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Returned from Fairbanks to Anchorage via the Richardson, Denali and Parks highways - spectacular scenery. Those are wildflowers as far as the eye can see
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ALASKA VIA WASHINGTON & CANADA
(Through California & Oregon also, obviously.) *Recap: We started our drive from Arizona to Alaska on June 3; arrived Alaska June 12; flew to Berlin July 23 and returned to Anchorage August 7; started drive out of Alaska August 12; arrived Gig Harbor, Washington August 16; left Washington
heading to Arizona on August 22; camped in Washington, Idaho, Utah & Northern Arizona before arriving in Tucson, Arizona August 26; drove over 12,500 miles (20,117 kilometers).
Stephen, Katie, Kathy & Bernie
Our first stop after leaving Tucson was in Los Angeles, CA
to visit friend Katie Wallack
. Katie is the daughter of one of Bernard’s former law partners. She is an actress and gem of a person - check her out at her website: www.katiewallack.com
There are clips from national commercial she’s done and a great photo gallery.
From LA we headed straight north through Oregon to my sister and brother-in-law’s, Mary Jean & Buzz
, lovely home in Gig Harbor, WA
. It doesn’t get much prettier than Gig Harbor, Washington on a beautiful summer day.
We had a nice visit in Gig Harbor, provisioned ourselves for the five-day Alaska Highway trek and headed out June 9th in our VW pop-up van. Unlike our other van, which had the full camper set-up, this one is a Eurovan, so only has a table and bed. Having said that, since we don’t have the *stove, sink and refrigerator, there is a ton of room - the bed is practically queens-sized and ohhhhh so comfy.
Gig Harbor, WA
Looking across the harbor with Mt. Rainier in view
*We found that we rarely used the stove inside the van and the sink and refrigerator never - way too small to be of any use. Since we like to actually be outdoors when we are camping (yes, I’m dissing you RVers here), we found our 3-burner Coleman stove set up on a picnic table much more convenient - that goes for eating and clean-up too.
Which brings me to the weather - we didn’t get rained-out a single time on our way north nor our way south. As for the camping in Alaska, again the weather was perfect EXCEPT on my birthday. When traveling, even if we got some rain during the day, by the time it was time to stop, make camp and prepare dinner, it was lovely.
The drive through British Columbia and the Yukon Territory of Canada
was *long - five full days from Seattle, but the scenery and wildlife make up for having to cover so many miles. We saw several herds of bison
interspersed with black bears
(8 or more), and moose
who spook easily so I didn’t get any good photos of them. The bison couldn’t care less about humans, and
Bison in the mist - didn't seem to bother them at all
the bears, well, a few of them were TOO curious. The nights we camped near lakes the eerie, haunting sound of the loons could make us smile even in our sleep.
*We listened to numerous audio books - that sure helps the time fly.
We had a flat tire near Watson Lake, at Liard hot springs
actually. Good thing we’d just had a nice picnic lunch and a relaxing soak in the springs before we discovered a front tire flat as a pancake. It wasn’t raining and we were in a level, gravel parking lot. Just before we’d gotten to the hot springs it had been raining and we’d been on muddy roads. Plus the Canadians are just so darn friendly - so many people stopped and asked if they could assist. All in all, not a bad flat tire experience.
By the time we got to Anchorage we had a dinged up windshield too, but had those cracks temporarily halted (no reason to fix them as we had to drive that same road south in the not too distant future) and replaced it in Tucson.
We arrived in Anchorage on June 13. It
Yes, he WAS posing for me!
was my 60th birthday that week, so on the 14th we started with a Silly Hat party at JJ (daughter) and Kelly’s (JJ’s partner)
place - great food and time to catch up with all the family stuff since we hadn’t been together since Christmas. Christina (daughter) and Evan (grandson)
had arrived in Anchorage (from Fremont, California) a few days before we did.
On my actual birthday, the 15th, we went camping because that was one of the adventures grandson Evan wanted to have in Alaska, and everyone was anxious to get out and about. Christina was born and raised in Alaska, of course, but hadn’t been back in awhile and this was Evan’s first time. They stayed with JJ who lives in Anchorage and is an outdoors enthusiast. She’d bought a fishing rod and reel for Evan who had the hang of it in no time and was anxious to “wet a line” with Aunty JJ.
We drove to the Kenai Peninsula, to Quartz Creek
on Kenai Lake. Truly a beautiful setting, IF you can see it through the rain and low clouds. Seriously the worst weather day we had for three months. We had to rig
Watson Lake Sign Forest
It has been a tradition since the first vehicles drove over the AK Hwy (built during WWII to facilitate transport of aircraft & supplies to AK to fly over to Russia) to leave a license plate, city sign, etc., behind in the "forest."
a tarp over the picnic table, but still had a hard time keeping the fire going and out of the way of the water spouts that cascaded down the tarp, usually with a direct hit to an open collar. Good thing JJ had prepared most of our meal in Anchorage - marinated chicken, halibut to grill, dolomites for appetizers, veggies steamed in foil. Yeah, that part was fabulous, but when we ran out of fuel while cooking breakfast the next morning (“Grandma, why aren’t the pancakes browning??) and it was still raining, we decided to bag it. We pulled up stacks and high-tailed it to a wonderful little roadhouse famous for its breakfasts, then back into Anchorage via a wildlife conservation park. Evan had a chance to see his first bears, caribou, moose, bison, etc., but it was all done in the rain, which put a damper on things, literally!
Many of you know the story behind why Bernard was adopting JJ, a 41 year-old, and I’ll not go into the details here. Suffice it to say it was a wonderful event. The court hearing was handled personally and with such good taste (thanks to our attorney
Watson Lake Sign Post Forest
The Germans are frequent travelers in AK which accounts for numerous signs from Germany
& his wife - thank you Tom & Linda) and was really quite moving. Afterwards a tearful Christina (whom Bernard had adopted years ago) said, “I hadn’t realized until just this moment that there had been something missing - that with JJ’s adoption the family circle is complete.”
After the court ceremony, we had invited some old family friends for dinner at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. It was a small affair with only those friends of ours who had known JJ and us for many years. It was her decision to keep it small and I think she was right as we had a lovely, peaceful but fun get-together.
The day following the adoption was the summer solstice, which is a HUGE deal in Alaska. There was a street fair that literally took over the entire city - it was soooooo much fun! Of course having Evan there made it a blast - he wanted to do everything - bungie jump, kayak, run the obstacle course, pet the rabbits, eat EVERYTHING, watch the roller derby exhibition, we had to tear him away from the magical show. Evan wasn’t much interested in the craft booths, but
Yawn, stretch, okay, yet ANOTHER beautiful glacial scene
we were and there were hundreds of them. Evan enjoyed the live music as much as we did.
Fairbanks & Central
On June 22nd Christina and Evan had to return to husband and father, Mark, in California (boy was he missing them!) and a few days later we drove to the interior to see my sisters, Dian & Donna
, the twins. (Drove the Parks Highway thru Denali National Park, saw Mt. McKinley the whole way.)
My sister Dian and husband Gary
live in Fairbanks
near the University of Alaska on a beautiful piece of property covered with birch trees. Their youngest (of 3), David,
is still going to college, but was home for the summer as he has a job in Fairbanks. Son, Shane
, is an EMT and also a forest firefighter and was in Florida on a fire. Daughter Jaime
is a school teacher, married with one child, so we got to meet Kadance
- wow, what a spit-fire she is. (Yeah, that is her & her Uncle David in the photo on the parked snowmobiles, but I have not a single doubt that she’ll be riding one for real in the very near future.)
Stone Mtn. Sheep, BC Canada
Relatives of the Dall Sheep found in Alaska
My sister Donna and husband Larry
have retired to Central
, north of Fairbanks (122 miles; 4 1/2 hrs. drive) near Circle Hot Springs. It is a gold mining area, and although they don’t mine, many of their friends do. We went to a mining museum which was really well done, and also visited a friend’s mining site. What an amazingly complicated and difficult job gold mining is! Central is a small town, but has a bar and cafe, several little stores and seemed a low-key, tight-knit community and a nice place to live.
Back in Fairbanks my sister Dian had put together a BBQ that her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter came too. Next morning both Dian and Gary had to return to work, so we had coffee with an old school mate of mine, RoseMarie Atkinson
, and lunch with one of Donna’s daughters, Heather
. We’d seen Donna’s daughter Karen
and her two boys after Central because we drove Dylan
home. Dylan was visiting Grandma & Grandpa in Central and instead of waiting until they drove into town later in the week, we dropped him off and had a nice, if short, visit with Karen & Justin
too. So, managed
Notice the color variant on this young black bear
to see all of my relatives who were in town plus an old friend.
Chena Hot Springs
After Fairbanks and Central we were anxious to visit Chena Hot Springs and their new Ice Museum
- we hadn’t been to the springs in years. Wow, it had grown and modernized - hotel accommodations in addition to the quaint log cabins, bigger pools and of course, the Ice Museum open all year round. The museum was going to be a hotel and they have “rooms,” but it is my understanding that they can’t really rent them because the place doesn’t meet construction codes. How one makes realistic building codes for an ice structure is beyond me, and evidently to the-powers-that-be also.
Back to Anchorage via Richardson, Denali & Parks Highways
We were going to spend the night at the hot springs, but the only rooms they had available were really expensive and the camping area was full. Being interior Alaska very near the Solstice, it was light 22 1/2 hours (and of course the “night” was really twilight - never really dark) so we decided to head down the Richardson Highway, then across on the Denali Highway and
Chigmit Mtn. from Anchorage
JJ took us up Flat Top Mtn. for a nice hike and views
pick up the Parks Highway into Anchorage (we’d driven the whole way up on the Parks). What a great idea that was! The scenery along those two remote highways was splendid - wildflower fields as far as the eye could see, snow-capped mountains and glaciers the whole way. This is “lake country” and there are more lakes than you can count. We planned to camp at the Tangle Lakes campground, but it was full of fishermen, so we headed down the road, pulled over (it is a dirt road by this time) and camped in a pull-off area complete with fire ring and a supply of wood - we weren’t the first to do this, obviously.
The next day found us at a beautiful state park on South Rolly Lake - a non-motorized lake so lots of kayaks, rafts and blissfully peaceful. Since it is Alaska, cannot stress enough the whole night-as-day situation here, and we got up early, we decided to drive into Talkeetna before returning to Anchorage. Talkeetna
is the town used as a base for climbing Mt. McKinley. It is funky to say the least, but a hoot to visit. In fact, they have several great
Kelly & Mary's Home
The roof-top garden was one of our favorite features of Kelly & Mary's home
restaurants there. In one of these restaurants a TV personality (Man vs. Food maybe?) "conquered" the Seward's Folly Hamburger - see photo, someone ordered one while we were there. Yes, it was more of a photo op because eating that thing was impossible.
Back into Anchorage
in the afternoon.
The next two weeks were spent in and around Anchorage, mostly “doing” meals with friends. Some days we not only did lunch and dinner, but breakfast too just so we could fit in all of our friends. We saw: Karen & Don Edwards numerous times; Martin & Deb Hansen and sons David & Mark many times; Tim & Linda MacMillan; Pat Heller & John Wunch; George Brown; Doris & Jerry Desjarlais MANY times - they had us to their home for fresh seafood feasts; Jack & Sherri Hayden w/son Scott and his family; Ernie & Kaye Byers; Ken & Tandy Wallack; Mary & Kelly Fisher; Yolanda and Mark Graber w/daughter Carla; William & Pamela Saupe; Bill & Barbara Pargeter; Katie Wallack; Tom Dewhirst; Susie Barrickman; Sally Carter; Rod Bradley & Carman Gutierrez. And at Martin Hansen’s birthday party, about 40 other friends!
Naturally we spent as much time
Christina & Evan
They had arrived in AK a few days before we did - in time to help plan this "silly hat" birthday party for me.
as we could, but she is a working girl, as is her partner Kelly
. Having said that, we did go to her club a few times, got in a few breakfasts, did lunch on many an occasion, and managed numerous really nice dinners and shopping.
We have to give a shout-out to our wonderful friends who put us up while in Anchorge. Normally we would have stayed with daughter JJ, but when we arrived Christina & Evan were comfortably ensconced there. So, first we stayed with Pat Heller & John Wunch
for a week; then moved to Tim & Linda Macmillan's
for three days before driving to Fairbanks. We stayed again with the MacMillans when we returned to Anchorage for two more nights before moving to Kelly Fisher and Mary Kelly-Fisher’s
fabulous house for three dreamy weeks.
Kelly & Mary were vacationing in the Lower 48 and had kindly offered their place to us, which of course I jumped at. Seems we had underestimated the energy needed to stay with friends. I know, that sounds weird, but think about it. We would be with friends for a week, lots of talking, eating, going and
Aunty JJ & Evan
JJ is the queen of entertaining - thank you for all the lovely dinners and fun get-togethers on your fab deck
doing. Then we’d leave and our friends could decompress. But we’d be moving in with more friends with no down time. So when we had the opportunity to have a place to ourselves for three whole weeks, it was heaven.
And the timing was perfect - just as Mary & Kelly were returning, we were heading to Berlin
for two weeks (that is another blog). Bernard was teaching in the German Red Cross Summer School again - that was the first week. The second week we rented a holiday flat on the Baltic Sea island of Rügen
- wonderful villages, great beaches, fabulous food and even better company - friends Heike & Philipp.
When we got back from Germany (August 7) we stayed with Tandy & Ken Wallack
, Bernard’s law partner eons ago. We had wanted some quality time with the Wallacks, and staying with them provided that.
So thank you, thank you, thank you one and all for the selfless opening of your warm and comfortable homes to us wayfarers, yes those homeless friends who were living in their van.
But I digress, in July we were still busy with friends and enjoying Alaska. The
Girdwood Forest Fair
Father & Daughter
Intrepid campers Bernard & JJ set up our campsite in a flash. Some things one never forgets - they worked together smoothly and in perfect sync
was a hoot. Girdwood is our local ski area (73 groomed runs) and lies in a beautiful setting in the Chugach Mountains about an hour’s drive from Anchorage. I don’t know how many ski areas in the world there are from which you can take a lift from sea-level to *2,500 feet (760 meters) and have an ocean view while skiing - yeah, the views over Cook Inlet/Turnagain Arm are spectacular.
*Mt. Alyeska itself is 3,500 feet (980 meters) and you can helicopter above the lifts for pure powder pleasure.
We also spent some time on the Kenai Peninsula
- camped on the Russian River
with friends from Charleston, SC, Ernie & Kaye Byers
(you might remember them as they traveled with us for 3 months in South Africa in 2006).
We went to the town of Homer
at the end of the peninsula mostly because the drive is so phenomenal - views of snow-capped volcanos across the ocean, fields of wildflowers, the azure beauty of Kenai Lake. And birds, lots and lots of birds - Arctic terns and various water birds mostly. We also visited the town of Seward
mostly because Katie Wallack
Setting up Camp
They are attaching the tarp to a tree
was on a film shoot there. We caught up with her at a waterfall location, but they were rushing her into make-up so we only had time for a quick hug and “break-a-leg.” We visited the new aquarium there also - awesome! They have sea lions and water birds, as well as the usual sea life/fish on exhibit.
Which brings me back to our returning from Germany, having a very nice stay with Ken & Tandy, seeing our friends for “one last halibut taco” or lunch at Sack’s or dinner at Gingers. Finally had a collective birthday dinner with friends Susie, Sally & Tandy
. We have birthdays relatively close together (some closer than others) and while I lived in Alaska we did it every year, so now when I visit we try to have a nice, catch-up-on-all-the-news dinner.
One of our last meals with friends was a bonus for me - I reconnecting with an old school friend, Donna Hannaman-Wiggins
. I found her on Facebook and when I “friended” her, her first comment was, “It’s about time!” She had evidently been hoping I’d find her. She brought along her sister, whom I knew, for our lunch - a
very special reunion. Yeah, felt like I was in Jr. high again. Wow, that woman has a memory - remembered every prank we played, every time we got into trouble, the kidding my dad did with her, well, everything. It was a super afternoon.
On August 12 we headed south. This time for a portion of the trip we drove the Cassiar Highway
(did the AK Highway north). Smaller highway, but because it is less traveled and they don’t cut the vegetation so far back from the road, you see lots of wildlife. I’m not saying that is SAFE thing, but is certainly can be exciting when you come around a corner upon a moose cow and calf browsing, or black bears crossing the road (saw 6 the first hour on the Cassiar). There are fewer fuel stops also and even we experienced travelers came a smidgeon too close to running out of gas one time.
August 16 found us back at my sister’s place in Gig Harbor. While there some friends from El Paso, TX were delivering their daughter to university in Tacoma, so we had a very nice evening with
Evan the Fire Maker
Of course rain or not, we had to have a fire so Evan could roast his first marshmallows and play with fire
the Cohn family
(met in the Netherlands in 2001).
After regrouping with Mary Jean & Buzz
for several days (they are BEST) we moved up the Kitsap Peninsula a few miles to visit friends Susan & Stuart
at their beach house in Port Orchard
. Wow, another beautiful setting and I have to say the weather was PERFECT the entire time we were in Washington.
From Port Orchard we drove onto the Olympic Peninsula to Port Angeles
to visit my 85 year-old Aunt Betty. Then to Sequim to visit my brother Cliff and his wife Terri, plus old friends of my mom’s, Nora & Harry.
Early in the morning on August 22 we hit the road again heading home. We camped in Washington, Idaho, Utah & Northern Arizona before arriving in Tucson, Arizona on August 26; drove over 12,500 miles (20,117 kilometers).
DON'T FORGET TO LOOK AT THE PHOTOS BELOW (VERY BOTTOM, BELOW AD) AND GO TO PAGES 2, 3 4 AND 5 (CLICK ON 'NEXT' AT BOTTOM OF EACH PAGE) AS THERE ARE MORE (87) PHOTOS AT THE BOTTOMS OF THE PAGES. GO TO THE NEXT PAGE EVEN IF IT LOOKS LIKE THERE ARE NO MORE PHOTOS,
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Evan the Fisherman
His technique was amazing. However, Aunty JJ had only rigged his gear with a weight thinking barbed hooks and a 5-year-old might not be a good combination
There are more photos below