Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Mendenhall Glacier
Back onto the Ferry… headed to Juneau.  It’s smooth sailing, and we arrive in Juneau at the unconscionable hour of 4:45 AM.  It’s a short drive to the Mendenhall Lake Campground at the base of Mendenhall Glacier.  The gate is locked from 10:00PM until 7:00AM so we continue up the road a bit to the end where there is a large parking lot with a wonderful early morning view of the glacier.   Here we park, crawl into Dimples and sleep for a bit.  Once the gate is open we check in.  Our space is huge and private with full hook-ups.  Mosquitos are rampant but we can report that the ThermaCELLs really work so no worries. 
After setting up, we hike some of the trails around the campground.  The rain forest is lush and laced with small streams and ponds.  One pond sports a beaver den. No beavers in sight but in the surrounding area we see gnawed stumps of the trees that are now piled in the middle of the pond. Mendenhall Lake is stunning with icebergs and waterfalls. There are numerous trails in the area of the glacier and we take advantage over a few days to do a little hiking along the Steep Creek Trail, the Trail of Time and the Nugget Falls Trail.  Since Mendenhall is the most accessible glacier in the area, there are lots of tourists along these trails, and tour busses fill the parking lots. But this glacier may not be around for long, it has receded a total of 2.5 miles since the 1500’s and 1.75 of those miles since 1958.

Tracy's King Crab Shack
Downtown Juneau near the cruise ship dock feels like Disneyland.  Every day four to six humongous floating cities bring thousands of cruisers who pour into the streets and wander about with apparent sensory overload. We avoid this area although we did brave the crowds late one afternoon to stop by Tracy’s Crab Shack.  Tracy’s is a pair of food trailers parked right next to the dock.  All seating is alfresco, tables are shared, and it’s all served on disposable dinnerware.  Although the ambiance is low key the food is anything but.  This is the place for some of the best King Crab dishes in Juneau. Now King Crab, even in Alaska is not cheap. A three pound bucket of legs will set you back over $100, but the best deal is the combo that serves 1 to 2: a generous cup of award winning hearty crab bisque, four fluffy crab cakes with a vibrant dipping sauce and two huge perfectly steamed king crab legs for $32.00 add a couple of Alaska Ambers and the tip and we have a really outstanding meal for under fifty bucks. Considering the location we are surprised that many of the diners sharing our table are locals who dine here as often as once a week. They’ll fight the crowds for Tracy’s legs but usually on a four-cruise ship day. We also learn that Tracy’s was featured on the past season of Bravo’s Top Chef, pretty impressive for food trailers on the dock!
Tracy's King Crab Shack on Urbanspoon

The Macaulay Fish Hatchery offers tours of their facility, a basic tour and an in depth behind the scenes tour.  Since this year’s crop of King fry were released a few days before our visit and the fish ladders sit empty, there’s not a lot going on behind the scenes so we take the basic tour we get a short talk about the facility and the processes while viewing empty tanks and nets being washed and dried. There is one freshwater indoor tank with some tiny Coho fry.  This hatchery is a private non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the Juneau area fisheries. This is fish ranching not fish farming.  It is modern and clean and a much more sophisticated operation than the State and Federal hatcheries we visited last year in Oregon and Idaho.  Although they clip all of the fry and inject data pins in a large percentage much like the other hatcheries in the country, they have also developed a method using a small change in water temperature during specific times of development to create a slight difference in the thickness of the ear cartilage to identify their salmon.  They also have an aquarium with a 5,000-gallon saltwater tank multiple smaller tanks, a touch tank and a shop selling salmon products.

As the Capital of Alaska, Juneau is home to the Alaska StateMuseum.  The permanent collections boast a large assortment of Alaska Native Culture, Early Exploration, Russian America, American Political, Mining, Minerals and Maritime History artifacts. These are all interesting but it’s the special exhibits that really intrigue us especially Nicholas Galanin – Tlingit/Aleut Multi-Disciplinary Artist – State of Being Displaced.  This installation is visually exciting and intellectually stimulating.  

There is also the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.  Housed in the former Juneau Memorial Library Building are various exhibits relating to the local history arts and culture.  The main attraction is the original Montana Creek Fish Trap, a 500-700 year old basketry style fish trap and a replica based on measurements from the original.

On the recommendation of a local man that we met while having an afternoon beer at the Viking Bar, we drive across the bridge to Douglas to try out the fare at The Island Pub.  They serve a variety of pub food, but it’s their wood fired pizza that draws us.  Every year they hold a contest and folks create different combinations of fresh local toppings for their thin crust gourmet pizzas.  We order the 2013 winner: light cream garlic sauce, smoked salmon, capers, red onions and their special cheese blend. It’s like lox and bagels with a twist and goes really well with some Alaskan Ambers.
Island Pub on Urbanspoon

A day at the Beach
One thing we did not expect in Juneau is temperature in the high eighties.  They’re having a heat wave, so we do as they do and head for the beach.  On the way we stop at a road break and the pilot car driver is originally from So Cal close to where Chris grew up.  He invites us to meet him at the Viking Baron Saturday night for shots of tequila – lots of fun, but we have to get back to the campground by 10:00 when they lock the gate.   (Unfortunately we are late and have to park Dave outside the gate and walk in what’s up with this curfew???)

There is so much to do and see in and around Juneau.  Our biggest outing is an all day cruise of the Tracy Arm Fiord with Adventure Bound Alaska’s 65 foot “Captain Cook”. We cruise over the jade green inland sea dodging blue icebergs, our necks craning to see the tops of snow capped granite walls with waterfalls spilling into the ocean, and our lungs filled with the crisp iced air.  At the end of the fiord we park at the base of the Sawyer Glacier.  The captain turns off the motors and we sit in silence.  Suddenly, loud pops and cracks like fireworks, a few small splashes and BOOM a large block of ice violently crashes into the sea.  It is powerful and awe inspiring.  But there is a softer side here.  The icebergs at the base of the glacier serve as a nursery for Harbor Seals and everywhere we look are mother seals and their pups some a few days old.  On the return trip we see more icebergs, various sea birds, bald eagles and a good-sized black bear. 
Sawyer Glacier
Mom & Pup
Captain of the Berg
Black Bear

Well that about sums it up for Juneau… one more ferry ride on this leg of our journey will bring us to Haines… and then…


Saturday, June 15, 2013


We off-load in Ketchikan. This time it’s out the side exit of the ferry (which probably means we’ll back up with a turn when we continue on.)  The larger ferries like the Kennicott are outfitted with multiple doors and elevators to load and unload in different port environments.  Very versatile and efficient!

The town of Ketchikan is located on the southern end of Revillagigedo Island.  The main road extends fifteen miles northwest and runs fifteen miles east of town.  We’re staying at the northwest end at the Clover Pass Resort.  When we check in everyone is talking about the annual KingSalmon Fishing Derby  that finished the night before.  Some skilled and lucky local person won the $10,000 grand prize with a 44+ pound salmon.  As we back into our waterfront space, a young bald eagle swoops in and lands on the rocks about 25 feet from us. (Must be the official Ketchikan welcome wagon.)  Our views here are spectacular, the people are friendly and the Wi-Fi speedy – we have a wonderful first impression of this place.

Creek Street
After setting up, we head into town to forage and explore.  We stroll along the charming and picturesque Creek Street.  The colorful houses are now galleries and shops for the tourist trade but this neighborhood was originally the red light district in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Their motto: “Where salmon and men come to spawn. Salmon once a year and men more often.” 

We grab a bite to eat at the Halibut Hole, an alfresco café along the creek. This is a family run business.  The current owner Amber Nygren took over the business from her aunt and uncle five years ago when they retired and she is committed to preparing super fresh local fare.  We order beer battered zucchini and baskets of salmon and clam strips with chips.  The batter is light and everything delivered to our table hot out of the fryer. 
Halibut Hole on Urbanspoon

Later, we stop at the Tongass Historical Museum to view artifacts and learn a bit about the history of this area (which is rowdy and colorful.)

The next day, while sipping our morning coffee we are treated to a show: a convocation of eagles feeding near the dock, a mink scampering across the rocks, otters swimming near the shore and an orca cruising the channel.  (It’s one of those “priceless” MasterCard moments!)

Totem Bight Totem
Our neighbor tells us about an eco tour of the rainforest and totem park that he and his brother are taking later that morning with WildWolf Tours, a company offering off the beaten path small group tours of the area. We’re interested, and plan to try to add this to our itinerary.  When their guide, Tracy Wolf arrives to pick them up, it turns out that we are able to join them.  She takes us first to the Totem Bight State HistoricalPark. Tracy is a member of the Native Tlingit Tribe.  She has a wealth of local knowledge and an easy way of sharing. While we study and photograph the totem poles and clan house, she explains the significance of the carvings and shares the native stories that they represent.  It is entertaining and informative.  Next it’s a short drive to the end of the road to the Tongass National Forest.  There we hike the Lunch Creek Trail 
 and learn about the native plants and animals of the Alaskan rainforest. What a great way to experience the nature of the area!

Later in the afternoon we head back into town and do the downtown walking tour.  We stop at the Totem Heritage Center and check out the priceless nineteenth century totem poles and artifacts retrieved from abandoned native villages of the area.

At the Tatsuda Market we pick up some dried shitake mushrooms (Asian specialties are sometimes hard to find, so we get em when we see em.)   While shopping, one of the employees stops us and tells us some of the history of the store.  During WWII when Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese decent were being relocated and interned, members of the Ketchikan community stepped up.  They took over the businesses left behind. When the Tatsuda family returned after the war, all of their property and income from the market was returned.

At the Ketchikan Visitor center we chat with the clerk and ask for dining recommendations.  He suggests the Ocean View Restaurant.  It’s away from the cruise ship docks and caters more to local patrons.  There IS an ocean view, but the every surface in the restaurant is covered with trompe l’oile.  We ask our waitress Sauta about the art and she explains that there was a traveling artist who would pass through and stay for a few months every year.   Her brother (the owner) would hire him and let him paint whatever he wanted.  So we dine in the Sistine Chapel of Ketchikan (with an ocean view no less!)  They serve both Mexican and Italian Specialties and we opt for an appetizer of Queso Fundido, (Baked Mozzarella Cheese with green chilies and chorizo) and The Patron Molcajete (Strips of steak, chicken and jumbo shrimp sautéed with bacon in a spicy Diablo tomato sauce and topped with Mozzarella, served in a hot lava bowl.)  This is definitely one of the most flavorful and vibrant dishes we have ever enjoyed.  This restaurant is truly a gem.  Art on the walls and art on the plates!
Ocean View Restaurante on Urbanspoon

yep that's us
What's for dinner?
eagles, lots-o-eagles
Our next adventure is the Bearing Sea Crab Fisherman’s tour. This is one of two excursions that we pre-booked a couple of months back since it sells out frequently.   We ride the "Aleutian Ballad" crabbing vessel as seen on Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch". Ok so we’re not huge fans of the show but we did watch it occasionally and this is one opportunity to see kinda how they do it without editing for ratings or danger to anyone (including the crabs.) So there are no huge waves washing over the bow or ice forming on the rails, but we learn more about how our seafood gets caught.  They demonstrate line fishing, and three different types of crab and shrimp pots.  The crabs in the pots are actually caught in a different location and brought in for the demonstration.  They use them for a few weeks and then release them back where they found them.  But this is not a completely controlled environment and we get to see a rare juvenile red king crab that happened to climb into the opilio and box crab pot. (After showing him off they immediately let him go.) And now for the bonus round:  The tour also includes eagles. Now, raptors are known to be lazy and highly motivated by food.  So, the Captain of the Aleutian Ballad stops us near an island and they toss herring into the sea.  Within moments about a hundred bald eagles start swooping around snatching the fish.  (Like seagulls chasing french-fries on the pier or pigeons and breadcrumbs.)  It is breathtaking to watch.

 After the tour we walk over to the Arctic Bar, one of the oldest bars in Ketchikan.  We order a couple of Alaskan Ambers on tap and sit back to enjoy the atmosphere.  Shortly thereafter, two guys walk in with a big black dog.  The dog, Hank takes a liking to us.  Hank’s owner was part of the team that won the Salmon Derby with a 44.6-pound salmon… so we get to hang with a local celebrity, while Hank guards my backpack and his friend Robert clears the pool table game after game.  (These guys are the Ketchikan drinking version Jay and Silent Bob and we mean this in the most affectionate way.)  We are probably the only non-locals in the bar, but we feel welcome and it’s a perfect way to end another great day.

Misty Fiord
Falls in the Fiord
Ketchikan is one of the rainiest places in North America.  It’s located in the heart of the Tongass National Forest – the largest rainforest in North America.... so rain is expected.  And not just scattered showers… we’re talking serious precipitation!  They get an average of 160 inches of rain a year.  Yep – that’s over 13 feet of rain a year.  So waking up to a bright sun shiny day is glorious!  Today we are taking our second pre-booked tour.  We head out on a four hour, hundred mile round trip to the Misty Fiords National Monument with Allen Marine Tours, aboard the St. Nona, one of the fastest tour vessels in the area.  Once out of the harbor we cruise at 30 knots around the southern tip of the island and up into the fiord.  The scenery is breathtaking. Snow capped, glacier carved, sheer granite walls with huge waterfalls tumbling into the sea. The closest thing we can compare this is: Yosemite filled with water.  And to top it off… no mist… not a cloud in the sky!   We also see eagles, deer, harbor seals and an orca while a naturalist points out the sights.  On the return trip, a native artist and storyteller entertains us with his personal insights into the area.  Another exceptional day of vagabondage!

The third totem pole exhibit in Ketchikan is the world’s largest collection of standing Native American totem poles, The Saxman Native Village.  Seems like the only way to get inside the clan house and carving studio is through a pre booked group tour.  They do not sell tickets on site to the general public.  But we are able to wander around and photograph the stunning poles for free.

Ketchikan is a wonderful destination but alas… after six days here we have to prepare to move on, pick up dry ice at Safeway so we can turn off the fridge, hook up Dave and Dimples and board the ferry to Juneau… and so the adventure continues…


(BTW, In case you were wondering about the caption to this post; in the RV world a gaucho is not an Argentinian Cowboy, but the lounge that converts to a bed.)


Wednesday, June 12, 2013


M/V Kennicott

We head for the coast with a back roads detour around Mount Vernon, WA (to avoid the traffic mess where the bridge on I-5 over the Skagit River recently collapsed.) While in Bellingham we stay at the cleverly named Bellingham RV Park. This is a basic park as opposed to a resort.  With all pull-through sites, it’s a perfect staging ground for a quick stop prior to crossing the border into Canada or boarding the ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway.  Like most parks these days there is a high percentage of permanent residents, but it is cleaner than most parks of this type, offers all of the necessary amenities and the Wi-Fi is exceptional (which makes all of our last minute planning a breeze.) The staff here is really friendly and one couple is from Anchorage.  So we get the 411 on some of the better restaurants to visit when we get to that part of the state and some tips about road and driving conditions. While in Bellingham, Dave goes in to the GMC Spa for a check-up, oil change and tire rotation.  We visit the charming Fairhaven district and make a note that Bellingham may deserve a longer visit in the future.

Ready or not… Alaska here we come!

you WILL have to back up!
The day of departure arrives and we pick up 15 lbs. of dry ice at Fred Meyers to stuff in the refrigerator and freezer. (You have to turn off the propane while on the ferry and 15 lbs. is just enough to keep everything cold and frozen for the duration of the trip, next time we may get a bit more.)  We arrive at the staging area of the ferry terminal and wait… our destination, Ketchikan,  is the first stop so we are one of the last to load. Finally they motion us forward and instruct Chris to turn Dimples around and back up the ramp into the ferry.  Now this could be pretty daunting, with other travelers lining the rails watching & hoping for a you-tube moment, but the guide walks next to the driver’s door and calmly tells Chris when to turn and how much and makes it look easy.  So if you are planning to take a trailer on the Ferry, you will have to back up, but the folks there will do everything to make it easy and stress free – and you’ll look good doing it - so no worries!

Once on board the M/V Kennicott, it’s an hour earlier since we are now on Alaska Time.  We pick up the keys to our cabin and get settled in.  Our cabin is a large windowless closet with a sink, bunk bed and blankets from the Alaska Correctional Department, but it’s clean and much more comfortable than pitching a tent on deck or sleeping in the aft lounge. We also discover that the ferry system is celebrating fifty years of continuous service. Since this is our first experience on this ferry system, we’re not sure what this means to our overall experience other than a lot of “50 year schwag” available on board.

Fishing Lodge
The Alaska Marine Highway is affectionately known as the “Poor Man’s Cruise.”  And so it is - If you’re not traveling with 48 feet of truck and Airstream. Folks from all walks of life use this system and we have the opportunity to meet a really diverse group of travelers.  We share a few beers with a teacher from Kansas and a young member of the Coast Guard heading to an assignment in Kodiak.  We meet a family relocating from Florida, an Amish farmer and his wife from Pennsylvania, a couple from Hawaii, (she’s an artist and he’s planning to ride his bike from Anchorage to Denali), young folks on a budget, retirees looking for adventure… the list goes on and on…

 On the Kennicott, there is a café serving decent albeit expensive food, (we think it’s a public service to prepare you for Ala$ka) a movie theatre showing local informational shorts and family full features, a small gift shop and a lounge for libations.  Our bartender makes some really great made to order Bloody Marys with Alaska Distillery’s Glacier Vodka. Ahh haa… the bartender informs us that this vodka is special for the anniversary celebration… so 50 years equals better quality vodka… works for us LOL.

Our trip to Ketchikan takes 36 hours. During that time we see some incredibly beautiful scenery: forested islands, lighthouses, fishing camps, eagles and whales.  It’s a challenge taking photos of a moving target from a moving platform… but we keep trying.

Arriving at Ketchikan
Snowy Peaks
Although for us the ferry system is the only way we can experience the inside passage with Dave and Dimples. We recommend it for anyone looking for a different kind of cruise.


Thursday, June 6, 2013


After Bend we continue north onto Dayville, OR.  We stay in our favorite (so far) RV Park in America - The Fish House Inn & RV Park.  We stayed here last summer when we were newbies and loved the place; but now after a year under our belt, we can really appreciate how really special this place is.  There are only seven spots here in a park-like setting.  Everything is low-key down to the hand made sign that states: “if no one’s around, pick a spot and we’ll find you.”  (Which is exactly what we do.)  

Dayville Cafe
Open for business!
After we get setup we walk over to the Dayville Café and grab some lunch.  Last summer the place was closed and for sale. We are happy to report that the new owner is young, talented and committed to providing locals and visitors with local sourced, fresh, tasty, and affordable meals. This is a family affair, while he’s in back creating down home culinary delights; like hand cut fries and home made pies, his wife and his mother are out front taking orders, delivering food and filling water glasses.  The food here is really good and they make a killer root beer float!  

After lunch we head back “home” and are greeted with hugs by Mike Smith (the owner) and wags and licks from Zoe and Zander (his golden retrievers.)

We originally plan to stay only a few days, but it’s rainy and hailing and the Memorial Day weekend is coming up, and Mike has one opening over the weekend so we stay put for a week. Between thunderstorms, we get in a short hike and a visit to the Fossil beds visitor center. It’s a nice relaxing week. (As if there were any other kind for us LOL.)

Yakama Nation
RV Park, stay in your rig
or a teepee
Next we continue north up the back roads to Toppenish, WA just south of Yakima.  We stay at the Yakama Nation RV Park. Although not the lush garden landscape of Fish House, it’s clean and comfortable with good Wi-Fi. Within walking distance is the Yakama Nations Cultural Center with an interesting Native American museum, gift shop, restaurant and theatre. Close by is the Legends Casino that gets a big thumbs up since we left with more green than when we arrived ;-) and we received half off coupons for their Thursday seafood buffet with lots-o-tasty Dungeness crab!

The city of Toppenish is famous for it’s murals.  There are over seventy murals on buildings and walls throughout the two square mile city depicting the history of the area.  Some of the murals were privately commissioned, but many were produced at the Toppenish Mural Society’s annual “Mural in a Day” that occurs on the first Saturday of June. It just so happens that we’re there for the event, so we head into town and watch paint dry…  We also take in the Northern Pacific Railroad Museum and The American Hop Museum.  Although we love beer we never really considered where the hops come from or how they are produced…well now we know and recommend a stop at this little interesting museum.
2013 Mural in a Day
Watching Paint Dry...

Toppenish Mural
even the police have one!
After learning about railroad history and hop production we stop at the Taqueria Mexicana and have a great meal and some cold beers. Their salsa (one spicy and one mild are really tasty.  The side order of Guacamole is outstanding. It is so fresh that we suspect that it is made to order.  The Chimichanga is delicious, the meat tender and tortilla crispy but not greasy.  The Chile Verde: tasty, spicy and the portions generous. (Enough to take some home and create some breakfast burritos the next morning.) 
Taqueria Mexicana on Urbanspoon

Now, with one week until our ferry departs for Alaska we head for Bellingham…