Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: We left Tok at around 8:30 in the morning, heading west on the Alaska Highway. Today was supposed to be breathtaking scenery as we skirted the Alaska Range to the north between Tok, Dot Lake, and Delta Junction. Unfortunately, low clouds settled in and, while the immediate scenery was lovely, the rugged beauty of the Alaska Range remained hidden behind the clouds. We stopped at Dot Lake for breakfast at the rustic Dot Lake Lodge. It was run by a little native lady who really wanted to be somewhere else. On we went - foraging ahead through the winding terrain. We arrived at Delta Junction at about 11:30. This is the official end of the Alaska Highway. There is a big visitor center here that has a "demonstration garden" showing how big veggies grow where we took pictures of enormous cabbages! There is also a BIG thermometer - it gets real cold here - their record low is -66 degrees F (January of 1989). We were playing the tourist thing up to the hilt - we took pictures of each other by the sign that says this is the end of the Alaska Highway, and stood in line inside the visitor center to get a certificate saying we'd traveled the length of the Alcan - signed by a little blue-haired lady resident of Delta Junction who was working the visitor center this day. There were local crafts persons selling their wares outside the visitor center. I bought a glass locket containing rough gold. It is a lovely piece! The visitor center also contains information about the Alaska pipeline. There was a display outside showing a cross section of the Pipeline pipe comparing the size to other oil carrying pipes used in other areas. This is pretty interesting stuff! The Alaska Highway ends, and we join the Richardson Highway which actually runs from Valdez, 266 miles south of here to Fairbanks, about 98 miles north from here. The Richardson is an old highway which used to be a stage route in the old days. The pipeline roughly follows the Richardson route, and we got our first glimpse of the pipeline as we crossed the Tanana River on our way out of town. One thing we noticed was that instead of miles and miles of nothing but nature, there was an increasing number of residences off in the trees along the highway. We had the feeling of being in a major corridor instead out in the trees! The closer we got to Fairbanks, the closer the towns were together. We rolled through Big Delta, Richardson, and North Pole (which is real cute, but no where near the north pole!) and on into Fairbanks. We would be back through here in a day or two, but today we wanted to get north towards the Arctic Circle as far as we could. We stopped for gas in north Fairbanks, and stocked up on ice & beer at the Texaco station. At this point, we picked up the Elliott Highway, which connected us to the Dalton Highway 73 miles north of Fairbanks. The Dalton is also known as the Haul Road - a dull name for a beautiful road that connects central Alaska with Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay on the Beaufort Sea. The Dalton is 414 miles long - all dirt - open all year. There has been ongoing controversy about allowing the "public" to use this road because of its proximity to the pipeline, fear of terrorism, very sparse services, and any number of other reasons. On this trip our only goal was to use this road to get to the Arctic Circle - about 115 miles above the junction with the Elliot Highway. The weather continued to be gloomy and cruddy and as we began our trek up the Dalton, it began to rain, and continued to rain and rain and rain. The thing you read about the Dalton is about the DUST, but that was not going to be a problem this day! The Dalton is a well maintained road, but the rain was gumming things up a little, and we were still a little speed-shy because of our tire experience on the Taylor. This is remote, desolate, beautiful country out here! The farther north we went, the smaller the trees got (ultimately we would cross "timberline" - which, at this latitude, is not an elevation driven thing, but merely a latitude oriented phenomena). About 60 miles up from the junction, we glimpsed the mighty Yukon River. The bridge across the Yukon on the Dalton is the only bridge across the Yukon in all of Alaska. The bridge itself has a 6% grade - the southern bank is that much higher than the northern bank. It is a strange feeling to be going over a bridge and traveling very obviously down hill! Our original plan was to camp around here somewhere overnight. We decided to stop at "Yukon River Crossing" - a little settlement on the north side of the bridge - to gas up and inquire about camping. We stepped out of the car into a chocolate malt. This was not mud as we know it! This was seriously the consistency of a malt - about 3-4 inches deep - and it stuck to everything! The car was no longer red - it was the color of a chocolate malt - covered stem to stern with this goo. My leg made contact with the door jamb as I stepped out of the car. Now I had this goo on me. It is still raining. Do YOU want to pitch the tent in this stuff? NO! Yukon River Crossing has a "motel" - or so it says in MILEPOST. We inquire within. They have a room for the night with a bathroom down the hall for $100. Good grief. Oh well. Talk about your captive audiences! The hotel consists of a series of mobile-home- style trailers with rooms on each side of a long hall way. Dark olive green in-door/out-door carpet covers the floors, with dark walnut colored plastic paneling on the walls - fluorescent lights in a line down the middle of the hall. The door on the room only locks from the inside - so when you aren't in your room it isn't locked. Our view from our window, covered by orange & white K-Mart curtains, is of a wide expanse of soupy parking lot and an assortment of construction vehicles. Prudence dictates that we only bring in the absolute bare necessities since every contact with the car covers us with a new layer of goo. We learn that this facility's main purpose is dormitory style housing for pipeline workers and river-raft-trip guides. (I'll bet THEY don't pay $100/night!) After changing into our boots, we slurp across the parking lot to the visitor center. It was small but interesting - providing information primarily about the pipeline, the Yukon River Bridge and the local flora and fauna. It is remarkable how the world shrinks around you when it is raining and there is no place to go! We had dinner at the "motel" - the staff was very nice and seemed sympathetic with our plight. By this time it was quite late, but still light - something that would really take some getting used to! We decide to call it a day.
Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: My Birthday. Up early - we were anxious to get to the Arctic Circle. I might point out that not everyone has the opportunity to be at the Arctic Circle on their birthday. I am a lucky girl! The weather is still heavily overcast, but not raining (we are thankful for small favors at this point). We had breakfast in the restaurant and purchased some Arctic Circle souvenirs (T-shirts, bumper stickers for the garage fridge at home, certificates that say we did this, an "Alaska" thermometer that records temps as low as 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit) and got the hell out of there! We gassed up and headed north at about 7:30 a.m. There are some 10% grades on the Dalton Highway - it is pretty extreme! One does not have the feeling that not much more was done to create this road than just grade the landscape as flat as possible without too much exertion - no cut & fill / straightening required! It is only about 60 miles up the highway to the Arctic Circle. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maintains a lovely "wayside" with a great sign (you-are-here variety showing the circle, and at the point at which you are standing), an observation deck and an interpretive display. It was very chilly - probably in the 30's - and there were definite signs of autumn in the landscape - leaves changing color and the definite chill in the air. The Arctic Circle is north latitude 66 degrees 30 minutes. This is the point on the earth where for one day in the summer the sun does not set, and one day in the winter it does not rise. We're way above tree line (north) here - and the tundra is lovely. I always thought of tundra as just a sort of frozen desert, but I underrated it severely! This is one of my favorite places we went on the whole trip. I do believe I could have sat on that deck and stared into the wilderness for the rest of the day. "North" is really calling - we discussed continuing north to Coldfoot, Antigun Pass, Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay --- How I hate leaving a road untraveled! In the end, we got back in the Jeep and went back down the road toward Fairbanks, but not before doing a little mugging for the camera... One of the technicians at work (Tom Gonzales) had bet Dick before we left that he would not wear his Hawaiian shirt at the Arctic Circle. This sort of thing just can't go unchallenged - so Dick took the shirt along, and we took a series of pictures of Dick in the shirt in front of the sign:
(picture #1) Dick pointing at the shirt "see this shirt?"
(picture #2) Dick pointing at the sign "see this sign?"
(picture #3) Dick holding up five fingers "see this FIVE?"
(picture #4) Dick pointing to his outstretched other hand "put it THERE!"
These slides played very well when we returned home and showed them to the group at work! Back on the road, we stopped frequently to take pictures, look around, explore the pipeline - an incredible and massive structure! It weaves through the landscape - sometimes above ground, sometimes plunging under ground. The reason for this is because of varying soil conditions along the route. Where the warm oil would cause icy soil to thaw & erode, the pipeline is above ground to avoid thawing. Where the frozen ground is mostly well drained gravel or solid rock, and thawing is not a problem, the line is underground. The diameter of the pipe is 48 inches. We stopped at one point along the route where I could stand under the pipe with my arms up stretched as far as I could reach - and still I could not touch it. The pipeline stretches from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean 800 miles south to Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska (Prince William Sound). Back on the road - Dick really warmed up to this dirt road driving! There is one spot that is called the Roller Coaster - a big dip - probably a mile wide with a 10% grade down & 10% back up the other side. He liked it so well, we turned around and did it again, just for the hell of it. We passed Yukon River Crossing again at about 11:10 a.m. - and just kept driving. We arrived in Fairbanks about 2:30 and decided we really need to do something about the car! We scrounged up all the quarters we could find and went to a car wash where we washed about 100 lbs of mud off of the car. This was for more than cosmetic effect. There is some kind of chemical they spray on these dirt roads to "keep the dust down" - that will ruin a car's finish if left alone. We were anxious to get that OFF the car. We ate lunch at a cafe in the university district of Fairbanks, then decided we would really love to just kick back and relax. We checked in to a Super 8 Motel that has laundry facilities and did exactly that. Toward evening, we decided to look around Fairbanks. We went to the train yard and took pictures, found an old coal tipple and took pictures, found the downtown area and drove around until we found the visitor center. This is in a lovely little park called Golden Heart Park on the banks of the Tanana River. There is a wonderful sculpture / fountain called the Unknown First Family. The atmosphere was nearly ruined by a bunch of drunk Indians hanging around the park harassing the tourists - anyone who would attempt to take a picture of the statue was greeted with "Hey, how come you don't want to take a picture of a real native?" Not the best P.R. for the visitor center - which is probably exactly what the natives had in mind... Oh well! Fairbanks is a dowdy run down city with not much in the way of redeeming features. I imagine the winters take their toll on buildings, roads, homes, etc. We just couldn't find any particular charm or attractive qualities here and determined that we would get the hell out of here as soon as possible in the morning. A storm was brewing and we watched in fascination as it approached - black clouds - really black - approaching from the east, while the late afternoon / evening sun brilliantly lit everything in its path. Then the winds came up as the storm whammed into town - it was moving so quickly that it was over within half an hour. We're taxed and tired because of the dirt drive this morning and decided to head for bed.
Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: Hit the trail early - stopping at a Safeway in Fairbanks to stock up on provisions. On the outskirts of Fairbanks, we picked up the George Parks Highway (Parks Highway) which connects Fairbanks with Anchorage. The Alaska Rail Road generally follows this same route. Our destination was Denali National Park. This is a real highway with lines and shoulders, passing lanes and plenty of room. We were obviously in the more developed corridor or Alaska now! It is only 120 miles from Fairbanks to Denali, and we intended to be leisurely about our trip. Unfortunately, the overcast was real low again today and we only caught occasional glimpses of the river valleys and mountain peaks. The drive was gorgeous anyway, in spite of not being able to see all of the scenery. There was some difference of opinion between the guidebooks about the existence of a bar called Skinny Dick's Half-way Inn. Ostensibly the name was derived from the Inn's location, half way between Fairbanks and Nenana, but the ribald double entendre is just too much for us - we have to find it and have a beer, even if it is only 10:30 in the morning! As we round a corner on the highway, there it is - in all its glory - and in we go. We had a couple of beers, bought tee-shirts and key chains and hat pins and had our picture taken with Skinny Dick (he really is!). On we went - at noon, we were at Nenana and decided to stop. It is a charming little town at the confluence of the Tanana River and the Nenana River. It is definitely a rail road town, also a river freight port for many towns that lie on the river that are not serviced by roads. We had lunch at a little cafe then went down the street to visit The Alaska Rail Road Museum. The museum is full of all sorts of old stuff that is rail road oriented, but not rolling stock or locomotives. It was fun to tour, but it was MORE fun to learn about the Nenana Ice Classic. This is an annual lottery event which offers cash prizes to the person(s) who guess the exact minute the ice will break up on the Tanana River. In February they erect a large (a couple of stories high) tripod out on the ice in the middle of the river. They connect the top of the tripod to a clock device in a tower on the river bank. When the ice breaks up (in April or May), the tripod falls over, the line stops the clock, recording the official breakup time. The idea is to buy a ticket with the date and time you think the ice will go out. Big Bucks are paid to the winner(s), and the town also gets a cut, which helps them maintain the museum and sponsor their dog races and other civic events. We wandered around a little more through the town, and decided we should get underway once more. We continued south, following the Nenana River in to the mountains. We stopped at a turn-out where the river was particularly beautiful and watched a train go past high on the hillside across the river. There was an icy wind blowing down through the canyon! We continued south to Healy and checked in to the local KOA. We found a cool tent site under big trees not too close to other people (although this is relative - KOA has a greed-based bad habit of trying to get twice as many people into the available space as they should!). We decided to drive on down to Denali and see what we were up against as far as getting to see the mountain tomorrow. The weather all day today has been foul - everything we've read says you only have a 30% chance of actually seeing the mountain on any given day. We drove to the visitor center and learned that you can only drive into the park about 12 miles. To get anywhere near the mountain, you have to take a shuttle bus. We decided we'd better take our chances and get tickets for tomorrow. It was raining by the time we left to drive back up the road to Healey. It was getting colder and my ears were absolutely freezing. In the KOA gift shop, I spotted a pair of red fox ear muffs. In spite of my aversion to buying or wearing fur, or supporting the fur trade, I bought them and wore them on and off for the rest of the trip. I absolutely love them. They are warm and they are Alaska. The fur "controversy" has a whole different slant in the far north where fur is viewed as a survival tool. At sunset, the storm broke up and we had a remarkable sunset view of the surrounding mountains. This is an awesome and gorgeous place.
Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: Rolled out of the KOA about 9 a.m. and headed for Healy to the Box Car Cafe for a quick breakfast, then on to Denali to make our reservation on the bus. We were early, and since you can drive about 12 miles in to the park, we decided to do just that. We had our breath taken away at the top of the rise behind the main visitor center - it was a perfectly clear morning, and far off in the distance (about 70 miles away) Denali was out of the clouds in full view. We kept stopping and taking more pictures as we proceeded to the "end of the road" (at least the part of the road that is accessible to the driving public). It was gorgeous. The elevation of the majority of the park is around 2,000 feet. The mountain is 20,320 feet and it just sticks straight up from the rolling foot hills that surround it. Very dramatic! We turned around and went back to catch our bus. This is no luxury tour! The intent and motivation is to leave the park wild and remote. If they let all the people who come here drive anywhere they wanted to go, the place would end up just like Yosemite (which, if you haven't been there, is like Los Angeles with trees). They drive school buses full of tourists way back in to the park at about 30 minute intervals - it is about 62 miles to the Eielson Visitor Center on a narrow, fairly winding dirt road. The bus drivers (park service employees) stop any time they (or anyone else on the bus) spots wild life. Then, the passengers on the bus all crane their necks through windows to get pictures of whatever creature happens to be in evidence. The countryside unrolls as the bus proceeds west through the park. The terrain varies dramatically, from scrub forest to more tundra-like surroundings. There are rivers and lakes and a pass through the mountains called "Polychrome Pass". One has the definite feeling of being in the extreme wilderness. We saw many caribou, a moose and a fox. The guide pointed out white things on the hillside that they said were Dall Sheep, but I think they were just pillowcases someone draped on the rocks. This trip took several hours! We managed to have a seat at the back of the bus, which I think gave us a bumpier ride than if we had been further forward, but we didn't have people breathing down our necks either. As the day progressed, it became more and more overcast and cloudy. By the time we reached the Eielson Visitor Center (which is essentially at the base of the mountain) the peak was socked in. We did get an unforgettable view of the Muldrow glacier and the lower shoulders of the mountain. This made us very glad we had made our early trek out on to the road for our initial view of the mountain! We hung out at the visitor center for an hour or so - toying with the idea of taking the continuation bus on to Wonder Lake. If the peak had been visible, we would have done this in a heart beat, but since we would not have been able to see anything, we opted for one of the return buses. The trip out is as spectacular as the trip in (as you might have guessed - it's the same road!). Our big wilderness treat came near the end when the bus driver stopped to let us look at a grizzly bear that was eating a caribou on a sand bar in the middle of a river. This is really wild stuff! We returned to the visitor center late in the afternoon - exhausted from the ride and looking for something to EAT & DRINK! We had read about the "salmon bakes" in MILEPOST and decided that sounded pretty darned good. These are restaurants that are single-menu all-you-can-eat establishments. You eat what they're serving but you get all you can stand! We had a couple of Alaskan beers and ate to our hearts' content. Upon returning to the KOA we noted an abundance of Air Stream trailers parked together (probably close to 100 of them!) - so we decided to park and walk around for a closer look at them. They have sort of an other-worldly look about them, and always catch our attention when we see them on the road. An old man was out buffing imaginary specs of dust off his gleaming Air Stream motor home. We didn't remember ever having seen an Air Stream motor home, and paused briefly in the road to have a look - he seemed eager to show off his vehicle. We talked to him - talked to his wife - went in side for a look around - looked at pictures of their children - they seemed very anxious to visit! I think if we hadn't excused ourselves they would have invited us to dinner (and probably adopted us and put us in their will!). They were both in their 80's - these are the drivers that scare the hell out of me on the highways, but they were nice enough when they were not moving on the same road as me! We were absolutely out of steam by this point, and headed back to the tent for a good night's rest.
Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: We showered, broke camp and left the Healy KOA at about 10:00 a.m. Our plan for today was to drive a little further south on the Parks highway and pick up the Denali Highway Alaska Route 8 - a 136 mile stretch of very remote dirt highway with very few services of any kind. We wanted to camp in the wilderness. This road begins at Cantwell. We decided to gas up and get some breakfast at Cantwell. This was a very strange little town - almost appearing to be abandoned. We located a little restaurant and went inside to discover that we were the only patrons in the place with the exception of a guy sleeping with his head on the table. The "help" all looked pretty hung over. We decided this must be a night life spot because it certainly wasn't much in the way of DAY life! They turned out a respectable stack of pancakes, however! We finally got of town at about noon and headed east on the Denali Highway, which follows the Nenana River for several miles. The recent rains (and probably many storms before that) had wreaked havoc on the road to the point where it resembled swiss cheese! There was no place to drive that wasn't rutted and full of holes - a far cry from the Taylor or the Dalton Highways - which apparently receive more maintenance because of their critical nature in reaching their respective destinations. One has the feeling that the Denali isn't used as a major corridor - the Richardson goes up the east side of south central Alaska and the Parks goes up the West side - This is just a connector road. Back in the old days, it used to be the way to get to Denali from anywhere (before the construction of the Parks Highway). We learned that there are several large mining operations out here, and that the eastern section of the road is in much better shape. We were concerned about having our teeth rattled loose after we had gone only about 8 miles. We stopped and took pictures at a beautiful overlook of the Nenana River - almost as much to stop bouncing around as to get the pictures! As we continued, the road improved - thank goodness - and the scenery just kept getting more wild and beautiful. We kept looking for places we could camp. We checked out a BLM campground on the banks of a river, but something about the location spooked us. It just looked like a place where bears would be abundant. Call us nuts - we kept driving. As the road dips and curves through this wild country, views and vistas unfold and the vastness of the landscape becomes overwhelming. As we rounded a curve in the road where a stand of willows (or some willow-like flora) hugged the outside curve, we thought we saw something yellow in the bushes. We stopped for a closer look and discovered a road-caution-yellow sign almost completely covered by the bushes, warning people that there was a curve ahead. Hmmmmmm. The Alaska range draws closer to the Denali highway north of the road. Glaciers appear in nearly every fold of these gorgeous mountains, dropping down to the headwaters of rivers that flow out across the plains. We stopped at a little road house to inquire about purchasing a fishing license. We were the only customers in the place - they sold the fishing licenses in the bar so the guy was forced to open it up, sell us a beer, and the fishing licenses! Still no place to camp. We noted the Tangle Lakes campground on the MILEPOST map, and decided to head for this as a site. It is hard to imagine an ugly place in Alaska, but these lakes were ugly. Dirt campsites, dirt lake shores, dirt roads, very very little foliage of any kind - just generally ugly. Given the fact that the weather was starting to get nasty-looking we could just envision this dirt turning to MUD if it started to really rain (visions of the chocolate malt parking lot at Yukon River Crossing began dancing through our heads). We were almost to the Richardson, and figured there MUST be campgrounds along the Gulkana River, so we kept driving. The Denali Highway ends at the Richardson Highway at Paxson. We turned right/south onto the pavement and started looking for campgrounds. Either we're way picky today, or there just isn't anything on this road! We drove and drove - Mount Wrangell, Mount Blackburn and Mount Drumm all looming on the horizon - by this time, it was getting late (for us), and we were confounded as to what to do! We turned up the Tok cut-off and what to our wondering eyes should appear, but a lovely little road house. Stop this car! The Gakona Lodge & Trading Post, the Trappers Den Bar, The Carriage House Dining Room, all back up to the Gakona River strung out in a line at the northern edge of the highway. The Lodge room rates were $45 per night - bathroom down the hall - and a far cry from our Yukon River Crossing "bathroom-down-the-hall" experience! This is a lovely little inn with floors that are as level as a roller coaster! There are nice little decorative touches in the halls and rooms, and a choice of a bathroom with a shower, or one with a tub. Since it was the middle of the week, there was virtually no one there. We gratefully checked in to the lodge, took a nice bath, and went over to the bar for a couple of beers. We walked in on the local "gang at Cheers" - Buck the canoe builder, Julie the Postmaster, John & Jerry, the owners of the spread (John tending bar, Jerry running the restaurant) and other assorted colorful locals. It wasn't the normal "shun the outlanders" routine - they wanted to know all about our trip, where we'd been, where we were from, how we liked Alaska, what we planned to do for the rest of the trip - generally welcoming us with open arms. We told them how much trouble we had finding a camp site (but how glad we were in retrospect that we had found them instead!) and that we wanted to go fishing. They recommended that we head into the Wrangell St. Elias Preserve. Julie excused herself, ran home, and came back with a couple of frozen trout she had in her freezer, and a jar of home-made berry jam. Meanwhile, Jerry kept coming through from the kitchen asking if we were going to have dinner in the dining room - sure - why not! He had just cooked up a batch of spaghetti sauce for their Wednesday dinner special and he wanted us to try it. However, when we got into the dining room and looked at the menu we decided steak sounded better. He found out we didn't order spaghetti and brought out a plate for each of us anyway. (He really wanted us to try this sauce!) The Carriage House is an ancient looking building with high open beam ceilings and large windows out the back facing the river. It was an altogether pleasant experience. We recommend it! We finally left the restaurant and walked along the river on our way back to the lodge. Our room looked out over the gardens and river which we could hear rushing all through the night.
Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: On the advice of the gang in the Trappers Den Bar last night, we headed back down to the Richardson and south to Gulkana where we stopped for gas and breakfast, then proceeded on down the road past Copper Center (where we stopped briefly for ice) to the Edgerton Highway - a shortie (35 miles) that connects the Richardson with Chitina (pronounced CHIT-na) which is at the beginning of the McCarthy road. This road places you right in the heart of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The locals don't like the fact that this is a national park. They hate Jimmy Carter for designating so much of Alaska as protected federal lands. They think it screwed up their ability to hunt & fish & log & mine. The perspectives are very different up here. We were quite surprised to find open hostility toward environmentalists in such a gorgeous, unspoiled region. They just want to be left alone to do what they want to do - believing that there is enough room and resources to go around and that the environmentalists are just meddling in things that don't concern them. Unfortunately, that belief seems to be what has brought the lower-48 to the state we're in with regard to stripped resources, polluted air, water and earth. While the Alaskan's desire to be left alone strikes a harmonic note in my libertarian spirit, I would truly hate to think that unspoiled Alaska as it exists today will not be there for me to revisit in my future. But I digress. The road in to Chitina passes 3-4 lovely lakes. The water level and the road surface are almost the same. It is a very strange feeling! Chitina has a population of 49 (according to MILEPOST). We were looking for wilderness again---and continued on the McCarthy road. This "road" is the old rail road grade to the Kennecott Mine at McCarthy. MILEPOST even warns you to watch for spikes in the road bed. This road is really really rough - major league pot holes and washboard. There are several lovely camp grounds very close to Chitina - but we want to look at Silver Lane Campground, about 11 miles out into the wilderness. We bounced along until we found a sign pointing to the campground. Now we know how Brigham Young felt when he got his first look at the Salt Lake valley -- "This is the Place" !!!!!!!! There were several little campsites right along the grassy lake shore - a dock built out into the lake - a little old man running the place - ancient wooden outhouses - all very very picturesque. We picked the camp site at the end, pitched our tent & rain fly (the weather wasn't exactly perfect here), and kicked back. We have been waiting and looking for a wilderness experience the whole time we've been gone. We have seen wilderness, but not just basked in it. Now three weeks in to the trip, we decided to stay here for a couple of days and let the wilderness soak in. The clouds moved in and out - no sun shine at all, but varying ceiling levels allowing occasional glimpses of the beautiful Wrangell St. Elias Mountains. Toward evening, two vans of very loud European tourists arrived - the traveling Euro-invaders! They quite obviously were not here to enjoy the peace and quiet! They pitched their camp like a well-oiled machine, and proceeded to cook & drink & raise hell. We moved our chairs around to the other side of the tent and just tried to ignore them.
Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: The Euro-invaders got up early, broke camp and went away. BYE! (Good riddance!). After breakfast, Dick took his fishing stuff down to the pier and proceeded to fish. One of the best photographs I took on the whole voyage is taken from a distance - the lake & the dock & Dick fishing against the backdrop of the surrounding mountains & cloudy skies. Occasionally, the camp-ground proprietor would fire up an outboard motor and send little groups of fisher-persons out on to the lake, but otherwise, it was utterly and deeply silent. I set up my telescope (the first and only time I even took it out of the car) and with the spotting scope, followed a pair of loons around the lake. These are gorgeous designer birds. They call them "Common Loons" but there is nothing common about them! They are black & white water birds with the most hauntingly beautiful cry. I suppose someone from Michigan or Maine probably thinks I'm the loon for thinking these are such extraordinary birds, but this California girl fell irretrievably in love with these feathered creatures. Dick shared the dock with a fly-fisherwoman. This was our first experience watching this very artful performance. We were both enthralled with the strategy and technique (she didn't catch anything, however!). In the afternoon, a man and a little girl came back in from boat-fishing on the lake. They had a boat full of fish! Dick inquired about what kind of lure they had been using. The man produced an iridescent yellow/green (Day-Glo?) plastic wiggly thing and said he had caught all the fish with that type of lure. Dick said, "Hmmm - I have one of those"... he put it on his line and within five minutes he had a 12 inch trout. He decided to toss it back - the hunt is the game! I have to say that neither one of us are fishermen, but we also thought it was completely ridiculous to go to Alaska and not be prepared to fish. Before we left home, we went to K-Mart and just started pulling things off the shelves - (hey! these look cute - let's get some of these!). It was quite rewarding for Dick to actually catch something! The weather kept getting colder and colder. We couldn't seem to get warm! Along in mid-afternoon we got back in our sleeping bags just to get our toes warmed up! It rained off and on and we enjoyed listening to the patter on the tent roof. Toward evening it stopped raining and we heard the loons quite close by. We were out looking for them when one of the other campers approached us with a pan of fried trout and hush puppies. They had "too much" for their group and decided to share. We were quite touched by this random act of kindness. The food was delicious and a fitting end to our beautiful, relaxing day at Silver Lake.
On To Week 4 Travelogue
If you'd like to see other travelogues from Jim and his friends...