A fast moving and informative account of an RV Road Trip to Alaska, Yukon, B.C., and the Northwest Territories. The destination is one of the world’s last great wilderness areas, a region renowned for its spectacular mountains, abundant wildlife and stunning scenery. Along the way, the author and his wife experience this and so much more.
They expected Alaska to be a once in an lifetime experience, but had no idea at the time that the journey would also encompass a month living in a log cabin in the Yukon; driving the Dempster Highway, 458 miles (737kms) of gravel highway through spectacular wilderness to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories; crossing the Arctic Circle; paddling a kayak down a portion of the historic Yukon river, and flying by small plane to an Inuvialuit (Eskimo) community on the Arctic Coast, but it did and much more besides. They thought it would take about two months, ultimately it took almost five.
Whether you are an armchair traveler, or thinking of experiencing the trip for yourself, this book makes a great read and will provide an insight into what awaits those adventurous enough to head north to Alaska “The last frontier”.
Targeted Age Group:: 16-80
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
After a lifetime of travel, I wanted to education and inspire others to travel to Northern Canada and Alaska independently by RV.
As a child my parents would take me to department stores at Christmas. My favorite attraction was always the model railway displays. Professionally constructed, they often featured winter displays, with trains passing through mountains buried under unbelievable amounts of snow, all the more to create a spectacular scene. At the top of Thompson Pass that spring, those childhood fantasies came to life. Here snow lay in unbelievable quantities, in winter up to 5 feet can fall in a single day!
Winter storms are legendary, in December 1905, a blizzard on the pass was so bad that a crew of the V.T. Freighting Company were forced to abandon 2,100 pounds of gold, valued at $508,000 (worth over $12,000,000 today). After spending the night in a roadhouse, they returned the next day and retrieved the total amount untouched. The following November, Theodore Kitteson and Percy Charles were forced to abandon several thousand pounds of gold and return to a roadhouse. Again the gold was safely recovered and Kitterson later said “The gold was safer covered with snow on the trail, than it would be anywhere else”.
The first morning in Valdez heralded another gorgeous day, especially when one considered this city held the record for the most snow in one day. Even in mid-May, the 300-feet that fall annually were still evident, with most hiking trails still closed. While wandering around town, we stumbled on a snow pile as high as a 2-story building, but the pack was melting fast and surrounding mountains were made more spectacular by the numerous waterfalls cascading down to the bay.
Our base was a waterfront RV Park, with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and bay. A young French couple, were amongst the few campers there. Flying into Anchorage, they had rented a car and were touring around Alaska with a tent for a couple of weeks. Like us, they arrived early in the season, with the express idea that deep snow would make the scenery more spectacular. They were cooking a meal of Caribou and macaroni, over a small portable stove, on the harbor wall. Looking a little unsure about the meat, they claimed “it tastes a little strange, rather like liver”. A surprising comparison, I would have expected it to be similar to venison. They offered me a sample and while I would have liked to taste Caribou for curiosities sake, I decline, feeling that eating their lunch was a bit cheeky.
The RV Park was unusual in that it had a large number of pet rabbits of varying size and color. At the office, I was told simply that “The owner likes them”, which seemed as good an answer as any. When asked about the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, they said that the RV park at that time had been busier than ever, being full of Exxon employees. Just across the road was a small block of apartments, which were built in great haste during that period. Commenting about the current good weather, the locals claimed that such sunny days were not at all unusual for that time of the year and the summer before last, they had actually recorded a high of 97F.
Valdez is a major departure point for day cruises into Prince William Sound, the main attraction of which is the tidewater glaciers and wildlife. We considered the trips on offer, but decided to wait until later in the season, when we would be in Seward. Our reasoning was that most glaciers were still covered in deep snow and frankly, were difficult to distinguish from the rest of a snow-covered mountain. Glaciers are best viewed after the snow has melted, leaving only the blue ice visible. We came to regret that decision later, as all else aside, the weather was almost perfect.
Instead, we decided to return to Thompson Pass and enjoy the beauty of the day amidst the breathtaking vistas. From the top we stared out at the fantasyland of ice and snow while Maggie commented “It’s like standing on the edge of the world, ” which was a perfect description.
On the way back into town, we detoured to view the site of Old Valdez, but could find very little evidence that it ever existed. The demise of the previous Valdez town site goes back to Good Friday, March 27, 1964, when the largest earthquake ever to hit North America struck Alaska. The epicenter was just 45 miles west of Valdez. Many coastal communities were affected, but none were as hard hit as Valdez, which had to be totally rebuilt 4-miles west of the original town site, in a higher, safer location.
The shockwaves which the magnitude 8.4 – 8.6 earthquake generated, ripped streets apart and destroyed many homes and buildings. Millions of cubic yards of earth slide into Valdez Bay, triggered by a huge submarine slide. In total, 33 Valdez residents lost their lives. It took between two and four years for new Valdez to progressively replace old Valdez. During this period, approximately 62 buildings were moved from the old to the new town site. Some claim a similar tragedy could never happen today, as new Valdez sits on more stable ground, consisting of cobblestone some 100 feet deep, but for those who lived through the terrifying experience, every tremor brings back nightmares.
By a strange quirk of fate, on Good Friday, March 24, 1989, exactly 25 years to the day after the 1964 earthquake, Valdez suffered another disaster. Even as residents were commenting the passing of a quarter century since the quake, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker was inexorably heading on a collision course with Bligh Reef. The vessel spilled 10.8 million gallons of unrefined Alaskan crude into Prince William Sound causing the largest oil spill in North American history.
No crude made it into Valdez harbor, as prevailing winds and tides moved the spill further south into the Sound. In total, oil covered over 1,200 miles of rocky shoreline and beaches as far as Kodiak Island and beyond. During the summer of 1989, over 10,000 workers were employed in a massive cleanup effort. Valdez, a city of 3,500 people, grew three-fold almost overnight. On average Exxon spent $1,000 per day, supporting each and every worker involved in the cleanup. When this figure was multiplied by 10,000, it made for an astounding amount of money, which eventually exceeded $2 billion.
The actual cleanup process was ineffective in many ways, as quickly as workers would wipe down a beach, the tide would change and oil-laden water would cover the rocks with a another coat of oil. Later, new techniques were used, with micro-organisms that “eat” crude oil being sprayed onto some of the beaches.
Estimated wildlife deaths were 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 150 bald eagles and 22 killer whales. After ten years, only two of 28 species injured by the spill were declared “recovered”, but new safety methods, such as an escort vessel system for tankers in Prince William Sound and an improved radar system have greatly reduced the potential for such an accident to happen again. In 1994, a jury determined that Exxon’s conduct was reckless and awarded a $5 billion settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by 40,000 commercial fishermen and other parties.
Departing Valdez, we found the town was crowded with hordes of tourists, who had arrived by cruise ship during the night. The warm sunny weather was causing rapid snowmelt and as we traveled through Keystone Canyon, waterfalls thundered down the steep walls. At the top of Thompson Pass, areas of dark rock were starting to appear through the snow. 18 hours of bright sunshine a day was having an astonishing affect. As we approached Glenallen, a lake which had been nine-parts frozen two days before, was now nine-parts open water.
West of Glennallen Junction, a wall of heavy grey cloud and rain confronted us, heralding a dramatic change of weather. Several minutes later, we were cocooned in a deluge of tropical proportions, which slowed our progress as we crossed a lengthy stretch of black spruce forest.
We expected to break out of the rain, back into sunshine, but as the miles rolled by, it became apparent that wasn’t going to happen, so we decided to stop for the night at a small restaurant with an RV park in the back. Heading to the office, I was greeted by a very large dog, which made it clear that I was to throw the equally large stick he had in his mouth. Obliging him, he charged after it like an overweight grizzly bear. Running back, he presented the stick for me to throw again, but this time he had a different game in mind and refused to let it go. So, as I’m sure had happened with many other customers, we tussled and fought for possession of the stick and, as I’m sure he expected, he won easily. Not only was he built like a Grizzly, he was almost as strong as one.
The lady at reception was busy complaining about the cost of gas, which had risen to astronomical proportions as we traveled further north. Her main gripe was receiving no apparent benefit from residing in an oil rich State. The wholesale price they paid was $1.69 gallon and their price at the pump was $1.99.
After parking the rig, I turned my attention to the unusual power sockets, which were unlike anything I’d seen before. At the end of a long limp electrical cable was a small white circular socket, completely open to the rain. With some trepidation, I connected the trailer plug and was relieved not be electrocuted on the spot. However, inside the trailer, all was not well, there was no sign of any power and worse still, the trailer’s transformer was making strange and ominous noises. I went back outside and tried a couple of other sockets, each with alarming results. The first one sizzled and hissed, while the next one had a steady trickle of water seeping out of it. We all know that oil and water don’t mix but oil and electricity is an even worse combination. The “home made” power sockets were more “shocking” than anything I’d ever seen, even in Mexico. So, after speaking to the owner, I received a refund and headed on towards Anchorage, hoping that our transformer had not been “fried”.
Climbing in altitude to over 3,000 feet, we were hit by heavy snow, making it hard to believe it was the same day on which we’d left Valdez in glorious sunshine. Eventually, we descended out of the clouds and came to rest at Matanuska Glacier State Campground. In spite of low cloud, the glacier view was impressive. Surrounded by moraine and forest, enormous fingers of ice scoured the valley bottom. I consider myself fortunate to have seen many glaciers around the world, but invariably they have been at high altitude, typically clinging to a mountainside. This one however, lying below us rather than above, was different, more accessible and somehow more impressive for it.
As evening fell, we heard occasional cracking noises in the otherwise silent campground. When curiosity finally got the better of me, I found the instigator of the noise was a large cow moose, breaking Willow branches in order to eat the juiciest shoots. Unlike other moose we’d seen, this one had attractive coloring, with patches of white on her rear legs. Judging by the volume of droppings throughout the park, the moose was a regular visitor.
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