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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

So Close and Yet So Far...

Crossing the International Border at the Alaska-Yukon border is unusual.
There is a gap of nearly 20 miles between the Canadian customs stop and the US Port Al-Can.
Sort of like a No-Man's Land.
There is a defined 20-foot swath of brush and trees that is cleared periodically by the International Boundary Commission and is 600 miles long, ranging
from the Arctic Ocean to Mount St. Elias.
This clearing began in 1904 and the US accepted this version of the boundary with its purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867.

Aha! The US flag within view.
Another hour gained as we entered the Alaska Time Zone.
Holding our passports in sweaty palms, we came to a stop.

Getting so close we could almost touch US soil...

Much to our dismay, we discovered that one of the US border patrol officers must have been on a mission to keep some dangerous alien out of the country...
or on a supper break...
or talking to his girlfriend on his cell...
or something!

We waited over an hour on line to enter the country.
Craziest thing.
So close and yet...
Are we there yet??????

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Yukon Highway 1 North

Leaving Whitehorse, we drove west until arriving at Haines Junction.
There is an actual choice of routes here as "1" turns 90 degrees north and the other continues west, both crossing the border and heading into different areas of Alaska.
The Milepost prints this warning in red:
"This junction can be confusing; choose your route carefully! "
(Come on now, really??????)

Turning north, the up-until-now-wonderful scenery became

We now paralleled the Kluane National Park and had our first panoramic view of the
Kluane Ranges, a nearly unbroken chain of mountains to 8,000 feet and their ice fields.

We climbed up and up to the second highest summit between Whitehorse and Fairbanks.
The amazing view of Kluane Lake, the largest in Yukon Territory, spread before us.

Between 300-400 years ago, the Kaskawulsh Glacier advanced across the river that drained this huge lake. The water level rose more than 30 feet and the lake's drainage actually reversed. Water that had flowed south to the Gulf of alaska carved out a new channel at the northeast end of the lake to connect with the Yukon River System.

Instead of travelling 140 miles south to the Pacific Ocean, Kluane Lake waters now journey 10 times longer, north to the Bering Sea. There are beaches from the former lake levels to be seen on the grassy slopes up to 40 feet above the present shoreline.

We realized that we were now only about 150 miles from the Alaska border and the foot tended to get a bit heavier on the gas pedal. But a sudden and quite unexpected image came into view at the entrance of a tiny little community.
The brake immediately was stomped until we drew a bit closer.
This car is a wooden, life-sized cut out.
Boy, is it effective as a heart-stopper!
And good for laughs that lingered into miles ahead.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Shoeless Joe Has His Say

In the quiet words of Shoeless Joe:
We'd spent too many days just driving and driving.
We finally found an evening to take a long walk..
I really wanted a swim in the Yukon River but restrained myself.
It was nearly midnight and nobody wanted a wet-dog smell in the motel room all night.
It sure looked tempting, though.

I wasn't all that impressed with the SS Klondike, even though it was the largest ship on the Yukon. After all, the big load of 300 tons it carried caused it to run aground in 1936.
How dumb was that?!

These bear-proof garbage cans don't allow a hungry dog to search for treats.

I thought these little log houses were sort of odd-looking between the modern buildings.
Then I learned they were the original homes in Whitehorse and way older than I.
As long as my owners were with me, I wouldn't mind staying in here overnight.
We didn't, though. Had a nice room with a view from a window I could stand and look out of.
That was pretty neat.

This statue of a gold-miner in search of his fortune stands downtown.

Even though I didn't have a backpack like the husky, I could walk in step with him and be his buddy. "Dedicated to all those who follow their dreams." the sign says.
My dream is to finally stop this LONG trip in the car!
Are we there yet??????

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Welcome to Whitehorse, YT

Our last night in Canada--Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory.
Such a pretty town and the most populated and modern that we've seen in a few days.
We arrived early enough for Jack and I to visit a museum, for him to get in an evening run
and Shoeless and I to take a long walk.
Lots of neat stuff to see.
Located on the mighty Yukon River, the sternwheelers were the only source of transportation to this town in the late 1800's. The whitewaters of the rapids in this spot were so violent that they appeared as a herd of white horses running and tossing their manes.
Thus the name of the town.

The railroad connected Skagway to Whitehorse in 1900 and the gold-seeking sourdoughs came as a stampede, buying supplies here and continuing to Dawson City on steamer boats,
their pockets empty except for golden dreams.
Lots of gold mining history here with the can-can girls and all.

The Yukon Quest, international dog-musher race, begins in Fairbanks and ends here every Februrary. It's 1,000 miles long so we could estimate how much farther we had to go.


There's a neat park for kids (and dogs) along the river walk.
It is designed to reflect the life of the city.
Railroads are a big part of Whitehorse nowadays, bringing supplies
and tourists from cruise boats.

Fishing is still a major industry here.

Right in downtown is an area of open grass for tenters.
The colorful flag read "Peace" and the variety of colored tents matched.

The water park along the river was within view of the SS Klondike,
a retired grand old stern-wheeler used as a museum today.

See these kids soaking wet and playing with the water guns?
They were having a ball at 10 pm and the temperature?
Maybe 50 degrees!!
Some tough Canadian blood in those veins.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Strange Forest, Indeed

A weird attraction, if you can even call it such, at the Gateway to the Yukon.
Watson Lake lays claim to its Sign Post Forest.

History has it that it began by an engineer in the Army Corps who was working on building the Alaska Highway in 1942. Carl Lindley was from Illinois.
I wonder if he had any idea what he was starting?
How does one "start" such a phenomenon?
What would he think if he saw it today?

In preparation for our big trip north, I actually remembered passing this crazy place in 2010 and wanted to leave our mark among all the others.
So, at the last minute, along with thinking about securing the house, shutting off water, arranging for mail, etc, etc...I searched for something--ANYTHING--to make a sign.

We even packed a hammer and a couple of nails in the back of our very full Mazda.
Thus, on poles filled with metal street signs, maps, ceramic plaques, license plates, pie tins (to list a few of the materials),

there now hangs a styrofoam piece of packing with our names on it.
Do you think this scrap will stand the test of time?
Unfortunately it looks as tacky as possible and obvious that not much effort was spent in its creation but, seriously, Watson Lake's Sign Forest is hardly a place for an art critic.
And, in my own defense, I think I made wise use of the 2 holes in this piece of packing.
Then Jack's placement of the bottom nail gives the Kilroy face a wee little mouth.

Shoeless Joe is a bit put out that his name was not included.
He sits in front of the "things to do" poster trying to decide which event we are choosing next.
His disappointment drops even lower once he realizes we are merely hopping back in the car and driving for many more hours. *Sigh.*
First we stop in the visitor center to inform them that the number of signs in the sign post forest needs to be changed to 71,274. Kilroy was here.
And so were the Davis'.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Taylor- a Town with Attitude

The scattered and infrequent "towns" were originally trading posts--
for furs, mostly.
Situated along rivers, they were limited and rough. Fort Nelson was founded in 1805 by the North West Fur Trading Co, a competitor of the famous Hudson Bay Trading Co.
As recently as the 1950's it was still a pioneer community without power, phones, running water, refrigerators or doctors. The big change came when oil and natural gas was found here and the largest natural gas processing plant in North america was constructed at Fort Nelson in 1964. To be honest, most of the people here are either aboriginal people or oil and gas workers. Not a lot of interest in the finer things of life. The businesses cater to heavy machinery and the basic needs of food and lodging for the hard working men that spend time on the pipeline.


On a descent down to the Peace River we had a brief glimpse of the community of Taylor. Population only 1300 and definitely another industrial town, something in it spoke of an attitude of pride and beautification that I'd not noticed in the others.
Until the highway was built, one could only cross the Peace River by 2 ferries in the summer. The bridge the Army Corps of Engineers built collapsed due to erosion in 1957. But in 1960, a bridge that lasted was built.
Taylor was on the map.

The sign said, "An energetic town" meaning not that the people had lots of gumption, but that the main industry revolved around the gas pipeline that travels to Vancouver, BC, with a branch to western Washington. "Fluid Logistics".

To the right of the road, the NW side, there sat the industry with smokestacks and steam coming out in huge white plumes. A hint of unpleasant sulfur hung in the air.

Yet, the town offers a golf course, curling rink and year-round ice skating. It also hold the "World's Invitational Gold Panning Championships". Across from the sulfur processing and gas compressing gas production plants was a park with swimming pools and playgrounds.
And flower beds graced even the industrial side.
Pride. Interest. Quality of life. A lifting of the chin.
These are the values that this tiny community spoke of to me.
We drove through the mowed grassy areas in less than 3 minutes, but the message remained with me a lot longer.
The lifestyles we choose have so much more to do with attitude than talent, situation, or means. We can choose to focus on the smokestacks or the flowers.
The tiny community of Taylor on the Peace River reminded me of that.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

We Are Not Alone in British Columbia

Northern British Columbia is a vast wilderness.
During the days of driving in this area, our friendly "Milepost Book" gave repetitive and serious warnings marked in red that read:
"CAUTION: Watch for caribou along highway...
Watch for loose gravel...
Reduce speed in this area...
Watch for horses and wildlife on highway...
Watch for falling rocks...
CAUTION: Steep grades...
Watch for bears on the verge..."
On the verge of WHAT, I wonder??? Oh, the edge of the road?

These Canadian Rockies are just wonderful and we admired them with one eye while the other eye kept that cautious eye out for all of the red-letter warnings. We almost missed
this distinctive Indian Head Mountain just north of Fort Nelson.
Do you see his profile?

After many long stretches of seeing no hazardous rockslides, gravel or wildlife,
we began to think we were alone. We relaxed our vigilant viewing around each curve a bit too much.

Just when our minds were wandering, the red warning flashed
"Watch for Stone Sheep along highway (or standing in the middle of highway)..."

And there they were!

Families or singles, wandering along or in the road,
often eating the gravel, it seemed. In reality, they like the minerals in the crushed rock.
They have no fear of the once-in-awhile vehicle zooming down the highway.

Then, in a flash, while we were watching in fascination, they would turn and
clatter up the rocky face of the mountain and disappear. Literally.

Looking at the rocky peaks he had just swiftly climbed,
we recognized that, whether we see another warm-blooded being or not,
we most certainly are NOT alone in these mountains.
While we were watching, we were being watched, in turn.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Laird Hot Springs-the good, the bad and the ugly

After passing Fort Nelson, we began a western stretch of over 200 miles of winding roads through the Canadian Rockies. Meandering rivers, thick forests and towering mountains greeted us at every turn. What a wonder!

Herds of wild horses delighted us. This is open range at its finest.

All different colors and markings, they looked so free and contented.
No fences, no halters, no metal shoes.

Next, the bison appeared with
their massive bulk.
We idled quite a while, taking in their size and shape.
What strange looking animals.
I'd never attempt to argue with one of them.
Do you know that some of the Indians in Montana had a cliff that they ran the herd of buffalo over? We saw it while driving through that state. Called Buffalo Jump, I believe. Hard to imagine these huge beasts running in a stampede only to end free-falling through the air.
The saving grace was that the hunters respected each animal and used the meat, skins and all to feed and shelter their families. Still, what a hard image to think about...

I have to include this pic of a very weary driver.
By now, dear reader, you must be aware that northern motels were very few and far between. And the caliber is not quite what we might prefer. We decided to stop at the Laird Hot Springs Inn so that we could take advantage of the natural hot springs there. The walk to the springs is through a rain forest path with warm, swampy water surrounding a long boardwalk through the trees and ferns. The water is terribly hot, scalding in places and very non-commercial. We soaked away the weariness with other travelers at 11 pm, relishing the daylight that still lingered so far north.
But--the room we had--well, in a while we will laugh it off. But, not quite yet. It was WAY overpriced and consisted of a small bed (barely double-sized) and a curtain separating a bare-essentials bathroom. Threadbare carpet on the floor. Neither a clock nor tissues nor morning coffee came with the room. Never mind a TV or WiFi. No desk clerk. No phone. Not even a clothes hanger for our jackets. But, we felt so relaxed after the hot, mineral springs and were so tired from all the miles behind us that we slept hard. Woke up early to bright sunlight that began about 3 AM and left that place ASAP. We grumbled about being ripped-off, big time!

Once on the road again, we rejoiced in the fresh, pine-scented morning air and laughed (a bit weakly) about the gas costing $7.00/gallon but thankful our tank was once again full.
The Laird River sparkled in the sunlight to our left and the sky was so blue. Before long this lovely, wild horse lingered in our view and all was well.
Very well.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Few More...

This post is a "Part 2" of signs.
Today's signs are more geared to road conditions.
My grandson Cash will get a kick out of identifying these, which he probably will even though he is only 3 years old and can't even read. But he love, love, loves trucks!


If you look in the distance you will see the mountain peaks.
This gives you a little indication of the high elevations of the road.
And what goes up must come down...
and then go up again.
This picture isn't very clear, but this sign says:
Now, I don't specifically know the difference between a hill and a mountain.
But, I daresay this is more than a steep "hill".

Just the thought of the big trucks on these narrow and winding roads gives me the chills.
Then when I consider the ice and snow pack under their tires--oh, my!
That's why they all carry chains.

It must be so slow and tedious to stop in the bitter cold of winter to
put on chains to climb or descend and then stop again to remove them.
But that is exactly what is done by these lonely truckers.

The following signs are pictures only.
I love the images.

This one has that solar panel to surround it in flashing lights.
That sharp curve to the bridge can mean trouble!

Whenever we saw this particular sign we were reminded of our neighbor Bob who was traveling to the Four Corners of the US at the same time we were driving north.
Only he was on a motorcycle for his long trip.
I hope he didn't have too many of these iron grate bridges to cross.
Looks like they could knock a few dental fillings loose.

Pretty obvious, huh?
What do you think, Cash?

And my favorite one of all:
It look me several signs like this before I got the meaning.
I somehow thought it was a truck rushing and crashing into a wall.
That's really not the meaning, of course.
Are you a better guesser than I am, dear reader?