Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 30.
What can I say about Chicken,  Alaska?  With a permanent population of three, it’s certainly the tiniest town we’ll visit on our summer odyssey. Since our last visit in 2010, the “town” has prospered. There is a second campground. Chicken Gold Camp is the one we stay in and it has nearly doubled in size. And good news for Jim, the gift shop is A LOT BIGGER!  Why, they even added a nice restaurant. I had the Dredge Sandwich. Slices of roast beef, cheddar cheese, sauteed onions and bell peppers and  creamy horseradish spread on toasted sourdough bread. It was HEAVENLY.  
There’s a fancy metal chicken proudly perched on a hill overlooking the campground and one of those directional signs with cities and mileage listed that are all chicken related. Names like Roosterberg, Belgium, Fowl Cay, Bahamas, Two Eggs, Florida, Cluck New Mexico, Cockadoodle, Australia or Poulet Island, Malvinas. It was a great idea.

Today we visited downtown Chicken for a cold beer and some friendly conversation. In the Chicken Creek Saloon we met Toad, clearly a character worth knowing. Toad started out the conversation by showing Jim where Jimmy Hoffa carved his name into the bar. Toad said he sat right next to Jimmy Hoffa and pointed at a bar stool and said "that seat right there." Jim asked if Toad talked to Hoffa and Toad said "No, you don't talk to Jimmy." The best part is this all occurred after Hoffa disappeared. Now Toad will tell you he’s either 84 or 86. Looking at him, I find it hard to believe he’s either of those, but who knows, Toad may just carry his age well. Toad arrived here in 1969 and commenced to building himself a home all by himself. Total cost was $2.53. Toad says Mother Nature provided almost everything he needed. From the trees he cut for logs and timber to the moss he packed between the logs for chinking. 44 years later the cabin floor is still bare earth. Wondering what the $2.53 was for? He spent it on Plexiglas for windows. Toad spends all year here. Cool old guy, still loves Ronald Reagan, hates politicians, worries about claim jumpers and likes ice cold beer in the morning. He’ll even ask if it’s OK to light up a cigarette.  This is Toad with Linda, another interesting local.

Had a young man stop to say goodbye to all the locals. He was off to college to learn how to make wooden hull sailboats. He says he’s excited to learn how to steam bend wood. Who knew there was a college degree in sailboats? As I said the town is prospering, they put in public toilets for all the tourists. It's called the Chicken Poop and it's a three holer.  Pretty up town.

Tomorrow we'll drive to Eagle. It's a 3 hour, 100 mile drive. The own is very old and still has it's original fort. Should be interesting.

June 29. I can’t wait to tell you about our drive from Dawson City, Yukon to Chicken, Alaska! After crossing the Yukon by ferry we drove the Top of the World Highway. It skims along the tops of the mountains giving visitors a spectacular view of the Yukon in our rear view mirror and Alaska ahead of us. Here is one of my favorite views.

OK, so I was being sarcastic. In 2010 when we did this drive it was gorgeous, but not this time. The road was like slippery cat shit from a heavy rain last night. And there were no views. The farthest we could see was about one Smart car length ahead of us.  87 miles took us four and a half hours. Here’s a picture of the RV Jim almost rear ended (can you see it?)
We only knew where we were because of the Garmen GPS. It kept telling us the Border Crossing was RIGHT IN FRONT OF US, but we could not see anything. Luckily, we did not run over the American Border Guard.
There is a new sign at the crossing since our last visit. Check out the population of 2. That’s one American and one Canadian.
 Alaska is widening and paving the US side of the Top of the World Highway (hooray!) While it will improve driving conditions in the future it made for a real mess today.  In Dawson City we had 6 motor homes camped near us. They were all from Sacramento, CA.  Here they are taking pictures of their rigs and tow cars. They did not start out all the same color!
We are now safely in Chicken, Alaska. And just for fun, here’s the window over the kitchen sink. All of the windows looked like this. Jim used a bottle of Windex and a squeegee to get 90% of the mud off so we can see out. What a mess the truck and trailer are.  
A packet of information given to us by the RV Park says they monitor excessive use of bandwidth so I better go before the Internet Gestapo shows up.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

June 20. The drive from Whitehorse to Dawson City was uneventful. The highlight of the 300+ mile drive was stopping for a GIANT cinnamon roll we missed in 2010. You’ve heard of all day suckers? Well, this cinnamon roll was a breakfast for a week roll. I put my hand up against the gigantic thing so you would have some perspective. I was amazed that the entire roll was cooked through. So often the center is doughy and nasty. It was delicious. Jim has one more breakfast left and it will be gone.
Here is Maggie on point. She is willing the “magic glove box that holds the special treats” to open.  Sort of like the old Mervin’s commercials…….open, open, open.  She can only do this trick when the truck is stopped; otherwise she runs the risk of kissing the floorboard when we hit a frost heave in the road! 

Dawson City is pretty cool this time. There are a zillion dual sport bikers (dualies) here for a rally. These are not your Hell’s Angels bikers. These are “normal” friendly people with very expensive bikes.  Their bikes are at home on dirt roads and highway. And they’re all geared up with protective clothing, fancy helmets, heavy boots, etc.  You should see the saddle bags, side cars, and other means of storing stuff on a long ride. Nice bunch of people.

Dawson City has made some improvements since we were here in 2010. Main Street is now paved, but it still looks like a dirt road.  However, the rest of the town is still dirt roads. The town was home to Jack London (who wrote the books “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”) and Robert Service (who wrote the poems “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”)  There are a lot of references to the two men in paintings, murals and wall decor.
There are a number of brand spanking new buildings, mostly tourist housing for the ship lines. Much of the town is still dilapidated homes from the 1800’s.  Some have been red tagged as unsafe to enter. The problem for these buildings is not age so much as it is melting permafrost causing the foundations to fail. These two buildings were in bad shape when we were here before; I am amazed they’re still standing given how much they’re leaning! Then there is this house with a bunch of old electrical boxes on it.

We drove out to see Dredge Number 4 today. Glad to see that it has been placed on the National Historic Register. New paint, lots of repairs and new interpretive signs. 
Afterwards we stopped at Claim #6 to do a little free gold panning.  Alas, Jim found only one itty bitty, teeny weenie flake of gold. We checked out the surrounding area and found a lot of abandoned gold dredging equipment. Also saw several active mines. It’s pretty cool just poking around the back roads. Somewhere up here is Todd Hoffman’s mine from “Gold Rush.”
Tonight we went to the Diamond Tooth Gertie’s to see a show. LOVED this show, Gertie is an awesome entertainer and “her girls” are great fun.  As so often happens with these shows a man was pulled out of the audience to assist the dancers. They dressed him in a can can skirt and feathered headband and had him doing kicks, twirls and flipping up his skirt to “show the audience what his Momma gave him.” Gertie’s is also has a gambling casino. Needless to say, this is a very popular place.

June 23. We are off to drive the Dempster Highway.  It’s about a thousand miles round trip.
The Dempster was much different than our drive on the Dalton in Alaska in 2010. The Dempster runs through Boreal and Taiga Forest almost the entire way.  The scenery is just beautiful. The Richardson Mountains are a spectacular backdrop for the Dempster Highway. The Dalton had almost 250 miles of Taiga Plains where herds of Caribou and Musk Ox roamed. The Dempster is dirt road for 457 miles. During the drive we came across several road crews watering, grading and spreading calcium on the road. I think this road must be like the Golden Gate Bridge, where painters spend their entire career painting the bridge, again and again and again.  In summer they work on the dirt road, in winter the frozen road is transformed into the ice road.
Besides the dirt road there are two ferries you have you to take. So when road workers get up in age they transfer to the ferry service which is considered easier work.
Thanks to all the road crews the road was in excellent condition and we were able to drive 50 -  60 miles an hour. Of course when we came across other vehicles we had to slow to 20 because of all the dust. The dust obliterates your view of the road for several seconds.
 At the half way point (mile 229) we stopped for the night at Eagle Plains Hotel and Campground. This place is literally in the middle of nowhere. The hotel manager told us that when they hire summer help they try to be VERY HONEST about the location and conditions so new employees will not be surprised when they arrive. She said last year they had a young woman arrive for work; she took one look around and started crying. She promptly hitched a ride with a trucker back to Dawson City! The manager said people either love it or hate it here.  The food is very good here. I guess with this being the only stop for truckers on the year round haul road a good hearty food is a requirement.  We found the same to be true of the restaurant at Coldfoot, half way point on the Dalton. Eagle Plains was built by the Canadian government in the late 70’s for 3.5 million. It includes a full service gas station, road maintenance facilities, laundromat, tow truck and air radio facilities.

The Dempster also has two road/airstrips for emergency landings.  I guess I never thought about where planes land in the Yukon when they are in trouble.  From the looks of the road/airstrips they can accommodate big planes. I am just glad nobody tried to land with us on the road!

We did not see any large mammals, such as Moose, Bear or Caribou on the drive to Inuvik. We did see Arctic Hares scampering across the road.  I was also surprised to see most of the ponds were barren of ducks and there were very few song birds in the trees and bushes.  A stop at the Interpretive Center at Tombstone confirmed my lack of bird’s observation. I was told very few birds made it to the Yukon this year. The ones who did (mostly song birds) died in a late spring blizzard. But not all was lost; the Foxes had a feast on bird carcasses!
35 kilometers north of Eagle Plains we crossed the Arctic Circle. The sun will not set here for the next 50 days.  Black out shades are a necessity up here if you hope to get any sleep.

The second half of the drive included the ferry crossings. One crosses the Peel River and the other crosses the HUGE Mackenzie River and the Arctic Red River.  From November to late April these rivers are frozen and you drive across them.  The MacKenzie drains one fifth of Canada.  This drainage is exceeded only by the Mississippi and the Amazon. 

At mile 342 we stopped in Fort McPherson for diesel and a bite to eat. This is a tiny aboriginal town of about 900 Tetlit Gwich’in  people. It also holds the grave of Sergeant J. Fitzgerald and the Lost Patrol. The story goes that John Dempster a North West Mounted Policeman was tasked with finding a patrol lost in the wilderness. The search by dog sled in 1911 for the Lost Patrol was brutal. He stayed out in the wilderness for almost two months, crossing and recrossing the route trying to find the men. He eventually found the patrol, frozen to death, only 26 miles from home.  

Mile 457 and we are Inuvik! It was not what I expected. Inuvik is a planned community with brightly painted houses on stilts that line the paved roads. It’s a modern and well maintained town with a population of 3,504 people. The mean temperature here is 14.54 F. While we were here one day was 45F and the next was 90F! The entire town runs on six HUGE natural gas generators.  Because the entire town is built on Permafrost all services to houses and commercial buildings are run above ground in a “Utilidor” system. Water is pumped in and sewage is pumped out using the Utilidor system.  It takes some getting used to seeing all the metal culverts snaking through town.  Many of the residents here are aboriginal. The town is the seat of the Gwich’in Tribal Council.  
We had planned to visit Pingo National Landmark but there were no good solutions for us. For $550 each you could either boat the Mackenzie to Tuktoyaktuk and then take a flight home which over fly’s the pingos. Or you could fly 50 minutes to Tuktoyaktuk, take a two hour driving tour of the town and then fly home (seeing the pingos as you go by.) What I wanted to see were the Pingos up close. Which is like a $500 flight, plus you have to hire a boat and guide to take you out to the Pingos.  I didn’t even ask the cost because I knew it would be a whopper.

While we were in Inuvik we were invited to a community feast and Treaty signing between the Canadian Federal Government and the Tribal Council transferring decision making for the Northwest Territory back to the people. While it gave them back control of land, mineral, timber, water, etc., it omitted title to offshore drilling. So once again I think the Indians got screwed by the white man. The evening was amazing! Tons of food, hundreds of people, speeches by the Canadian Government, the Gwich’in Chief, the Mayor, etc. Afterwards there was dancing.

You will never believe the Aboriginal dancing. They call it a “Traditional Old Time Dance” but it looks like square dancing to a fiddle. Most of the young people were dressed in traditional clothes for the dance. Girls in calico dresses, boys with beaded leather vests and everyone in beautifully beaded Mukluk slippers. And each dance goes on and on, and on and on, and on and on (you get the idea.) You would think they would drop from exhaustion!  Next came the Inuvik Drummers and Dancers. Their elaborate fur costumes are gorgeous (and hot.)
Each dance tells a story of the Inuvialuktun way of life.  Children learn the complex dances by joining in the dancing with their parents.  Even tiny tots like these join in. We were so lucky to be in Inuvik at just the right time! As we were leaving the feast I thanked several of the Drum Dancers and they told me about next year’s festivities. Tribes from all over are coming for a huge celebration and dancing. Wouldn’t that be cool?

 Here’s a photo of me with one of the Drum Dancer Elders and a young woman we met named Annemieke (I just call her shorty.)

She is touring Canada and the USA alone by motorcycle.  Apparently, she has the wanderlust like us.  Annemieke is from Delft, Holland.  Be sure to check out her blog –

While we were in Inuvik Maggie PROVED she is a Basenji. We were in a really nice hotel and Maggie discovered the Kleenex dispenser! I kept hearing a sound I could not identify and so I went to check on Maggie. All I could see was her tail at the bathroom door. She would step into the bathroom, pull out a Kleenex, spit it out, step back, look at the dispenser, step back in the bathroom, pull out another Kleenex, spit it out, step back, etc. etc.  The bathroom floor was covered in Kleenex! No idea what she was thinking? She repeated this trick when we went to dinner later. Many Basenji’s love unrolling toilet paper, so maybe this was Maggie adaptation of the Basenji toilet paper trick.  
I wanted to get a nice souvenir of Inuvik so we went to the Tribal Council Offices which maintains a small shop of local handmade items.  I have always loved what I call “Eskimo Dolls.” Sure enough they had a nice selection of dolls. Unfortunately the one I fell in love with was $250 Canadian! The doll has bloomers, a full calico slip, calico dress, hand embroidered gloves and mukluks. Over all of that she has a beautiful fur coat with hood. This is the softest thing I have ever felt. Rabbit, Beaver and Muskrat pelts were used to make the coat. I have a guilty conscience for buying the doll, but I just love it. I named her Rosie after Rosie Albert, the Gwich’in woman who made her.
On the long drive back to Dawson City we finally saw some Moose.  One cow and two bulls later we have some great Moose pictures (hooray!)

Today is Jim’s Birthday, he is 69. For his birthday I let him do the laundry and the dishes while I edited all our photos and blogged.  For dinner we went to Klondike Kate’s.  We split a 16 oz steak and half a pound of crab legs. Jim had mud pie dessert. It was loaded with whip cream and chocolate syrup. While we were there a band came in to play. They call themselves Itinerant Musicians, roaming the Klondike playing where ever they’re welcome.  It was a nice ending to a great meal.  

Last night at 12:30 I am Blogging away when a Cross Fox wanders through the campground. Several people came out to take pictures of him. I was sorry to see he was not afraid of people. He sure was cute!
Tomorrow we cross the Yukon River by ferry and drive The Top of The World Road to Chicken, Alaska.



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Remnants of Stewart/Hyder.         
While we were in Hyder we decided to visit Glacier Inn for a walk down memory lane and a burger. You may remember that Glacier Inn was the location of my near death experience from drinking EVERCLEAR in order to get Hyderized. It's good to now be a card carrying member who no longer needs to drink the evil liquor!

Last September Stewart had record rainfall that caused flooding along the only road into town. The flooding uprooted trees, ripping out bridges as they went. When the rain was over large chunks of the highway were gone along with two bridges.  At any other time of year this would not have posed such a problem, but this was the height of the tourist, mining and logging  season. The tiny town was packed with people. It wasn’t long before fuel ran out and food shortages occurred. Items like bread and milk were reserved for children.  To make matters worse there was a large RV caravan and a bus load of German tourists caught in town. Within a week the BC government had cut “a goat path” around the damaged parts of the highway. But you could only go through once a day (if you had a  4 wheel drive vehicle.) It would be weeks before a temporary bridge would be built. So the tiny town of Stewart had to hire a barge to haul out the RV’s (they were rentals) but not the tourists driving them.  When the barge landed in Prince Rupert the it was reloaded with food, fuel  and medical supplies. All of the tourists were eventually evacuated by plane. The highway is now repaired, but the temporary one lane bridges are still in place. Work has begun on permanent bridges but it will be some time before they are done. 

If you ever visit here you must stop at Temptations Bakery & Deli! Everything here is delicious and so fresh. Today we stopped for these yummy treats.  The minute I knew we were coming to Stewart/Hyder I vowed this little bakery would be one of my first stops.
I forgot to mention that 81 degrees is a heat wave in this neck of the woods. As we were crossing from Hyder, USA back into Stewart, BC the Canadian Border Guard told us to “stay cool.” We laughed since it was 111 when we left Paradise.  To us the weather was awesome.
We are now in Whitehorse, Yukon. Here is a photo of our campground at 11:15 pm.  Thank goodness for blackout shades!

We’re only here for 1 day, then on to Dawson City. We stopped to see the Bald Eagle nest at the entrance to town. Both adults were on the nest, but only one of them was really visible. Love these birds.

Here's a nice bear we saw on the way to Whitehorse. Another vehicle had stopped to take photos and they were really close to the bear.  Bears can run 25 mph which is faster than most of us can run. Of course, Jim believes "you only have to be able to run faster than the person with you! Dumb tourists.

Tomorrow we're off the Dawson City. Won't be long before we drive the Dempster - can't wait!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Don't forget to click on the photos to enlarge them.

We left Smithers three days ago and now we’re in Stewart, B.C. Gone are all the pretty hay farms, replaced by the rugged, snow covered Coast Range.

Along the way we saw our first two bears. This is a young black bear (yes, I know he’s brown) weighing about 200 pounds. He was grazing along the roadside so we got a good look at him. 

 We stopped for photos of  Moricetown Canyon Falls.  During the salmon run, local Indians still catch salmon with a long gaf hook here.  Really pretty spot.

While we were at the falls we saw the following billboard. For more than a decade, young women have disappeared or have been found slain along Highway 16 in northern BC. It’s happening along a quiet stretch of Highway 16, now dubbed the Highway of Tears. Most of the women are aboriginal and were last seen hitchhiking. At least 16 young women have disappeared. Billboards dot the highway warning young women about the dangers of hitchhiking. I don't know how young women can even consider hitchhiking given all the disappearances and murders.

 We also passed Bear Glacier. By northwest standards it’s pretty small, but it’s still impressive.
Along the way we saw lots of waterfalls.  Last time we were here was August 2010. By then the snow melt was gone and things were looking dry. But this time we’re early, so there are lots of waterfalls and no bears. The bears are all busy fighting and making babies and won't show up until the middle of July when the salmon are running.
So Stewart is a small town of about 500 people. It sits at the head of the Portland Canal. The town has a small fishing port. Our niece Jeanne (brother Bill's girl) has purchased a condo in Honolulu with a glorious view of the Honolulu yacht club. So in an effort to keep up with "Joneses"  we are thinking of purchasing a place here with a view of Stewart's yacht club. What do you think???????
Back in Stewart we walked out on the boardwalk into the estuary. Loads of birds and views. Maggie loved the boardwalk.

We crossed the US/ Canada border and drove through Hyder to Salmon Glacier. We stopped at the Fish Creek Bear Observatory for some quick birding. Here is a photo of a Merganser hen with her 6 chicks. Too cute! Every where we go there are baby ducks paddling around in ponds.

The road to the glacier starts in Hyder, Alaska at sea level and follows the Salmon River to the Salmon Glacier at 4,300 ft. The road goes by several old gold mines which have been operating since the 1920. In 2010 the road to the glacier was not so good. Now it’s either paved or well graded. Twenty six miles later we arrive at the Salmon Glacier overlook.

The view is so different this time with tons of snow on the mountains. It was a perfect day - 81 degrees, a nice breeze, stunning views and a picnic! Met a young couple from Switzerland who spend their summers in Hyder as bear managers. After seeing how stupid tourists can be around the bears it’s easy to understand why the National Park Service hires someone to manage the interaction between bears and people. On the ride back down the hill we took lots of photos of waterfalls.

This drive did help us answer a burning question - do bears shit in the woods? The answer is no (based on all the bear poop on the road.) Every 50 feet there was a pile of poop. Either there are a lot of bears here or one bear has a serious problem.

We also drove back to Bear Glacier to photograph this beauty.

While Jim took pictures I did some birding. The mosquitoes and horse flies were awful. I had to wear a mosquito net over my head to fend off the voracious, blood thirsty bugs! While standing there I had a tiny Calliope Hummingbird fly right up to me. It darted back and forth several times. Guess it couldn’t figure out what it was seeing.

So tomorrow we are off to Dease Lake. We’re slowly working our way north and as we do the days keep getting longer. Won’t be long before the north will face 57 days of the sun never setting! Glad I remembered to bring the blackout shades for the bedroom.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Today before we left Quesnel we tried to stop by my Mom's "favorite" doughnut shop (NOT.) Canada has the strangest doughnuts, they are not sweet like American doughnuts. In the end there was no parking for our 50+ foot rig so we just headed to our next stop. 
 I am loving the drive up Canada's Highway 97. Cattle farms and hay fields everywhere I look.  Lush rolling green fields almost ready for their first cutting.  This is really picturesque country.  

Did I mention it’s been in the 60’s? So much better than the 111 at home (OMG.)  There were a few showers today and lots of sun breaks.  Now it’s sunny and warm out.  
We have reached that point in our trip where we have started seeing LOADS of  WATCH FOR MOOSE signs. I keep watching but so far no Moose. Although two deer tried to commit suicide in front of us today.  You should have seen us - brakes and tires squealing, wheels locked up, trailer sliding, Jim holding onto the steering wheel with a death grip while I yelled “GET OUT OF THE WAY.” Good news is Jim dodged the really, really stupid does.
Tonight we are in Smithers, B.C.  It's a pretty town at the foot of HUGE mountains and glaciers.  The view from our campsite is gorgeous.  

One of the things I like about camping is the chance to meet other folks on the road.  To the left of us is a couple from Georgia (on a 50th anniversary trip.)  In front of us is a couple from Arizona. To the right is a couple from Florida. Yesterday I met a couple from San Jose, CA.  We are all headed to Alaska so we will cross paths many times over the summer. We are the seasoned travelers. This is a first time trip for everyone else so Jim has been telling folks about the” off the beaten path”  places to see.

Tomorrow we cross into Alaska to visit Hyder, one of our favorite little towns!