Monday, 18 May 2009

11/05/2009 - 04/06/2009. Skagway to Anchorage

11/05/2009 – 14/05/2009 Skagway to Haines. We put Stubbie on the Ferry for the trip from Skagway to Haines and headed up on to the top deck. It was great to be out on the water and seeing the magnificent mountains meeting the Gulf of Alaska. We arrived in Haines and drove straight to the RV park so the Big Fella could get his fix of the Internet and watch his beloved Penguins. The RV park was situated in a beautiful spot and we enjoyed a couple of nights here just taking it all in and appreciating the beauty. We were hoping to get some delicious seafood – but unfortunately the crabbing season hasn’t started, we are looking forward to getting our teeth into some Dungeness crags – they are very similar, in taste, to our Sand Crabs back home. I went for a walk around the town of Haines and wandered upon Fort Seward. The fort was built at the turn of the century as a military base to secure a region heated by gold fever. The name of this fort honored the man who had negotiated the purchase of Alaska from the Russians. Enlisted men were assigned to look after the Officer’s quarters by keeping the fires going, emptying the ashes, cleaning up kitchens, and at times, helping with parties. These men were known as "dog-robbers", because apparently they had to rob the dog's bowl to get a decent feed.

14/05/2009 - 20/05/2009. Haines to North Pole. We left Haines and started to head on up to North Pole, Alaska. On the way we camped at a couple of great National Parks. The US and Canada really know how to set up their campgrounds for the campers. Every Site is well maintained with most campgrounds having fire wood available, a fire pit and picnic table at each site. One of the things that we have noticed is that there doesn’t seem to be any vandalism at these sites – Dave did comment that if this was back home the wooden picnic tables would either be used as fire wood or would have peoples names engraved on them everywhere. We woke up early (something very unusual for Dave) and got on the road, it was well worth the effort of dragging Dave out of bed before 7:30, we got to see some more Moose and another Bear. Also on this leg we have sighted trumpeter swans, porcupines, rabbits and of course squirrel. Not far outside of Delta Junction, Alaska we stopped at the Delta Meat and Sausage Company where we purchased some Yak Rib Steak and Elk Porterhouse Steak – not sure what they are going to taste like but we are going to give them ago. We also purchased some Rib Eye Steaks and some fresh Pork and Buffalo Bratwurst Sausages.
When we arrived at the North Pole, Alaska we noticed that all of the lamp posts are decorated to look like candy canes. The RV Park that we are staying at is called the Santaland RV Park and right next door is Santa’s house. Dave has decided that he feels that I could be there for a while that we will wait until tomorrow to go see Santa’s House. The RV Park is located on St Nicholas Drive and is well decorated; the Office is decorated to look like a barn. We have parked in Prancer Lane. It is a really friendly RV park and we have access to Wifi and Cable TV. I have become really surprised at how much we rely on Wifi, it is our connection to back home in so many ways, I know I would certainly be home sick if I wasn’t able to talk and write to everyone back home. After a good night’s sleep we woke up and yes I was excited I was going to go to visit Santa House’s. I was so hoping to be able to see Santa, but unfortunately he is on holidays and he wont be back for about another week – oh well I suppose even Santa needs a holiday. Luckily Santa hadn’t taken all his reindeer's with him so we g9t to see four of his reindeer's, I think they were Comet, Cupid, Donner and Vixen. On our way to the North Pole we were lucky enough to see many Moose, Caribou, Porcupines and 1 Black Bear. To see the Black Bears wandering around the highways is just fantastic.
I'm starting to wonder if I'm settling into Retirement too well: I'm starting to bake, I've made muffins, cakes, bars and cookies from scratch - no packet mixes here - oh except for the Muffins - Dave says he prefers these to my cooking (I don't think that says much about my cooking - but no matter what I make he eats it - so it can't be too bad). I enjoy driving and just watching the beautiful scenery go by. Many people said that I would be bored - can't see that happening in the near future. Dave has been downloading DVD's onto his Ipod Touch so that we can watch movies when we are boon docking.

20/05/2009 - 22/05/2009 - We left North Pole and headed out to Chena Hot Springs. We did a tour of the Ice Museum / Hotel and yep it was bl**dy cold. I had on my Ski Jacket and then I put the supplied parka on over the top, I also had a pair of gloves on and I was still cold. The Ice Museum is the the world’s only year-round ice environment. It was created from over 1,000 tons of ice and snow. The Aurora Ice Museum gallery features amazing ice sculptures created by 13 time world champion ice carver Steve Brice and his wife, Heather, they are also 4 time champions as a husband and wife team. Within the museum, they have created a bar, a two story observation tower with a circular staircase, life size jousters on horse back, a polar bear bedroom, a Christmas tree bedroom, an igloo and an ice outhouse plus many other pieces of ice art. When we were visiting Heather was making a waste paper basket. We didn't make it to the Hot Springs but it was really interesting walking around the Ice Museum. On our way to Chena Hot Springs we had noticed a great little parking area that would be fabulous to boon dock for a few nights - so that's where we headed. We set ourselves up right next to the River and decided that we would spend the next couple of nights right there. On our 3rd day two great couples (Norm and Gi Gi and Michael and Susan) arrived they were going to be setting up camp for another couple of nights - they had two buds that were to join them later on. They invited us over for a drink - so not to be rude at around 4:00pm we wandered on over. Well lets just say that by the time that I got up to leave it was after 11:30pm the sun still hadn't set and my legs were like Jelly. We had a great night and yet again the people that we met were just wonderful, it was actually a shame to leave.

23/05/2009 - 26/05/2009. After leaving the Chena Hot Springs area - we took our time and drove into Fairbanks. We visited the Alaska Museum at the Alaska University. The Museum was extremely well set-up and one that interested us. We watched 2 videos, 1 on the Northern Lights and 1 on the Winters in Alaska. The Museum also had a great display on the wildlife that is found in Alaska. We were both surprised at the size that the Grizzly Bears can grow to. The Grizzly Bears on Kodiak Island are the largest in Alaska and have been known to grow up to nearly 14 feet and weigh over 2500 pounds (that's over twice the height of the Big Fella and about 10 times heavier in weight). After leaving the Museum we went back to the RV park and we couldn't believe it - a caravan of about 26 Aussies were setting up camp. They were on a guided tour where they flew into Seattle, drove their rented C Class motorhomes upto Anchorage Alaska (approx. 3 weeks) and then took an Alaskan Cruise back down to Seattle. We had a couple of drinks and a chat by the river, it was strange to hear our accent all over the RV Park. Dave and I were very hopeful that the weather was starting to warm up. The Big Fella actually got into a pair of shorts and a short sleeved shirt. The Aussies were worried they hadn't bought enough Summer / Spring clothes with them.

27/05/2009 - 30/05/2009. Denali National Park. We were both looking forward to our time in Denali National park and in particular to viewing the Brown / Grizzly Bears and other wildlife. We started off on a good note, whilst at the visitor centre there was a large Bull Moose walking through the bushes.
Well after driving through some rain and mud to get to our Campground, and hearing the weather report we soon realised that we had left the warmer weather behind us. We had booked ourselves on the first bus through the park. At Denali National Park, private vehicles are only allowed so far, from this point you either hop on a Park Bus or walk / hike. Unfortunately, we were a bit early and full park was not open yet. So our first day, we were both excited - Dave not as much, he needed to get out of bed a bit earlier than he would like - 7:00am - The bus trip to approx 5 hours round trip. Everyone on the bus had their eyes peeled for sightings of wildlife. Our first sighting was of a few Dall Sheep, for Dave and I we really didn't get that excited about this, but the majority of the people on the bus were very excited. After stopping here for a while and viewing the Dall Sheep we moved on to our next sighting of a Grizzly Bear foraging around the creek beds. Wow this is what we are here for, we are both so excited that we are fighting of the binoculars (yes, they are The Big Fellas' but he should share). After watching this Grizzly for awhile we spotted a mother Grizzly and her two cubs further up the river bed. Now this is just topping it all off, the cubs were running around playing, climbing trees etc. oblivious to everything that was going on around them, whilst Mama Bear was keeping a good eye on them. At one stage Mama Bear stood up on her rear legs to give here back a good old scratch, this was one of my highlights, it was just spectacular and a memory that I'm sure will last a lifetime for me. Unfortunately, we had to move on. We reached the end point and had a stop for about 15 minutes, at this stop there are racks of Moose, Caribou and Deer, these are a lot heavier than what I expected and I would hate to have to carry these around. Back on the bus and time to return to camp. On the Back we tried to see the Bears that we had spotted on the way into the Park, but to no avail. However, further down the road we did get to see a Male and Female Grizzly foraging up on one of the mountain sides. On this trip we also were able to see some more Caribou and Moose. One of the things that we are a little bit disappointed about is that we don't have a camera with a good zoom to take some pictures, with our little camera, the Bears look like a speck of dust. We returned to camp and had a late lunch and decided that we still had time to take another bus tour, so off we went. This bus trip was a bit disappointing, we didn't get to see any Grizzly's, apparently it's just the luck of the draw. We were talking to another couple we said they got to see a Grizzly cross the road right in front of them - ohhh I was so jealous. We did get to see some Dall Sheep and their lambs cross in front us - not quiet the same. The next day we decided to take a later Bus and do a bit of hiking, we put on several layers of clothing as it really was cold about 2 degrees and that was without the wind chill factor. We got off the us about an hour into the trip, and with one sighting of a Grizzly already under our belt and about 3 km's before our sightings of the Sow and her Cubs from the previous day. Of course about 5 minutes into our first hike it starts snowing. Unfortunately after about 1/2 hour of walking we couldn't find any trace of her. We stopped and were talking to a couple from the Netherlands and had a bite to eat, after saying good-bye and walking about 50 meters we were stopped by one of the buses and told that the Sow and her Cubs were just behind where we were sitting down in a ridge, and that it was best to stay a little bit further away - we had no idea they were there. So we walked up the hill a bit and there they were, I don't think that I would ever get sick of watching these magnificent animals. So after they had disappeared we jumped back on the bus and took it up the mountain (we prefer to walk down). So after a nice hike (about 45 mins), we jump back on another bus heading back to our camp. On our way back we were lucky enough to see another 3 Grizzlies, we were both really surprised at just how fast these animals can move. Denali National Park is a great park for both the scenery and the wildlife. The Park is also the home to Mount Denali, also known as Mount McKinley - North Americas tallest mountain - due to weather conditions we didn't get a chance to see the top. Mount Denali is 20,320 feet high and the vertical relief of 18,000 feet which is greater than that of Mount Everest. We had a great 3 nights at Denali and yet again it was a shame to move on.

31/05/2009 - Today we went on a hike on the Matanuska Glacier. Our guide, Matt, was from New Zealand, so no problems with accents here. It was my first time on a glacier so I was glad that we had a guide, plus we got to use these great add ons to our hiking boots called Cramp Ons, they made the hiking so much more easier and I got to enjoy the Glacier a lot more rather than worrying about the hiking on Ice etc. One of things that we did learn was a Moulin is a narrow, tubular chute, hole or crevasse through which water enters a glacier from the surface. They can be up to 10 meters wide and can go all the way to the bottom of the glacier and can be hundreds of meters deep. After a great day on the Glacier it was time to head on to Anchorage. We had a great night boondocking besides one of the little lakes, before entering the Big Smoke, population of approx. 277,000 on Monday night.

01/06/2009 - 05/06/2009 - We can't believe we are already in June, the months just seem to fly by. After not being in a park for over two weeks that had a working laundry, it was time to get in and some dirty clothes etc. Anchorage reminds us a bit of Townsville, except a lot cleaner, friendlier and a lot more touristy. It is amazing the volume of pride that the locals have for their city / country. Locals are always happy to strike up a conversation on what they are doing and also asking if you need help, or letting you know to enjoy their beautiful, big, State. We went for a walk down along Ship Creek, only about one kilometer outside of the downtown area. It was a bit of a surprise to see just how many people where fishing - they ranged from business people who had just put their waders over their long pants, to families, to older couples, to single young people in their 20's - oh they all had waders, some in the camoflouge material to match their hats - it really was a sight. After this we went for a wander around the downtown area and hopped into a taxi and headed on to the Moose's Tooth, Pizzeria and Brewery. We had a couple of nice beers and an even better pizza -mmmm, it's been a long time since we've had a good pizza.

Whilst in Anchorage I needed to see a doctor (a rather daunting task in the US), you hear all these horror stories, so I'd been putting it off. I phoned the clinic and made an appointment and was advised that I would need to pay a deposit of $150.00 prior to seeing the doctor - ouch. I arrived at the clinic the next day just before my appointment at 3:30pm and was greeted by one of the receptionist, who advised me what the process would be, got me to fill in all the forms (about 5 of them) and took a photocopy of my VISA. Within 5 minutes I was then greeted by a very happy and professional Nurse, who took all my vitals and took me into the doctors room and advised me of the process. The lovely doctor then entered the room and we started talking and I found out that his wife was an Australian - so we started talking football etc. I was in with the doctor for about 45 minutes, having a chat and doing what I was there for (I needed a prescription), no rush in and rush out here. After the time with the doctor, I then went back to the reception area. I handed the form over to the receptionist and held my breath. The receptionist then advised me that the doctor had written that there was no charge and proceeded to rip up my VISA details. I just couldn't believe it, I was treated with so much respect and professionalism and all by very helpful and happy staff and then at the end of it all there was no charge - what a great surprise. I still would hate to see what the charge would of been.