(July 26, 2006 to August 13, 2006)

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July 26 - July 29 Palmer (171 miles)

Road conditions: The road from Seward to Palmer had us backtrack along the Seward Highway (AK 1 and AK 9) and the Glen Highway (AK 1). It was a mostly good road all the way.

Campground: Elks Lodge. We were traveling with the Winckels and the Hirths who are both Elks, so we camped at the lodge in Palmer as their guest. They offered electric sites for $12/night or dry camping sites for $7/night. We all opted to dry camp.

When Diane and I first traveled the Seward Highway out of Anchorage a couple of weeks ago we stopped at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood to ride the tram to the top of the mountain. However, the mountain was in the clouds so we decided we would try again on the way back through Anchorage as we made our way to Valdez. This time we were traveling with the Winckels (Karl and Fran) and the Hirths (John and Roberta). The weather was great, so we drove into Girdwood and up to the resort. We found out that we could use our Tour Saver coupon towards the combo tram ride and lunch and we all chose to do that. The views from the top were fantastic as we looked down on the Turnagain Arm.

Our plan was to spend another week in Anchorage before driving to Valdez. However, after hooking up with the Winckels and Hirths in Seward we decided to spend a few days with them in Palmer. They were traveling in the opposite direction than we were and were heading towards Denali and Fairbanks. Going to Palmer meant we would have to backtrack about 40 miles to Anchorage, which wasn't that much of a deviation from our path. One of the other draws for going to Palmer was the opportunity to visit the Independence Gold Mine in Hatcher Pass.

We arrived at the Elks Lodge in Palmer and got set up when someone realized it was Wednesday and that meant the Snow City Cafe would be having their evening of Irish music and dance. We all went there one Wednesday a couple of weeks earlier and loved it, so it was really a no brainer for everyone to want to drive the 40 miles to Anchorage to go there again. As it was the first time, we all totally enjoyed the Irish music and watching the mostly young folks doing different Irish dances.

We learned that something called Galway Days Irish Music Festival would be going on in Anchorage on August 5. Our original plan was to head to Anchorage after a couple of days in Palmer and stay for a week. That would have had us miss the festival. As I've mentioned before, one of the great things about being fulltimers is the flexibility of this lifestyle. I called the Anchorage RV Park and asked if they could slide our reservation out a couple of days and they said that would be no problem. So now we would be able to go to the Snow City Cafe one more Wednesday evening and also take in the Irish music festival.

It turned out that the Novys, Klicks, and Sharps, who we met in Kenai, were also camped at the Palmer Elks Lodge. We got to sit with them for a happy hour on one pleasant evening.

In 1897, gold was discovered in Grubstake Gulch, a tributary to Willow Creek. Placer mining is the process of looking for gold in streams, as opposed to hard rock gold mining where the gold is found within quartz veins inside mountains. When placer mining didn't yield as much gold as was thought to exist in the area, miners started searching for the mother lode in the mountains. In 1906, Robert Lee Hatcher staked the first hard rock gold claim high on Skyscraper Mountain. Up to 1936, a seasonal tent camp existed in the area. A mining camp and mill was started in 1937 with up to 204 men working the mines. The most productive years for the mine were from 1936 to 1942 when 141,000 ounces of gold was recovered. It was valued at over $5,000,000. The Independence mine was shut down in 1943 after the government classified gold mining as nonessential to the war effort. When the restrictions were lifted after the war, Independence mine reopened, but was not able to achieve its former status due to rising production costs and the fixed price of gold at $35 an ounce. It became unprofitable to continue mining for gold and the mine closed in 1951. In 1979, the land and buildings were donated to the state, and in 1980 the area was designated the Independence Gold Mine State Historical Park.

We took a guided tour of the site. The tour was led by "Pappy" (aka Don Steele) who knew the story of the mine, its buildings, and the mining process. Along with a humorous style, he gave us a very enjoyable tour of the mine. We learned that Don and his wife, Sandy, were RVers from Pennsylvania who volunteered to spend the summer at the park giving tours and taking care of the visitor center.

I have always considered myself a frustrated musician. I've tried a few different instruments, but never got good enough to enjoy playing, so I decided I'm a good listener, but not a player. The Winckels and Hirths all play instruments. Diane and I got to enjoy a jam session with Fran (guitar), Roberta (dulcimer and autoharp), and John (keyboard). I even got to play the keyboard to see what I could remember. I can still sort of read music so I was able to play the melody for a couple of tunes, but right hand only. Of course, once you learn to play "Heart and Soul", you probably never forget it and Roberta and I played a spirited version.

July 30 - August 5 Anchorage (41 miles)

Road conditions: The road back to Anchorage was along the Glen Highway (AK 1) and it was four lane all the way.

Campground: We decided to stay at the Anchorage RV Park for our second stay in Anchorage. It was a nice park with free WiFi that was reachable to sites close to the building. It didn't reach our site, but the office had long hours so it was no problem to go up to the office a couple of times a day to do email and other web activities. All of the sites were full hookup with either 30 or 50 amp service. We opted for a basic site that did not have cable TV. The downside to the park was a prohibition on washing vehicles at the sites.

Our plan for this second stay in Anchorage was to take in some Irish music, to get caught up on some movies, and to just take a break from touring the state. As we were heading out to see a movie we saw Sandy Paine out walking her dogs. We didn't know they would be there and it was a pleasant surprise. They were heading out the next day, but we did get to have a short visit and chat for a bit.

A quick list of the movies we saw:

* Pirates of the Caribbean - very good; we loved it
* Miami Vice - just what we expected, a no brainer action movie
* Lady in the Water - we both really liked it, more of a thriller than horror (we don't do horror movies)
* My Super ex-Girlfriend - it was ok

On Wednesday evening, we spent our third, and last, evening at the Snow City Cafe.  The day before, we met some folks who came into the campground in a new 2006 Dutch Star, Paul and Gretchen Balentine, who were from Arkansas. We told them about the Snow City Cafe and invited them to join us. They were out touring on Wednesday and met us at the cafe.  As usual, it was pretty crowded, but not mobbed. Along with the mountains, and glaciers, and animals, and meeting people, the three Wednesday evenings at the Snow City Cafe listening to Irish music and watching the folks dancing will rank up there as a highlight of our Alaska tour. It was great fun watching up to 12-13 folks playing at one time, 20-30 people dancing. They did a couple of new dances and, as usual, finished up with a reel.  Great fun.

We got to chat more with Tim and with Doc and with some of the young folks. When we got ready to go at 11 p.m. Doc said he had a song he wanted to play for us, so we hung around as he sung a song about traveling and then broke into On The Road Again with the others picking up on it and playing along. It was a great evening.

When we were in North Pole we met Noel and Carol Roe, and then we bumped into them again in Homer at the OceanView Campground. They were going to be in Anchorage for a month while waiting on some folks to arrive, so we told them we would get in touch when we got to Anchorage. We made contact and met them for lunch at the Snow City Cafe. We told them about the Galway Days festival that would be held on Saturday and they said they would also like to do that. We made plans to hook up downtown and to also do dinner together at Humpy's, a local hangout.

The festival ran from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. with groups playing constantly. A new group came on stage about every half hour. There were some excellent players and singers and a few dance groups. Many of the Snow City Cafe players were there and played in different combinations throughout the day. We once again got to chat with some of the folks from the cafe who now recognized us from the three Wednesday evenings we spent there.

One of the best dance groups was the one with Owen Barrington. He is a champion Irish dancer and also danced in one of the touring Riverdance productions. Diane and I have seen Riverdance twice and loved it. It was great fun to watch Owen dance up close and personal. It's amazing how fast those dancers move their feet. Gotta have great ankles to do that. 

We did hook up with the Roes and took a break from the festival to eat dinner at Humpy's. We then said good bye to them with hopes that we would meet them again. They told us if we ever found ourselves in the Fritch, Texas area to let them know.

I had recently received a note from Terry and Barry Klein who were tail gunning an RV caravan to Alaska. We didn't think we would cross paths until maybe Skagway towards the end of August, but Terry realized that they would be arriving in Anchorage while we were there. They arrived late afternoon on Friday and we went into town for dinner at Rumrunners, and also got to visit with them the day before we left Anchorage. I'm sure we'll probably see them again in Skagway.

With our second stay in Anchorage coming to a close, we were ready to head to Valdez as we start to wind down our tour of Alaska.

August 6 Copper Center (186 miles)

Road conditions: The Glen Highway (AK 1) goes from Anchorage to Glennallen where the highway meets the Richardson Highway (AK 4). The road was okay to very good with surfaces ranging from a bit rough to silky smooth. From Anchorage to Palmer the road was a great four lane highway. East of Palmer we came up on a lighted construction sign that said "Abrupt Edge 25 Miles". The road was newly paved and was silky smooth. However, the road was not lined other than small white stripes down the center in preparation for painting lines on the road. There were also little yellow plastic markers that were not always down the center of the road. At times, the markers favored the westbound side and other times it favored the eastbound side. When the markers favored the westbound side it shrunk the eastbound side we were on and had a tendency to force me closer to the abrupt edge. And it WAS an abrupt edge. One mistake would have meant disaster if the wheels caught the edge. I decided to use the center lines and ignore the yellow markers to keep the motorhome as far away from the edge of the road as I could.

After the 25 miles, the road was lined and had a shoulder, but it became rough in spots with a few frost heaves, none of which were marked. One of them gave us a chuckle after we hit it because it caused Diane's Beanie Baby Bears to jump up in the air. I'm sure you had to be there, but picture about 20 Beanie Babies across the dash popping up in the air about two or three inches in unison and then back down. Diane saw the same thing with the roughly 20 Beanie Babies on her side. We both got a laugh out of that one.

The Richardson Highway was good from the intersection with the Glen Highway and down to the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Visitor Center.

Campground: Boondocked outside the gate to the Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center. It was a small area just outside the gate that could hold a couple of big rigs or several small rigs.

We unhooked the car and drove into the visitor center. It was worth the stop. There was a good movie about the park, which is the largest national park in the United States at 13.2 million acres. When it is combined with Glacier Bay National and Preserve, and Canada's Kluane National Park, and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, the resulting 24 million acres is designated a World Heritage Site and is the largest protected international terrestrial area in the world. Here are some of the facts we learned about the park:

We watched the movie and looked at the exhibits and then walked out to look out into the park and out to the mountains. Unfortunately, they were mostly in the clouds so the views were limited. There were only two main roads into the park and they were mostly dirt roads. One was the Nabesna Road (42 miles each way), the other one was the McCarthy Road (60 miles each way). We didn't drive any of these roads as we didn't plan to stop at the park on this trip.

The other thing we were told we should do in the area was to visit the Princess Wilderness Lodge. We drove up to see it and take in the view, which was similar to the view at the visitor center. The lodge was nice, but nothing fantastic. We've seen much nicer lodges in our travels. This wasn't a place we would suggest a side trip to see unless you want to eat and see the view.

August 7 - August 13 Valdez (108 miles)

Road conditions: The Richardson Highway runs from Valdez to Fairbanks. South of the national park the road ranged from fair to rough with frost heaves, most of which were marked.

Campground: We reserved a week at the Eagle's Rest RV Park.  It was a fairly large park with back in sites in a large gravel area. We reserved a 30 amp full hookup site, but when they parked us we found out that RVs share the power post and the 30 amp outlet was already in use. So we ended up with 50 amps while we were there. The power was mostly good, but did drop down to between 101 and 105 volts at times. The park offered free WiFi which, for the most part, was good, albeit not always very fast. Their network was having a problem for a day with only limited or no connectivity. The story I kept getting from the office was that it was their provider's problem (GCI). Not being sure they were doing what they could to get the network back up, I decided to call GCI myself. I got a tech who was very helpful and said he saw no problem with the cable feed to the park, but he would call them to see if he could tell them some things to do to get the network up. It was back up a short time later. Sometimes you just have to do things yourself if you want them done right.  ;-)

One of the draws for staying at the park were the stories we heard about a salmon fry pot luck put on by the park. We learned that those potlucks were only put on during June and early July.

The biggest draw for Eagle's Rest was the ability to wash vehicles at the site. Our motorhome and car were absolutely filthy and desperately needed to be washed. It was nice to see them clean again, although they will get filthy again as we continue our journey.

In 1778, Captain Cook sailed into the sound and named it Sandwich Sound in honor of the Earl of Sandwich. It was later renamed Prince William Sound after Prince William IV. Prior to 1778, the territory around Valdez belonged to the Chugach Eskimo and the Ahtna who used the area for fishing and trading copper, jade, hides, and other furs. Other claims to the area were made by the Spanish and the Russians. When gold was discovered in Alaska in 1897 the gold seekers came through Valdez to get to the interior and a tent city sprung up at the head of the bay and Valdez was formed. The Good Friday earthquake in 1964 devastated the town. In 1967, the Town of Valdez was condemned because it was built on unstable ground. The town was moved four miles to the east to more stable ground.  On Good Friday in 1989 the Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef about 25 miles outside of Valdez and caused the largest oil spill in North American history.

Our main reason for visiting Valdez was to take the Stan Stephens glacier cruise. We had a coupon in the Tour Saver book for a two for one cruise to see the Columbia Glacier. Fran told us that they took the longer two glacier cruise that also goes out to see the Meares Glacier and we would be able to apply the coupon towards two tickets for the longer cruise. That's what we did. After the constant wet and cool weather we experienced in Seward we caught a break and had a beautiful sunny day when we took the cruise. While we were waiting for the shuttle bus to pick us up at the campground to take us to the dock we met Pete and Ceil Seabury who were fulltimers for about a year and a half. We hung together on the boat and had a nice visit while taking in the scenery and wildlife along the way. We got to see several eagles, sea lions, stellar sea lions, lots of birds but, unfortunately, no orcas.

The Columbia Glacier is one of the largest tidewater glaciers in Alaska. The process of ice breaking off the face of a glacier is called "calving" and the Columbia Glacier is calving icebergs into Prince William Sound faster than it is accumulating new snow. As a result,
it has been retreating and has retreated about seven miles since 1982. The glacier is about 36 miles long, 3 miles wide, and more than 3,000 feet thick in some places. We were only able to get to within about seven miles of the face of the glacier due to all of the icebergs in the water. It was quite fascinating to be among all the icebergs, some of which were huge. Our boat captain did a good job of navigating between the icebergs and we were able to get some great photos.

Our next stop was the Meares Glacier where we were able to get to within about 500 feet of the face of the glacier. This glacier was about a mile wide and is advancing. The face of the glacier was about 200 feet high. As we approached the glacier we saw a couple of icebergs calve off the face, but couldn't hear the roar of the berg breaking away and hitting the water. Our boat captain positioned the boat sideways to the glacier and turned off the engine so we could hear the sounds of the glacier. All I can say is that it was awesome to hear the snapping and cracking and popping going on inside the ice. We did get to see one iceberg calve off the face of the glacier . It was a small one, but the noise was loud. We could only imagine the sound of a large iceberg calving. That's about all I can write about the glaciers and I'll let the photos do the rest.

Here's another small world story. When we arrived in Valdez a guy knocked on our door. He said his name was Charles Rupp and he was also a Dutch Star owner and was parked behind us. We chatted for a few minutes and I gave him one of our cards. He wanted to know if I could show him how to make a business card. I told him I would and spent a couple of hours trying to figure out how to do the cards and the photo with the software he had on his laptop, which was nothing with which I was familiar. I finally found something that would handle the photo he wanted to use and to make a business card. When we got the card done he wanted to show me photos for an accident he had on the way north. I recognized the photo and asked him if he was in Skagway. He said yes and I said "I know you and I know your story" at which point he and his wife, Lynne, cracked up. I told him he was famous and a photo of his rig was on the internet. I found Bill Joyce's website and showed it to him. They thought it was a hoot they were on the internet.

They were going into a small curve when a bee started buzzing around Charles. He had a very bad situation with multiple bites years earlier and panicked. As he swatted at the bee he veered off the road and the rig tipped. The building was eight feet high and he said he hit it about two feet below the top. If the building wasn't there, the motorhome would have rolled. Somehow he managed to keep the rig upright. The damage was extensive to the outside and the inside of the motorhome, but no damage to the truck they were towing. Luckily, other than being shook up from the experience, Charles and Lynne were not injured.

Unfortunately, the rains arrived and it rained for the next five days that we were in Valdez. We are quite sick of the rain after five days in Seward and now five days in Valdez. We were scheduled to stay a week, but thought we would leave a day early and head to Tok if the rain stopped. Well, the rain stopped but the clouds were low with a ceiling of 200 to 500 feet all morning. We would have driven right into the clouds and fog as we climbed out of Valdez so we decided to stay until Monday, although the forecast is for rain the next four days.

Our plans are to head to Tok and park the motorhome for a few days and drive the car over to Dawson City for a couple of days. I'm still holding out about driving the rig over the Top of the World Highway. I realize some folks say "it's not that bad", but others have said it was very rough for about 40-50 miles. I guess one person's "not too bad" is another person's "road from hell". After Dawson City we'll start heading south and back to Whitehorse for a couple of days and then to Skagway for 3-4 days. After that we'll head down to the lower 48 by way of Edmonton and Winnipeg as we make our way to Michigan for service on the motorhome.

To be continued.....

Until next time, safe travels.....

Copyright © 2006, Roaming America with Rich & Diane Emond - All Rights Reserved

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