Trip Report - Alaska & Yukon

Old Aug 31st, 2005, 08:26 PM
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Trip Report - Alaska & Yukon

I have not had a chance to organize my notes yet so a trip report will be forthcoming soon in this space. In the meantime, I have posted photos on the web if anyone would like to look at them. They are at http://www.worldisround.com/articles/209893/index.html

During the trip, I posted a couple of min-reports. You can see them by searching on my Fodor's name or by finding "Mini Trip Report - Seward" and "Mini trip Report - Talkeetna"
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Old Aug 31st, 2005, 08:33 PM
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Thanks, DW! I will look forward to reading your report!

BTW, the postcards came and the kids LOVED getting them and reading your personal notes. Thank you so much for doing that for us.
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Old Sep 1st, 2005, 02:09 AM
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Thanks for sharing your photos. I look forward to your report.
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Old Sep 5th, 2005, 03:50 PM
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I've finally had a chance to sit down and go through my notes to help prepare a trip report. I won't do this chronologically. since I was there for almost 3 weeks, I'll just comment on some of the things I found noteworthy.

Everytime I go back to Alaska, I am reminded of why it is my favorite place on earth to visit. I have and still maintain that no writer, no photographer, no videographer can do it justice. Alaska is simply too specacular to hope that my readers or viewers will get the essence, but I'll try.

The Kenai Peninsula has always been my favorite place. I have traveled throught south-central Alaska but have not done south-east or the western areas so I can only compare to the areas I have seen. I like Talkeetna, Denali, Fairbanks, and the area north of Fairbanks. I loved skimming along the surface of Ruth Glacier in a light airplane, but I love Kenai more.

At every curve, there is a new and breathtaking vista - pristine little lakes in the shadows of massive rocky mountains; glaciers flowing across rocky ridges and down carved out mountain valleys, salmon fighting their way up tiny creeks and rushing rivers; small villages nestled in the tops of mountain valleys, and the sea lapping against the shores of peninsulas, bays, and rugged rocks.

During this trip, however, I found my second favorite place in Alaska. I made my first trip to Kodiak Island and it is as beautiful as the Kenai. From some of my photos on the web site in the above post, you may be able to get a glimmering of why I enjoyed it so much.

The return from Kodiak to Anchorage was not uneventful. After we took off (in a two engine, prop driven, puddle jumper), we hit a flock of birds. The pilots had to turn around a make an emergency landing in Kodiak. No one was hurt but the airplane was damaged and the airline couldn't get any of us out until the next day. As a result, my entire return to Nevada was delayed by a day. To their credit, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines worked out my revised schedule without fuss.

I also took a drive down the Alaska Hwy from Anchorage to Tok to Destruction Bay in Kluane National park in the Yukon Territory. Had I never seen Alaska, I would have marveled at the sights in the Yukon. As it was, they seemed a little pedestrian. The panoramas are very nice but not nearly as spectacular as in Alaska, even fairly close by. Gasoline is also quite expensive ($4.25/US gallon) before the price increases caused by Katrina. Even so, the Yukon road is in much worse condition than across the border.

There have been a number of posts about border crossing issues on this forum but these crossings could not have been easier. I am a 63 year old white male with a passport and driving a rented pick-up camper so I don't suppose I was high on anyone's suspect profile. In any event, crossing into Canada took less than 45 seconds and the border officer was very polite and genial. Crossing back into the US a couple of days later took less than 30 seconds and the officer was polite but I would not say genial. The only wait I has was crossing into Canada, I had to wait for 4 other vehicles to go through first. There was no wait at all crossing into the US.

More Later.
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Old Sep 5th, 2005, 04:23 PM
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Everyone wonders about Alaskan weather. I can now give you a definitive answer. While I was there it was sunny, partly cloudy, overcast, warm, cool, cold, clear, rainy, and foggy. The oft-repeated advice to be ready and to dress in layers is still on point.

Some of my favorite experiences on this trip:

Flying out of Seattle in mid-evening on the way to Anchorage, there was a beautiful red rim along the horizon from the sun setting. Since we were flying toward them sun and flying north, that red rim stayed with us all the way to anchorage. Gorgeous!

Walking on the perma-frost. This was my first time and it was pretty neat. I had always read about the spongy feel of the ground but you really have to do it to understand what that means.

Driving across Thompson Pass on the way into Valdez. I have done the Seward Hwy to Seward and the Sterling Hwy to Homer several times but this was my first time to Valdez. While I thought the town itself was tackier than either of the other two, the drive into it is every bit as spectacular as anything on the Seward or Sterling Hwys. Valdez itself is nesteld on a bay surround by craggy mountins, glaciers, and waterfalls. It was on the top of Thompson Pass on the way out that I encountered the only fog of the trip (not counting a boat trip). It was wispy and neat climbing into the pass but pretty solid for 3-4 miles at the top.

Sitting at water's edge along Resurrection Bay in Seward watching my campfire and roasting hot dogs. This was my first time camping since my kids grew up and they are both in their late 30's. For the past 20 years or so, my idea of roughing it was staying at the Marriott instead of the Hyatt Regency. It was quite neat to sit by the water, watch the eagles flying past, and enjoy my campfire and dinner.

The Kenai Fjiords boat tour. When I got into Seward on the train, I took a chance there might be a spot available and there was. The tour took us out Resurrection Bay, into the Gulf of Alaska, and up Aliak Fjiord to the Aliak Glacier. This is my second visit to this glacier but it was just as awe inspiring the second time. We were lucky to see calfing ice but not as much as the last time. I was also surprised that there were no harbor seals hauled out on the floating ice at the foot of the glacier. On my last trip, there were hundreds of them. We did see a pod of Orca (Killer) whales, many Stellar sea lions, quite a few puffins and other sea birds, and a small black bear foraging along the beach.

Fishing for Silver Salmon in Seward. I think I discussed this in my mini-trip report on Seward so I won't go into great detail here. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed it immensly. I've lived a sheltered life and these are the biggest fish I've ever caught.

Camping in some of the city, state, and federal campgrounds in Alaska and the Yukon. I was fortunate to find secluded, almost natural campsights in several places and all were quite inexpensive. They included Seward Ocean Campground ($12-no hookups), Bird Creek State Park between Girwood and Anchorage ($12-no hookups). Dry Creek State Park near Glenallen (12-no hookups). Williwa Campground in Chugash National Forest ($6-no hookups). There were also some private campgrounds including Westmark RV Park, Beaver Creek, YT ($10 US-water and electric) with some natural sites and some open sites; Bear Paw RV Park in Valdez ($30-full hookups); and heritage RV Park on the Homer Spit ($50-full hookups) The last two are OK if you want a place to park but are pretty much wall-to-wall RV's.

Still more to come.
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Old Sep 5th, 2005, 05:18 PM
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DW--I was in Alaska 6-7yrs ago and your comments brought back some great memories. Your pics were great, BTW!

And isn't the sponginess of the tundra cool? I hadn't heard that it would feel that way so when I took that first step, I was quite suprised. It almost felt like I was on a bit of a trampoline. I've told my students about that but they never seem to believe me that it's not rock hard!
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Old Sep 5th, 2005, 06:27 PM
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OWJ: Thanks for the kind words. Now you can tell the kids their teacher's friend said it was spongy, too.
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Old Sep 6th, 2005, 04:10 PM
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I had a pickup camper for ten days of the trip and enjoyed it very much

I rented from ABC RV rentals next to the airport. They were easy to deal with by telephone and e-mail and efficient and friendly when I checked it out. All-in-all, the experience was a good one but with a couple of significant problems. First, I would have appreciated a "How To" manual for all the appliances and utilities. They did a walk thorugh check out of them but during the ten days I had it, I would have liked to use the furnace a time or two if only I had known how to start it. They may have told me but, if so, it went right over my head and a manual would have saved the day.

I also discovered, after getting several hundred miles away, that the vent directly over the bed leaked in the rain. I discovered that by being waked up from water dripping onto my chest. I was able to stay dry by switching to the other side of the bed and keeping close to the wall but if there had been two of us, someone would have gotten wet. I asked for an adjustment on that but have not yet heard back from them.

I also strongly recommend taking the optional $10/day windshield ding insurance. I didn't even get out of Anchorage before I got such a ding and, without the insurance, the cost was $495.
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Old Sep 6th, 2005, 04:15 PM
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I accidentally sent the previous post before I finished it.

One of the great advantages of driving a pickup, with or without the camper, was the elevated view I had because it is a bigger vehicle. I could see further off the road because of the height.

One of the disadvantages was fuel cost. This was before Katrina. The cheapest gas I found was $2.449 but mostly it was up around $2.899 and, in Canada, it was over $4.25/US gallon. I shudder to think what the prices up there may be now.
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Old Sep 6th, 2005, 04:39 PM
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Hotels and Restaurants

Because I had the camper, I did not stay in as many hotels or eat in as many restaurants as I otherwise would have. I'll just provide a few comments about a few I did patronize.

Fairfield Inn-International Airport Rd & A St, Anchorage. Mixed reviews. I stayed there on five separate nights as I was passing through Anchorage from one place to another. I did not have the troubles other posters have commented on but neither was I very impressed by the place. It appears to me that the owners and managers put more emphasis on profit than on customer service and satisfaction. The rooms were clean and comfortable each of the five nights.

Hotel Edgewater-Seward: This was my third time staying there over the years and I have always been satisfied. The room has been comfortable, its in a good location, and the staff is friendly. I did have an unusual wake up this time. I was actually already up and awake but the fire alarm went off early in the morning and the hotel had to be evacuated. It took Seward Fire Dept over 15 minutes to arrive but it tuurned out to be a false alarm.

Talkeetna Roadhouse: No luxury here but comfortable lodgings, cheap ($47.25 for a private room). I've stayed here before, have written about it for national magazines and web sites, and know the owner so I'm probably a bit biased. I like it both for the history and the ambience.

Buskin River Inn-Kodiak Island. I had to stay here because of the in-flight emergency we had. This is the worst excuse for a hotel I've seen in a long time, especially at the price ($159). There was mold and mildew in the bathroom, holes in the bedspread, the TV did not work, and the hotel restaurant did not open until 10:00 am with no other place to eat within walking distance. There was also no shuttle to get into town (about 5 miles away).

All of the hotels above had computers available for free internet access.

Rays and Chinooks in Seward have been covered in my Seward mini-trip report.

Talkeetna Roadhouse continues to serve huge portions of gut-busting, artery-clogging food. My kind of place! A word to the wise. Unless you have a gargantuan appetite, their half-size servings are plenty.

Bird Ridge Cafe at Bird Creek between Girdwood and Anchorage. Another favorite from previous trips. Their blueberry pancakes are sinfully delicious.

Alaska Railroad Dining Car. I have always liked their breakfasts and on this trip, had a wonderful salmon dinner. Much better than AMTRAK dining cars.

Mike's Waterfront Bar and Cafe-Valdez. This appears to be a place locals go to eat. I only had the speghetti with sausage and mushrooms so I can't tell you about the rest of the menu but that was very good.

El Pescador and Land's End in Homer. I have eaten at both in prior years and was pleased. I was not so pleased on this trip. Neither was up to prior standards and, especially at Land's End, the meal (halibut) was not only not good, it was bad.

King's Diner-Kodiak City. A cafe open only for breakfast and lunch and tucked away at the back of a little strip center. I found it by asking a police officer where would be a good place for breakfast. He was right. The blueberry pancakes with reindeer sausage was very, very good. The atmosphere was early Denny's but with super friendly waitresses (you want some sugar for that coffee, hon?).
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Old Sep 6th, 2005, 04:52 PM
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I've mentioned in a couple of places seeing animals. In this section, I'll recap the animal sightings I had through the entire trip.

On the fjords trip, we saw a pod of 3-4 Orcas, one of which swam quite close to our boat. We also saw a small black bear foraging on the beach, hundreds of puffins and other sea birds, sea otters, harbor seals, and Stellar sea lions.

From the train, I saw a large black bear in a meadow 50 feet or so below track level and a couple of moose.

During my driving and camping, I saw a number of moose-some at a distance and others quite close. I saw dozens of bald eagles in various places and, in Kodiak, three golden eagles. Driving out of Soldotna, I came across a lone black wolf loping along the edge of the road.

In all of the seaports, I saw hundreds and hundreds of silver salmon, a few of which I caught myself. During the fishing trip, I and the others on the boat caught, in addition to silvers, pink salmon, sea bass, dog sharks, a king salmon, and several ugly little pink fish whose type I cannot remember. I also saw many, many silver salmon being caught in the fishing hole on Homer spit.

Walking in the woods outside beaver Creek, YT, I saw a mother and baby owl, type unknown, nesting.

On previous trips I had seen beluga whales in Turnagain Arm but, as hard as I looked, I could not find any on this trip.
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Old Sep 6th, 2005, 05:00 PM
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Some lessons learned.

One of my favorite things about Alaska on previous trips was the huge expanse of fireweed and other wildflowers blooming along the roads and in mountain meadows. By the time I arrived for this trip, they were mostly gone. From that aspect, I think June and July are probably the best times to visit.

Once you get outside built up areas, and not very far outside, radio reception takes a nose dive. If you want to listen to something and you are going to travel in the bush, bring CD's.

Beleive the airlines when they tell you to allow plenty of time for checkin and security. In most places, I cruised right on through and it took less than 30 minutes. However, on departure in Las Vegas, checking in and then getting through the lines for security took over 90 minutes at 7:00 am on a sunday morning.

Dress in layers. Even in summer, it is likely you'll encounter a broad range of weather. You'll be a great deal more comfortable if you are prepared.

Above all, enjoy the best place to sightsee in America and one of the best in the world!
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Old Sep 12th, 2005, 03:37 PM
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Just a quick update on the leaking roof vent over the bed in the camper I rented.

ABC, without any prodding or pleading on my part, made a very nice price adjustment for the problem. The leak was a major inconvenience but if it had not been previously reported, there was no way ABC would have known about it. I am very pleased with how they handled it after I reported it. They are good people running an honest business, at least in my experience.
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Old May 5th, 2006, 05:16 PM
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Great trip report and photos, dwooddon! We were without power during the time of the OP due to Katrina, and I missed all these great posts on Alaska. So glad you told us about it in a recent Alaska post. Four trips--boy, I am jealous! ;-) After only one trip, I am having problems considering a trip to anywhere else. All I can think of is Alaska!

Thanks for the great report!
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Old May 6th, 2006, 03:22 PM
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You're welcome. When you're ready to go back, call. I'm ready for Alaska anytime!
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Old Jan 29th, 2007, 04:23 PM
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TTT for Deborah.
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