Our fifth wheel and the truck

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Well I am back!! And if I hear some comments like ‘about time’ and ‘we thought you had fallen off the face of the earth’ I do apologize. We have been very busy over the last two months and I actually haven’t really felt like sitting down and typing. But, I am back and here goes - two months in one (hopefully) not too long post.

After leaving Jasper and the amazing places we had visited during our three months in the north it was a bit of a come down to hit the rolling prairies and corn and wheat fields of Canada and northern US.

Before leaving Canada we had one more stop - in Edmonton where we were going to spend some time with some of my family members. Jock and his family are cousins (a few removed!).

We met up with Jock in Edmonton and spent a wonderful evening with his sister Marta and her husband John and a friend, Michelle. The next day Jock, Norm and I went to the Edmonton Fringe Festival which was wonderful. The street performers were incredible especially a couple of twin sisters from Quebec. Thanks to Anne, Jock’s niece, we attended one of the Fringe performances that evening. ‘Guys in Disguise’ which was so much fun! Two very talented, cross dressing blokes who performed as Julie Andrews, Cher, Tina Turner etc. Just an amazing day and evening. Thanks Jock, Marta, John and Anne - you guys are wonderful and hopefully we will catch you again some time.

Les Souers Kif-Kif - just amazing - both girls are inside the balloons!

Jock, Norm and I after an awesome day out.

From Edmonton we headed south towards the border and an interesting time crossing back into the US. Just to provide some background, we had asked at each US border crossing what we needed to do with our I94 (our entry document) and at each one we were told something different. At one we were told that if we were spending a significant amount of time (two weeks +) in Canada then we needed to hand it in. So when we went into Canada for the last time and planning on spending about three weeks we handed our forms in.

Not a good move according to the border patrol officer in Sweetgrass, MT. According to him it is at least 30 days and we shouldn’t have handed it in. Anyway after quite some explaining and showing him our airline tickets to depart the US on 25th February (which I had changed and printed the day before - just to be sure we had everything JUST IN CASE), and paying $12 we were issued with new I94’s that expire on 27th February. So we have two days grace just in case flights are changed or some other unforeseen circumstance occurs.

So, with new I94’s in our hot little hands we were bound for North Dakota where we spent a couple of days in Bismarck. We took a dinner cruise while there but were a little disappointed. The food was okay - plenty of it and quite good, but the commentary and scenery was pretty ordinary. Mind you we have been spoiled by Alaska and the Yukon!

Interesting clouds while we were on the dinner cruise in Bismarck.

After North Dakota, Minnesota and our friends Pete and Judy in Byron were our next destination. We met Pete and Judy in December, 2010 in Texas and then traveled with them through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for a few weeks. We spent a couple of days with them and had a great time. It was so wonderful to catch up with them again however we were disappointed that they wouldn’t be joining us at the rally.

The four of us visited a local Amish area around Lanesboro and Harmony which of course I loved because of the quilting. Mind you, I have been a little disappointed in many of the quilts I have seen - they don’t appear to be very well made and the actual workmanship has not been that flash. I will add here that when we were in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania a couple of weeks later I noticed that the quilts were beautifully made and the quilt stitching was really well done. Anyway a lovely time was had with Pete and Judy and we will be catching up with them again - probably in Alabama or Florida during the winter. Thanks for having us - again - and we loved spending some time with you both. Take care and see you on the road!!

Main street Lanesboro - such interesting old buildings.

Our next stop was to spend some time with the first friends we made when we arrived in the US in 2010. Mary and Bruce (from Wisconsin) pulled into an rv park in Leadville Colorado at the same time as we did and as there was only one spot we thought we were going to have to draw straws. The owner of the park eventually returned and sorted out the problem and we both ended up with places and then the four of us went out to lunch and spent some of the next few days sightseeing and chatting and eating etc. We have visited them twice before on our travels across the country and they joined us for a week at the Grand Canyon just before we went home last time.

It was so good to have some down time at Mary and Bruce’s with time to catch up on ‘stuff’. Norm spent a very profitable couple of days doing some renovations to the fifth wheel and I thoroughly enjoyed doing some cooking in a real kitchen. During our stay I cooked a real Australian roast lamb dinner and trifle for dessert. Both went down really well although I am not sure whether I have convinced the family that roast pumpkin is really good!!!

On the weekend the four of us visited the Wisconsin Dells and took a boat ride up the river. What an amazing place!! The land around the Dells is rolling hills and it is a real surprise to see the change in the landscape of the river and the limestone cliffs along its course. Unfortunately, due to low water levels the lower dell was not navigable but never mind we still had a really good time.

One part of the amazing geology of the Dells.  Beautiful place.

On our tour of the Wisconsin Dells with Norm, Mary and Bruce.

As always our time with friends is never long enough and before we were ready to leave it was time to be moving on. Thanks Mary and Bruce, we will miss you guys.

A quick stop near the Amana Colonies in Iowa was our next destination. Lots of antique shops and restaurants and very interesting how this group of villages have adapted to modern society.

Beautifully restored and maintained old buildings in the Amana Colonies.

The next week we spent at Sedalia, Missouri at the Escapees rally along with over 550 other rv’s of every description from tents to huge motor homes. We met up with Rick and Karen on our arrival and were looking forward to spend some time with them and catching up however Rick became ill early in our stay and that put a damper on the rally. He was okay by the end of the rally as they made their way east and we were going to Kentucky.

We met up with a couple, Lynn and Louise, who had just returned from four years of rv’ing around Australia. We were having such a great time with them that when they suggested that instead of slowly making our way to Northern Kentucky University, we should go with them to Branson, Missouri for a couple of days we decided to go. We had plenty of time - haha! Well we would have if they hadn’t talked us into staying an extra couple of days!!

Our stay in Branson was really fascinating. I had never heard of Branson and was certainly unaware of all the theatres that exist down there. It seems that everyone has a theatre down there and we were blown away by the standard and variety of live shows around. We went to the Dolly Parton Stampede for the dinner show - now that was an eye opener. Dinner is served on a plate as you watch the show but you have to use your fingers to eat it all. A cup of soup, a whole chicken (a bantam really), some ribs and pork loin, corn on the cob and potato and then a chocolate dessert - way too much for me. The show was fantastic with singing, horses, comedy etc. A really good night.

The other show that we went to was a group of six brother (called SIX) who sing without any instruments and make all the instrument noises with their mouths. They were really incredible and just so talented.

One day Lynn and Norm went to a car show one day and although it wasn’t what they expected it was made up of cars that had been used in movies like the Bat mobile, the Dukes of Hazard cars, Kit from Knight rider etc and some other classic cats. Louise and I went shopping!

Having pushed our stay to the absolute limit we had to hightail it across country to Kentucky to see Bryce. Six hundred miles in two days!! The first day we drove and drove and drove and were going to stop for the night in a casino parking lot but as we were looking for the casino a dreadful storm hit with lots of lightning, thunder and rain so we needed to get off the road in a hurry. We found a Wal-Mart except that the parking lot was being resurfaced and was closed off. It was right next door to a Home Depot so we decided that was a good place to stay for the night. Usually these stops can be a bit noisy but this one was off the highway and so we spent a quiet night and were able to get some sleep.

Early next morning we drove the rest of the way to our campground, set up and then took off to Northern Kentucky University at Highland Heights to finally catch up with our son, Bryce! It was so wonderful to see him. He is so happy at NKU and is loving being back in the US.

 Happy family!!

For the next few days we spent lots of time with him and his new lady, Steph. We visited Newport on the Levee and went to the aquarium there. A bit of a blast - the first display as you enter the aquarium was Australian river fish!!! This was a really awesome aquarium. We also took a walk on the ‘Purple People Bridge’ that took us across the river into Cincinnati, Ohio and took a visit to the Carew Building. The view over Cincinnati and into Kentucky was beautiful.

After cooking his favourite dinner - spaghetti bolognaise - and leaving him with a big pot of his favourite soup - pumpkin - it was time to say a very, very sad farewell. Too sad.

And on that note I am going to finish this post. Whoever thought that I could fit two months into one post had obviously how verbose I can be! I will start working on the next post right away - do you believe that?

To all our friends and family we say a fond farewell, take care and be kind to you.




Thursday, August 30, 2012

Welcome back to the ongoing adventures of two intrepid Australian travellers. Would you believe? Well anyway - welcome back.

I did get a 'not so subtle' reminder from our friend Pete that I had been a bit lax in posting on here so here is the next episode - with photos - so thanks Pete!!

I left the last blog as we made a hasty departure from Juneau bound for Sitka and what a quaint place it turned out to be.

On the ferry from Juneau to Sitka - gorgeous scenery.

There is a very heavy Russian influence in Sitka due to the first settlement by Russian fur traders who took the land from the Native Indians. There are a lot of historic buildings including the Bishops’ House which we went to see. While we didn’t go upstairs Jan and Jim said it was quite palatial and we were told that it is still used for services for the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Russian Bishops' House.
Part of the fortifications the Russians built against the Native Americans.
The highlight of the visit to Sitka was our walk to the Alaska Raptor Centre where we got up close and fairly personal with a bald eagle. I know I have raved about these beautiful birds before but they are just so majestic and they really do have that stare that almost goes straight through you. What they are doing at the Centre to rehabilitate birds back into the wild and just to save their lives if they are too hurt to fully recover, is just brilliant. In fact they take birds from all over Alaska and have even had them flown in from out of state and Canada.
 Aren't they just the most beautiful creatures?

Our stay in Sitka was only short and so we hopped on the ferry to Petersburg and we saw so many whales on the trip - it was amazing.  The only trouble is the came up and go down so quick it is very hard to get a photo BUT......

Petersburg was just so different from Sitka. The influence in Petersburg is Norwegian so many of the buildings are construct along the same lines that you would expect in Norway. Beautifully painted window and door frames highlighted many of the buildings.

The Norwegian influence in the buildings.

Can you see the petroglyphs?  Very interesting!

Petersburg is a very prosperous town with more millionaires per head of population than anywhere else in the USA. A bit like Port Lincoln in South Australia where fishermen make lots of money. Mind you - not an easy life especially in the freezing waters around Petersburg.

We took a walk around town and went to visit the boat harbour. We watched a fishing boat unload its catch and were really surprised by how they do it. They actually stick a giant vacuum cleaner type thing into the hold and suck it all out!

I have to share a photo with you. To say that some of the boats in the boat harbour are just a tad neglected would be a gross understatement. Have a look at this!!!! It was disgusting and to think it was still floating.

The four of us went on a long hike with the idea of stopping at Outlook Point to watch whales however while no whales were spotted we did have a great walk and discover some petroglyphs and saw a gorgeous black butt deer that just stood and looked at us then resumed his dinner. Shortly after that we walked out of the woods and back into the town to see a female deer munching on the flowers in the park garden. Not the least bit concerned with us, she continued her meal and then trotted off down the road to disappear into the woods.

Male deer in the wild - hunter/gatherer, female deer in the garden - smart lady - food already prepared

We walked under this tree - the eagle wasn't the least fussed about our presence.

The ferry trip from Petersburg back to Skagway was most uneventful as it was at night and we had booked cabins so we slept most of the way after having dinner. The only problem was arriving back in Skagway at 4.00am before the buses and taxis were in service and having to walk the mile or so back to our rv’s while dragging suitcases, overnight bags, computers, cameras and handbags! Not easy let me tell you!!!

We went back to bed for a couple of hours before having to move the rv out of storage and back onto a site. An easy day was had by all as we caught up with ‘stuff’ and did some shopping. In the afternoon Norm and I took a drive out to a waterfall and cemetery that Jim and Jan had discovered on one of their walks. It was just beautiful and the cemetery was from the 1890’s when the first gold rush started. Many of the graves were of people who came to walk the Chilkoot trail to get to Dawson City for the gold.

Jim and Norm took off the next day to hike part of the Chilkoot trail and boy was it hard. Norm assured me that it wasn’t easy but the views were gorgeous. AND of course he didn’t take the camera (yeah I know) so I have no photos for you.

But... thanks Jim .. Norm on an easier part of the Chilkoot trail.

While Norm was off having a good time I was trying to sort out some issues with transferring money to Bryce who is now at Northern Kentucky University. How come it isn’t as easy as it is in Australia? In fact without going into all the dramas over the next few days it turned into an absolute nightmare! I would not have thought that it could be so difficult.

It was time to leave Alaska (sort of) so the four of us headed out for Watson Lake - we had been here on the way up the Alaska Highway - so we have sort of done a circuit. Unfortunately, our timing wasn’t so good because the convoy of WWII vehicles (including some friends from Australia) had passed through two days before we got there. I certainly hope they stay well and safe - especially on the Top of the Road Highway after some of the horror stories we have heard of rv’s going into the ditch and over the side and almost down the mountain!

Leaving Watson Lake we took the Cassier Highway which would have to have been nearly the roughest road we have been on. Our first night on the Highway was spent at a fabulous campground right on a Lake Dease. We had the most amazing view across the lake from our windows and sat around a campfire after dinner. More s’mores!!!!

 The view from our rv spot on Lake Dease. So beautiful!
Sunset over Lake Dease.

One more overnight stop on our way to Stewart in British Columbia. Stewart as a town has nothing to offer however just across the border (about 3 miles) into Alaska is the town of Hyder which is famous for its bears! We arrived in Stewart and with passports in hand we went drove to Hyder and would you believe it, we waited till about 9.00pm, and not a bear to be sighted. Never mind there is always the morning!!!!!

At the park there is a raised boardwalk over the river where everyone can stand and watch the bears feeding on the salmon that are making their way upstream to spawn. If a bear appears, you can be only a matter of metres from it.

Next day we woke up about 5.30am, scoffed a quick breakfast and headed back to Hyder at about 6.00am. I am on holiday - what is with these early mornings!!!!

The reward for the early morning was a huge grizzly that walked past us shortly after we arrived. We stayed on and 15 minutes later she reappeared and stayed in the river in front of us for about an hour. She walked up and down through the water jumping at fish and eventually caught one which she took into some bushes to eat. After eating that one she proceeded back into the water to catch and eat two or three more. She really did put on a wonderful performance for us and I took so many photos. It was so hard to pick one but there you go, otherwise you would have hundreds of them.

The grizzly that performed for us - dinner at last! 

After the bears we took a drive up to Salmon Glacier.  What a drive!!!  It took us 2 hours to drive 22miles!!  At times Norm was doing about 2 miles an hour!!  It would have to have been the worst road we have ever been on - 10 times worse than the Top of the Road Highway!!  But the view was oh so worth it.  It was an interesting view of a glacier.  So often we look up at the glacier and when we hiked Matanuska we got up close and personal but this was looking down on the glacier.  Wonderful sight and just incredibly beautiful.  Photos really can't do it justice.

Salmon Glacier.
This is what is left of a truck that went off the road, down a 100ft rock covered bank and into a lake at the bottom of Bear Glacier.  And the driver escaped unhurt.
That night Jim, Jan, Norm and I experimented with our sandwich makers (jaffle irons for the Aussies!) We made pizza ones and boy were they good! Jim and Norm had three each !!

The next morning was very sad as we said goodbye to Jan and Jim. They have been amazing travel companions and we can never thank them enough for allowing us to join them on this great adventure. They did all the planning and preparation for the trip and we are so fortunate to have been able to tag along. They are two of the nicest people and have been so much fun. We have thoroughly enjoyed our ten weeks together and look forward to catching up with them either in Florida in early January or late January in Phoenix before we head home. Once again thank you both so much.

While Jan and Jim are heading to Prince Rupert we are bound for Jasper National Park and then on to Edmonton to meet up with some relatives of mine who I have never met.

Three days on the road with an over night stop in Hinton and two nights in Prince George and then we arrived in Jasper. We were staying in the National Park in Whistlers Campground and we had a narrow, blindsided, backing site off a narrow road and yep we did it!! We actually got the rv into the site! Major achievement for us - we are not confident backer-inners!!!

The first day we spent in Jasper we took the truck and headed into the park where we took a couple of hikes, saw Sunwapta and Athabasca waterfalls, Maligne Canyon, Medicine Lake - which was stunning, Maligne (French for evil) Lake, and bears and Rocky Mountain Sheep. It was a lovely day weather-wise which just seems to make everything prettier. Medicine Lake was just gorgeous with the beautiful green/blue colour of the water attributed to glacial melt. The mountains surrounding the lake had limited snow but were so craggy and huge, they just tower over everything.

Medicine Lake in Jasper National Park.
Sunwapta Falls.

Early (not again!!!) the next morning we headed south along Highway 93 towards the Columbia Icefields. This is one of the most spectacular sites we have seen. There are glaciers everywhere and snow covered mountains all around.

We parked the truck and took the walk up to the edge of the glacier. We were absolutely stunned by the number of people who completely ignore the safety warnings about not walking on the glacier without a guide. They just walk under the ropes and go out onto the glacier despite everything - including details of recent deaths from people slipping into crevasses and dying of hypothermia before they can be recovered.

Columbia Icefields.
There are giant buses that drive out onto the glacier further up and allow people to walk on it however, as we had already spent hours hiking on Matanuska glacier with a guide we decided to pass this one up. I do wonder what damage these giant buses are doing to the glacier over the course of time, especially when you look at how far the glaciers of this world are retreating. There is that soapbox again!!

After our hike to the glacier we found a quiet pullout, sat on the tailgate (our first tailgate party?) with the most amazing vista before us and ate the lunch we had brought from home. I am continually amazed at the stunning views that we come across.

The next day saw us leaving Jasper and heading for Edmonton, which is whole new story so it can wait for the next post.To all our family and friends we wish you well. Stay safe and happy.


PS To our wonderful friends, Murray and Margaret, we think of you often and can’t conceive of you not being in Gidge when we get home. We wish you well with your new home and look forward to taking a trip to Busselton as soon as we get home. We arrive on 27th February. How is the 28th for you guys???? Just kidding!!!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Valdez, Whales, Glaciers and So Much More!!!!!

OOPS!!!!! We have been so busy I have fallen behind with my posts so I will have to try to catch up really quickly otherwise I will forget everything we have done. I am sure some of you already know about ‘Old Timers”.

I left the last post in Glenallen heading for Valdez. We set out early in the morning with a stop at Wrangell St Elias National Park. In a word - WOW!!! This National Park is six times the size of Yellowstone and is a virtually inaccessible wilderness. We watched a film about the park and were absolutely dumbfounded! It is absolutely spectacular and almost untouched with almost no camping and one dirt road in and out of the park. Many areas of the park are untouched and you cannot get to them except to fly over. While I would have loved to have gone into the park I can understand the need to maintain the limited numbers who do go in - it is absolutely spectacular!!

As we drew closer to Valdez we found ourselves in the most beautiful country - glaciers, waterfalls and yep, many snow capped mountains. Worthington Glacier was really worth a stop - just gorgeous! The last part of our drive was down from the mountains to the town of Valdez which is on the coast and the end of the Alaska Pipeline. This part of the journey was shrouded in fog and was quite eerie.

Rain - I am so over it!!! This is supposed to be summer!!!

While in Valdez we went to watch the salmon run at one of the creeks where we had been assured that we would see a mama bear and her cubs catching the salmon. Well guess what? No bears - they appeared later in the day - after we had left!! Just our luck!! We did see lots of bald eagles and salmon though!!!

We also took a cruise up to the Meares Glacier and were rewarded with the chance to see the glacier calving. The noise from the calving is unreal. It is a bit like thunder and as the captain of the ship told us if you hear the sound then you have missed the calving. I was lucky enough to see the calving actually happening. We were actually able to get within about ¼ mile of the face of the glacier. Needless to say I have lots of photos!!! We were also fortunate enough to see porpoises, sea otters, lots of harbour seals, stellar sea lions and humpback whales as well as beautiful waterfalls and stunning icebergs. We were very lucky that although the day was cold we did get some sunshine on the way back. Apparently it is better to see glaciers in overcast weather as when the sun is out the blue of the glacier is less visible. So I guess we are thankful for at least some overcast weather.

Driving from Valdez to our next destination.
Paula - What is that running on the side of the road? A dog?
Norm - Looks like it.
Paula - Poor thing it must have lost its owner. Don’t hit it. (as it ran across the road between Jim and Jan’s rv and us and ran past us)

When we stopped for fuel
Jim - Did you see that wolf running down the road and then crossing between the rv’s??
Paula - I thought that was a dog! (Duh and I didn’t even lift the camera!!!)

Later in the day we pulled into a state park and found some sites designated for ‘big rigs’. Well Steve and Nancy and Norm and I managed to get into the only two pull throughs that were available but Jim nearly got stuck in one spot so decided to move to a ‘pull along’. There was one other vehicle in the area - camping in a tent but shortly after we arrived they pulled up stakes and left. Was it something we said????? Anyway no one else pulled in so we had the entire place to ourselves and Jim and Steve found some (lots) of firewood which was cut up and neatly stacked so we had the most amazing campfire that night. The highlight of the evening would have to have been Steve’s final s’mores’. It was so big he had trouble le getting his mouth around it and he had marshmallow everywhere. And of course I didn’t have my camera out - AGAIN!!!

Our next stop was Cottonwood RV Park which was just the most gorgeous place. Right on Kluane Lake. All the others went on a long hike up into the mountains but of course the photography teacher wouldn’t take the camera so - no photos of that either. I didn’t go as my knee was just a tad tender. But while they were away I took a walk around the lake which was just glorious. Later in the day two very hardy souls decided to go for a swim in the lake! The lake is fed by glaciers!!!! Some people should have their heads read!!! Another campfire that night - I have really got used to these campfires - a wonderful way to end some glorious days.

An overnight stop in Whitehorse again - shopping and laundry then off again towards Skagway. The drive down was wonderful with a mama grizzly crossing the road between our rv’s. Baby grizzly _probably a two year old - on one side of the road with mama calling it. We were behind Jim so we were able to pull up in time to get some great photos of both mama in the shrubs and baby crossing the road in front of us. It doesn’t matter how often we see these animals, or how many photos we take, we are always eager to see more and take more photos.

As we got closer to the Canadian/US border Norm and I were able to recognize features that we had seen when we came up this way on our cruise in 2010. It was exciting to be able to pinpoint the spot where we had a photo taken of the two of us that I use as my computer background.

Skagway is a real tourist town and exists for the cruise ships that come in daily through the summer. One day we were there, there were four in port and people everywhere. Every second shop is a jewellery store and the one in between sells t-shirts and jackets and all the knick knacks found in tourist shops! We were only overnighting in the campground as the next day we were putting the rv’s into storage for nine days while we took the ferry down to Juneau then Sitka and Petersburg.

The next afternoon we left Skagway and arrived in Juneau in time to hit the hay ready for a busy day the next day. We got an early start and took the bus into Juneau and took a ride on the Mount Roberts tram to the top of the mountain. We took a hike and took in wonderful view from the top of the mountain, across the inlet to Douglas Island and down to the cruise ships tied up along the dock. There was also a bald eagle that was being rehabilitated and would be going back to the Alaska Raptor Refuge in Sitka. She had lost the use of an eye and would not survive in the wild.

A walk through town - lots of shops for the tourists - and then we made our way to the Capitol Building. We took an interesting tour through the building and learned quite a bit about the government of Alaska - funny that I am sure most people (other than Americans) would not know where Juneau was let alone that it is the capital of Alaska.

After all this we went back to the motel and had dinner and crashed. The next day we were planning on joining Steve and Nancy for a hike to Mendenhall Glacier however the weather was pretty horrible - very overcast and very light drizzle - yuck!! Anyway, Steve and Nancy cried off but the rest of us caught the bus out to the Mendenhall Loop Road and set off to walk the 1½ mile to the glacier. I will be really interested to compare the photos I have of Mendenhall when we were there in 2010 and the ones I took this time. Apparently the glacier is retreating about 500ft per year.

While we were there in 2010 we didn’t get an opportunity to walk around to the waterfall next to the glacier so the four of us set off to walk the 1½ mile round trip to the waterfall. Of course the cruise ships were still in town so the place was full of tourists coming and going all day.

After the waterfall we had to find a place to sit and have our lunch as no one is allowed to eat outside because of the bears. Anyway one of the rangers told us we could eat inside the visitor centre as long as we were discreet. Wolfed down lunch and Jim and Jan headed off for a 3½ mile hike while Norm and I would take a shorter, less strenuous one as his hip was bothering him a bit.

Norm and I head off and went past the place where we were meeting up with the others. A tour guide with a group of tourists came towards us and told us that a mama bear with her baby were down by the river catching fish. Woo hoo up close and personal with a black bear!!! Norm and I started walking down towards the bridge and we noticed lots of movement in the bushes just below us. I crept forward and the next thing this big, black bear lifted her head and just looked at me. I backed up to where Norm was and we stood and watched her for a few minutes before she made her way back to the river. There was plenty of evidence around us of her previous catches and although we looked carefully we couldn’t find the baby that she had left in a tree.

That night we met up with Steve and Nancy and went out to dinner at the Thane Ore House which was an ’interesting’ place. Very rustic but the food was plentiful and tasted great. The only d5rawback to the evening was being left standing at the Coast Guard building for over an hour. The motel we were staying in, had agreed to send their shuttle to pick us up when we called to say we were there. Well the shuttle passed us and went into town, then went back to the motel. So an hour and a half and three phone calls later we arrived back at the motel. We were all so cranky that we didn’t say a word to the staff figuring it was best done when we weren’t quite so upset.

The next day was a bit of a fizz as well with horrible weather - rainy and foggy - for our whale watching cruise. We did see whales. although we didn’t get to see the orcas that we were hoping for but did get to see a humpback breach right in front of the boat. Way too quick for the camera but what an amazing sight. We also saw them fluking and just swimming and slapping their fins on the water. They are just so big!! We also saw a mum playing with a baby.

Back to our motel for the last night before heading to Sitka the next morning however an interesting night was had by Norm and I. Lying in bed, just falling asleep when we hear someone at our door. The door opens and we hear the safety chain spring up. The door closes, we hear a bloke muttering as the door opens again and the chain snaps up again. Norm gets out of bed and yells at him and then opens the door to see what is happening. The bloke is taking off down the passage in an awful hurry.

Considering that the door had to be opened with one of those key card things it was a bit scary that he was able to open our door so Norm got dressed and heading off down to the desk to tell the staff. “I find that hard to believe but I do believe you” Yeah right!!!! Needless to say we were glad to be leaving early the next morning.

I was hoping to catch up with this post but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen without me writing a book so I will end here and take up the story in the next post.

Take care of you and yours and we send our love and hugs to all our family and friends.


PS Good luck to our son Bryce as he starts his new academic year at Northern Kentucky University.

PPS I promise the photos are coming really soon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stunning Seward and the Amazing Matanuska Glacier Hike.

Farewell to Homer as our next destination is Seward situated on Resurrection Bay and an RV park right on the Bay.

What a sensational spot!! Snow capped mountains behind us and the bay right in front of us yep more snow capped mountains on the other side of the bay. We arrived and set up and then took a walk around town to take photos of the murals. Like the painted Talkeetna moose and the Leadville bison, Seward has its own attraction, with about 15 murals painted on the buildings around the town. Some of them were beautiful while others were a bit suspect.

The next morning we walked up to the Ocean Centre and were so impressed. This is a rescue centre for marine animals as well as having beautiful aquariums and an aviary for the ocean birds.

From there we headed home for a quick lunch and then walked up to the harbour where we were taking a wildlife and glacier cruise around the Bay. We had an awesome time and although we ran out of time to see any of the many glaciers we did see lots of wildlife including lots of seals, sea otters, eagles and a humpback whale. Well the whale was really just quite a few glimpses as it came up and went down but we can still say we saw it!

The next day was also brilliant as we went hiking up to Exit Glacier. It is very sad to see the difference in the location of the end of the glacier 100 years ago and where it is now. It is actually retreating quite a bit each year - I can’t remember the exact number but it is scary to think that these magnificent places may not be around in the future.

We had packed a picnic lunch and found a wonderful overlook and enjoyed the most amazing view as we sat and ate.

The afternoon was spent doing mundane tasks like shopping, banking and catching up with emails. And no the emails weren’t boring!!! Thank you one and all for keeping in touch..

I must tell you that the evenings at Seward were just the most serene, peaceful times. Each night we had a campfire on the beach and sat around chatting. The first night we were joined by Mel and Dee (Melodee is how we were told we could remember their names!) who were in the space next to Jim and Jan, the next night we were joined by Rick and Karen who had just arrived in Seward that day and the third night Gerry and Phyllis (next to us) came down to the fire. It was so amazing and the wildlife was brilliant. The first night we saw an eagle come down and pinch a fish skeleton from a flock of gulls just in front of us. The last night we saw a seal, porpoises and a sea otter! Just sitting by the bay and having a beautiful time.

And when I get home I am going to by an ‘Air Popper’! On the last night Jim and Norm went for a walk to find out where we needed to go to empty the tanks so Jan decided that popcorn was the order of the day. And she has this Air Popper and you put ½ cup of corn into it, turn it on and within minutes you have popcorn. Drizzle a little butter and sprinkle on some salt and you are ready to go. Of course when the guys came back they bogged in like starving seagulls!!!!

Jan and I would have been quite happy to spend some more time in Seward however as I keep saying if you stay longer in one place to enjoy something you will run out of time down the road and miss out on something else. Catch 22!

Our next stop was Palmer just for a night then on again and where Nancy and Steve arrived to join us again.

The next leg of our trip was to Matanuska State Recreation Park and along the road we stopped at a Musk Ox farm where they are domesticating Musk Ox. The qivuit (the fur/hair that they remove from the Musk Ox) is soooo valuable! They make scarves and beanies that sell for about US$250 each!! They make one blanket a year that is raffled off and the value of the blanket is about US$10,000. Beautifully soft and warm but who could afford it? Oh yes, our guide told us about a female Iditarod driver who had her whole outfit made from qivuit!!

Arriving at Matanuska we gulped down a quick lunch and all piled into Steve’s car for a quick drive down to the staging point for our glacier trek. This was a mind boggling experience!! Jake, our guide rigged us up with boots, crampons and helmets and drove us down into the park. Jake is from Minnesota and is a uni student doing a degree in snow and avalanche science up here in Alaska .

Like so many of the young people who take on summer jobs in the parks, he was very knowledgeable and seem to enjoy sharing their knowledge and experience with others. A question I often ask is why we don’t hear more about these young people and less about the ones who do the wrong things. Our society is lucky to have so many wonderful young people. Off my soapbox again!!

The trek on the glacier was magnificent! Jake even tapped into the ice and found a stream which we were able to drink from - it was the most amazingly cold, fresh and tasteless water I have ever had. Norm even filled up his water bottle.

Jake showed us part of the glacier that had fallen overnight and explained that just prior to it falling, people were actually walking under this giant overhanging ice. It is possible to go out on the glacier without any sort of guide, protection or knowledge. And we did see some people out there doing pretty stupid things like going really close to a 40ft drop which they couldn’t see. Jake told us of one young guy who slipped and ended up about 2 inches from the edge the that drop. Lucky lad!

Another wonderful day was capped off with a great campfire and s’mores! They could become quite addictive I think.

A short day the next day as we drove to Glennallen. This is just an overnighter on our way down to Valdez. Nothing much to see in Glennallen so it seems like a good place to end this post.

To all our family and friends we send our love and hugs. Special thoughts of our son, Bryce as he wings his way from Australia to Northern Kentucky University for a year. As I write this, in the car on the way to Valdez, he is getting close to Melbourne where he will board a flight for Los Angeles, then another one for New York.

Stay safe and healthy everyone and Ooroo.

PS He arrived safely although a few hours late.

PPS Photos following in a couple of days.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

So much to do and so little time!!!!!

Where do I start?? It has been over a week since we left Denali and we have just done so much and been to so many fantastic places!

From Denali we moved down to Trapper Creek for two nights and spent a lovely day in Talkeetna. This is a lovely little historic town and we visited on a Saturday so it was really buzzing with the open markets and shops and lots of tourists (not always a good thing except of course if you live there!).

One of the cute painted moose scattered all over Talkeetna.

We watched a movie about one of the bush pilots from Talkeetna. Don Sheldon was not from Alaska but made his home in Talkeetna and made some absolutely mind blowing rescues of climbers off Mt Denali. In places where, by rights, no one in their right mind would land a plane let alone try to take off!

After we left Trapper Creek we drove down to Anchorage and spent some time there. We had a quiet day wandering around downtown Anchorage, saw a movie about how Jimmy Carter changed so much of Alaska to National Parks, gave so much to the Native Americans and made much of it into public lands. There were some very unhappy people around when he did it but it seems that many have come around now - probably because of the finance that is injected into the state with tourist money. We also saw another movie about the earthquake of 1964. Wow!! the devastation and loss of life and property was amazing. It is the strongest earthquake registered on the North American continent.

The next day Jim, Jan, Norm and I took a long drive down to Girdwood and took the gondola up to the top of Alyeska Mountain which was just the most stunning scenery especially with the tide out in Cook Inlet. When the tide comes in to the Inlet it can come in, in a six foot wave! Most of the inlet is covered with very fine silt when the tide is out and you don’t want to walk on it. Apparently it is like quicksand!!!

Jim and Norm being themselves up on Alyeska!!!!

Continuing down the peninsula we then went to Whittier through a 2.5 mile long, single lane tunnel!!! The traffic traveling east uses the tunnel at half past the hour for 15 minutes and the west bound traffic goes through on the hour for 15 minutes. This allows the trains to use the tunnel for half an hour out of every hour. So as you drive through not only are you worried about the rock walls right next to your truck but you also have to try to keep the truck off the rail lines. Interesting to say the least. Needless to say we didn’t have the rv on the back of the truck!!

This is the entrance to the tunnel.

The weather on one side of the tunnel was a bit overcast but not too bad but when we got through the tunnel the mountains had created a totally different weather on the Whittier side. Cold, wet and foggy!!! And we were going on a cruise to see glaciers!!!!!

One of the waterfalls we saw on our glacier cruise.  The water is that colour because of the glaciers that empty into Prince William Sound.

But…. Norm and I had decided a long time ago that we weren’t going to let a bit of rain spoil what we did so we all piled on the catamaran and took off for four hours in the freezing cold. Our table was by the window so we had a good view of a rain spattered window so unless we went outside we couldn’t get any decent photos. It was so cold outside that eventually I went and bought a pair of gloves just so my fingers wouldn’t be frozen.

Jan and I spent most of our time outside on the deck of the boat and got some wonderful photos of waterfalls, harbour seals, sea otters, glaciers and small icebergs. The blokes spent most of the time inside in the warm! We saw six glaciers and got quite close to some of them. Interesting that four of them are named after colleges in Wisconsin - Marquette, Beloit and two more I can’t remember off the top of my head.


Amazing glaciers in Prince William Sound, Whittier.

A harbour seal on an ice float just off the glaciers.

Amazing light on Cook Sound.

We just loved the cruise and even saw bald eagles although we couldn’t get as up close and personal as I would like - next time maybe!!!

Kenai was our next stop and Jan had booked us into a cute little rv park with only 12 spaces but it was so nice. Really neat and tidy with flower pots on the picnic tables.

Our first night there we took a drive down to Ninilchik where Steve and Nancy were staying with other family members and had dinner with them. Well! Let me tell you - there isn’t much that can beat the taste of fresh (caught that day) halibut cooked by Ed. It was absolutely delicious and is now one of my favourite fish. And then after dinner witting around Steve’s campfire swapping fish stories. What a wonderful evening. Thank you guys.

On the way home from dinner this moose was standing on the side of the road.

Next day we went to the visitors’ centre and watched a movie then took a walking tour around the town which was a bit disappointing except for the Russian Orthodox Church. the cemetery and the ‘dip net’ fishermen/women/kids!

Dip net fishing is where you have a huge net attached to a large round piece of aluminium on a long aluminium pole. The fisher-people then put on waders and wade into the freezing water and just push the net out as far as they can and wait for it to wiggle a bit. Then they flip it so the salmon can’t get out, drag it to the shore, bang the salmon on the head with a mallet to kill it, clip the tail (legal requirement) and then gut and clean it then and there on the shore. Alaskans are allowed to catch 25 salmon for the head of the household and then 10 fish for each other member of the family. So with three kids a family can catch 55 salmon - probably a year’s supply of salmon dinners!

All those blobs in the water are people up to their armpits in the freezing water waiting to catch salmon with their dip nets.

A bald eagle on a nest.

Since our arrival in Anchorage we have been impressed by the absence of the mosquitoes. Mind you, I have a new name for them now - moosquitoes - because some of them are nearly as big as a moose!!!!!

Our next destination after Kenai was Homer where we stayed for two nights. On our arrival we set up then took a walk down into the town and then a drive out onto the spit which is four miles long and is a real tourist destination. There are rv parks all along it with a hotel right out on the end. Shops everywhere and every second shop just about was a fishing charter business.

After a great deal of thought, and not wanting to miss out on something I had been soooo looking forward to, I decided to go on one of the fishing charters. I really wanted to, especially after having eaten it the other night, so, I booked to go on a half day trip. The limit was two halibut per person and I had to buy an Alaskan fishing license for just one day. Having had no experience with halibut fishing I was a bit anxious about whether or not I would catch anything but made sure that I had plenty of room in the freezer - just in case!!! Wishful thinking or doubtful hoping!!!!

So, the next day, after making sure I was suitably attired, Norm, Jim and Jan took me down to the charter place on the spit. We sorted out my license and got myself aboard the M/V Jackpot. We took a 1.5 hour boat ride out to the fishing site. Lucky for us it wasn’t rough and not much swell so no one got sick on the way out. Arriving at the ‘spot’ we were all given a talk on how things would work. Our lines were already baited with a large, very heavy, lead sinker on it so here I go! Drop the line over the side of the boat and watch it unreel, and unreel and unreel and unreel. No one said we were in 250ft deep water!!!! Easy peasy letting it out but let me tell you - winding that line in with a 10-15lb halibut on the end is HARD work!!!!! And how do I know that you may ask???? Well I caught my two and they were amongst the biggest on the boat so I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself.

Yours truly with her two halibut!!  Woo Hoo!!

Once everyone has their halibut and we start back towards the spit the guys on the boat fillet all the fish and put it in bags for each fisher-person. The seagulls are obviously very familiar with the process because there were so many behind the boat waiting for the carcasses that were being tossed over as we went along.

Back on dry land and met by the gang we went to a restaurant and guess what we all had for dinner - yep halibut!!!! Then it was back to the rv to cut up the fish and put it into the freezer ready for our first home cooked halibut dinner!!!! Can’t wait!!!!

While I was out fishing the others had gone for a hike and Norm and Jan had ended up wetter than I had out on the water!! They had both stepped in a bog out on their hike. Also, they found all the moosquitoes that we had been missing - lucky me! no moosquitoes out on the water!!!

This morning we are on the move again - this time down to Seward so until next time - take care one and all. Love to family and friends.

Ooroo for now!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Farewell Fairbanks - Dazzling, Dynamic Denali

G’day all and a warm welcome back. Grab a cup of tea or coffee, sit back and get comfortable as this is going to be a long post. I should have finished Fairbanks in the last post as I could write pages and pages on Denali National Park. Be prepared!!!

Picking up where I left off in Fairbanks after our awesome day to the Arctic Circle we had two more wonderful days before we were due to leave for Denali.

We took a really interesting trip down the Tanana River on the riverboat Discovery. The trip was really different with a float plane landing and taking off on the river beside us. The boat and the pilot were rigged up with microphones so we were able to listen to him explaining the type of plane and how the planes were used in Alaska. I was really amazed at the short distance it takes these guys to get off the water.

We also visited a replica Athabascan village where we were escorted by three extremely knowledgeable, young Athabascan ladies. All three were college students who were working at the village to share their culture and some of their heritage.

One of our guides in a traditional fur coat - it was stunning.

Susan Butcher came to Alaska as a young woman and went on to prove that yes, women can do anything.

I am sure you have all heard of the Iditerod race. This is a sled dog race between Fairbanks and Dawson City and is held in extremely harsh conditions. Susan Butcher trained her own dogs and went on to win the race four times with a lead dog named Granite. Granite became extremely ill after the third (I think) race they won. Against all advice she nursed the dog back to health and they went on to win another race. Susan Butcher died in 2006 at the age of 52.

We got to watch her husband work a dog sled team and I have never seen dogs get so excited. The dogs were just sitting in a line but as soon as the lead dog was attached to the harness the rest of them obviously knew this was the signal for a run and began barking and jumping at the leads and once attached and given the command to go they took off like rockets. They are so well coordinated - they were pulling a large quad bike and were amazing. The surprising thing is that there are no reins to the dogs, they are controlled only through verbal commands.

While in Fairbanks we also visited the Pioneer Park which consists of a whole lot of log cabins that have been relocated to the park and many are now occupied by cute little retail outlets.

The low light of Fairbanks was a visit to Big Daddy's BBQ  restaurant. It was advertised as the most northern, southern barbecue place! What a disaster!!! If this place is any indication of what a barbecue place is, I will not be in a hurry to visit another.

Apart from the dry bread that you take out of the plastic bag with your hands (who knows where the person before you has had their hands!!!!), Norm got a 1/4 chicken (after ordering a ½) and sent it back to then to be given a ½ chicken that was red and bloody inside (this went back to the kitchen too!!), Rick was given an order of beans (he ordered brisket). Instead of being charged $20 for his meal, Jim was credited with $79 dollars on his credit card and then no one in the restaurant knew how to reverse it and he had to speak to the manager at her home in order to sort it out. What a shamoozle! I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone going to this place even if you were starving!

Not to worry the next morning we were hitching up again and moving down near Denali National Park. We stayed a night at Healy and went to a great dinner and show in the town of Denali. It was a brilliant dinner (made up for the night before!) with all you could eat ribs and salmon and vegetables. So scrumptious!

The show was a historical musical sort of. Fannie Quigley and her husband Joe were miners in the Kantishna area and the show was based around them and the reasons why people came to Alaska. It was really interesting and very enjoyable and I could definitely recommend it to anyone coming up that way!

Fannie and Joe Quigley - we learned later that he actually left her and went off to Seattle and she lived on in a cabin in  Kantishna and eventually died there.

Early the next morning we got ourselves organized and drove the 10 miles down the road to the National Park. This would have to have been one of the most outstanding places we have ever visited. But we are lucky enough to now be in the ‘30%’ club! The story is that only 30% of the visitors to Denali actually get to see Mt McKinley.

Because of its height 20320ft and location the mountain creates its own weather and is more often than not shrouded in cloud so many visitors actually never get to see it. We did!!!!

We were boon docking 29 miles into the park at Teklanika campground. The first 15 miles is paved but with lots of potholes and repairs while the next 14 miles is a dirt road or should I say MUD!!

When we arrived and picked our spot, Norm and I spent about ¾ hour trying to remove some of the mud from the truck and rv. I couldn’t even get into the rv until I had removed heaps of mud from the steps. In places, it was up to two inches thick!!! Yuck, it is going to take us a long time to get it off the bottom of both vehicles. Minor hiccup in a wonderful couple of days though.

The first afternoon I took a walk down to and out onto the Teklanika River flats. It is glacier fed and so the water is very silty and grey. The river bed is extremely wide as the river changes course often and of course the wind, coming off the snow and glaciers was just a tad cold.

Gorgeous wild flowers everywhere.

Each night we were in the park the rangers gave a presentation in the little amphitheatre which was really interesting especially the one on how to behave if you come upon a bear. Not sure I could stand there and wave my arms in the air and talk to a bear!

The next day we were booked on a bus ride that took us half way into the park to the 92 mile peg. There are no roads past this point. What a wonderful day! We only had to go 126 miles but it took 10 hours with stops for the visitors’ centre, toilet breaks and the most important - photo stops.

The bus ride into the park was our first sighting of Mt McKinley, woo hoo!! However it wasn’t to be our only sighting as we were fortunate enough to see it again the next day and then again as we were leaving the park.

Our first glimpse of Denali - The High One.

On our bus trip we saw twelve - that is right 12 - grizzly bears. Our first sighting was the best as we came upon a mama bear with twins that were very close to the road. We saw more grizzlies the next day along with caribou, dall sheep, a golden eagle and moose. And while we didn’t see any wolves I did manage to get a beautiful photo of a wolf paw print in the mud in the river bed. The paw print was pointing north so I wanted to go south!!!!

Our first grizzly sighting of a mama with her twins.

To say the views are spectacular is an understantement. Mt McKinley dominates the park but is not the only mountain. The rivers beds are very wide but water only flows along channels that are constantly changing. The tundra is gorgeous which we found out the next day when we took a hike.

We caught the bus at 9.00am for the two hour drive to our hike at Stony Hill which was classified as moderate (it only climbs up to 1000ft!!!!). Strenuous is when the hike climbs over 1000ft. It was an interesting climb as we headed up the ridge to the top of Stony Hill and I mean the ridge! There was a sheer drop to the right of us and a sheer drop to the left of us with a very stiff wind blowing and nothing to stop us if we fell. The sides of the ridge were covered in loose rocks with no trees strubs or undergrowth of any sort!

Our guide Jennifer decided that she would take the group a slightly different way and not go right to the top of the hill however Matt (another hiker) and Jim did go right to the top while the rest of us started to make a slow descent down the scree and on to the tundra.

Before I forget I must tell you that while on the hike there was a young couple from Narrogin/Williams. She is a teacher on exchange in Canada and he is a cocky from Williams. Lovely couple and so strange hearing other Australian accents!

I have to comment on the rangers in the park. They are amazing - their knowledge of all things in the park is truly brilliant. Our guide Jen knew just about every flower that we found on the tundra - and there were so many it was amazing. She knew all the animal tracks and was able to point out all the interesting points about the landscape. She was from Florida and this was her first year in Denali. She was telling us that the selection and training process for the ranger positions is very rigorous. Thank you Jen, you were brilliant.

Some of our hikers reach the top!!

Our hike only covered 3½ miles but took us 5 hours. Combine that with the four hour bus ride there and back and the campfire and s’mores that night it was a long day. But I wouldn’t have changed any of it and slept like a log!

Another glimpse of Denali.

Alas, our time in Denali was over and we hitched up the rigs and headed out. Strange thing had happened while we were there - no rain and as a consequence the roads had dried out and now the car and rv were covered in dust!!! No pleasing some people!!

And would you believe as we left the park we got our best view of the mountain!

We did a quick visit to the visitors’ centre and unhitched the rv’s so we could go into Denali for fuel. We arrived back at the park and were hitching up again when I saw a truck and Airstream pass us on the road. I thought that it looked very similar to Steve and Nancy’s rig and blow me down it was! They had arrived back in Fairbanks the night before and had driven to Denali to have a quick look around. Funny how things happen. If we hadn’t stopped for fuel, t-shirts and photos of the Denali sign, we would have missed them. They will be going fishing with family over the next couple of weeks but we look forward to them joining up with us again down the road.

Denali has been a highlight of a trip filled with highlights. I am so glad we are able to do the things we do. We are truly blessed.

Our love and hugs to all our family and friends and until my next post I wish you all health and happiness. Stay safe!  Till next time.


PS Only just over a week and our youngest son, Bryce, arrives to spend a year at Northern Kentucky University. We won’t see him till later in the year but it will be nice to have him just a tad closer!