We were a little late getting underway today due to the waterline repair that needed to be completed. At around 1:00, we rolled out and started down the Cassiar Highway. The Cassiar is an almost 500 mile secondary north-south road that connects Watson Lake with the Yellowhead Highway, a main east-west road that begins on the Pacific coast at Prince Rupert and continues west to Prince George and untold kilometers beyond that. The road has a lot of negative comments about it on the web. It is narrow with sharp shoulders and unguarded drop-offs, especially on the north end, but even in that section we feel that the negative comments are unwarranted. It is necessary, however, to think ahead because of the lack of services for long stretches. We had originally planned to take two days for the trip, but due to the late start, we decided to make it three. We had a late arrival at the Dease Lake RV Park, which was barely ordinary. Milepost 7152.
This morning it's off to Watson Lake. This leg has a very good highway and is relatively short, so we arrived fairly early. When we checked in to the Downtown RV park and hooked up to water and sewer, we discovered that we had developed a serious water leak about midway down the coach on the driver's side. Fortunately there is a gentleman in Watson Lake who runs a small RV repair service. In spite of the fact that it was now after 5:00 on Friday, Norm came out to help us. He identified the problem as a line underneath the main slide out that had chaffed over the years and needed replacement. He went home for the night and came back on Saturday morning and installed a new section of hose. Lots of systems on these coaches, so there are plenty of things that can go wrong. We were very happy that we were able to get this one repaired with so little difficulty. Milepost 6992.
The objective today was to get back to Whitehorse to visit an Indian crafts supply store. We got into our campground at about 4:00 pm, set up in a very tight site, and drove into town. Jennifer wanted to purchase an appliqué that she had looked at when we passed through previously, and fortunately it was still in stock. Whitehorse is the largest town in the Yukon Territory, actually containing about 75% of the entire population, and as such has virtually all the shopping and services one could want. Milepost 6719.
Tok to Destruction Bay is above the permafrost line and as such is plagues with "frost heaves." These are depressions in the road surface caused by melting and refreezing of the underlying soil, and can be extremely hard on the vehicle's suspension system if crossed at a high rate of speed. This stretch also crosses the international border back into Canada. Although motorhomes were being flagged and inspected, we were passed through without being delayed. We stopped for lunch at a great little restaurant in Beaver Creek and finished the day at Cottonwood RV Park, another of our overnight stays with fabulous water and mountain views. Milepost 6571.
We departed Big Bear (Anchorage) early, and headed for Tok (pronounced like you're smoking a joint, which is legal in Alaska). This is actually a two leg trip, with the first leg being on the Glenn Highway to Glennallen, and the second on the Tok cutoff. Both legs are beautiful, with high mountains and beautiful lakes and rivers. The Tok Cutoff, however, is a horribly maintained road, with lots of construction and extremely poor surface for most of the way. We got into Tok fairly late and checked into the Sourdough Campground. Milepost 6340.
We woke up this morning and decided that it is time to start home, with a couple of stops along the way. So we launched out of Homer late morning and headed north toward Anchorage. There was space at Big Bear RV Park, so we spent the night there. The haze continues limiting pictures along the way, but scenery is still striking; One photo is of a fire which has been burning since June on a mountainside in Kenai. We also stopped at a roadside pullout next to a stream where some locals were fishing. The stream literally was full of salmon, none of which were biting! Milepost 6049.
Here's the thing about Alaska: You constantly think that you've seen the best scenery there is to see, and then you go around the next turn in the road. So we left Palmer, north of Anchorage this morning about 9:30 with our destination being the KOA campground at Homer, which is at the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula, about 250 miles. It took most of the day, mostly because we kept stopping to "oooooh" and "ahhh!" Lots of mountains on either side of the Turnagain Arm, which is actually a fjord off Cook Inlet, which is actually a huge bay running from the Gold of Alaska all the way to Anchorage. Unfortunately, it was a relatively hazy day, so the photos we took are not of the best quality, but we're hopeful that conditions will be better on the way back in a coup[le of days. The Alaska Railroad, which runs scenic tourist trains between Anchorage and Seward, runs parallel to the highway for thirty or so miles, and Jennifer was quick enough to catch a shot of the northbound train. That's on the list for a second trip to Alaska without the dogs, maybe next year. The final shot (lower right) in the sequence are from our campsite. This KOA is a real find. Milepost 5784.
Today was the highlight of the trip so far. We arrived at the airport at about 10:15, checked in for our flight, and got our waterproof boots on (boots required for a glacier landing). Our pilot showed up about fifteen minutes before departure time. It turned out that he owns an airplane almost identical to Jennifer's, so he was more than happy to have Jennifer in the cockpit with him, at least for the first part of the trip. Photos will do no justice to the grandeur of the Alaska Range and Denali (Mt. McKinley) from the air, but we'll post a few anyway. The flight was just a bit over two hours, during which we wove through mountain passes, circled Denali, looked down on glaciers, and actually landed on one. We got off the plane and had about fifteen minutes on the ice (Sunshine and 34 degrees). After landing, we drove south to Palmer for the night. Milepost 5527. Tomorrow, it's on to there Kenai Peninsula.
It was a short day today. We drove south about 125 miles to Talkeetna, which is a small town off the beaten path that is basically a resort community. In addition, it has an airport where several charter companies run sightseeing flights over the Denali Park. Jennifer has made reservations for a flight at 11:00 am tomorrow (Saturday), so we checked into an RV park adjacent to the airport at about 4:00 pm. I'm not sure that Jenn will sleep tonight! Milepost 5398.
Up early this morning for a date with a tour at Denali. The tour should have taken us 66 miles into the park, but extensive and persistent rains over the past several days have washed out the road in numerous places beyond the 30 mile marker, so the eight hour tour was trimmed to a little over four. Never mind, the views are special, there was wildlife to view, and the bus driver was a superb docent, sharing lots of information and great stories. He, like many of the workers in Alaska, comes here each year for three or four months. In September, before the first snow, they sensibly evacuate. In his case home is Arizona, where he claims to play golf all winter long. Getting back to the main visitor center, we boarded a shuttle bus to the sled dog area, where we got to see a demo with a wheeled sled. Afterward, we got to get up close and personal with several of the dogs (no treats allowed). No snow mobiles are permitted in the Wilderness areas, so the park maintains three teams of sled dogs for transportation of people and equipment into interior areas of the wintertime park. These dogs have a sled culture in their pack, with the younger dogs learning to pull the sled by watching the older members in action. Neat trick.