Saturday, 25 April 2009

22/04/2009 - 06/05/2009 - Penticton, BC to Skagway, Alaska

22/04/2009 – 25/04/2009 - Penticton - Edmonton. We had a lovely drive from Penticton to Edmonton – a little bit colder than we expected (okay a lot colder than we expected). We drove through a little bit of snow – not enough to worry us winter travelers now. At about 9:00pm that night we decided to boon dock in Banff, we drove into the bus parking area, the road was a dirt road which had pot holes everywhere, it was only about 50 metres long – so no problems. After we had been in bed for about an hour we could hear a train getting closer and closer, our first thought was that we had parked on the train lines – but luckily we hadn’t we were at least 25 metres away. (Our hearts were in our mouth for a while...)

Dave woke early to be greeted by a wolf at the door and a foot of fresh snow – Of course I was admiring the beautiful surrounds, but the Big Fella was worried about how we were going to get out of the parking lot, especially since we had arrived at night – so we decided to sit down and have a cup of coffee. It had stopped snowing, by the time we had finished our coffee, so the Big Fella went for a little walk and decided that there was no need to worry so off we went. The drive through the Rockies was once again breathtaking.

We had planned on driving straight to the West Edmonton Mall (the world’s largest shopping centre – a mere 45 hectares) but whilst we were travelling in the sub zero temperatures we realised that the pipes from the grey and black tanks had frozen and when we went to start the generator we discovered the exhaust pipe was frozen with a lump of ice the size of a brick on the end of the pipe. Dave attacked it with a hammer and screwdriver and eventually got it going again. So off to an RV park just outside Edmonton – that was one of our better decisions, as that night Edmonton had a record low (for this time of year) -12. The weather wasn’t going to improve in the next couple of days so we decided to spend another couple of nights in the RV Park. Dave was having a great time in the snow filling up the water tanks - as I took this photo - yes I was inside Stubbie, but I did need to open the window - and boy was it cold.

26/04/2009 – 29/04/2009 – Well the weather finally improved (the snow size had reduced from the size of a 50 cent piece to a 5 cent piece) so we thought we would make a run for it. First stop was to gather some well needed groceries and then it was off to the Mall. By the time we got there it was after 2:00pm and the shops shut at 5:00pm (it was Sunday), so we decided to just have a walk around and get out bearings for the next day’s shopping. I have warned the Big Fella that I do intend to do a bit of shopping tomorrow (I’m really getting into this shopping thing). So after we took a look at the water park, the fun park, the ice skating rink, the cinemas, the seal park etc we headed to check out the Casino (yes it was open until 3:00am), it may come as a surprise but we only had a quick poke (a quick loss) and we headed back to Stubbie. We decided that after the loss we needed to boon dock for the night. As you are no longer permitted to park overnight in the car parks at the shopping centres, we headed to the nearest Walmart. We’ve come to the conclusion that we are not as keen to boon dock when the weather gets down in the minuses overnight (and it’s snowing) as to when the temperature is in double figures on the plus side. We woke up the next morning to another coolish day, the temperature overnight got down to -7 degrees so the furnace and tank heaters were working overtime. The coach batteries had gone flat at about 3:30am because both Dave and I both woke up fighting for the blankets around 4:00am (we normally have the temperature inside set for about 18 degrees, so Dave kicked Stubbie over to charge up the coach batteries and allow the furnace to kick in (from now on if the temperature is going to get down into the minuses – it’s an RV park for us).
The next morning we are at the mall even before the shops open at 10:00am, I had previously seen a swimsuit that I liked the look of in a shop window and I wanted Dave to have a look at it on (why – I have no reason). So we headed straight for that store and I tried the swimsuit on – I know I’ve put a bit of weight on lately, but I have started to shed a couple of pounds. I came out of the dressing room feeling okay about myself and Dave said “mmmm, it doesn’t look that good, you know you haven’t got a good figure at the moment”, all I can say was he was lucky we were in a crowded shop – needless to say I didn’t buy the swimsuit. We had planned to separate for the remainder of the day so I could enjoy that retail therapy – well I really wasn’t in the mood to try on any clothes (I wonder if this was Dave’s tactic all along), but I really do enjoy buying make-up so off to the LancĂ´me, Clinique and Mac counters – doesn’t look like I will be needing any cosmetics for awhile. I had a great day just meandering around the shops for several hours. I was going to head back to Stubbie at around 2:00pm, but I looked up through the glass roof and I could see that it was snowing rather heavily – oh well time for a bit more shopping and coffee.
By the way you may be wondering but Dave is still alive and yes he does have all his appendages, I have said before that I do love him for his honesty, as brutal as it can be sometimes.

30/04/009 – 02/05/2009 - Well the weather has finally warmed up enough for us to start heading up to Alaska. Today we were going to have a quick look around the city of Edmonton etc, but unfortunately we didn’t get there – I may have made a small error in the navigating. Oh well time to keep moving anyway – so off to Dawson Creek – at least they have cable. We had initially intended to spend the one night here – but Dave has just worked out that his beloved Pittsburgh Penguins are playing tonight – so it looks like we are going to be here for one more night.

03/05/2009 – 07/05/2009 - Dawson Creek – Watson Lake. After leaving the RV Park at Dawson Creek we headed off to the Mile 0 Marker of the Alaska Highway for a photograph. Not far out of Dawson Creek we came across a sight that I will always remember – a Black Bear foraging for food along the highway. We pulled up beside the bear (not sure if he would take off on us or not) – we were only about 20 feet away. The bear didn’t even care that we were there and he just kept on grazing – it was unbelievable to actually see a black bear so close out in the wild. Further down the track we were talking to a lady who has lived in Fairbanks, Alaska for 34 years and she told us that they also stopped to have a look at the bear and that was the closest she has ever been to a bear. After that we had our eyes peeled looking everywhere we possibly could to see if we could spot any more wildlife. A few more hours on the road and after seeing many signs about Caribou and Bison we finally got to spot some. They really don‘t care about the traffic on the side of the road, they are simply out for a feed. From what we have heard the wildlife venture on down to the side of the roads, as this is the first place the snow starts to melt, apparently in a couple more weeks they head up to the mountains. We even got a good look at a Bald Eagle (no – not Dave, a real one). Neither Dave nor I had expected the lakes to be still frozen. We had planned on stopping at an RV Park on Muncho Lake (known for its deep green and blue waters from the copper oxide leaching into it) for a couple of days but unfortunately the lake was still frozen with a good couple of inches of snow still on top. So we pulled over in a Rest Area and boon docked for the evening, we had a great view of the Lake and the surrounding area. We are heading on to Liard Hot Springs when after seeing a few more Bison and Caribou, we finally get so see a Moose. The Moose is a lot shier than the other wildlife that we have seen so far. As soon as the Moose saw us he started to retreat back into the forest – so unfortunately no photos of the Moose. Perhaps hunting season has started. The Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park – another Park we had planned to stay in was closed as well – apparently they have had a bumper winter season and they just haven’t been able to clear all the snow. This Park is normally open all year long – just our luck. They did say that we could spend the evening in the day park area. The Liard Hot Springs temperature ranges from 42 degrees Celsius to 52 degrees Celsius. We were talking to a commercial fisherman from Alaska and he informed us that he had never seen someone right up the end of the Springs – the hottest part. So the Big Fella (who loves the heat and hotwater) thought he would see how far he could go (me I didn’t even both trying – if he made it I guess the competitive side would of come out and I would have had to have a go), well the Big Fella said he could see the end and the water bubbling up – but there was no way he was going to get to the end. The Springs really helped soothe the muscles after a couple of long stretches of driving. We decided to keep going and head onto our next destination Watson Lake in the Yukon. We arrived at our RV park, it’s a big block of dirt with snow piled about 6 feet high around the boundary. We plan on spending a couple of days here – we have a phone hook-up planned with our accountant – something’s you just can’t get away with. The RV Park has WiFi and Cable so looks like we are set, unfortunately being where we are everything is run by Satelitte so the Skype is really hit and miss, a lot more misses than hits. After an unsuccessful attempt at trying to have a phone conversation with Tony – I walked across to the phone box to try and give him a call. I put $2 in the telephone, dialed the number and then the operator asked me to deposit another $6.50 for a one minute call – mmm you know I really love him, but I just didn’t have enough coins on me – well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Watson Lake has a population of just over 1000 people, a town that isn't normally one that we would spend a lot of time and I must admit not one that I feel particularly safe walking around by myself. We had been looking forward to going to the Northern Lights Centre which is the only planetarium in North America featuring the myth and science of the Northern Lights. The Centre should have been opened on the 1st of May, but unfortunately it’s not open for another week. Looks like we may have left a bit early for Alaska / Yukon, normally we would have been right on time. We do need to keep moving though because we plan on being back in Calgary, Alberta for the Calgary Stampede. We will be coming back through Watson Lake so hopefully we will get a chance to see the Centre then. Another fork in the nightie (as my mother would say) is that we had planned on doing a loop around Alaska with a trip to Dawson City and then over the Top of the World Highway – but yet again it doesn’t look like it will be open in time – so we will just need to reverse our direction. After talking to the manager of the RV Park he stated that it looks like some of the areas will be in for a bit of flooding this year. It seems that last year not all the snow melted – about 30 feet of it and that with the 60+ feet they’ve had this year and with them expecting a hot summer this year it is all adding up to a lot of water. It really is amazing how many RV’s are heading up to Alaska – every afternoon between 1:00 pm and 6:00pm at least a dozen RV’s pull into the park. We are slowly getting used to the daylight hours – at this stage the sun disappears around 9:30pm. Another major attraction of Watson Lake is the Sign Post Forest (this may give you an idea of what sort of town we are in) - not the most exciting sight that Dave and I have seen - even though it's written in all the tourist books as a sight to be seen. We've had a good rest and caught up on a few things whilst being in Watson Lake and we will be back to see the Northern Lights Show.

06/05/2009 – 07/05/2009. Watson Lake, Yukon - Whitehorse, Yukon. On the drive from Watson Lake we got to stop and watch a fox capture breakfast, it was surprising to see how high this fox could jump from a standing start, and their tails are so bushy. After driving from Watson Lake to Whitehorse we had planned on spending the evening in an RV Park just outside of Whitehorse – but once again this RV Park was Closed for the Season. There had been a few parks on the way in that had been opened, but we decided to go into downtown Whitehorse and have a look around. As we were driving around we found a Wal-Mart, which already had about 4 RV’s already settled in for the night – so we found our place to stay for the night. Dave was happy it had been nearly a week since he had been into a Wal-Mart and he was starting to have withdrawal symptoms. Whitehorse is the capital of the Yukon Territory with a population of over 24,000. We woke up the next morning and decided to go for a walk and check out this city. Whitehorse is definitely a step up from some of the towns we have been through (it had two Starbucks, Boston Pizza, Earls and many more fast food / chain restaurants etc). Unfortunately, a couple of the attractions we wanted to see, the Fish Ladder, Miles Canyon were either not open or not accessible yet, not to worry we will be coming back through Whitehorse so we will pick them up then. At the information centre we did enquire when and where the best place to see the wildlife is and her response was now and driving along the highways / roads etc. So whilst not all attractions are open we are here for the best time to see the wildlife – and for me that’s fantastic. We are both really enjoying seeing the wildlife and the scenery is just breathtaking.

07/05/2009 – 11/05/2009 – Whitehorse, Yukon – Skagway, Alaska. After spending the good part of the morning and having lunch at Whitehorse we decided to get back on the road and start heading onto Skagway, Alaska. We decided to stop at Emerald Lake for a coffee break. Emerald Lake also known as Rainbow Lake is just absolutely stunning. The Lake was still frozen in sections, but in other sections it had started to thaw out. The colour of the water was a vibrant Emerald (hence the name), it had a beautiful mountain range in the background and the view was once again breathtaking, a real picture postcard. There were some rather threatening rain/snow clouds not too far in the distant so we decided that it was time to get settled down for the evening. The next morning we prepared ourselves and headed for the border. On our travels we needed to go through White Pass. After travelling through White Pass we now know where it got the name from, we could hardly see 20 feet in front of us, the cloud cover completely engulfed the road. Every vehicle that we went past in both directions had not only their lights and fog lights on but also their hazard lights. So after a very tentative trip over White Pass we arrived at the US Customs Border. We were asked a few questions about where we were heading and were we had been, what alcohol, tobacco and guns we had on board and then we were asked to enter the US Customs building to complete some paper work. There were a couple of men who were in the office before us, so I said that we weren’t in a hurry and that the officer could finish their paperwork before he started on ours. He said no, because we had a Tourist Visa – we had priority. So after he had taken our fingerprints, photo and money he handed our passbooks back to us (with another 6 month Visa) and said to have a nice trip. So once again all that panicking about our Visa’s was unwarranted. Which reminds me of a sign I saw when driving along the other - "Worry is a waste of a good Imagination".
We arrived into Skagway and one of the first attractions that we saw was the Glass Blowing and Gardens (Skagway is called the Garden Capital of Alaska) so after yet another U turn in Stubbie – Dave is becoming an expert on these. Some of the Glass Blowing figurines were great but to get into the Gardens area you needed to pay a US$12.00 fee per person – remember it is still snowing some days and nights, so not a lot has bloomed. Needless to say we didn’t see the gardens, but on driving past in Stubbie you could actually look over the 6 foot fence and see inside. After looking inside we decided it was a good thing we didn’t pay the cover charge. Skagway is a real tourist town, most of the Cruise Ships make a stop here, it is made up of many Jewellery Stores and Souvenir Stores, they have done a really great job in keeping it clean and well kept, it is a lovely looking town. We ventured into the visitor centres (we have come to realise that these really are worth taking the time out and going in) and asked the question about the best place to see the bears feeding on fish and the best place to see the Northern Lights. We were advised that about 15 minutes away there have been sightings of two bears feeding on the high tide and that she has seen the Northern Lights twice this week already from the same spot. Apparently, it needs to be a clear and dark night. Well Skagway is a bit like Melbourne, sunny one minute, overcast the next – oh to see the Northern Lights you also need to be prepared to wake up and wait – you just never know when they will appear and for how long – it could be anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes – I think I’ll get Dave onto this, he can wake me when they are in sight. Of course, I still wanted to go for a walk around the streets and have a look at the shops – I think the Big Fella is really over this walking and shopping business. He walks around shuffling his feet and saying that everything is fine – oh well I’m hoping that with my new found love of shopping etc. he may be able to adjust, and no I didn't buy and of the jewellery. After speaking to the lady at the visitor information centre we were advised to go to Dyea (about 15 minutes) from Skagway – so that’s where we headed. The road wasn’t the best we have been on – it was very narrow in places and was not paved – The Big Fella was not happy. On the drive to the campground we spotted several Sea Lions at play – just inside the river. We stopped at the National Park Campground – Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park – Dyea Campground – Wow. We parked Stubbie in the Day Time Parking Area (normally this is not allowed) but we were the only ones here so we didn’t think anyone would mind – it would have been a bit rough trying to get Stubbie into one of the Camp Sites – most of them are made for tents. We went for a quick along the river banks to see what wildlife would could spot (we were advised that a couple of Bears had been seen in the vicinity and had been feeding on Hooligan fish), we had our eyes peeled and of course I let Dave lead – I wanted a head start just in case we saw a Bear and I know if I am not in arms reach I’ve got a great chance of beating him back to Stubbie. (He toakd me later that it wouldn't have mattered if I made it back to stubbie first as he had the keys... Unfortunately or fortunately we did not spot any bears but we did get to see Bald Eagles and Gyrfalcons – I knew that these were large birds I just didn’t know how big the wing span is. I was in awe just watching these birds trying to feed on the fish – I can’t believe that I’m bird watching and enjoying it. I must admit I’ve even enjoyed this primitive camping – except when my wine ran out and Dave had the TV to loud watching a DVD. Whilst we were anticipating a bear or two sightings we did get to see a few River Otters floating on past. The river did continue on from where we had parked Stubbie, but you needed to cross over a one lane bridge with a height restriction of 11 foot 6 inches with the Air Conditioner on Stubbie she has a height of 11 foot 7 inches – we were very tempted – but common sense took over and we decided against it. The campground is in a fantastic spot – and up until about 8:00pm we were the only ones here – then at around 8 another camper came in – yes he looked like a real camper he had a tent. To be able to sit in our Leather Chairs up the front of Stubbie and enjoy a nice drink whilst watching all the wildlife is my idea of camping. The Big Fella has really enjoyed the time we have spent here – I have even got him out for a morning walk / jog. I was glad that he came with me – I’m still a bit tentative about running into a Bear, whilst not in a safe environment. The weather has started to warm up a bit since we have been on the coast line – last night the temperature only got down to 6 degrees, whilst during the day it gets up to about 17 degrees – so much more civilised. We have really enjoyed our stay at Dyea and will be looking to spend some more time at National Parks, now that it appears they are opening up. I think the Big Fella has been her too long – he just said to me that we had lost power – where we are, there is no hook-ups for electricity or anything for that matter and he didn’t have the generator going – time to move on and get him some Cable TV and Internet Access.