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Wilderness Adventures - June, Week 3/2006

This is about a remote area in west central British Columbia, Canada called the West Chilcotin. Surrounded by numerous glacial mountain ranges, alpine lakes teeming with wild Rainbow Trout, and full of wildlife. Living here goes from no running water or electricity to spacious log homes with all the conveniences and without the smog!
If you would like to see pictures of wildlife, mountains, lakes, exciting snowmobiling, events and more, and read stories like 'Lake Monsters' - just go into Archives on the lower left side of this page.
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.

6/25/2006 6:09 PM

Anchorage, Alaska!

We made it this far anyway. You may have noticed that the dates are a little out from when I've started an article and actually got it posted. We've actually been running around in the city of Anchorage checking out all kinds of cool things and I've just been a little slow writing. Friday we checked out Lake Hood and the Air Museum in Anchorage. You have got to see Lake Hood to believe it! If you look at the map, it looks like it is comprised of two lakes, Hood and Spinard, that have been joined together to make one large lake. On the north side, there are rectangular causeways built out into the water and the fill for those was probably dredged out of the lake. In addition to that, there is another long causeway going down the middle of the lake and on every inch of every shore, including the artificially created ones, there is a plane. Where there is moorage, floatplanes sit in the water or up on the shore, and wherever possible, if there isn't a floatplane there's a wheeled plane sitting on shore or with many others in row after row where there's enough ground and it looks like overflow goes into the fenced parking lots across the road at the International Airport.
All the roadways winding around and across the lake are also aprons or 'runways' for wheeled planes and aircraft has the right of way so if you're driving around there you need to be ready to get off of the road if you see a plane coming. It's kind of neat, really.
There are several charter outfits located on Lake Hood, and like Nimpo Lake, it looks like you can rent a plane for just about any purpose, including flight seeing. For the small plane enthusiast, this is pilot heaven and it would take all day to see all of the planes, especially since Lake Hood is one of the largest floatplane bases in all of North America and the busiest in the world.
We stopped at the Air Museum located nearby and just like Whitehorse, we ended up staying there for so long that they had to chase us out because they were closing. Lots of great history on early air transportation in Alaska and loads of memorabilia in cases from the Second World War when the Japanese invaded parts of the outer Alaskan islands and dropped a bomb on Canadian soil. There were also some planes there in different states of restoration but the whole museum looks like it must be a work in progress. Some displays were incomplete and there were no informational boards posted for any of the airplanes but it did look like they still had things to get organized. There was an area where shirts and such were for sale and a really cool flight simulator just inside the door. Unfortunately there was a kid there that seemed to permanently occupy the seat and getting on it was difficult at best.
Just after touring Lake Hood and before touring the museum, we drove down to a park that follows the Knik Arm to give the dogs a break from the back of the truck. There are information boards and pictures illustrating what happened in Alaska during the 9.2 earthquake in the 1960's. The cliff side that we walked along used to extend out into the tidal flats of the Knik Arm substantially more than they do now. They fell away during the earthquake, taking a number of homes with them. There is also a place in this park that points out all the points of interest. One of them is Denali or Mt. McKinley but we were unable to see it while at the park because of cloud. However, once we knew where it was, we knew where to look for it from where we are camped just above the Port dockyards in Anchorage, and for the last two mornings Andy has seen the mountain when he has taken the dogs for a walk in the early hours. He said it was a real shocker when he saw it the first morning because the way the sun hit the snow really cause the mountain to jump out at you due to its massive size. What amazes me is that you can see a mountain at all from that far away.
We were on our way back from the park to the museum and were forced to detour through the International Airport because of road construction on another street. I had just remarked on the high game fence around the airport and surmised it was to keep the wild animals off of the runways when I saw a moose next to the main road inside the fence! Andy turned around so that we could get a picture and about that time we realized that it was a cow moose with a little calf from this year. They grazed for a moment and then the cow decided to head across this four lane road with not a care in the world and the calf trundling behind. So several long lines of traffic coming both ways stopped and waited while the little family crossed to greener pastures. It was unbelievable how comfortable that cow, and for that matter her calf, was with the people and traffic and noise of huge planes taking off and landing right next to her. She was either born inside that fence, as her calf probably was, or had lived most of her life on the airport property because she acted just like she owned it. Of course they say that about all the moose within and around the city, and you are cautioned everywhere to watch out for moose.
Saturday was spent exploring Anchorage. We came across a huge summerfest market within walking distance of our camp and got to see both the real made in Alaska stuff as well as a lot of made in China goods for sale. We checked out a few shops downtown and although the good carvings of whalebone, walrus and antler, etc. are beautiful, they are also very expensive. Actually, everything is. We had to do some grocery shopping today and prices were easily as high as in our part of British Columbia, and were quite a bit higher if you take into account the exchange rate.
Last night we had an absolutely fantastic meal at a place called Humpys, recommended to us by some neighbours that live on Charlotte Lake. We saw them the morning we left Nimpo Lake to head north and Bertha showed us pictures of the monster Halibut she caught while in Alaska the week before. Eating a huge halibut steak smothered in a horseradish sauce at Humpys while Andy had halibut fish and chips is probably as close as we'll get to fishing for halibut.
After dinner we snuck across the street to the arts center there where a film on northern lights is shown every hour. Not only does the film show what causes them and dispel some myths, it also has a very impressive display of northern lights taken over the years by the fellow that made the film. It looks like he had to suffer a lot of frostbite and long nights but did he ever get some breathtaking shots. He also had some gorgeous prints for sale in the theater and if I was rich, I'd own them all!!!
The city of Anchorage is quite pretty in many respects. The entire city is ringed by high mountains that I'm certain are even more spectacular when snow covered while the long finger of the Knik Arm extends along one side of the city. Anchorage has loads of parks and the downtown is a lot of fun to walk in with nice buildings, restaurants and interesting shops lining the streets.
We walked and drove around the city quite a bit and I think we got a pretty good feel for it. It's kind of a funny place. You wonder where the money is. The city has very mixed neighbourhoods with first a decent looking building here, the next an old run down building, the one past that a newer one and so on for miles throughout the city. There really doesn't seem to be a 'new' or 'old' part of the city. It's all mixed in together and though you would think there should be a lot of similarities between Anchorage and Vancouver, there are few. There are a lot of buildings up on the sides of the mountains overlooking Anchorage and the ocean and we can only assume that is where all the money is because there certainly doesn't seem to be a lot of money being spent on developing the downtown beyond what it is already. Not that the city is poor. It's just...interesting.
We will probably head out of Anchorage in the morning for Seward and explore the south. We were just reminded that it is the July 4th. Holiday next weekend so we probably need to find a good spot and hunker down for the holiday. Don't know when we'll have access to the Internet next or the time so hang in there!
6/23/2006 10:52 AM

The Mat-Su

The Matanuska Valley in Alaska is truly breathtaking and as usual, would have been even more so had the weather not been so low and rainy. We missed a lot of mountains on both sides of us that were mostly in the clouds. We did get to see the Matanuska glacier though. It comes down to within just a short distance of the highway and from one spot on the highway you could see its side very clearly, while from another, you could see the front. It makes you realize just what causes all those little bumps in the land that we all live with in North America. In fact, seeing the real thing was a great experience for me. You can read about glacial moraines in school, and study the diagrams in earth sciences and geology all you want, but nothing brings it home quite like seeing a huge glacier in action.
We did the tourist thing and read the plaques at the viewpoints that described the workings of a glacier. That it moves faster in the middle than on the outside, and that the top moves faster than the bottom. Apparently the thicker the glacier, the more pressure on the ice, causing it to 'liquefy' (I know I don't have the correct word there) and therefore move faster than a thinner glacier would. All quite fascinating to me if not others. What was really amazing was the thickness of the silt left behind as the glacier retreated back up into the mountains. The little piles of black sand had to have been a hundred feet deep if not more! I've shown how deep the glacier is with the red arrow on the picture on the right.
We finally dropped into the Matnuska Valley near Palmer and it was really reminiscent of Hagansborg in the Bella Coola Valley.
Everything was jungle green and everyone had lots of flowers out. We started seeing cultivated fields and the valley really widened out, much more so than Bella Coola, even though it's surrounded by mountains. We finally realized that we must be awfully close to the ocean and sure enough, a look at the Atlas showed us that the Matanuska and Knik Rivers drain into the Knik Arm that comes in from the Pacific Ocean.
Palmer is a really pretty town, very new and clean looking. There was lots of construction going on and I'm wondering if it hasn't become a bedroom community of Anchorage. It certainly isn't far away. The highway that we had been bouncing over improved steadily as we neared the Mat-Su valley and became an awesome freeway from Palmer to Anchorage.
At least we will be going back in that direction after we've looked around Anchorage and Seward for awhile. We'll probably go back up as far as Gulkana anyway, because we want to explore a lot of country around there such as Copper Center, down to Valdez and then up the Richardson Highway to Delta Junction. I'm hoping if we go back in nicer weather, then we'll get to see the Talkeetna, Wrangell and Chugach Mountain Ranges that we missed in the poor weather
I'll tell you this much though, my poor butt won't miss bouncing around on that god-awful highway coming down from Tok. At least we get a little break from the roads by parking in Anchorage for a few days. We're beginning to suspect that Tok to Gulkana highway isn't used very much by most other than locals and it's possible that few tourists use that route because many come up or go down the Richardson Highway. We saw very little big truck activity on the highway and that's usually a pretty good indicator that they're going another route. We did listen to a couple of Canadian truckers on the radio though that were just ahead of us. The one trucker started swearing, he was so mad, I guess he'd just about gone through the roof of his cab a few times going over the bumps and everything had come flying out of his bunk. He finally told the trucker in front of him that he was backing off before his whole load shifted. We finally turned off the radio because he was just complaining too much, even for us.
We were pretty lucky. The heavy glass plate in the microwave came flying out and shattered all over the floor of the trailer. But other than a few things being tossed about in the cupboards a little, most things made the trip okay.
6/21/2006 7:37 PM

First Day In Alaska!

We made it across the border this morning. I took a time out yesterday for two reasons. First, we went over some wicked road from Haines Junction to Beaver Creek just south of the American border and bouncing around in that truck for hours made for one heck of a long day. Second, it was my birthday and by some good fortune we met up with a very pleasant couple from Manitoba that were just returning from Alaska and had a great evening sitting outside watching the sun not going down. In fact, it was 2:00 a.m. and it was still as light as could be and well past our bed time.
One upside of yesterday's trip was going through the Kluane country bordering the St. Elias National Park. The colour of Kluane Lake is breathtaking. When we rounded the end of it we could see why. There were high winds blowing loesse, or fine glacial silt into the water at that end. From the color of the water it stayed suspended in liquid for at least half a mile and then it dropped out of the water or the lake suddenly got deeper for it changed from a milky green colour to that weird blue green that is just fascinating to look at.
The valley is surrounded by mountains covered with a lush carpet of green that looked just like crushed velvet and periodically you would run across wide gravel washes where only thin braids of water run here and there. But you can just imagine the torrent of water that must flood those washes when the snow starts melting quickly in the spring.
We had been warned by one person that the roads north of Haines Junction and clear to Tok, Alaska were bad for frost heaves and an American coming back from Alaska said that he had just driven over the worst two hundred miles of road he had ever been on. Of course we didn't take him very seriously but we sure as heck should have.
Coming out of Haines Junction about eighty or a hundred miles north of Whitehorse we saw there were a few frost heaves and thought, "Hey, this isn't bad at all." But it sure got worse in a hurry. We finally slowed down after awhile and just became resigned to the fact that the road was heaving and broken up badly and there just wasn't a whole lot we could do about it. Which is why we were so beat up by the time we reached Beaver Creek and the poor truck and trailer were covered in mud from one section we went through.
Apparently that whole section of road, as well as a lot on the Alaska side, is built on Black Spruce swamp with permafrost underneath and that is one of the most unstable road building bases in the world. The American Corp of Engineers fought with it while building the Alaska Highway, and the poor damned Canadians have been fighting that section for over sixty years since the Americans gave it to them, and they ain't winning!
It looks like the Yukon Highways Department spends a lot of time rebuilding several sections of the highway at a time so that it's a forever make work project in process, and that's probably the best that they can do. I think that everytime they rebuild a section, they add another lift of rock and gravel trying to build up the road base, but even in places that there's probably at least fifteen feet of base above the spruce swamps, it does no good.
We crossed the border into Alaska after staying overnight in an RV park in Beaver Creek, with the unenviable rep of recording the coldest temperature in Canada. For most of the way to Tok, the highway was in much the same condition as on the Canadian side because we were going through the same type of country.
North of Tok, heading toward Anchorage the highway starts to follow the Copper River. The basin seems to be made up of swamp and meadow sloughs, with mountains of the St. Elias and Wrangell ranges running the length of the valley. It was quite beautiful but it was a huge disappointment to me that the biggest mountains were covered in low cloud. You could see the base of the huge mountains, and sometimes the tantalizing tail of a glacier snaking down out of the clouds, but I never did get to see Mount Drum, Mount Sanford and their like.
Another exhausting day of bouncing over bumps and sitting through road construction waiting for the pilot car to come and take you away, and we decided to camp at Glenallen for the night. We only made 250 miles, but it took us all day to do it. However, the highway looks like it might be improving a bit so maybe the trip into Anchorage tomorrow won't be too rigourous. I realize these poor highways guys are dealing with a real mess to annually repair, especially in view of the extreme weather conditions and permafrost, but man.....
Last week's stories can be found at June Week Two.

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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!


Follow the links, and see what the West Chilcotin is really like!
Line up of floatplanes.
 
City of Anchorage.
 
Moose at the airport.
 
Glacier Ice.
 
Side of the glacier.
 
North of Tok.
 
Alaska sign.
 
Dirty vehicles.
 
Blue green lake.
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