MONDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2017

Category: 2013 Alaska

An Adventure On The Stikine River ….

A Day In Anchorage ….
We woke up to rain on our day in Anchorage so after breakfast headed to the museum.   For a town of only 300,000 people they have an excellent museum covering the history of Alaska and the Indian and Eskimo tribes that live here.  The building, the exhibits and the displays are all first rate and should not be missed if you are visiting.  We came out of the museum 3 hours later to a nice sunny day and spent the aftenoon exploring the town.

Anchorage Museum.  The history of Alaska on display.

Anchorage Museum. The history of Alaska on display.

An Eskimo coat made from various animal skins.  Truly a work of art.

An Eskimo coat made from various animal skins. Truly a work of art.

A Great Find On Urbanspoon ….

A search of Urbanspoon and we selected a place for dinner a short distance from the hotel and this turned out to be a real treat.  It was a tiny little Japanese restaurant with limited seating and hand written menus hanging from the walls.  It was run by a Japanese chef and his mother who must have been at least 85 years old.  With only limited seating we were at the same table as a couple of delightful Anchorage girls and we quickly struck up a conversation.  By the end of the night it almost turned into a family dinner.  We were talking to everyone in the restaurant, helping the little old lady clean up the tables and laughing our way through the meal.

Our new friends at the Japanese restaurant.

Our new friends at the Japanese restaurant.

A Milk Run ….
Next morning we checked out of our hotel and headed for the island of Wrangell for our 3 day river safari. The flight was a milk run on a Boeing 737 jet stopping at Juneau, Petersburg and finally Wrangell, our destination. There was a bit of excitement when we stopped at Petersburg and 2 prisoners in chains were escorted onto the plane. We also had our shortest ever flight on a jet, 9 minutes from Petersburg to Wrangell. Wrangell was our starting point for the Stikine River Safari.

Our jet for the milk run to Wrangell.  Note the filled in windows at the front of the plane.  This was also a cargo plane.

Our jet for the milk run to Wrangell. Note the filled in windows at the front of the plane. This was also a cargo plane.

An Expedition Up The Stikine River ….
Up early the next morning and we joined 3 other couples for our adventure up the Stikine River. The program was to travel 260 km up the river to Telegraph Creek which is an historic gold mining ghost town. The trip was in a very comfortable jet boat powered by two 355hp Cummins diesel engines with a top speed of 84 kph. It was fully equipped with indoor and outdoor areas and a full marine toilet. A very comfortable boat for our trip.

The jet boat for our river safari.

The jet boat for our river safari.

We Become Illegal Boat People ….
The trip up was fascinating as there are over 28 glaciers feeding the Stikine River along its full path of 539 km. It is one of the fastest flowing rivers in the United States but its headwaters start well into Canada. The first 64 km are in the United States and then you cross the border into Canada. The easiest border crossing we have ever made. No customs, no immigration and no border guards, just total wilderness. The standing joke by our skipper Jim Leslie, as we crossed the border was he was required to perform a strip search starting with the ladies first.

One of the 28 glaciers feeding the Stikine River.

One of the 28 glaciers feeding the Stikine River.

Spectacular Scenery ….
Around every bend in the river we were greeted by spectacular scenery: snow capped mountains, glaciers and numerous creeks and rivers flowing into the Stikine. This is a true wilderness area and apart from a few hunting cabins and floating cabins there is nothing else on this 260 km stretch of river. We even watched a moose and her calves in the fast flowing river, clamber up the bank and disappear into the wilderness. About 160 km up we stopped for a great barbeque lunch on the banks of the river complete with an open fire, tables and chairs and plenty of food.

Moose crossing the river.

Moose crossing the river.

A BBQ lunch on the banks of the Stikine River.

A BBQ lunch on the banks of the Stikine River.

We Reach Telegraph Creek ….
After lunch we travelled the last 100 km to reach Telegraph Creek around 4:00 PM. We were then transferred by van to our accommodation, a hunting lodge located about 6 km from the town on a property owned by Dionne & Miles Samson. Dionne was our host for the 3 days and prepared our wholesome lunches and dinners from home grown and local produce and served this in her own home with assistance from her mum. The lodge, although basic, was very warm and comfortable and we enjoyed our two nights stay.  A special treat for us was to have afternoon tea at Nancy Ball’s house.  Nancy, now in her 80’s, is a local icon in Telegraph Creek and it was a real treat to spend time with her in her house with magnificent flower baskets on display.

Our lodge for the two night stay in Telegraph Creek.  Warm and comfortable.

Our lodge for the two night stay in Telegraph Creek. Warm and comfortable.

Nancy Ball (centre) with our hosts Jim and Wilma Leslie during our afternoon tea at her house in Telegraph Creek.

Nancy Ball (centre) with our hosts Jim and Wilma Leslie during our afternoon tea at her house in Telegraph Creek.

Nancy Ball's log cabin covered with colourful hanging baskets.

Nancy Ball’s log cabin covered with colourful hanging baskets.

Exploring The Town ….
For our second day we visited the Grand Canyon of Canada, a spectacular canyon on the Stikine River, returned for lunch then spent the afternoon exploring the ghost town of Telegraph Creek. There are only a few people still living in the old town and it was fascinating to walk around this town and see all the old buildings in various states of disrepair but still standing. Further up the hill a couple of miles away there is the Tahltan Indian Village with about 250 residents. These villagers still retain their traditional ways of hunting and fishing and have summer fishing huts and smoke houses along the river for catching and smoking salmon during the salmon run.

One of the many empty buildings in the ghost town of Telegraph Creek.

One of the many empty buildings in the ghost town of Telegraph Creek.

St Aidens Church in Telegraph Creek.  Still used occasionally.

St Aidens Church in Telegraph Creek. Still used occasionally.

A local in the ghost town, a chipmunk.

A local in the ghost town, a chipmunk.

A Faster Slower Trip Down The River ….
Because the river is so fast flowing our boat speed down the river was much quicker but we made more stops so our total travel time was the same. We visited an old riverboat refueling stop from the early 1900’s, just a cabin now in disrepair. We stopped for lunch on an island in the river and went exploring for wildlife tracks. We saw plenty of tracks and our guide Scott explained how old they were, the type of animal and the direction they were headed. It is interesting that we were not allowed in the bush by ourselves and at all times Scott carried a rifle for protection against animal attacks.

Exploring the bush.  Our guide Scott complete with rifle in case of bear or moose attack.

Exploring the bush. Our guide Scott complete with rifle in case of bear or moose attack.

Liz at the abandoned riverboat refueling station.

Liz at the abandoned riverboat refueling station.

And On To Prince Rupert in Canada ….
Next morning up early for a look around Wrangell. This is a very neat and tidy town and looks very much like the set of a western movie. Once again not on the main tourist trail with the cruise boats so devoid of gift shops. Early aftenoon down to the Alaska Marine Highway ferry terminal for our overnight trip to Prince Rupert in Canada for the next leg of our journey, the Skeena train to Jasper.

Alaska Marine Highway Ferry for our trip to Prince Rupert, Canada

Alaska Marine Highway Ferry for our trip to Prince Rupert, Canada

Kodiak – A Hunting, Fishing And Bear Viewing Paradise ….

And On To Kodiak ….
We drove the 125 miles back from Seward to Anchorage, dropped off our hire car and checked into our hotel. Next morning up early to catch the 1 1/4 hour flight to Kodiak Island in a twin engine Dash 8 turbo prop plane. The Kodiak Inn picked us up from the airport, and in no time we were ready to explore the town. Kodiak is a fishing town for both professional and amateur fisherman. The harbour is jammed with professional fishing boats, fish processing industry and recreational fishing boats. It is certainly not a tourist town, the major tourist attractions being bear viewing and adventure tourism like fishing, hunting, kayaking and hiking.

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Dash 8 plane for our flight to Kodiak

Our First Stops ….
We hired a car for 24 hours and had lunch at Henry’s Great Alaskan Restaurant which is by far the most popular place in town. After lunch visited a Pull Tab Parlor. The young girl was very helpful and explained that gambling in Alaska is illegal except for pull tabs. They are small cards and you peel back tabs to see if you win money. All the money raised goes to local charities. Of course we had to try and invested $5 to win $2, then invested the $2 to win nothing. We quickly decided this game is worse than poker machines but not for the locals.

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Pull tabs. Worse than poker machines

Exploring The Island ….
Kodiak has only 100 miles of roads of which only 50 miles are bitumen. It was a 20 minute drive to Fort Abercrombie to look at the ruins of the World War 2 gun implacements then a further 20 minutes to the end of the road heading north.

World War 2 Gun Implacements at Ft Abercrombie

World War 2 Gun Implacements at Ft Abercrombie

South Bound To The Other End ….
Next day we took off for Pasagshak, south of the township. Along the way we had to stop numerous times to watch the fisherman catching salmon in the creeks as the salmon were running. The salmon run is the time when salmon, which have migrated from the ocean, swim to the upper reaches of rivers where they spawn on gravel beds. After spawning, the salmon die, and the salmon life cycle starts again. The annual run is a major event for bears, bald eagles and sport fishermen.

Fishing for salmon during the salmon run

Fishing for salmon during the salmon run

A Fish Story ….
And as you can see, Rob even had a go at catching the salmon. He caught the fish shown below by diving off the bridge and catching it with his bare hands. And that is a great fish story.

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Robs 60 cm salmon caught by diving off the bridge

A Drive To Nowhere ….

We had a great day exploring the island and whilst we saw seals, bald eagles and lots of salmon, unfortunately we didn’t get to see any moose or bears. Along the road south there are numerous fishing lodges, the only surf beach on the island and to our surprise a rocket launching facility to send satellites into orbit. This facility is massive and has only launched 15 satellites since 1998 when it was built. Our claim to fame was that we drove 125 miles on an island that has only 50 miles of bitumen roads and we didn’t drive on an unmade roads. Work that out.

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A silver salmon over 60 cm long

The Weather Cannot Be Controlled ….,
We had planned a float plane bear viewing tour out of Kodiak, but unfortunately the morning we were due to depart, we woke up to either thick fog or low cloud and our tour was cancelled. The downside was we missed out on the bears, the upside was we saved $1000 so we can have a spend up in either Anchorage or Vancouver. We did however make use of the day by exploring the town which we hadn’t had time to do previously. We visited a salmon smokehouse and learnt the difference between king, silver and red salmon and ended up purchasing some beautiful red smoked salmon to take back to Anchorage.

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The local Kodiak brew. Not a bad beer.

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Sarah Pale Ale. Guess who.

The Local Brew House ….

We also found the Kodiak Island Brewery and this turned out to be very educational in a number of ways. We tried their beers and mixed with the locals, but we decided we were very much over dressed. Hoodies, tracksuit pants and gumboots are the fashion items in Kodiak for the locals irrespective of where you go. And for our final night in Kodiak back to our favourite eatery, Henry’s Great Alaskan Restaurant, all dressed up in our new gumboots and hoodies.

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Fitting in with the locals. Our new outfits.

Even though we missed out on our bear viewing flight we enjoyed Kodiak. In many respects it is the true Alaskan village. Devoid of tourists except for adventure seekers and absent of the tacky giftshops in so many other towns. The people in the village are very friendly and courteous on the roads and best of all the is only one set of traffic lights in the entire village.

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A successful day fishing. Bag limit is 2 fish over 20″ and 10 fish under 20″.

What Was That ….
Our 1 hour flight back to Anchorage was comfortable and we checked into our hotel. Whilst we were unpacking we felt the hotel shake really badly and thought a truck must have hit the building. Liz went down to see what had happened and guess what, it was a magnitude 4.0 earthquake. Wow, how exciting.

Alaska – The Last Frontier …..

The Shortest International Flight, Ever !!!!!
Our flight from Victoria BC to Seattle was the shortest international flight we have ever taken… 25 minutes. It took much longer to get through US immigration and customs than it did to fly to Seattle and we only just made our next flight to Fairbanks, Alaska. A very pleasant 3 1/2 hour flight and we arrived 10 minutes early into Fairbanks, picked up our rental car and drove the 6 miles into downtown and checked into our hotel.

The plane for our short International flight

The plane for our short International flight

Ye Old Riverboat ….

The next day was a big day. Up early for the Riverboat Discovery tour. A very professional and staged tour down the Chena River. It included a demonstration take off and landing of a float plane, humourous and entertaining commentary, a guided tour of an Athabascan Indian Village as well as sled dog demonstrations.

Riverboat Discovery trip down the Chena River

Riverboat Discovery trip down the Chena River

Float Plane demonstration take off and landing

Float Plane demonstration take off and landing

Liz makes a new friend in the Indian Village

Liz makes a new friend in the Indian Village

And Then The Museum ….

Our afternoon was spent at the University of Alaska, Museum of the North. It started with a 1 hour personalised tour by two of the staff of the behind the scenes workings of the museum where they store 1.2 million artifacts in an 11,000 sq ft climate controlled warehouse as well as carry out extensive research. It was then up to the theatre for a 30 minute film on the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) followed by a very interesting walk around the museum exhibits.

Liz holding an exhibit during our behind the scenes tour

Liz holding an exhibit during our behind the scenes tour

We then viewed two more 30 minute films, one about the museum construction and exhibits and the research carried out at the museum, and the final film was about winter in Fairbanks, Alaska. Some interesting facts about the winter here. Hours of daylight mid summer; 23 hours, mid winter; 2 hours. River freezes and the ice is 3 feet thick. Lowest winter temperature ever recorded; minus 70 degrees F and typical winter temperatures range between minus 40 and minus 60 degrees F. The local primary school has never been closed due to inclement weather. Fairbanks has a lower rainfall than Arizona at an average of 8 inches per year most of which falls as snow.

Liz and Rob next to the bear exhibit.  This bear is stuffed.

Liz and Rob next to the bear exhibit. This bear is stuffed.

An Interesting Coffee Stop ….
Next day we headed south to Denali National Park. Our stop for coffee was Nenana, 50 miles from Fairbanks. What an interesting place….a native Alaskan river village. The Nenana River flows through the town and each year in March a 26 foot tall timber tripod is dragged out onto the thick river ice and is wired to a clock. For just $2.50 you can guess the exact day, hour and minute as to when the ice will break and stop the clock. People from all over the state and visitors enter the competition. Since 1917 the Nenana Ice Classic has been held and is a direct link to old time Alaska. The prize money can be over $300,000 and the number of entries over 150,000 for a town of 350 people, so of course, we placed our entries. It should happen between April and May next year hopefully.

The tripod that sits on the ice to tell when the ice breaks up at the end of winter

The tripod that sits on the ice to tell when the ice breaks up at the end of winter

A Day With Everything ….
Our next stop was Denali National Park and the next morning up early for an 8 hour tour into Denali. The weather was overcast so we rugged up ready for rain. What we didnt expect to see was snow in their autumn. It was the first snowfall of the season and was heavy when we were above 3000 feet. The colours of autumn trees and ground foliage covered in snow made such a wonderful sight and experience. We saw bears with their cubs, and caribou heading west preparing for the onset of winter. It was such a great day and will certainly remain a highlight. The town of Denali is naturally filled with the tourist shops which are busy but within 10 days the entire village will be empty. Yes, not one person as it is all closed down for the winter. We had a comfortable two nights at the McKinley Village Lodge before heading further south.

Snow in Denali NP above 3000 feet

Snow in Denali NP above 3000 feet

One of our bear sightings close to the road

One of our bear sightings close to the road

A Short Detour ….
Our next destination was Sheep Mountain Lodge on the Glenn Highway. It is 280 miles from Denali so we had time to call into Talkeetna to see the Alaskan log cabin which is an official symbol of the Alaskan lifestyle. The early settlers who came to Alaska found themselves without a home and built their cabins from whatever trees were available. Talkeetna is somewhat a tourist town with the tourist shops and restaurants. Very interesting news from Talkeetna was that the Mayor of this town is a cat called Stubbs and can be seen outside the General Store most days. Unfortunately in the last couple of days Stubbs has been attacked by a dog and is in a bad way. His accident has been on the news nationally in America.

One of the many gift shops in Talkeetna.

One of the many gift shops in Talkeetna.

Our First Glacier ….
It was then onto Sheep Mountain and once we turned onto the Glenn Highway the scenery was
spectacular. The Alaska State Fair was in full swing at Palmer running for ten days and finishing the Labour Day long weekend. It was a weekend when all terrain vehicles go off into the bush shooting and camping outdoors. We followed the Matanuska River and each turn saw us looking at mountains, lakes and finally there in front of us was our first glacier…the Matanuska Glacier at the headwaters of the Matanuska River.

Matanuska Glacier. Photo taken from the Glenn Highway during our drive to Sheep Mountain Lodge.

Matanuska Glacier. Photo taken from the Glenn Highway during our drive to Sheep Mountain Lodge.

The Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier in Alaska that can be reached by vehicle. It is approximately 26 miles long and 4 miles wide at its terminus. It is classified as a valley glacier; a body of solid ice that flows like a river under its own weight through a valley. There were lots of opportunities to photograph the glacier which is one of the most dramatic glaciers in Alaska to be seen the highway. We arrived at Sheep Mountain Lodge for a very pleasant night before continuing onto Valdez 190 miles down the road.

The delightful Sheep Mountain Lodge on the Glenn Highway.

The delightful Sheep Mountain Lodge on the Glenn Highway.

A Change Of Plans ….
The scenery continues to amaze us as well as the weather here. We seemed to be travelling along the ridge of a mountain in sunshine then gradually descended into a valley where the rain started and then going through Thompsons Pass into Valdez either fog or low cloud and it looked like it had set in. On arrival in Valdez we found our hotel, The Mountain Sky, which was very comfortable and with a view of the harbour. Unfortunately the rain stayed with us for the afternoon and all through the night. We were booked on the Alaskan Marine Highway ferry for a 3 hr trip to Whittier but due to the unloading ramp at Whittier needing some maintenance, the ferry was out of service for a week. We then found out that our glacier cruise had been cancelled due to high winds, so we made the decision to leave Valdez a day earlier and drive back to Anchorage. The trip back was so interesting as we left in heavy rain but saw some fantastic waterfalls gushing down the mountains going through Thompsons Pass and once we were clear of the mountains the sun appeared and we saw a different perspective than when we drove into Valdez. So all was good.

Bridalveil Falls in the Thompson Pass driving out of Valdez.

Bridalveil Falls in the Thompson Pass driving out of Valdez.

An Animal Rehabilitation, Alaska Style ….
We had an afternoon in Anchorage before leaving the next morning for Seward 125 miles south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. Along the way we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre where Alaskan native animals are kept for rehabilitation.

Caribou in rehabilitation at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre.

Caribou in rehabilitation at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre.

A lot of the animals are permanantly live on site as they are unable to cope back in the wild, so we were able to see, caribou, muskox, bison, moose and elks, but unfortunately the bears were all sleeping.

Bison at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre.

Bison at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre.

It was then only a short drive into Seward where we were staying at the Windsong Lodge for two nights. Seward is a pretty town right on Ressurection Bay and our afternoon was spent visting the Alaskan Sealife Centre, exploring the town and then a visit to the Exit Glacier 8 miles out of the town.

A Perfect Day …..
We awoke the next morning to a perfect Alaskan summers day. Overcast, with drizzle but with light winds. We had a hearty breakfast of french toast at the local bakery and headed to our cruise boat for the Kenai Fjords National Park cruise. What a fantastic day we had. According to the boat captain it was a perfect summers day in Alaska, equivalent to a cold winters day in Melbourne. During our cruise we saw many birds and mammals. Bald eagles, horned puffin, cormorants, humpbacked whales, sea otters and harbor seals.

 

Seals sunning themselves on the rocks.

Seals sunning themselves on the rocks.

Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park.  The cruise boats is 90 feet long so it gives you an idea of the scale of this Glacier.

Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. The cruise boats is 90 feet long so it gives you an idea of the scale of this Glacier.

But the absolute highlight was the Aialik Glacier. This glacier measures 1.25 miles wide and 8.0 miles deep before it joins the Harding Ice Field which is 960 sq miles and joins many other glaciers in the national park. Over 90% of this national park is ice. The weather for the day turned out to be really good and we even had some sun but what was interesting was the drop in temperature when we went close up to the glacier. It must have dropped close to 0 degrees Celcius. We had a pleasant drive but wet drive back to Anchorage the next day and all organised for the next leg of our trip. All told we covered 2100 km in 11 days but the driving was easy due to very good roads and courteous Alaskan drivers.

The massive Aialik Glacier.

The massive Aialik Glacier.

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