Friday, September 26, 2008

Jasper National Park Revisited – Part 2

Our week in Jasper continued with daily elk visits. The campground seems to have at least three males, each with his only group of cows. As you can see in the picture, they would occasionally spar with each other one evening, but mostly they would just bugle at each other.

We did a variety of maintenance projects while we were in Jasper. The biggest project we tackled was to wash the truck and the trailer with soap, water and sponges. This is always a major operation, but we finally had the last of the Alaska and Cassiar Highways dirt and mud off.  Naturally it rained a few days later.

Jasper is about 4 hours from the towns of and Prince George and Kamloops, British Columbia and Edmonton, Alberta. It isn’t really near any population center but on Saturday every hiking trail head we passed was full to capacity. We had planned a hike for the day but couldn’t find anywhere to park the truck, so we revisited Athabasca Falls and had a picnic at the confluence of the Athabasca and Whirlpool rivers. Sunday it rained. 

On our last day in Jasper we stopped for one last lunch at the Jasper Brewing Company, bought groceries and did a little shopping. Here in Alberta they have a very unique gemstone called Ammolite. This is the outer layer of a fossil snail (see Ammonites) and is only found near Lethbridge, Alberta. This gem’s color changes with the light but, looks similar to a rainbow Ammolite Jewelry. It is also the official gemstone of Alberta. Kathy decided she wanted to see what Ammolite looked like in person so we stopped by a store to “just look”. Needless to say with the help of our salesperson, Jessica at the Our Native Land store. Kathy is now the proud owner of an Ammolite pendant.

Our first days back in Jasper were nice and warm with cold nights, but as the week progressed it got colder and colder. Because Jasper is a large glacial valley with very tall mountains on the east and west sides the sun comes up late, after 8:30 and goes down early, by 5:00. The nights started dropping into the 20’s. The morning we left Jasper it was only 35 at 11 AM. 

We decided that we had had enough of the cold and we would start heading south to hopefully get warmer weather. This means rather than take the Yellowhead Highway to Winnipeg and then drop down to the US, we are going to drop down to Trans Canada 1and then head to Winnipeg. If we don’t see an improvement in the temperature we will head further south to Highway 94 before heading east.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Jasper National Park Revisited – Part 1

September 17th

On our first full day back in Jasper we had to attend to a couple of items. First we had to refuel the truck. Diesel here is $1.28 a liter which translates to $4.95 a gallon! We are so excited to be paying less than $5.00 per gallon. Just last Wednesday we were paying $5.88 a gallon on the Cassiar Highway. Interestingly this is one of the few places we have been where diesel is cheaper than gas.
Another thing we HAD TO DO was have lunch at the Jasper Brewing Company. This is one of the best microbrews we have found so far on our travels. They also have a fine restaurant.

The real excitement of the day was the ELK visit. One of the local male elks spent most of the day burgling and herding along his harem of females. They decided to stop for lunch at our camp site. Below are a couple of pictures that Kathy took thorough the dirty back picture window of our trailer. He was oblivious of us inside, just a one-tracked mind!

I don’t even want to think about what those antlers could do to the walls of the trailer. He stopped to bugle at the ladies right outside the window behind the couch. Those long antlers reached the top of the window they were so tall!

The slideshow URL will go here when we have a better Internet connection and can upload the pictures.

On the Road to Jasper National Park, Alberta

It is about 240 miles from Prince George, British Columbia to Jasper, Alberta. Although our departure from Prince George was delayed our trip to Jasper was on a beautiful sunny day.

The road follows the Fraser River Valley for many miles before crossing over the Canadian Rockies to descend into Jasper National Park. One of the last views in British Columbia is Mount Robson as seen in the first picture.

Since Labor Day in Alaska and down the Alaska and Cassiar Highways we passed many closed RV Parks and stayed at several that only had a handful of RVs. So, on arrival we were shocked to find the huge Whistlers Campground, where we had stayed in June, nearly full. We wanted a full hookup site for a week, but had to settle for 2 days of dry camping (no hookups) before we would be able to move to a full hookup site. As we arrived at our assigned site we found 4 female elk laying down taking naps. Raider’s barking got them to stand up but didn’t move them out of the site, even with our diesel truck and us unhitching and setting up the trailer. They stayed munching the grass, undisturbed by our presence.

When we were here in June it was cold and rainy. We were warned then to be careful of the female elk as they were having their calves. Now it is sunny, mid 70s and we were warned then to be careful of the male elk because it is rutting season.

Prince George, British Colombia

September 12 - 15

We had planned to stay in Prince George for just two nights to get groceries and do laundry. So we did grocery shopping on Saturday, something we try to avoid due to the crowds. Kathy did laundry and we went to Saturday evening Mass.

Sunday morning as we were hitching the trailer to the truck the front landing jacks of the trailer (the part that holds the weight of the trailer), wouldn’t lift the trailer and was making a very unpleasant grinding noise. It being a Sunday there was no one open that could help. We took the air out of our air hitch and were able to slide under the hitch pin of the trailer to get the trailer on to the truck.

Monday we called the Good Sam Road Service and they in turn called a Canadian dispatch who said they would send someone out to fix our problem. The person that came out was from an auto repaired place. I don’t think he had ever seen a 5th wheel before. After I explained our problem to him he walked to the back of the trailer. I showed him where the jacks were and the symptoms of our problem. He said that it was probably a problem with the hydraulics to the landing jacks. I pointed out that the landing jacks had an electric motor and did not use any hydraulics. He then said that he didn’t think he could help us. After wasting over two hours we were able to find an RV Repair place in town to look at our problem. Somehow the gears on one of the landing jacks had been stripped. Fortunately, they had the needed parts in stock! This almost never happens with RVs. By the time the repairs were completed it was too late in the day for our drive to Jasper, so we stayed another night in Prince George.

At least the weather was nice with sun and highs in the 70s.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cassiar Highway – Part 2

September 11th

This morning at Tatogga RV Resort we had very little water pressure, so we continued to use our on-board fresh water tank. During the night two more RVs came in. It made us wonder who would drive this road at night. Especially in a large motorhome pulling a truck!

Our weather today was a continuation of yesterday with dark, gray, cloudy and rain showers in the morning that turned to outright rain for the last few hours of our drive. At least a lot of the mud from yesterday got washed off by the rain.

Today’s road was much better. We are far enough south now that frost heaves are no longer an issue and the whole road was paved today. Some of it was very rough, but we also enjoyed a 100 miles of the smoothest road we have seen in months.

We didn’t see much of the peaks because they were covered in clouds but we could tell that these are really tall mountains. The road basically follows one river for awhile and then goes over a divide and follows the next river for awhile. We drove through miles of evergreen forest with birch trees that have not started to turn yellow yet.

Most people that travel the Cassiar Highway to or from Alaska make a detour to Hyder, Alaska. This is the southernmost town in Alaska and can only be reached by sea, air or the Cassiar Highway. It is a 40 mile trip to Hyder from the junction of the Cassiar Highway, we elected to not go to Hyder. On a raining afternoon we didn’t think we needed to do an 80 mile detour to see a few bears. To our surprise we saw 3 black bears along the road after passing the turn to Hyder, in the first 10 miles. We saw a mother and a cub walk across the road and one bear just sitting beside the road. I stopped to see what the bear sitting by the road was doing, but you can’t sneak up on a bear driving a diesel and he headed into the woods as we came to a stop.

We drove 310 miles today which is much further than we had planned. The first two RV Parks we came to at the end of the Cassiar Highway were closed. The second one was most interesting because it still had the signs up on the main road saying that the RV Park was just ahead and “turn off here”. We followed the signs off the main road and about half a mile up a hill on a muddy dirt road only to find the gate locked and a “closed” sign on it! You think they could have taken down their signs for the season or at least put a closed banner on the sign at the turn off. So, here I am on a muddy dirt road on the side of the hill with a 20 foot truck pulling a 35 foot 5th wheel and I now need to make a three point turn!! YES, I DID IT but I would rather not have to do it again.

So we are now about 5 miles west of Smithers, British Columbia at the Glacier View RV Park, which no doubt has a view of a glacier if it stops raining and the clouds lift.

When Kathy took Raider for a walk after dinner the clouds rose briefly to expose two very steep pointy mountains and a huge glacier suspended between them! Due to low light no pics, but hopefully tomorrow there will be more light to get a photo or two!

Cassiar Highway – Part 1

September 10th

The way most people in RV caravans do an Alaksan trip is to go up the Alaska Highway and return down the Cassiar Highway. The Cassiar Highway in British Columbia was built in 1972 as a 450 mile gravel road.  Every year since then they have been paving more of the road, as of today the road is mostly paved. There is a 16 mile stretch of gravel before the village of Iskut and another 12 mile section after Iskut. As with most roads in the north, the gravel sections are better than the paved sections because they have less potholes and frost heaves. 

This is true wilderness country with only about 6 places that sell gas in the 450 miles. They are not gas stations but at grocery stores in the villages of Dease Lake and Iskut and 4 “resorts” along the highway.

All of the guide books and most people say that the Cassiar is a ‘must see’ because of the spectacular scenery. Unfortunately for us our first day down the Cassiar was dark, gray, cloudy and it rained about half the day. We did notice that the trees are greener here as fall hasn’t taken a hold like it has north of Whitehorse. The first 50 or so miles of the road has a lot of frost heaves and top speed is 30 MPH or less. It took us about 6 hours to cover 200 miles with the top speed being only 40 MPH and most of the way, even less. Although, the gravel sections are smoother, with the rain they are pure mud. As you can tell by the pictures the truck and trailer got even dirtier than they did when we drove the Top of the World and Taylor Highways into Alaska.

After our 200 mile drive today we stopped at the Tatogga Lake RV Resort. We have come to understand that here in the north “resort” means: it has a few cabins and a few RV spaces. This resort has no TV cable or satellite reception, no WIFI, no hot showers or any other amenities that would come to mind when you hear the word “resort”. 

We had to hose the trailer down to open the slides.

This morning, at the Nugget City RV Park, the power went out for about 20 minutes (thankfully after our coffee had brewed). However, up here when the power goes out so does the water because there is no power to the pump. This morning when the power came back on the pump did not. Even when we left the RV Park at 10 AM the water hadn’t come back on. Here at Tatogga Resort about an hour after we got here the resort ran out of water do to some problem with the pump. Fortunately, we always keep about 20 gallons in our fresh water tank while traveling but, hadn’t expected to depend on it this much.

As further evidence how late in the season we are there was very little traffic on the road today and as of 7 PM we are the only ones in the RV area of the “resort”.

Cassiar highway Part 1 slideshow

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Special Note

We have just gotten back to the land of the Internet access and are catching up with our blog postings. Today I upload 3 blog entries and hope to do a couple more tomorrow.

Whitehorse, Yukon to Watson Lake, Yukon

September 9th

Today was a long drive of 275 miles to the junction of the Cassiar Highway, about 14 miles north of Watson Lake. Since we came up the Alaska Highway and then went up the Klondike Highway up the Top of the World Highway into Alaska, we planned to return out of Alaska on the Alaskan Highway then take the Cassiar Highway south to the Yellowhead Highway.  This is the only part of our trip where we drive the same stretch of road on our return trip as on our trip north.

The day was uneventful, but we did enjoy the miles of autumn tress and wonderful views.

We are reminded repeatedly of how late in the season we are because of the number of places that have already closed and how light the traffic is. At one point we went 45 minutes without seeing another car in either direction.

The Nugget City RV Park we are staying at only had 5 sites occupied.

Haines Junction Yukon to Whitehorse Yukon

September 7th - September 8th

Our morning in Haines Junction was cold and raining. We only had about 100 miles to travel and we had intermittent rain the whole way. It was not an inviting day and although fall foliage was still spectacular the views were not very extensive.

We were in Whitehorse for a couple of days to do laundry, get groceries and pick up some Yukon Red beer at the Yukon brewery. As they say “Beer worth freezing for”.

We also took some time to revisit the fish ladder at the Whitehorse Dam. When we were there in June the salmon hadn’t arrived yet and now that we here in September it turns out we are too late and they have already passed through the fish ladder in August.

We did have an opportunity t try yet another rare game meat. The Hi Country RV Park in Whitehorse has cable TV and WIFI. One evening as Kathy was starting dinner an ad came on TV about a restaurant that served Musk Ox! How could we pass up the chance to try Musk Ox? We went to dinner at Klondike Salmon and Ribs. When we were here in June this place had a line down the side walk for lunch and dinner. Although they were doing a good business there was no waiting on a Monday night in September. We both order the musk ox stroganoff and pitcher of Yukon Red to wash it down. Musk Ox is also very good again very lean and slightly different texture than beef.

The Klondike Salmon and Ribs restaurant is on Second Street in downtown Whitehorse and yet it is closing for the season in just 7 days. I had no idea that a restaurant in the middle of town would be so completely dependent on tourism.

More pictures of Whitehorse, Yukon: Stop in Whitehorse on our way back slideshow

The Road from Tok, Alaska to Haines Junction, Yukon

September 6th

Yes, we have left Alaska, but it is still a long way to the lower 48! We had been told by several people that the road from Destruction Bay, Yukon to Tok, Alaska was the worst on the entire Alaska Highway. We even had a few say that it was so bad they were going to go back through Chicken to Dawson City on the Taylor and Top of the World highways. As you can imagine we were expecting a REALLY BAD road. The road from Tok to Destruction Bay has plenty of frost heaves, road construction and potholes, BUT it isn’t nearly as bad as the 46 miles of gravel on the Taylor Highway between the US\Canada border to the town of Chicken, Alaska and the 70 miles of paved frost heaves and potholes from Chicken to Tok! The only two roads in all of Alaska worse than the Taylor highway are the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Ocean and the Denali Highway between Cantwell and Paxton.

We had planned to drive only about 225 miles to Destruction Bay Yukon, but all of the RV Parks in and around Destruction Bay have already closed for the season. The next open RV Park was in Haines Junction 60 miles further down the road. Although 285 miles is more than we like to drive in a day we had a beautiful day for the drive. 

I know that we have seen spectacular scenery throughout our trip, however the 225 miles from Tok to Destruction Bay was the MOST SPECTACULAR! The whole way we saw the snow capped peaks of the Wrangle St Elias range. The snow is powdered way down their slopes to tundra in autumn brown, red and yellow which in turn gives way to the evergreens that are sprinkled with the birch trees in yellow and red. There are also numerous blue lakes along the way and we had a sky full of white puffy clouds. Unfortunately, there are very few spots to stop and take pictures so most of our pictures were taken through the dirty windshield of the truck. Kathy said to send her apologies!

About an hour outside of Tok there is a very large construction area. We had to wait 45 minutes for a pilot car to lead us through. We were the first car in line and the flagman, Ray Thomas was a talkative, friendly fellow.  Ray told us about his wife, his daughters in college, his being Athabascan heritage, and his hunting plans for the fall. He told us he was going to go moose hunting. We commented that moose must really taste good because everyone we talked to in Alaska wants to go moose hunting. Ray said “I am having moose meat for lunch today would you like to try some?” From our first trip to Alaska 10 years ago we had heard how good moose was and on our subsequent trips tried to find somewhere where we could buy moose meat. On our Canadian trips we have looked for moose meat, but had never found any where it was available. We jumped at the chance! Moose is delicious; it is very lean, very tender and has almost a sweet quality to it. THANK YOU RAY!!!

When the pilot car arrived we drove through 12 miles of construction at 20 MPH or less. 

On the road to Destruction Bay, we had our closest truck and moose encounter. The moose came slowly out of the trees next to the road and I stopped completely. The moose then slowly walked across the road. Raider decided to bark at her which sent it up the side of the road a little faster. When we were back in Yellowstone, Raider had always barked at the buffalos in the road but never the moose. We have no idea why he decided to bark at this moose. Course, they grow as large as horses up in this area and he must have thought he was our guard dog!

A few miles past Destruction Bay we came across a momma grizzly bear and her two almost full grown cubs. They were walking down the middle of the highway. I stopped to let them decide what to do. This was Raider first close encounter with bears and he started barking like a Rottweiler. That sped up the momma bear and one of the cubs across the road. The other cub decided to cross behind the trailer. The cub kept looking at the truck and had a look as if to say, “Is that a wolf, Mom?!”

See the rest of the pictures: From Tok to  Hanies Junstion Slideshow

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Better Day on the Road to Tok, Alaska

Our travel day Thursday was only 120 miles. We had no problems with the truck and the Check Engine light did not come on. I am not sure what I bumped but apparently it fixed the problem caused by Chevrolet of Wasilla.

We were last in Tok on June 25th when we arrived in Alaska. When you drive to or from Alaska; Tok is either the first or last Alaskan town you see. I guess that makes this “the last town in America”. More importantly for our purpose, it is the last Post Office in America. We are planning to take 3 to 4 weeks to drive across Canada depending on how cold it gets and how many RV Parks stay open; so this is our last chance for mail for about a month. Hopefully it will arrive on Friday.

We purposely planned to leave Alaska after Labor Day to avoid the crowds. We had no idea how much we would be avoiding others. Wednesday night at the Gakona RV Park only two other rigs came in. Here at the Sourdough RV Park there are 90 camping sites but, only 5 are currently in use. On the road Thursday in our 120 mile drive we only saw about a dozen vehicles going in each direction. We keep hearing that the RV Parks and gas stations will be closing on September 15th. There seems to be so little business that we are already wondering why they are staying open until then. We also knew that we ran the risk of colder weather by waiting to leave Alaska. The lows here in Tok have been in the mid-30s and are forecast to stay in the 30s.

You have all heard Alaska scenery as incredible, magnificent, unbelievable, etc. There simply are not enough adjectives to describe Alaska scenery. Thursday all 120 miles was all of the above. The birch trees have turned yellow and red and they go on for miles contrasting with the evergreens. The mountains are spectacular with snow covered Mt. Sanford at over 16,200 feet towering over everything. If we had stopped for pictures everywhere we wanted to take pictures we would never have gotten here in a day.

I have only put a few pictures on the blog page, be sure to check out the slideshow for more pictures: Slideshow - On the Road to Tok Alaska

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wasilla – Part 2

Last time I wrote: “So the other reasons we are staying in Wasilla for a week are: to get the truck serviced, stock up on groceries and get Raider’s vaccinations up to date before we start south. Pretty much every RVer we talk to now is staging to leave Alaska. I think the day after Labor Day someone will fire a starting gun and every RV in the state will head south.” Getting Raider’s vaccinations up to date was no problem. Getting stocked up on groceries was no problem, but did take more than one trip.

Getting the truck serviced turned out to be VERY FRUSTRATING!! The truck is still under its original warranty and has been flawless. So I went to the Chevy dealer here Wasilla called Chevrolet of Wasilla which was close to the campground.

The truck needed an oil change and one of the Daylight running lights wasn’t working. Since we only have the one vehicle and nowhere to go I sat in the car dealership reading until the truck was ready, at most a two hour job. Sure enough after two hours they tell me the truck is ready and they had to replace the air filter as well. After 26,000 miles and all of the dusty roads getting here I am not surprised. I asked “did they fix the daylight running light”. “Oh, let me check, I will be right back”. “They are just starting that now”. Four long hours later they tell me that there is a bad part and they will “overnight it from the lower 48”. In Alaska speak that means it will be here in two days. We hadn’t made any firm plans about when we would leave Wasilla, so we weren’t too concerned.

We passed a quiet day reading and Kathy doing laundry.

Friday I called the Chevrolet of Wasilla, the part had arrived and I should bring in the truck at 2 PM. I spent another four FRUSTRATING hours at Chevy. They finally gave up and said that the new part was also defective and all they could do is order another part on Tuesday and it would arrive next Thursday. I told them that it wasn't important enough to waste another week. As I walked to the truck I noticed a puddle of oil under it, apparently when they changed the oil they didn’t get the nut tightened enough. So up on the rack to get the leak fixed. Once I drove away from the Chevrolet of Wasilla, I got behind a car and I could see a reflection in the bumper. Turns out they did fix the light and probably fixed it when I was there on Wednesday. Their so-called expert apparently is totally incompetent. The daylight-running lights only come on if the truck is in gear. Apparently, he had been doing all of his testing and diagnostics with the truck in park so the lights never came on. It was after 6 PM when I left there so I couldn't go back and tell them how stupid they were. ALL GM cars and trucks work the same way! How could he not know that????

We decided to stay the weekend to avoid any Labor Day traffic and leave Tuesday morning to make sure all of the traffic is gone.

Saturday was the nicest day we have had in a long time. It was clear and sunny all day with a high of 70. We toured the Alaska Transportation Museum yesterday, it covers 20 acres. Some of the vehicles have been restored to better than new, others look to be held together by rust and a prayer. I must be getting museumed out, as big as it was I didn't think it was worth $8 a piece. The upside was we did spend an hour or so walking outside in the glorious 70 degrees and sun!

Slideshow Alaska Transportation Museum

Sunday and Monday (Labor Day) were cold, gray and very windy. The RV Park wasn’t very crowded to begin with, but with the cold windy weather all but a few left on Sunday. With the RV sites now wide open we met the couple a few sites down from us John and Lora Newby. They are fulltime RVers, like us and have only been on the road a month longer than us. They had lived in anchorage for 20 years and returned to Alaska this summer so that John could fill in at his old job for people on vacations. Like a great number of fulltimers, John & Lora our members of Escapees RV club as are we. Through the miracle of the Internet they follow many of the same blogs we do and know some of the same people. John & Lora are committed to staying in Alaska until mid-month and then will make beeline to Seattle for the birth of their first grandchild. One thing they expressed is a concern that most RV Parks and some gas stations will be closing along the route on September 15th. In the short time we have been on the road we have bumped into many people we had met somewhere else on the road, including some people we met in Arizona last winter we met up here in Alaska, I am sure that we will meet up with John & Lora somewhere down the road.

Tuesday we finally left Wasilla about 11 AM and the roads were very empty. About an hour into the trip we hit the largest and longest construction zone we have seen yet. We were about the middle of the pack waiting for the pilot car. We had enough time to eat lunch and use the bathroom in the trailer before we started the engine again. Then the drive through the construction zone with the pilot car went for miles.

About half hour after leaving the construction zone the “Check Engine” light on the dash came on. All of my gauges were good so I pulled over to check the owner’s manual. It said that there was something wrong with the emissions system and that I should have it looked at. While driving the next 40 or so miles to Glennallen, I called the Chevy Customer Assistance but all they could say was “it needs to be looked at”.

There isn't much to Glennallen and no one to look at the truck. We stopped for fuel and then went to the Northern Nights RV Park. There were RVs in the park but no one around even though they had a sign that said the office opened at 3 PM. The guide book said they would be open until September 15th. While waiting for someone to show up I decided to look under the hood after all Chevrolet of Wasilla did put a new air filter in the truck. All I did was jiggle the air filter to see if it was tight. We decided that if we had to go to a Chevy dealer it made more sense to go to Fairbanks rather than backtrack to Wasilla, so we started north. When I started the engine the “Check Engine” light didn't come back on. After another 30 miles the light still didn’t come back on. It seems that no one at Chevrolet of Wasilla knows how to do anything right. This is obviously the worse service we have had anywhere and I know that more than one person worked on the truck so it can’t be just one inept employee.

We pulled into the Gakona Alaska RV Park about 4 miles past the town of Gakona, Alaska (try finding that in your atlas) about 5 PM. When we arrived there weren't any RVs here, but they are open until the 15th of September. By night fall 4 more RVs had come in.

We have decided when we leave here we will head to Tok and see if the “Check Engine” light comes back on. It is raining today and since we will have to wait in Tok anyway until our mail arrives we decided to stay here today. This is a VERY quiet RV Park off of the road. After 9 days so close to the road in Wasilla it is a nice change. Our air card works here, but they have WIFI for $2.50 per day which is much faster than the air card. We will spend the day reading, blogging and surfing the Internet, as there is no TV or cable here. Since there is no one here but us we let Raider run off lead yesterday evening and he ran himself to exhaustion. This is the most freedom he has had since West Yellowstone back in May.

I wrote today’s blog entry at least in part to let all of you know that not every day as a fulltimer is perfect.