the Lynn Canal. To drive to Skagway from Haines we had to go to Whitehorse in the Yukon (248 miles) and then turn south to Skagway (116 miles.) There are only a few highways in all of Alaska so getting around is always complicated.

Skagway's origins are rooted in the 1898 Yukon gold rush. Men came here by steam ship, and then climbed the White Pass some 40 times hauling their 2,000 pounds of provisions to the other side. From there they built boats and made their way to the Yukon. While the gold rush was a bust for most men, the tiny town survived.

The town has maintained it's turn of the century architecture, boardwalks and replicas of gas lights line main street.

The downtown is comprised of gift shops, restaurants, saloons and many jewelry stores. On September 27 the tourist season ends here and the jewelry stores close, pack up and head to the Caribbean where they open their winter stores. Almost all of the other stores board up their windows and close for the winter. The town goes from 2,600 to 800 people in the winter time. The grocery store, gas station, 5 churches, medical clinic and hardware store are the only businesses open in the winter. Like many small towns in Alaska the clinic has a physician's assistant, a nurse practitioner and an RN. If they can't take care of you they fly you to Juneau (45 minutes away.) The closest pharmacy is in Juneau, most folks get their medicine by mail.

Skagway has a narrow gauge railroad which includes a steam train. The train ride retraces the White Pass trail used by the eager gold miners when they traveled to the gold fields in the Yukon. During the gold rush a ship captain had a cargo of old, injured and sick horses destined for the glue factory. Looking to make a quick buck he took the horses to Skagway where he sold them for exorbitant prices. The miners worked them to death hauling their supplies over the pass. More than 10,000 horses died on this trail and were shoved over the edge into the river below. There were so many, the area was called deadhorse. What's amazing is the foot path is still clearly visible after more than 110 years. Like so many RV parks ours is right next to the train tracks so we have a ringside seat for the trains coming and going. Fortunately, this is only a tourist train so it doesn’t run at night!

Just outside Skagway is Dyea Flats. To get to the flats you have to drive a single lane narrow dirt road for about 6 miles. The road provides spectacular views of the Lynn Canal. This area is so beautiful, salt marsh, fresh water streams with salmon in them, 10,000 foot mountains, glaciers, boreal forest, brown bears and Bald Eagles. We watched a brown bear wade the stream, eating big bites of grass from the banks and catching salmon. At one point he changed direction and headed Jim’s way, you should have seen how quickly Jim back peddled toward the truck!

We've seen two shows in Skagway. The first was an afternoon show called “Liarsville.” It included an all you can eat lunch buffet; a gold rush tent city with roaming musicians and eager working girls; a show that featured one of Robert Service’s poems called The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill; and finally gold panning. The gold panning was pretty funny since there is no gold here. They have to salt the local dirt with gold from Canada! The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill is entertaining so I’m including the link in case you want to read it.

Our bus driver for the Liarsville show is a 3rd generation Skagway resident so we asked him if the McDonald's Mac Attack story was true. He said absolutely true, turns out he had additional information for us. Three of the town’s men were out trapping and heard about the relief effort. They radioed in their orders and the planes rigged little parachutes and airdropped the burgers to the trappers. Our driver was one of the trappers!

The second show was about Jefferson Randolph Smith, known locally as “Soapy Smith.” Before the show we had a chance to gamble in the 98’s Mosquito Casino. Everyone got a genuine Soapy $1,000 bill to gamble with. You could play Craps, Blackjack or Roulette. While I won big time playing Blackjack, Jim lost his shirt at the Roulette wheel. I have to tell you it was a lot of fun playing with someone else’s money.

After stocking up on popcorn and drinks we headed into the theater to watch the show. Soapy Smith was a con man who used his men to do his dirty work while he tried to establish himself as a pillar of the town. In 1898 Soapy contributed to the construction of the first church in Skagway and founded an “Adopt a Dog” program for strays. Eventually Soapy’s luck ran out when his men robbed the wrong man. The town demanded Soapy give back the gold his men had stolen but he refused. The next day he found himself in a shoot out with another town leader, Frank Reid. When the smoke settled both men were mortally wounded.

We visited the gold rush cemetery where Soapy Smith and Frank Reid are buried. Here in Alaska burial plots are fenced so it makes for a pretty setting. Reading the headstones in an old cemetery is always so interesting. Skagway is so small it has no mortuary. A volunteer prepares the body for transport to Juneau where a mortuary does whatever is needed and then the dearly departed is flown back here for burial.

The weather has changed, snow lightly dusts the mountain tops, the trees are turning color and the overnight temperatures are dropping to almost freezing. Winter is right around the corner so it's a good thing we are headed south towards home. Tomorrow we leave for British Columbia and the Cassiar Highway.