Stewart – British Columbia

While we were still in Carcross Sunday, I needed to get up during the night. It seemed pretty dark, but I didn’t really pay much attention, because Queen Anne made some black-out curtains for the windows. As I got back in bed, I peeked through the curtains, and I saw stars in the night sky. I’ll let that soak in for a minute. It was finally dark enough that stars were visible. I don’t know if we were enough south, or that much time has passed since summer solstice, but we’re beginning to have real nights. That does wonders for my sleep.

We hit the road early yesterday and made our way along the Alaska Highway towards Watson Lake. That section of road is in good shape and we made good time. The Canadians are good about putting orange markers along the road sides, indicating the bad sections. Either you slow down or drive on the left side around the road hazard. Since we were the only ones on the road, we could easily maneuver in any lane we chose.

Since I didn’t have to drive a slalom course of potholes, I drove relaxed, and that gave me a chance to look around. I noticed the willow leaves were turning yellow already. This is the beginning of August and fall colors are starting above the 60th parallel. The second thing I noticed was how beautiful the Yukon is. Sparsely dominated by black spruce and willow, where even with a modest grade, we rose above tree line. The mountains, separated by lakes, are not craggy, snow-capped and grandiose, like we’ve seen in Alaska, but they stand tall above the tundra. They also go on forever, range after range for hundreds of miles.

Unless we wanted to go back the way we came, we needed to take another road south, and that was Highway 37, about fifteen miles west of Watson Lake. We originally had planned to stay in the RV camp at that junction, but we had made such good time that we decided to press on. After driving south five miles we crossed the sixtieth parallel into British Columbia.

Have you ever had the feeling that you were sure you’ve made a mistake even though all the signs say you haven’t? That’s Highway 37. On the map it looks like a major road cutting south through upper BC, but through the windshield, it looked like a Kentucky back road. Barely two lanes wide, it cut between the bogs twisting every which way. The speed limit was 48 mph (80km), but only a lunatic would have driven that fast pulling a trailer. It had no center lines and no shoulders. As we drove further, the road began to widen and became what we consider normal. We had almost worked up the nerve to go the speed limit when we had to stop to let a black bear cross in front of us.

Dease Lake
The view from our campsite was so pretty that we had to clean the trailer’s back window.

We stopped in a dry camp for the night about a hundred miles into BC. A place called Dease Lake. Our camp site was on a bluff overlooking the lake, and the view was so pretty that we broke out the window cleaner and scrubbed the back window so we could enjoy it. We slept the night with the curtains pulled back.

As with every road we’ve been on during this trip, there was the usual construction sites and the dirty mess on the vehicles. This road was full of such projects and by day’s end, The Ritz was carrying ten pounds of mud on the front.

Old Stewart Boarding House
An old building in Stewart Alaska below the glacier towering in the mountains above.

Towards the end of day two and four construction zones later, route 37 finally turned into a real highway with center lines and shoulders. We have another day before we’re done with this road, but tonight we’ve made camp in the town of Stewart. I’ll show you why tomorrow.

Chevy's in Stewart
When was the last time you saw two of these parked on your street?


Skagway – Alaska

We had lunch in Skagway today. It was an international meal. We had to leave the Yukon Territories  for British Columbia, and then go through customs at the Alaska border. The trip took about an hour from our Carcross camp. With this little jaunt, we have covered every mile of the Klondike Highway, from mile zero in Skagway to the Dawson City ferry.

The Klondike Highway between Carcross and Skagway is pure eye-candy. It climbs beside a series of lakes up to the three thousand foot White Pass, and the border. There the road descends back to sea level in thirteen miles, with grades up to 15% (my guess, they’re not marked). I would compare it to Arthur’s Pass in New Zealand. If you lost your brakes on either hill, I’m sure you’d hit the ocean and skip across the water.

Tree Line
The tree line at White Pass is below 3000 ft. Glacial ponds dot the bedrock landscape.

The vegetation along the road ranges from dense spruce to above tree line, then back to broad leaf forests. The top of the pass is glacially scraped bedrock with thousands of little alpine ponds. If you keep watch on the high slopes, you may see a mountain goat or two. After passing the summit, it’s easy to see how a glacier cut the fjord that Skagway is in.

White Pass
The west side of White Pass has a steep grade. In this photo, you can see the train tracks climbing along the fjord wall above the Skagway River.

As for Skagway . . . there were two cruise ships in port, so the town was packed. There were shuttle vans taking people up to the pass, there were trains taking people up to the pass, and there were airplanes taking people up to the pass. You can rent bicycles, mopeds or just walk thirteen miles up the hill.

If you don’t know the history of the pass, here’s the thirty-second version.

Part A: During the 1890’s Klondike gold rush, prospectors throughout the world converged in this area trying to get to the Yukon gold fields. The original preferred route was the Chilkoot Trail. Historic photos show men shoulder to shoulder, climbing this pass in the snow. To cross into Canada, you had to prove that you could sustain for a year, so you had to have a ton of provisions with you. You, or someone you paid had to carry all that junk up to the border and pile it on a scale. Only then could you enter the Yukon.

Part B: In 1900 an US/Canadian company completed a narrow gauge railroad that runs between Skagway and Whitehorse (it still does) through White Pass. After that prospectors abandoned the Chilkoot route. Twenty years later, all the easy gold was gone anyway.

Yellow Street Cars on City Tours
Old building line the historic part of town, where merchants offer the typical items that tourists crave.

Back to Skagway. A lot of today’s tourists didn’t care about the pass. They’d prefer to shop for jewelry, furs, tee shirts or fudge. While they’re at it, maybe they’d like a beer, a meal, or visit a brothel. That’s what Skagway does very well. The historic buildings are well-kept and neat to see. There are several museums to visit and learn about its history. But the things you need to live there are hard to find, like a gas station, grocery store or even a working bank. They are in a different part of the town.

Skagway Post Office
Every American Town has one.

I’m glad we visited, we had fun visiting the brothel (it’s on the haunted building registry), but we didn’t pay ten bucks for the twenty-minute tour (same price as in 1899). Continuing a tradition that started on my fiftieth birthday, Anne bellied up to the bar and bought me a beer, but not a the tee-shirt.

Tomorrow, we break camp and move south into British Columbia where we will be dry camping lakeside at a Provincial Park. We won’t have an internet connection, so my next post will have to wait till we return to civilization.


Carcross – Yukon Territories

Queen Anne and I left the gang behind in Tok two days ago. Since we have different priorities for the trip home, the group figured it would be best for each of us to follow our own routes and time-table. Fred and Deb promised that they would send updates and photos via email so we can follow their adventures too. For example, they made it to Beaver Creek today and by chance, stopped at the same store we had visited yesterday . . . Only they ran into Dudley Do Right.

Dudly Do-Right With Sally and Deb
Sally and Deb run into Dudley Do-right at the local convenience market/Laundromat. Who knew stars hang out in Beaver Creek, YT?

Yesterday’s road was enough to tear the rest of my hair out. After leaving Tok the Alaska Highway gets a bit rough, and I began to hear clunking coming from the trailer hitch. We pulled into a wayside to make sure nothing was wrong. I have a device that clamps the hitch to the receiver and I wanted to make sure it was tight. Since the parking area was on a slant, the first thing I did was to chock the trailer tires. After fiddling with the receiver and hitch, we tightened everything up and connected the Ritz to Fritz. A few miles down the road confirmed that we had fixed the clunk. It wasn’t until we left this morning that I realized that I had driven away from the chocks. Now we have to get a new set.

We were trying to make a campground in Destruction Bay (ominous name, isn’t it). Remember when I bragged about my clean and shiny truck and trailer. Well, between Beaver Creek and Destruction Bay, the Canadians have three construction zones. They never really fix the roads, they just scrape off the surface, pile more dirt in the wallows, then put more gravel and oil on it. That takes all summer. Just to summarize it, there was fifteen miles of wet mud, in the rain where they were fixing the road. By the time we made camp, I didn’t want to touch the car or trailer.

Kluane Lake and Ruby Range
The mirror like waters of Kluane Lake reflect the Ruby Range east of the lake.

We did camp last night in a Provincial Park campgrounds at Kluane Lake. Our campsite was on the water so we enjoyed the marvelous view and the pair of loons that came by for a visit. Before a breeze picked up, the water was glass smooth. We sat around a campfire for dinner before turning in. As we were leaving a pair of white swans called us down to the shore to show off their signet.

We made Whitehorse by lunch. That’s an important milestone as we now have traveled every mile of the Alaskan Highway. If you remember, we left the highway because we wanted to go through Dawson City, and only God knows why, the town of Chicken. (See previous dirty car rant.)

CarCross Railroad Depot
The town of Carcross has a working train depot.

After lunch in Whitehorse, we headed south on the Klondike Trail and we’re camped in an RV park in Carcross. I know, the first thing that went through my mind was it was some car ferry or something, but this is the site where great herds of caribou forged the Yukon River. It sort of changes the way you pronounce the town’s name. It’s a small native village on Bennett Lake, which is one of a series of lakes at the headwaters of the Yukon.

Tagish Lake
Tagish Lake is one of several lakes that deliver water to the Yukon River.

We chose to stay here, because tomorrow we’re going to run into Skagway for a visit. It’s only sixty miles and we can make it down for lunch and back for dinner. I should have a report for you tomorrow.


Tok – Alaska

Tok (rhymes with Coke) is a small town along the Alaska Highway, not a hundred miles west of the Canadian border. Sometimes, on the road signs, it’s called Tok, and other times, Tok Junction since it’s where Alaska Highway (AK 2) and the Richardson Highway (AK 1) intersect. Because of its site, the primary industry here is to service highway travelers. The unique thing about Tok is that if you drive into Alaska, it’s the only community you have to go through twice.

Queen Anne and I returned to Tok yesterday, and the rest of the gang will arrive this afternoon. (The S.S. Minnow did return to port late yesterday, and everyone had a great time; see Deb’s comment in the Valdez post for details) This means we’ve completed our circular tour of the state. We will bid Alaska farewell tomorrow and begin our trip home via the Yukon Territories, British Colombia, and along the U.S. West Coast.

We’re staying at the Sourdough Campgrounds RV Park and Cafe, run by Tim and Tracy Hulett. They both share responsibilities in running the park and café. Tim cooks, Tracy handles the tables, Tracy checks in guests, and Tim does maintenance in the park.

The park has two shticks going for it. The first is that they have a quarter car wash on the premises. I can’t begin to tell you how important that was to us after driving down the muddy Chicken Road. The second unique thing they do here is they hold their world-famous pancake toss on the stage behind the office every evening. OK, so someone in England knows about it, and that makes it world-famous.

Every night, Tim has about a dozen pancakes on a platter, and every attendant gets a turn at tossing two pancakes into a bucket. The first is practice, but you win a free pancake breakfast in the morning if you get the second one in. Of course, during the show, everyone gets to introduce themselves, tell where they are from, and what they hope to see on their trip. Each person tells their own story, and a lot of ribbing goes on. For example, when our gang all stood up and said that we were from Congress, no one believed anyone was left in town.

When someone is ready to toss a pancake (the secret is to toss and not try to fling them Frisbee style), they say ready, and the rest of the audience has to chant encouragement. If Tim catches someone not chanting, they have to go in front of the audience and get chanting lessons.

I know that I should have written about this last month, but I didn’t. We had WiFi problems, and I had to catch up on several posts. I also knew that we would be back . . . for another reason.

Rub on the Roibs
Last night, I made a rub from some of our ingredients and a bottle of spice that Fred had borrowed.

After the show we attended, we all sat around the campfire that Tim builds each evening and just chatted. We enjoyed our wine and asked to hear Tim’s story . . . which eventually led to cooking. As we compared favorite foods, he boasted about his ribs. I turned to Anne and said, “Here, hold my beer; watch this.” And that’s how the first-ever Great Tok Rib Smack-Down was born.

Borrowed Smoker
This is the electric smoker that Tim let me use. I’ve never used one like this before. The way I figure, If I lose, I can blame the smoker. If I win, I have to get me one of these.

It took a month looking for ingredients to make my sauce, and Tim graciously supplied a couple of rib racks and an electric smoker for me to use. The ribs have been on for three hours now, and there are two more to go before the judging. My ribs look great, but I haven’t even put sauce on them yet. Tracy has enlisted two or three people checking in to serve as judges. They won’t know who the cooks were.

Chef at Work
The ribs are half done now and looking great. I didn’t want them to dry out at this point, so I turned the heat down.

I honestly don’t care who wins. I see the event as a going-away party, a celebration of our time in Alaska. The best thing is that we’ll drive a sparkly, clean truck and trailer behind us when we hit the road.


Also, although it doesn’t matter, the judges marginally voted for my ribs. I don’t believe there’s a loser here because we both enjoyed cooking. Thanks again for the hospitality, Tim.

 Tim Offer Congratulations
Jim and café owner Tim Hulett shake hands in congratulations.

P.S.S. At this evening’s pancake toss, yours truly won a free breakfast.

Fairbanks – Alaska

We’ve spent the last three nights in the Fairbanks area and I’ve needed it as I’ve become road weary and needed the rest. During that time we’ve visited with Santa, got Fred’s truck serviced, fixed the inverter on Fred and Deb’s trailer, I scrubbed down Fritz, and I slept in for a couple of mornings. Tomorrow, we leave the Alaska Highway and head south for our ultimate destination; Denali National Park.

Cheena River in Fairbanks
The Chena River runs through the heart of Fairbanks and has a great river walk along its banks.

Fairbanks is not the large city I imagined. It’s a little town of thirty thousand encircled with expressways. Those are freeways with stoplights every other street. The University of Alaska is on the north-west corner of town while old town is centered like a bulls eye. The Chena River runs east to west through the center of town.

Ice Museum
One of the stranger museums that I’ve run into is Fairbanks’ Ice Museum. I suppose you can learn a lot from ice cubes.

The gang went out today to Pioneer Park, an outdoor museum with lots of displays and information, but I wasn’t up for it. Instead I went down to old town, or as they’re called these days, “The Historic District.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m a history buff, but I also like to see what’s happening today. I spent a couple of hours wandering around the shops, restaurants, and museums before checking out the river walk for a couple of blocks.

Fairbanks Downtown
In downtown Fairbanks, there are bars, restaurants, shops, galleries and museums to visit. Almost all of the people parked on this street are from . . . Alaska.

When I came back to camp, I scouted a fishing location indicated on our Gazetteer, and it took a while to find it. It’s been raining on and off for the last couple of days, so the river is high and running muddy. I may still try my luck later today because I need the practice before we get to Denali. Wish me luck.


North Pole – Alaska

It’s July 4th, and as you all know, that’s an important day because it’s Queen Anne’s birthday. As far as she’s concerned, the nation celebrates her birth with fireworks. She also believes in Santa Clause, she can’t help it.

So imagine what happened as we drove into Fairbanks yesterday, and passed by a forty-foot statue of the jolly elf glaring down at the expressway. “Santa! I want to go see Santa for my birthday.” Jeez! Kids!

Anne With Big Santa
The forty-foot carving of Santa looks more menacing than benevolent when you drive past on the expressway.

We spent the afternoon at the Santa Claus House, which sells Christmas decorations and fudge all year-long (those are two things that I believe will rot your brain if you have too much). Little kids are running around the store house, giggling and pointing at all the pretty things on display with wide excited eyes. Anne was leading them. The only problem was that Santa doesn’t work on July 4th. It’s a federal holiday, but he did have all of his minions there. So now we have to go back tomorrow.

Deb and Sally at Santa's House
Deb and Sally take a break from Christmas object shopping, and cool their heals

In case you’re wondering, we didn’t make a wrong turn and wind up in at the real North Pole. This is the name of the town east of Fairbanks; sort of like Tempe is to Phoenix (without the heat). We missed the street and had to drive through some of the town, where they have decorations on the candy cane light poles. Normally Anne will get out of the car and yell a people who don’t take down decorations, but she found this charming.

Deb Tries a Con on Santa.
Deb tries to convince Santa (Fred in this case) that she deserves something other than coal for a present.

The Queen was also afraid that there wouldn’t be fireworks for her birthday in Alaska. After all it’s a foreign country. It is a possibility, because of the constant light. Fireworks don’t show up well during the day. Not to worry, Alaskans substitute light with noise. Firecrackers have gone off around us for the last two days.

We had a birthday dinner at a Triple D restaurant (Dinners, Drive-ins and Dives). We ordered family style (with one you get egg roll), and now we’ll be eating Chinese every other hour for the next two days. But there wasn’t a cake . . . or the annoying happy birthday song (far ra ra). Fortunately, Anne unwittingly solve the problem. She bought a piece of fudge.

Anne's Birthday Cake
Anne gets a surprise birthday cake complete with rocket candle, while Sally sings Happy Birthday.

You see, in Watson Lake, Deb and Sally bought a cake sparkler candle for just this occasion. They were desperate and down to an orange as an alternative, until I remembered the piece of fudge. So we jammed the sparkler into the candy and surprised her with a serenade. Good show indeed.


Top of the World Highway – Yukon

We left Dawson City via the Yukon Ferry. It runs 24 hours and is free, so how could we go wrong? If there are caravans on the road, it could take hours for all of them to cross, but we were fortunate that none were in town. The ride takes less than a half hour, but driving on and off the boat is tricky. There isn’t a permanent dock, so the ramps just let down on the dirt road and there’s a gap that can cause damage to the vehicles. Fred had to re-position his cargo box, Sally got some trim damage and our front trailer foot was slightly bent when we drove off the ferry.

Dawson Ferry
The ferry links Dawson with the Top of the World Highway; and their golf course evidently.

We took some time to fix things and then started up the Top of the World Highway. That’s the name for the road from Dawson to Chicken, Alaska. It got its moniker from the how the trail follows along the three thousand foot mountain ridges.

Dawson City from the Top of the World
In only a couple of miles, we were high in the mountains and got a last look back at Dawson City.
Top of the World View
The views from the Top of the World Highway are spectacular on a clear day.

The road climbs steeply from the Yukon bank, past the golf course, and in our case, into the clouds. The views from the road I’m sure are both spectacular and scary at the same time. For us, it was raining, so we drove in and out of the clouds. Every once in a while, the clouds would lift revealing how steeply the mountains dropped into the valleys below us.

Another Highway View
As we drove along the road, we would drive in and out of the clouds.

Other people warned us that the road was not the best, but we decided to press on regardless. The rain made the gravel base even worse, filling the pot holes and washboard ruts with mud. We drove like it was a slalom course, trying to find a smoother section.

The Gang at the Border Crossing
This time it was the US Customs agent that volunteered to take our photo when we crossed into Alaska.

It was slow going, taking almost four hours to make the eighty mile journey to the border. After clearing customs, we started down the US side on brand new, shiny black pavement. It had bright yellow center lines with white lines down the edges. Our walkie-talkies were full of chatter about how much we loved this road, when about five miles later, it turned into . . . mud. Not gravel, just a plain old sloppy muddy road . . . with worse washboards and more pot holes.

Fritz Leaves Skid Marks
By the time we reached Chicken, the vehicles were caked in mud.

When we pulled into Chicken after another twenty miles, we got out of our vehicles and assessed the mess. The Ritz had two caked on mud stripes down the front that looked like skid marks. I had no idea how I was going to scrape that mess off, but by then, we just wanted to get in out of the rain and get something to eat.