Tag Archives: Alaska

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

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 36

Haines, Alaska

Saturday, July 21, 1973

On this day we drove back into Alaska for the last time, not north or west, but south from Yukon Territory into the panhandle.

It was still wet, but at least we were off the gravel for the last time.  Although, as my diary says, “the pavement was worse than the gravel.”  I’m presuming because of more permafrost heaves.  One thing about the Alaska Highway, it was very well maintained.  Which basically meant that they were maintaining it all the time.  Or so it seemed, mainly because there’s only a window of a few months in the summertime when they can maintain it.  The rest of the time it’s covered with snow and frozen solid.  The roads in Yellowstone National Park have the same problem, with the road construction and tourist seasons being almost identical.

Haines was where we caught the ferry south, but it wouldn’t be our turn to sail south until the 24th, so we spent three nights in Haines.

We spent our first afternoon there at a performance of the Chilkat Dancers, a group of Tlingit native children (my diary says the youngest was about eight or nine, and the oldest about nineteen — I don’t know if I was guessing or if I was told that or read it in a program).  They don’t appear to have a website — I hope the organization still puts on performances.

A Tlingit dancing troupe from my visit to the Alaska Panhandle in 1995, in Sitka.

I remember enjoying both performances that I saw.  And being quite amazed at the beautiful costumes and the talent being displayed.  And the stories that were told.  There was a Northern Exposure episode one year, that told the Winter Solstice story from the Native American point of view, that also featured a performance like these.  I liked Northern Exposure just on general principles, but also because the writers did things like that.

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 33

Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory

Wednesday, July 18, 1973

The morning after our last night in mainland Alaska (but not in Alaska altogether) began with sourdough pancakes.  This must have been the fanciest campground we stayed in on this trip, because it had a breakfast room as part of the facilities, which specialized in sourdough pancakes.

Sourdough, as the term is used in Alaska, has two meanings.  One of them is the stuff used in place of packaged yeast to make baked goods of all kinds rise.  The most common baked goods made with sourdough in Alaska and the Yukon Territory are pancakes, or flapjacks, or hotcakes, or whatever you call them in your part of the world.  They were a staple food for miners in the area’s many gold rushes, from Juneau to the Klondike to Nome to Fairbanks.

The other meaning of the term is someone who has lived in the North through at least one winter.  As opposed to the term cheechako, which is an Indian term, and used to mean roughly “a newcomer.”  Getting called a sourdough is a term of approbation in the North.

And now’s probably a good time to talk about moosequitos, too.  We saw a lot of moosequitos while we were in Alaska.  Mostly in gift shops.  Apparently my google-image-fu is failing me, but no, a moosequito is not just a misspelled mosquito.  A moosequito is a piece of moose dung, dried and varnished, then gussied up with pipe cleaners and googly eyes to look like a mosquito.  They’re not just a gag gift, though.  They’re a nod to the fact that Alaska and the Yukon have enormous mosquitoes.  Ubiquitous, too, yes, but the biggest ones I’d ever seen.  And they apparently thought of bug repellent as some sort of interesting sauce.  If there’s one thing I really, honestly did not like about our trip to Alaska, it was the mosquitoes.

After our breakfast, which I for one was pretty impressed with, we drove on into Tok and turned east on the Alaska Hi-way again, for the first time since Fairbanks way back on Day 12.  We crossed the border back into Yukon Territory, and the skies opened up on us and turned the gravel road into a sea of mud, and coated our trailer clear up to the windows.

We stopped that afternoon at the Kluane Historical Society Museum, which either no longer exists or doesn’t have a website.  I wasn’t very impressed with it, which is the first time I said anything like that about a museum on this trip.

Then we stopped for the night at Kluane Lake Campground, the same campground we’d stayed in on Day 10, where I met a boy fishing along the shore.  “We had a couple of arguments.”  I wonder what about?

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 32

Sourdough Campground, Tok, Alaska

Tuesday, July 17, 1973

This was another let’s-drive-partway-down-a-road-and-back day.  The main roads in Alaska (which really only cover about a third of the southeastern part of the main part of the state) create sort of a lopsided triangle, with Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Tok Junction (see Day 11) at the points.  Two more roads cross the triangle, one from north to south about 100 miles west of Tok, which continues on to the south to Valdez, and one west from the middle of that highway to Denali National Park, which is not quite equidistant between Fairbanks and Anchorage on the westernmost leg.

Our campground the previous night was near the junction of those last two roads, so that morning we drove west from the junction to where, as I wrote, the pavement ran out.  Which at the time I think wasn’t more than fifty miles in.  This day was also the first, last, and only time I mention the frost heaves that make paved roads in Alaska such an adventure.  When roads are paved over permafrost, which melts and refreezes every year at the surface, it causes the asphalt to bow and buckle, and the result is a journey that’s almost as much up and down as it is horizontal.  Wikipedia has a more scientific explanation.  All I remember is that “the road makes you seasick.”

Frost heaves on the Tok Cutoff road.

After we turned around at the end of the pavement, we backtracked to the Tok Cutoff road and headed on to Tok, where we spent our last night in mainland Alaska at a much better campground than the one we’d stayed at the last time we were there.

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 31

just north of Paxson, Alaska

Monday, July 16, 1973

Maybe it was because the day’s trip was almost entirely backtracking that I had so little to say.  Or maybe I was just plain grumpy.

Here is my entry for the day, in its entirety:

“We left kind of late this morning.  We went north towards Paxson.  We are a little north of Paxson.  This is not the best campground we have been to.  In fact, it is one of the worst.  We have electric hookups.  We fished some, no luck.  It is pretty here.”

So much for Monday, July 16th!

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 30

Valdez, Alaska

Sunday, July 15, 1973

We’d been on our trip for one month as of this day.

A short drive today, the sixty-five miles on into Valdez (Val-DEEZ, although I wanted to pronounce it Val-DES, as I recall).  We drove through both a tunnel drippy enough to require the use of the windshield wipers while traversing it, and over a bridge to get there. Valdez is yet another beautifully-located coastal town, this one on the shores of Prince William Sound, a name which became familiar to the world in the worst possible way, being the location of the Exxon-Valdez spill, one of the worst ecological disasters in history.

An aerial view of Valdez.

The main thing I remember about Valdez, which would later become the southern terminus of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, is the huge piles of metal pipe stacked everywhere, awaiting government approval for the pipeline’s construction later that year.  The pipes were bigger in diameter than I was tall, as I recall, and pyramidal stacks of them were all over the place.

Alaska pipeline pipe.

Our afternoon was spent exploring Valdez, and going to a slide program at the city’s information center.  I don’t remember what the slide show was about, nor do I mention its subject in my diary.  I suspect it was either about the 1964 earthquake, which hit very hard in Valdez as it did everywhere else along the south coast of mainland Alaska, or about the proposed pipeline.  Or it could have been about both, I suppose.

And we did do some more fishing, so I was wrong about our last time fishing on the trip being on the Kenai Peninsula.  I know we didn’t catch anything, though.

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