Monday, July 1, 2013

AND NOW FOR THE "OTHER" ALASKA...


The last ferry ride of this leg of our journey takes us to Haines, AK.  It’s beautiful cruising along the inside passage, we see humpback whales spouting off the bow of the Columbia, a perfect day for a cruise. 

crab feed
Haines Harbor
For three days our home in Haines is the Ocean Side RVPark.  We are right on the water with a wonderful view of the small boat harbor and within walking distance to downtown Haines.  They even have a Dungeness crab feed and potluck one evening.  Chris actually went down to the docks with one of the owners and another guest and helped clean 38 crabs for the feed. Now he can add cleaning crab in Haines Alaska to his ever-growing list-o-talents LOL.

After setting up we stroll over to the Lighthouse Restaurant.  We arrive just in time as they are expecting a busload of French tourists any minute.  We get our order of Halibut Fish and Chips and a Captain’s Platter of: shrimp, halibut, wings and fried mozzarella before the crowd arrives.  Although they are slammed, the service is friendly and the food perfectly prepared and delicious.  Portions are large and we again have leftovers for some tasty fish tacos the next day. 
Lighthouse on Urbanspoon

That night there is a huge storm.  Thunder shaking and lightning flashing it’s pretty exciting, but we don’t know how exciting until the next day, when everyone in town is enthusiastically talking about the weather.  Seems lightening in Haines is rare, so rare that the locals have never seen lightening like this.  One man told us that his 18-year old daughter had never seen lightening at all, until last night. Had we know, we might have gone out and shot some photos, but standing outside near a line of metal RVs in a thunder storm just didn’t seem like a good idea.


Ft. Seward
Hammer Museum
Haines has a few attractions worth visiting.  Historic Fort Seward  has been converted to private residences and art galleries, but much of it is still intact and we can imagine a busy fort defending the Alaska Coast.  At Alaska Indian Arts, Inc. we stroll through the working artist galleries, chat with some of the artists and purchase a small print by Greg Horner  to mount on the wall above our media center. The Sheldon Museum and CulturalCenter has a wonderful collection representing the culture of the Chilkat Valley.  They combine historic relics from the Tlingit culture, with nineteenth and twentieth century displays. Well worth a stop.  We assume that’s it for history and culture, but Haines has one more museum offering:  The Hammer Museum!  From the outside it looks like one of those quirky roadside attractions with a giant hammer standing in the yard of a small wood frame house, but inside there are examples of just about every hammer you can imagine and some we never imagined. This is the world’s first museum dedicated to the history of humanity’s first tool.  With a couple of thousand different hammers on display (and thousands more in storage) this museum is quirky for sure, but it is also fascinating.  The hammers are well documented and there are two young docents willing to share lots of information about the tools.

We drive out to Chikoot Lake and hike a bit about the lake.  Mosquitos are rampant but the ThermaCELLs work perfectly! There is a salmon weir across the river and we watch the poor ranger wading in the water trying to count the few early arriving salmon in the area.

Haines Highway in Fog


After three days we head out on the Haines Highway.  We have read and heard that this is one of the most scenic highways in Alaska.  Unfortunately the road is shrouded in fog and we’ll just have to take their word on this.  Not a lot of wild life either, just a couple of picas and a trumpeter swans.



Crossing the Canadian border is a breeze for us. We hand over all

Welcome to Canada, eh...
documentation (vehicle registrations, drivers license, insurance cards and passport cards.) We answer a few questions about where we were going and if we have guns, ammo, tobacco, alcohol, beer, pets and if anyone is in the trailer, no questions about food and we are sent on our way with a smile. 

We arrive at the Kluane RV Kampground in Haines Junction for a one-night stop.  Parking is on dirt; they have full hookups, OK Wi-Fi, but no trash receptacles so we have to pack out our trash (weird.) 

The list of attractions in Haines Junction is very short.  There’s the village monument at the junction of the Haines and Alaska Highways is a 24-foot high sculpture with area wildlife depicted in close to life-size detail on a mountain.  It’s nick named “The Muffin” and belongs in the category of quirky roadside attractions that are just quirky. You can’t miss this one but there is another attraction that should be on the NOT TO MISS LIST!  The Da Ku “Our House” Culture Center features Champagne and Aishihik First Nations cultural exhibits and the Kluane National Park Reserve Visitor Center.  This is one of the finest visitor centers we have ever visited it’s World Class!  Tons of hi-tech interactive interpretive displays keep us busy and stimulated until the center closes.  The park is an empire of mountains and ice. Here in a vast international preserve, are most of the tallest peaks in North America and the largest ice fields outside the polar caps. Over half the land mass is permanently draped in snow and ice – the remainder fosters forests and tundra and stable populations of eagles, grizzlies and other species often at risk elsewhere. We’d like to stay and explore but Alaska is our goal this summer, so we will make it a point to return and visit this park in the future.

Along the ALCAN
World's largest Gold Pan
So we rise early the next morning armed with our 2013 edition of the Milepost and head out on the Alaska Highway towards Tok. The skies are hazy and we later learn that there are 115 active fires burning in Alaska and even the main road between Anchorage and Fairbanks was closed for one day due to heavy smoke.  The scenery should be breathtaking but much of the forests are brown and dry; decimated by the spruce beetle and clouded by heavy smoke. We make a brief stop at the Tachal Dahl Visitor Center,  and learn a bit about the Dahl sheep in the area. No Sheep here this time of year as they are all grazing on the other side of the mountain.  In the roadside attraction category we pass by the world’s largest gold pan in Burwash Landing.

Black Bear
Mama & Baby Moose
The road is everything we have ever heard about the ALCAN: rough frost heave sections marked by orange flags where we slow down, muddy sections, and some smooth sections where the road is recently repaired, you just never know what’s up ahead. It’s overcast and hazy with intermittent showers so we decide to push all the way to the border.   We keep our eyes peeled for Yukon wildlife.  A pair of trumpeter swans fly parallel to the highway at the same speed we’re going (40+mph) and land in a pond and we finally see a scruffy black bear just before the border.  A the U.S. border we drive through a big orange scanner (like the ones at the airport except it’s for vehicles) show the agent our passport cards answer a few questions about guns, pets and if anyone else is in the trailer and are welcomed back to the U.S. We then drive the 90 miles onto Tok and along the way we finally see our first moose. WOO HOO!

(BTW Tok is pronounced “Toke” the “e” is missing)

Everyone driving into Alaska has to pass through Tok.  For such an important crossroads we note that in peak season, the multiple RV parks are pretty empty and vacancy signs abound on the hotels.  There are multiple gas stations, one well-stocked grocery store and a few small businesses catering to locals and tourists.  They have a fancy visitor center that is a clearing-house for brochures about anything you can do in the state.  Talking with some of the locals they describe the town as a boom and bust town they also note that this year they are seeing more large RV’s so they hope that the next boom is on the way.  Like the rest of Alaska they are having a heat wave and for us the smoky air is a déjà vu from last summer.

In Tok we stay two nights at the Tok RV Village.  The spaces are all full service pull-through and they give us one free hour of Wi-Fi per day.  Since everything is within walking distance we leave Dave and Dimples hitched.

The Alaska Burger
Fast Eddies is the only restaurant in town and they don’t let that go to their heads.  Service is fast and friendly and the food is excellent.  They offer a great salad bar with lots to choose from and their other dishes are generous.  The seafood platter is fresh, crisp and delicious and the Alaskan Burger is just about one of the tastiest burgers ever.  It’s also so huge that one order can be shared.  We actually eat there twice it’s so good!
Fast Eddy's Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Alaskan Husky
All Clean!
 Tok is known for two things: dog mushing and car washing.  We catch a mushing demonstration by Howling Raven Kennels.  These canine athletes are amazing and we have a new appreciation for the sport.  Dave and Dimples also get a bath.  So now that everyone is all shiny and clean it’s time to head south where clear skies and no smoke are reported towards Valdez…


k


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