Days 55 through 60 Transit to Hyder AK and Prince George BC

Days 55 (Sat Aug 22) through 60 (Thursday August 27) were devoted to a 2 day transit to Hyder AK, 2 days in Hyder and a 2 day transit to Prince George BC for the end of the caravan.

Saturday we were up early for the 200 mile transit to an overnight stop in Iskut BC at Mountain View Campground. After hitching up and making a quick stop at the dump station at Baby Nugget RV in Watson Lake we headed down the AlCan a mile then turned onto YT-37…the Cassiar Highway which heads south. It was a dismal, dreary, rainy day and the road was…well, terrible. It was almost a match for the lousy road down to Valdez AK but not quite. Lots of frost heaves in the tundra/muskeg area, lots of gravel breaks and patched potholes…so we kept speeding up and slowing down. We had one brief stretch coming up from a river crossing…usually there’s a steep down grade down to the bridge then a steep upgrade on the other side…that included a turn marked at 30 kilometers an hour…that’s 20 miles an hour. Added to that…it was gravel that was already wet from the on and off drizzle…and then it started raining pretty hard on the way up and we were mostly on the outside edge of the road overlooking the drop off. Yuk. We also crossed over into British Columbia leaving Yukon behind for the remainder of our trip.

We pulled into Mountain View Campground in Iskut  after our 200 mile run…getting in required an almost 180 degree right turn up on the ridge onto a gravel/dirt road that goes pretty steeply downhill into the campground. Luckily there was a nice turnout opposite the entrance to make turing pretty easy and the road was steep but not crazy steep and in pretty good shape otherwise. We downshifted and crept down then quickly pulled into our assigned site 1. Yup…another site that seemed good on initial assignment but on further review was less than fully satisfactory. It was nice pull through but required a pretty sharp right hand turn to get out of the site onto the road and since the dump station was immediately opposite it we had to pull up the hill 30 yards or so to get the trailer straight on the road then back down the hill to get next to the dump station to empty our gray tank…this was needed even though we had dumped Saturday morning since we would be in Hyder with no sewer connection for 3 nights and we decided not to push our tank capacity. However, we did get some periods of decent weather the rest of the afternoon and evening in between rain showers…and Neil was able to hike down to the lake bordering the campground for some nice shots of the late afternoon landscape.

We did get to cross off an item we didn’t think would happen on Friday night before leaving Watson Lake…the forecast was pretty good for an appearance of the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis…that’s the multi-colored glowing sheets of light in the sky caused by interaction of solar particles with cold atmospheric molecules in the stratosphere. The best time was forecast for between midnight and 0200 Saturday morning and we had a few volunteers who decided to stay awake and bang on doors if it started. Sure enough…right about 0200 we got the knock and headed out for a viewing. We were able to see the phenomenon but in this particular case it was very faint and was only dim white light with some very slight greenish tinges in a few locations. In addition…instead of being the more typical glowing/moving vertical sheet shapes it was mostly just large blob cloud shaped glow that was brighter than the surrounding night sky but not vividly so. We did have 2 complete arches across the sky but again…dim white only and it really took awhile for your night vision to develop sufficiently to see them at all. We tried a couple of shots but without the tripod none of them came out…so sorry, no pictures of them…but hey, at least we can say we saw them.

So long Yukon Territory.

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A few shots we got along the way…it was hard though as we needed (a) something to take a photo of, (b) a place we could pull over and (c) no rain at the moment…this combination of conditions was pretty rare through the day. We usually settled for (a) and (b) and as long as it was only drizzling we got out anyway.

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Nice reflections and a dead tree floating in this little pond.

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Neil hiked down to the lake…which instead of the quarter mile he thought it would be was more than a mile each way.

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Looking back from the site of the photo above towards the campground sites…we’re on the far right in site 1 next to the building.

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With another 200 miles to go on lousy roads…we were up again early Sunday morning to hitch, dump, and get on the road. Neil got a couple of shots of the threatening skies over the mountains to our east before we headed out.

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We did see a total of 3 black bears on the way…Papa bear ran across the road about an hour out of Iskut and it was a good thing he didn’t run out 5 seconds later as he woulda been a dead bear if he did. Too quick for a photo though. Once we turned off of the Cassiar Highway onto the Stewart/Hyder Highway we spotted a sow and cub just eating berries on the side of the road. Neil got some pictures of the sow but the cub was a little farther behind the rig and another car pulled up behind us preventing us from backing up to get a shot of it. He was a little guy though…probably this year’s cub and only 30 pounds or so. Looked pretty much like any other black bear cub though.

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We also stopped by Bear Glacier on the way down the Steward/Hyder road and got a couple nice shots of this glacier which is on a north draining valley about a third of a mile from the road; as well as a nice waterfall down the side of the valley.

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We arrived in Hyder in pretty much steady rain (oh joy, again) and got set up in site 14 at Camp Run-A-Muck…which isn’t much to look at but then we didn’t come here to Hyder to sit in the campground. The campground sits right off the road and we have a lovely view of the road and the houses across it…luckily we’re almost at the end of the paved road and traffic is pretty minimal. Due to the rain and 3 night stop we did minimal setup…water and electric only with no sewer connection in the site and no other outside preps…the campground was pretty much a mud puddle when we arrived and it didn’t get much better when the rain stopped.

Undeterred though…we had dinner then Neil went off to the local tourist attraction…which is a boardwalk where you can watch the bears feed on spawning salmon. Well, we went down…and sure enough there were plenty of migrating salmon, plenty of seagulls eating on dead salmon and a complete absence of bears. Figures.

A couple of shots of the pond behind the boardwalk…actually the best scenery of the evening.

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And a couple gull shots as they flew over the river.

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With no luck on bears…he came home and we watched TV until bedtime.

Day 57 (Monday August 24) we slept in until 0700 as we had nowhere special to be. After coffee and breakfast…pro tip, if you ever come to Canada don’t buy Canadian grapefruit, they just ain’t worth bringing home from the store…we decided to try the bear boardwalk again then have lunch before our scheduled trip out to Salmon glacier in the afternoon.

On the way out we spotted some eagles sitting on stumps out in the river. Again though…no bears. However, the weather was a bit nicer and we did get some nice shots of the gulls and a couple of Great Blue Herons hanging out in the pond behind the boardwalk.

Two adult and one immature Bald Eagles.

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Great Blue Herons.

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Some sort of moss…very similar to Spanish Moss down south…glistening with the overnight rain.

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The river…notice all the bears feeding on the salmon. Me neither.

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These are female salmon who have already spawned and are guarding their nest from the gulls…at least until they die which won’t be too long now. Good thing that salmon lay 10s of thousands of eggs…the survival rate by the time the hatch, grow, migrate to the ocean, live out the saltwater portion of their lives and then return to their spawning ground is in the low single digits. Supposedly each female and male span with yards of there they were hatched…although how anybody figured that out is anybody’s guess.

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Various gull shots in action…mostly they are feeding at this point on eggs that broke loose from the nests and are drifting downstream. Others were feeding on dead salmon on the banks leftover by the bears feeding earlier but that isn’t nearly as interesting a photo.

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We gave that up after a half hour or so and headed back for the car…luckily catching a nice flight sequence of one of the Great Blue Herons taking off from the pond.

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Another Howard Payne Memorial Dead Tree Photo.

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We headed home and Neil made grilled ham and cheese sammies for lunch…the last of our lunchmeat along with some American and Havarti cheese slices…fried up quickly in butter to make them golden brown and delicious. Yum.

At 1300 we met for our pre-carpool meeting…the afternoon’s activity was a drive out to Salmon Glacier. It’s in Canada but you don’t go through customs to get there. Just continue on down the road outside Camp Run-A-Muck away from the Canadian border. After 3 miles or so it turns into gravel and winds through the gold mines and ridges 25 miles out to the glacier. Our friends Greg and Linda went with us in BAT as the road was clearly not car worthy…lots of potholes to contend with; not to mention the drop-offs on the edge most of the way. Going out we were on the inside lane away from the edge…and to tell you the truth coming back downhill we were mostly on the inside (wrong) lane as well except for when passing cars. Neil drove around the potholes as best he could and we just bumped along at 20 mph or so to make sure we stayed well away from the edge. In several places it had to be 1,000 feet or more down to the bottom and almost a vertical drop.

Salmon Glacier…one of the more photogenic ones we’ve seen on our trip. Looking up the main valley where it starts about 8 miles back in the mountains. The main valley dead ends into another valley which runs right and left in this photo. To the right is uphill and there’s just a slight portion of the glacier with the majority taking a 90 degree right turn and heading down the new valley towards the eventual terminal lake.

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180 degree pano of the glacier…main valley in center, slight uphill portion to the right and main flow to the left down the intersecting valley

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Looking down the valley after the glacier turns and heads towards the terminal lake.

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Your intrepid Alaskan/Yukon explorers overlooking the glacier.

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Terminal lake of the Salmon Glacier…this is about 6 or 8 miles down from the views above. You can just see the bottom of the glacier on the right…probably about 300-400 feet thick here at least.

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Nice waterfall we spotted on the way down.

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We returned to the campground about 3 hours after we left…had a nice steak for dinner with onion, mushroom, and wine gravy and some mashed taters along with a cold brew…then TV until bedtime.

Tomorrow we have no firm plans so far…Connie may work a bit if the Internet connectivity cooperates and we may run over to the other side of the border to Stewart to check it out.

Day 58 (Tuesday August 25) was mostly a rest day for us…we slept in and then had a nice breakfast…then Connie washed her hair and Neil pumped up the tires on the rig and BAT since the weather has cooled off a bit. Once it was dry we headed off to check out the remainder of Hyder as well as Stewart BC.

There isn’t much to see in either of the two towns…Hyder has a population of about 100 with 2 bars, 2 very small general stores and no police. Stewart is a little bigger…maybe 300 people tops but there isn’t much there either. We did fill up BAT with fuel over in Stewart…$1.12 Canadian per liter which works out to $3.41 US per gallon which is pretty decent pricing for up here in the far northland. We then stopped by the Boundary Gift Shop…hey, they had homemade fudge…which strangely enough is located about 50 yards from the border. A quick stop near the Hyder dump yielded several shots of a pretty large black bear then we came on back to the rig. For dinner we headed out to the Glacier Inn Bar and Restaurant…Connie had Halibut Oscar which was excellent and Neil had Halibut Fish and Chips which was ok but not great. We then wandered back down to the Hyder wildlife boardwalk again…hoping for the promised bears but none were to be found…so home we came but did spot an eagle on the way back and got a few shots. Neil went ahead and hitched up BAT to make our departure in the morning a little easier.

A couple of shots of the boat harbor area in Hyder…the port at Stewart (which is Canada’s northernmost ice free port) is in the background of the second shot.

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Black bear near the town dump eating berries and fireweed.

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Local restaurant…supposed to be the best place to eat in town…locally known as “The Bus”…but it was closed for the season…hence our eating at the Glacier Inn instead.

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Bald Eagle spotted on the way back from the bear boardwalk…eating a salmon, looking through the water for something, staring at us, and then flying off. This was the closest one we saw this evening…must have seen two dozen eagles over on the river in total but most were too far away for any decent photos.

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Day 59 (Wednesday August 26) was scheduled for a 211 mile transit to Smithers BC for an over night stop. Luckily the weather was nicer and we were able to enjoy the views a little more than on the way out to the Hyder/Stewart area.

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After about a 210 mile trip we pulled into the Par 3 RV Park in Smithers BC and got setup in site 18. Our plans for a nice easy afternoon under the awning were dashed by the grinding noise coming from BAT’s front left wheel…so that meant we had to unhitch instead of staying hitched up since it was just overnight. Neil listened to it while Connie drove and figured out it was most likely just gravel from the 25 miles worth of construction stuck in between the rotor and the shield. A relatively easy fix although it did require pulling the wheel off and fishing the gravel out…nice way to kill 2 hours.

Day 60 (Thursday August 27) dawned cool and clear with a bit of fog down in the valleys. We got on the road about 0800 for the last 230 miles of the caravan to Southpark RV in Prince George BC. Once again…the weather cooperated pretty well but we were pretty well scraping the bottom of the barrel for views. The only things we saw were the world’s largest fishing rod

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and this cairn that supposedly has a stone in it from a Norman castle in Wales at Tintagel…which is supposedly the birthplace of Arthur who was famous for the Knights of the Round Table and Camelot. Sounds like hokum to me though.

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We pulled into the RV park about 1330 and got our back in site 26. We discovered that our power pedestal had an open ground which means that we have to turn off our power management and protection system for the night. So…Neil walked up to the office and asked if they could send the maintenance guy around to fix it…the witch that owns the park said “You’re dreaming” and that we just had to deal with it. He then asked her if he could install our new brake spare parts tomorrow and she said “Hell no. If you want to work on your rig get the hell out and go somewhere else.”

So…that’s what we decided to do. There’s another park…a much nicer looking park by the way…about a half mile away. We ran over there and Carol has an opening which we reserved for tomorrow and she is more than happy to have us fix the brakes while parked there. Our friend Wayne from the caravan is coming over there to give him a hand with the installation.

We headed over to CBS Trailer Parts where Greg had our brake repair spare parts…then on over to Canadian Tire for a couple hardware related things we needed then came back to the campground.

We had our farewell dinner for the caravan tonight…the food was amazingly enough pretty good as was the first night’s dinner 60 days ago. Too bad the intervening meals we had provided weren’t so hot…but that’s the way it goes I guess. We’ve met some folks on the caravan that we count as friends…and some that are just acquaintances I guess. I’ll have a more detailed report with thoughts on Alaska, RV caravans, and related topics later on for ya’.

The rest of the weekend we’re pretty much taking time off to rest from the last 60 days…we’re tired so once the brakes are fixed we’re gonna do laundry and not much else. Monday we head over to Jasper for a week of nothing, hiking, and the Tour of Alberta bike race.

Cyas.

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Days 51 through 54…Whitehorse YT and Transit to Watson Lake YT

Days 51 through 54 (Tuesday Aug 18 through Friday August 21)…we ended up rejiggering the schedule a bit from what was previously planned for the caravan.

On the way to Whitehorse we stopped by the Johnson River Crossing Lodge and Restaurant to buy a cinnamon bun…which was so huge that we ended up with both of us having breakfast off of it for 2 days. Here’s a close up of the monster followed by a shot of it with 2 paper plates for scale. It was mighty tasty…the best cinnamon bun we’ve had on the trip. Not too sweet, soft and gooey, lots of cinnamon, raisins, and just the right amount of icing.

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We found this little gem at the Yukon Transportation Museum…it’s a DC-3 that flew back during WWII and then had a long and distinguished career with Canadian Pacific Airlines. Following it’s retirement from that role it sat around the Whitehorse airport being used for spare parts until it was bought by a local aviation buff and turned into the world’s largest weather vane…yup, this thing is mounted on a pedestal and rotates with the nose always pointing into the wind. It actually swung back and forth while we were parked under it taking the pictures.

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Day 51 we went on our scheduled bus/train trip down to Skagway AK via the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad…this was originally built back in 1898 to support the gold mining industry and get supplies up from Skagway over the pass to Whitehorse for further transport down the Yukon River to the gold fields in the Dawson City area. Once the gold rush was over the railroad served as a minor supply and people mover before eventually being turned into the tourist attraction it is today. Only 27 miles of the original track remains in service from Fraser BC over the White Pass to Skagway and the original train cars have been refurbished and used to carry people…although the original steam locomotives have been replaced with modern diesel-electric models. The route rises a couple hundred feet from Fraser to the 3,298 foot summit of White Pass then down to sea level at Skagway…this is about as steep a railroad as you can practically build and being on the side of the valley had some great views. We had been warned ahead of time to get seats on the right side of the train for best views…but Neil spent almost the entire trip out on the between cars porch so as to keep reflections out of the photos and to enable him to jump back and forth between sides as necessary. Caravan friends Nick, Phillip, and Sandy spent the trip out there with him as well…along with a few others that popped out occasionally then back inside as it was a bit breezy and chilly out on the porch…Neil just ducked behind the car periodically to warm up. The trip consisted of a bus trip down to Fraser with a stop at Carcross designed to separate you from your money at the mostly cheesy gift shops…then the train ride down to Skagway while the bus took the road down. It picked us up at the depot and dropped us in town for a 2 hour visit where mostly we had lunch then walked around a bit on the way back to the bus…then a 2 hour bus ride back to Whitehorse.

The weather mostly cooperated…it was foggy right at the top of the pass but then we broke out into some sunshine and mixed clouds before we got to the better views. They were pretty stunning…several places you looked over the side of the railroad car porch and were literally hanging over the canyon…in places the rails were within a foot or so of the edge that had been built up with a concrete edge to keep them from falling over…many places there were literally bolts drilled into the rock on the left side of the track that extended under the track, through the concrete lip and had a nut holding the concrete to the side of the mountain…the tracks in these areas were literally bolted to the side of the cliff.

Shots from a lake we stopped by on the way to Carcross…would have been really nice if it had been sunnier.

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The little town of Carcross YT. About 2 square blocks total.

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The lake bordering Fraser BC where we boarded the train…very windy up here so the lake has whitecaps on it.

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Potbellied stove that keeps the train cars warm.

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Heading up into White Pass in the mist.

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Spotted this rainbow off in the mist as we entered the summit area of the pass.

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Entering the fog.

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Crossing the US/Canada border.

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Police station along the line…this was the Northwest Mounted Police which became the RCMP…Royal Canadian Mounted Police…in the early 1900s.

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These next two shots are the iconic panorama shots from this tour…everybody that rides the train takes almost this same photo…so here’s ours. The train comes out of a 100 yard long tunnel and crosses this bridge as it turns…note the abandoned trestle coming alongside in the second shot.

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The abandoned trestle itself.

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A shot taken from inside the train by Connie…wider view than Neil’s shots but you can see the abandoned trestle and the deep gorge it crosses.

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Looking backwards along the train from the same position as the above shot…note the vertical beams holding the track to the cliff and the bolts holding the beams to the cliff. The drop here was 500 or 700 feet I think…almost straight down.

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Another shot by Connie from inside showing the edge of the gorge…it’s even got some reflections in it from other inside passengers.

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Getting a little flatter and almost back into the tree line.

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In the forest again heading into Skagway AK.

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Skagway River.

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Following our train ride we rode the bus into town then headed into the Red Onion Saloon for lunch…this was a bordello back in the day. 

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Our waitress…nicely dressed up in what your best dressed soiled dove wore back in 1898…corset and everything. She was quite glad to pose for us with the girls.

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Paintings from over the bar.

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The owner/madam…she was taking this group upstairs for what she referred to as “afternoon delight”. Deciding to forego the charms of the ladies…we settled for a couple pints of Hard Cider…hey, it’s a nice lunch beer…and a couple of sandwiches.

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Shots of downtown Skagway…not quite as frontier as Dawson City…but pretty close.

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Train Depot downtown…the Red Onion was almost directly kate-corner across the street. 

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Once we got back from the train ride we quickly…along with several other of our caravan members…finished supervising Bill finishing up another minor mechanical repair. After that it was dinner and then we sort of had a change of plans.

Originally Day 52 (Wednesday August 19) was a free day in Whitehorse followed by a 115 mile trip to Teslin Lake YT on Thursday and another 150 miles to Watson Lake YT on Friday. Instead…we packed up and left early Wednesday AM for a single trip to Watson Lake…essentially we wanted to escort Bill and Linda on the first day of their trip back east just in case they had additional problems on the road. Things went pretty well on the journey…no issues cropped up so we crawled underneath both rigs in the rain to do a look-see for any additional problems. His rig looked fine so they headed off early Thursday morning to continue south and east toward Elkhart IN for repairs at MORryde. However, on examination of our rig we found that the final original New Horizons installed brake pad had failed resulting in a scored rotor and damaged caliper…we should have had those pads replaced in May at MORryde ourselves but they seemed fine so we skipped it. Bad idea it turned out. After some discussion with Bill…we went ahead and pulled the bad caliper/pads off of that wheel and capped the brake line. All other brakes are fine so we’ll just live with 5 of them and be a little more cautious on hills until we can get them repaired. Neil’s got some email out to see if we can get parts in Prince George…if so then we’ll see if our friend Phillip from the caravan can assist…at worst he can do the install alone but having another guy to hold things and another pair of eyes would be good. If we can’t get parts then we’ll just…assuming that we have no issues with only having 5 brakes instead of 6…continue on with our planned trip and stop by Elkhart IN instead of Indianapolis on the way back east to have it replaced. As to having only 5 brakes…don’t worry about us being unsafe as we were on some pretty steep grades in West Virginia when we headed out from Marion NC in May for our previous stop at MORryde…and we did that trip with only 4 brakes so 5 will be easy-peasey. Now that  Neil has been fully trained on using engine braking for most of the stopping power he feels plenty safe with 5 until we can get the parts.

It rained all day so we didn’t get any pictures…which was OK since we had already seen that piece of road just going the other way as we approached Whitehorse from the south a month and some back.

Day 53 (Thursday August 20) dawned again rainy…so after we saw Bill and Linda off on their trip south then off to the Visitor Center for some internet after a great French Toast breakfast that Neil made. Goofed off all afternoon and had some pork for dinner.

Day 54 (Friday August 21) was a repeat of day 53…mostly we were just resting up as the caravan schedule has been pretty hard and we are plain ole tuckered out. The rest of the caravan caught up to us at Baby Nugget RV in Watson Lake YT.

Day 55 we’re off to Iskut BC then Day 56 on to Hyder AK where we’ll have two free days to rest, see the sights, and do touristy stuff…Neil hears there are more bears there so hopefully we’ll spot some.

Cyas.

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Days 49 and 50…Transit to Whitehorse YT

Sorry about the delay in posting the last couple of blogs…we been having trouble finding internet so I just had to stack em’ up until we found some. Finally got some at the Visitor Center in Watson Lake YT to put these up.

Day 49 (Sunday August 16) we started up the death march again…up at 0500 and started actively hitching and leaving at 0630 with out of the RV park between 0730 and 0800 for the 230 mile trip down to Carmacks YT…straight down the Klondike Highway. The road was pretty good most of the way…a few rough spots but by and large the surface was good, no steep drop offs to really worry about and only a few grades. The weather also most cooperated and we had a pretty nice day until about 2 hours after our arrival at the Carmacks Hotel and RV Park. Our original site 19 we fit in just fine but BAT was hanging out and we woulda had to unhitch…which is a pain for a single night…so we moved over to site 21 instead which let us hang out of the back of the pull through. A quick setup today…electric only as we had enough water to last and our gray/black tanks were empty.

We did get a few nice photos on the way…

First up was a stop at the Tintina Trench which is a long valley along a fault line that extends about 1,200 miles through both Alaska and the Yukon.

Pretty impressive valley, eh? Probably 1,000 feet down to the floor from the plateau top where the road runs.

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Next up was a stop at Gravel Lake which is a major migratory bird stop. Not many birds this late in the season but we did get a couple of nice shots with reflections and the mountains.

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Our last stop of the day was at Five Finger Rapids so named because there are 5 channels and the rocks look like fingers sticking up. Personally I only see 3 channels total and only the one farthest to the left of the image is navigable…and only then with a cable that the paddle wheelers used to pull themselves through the narrow 100 or so foot wide gap. The center and far right channels are too shallow for traffic. Currently only canoeists, kayakers, and pleasure boats travel through these rapids. Connie took this shot from up on top.

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Neil meanwhile hiked down the 219 steps and half mile hike to get some closeups. Looking upstream here and the navigable channel is to the far left…the others are too shallow and rocky. This was right after a couple of kayakers went by…I’ve included a second photo taken about 30 seconds earlier to show you how narrow this passage is…and this is after it was blasted wider. Imagine taking a stern wheeler river boat through here!

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Looking downstream from the observation platform just above the rock in the photos above…this is the upstream end of the narrow split through the rapids. You can see 2 of the other channels through the rocks here in the background…don’t know whether it’s called Five Fingers because there are 5 rocks or what but from what we could see there are a total of 3 passages vice the 4 one would expect if there were 5 fingers. Maybe they didn’t count the thumb and only the 4 named finger…which would result in only 3 passages but then they woulda been known as the Four Fingers Rapids.

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Standing on the lower observation platform…the navigable passage is immediately below the two interpretive signs that describe the rapids and the cable system used to pull the boats through.

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Looking back up towards where Connie and the rig were. The little white dots just about in the center of the photo and you can see the steps leading down and to the left from the upper platform. To orient yourself it would be off to Neil’s left in the above shot.

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She got this shot while she waited…no idea what it is.

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Tucked into site 21 at Carmacks Hotel and RV. 

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Looking upstream towards the Yukon River bridge we crossed about a mile before the park. This completes our Yukon bridge crossing quest…as I told you several weeks back on our initial encounter with the Yukon it’s only got 2 pedestrian bridges (both in Whitehorse) across it along with 6 vehicle capable bridges and the single ferry at Dawson City. We’ve driven (or walked) across each of these 9 crossings with the singular exception of the one on the Dalton Highway up to Deadhorse AK about 120 miles north of Fairbanks…and we flew over and took photos of that bridge. It isn’t often that you can say you’ve been over every bridge over any river…particularly one as long as the Yukon at over 2,000 kilometers.

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And a shot of the bridge on the Dalton Highway we had to fly over instead of drive…just didn’t have an extra day to go and drive over it as our ‘free day’ was utilized for our flight up to Anaktuvuk Pass and Gates of the Arctic National Park.

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Looking downstream on the Yukon from the bank just below the Carmacks Hotel and RV Park.

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And that was our day…off to Whitehorse YT and Pioneer RV Park tomorrow…this is the same park we stayed in on the way north from Dawson Creek.

Day 50 (Monday Aug 17) we were off to Whitehorse…we had gotten word that Bill and Linda had their axles repaired but had an unassociated bearing failure that they discovered on arrival at Whitehorse and were awaiting parts before heading on. It was a dreary, cloudy, off and on rainy day…so photo opportunities were non-existent…and we safely arrived in Whitehorse YK 115 miles later and got quickly setup in site 58. After setup…Neil went over and talked to Bill…turns out his parts weren’t coming in until Friday so he was headed off to seek other options locally in Whitehorse. More on that in the next post since I’m trying to keep things mostly chronological here ya know. 

Picture wise for day 50…we got nuttin…it was pretty much raining all the way to Whitehorse then mostly cloudy during setup. We did grill some Halibut and invited Bill and Linda over for dinner since they had been having a bad week…first the axles then 4 days in the garage parking lot then the bearing failure. Bill was concerned about bearings after the axles hit the ground and were repaired and based on temperature readings on the hubs everything seemed fine…but on inspection in Whitehorse found the bad one.

That’s about it for day 50…it was really just a travel day with nothing seen worth writing about.

Cyas.

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Days 47 and 48…Dawson City YT

Days 47 and 48 were spent in and around Dawson City YT and we have a lot to tell ya about.

Dawson City is still…despite it being 2015…is essentially a frontier town. There is one paved street in town, Front Street that runs from the ferry landing over to the city limits where it turns into the Klondike Highway that we’ll take southwards on Sunday. Other than that…all roads are gravel/dirt, most of the buildings are still the false front type architecture that was prevalent in the gold rush days of 1898, and lots of people in the visitor center, museum, and other places like that were in period clothes.

Day 47 (Friday August 14) was devoted to a trip in the morning for a walking tour of downtown Dawson City and then a bus trip in the afternoon out to see Dredge #4 and also a working gold mine. Our tour was done by Justin who is a 3rd generation gold miner…we got a tour of their placer mining operation, saw the mine run by one of Connie’s favorite Dutch miners from the Gold Rush show, and panned for gold.

I checked again to see if we had gotten a picture of the Canadian guy dressed up in the early 1900s suit who did the Robert W. Service verse reading yesterday…he was really cool and into his job and we actually enjoyed Service’s verses as they were definitely different from most poetry you’ve heard. We’ll check around the caravan and see if somebody else got one we can borrow.

Our walking tour started at the Visitor Information Center where we met up with our tour guide Martine who was…as expected…in a period suit and hat. She’s a middle aged woman who was born in French Québec but moved here with her husband and raised two kids. Quite a character…great storyteller with an impeccable sense of timing to deliver her humorous anecdotes. She led us on a merry little walk around town for an hour or so.

Shots from around Dawson City on the tour.

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The last brothel operating which shut down in the late 1930s. Run by Ruby, the lady in the second picture.

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Working man’s bar in the industrial end of town…note the nekkid lady picture over the bar.

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Oldest saloon in town.

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See, I told ya it was a frontier town…notice all the dirt roads, board sidewalks, and period buildings.

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Like the marketing here. Must be a guy store…actually it’s Klondike Thawing Machinery Company which sold gold mining equipment and supplies.

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Few verses of Robert W. Service on the side of one of the buildings.

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After our tour we drove up to what is known as the Dome…the mountain overlooking Dawson City…got this shot of a couple of parasailers right after they took off from the top.

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Dawson City looking upstream on the Yukon River…the two parasailers eventually landed after a 10 minute or so flight on the little grass strip you can see just right of center on the river. We had seen a windsock on that area on our walking tour earlier and wondered what it was as the area was too narrow and short for an aircraft to land. You can just make out the Top of the World Highway on top of the bluff just right of center; it’s going away from the camera and curves to the right around the trees.

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Wider view looking upstream.

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Our rig in Bonanza Gold RV Park down by the Klondike…we’re in the farthest row to the left just behind the bushes. The road to our left is the road we took out to Dredge #4 on the bus tour.

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Looking downstream at the Klondike and distant mountains.

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Out at Dredge #4, this is the digging boom but it doesn’t have any buckets on it. As I learned ya the other day the buckets are pulled counterclockwise over this bar like the chain on a chain saw, dig up the gravel, and dump it into the hopper inside the dredge under the wheelhouse.

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Tye top of the trommel…looking aft on the barge. The hopper is above here and you can just see the bottom of it at far left. Gravel from the digging arm dumps into the hopper then into the rotating trommel to separate large rocks from gravel and gold.

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Connie standing by one of the buckets…60something of these on the digging arm. About 2,000 pounds each and each dug up about 16 cubic feet of gravel.

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The control room where the winchman worked. Note the control levers which he pulled to adjust various things…note the linkage at the bottom and remember that for a couple of photos…it will become clear what they do.

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Sluice section…these were lined with canvas then miners moss which is roughly woven cloth usually made of coconut fibers. Ripples made of metal go on top of there and the gold/gravel mixture is  washed down the slanted sluice boxes…the ripples cause eddies which trap the heavier gold in the ripples and the gravel mostly washes out the bottom end.

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The winches that pulled on wires to raise/lower the digging arm and pull on the cables that swing the dredge right or left in it’s arc as it digs the face of the pond. The bars coming down from the top are attached to the control levers in the winch man room…everything is controlled from there via mechanical linkage.

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We then headed out to the Goldbottom Creek mine for a tour of a current day placer mine. Placer gold comes from a Latin word meaning loose…i.e., the gold is not attached to rocks but is free floating. You dig away 2 layers of overburden…the foot or so thick active soil portion at the top then the 20-40 feet of permafrost dirt/rock/ice before getting down to the pay streak of gravel containing gold just above bedrock…the pay streak gravel is what is sluiced and further concentrated to extract the gold. This is a water supply pond and is currently pumping water up to the active cut about 1,500 feet up the mountain from this site.

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Water monitor used to wash away the permafrost overburden.

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Looking 90 degrees to the left from the monitor above…this is the area where the overburden is partially washed away…about 30 feet here from the grass/moss at the top down to the level ground at the bottom of the frame. They’ve been washing this away all season and it will probably be next year before they expose the pay gravel and commence sluicing to get the gold.

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Small sluice box near the monitor.

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Once the sluicing is completed…they have concentrated gold/small gravel/dirt that is then run through this rotating separator while being rinsed with water to trap the heavier gold which runs up the spiral and down the hole in the middle to a collection pot.

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Two ounces of flake gold which was separated from about a half coffee can of dirt in about 90 seconds with the separator above.

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Largest nugget recovered at the Gold Bottom Creek mine…3 troy ounces. Modeled here by our friend Sandy who lives about 2 miles from where we winter in Seminole Campground. 

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Connie panning for gold…she struck out today…no gold except for 2 really little flakes which we brought home.

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Paradise Hill which is being mined by Tamarac Mining which is owned by Tony Beets…he’s the profane Dutch guy on Gold Rush that moved the dredge from Alaska to the Yukon last season.

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That ended our tour and we headed home. We went out to the Sourdough Saloon at the Downtown Hotel for dinner (Nachos) and brews. We were going to have a Sour Toe Cocktail…but it turned out they only serve them from 2100 until 2300…so we’ll try again tomorrow as we didn’t want to wait around another almost 2 hours.

 Ok, on to Day 48 (Saturday Aug 15). We slept in and then did some minor chores around the rig…had to water our doors again, sewed up some bras, and got out the hot glue gun to stick down some of our shelves. Our shelves sit on those little adjustable brackets and we discovered that when you bounce up and down the shelf sometimes bounces as well and this can knock the little bracket clips off. So…Neil just put a dot of hot glue on top of each shelf where it meets the bracket…hopefully that will keep them from bouncing and hence coming loose. After that we headed off to the Jack London Museum in Dawson City…he’s the second famous author that spent a short period of time here back in the day. He was most known for a novel “The Call of the Wild” plus some others although he originally came to the Klondike as a miner during the gold rush back in 1898. There was a lady there (again in period clothing) but she wouldn’t let us take any photos of her who gave a 40 minute or so talk on his history in the area. Many years later his cabin was rediscovered and moved from out in the woods to just down the street from the Robert W. Service cabin…which is still in it’s original location on 8th street in Dawson City. 

Jack London’s cabin, cache, and the interior of the cabin. The original cabin was deconstructed and then used to build 2 replica cabins…one here in Dawson City using half of the logs and the second using the other half of the logs at Jack London Square down in Oakland CA as he is the most famous son of that city.

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After that we picked up some bread, milk, and eggs we needed; went to Mass and then headed on over to the Sourdough Saloon at the Downtown Hotel for dinner and the Sour Toe Cocktail experience.

Neil and Connie sitting at the bar.

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Kara posing with the brews…they never let me go and pose with them; they always take her as she’s easier to carry around. It’s discrimination I tell ya…discrimination!!

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The piano player at the bar…we never got this  guy’s name but he was there banging out the tunes both nights we were in. Played a wide assortment from classical tunes to Scott Joplin to The Beverly Hillbillies. Kept everybody clapping and stomping their feet.

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We had a couple of brews…Yukon Brown Ale, mighty yummy…and some dinner…a BLT with avocado for Connie and a bacon cheeseburger for Neil. Both were pretty good but what we were really waiting for was for 2100 to roll around for the Sour Toe Cocktail Club ceremony.

Now…I’m sure you’re askin’ yourselves…just what the heck is a Sour Toe Cocktail. Well…Ima gonna tell ya all about it. See…way back when there was this miner who got his toes frozen with frostbite and they started to get gangrenous and smell…so the local barman ended up lopping it off to save the poor feller’s life. Once that was done the doc just tossed it into a box of salt and over many years it essentially became a mummified toe. It rested in a display box in the Sourdough Saloon for many years…until one day this riverboat captain who had captained riverboats on many different rivers but never the Yukon. He happened to be passing through Dawson City and was bragging about what a great captain he was…and the locals told him that in order to be a real Yukon riverboat captain you had to have a Sour Toe Cocktail. This libation is constructed by getting the shot of your choice…it was originally required to be Yukon Jack which is an orange flavored likker they cotton to up here in the frozen hinterlands…and in drops the toe. It’s passed to the recipient along with the admonition

      “Your can drink it fast or you can drink it slow…but your lips have gotta touch the toe.”

The recipient then quaffs the drink and this makes you a member of the club. In 1973 the Sourdough Saloon instituted the club for people who happened to be in town and it’s become somewhat famous ever since. The original toe is long gone…somebody swallowed it so there’s now a $2,500 fine if you swallow the toe…so ya don’t wanna do that o’course. The current toe came from an unfortunate lawnmower accident and has been sterilized and then mummified, it’s stored in salt and wiped off between shots. So…off we went for the ceremony.

The toe on it’s bed of salt.

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Connie at the ready.

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And down the hatch…this was when she was drinking up the toe jam…which is after you drink your shot the proctor grabs the toe and squeezes all the likker out of it into your glass…a bit salty at the end.

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Next was Neil’s turn.

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Ahhh…kissin’ the toe. Gotta follow the rules ya know.

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Our certificates…well, one of them anyway…both of them got a certificate and a wallet card.

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With that our day…and time…in Dawson City was done; so we headed home and watched TV until bedtime. Tomorrow we’re off on a 2 day transit to Whitehorse YT…about 350 miles total.

Cyas.

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Days 43 to 46…Transit to Dawson City YT via Tok AK and Chicken AK

Days 43-46 (Monday-Thursday Aug 10-13) were devoted to transiting from Valdez up to Dawson City back in the Yukon Territory in Canadia and our first full day there. 

After the 24 hours of rain on Sunday we were hoping that Monday would be better but it was not to be…woke up to a steady drizzle and cold, damp weather. Nonetheless…we had coffee and breakfast then Neil did his outside stuff and Connie the inside stuff per usual. She had to take a time out to call the hospital in Richmond…she’s trying to arrange a 6 month follow up test (nothing serious) while we’re in Richmond and has to coordinate between her Ob/Gyn in Florida and the hospital in Richmond to get paperwork submitted and appointment scheduled. Toss in the fact that today in Tok is probably the last cell signal we’ll have before we cross into Canadia and she needed to make the call this morning early since we’re 4 hours behind them.

Neil gave her a hand with some of the final inside stuff while she did that and we were on the road right after 0800 for the 250 mile transit to Tok AK. The first 100 were a reverse of the trip from Glenallen to Valdez last week then we headed off on the Tok Cutoff Road the last 150 miles…and the road remained at a good sea state 3 all the way there. Bumpy, frost heaves, lots of construction and gravel spots and to top it off it pretty much rained all day. We did have about 20 miles of relatively nice weather with some sun and blue sky even around Glenallen but then it was back into the intermittent drizzle, fog, low flying clouds and not much to see. Well, there was actually plenty of things to see…we just couldn’t see any of them due to the low cloud ceiling.

Connie claims she saw a mythical creature…a moose…but Neil didn’t see it so it doesn’t really count he thinks. He’s hoping to get a picture of one before we get back…his ideal photo would be an adult bull with full antlers standing in water feeding with water draining off the antlers as he picks his head out of the water. The weather was actually pretty decent with some sun when she saw this supposed creature…but there was no place to pull over, very narrow shoulders, and lots of traffic on the Tok Cutoff Road so we didn’t stop.

After arrival we dumped our black and gray tanks…our sensors have been erratic the past week or so and this means that there’s gunk stuck on the insides of the tank. The fix is to put in some white vinegar, Dawn degreasing dish washing liquid, and 25 gallons of water and do a day’s drive with it in there to slosh around. Today was the perfect day for it as the road was (as previously detailed) pretty bad. Sure enough…we got here and got lots of really nasty looking stuff out of both tanks. Dumped, filled and flushed and the sensors appear to be working correctly again.

We had another issue with our door lock last night…luckily we were inside so Neil took the inside piece off and finally figured out (we think) what the problem was and fixed it. We’ve got a new lock that needs some minor surgery to make it fit properly but we’re planning on doing it over the weekend in Dawson City…Neil had no interest in doing it at 2200 last night in the cold and rain.

Our only photo stop of the day was at the confluence where the Gakona River dumps into the Copper River. Both of these are what is known up here as braided rivers with many changing channels. Here’s the Copper looking  northeast with the Gakona coming in from the left just above the bend on the far left. The Copper continues upstream to the top of the image.

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Here’s a pano of the entire confluence area…again the Gakona coming in from the left and the Copper down from the top, merging with all those channels then flowing to the right and then around the bend to the right as it exits the frame. During the spring floods the entire channel is filled but in lower water conditions you tend to get a narrower main channel with a large gravel bed to the side of it as in the right side of this shot and the braided appearance happens up here a lot. Where we have sandbars in rivers in the lower 48 they have grail bars up here…I’ll get Neil to get a closeup of one of those for ya the next time we see one.

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We walked over to a local restaurant with all of our caravan buddies for dinner…Fast Eddie’s restaurant. Choices were ribeye, halibut or ribs. To quote a famous line from one of the greatest songs of all time (30,000 Pounds of Bananas by Harry Chapin)…”The reaction of the band was best summed by my brother John who said “Harry, it ^#&T%^.” We walked out and Neil said…”I’ve had better steaks.” while Bill said “Whatever we paid for that was too much.” The beer wasn’t even very good.

Walked home in…you guessed it…rain as it had started up again. Supposedly it’s going to not rain tomorrow…which would be good since Neil is grillin’ chicken in Chicken.

Day 44 we got up early and were ready to roll right about 0730. We had gotten another easy to get into but hard to get out of camping site so had to spend 20 minutes getting out of the site, backed up into the road between sites and then work our way around the corner before we could hit the road. After a dozen miles going back east on the AlCan Highway we turned off onto Taylor Highway which goes up through Chicken AK and then one to the border with the Yukon. About 20 miles up the Taylor we came around a bend where the Milepost told us there was a large double ended turnout and noticed that Bill and Linda were pulled off. Since they had departed an hour and a bit before we did and Bill doesn’t like to stop much we figured something might be wrong. Bill walked out towards the mostly dirt and gravel highway and flagged us down…as Neil turned into the turnout Connie noticed that they were unhitched, the trailer was up on the jacks and the slides were extended…so we thought this was definitely not good. On stopping it turned out that 2 of their 3 trailer axles had broken off from the attachment bolts…Bill said that he had crawled under and the bolts were sheared off. Luckily our axle attachments are welded as well as bolted. He wasn’t going fast and the road where it happened wasn’t very rough at all…he said that he slowed down to pull for a photo stop and heard the clunk as it fell off.

We talked to them a bit and jointly determined that there wasn’t anything fixable on the roadside…and had no cell signal at all. After giving them as much moral support as we could they headed off back to Tok without the trailer to find cell signal to talk to New Horizons and MORryde to see what needs to be done. Given that the axles bounced off of the road it won’t be clear what the total damage is until they can be removed and examined by a mechanic but it looks like they’ll likely miss at least the next week or so of the caravan. Maybe they’ll be able to get things fixed quickly and meet us in Whitehorse YT in a week but given parts transit time as well as repair and alignment time that might be a bit iffy. In any event…they’re supposed to let us know later on today via phone or email what the prognosis is. Given we’ve only got 18 days left until caravan end at Prince George…a more likely outcome is that they’ll get things fixed up here or patched up enough to get to either the New Horizons factory or the MORryde factory for complete repairs. So…keep Bill and Linda in your prayers as it’s certainly difficult to have RV problems on the road…particularly when you’re in Alaska where most places are the middle of nowhere.

**Added later and I was too lazy to rewrite the whole paragraph. We did get word from Bill that they made it safely back to Tok and are getting fixed well enough to get back on the road heading back down the AlCan and thence over to Elkhart to get things permanently fixed at MORryde the end of the month. They actually got welded together enough to make it back into Tok the same day they broke down…we were pretty surprised about that.

After they headed back south to Tok…we continued our drive up to Chicken AK…only 79 miles total from Tok but we were going 40 max most of the way and frequently slowing to single digits for frost heaves, washed out road, gravel breaks and potholes. 

And the good news is that we have another 120 miles or so of lousy road tomorrow.

We got no pictures on the way…it was crummy visibility most of the way or the turnouts were not large RV friendly or they were already full. We did get a few once we arrived here at the Chicken Gold Camp RV Park though. The park is owned and operated by a retired (and then un-retired) gold miner and his family and we did a bit of gold panning and got some more Alaskan gold flakes then went on a tour of the Pedro dredge (named after the creek it was originally built to dredge…Pedro Creek) with Mike the owner. He should really consider becoming a full time tour guide as he was much more interesting and informative than most of the tour guides we’ve had on the trip. 

A couple of shots of our site 46…the sites here are actually pretty wide but are otherwise unremarkable. No water or sewer hookups and only 15 amps of power but it was a good 15 amps so we had enough to run our fireplace which we definitely needed as it was in the 60s and damp all day…with overnight lows of 37 so we’ll definitely be kicking off the furnace for a bit in the morning.

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The dredge itself…I guess I better give you a few details on how this thing works.

Dredges are custom built for the creek they’re going to mine depending on how deep the gold bearing pay gravel streak is. The dredge is built in a hole at the creek that is then filled with water so the dredge floats and then it moves along and brings it’s pond with it. Here’s how it works.

At the front (left) of the dredge is the bucket line…you can see the derrick that holds it up here but not the bucket line itself. The buckets are in a chain and look like a very large chain saw blade except instead of teeth they’ve got buckets like an excavator has on it. They rotate up and chew into the face of the bank of the pond digging up gravel and it’s gold. The gravel is dumped at the top end of the bucket chain just below the pilothouse which is the tallest piece in the middle of the barge. The entire dredge is built on top of a barge composed of water tight pontoons bolted together. From the hopper the gold is dumped into a trommel which is a 5 foot diameter 50 foot long pipe with holes on the outside ranging from 1/2 to 2 inches in size. The trommel rotates about 8 rpm and is continually flushed with water as the gravel is dumped into the top then rotates around and down to the bottom at the rear. Gold and smaller gravel falls out the holes in the trommel and is fed into a series of sluice boxes which are flushed with more water so that the gold falls into little grooves on the bottom of the sluice boxes while the lighter gravel and sand continues down to the bottom of the sluice box. Every 2 weeks the sluices are cleaned out and the gold/sand run through a refining process with mercury to separate out the gold.

The larger rocks that won’t exit the trommel and the spent gravel from the sluice boxes end up at the rear of the dredge and are called tailings. Tailings are dumped onto the covered conveyer which sticks out the back of the dredge and fill in the rear of the pond.

So…as the dredge does it’s job it chews the pond larger on one end, extracts the gold, and dumps the gravel and rocks behind itself…hence moving the pond along with itself as it goes.

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The 15 foot long chicken on the hill here in the campground…along with distances to other chicken or chicken-like named cities around the world.

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Connie panning for gold…we’ve not spent probably 2 hours between us panning and have maybe 50 bucks worth of small flakes to show for it.

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A chicken decoration near the barge made from old barge pieces.

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By the time our tour was done it was raining pretty steadily…so we blew off more gold panning, came home, and warmed up. Dinner was chicken in Chicken…hey, we had to cook our last 3 packages or else the Canadians would take it away from us tomorrow…and we gotta boil our last 8 eggs as well since both come from states that have had avian flu outbreaks and hence aren’t importable into Canadia.

Tomorrow we’ll head off to Dawson City…hopefully we’ll have good weather and dry roads.

Day 45 (Wednesday 12 Aug)…travel to Dawson City YT over the remainder of the Taylor Highway and the Top of the World Highway. With just over 120 miles to go…but with three added levels of difficulty; the rough road which kept speeds down so the drive time was 4-5 hours, Canadian customs which could or could not be hard, and the line to cross the George Black Ferry to get across the Yukon River at Dawson City…we decided to leave Chicken as early as possible. This would limit any delays at customs and also put us near the front of the line when we got to the ferry. Despite our best laid plans…we were the 8th rig to leave Chicken; but luckily we passed 3 rigs when they stopped at a turnout for a bathroom break and another 3 at a second bathroom break/photo turnout…we got our photos quickly and beat the rest of them out of the parking area. With the narrow, rough road and with us pretty much doing the speed limit of 40 for the last 40 miles we were 3rd in line when we got to the ferry. That’s a good thing as we got across in about 45 minutes but after our 4 mile remaining drive to the campground and getting setup rigs were still rolling in 4 hours later…locals (i.e., cars) and commercial trucks have priority so RVs get taken maybe one on every other or every third trip across the river and it’s a 15 minute round trip for the ferry.

We got to the Bonanza Gold RV Park and got setup in site 72b…not a bad site but back in due to our order of arrival and the way we were told to come in was 100% wrong as to how you needed to come in to properly approach the site. They are angled and you want to approach so the back in is less than 90 degrees…the directions we were given at checkin brought us in the wrong way. Not much of an issue…we just went down a dozen sites to a wider area where we could turn around…then we had to back and jack a couple of times to get into the relatively narrow site…but things should really be planned better than that. You share utilities between the a and b sites for each number…but the pedestal is halfway up the a site instead of being in the middle where it’s easy to reach for all…we had to have a second water hose to reach. Again…no real issue and this one wasn’t the tour’s fault but the campground designer’s…but still, ya gotta wonder.

OK, about those roads. We had been told by numerous people (some of whom had actually been to Alaska but most had not) that the roads on this section were “terrible”, “the worst road in Alaska”, and “you’ll completely destroy your RV if you go down that road.” Well, I gotta tell ya…none of that is true. For our money the extremely frost heaved road down to Valdez…it was a good sea state 3 going down there with lots of potholes and bad patching jobs…was far, far worse than the roads today.

After our bad conditions…but hey, it’s a dirt/gravel road…yesterday on the Taylor Highway between Tok and Chicken we were prepared for the first part which was the last 25 miles or so of the Taylor; but it turned out that the road past Chicken was actually better. Fewer potholes…but it had rained overnight so it was a bit muddy and the sides were soft…which combined with the 1,000 foot drops at the edge, no shoulders, and no guardrails made it look more challenging than it really was. Luckily for us…it was very foggy so that hid the steep drop offs from us and we slowed down even more than we needed to based strictly on the road surface. Neil just sat in the middle of the road or left hand lane and only moved over t the edge (and stopped) if/when we met another vehicle. Luckily we got across that part before any traffic that crossed the border when it opened got to us. Absolutely no photo opportunities on the Taylor although we did get a few of the road just to show you how it was.

Once we got to the point where the Taylor headed north toward Eagle and Boundary Road (which strangely enough goes only to the border station) split off it turned out that Boundary Road had been paved last summer and it was perfect. Wide, nice shoulders, easy to maintain the 50 mph speed limit and pretty easy grades although it did go up and down a bit for 14 miles. We were pleasantly surprised by that…then got another surprise with our easiest ever Canadian border crossing…90 seconds tops. Asked us a few questions, checked to make sure we were with the caravan rolling through and we were on our way.

At the border the road changed to the Top of the World Highway which winds for 79 miles between ridges across northwestern Yukon to Dawson City. Turns out that this is actually a pretty good road. Sure, it was mostly gravel and there were a few curves with some steep drop offs but by and large we maintained the speed limit of 70 kph (42 mph) and only had a few steep grades. We did keep BAT geared down most of the time to ease the load on the brakes but all in all it was a pretty easy drive…on an absolutely gorgeous day by that time. Photo opportunities abounded…although with few to no places to pull off it was a matter of just stopping in the middle of the road, grabbing some quick shots and starting back up.

On arrival at the end of the Top of the World…it only goes 2 places, the Canadian border and the Yukon River…the road literally runs into the ferry ramp with no exit or turnoff needed…we got in line 3rd and had some lunch while we waited. Within 45 minutes or so we were loaded onto the ferry…again a lot easier than we thought the loading process would be…and 10 minutes later were driving through downtown Dawson City to the campground.

After setup we got caught up on planning our 3 days here then had leftover chicken for dinner. Got an email from Bill and they’re successfully back into Tok AK with their rig…found a local shop who came out and welded the least broken axle back onto the frame and between their mechanic and Bills’ parts got 2 of the 4 brakes back operational and went back to Tok. Further troubleshooting was to be in progress today but haven’t heard anything on that yet.

After dinner we headed out to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall to see the can-can dancer show.

Ok, on to the photos. First two are of the Taylor Highway as we headed toward the border…and after we got over the mountains at Chicken and the visibility opened up. Note the really fine quality road.

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Once across the border…shots of the Top of the World Highway and the views up there.

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This area had some of the smaller drop offs of the trip.

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Canadian’s do love their golf.

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Waiting on the ferry…this is the trip before ours. When we boarded we were on the starboard (right side) right at the bow.

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Dawson City across the river…this really still looks like an 1898 frontier town. I’ll get some more photos on the walking tour tomorrow to show ya.

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Approaching the ferry landing…the city is up and to the right. This is literally the end of the road.

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Saw this while waiting to get into Diamond Tooth Gertie’s…gotta love what they consider entertainment up here.

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Diamond Tooth Gertie herself…she actually was a pretty good singer.

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And the dancing girls…who were also pretty good.

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Our caravan friend Nick (with the beard) getting ready for his performance. The pictures of him actually dancing were too gruesome to be shown…this is a family blog after all.

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And the Grande Finale (or Big Finish as Kornheiser and Wilbon would call it).

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Day 46 (Thursday Aug 13) we headed off to the Robert W. Service cabin for a poetry reading. He was a poet who resided here in Dawson City in the early 1900s for a couple of years…he was originally an Irish banker before he found his calling. His two most famous works are “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. The Park Service employee…who was dressed in an early 1900 suit of course…did some readings and I gotta tell ya for poems these are pretty good. He didn’t talk about flowers and pining for a girl but about being a bum, cremation of friends who died, and shoots in the saloon.

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Afterwards we went over to the Dawson City Museum where we got a tour of their locomotive barn…these belonged to the Klondike Mining Company Railroad which was a narrow gauge track built to service the mines south of Dawson City. The first picture is one of Connie’s…Neil isn’t quite sure what she did with the camera to get it to come out in this cartoon like rendering…but with the exception of correcting the exposure a bit this is straight out of the camera. We decided it was cool so I’m sharing it with ya. The young lady in the long skirt was our tour guide and she was mighty happy to have that long skirt on today as it was barely 45 degrees.

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More conventional shots of the locomotives.

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And a steam powered tractor from back in the Gold Rush days.

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We bagged the museum early because (a) we were cold and (b) Connie needed to work a bit so we headed off to the library.

Cyas.

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Days 41 and 42…Valdez AK

Days 41 and 42 (Saturday and Sunday Aug 8/9) were pretty easy days here in Valdez AK…with only a few scheduled activities.

Saturday our planned outings were to the Valdez Museum…which we skipped to go buy more halibut and groceries, priorities ya know…followed by a trip up to the salmon hatchery at Solomon Gulch and a visit to the Valdez Glacier Viewing site…from which strangely enough you can’t see the Valdez Glacier any longer.

The hatchery is set up at the output of Solomon Creek…but no salmon ever go up the creek. This is because almost the entire flow of the creek is diverted at the top of the bluff into pipes going down to the hydroelectric plant. What little isn’t diverted goes over a 100+ foot high waterfall so obviously no salmon are going up there either. There’s a fish weir to keep any salmon from proceeding up the creek since that would put them into the bottom end of the plant. There is a fish ladder that leads some salmon up to the hatchery area but there are uncountable numbers of salmon that miss the fish ladder and just die up against the weir. From the weir out to the end of the creek where it dumps into the bay is maybe 250 yards and as you will be able to see from the photos there are tens of fish per square foot in the water…so that would mean millions dying out in the creek and this is just one day. The place really smelled of dead fish and the seagulls were having a feast. Unfortunately, the advertised bears were nowhere in sight…so we basically looked at the dead/dying salmon for a bit, looked at the entrance to the hatchery for a bit, and said “that was fun, let’s go.”

The fish gathered at the weir trying to get upstream…I wonder if it’s sort of a biologic GPS they are following or the smell of their birth stream or what they use to find their way back to the precise 20 feet of stream where they hatched.

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See what I mean about crowded with fish.

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Looking upstream toward the weir from about 20% of the way to the mouth…the entire creek is filled like the two shots above with fish.

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The remains of Solomon Creek coming over the falls…definitely not swimmable.

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A second entry attempt to the hatchery…just behind and below the dark rock on the left of this shot is the 12 inch pipe the hatchlings were released out of…so they’re crowded around this entrance (which is blocked with a grate) as well trying to follow their biological urge to return.

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Eagle perched over the parking lot…it (he I think) wasn’t very close and the light was lousy but hey, it’s an eagle so Neil got a shot of it.

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Over at Valdez Glacier Viewpoint. The glacier at the upper right is also retreating and is not Valdez Glacier. It used to be visible coming out the valley on the left but has retreated up out of sight. The large chunk over on the right center is a remaining piece of the Valdez Glacier…it was apparently narrower around the point of land and as it retreated it melted in the middle instead of at the end and isolated a chunk of the glacier which is still slowly melting. Not much to look at really…especially after the great views of other glaciers we’ve had on beautiful days…but it’s one of the things to do here in Valdez so we did it.

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We headed home and Neil made some fish chowder for dinner with leftovers for lunch.

Sunday we did Mass in the AM and since it was raining just some house chores the rest of the day…regenerating our water softener mostly. Since it was raining we passed on the potluck in the very small covered shelter and went out to the Elks Lodge here instead.

Tomorrow we’re off on a 3 day transit period…250 miles to Tok AK on Monday and another 90 to Chicken AK on Tuesday to get us close to the border for our crossing and transit to Dawson City on Wednesday.

Cyas.

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Day 40…Boat Trip in Valdez AK

Day 40 (Friday Aug 7) was devoted entirely to our boat trip on the Lulu-Belle over to Columbia Glacier…which is supposedly the highest calving glacier by number of icebergs produced per day.

Ok, a little education on icebergs. They are categorized by size…the smallest ones up to 3 feet in size are called growlers, next comes bergy bits up to 13 feet. After that there are small, medium, large, and very large with the latter being over 240 feet. Once they’re icebergs and not growlers or bergy bits…they also get classified by shape…steep sizes, flat top, and at least a 5:1 width to height ratio are tabular…everything else is non-tabular. Non-tabular gets further subdivided into dome, pinnacle, wedge, drydock, and blocky based on the overall shape. You’ll typically see layers in an iceberg from being in the glacier, the layers were once horizontal. I’m not sure that you really are about all of that…but I put it in there anyway as you should learn something new every day.

The Lulu-Belle was purpose built to go and visit the Columbia Glacier and has been owned and operated by Captain Fred since 1979. It’s a pretty nice boat…Oriental carpets and varnished wood everywhere with a steel hull for better ability to get close to the glacier face and hence into the ice that has calved off the face.

It was about a 40 or so mile transit over to the glacier and we were hoping to spot more whales, Orcas or porpoises on the way over…pickin’s were pretty slim though. Captain Fred kept up a running commentary the whole 9 hours we were out…he had an opinion on everything from glaciers to global warming to local government to the federal government to the oil companies and was plenty willing to share all of them with us. He was also more than willing to drive his 80 foot or so boat worth probably $10 million into some pretty narrow places…at one point he nosed into a cave to look for some puffins and while we had deep water right under the boat there were vertical rock walls on both sides 3 or 4 feet away. I’m sure he knew what he was doing of course…but with swells in the ocean it doesn’t take much to push the boat sideways and ding up the hull…we would probably not have hit hard enough to cause any leakage but denting up the outside of your boat is bad form. I guess he only does it on really calm days when it’s (mostly) safe.

On the way out of the harbor here in Valdez…we spotted a couple of crab boats…they come down during the summer and serve as tenders for the salmon fishing vessels offshore so the smaller boats can offload their catch without having to go into town then the tender takes them into the cannery at the fishing port. One of these will be immediately recognizable by those readers who watch Deadliest Catch.

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The Kodiak was offloading salmon into the Peter Pan Processing Factory.

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The Lulu-Belle alongside the dock before we left.

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Once over at the glacier we nosed right up to within about a quarter mile of the face…at that point the water was still over 700 feet deep and remains deep all the way to the face…with the face sticking at least 400 feet up this makes the overall thickness of the glacier at least 1,100 feet and this is after it retreated. The glacier has retreated dramatically since 1979 with the biggest retreat taking place in the last 20 years or so…and despite the claims of some it isn’t necessarily all due to the earth getting warmer as many of the glaciers in this area are (according to Captain Fred…who I suppose was probably telling the truth but very well could have just been making it up) actually advancing. What happened to Columbia is that in the mid 1990s as the face calved and the glacier made it’s way downhill a large split opened up in face that allowed water to penetrate deeply into the interior of the glacier. It’s thought that this split/crack may have been a direct result of the earthquake back in 1964. Once the downhill end of the crevasse was exposed to the water at the face and the interior flooded…ice melts much faster underwater due to better heat transfer so a very large portion of the glacier melted from the inside due to being exposed to warmer seawater.

We had another beautiful day in the North Pacific…temps in the upper 60s except for up at the glacier where it was in the low 40s or upper 30s but wasn’t too cold as long as the  boat wasn’t moving to generate wind. Who would have thought that our last 3 boat trips…one in Ireland last summer out to Skellig Michael and two up here in Alaska would all be on beautiful, almost flat calm days.

Anyways; on to the photos.

A tanker about 900 feet long over at the oil shipping facility on the south side of Valdez Bay about a mile further seaward than the small boat harbor we left from.

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A sea otter just lazily floating along…he just backstroked out of our way as we came by.

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Another of the many glaciers in the area, Shoup Glacier at the head of Shoup Bay.

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We were briefly visited by a pod of Dall’s Porpoises again but they only surfed on our bow wave for a couple minutes as we had interrupted a hunting/fishing operation they were on.

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A bergy bit floating out in the open water of Prince William Sound.

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Bald Eagle on one of the small islands in the area.

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One of the two small caves we nosed into…the center cave section is about 6 feet high and 8 wide.

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Puffins.

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A very brief glimpse of a Humpback whale…it wasn’t breaching as that requires deeper water so it can get under it’s prey…the water here is only 80 or so feet deep so a 50 foot long whale is practically scraping the bottom when it dives. He was down for 8 or 10 minutes each time feeding and moving slowly along but in random directions so we could never get very close despite trying for 40 minutes or so. 

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An unnamed glacier in Columbia Bay…we have not gone around the point out of sight to the right that hides Columbia Glacier from this spot.

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And finally after rounding the point our first view of Columbia Glacier…about 8 or 9 miles away at this point…and the top of the face is about 400 feet above the waterline. We were in water well over 1,000 feet deep then as we closed we went up and over the terminal moraine at the point where the face used to be about 6 miles southward from it’s current position. After the moraine it sloped back down and stays in the 1,000 to 700 feet deep range all the way to the face. The moraine is is composed of the rock that the glacier pushes in front of itself as it moves…sort of like a wall composed of rubble at the bottom of the face where it moves on the bedrock. When the glacier recedes the moraine is left behind. There are also moraines on the sides of the glacier.

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We started closing in through the debris field.

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About a mile out here.

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Harbor seal on an ice floe.

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Connie and our friend Mary Alice on the bow of Lulu-Belle.

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And the obligatory, cheesy “we were here” photo of Neil and Connie on the bow. Might make our Christmas Newsletter this year I’m thinking.

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Beautifully calm water showing the reflection of the glacier…about a quarter mile out here and with the exception of a slight swell whenever the glacier calved the surface was glass smooth.

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The results of the first calving we saw. Calving is when pieces of ice fall off of the glacier face. Notice in the lower left of this photo the brownish splash…this is the result of the roof of the ice cave falling in. Doesn’t’ look like much…but remember this is from a quarter mile away and the top of the face is 400 feet above the water…which makes that splash about 50 feet high. Made quite a noise when it cracked off.

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Ok, the next 14 photos are a sequence shot in rapid fire at about 6 frames per second…this was the second (and major) calving that we observed. It started with a loud crack…sounded like a large piece of wood cracking but loud and remember this is a quarter mile away. All the action in this sequence takes place about 1/3 of the way from the left edge right near the section of face that’s got the vertical shadow on it. Neil heard the crack…and luckily had the camera already set on continuous burst mode and had prefocused and set the exposure for this area of the face…he waited about 30 minutes for this calving to happen. Heard the crack…yanked the camera up and mashed the shutter button and then focused and framed as best he could during the 5 seconds or so for the whole thing.

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First pieces falling free…about 1/4 the way up from the water and at the left edge of the shadowed section. Remember, it’s 400 feet to the top so the chunk you can see is probably pickup truck sized.

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More breaking loose above the shadow area which was where the major crack occurred.

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Lots of little stuff coming off here.

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Huge chunk almost at the water edge in this one…just above the beginnings of the brownish splash…that chunk is probably 60 0r 70 feet tall so we’re talking like a two story house sized chunk.

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And the big finale…the splash. Remember, the face is 400 feet high so the splash is probably 500 feet wide at it’s widest…that’s 1.7 football fields. Wow. Made a tremendous roar and splash noise then a couple of minutes we got a 3 foot swell out where the boat was floating about a quarter mile out. The surface still stayed like glass though…but just looked like flexible glass.

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More shots in the really slushy section of ice.

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A medium sized berg…probably 250 feet wide…sitting right off the edge of the glacier, probably calved off yesterday or earlier today sometime. I left the boat in the frame to give you a sense of just how close we were sitting. Truly cool.

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180 degree pano of the entire glacier face…it’s got to be close to 1.5 miles wide at this point and ranges from 400 feet high at the right side to only 200 or so on the left side…with another 700 or so feet of ice under the water down to the bottom. You could make quite a martini out of this thing.

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We spent well over an hour at the ice face…taking pictures, watching the calving happen including one great sequence that we could see and hear but it was way over on the left side and we were at the right side…and it was sort of behind a point of ice so we couldn’t see it well anyway…but it went on roaring and splashing for almost a full minute. After that it was time to turn and slowly make our way back out of the ice filled section until after 2 miles or so we got back into open water and headed back to the dock.

On the way back we spotted this really nice, tall waterfall falling down the side of the bluff…this is probably 300 feet tall for the section in the photo.

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We passed another couple of sea otters on the way back…the second one looks like he’s talking to us saying something like “What you talkin about, Willis?”

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And spotted a few more Stellar Sea Lions.

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After docking…Bill and Linda headed home but Connie and Neil were still hungry so we stopped by The Fat Mermaid bar and grill again and had a pint and some fried onion petals. Saw this little bunny on the way back to the house after dinner and got a photo of him. Really quite tame…just sat there eating the leaf while we passed.

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Well, that’s it for our day on the water. As I said…we have been really blessed with good weather for both of our trips out into the waters off of Alaska this trip…nice visibility, low sea state and good weather for photos…not to mention great photo opportunities for both wildlife and landscape. We hope this continues for the remaining 20 days of our trip.

Saturday and Sunday we stayed in Valdez. We got a few photos on our Saturday excursions that I’ll post later along with whatever we get tomorrow. We also found the local Elks lodge and will be headed out there for dinner Sunday…we missed out on the northernmost lodge a week or two back as it was being used for a funeral but want to get to at least one lodge here in Alaska before we leave…and once we leave Valdez on Monday morning our last two days in the state are in towns named Tok and Chicken so not likely to be one in either place. Wednesday we’ll cross back into the Yukon and spend the remainder of the trip in Yukon and British Columbia except for a couple of days spent in Hyder AK in 10 days or so. We did head out today and get some more flash frozen halibut for the freezer…found the cheapest prices we have seen for it so far…$17.75 a pound and we have about 12 or so pounds in the freezer to bring back with us and eat over the next few months. Got some nice inexpensive Ahi tuna and scallops as well.

Cyas.

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