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Old 06-06-2010, 12:00 AM   #71
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Thanks Ron. I'll be looking forward to traveling vicariously with you and Jenn while we travel realistically. Ms. Barb says hello. We'll be watching out for the brewery, possibly easy to do because one thing we are here for is laundry. Everything is expensive here and we are unsure how people can afford to eat and buy gas, although we understand at least some people find money for drinking, bad beer or not.

Our campground is about 15 blocks from the docks and a steady breeze has been blowing from the water all day. It's 58˚ and partly cloudy or sunny depending on your point of view. Skagway is located in a fairly narrow canyon, you there are mountains on both sides with snow caps. The sun doesn't shine directly in lots of places, but the light, now at 8:45 pm, is like a cloudy day. Sunset is at 10:08 pm and twilight 'til 11:31; sunrise tomorrow is at 3:49 am, twilight starts at 2:25. That's about 21 hours of light. The Reflectix on the bedroom windows and the Fantasic Fan has cut out most of the light and made sleeping much easier. But the evening light has made me feel like staying up very late because it seems like a cloudy afternoon. Not everyone seems to feel that way because the campgrounds get very quiet and no one is to be seen.

Gene
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Old 06-06-2010, 11:09 AM   #72
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Originally Posted by CrawfordGene View Post
Thanks Ron. I'll be looking forward to traveling vicariously with you and Jenn while we travel realistically. Ms. Barb says hello. We'll be watching out for the brewery, possibly easy to do because one thing we are here for is laundry. Everything is expensive here and we are unsure how people can afford to eat and buy gas, although we understand at least some people find money for drinking, bad beer or not.

Our campground is about 15 blocks from the docks and a steady breeze has been blowing from the water all day. It's 58˚ and partly cloudy or sunny depending on your point of view. Skagway is located in a fairly narrow canyon, you there are mountains on both sides with snow caps. The sun doesn't shine directly in lots of places, but the light, now at 8:45 pm, is like a cloudy day. Sunset is at 10:08 pm and twilight 'til 11:31; sunrise tomorrow is at 3:49 am, twilight starts at 2:25. That's about 21 hours of light. The Reflectix on the bedroom windows and the Fantasic Fan has cut out most of the light and made sleeping much easier. But the evening light has made me feel like staying up very late because it seems like a cloudy afternoon. Not everyone seems to feel that way because the campgrounds get very quiet and no one is to be seen.

Gene

Hi Gene,

Thanks for the very entertaining travelogue.

We were in Skagway 3 years ago by Cruise ship. I remember walking by that campground & thinking Id rather be there camping. I also remember wondering how difficult it would be to drive there. Now, thanks to you, I have a better idea.

Enjoy the rail trip. The day we did it it was quite cloudy & not so scenic. It was still memorable. I too would echo the thought that you be close to one end of the car so that you can get out on the platform easily.

We will follow your progress with interest & the thought that maybe when we grow up a little more ( & get 5-6 weeks off) we can follow in your footsteps...

-evan
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Old 06-06-2010, 01:18 PM   #73
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It's become a warm and sunny day in Skagway. A couple of days ago it was supposed to be cloudy with possibility of showers, so the weather gods have been appeased. Sacrificing a cruise ship passenger is always effective.

I have noticed in past trips that many locals don't respect cruise ship passengers. They come and provide money to keep the town going all year. But the people who live here or come for the summer, drive here and stay. Many locals go south for the winter, hoping to get out before the snows come. Those who come on their own and don't do tours are called "independent travelers". We are more like the locals. We are willing to take chances and suffer the long drives and sometimes bad roads. We learn about the places and create our fun. We are more interested in where we go and engage locals in conversations.

The cruise ships are floating restaurants. The ships travel at night so you don't see the sights along shipping chennls (except at this time of year when it stays light late), dock in the morning and discharge the shoppers. They leave in late afternoon and endless food is served. They direct people to certain shops and sometimes get kickbacks, or own the shops. I have read, for example, they sell White Pass RR tickets to passengers at $10 more than we paid. They will sell tours, but you can come into town and get similar tours for less money.

Thus, cruise ship passengers are viewed as marks by the shipping lines and locals. This is probably inevitable. In every destination (Colorado for example) no local like the tourists who create traffic and ask strange questions, but we love their money. At one time or another we are all tourists and we are all locals. I don't know the economics of the business, but I expect the frequent deals for passage are not where the profit is—selling stuff is the moneymaker. When we were in Juneau, prices in stores were double what they were several blocks away, or, because it was the end of the season, they posted prices and then slashed them in half, or dump old goods—I got a T-shirt for $5; they sell them for $15-25 normally. It was a well made one too.

If you don't have a lot of time, the cruise is a good way to see some of Alaska. There are the giant cruise ships (they are so tall, they look ready to topple over) and there are "soft adventure cruises". They cost a lot more (double or more), are much smallere, but feature opportunities to experience the land and water and are more for people who aren't so hungry for food. No requirements to wear a suit for dinner, a practice that seems to be disappearing, but may persist on some cruise lines.

A few thoughts about the long downhill grade into Skagway. It's a fairly narrow winding road with steep grades. To use, used to mountains, it seemed ordinary, but to people who live in flatlands, it could be daunting. I wasn't driving and as someone who isn't the best passenger, I felt no fear. I was looking for photo opportunities, reading the Milepost ("double ended turnout with trash bin, 1.3 miles") and looking at the scenery. Barb kept it in 2nd gear most of the way and had only to tap the brakes from time to time. There seems to be several things to make driving down steep, long grades easy:

1. A tow vehicle with good, maybe great, brakes. The Tundra has massive disks all around.
2. A good transmission providing some engine braking.
3. Well adjusted trailer brakes.
4. A properly adjusted weight distributing hitch.
5. Experience which means mountain driving experience, driving slow and paying attention. It's easy to become enthralled with the scenery. Remember your partner can drive back and then you can look at the waterfalls, mountains and the rest. The only way to get such experience is to do it and you'll get plenty before to reach Skagway.

Barb is in laundry mode and doesn't want me to help. I'd just take a bunch of clothes and dump them in a washer, take them out when done and dry them at maximum heat (saves quarters). She seems to want to separate clothes into whites, colored and dark, use those dryer sheets, and dry at medium. I don't understand it.

Now to go fix the shower head. The recurring droop means frequently tightening the screw (locktite hasn't worked) and now one of the connections is leaking. They have replaced this twice, but it's poor quality and the time is coming to replace it with something better.

Gene
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Old 06-06-2010, 08:42 PM   #74
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We took the 12:45 White Pass summit tour. They had 10 passenger cars, eight of which were filled with cruise ship passengers (600 or more people) when the train arrived to pick up independent travelers. We only filled about half of the car we were in. There are platforms at the end of each car where you can go out and take pictures. I took almost all of them through the window, but a flash can cause reflections in the picture. The left side is the way to go (becomes the right side going back).

Three diesel engines pull the 10 cars very slowly. This is a narrow gauge (3' wide track) railroad. The car interior appears to be about 10 feet wide, so 3 1/2' on each side is over the air. When you look down, sometimes 1,000', it feels like you are floating in air, especially over the trestles. This can be scary.

For the most part, the track follows a branch of the Skagway River, a glacial creek, on the south side of the canyon. At times you can see the S. Klondike Hwy on the other side of the canyon. As expected, the scenery is spectacular and at times you can see all the way back to Skagway and the Lynn Canal, a very long natural passage from the ocean. We almost always travel to an ocean each of the past 10 years; this is the Pacific year. This is a natural need of people who live in a desert.

It's a 20 mile trip each way and the train stops at the Pass summit, slightly inside Canada. No passports required. Towards the summit we could see the remains of the White Pass trail, about 3' wide, and lower down, the toll road, a rocky road about one wagon width wide. They unhook the engines from the front and move them back on a siding and the back becomes the front. The seats flip over and we once again face forward.

The round trip takes 3 1/2 hours (53.4˘ per minute). You can also book a trip to Fraser where the Canadian customs station is in the Tormented Valley, or Bennett Lake. A bus will bring you back. Apparently little or no freight moves on this line anymore. At the yards there are scores of passenger cars and quite a few locomotives including some steam ones not in service and one that is on a limited basis.

It is a worthwhile trip and an integral part of the Skagway experience. During the high season (July and August) it may be hard to get tickets for the trip you want. Perhaps they are available on the internet. There was one cruise ship in port today and one yesterday. Midweek, there can be five—that's 10,000+ people wandering around in a town of about 850 people. Weekends are best.

Gene

Photos:
#1 The 3 locomotives of the Fraser train; ours came afterward.
#2 Our train approaches.
#3 An Excella at a campground along the train tracks before we leave Skagway.
#4 An old and rusty steam engine in the yard.
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Old 06-06-2010, 08:55 PM   #75
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#1 Skagway River just before we leave the town limits. The River is cloudy because it is filled with rock dust from glaciers.
#2 Interior of passenger car.
#3 Getting closer to summit, a glacier is visible on this mountain.
#4 Looking back toward Skagway and the Lynn Canal from almost 20 miles.

More later, time to go to dinner at a Thai restaurant (yes, a Thai restaurant is in Skagway).
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Old 06-06-2010, 11:04 PM   #76
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The Thai restaurant is the Starlite on 4th Ave just off Broadway. We had Pad Thai which was excellent and a curry dish with a name with purple in it. We don't care for Indian curry, but Thai curry is good. This came in a soup bowl and with rice to mix with it. I guess you mix it with it, that's what we did. That restaurant was a find. On the internet, people have posted that the food is superhot, but they must not be used to hot food, because it wasn't any more hot than good Mexican food.

Gene

More photos:

#1 This trestle, when it was built was the highest cantilevered RR bridge in the world, but it has not be used for many years and is deteriorating. It's still in pretty good shape considering the climate.
#2 Summit Lake at the Pass summit, still partly frozen. This beautiful woman was glad to have her picture taken as we waited for the locomotives to be moved to other end of the train.
#3 Same old trestle from other direction as we return.
#4 Getting closer to Skagway.
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Old 06-07-2010, 05:44 AM   #77
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Great pictures!

We took kids & grandkids on the cog wheel train up Pike's Peak several years ago. They are a wonderful way to get otherwise inaccessible views---but the Pike's Peak one not for the faint of heart.

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Old 06-08-2010, 12:40 AM   #78
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Monday. We went to Dyea (pron.: Die-ee). It’s about 8 miles from Skagway and during the height of the gold rush this was where people started up the Chilkoot Trail (Chilkoot Lake means “the lake that pukes”; I'm not making that up). You may have seen pictures of people trudging up the snow covered Golden Stairs to the Pass summit. A representation of it was on Alaska license plates a couple of years ago. The Golden Stairs is about 15 miles from the former town of Dyea. People still hike the trail but we didn’t.

Instead we looked around the townsite. Very little remains, the forest having reclaimed the land. There was no forest there at the end of the 19th century. The town was partly settled on tidal flats and may have been flooded from time to time. Since then the land has risen above the tides and a thick forest has grown. All through southeast Alaska the land is rising because the weight of the glaciers had depressed it long ago. The buildings were removed after the railroad opened and the rush was over. We saw the ruins of a warehouse, only surviving because it was used as a barn in the 1920’s. There was also a false front from a real estate office. Aside from some small items scattered around, that's what is left of Dyea.

Gas in Skagway was $3.899 yesterday.

We met Jerry and Jeannie at the Gold Rush Bar this evening. They have a 27' Airstream much like ours, but a little bigger. They have come up here for the last 3 years to work in the stores and take several weeks in the summer to drive around Alaska. They are fulltimers. We had a nice time getting to know them while we drank some good beer and ale and had some equally good bar food.

Tomorrow we leave for Fairbanks, or near it. It will probably take 2 1/2 days with overnight stops in Desolation Bay, Yukon; Tok, Alaska, and maybe North Pole, Alaska. The RV campground in North Pole (Santaland) looks to be a lot nicer than the ones in Fairbanks. It’s 20 miles from there to Fairbanks, a town to get supplies and little else. There is a very good museum at the U. of Alaska, but we saw it in 2002.

Gene

#1 Remains of the warehouse at Dyea.
#2 False front of a former real estate business in Dyea.
#3 The end of the Lynn Canal at Dyea.
#4 A photo of the hopeful prospectors going up the Golden Stairs (no, I didn't take it).
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Old 06-08-2010, 12:48 AM   #79
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And more:

#1 Three cruise ships with about 6,000 people came in today. Time to leave town.
#2 Jerry and Jeannie at the Gold Rush Brewery. Note the reflection of the mountain in the window.
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Old 06-08-2010, 08:35 AM   #80
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Great pictures, Gene. Yours is a trip we hope to make one day.

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Old 06-10-2010, 12:53 AM   #81
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We left Skagway and arrived in Whitehorse. Whitehorse is the territory's capital with 24,000 people, half the population of Yukon. It has all the things you expect from the only large city in an enormous area—large supermarkets and many gas stations (all the same price of course). We stopped at the Superstore which has lots of food and appliances and clothes too. The fruit is very good as in most of Canada, much better quality than we often see in the US. We stocked up.

After getting to Haines Junction, the Alaska Highway turns north alongside Kluane NP. The Kluane mountains are on the west side and eventually Kluane Lake on the east. This is a large national park and from TV programs quite impressive in the interior, but there are no roads. The Lake was quite low and many creeks were dry. The highway starts to get rougher from Haines Jct. north. More and more bumps, little hills from frost heaves that feel like we are in a boat in choppy seas and generally bad road. There are several miles of good road, then several miles of bad road. The several miles of bad road feel like a lot more. It's hard to see the scenery because you have to focus carefully on the road and the bouncing makes it hard to focus on anything. A large bobcat ran in front of us—don't know quite how we missed him and can't understand how in an open area he would do that, but he did. A lot of animals are larger in the north country than we see in the US.

Just south of Destruction Bay (named for a bad storm during the building of the Highway during WW II which destroyed buildings and equipment), we stopped at a Yukon Terr. campground, Congden Creek. The pull thrus are kind of tight, but no trees or trailers were hit and the price is right—$12. You get free wood for a campfire. Mostly we were interested in a nap, a nap which lasted until 1 am. Or was it midnight? We stayed on Alaska time and were confused for 2 days back in the Pacific time zone. We woke up starved, ate leftovers, went back to bed. By morning it was raining off and on, but by the time we left, it had stopped and the clouds were breaking up. Since we entered Canada, morning temps have been in the 40's and daytime it's been in the 60's. Perfect temps. We've had mostly sunny days.

This morning, Wednesday, the road slowly kept getting worse, longer bad parts, shorter good parts. They have had a 33 year project to improve the road between Haines Jct. and the Alaska border and it is supposed to be finished this year. The problem is, they have to start all over again. The permafrost gets more frequent as we traveled north and thus the road gets worse. When they disturb the ground to build a road, the permafrost can be damaged, the ice turns the dirt to soup under the road, the road dips in summer, rises in winter and the chip seal falls apart while road becomes uneven. They have experimented with all sorts of things to stop this without much success. Last time we went this way, the road was worse in Alaska, not something to look forward to as we bounced along, able to travel from 30 to 65 mph depending how new a section was.

We reached the border in early afternoon and learned we were chosen for an agricultural inspection. Our number was up. There are all sorts of bizarre rules about fruit purchased in Canada. No matter that the fruit is better in Canada. The upshot is they stole some of our fruit (including some excellent grapes we got in Whitehorse), but not others. Some of it came from the US but we didn't buy it in the US. They are very apologetic about it. They only steal a very small proportion of all the food for personal use because they don't stop every RV. We are the only ones eating it, so what does it accomplish?

After several more miles of construction, and another delay, we started west toward Fairbanks. We were far enough behind to decide to stop in Tok instead of going on to Delta Junction. Tok is a road junction and place of many tourist services, including the opportunity to wash the truck and trailer after 3,000+ miles of mud, dust, and calcium chloride. On the way, the road goes through a country of stunted spruce, many lakes and rolling hills and muskeg. To the south are the St. Elias Mountains, part of the largest US national park, Wrangell-St Elias NP.

After a couple of hours of incredibly smooth road, regular asphalt instead of chip seal, completely rebuilt since 2002, we reached Tok and stopped at a wooded RV park with full hookups. Wifi in office only. Just before it was a gas station that advertised free car wash with fill up. Since we had filled up 50 miles before, we were uncertain we would need enough gas to qualify ($20 minimum) but between the price of gas ($3.69) plus filling a gas can, we made it. It took about 25 minutes to wash off both vehicles and a big thunderstorm showed up getting me soaked, but now we know what color the truck and trailer are.

Tomorrow we go to North Pole for the Santaland RV park. It seems to be better than the campgrounds in Fairbanks and we've seen that city anyway. We'll get to see the 40' tall Santa. In Fairbanks, we'll stop at the Fred Meyers supermarket to replenish fruit and head towards Chena Hot Springs. We are now several days ahead of schedule and we'll use that time for more enjoyment.

Gene

Photos:
#1 Stunted trees and muskeg along Alaska Hwy in Yukon.
#2 Campsite in Congden Lake CG, Yukon.
#3 World's Largest Gold Pan, Burwash Landing, Yukon.
#4 Even more stunted trees in Alaska along with telephone pole falling over in the muskeg.
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Old 06-10-2010, 01:22 AM   #82
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Sun report:

This is for Fairbanks.

Sunset, 12:31 am, sunrise, 3:11 am. Twilight the rest of the time, no darkness.

Gene
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Old 06-10-2010, 09:31 PM   #83
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This morning (Thursday) the newly washed rig didn't look so clean when the water dried, but a whole lot cleaner than before the car wash in a thunderstorm. We went to Fast Eddie's, a well known restaurant along the highway. In 2002 when it was hard to find salad or much of anything healthy in Alaska, we were craving lettuce and this place has a salad bar. We gorged on salad and had a pleasant memory, so we went back. Actually it is like a Howard Johnson's with a little more variety, though not to my taste. We have had no problem finding veggies and greens, so we weren't desperate. Barb enjoyed her meal, I didn't.

After dinner, I trudged between the many mud puddles left from the rain and got on the computer at the office where there is wifi. As usual I got lost in the electrons. When I left it was still just as light out, but was 10:30 pm and Barb was in bed.

This morning, Thursday, we started on our way, a mere 185 miles to North Pole. Seems like we are taking a lot more time to go places than we used to.

The Highway is almost as well paved west of Tok (long "o") and we made good time without too many bumps. At Delta Junction lots of tourist services and the official end of the Alaska Highway. After this it's the Richardson Hwy which goes from Valdez to Fairbanks. The road gets increasingly level and straight. Around Delta Junction there are actually farms. Seeing any agriculture is pretty rare in the north country and we didn't see much as it was off the highway. What we did see was another gazillion spruce trees, but houses and services continually increase by the time we get to Fairbanks-North Star Borough. Boroughs are the Alaska equivalent of counties.

A few miles further is Big Delta where we got to see the Alaska Pipeline. It crosses the Tanana River on a suspension bridge and is surrounded by fences, TV cameras, big light poles and FBI warnings. There's a guy in an Alyeska truck (that's a company owned by all oil companies that maintains the pipeline) with the engine running watching us to make sure we don't attack the pipeline. Back in 2002, a guy in Livengood (long "i"), some distance north of Fairbanks, after spending some time at the local bar, went out and took aim at the pipeline with his rifle. The pipeline is very thick and has insulation between layers of steel. It's not easy to do, but he blew a hole in it. They caught him, no doubt not hard since Livengood is very small and pretty soon the whole town must have known about the guy who shot the pipeline. It took longer to fix the hole.

This is also the site of the Fur Shack. This is a small shack that sold tourist curios, some of fur, and had a mannekin outside dressed in a fur bikini. Sadly, the mannekin is gone and the shack is boarded up.

We followed the Tanana for many miles. It drains a lot of area and is often a wide, shallow, braided river. At Big Delta it is somewhat constrained at the highway bridge and you see how powerful it is as it flows very fast under the bridge. The Tanana and the Chena come together at Fairbanks and eventually get to the Yukon River.

We continued to North Pole past an Air Force Base. You are warned not to stop, not to park and not to take photos. With the thousands of people who pass by, and the ease of taking a picture with a cellphone, this goes down in the list of silly rules.

From here that rarity in Alaska, the four lane highway, begins and we quickly arrived at North Pole, a name chosen many years ago in the vain hope it would attract manufacturers who wanted to put "Made in the North Pole" on their products. Instead it developed into a typical American tourist trap. We are camped at Santaland on Donner Lane. Yes, they named the internal roads after reindeer, but only 5 of them. Room for expansion perhaps. The 42' Santa looks a bit strange. Imagine a Santa the size of Godzilla bent forward as if he has a back ache.

Tomorrow we stop in Fairbanks for supplies which include grommets and wingnuts that have disappeared in the trailer and need to be replaced. The number of things breaking is a lot less than in past trips, but we have to be vigilant. Then off to Chena Hot Springs for two nights and a lot of soaking. Back to Fairbanks and perhaps wifi again, then up the Dalton Hwy to the Arctic Circle, Coldfoot, the Brooks Range and North Slope, but wifi is doubtful.

Gene

Photos:

#1 Big Delta where the pipeline crosses the Tanana River and the defunct Fur Shack survives.
#2 If an elf tries to get in bed with us I'm going to throttle him.
#3 42' Santa. He's checking his list, perhaps twice.
#4 The mandatory Christmas store.
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Old 06-11-2010, 09:27 AM   #84
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Gene,

Thanks so much for our vicarious adventure. I'd love to do that trip myself some day.

If you happen to run into Mike or Merrie at Santa Claus House tell 'em hello from Mark at Prizm.

'Berg
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