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2 happily retired sisters on The Ultimate Road Trip
Click on the points on the map to see what we did at each location.
Our dream road trip to Alaska begins! Heading north, we chose the designated “Gold Rush Route”. We left I-90 at Missoula (good-bye to the Montana 80mph speed limit until our return 4 weeks later) through the Flathead Valley and crossed the border at Roosville.
Driving through the Canadian Glacier and Mt Revelstoke National Parks. The weather was sunny so the views of the Canadian Rockies were stunning via Rogers Pass.
We left busy Kamloops for the lush forests, long rivers, and many lakes of western BC. Stayed in a comfy cabin on Francois Lake.
We toured the native Gitxsan cultural village with its totem poles and first nations houses. Our first views of the craggy, snow-streaked coastal mountains appeared today.
Moricetown Canyon Falls is a popular stop, but we were the only ones there this early in the vacation season.
The real adventure begins!
This gas station's sign got us excited to begin the official route north. This 450 mile long highway was just completed in 1972 to provide a route north through western British Columbia. We found generally good road conditions, breath-taking scenery, and lots of wildlife (bear and moose).
A typical beautiful view from the windshield.
This 120 mile (round trip) side trip to the town of Hyder AK (population 100) is well worth it. The coastal range scenery of floor-to-ceiling snowy mountains and cascading waterfalls conjured images of the volcanic Hawaiian ranges, but with snow! Bear Glacier is just one of the many beautiful sights.
Pinch me - are we really here?
The Milepost said we should be on the lookout for grazing bears. We didn't believe it until we saw it with our own eyes!
As we head west, we get our first views of the St. Elias range. We'll stay in Haines Junction, planning to hike tomorrow.
Rain turned to snow over the pass...but it didn't last!
Early summer flowers welcomed us throughout the trip -- these on the Sheep Creek trail in Kluane National Park.
Here's a view of the Slims River valley from the trail. We saw Dall sheep from the ranger station at the trailhead. The trail was solid incline all the way - a good workout after one week of driving.
The Slims River delta just before it empties into Kluane Lake.
After a slow-going 40 miles of road construction (gravel), we reached the border!
The Milepost said that the Tok Cut-Off highway would afford great views of the Wrangell-St. Elias range "weather-permitting". Well, Mother Nature permitted HUGE Mt Sanford elev 16,237ft to dominate the horizon for miles as we drove southeast around the USA's largest national park.
The pipeline on its way to Valdez.
Here we go...the descriptions of this road from the Milepost filled us with trepidation (rail spikes and ties that will eat your tires!) With encouragement from a neighbor's son who is a park ranger there, we ventured forth and are so happy we did. It's a 60 mile gravel road built along the old Copper River and Northwestern Railway bed. Maybe road conditions were OK (15-20mph) because we were there early in the season.
The little town of McCarthy and the ghost mining town of Kennecott (copper mine dating from the early 1900's) sit at the base of this massive glacier.
A shuttle drove us 4 miles from McCarthy to Kennecott where we toured the mine (established 1906) and hiked to Root Glacier.
This incredible place is an original 14-story rickety wooden structure through which the NPS constructed a "trail" of catwalks and steep stairs. We signed our liability waivers and went for it. Heck, we're in Alaska!
Up-close-and-personal experience of a massive silt-laden, crevassed ice sheet grinding its way downhill. Nothing like it!
Not your favorite ice cream flavor.
On our way out of McCarthy-Kennecott, we drove over the Copper River, spawning place of the world-famous Copper River Sockeye Salmon. We saw many eagles and gulls just waiting for a free meal. They are smart - it's $25/lb in season in June!
The entire Glenn Highway from Glennallen to Palmer is one scenic view after another through the Chugach Mountains.
Seward was a 3-night stay for us, giving us time for dinner at dockside, a nice treat after cabin kitchenette DIY meals. An evening church service topped off the trip so far with its closing hymn "How Great Thou Art".
We put on our Wellington boots and trekked the 5 mile beach trail to North Beach, being very careful to time our hike with low tide. In order not to be trapped by high tide, we hired a water taxi to pick us up and return us to Seward. What a beautiful beach and fjord along Resurrection Bay! While we had time before our boat, we hiked an extra 2 miles to Ft. McGilvray, a WWII bunker-like installation built to guard the Alaskan coast. An eery reminder of the fears during WWII.
After an informative ranger walk, we hiked up to the toe of the Exit Glacier and continued a very steep climb up the Harding Icefield Trail until the snowpack stopped us.
Here's where the snowpack stopped us.
Took a late evening walk along the expansive rocky beach. (Sunset was 11:30p) Looking forward excitedly to our Katmai bear-viewing trip tomorrow!
The highlight of our trip - What a fulfillment of a childhood dream! We stayed at Homer Floatplane Lodge and boarded the Emerald Air Floatplane for a one hour flight over Cook Inlet to a Hallo Bay tidal lagoon at the base of Hallo Glacier. The weather was perfect - the best day of the season so far, according to our pilot Chuck and guide Nate. This remote spot is the early summer feeding ground of the Alaskan Brown Bear, largest of the grizzly species.
In the late spring and early summer, before the salmon run later in July, the bears come to the shore to graze on tidal sedge grasses and dig for clams and mussels. They also love cooling off in the streams. As opposed to watching bears catching salmon from viewing platforms, this trip has us humans tromping through the tidal grasses and streams in hip boots on the lookout for the big creatures.
We walked only a few minutes before this big guy came into view. Our guide told us that because these bears are not habituated to humans, they take notice of us, but then carry on with their own routine. We just stuck together as a group for safety and were able to watch them in an unhurried manner.
Mama stood up on her hind legs to check us out, then went to the river to let the cubs have a play day.
It was fun seeing the cubs goof off and rough-house.
These were some active toddlers!
OK, we think we'll be able recognize griz tracks now.
Just when we were heading back to the plane, complacently not paying attention, this guy pops into view.
The Hallo Bay area is truly pristine in its beauty. The giant purple lupine bid us farewell as we headed back to the plane.
An incredible day! After a soak in the lodge hot tub (walking in hip boots is hard work!), we headed to the Spit for a great dinner of salmon and halibut at Captain Patty's.
More sunshine and the temp in the 70s. Treated ourselves to a "roadkill" pastry and heavenly chocolate doughnut from the Moose is Loose Bakery in Soldotna. On our drive to our Moose Wallow cabin near Palmer we saw this lovely lake in the photo.
No kidding - there are highway signs warning of the danger of Moose and kill statistics. On our drive to Tok, AK, we decided on a short diversion on the Nabesna Road (the only other access road into Wrangell-St. Elias NP). No cars seen at all. In addition to the moose in the photo, we also saw a mama moose and 2 babies standing in a shallow lake. A moosey day!
On our way out of Alaska - already?! We drove from Tok, AK to Destruction Bay, Yukon and ran into a long stretch of road construction around Beaver Creek, Yukon. But the wildlife never disappoints...trumpeter swans, cute plovers (that migrate thousands of miles between Alaska and Hawaii), and the golden, furry thing in the photo on the roadside. She turned out to be a mama bear with cub.
The day was beautiful so we decided to drive to the Inside Passage port of Skagway. We had been here 30 years ago by boat so it was fun to arrive from the other side by land. What a drive! Another trip highlight.
Vistas of alpine scenery reminding us of the high Tioga road at Yosemite. The town is cute and 2 cruise ships were in port. We stopped at the Alaska Marine Highway terminal to investigate the ferry system -- maybe someday we'll be back!
On our way to Muncho Lake, we stopped at lovely Liard Hot Springs to relax our car-stiff bodies.
A herd crossed the road and we saw many of these orange calves that were quite frisky. Also saw 5 black bears this day.
So here we are at the end of our Alaska Highway adventure...at Mile 0. (We did not go to the famous milepost sign due to torrential rains!) We tend to do things a bit backwards in our lives!
No photos this day. The route from Fort St. John to Grande Cache was horrible...filled with trucks associated with the booming oil and natural gas industries...combined with pouring rain. We found out later that evening on the local news that the Alaska Highway was closed in this region due to flooding. Yet this was an education regarding these growth industries - likely what is also happening in North Dakota. We finally made it to Jasper NP and our favorite cabins at Patricia Lake.
We were here several years ago and did not have the time to hike the lake loop. So we spent the afternoon far from the madding crowds and soaked in the beautiful scenes of emerald water, wildflowers and snowy peaks.
Our last night before getting home was in Shelby, MT, a hub for the good 'ol Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad (the same line that runs through our hometown back in Chicagoland).
Moonrise over our Gallatin mountains!