Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jasper NP – Pyramid Lake Loop Trails – Satisfaction

Thurs. Aug 26th- We arrived at Jasper NP around 6 pm (that’s Mt time) in a steady rain. We had nice weather for most of the day, but the last couple of hours of driving had been the hardest rain that we have had so far. Our spirits sagged, knowing that we would be setting up the camper in the rain. Oh – did I mention that it was 50 degrees out. But we gathered ourselves and set up camp, and before long, we had a nice, dry, warm (or at least warming) place. Add to that a bowl of red beans and rice. and things began to look brighter.

Friday morning, actually saw some blue sky!  Brisk, at 45 degrees, but warming up a bit. We went to the visitor’s center in the town of Jasper to find out about day hikes. Jasper is a cute town with a very “Swiss chalet” style – lots of gift shops and restaurants along the main strip – but cute. The man at the visitor’s center desk was very helpful in suggesting some hikes, and we decided to go on the Pyramid Lakes Loop – a nice 4-5 hr hike that promised good views and scenery.

This hike was exactly what we needed.


It started out in alpine meadow , and followed along a beautiful bluff- and there was blue sky and sun! This was the first hike or adventure that we had set out on in 3 weeks that we did not start out in a misty rain and/or fog!    : )


The trail had good footing most of the way, with only moderate elevation gains.


And beautiful views from time to time along the way.



We even found the perfect spot to eat our lunch – on the crest of the hill overlooking Patricia Lake and part of Pyramid Lake.


Coming down from the hill  to Pyramid lake, there was a footbridge out to a little island. This little island had recently been undergoing a restoration project, and  1400 native trees and bushes and flowers had been planted. They had done a very nice job. The island had foot paths and picnic areas to protect the new plantings.


This is pyramid Mountain, for which the lake was named. The colors of the mountain were beautiful.

This hike was truly satisfying – everything that we like in a hike – and no rain…..

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Skagway, AK to Jasper NP, Alberta, Canada –Reflections on the Road

Tuesday Aug 24th- We left Skagway on the South Klondike Hwy, a steep, winding road through rugged countryside. Driving on this road, we marveled at the prospective miners who traveled this way on their quest for gold. The hazards for them were so great that the Canadian Mounties would not  let anyone through without 1 ton of food (enough for the year) due to so many people dying on the way.    


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We stopped at the border to say goodbye to Alaska. This portion of the trip has come to an end, bringing mixed feelings. It is a wonder and a sense of accomplishment to have always said that you want to drive to Alaska—then finally DO IT. I am proud of us for taking the steps to live out this dream. Alaska was all that I had hoped the trip would be. I feel that our planning was good and we came away from this area with a much greater understanding of it, an understanding which included knowing that there is so much MORE to see. But dreams realized can sometimes be bittersweet……..over too quickly. Fortunately, there were several more days of wide open “wildness” to see heading through the Yukon and British Columbia.


We had talked about taking a bit of a side trip to Atlin, a small town at the end of a gravel road that was supposed to have amazing views. But, the weather was cloudy with intermittent rain, and we realized that we were in a mood to drive on. What was promised views could not be more beautiful than what we had seen so far.


This is Boya Lake from our campsite at the Provincial Park, about 50 miles south of Watson Lake on the Cassier Hwy (Hwy 37).

The Cassier Hwy was the road that had been closed due to a fire when we had passed through Watson Lake on our way up on the Alaskan Hwy. It was now open, but there was evidence of the fire – charred trees and ground and some smoking and smoldering spots- for the first 26 miles. We wanted to drive this Hwy to take a different route, and a somewhat more direct route, heading towards Jasper and Banff NPs. If different was what we wanted….this was a good choice.

The Cassier Hwy reminded us of a lot of the ‘good ole’ Union Parish roads…..only steeper and more winding …….two lanes? (more like 1 1/2), no yellow dividing line …..and NO shoulders, only a fairly steep drop off along much of it. It even made Fred “white knuckle it” when big trucks came roaring around the corner. This land was beautiful - around each curve was a scene more beautiful than the last (but there were FEW places wide enough, or safe enough to pull over to get a picture). It was 450 miles of WILD country, with a few small towns here and there.


As we were driving, we noticed a car ahead of us stopped in the road. This momma bear and her two cubs were happily munching berries just along side of the road. They did not seem bothered when we pulled up, rolled down the window, and took their picture. We were, after all, just passing through.


After rather nonchalantly tolerating our presence, the momma bear ‘moseyed’ over to our car (I had quickly rolled up the window!) and just sniffed our front right tire, before leading her cubs across the road.

Wednesday evening, we camped at Tyhee Lake Provincial park, just past the town of Smithers on the Yellow Head Hwy (Hwy 16). The “wildness” of the Alaskan and Canadian frontiers was behind us. Along the road were electric lines, road sides, rest stops, and farmland and communities. This, in some ways, was a relief……..we realized that we like our wildness a bit tamed. Much of the Alaskan wilderness was only accessible if you were willing to bushwhack through the backcountry (there were few marked trails, and I never DID find a good Topo map of the area) or if you hired a guide (something we might consider in the future) or did a fair amount of advanced planning (we did NOT want to end up like the young man in the book “Into the Wild”). But we knew that we would miss watching for the occasional bear to happen along the roadside.

We drove on, putting miles behind us, heading to Jasper NP. We knew that there was more “wildness” to be seen on this next leg of our journey……….

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Skagway, AK – Searching for Authenticity

Monday Aug 23rd. After spending a couple of hours watching the bears feed by the Chilkoot River, we caught the 2:30 pm ferry (with our car and camper) from Haines to Skagway. This 1 hr ferry ride would save us 350 miles of driving. Skagway is a little town of 850 full time residents that was considered “the gateway to the Klondike gold rush”. It was here that thousands of would-be gold miners came to begin their 5oo mile journey to Dawson city looking for gold. It was here in Skagway, that these miners were charged ridiculous prices for the necessary equipment for mining and it was here, also, that they were often swindled, or out right robbed, of what little gold they had found.

Our plan was to spend the afternoon seeing what Skagway had to offer, then spend the night at the Historic Skagway Inn, a Bed and Breakfast in a restored 1887 building that had, at least for a time, been the local brothel. Then, Tues we would be heading on down the road. 


The Skagway Inn’s garden  which supplied fresh greens and vegetables for the restaurant.


This is downtown Skagway. The guide books all talked about Skagway as still having that “old-time gold rush” feeling with cute store fronts and wooden board walks. And it did…....but Skagway has become just another cruise ship destination, with all these downtown stores being set up by the cruise ships and looking more like “Six flags”. They all close as soon as the ships leave port.


This is Skagway at 6 pm, after one of the two cruise ships has left.


This is the Skagway visitor’s center in an 1898 building, completely covered in driftwood. This is, at least, unique.


This is a rather unusual pairing – a jewelry store and coffee shop…..Hmm…..maybe not such a bad thing.       : )


Out back of a rock shop………VERY authentic rhubarb.


Monday evening, we went to the only show in town, “the Days of 98” – a play that has run 85 years, first put together by the community, and re-telling the story of Jefferson “Soapy” Smith- one of Skagway’s most notorious con men.The play was cute – and interestingly, the actors were mostly hired from other traveling road shows, and just stay for the summer season. One girl we visited with was from Gonzales, Louisiana (just south of Baton Rouge) and she had been doing theatre in Pennsylvania when she heard about this show. The lead man, however, lived in Skagway full time and he and his wife were teachers at the local school where he taught music.

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Tues morning, on the way out of own, we stopped at the old cemetery where the real life “characters” from the play were buried. Jefferson Smith was killed in a shootout at age 38 – the townspeople had gotten tired of him taking their money and of his “mob rule”.


Frank Reid was the well liked town leader who shot Smith, but was also killed in that shootout.


Deputy Marshall James Mark Rowan – was killed in the line of duty – helping a townsman to get his change back from a bartender who was trying to cheat him. Both men where shot to death by the bartender. The Deputy was in town that day looking for the doctor to help his wife in childbirth. His wife gave birth to their first child just hours before he died. Rowan's great-granddaughter was researching the family history, and discovered that Rowan had not been given the honor that he deserved as a fallen US Marshall.This monument was erected just this year.

And so I puzzled………..what IS the essence of the “authentic” experience.  Are store fronts and tourist hype less “authentic” than nature and wildlife. Maybe, for Skagway, it is in keeping with their history of fleecing the poor travelers. I know that WE prefer those areas where the tourist industry grows more naturally from within the local community and there is more local “flavor” in the experience.

We search for the “authentic”……Is the history of a place more authentic than it’s present reality? It is hard to discover the “reality” of a community when one is just passing through. Though one may more often find it in the groceries, and neighborhoods, community centers, and libraries. As we were using the library in Haines on Mon morning, we noticed young mothers with small children (everyone clad in the prerequisite rubber boots and hooded sweatshirts) heading into “story hour”. Some things are universal……

We search for the “authentic” in nature……. There is something so rewarding about “feeling” the landscape of a place while hiking or just quietly sitting and appreciating the beauty. And amazing – when one of God’s creatures sticks his head out to remind you that nature is teeming with life that we are mostly unaware of. But gone are the days when people could travel freely and stop for the night wherever there was a flat spot to park their wagon. Thank goodness – we now have roads, but  also restrictions of where one can pull over to see the view, and we now have to stay the night in campgrounds and RV lots.We have seen such amazing country – pristine lakes with nothing built around them…..and they are so untouched because they are inaccessible – no roads or access down to them, not even a pull-off on the road. So…we content ourselves with just looking as we drive on………..

Friday, August 27, 2010

Juneau, AK- Whale watching

Sun Aug 22nd- We had made plans to go whale watching with Orca Enterprises from 10 am to 1pm. We checked in at their office downtown (a short walk from the Silver Bow) and were taken by van to the boat. Orca’s boat was a 52 ft bright purple boat with inside seats and an open, upper observation deck. There were just nine passengers along with Captain Larry (a long haired, grizzled old man with a long, straggly, grey beard, who was reportedly the “expert” on finding the whales), a first mate, Jim, and Jeff, a naturalist who would be our info person. This tour guaranteed that we would see whales….and so we did! We boated out to areas where the whales have been recently spotted, and watched and looked for the “blow”…….


This is a group of 3 whales – each blowing and surfacing almost in a circle.

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The whales we saw were Humpback Whales – named for the hump that you see when they surface. These whales are in the Alaskan waters to feed from June – Sept before heading back to the Hawaiian waters to breed and give birth. The Humpbacks that we saw were about as long as the boat, but weighed much more.


This whale is just getting ready to do the “tail flip” and dive down.

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And there it is…….the tail flip!  (only about two dozen pictures taken to get one or two in focus at just this moment)        : )

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And….the tail going under the water.


This is Jeff, the Naturalist. He spends his summers in Alaska watching the whales, then follows them back to his home in Hawaii to study them for the winter. Jeff was a wonderful resource – we learned to anticipate the whales feeding behavior and know that once they do the “tail flip” and dive down, they will stay down for 8.5-12 minutes.  We also learned several of the whales by name – Sasha and Spot were identifiable by scars or markings. Jeff has been following them for a number of years (Spot, since he was born in 1998) and sees them in Hawaii as well as in Alaska. Sasha, we were told was seen in Hawaii with her baby this last winter, but turned up this summer in Alaska without him – so many baby whales do not make it. It really made it so much more personal and awesome to feel “connected” with the individual whales.

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This whale is heading away from the boat and getting ready to dive.

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The tail flip………

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And down……  We saw several different groups of 2-3 whales. One time, the boat was just idling in an area completely surrounded by 6 different whales! We would watch each group for a while, until they had moved on….then head around to the next group that had been spotted. We saw at least a dozen whales in the 3 hours that we were out.

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A couple more “tail flips” for good measure……

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We also spotted this sea lion using this buoy as a nice rest stop.

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And a bald eagle perched majestically on a rock.

After the whale watching tour was done, we caught the 3 pm ferry back to Haines and enjoyed the 4.5 hr ride- relaxing and reading, looking out at the amazing Inside passage, and savoring our time with the whales. It had been a wonderfully satisfying day……….

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Juneau, AK- Ferry rides and sightseeing

Sat Aug 21st – We rode the “marine highway” – the name they give the state ferry system -  from Haines to Juneau. There is room for cars, RV’s, trucks and more, but we had decided to leave the camper in Haines, and just pay the walk-on rate.


This is a picture of the Malisapina coming into port. it is not a blurry pic, it was just very foggy that morning.


The ferry is a rather large boat, which resembles a small cruise ship. it has a dining area, a video playroom, a small movie theatre where they show movies, and a gift shop.There are also berths that you can rent for the night on extended trips. The ferry has several large lounges, like this one, with quite large and roomy chairs. This lounge looks out the front windows of the ship. We sat up front, and it was like being in your living room, but having a beautiful view slowly cruising by. Our ferry ride was 4.5 hrs to Juneau, but you could go from Haines all the way south to Prince Rupert in 2.5 days.

The ferry to Juneau travels through the Lynn Canal. The Lynn Canal, is really a fjord (which I have learned is just a wide, glacial valley with the characteristic steep sides, but the bottom is under water and connects to the sea). This fjord is 700-800 feet deep!


The views, as we cruised the Inside Passage, were beautiful!


This lighthouse is the only original lighthouse in this area that has not had any remodeling done.


This is our first view of Mendenhall Glacier, coming into Juneau.


Notice that the glacier has an upper and lower part visible in the pic. Mendenhall makes an S shape as it curls down from the mountain.

When we arrived at Juneau, we checked into the Silver Bow Inn (again, I can’t believe that I didn’t get a picture). The Silver Bow Inn is located just above the oldest continuously run bakery in Alaska.  : )  Our room was nice, and the Inn was right down town – walking distance to a few areas to sightsee. We decided to stay within the downtown area and not head out to see Mendenhall Glacier, which was about 11 miles outside of town.



This is St Nicholas Russian orthodox Church (established 1894). Note the beautiful original icons on the front wall.



Downtown Juneau had the capital building and legislative buildings (somewhat unassuming) and several older, original buildings that had been converted into shops. Further towards the waterfront (where up to 5 cruise ships can dock) were several blocks of souvenir type gift shops and jewelry stores. It was disappointing to learn that 70 percent of these stores are owned by the cruise lines and were built just for the cruise ship tourist trade. We were told that 2 days after the last cruise ship leaves, the stores are boarded up and the last several blocks of the downtown are not even cleared of snow in the winter.  We don’t much care for all the tourist hype.

After looking around downtown, we took the aerial tram up to Mt. Roberts. It was a fun few minutes of travel and overlook of the city.


On top of Mt. Roberts, we hiked a short trail and watched a very good film on the Tlinglet Indians. Then we had a wonderful dinner of smoked salmon on a Caesar salad and crab legs……… VERY good. It was fun to soak up the excitement of a city……….just a bit.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Haines, AK – Hike to Mt Riley Overlook

We had planned to hike up to the Mt. Riley overlook – a six mile round trip hike with a 1760 ft elevation gain. After seeing the bear at the trail head, we decided to drive around and “sightsee” a bit before we came back to hike. Then, gearing up, we decided to hike – with or without a bear. We did, however, put our “bear bell” on our day pack as the literature all suggests (though we weren’t really sure if the bell was to warn the bears of our approach, or to signal the bears that “dinner is coming”.)


As we started out, our anxiety was not helped by the scrappy, dense, foreboding look of this “forest of despair”……


The woods soon gave way to much more lush, old growth forest.


The hillsides were covered with mosses and ferns and all kinds of “tropical” looking plants. We were hiking in a coastal rainforest- a fact that we really understood, for, when we weren’t walking in a misty rain, our clothes were getting soaked from brushing against the wet vegetation.



We marveled at the many different varieties of ferns, berries, and mushrooms and fungi. 



We crossed a boardwalk over the muskeg – dense, wet marshy land.


Still we climbed up and up – hoping that the overlook would be worth the climb.


We found blueberries nearly covering the hillsides close to the top. They were a delicious snack. Hey – no wonder the bears like them (oh yeah- we had almost forgotten about the bears with the effort of the climb.)    

  Finally, we made it to the top!


Only to find………..nothing!  At least, nothing but fog!


As we sat and had our lunch………


The clouds parted…………


Then, like a vision out of “Brigadoon” ……


The waters, and surrounding mountains…..


And even a glacier appeared.


The hike had been redeemed – the view, well worth the effort. After sitting a while longer…… watching the clouds reveal, then cover the views……we reluctantly headed back down.


On our way down we noticed the the fog had lifted and the misty rain had cleared. The hike down the mountain revealed views that had not been visible as we had struggled on our way up. And as we walked……we heard the screech of an eagle who was circling overhead.  A good omen………and maybe a life lesson….. somewhere on this hike.