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On the Way to Whitehorse!

Posted November 17, 2017 By admin

 

A beautiful valley blanketed in mist.

 

July 26, 2017 

At 8 a.m. we said good bye to Dawson City and boarded our coach bus for a ten-hour trip to Whitehorse. The route would take us 331 miles south along the Klondike Highway (Yukon Highway 2). Our bus driver, Audrie, was originally from Dunwoody, Georgia in north Atlanta and proved entertaining, informative and funny as she spun stories of Yukon history and conveyed personal anecdotes. I was excited to hit the road again and learn more about the Yukon.

Once again, the scenery along the way did not disappoint as we motored by rushing rivers, over mountains and through miles of pristine boreal forests. After being on the road two hours, at mile 100 we exited the coach at Moose Creek Lodge for our first rest stop. It was time to stretch our legs and get some coffee. The rustic lodge with its restaurant, gift shop and cabins welcomed us with northern hospitality. The grounds were covered with beautiful flowers, moose antlers in various locations, wood and metal sculptures, and antiques. We browsed through the gift shop that had crafts from local artists as well as small souvenirs and postcards. We even met the lodge dog. But our favorite spot was the cozy restaurant where we enjoyed hot coffee and fresh homemade assorted cakes and pastries.

Back on the bus we continued south until we came to Stewart Crossing. This is where travelers can pick up the Silver Trail, a scenic highway that heads east through the town of Mayo and leads to the mining camp at Elsa and the hamlet of Keno. The trail is named after the silver and gold mining activity that thrived during the 1900s. Silver and gold strikes attracted miners in big numbers. Mining activity continued to grow as more mineral strikes were recorded. It did not take long before the mining companies moved in and the sternwheelers were transporting ores to Whitehorse via the Stewart River.

During this leg of our trip we were treated to a 45-minute historical movie on the Klondike Gold Rush. We were all taken back to a time of adventure, excitement, expectation and “gold in them there hills”. Between 1897 and 1899 with the discovery of gold, 100,000 prospectors from all over the world set out for the Klondike region of the Yukon. During their epic journey full of numerous challenges and obstacles to overcome, only 30,000 actually arrived in the Klondike and only 4,000 found gold. A great dream paid off for so few risking all in hopes of striking it rich.

We soon arrived at the halfway point of the trip, Pelly Crossing, home to the Selkirk First Nation and a small community of 300 people. The community was established during the construction of the Klondike highway as a site for a construction camp and ferry crossing. Twenty miles later we arrived at Minto Resorts for lunch. Situated on the banks of the Yukon River, the resort is owned by the Selkirk First Nation and they provide an RV campground and a lunch stop for groups during the summer season.

Before leaving the bus, Kayli mentioned that two beautiful Italian models vacationing in the area had volunteered to serve us today, so we should look out for them. When we walked in the lunch pavilion we were greeted by our hosts and a hardy buffet with delicious salads, soups, sliced meat trays, bread and dessert. As we started through the serving line our servers turned out to be Kayli and Audrie our coach driver! HA! We had been duped, but who doesn’t love a little tour bus humor.

After lunch we gathered outside along the Yukon River for a group picture. It was a gorgeous sunny day to be in the middle of nowhere just hanging out by the river. Soon it was time to head back to the bus and continue our journey. Fifty miles down the road we stopped at Five Finger Rapids Recreation Site. From the upper viewing deck, we looked down on four reddish colored rock pillars (islands) sitting in the middle of the Yukon River. These split the river into narrow, swiftly moving channels known as the Five Finger Rapids.

The rapids were a significant hazard to navigation during the Klondike Gold Rush, when thousands of prospectors navigated their homemade boats and rafts 800 miles from Bennett Lake (40 miles south of Whitehorse) to Dawson City. Only one of the Five Finger channels was deep enough for the sternwheelers and the current remained very strong. At high water, the falls created a 1-2 foot drop. A sternwheeler ascending the rapids could only go so far until the wheel lifted out of the water and then the vessel lost power.

So, sternwheelers heading upstream had to winch themselves over the drop by using a cable that was attached to the rocks. After several accidents and major hull damage involving sternwheelers it was decided to remove some of the rock. Blasting work started at Five Finger Rapids in 1900 and continued until at least 1927. Rock was removed and the channel was widened by 20 feet. There was a stairway that led down to a lower observation deck along the river for those who wanted to climb down and then up again over two hundred steps. Since our stop was short we opted out of the lower view. I guess we’ll have to return another time.

It was time to jump back on the bus and continue our trip through the Yukon River Valley. A bit down the road we passed through the big mining town of Carmacks, population 493. Fifty-six miles later we made our final stop at the Braeburn Lodge, a roadhouse which serves up “bigger than life” cinnamon buns. Along with its café it has gas for the road and lodging for dog-tired travelers. Speaking of dogs, the lodge hosts a checkpoint during the Yukon Quest 1,000-mile International Sled Dog Race.

The sled dog race started in 1984 and runs every February between, Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon. The course follows the route of the historic 1890s Klondike Gold Rush mail delivery and transportation routes between Fairbanks, Dawson City, and Whitehorse. The Yukon Quest race starts on schedule regardless of weather and lasts from 10 to 16 days until the final dog team arrives at the finish line.

Brae Burn Lodge is one of the nine official checkpoints that help break up the distance and serve as a place where mushers can rest their dogs, get a hot meal and enjoy a warm place to sleep. We were able to see the checkpoint chart from the 2017 race. Along with the lodge’s other amenities, it has an airport nearby named the Cinnamon Bun Airport. Needless to say, Rodge and I boarded our coach with a huge cinnamon bun in hand. A great snack for two! It kept us busy during the next 60 miles to Whitehorse.

At 5:45 p.m., after a ten-hour day on the road, we arrived in Whitehorse, the capital city of the Yukon. Whitehorse was established in 1898 as a transportation center during the Klondike Gold Rush and is named after the historic rapids on the Yukon River that resembled the flowing manes of charging white horses. On the gold rush trail, the stampeders had to bypass the treacherous water of Miles Canyon and White Horse Rapids, located south of the city. The rapids became known as the greatest peril on the trail. The construction of the Whitehorse hydro-electric dam in 1958 tamed Miles Canyon and has replaced the once-foaming White Horse Rapids with Schwatka Lake reservoir.

After we arrived at the hotel and checked in, we walked a block to the “Burnt Toast Café” for dinner. Later, I elected to call it a day and retire to our room while Rodge went on a short walk along the waterfront. Five blocks down the road he discovered the fully restored S.S. Klondike sternwheeler in a National Historic Park. He topped off the evening by walking along the Millennium Trail, a 3-mile paved walking and biking path running in an oval on either side of the Yukon River with two bridge crossings as part of the circuit. Along the way he enjoyed the views beside the rushing river with the mountains as a backdrop. He was even treated to a rainbow in the far distance–a great way to end a magnificent Yukon day.

Later.

Kathy

 

 

We boarded our coach bus for a ten-hour trip to Whitehorse.

 

Beautiful scenery along the Klondike Highway.

 

We arrive at Moose Creek Lodge.

 

Max, the world’s largest mosquito.

 

The 1920’s Motor Trend Car of the Year.

 

The inquisitive lodge dog.

 

Moose Creek census.

 

Yukon GPS.

 

Lunch pavilion at Minto Resorts.

 

The mighty Yukon River at Minto Resorts.

 

Kathy posing with moose antlers.

 

Kayli showing us how its done.

 

Five Finger Rapids Recreation Site.

 

Water swiftly moving through the Five Finger Rapids.

 

A map of the Yukon Quest sled dog race.

 

Brae Burn checkpoint for the 1,000 mile international sled dog race.

 

A huge cinnamon roll from Braeburn Lodge.

 

S.S. Klondike in a National Historic Park.

 

The sternwheeler S.S. Klondike.

 

Stern paddle on the S.S. Klondike.

 

The Millennium Trail along the Yukon River.

 

River views with a mountain backdrop.

 

A distant rainbow along the Yukon River.

 

 

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Paddle Wheelers and the Midnight Dome!

Posted November 10, 2017 By admin

 

The paddle wheeler “Klondike Spirit”.

 

July 25, 2017 

At 9 a.m. we boarded the paddle wheeler “Klondike Spirit” for a two-hour river excursion on the Yukon. The Klondike Spirit, a modern side wheel version of a paddle wheel steamer, was constructed over a period of five years in Eagle City, Alaska and put into service in 2005. The boat was very maneuverable with paddles on both sides that could be operated forward and backward independently. The diesel-powered riverboat had three passenger decks, a food service galley and two staterooms for crews. It was the first side-wheeler to be built on the Yukon in decades.

As we got underway, the paddlewheels started spinning and churning up water. We were propelled forward. I moved to the middle deck which had great open-air visibility. Rodge preferred the bow because the point of view was similar to that from a submarine bridge. We first headed north (downstream). The Yukon River, framed by mountains and sprinkled with wooded islands, was calm and thick with silt and was the color of chocolate pudding. We cruised by Moosehide, an historic First Nations settlement. When the Gold Rush stampeders took over their Dawson City location in 1897, the Han people moved downriver to Moosehide. In the 1950’s, the declining population at the settlement and the closing of their school caused the people to move back to Dawson, where they now are an integral part of the community.

Up ahead I saw the Dawson Ferry crossing the river. The ferry runs 24 hours a day when the river is free of ice. After the river freezes, usually by mid-November, the government creates an ice road across the river and people drive across that. There are six weeks in fall and spring during freeze up and break-up when no passage is possible so people living in West Dawson must prepare accordingly.

After traveling five miles we turned around and headed south (upriver). I couldn’t help but think about the history associated with the river. Over one hundred years ago paddle wheeler traffic dominated the Yukon River. During their heyday, that started with the beginning of the Gold Rush in 1896, there were over 260 stern-wheelers. These riverboats, unlike the “Klondike Spirit,” had their paddlewheel in the back. That design protected them from hitting sandbars and made them less vulnerable to damage. The boats that supplied food, mail, goods for the miners and transportation were powered by wood fueled locomotive-type boiler engines. From Whitehorse to Dawson City, wood camps sprung up along the river to provide fuel for the stern-wheelers during their journey.

Paddle wheelers continued to use the river until the 1950s when the Klondike Highway was completed. Bridges built along the highway to Dawson City were too low to accommodate the old river steamers and by 1955 all steamers were beached. On our way upriver, we passed by a sternwheeler graveyard where six large paddleboats were pulled up on the riverbank in West Dawson. Most vessels were eventually wrecked, destroyed by explosion or fire, or dismantled for their lumber, machinery, and valuable hardware. We could only see the two outermost boats from the river and they are decaying wrecks of wood, tilted funnels, wires and paddle frames.

Along the riverbank our captain pointed out where Dawson City’s infamous “Caveman Bill” hangs out. Up ahead on the West Dawson side of the river we could see the entrance to his humble abode decked out with a wooden door and a metal roof. We also spotted one of his dogs, solar panels and miscellaneous junk scattered around. He’s lived in the cave for 18 years. Even in the winter when temperatures drop to 50 below, he has a wood stove he can fire up. “Caveman Bill” has all the comforts of home without plumbing and electricity. LED lights brighten up his world along with the comfort of his two dogs. He spends a great deal of his time making furniture for himself and others. He has Wi-Fi connection off and on and best of all he has a riverfront location. Amazing!

After we cruised by Dawson City, we continued south until we reached the confluence of the brown, silty glacier-fed Yukon River with the clear blue Klondike River. It was quite striking to see the two rivers flow side by side like two long ribbons. This phenomenon is due to the difference in temperature, speed and water density of the two rivers. After about a mile, the clear waters of the Klondike started mixing with the silty brown waters until they became one, the mighty Yukon! Our excursion was almost over and it was time to turn around and return to the dock. I thoroughly enjoyed the paddle wheeler cruise.

Back ashore, we walked down Front Street and reached the ice cream shop at 11 a.m., just in time for lunch. Another ice cream pig fest ensued and we enjoyed a relaxing twenty minutes watching the world and river pass us by as we sat on the boardwalk in front of the shop. We spent the next hour or so walking south atop the dike along the river then headed back north to Fifth Avenue to our hotel. During the course of our travels, we passed the community’s indoor pool, a hockey rink, a curling club, library and school. We later found out there is a nearby ski slope and golf course.

After a relaxing dinner, we met in the hotel lobby for our sightseeing trip to the Midnight Dome, the mountaintop immediately east of and overlooking the town. It is called the Midnight Dome because for decades people gathered on the top of the hill to watch the midnight sun and the changing hues of the night sky. The Dome is a metamorphic rock that stands 2,911 feet high. Our guide drove us up a winding road to the summit. The weather was perfect, visibility unlimited, warm and sunny. The view in all directions was awesome—rivers, forests, distant mountain ranges and Dawson City. The view rivalled the Grand Canyon in majesty. It was a panoramic vision of beauty!

We arrived back in town by 8:15 p.m. just in time for the 8:30 p.m. show at Diamond Tooth Gerties. The show was the same as the previous evening except a different woman played the lead singer, Gertie. We had an enjoyable time on our last night in Dawson City. Could life get any better?

Later,

Kathy

 

We board the “Klondike Spirit” for a cruise on the Yukon River.

 

Heading north on the Yukon River.

 

Simply messing about in boats.

 

A sternwheeler graveyard full of decaying wood and mangled steel.

 

Tilted funnels, wires and paddle frames haunt this sternwheeler graveyard.

 

“Caveman Bill” living off the grid in West Dawson City.

 

The captain navigating the Yukon River.

 

A bird’s-eye view of Rodge on the bow of the paddle wheeler.

 

A view of the clear Klondike River flowing along side the muddy Yukon River.

 

Rodge’s funky picture of the Yukon River.

 

The river was thick with brown silt and was the color of chocolate pudding

 

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.

 

Walking atop the dike along the Yukon River.

 

Near the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers. The big split!

 

The Yukon River framed with colorful vegetation.

 

The Yukon up close and personal with the Klondike.

 

Kathy composing a picture.

 

Billy Goats Restaurant and Pub.

 

A quaint Dawson City home.

 

Rodge,  on his way back to Gertie’s Wing.

 

The Midnight Dome mountaintop overlooking town.

 

A grand view from the Midnight Dome.

 

Small wooded islands chilling in the Yukon River.

 

A view of Dawson City from the Midnight Dome.

 

The confluence of the Yukon and Klondike (bottom left) Rivers.

 

Kathy capturing the magnificence and beauty of the Yukon.

 

Kathy striking a pose.

 

Rodge posing with the Yukon River.

 

The Gold Rush Girls kicking and flashing their colorful skirts.

 

Gertie serenading the crowd.

 

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We Arrive in the Yukon…Dawson City!

Posted November 10, 2017 By admin

 

The mighty Yukon River.

 

July 24, 2017

At 9 a.m. we boarded our coach bus for a ride to the Fairbanks International Airport. We were on our way to Canada and the Yukon territory. When we arrived at the airport we went through TSA with passports in hand. We boarded an Air North chartered Boeing 737 for an hour-long flight to Dawson City. Our airplane flew through a cloudy sky with no picturesque views out the windows and landed at 1 p.m. local time on a gravel runway. We deplaned and proceeded immediately through Canadian customs.

Within ten minutes we were dropped off at the hotel, which was located in the center of Dawson City and part of a multi-building complex. Our building was named “Gertie’s Wing”. After getting settled, map in hand, we walked out to the south end of Front Street, the main street that runs along the town waterfront. We were ready to explore Dawson City! Dawson city is small enough that you can easily walk around it.

Dawson City was the center of the Klondike Gold Rush. The gold rush was touched off with the August 16,1896 discovery of gold on Bonanza Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River. In July, 1897 the outside world learned of the strike when some newly rich prospectors arrived in Seattle and San Francisco. With the influx of gold seekers, the city population jumped from 800 in 1896 to 30,000 people by 1898.

Today, Dawson City has a population of over 2,000 residents. As the second largest city in the Yukon, tourism and gold mining still continue to provide employment for many. The core of the city is designated as an Historical Complex and selected as a National Historic Site of Canada. Most of the buildings reflect nineteenth century pioneer, boom-town architecture. Several buildings have been restored to their original grandeur along with the wooden boardwalks. Now, all new structures must be built to reflect the historical theme.

Virtually all the roads in Dawson City are dirt with wooden boardwalks instead of sidewalks. Because permafrost underlies the town, the buildings are all raised up a couple of feet above the ground to permit air flow. That design minimizes heat transfer to the soil and helps prevent failure of the building foundations due to permafrost thawing. Many of the buildings have false fronts facing the street. The fronts are neat, painted bright colors, and larger than the actual building behind them. These were often erected to give simple wooden buildings the allusion of influence and importance.

At 3 p.m. we stopped at the Information Center and signed up for a walking tour of the town. Our guide was a tall, thin, late-middle aged woman wearing a black period blouse, a long skirt, and a wide brimmed straw hat. She said that she had moved to Dawson City years ago and lived year-round across the Yukon River in West Dawson in a dwelling that was off the grid–no water, sewer, or electrical services–just as all others live in West Dawson. This was her summer job working for Parks Canada as a thematic interpreter.

The purpose of the tour was to relate strange and unusual stories to us as we walked around the town. She also let us into some of the historical buildings that have been restored by Parks Canada. The tour was outstanding and lasted 90 minutes. We were able to visit a saloon that was fully reconstructed based on photographic evidence. It was beautiful–long bar, brass foot rail, period wallpaper, electric fixtures, and private curtained area for games and meetings. We were also able to tour the restored original post office that replaced the original practice of simply dumping out all of the mail and letting thousands of residents find what was addressed to them. At the end of the tour, we walked back down Front Street and found an awesome ice cream store, “Klondyke Cream & Candy”.

After dinner we met Kayli and our group and walked a few blocks to Diamond Tooth Gerties, an old-fashioned saloon with a small casino and live entertainment. We were on our way to see the first show of the evening. The establishment is named after Gertie Lovejoy, one of the most famous of Dawson’s dance-hall queens during the gold rush era. She got her nickname after having a diamond inserted between her two front teeth. Wow, talk about having a million-dollar smile!

The show started at 8:30 p.m. and lasted thirty-five minutes. It consisted of a matronly singer, Gertie, and her four can-can dancers. The period music was lively and got the crowd fired up and clapping. Songs alternated with can-can dances where the dancers whirled, kicked and flashed their colorful skirts. Several times Gertie came out into the audience and serenaded a selected viewer. The dancers came out and each selected a man to allegedly help them backstage. A few minutes later, all appeared on stage with the men in skirts and flowered head attachments, then proceeded to dance in unison. The show was a lot of fun.

After the show was over, most of our group left but Rodge and I elected to get something to eat and stay for the next show at 10 p.m. It was equally entertaining but entirely different. There was a male singer added and the story line related to the Gold Rush era. After all of the dancing and singing subsided we left Gerties at 10:45 p.m. As we walked back to our hotel it was still light out because the day was nineteen hours long with the sunset at 11:45 p.m. It was amazing to be in ”The Land of the Midnight Sun”.

Later,

Kathy

 

Our Air North flight lands in Dawson City.

 

We arrive at 1 p.m. in the Yukon.

 

Our hotel was part of a multi-building complex.

 

Kathy heading to our hotel’s main building.

 

We meet our guide for the walking tour.

 

The muddy Yukon River flowing along the waterfront.

 

On Front Street, Dawson City’s main street.

 

Our digs for tomorrow! Ha, only kidding!

 

Home Sweet Home!

 

A street side washtub of flowers!

 

The sternwheeler S. S. Keno became a National Historic Site of Canada in 1962.

 

A saloon that was fully reconstructed based on photographic evidence.

 

A restored original post office.

 

The outside of the restored post office.

 

The Kissing Houses are examples of permafrost damage to building foundations.

 

The Alchemy Café, where magic culinary delights appear.

 

A great side view of the false front on the Westminster Hotel.

 

The Downtown Hotel with a false front.

 

Rodge and I chowed down on ice cream after our tour.

 

We discover a down-home van side band on our way back to the hotel.

 

Can-can dancers whirled, kicked and flashed their colorful skirts at Gerties.

 

Gertie and her can-can dancers.

 

Men in skirts and flowered head attachments dance up a storm.

 

As we left Gerties at 10:45 p.m. it was still light out.

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On the Way to Fairbanks, Alaska !

Posted November 6, 2017 By admin

 

A beautiful view of the Tanana Valley south of Fairbanks.

 

July 23, 2017 

It was another sunny, crisp Alaska morning as we joined Kayli and our group in front of the Gold Nugget Saloon in Denali Center. At 9 a.m. we boarded our coach bus for a three-hour trip to Fairbanks. Half way there we stopped at a very eclectic rest stop. It was part store, part campground, part museum and part flower garden. There were lots of strange items scattered about the property for us to explore including a functioning two-seater airplane, a river fish wheel, an old drive plow made from an ancient truck, rusty mechanized sleds, a greenhouse full of vegetables, and lots of flower boxes and flower beds.

We re-boarded the bus and arrived in Fairbanks. After lunch we headed twenty minutes outside of Fairbanks to Fox, Alaska to explore Gold Dredge 8. Our first stop on the tour was a close-up view of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The pipeline connects the oilfields of Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska to the harbor of Valdez 800 miles to the south. Oil started flowing through the 48-inch diameter pipes in August of 1977. Our guide provided a briefing on the pipeline, its design, how it worked, and how “smart” and “dumb pigs” (monitors) work.

The “dumb” pigs, matching the shape of the interior pipe wall, are pushed through the pipeline by oil, cleaning accumulated deposits and enhancing pipeline flow as they travel. The “smart” pigs, have high-tech circuitry that enables them to record images of the pipe using ultrasonic and magnetic sensors. These oinkers measure pipeline curvature and inspect for corrosion, changes in pipe diameter and other problems requiring maintenance. The name pig is an acronym for pipeline inspection gauges.

Because of the varying soil conditions along its route, the pipeline is both above and below ground. Where the warm oil would cause icy soil to thaw and erode, the pipeline goes above ground. The foundations are designed to allow for movement and earthquakes up to magnitude 8.5. Where the frozen ground is mostly well-drained gravel or solid rock, and thawing is not a problem, the line is underground. We could see such a section running up a nearby hill. The right of way above the pipeline is kept clear-cut.

Next, we boarded a small open-air train and were on our way to Gold Dredge 8. We passed by many samples of gold mining technology, stopping occasionally for explanations and live demonstrations by the staff. When we arrived at the dredge we learned about the history of mining in Fairbanks.

Gold Dredge 8 operated between 1928 and 1959 and played an essential role in mining and the economy of the Tanana Valley. In 1984, it was listed as a Historic District on the National Registry of Historic Places. It was originally built by Bethlehem Steel in Scranton, Pennsylvania and outfitted with General Electric motors. It was disassembled, shipped to Fairbanks, then reassembled. Power was supplied via cables from a power plant in Fairbanks. Later we got to tour the inside of the dredge.

A gold dredge is a mining machine that extracts gold out of sand, gravel, and dirt from stream beds and alluvial deposits using water and mechanical methods. Gold Dredge 8 used steel buckets on a circular continuous bucket line at the front of the dredge to excavate the material. The material was then dumped into a steel rotating cylinder called a washing trommel, and with the addition of nine thousand gallons of water a minute the coarse rocks, sand and dirt were sorted. Small holes in the cylinder allowed undersized material (including gold) to fall into a sluice box. Since the gold was heavy it settled to the bottom. Every two weeks the dredge would be shut down and the gold collected.

After we exited the train, we were led to a nearby covered area with rows of benches around water-filled troughs. Each of us received a gold pan, a small bag of gold ore, and a small plastic container to hold the results of our panning efforts. Earlier while on the train we had received a gold panning lesson. Now it was our turn to try it using the dirt in our little bags. Employees walked around giving assistance and pointers as needed. We were both successful once we figured out the swirling and non-gold removal technique. The little flecks of gold remaining in our pans were placed into the plastic containers for weighing. According to the scales my haul was twelve dollars and Rodge’s thirteen dollars! We’d hit the Mother Lode!

At 4 p.m. with gold in hand we jumped back on the bus for the final leg to the hotel. Since our lodging for the night was a ways from downtown Fairbanks and it had been a full day, we decided not to venture out that evening. It was a great opportunity for a laundry run! Tomorrow Dawson City.

Later,

Kathy

 

Kayli checking off her group as they arrive to board the bus.

 

A 1924 Safety Coach could drive 22 tourists around Denali National Park.

 

We discovered a two-seater airplane at our rest stop.

 

A sign of the times.

 

An old drive plow made from an ancient truck.

 

Carved bears guarding the store.

 

An old collection of traps.

 

Some tourists still waiting for their bus.

 

A replica of a cache used for the storage of food and supplies in the wilderness.

 

Tourists waiting to board the Explorer to head to Fairbanks.

 

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline in Fox, Alaska.

 

The clear cut area on the hill is where the pipe is buried underground.

 

An inside view of a “dumb pig” made out of polyurethane.

 

On our way to Gold Dredge 8 in a small open-air train.

 

Trying to strike it rich panning for gold.

 

Rodge panning for gold.

 

Gold Dredge 8 mining machine.

 

Gold Dredge 8.

 

Gold Dredge 8.

 

 

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Beautiful Hoseshoe Lake!

Posted November 2, 2017 By admin

 

Lovely and quiet Horseshoe Lake.

 

July 22, 2017

We took our time getting up and out today. It was our day of leisure, and time to explore Denali National Park on our own. We were greeted by a sunny blue-sky morning as we left the lodge for a day full of adventure. After a hearty breakfast, we walked to the Main Lodge to wait for a shuttle bus to the park entrance. Daypacks in tow, we jumped on the bus and a few minutes later got off at the visitor center.

There we spent time looking at some interesting exhibits regarding the park and its inhabitants. After viewing a nature film, we headed over to the park bookstore where we purchased several items. After looking at a map of the trails near the park entrance we decided to hike Horseshoe Lake Trail, a short two-hour loop.

We headed into the woods and the trail took us down about 200 feet in elevation to the level of the river and lake. Mid-way down, we paused at a vista point with a bench overlooking the lake. The lake is appropriately named and very clear. A small stream of clear water flows from the lake and over several beaver dams into the nearby Nenana River.
As we hiked through the taiga forest, the well-maintained and marked trail led us to the base of the hill where we came face to face with the gray, silt-laden Nenana River. The river bank was covered with well-worn rocks of all sizes and types (volcanic, metamorphic, sedimentary) that had been broken off miles away by ancient glaciers. Further down the riverbank we saw two kayakers navigating the rushing river. It looked like fun.

When we approached Horseshoe Lake, we encountered three young hikers, one of whom was wearing a “bear bell” on her daypack. Its jingle was clearly audible to our ears for at least 100 yards. The oxbow lake held back by beaver dams was lovely and quiet. The lake, an abandoned meander of the Nenana River, was once a part of the river’s main channel until the accumulation of silt and the building of dams by beavers caused the river to carve a new course. The path led us around the lake perimeter. There was clear evidence of beaver activity around us—gnawed-down trees of various sizes and partially-chewed trunks. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of the busy critters.

As we left the lakeshore, part of the path consisted of boardwalks over the fragile ground cover. We also saw many areas that the Park Service had blocked to entry with small wooden posts driven into the ground with “No Walking” symbols atop them. The purpose was to limit foot traffic and allow previously trod and damaged areas to recover.

At the end of the loop, we faced the long climb back. This part of the trail gave us our aerobic exercise for the day. Luckily, the log step spacing of the path proved ideal for a steady upward march. Once back on top, we continued walking to the science center. The facility provided a spot to relax and learn. Rodge watched some interactive videos about the park’s wolves, invasive plant species and other topics. I was drawn to a huge quilt of the park with different color squares indicating the different types of terrain. It was a remarkable piece of work.

Upon leaving the center, we followed painted dinosaur tracks (park GPS) back to the main center where we caught the shuttle bus back to the lodge, arriving about 5 p.m. We decided to grab dinner and call it a day. Tomorrow Fairbanks!

Later,

Kathy

 

It was a blue-sky morning as we left the McKinley Chalet Resort.

 

Kathy poses with Bullwinkle at the visitor center.

 

A birds eye view of Horseshoe Lake.

 

Kathy hiking through the taiga forest.

 

Hikers rest along the glacial-fed Nenana River.

 

Kathy relaxing and taking pictures of the silt-laden river.

 

Along the banks of the rushing Nenana River.

 

Rodge exploring the Nenana River.

 

Two kayakers navigating down the rushing river.

 

A beaver dam across Horseshoe Lake.

 

Small wooden posts with “No Walking” symbols atop them limit foot traffic.

 

A partially-chewed tree trunk…evidence of beaver activity.

 

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Magnificient Denali National Park

Posted November 2, 2017 By admin

 

A glorious view of braided rivers and majestic mountains from Polychrome Pass.

 

July 21,2017

After a hearty breakfast, we headed to the McKinley Resort Main Lodge and boarded a National Park Service bus to begin our 8-hour long Tundra Wilderness Tour. Our driver/trained naturalist has been doing this tour each summer for fifteen years and said, “Every day is different with no telling what will be seen or happen.” Our tour group was full of expectations as we rode to the Park Entrance.

Denali National Park and Preserve was established in 1917 as Mount McKinley National Park. In 1980 the park was renamed Denali, a native Athabascan name meaning “Great One” or “High One”. It took longer to change the name of America’s highest peak. The name of the 20, 310 feet high peak was changed from Mount McKinley to Mount Denali in 2015. The park covers six million acres of land on both sides of the Alaska Range.

The only road into Denali is 92 miles long and parallels the Alaska Range. Beyond mile 15, access to the road is restricted primarily to park buses. The bus system reduces traffic and roadside disturbances so one can better see the stunning landscape and wildlife. Less traffic also helps protect Denali’s wilderness ecosystem. Cyclists and hikers are welcome on the road. Often, they will jump on one of the buses and ride to a desired trailhead or cycling spot. As we started our journey along the Park Road I realized we would be involved in the celebration of Denali’s 100th birthday.

When we started the tour, the driver told us to yell out, “Stop!” when anyone saw wildlife and, if safe to do so, he would stop for viewing from inside the bus. Since he had to focus on driving, he had to rely on the forty sets of eyes in the back to spot the critters. The bus was also equipped with a roof mounted zoom camera that was under the driver’s control. The video was displayed on a set of drop-down LCD screens spaced down both sides of the bus. That feature helped a lot, especially for those riders without binoculars or cameras with telephoto lenses.

We were greeted by a crisp sunny morning as our bus left the Denali Visitor Center (elevation 1,585 feet) and headed out on Park Road. For the next 106 miles (roundtrip) we traveled up and down in elevation through mountain passes and valleys. For fifteen miles, we rode through boreal forests, also known as the taiga. White and black spruce, birch, aspen and balsam poplar trees covered the land. A covey of grouse scurrying across the road was our first “Stop!” wildlife sighting.

A couple miles past the Savage River Campground we came to the Mile 15 checkpoint. A park ranger welcomed us and allowed our tour bus to continue. We left the two-lane paved road and climbed to Primrose Ridge (elevation 3,200 feet) on a narrow gravel road. As we climbed, we watched the landscape transition from forested taiga to treeless tundra. The tree-line in Denali lies around 3,000 feet.

We rolled down Primrose Ridge into the Sanctuary River Valley. We were still on the lookout for Mount Denali and wildlife. At mile 30, we had our first break at the Teklanika rest stop. It felt so good to get off the bus and stretch my legs. The scenery was magnificent with views of the Teklanika River coursing through the beautiful valley. In the distance, the mountains of the Alaska Range formed a natural backdrop. Blooms of pink fireweed scattered in the terrain added color to the landscape portrait.

The Teklanika River is a braided river. Such rivers are usually wide but shallow. They typically form on fairly steep slopes and carry large amount of coarse-grained sediments. When the river’s flow decreases, the sediments get deposited on the river bed leaving behind small temporary islands of sands that cause the river’s channel to split. Braided rivers exist near mountainous regions, especially those with glaciers.

We climbed 400 feet into the tundra among treeless rolling vistas. All at once we heard multiple shouts of “Stop!” There about 100 feet away on the left side of the bus, we saw a huge caribou munching on tundra flora. We gazed at the patchy brown-colored herbivore and took pictures. It was our first major sighting and we were excited. As we continued our climb up to Sable Pass, elevation 3,900 feet, I heard another “Stop!” A mamma grizzly bear was spotted with her cub. While mamma was preoccupied in some bushes, the cub was busy exploring its surroundings. Amazing!

After ascending Sable Pass we coasted 845 feet downhill to the East Fork River Valley. Before we could explore the U-shaped valley, we were climbing once again. This time we were riding up to beautiful Polychrome Pass, one of the most spectacular and fear-inducing sections of the tour. That portion of the narrow one-lane road required the driver’s full attention due to the steep grade, sharp turns, nonexistent shoulders and breathtaking 1,000-foot drop-offs. Our bus driver said, “If you get scared, do what I do and close your eyes”.

When we arrived at the top of Polychrome Pass, elevation 3,695 feet, the scene was spectacular. The vastness of the park was in full view with braided rivers wandering back and forth throughout the colorful valley floor and the Alaska Mountains glistening in the distance. Polychrome Pass gets its name from the colorful volcanic rocks that can be seen from the overlook. The bright colors of Polychrome Pass were created by magma that welled up and spilled over older sedimentary rock layers. The basalt, rhyolite and andesite rocks color the area in brown, yellow, tan. white, orange, and purple hues.

On our descent to the Toklat River, elevation 3,035 feet, there was another “Stop” moment. We saw a lone grizzly bear walking through vegetation along the valley floor. We arrived at the Toklat Rest Stop for another break. We could see little white dots on the mountain ridges overlooking the rest area. With some magnification we discovered they were Dall sheep. The sheep favor wind-blown ridges and steep cliff faces where they can roam beyond the easy reach of wolves. They dine on the flowers and grasses in the summertime and mosses and lichens in the winter.

We were at the 53-mile halfway point and it was time to turn around and head back. As we were getting on the bus our driver spotted a bear ambling toward the rest area. Needless to say, we all jumped on the bus pronto. So far, the tour had been amazing but my only regret was that I hadn’t seen Mount Denali. It had been obscured by clouds. Our bus driver told us that the elusive mountain is covered in clouds two-thirds of the time partly because of the Alaska Range. The range bisects Alaska and is the meeting point for cold dry systems from the north and warm moist systems from the south. As the systems collide they often produce lots of clouds, obscuring the mountain.

We had many critter sightings on our return trip. We saw a momma grizzly bear and two cubs browsing for berries, several small herds of caribou including stags with huge velvet covered antlers, and a momma bear laying in the grass on her belly with her feet splayed out behind her. My favorite discovery was a big bull moose. Bullwinkle spent several minutes ducking in and out of thickets as he grazed. We were all waiting for the great reveal. He finally walked in the open and posed by a running stream.

Even though Mount Denali was a “no-show”, it was a glorious day. We saw Denali National Park in all its splendor. The majestic mountains, glacier-carved river valleys, meandering silt-laden rivers and magnificent wildlife all wove into a living masterpiece. It was a unique, unforgettable experience. We owe tremendous thanks to the people who had the foresight and determination to set aside this pristine wilderness for future generations.

In awe,

Kathy

 

 

On the bus and ready to go for our tour.

 

A beautiful view at Teklanika rest stop.

 

Blooms of pink fireweed scattered with purple lupine.

 

The Teklanika River coursing through the beautiful valley.

 

The Teklanika River, is an example of a braided river.

 

The river is made up of deposits of sediment from glacial streams.

 

The gravel bars formed by braided rivers are travel corridors used by animals.

 

A caribou munching on tundra flora.

 

A mamma grizzly bear and her cub

 

At the top of Polychrome Pass.

 

A   view across the valley from Polychrome Pass.

 

A tour bus climbing up the colorful pass.

 

A majestic view of the Alaska Range from Polychrome Pass.

 

We leave Polychrome pass and head down to the Tolkat River.

 

A lone grizzly bear walking through vegetation along the valley floor.

 

Another grizzly bear meditating.

 

Rodge and Kathy posing in front of the Teklanika River.

 

More views of the Teklanika River valley on our return trip.

 

A small herd of caribou grazing on a hillside.

 

A stag with huge velvet covered antlers.

 

A close-up of a stag.

 

A momma bear laying in the grass with her feet splayed out behind her.

 

A bull moose ambling along a running stream.

 

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All Aboard the McKinley Explorer!

Posted October 31, 2017 By admin

 

The McKinley Explorer.

 

July 20, 2017 

At 8 a.m. we arrived at the Anchorage Depot and boarded our car on the McKinley Explorer. It was a picturesque sunny day as we looked forward to our 237-mile adventure to Denali National Park. We would ride in custom-made dome cars with 360-degree views. The cars were made by the Colorado Railcar Company for Holland America and pulled by Alaska Railroad locomotives.

Before we departed the depot, Rodge and I explored our double-decker train car. The lower level contained a kitchen, a dining area, a lounge, two lavatories, a spiral staircase which reached to the upper level and an open-air viewing platform. The upper level was the sitting and observation area that accommodated eighty passengers. The front of the car was equipped with a bar/snack preparation area.

All Aboard! At 8:15 a.m. the journey began. Rodge and I joined Kayli and the thirty-eight other people in our tour group. The diverse group consisted of people from all over the United States, as well as Holland, New Zealand, Canada and St. Martin. A little north of Anchorage we chugged by Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and saw paratroopers jumping out of an Air Force C-130 plane. We were also able to glimpse the triangular peak of Mt. Denali shining brilliantly over the landscape.

We passed by Eagle River, the small tribal town of Eklutna and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. The last is known for its record-sized vegetables that are made possible by the long hours of summer daylight and fertile soil. Just past the town of Willow, we started following the Susitna River. The silty, muddy, brown river fed by silt from melting snow and glacial ice flows 313 miles from Susitna Glacier in the Alaskan Range to the Cook Inlet twenty-four miles west of Anchorage. We would shadow this diverse river for eighty miles.

Throughout our journey we were briefed and entertained by our train tour guide. He provided lots of information, facts, local color stories, and jokes. At noon we headed down to the lower deck for lunch. We were seated with another couple, David and Pam. After thirty years in Seattle they had just moved to Chicago. They were on another Alaskan tour with some of David’s high school friends. We also found out that David had attended the Naval Academy. So, we had a great lunch with conversations of Annapolis, our families and Alaska.

We arrived in Talkeetna midway through the trip and stopped to pick up some passengers. The small town is a jumping off point for mountain climbing expeditions to Mt. Denali. All climbers have to register with the National Park Service at Talkeetna before taking a thirty-minute flight to the Kahiltna Glacier Base Camp. Since we mistakenly left our climbing gear at home, we were forced to remain on the train for the second half of the trip to Denali National Park.

All Aboard! We continued north past the ghost town of Curry. Along the way we saw homes inhabited by people living off the land and not connected to civilization by wire or road. The railroad was the only communication/transport available to them. The Alaska Railroad is the only “flag stop” railroad in the United States. Residents along the tracks can flag down a train anywhere along the route. Conversely, the trains will stop on demand to drop off passengers.

As we rolled along the tracks Rodge and I made multiple trips to the open-air viewing platform on the lower level. There we were one with nature at 30 mph. As magnificent river views, mountains and forests passed by I made an attempt to capture the beauty in pixels. My camera could never record the immense beauty I saw and the feelings I felt.

Thirty-eight miles past Talkeetna we said goodbye to the Susitna River. Twenty miles later we crossed the longest bridge on the railroad, Hurricane Gulch Bridge. The trestle bridge built in 1921 spans 918 feet across the gulch and is 296 feet high. The train slowed down to 10 mph while crossing the bridge to prevent overstressing it. Due to the slow crossing we had terrific views of the gulch below.

After riding through Broad Pass and the town of Cantwell, we started shadowing the Nenana River. The river originates from the Nenana Glacier in the Alaska Range and flows north along the east side of Denali National Park. We followed the river twenty-three miles to the Denali Park Railroad Station. After the magnificent eight-hour train ride we were ready to retire to our lodging in the McKinley Chalet Resort.

Later,

Kathy

 

The luggage from several tour groups waiting for a ride to Denali.

 

Rodge standing at the front of our car.

 

Houses outside Anchorage.

 

All aboard the McKinley Explorer.

 

A lone hill on steroids.

 

Chugging along the Susitna River.

 

A photo-op from the open air viewing platform.

 

Beautiful mountain scenery.

 

Riding through Broad Pass.

 

Kathy enjoying the beautiful scenery.

 

The glacier fed Nenana River.

 

A nifty train track photo-op.

 

Our lodge at McKinley Chalet Resort.

 

Kathy checking out the scenery in our lodging at McKinley Chalet Resort.

 

Our sitting area in our lodging at McKinley Chalet Resort.

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Anchorage Here We Come!

Posted October 31, 2017 By admin

 

A decked out moose greets us at the Visitor Center.

 

July 19, 2017

It was 8:15 a.m. (PST) and we were ready to board our flight to Anchorage, Alaska. After spending five days exploring beautiful Seattle we were ready to start our two-week Holland America Alaska Land and Sea Journey. In 2013, we embarked on a week-long cruise along Alaska’s Inside Passage and vowed we would return.
It was a beautiful sunny day as our Alaskan Airlines flight taxied the runway and then soared into the air for our three-hour flight to Anchorage. It was a smooth flight — just a few minor bumps as we flew low over the mountains ringing Anchorage. When we arrived in Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport we met up with Holland America representatives who took charge of our luggage and whisked us off to a comfortable coach bus for our ride to our hotel.

At the hotel, we met our journey guide, Kayli, a Vanderbilt graduate from Wisconsin in her late 20’s. It was Kayli’s third year leading an Alaskan Land and Sea Journey so we knew we were in good hands. After an introductory briefing, she handed us our first information packet of the tour. It was filled with our itinerary for the next day and information on exploring Anchorage.
Rodge and I checked into our room, donned our rain slickers and ventured out into a sixty-degree rainy day. We headed for the Visitor Center, a large log cabin with a sod roof covered in flowering grasses. There we jumped on a trolley for an hour tour of the city. The red car rolled through historic neighborhoods and by the famous Alaskan Railroad. We watched seaplanes splash-land and take off from Lake Hood and traveled through Earthquake Park. We were on the lookout for moose along the way.

The route took us over many streets that were devastated during the 1964 earthquake. Over the course of four minutes, on Good Friday the 9.2 magnitude quake split roads, uprooted trees, and started a landslide that sent many houses into the waters of Cook Inlet. In Earthquake Park you can still see the earth ripples left over from that singular event. In the area there is no evidence of any residential housing, only hilly landscape covered in forest.

After the trolley car tour, we headed to the State Visitor Center. Since it was connected to a Federal Courthouse we had to go through a security screening similar to what takes place in an airport. The center was excellent with displays about Alaskan wildlife and geology. Lots of taxidermy skill was on display including a huge polar bear. We ended our stay watching a 45-minute film about the Klondike Gold Stampede. After dinner, we retired for the night to rest up for our eight-hour long train ride to Denali National Park.

Later,

Kathy

 

We arrived in Anchorage on Alaskan Airlines.

 

On the red trolley for a tour of the city.

 

Our view inside the trolley.

 

Hood Lake where seaplanes land and take off.

 

Anchorage. Air crossroads of the world.

 

 

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Beautiful Vienna !

Posted April 28, 2015 By admin

 

Imperial Park called the Volksgarten.

 

The bustling streets of Vienna city center.

 

Interesting mural on a building being renovated in Vienna.

 

Vienna city center with St. Peter’s Church.

 

Looking down Graben Street toward St. Peter’s Church.

 

Renovations on St. Peter’s Church.

 

Historicism architecture along the Ring.

 

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a Gothic church in Vienna’s city center..

 

One of the towers of St. Stephan’s Cathedral.

 

The guys haggle over Mozart concert tickets.

 

A Vienna shopping center.

 

The Austrian National Library, located in the Hofburg Palace.

 

The entrance to the Austrian National Library.

 

Horse-drawn carraiges line up outside of Hofburg Palace.

 

Waiting outside the venue for the Mozart/Strauss concert.

 

The Mozart statue in the Burggarten.

 

Austrian Parliament with a statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

 

Dan and Kevin in front of the Austrian Parliament building.

 

The beautiful gardens in Imperial Park.

 

Imperial Park with the Empress Elizabeth Monument.

 

Mimes on the streets of Vienna.

 

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On to Vienna!

Posted April 22, 2015 By admin

 

Mirabell Gardens

 

Beautiful pink begonias on display in Mirabell Gardens.

 

Flowers as far as the eye can see in Mirabell Gardens.

 

Mirabell Gardens Fountain with Mirabell Palace in the background.

 

A mime in Mirabell Gardens.

 
 

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