Along the Cassiar Highway

July 29-30

Back to Whitehorse, Watson Lake on to Boya Lake.

The distance from Whitehorse to Watson Lake is about 300 miles. We wanted to cross the Alaska/Canadian border and head South on to the Cassiar Highway, which was touted as picturesque with better road conditions.

Watson Lake is a nice place to pass through quickly, but since we really needed some exercise after all of that back and forth business, and we didn’t want to spend the night at Watson again.

Wye Lake @ Watson Lake. finally some blue skies

I recalled from our last stay that Wye Lake had a walking path around it.  The town had established an hour walk with interpretive signs along the way explaining vegetation, birds and 14 kinds of Dragonflies that inhabit the small lake.  This was a perfect interlude for our tedious drive.  Most of the wildflowers we saw two months ago are gone, replaced by the berries of different shades of oranges and reds, hints of the coming autumn.

wye Lake

Probably a weed but so pretty. Cassier Hwy

At Wye Lake

Energized and with about 50 more miles to go, we began traveling the Cassiar Highway.  For the first 40 miles, on both sides of the highway all we could see was burnt forests. Although the “Milepost” was only a year old, it made no mention of fire damage we were seeing, we questioned whether it was wise choosing this road but there were only two choices; take the loop like we had planned or back track the way we came.  On this road, there were very few numbered mileposts to indicate where we actually were on the map, there were only small signs posted indicating the names of creeks, bridges and small lakes.  Since this highway is less traveled the condition was better than the previous 300 miles today. However, it was scary driving mile after mile with nothing but charcoal stumps covering the hills and we could only imagine what this dot on the map, we had chosen to camp at must look like. But, at the 50 mile point there was a well-positioned sign indicating Boya Lake.

Birch forest at Boya Lake Provincial Campground

Boya Lake, Cassiar Hwy

Entering the area the green birch forest appeared seemingly out of nowhere, then as we approached and and saw the lake it was jaw dropping, we were back in Canada the land of Aqua/Jade Blue Lakes! Having seen very few vehicles on the highway we thought we might have the camp to ourselves but to our surprise, the campground was nearly full.  Most of the lakeside sites were taken but we found a nice location and settled in, relieved that our choice was the ultimately right one.

campsite at Boya

Since the days in Canada are still very long it was close to 11:00 pm before the sun set as the jade green lake turned into this reflective silver mirror.

Boya Lake at 11:00p.m.

Boya Lake, which was actually quite large, had two easy hikes encircling the shoreline and it was absolute bliss being here.

Beaver Post at Boya Lake

Beaver Dam

At the paths end we found a beaver dam with evidence of posts those beavers had left behind.

Mocha splashed around the shore and I took photos of the remnants of wild flowers.

We leave tomorrow Tue. July 31st for Dease Lake and Iskut.


Homeward bound

From Sheep Mountain,  the next morning, we travel back to Tok with a detour to Chicken because Bill was not going to say “we made it all the way through Alaska without proof that he had conquered the top of the world highway and visited downtown Chicken.”  Calculate $300.00 for a tee shirt! By the time you figure in gas and meal!  Nuts…. We are categorically nuts, but we did it anyway, and one day we will even laugh about it.  This 140 mile side trip would never have happened had I checked out the gift shop or saloon in Chicken before leaving the first time, If only I were a shopper.  ARRRRRR.

Even the can at Chicken has humor.

It is Monday July 23, in Tok, Alaska. We found the municipal campground that we had passed up the first time, which was deserted by the time we returned from Chicken that evening. The place was screaming with starving mosquitos! Since it was too late to look for another camp we just locked ourselves in, dosed ourselves with repellant and made the best of it.

Lately, the mile markers were becoming more and more difficult to read.  After calculating the amount of time before we might make it back home, it was clear that I was due for a treatment.  Too bad I hadn’t thought of this a day or so sooner, but we were on a mission now to get home.  I must say, the one positive factor Tok had to offer was cell service.  Otherwise we would not have stopped there.

On Tuesday the 24th, after talking with family, and my own doctor, we were able to negotiate an appointment with a specialist in Anchorage on Thursday the 26th, which was an amazing feat in itself. Imagine in all of Alaska, Anchorage is the only retinal center! I can see why bush pilots flourish here.

Through all this drama, Bill has been very supportive. So, we pack up and head back to Anchorage again over the dreaded Tok Junction and Glenn Highways where 50 kmph is the maximum speed one can manage on the unpaved, bumpy, gravel, frost heaved, sorry two lane road. 7 hours and over 300 miles later, not your average Sunday afternoon “let’s take a drive, honey” activity, we found a spot at the local Anchorage municipal park which seemed a better choice than staying 2 nights at the RV park alternative, listed in the milepost as a gravel campsite parking lot of 200+ spaces, just walking distance from Costo, Walmart and the railroad tracks.

Everyone who knows me knows how much I hate to shop but hardware stores and now RV supplies stores are a different story.  Since we had a whole day to kill, we timed the drive to the Doctors office then found the one RV supply store in town and spent a few hours there sharing horror stories and joking about them and comparing our various mishaps. Ours seemed to be right in line with other RV’ers.

The appointment and treatment went without a hitch and we hit the road immediately thereafter.

In the Matanuska Valley a farming community, where people from Anchorage come for fresh produce about 42 miles east of Anchorage is Palmer.  This is moose and Caribou country but we still have not spotted any. Wildlife spotting in Alaska? Ha! We have only seen the pictures. We found at a sweet little campground called Matanuska Park, a combination, day camp, sports field, RV park, that shared acres of freshly mowed lawn with the cemetery next door. Sounds morbid but it was really quaint. Actually, it was a nice way to leave Anchorage, this time for good.

The road didn’t get any easier and three days of back-to-back serious road hauling, it was rough, I was feeling pretty stupid and guilty and Bill began showing signs of stress. This time however, we pass up Tok and spend the night at the first RV stop past the Canadian Border called Beaver Creek.  It was a dusty hard road back but we made it.

Fortunately I made reservations the next night a Saturday, at Mountain High RV Park in Whitehorse, Canada, the same place where we had stayed for almost a week waiting for the “Murphy RV” to be repaired.  It is high season in Alaska/Canada now and reservations are necessary.  We had a nice meal at the Klondike BBQ and Salmon Joint and I ordered a big fresh spinach salad and Halibut Chowder – followers can’t possibly care about this trivia, but remember all this journaling is new to me and helps me remember the details.

something hiding in the weeds

Sunday morning we are headed toward Watson Lake, where I was able to catch up on previous weeks notes utilizing the 12v inverter gadget for my computer. Once we have wifi again, hopefully I can just plug some photos in and send off another post or two.  We’ll see.

Turnagain Arm to Homer

There are few major Highways in Alaska and not very many roads that connect to outlying towns either.  To reach them it is necessary to travel in one direction then back again to the starting point.  The Turnagain arm is a scenic byway that borders Anchorage and leads to three other major arteries, the Seward Highway, the Sterling Highway and another one I can’t remember.  From one point (Whittier you can either go by ferry or drive the two lane highway, that means no passing big rigs or trucks.  Some people who have taken our route opt for the ferry or cruise ship cuts off at least 3 days road time. Both are pricy and since we had already seen the inlet passage we decided to continue driving.

Cook Inlet

Bill really wanted to see the Kenai (Key-nai) Peninsula, the ocean side of Alaska before ending our travels. We were looking forward to finally seeing wildlife, watch the salmon frenzy, spot bald eagle, watch a bull Moose stop traffic, see the things that the Alaska tour books tout.

So he decided, rather than returning home on the Alaska Highway, he would map out a route making a loop via the Cassiar Highway thereby seeing different parts of Canada this time and enter the US via Seattle.

We began our journey From Anchorage to the Kenai on Thursday afternoon hoping to beat the weekend traffic. At Beluga Point the view was breath taking, on one side of the “arm”, the Chugash Mountain Range, we watched the locals, fill their canteens or 5 gallon containers with fresh glacial water, that spilled from a pipe, collected from the rocks above, we saw bikers and hikers following trails that bordered the mountain.

Chugach National forest

The area resembles PCH toward Malibu except and there are no houses, surfers, boats or traffic as we know it.  On the opposite side is the Cook Inlet where Beluga whales are often spotted and in the distance, we saw Mountains with V and U shaped valleys carved out by glaciers.  All along the “Arm” are interpretive signs describing the wildlife and habitat.

Girdwood was suggested as an interesting place to experience at an early junction of the “Arm.”  Our trusty milepost pointed us to  “Chair 5” restaurant and after passing it twice we located the local tavern, which turned out to be a real find. Since it was getting late and we had not chosen a camping location we didn’t explore the area, like the bakery at the ski lift, but it would be a place to return to and remains on our bucket list. From all appearances, chair 5 looked like a biker hang out with a touch of motley,  some hippy types, and a sprinkling of  “Topanga” types added for local flavor. With a dozen sparkling Harley’s parked in front, it could well be possibly a weekend warrior retreat.  This beer & burger joint had something for everyone; tunes from Janice Joplin, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, billiards and numberous big screen TV’s all tuned in to a baseball game, the walls were pulsating with activity and happy sounds.  It couldn’t have been a more perfect entré to the Kenai and oh so nice to be finished with Anchorage.

For the next three nights we camp hopped at various municipal campgrounds (dry camping) all close to creeks , rivers or glaciers to get a feel for the area.  The first, Black Bear Campground was a little creepy upon entering because it was late at night and the woods were dark and the mosquitos were relentless.  But by morning, for some unknown reason, it didn’t rain and we found a well defined path that meandered through a forest where Mocha was able to get another taste of snow and we got some sunshine and much needed exercise.

Black Bear Campground

The second night we found Coopers Landing, a fisherman’s haven.  One side of the road the upper campground (prime spots) was nestled next to a large glacial river and on our side a small creek passed through it.  A little, dumpy looking tavern was just steps away from our camp called “Sagetts Smoke and BBQ” this local hang out, advertised live music, a band of two, who played a little bit of honkytonk, a little bit of blues and some good old rock and roll “get out your high heeled sneakers ‘cause we’re go ‘in out tonight”… Local chatter, high spirits and nice country people filled the room. We danced, no one else did, and the locals thought we were pretty odd! At our table, we met a couple from Homer, who suggested a few sights in the area that they thought we would enjoy and were not too touristy.

Cooper’s Landing at Sagatt’s


The third night, Chugash National forest Russian River Campground was not more than 5 miles farther down the road. Campers were lined up at the entrance waiting to be admitted to coveted spots.  All along the rivers edge anglers in hip-waders were quietly waiting for a catch.  In the afternoon the three of us took a hike up to Russian River Falls.  Along the path we saw what appeared to be bear scat and about ½ way up the trail we chatted with some trail volunteers who keep trails immaculate, they affirmed that yes there was indeed, a bear and cub spotted in the area. Bear in the area is quite common all over Alaska and Canada, people here are not afraid of them, they don’t mess with them, but respect them. The rule is; don’t run and don’t feed them but yell “Hey Bear” and lift your arms high, so you look big, keep the dog quiet, then you back away slowly, and never run. Supposedly the bear are basically shy and will run away from humans.  We heard quite a few hikers on the trail talking, which was comforting yet I found myself singing and humming out of nervousness.   On the way back I picked up a bramble with baby bear fuzz on it. It was surprisingly soft and about as close to a bear as I wish to come.

The next day we head toward Homer, it is the weekend and we heard that the salmon started running which meant campsites will be at a premium, and a lot of fishermen will beat it out of Anchorage for the weekend.

I found myself paying more attention to the scenery than to the milepost and we missed an important stop, the animal refuge station ½ way to Homer. We were told this is the best place for wildlife and it is a shame we missed it since we still have not seen any eagles, moose or caribou in Alaska yet.

Entering the Kenai Peninsula we Passed thru Russian named towns that were not more than four city blocks long, each one with it’s own special attraction, a church ,an antique store a gas station.

Homer, the tip of the peninsula faces a huge body of arctic water where fishing enthusiasts gather by the hundreds, and where there were two campsites on the “spit” which were virtual parking lots. When we arrived it was really cold, arctic cold, and wet. Fortunately, there was a municipal campground a few miles above the “spit”, just behind a ball park, hidden in the hills above an elementary school (whew).  Even through  overcast skies, from our vantage point, views of the glacial mountains were magnificent.

The “spit?” It’s a skinny finger shaped body of land like an attached island, about the distance of the original Santa Monica Pier and about as wide.  We weren’t there long enough to learn if it was man made or nature’s work but it is where all the boats launch, the island nature adventures start, and the eco tours take place but the big attraction is ocean fishing both on shore or by boat. There are canneries, seafood restaurants and a lot of rusted out old tug boats that I couldn’t photograph because it was raining too hard.

Someone lives here and it’s not an outhouse. Homer AK

Upon arrival, after setting up the camp which means leveling the camper, we needed to stretch our legs and decided to explore downtown Homer which has a few eateries, a few motel/hotels a couple of art galleries, all by the way, were closed, a hardware store, gas station a museum that had a nice botanical garden in front, and a little theatre featuring non stop Star Trek films.

Someone used to live here! homer, AK

Since nothing really grabbed our attention, we walked back to camp in time to go dinner on the “spit”. By the time we drove and parked which was no more than 10 minutes away, the mountains were no longer visable, a thick fog hovered over the bay, making steel grey waters look even colder.


By now, we were more cold and tired than hungry and in no mood to explore the spit.  The following day we waited for the weather to change but it didn’t, by nightfall the torrential rains came, the RV leaked soaking things we had stored on the.  In the morning when the rain had let up but the forecast, looked grim, I checked the weather report for Seward and Valdez, it was all the same;  overcast and rain expected for the next 10 days.  We surrendered, it was time to go home.

Homer from our campsite overlooking the spit.

Our moods dampened, to say the least, we head back toward Anchorage, to pick up a few supplies and wouldn’t you know it, the weather suddenly cleared and turned hot and sunny! Really hot, like short sleeve tee shirt and sandals hot.   But there was no turning back this time, we are heading South.

Again, I was no longer paying attention to the Milepost when Bill pulled over for a scenic view of a “live Glacier” called Matanuska Glacier, one that is measurably moving  (photo). We spent the night at Sheep Mountain, named for viewing Dall Sheep but we saw only six dots in the distance. While it was nice to be warm we were devastated to learn that that the weather had cleared in Kenai. Some things are just meant to be.

kayaks line moraine lake. Next to Lake Louise. Some Color to brighten the dull day.

the state flower of Alberta. Looks like a dandelion to me!

At Pyramid lake just outside Jasper Canada at the flower basket capitol of the world!

Mount Edith Cavell

biker chick, Jasper

Pyramid Lake

From Denali to Palmer 7/16

One must stay in Denali a while to feel it.  It’s wet, cold and drizzily but the Rangers say we hit it at a GOOD time and I am sure if this was the beginning rather than the end of our journey we would have tolerated it better.  There are many guided walks, hikes and trails for all levels of conditioning but we were limited in our activities because we didn’t know that domesticated animals are only allowed on paved roads outside the park boundaries.  In order to really explore, it’s not a very good place for large pets to be.  We would have stayed longer but I was worried Mocha would begin to show signs of stress, even though she adapts well, it just was not worth it.

Somewhere around mile marker 134 we are supposed to be able to view Mt. McKinley but all we see are dense clouds no viewing in Denali here.  It is said that Mt. McKinley creates it’s own weather patterns and that is why it is infrequently seen.  When we went to Switzerland we couldn’t view the Matterhorn either, so what else is new?

Passing through Cantwell on the way to Palmer we see endless patches of white flowers, we think are snow drifts but are called cotton grass, a favorite snack for bears.

Crossing the Tenana bridge we enter the little town of Nenana, best known for it’s “Ice classic” an annual event offering cash prizes to the lucky winner/s who guess the exact minute the ice break-up occurs on the Tenana river, which is one of Alaska’s largest rivers that has followed our route since Fairbanks. This Ice Classic is a big deal in Alaska, something like our lottery.  The contest is a spring highlight and has been going strong since 1917.  We stop to take a quick look as we still have a long journey ahead. We see a variety of “tripods” of various sizes; some were actually used to judge the exact timing of the cracking of the ice, others considered local sculpture!

Just around the corner off main street, stood a cute little chapel with intricate beadwork on its alter and interesting stained glass windows.  At the towns end was a quaint old-fashioned train depot, a grocery store, bar and a little blue house.

Whole Salmons were hanging on drying racks, we think to feed the sled dogs.

dried salmon

After Nenana, we pass through low white and black spruce forests on one side of the road where permafrost or tundra conditions exist, spotted with little lakes and ponds then just on the other side thick boreal forests where huge spruce intertwine with birch and aspen. One of the rangers explained that the low trees that appear to be seedlings are actually 5-10 years old but do not have the nutrition or root system of the larger trees living in softer, richer soil.

We decide to make a rest stop in the town off Talkneeka Spur road for another small town experience, just a few hours outside Denali.  The Milepost directs us to the “Flying Squirrel Café and Bakery” and to our surprise it was an organic/vegan spot with choices of two soups, 4 salads, one sandwich and a scant selection of muffins.   What a treat, GREENS real greens featuring: Bok choi, apples, something else crunchy and a lime vinaigrette dressing, yum. My fresh vegetable deprived body was happy at last.

Refreshed, we are on the road again and shortly see signs for WASILLA and pass through it unscathed, no sign of Sarah and no sign of Russia either.

Palmer is a tiny city about 45 minutes from Anchorage. In need of a shower a shave, and some down time we need to begin planning our return route, we check out an ad for Mt. High RV Park, once again never judge a park by it’s flyer or something like that. The ad stated laundry and private bathrooms with showers. Well that was true but what they didn’t advertise was “to be used at your own risk.”  One must sit down gingerly or fall off the potty, as the seats were not securely fastened. Good Sam missed the mark on this one.  The up side, there was an enormous grassy area for Mocha to race around.  Needless to say, there were no photos taken at this spot.

On our way out of Palmer we stop at the visitors center hoping it would be informative and less crowded than in the big city, Anchorage.  Reminiscent of the series “ Northern Exposure” where there was more silence than conversation and never a definitive answer was given. A lovely young Native Alaskan woman tried to help us but the best she could offer were travel pamphlets.  We were trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B by car or by Ferry? Can we take the dog? Where is the ULU factory? But it was an exercise in futility; chalk one more up to the adventure.

The next day we go to Anchorage, the largest population in Alaska, to restock before entering Kenai where we will be staying in municipal or government campgrounds which means no water or electric but lots of nice scenery and fewer “big rigs”.  I realized I could use my laptop in the car while keeping it charged with a gizmo called an inverter. I called the apple store in downtown Anchorage and they had one, yay!  Negotiating a city in this rig was challenging.  Our GPS took us around in circles trying to locate the RV parking area, which we did eventually find.  But, the apple store DID NOT HAVE AN INVERTER!  Half the day lost in traffic, Bill’s jaws are tight and many more chores were on our to do list.  Radio Shack had the inverter, it was inexpensive and it worked! Eventually, we found the ULU factory for the authentic ULU knives rather than the knock offs made in China, sold at all the gift shops. Now we are ready for the Kenai.


July 12-14

The weather report looks grim for the next 10 days and we really want to see Denali before leaving Alaska.  At a rest stop on the way, we talked with a young couple who suggested Nenana as a worthwhile stop, and not very touristy. More about Nenana in a later episode!

Day one:  Denali.  To our surprise while dogs are allowed in the campground they are only allowed to walk on the paved street/road and at no time can they enter forested area. This could have put a crimp in our stay here but we had the foresight to check in Fairbanks for Kennels in the area.  Most of them were for dog sledders but there was one about 7 miles from our campsight, Caribou at Riley Creek campground within the park boundary away from the wilderness area.

When I made the call to Donna at Tonglen Lake Kennels I knew immediately Mocha would be in good hands, so bright and early the very next morning we took her up there for the day in order to catch the shuttle for our prearranged, eight hour bus tour of the park.  It was money well spent, as the kennels were spotless and there was an exercise room larger than a basketball court with agility equipment no less!

Tonglen Lake

We were very comfortable leaving her there and it turned out Donna also trains for agility and obedience and she had a number of dogs in the kennels as well as her own 4 border collies. To keep the doggies calm, classical music was played all day in the kennel Donna had done research that showed how dogs are calmed by certain sounds. For dog lovers I think the CD is called calming sounds for dogs.  It turned out to be a good for her to be away from us and sort of play date to boot.

Day two:  Like Yosemite, the roads are closed to private vehicles other than park transportation, emergency vehicles and professional photographers who can prove they make a living taking photos.   Eielson Visitors Center tour was reached in about 4 hours, we opted for the less expensive shuttle (green bus) where a fee is paid depending on how far into the park you go, over the formal Tour Bus with a guide on mic. and a box lunch. We lucked out as our driver Dawn Needham was not only a skilled driver but exceedingly knowledgeable about all the animals, the flora, fauna, tundra and everything Denali. As a bonus it was a good spotting day as well.

We finally saw a ptarmigan (chicken) and a few little chicks. Ptarmigan are important in the history of the park and in all the gold mining areas because the ptarmigan was a main source of protein for the sourdoughs (miners) during gold rush times. In the winter Ptarmigan (tar-meh-gin) look like a white dove and in the summer they are flecked brown more like the coloring of a turtle dove.  We also spotted one moose, a few dall sheep that were hanging out on the distant mountainside and looked like little white dots even through binoculars. On our return trip a male sheep came down low enough for a partial photo op. Due to Human hunting, the dall sheep population were almost wiped until 1906 when a man by the name of Charles Sheldon began to study them and concerned with their survival developed the concept of a “park”.  Now about 2500 of them live on the  range in Denali.

dall Sheep

We counted 13 Grizzlies, a record day for the season, some with their cubs and one came right up to the bus, their color is blond not brown as we see in “the Lower 48”, a term that is used a lot here.   300 to 350 of them currently live in the park, which if I recall is close to two million acres. Because the rules are so strict in the park, bears have little or no contact with humans other than vehicles, they are fearless and will come right up to a bus, it a was very exciting photo op, but in my excitement I managed to blur and shoot off center.

On the way down we saw a caribou bull who while beautiful, was really shaggy, in ghe midst of losing his winter coat.


There are about 2,000 of them in the park and they favor the tundra over the higher elevations where they eat lichens.  We learned from the animal research center in Anchorage that the males drop their antlers once a year but the females retain theirs for life as a protective devise.  Because the males shed theirs researchers can see how old they are by reading annual rings the same as a tree trunk.

Day Three:  We took Mocha back to Tonglen Lake Kennel. In the morning light, the roadside was brimming with wildflowers in blues, purples, whites and creams all in full bloom, which resembled a carefully manicured English Garden only planted in the middle of a forest.  Mocha never looked back as she was led to her play spot for the day and we were able to spend ours walking around without feeling guilty leaving her behind.  Eight hours in the bus the previous day after countless hours traveling across Canada and now Alaska can become tiresome so it was novel just to hang out at the visitors center. We watched a quality video that portrayed what Denali looks like in the various seasons. Later, we went to a dog sled demonstration that was really fascinating and we were able to pet the pups and watch the grooming take place.  Since no transportation is allowed in the wilderness area, the entire park is explored by dog sled in the winter.  The kennels are located in the park where dogs and mushers live year round.  Bred for particular characteristics necessary for sledding many of the dogs are related often, litter mates join the team.  One of the required qualities is people friendliness, it is one of the reasons people are encouraged to see the demo and interact with the pups and working dogs even the park employees volunteer to walk them everyday during the summer season when they, huskies are not working.  Even without snow the mushers were able to drive the sleds around the area (really fast) as if they were in competition yet working in concert, excited and anxious to work, the lead mature dogs full of knowledge and the young ones playful even when harnessed.

After the demonstration we signed up for a guided nature hike (walk) where different wild flowers, bushes and berries were named and explained.  We saw some remains of cabins, discarded refuse mostly rusty cans, pieces of furniture and iron works located in the gullies where traders and trappers once occupied the area before it received historic landmark status about 50 years ago. The original train tracks, the only means of transportation into the park for many years remained in tact and even the trestle was interesting to look at.

The weather had been drizzly everyday and rained most of the day when we left.  Mt. McKinley was never spotted but neither was the Matterhorn when we visited Switzerland so what else is new? We’ve seen such gorgeous mountains, that missing this one was just not the end of the world.  As we were almost packed and ready to go, we met a newly wed couple from Alaska, Jami and Brad, who were on honeymoon but decided after just one soggy night, for more comfortable quarters than a wet tent. They gave us invaluable information for the next leg of our trip, the “Turnagain Arm”.   It seems the young ones we give us the best information while the retired, life RV’ers as they call themselves lead us to not so great spots.

There is plenty to do in Denali but not a very good place to bring a pet.  If you don’t have a car, shuttles are a good means of transportation we used them to get from our campsite to various locations in the park and they were free.

To be continued…

Tok to Fairbanks Alaska

July 11

Departing from Tok along the Alaska Highway, the milepost suggested a stop at the knotty shop, a cool little shop that had sculptures created out of….knotty wood!

Mosquitos at the knotty shop

If you don’t recognize the image, Bill and Mocha are standing next to a giant Mosquito and check out the flowers, a florists dream.  We have not learned why there are so many flower baskets adorning the buildings but they are everywhere each one more spectacular than the next.

On to the Northern city of Fairbanks. We stopped there because? We had to, it was time to gas up, restock and after all,

it is the gateway to Denali National Park about 120 miles north.

The Rivers Edge Resort & RV park just outside Downtown Fairbanks is on Chena River, a beautiful sleepy river on the outskirts of downtown Fairbanks. The resort boasts of cottages that open to gardened courtyards or the landscaped riverbank. In reality, there were about one hundred or more prefab, little white ticky-tacky boxes, resting on black pebble walk ways that led to either the freeway or a small grassy riverbed area with a few scattered picnic tables lined near the waters edge.  Each cottage had 2 white plastic – the stackable kind- patio chairs and the only other identifying mark besides the cabin number was a big colorful hanging basket of REAL flowers, similar but smaller than those at the knotty shop.  I guess that qualifies as gardened courtyards?  Next to the “Resort” the RV park like so many of the private parks, are paved/or not, with electricity that is no more than a 4×4 board with electrical outlet attached, and water hook-ups meaning a hose bib. The price usually includes coin-op laundry facilities, showers and wifi.  The wifi, if big if you can log on, is so slow that it is almost not worth the bother other than in my case a necessity to pay some bills and organize my thoughts.

The sun came out for part of the day and it was actually warm enough to shed the sweats. Fairbanks typically has less rain than in the interior and to celebrate we took advantage of the day. The University of Alaska at Fairbanks is known for its museum, Artic research center, Geophysical Institute and our choice, the Robert G. White, Large Animal Research Station where the Musk Oxen, Reindeer and Caribou are studied.

mama and baby reindeer

For fiber freaks like me this was like mana from heaven.  For one thing, I had never heard of a Musk Ox before nor did I know that their fur is softer than cashmere.  Because the animals are endangered they are not hunted so inorder to obtain fur, the under-fur is gathered from the ground or at the institute the musk ox are combed, not shaved, in the spring and summer months. These guys who are neither oxen nor musky, actually stem from the goat family. The Inua’s cottage industry is supported by proceeds of garments knitted with the spun wool, Qiviut the profits split between the Inua and the research center to maintain the flock.  If only the knitters were present, it would have been a complete tactile experience.

Later we visited the Botanical Garden that was flooded with Peonies and native plants, wild flowers and indigenous trees.  For once, I left my camera in the car and enjoyed my eye candy.

It turns out there is much more to do and see in Fairbanks than meets the eye.