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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)

Trip to Acrtic Circle from Fairbanks

July 13

During summer, you do not find snow anywhere other than on the mountain peaks. There is day light for almost twenty three hours a day. When we go to bed late at night around midnight there is still sun light. When we get up in the morning, there is already day light. We do not know when it becomes dark even for one hour. We have to completely close the window curtains fully to make the room dark before sleeping.

Mosquitoes are everywhere in summer and seem to come from all sides when you open the car door or windows. They are big, at least twice the size of normal mosquito in Australia. At the same time they fly slowly and you can catch them or kill them by quickly clapping your hands around them. We brought mosquito repellent with us but the best strategy is to keep the car windows closed all the time.

Today we travelled to the Arctic Circle. We have made arrangements to join a tour that takes people to Arctic Circle. The company is called All Alaska Tours. They take people in a coach and then bring them back either in the same coach or in a plane. We had to be at their office at 5:00AM. The tour guide was a very young man named Ryan Cunningham. He is still a final year University student, but he has experience in driving people to the Arctic Circle. Including the three of us, there were six people in all doing the trip including the guide. The other two, a father and a daughter from Washington joined the group. We went through the formalities of checking things and getting an introduction to the trip. The first thing I noticed was that the windscreen of the coach had a crack line from one end to the other end. This is something very common in Alaska. Ryan told me that it was either due to a rock chip or a result of falling into a ditch.

Our journey started from Fairbanks and after passing several towns on the freeway, fell on to a road that is rugged and unsealed. I sat on the front seat next to the driver to get a good view. We were lucky enough to see two moose, one porcupine and a ground squirrel. We had to drive slowly due to the bad condition of the road. Ryan was a very skilful driver and from time to time, he explained places and things we passed on our way. He told us about gold prospecting in the early era and the methods they employed to extract gold. There are some gold mines which are still operating.

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First stop

We had our first stop in a place that had a small shop. The shop is run by a person and his family. He came there from Minnesota and decided to stay back in Alaska. The second stop was near the Alaskan oil pipes where we could have a good look at the pipes.

The Trans Alaskan Oil pipes are considered an engineering marvel. In 1970 the Trans Alaskan Oil pipes were built to transport oil from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to the port of Valdez on the Gulf of Alaska. The total length the pipe line stretches across is approximately 800 miles and the pipe line is mounted on more than 78000 posts across the whole length. Additionally there are 12 pumping stations along the pipe line.

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Near Alaska Oil Pipes

Alaska is subjected to wide temperature variations. In winter the temperature can go down to -50F and in summer can go up to 90F. The pipe line should be able to tolerate expansions and contractions due to temperature differences. Secondly the pipe line goes through an area that is prone to earthquakes. In fact in 2002 there was an earth quake of magnitude 7.9. To be able to withstand these earthquakes and temperature differences. The pipe line is supported on Teflon shoes that are free to slide on long horizontal steel beams.

The third stop was at Finger Mountain. The name comes from a rock that looks like an index finger pointing upwards. It's also a beautiful area to walk up to and area the board they have that illustrate the different animals and plants that are found around this area. It was the first time we experience a cold and windy moment whilst on our trip.

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Picture of finger mountain

Another issue that had to be addressed was the effect of permafrost on the mountings. To overcome that, the mounts were buried deep into permafrost filled ground. Permafrost is the thick subsurface layer of soil, rock and organic material that is completely frozen. Permafrost is the main reason why the highways get easily damaged. Alaska Highway and many other highways need to be constantly maintained and upgraded. This brings us to our fourth stop. We stopped at an area where Ryan dug a hole into the dirt ground (a bit more than a foot into the dirt) until he hit the permafrost and allowed each guest to put their hand through and touch the solid permafrost. It was a great experience and we were all extremely surprised at how rock hard and cold it was. Whilst walking back to the van we came across very small bushes that held wild blueberries. I and Malisha had a few tiny blueberries and they were nice and slightly tart.

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Ryan digging for Permafrost

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Explanation of Permafrost (from Visitor Centre)

The world famous Dalton Highway was built along the oil pipe line to initially build and maintain the oil pipe line. It was later made open to public. We were travelling along this Dalton highway to cross the Arctic Circle. We arrived at the Arctic Circle. There is a name board near the road to show the line of Arctic Circle. We stopped at this point and took photos while stepping over the Arctic Circle. We received certificates to show we have crossed the Arctic Circle.

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Crossing the Arctic Circle

We drove further to a Coldfoot. There is a restaurant and a visitor centre at this place. We spent about 30 minutes looking at things and having coffee and then it was time for us to come back. Ryan's job was over and he was going to stay there for the night and travel back to Fairbank with another group. Coldfoot is an interesting name and came from prospectors travelling to mining areas, but due to the unbearable and long winter months, they turned around went back to where they came from because they got 'cold feet'.

He handed us to the pilot who was flying us back to Fairbanks. It is strange, but the pilot was a Queenslander from Australia. He came to Alaska more than five years ago. He introduced himself and took us to his plane. It was a small plane with two engines capable of taking ten people. There was a Japanese couple who had come the previous day and were going back with us. We had a total of eight people including the pilot.

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Plane used for the return trip

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Inside the plane

The plane ride was a different experience. I was sitting right behind the pilot. We had a birds eye of the mighty Yukon River and the Alaskan oil pipes. We saw several small villages which are away from the main roads. Some of them had very small populations. Some of them came into existence mainly due to gold prospecting. We could also see large areas filled with beautiful purple patches. These are flowers known as Fireweed. These flowers are special because the direction in which they bloom can determine the difference between summer and winter. We also saw large areas of fireweed whilst on our drive. All in all, the plane trip was very smooth and we landed safely in Fairbanks in one hour.

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Fireweed Patches

Posted by fernando65 00:09 Archived in USA Comments (4)

From Fairbanks to Anchorage via Denali Park

July 14

We left Fairbanks in the morning. Holiday Inn Express is a big hotel with better facilities than most of the smaller hotels we stayed on our way. We had a good breakfast at the hotel before checking out. Fairbanks had a Farmers Market where they sold fruit, vegetables, crafts, food etc. We bought a few small items, but nothing that we could bring back to Australia. Our next destination was Denali Park. We had planned to spend one night at Denali River Cabins. The Georges Park Highway is the main road, connecting Fairbanks and Anchorage. Denali Park is on the way to Anchorage.

We passed many rivers and streams on our way and found many people stopping their vehicles and fishing on those rivers. Fishing in these streams and rivers is a big past time for many tourists. This is the Salmon season and if they are lucky they can catch Salmon, rainbow trout or other fresh water fish common in these rivers. Salmon is a salt water fish normally living in the ocean. In July and August they start swimming upstream in these Alaskan rivers ready to spawn. There are several places and observation posts along the rivers where you can see bears feeding on these Salmon.
There are many tourists who come to Alaska specially to see this spectacular event. Unfortunately we were unable to see any bears in the river.

On our way, we saw a Jerky seller on the road and stopped the vehicle. He was selling Beef and Salmon Jerky in different spices and flavours from his caravan. He offered samples for us to taste. We bought a beef Jerky packet and a Salmon Jerky packet. He said he is from Homer.

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Beef Jerky Seller

We were in no hurry and moving slowly. We then stopped at Healy, a small village, and had lunch in a small restaurant. We stopped at another shop where they had a Polar Bear killed in 1969 by Tom Hudson on March 18, 1969.

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World record size Polar Bear killed in 1969

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Souvenir Shop on the Georges Park highway

The shear size of the bear shows how big they can grow. It was more than nine feet long and supposed to be a world record at that time.

Denali Park is world famous for its unique wild life and the Mckinley Mountain which is the highest mountain in North America. On a clear day, you can see the mountain peak from the road. When we were passing the area the whole mountain range was covered by thick mist.

The Georges Park Highway is in very good condition. The address to our hotel was given as Mile 231.1 on the Georges Park Highway. I was not sure what that meant and how we could locate the hotel. We found the road has mile posts to show the distance from Anchorage. We only had to look at the mile posts on the road and after passing mile post 232, we found our hotel by the side of the road, just before the mile post 231. Our hotel was built as a group of cabins near the Nanana River. Our cabin was facing the river and we could walk to the river from our cabin. The river is not very deep, but water is moving very fast.

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Malisha Near Nanana River

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Mala and Andrew relaxing near Denali Cabins

We had only one night in this hotel. It would have been great if we had the time to make a trip to the Denali Park to see wild life and have a closer look at the Mckinley mountain peak. We can drive our own car only fifteen miles into the Denali Park. There are coach tours who can take tourists beyond this point. These tours take ten or more hours to do the round trip. We decided to keep this for a future trip to Alaska.

When we checked in at the hotel, we found the lady at the reception is an Australian who came to Alaska in 1975 when she was very young. So far we have met two Australians who have made their home in Alaska.

We left the hotel next morning and resumed our journey towards Anchorage. We are planning to spend three nights in Anchorage.

Posted by fernando65 00:48 Archived in USA Comments (3)

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