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Wilderness Adventures - July, Week 2/2006

Normally about the Anahim Lake and Nimpo Lake region of the West Chilcotin, this summer Wilderness Adventures will include the Alaska Journel for 2006 since that's where I'll be!.
You can search this site for a subject of interest to you at the bottom of this page. Check out the Picture of the Day.

7/12/2006 8:57 PM

Valdez

When we first entered Alaska and at the first gas station we filled up at a tourist told us that if we didn't see any other place in Alaska, we had to see Valdez. He's right.
It is by far the prettiest place that we have seen in Alaska. Soon after we left Copper Center this morning, the country began changing from swamp spruce to high green hills, and then mountains. Great, deep canyons ran down from the mountains and there were glaciers on nearly every mountain including one that is called a hanging glacier and seems to defy gravity. Soon there were solid rock walls forming one side of the road with drilled blasting holes still clearly visible while on the other ran the Tsaina River, a strange grey silty river the color of metal filings. At one point we could see Worthington Glacier draped over the mountain before us and running down fairly close to the highway, then turned a corner overlooking a valley overhung by the sawtoothed Chugach Range. Fabulous waterfalls from the foot of glaciers made fantastically steep drops appearing and disappearing in the thick green underbrush as they flowed down the mountains in steps. Thompson Pass just before Valdez is wild and wonderful and Bridal Veil and Horsetail Falls are must stop photo ops.

We arrived in Valdez early this afternoon. Our first duty as we rolled into town was to check out our accommodations for the next couple of days. I was horrified to see the only three possibilities for which we had information. All three were the usual gravel pit parking lots with RV's packed in like sardines. However, I did see a sign on the road advertising 'No Mosquitoes!' so we followed the little arrows out to a large spit or breakwater that had fish packing houses and a very large RV Park, but this park formed a quadrant with most of the parking on the outside and only a little in the middle. As a result, there was lots of open space and since we got in so early we were able to back onto Prince William Sound so that all we would hear at night would be ocean sounds and the deep thrum of the ocean going boats. The other parks we looked at would be very noisy because they were all surrounded by roads on at least three sides so we're pretty darned happy with what we lucked out on.
Unlike Seward, the valley of Valdez is wider as is Prince William Sound so you don't feel quite so much like you are sitting in a tight valley right under the mountains. Valdez is said to be called the little Switzerland of Alaska and I can certainly see why. Surrounded by lush green mountains that peak into snowcapped crags and protective hills, the port doesn't seem to be very windy at all and the Sound itself is very calm with few waves although I'm sure that could change in bad weather. The Sound is that pretty light green of an ocean inlet fed directly by a glacial river and tonite we watched a seal floating on his back eating his supper while his buddies cavorted among a bunch of seagulls.
We toured around the town a bit and discovered it to be a neat and tidy little place with a population of around 4000. It has an odd hill that's quite high between most of the town and the Sound so we climbed it and discovered that it would almost entirely protect the town from a tsunami similiar to the one that destroyed Old Valdez in 1964. On Good Friday, the earthquake of 1964 caused an underground landslide in Prince William Sound that resulted in a huge tsunami. The water, fires and earthquake completely destroyed the town and the U.S. Army condemned the townsite. They gave the townspeople two years to remove or salvage all of their belongings and move them to the new townsite four miles to the south along the 'side' of the Sound rather than at the head of the inlet. Some buildings were fit to be moved but most were not, which would explain why Valdez doesn't have much in the way of old historic buildings even though it's been around since the late 1800's.
We drove down to the site of Old Valdez and about all that's there are the memorial plaques and a bunch of overgrown gravel lanes and streets.
Tomorrow we go on a 6.5 hour cruise through the Sound to look at the Columbia Glacier and see wildlife. This should be interesting because I don't like boats at the best of times. I sure don't know about a boat on the ocean but I've got Gravol and Andy so lets hope all goes well.
Just a word of note. I've uploaded two articles today so you may want to read the one uploaded this morning down below.
7/11/2006 7:19 PM

North, Then South

Wow, we've covered a lot of ground since I last wrote an article and updated.
We left Fairbanks to go up the Elliot Highway which eventually leads to Prudhoe Bay. We'd heard that the gravel section was a bad place to take an RV so we figured we would go as far as Livengood until the pavement ended and then turn down toward Manley. However, we only got about 20 miles up the road and it was all either of us could take.
The Highway may have been paved but that's about all you could say about it. It was just ruddy atrocious! The dips and frost heaves were so bad that I was afraid we were going to break the RV trailer in half, or bend the hitch at the very least. Neither of us felt that whatever was ahead of us was worth damaging the trailer for so we turned back toward Fairbanks.
Part way back we turned off onto the Steese Highway toward Circle just to see what condition the highway was in. As it turned out, the paved section was in excellent condition and we followed it out nearly to the end of the pavement to a State Recreational Campground. Along the way we stopped and gold panned in the dredge wash of Pedro Creek, said to be one of the richest gold bearing creeks at one time. We continued on until we could see a few buildings high up on a hill that belonged to the richest gold mine in Alaska, called the Alaska Fort Knox, no tours allowed. Their first pour (separating the gold and pouring it off into gold bricks) on December 20, 1996 was worth $800,000!
The country was quite hilly and a very pretty change from the everpresent black spruce swamps that dominate most of Alaska's landscape. Just before we reached the campground we ran through a burn for some miles and up on the hillside you could see the bright purple of fireweed. It was just a solid burst of color and the thickest I have ever seen it. Conditions for its growth in the burn must have been perfect.
We found a good campsite at the park that was open and gravelly surrounded by trees with the river just a short path away. It provided some open area to keep the bugs down for the dogs.
We got set up and then decided to see if we could find some driftwood on the rocky beach formed by the Chatanika River for a campfire later. The river, which was really high and muddy made a wide sweep where we did some gold panning after supper. We found a few tiny flakes, the weather was perfect, our site very private and quiet and we both slept better than we had since the Quartz Creek campsite down on the Kenai Peninsula. It also refreshed our moods considerably. We have got to stay out of those sardine can parking lots they call RV Parks nowdays. It just isn't us!
We left the site in the morning and headed back down the highway toward Fox and Fairbanks. We stopped at Dredge #8 at Fox and gave ourselves a little tour through the whole setup. Neither of us really wanted to do a three hour guided tour, especially after the tour buses started showing up. We're tired of people. We enjoyed going around and reading all the signs and figuring out how the dredge worked. I would definitely recommend this tour to everyone because that whole operation was absolutely amazing!
We decided to go down toward Chena Hotsprings after we left the dredge but stopped at a spot where the Alaskan Pipeline comes right out to the road. There's a writeup there about the 'pigs' they run through the pipeline along with other information, and of course there was the everpresent over-priced gift shop. We skedaddled as soon as the tour buses showed up again.
As we turned down the road toward Chena it started getting really choppy. I called the owners of the Aurora Hotel as we drove because I really wanted to see their ice museum and asked the woman who answered about the condition of the highway. She said it had really bad frost heaves the whole way but all you had to do was go really slowly. Boy, she wasn't kidding! We had 60 miles to go on that garbage highway and after only 20 miles I finally told Andy to turn our rig around at the next wide spot. We just did not need to wreck anything just because I wanted to see some ice sculptures and since it was not a circle road, we would have to beat up the trailer going in and out. As it was, the next time we stopped and checked the trailer the dining table had bounced right out of its metal floor bracket and was leaning against the window. Much longer and it would have sliced up the screen on the window. I think that it would probably have been better to pay for a couple of extra days for the trailer at the park we were in at Fairbanks, left it there and just taken the truck over all of these roads. Had we realized the condition of the highways we would have planned our trip much differently. Unfortunately, hindsight is always 20/20.
We drove back to Fairbanks, picked up a saw for cutting firewood and headed south on the Richardson Highway toward Valdez. The highway south was surprisingly good and we really enjoyed the country around Delta Junction. Unfortunately, we didn't fuel up there so when we arrived in Paxson after a very long day and both of us exhausted and tired of being in the truck, all we found there was a sign saying there was no diesel. Since the place at Paxson was just too reminiscent of the dueling banjos in 'Deliverance' we chose to cross the bridge over the Gulkana River and park in a gravel pit there. Just as we got parked and began to set up, a wolf meandered past us only a couple of hundred yards away. Andy dashed out to get some pictures, but my digital just didn't show the animal up all that well, but we got one picture that hopefully might show what it is.
The black flies were really bad right along the river so the dogs got a short walk and we climbed back into the trailer for the night. Another quiet night with only another truck camper for company parked a little ways away, a great view and the best part was it was free. You gotta like it!
We chose to stay at Paxson because we wanted to try driving down the Denali Highway until the pavement ended at about 21 miles, drop the trailer at Tangle Lakes and drive on the gravel with just the truck. Lack of diesel and only a half tank left in the truck changed our plans somewhat. We decided to go with the original plan but instead of dropping the trailer, we pulled it over gravel to mile 37 to the summit of the pass then turned around.
If you don't do anything else in Alaska, drive the Denali Highway. It's a must do. The highway crosses from Paxson on the Richardson Highway over to Cantwell on the Parks Highway and is about 134 miles long. McLaren Summit at 4,800 feet is the second highest highway pass in Alaska and the views are absolutely breathtaking! From the summit you look directly across the valley to three large mountains in the Alaska Range that runs adjacent to the highway and valley. You can look down on another wide valley broken by criss-crossing braids of water. This is the headwaters of the mighty Susitna River fed by three glaciers that you can see snaking down to the valley floor and the same river that we had ridden on with Mahay at Talkeetna the week before.
When you first leave Paxson on the Denali Highway you climb, and climb, and climb. You arrive where you can look down on little lakes or kettle ponds formed by glaciers from the last great ice age. This valley and surrounding hills are covered in low bushes and because you're above tree line and there are no trees, everything looks like its covered in a lush green velvet carpet. Most of the small lakes dotted here and there in the valley reflecting the landscape had fish in them according to the MilePost and had the black flies not been so vicious everytime we stepped out of the pickup, we probably would have stuck around. I suspect that in August when all the vegetation is dressed in glorious fall colors, there would be a lot fewer bugs and it would be a much nicer time to fish, camp, and hike all the miles and miles of trails in the alpine country.
So far, the Denali Highway is one of the highlights of this trip and had the timing been right and the fuel situation a little better, we would definitely have gone the whole way to Cantwell and back to wherever we had dropped the trailer for the day but at least we got to see what I'm sure is the best part of it.
Since we got back down to Paxson in good time with only a few things jostled around in the trailer we headed toward Glennallen. The road started to deteriorate as we dropped in elevation and back into the black spruce swamps and we were hitting some pretty good dips and swales by the time we arrived in Glannallen where we fueled up. We will be staying the night in Copper Center in a dry park along the Klutina River where a lot of fishermen are catching salmon along the shore and on from river boats.
As usual we are parked in a sardine can park but at least we are on the edge and have the one side to ourselves. On the other side is a cute little dog that never stops barking and that I'm reasonably sure I will have to murder before the night is out. A small bundle of wood consisting of five skinny pieces just cost me six bucks and as much as I love a fire, sometimes I get a little tired of greasing someone else's palm. There just aren't that many choices for trailer parks in Alaska so you take what you can get unless you're lucky enough to find a state park but after dry camping for two nights we needed some power and water. Tomorrow is Valdez and the parks down there look really, really scary...

7/8/2006 10:13 PM

Fairbanks

We enjoyed nice weather today and a quiet walk in the park. Literally. We went to Pioneer Park in downtown Fairbanks to do our own tour and avoid being stuck on a guided one since we chose not to go to the Eldorado Mine. It was nice to do our own thing and we spent quite a bit of time in the Pioneer Air Museum. It was different again from the one in Anchorage and in Whitehorse, although we skipped over some of the similiarities because we thought it would be nice to make it through all of the exhibits before they shut the doors for the night as they did the last two times.
One very notable exhibit was of a small blue and pink ultra light aircraft on floats that hung from the ceiling. That plane was flown by a nine year old girl who broke the Guinness World of Records for being the youngest girl to ever fly a plane, if you can call an ultra light a plane. I know of many pilots that disagree on that point. In any case, she grew up in a flying family and now owns her own Cessna which she flies on a regular basis.
We walked around the park a bit and found a place to eat. We also stopped at a place where we could gold pan. I only wanted to try it because I wanted someone that could show us how to gold pan properly because I have done it but never been taught. The woman good and fast, knowing exactly what she was doing when she showed me how to work the pan. Several tiny gold nuggets showed up within seconds of her sloshing water around in it so at least I knew there was gold there. I got my gold out within a few minutes so although I am slow, it showed me that my technique works fine with little or no loss of gold. Unfortunately, I didn't leave anything for Andy so though he patiently washed the remaining sand in the pan, I had already cleaned him out! There are a lot of gold bearing creeks and streams in Alaska, and it's nice to know that we might be panning correctly and actually get some color. Just have to stop on one, that's all.
One thing that really stood out about Fairbanks to both Andy and I were the flowers. They're everywhere! On every stump, hanging from every pole, rail or tree available, Alaskans in Fairbanks fill their flower pots to overflowing with flowers. The bright splashes of color are tremendous, and they really are everywhere! When we went on the riverboat tour yesterday I noticed as we went downriver that every home had loads of colorful flowers in every place possible, but especially on top of fence posts and hanging from fence posts. Even Susan Butcher's dog yard had blooming flowerpots on every fence post.
We went past one apartment building today that like most we passed was no great shakes, but like the others, the blooms were magnificent! It's obvious in this city not just the odd apartment dweller here and there gets into container gardening, but just about everyone does. The same with all the houses, and the poorer the condition of the house, the more it was lit up by brightly colored flowers. Even as famous as Victoria, British Columbia is for its city in bloom, I don't think it could compete with Fairbanks, Alaska for sheer determination to enjoy the short summer season to its fullest.

In any case, we had a relaxing, enjoyable day today and somehow wasted enough time to actually be too late back to the trailer to bother making supper. We did go out with the dogs this evening because we kept hearing what sounded like firecrackers while we were in the trailer. Once outside it sounded like it was coming from three different directions. We walked along the banks of the Chena River which runs adjacent to the RV park and I finally told Andy that I thought the sounds about a half mile away on the other side of heavy undergrowth across the river in front of us sounded like small arms and short burst machine gun fire. After listening for a few minutes we both agreed that was the sound in front of us, but that it was firecrackers from two different places behind us. We figured they were doing maneuvers or shooting over at Fort Wainwright nearby and other people were taking the opportunity to hide the sound of their illegal fireworks under the cover of the gunfire.
We started talking to another couple from Minnesota that were walking the banks of the Chena for the same reason as we were and we got into a good conversation. All of a sudden I could hear two hiss/whistles through the leaves above my head, and River dog looked up as quick as I did to the birch limbs above us. I was damned sure I had just heard two bullets go over my head. The fellow we were talking to seemed to think so too but Andy's hearing isn't that good so he wasn't sure. We finally turned away from the river and started walking back to our respective trailers when that whistle came again and a dull thunk sound came where something hit either the truck or trailer near us. River, me and the other couple all jumped and he said he was sure it was a bullet and it'd just hit something. Me, I wasn't sticking around. Andy and I had just turned away from them when there was another whistle, leaves went 'whoosh' and I'm almost certain there was the sound of glass or fiberglass tinkling. Andy didn't think so although he definitely heard the hissing whistle. We're pretty sure that if they're actually stray bullets then at that distance there's probably not much velocity left in them but still, it seems a little dangerous to me. I can only assume that there's something causing a richochet at the gun range and the Fort isn't aware of it. Either way, I may like guns and hunting, but I'm a pretty safe firearm handler and I wasn't sticking around in the open for any longer tonite!
One other thing of note. Two days ago the radio said that sunset is at 12:21 a.m. and sunrise is at 3:24 which means it doesn't even get close to dark. Know what? That's cool in anyone's books!
I may not be able to upload anything for the next few days. We're headed to Manley Hot Springs tomorrow and I'm not even sure we'll find a gravel pit to park in much less an RV Park with internet hookup.
You'll probably have noticed that yesterday's news has been moved to July Week One because this is the start of a new week.

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The purpose of this web site is to draw attention to a remote area of west central British Columbia. It is a beautiful area that relies heavily on tourism. The search engines don't know much about the West Chilcotin, Anahim Lake, Nimpo Lake or any of the other small communities in the region and I hope to change that! Even as large as this site will eventually be, there just isn't enough room or time in the day to fully describe this incredible country but I am going to try scraping away at the tip of the iceberg, so join me!


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Prince William Sound.
 
Highway Cut.
 
Double headed glacier.
 
Richardson to Valdez.
 
Denali Highway green valley.
 
Lake, mountains, Alaska.
 
Picture of a wolf standing.
 
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