Introduction to trip

After months of planning, I’m finally headed for Alaska!  I started thinking about this trip last Fall and began making firm plans in December. I’ve loaded up on camera gear and have tried to cover all the bases….a 150-500mm telephoto zoom, macro lens, 18-270mm zoom, a doubler to make the 150-500mm zoom at 300-1000mm zoom and a variety of other items.

Originally Jean’s sister-in-law and I were considering an Alaskan cruise for Jean and I and Jean’s brother, Larry, but when we started looking at it seriously we found that all of the space was already booked.  We decided to wait until this year.  Then I decided I wanted to see more of Alaska than I would see from a seven day cruise and land tour.  I wanted to be where I wanted to be and do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.  I wanted the opportunity to take all the pictures I wanted to and get pictures of wildlife I probably wouldn’t be able to get from a tour bus and cruise ship.  So I started making plans to head to Alaska on my own.

The first thing I reserved was a trip to Brooks Lodge in the Katmai National Park.  This is a well known (among photographers) location to shoot bear catching salmon jumping up a small waterfall.  The only way in is by an Alaska Airways flight from Anchorage to King Salmon, AK and then a bush plan to Brooks Lodge.  There are only 16 rooms in the lodge and the round trip including airfare and one night in the lodge was $1250 (meals NOT included).  When I called to inquire about a spot at this location they were already booked up but had had a recent cancellation and July 27 was the only open date until September.  I took it while starting to figure out if I was actually going to go through with it.  I had ten days to get my deposit in while making my decision.  Basically, my entire trip was scheduled around this one date.

Over the next six months, I’ve laid out my itinerary, booked my ferry trips, my day and half-day cruises, and my campground reservations at Denali National Park, etc.

Jean has decided she doesn’t want to be cold or wet and while it won’t be unbearably cold it will probably be in the 40’s at nights in some places and rainy in the southeast corner of the state around Juneau and Sitka.  She’ll spend the time sitting by the pool in our backyard instead.

I will be leaving July 5 from Dallas and returning home about August 27.  I anticipate driving about 10,000 miles.  Originally, I had planned to tow a 25’ travel trailer but when I estimated my gas expenses at 8 mpg….that’s 1250 gallons…I decided to leave the trailer at home and drive my 2006 Chevy 1500 cargo van and make it my camper.

Since starting this project I’ve been doing my research using about a half dozen books including Milepost (tells you what’s along every mile of all highways in Alaska), Alaskan Camping, Frommer’s Alaska 2010, wildlife guides for the Yukon, the Kenai Peninsula and Denali National Park, and my favorite, Bear Attacks, their causes and avoidance.  I really paid attention to that one.  I’ve become a regular visitor to REI.  I’ve taken several basic courses on compass and map reading, backpacking and ultralight backpacking, camp cooking (actually it’s primarily boiling water and pouring it into a pouch of dehydrated food) and basic bicycle maintenance.

I’ll be heading north from Dallas to Hutchinson, Kansas for the first leg to visit some family then it’s west to Colorado and north through Wyoming and Montana into Canada.  I’ll go through Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise then west through Prince George, British Columbia and make my first entry into Alaska at a small town called Hyder.

From there it’s north through Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to Skagway, Alaska then by ferry to Haines, continuing to Juneau, then a one day flight to Gustavus at the southern end of Glacier Bay back to Juneau and on to Sitka. From Sitka I take the ferry back to Juneau and a trip to Mendenhall Glacier before heading back to Haines to pick up my truck.  Then it’s north to Anchorage, five days touring the Kenai Peninsula and lunch with a fellow graduate of my Kansas high school.

From the Kenai Peninsula it back through Anchorage to Denali National Park. I have five nights reserved there at three different campgrounds.  There is only one road into the park.  It’s 90 miles long and only available on converted schoolbuses on a 11-13 hour round trip.  You can drive in 12 miles and go 29 miles in if you have a camping permit at Teklinka Campground.  You are required to stay three nights to help minimize traffic on the park road.

From Denali it’s a roundabout route to Fairbanks and then north to the Arctic Circle.  The road north, the Dalton Highway, is really a gravel haul road for supplies to the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay.  Right now, I only plan to drive halfway to Coldfoot just north of the Arctic Circle but will decide after I get there if I’m going further up the road.  It’s 450 miles one way to Prudhoe Bay from Fairbanks.

After returning to Fairbanks, then it’s a different route back through the Northwest Territory, Yukon Territory, Alberta and then into Montana for the trip home.

I hope you decide to follow my dream trip.  If you have any questions, please send an email and I’ll try to get the answer.

Until next time….

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Final Preparation

Well, it’s Sunday and I’m in final preparation mode.  Thursday was my last day at work until September.  Friday I ran some errands but spent most of the afternoon on the phone with Time Warner and Cisco trying to get my computer working.  I wasn’t able to access the internet.  After two calls to Time Warner and three to Cisco we determined it was the wireless router that was the problem.  Saturday I was back on the phone with Cisco for the fourth time.  So far, so good.

Yesterday evening I sprayed most of my clothes with permethrin.  It’s an odorless insect repellent. It’s supposed to last through six washings and/or six weeks.  Whichever comes first.  I also have Deet for my exposed skin and a head net to help protect me from the Alaskan state bird…the mosquito.

Here is a map of my route.  The first one is from Dallas to the Canadian border north of Great Falls, Montana.  According to Mapquest, it’s 1677 miles to Great Falls.

From Great Falls, I cross into Alberta, Canada.

Here’s a map that shows the planned route from there.  I’ll go up through Calgary then on to Lake Louise, Banff and Jasper.  From there I head northwest to Prince George.  You can follow the pink marker north.  On the way home, leaving Fairbanks it’s south to Tok then east to Dawson City, Carmacks, Watson Lake, Ft. Nelson, Dawson Creek and into Edmonton and then south to Calgary and I reconnect with my original route north.

I leave Tuesday morning.  My next post will be somewhere along the road.

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$3000 Photo

It’s been a week since I departed Dallas.   I’ve driven 3900 miles and bought about 245 gallons of gas.  I stayed in one motel, tent camped in one town park in Wyoming, one night at my sister’s house in Kansas, one night in a Wal-Mart parking lot with 20-25 other trailers and motorhomes, two nights at pulloffs in Canada and one night at a campground in Skagway.  I’ll be in the campground two more nights.

I going to show you four pictures.  Please guess which one is the $3000 photo.

Is it (a) black bear near Jasper, Alberta?

Is it (b) Elk near Douglas, Wyoming?

Is it (c) grizzly near Watson Lake, Yukon?

or is it (d) Martin at One-Stop Auto Plex in Douglas, Wyoming?

If you picked (d) then you are right!  My transmission went out about 11 miles south of Douglas on Wednesday.  I limped into town but everything was already closed.  After asking around with a variety of people I settled on Martin at the One-Stop Auto Plex.  You hear stories of travellers being ripped off by garages but I think I got treated pretty fairly by Martin.  He had my truck done by Friday at noon….loaned me a car….pointed me to free camping at the town park….and sent me hunting for a herd of elk that had been seen in the area a few days earlier.

I found the elk (19 of them), took in some other photographic sites, and didn’t have to spend a day and half sitting in Martin’s waiting area.

Then on Friday afternoon a young lady rear-ended me in Billings, Montana.  It was wet pavement and she was distracted and hit me.  It didn’t do any damage to my truck but my hitch put a hole in her plastic front bumper and pointed her lights in different directions.  Luckily, no one was injured and

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Add to $3000 photo

It seems that there is a limit to how long a posting can be and I must have exceeded it on the previous post.  I also used up all my data available for free at the Skagway library.  So I’ll add this final piece and post again tomorrow if all goes well.

I’m still a newby at this.  By the time I get home I’ll probably have it figured out.

Anyway, no one was injured and after she contacted her Dad, I headed north.

The drive through Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper National Parks is phenominal.  I was rushing to make up for lost time in Wyoming and didn’t stop to take many pictures in Banff.  Planning to stop on the way back to spend more time.  I did take quite a few as I worked my way through Jasper.  That’s where I saw my first black bear.  I nearly drove off the road getting stopped, turned around and back to take some pictures.  The bear couldn’t care less about me.  He just continued eating.  That’s the one in the first picture I posted earlier.  I saw seversal more after that and it sort of became…”Oh, another black bear.”

After leaving Jasper I was headed west to camp in McBride on my way to Prince George, British Columbia but there was a bridge out due to heavy rain and flooding and I was forced to take a 500 mile detour.  That was 9 hours of driving that I hadn’t planned on.

Eventually, I got back to Prince George and continued west to a junction with Route 37…the Cassiar Highway.  That would have taken me to Hyder but I met another photographer along the road and she told me the fish weren’t running there yet and therefore there were no bears fishing.  I decided to drive on.  I spent the night in a roadside pullout north of the Hyder cutoff.  Just before reaching Watson Lake the next day is when I saw my first grizzly.  That is also the one I posted the picture of earlier.

I pushed on the Skagway.  Arriving about 8:30 last evening.  Alaska time is one hour behind the West Coast so there’s a four hour difference between Alaska and the East Coast of the US.

I hope to have some additional pictures to post tomorrow.  And a quiz.  What crop grows in Alberta and is bright yellow.  I thought it was a field of dandelions.  The answer in the next post.

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Skagway

The field of yellow is Canola…like the oil and it’s pretty common in lower Alberta.

Anyway, as a photographer, I’ve tried to learn all I could about getting close to the wildlife.  How to approach them and not be detected. After that, I’d tell you that all the pictures of bear and elk that I’ve taken in Canada so far have been shot from the truck window.  If I got out of the truck they’d probably take off.  So I cruise up close and fire away.  They don’t usually pay too much attention.  That goes for these photos of elk I shot in British Columbia.

I also located this rather common group outside of the Skagway library.  They’ve called WiFi-ers and occassionally, I can be found in this group.  THe one on the left told me was too busy to talk because he was trying to get his morning reports done before going shopping.  Hmmmm….that sounds familiar!

I also found the Sarah Palin store here in town.  There are all things Sarah: T-shirts, Christmas ornaments, calendars, plates, coffee mugs, etc.  I was going to buy a T-shirt but I couldn’t find one that said “Sarah made a better hockey Mom.”

Here’s a question for the next post.  Who ran for president with Sarah Palin?

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Totem Poles

The answer…and I’m sure most of you got it…was John McCain although I’m not sure he has any Christmas ornaments out.

Anyway, here’s some totem poles I shot Sunday near Gitanyow, British Columbia.  There are several places that have collections of totem poles.  Many people taking cruises will see them in Ketchikan, AK and maybe Sitka.  I’ve going to see the ones in Sitka this weekend.

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to make my next post.  It’ll probably be Saturday or Sunday.

Ron

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And the trip continues

It’s been a week since my last post.  I’m in Haines Junction, Yukon right now having lunch.  I left last Thursday morning on the ferry, M/V Malaspina, for Haines where I left my truck.  I continued on the same ferry to Juneau and then caught a flight to Gustavus on Wings of Alaska.  I’m not sure our pilot was old enough to drive let alone fly but we left with a full flight….the pilot and three passengers…for Gustavus to go whale watching on Friday.

We boarded the Taz with owner/captain Tod Sebens and headed into the Icy Straits near St. Adolphus.  We saw 30-35 whales.  It was fantastic!  We had several breaching and one even came up and pushed the boat sideways.

I also saw my first eagle here on a pole and the ferry terminal.

It’s time to hit the road.  I expect to be in Tok…or close by tonight and I’ll try to pick up the last four or five days when I get there.

Until next time…..

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