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 > DrewE's Alaska Trip Travelogue

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DrewE

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Posted: 10/21/17 06:57am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

August 19th -- We left the campground and headed up to Palmer (very briefly) and then up the Palmer-Fishhook Road (also called the Hatcher Pass Road) to the Independence Mine State Historical Park. The weather was generally cool and damp, occasionally damp enough to be drizzly.

The road crosses and then parallels the Little Susitna river ("Little Su"). There's a parking area by the bridge where it crosses, and some very pretty views to be had. It's a swift little river.

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Little Su (looking upstream from the bridge)

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Little Su (downstream, across the road from the pull-off)

The road winds its way up the mountains to the park. At the park, there are two options for parking: a lower parking lot, outside the fee gate to the park, with a mile and a quarter walk up to the mine site, or an upper one at the site. The fee structure seemed rather peculiar to me. Parking in the lower lot is $5 per vehicle, and walk-in entrance to the park free. Parking in the upper lot costs $4 per person. This means that, if you don't carpool at all, it's cheaper to park in the upper lot...but if you do carpool, you'd save money parking in the lower one. At any rate, we readily decided it was worth the $1.50 net per person for us to ascend mechanically. There's plenty of room in either lot for big vehicles, at least at this time of year.

The mine site was very interesting to me, and has a beautiful setting among the mountains. This was a hard-rock gold mine, apparently one of the better-managed ones in the area. Several of the buildings are in a fairly good state of preservation. Unfortunately, the mill where the ore was processed is not one of them; it's in ruins and one can only get a vague hint of how operations there proceeded.

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Several of the mine buildings, looking down the valley.

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The mill (in the foreground) and associated shop buildings, as it now stands...or doesn't stand; in the background are some of the surrounding mountain peaks, showing off a fresh dusting of snow. The "new" assay office is at the far left.

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The mill as it once appeared.

All told, we spent maybe three or four hours here looking around. I think this day is where it "officially" transitioned into the shoulder season for us on this trip. The usual guided tours were not available due to insufficient park staffing (though, rather confusingly, their schedule was still posted).

After the mine, we drove along the Glenn Highway to Glennallen, This section of road has some spectacularly lovely scenery and goes quite close to the Matanuska glacier. This section of road surprised me some; I was expecting it to be merely scenic, but it far surpassed that.

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This is at Long Lake.

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Matanuska Glacier; the picture really doesn't quite do it justice. The lighting was such that it looked almost iridescent.

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At Glennallen we stayed at the Boardwalk RV Park. This is a low-frills campground with hookups (parallel parking spaces and a couple of shared picnic tables at the perimeter), with appropriately reasonable fees. Glennallen is somewhat of a commercial center in the area, with a grocery store and gas station and some other businesses, but prices are pretty high when compared with most other relatively large towns. For gas, one doesn't have much of a choice generally (at least, we didn't with the standard 55 gallon Ford tank), but buying groceries elsewhere makes sense if you can.





DrewE

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Posted: 10/22/17 12:10am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

August 20th -- After purchasing gas at the Hub of Alaska--which involved a fair bit of waiting in line--we headed south on the Richardson Highway. The next main destination was the Wrangell/St. Elias National Park, and more specifically Kennicott and McCarthy.

A couple of miles south of Glennallen is a turnoff to a good view of the Wrangell Mountains. The mountains and clouds tended to merge together for us, making the peaks somewhat indistinct and hard to make out, but it's still a very nice view across the Copper river.

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I think this is Mt Drum, or at least its base.

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Someone who had at least been to Hawaii had stopped at this viewpoint at some time and left a greeting.

Not much further down the road is the main visitor's center for the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. This complex, spread out over several buildings, has the usual accouterments: an information desk, exhibit hall, theater with a video presentation, nice restrooms, picnic tables, gift shop, etc. There's also an Ahtna cultural center with displays.

The video presentation is impressively pretty. The narration, as seems standard for many of these films, was evidently written with frequent reference to a thesaurus.

Somewhat unusually, the visitor's center is not actually in the park proper.

A little further south is the turn for the Edgerton Highway (to Chitina) and McCarthy Road (from thence nearly to McCarthy). The former is in quite nice condition, all paved, and easily drivable. McCarthy road is rather rougher and slower going and has two small segments that are very narrow, only a single lane wide. Both stem from the fact that it's the converted roadbed from the Copper River and Northwestern railroad. The first of these segments is very close to Chitina, a deep cut through rock. The second is the bridge over the Kuskulana. There are a few other pretty narrow places and bridges, but they're not longer unbroken segments.

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There are occasional impressive mountain views along this road.

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The Kuskulana bridge, from underneath. The roadbed is on top of the upper chord of the bridge (and not the lower one with railings, which apparently is used as a maintenance catwalk). This impressive bridge was constructed for the railroad. The river is in a very deep chasm below the bridge; even from the bank here, it's impossible to see the river in the bottom of the canyon.

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We were obliged to wait for ten or fifteen minutes while a couple of tour group vanfuls strolled leisurely across the one lane bridge, and for their vans to drive slowly across after them.

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On the return trip, as nobody was coming or waiting, I quickly strolled across the bridge myself and attempted to get pictures showing how deep and narrow the canyon was. I'm not sure I succeeded too well in showing that.

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Another view; this bridge would be very rough going for the acrophobic.

Somewhat further along are the fairly well-preserved remains of the Gilahina River trestle, the largest of the many trestles along the railroad. It was originally built in eight days in extremely cold conditions, a most impressive feat. (It was later rebuilt in ten days after it caught fire and burned down.)

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The old Gilahina trestle, and the new and comparatively unimpressive Gilahina bridge.

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Some of the trestle has collapsed, and portions of the rest looked fairly unsteady; many of the uprights are no longer sitting on their proper pilings.

The (privately owned) gravel bar at the end of the McCarthy road is rather grandly termed "Base Camp Root Glacier." From a rational point of view, spending the night here is rather expensive given the very limited amenities: space to park, a couple of vault toilets, some picnic tables, and stones that can be arranged into a fire pit cost $20 per night. However, I think the setting made up for it, at least in large part. The mountains surrounding the area are beautiful, and we chose a site quite near the river and could hear the flowing water even with the windows closed. Navigating around the rocks and dips safely took a little thought and care.

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Our side of the camping area

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The other side of the camping area

We stayed here for two nights. I would have liked to been able to stay another day (and hike to the Root Glacier), but the time we had available wasn't unlimited.

PA12DRVR

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Posted: 10/22/17 01:29pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

"This section of road surprised me some; I was expecting it to be merely scenic, but it far surpassed that."

One a clear or relatively clear day, the drive from circa Palmer to Eureka (about 60 miles short of Glenallen) is one of the more scenic ones in Alaska.


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zb39

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Posted: 10/23/17 10:45am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Another great write up........thank you for taking the time to post these!!!


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DrewE

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Posted: 10/23/17 11:13pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

August 21st -- The day was spent exploring McCarthy and Kennicott. This was a very interesting stop for me. Kennicott was a company town, or perhaps more a camp, for the Kennecott copper mine. (The two have different spellings; the mine company got it wrong originally, and has never changed.) McCarthy, a few miles away, was a town where the miners went to do everything unwholesome that the company would not allow in Kennicott: drink, gamble, cavort with loose women, etc. Today, somewhat of the same distinction pervades, though toned down, and both are more or less kept alive for the sake of visitors and tourists. Much of Kennicott is maintained and operated by the National Park Service as a historical park.

Access to McCarthy is via a footbridge and a half mile or so walk (or shuttle bus ride). We elected to walk, not entirely realizing that it involved fording one or two spots of water.

McCarthy does have a nice little historical museum with some local artifacts and information about the mine. There's a reading room attached to the museum where you can spend time with books of local interest; some of them looked rather fascinating, but we didn't have limitless time to spend.

Downtown McCarthy has a number of little businesses, shops and restaurants and tour companies mostly. Here we took the shuttle to Kennicott, a $5 per van ride affair. (The shuttle runs between the footbridge from the camping area, McCarthy, and Kennicott, and the cost is the same regardless of where one gets on or off.)

Kennicott is surprisingly well-preserved. Mining operations stopped in the 1930s as the ore was largely depleted, but many of the buildings and their equipment are standing and appear in usable or nearly usable shape. The town is dominated by the massive (fourteen story) hillside concentration mill building. Ore would enter the mill at the top via aerial tramways, and the high-grade copper ore gets separated mechanically and, across the street, chemically from the matrix rock. Much of the ore mined was astonishingly rich, some containing up to 85% copper (whereas 5% to 10% is typical). The Museum of the North in Fairbanks has a very large copper nugget, weighing a few thousand pounds, from the area on display. All told, the mine produced nearly 600,000 tons of copper and quite a tidy profit for its backers.

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The Kennecott mill building (and other buildings)

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The building with the smokestacks is the powerhouse; beyond it the machine shop and ammonia leeching buildings. In the foreground are two of several cottages for managers and their families.

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Buildings along National Creek: on the left, the hospital and the remains of the assay office (destroyed by flooding in 2006). On the right, some of the bunkhouses for the majority of the workers.

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Kennicott was built right next to the Kennicott Glacier. This glacier has shrunk in height (though not so much in width or length) over the years; it is now some distance below the settlement, while it was on a level with it when Kennicott was built. The glacier is covered in a moraine, so has the appearance of being piles of gravel rather than an ice sheet.

I paid for a tour of the mill and associated buildings, which is the only way to see the interior of many of them.

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The top of the mill building, with the terminus of the two tramways that carried the ore. (The tramways are a sort of cargo version of a chair lift.)

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One of several roller mills, which crushed the rock between two steel wheels.

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This gizmo is the key first-level sorting machine, where through agitation in water the ore is sorted out based on size and density into the various take-off hoppers/spouts on the right to be directed for further processing. The metal bars are what agitate the slurry.

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A few floors of the mill complex were taken up by these sorts of shaker tables, which separate the ground ore by weight. Lighter (waste) material goes over the bars more easily, while the heavier copper bearing ore tends to stay behind and gets directed elsewhere. The wooden troughs at the far end of each table distribute water across the table to keep the material in motion.

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Across the road in the ammonia leaching plant, low-grade ore was separated and concentrated chemically by dissolving the copper out of the rock with concentrated ammonia. Gauging from the evidence of leaks (and the associated copper residue) on these leaching tanks, I suspect it was not the most pleasant place to work.

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The four massive boilers in the power plant. These were set up to burn either wood, coal, or oil; as it turned out, oil was nearly exclusively used.

We stayed a second night at the Root Glacier Base Camp. I would have liked to have spent another day in the area and hiked to the root glacier.

DrewE

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Posted: 10/26/17 11:14pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

This has been (and will continue to be) a week of busy evenings, good things but still time-consuming. I expect (or at least hope) next week will be a little less full.

August 22nd -- We left the McCarthy area, heading towards Tok and eventually home. I was interested in getting somewhere with a garage as there was a quite nasty sounding noise developing when steering and maneuvering around parking lots and the like--sort of a fingernails on the chalkboard sound. (The first inkling of this was back in North Pole, where it was a single little squeak once. I figured it was probably a pebble from the Dalton Highway stuck in the works somewhere, or perhaps the steering damper having dust in it, and made a mental note to try to keep tabs on it. It was not improving, and a little investigation made me suspect a ball joint was the culprit.)

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We came upon a friend of Bullwinkle's wandering along the McCarthy road. It's a fairly long walk from Frostbite Falls, MN, I believe.

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I think this was someplace along the Tok Cutoff, but I don't remember for sure.

We camped for the night at the little Porcupine Creek State Recreation Area campground, which was neatly kept up (by the owners of the Hart D Ranch under contract).

August 23rd -- We continued on to Tok, and enquired about a repair shop. They could not look at the motorhome until the following morning, so we spent the night at the Three Bears campground. This is probably the least fancy commercial campground in Tok, but it appeared reasonably maintained and we certainly had nothing to complain about.

Since we had a good part of the afternoon free, we got to take in more of the sights at Tok, such as they are. The library is quite nice, attached to the visitor's center, and has decent WiFi when it's open. The large gift shop next door has some good quality handicrafts and such, particularly upstairs, for a price.

I did make an important discovery at the Three Bear's grocery store. In the evening, the bakery donuts are significantly discounted.

August 24th -- The garage confirmed that the ball joints were the source of the noise. Apparently the seals for the "permanent" lubrication had failed, and the lubrication leaked out, and that was that. Their opinion was that they were not unsafely worn at that point, but obviously wouldn't last much longer without grease, likely not long enough to get to Vermont safely--nor did I really care to drive that far with them being so noisy.

The 24th was a Thursday. They could get parts in by Monday, possibly Friday, but would not be able to do the repair before Tuesday at the earliest and more likely Wednesday or so. That sounded like a very long time to be in Tok twiddling our thumbs. After a good bit of consideration, I decided to carefully drive to Whitehorse and see about getting them repaired there; I thought I'd rather be stuck in Whitehorse for several days than in Tok. I can't say for sure if that was the wisest decision or not, but it ended up working out well in the end.

Heading towards Whitehorse, we stopped for a bit at the Tetlin NWR visitor center. This is quite a lovely facility (though fairly compact) with some good views. The displays inside were I thought quite well put together. One that seemed especially clever, aimed at children, had a sand table and various animal track stampers that could be used to make tracks in the sand. I'll admit I played with it for a couple minutes.

Across the border in the Yukon, the road parallels Kulane Lake for a fair distance. This is an especially pretty section of the road.

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I found it rather fascinating that the lake and its drainage had been altered by glacial action relatively recently (in the past few hundred years).

We camped at Pine Lake Territorial Park, near Haines Junction.

August 25th - 28th -- We made it safely to Whitehorse and, after asking around and pursuing a few leads that didn't pan out and getting directions, we got to Horsman Mechanical who checked things over (yep, needs ball joints) and could schedule the service for Tuesday.

We got a site at the Hi Country RV Park for the four nights. This is the closest RV campground to the city, and the only one near a bus stop. It's quite nice and well-maintained, and had the best Wi-fi of any campground we stayed at. That meant we had a few days to relax and to see things in Whitehorse we had skipped over the first time we were there.

The highlight for both of us was doubtless the superbly done Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre. I found this museum to be fascinating, and learned a good bit about the subject which I was completely ignorant of previously. Apparently during the last ice age, due to the mountains and prevailing winds and so forth, the region was not iced over (as many areas further south were) but was a rather luxuriant, though cold, grassland. There were a number of now extinct creatures that roamed it: wooly mammoths, giant beavers, Jefferson's ground sloths, and Yukon horses, among others. What's more, there are remarkably well-preserved fossils of these animals, preserved not due to the bones turning to stone by absorbing minerals (as I always thought of fossils as being) but by being frozen in the permafrost until they were unearthed by miners. Among them was a horse fossil, with a good portion of the hide and some of the intestines containing some samples of what the horse ate.

I'd rate the museum a must-see for Whitehorse visitors.

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Outside are some statues (and also some plywood cutouts) of some of the animals from the period.

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Inside are some of the fossils on display, many in dioramas. This is a Jefferson's Ground Sloth, quite a bizarre (and good-sized) creature.

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American Schimitar Cat, not to be confused with a Sabertooth Tiger (which it does resemble at first glance). The fur patterns are conjecture.

I was glad that the portrayals of stone-age peoples in the museum did not make them out to be uncultured or unintelligent as too often seems to be the impression given. Clearly to survive in the climate of the area they would have to have rather sophisticated clothing and shelters, and the cultural means to pass the know-how for such things on. Even today primitive tribes are sometimes seen as unintelligent and uncultured, but (as I've had the opportunity to see firsthand) that's absolutely untrue.

I also visited the Yukon Transportation Museum next door. This museum has a pretty large collection, but it's not especially well organized or presented, with spotty coverage of identifying panels and informational signs. I did have a pleasant time there, none the less.

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Some sort of giant unidentified US army vehicle, I assume used to transport supplies when building the Alaska Highway or supplying airfields during the war. The tires are labeled as being 48 x 68; I'm glad my motorhome takes a somewhat smaller size. I'd hate to think what one would cost!

One interesting thing I did learn there, in a spot where the signage was good, was that the whole system of container transportation was developed by the White Pass and Yukon railroad, who also built the first container ship.

On Tuesday, as promised, Horsman replaced the ball joints in my motorhome. I was entirely satisfied with how they treated me; the work was done properly (so far as I can tell), they fit me into their schedule as soon as they could, and their charges were entirely reasonable and fair.

DrewE

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Posted: 10/30/17 11:33pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

August 29th -- With new, freshly-greased ball joints, we left Whitehorse and turned south on the Klondike Highway towards Skagway. We'd made reservations on the White Pass and Yukon railroad (using a TourSaver coupon) for the 30th, which as it happened was the last run it was valid for. My initial idea had been to go to Haines, take the ferry across to Skagway, and thus make a loop, but the mechanical problems, or rather the time needed to get them fixed, prevented that.

This relatively short section of the Klondike Highway, about 100 miles long, has magnificent and highly varied scenery. The northern two-thirds primarily has a series of mountains and lakes. The weather was beautiful here.

There's a beautiful spot with a pull-off at Emerald Lake.

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A little further along...

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We passed the little Carcross Desert, but did not stop. This is a very small desert, and quite strange to suddenly pass by sand dunes in the midst of the verdant mountains and lakes.

Not far after are the first views of the Windy Arm of Tagish Lake, which the road parallels for some distance.

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(The island is Bove Island.)

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We camped at the Conrad Campground Territorial Park, a fairly new campground on the Windy Arm. A few of the sites (3 and 4 and 5, as I remember) have spectacular views across the lake; unsurprisingly, they were already occupied. Some of the other sites have obscured views and access, at least unofficially, to the water.

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[image]Click For Full-Size Image.Our site, certainly not shabby.

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A very short path from the site led to the lake.

August 30th -- We continued into Skagway.

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I think this may be Tutshi Lake and not the end of the Windy Arm, but I'm not positive.

Around the area of the international border and the White Pass summit, the landscape is dramatically different. This area is littered with rocks, very short scrubby trees, and little ponds and waterfalls. It's an almost alien sort of landscape, probably made somewhat more so by the intermittent low clouds and fog. (Some of the pictures are from the return trip.)

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(Note the glacier in the mountain notch)

The road goes over a unique suspension bridge, the William Moore Bridge, sort of half of a typical suspension bridge. It was designed such that it could be erected entirely from one bank.

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The last several miles of the road descend from the White Pass summit into Skagway. There are impressive mountain views along the way.

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Bridal Veil Falls--this is actually only a tiny portion of the falls, the great majority of which is not visible from the road. The falls are visible from the railroad across the valley.

In Skagway, we camped at the city-owned Pullen Creek Campground, which has a very convenient location. The sites are fairly tightly packed and the facilities, while entirely adequate, are a bit tired-looking. It served our needs perfectly well.

(More on Skagway and the White Pass and Yukon Railroad in the next installment...I already have too many pictures in this one!)

snowedin

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Posted: 10/31/17 06:17pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

This has been the most informative posts I have ever seen and highly useful for anyone going to Alaska, Thank You Very Much!!!

fanrgs

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Posted: 11/01/17 02:18pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great photos and trip log! Looks like you had a wonderful summer and saw nearly everything you can see from the main paved roads and a couple of the unpaved-partially paved roads in the region.

We also used Hi Country RV Park in Whitehorse for repairs. Both rear tires on our truck went flat on the TOTW highway, so we plugged them, aired them up, and made it to Whitehorse before replacing them at Walmart. I also had to repair a broken slide mechanism, using custom-cut materials from the Home Store, my tools, and our picnic table/workbench. But we still had time in Whitehorse to tour the sternwheeler, do laundry and grocery shopping, visit a city museum, and hike Miles Canyon, so it was a great visit.

Incidentally, Bow Falls are in Banff, but Bow Lake is on the Icefields Parkway north of Lake Louise. I think the lake east of Banff that you have labeled as Bow Lake is Lake Minnewonka.

Alaska is sort of like those potato chips where you can't eat just one. So, when are you planning your next trip up there?


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DrewE

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Posted: 11/01/17 05:10pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Hey, thanks everyone for the kind comments!

fanrgs wrote:


Incidentally, Bow Falls are in Banff, but Bow Lake is on the Icefields Parkway north of Lake Louise. I think the lake east of Banff that you have labeled as Bow Lake is Lake Minnewonka.

Alaska is sort of like those potato chips where you can't eat just one. So, when are you planning your next trip up there?


You may very well be correct on the lake name. I likely have a few other little errors that crept in; my brain does pretty well, but it's not perfect at keeping everything perfectly straight all the time and occasionally books and maps aren't enough to help it.

I don't have any actual plans to return. If I had my druthers, it would be pretty soon; but practical matters, like continued employment, suggest that it likely won't be anytime soon. I'm really just thankful that I could have the opportunity to take the trip. Many are not so fortunate.

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