Last night we drove to Thunderbird Falls trail head with the full intention of hiking to the falls even though it was late. Daylight, almost 24/7 makes you think you should be doing something even though you’re tired. Well, we pooped out. Just pulled over near the trail head and put off hiking until the morning. It seems you can just pull off most anywhere in Alaska and boondock (except on private property) and no one bothers you.
Later, an Alaskan couple came to our boondock site to chat. Turns out, they too own a Lazy Daze RV and rarely get to see another one around here. They’re transplants from California to Alaska for about the last five years and lived ten months in their Lazy Daze RV on their Alaska property while their house was being built.
We woke up at 4:00 am and realized it was too early to hike but looking out the window we saw a beautiful morning sky. So, in my PJ’s, I ran out to take some pictures of it. Couldn’t resist! It was so beautiful.
Thunderbird Falls Hike–
Out the RV door at 6:00 am and hiked to Thunderbird Falls along a very pretty and an easy, two mile trail. The hike takes you by a beautiful canyon with Thunderbird Creek running its length. Further up the trail is the picturesque Thunderbird Falls with an overlook viewing platform. This morning, we really sprayed ourselves well with deet as the mosquitoes last night, when we pulled into our boondock site, immediately swarmed us. Using the mosquito repellent seemed the wisest move. Oh, the mosquitoes still swarmed around but didn’t land on us.
Stopped to visit the Athebascan town of Eklutna and it’s Historical Park. There’s an old Russian Orthodox Church (still in use) and a fairly elaborate group of “spirit houses” in the graveyard plus a lovely garden. (NPR just did a segment on Spirit Houses and we are seeing them throughout Alaska.) It was too early when we arrived this morning so they were not open yet but we were able to see well enough what we came to see.
Since we were driving through the Mat-Su Valey, we stopped at the visitor center and got some tips of what to see. One of the women at the visitor center desk moved here in 1958, one year before Alaska became a state. She told lots of stories about her life here, leaving her family and her husbands family behind in the mid-west, raising her kids in Alaska and flying all over Alaska with her husband when he went out to a “job”. What an interesting and sometimes quite difficult life she had.
As was suggested, we went to Palmer. We were told they had an interesting museum in their visitor center, a cute little town, and that today was “Friday Fling” farmers market day. The museum was interesting and the town was quite cute. The best thing about our visit here was the “Friday Fling” farmers market. They did have the huge zucchini (they’re noted for BIG vegetables) but the tomatoes were not only bigger than we usually see them but were delicious. One young mother of three little girls under five was selling home made jam so we bought some to try. I did a taste test (someone has to make sure the delicious looking food isn’t poison!) of the jam…wonderful. She said her grandmother taught her how to make it. Good recipe, Grandma! There were the usual booths you see at a Farmers Market but they also had a band playing country music. Idyllic setting; a warm sunny day, grandpas and grand kids eating ice cream cones while sitting on a bench together and folks listening to the music and tapping their feet to the rhythm.
Our Milepost book said there was a photo op of the Mantanuska River just north of Palmer on the Glenn Highway. Oh, yes! It is quite a photo op. There are scores of nesting swallows there so the mosquito population is quite reduced. The view of the river is nice but the views of the mountains are amazing.
Chatted with an Alaskan who was taking his family on a tour and he suggested we go up Hatcher Pass Road and see some of the gold mining history of this area.
Denali National Park–
Left Denali National Park this morning with the likelihood of rain. It had rained hard last night and got cold. The temp this morning was 48 degrees F. but because it was so damp outside it felt much colder. RVs that had parked in the Riley Campground on damp ground yesterday now stood in pools of muddy water this morning. It started to rain almost as soon as we left the park and soon we saw a moose along the side of the road.
There is a 14 mile spur road to Talkeetna off the Parks Highway. It is an excellent road and the town turned out to be worth the effort. Along the way are lovely views an point of interest. We got a good laugh out of driving between “Question Lake” and “Answer Creek”. Also, along the road is “Alaska Bush Air” located on beautiful, Fish Lake. We’d heard they have very good flight tours and that the one to Denali mountain was especially good.
The town of Talkeetna is small but totally devoted to the visitor and the town history. The Roadhouse here has an excellent bakery/restaurant and we admit to taking part in tasting some of their goodies. The Roadhouse is an historical building in itself. Tasting their goodies and learning about the proprietors, I can understand why Charles Kuralt came here with his “On The Road” segment of the Walter Cronkite show. I used to love watching the Charles Kuralt segment. We also shopped at the historic Nagley’s Store and bought a loaf of their good dark bread. Besides walking around the town, we spent a good part of the day poking around in the interesting Talkeetna museum. At the cost to enter of $3, it turned out to be a very good bargain. One of the best things to see in the museum for us was the display of old photos of the climbers of the Denali mountain and examples of some of their gear. Climbing that mountain just seems like a painful way to have fun! Of course, the railroad section of the museum was also excellent.
We will leave Talkeetna this evening and boondock in the Lazy Daze along the way to Willow and Wasilla, Alaska. Even though it was cloudy and rained today, we still took in plenty of solar energy and our batteries are well charged.
Plan to head down toward the Kenai Peninsula today. Will stop along the way to visit various small towns and maybe see Denali Mountain. It is supposed to rain most of the day today so the chances of Denali being seen today are slim. We will do our usual meandering pace travel and see what we can see.
The temp. this morning in Fairbanks was 47 degrees F. and it was broad daylight when we woke. Left our “boondocking” spot in Walmart and went to Fred Myers to buy some new throw rugs for the Lazy Daze. Alaska has lots of places to boondock with little restriction. We’ll boondock south of Healy, Alaska tonight.
Took care of the RV essentials this morning before taking off south on Parks Highway. Many places offer free dump sites and free potable water. We just call a nearby gas station and ask. If they don’t offer the service they almost always know which business does offer the service. So we dumped, filled with fresh water, got gas and ordered our mail to be sent to a town further down the road that we will get to in a few days. We called the post office in the small town that our mail will go to and asked how long they will hold the mail if we are very slow in getting there. They hold the mail for 30 days, perfect. Paid $4.24/gal. of reg. with the 10 cent discount for having a Fred Myers “rewards card”. As for the rugs, we never seem to hike in “clean” places so usually return with plenty of dirt on our shoes. Don’t usually take our shoes off when we enter the RV so the throw rugs play an important role in keeping the place clean and the pale gray carpet we have stain free. The throw rugs we started with almost two years ago have been beaten, vacuumed, spot cleaned, and washed repeatedly. They were starting to look really shabby, especially after all the Alaska dirt roads we’ve been on and tracking in dirt and mud, despite our best efforts. So their time was up; out with the shabby ones. Now, with the new ones, the place looks presentable again. There’s no sales tax in most places in Alaska and today was senior discount day so we paid less for the rugs than we thought we would. I noticed the checker didn’t even ask if we were seniors, just went ahead and gave us the discount. Hey, we resemble that assessment! I know, I know. Lots of people don’t get to be old, so I won’t complain, too much.
We are driving slowly down the Parks Highway and have gotten just passed the “town” of Healy. The Parks Highway offers beautiful views and we are quite enjoying just moving along slowly. Not too much traffic to contend with but we just pull over and let everyone that comes along pass us by.
Riverboat Discovery in Faibanks, Alaska–
What it is…a three hour trip on a sternwheeler on the Chena River. Has three main components: a plane taking off and landing on the Chena river (watch from the boat), a dog mushing informational and demonstration (a float-by on the Port side of the boat), and a stop at an Athabaskan Fishing camp/village (it is on the Stern side but you get off the boat anyway). This is a popular stop for tour groups such as various Alaskan Cruise Ship customers so bus loads of people are there.
What it is like, the good…1) It was a beautiful sunny day, we were up on the upper open-air deck of the boat most of the time, 2) it was as well choreographed as could be done for a large number of people, 3) they allowed everyone off the boat to inform and give demonstrations about life in an Athabaskan fishing camp/village for a half hour then you can wonder around on your own and observe things at your own pace for a half hour albeit along with a few hundred others. The boat was clean and the staff efficient.
What it is like, the not so good…1) the boat holds 1000 people but they are only licenced for 900 people and usually don’t take more than 750 people, 2) there were 460 people on board today (because it is early in the season), very crowded, 3) so many folks trying to see and take pictures at the same time was difficult.
We are glad we went using the half price ticket (it is not worth over $100 for two). We do recommend going with the knowledge that it will be crowded. If it is a beautiful day as it was for us, it is nice to be out on the water. This is a very commercial tour. They sell everything from food and drink to canned salmon and there are gift shops.
If you have a coupon, use it. Come at least a half hour early and if the weather is good that day, immediately go up to the third deck to the the front seats near the middle aisle (everyone wants these seats). Know that folks will come to stand in front of you to take pictures so be prepared to stand and jockey for position a little to get a good picture. There are lots of mosquitoes at the village so be prepared. They do have a free RV parking area and a free car parking area. Before or after the boat tour, try the -40 degree room (it is free but they want to sell a picture to you of you in the room). It is a good idea to call and make a reservation. Bring your patience, there are lots of people and some are a little testy.
The Dalton Highway–
We left Fairbanks this morning and headed to the Dalton Highway to go north to Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse. The Dalton Highway is notorious for difficult traveling as it is a “haul road” for big trucks to keep the oil companies supplied in Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse. Also, this road is used to service the Alaskan Oil Pipeline that runs the entire length. We spent the day driving to Coldfoot, Alaska It is the half-way point along the Dalton Highway with our final goal being Prudhoe Bay. Along the way to Coldfoot we stopped many times to see the beautiful views and attractions. It doesn’t take long to realize that the dirt/gravel road and paved areas of the Dalton Highway requires you to drive slowly and carefully if you are to return from this trip with your vehicle intact. The potholes and rough road are tire eaters. This part of the trip (to the Artic Circle and/or Coldfoot) is doable for any RV very carefully driven.
As for the trucks, the trick seems to be when you see them approaching from the rear or coming toward you; slow down, pull over to the right, turn on your right directional signal if it is safe to pass. The truckers have one goal: to get where they are going as fast as they can. Time is money and they are apparently trying to make their fortune. The wise driver gets out of their way.
At mile 115 we came to the Artic Circle. We stood at the equator on our trip to the Galapagos a few years ago and now we were at the Artic Circle. Amazing. This is the frequent “turn around” point for most travelers. Getting to the Artic Circle is a trip in itself and if you want a document that says you were at the Artic Circle you can get on at the BLM visitor center at the Yukon River on the Dalton Highway. You can also get an Artic Circle certificate at the Coldfoot visitor center.
Coldfoot is the half-way point and a good place to stop and visit the visitor center there. The visitor center can tell travelers the condition of the Dalton Highway further north, especially the Atigun Pass over the Brooks Mountain Range. Also, Coldfoot is a “must stop” to get gas if you need some. We were told to carry extra gas in gas cans (we didn’t). We paid $5.20/gal. reg. We were also told to carry two spare tires already mounted on rims, we carried one. There’s gas available along the way and if you fill up when you can and only run on the top half of your tank you won’t run out. Also, you shouldn’t have too many tire problem if you drive slowly and carefully.
We will boondock in a turnout just north of Coldfoot. We spent quite a bit of time tonight looking for animals at our boondocking site. Just outside our door is the artic wilderness but, alas, we didn’t see any animals there.
MEMORIAL DAY–THANK YOU TO ALL SERVICE MEN AND WOMEN
Chena Hot Springs
In the past, there were three options for Hot Spring in the Fairbanks area but things change. Circle Hot Springs is closed and Manely Hot Springs is really not operational. So we went to Chena Hot Springs Resort outside of Fairbanks. On the way, on the Chena Road, we were passed by a black Delorean sports car. By the time I got my camera out, the car was long gone so no picture. The Chena Hot Springs is completely wheel chair friendly, flat and it even has a ramp down into the hot springs. There is a slight sulfur smell to the water in the Hot Springs and shower, as you would expect. We paid $8.00/senior for a very nice soak. There are changing rooms, lockers, hot tubs, an indoor pool and hot showers as well as a campground and lodging. The restaurant is said to be good and the employees are helpful. They have a geo/thermal tour (free) and an ice sculpting show for $15.00 each. We were drained after the Hot Spring soak so we were done for the day. A moose wandered onto the resort grounds and I was able to get a picture of her.
On the way to and from Fairbanks, on the Chena Road, we saw a sign that read “dog team crossing”. Now that is a sign we won’t see often!
Tomorrow morning we’ll head for Coldfoot. Wednesday we will go to Deadhorse and on Thursday we’ll take our scheduled shuttle to the Artic Ocean. We will take the Lazy Daze RV and boondock along the way.We probably won’t be able to post again until we return to Fairbanks on the night of Saturday, June 2nd or on Sunday, June 3rd. When we return to Fairbanks, we will post about the trip up the Dalton Highway.
We spent the night in the Walmart parking lot (along with about ten other RVs) and woke to a temp. of 51 degrees F. It just doesn’t get dark at night so our schedule is way off. We always feel like we should be doing something when it is still daylight. For example, we really need to get the Lazy Daze clean. That Alaska dirt just doesn’t rinse off. It needs a good scrubbing. Also, having the store so close has caused me to use it as a pantry and just run in when I need something.
University of Alaska Museum Of The North. Fairbanks.
Spent a good part of the day touring the museum at the University of Alaska. The university campus is huge and beautiful and the museum building is tastefully done. It costs $9/senior admission and an additional $5 to see the films they show. We opted to see the films but when they put you in a warm room, in comfortable seats and it is the first time you have seen it turn dark as night in weeks…well, let’s just say it was all we could do to stay awake for the films. The films were actually very good and we did watch them, albeit with an occational nod off. The museum is well laid out with wonderful art and nature displays. The tour books say it is a “must see” in Fairbanks and we quite enjoyed it. They’re open daily and parking is free on the weekends. Also, they have RV parking. Very nice.
Robert G White Large Animal Research Station, University of Alaska.
Near the campus, and run by the university, is the Large Animal Research Station. They say you can see musk ox, caribou and reindeer from the parking area but we only saw some reindeer laying down near the fence. We think they would look much better in the wilderness. There are also guided tours at the research station Tuesday through Saturday. I’m told that they are just doing genetic testing and no animals suffer there. It’s good to know no one is hurting “Rudolf”!
Artic Ocean and Haul Road (Dalton Road) to Deadhorse–
We spent a good part of the morning planning the upcoming week because we want to go to the Artic Circle and the Artic Ocean. We have wanted to see the Artic Circle and go to the Artic Ocean since we first talked about going to Alaska but, we are told the rules, companies providing the shuttle and the costs change almort every year. Turns out, you need to make reservations at least 48 hours prior to taking a shuttle through the Prudhoe Bay Oil property to get to the Artic Ocean. The oil companies own the land that fronts the Artic Ocean and you must traverse this property with a tour. Security is the all encompassing oil company’s issue in this area thus the minimum 48 hours for security background checks. So, we called the Northern Alaska Tour Company (907 474 8600) and made reservations for Thursday May 31st at 3:00 pm. To make the reservation for the shuttle you need to give identifying information and pay via Visa $49.00 per person. We’ll drive to Deadhorse, Alaska and then take a 3 o’clock shuttle to the Artic Ocean. We think it will take us about two days to drive to Deadhorse and hopefully we won’t have “road issues”. After the drive to Eagle, Alaska we should have an idea of what a difficult road is like to drive. There is no communication on the Haul Road (Dalton Highway) after Coldfoot until Deadhorse so there will be no way to get help, certainly no Emergency Road Service. We’ll try to be ready to help ourselves if needed. We will leave Fairbanks, Alaska on May 29th and return to Fairbanks sometime on June 2nd (with any luck).
Pioneer Park Fairbanks, Alaska
Today was “free museum admission fee day” in Fairbanks, Alaska. There are numerous museums in Fairbanks’ Pioneer Park so we spent most of the day in and out of some of their museums. A lovely way to spend a Saturday.
Also, Pioneer Park has free potable water available for RVs plus there are several free RV dump sites in Fairbanks.
Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon via the Klondike Hwy.
Woke this morning to a temp. of 34 degrees F. Stayed overnight in Whitehorse Walmart parking lot. The store closes at 10:00pm so we and many other RVs had a very quiet night. The gas station next to Walmart has a free dump site and potable water so did some quick shopping for supplies, dumped and added fresh water. Gas here is running about $5.35/gal. of reg.
From Whitehorse we started our drive to Dawson City, Yukon. The Klondike Hwy. is in very good shape until the last 100 miles. There are increasingly frequent areas of roads that have been repaired but are still bumpy. Many of the repaired areas didn’t take completely and contain potholes, sometimes fairly big potholes. Then, there are whole sections of road that are gravel or rough surface.
Saw very few animals along the way a few birds, a bear, etc. There are lots of lakes, creeks, and rivers along side the road. There is evidence of previous forrst fires but most of the way the forest looks quite healthy. The views from the road are vast and beautiful.
Watson Lake, Yukon
Today is a touring and errand day for us meaning no travel. Boondocked at a mile marker stop just south of Watson Lake across the road from the cemetery. Was a quiet but cold night. We will just check out the town of Watson Lake for the day while we run some errands. Woke to a temp. of 23 degrees F and a gray day. Turned on the heat and opened up the sink cabinets to hopefully prevent frozen pipes. Moved this morning and had breakfast parked next to the police station as there we could pick up a weak, free wi-fi signal in that area.
While Jerry was checking out the stock market this morning, it started to snow. At first just a little, then it got to be a good snow but the roads remained clear. Went to the visitor center for information and watched another film on building the Alcan Hwy. The woman at the visitor center said she has been living in Watson Lake over thirty years and in that time it has never snowed in May to her knowledge.
This morning we were on the hunt for a 10 amp fuse for the blower for the heater in the cab that went out yesterday afternoon. The heater in the cab works, just not the blower that gets the heat into the cab. We carry extra fuses, just didn’t have a 10 amp one. Turns out no one in Watson Lake had 10 amp fuses either but one place had 7.5 amp ones so that will work until we get to Whitehorse, the biggest town in the Yukon.
Prices for food and gas are high here as just about everything has to be brought in by truck. Bought some cauliflower to roast in our oven. Roasting vegs warms up the motor home and tastes great too. Filled up with gas in Watson Lake today for $5.29/gal. reg. Also bought propane for $5.00/gal.
Checked out the library here. They have free wi-fi or free internet connection using their computers.
Tonight we will go to the observatory for a show on the Aurora Borealis, $10/person. Have seen shows like this on PBS but hoping this show is interesting.
The Mama bear in the picture below has two cubs with her. One climbed a tree when they saw us and one is hiding behind the Mama bear and can’t be seen in the picture.