Monday, September 7, 2015

Skagway to Stewart/Hyder

Well folks, it's been a while since I've been able to get to the blog--for a lot of the time on the caravan after we left Skagway, we were in places where we had zero internet access, and this also continued after we left the caravan.  Anyway, here I am with some connectivity, so I'll start trying to catch up.

After we left Skagway, the first leg of our return journey took us back to Teslin, Yukon, where we had stayed on the way up.  When we first left, we had a 12 mile long uphill climb, so it was pretty slow going.  A lot of people who have diesel pushers cite as one advantage the greater torque you get out of a diesel engine as opposed to a gas engine--which is true--but our wonderful gas burning rig did just fine!  Probably took us a little longer to get to the top of the pass, but we made it!

After that climb, we crossed back into Canada and drove on to Teslin.  Since we had stopped at many of the places along the way on our trip north, we pretty much just booked it on to the campground.  It was fun to be back in a place where we'd been before, even though we were only basically coming in, spending the night, and heading out first thing the next morning.

From Teslin we drove to Watson Lake, where we had stayed on the trip up, and where the signpost forest is.  We stayed at a different campground, though, since the next day we were going to take a turn onto a different highway several miles out of town.  That evening, the wagon masters and tailgunners had made brownies for everyone to have a treat before the wagonmaster briefing, and then one of our group led us in a rousing evening of Bingo.  It's been a long time since either of us had played Bingo, and my how times have changed!  The last time I had played, it was just the basic, traditional, fill up your card game, with the little cardboard discs to put on a space--no more!  Several folks on the caravan live in retirement communities where Bingo is apparently quite the popular activity, and now there are so many varieties of the game, plus you use a "dauber," an ink filled plastic tube with a felt tip you use to daub a colored circle on the space when a number is called.  Maybe every one of you dear readers were aware of this phenomenon, but, alas, us geezers are apparently more than fashionably late to this party!  Was a lot of fun, with gag prizes and lots of hooting and hollering.

The next day we drove to Dease Lake, on the Cassiar Highway.  Even though the caravan ended up in Prince George, BC, where we had been on the way up, we drove this highway as opposed to completely retracing our steps along the Alcan.  While the Cassiar is somewhat isolated in lots of places, it was still a better road than the Alcan, though there was no cell phone service available anywhere along the road.  The main attraction on this leg of the trip was a stop in Jade City, where they mine a huge percentage of the world's jade.  According to the Milepost book, 92% of the world's jade is mined right here, though I've seen lower percentages in some Canadian government sites on the web.  Still, there is a large amount of jade here.  We stopped at the store for the mining outfit and got to see jade in different stages of refinement, from the crude, huge rocks before it is cut and polished, down to the polished and finished stones.

At Dease Lake we had a pot luck for the caravan, that Trisha and I organized.  Turned out well, and the manager of the campground where we stayed was kind enough to put up a tent to cover the tables.   Potlucks are always so much fun, to get to try so many different dishes.  And it never ceases to amaze me how almost always it works out that there's enough veggies, desserts, etc.  And the weather once again cooperated, since the grills were set up outside the tent and the rain quit just about the time folks started grilling.

The next day was the drive to Stewart, BC/Hyder, Alaska.  As we got closer to Stewart, we could see several hanging glaciers, including Bear Creek Glacier, which was right down to the water just on the other side of the highway.  We thought it was pretty cool to get this close to the glacier, but we had no idea what was in store for us in Hyder--Salmon Glacier, but more on that in a minute.

As we pulled into the campground, we realized that Chuck, the wagonmaster, was nowhere to be seen.  Once we got to where several of our fellow caravaners had already arrived, we heard the news that Chuck and Sally's rig lost all power and broke down about halfway to Stewart.  They were stuck on the side of the road, since there was no cell service, and they had to get in their tow car and drive all the way back to Dease Lake where they could call for assistance.  Since they had no power, they had to wait until the next day before a tow truck capable of towing a big RV could come get them and take them to the nearest service center.  So they had to spend the night in their coach, with no power, so totally in the dark, and they told us later that where they were was on an incline to boot, which meant they had to turn off their refrigerator to avoid damage.  So they had to lose a lot of their food, too.

Anyway, since the wagonmaster is the one who usually works with the campground management to assign sites, there was no one there to do it when we arrived.  Can't remember if I've mentioned this before, but earlier on the tour the wagonmaster asked us to consider taking the training to become tailgunners and wagon masters, and we've decided to do that--we'll go to the Fantasy home office in Las Vegas the third week of September for a week of training and we'll see what happens after that.  Anyway, back to the ranch--since the wagonmaster was not there and there was a bit of confusion with the campground management, Trisha and I just volunteered to help out so we got everyone parked.  Got a little taste of what this aspect of being part of the staff on a tour is like, and learned that figuring out which size rigs can go into which sites can sometimes be a little tricky.  Since Chuck and Sally were no longer with us, Lorrin and Nyla, the tailgunners, had to step into the wagonmaster role.  Lorrin asked us and the two other couples who are going to the training to be temporary tailgunners for the remaining days on the tour.

The reason everyone refers to this "town" as Stewart/Hyder is that the British Columbian town of Stewart and the Alaskan town of Hyder are right smack up against each other, with the border running down the middle.  Given that Hyder is such a small place, it relies on Stewart for a lot of its services, and there is a lot of sharing between the two.  There's not a US border crossing station going into Hyder, but there is coming back across the border into Stewart--you don't need your passport to go from Stewart to Hyder, but if you forget it, you'll not make it back to Stewart!

That evening we all carpooled over to Hyder to a big salmon spawning area, where they have a boardwalk above the river for bear viewing, as many grizzlies come to the shallow waters to fish.  Some of the visitor guides talk about watching the tides table to find the most likely time when bears will be there, but basically it's just the luck of the draw.  When we got there we encountered many photographers with their big cameras set up on tripods--who had been waiting for hours, and they said you just never know.  We saw a number of salmon spawning in the shallow waters, plus a number of fish already dead.  At first it's a bit of a shock to see so many dead fish, but then you realize that this is just the natural life cycle for salmon--after they are hatched and spend a little growing time in the rivers, they go out to sea to grow bigger and eventually return to the site of their birth to spawn; once the eggs are deposited and fertilized, both the female and male fish just die.  So, there are a lot more fish just dead and dying here than the bears and birds can eat.  We did see some birds having a nice salmon dinner, but alas, no bears.  We came on home after a while, but one couple from the tour went back the next evening and were able to see a bear catching salmon.  This is one sight we had hoped to see, but did not--oh well, guess we'll just have to come back!  Believe me, this is not the only reason we'll be back; Alaska just has this magical allure and there is so much more of this incredible state we want to see.

The next day we returned to Hyder and on beyond up to Salmon Glacier, with our fellow caravaners, Dee and Ray.  And, without doubt, this was one of the highlights of the whole trip.  The road is dirt and gravel, pretty steep climbing, with lots of twists and turns and tons of potholes and washboard areas, so it's very slow going, but sakes alive is it worth it!!  This is a huge glacier, and there are many places where the road takes you above it, with pull outs so you can actually look down on the glacier--a perspective we'd not had with all the other glacier viewings we'd done up to this point.  Up at the top we met a guy who calls himself the Bear Man--he actually spends months at a time up there, just in his tent!  There is a pull out area with some picnic tables, and restrooms with just pit toilets--no running water or other facilities.  He has an arrangement of videos and pictures for sale on one of the tables and is there to give you information about the glacier, as well as the wildlife in the area.  He apparently has an arrangement with the authorities to allow him to camp there, and in exchange he spends a lot of time tracking and sighting bears and recording this information as a help to the Fish and Game Commission.  Quite the interesting fellow!  It was also fascinating to see how quickly the weather changes there--at first we thought we weren't going to be able to get good views of the glacier, as it was heavily fogged in.  Then, in just a matter of minutes, the fog cleared and we had incredible views of the sun drenched glacier; then it would fog over again and back and forth.  Really something!

That evening we had a chili cook-off and potluck, plus the traditional "Creative Challenge,"  where caravaners perform skits or songs or poems, etc., about the trip.  Sally had told us about this tradition in the very first meeting we had when we started, so folks were thinking about it and working on it as we went along.  Not everyone did something, but those that did were really creative and some were just side-splitting funny, especially those that parodied our staff leaders and fellow caravaners.  Trisha and I had come up with a song about the trip that we did to the tune of Charlie and the MTA, and we had fun doing that.

Here are some pics of this leg of the journey:

Leaving Skagway--Trisha did some amazing photography as we drove along

Love these shots where you can see reflections in the still waters

Fireweed we have enjoyed all summer now in its final stage

We stopped at a pull out to let Sophie out; here you can see how the fireweed has changed, from the brilliant blossoms when they are in their peak, to now where the blossoms have turned to the white, snowy fuzz

These scenes with trees in the foreground and mountains and glaciers in the background are just so amazing!

These next several shots were of the sunrise when we woke up in Teslin--brilliant colors!!

Sophie says I'm ready to go out now, Dad!

Evidence of a recent fire; on the way from Teslin to Watson Lake

When we stopped at Jade City, we saw this guy with a drone flying it around; someone said it was for camera surveillance, since they have so much jade just lying exposed on tables, potent temptation for sticky fingers!
Totem out in front of the jade store

Trisha just can't bear to leave!
Tables and tables full of unpolished jade; you can pick out what you want and they'll polish it up for you

Some pieces that have been cut with one side polished
Inuksuts made by local children
Still fascinated by all these burls!
And carvings

Large inuksuk done with polished jade
Beautiful picnic table out in front
and a little chapel across the road--still have regular services here

Lovely, perhaps a bit eerie, effect with the low lying clouds covering the mountain tops

Coming into Stewart, passing some of the hanging glaciers
Bear Creek Glacier

Glacier water run off
Hard to get good pictures of this, as we were moving, but this is a moss that resembles the Spanish moss you see in southern Georgia and Florida, but not quite.  It's actually more akin to the type of moss we saw in the Simean Mountains in Ethiopia

Here we are at the bear viewing area where the salmon spawn--you can see some of the dead fish along the banks

The birds are having a feast!

Santa looking for bears!
Our friend, Tony--in his 80's and still RVing!!  Hope we're in that good shape at his age.
Karen, from Michigan, and Dave, who lives in the Villages in Florida
Dave and Randie, who is from California
Dee--you may recall my picture of her on the first night out from Anacortes, with the marshmallow!! We became great friends, and she's still plotting her payback at me for taking that picture--guess it will have to wait until we see them in Flroida next winter.  She and Ray also live in the Villages
Sharon and Larry, from Tampa--they will be joining us for the training in Las Vegas
With Joan, from the Villages
Driving out of Hyder up to Salmon Glacier the next day

Love the kettle ponds!

And here it is, Salmon Glacier--the dark streaks down the middle make it appear that some huge vehicle has been riding along, but it's just dirt and debris that have been pushed up to the surface as the glacier ground down, over thousands of years, following the natural contours of the mountains, and cutting new paths along its way

Love seeing the blue ice down in the cracks and crevasses

And an ice cave!

Still not all the way to the top of the road, but we're already above the glacier, looking down. You can see the fog on the right hand side of the photo
Zoomed in on the rough texture of the surface--these are formed by the uneven pressures of different parts of the ice, causing little fissures along the surface

Looks almost like a groomed ski run!

Wondrous beauty, arising out of the misty fog!!  All the following shots were taken within minutes, so you can see how quickly it changes!

Us with the Bear Man

Rather appropriate Alaska license tag, don't you think??
That evening, getting ready for the chili cook-off
Paul Johnson in the green shirt, with Jean and Jack Stuart; Paul and Lin are from Venice, FL and will be joining us for the training, and we'll get to see them lots next winter when we're in Sarasota, along with the Stuarts, who live in Tavares

Ken, Nan and Joan, to the left of Paul
Jodi and Paul setting up their table and Jim Strom from Warwick, GA

Dave, sneaking a little dessert before the meal!!
The chili offerings--alas, our vegan chili didn't win!
Sally Weaver
Paul--he's one of the funniest guys we know, and when he and Jack get to going, they have us in stitches!  He did a monologue for the Creative Challenge, and it was hilarious
Paul's wife Moonlin--she sang a song she composed about Alaska and brought the house down--we were all in tears.  Paul later told us she had been a model and singer at one time, and it sure shows!
Lee and Randie, from California
Carolyn Trainer; she and her husband, Don, in their 80's--still going strong!  Jim and Maynard in background
Emma, Dazey's Mom
Randy and Karen; story from the small world department:  when Randy was a young dentist in Michigan turns out he dated Don Traner's daughter!
Bob Joy, Nan's husband.  He had the coolest collection of hats.
Ken, from Missouri, with Lorrin in the background
Trisha getting some tailgunner tips from Lorrin, the consummate professional

Paul, Jack and Jean
Nyla, who emceed the Creative Challenge--she and Lorrin were such good sports, spoofing themselves along the way
This was the funniest skit of the evening, with Marvin on the left, imitating Chuck, the wagonmaster, Maynard, Dazey's Dad, holding the chart, and Linda, Marvin's wife, who impersonated Nyla
Lorrin and Nyla, with their poem about the trip

Leaving Stewart the next morning

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