"In every walk with nature one receives more than he seeks."
John Muir

Saturday, July 31, 2010

ALASKA!!!! Or Back in the USA!!

We have crossed back into the USA. How wonderful!!!

I'll never forget how I almost cried when,
arriving in Miami from our trip to Ecuador, the customs official smiled at me and said, "Welcome home!" I wanted to hug her but figured I'd get arrested or something. I just took my passport and whispered a heartfelt, "Thank you."

I must admit that I was too excited at the Alaskan border to recall what was said.
I DID obey the stop signs and avoided hitting the workers, however.

Contrary to what many Americans believe, Alaska IS a state!
Road conditions improved immediately.

Same blue sky as we'd seen through Canada for days but completely different state of mind. American. Plus gas in gallons and distance in miles. (But still no GPS signal.)

Alaska is towering mountains, clear and cold rivers...

and delicate forget-me-nots, the state flower.

Alaska is 656,425 square miles (420 million acres) with approx. 1 person per square mile, thus it's a state where nature rules.
The town of Tok had been fighting forest fires and this is how the scorched and burned spruce look once the flames are gone. We saw the helicopters overhead, plumes of smoke in the mountains and some firemen. Pretty tough to battle several hundred thousand acres of burning forest, but these are some tough workers! And fires are part of Alaska's summer.

While driving through Tok, a firefighter flagman stopped us in the middle of the road. Mind you, there was not another person nor vehicle anywhere to be seen--just a long 2-lane road with burned trees on both sides. What was wrong? Why were we being stopped?
He approached the car with a big grin and announced cheerily, "Hello, Texas! What are you doing all the way up here?" We explained the reason for our trip.
His smile grew even wider as he said, "That's where I'm from!"
(Why were we not surprised??? Remember the state police in Wyoming?)
Then he squatted down by the car to see us better, still holding his STOP sign.
After a few minutes, Hillary inquired, "Why are we stopped? We're the only car around."
Grin intact, he replied, "I just like to talk to people."
Fortunately for us, a pick-up eventually pulled up from the opposite direction and the driver knew our flagman. He turned around and began a conversation with the truck driver.
Hillary called out, "Can we leave now?"
He waved over his shoulder, "Oh, yeah. Bye. Talk to you later!"
As we drove away, we began to laugh. See us later??? I DON'T THINK SO!

Friday, July 30, 2010

These aren't bedtime teddies...

I have visited Denali National Park 3 times and seen bear from the bus, but these close encounters that Hillary and I experienced were over the top exciting!
There is NO zoom used on our cameras while photographing.

Who is this peeking out of the grass?
Does he really think he can hide?

A grizzly! Noisily munching little wildflowers on the side of the road.
We could actually hear him chewing.

Look at the huge claws on this giant grizzly bear...
If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see some of his teeth, too.

This big guy is so contented lying in these yellow blossoms.
I think he's smiling and humming a tune.

We weren't the only fools to be out of the car to get this picture.
I believe we were closer, however. Yipes! This black bear was crossing the road to meet up with another one waiting in the grass to your left.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Silent wonder

"Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
O LORD, you preserve both man and beast.
How priceless is your unfailing love!
Both high and low among men
find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light." Psalm 36

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


This says "Day 8" but we pulled a surprise on our "Friendly Northern Travel Agent". We had pushed through to Whitehorse on day 6 and hoped to drive all the way to Fairbanks on day 7. Her encouraging note read, "Wow. You guys are almost there. Today you will leave Canada and come back to the United States. There are a lot of hours ahead of you, but your final destination is the goal at the end of TODAY. Keep it up. I can't wait to see you both. I love you. Drive safe."
With this kind of support, how could we go wrong? Right?

Over 2,000 miles through the wilderness of NW Canada was beautiful, thrilling and filled with dangers. No cell service, the rare appearance of other cars on the Alaska Hwy, some rough roads and lots of wild animals. Signs like this one are placed where many generations of animals have patterns of migrating and moving among the tundra. Just because men decided to put in a road does not mean that these patterns will change. We realized it is wise to be particularly alert when a sign is posted.

Besides seeing the caribou this sign warned of, we were pleased to draw up close to observe these stone sheep grazing. What they could possibly be nibbling on besides gravel, we couldn't guess. We thought it might be road salt, but that is not in use here. Hmmmmm.

There was some construction on this bridge and the road was dusty with gravel. This pic is for poor Drew, who was told that the entire AK Hwy was just like this and worried that he may never see his wife again. But look--even guard rails! Hadn't seen those in quite a while.


Groan! We occasionally came upon RV's or slow, heavy tractor-trailers that forced us into the left lane to pass. Lots of blind curves in the road made this a challenge. Once we had successfully passed these slower vehicles, we cheered and high-fived! We certainly NEVER wanted to have to pass them again, so Car Rule #5 was established. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say we had a system for those "necessary" stops that allowed us to be back on the road in about 40 seconds! This was NOT a land of rest areas, mind you.
Once, after finally passing a car and trailer going 40 mph, Hillary mused aloud, "Can you even imagine going on the Alaskan Trail at 40 mph? Just poking along. Husband says to the wife, 'Here we are, only 2,000 miles left. I hope we make it to the next gas station. It's only another 600 miles ahead or so.' "
Does this give you some indication of the laughter we shared day after day?

Monday, July 26, 2010

B-B-B-Believe it or not.....B-B-B-Buffaloes!!

We learned quickly to slow down when we noted movement on the road ahead of us for two reasons: 1. To view the wildlife that were doing the moving and 2. To avoid crashing into said wildlife.
We were totally unprepared to recognize these animals we saw from quite a distance back...a herd of buffalo! Strolling along the shoulder of the road in the neatest straight line (you know, the kind of line teachers work years to get their students to learn).

Hillary totally freaked out as we watched them head into the grass to munch. We simply didn't expect to see buffalo up here in Yukon Territory. Thought they belonged on the prairies in the western USA. Well, they obviously belong up north, too. This closer one looks at as the camera as if to say, "Go ahead and take the pic, this is my good side!"

These really are the BULKIEST animals I've ever been so close to, particularly with no fences for 100's of miles. Their heads and chests are huge and out of proportion to their back halves. This giant one has a GPS collar on so the herd's whereabouts can be monitored. I think that made him the leader. And in confirmation, the smaller one in front is asking permission to keep moving.

Viewing wildlife in this setting caused us to create Car Rule #4: ALWAYS keep the car in Drive while watching these very wild animals in very open areas around the car. This enables us to pull out (should I say "peal out"?) quickly should the need arise. Question: Do buffalo charge like bulls? Answer: No, they always use cash.

Yet, for all the appearance of fierceness and strength and power of these huge animals, Hillary just had to prove she was THERE and posed for a picture only a short distance from this big guy. Looks like photo-shop, you say? Well, believe me, it is the real deal! They both look mighty casual about the proximity, I think.

Sleeping under a Midnight Sun

Every night we got our assigned exercise (Car Rule #3), usually a walk or swim. In our room, Hillary wrote down the "Top Ten List" of memories for that day. Then she hit the pillow and BAM! She was sound asleep.
I, on the other hand, took a shower, wrote details of the day in my journal, reflected on the miles we had traveled, looked at our Travel Planner book a while and prayed for the day ahead, often with a cup of tea.

Sometimes I spent time just gazing out the window, a habit I have had since childhood. This calming scene was the near midnight sunset seen from our room in Whitehorse.

And the same view a little later as I continued to gaze. Sunsets and the following twilights are very lingering, drawn-out affairs in the north. The complete opposite of sunsets at the equator. I could compare our bedtime routines to the different sunsets: Hillary is the equatorial and I'm the northern sunset.

Do you wonder what our dreaming girl sees as she sleeps? During these driving days, I imagine her dreams were rather like this endless road heading toward yet another mountain!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Whitehorse, a lovely tourist town

Those mineral hot springs were so invigorating that we decided to get back in the car and keep going onward rather than stay at the lodge Kathleen had reserved. It was a beautiful day and we figured we could tackle 8 or 9 more hours. We had certainly become road warriors!

Driving into Whitehorse was like entering back into civilization. A beautiful site! Whitehorse is a thriving, historic town on the Yukon River, located where the road and railroad from Skagway meets the Alaska Highway. Whitehorse developed and grew during the Gold Rush days. The Yukon Quest grueling dog team race begins in Fairbanks and ends here in Whitehorse every February.

Riverboats like this "Klondike" brought the people and then their supplies via the Yukon River while the Natives watched warily. The river is frozen for many months, so the warmer seasons were busy, hustling times. Riverboats were known to get "frozen in" by trying to push the calendar for "just one more" late autumn trip north.

We took advantage of these long hours of daylight and walked along the riverwalk after checking in. Bikers, runners, stroller-pushers and walkers greeted one another at 11 PM.

I liked this statue dedicated to "those who follow their dreams". This is a bronze gold miner or sourdough and his faithful dog searching for the dream of a claim. Underneath him is a very weary young lady searching for the dream of a cozy bed.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Random Watson Lake

There is a place along the Alaska Highway called Watson Lake. I can't really tell you where it is or what it is. Addresses are marked by mileposts. The hot springs was at milepost 497. Watson Lake is a gas station and rather sub-standard convenience store all-in-one. That's a big deal in itself and a blessing despite the fact that the gas was $1.79/liter.

Why is this place is blog-worthy? Well, next to the gas
pump is an area FILLED with posts and boards to hold random signs...REALLY.

One day, in a galaxy far, far away...someone decided to place a lost license plate on a tree trunk in case the driver that lost it came back searching. The next person that drove by slammed on his brakes and thought, "I think I'll add my street sign to that tree." (I have no idea why he would happen to have the street sign in his car on his journey through Canada, but he did.) Thus this intriguing practice continued until acres were covered with these personal signs from all over the world.

Well, I made that whole story up. I have no idea how this random place began but, eyesore that it is, we could not think of driving on until we had roamed around reading the variety of signs hanging on logs. We then paid way too much for a hot dog and gas and drove away. We knew that if we ever drove this way again we HAD to have a sign to place. *sigh*

On a more positive note, this was the license plate now seen ON the cars. We were making progress, after all, having entered the Yukon.

Ahhhhhh-Laird Hot Springs Refreshment on Day 6

Just an FYI--if you want to enlarge a picture on the blog, just double click on it and it will come up much bigger. One more click will make it even a bit bigger. The back arrow will shrink it to the original size.


We had the neatest motel manager in Fort Nelson. A burly fellow whose clientele is mostly road crews or oil well diggers, he surprised us by baking his own raspberry muffins for breakfast. He enjoyed chatting with us and sharing some of his life stories while also sternly warning us never to get out of the car to photograph a bear--especially a black bear. Oops! We promised to follow his advice from then on and thankful we had a "from then on"!

Our thoughtful trip planner (aka Kathleen) had researched the area and scheduled us less travel this day and a well deserved stay at the Laird Hot Springs in British Columbia. Let it be known that these are NOT hot tubs but very natural springs of hot water coming from deep in the earth. We could see some areas actually bubbling! The waters are deep and I'm balancing on a submerged old tree trunk here.

The setting was beautiful with totally natural pools. Not commercialized at all. People had added wooden boardwalks and decking but the springs were just as God made them, surrounded by lots of greenery and tall trees. The water had uneven temperatures and some spots were absolutely scalding!

We met a friendly trucker and his 5 year old son there. He drives these windy roads all year round and we dared not even think of the blind curves and elevations during the long winter months of snow and ice. He confessed he feels safer on the roads in winter because there are no tourists- the real travel hazard! Whenever his boy is on vacation, he rides along with his dad.
He encouraged us to return to the hot springs to celebrate New Year's (-30 degrees or so) and said everything out of the water is frozen but it's warm underneath. He watched the Northern Lights while soaking. Sounded neat but I don't think I'd want to drive there in the long, dark hours and sub-zero temps. I can appreciate his descriptions and that's enough for me.

We soaked away days of stiffness from all the miles we'd just traveled. Hillary, all flushed from the hot water, cried out, "I'm healed!" See that smile-that is one relaxed girl!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Al-Can Trail

Hillary kept calling the Alaska Highway either the "Al-Can Trail" or the "Alaskan Trail". These names reminded me of the famous Oregon Trail and I could imagine us bumping along on dried up wagon wheel ruts. That wasn't the case, of course. But the road did seem to stretch on and on around curves and mountains and lakes.

This was near the summit of a very high mountain, can't recall the name. Notice that there is no guard rail but a simple little sign marking the cliff edge. We drove into the clouds at times. Hillary was driving very well but I was white-knuckledly hanging on. (Is that an adverb???) We felt like we were the only ones alive for many miles until we spotted moving objects ahead...

Aha! A caribou at the edge of the road. A caribou is a wild reindeer and the Alaskan riddle is: What is the difference between a reindeer and a caribou? Reindeer can fly!
This particular one was not flying (obviously) but standing quite calmly at the edge of the road, perhaps dreaming about the skies above.

Next we spied a herd of wild horses. Aren't they lovely? Assorted colors and markings.

But the greatest thrill of all was this big guy! The first of many bear, in fact. He is a chocolate black bear, distinguished by his brown nose. He is BIG and his feet are long, fur covering those weapons called claws. We were thrilled and drove alongside of him as he walked. You can see the shoulder of the road and the line--we were driving maybe 6 feet away from him. WOW!!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 5=Mile 0....really?????

Dawson Creek, Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway. This road has quite a history as it was built by the Army Corps of Engineers during early WWII as a means to defend Alaska from invasion by the Japanese. They actually did attack the Aleutian Islands on the SW area of Alaska (the Japanese, not the Corps of Engineers). At that time, roads were not really part of this world (nor are they a big part, even today. Most towns/villages can only be reached by air or dogsled, even Juneau, the state's capital.) Hillary and I visited a little but very informative museum about the building of the highway. A huge feat amidst bitter cold and harsh conditions. It used to be that you needed at least 2 spare tires to even begin traveling the AK Highway, but the entire road is now paved (though paved does not mean SMOOTH...a few areas were so full of frost heaves that we thought we may take flight at best or lose a tire, the muffler or whatever else lives underneath a car, at worst. But that was less than 200 miles of the 1500+ miles we drove on it. At this point we were just happy to be out of the car and moving around.
Notice the 5 destinations on the mile marker here. These are the ONLY towns in the next 1500 miles. Really. Fort Nelson was our stopping point that night.

Dawson Creek loves artists! The buildings weren't anything unique, but the exteriors of many were covered with amazing paintings, like these...
and this one in an alley. The side walls were designed to look like storefronts from back in the 1800's. Hillary got quite attached to this lovely lady and invited her to walk with us.

And I wanted to do a little shopping in this variety store. Too bad it was all fake!

Fortunately Hug A Mug was real and we ate a yummy lunch here. This churned up Hill's old dreams of her "Internet Cafe" and she considered just getting off here in Dawson Creek and buying Hug A Mug (it was for sale). She viewed all the angles and decided maybe Drew wouldn't be crazy about living in the middle of nowhere. Figured she'd return to NJ and discuss it with him before giving the owners her offer. I haven't heard the last word on that yet.
Please note that winning smile, probably due to thoughts of owning this place.