Posted by: Hammer | November 12, 2010

Signpost Forest, Watson Lake

One of the interesting stops along the Alaska Highway was the Signpost Forest. It started with a homesick GI back in 1942 then mushroomed to over 90,000 signs as of 2009. People from all over the world brought signs over and posted them creating a virtual world to stroll through and imagine the stories behind them. We even found a geocache there. When you go to Yukon next time, be sure to bring an interesting sign to put it up at the Watson Lake Signpost Forest. It will be your “Kilroy was here” moment.

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Posted by: Hammer | November 8, 2010

Alaska Highway Impression

Alaska Highway, also known as the Alcan Highway connecting Alaska to the main part of the North America, has a certain lure for me because of its wildness and mystique. The highway was built during WWII to provide supplies to Alaska and is known for its remoteness and rough road conditions. It may deter others but it was one of the reasons we wanted to drive to Alaska, to see what it was about.

Yes, we were nervousness about it being remote and rough because we have 3 kids, age 7, 4 and 1. It would be one thing we, adults, got stuck but with 3 kids, it could be dicey. I thought of getting a satellite phone and/or a SPOT Messenger but after reading reviews for a while, deciding against all that. I did get an iPhone for the trip so we could supposedly locate things easier. However, it wasn’t true as most of Alcan Highway has no cell phone coverage (not even in Haines Junction).

Surprisingly, most of the Alcan highway were in pretty good condition. We were able to drive at a comfortable and fast pace around 100 to 120 Km/h (60 to 75 m/h). There was a stretch of rough roads (about 100 km) in Yukon before arriving at Alaska border. There were many pot holes that were outlined in chalk to warn drivers. A few times we had to drive on the other side of the road to avoid big pot holes; luckily, the traffic was light.

First, Milepost definitely lived up to its name. It was extremely useful like the time we were scared off by the bear sign for tent campers, we kinda knew how far we had to drive to the next place to camp. The Milepost did a great job describing just about everything on the road; it even included the text descriptions of signs along the road. I thought that was amazing.

Along the road, we noticed there were many dilapidated buildings which were understandable given how rough the conditions can be during the winter but we also saw many seemingly brand new cottages and cabins without any traces of human habitation. I thought it was weird so I asked around and one person told me it was due to the better highway the last few years. In the past, when the road was rough, people could not travel very fast therefore it would take many days to complete the journey; but now, it was possible to go through it in a couple of days, thus, no needs for all the lodging and tire and car repair shops, the victims of road improvements.

Although the traffic was light (there were even a few brave souls biking the highway), there were always cars going by, therefore, no real danger of being stranded if one were to stay on the main highway. However, side roads can by dicey. With bears outnumbering human 4 to 1, there might be a better chance of meeting bears than another human. So it was good to still have a little fear.

The road which winded its way from Fort Nelson to Watson Lake was pretty as it went through the Northern Part of Canadian Rockies. The section between Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek was the least interesting part. Then, of course, everyone stopped at the Welcome to Alaska State sign.

Posted by: Hammer | August 20, 2010

Bonneville Flat

The price of entering Bonneville Flat to watch speed racers: $15
The price of driving your own car on the Bonneville Flat: free (priceless)
The price of cleaning up the car afterward: $300


Race car with a push-assisted start:

Posted by: Hammer | August 8, 2010

Lake O’Hara, Canadian Rockies

We have been to the Canadian Rockies a couple of times before so it was surprised to me that I was still stunned by its beauty times after times. We were lucky that we got to hike around Lake O’Hara this time where we were unsuccessful to get a bus reservation in the past and were too lazy to hike 12KM in to the lake to do more hikes (we ran across a few hardy hikers who did that on the trail). We also got to stay at the Elizabeth Parker Hut for one night and was able to do a couple of hikes: Opabin Lake (Click here to see the interactive hike with pictures) and Lake Oesa (Click here to see more). Both trails were beautiful; we especially enjoyed the Opabin Lake trail.

There are other outstanding trails such as Lake McAuther which we didn’t get a chance to hike so we will definitely have to go back. There are also many high alpine trails which connected many of trails I mentioned earlier; these alpine trails are supposed to be more difficult and many places are not for people who are afraid of height but they offer even more spectacular views and save time by going from one trail to another like a high wire circuit act. We will have to do that when kids are older. One recommendation is to hike up the Lake Opabin from the west side then move on to Lake Osea via Alpine route then come down back to Lake O’Hara if there is only one day to hike. Here are some pictures from the hikes.

One warning: lots of mosquitos there, more than anything we have seen in Alaska.

Hiking up to Opabin Lake, looking back at Hungabee Lake:

At Opabin Lake:

At the beginning of Osea Lake hike at Lake O’Hara:

Kadia hoping this was Lake Osea:

Lake Osea:

Bryden at Lake Osea with Heather:

Posted by: Hammer | August 2, 2010

Skagway to Carcross

The Klondike highway between Skagway and Carcross was beautiful. The landscape was eerie with moon-like landscape and pockets of water dotted the rocky terrains. It is famous and popular among the cruise tourists, many of them would ride the White Pass trains. Here are some pictures.

Posted by: Hammer | July 30, 2010

Day 50, A Great Camping Spot

Camping has a great advantage that sometimes can provide a great view. Here is one at Summit Lake, Northern Rockies, British Columbia. It’s beautiful here just like its famous brother at Canadian Rockies.

Posted by: Hammer | July 30, 2010

Yukon And Cruises

Yukon, a place with Texas-size area and a population of 35,000 people (2/3 of them in Whitehorse, the capital) and 120,000 bears; it has almost no cell phone reception except at Whitehorse (perhaps hopefully at Dawson). Yukon has shorelines bordered Arctic Ocean but no shorelines on Pacific Ocean. Then what does it have to do with cruises on Pacific Ocean?

I remember when we drove to Alaska a few weeks ago that we passed a town, Beaver Creek, near the USA-Canada border with a couple of motels and seemingly nothing else. I was wondering why so and who would stay there. I found my answer on the way home passing through the town again: Holland American tourists.

Holland American have many land tours (Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks, Top of The World highway) for Alaska connected with their Alaska Cruises (mostly at Anchorage, Skagway or Haines) Many of them stop at Beaver Creek. Even a Whitehorse local acknowledged the whole Beaver Creek town was due to Holland American. Yukon needs them as tourism is one of their top money if not the first.

When we were ar Carcross, kids wanted to get ice cream from a store but we decided to go to the Visitor Center first to get their Yukon passports (a good idea of Yukon to promote their places and get kids excited to get to the next places) stamped. Six Holland American buses pulled in and a horde of people lined at the ice cream shop. We waited until they were done but the ice cream store closed right after the last of the H-A tourists were served. That sucked.

Posted by: Hammer | July 24, 2010

Two-hour Sunset

One more advantage of nearly 24 hours daylight was that the sunset lasted a long time like the one we saw at Fairbanks; it was beautiful and lasted like 2 hours!

Posted by: Hammer | July 23, 2010

The Grand Denali

Finally we got to see the Denali National Park. It almost didn’t happen as we had hoped as all the campgrounds in the park were full when we arrived on Sunday early afternoon. Backpacking would be okay but we couldn’t. We would have to go out of the park to find a place to stay. Luckily our new friends rescued us (it warrants another post on its own) and let us to camp with them.

We had to take a bus into the park, inconvenient but necessary to keep thhe park in it’s wild form. We took the Wonder Lake bus in the hope to catch a glimpse of Mount McKinley. In route we saw numerous wildlife–grizzlies,Dall sheeps, wolves, moose, golden eagles, caribou, fox and our friends even saw a lynx. It’s the direct result of controlling human impact on the place to keep it wild and remote.

We got off at Eileson Visitor Center because Logan did not like to ride the bus in his car seat. Our bus stopped for 30 minutes then moved on to Wonder Lake where a better view of Mount McKinley beckoned. It has been cloudy all days but some blue sky were start showing. However McKinley refused to show itself. On the average, McKinley only shows 3 times a month.

We hiked up the Alpine Ridge trail near the Visitor Center and was rewarded with a grand 360 degree view of the surroundings. We can only see the base of the Mount McKinley (on the left of Bryden in the picture).

If we could do it again, we would take an earlier bus to Wonder Lake and get off at Eileson to hike the ridge trail (give 2 hours to enjoy the view on the top; the trail was about 2 miles round-trip with about 1100 feet elevation gain.). Then a later bus can be boarded to go to Wonder Lake.

Although Mount McKinley was not seen, Denali was magnificent with its abundant of wildlife and the openness of the tundra landscape where miles can be seen from valley floor without obstruction of dense forest and, of course, the mountains with their multitude of colors like an artist’s palette (white, red, brown, light and dark green, purple, grey) ever so rich and vary. It begged for exploration and to hike it would be a joy of a lifetime. It awed me and dwarfed me but inspired and encouraged me to be more adventure. We will be back.

Posted by: Hammer | July 19, 2010

Moose Of Many Uses

Moose is an elusive animal to see for us in the past. Moose is a funny looking animal; in Chinese, we call it 四不像; it means “it doesn’t look like any of 4 other animals or it looks like 4 different animals.” They tend to live alone and avoid human contacts and, because of it, we have always been excited whenever we see one. We have been lucky that we have seen many moose at Alaska. Unlike sea otters, whales, bisons or even bears, we are not aware of any appeal or hatred that would result in massive moose hunting. I have thought moose is an useless animal with no highly sought-after soft fur or tough hide, no delectable meats, no medicinal bones other than perhaps its enormous antler racks. The First Nation people proved me wrong.

They have used just about every part of a moose to make things: tools (Kadia was holding an axe made from a moose’s bone) were made from antlers and bones, clothes and boots were made from the skin and food from the flesh of course,
Hairs were chewed together to form threads and some hairs were made to be jewelry. It is amazing that people can think so many uses for an animal. Again it demonstrates how resourceful people can be both in terms of finding ways to make things useful and using all there are to be used, no wastes. I need to learn to be more resourceful and use everything to its full potential.

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