Lonnie and Sue - Traveling North America

Touring Alaska in 2005 - August & September

You can read it through or select specific locations below.
My campground rating system is on a scale of 5/5 with the first number being the levelness of the site and the second being the appearance.  A 3/3 would be an average site.  

While in Anchorage I went to the doctor several times and had 2 cortisone injections.  We made several trip back to Anchorage for the treatments.  For that reason I am going to delete all further references to my leg.  Hence, there will be days missing from the log when we are in Anchorage .

08-01-05MonDay 123Out at:  10:35 AM - Trip meter:   160 

Driving directions:  Took AK 2 north aka Steese Highway to Fox then it became Elliot Highway.  At the junction of AK 2 and AK 11 aka Dalton Highway – we took AK 11 north.

Since we are going to Prudhoe Bay we did some grocery shopping before we left town.  Headed out of town at 12:05 PM.  At 12:26 PM we passed the El Dorado Gold Mine and headed into new territory.  This is the furthest north we have been in Alaska so far.    

The first 20 miles of the Elliot Highway was not very good at all.  I had to travel the most of it at 40 to 45 mph – it’s paved but really rough.  From MP 28 on it got a lot better and I was able to travel at 55 mph.  There were a few bad spots where it had been patched but did not cause any concern.  At MP 32 it started to sprinkle and we got our first view of the pipeline.  It only sprinkled for a few minutes and we never turned the wipers on. 

I would consider Elliot to be a pretty good road all the way if I had been in a car with decent suspension.  The only reason the first 28 miles was bad was because of the bouncing it caused in the coach with a tow. 

We have had several good views of the pipeline.  At one section we could see about 10 miles of it as it came over the top of the mountain, down the mountain, across the plains, and up another mountain – zig zagging all the way.  

Hit gravel immediately after turning onto the Dalton Highway. 

RV’s encountered on the Dalton today:

  • Pickup with cab over camper passed us.
  • Met a class C rental unit.  That guy is not supposed to be on this road in a rental.
  • Pickup with cab over camper passed us.
  • In visitors center met a pickup with travel trailer.

At MP 18.5 we hit some new pavement.  This is great.  We are out in the last frontier on new paved road.  However, it ended at MP 23.5.  It was great while it lasted.

At MP 27 the pipeline started to parallel the road on the east side.  It is about 300 to 500 yards off the roadway.  In less than a half mile we encounter fires.  It appears there has been a forest fire here.  Trees have been dozed down all along the pipeline and we saw a number of small fires.  On the other side of the pipeline I could see the forest burnt off for several miles.  On the west side of the road section had burnt off and there was a lot of smoke but it was so far off we could not see the blazes.  The blazes we did see were within a few feet of the roadway.  It was burnt off for about 4 miles.   

Before the fire you would not have been able to see much of the pipeline but now it is visible for miles.  Do you suppose they cleared it out just for Sue and I? 

At MP 35 we met a rider on a bicycle.  He had bags attached to the handlebars, to the front wheel axles, and to the rear wheel axles.   

At MP 55.5 stopped at the BLM visitors center – immediately north of the bridge that crosses the Yukon River.  Stopped and picked up some brochures about the highway.  Found out a few facts while there: 

  • The man on the bicycle we met is Japanese.  He departed from Prudhoe Bay and is headed for South America.
  • The pickup and travel trailer belongs to a couple from Austria.  They are headed north.
  • The owner of the motel across the road from the visitors center also owns the motel in Coldfoot. 
  • The station across the street only sells gasoline. 
  • Both gasoline and diesel is available at MP 60.

I failed to note the time we entered the Dalton but it took us over 3 hours to travel the 55.5 miles.  I stopped every 10 miles and checked the tires.  I pulled over and stopped for every large truck that met or passed us – then waited for the dust to clear.  I is nearly impossible for a flying rock to break your windshield if you are parked but very easy to break if the flying rock is met at 40 mph.  I slowed down for every auto. 

You can't see the blaze in this photo but there were small fires going all along the side of the road.  Most were within 2 to 3 feet of the roadway.
I estimate that about 20% of the time I traveled at 15 to 20 mph.  About 20% of the time I traveled at 45 to 50 mph.  The remaining 60% I traveled at 30 to 35 mph.  In a car with good suspension the entire road could have been traveled at the established 50 mph.  
  • Campsite:  Five-Mile, BLM at MP 60, Dalton Highway, AK - overnight – on a flat hill top – no services – no fee.  Rating 4/4.  Got setup at 5:35 PM.  Setup was just put down the jacks and put out the slides. 

This is a free campground.  It is an old construction campground used during construction of the haul road and pipeline.  There is a dump station and 2 water stations.  One is used to wash auto’s and is not potable.  The other is potable but is used to fill the local camp water trucks using 3 inch fittings.  The plumbing will not work for a regular water hose to fill the coach.  

The campground is just a flat spot on top of a small hill.  At the foot of the hill are the Hot Spot Café, Arctic Circle Gifts, and a motel.  We went to the café for dinner.  We each had a large hamburger and soft drink.  The hamburgers were $8.50 each.  They were huge – over a half pound of meat after it was cooked with a huge slice of tomato and onion.  Neither one of us were able to eat all of it.  

The café and motel are modular units that were used for housing by the construction crews.  They appear to be the same type we used in Vietnam.  The gift shop was a tent.  There appear to be about a dozen of the modular units in this complex.  The units are 10’ by 30’.

A travel trailer pulled in after we did.  We had seen it at the visitors center – it was the people from Austria.  Did not unhook the jeep. 

08-02-05TueDay 124Out at:  8:40 AM - Trip meter:   120

Driving directions:  Got back on AK 11 north.  Heavy smell of smoke this morning and a lot of smoke to the south.  Departed from MP 60. 

Traffic report:  In the next 70 miles we met 11 vehicles, 5 vehicles passed us, and we passed 2 work crews.  This is not a very busy road.

At MP 90 hit the pavement at 9:50 AM.  The 30 miles of dirt road we had just travelled was in really good shape.  We covered the 30 miles in 1 hr 10 min and stopped several times to check tires, take pictures, and look at flowers. 

At MP 115 turned off at the Arctic Circle sign.  A couple there took our picture.  The people that took our picture were in one of the cars that had passed us.  They just drove to the Arctic Circle, had their picture taken, and were returning to Fairbanks.  He was putting gas in the car – had 4 gas cans on the back of the car in a carrier. 

At MP 134 we hit a frost heave at the foot of Gobblers Knob, north side.  The coach went airborne, bounced and went airborne again.  I came off the seat both times and caused severe pain in my back.  I took 2 pain pills.  Looked the coach and jeep over and they look OK but bent the tow receiver some more.   

I was only travelling at about 45 mph when I hit the frost heave but it was a really big one.  We had just come down a long grade, in low gear, and I had just put the coach back into drive and was accelerating.  Since I had been concentrating on the drive down I had not been able to get a get view of the area.  Therefore, I was gawking when I hit the frost heave.  There was plenty of notice it was there.  There were numerous skid marks and the area was appropriately marked.  It was entirely my fault that this happened. 

At MP 144 a lady flagged us down.  She had hit a rock and knocked a hole in her oil pan.  We carried her into Coldfoot so she could get a mechanic.  There were 2 cars were we picked her us.  She was traveling with another lady, each in her own car.  She was from Australia but has lived in Vancouver for the past 3 years.

Coldfoot is at MP 175.  Found a mechanic.  No wrecker is available.  The mechanic agreed to make a service call and repair the car on site.  The rate was $100 for the service call plus $3 per mile round trip plus $85 per hour.  We left her in Coldfoot. 

Sue and Lonnie at the Artic Circle.  Most people come this far, get their picture taken, then return to Fairbanks.  Not us.  We kept going, going, and going.

I talked to the mechanic and he said he could repair our tow receiver.  I will take it off and take it in after we return from Prudhoe Bay. 

  • Campsite:  Marion Creek Campground, BLM, MP 180, Dalton Highway - 3 nights - site #15 – gravel pad - pull thru at least 300 feet long – no services.  Rating 5/4.  Got setup at 1:50 PM.  Campground is constructed on permafrost ground so all campsites are built up 3 to 6 feet with gravel.  Each site has a table and fire ring. 

Went to the visitors center at Coldfoot and attended an 8 PM slide presentation about wildlife and plant life in the north.  The presentation was 30 minutes with an additional 15 minutes of Q&A.  

Did not have any large animal sightings today.

08-03-05WedDay 125Departed camp at 4:10 AM.  Hope the early departure will provide large animal sightings.   Heading for Prudhoe Bay.  It was 36 degrees when we departed camp.  It does not seem to be cold.  It was in the mid 40’s yesterday when I was riding the bicycle and it was very pleasant.

Campground was located at MP 180.  Large animal sightings:

        MP 197.2 saw our first moose about 20-25 feet east of the road.
        MP 207 saw campers with about half a dozen horses on the east side of the road. 
        MP 220 saw a moose sanding in the middle of the road.  It exited on the west side.
        MP 350.6 saw 5 caribou running along side the road.  Another car was stopped and the driver got his bow out.  Hunting is allowed for 5 miles on either side of the road with a bow.

Saw less that 30 vehicles all day.

The view on the drive was magnificent.  The pipeline was visible during most of the trip except where it went underground.  At times it was no more that 25-30 feet from the road.

Arrived in Prudhoe Bay at 11:55 AM.  The end of the line is at MP 414 for a total of 236 miles today.  Checked into the Arctic Caribou Inn – cost $125.00 with a private bath.  Reserved seats for the oilfield tour for 8:30 AM tomorrow morning.  

The room is about 10’ x 8’ and the bath was 6’ x 8’.  There was an 13” TV (located up next to the ceiling), 5 cable channels, one chair, one chest, one double bed, two end tables, and two alarm clocks.  We set out in the dining area, in straight back chairs, and read until the evening news then watched TV.

The Inn has a dining room but is only open when a tour bus is in.  The Inn was practically empty so the dining room was closed.

We went to the Prudhoe Bay Hotel for dinner.  It was buffet style with New York cut steak, about 12 to 14 oz each, as the main entrée.  There were great salads and numerous desert items.  I had a great shrimp salad and Sue had a salad and soup.  We both had the steak.  There were sandwiches, fruits, chips, and assorted drinks.  It was like the mess hall I ate in when I worked for RMK-BRJ in Vietnam.  Cost was $20.00 each.  We took some cookies to eat in the morning.

The cost to stay in the Prudhoe Bay Hotel was $180 for two but included all meals.  When we checked in at the Caribou the clerk called this one but there were no rooms available with private bath.  Since all meals are furnished this would have been the best deal.

A note about the lodging.  There was a third hotel, the Arctic Oilfield Hotel.  It was elevated about 6 to 8 feet above ground on round piling.  All of the units, in all three places, were module units like the ones we saw on the Dalton Highway.  They were placed end to end to create long corridors with one unit set at 90 degrees to connect each corridor.  

There were no public recreational services.  Each companies camp facilities provides recreational facilities along with room and board. 

08-04-05ThurDay 126The tour is operated by the Inn so everyone meets in their briefing room.  At 8:30 AM we saw an 18 min video and then loaded on the bus.  There were 11 on the tour.

The tour went through the town then entered the oilfield.  There is a security gate into the oil field.  Saw 4 caribou in the field, 2 adults and 2 little ones.  When we got to the Arctic Ocean 4 of the passengers went swimming.  For dunking their entire body in the ocean they will each receive a Polar Bear certificate.  Sue took pictures.  As we passed the security gate a herd of about 40 caribou crossed the road in front of us.  We just missed the actual crossing but saw the herd as it was walking away. 

There had been 2 sightings of grizzly bears on the tour route this morning but we did not see them.  The lady we took into Coldfoot said that she had seen grizzly bear around the Caribou Inn when she was here.  The tour took 2 hours. 

The driver/tour guide has been working here since 1991.  He was not very receptive to questions, did not seem very knowledgeable, drove too fast, and would not stop for photos.  Very disappointed in him but enjoyed the tour.   

Went to Prudhoe Bay Hotel and got sandwiches, chips, and drinks to take with us on our return trip.  Cost $17.00 but would have been provided if we had stayed there.   

Hit the Dalton Highway at 11 AM.   Didn't see much wildlife today.  Large animal sightings:

        MP 407.9 saw one mama and one baby caribou.
        MP 405.6 a caribou ran across the road in front of us.
        MP 404.6 saw a caribou a ways off the road.
        MP 404.5 saw a small flock of Canada geese.

At MP 188 we met a Class A.  Now is a good time to comment about the entire road from MP 180 to Prudhoe Bay.  The road is in good condition except for about 15 miles in 4 places.  The 15 miles is in good condition but really rough because the filler has been beaten away from the rocks.  The rocks were rounded, not sharp, but caused a lot of vibration.  In some areas we traveled at 10 mph or less.  I would only consider driving a Class A if we were going to stay for a few weeks.

At the Artic Ocean.  The water is 40 degrees.  If you go in and completely submerge yourself you become a member of the Polar Bear Club and get a certificate.  There were 4 of these young people that became members.  The fourth one had not made it into the water when Sue took this picture.
A note about the traffic.  We met about 40 trucks today, quite a few more than yesterday.  Would suspect the difference is that yesterday we were on the road in the AM and today in the PM.  Got back to camp at 5:45 PM.  Went to the visitors center for the 8 PM program.   Drove the jeep 518 miles this stop.  See "Photos 2005" - "2005 Alaska in Aug & Sep" Tab.

Note - We didn't take many pictures this trip but did take a lot in 2009.  You can see more photos of the Dalton Highway at the 2009 Photos Tab.

08-05-05FriDay 127Out at:  10:45 AM - Trip meter:   123  

Driving directions:  Got back on Dalton Highway south.

Drove to the mechanic shop at Coldfoot to get the tow receiver repaired.  The mechanic said it was damaged too much to repair and suggested we order one in from Fairbanks.  We decided to just drive the jeep to Fairbanks.   

Pulled out of Coldfoot at 1:35 PM.  When we passed the frost heave that I had hit highway workers had already torn it out and leveled out that section of road.  Passed the Arctic Circle at 3:22 PM. 

In the first 65 miles, except for the wide load, we met 10 trucks, 3 cars, and one pickup pulling a fifth wheel.  Not very busy. 

  • Campsite:  Five-Mile, BLM at MP 60, Dalton Highway, AK - overnight – on a flat hill top – no services – no fee.  Rating 4/4.  Got setup at 5:20 PM.  Setup was just put down the jacks and put out the slides.

Drove the jeep 123 miles because not able to tow it.  Very quite in the motorhome by myself . 

08-06-05SatDay 128Out at:  7:35 AM - Trip meter:   145

Driving directions:  Back on the Dalton Highway south and at junction of AK 2 took it south to Fairbanks.

At 8:50 AM hit heavy smoke – coming from the fire we went through going up.  The smoke has the sun smothered and it looks more like the moon. 

Got to AK 2 at 10:30 AM.  The Dalton, from Coldfoot, was a lot rougher coming out than it was going in.  Just a few days make a lot of difference on these gravel roads.  We covered 63 miles in 2 hrs, 55 mins.  That road was rougher than a cob. 

  • Campsite:  Rivers Edge RV Park, Fairbanks, AK - 6 nights - site #H2 – gravel pad with grass and trees all around – pull thru – water, 50 amp, sewer, WiFi, cable.  Rating 4/4.  Got setup at 1 PM. 

08-07-05SunDay 129 - Took the day off and rested.   

08-08-05MonDay 130 - Bought a new tow receiver kit and made arrangements to get it installed at 9 AM tomorrow.

We went to the Tanana State Fair.  Spent about 1½ hours there.   Sue took pictures of some really large vegetables.  It was not a very large fair but probably adequate for the area.  It appears there are a number of state fairs in Alaska.  Believe what they are calling a state fair is what we could call a county fair.  See "Photos 2005" - "2005 Alaska in Aug & Sep" Tab.

Saw one ride there that we had not seen before.  It was called the “Ejection Seat”.  There was a seat for 2 people suspended from 2 poles 120 feet tall by bungee cords – looked like a slang shot.  When tension was put on the cords and released the seat accelerated to 60 mph in one second.  It bounced a couple of times and was lowered.  The total ride was only about one minute and cost $25.00 for each rider.  For another $10 you could get a video of it.  Looked like a real rip-off to me.

08-09-05TueDay 131 - Took the motorhome in and had the tow receiver replaced.  Got back to camp and setup at 3 PM.  Drove the coach 8 miles – will add it to the next trips mileage.

08-10-05WedDay 131 - Drove out to North Pole, about 14 miles south of Fairbanks.  Drove down Santa Claus Lane.  It has a Safeway, McDonalds, Blockbusters, Pizza Hut, Texaco, Taco Bell, Subway, Wendys, Package Store, Post Office, Wells Fargo Bank, State Farm Insurance and 2 beer joints. 

Stopped at Santa Claus’s house at 101 St Nicholas Drive.  Sue bought a Christmas tree ornament.  Looked at the reindeer.  Stopped at Subway’s and had lunch.  It was 80 degrees.

In Fairbanks stopped at the Great Alaskan Bowl Company.  Watched them cut bowls out of large chunks of wood.  

08-11-05ThurDay 133 - Took another day off.  

08-12-05FriDay 134Out at:  8:50 AM - Trip meter:   315

Huge cabbages on display at the Tanana State Fair in Fairbanks.

Driving directions:  Took AK 3 north to the junction of AK 2 and took it south.  At junction of AK 1 took it west.  It was 100 miles to Delta Junction.  Good road all the way.  Then picked up AK 4.  It was a 2-lane road, without shoulder, until the last 20 miles before connection with AK 1.  Then the shoulders were very narrow. 

AK 4 is probably a beautiful drive but the view was obscured with smoke and the visibility was really bad.  At times we could just see the outline of the mountains.  After about 95 miles it started to clear and we could see blue sky.  Would like to drive this section again when it is clear.  The road was good but was a little wavy.

  • Campsite:  Slide Mountain Cabins and RV Park, MP 135, Glenn Highway, AK - overnight – no site # - gravel pad - pull thru – 50 amp only.  Rating 4/4.  Looks like a fairly new park but is listed in the MP.  The pull thru sites are new – they are still working on the installation.  Got setup at 5:45 PM.

Did not unhook the jeep.

08-13-05SatDay 135Out at:  8:50 AM - Trip meter:   130

Driving directions:  Got back on AK 1 west.  Non eventful trip to Anchorage.  

  • Campsite:  John’s Motel and RV Park, Anchorage, AK - 7 nights - site #18 – gravel parking lot – back in – water, 30 amp, sewer, WiFi.  Rating 5/1.  Got setup at 12:35 PM.  There is satellite but must have a Dish box and we don’t have.  Get 5 local stations on the antenna.

Drove the jeep 120 miles this stop.

*********DAYS MISSING********* 

08-20-05SatDay 142Out at:  11:30 AM - Trip meter:   37

Driving directions:  Took AK 1 north.

  • Campsite:  The Homestead RV Park, Palmer, AK – 2 nights - site #41 – gravel pad - pull thru – water, 30 amp, WiFi.  Lots and lots of trees with an excellent view of the mountain.  Rating 4/4.  Got setup at 12:35 PM.

There is a “Parade of Homes” today and tomorrow.  There are 23 homes, all located in Palmer, on the Palmer/Wasilla highway, and Wasilla.  We visited 10 of them.  There was no charge to visit the homes.  

I talked to several of the realtors and builders and found out some things about the construction of the houses.  They are all built over crawl spaces.  That keeps the plumbing from freezing because it is heated by the heat from the house.  There is a barrier put down to keep the house heat from transferring to the ground.  Brick is not used for construction because the houses are constantly moving.  The brick is inflexible and cracks at the mortar lines. 

08-21-05SunDay 143Had only intended to overnight here but it started raining about 9 PM last night, rained all night long and was still raining at 9 AM.  So we decided to stay another night and not have to travel in the bad weather because the road from here to Glennallen is narrow and not in very good condition in many places.  It continued to rain off and on all day – rather hard at times.  Drove the jeep 60 miles this stop.

08-22-05MonDay 144Out at:  9:40 AM - Trip meter:   187

Driving directions:  Got back on AK 1 east.  At Glennallen took AK 4 south.

A note about the highway between Palmer and Glennallen.  There was one stretch of about 40 miles that was very narrow, with no shoulders, and was only in fair condition.  I traveled it at 40-45 mph.  However, there were sufficient pullouts to let the traffic clear.  The remaining 105 miles were intermittently excellent, to good, to fair.  About 20 miles of it was new and I traveled it at 50-55 mph.  

Stopped at the visitors center in Glennallen and also at a tour office to see about a bus ride out to the Kennicott Copper Mine.  Wanted to go tomorrow but they were booked up.  Will consider going on the way back from Valdez.  

At MP 106.5 stopped at the Wrangell-St Elias National Park Visitors Center.  Saw a movie about the Kennicott Copper Mine and one about the Park.  It is the largest National Park in the USA – 8 times the size of Yellowstone.

  • Campsite:  Squirrel Creek State Recreation Site, MP 79.6, Richardson Highway, AK - overnight - site #16 – back in – no services.  Rating 4/5.  Got setup at 4:45 PM.  Have a table, fire ring, and free firewood.

We will only overnight here.  Had planned to stay 3 nights and go to the Kennicott Copper Mine but as noted the tour bus was full.  Had planned to drive the 34 miles of the paved Edgerton Highway to Chitina and catch the bus there because the 60 miles of the McCarthy Highway is gravel and takes about 3 hours to drive.  Since we only have one spare, thought the tour bus would be our best bet.  The fare for the 60 miles is $79.00 each roundtrip.  Decided to just overnight here, go to Valdez, then decide how we want to do the tour on the way back. 

This is a real nice campground.  There is a small lake on one side of the campground and a really fast moving creek on the other side.  We are parked about 20 feet from the lake with a full panoramic view from our living room.  Drove the jeep 7 miles this stop .

08-23-05TueDay 145Out at:  12:35 PM - Trip meter:   84

Driving directions:  Got back on AK 4 south.

We toured the campground before leaving and found 2 camp sites next to the creek.  We will stay in one of them if they are vacant on our return trip.    

It started raining as we left the campground and rained all the way to Valdez.  Had to run the wipers on constant speed for over 50 miles and on pulse for the remainder.  There was a heavy cloud cover that obscured the scenery.  What we could see of it was beautiful.  While in Valdez we will drive back out this road about 30, in the jeep, and tour a state recreation site and a glacier.   

  • Campsite:  Eagle’s Rest RV Park, Valdez, AK – 7 nights - site #616 – gravel pad – back in but we did a pull thru because the opposite site was vacant – water, sewer, 30 amp, cable TV, WiFi.  Rating 5/3.  Got setup at 3:15 PM in the rain.   

It was still raining when we went to bed.  The man that directed us to our site was riding a bicycle.  Had only planned on staying 4 days but because of the weather may need a week to get in what we wanted to do in 4 days. 

This campground has 175 sites and 18 cabins.  It looks like at least 40 of the sites are long term and they are just mixed in with the short time sites.  The sites are very close together, each with just a table.  However, where we are parked there is sufficient room for the slideouts and room to park the car on the side.  The view looks magnificent but more on that when it stops raining.  There appears to be mountains rather close by but can just make out a shadow through the clouds. 

Lake at Squirrel Creek Recreational Area on Richardson Highway.  We could see it out the window of our motorhome.

The clerk that checked us in said we could book our glacier cruise here, use our coupon, and do it the day of the tour.  Will watch the weather and try to pick a good day. 

08-24-05WedDay 146Got up this morning and checked the weather.  There are patches of blue sky and the sun is shining in spots.  Checked weather on the computer and today appears to be the best shot for the next 5 days.  Went to the office and booked the cruise for today.  A bus will pick us up at 11 AM.  Used a TourSaver coupon. 

The bus picked us up at 11 AM and took us to the dock.  The boat called “Glacier Spirit” sailed at 12 noon.  About 1½ hours into the trip we were served the best clam chowder we have ever eaten.  It is made by Ivar’s and is sold through Costco. 

Animal sightings:  

  • A stellar sea lion on one of the buoys in the harbour. 
  • Saw 5 sea otter in the harbor.  
  • Saw a raft of 10 sea otters with another 10 to 12 on the outskirts of the raft. 
  • A black bear mama with a cub. 
  • Saw several thousand dead salmon in the water.  They have spawned and died. 
  • At Point Bull Head on Glacier Island we saw stellar sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks and swimming in the water.  I did a count of one group and estimate there were at least 500 of them.  They covered an area on a rocky ledge for about a half-mile. 
  • In the same area we saw several schools of salmon and one bald eagle in flight. 
  • Harbour seal in the glacier area on the ice. 
  • Saw bald eagles in numerous places going out and returning.

There was a new tanker at the oil-loading terminal that was just pulling out as we went by.  It is on its maiden voyage and only took on a light load for test purposes.  It is one of the double hull, redundancy tankers that is required for these waters now.  Tugs were starting to move it away from the dock.  

At the terminal there are 18 storage tanks that will hold 9.2 million barrels of oil.  That is the capacity of the 799-mile long pipeline.   

Cruised out to Columbia Glacier.  Is the second largest tidewater glacier in Alaska and covers 400 square miles.  The current face is between 200 and 350 feet above the water line and 500 to 1,000 deep below the water line.  I estimated the height to average about 250 feet and it was 1¼ to 1½ miles wide. 

Eagle in a tree on a tour out of Valdez Harbour.

There are thousands of glaciers in Alaska and all of them have been retreating for centuries except for Columbia.  It did not start retreating until 1982 and has retreated 7½ miles.  At one time glaciers covered over 50% of Alaska but today that amount is only about 3%.

At the terminal moraine the depth was only 42 feet.  The water on each side is over 700 feet.  The captain said that ice burgs are usually stacked up at the terminal moraine and normally that is a close to the glacier that they can get.  The terminal moraine is 7½ miles from the glacier.  Today it was completely clear of large ice so we were able to advance over it.  We went through a lot of ice on the way to the glacier.  Some of the chunks were huge, appearing to be 20 to 50 feet tall and as much as 100 yards across.  There were many of them that you could set several houses on.  Bear in mind that only about 10% is above water. 

We got to within ¾ mile of the face and set there for about 30 minutes.  The glacier advances about 50 feet a day and calves regularly.  The captain said there is an estimated 10 million-ton of ice calving daily.  We only saw one large section calving while we were there and it broke up into small pieces when it came off.  The captain said that the huge chunks we saw on the way in come off from the bottom, not falling off the exposed face.  It was a fantastic view and the ride out through the ice was worth the price of the trip. 

It was a beautiful day.  There was a little bit of overcast this morning but the sun came out and it cleared up really nice.  Boat docked at 6:50 PM.  See "Photos 2005" - "2005 Alaska in Aug & Sep" Tab.

A note about Valdez and the campground.  Valdez has a population of 4,100.  Average snowfall is 25 feet.  The town is completely surrounded by mountains.  The campground is backed up to the mountain that you have to drive by to get to town. 

08-25-05ThurDay 147Bad weather all day – overcast and rain.  Took a drive around town but otherwise just stayed in. 

08-26-05FriDay 148Went to “Anne’s Place, Sugar & Spice” and saw two free movies – one 45 minutes about the 1964 earthquake and the other a 30 minute on the construction of the pipeline.  The earthquake movie was very interesting but the pipeline movie was not. 

Went to the Valdez Museum.  Learned the pipeline currently averages about 1 million barrels a day.  The records for a 24 hour production flow was 2,145,297 barrels on 1/14/1988.  Also in 1976 the population of Valdez was 8,253 and in 1978 it was 3,349.  Quite a population drop.  It has remained rather steady since and is currently about 4,100.    

There were low hanging clouds in the morning but they had receded in the afternoon and all of the mountaintops and glaciers were visible.  It is a fantastic 360-degree view.   

08-27-05SatDay 149Drove out to a salmon spawning area about one mile north of town.  They were in a creek that is fed by a waterfall.  The water in the creek was only about 4 to 5 inches deep.  The fish were really thick and were all facing upstream.  They were moving side to side rapidly, apparently burying and covering the eggs.  There were dead fish covering the shoreline and the edge of the creek – have spawned and then died.  Sue took pictures and a movie.   

Continued on north and drove through Blueberry Lake State Recreation Site.  It consisted of 25 sites but the only one that was on the lake was the host site.  The remainder of the sites was too small for the coach or so ugly that we would not consider staying there unless there was absolutely no other place to park.  The road into and around the campground was extremely rough.   

A note about the MP markers.  Mile zero is Old Valdez.  Valdez was rebuilt, after the 1964 earthquake, 4 miles south of the old site so any mileage marker must have 4 miles added to it to get the correct odometer reading.   

At MP 26 crossed over Thompson Pass - elevation 2,678.  It is well above the tree line.  Thompson Pass was the most difficult part of the pipeline to build.  This entire section covered about 60 miles of up and down grades in excess of 45%.  Welders had to hang from cables while welding the pipe.  A special cable system was invented, just for this section, to convey the pipe up the mountain and lay it in the trenches.  The entire pipeline is buried through here and the trenches were blasted out of rock.   

At MP 28.5 stopped at a turnout and could see 12 to 15 glaciers.  It was hard to tell if some of them were individual glaciers or part of another one. 

At MP 28.7 turned off for Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site.  No RV camping here but a wonderful view of Worthington Glacier.  We walked out to the glacier.  There was no established trail, we just walked and climb over the rocks.  It was hard to estimate the distance but it was probably about one mile roundtrip.  I climbed about half way up the part we could see then back down to the bottom.  Sue took my picture standing on the glacier.  It was cold.   

I said the part we could see because we drove on out to MP 45 before returning.  We wanted to enjoy the view driving in because it was raining so hard when we arrived all of the mountains were obscured.  And it was well worth the trip.  The Worthington Glacier is huge.  It looked real small at the base of it because we could not see the top.   

On the return we stopped in Keystone Canyon and Sue took pictures of “Bridal Veil Falls” at MP 13.8 and of “Horsetail Falls” at MP 13.4.   See "Photos 2005" - "2005 Alaska in Aug & Sep" Tab.

08-28-05SunDay 150Before leaving camp we walked across the road and talked to a couple canning salmon.  They live in Alaska and send most of the canned salmon to friends and relatives in the lower 48.  They gave us a real nice salmon filet.  There are a lot of campers canning salmon in this park. 

Headed north again.  The first 4 miles from Valdez is indicated with a prefix NV for New Valdez.  At MP NV 3.4 turned off on Airport Road and drove out to Valdez Glacier Campground.  There are 101 wooded sites, most of them very private.  Twelve new sites have been built but they are all out in the open and on built up gravel pads.  It is a city campground, no services.  Drinking water is available and dispensed from a 200 gallon drum.  Good pavement to the campground entrance and good interior roads.

Worthington Glacier north of Valdez.

Continued on out Airport Road to the end of it.  It ended at the foot of Valdez Glacier.  There is a small lake there that feeds Valdez Glacier Stream.  There was a lot of loose ice in the lake.  The glacier was visible on the far edge of the lake.   

On one end of the lake was a rock quarry.  Since it was Sunday no one was working so we drove around the quarry.  There were large chunks of ice setting up on the shore.  Looked like they had been lifted out of the water.  One of them was over 6 feet in diameter.   

Drove out to MP 11.8 to the Pack Trail of 1899.  It turned off the highway and looped through brush for .8 miles before reentering the highway.  It appears to just be a section of the old highway.  It was paved 2 lane but the brush had taken over the road and narrowed it to one lane.  We never did see anything that looked like a pack trail but did see a real nice waterfall.   

On the return we stopped at Robe Lake at MP 3.4.  It looked really shallow with a lot of wet land.  There was a dock for 12 floatplanes.  Three were docked when we were there. 

At MP 2.5 turned off for the oil terminal.  Wanted to drive to the other side of the bay and get a view of Valdez from the terminal side.  What we found about 5 miles in was another city campground called Allison Point.  No services and drinking water dispensed from a 200-gallon tank.  There were about 20 parking spots next to the mountain and about 60-80 overlooking the bay.  On the way in we stopped and observed sea otters playing and salmon swimming in the bay.  Also saw salmon spawning in clear water ponds on the side of the road opposite the bay.  They were so thick it looked like you could walk across the water on their backs.  Many many many dead fish – quite a stink. 

At the campground we observed 4 people fishing.  One was standing on a rock and three were out in the water in waders.  There were dead fish all over the shore.  The fisherman had to walk on them to get to the water and stand in them out in the water.  The stink was awful.  Saw several fish caught in a few minutes.  Note – they were silver salmon. 

Could not get to the terminal.  Five and half mile in there was a security gate.   

08-29-05MonDay 151Went to the “Remembering Old Valdez Exhibit”.  Watched a 22-minute film about Old Valdez.  There was a model of the town as it was before the earthquake.  It was a great exhibit, built to a 1:20 scale, and took 2½ years to build.  The earthquake measured 8.6 on the Richter Scale and a 9.2 on the Movement Magnitude Scale.  Alaskans all use the 9.2 because it sounds larger. 

They had the original sled that delivered the first barrel of oil from the north slope.  It was delivered by Richard “Red” Olsen and his son on April 13, 1975.  The trip covered over 1,300 miles, took 49 days, used 21 huskies, and arrived over a year before the first barrel out of the pipeline.  The trip was sponsored by the Lion’s Club as a fundraiser and raised over $80,000.  

The original town site plan for Valdez was the current town site.  However, prospectors had to walk over the Valdez Glacier to get to and return from the gold field and Old Valdez was located at the shortest route to the bay.  The prospectors did not want to walk the additional 4 miles to where the original town site was planned.  Drove the jeep 175 miles this stop . 

08-30-05TueDay 152Out at:  10:10 AM - Trip meter:   84

Driving directions:  Got back on AK 4 north.   

The highway out of Valdez over Thompson Pass is the longest grade we have climbed in the motorhome.  It was not the steepest, just the longest – 7½ miles of continuous upgrade.

It’s a good thing we drove out here a couple of days ago to see the view and take pictures because it is all socked in again today.  It’s not raining like it was when we arrived but there is a sprinkle that occasionally requires the wipers.  Some days we just do things right. 

  • Campsite:  Squirrel Creek State Recreation Site, MP 79.6, Richardson Highway, AK – 3 nights - site #5 – pull thru – no services.  Rating 3/5.  Got setup at 12:55 PM.  Have a table, fire ring, and free firewood.  We are parked parallel to the creek.  If you take 5 steps from the front door you will step into the creek.

I set my chair out in the creek and panned for gold but didn't find any.   

08-31-05WedDay 153

Departed camp at 8:10 AM and drove out to McCarthy for a tour of the Kennecott Copper Mine.

The road to McCarthy was 3 miles north of the campground - is AK 10, aka Edgerton Highway.  It is paved for 33.5 miles to Chitina and then is gravel for 59.5 miles to the Kennicott River.  The gravel road is called the McCarthy Highway. 

Now about the ride out on McCarthy Highway.  Not much of a highway, hereafter called the “road”.  You drive through Chitina and the road starts at the edge of town.  The road was built on the railroad bed that ran out to the mine.  Mile zero starts at a narrow cut through the mountain – single lane only.  The road is paved to the Copper River Bridge at MP 1.1.  

There were 20-25 fish wheels in the water and on the shore above the bridge so I drove in and stopped.  There was only one working.  I talked to the only person I saw there and inquired if it was his wheel – I asked if I could go down to it and look at it - it was not his, it belong to someone else.  He had already caught his quote, which is 500 salmon per year.  It seems all of the wheel owners had caught their quotas except for the one still in the water and she had gotten a late start.  Informal camping allowed here.  After about 15 minutes we headed on down the road.  

Got back on the road about 9:20 AM.  At MP 3 the MP book said we had an excellent view of Mount Drum but all we have is a view of clouds.  Visibility is about 300 feet.  Two miles on further visibility was 4 hash marks on the road and it lasted for 2 more miles.  

Panning for gold at Squirrel Creek State Recreational Site on the Richardson Highway.  Can it get any better than this?  Didn't find any but then didn't have to work hard to not find any.

At MP 10 a mama moose and her calf ran across the road in front of us.  

At MP 17 we drove over an old railroad bridge that was built in 1910.  It is 525 feet long, 238 feet above the river, and is single lane.

At MP 27 we drove through the Liberty Falls State Recreation Site.  There was a real nice waterfall and Sue took a picture but for camping the place was crap.  There is an 8 ton bridge across the stream at the foot of the falls. 

Got to MP 30 at 10:40 AM.  It took 1 hour 20 minutes to travel the 30 miles.  Got to the parking area at 12:15 PM.  It had taken 1 hour 35 minutes to travel the 29.5 miles.  The road between mile 0 and 40 is in pretty good condition with short sections of potholes.  The section from mile 40 to 49.5 is in real bad condition and most of it was traveled at speeds never exceeding 20 mph and quite frequently 5-10 mph.  The last 5 miles in was in real good condition with new gravel. 

At the end of the McCarthy Highway you have to park your car and walk over a bridge and catch a shuttle bus.  The MP said we would have to walk into McCarthy to catch the shuttle but that is incorrect.  The shuttle picked us up on the other side of the bridge.  It is another mile to the town of McCarthy.  Fee to park and fee for the shuttle.   

We parked and walked across the bridge and caught the shuttle to the mine.  Got there at 1 PM.  The tour started at 1:30 PM.  We went to the hotel and got sandwiches to go.  We each got to eat half and then depart on the tour.  We used a TourSaver coupon.   

The guide gave us a tour of the town up to the main processing facilities.  Construction took from 1907 to 1911 and operated until 1938.  The plant was 14 floor tall.  We climbed up 13 floors but were not allowed on the 14th.  There were 208 steps.  From the top we could see the Kennicott Glacier that is at Mount Blackburn over 20 miles away.  The glacier runs past the town.  The glacier does not look anything like the glaciers we have seen so far.  The whole area just looked like piles of gravel but the glacier was under it.  The gravel cover is from 2 inches to 2 feet.  We could see ice in several places. 

The tour was 2 hours long and the guide was great.  We got back to the tour office at 3:40 PM and were allowed to ride their shuttle back to the river.  Got back to the car – ate the other half of our sandwiches – pulled out of the parking lot at 4:10 PM.   

A note about Wrangell National Park.  It is the largest park in the park system.  There are only two roads into it.  We plan on taking the other one that is between Glennallen and Tok.  They only have 40,000 visitors a year where Denali has over 2 million.   

It rained on us nearly all the way in.  During our stay the sun was out.  On the drive back it rained on us nearly all the way.  However the visibility was good going back so we were able to see the scenery we missed driving in.

At the end of McCarthy Highway you have to walk across this bridge to get to the Kennicott Copper Mine.

Got back to camp at 7:20 PM and drove 199 miles today.  See "Photos 2005" - "2005 Alaska in Aug & Sep" Tab.

09-01-05ThurDay 154Departed camp at 1 PM and drove out to Copper Center.  The town had closed up for the season except for the museum and it is closed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.  Drove around and looked a scenery and returned to camp at 2:45 PM.  It rained all afternoon and into the night.  Drove the jeep 259 miles this stop.

09-02-05FriDay 155Out at:  10:50 AM - Trip meter:   173 

Driving directions:  Got back on AK 4 north.  At Glennallen AK 4 merged with AK 1 – continued on it.  At Gakona Junction AK 1 (aka Tok Cutoff) turned east and we took it towards Tok.

The Tok Cutoff is 125 miles – the most of it through mountains.  The highway is bordered with evergreen trees and birch trees.  They also run up the mountainsides.  The leaves of the birch are starting to turn with the colors different shades of green, yellow, and orange.  There are no reds or purples but the view was still spectaculars.  Drove about half of the road at 45 mph and the other half at 50-55 mph. 
  • Campsite:  Tok RV Village, Tok, AK - overnight - site #303 – gravel pad - pull thru – water, 30 amp, sewer, and 5 channels on cable.  Rating 4/3.  Got setup at 3:20 PM.

Went out for dinner and had a great prime rib with unlimited salad bar.  

When we got to the campground there were only about 4-5 rigs.  When we got back from dinner there were about 60-70.  Looks like a lot of people are heading home.  Drove the jeep 13 miles this stop.

09-03-05SatDay 156Out at:  10:05 AM - Trip meter:   161

Driving directions:  At Tok, AK1 intersected with AK 2 – the Alaska Highway.  We took AK 2 east toward the Canadian border.  At the border it became the 1.

Crossed into Yukon at 1:46 PM but there is a time change so make that 2:46 PM.  Canada customs is 20 miles inside the border at Beaver Creek, YK so did not get there until 3:11 PM.  The customs officer only wanted to know: 

  • where we were from,
  • where we were going,
  • how many in the coach,
  • did we have any firearms,
  • did we have any liquor,
  • and did we have any cigarettes. 
  • The agent stamped our passports. 

Then we had to pull over to the side where a couple of ladies were taking a survey about our trio in Alaska.  It was 6 pages long and took a little over 10 minutes.  We were told that the thrust of the survey was to determine why tourist traffic has fallen off in Fairbanks.  We gave Fairbanks a glowing recommendation. 

CONTINUED AT "Archives 2005" - "2005-Western Canada RTN" TAB.  Will be returned here when we go to Skagway .


09-06-05TueDay 159Out at:  10:55 AM - Trip meter:   104

Driving directions:  Got back on the 1 east.  At the junction of the 2 took it south, aka South Klondike Highway. 

Crossed back into Alaska at 1:40 PM.  With the time change that makes it 12:40 PM now.  It is 8 miles to the customs checkpoint.   

Just breezed through customs.  The only question different from the last customs checkpoint was about citrus fruit.  The officer did not confiscate our oranges because they were from California (we think).  

It rained on us all the way down White Pass and into town.  Had to setup camp in the rain.

  • Campsite:  Garden City RV Park, Skagway, AK - 3 nights - site #?? – gravel pad - pull thru – water, sewer, 30 amp, cable TV 8 channels.  Rating 4/3.  Park advertises WiFi but it cost $5.00 an hour.  Got setup at 1:30 PM.

We drove into and around town.  It’s not very big.  There were 4 cruise ships in the harbour.  That is the normal number on a daily basis.  However, the last day will be September 24th and they will not return until May 10th.  The town just shuts down.  

We had wanted to take a day cruise to Juneau but that shut down on Monday – Labor Day.  Considered the ferry but it only runs one way a day.

09-07-05WedDay 160 - Drove back out the highway to see the view since it was raining and foggy when we came in. Stopped and look at the long pipe at Pitchfork Falls .  The pipe supplies the water for a power plant in the gorge.  It provides electricity for Skagway and Haines.  Stopped and looked at Moose Creek Bridge.  It looks like a suspension bridge but only has one standard.  We stopped at Summit Lake.  It is emerald green to the north and to the south it goes from blue to brown.  The lake is in Canada.  See "Photos 2005" - "2005 Alaska in Aug & Sep" Tab.

Drove past the customs station and turned around and returned to Skagway.  We did not get to the Canadian customs station..

When we crossed back into Alaska the customs office was pretty stupid.  I told him that we had passed through in a motorhome yesterday but because of the rain and fog we could not see the scenery so we had driven out today to look at it.  His first question was: 

        “Where did we come from”? 
I told him Skagway. 
He said “No, where did you come from”?
                I told him Skagway, that we had parked the motorhome there and driven out to see the scenery.
        He asked how far we went?
                I told him we turned back before getting to Canada customs. 
        He asked if we had purchased any alcohol or cigarettes while in Canada?
                I told him no.  What I didn’t say was that if the stupid shit would listen to my answer to his question he would know that I turned around before getting to any place to buy anything.
                There is not even a vacant log cabin on the highway between the customs buildings. 
        He asked who owned the car?
                I told him I did.
        He asked if it was my tow vehicle?
                I told him yes.  Note – it appears his foggy mind finally registered something.
        He had me roll down the rear window and looked in the back of the jeep then let us pass.

When we returned to town we went out Dyea Road.  It went out to a historic site where some people were killed by a slide.  There is a State Recreation Campground about 6 miles out.  We drove through it.  The sites were large enough for the coach but the road out was narrow and the road in the campground had real tight turns.  Not a consideration.   

09-08-05ThurDay 161It rained all yesterday afternoon, through the night, and did not stop until around 6 AM this morning.  Left camp at 7:30 AM and went to the White Pass & Yukon Route train station.  Purchased 2 roundtrip tickets for the 8:15 AM excursion.  The train goes out to the White Pass summit @ MP 20.4 and returns – takes 3½ hours.  This is a narrow gauge train. 

A train pulled out ahead of us that was going to Fraser, BC at MP 27.7.  It was a one way trip – the passengers will return via bus.  The train had 3 engines and 10 cars.  Our train had 3 engines and three cars.  Two of the cars loaded and the third was empty.  After we loaded, the train backed up and we waited while two other trains pulled out.  They each had 3 engines with 12-15 cars each.  Each train had loaded from a cruise ship.  We finally got out of the terminal about 8:35 AM. 

At MP 5.5 is a red caboose the railroad donated to the US Forest Services.  It is setting off the track and can be rented by the night.  As we crossed over the bridge at this point we noticed 8 cars had been attached to our train.  It must have been done when be backed up at the station but we did not feel or hear them when they connected.   

At MP 7.5 we passed a set of rapids on the Skagway River that was a class 6.  It has never been successfully navigated.   

At MP 18.6 we passed a steel bridge that was constructed in 1901.  It was the tallest cantilever bridge in the world when the railroad discontinued using it in 1969.  A shorter bridge and a 675 foot tunnel replaced the cantilever bridge at MP 18.8.   

It started raining at MP 19, rained all the way to the summit, and stopped raining when we got back to MP 19.  Summit Lake at MP 20.4 is the headwater for the Yukon River, the third longest in the world.   

There is a siding at the summit.  The second train that left the station had already moved the engines to the other end of the train so it would be in the lead going down.  The third train was switching when we got there.  Our train moved the engines and then we started back down the tracks.   

Going down I got out on the platform before the train entered the tunnel but when we emerged it was so foggy I could hardly see it, so no picture.  John Wayne tried to buy the bridge so that he could blow it up in a movie but the rail company would not sell it to him.   

It was a very scenic train ride.

Skagway is strictly a tourist town supported by the 4 cruise ships that arrive daily from May 10th through September 24th.  There is not nearly enough highway traffic to support the town.  Without the cruise ships the town would shrink up to nearly nothing.  Drove the jeep 96 miles this stop.

CONTINUED AT "Archives 2005" - "2005-Western Canada RTN" TAB.  Will be returned here when we go to Hyder .

09-11-05SunDay 164 - Camped here.  Will drive over to Hyder tomorrow.

  • Campsite:  Meziadin Junction, MP J-97.5, BC - 2 nights - site #6 – gravel pad – back in – water, sewer, 15 amp.  Rating 2/1.  Sets in a truck parking lot.  Power is furnished by generator and it is turned off at 9 PM and back on at 6:15 AM.  Water pressure is about 5 pounds.  Had to hook up the transformer because of low voltage. 

09-12-05MonDay 165Left camp at 7:30 AM – going to Hyder to see the bears.  It is a great drive of 40 miles on an excellent road to Stewart.  We stopped and had breakfast in Stewart.  Then a drive through Stewart to Hyder.  Immediately after passing Canadian customers you enter Hyder and all of the roads/streets are gravel.  There are no US customs at the border. 

Two black grizzly cubs playing at the US Forest observation area in Hyder.
Looking down on Salmon Glacier from the overlook above the glacier.
e stopped at the visitors center, which is also the school, and got directions.  Drove straight through Hyder and 3 .3 miles later arrived at the US Forest bear observation platform.  It is just a long sidewalk, with banisters, along Fish Creek.  The salmon have just about stopped running but we did see 2 young black grizzly bears.  They were parading around the stream and fishing.  Then they started to play.  They put on quite a show.  There were very few salmon in the stream.   

On the way back to the car we walked along another sidewalk, don’t know the name of the stream.  In that stream were lots of salmon and one black bear cub.  It was so small it was not able to catch the fish but it did try.   

Then we headed on out to Salmon Glacier.  It is suppose to be the only glacier you can look down on without flying over it.  The overlook is at a point where 2 glaziers join to make the larger Salmon Glacier.  We drove out 23 miles before turning around.  The road is just hung onto the side of the mountain and we had an excellent view of the glacier plus many waterfalls.  It was a fantastic drive.  

On the way back we stopped at the observation platform again but there were no bears.  Also no fish in Fish Creek and very few in the other stream.  The US Forest Service will start charging a fee for its use in 2006. 

At customs we had the standard questions but one of the dumbest was “where are you coming from”?  The only place to come from was Hyder, AK. 

Got back to camp at 1:35 PM.  It was a beautiful day and a great trip.  Well worth the drive.  Drove the jeep 139 miles this stop.  See "Photos 2005" - "2005 Alaska in Aug & Sep" Tab.


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