Our fifth wheel and the truck

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.