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From Smithers to Stewart

Driving along Cassier Highway

Sunshine Inn provides free breakfast. As you know, the free breakfast is something you get for nothing and nothing much to talk about. Anyway they had cream cheese to go with bagels. Previous day, Sharon, the receptionist at Sunshine Inn, told us about the attractions in Smithers. Igloo museum is one of them. This is a small place run by a taxidermist .His main job is taxidermy, that is to stuff animals killed by hunters or animals who get killed by accidents. He has a private collection of stuffed animals and he charges a nominal amount of $10.00 per person from people who visit the museum to see them.

The three of us visited this place and he took us round showing his stuffed animals. He has done a great job in preserving the animals and making them look like live animals. This is his collection over a period of forty years. There was a big moose, a cougar, a wolverine, many bears, deer, foxes, wolves and many other small animals in the collection.

Talking to him, we learned many new facts about animals in Canadian forests. There are many different kinds of bears. The most common bear found in Canadian jungles is the black bear. Though they are called black bears, they are not black...for this reasons they're also called the Cinnamon bear. Some of them are dark brown, others are lighter in colour. Brown bears are rarer and are different to black bears as they have a humped on their back. Grizzly bears are larger in size, but not very common. They are mainly found in Alaska.

If you want to see bears, you must get up early and leave around 5:00AM. The most feared animal in the Canadian jungle is not the bear or the couger, but the wolverine. They are scavengers similar to Hyenas and have very strong jaws and teeth. That taxidermist emphasised that this particular creature was the most dangerous of the woods.

We also discussed about other animals and their eating habits. I asked him why he is not expanding his business and making it known to tourist industry. He may be able to attract more visitors. He really does not have the time. He is already one year behind in his work undertaken for his clients. He took us to his workshop and showed how he is curing the animal skins and preparing them to fill up. Malisha took some photos of the stuffed animals and I will try to upload some of them.

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Stewart is about 330 km from Smithers. It is not on the main road to Alaska. We have to travel on the Cassier Highway and then at the Meziadin junction turn left and travel nearly 67 kilometers. This stretch of road is well known for its scenic beauty, but at the same time, can have heavy falls of snow. The road is fully sealed and the maintenance crews work around the clock to keep this road open. To avoid Snow avalanches, which is a common occurrence in winter, the maintenance crews drop explosives from air planes and clear snow from mountain peaks.

In Stewart, we booked into a hotel called Ripley Creek Inn. From outside, it looks like a collection of old buildings. But the rooms in the hotel are very cosy. We have booked a room with two queen beds.
Stewart is part of British Columbia, and a town that belongs to Canada. We can cross over to Hyder from Stewart. Hyder is a small village that is considered to be a part of Alaska which belongs to USA. The strange thing is that any one can drive over the border and there is no one to check you at the border. We drove across to Hyder. It is more like a ghost town with a few American souvenir shops. Mala bought some fudge from one of the shops. However when you come back to Stewart , the Canadian border patrol stops you. They have a small post there. We had to show our passports and get them stamped for a second time and also answer a few stupid questions such as whether we are carrying any firearms and how long do we plan to stay in Canada etc.

One major attraction in Stewart is the Bear Glacier. Twenty years ago, this glacier came up to the main road. It has receded over the years and you can see it from a distance. Sharon, the receptionist at Sunshine Inn told us that her sister-in-law visited Stewart about a year ago and she saw more than forty bears on the way up and down. We were expecting a simlar number of bear views. But we saw only one bear on our way to Stewart. We were going there in the afternoon and the time was not good for bear views.

Posted by fernando65 00:06 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

From Stewart to Dease Lake

July 07

From Stewart to Dease Lake, the travel distance is only 400 km.
When we got up in the morning we found the weather had changed and it was drizzling outside making the whole place gloomy. Ripley Creek Inn has no free breakfast. Luckily we had enough food with us. Mala made a quick breakfast of sardine sandwiches (better than it sounds) and coffee. We checked out early to find some wild bears on the road and we were really lucky. We saw six bears making the total number seven. It is hard to take a good photo, because they don’t stay in one place. They keep on moving, trying to get away from the car all the time. Malisha managed to take a good photo and also a short video clip of one bear. We will try to upload the photo when we get a chance. In one place , we had to stop for a long time due to road construction.

From Stewart to Meziadin junction, the scenery is exceptional with snow capped mountains. The major attraction is Bear Glacier. There are many waterfalls on the way. In some of them, the bottom is hidden under a thick layer of snow with water flowing through the cavity made out of snow. There are lakes everywhere and water streams feeding them. From Meziadin junction onwards, the road becomes narrower. There was hardly any traffic and we had the road to ourselves. Not many people seem to travel this way. We put petrol in Stewart and topped up at Bell. Our plan was to refill and top up at every place we came across. We were told that some of the gas (petrol) stations may be closed. True enough, in Iskut, we found the petrol station was closed, luckily Dease Lake petrol station was open when we arrived there.
We saw as many as eight bears and one moose on our way from Stewart to Dease Lake. The moose was a big one standing on the road, but when we got closer it ran away into the woods. Malisha could not take a good shot of it.

Dease Lake is a very small village with only 560 people. The petrol station has a small restaurant but it serves hot food until 1:00PM. There are two more restaurants in the area. One is called Mammaz. It was too late to have lunch. So we decided to have an early dinner.

Dinner at Mammaz:
We read the many negative reviews about Mammaz and did not expect anything good. The reviews were mainly about the high cost of food. You cannot expect to get quality food at normal prices in a remote village like Dease Lake. To our amazement, the food was good. Mala had a caesar salad with chicken, Malisha and I ordered pork schnitzel. They were surprisingly tasty. The host came and talked to Mala. She wanted to know what additional ingredient they used to get the strong flavour in the caesar salad dressing (that ‘special’ ingredient being lots of garlic). I told the host that Mala is a very good cook and knows a lot about food unlike me. In my case it is either good or bad. There is nothing in between. The host said she has vacancies for good cooks. This is a good opportunity for Mala to work in this lovely village when she retires from her present job (obviously joking with us). I would recommend this place as a place with tasty food. Pork schnitzel was in the range of twenty five dollars which is not overly expensive. They have their menu with all the prices clearly marked and you can select something cheaper if you have a limited budget.

We spent the night at the Northway Motor Inn. We have seen some good reviews and also some bad reviews about this hotel. This is the only place to stay in Dease Lake. There are small bed and breakfast places all along the way. If you want a good hotel to have a good sleep after a long drive this is the only place. The lady who is the host in charge of the Northway Motor Inn was very polite and helpful. She is more reserved and not volunteering to give information like Sharon at Smithers. We managed to ask questions and get some useful information about the area and eating places. The room was big enough with two queen beds. The toilet was clean. We also had a small TV set and free Wi Fi. There was no coffee machine in the room, but you can make your own coffee at the reception.
When we arrived at the hotel, there were only two or three vehicles and we thought the place was empty. The next morning when we got up, the place was full of vehicles.
The late comers have checked in and filled up the place. If you are not booking in advance, it is advisable to come early around 3:00PM and check in.
The following day, we were planning to travel 622 kilometres, and we needed to get up early and start early.

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Posted by fernando65 17:56 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

From Dease Lake to Whitehorse

July 08

We left Dease Lake just after 7:00AM. We had to cover 622 kilometres and also take breaks in between. Our plan was to find a good restaurant for breakfast on the highway. Starting from Dease Lake to the Alaska high way, our first stop was at Jade City. This is a very small village with a population of only 50 people. Jade city is famous for Jade stones. We stopped at the Cassiar Mountain Jade store and bought some souvenirs. Statues carved out of Jade are fairly expensive. The young lady who runs the business is initially from Prince George. We saw another Jade store on the other side of the road. It was the first Jade store in the area. The owners sold it and moved out. The owners of the Cassiar Mountain Jade Store bought it, but will not open it again. There is not enough business for two Jade Stores.

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Mala outside the Jade Store

We continued our journey along the Cassier highway, till we reached the junction falling on to the world famous Alaska highway. All the gas stations from Dease Lake up to the Alaska Highway were closed. Travellers should be aware of this fact and have enough petrol to reach this point. The Alaska highway junction is also known as the Junction 37. The gas station at Junction 37 was open and we filled up the vehicle with petrol. The restaurant next to the gas station is called 37 Junction services. This restaurant is run by two ladies. We had a full breakfast for the first time after leaving Vancouver. I ordered a three egg-omelette with wild mushroom, cheddar cheese, spring onion and hash brown. Mala and Malisha had eggs, hash and corned beef.

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Junction 37 Services Restaurant

From Cassier Highway, we turned left towards Whitehorse. The road signs clearly show the direction. But for some reason, the GPS device kept on asking us to go in the opposite direction. We ignored it and followed the signs.

The Alaska highway is in very good condition, the road marked with clear road signs. We expected the road to be busy, but there were hardly any vehicles. During the first hour, we passed less than twenty vehicles going in the opposite direction.

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Driving along Alaska Highway

After driving for about 30 minutes on the Alaska Highway, we saw a lighter colour bear on the side of the road for the first time. We stopped the car and spent a few minutes looking at the bear. He was not concerned about our presence and kept on scratching itself using his hind paws…he also had a large patch of fur rubbed off on the side of his body, possibly from scratching himself on the side of trees.

We passed the small villages Teslin, Johnson’s Crossing and Jake’s Corner before reaching Whitehorse. It was a long drive, but we were able to maintain a good speed throughout the journey. We arrived at Whitehorse around 4:00PM. The SKKY hotel which we booked well in advance, is on the Alaska highway, near the airport. Whitehorse town centre is about three kilometres from the hotel. We have three days in Whitehorse.

One reason is to take a long break after driving long distances each day. Second reason is to use Whitehorse as a base and do a one day trip to Skagway. Whitehorse is a big city with more than 24,000 people. While coming to Whitehorse, we crossed British Columbia and entered Yukon Territoy. Whitehorse is considered to be the capitol of Yukon Territory. The city adjoins the Yukon river on one side. It has all the services including several big shopping centres. The downtown Whitehorse has several good restaurants.

Dinner at Klondike Rib & Salmon BBQ:

We checked in at SKKY hotel and then went to the city centre for dinner. Malisha checked the Internet on her phone and found a good restaurant called Klondike Rib & Salmon BBQ. We went there hoping to have an early dinner, but the place was already full. There was a long waiting queue. The restaurant is in a very old building. It is supposed to be one of the two oldest buildings in Whitehorse. The owners have tried to keep that old look. The girls who serve food are also dressed in old fashioned country style clothes.

The tables are more like long benches and the three of us were given seats on six sitter bench where another couple were already seated. This restaurant specialises in serving wild animal meat. We decided to order new items which we have never tried before.
I ordered a Bison Rribeye steak (Bison looks like a big buffalo). Malisha ordered a
Wild Elk Stroganoff while Mala ordered a Reindeer Stew. The idea was to share the food among the three and each one to taste all three plates. I also ordered a jug of Yukon Gold beer to go with the food.

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Bison Ribeye Steak

The lady sitting next to me told us that they are new to this area and this is her first visit to this restaurant. They have come to Whitehorse as part of their cruise. Cruises come to the port city Skagway and from there they are taken to inner cities like Whitehorse in coaches. They are from Phoenix, Arizona in USA. They have been to Australia and New Zealand as tourists and have fond memories of both countries.
My Bison Steak was quite tasty, but I did not like the reindeer stew and the Wild Elk stroganoff. I felt they were overcooked and the meat too soft. Mala and Malisha liked their plates and enjoyed the food. Our visit to Skagway will be described in our next entry.

Posted by fernando65 19:38 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

Day tour to Skagway from Whitehorse

July 09

Skagway belongs to Alaska and we had to cross the border to get there. That means we had to go through US Immigration for the first time. Once we crossed over to US territory in Stewart while visiting Hyder, but there was no US Immigration office. This time we had to stop the vehicle and fill up the immigration forms and present our passports. Our finger prints and photos were taken. My last visit to USA was in 2005. I was given a 90 day visa and when I returned, at the exit point, this visa form should have been collected by the American immigration officer. It has not happened and the form was still attached to the passport. The lady Immigration officer explained that this means I have not left USA and illegally stayed in USA and if I had any proof that I had left USA in 2005. She was kind enough to admit that later entries in the passport prove I have left USA and visited other countries. She issued new US multiple entry visas to the three of us, but advised that we should request the Canadian Immigration to remove the new visas from the passports when we last leave USA.

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Cruise Ship

In Skagway, we spent some time looking around and visiting souvenir shops. We saw the starting point of the scenic railway. There were two cruise liners in the port. They were quite big. We found a small outdoor restaurant which serves Alaskan Salmon and Alaskan crab. Mala and Malisha ordered Alaskan crab. I am not a lover of crab meat. I ordered Alaskan Halibut and chips.

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Alaskan Crab

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Malisha and Mala sharing the plate of crab

Skagway is a very beautiful small town in Alaska on the path of the Alaskan Marine Highway. Unlike Juneau, Skagway is accessible from both land and sea. In summer the streets of this small town gets overcrowded with tourists. Most tourists join sea cruises and come via the Alaskan Marine Highway. There are two other routes to visit Skagway. One is the scenic train tour from Whitehorse to Skagway. The other is the South Klondike highway which falls on to Alaska Highway closer to Whitehorse. We decided to stay one extra day in Whitehorse and do a day tour to Skagway along South Klondike highway. From Whitehorse to Skagway the total distance is only 180 km and we knew we could do it under two hours.

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Monument in Skagway park

After making the trip to Skagway, we can say that no tour to Alaska is complete without visiting Skagway. Tourists will find the town attractive and flock into the souvenir shops. To me, it is not the town of Skagway, but the scenic road to Skagway that is more attractive. Some of the scenes on either side of the road are breathtaking. In summer, the rocky mountains on either side of the road are laced with long white snow patches due to snow filled crevices. We can only imagine what they would look like in winter. Some of the lakes by the side of the road are filled with rocky islands. They remind me of the paintings of Salvador Dali.

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Malisha and Bove island scenery

On our way back we briefly stopped at a couple of places. One is the Carcross desert. This is supposed to be the world’s smallest desert showing all the attributes of a true desert. The next is a hanging bridge over the Yukon river. We just stopped, but did not go across the hanging bridge to the other side. On our way to Skagway we stopped near Bove Island sign and took a couple of photos.

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Carcross desert

We came back to Whitehorse and had dinner in the town centre at a local Mexican restaurant. It was a small cosy restaurant bursting with Mexican decoration and colour. The food we ate was nice and filling. Mala had simple nachos with salsa and guacamole, Malisha had a burrito with beans and salad and I also had something very similar. After a very filling meal, we made our way back to the hotel to have a good nights rest.

Posted by fernando65 22:32 Archived in USA Comments (2)

From Whitehorse to Tok

July 11

We were in Whitehorse on July 8, 9 and 10. On the 10th, we decided to take a rest and explore the town centre and look at the attractions in the town. Whitehorse town is a beautiful city on the banks of the Yukon River. It is the capital of Yukon and the distribution centre to other smaller towns in the Yukon Territory. In summer, the streets of inner city are full of tourists.

The city centre has some old buildings. Most of the shopping malls and industrial buildings are scattered around the city. There is day light almost 20 hours a day. Day time temperature was about 20oC, but the wind chill made it seem like 10oC. We slept till late and later had our breakfast in a city bakery called Alpine Bakery which is well known for home baked organic bread. We asked for sandwiches. The owner of the Alpine Bakery made some great vegetarian sandwiches for us. She used hummus instead of butter. We loved the bread so much that we bought a loaf to take and then bought some salad and ham at the local shops to make sandwiches that night for dinner.

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Mala at Alpine Bakery

We left for Tok on the 11th morning. The distance from Whitehorse to Tok is 622 kilometres and we started early. Initially the road was very good, but as time went on, we started hitting bad patches. In some areas there was lose gravel and we had to slow down. We were being very careful and driving slowly. At one point we hit a bad patch which continued for nearly 10 kilometres. Then something very unfortunate happened. A bus going in the opposite direction was driving fast which caused a lose pebble to hit our windscreen. Our windscreen got a rock chip for the second time. This one was big and nasty and the web of crack marks around the chip mark was the size of a tennis ball. There was nothing we could do - We had to continue driving. We knew we will not find any wind screen repairing places till we reached Fairbank. Even if we repaired it, there could be more lose gravel causing new chips…it was therefore better to continue driving with this crack in the windscreen.

Our first stop for petrol was at Haines Junction. We topped up the petrol tank and stopped at the adjoining restaurant for coffee. Most of the gas stations have their own restaurant. There were two policemen in the restaurant and Mala talked to them. She told them about the rock chip that damaged the wind screen. They said this is a very common thing and there is nothing you can do to avoid it. We later saw many vehicles with similar wind screen damage.

Our next stop was at Beaver Creek for lunch. This is a small village and we have planned to spend one night there on our way back. We arrived at Tok around 4:00PM. Tok is a very small village with a population of m early 1500 people. We had a reservation for one night at a small mote called A Mooseberry Inn. This place looks more like a house, not like a hotel… it is run by a couple, Damon and Maggie. We booked this place on the Internet based on the Trip Advisor reviews. There was no one when we arrived there. There was a letter for us on the door. The letter asked us to use one of the rooms, called Moonberry room and make ourselves comfortable. We just went up and occupied the room. Our room was compact, but very nicely decorated. There was a big TV screen and a free Wi Fi network to connect our computers.
The place was like a home away from home. There was a cookie jar with tasty cookies and the fridge was full of fruit juices and drinks. We could take anything we wanted. We made our own coffee. Malisha made some tasty sandwiches for dinner using the bread we bought from the Alpine bakery. After a long drive, Mooseberry Inn was the best place for a good rest.

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Posted by fernando65 00:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

From Tok to Fairbanks

July 12

Fairbanks is a little over 300 kilometres from Tok. We knew we could take our own time and drive slowly. Damon and Maggie prepared a lovely breakfast for us. It was a home cooked meal consisting of an ommlette, a meat pattie and a bread-scone. We were chatting to them while having breakfast. They are very friendly and told us about the places of interest in the area.

We expected the road to be very busy. Once again there were very few vehicles on the road. Just before Delta Junction we saw the name board of Delta Meat and Sausage Company. This is one place we were planning to visit. We stopped at the Meat and Sausage Factory and tasted their sausage samples. They specialise in making ready to eat sausages using beef, pork, elk, reindeer etc. Their claim their beef is free of hormones, steroids and antibiotics. The fat content is supposed to be low and all the sausages are processed and packeted ready to use. They also sell Elk, Reindeer and Buffalo sausages. We bought several packets to be used on our way. Unfortunately we cannot bring them back to Australia.

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Our next stop was at Delta Junction. This junction is the official end of Alaska Highway. From there onwards, it becomes Richardson Highway. We stopped at the Delta Visitor centre. We bought three certificates that certify we have visited Alaska.
Richardson Highway turned into a dual carriage way when we were coming closer to Fairbanks.

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About 10 kilometres before Fairbanks, there is a village called North Pole. We know the true North Pole is way above Alaska but in this village there is a shop called Santa Claus House. They sell Christmas decorations throughout the year. In this village, all the streets are named to show some connection to Christmas. We stopped at this place and bought some Christmas decorations. There are some live Reindeers in a wire fenced area. There is a real Santa sitting in the shop and any one who goes there, poses with him and takes a picture. We followed the tradition and took some pictures.

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When we were closer to Fairbanks, we saw a place that undertakes glass repairs. We stopped the car and asked them whether it is possible to fix the windscreen glass. The mechanic looked at the damage and said it is not possible to repair it. The only solution is to replace the windscreen. We tried to call Avis from the repair shop, but there was no one to take our call. The mechanic said we can continue to use the car and get it fixed when we are ready to do so. Our plan is to use the car as it is and then
Get Avis to fix it when we come to a place closer to Vancouver or just hand over the car with the damaged windscreen. We paid additional money and took full insurance to cover all damages, when we took the car and our insurance should take care of this problem.

At Fairbanks, we booked into Holiday Inn Express. Fairbanks is a big city spread over a big area. The population of Fairbanks is more than 32,000 and is the second biggest city in Alaska. Holiday Inn Express is in an area where there are some big shopping centres. We found a good Thai Restaurant and had early dinner there.

Posted by fernando65 00:23 Archived in USA Comments (5)

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