Category Archives: Alaska trip

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

I’ve been doing this on Facebook, but it did occur to me that it might be fun to post these photos on my blog, too.  I’ve been participating in a challenge, to post one nature photo each day, which gave me the idea to go back in my archives, so to speak, and pull some of my older photos.  The quality’s not so great because anything before 2005, when I bought my first digital camera, is a scanned film photo.   But the memories are fun.

The photo above is Mendenhall Glacier, just outside of Juneau, Alaska, from my trip on the ferry up the Inside Passage and back in June of 1995.

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 45

Fullerton, California

Monday, July 30, 1973

HOME!!!”  Which is all that my diary says for that day.  And plenty.

Just out of curiosity, I put our itinerary into Google maps’ directions screen, and discovered that in 45 days, we went roughly 7600 miles, not counting side trips or out-and-backs.  That equals roughly 180 miles a day.  Which really doesn’t sound like much, until you think about it being the equivalent of 180 miles every single day for 45 days.

When I was forty years old, I made what I still refer to as my Long Trip (uppercase intentional).  I drove over 14,000 miles by myself in a little under three months.  I went from here near Seattle across the top of the U.S. to Vermont, down the east coast to Florida, then across the South and Southwest to California, where I rolled my car in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  I then managed to make my way to my sister’s home in the Bay Area and flew home from there.  A year ago I blogged that journey day by day.  Like our Alaska trip, this was another journey from which I still date events in my life.  It was one of the best things I ever did.  The really funny thing is, I drove an average of almost exactly 180 miles a day on that trip, too.  And I thought I was being leisurely about it.

I am hoping to make another Long Trip in a year or two, if I can afford the gas and figure out what to do with my two cats for the duration (for my last long trip, the pair I had at the time went to stay with a friend, but I don’t want to impose on her twice).  This time I want to drive across the middle of the U.S. and come back across Canada.  If I do, I hope to blog it in realtime, or as close as I can manage given where and when I can find wifi.

Anyway, for all of you who stuck with me through forty-five days of driving to Alaska and back, I hope you’ll stick around to see where I’m going in the future.

And I hope you will want to check out my novels:

Repeating History is the first of my Yellowstone stories, and is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes.  It is about a young man, Chuck McManis, who, by virtue of being in absolutely the wrong place at the wrong time, is flung back in time from 1959 to 1877 in Yellowstone National Park, straight into the middle of an Indian war — the flight of the Nez Perce to Canada, pursued by the U.S. Army — and into his own family’s past.

True Gold  is the second in this series, and picks the story up in the next generation.  It is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.  It is the story of Karin Myre, a Norwegian immigrant teenager living in Seattle, who decides to escape a future of too much drudgery and no choices by running off to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897.  Stowing away on one of the many overcrowded ships bound north, she finds herself trapped in the cargo hold with a crowd of second thoughts.  But her rescue from the captain and a fate worse than death by a determined young prospector from Wyoming and his photographer partner is only the beginning of her search for a future of her own making.

The third novel, tentatively titled Finding Home, picks up the story of the widowed father Chuck left behind in Repeating History, his search for his lost son, and what that search reveals to him about his own murky past.  It will be available for purchase in the spring of 2013.

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 44

Stockton, California

Sunday, July 29, 1973

“We drove 512 miles today.  We left around 7 am and drove till 6 pm.  We went through Roseburg, Grants Pass, Medford, Weed, Redding, Red Bluff, and Sacramento.  I am tired.”

And that was the second-to-last day of our trip, according to my entire diary entry for the day.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 43

just south of Eugene, Oregon

Saturday, July 28, 1973

From British Columbia to about halfway through Oregon.  We drove south through Hope, BC, then crossed the border for the sixth and last time back into the U.S., into Washington state, where we picked up I-5 and simply booked.  Through Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, and Salem.  463 miles, according to Google Maps.

We stopped at a KOA campground, our first of the trip, as I noted in my diary.  When we visited parts of the continent less remote than Alaska and the Yukon, KOA campgrounds were something we looked for about every third night.  They’re sort of the Motel 6s of campgrounds, or they were back then.  Dependable but not fancy, with the same hookups and facilities from campground to campground.  In the days before we had the trailer with its own bathroom, we always counted on KOAs for showers and that sort of thing, too.

Little did I know when we spent the night near Eugene, that when I was in my twenties I’d end up living there for several years.  Not in the campground, of course, but in Eugene.  It sits at the head of the Willamette Valley, nestled in the evergreens with mountains ringing it in every direction but north.  At the time I lived there, just after the height of the spotted owl controversy in the mid-80s, it was sort of the hippie equivalent of the elephant’s graveyard.  Also sort of like the Island of Lost Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  If you didn’t fit in anywhere else, you’d be fine in Eugene.  I really loved Eugene.  I’d probably still be there if it weren’t for a set of circumstances too convoluted to be described here, although it’s not the same place it was back then.

It was hot when we got there.  Fortunately, the campground had a swimming pool, which I enjoyed that evening.  Also fortunately, the electric hookup allowed us to run the trailer’s air conditioning.  We went to bed early to get an early start the next day and ran it all night long.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 42

Yolo, British Columbia

Friday, July 26, 1973

Now it was just a race against time to get back home before my father’s vacation days ended, so we spent the day making miles.  We drove a bit over 400 miles on this day, through Prince George, Quesnel, Williams Lake, and Cache Creek, to just a few miles north of the U.S. border.

We hit hot weather for the first time since we’d left California six weeks earlier, and stopped at a campground next to a creek where I went ‘swimming’ (I doubt it was deep enough to do more than wade), also for the first time on the trip, to cool off.

And we went to bed early, with all the windows open to catch a breeze, so we could get an early start the next morning.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 41

forty miles east of Prince George, British Columbia

Thursday, July 25, 1973

We left Alaska for the last time sometime in the wee hours, and drove off the ferry in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, at seven in the morning.  Except for a stop along the way to buy groceries at a supermarket which was having a sale on fresh fruit, my father drove all day long, almost 500 miles.  I slept all morning in the back seat of the car, and my mother slept there all afternoon.

I’m not quite sure how my father stayed awake to drive that far on so little sleep, but he did.  It wouldn’t have been the first time he’d done something like that.  When we went to Louisiana a few years before, my three older sisters were still living at home, and it was the first time my parents had left them home alone for any length of time.  My oldest sister was in college at the time, and my other two sisters were almost out of high school.  Anyway, while we were in Louisiana, my sisters called my grandmother’s house to report a peeping tom.

We promptly climbed in the car and headed for home.  The first day we drove from northern Louisiana to El Paso, Texas (about 950 miles).  The second day we were going to spend the night just outside of Phoenix (~500 miles from El Paso) , but my father decided to keep going.  We finally arrived home in suburban Los Angeles in the wee hours of the morning, after over 800 miles and what my mother refers to as “our midnight ride through Palm Springs,” due to a closure of the Interstate because of a sandstorm and a rather out-of-the-way detour.  I don’t remember it because I was asleep in the back seat at the time.

The peeping tom turned out to be our next-door neighbor’s mentally disabled son, but nothing worse.

At any rate, my father managed this day’s drive to a campground forty miles east of Prince George, and, as my diary says, “we are sleepy.”  I do remember it, it was quiet and wooded and we were just about the only people camped there.  A perfect place to catch up on one’s rest.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 40

aboard the MV Taku, on the Alaska Marine Highway on our way to Prince Rupert, BC

Wednesday, July 25, 1973

Our only full day on the ferry was spent going from town to town.  First the ferry stopped at Juneau, “early this morning, so early that the street lights were still on.”  In 1995, I spent three days exploring Juneau.  Here’s a picture I took on that trip:

Juneau, from Douglas Island, in 1995

We arrived in Petersburg about 1 pm, and Wrangell late in the afternoon.  I’ve not been back to them.  We didn’t go to Sitka.  Not all of the ferries do.  When I went to Sitka as part of my 1995 trip, I took what I thought of as the “milk run” ferry, a smaller vessel from Juneau, which sailed in the morning and stopped at several small settlements along the way — Hoonah, which was a Native village, Tenakee Springs, which was sort of counter-cultural and didn’t allow cars, and Angoon, another Native village — before arriving at Sitka at about four in the morning the next day.

The settlement of Tenakee Springs — classic SE Alaska.

We got to Ketchikan around 11:30 pm, and as my diary says, “I don’t remember Ketchkan very well.”  I do from my 1995 trip, however, because I spent several days there going through the totem pole park and visiting Creek Street, which is so named because it is basically a series of walkways directly over a creek, with buildings on stilts on either side that used to be brothels until the 1950s, and are now touristy shops, one of which was where the woman told me Ketchikan was fine as long a you could get off the rock.  Here’s a picture of Creek Street, and one of Ketchikan’s waterfront from 1995:

Part of Creek Street in Ketchikan
Ketchikan’s waterfront.

And that was our whole day on the ferry.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 39

aboard the MV Taku, on the Alaska Marine Highway between Haines and Juneau, Alaska

Tuesday, July 24, 1973

“On the ferry, headed for home.”  Which sounds rather like we were all glad to be on our way.  As my diary says, “we didn’t do a thing all day except wait for the ferry,” which didn’t leave until 10 pm.

I don’t think I was terribly impressed with the ferry, even though the ships of the Alaska Marine Highway are large, almost cruise-ship-sized vessels, and on my 1995 trip, I rather enjoyed riding on them.  On that trip, however, it was just me, I was prepared to camp on board (which we decidedly were not in 1973), and I got off the ferry and spent several days in three different places along the way instead of staying on for a straight shot through.

The MV Taku, the ship we rode on from Haines to Prince Rupert.

The real problem is that there are far fewer staterooms than there is room for passengers, and if you think getting reservations for our car and trailer was hard, getting a room was impossible.  You’re not allowed on the car deck while the ship is underway, so sleeping in the trailer, which otherwise would have solved the problem easily, was right out.

It only takes a bit less than 30 hours to sail from Haines to Prince Rupert, but because of the schedule, we had to spend two nights on board.  We moved from the observation lounge to the outdoor deck in back, and back.  As I recall, I got the most sleep of the three of us, and I remember getting about five hours total for both nights.  A story my mother still tells about being awake all night on the ferry was how foggy it was in the wee hours, and how she heard someone on the loudspeaker ask in a whisper that carried all over the ship (obviously whoever it was hadn’t realized the speaker was on), “Where are we?”  Not terribly reassuring [g].

Still, the ferry was an adventure — the only other time I can remember riding one before this was going from the town of Tsawassen, near Vancouver, BC, to Vancouver Island, then from Victoria, BC, to Port Angeles, Washington, on a trip we’d taken several years before.  When I made my Alaska ferry trip in 1995, one of the best parts of the trip was seeing what we’d missed on this trip in 1973.  It was something I’d always wanted to do, get off and explore those little towns we’d stopped in just long enough to whet my curiosity because we couldn’t get off and see what was really there.

Now I’d like to go back again someday and see everything again in terms of what Karin saw.  Except, of course, that she made most of the trip stuck in the hold of a grungy old steamer…

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 38

Haines, Alaska

Monday, July 23, 1973

On our last full day in Haines, we went shopping in the morning.  My father bought a foot-tall sticker of a totem pole to put on the trailer, to add to one of a Dall sheep that he’d apparently bought earlier in the trip.

In the afternoon, we took the ferry to Skagway.  The trip takes an hour, according to the Alaska Marine Highway website, and at the time, the ferry and the railroad were the only way you could get to Skagway, back in the days before the highway to Whitehorse was built and there were so many, many cruise ships the way there is now.  But it was still two more ways than you could get to Skagway back in True Gold‘s heroine Karin’s day.  During the Klondike gold rush, the only way you could get to either Skagway or Dyea was by boat, and not the clean modern ferries that make the run today, either.

Skagway, Alaska, as Karin would have seen it in 1897.


And Skagway, Alaska, today

Karin arrived in Dyea, which is just across the head of Lynn Canal from Skaguay, as it was spelled back then for a Tlingit word meaning home of the north wind, in August of 1897.  She spent over two months there before heading north over the famed and snowcovered Chilkoot Pass, where she spent a long cold winter on Lake Bennett with several thousand other people, building boats and waiting for the ice to break up on the long chain of lakes and rivers feeding into the great Yukon River leading to Dawson City and the Klondike.

We, on the other hand, spent our afternoon poking around the town, population 900 at the time, visiting a museum, and  seeing the infamous con man and city boss Soapy Smith’s grave.  The Klondike National Historic Park, another unit of which is in Seattle, did not exist yet in 1973.   We did some more shopping, too.  My mother bought a set of cufflinks, and I bought my last souvenir of the trip, another set of miniature bone china Dall sheep to add to my collection:

Which I promptly dropped on the seat belt buckle in the Chrysler’s back seat when we got back to Haines.  Which broke the hind leg off of the papa sheep.

Bone china Dall sheep from Skagway.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 37

Haines, Alaska

Sunday, July 22, 1973

Our second day in Haines, we discovered what it’s like to explore roads that just peter out and end.

I’ve never lived on an island, or anywhere else that isn’t connected by road to the wider world.  When I went to Alaska in 1995, one of the things that really disconcerted me when I rented a car in Juneau (it was the only way at the time to get out to Mendenhall Glacier without hiking for miles since the bus didn’t go that far — I’m not sure why I didn’t just take a taxi because I know there are taxis in Juneau) was that all the roads out of town just ended.  All four of them.  Not at any sort of destination or anything.  The pavement would go for a few miles and peter out into gravel, which gradually changed over to dirt and then just stopped, out in the middle of nowhere.  It was extremely disconcerting.

I remember in Ketchikan, too, asking a lady in one of the shops along Creek Street how she liked living there.  Her response burned into my brain:  “Oh, it’s okay as long as you can get off the rock once in a while.”  It was right then that I realized I could never, ever live in a place I couldn’t just drive away from.  Ferries are all well and good, but they’re expensive and require reservations and run on their own schedule, not mine.  I need to know I can get away when and as often as I need to.

Anyway, except for the Haines Highway that we’d come in on, all the roads in Haines did that, too.  Just petered out.  Ended at nowhere.  All the roads in all of the panhandle of Southeast Alaska still do that, except for the White Pass Highway out of Skagway and the Haines Highway.

In the morning of this day we drove on the Lutak Road out past the ferry terminal where the pavement ended, and on to Chilkoot Lake.

Chilkoot Lake

My diary says it was very pretty, and this picture bears that out.

On our way back from the lake, we stopped at a place where the road fords the river, and my father rinsed the car off.  I suspect it needed it pretty badly by that point.

We also stopped at the ferry terminal and made walk-on reservations to go to Skagway for the day the next day.

In the afternoon, we drove out the Mud Bay Road, which my diary says wasn’t so great, but not why.  But possibly because it started to rain yet again.  We went back to the trailer after that and played more cards.

Oh, and this day was my mother’s birthday.  My diary says that we would celebrate it after we got home.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords