Alaska, Last State in North America, 2017 (No Boat to Hawaii)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Musk Ox Farm, and a Glacier

Musk Ox have no relation to oxen or cattle. They are a distant relative of the goat family. They got their name because they look like oxen and during the rut they pee on vegetation and then rub their faces in it. Thus they have a musky smell. Musk Ox.

OK, so I really didn't get to hug a living Musk Ox bull, nor get nose to nose with a cow. These two were taxidermies of herd members who had gone to the big pasture in the sky and were now in the Musk Ox Farm Museum.

What we did get to do was walk along the fence lines of some huge pastures on a beautiful day hearing about how the Musk Ox was saved from extinction and now has been reintroduced to the wild. This farm has the only domesticated herd in the world. 

We were able to get quite close to many of them along the fences. They are not being killed for meat, although it is said Musk Ox meat is some of the best there is. They are being selectively breed for docility and for qiviut production. Qiviut is the soft under-coat that  is combed out and harvested in spring and early summer. It is highly prized by knitters.

The horns are trimmed to avoid injury to the people who handle them. The two calves in this picture are about two months old.

Four little legs and a hairy rump. This little guy is trying to get a snack, but mom gently kicked him away. Weaning is not a gentle process.

The calves are born with a full qiviut under-coat. They shed it out and regrow a new one by fall. It is hair, not fur.

It was soon time to say good by to these hairy guys and head on down the road. My plan was to stop at the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site and stay in the overlook parking lot. I had found the information in my book that overnight parking was allowed for a small fee, and that there was a nice walk out to an observation deck.

I'm really trying to just go slow and enjoy what we see.

But, this was not to be. Craig could not get the Alfa as level as he wanted it to be. When you have a Norcold refrigerator this is very important. I wouldn't mind a nice, bigger capacity residential like many other Alfa owners have, but Craig loves his Norcold.

So we were unable to stay there, and did not even go on the walk. Fortunately there was a great turnout quite close and we got a nice picture.

We ended up at a park in Glennallen.  Next, we are heading over to Valdez.
Months ago when looking at where to go in Alaska I felt a bit overwhelmed. Knowing it was a good idea to have a reservation for the 4th of July week, I picked Valdez. 

Our daughter and grandsons are coming to Alaska for a week and we will be meeting them in Valdez.  It should be fun.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Scottish Games in Palmer Alaska

As we travel, I like to look to see if there is a local fair or event going on. It is rare that we actually hit on the right day, but this time we did. We planned to be in Palmer Alaska, not far from Anchorage, on Saturday June 24. It was the day that the Alaska Scottish Games were being held at the State Fair grounds in Palmer.

We have never been to Scottish games, so we decided to go see what it was all about.

We spent most of the afternoon watching three competitions.

One was the Caber Toss. 

The object is to pick up the caber, which is the size and shape of a small telephone pole, and toss it so that the end the contestant starts holding goes up, over, and ends up away from him. If he manages to flip it, as about 1 in 10 contestants did, the  score is based on how it lines up with the direction he was facing when he let it go.

It looked really hard. First, one or more of the other guys stands it up straight before him. Then he has to get a grip on it and lift it straight up to about waist level. At this point he tires to run forward keeping it vertical until he is ready to toss it up and hopefully over.

I think Craig did a pretty good job capturing the toss in the nine images below. He shot about 150 images in short bursts. Most were discarded.

Another event we enjoyed watching was the "Weight over Height" event. The contestant stands with his back to a bar above him, swings the heavy weight between his legs and throws it up over his head trying to get it over the bar.

Neither of these two were successful, but the pictures are the best to give you an idea of what they were trying to do. These were 54 pound weights, and I felt there was some danger of having one smash a contestant in the head! 

The third event was the "Heavy Hammer Throw."

I rather expected to see a big sledge hammer, but instead they used a heavy ball on a handle.  These were really big "professional heavy event athletes", and the distance of their throws was impressive.

I have never been to a Scottish or Highland Games before. I'm glad we went, so as to add it to my "Been There Done That" list, but I doubt I will jump at the chance to go to another. 

While at the Fairgrounds in Palmer, we watched the clouds playing around the mountain tops.

It's one of the things I came to Alaska to see.

The Scenery!

Finally, this shot. It was taken at about 10 PM at our RV park. The sky was still blue and daylight prevailed.

Next stop:  A Musk Ox farm.  
Check back.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Thoughts about Alaska, and a Reindeer Farm

When we visited Karen's RV Service Center in Anchorage, on Monday, we were very lucky that they had a cancellation and could rebuild the battery tray for us on Thursday. On Tuesday we picked up the new Blue Ox tow bar and KarGard screen.  Craig was able to install them on Wednesday. He had a question about the new breakaway switch for the Air-Force-One, but a knowledgeable guy at TrailerCraft was able to help. 

The weather was rather overcast with occasional rain much of our time in Anchorage. On Wednesday we decided to look for an indoor activity and went to the Anchorage Museum.

This large original painting was part of a preview display for an Alaskan Art exhibit that was not yet open.

There was a large room of native artifacts such as this parka.

I had expected more art, but I guess we were at the wrong museum. This was the Anchorage Museum, not the Alaska Museum. But with that in mind, I was disappointed that there was no exhibits about the 9.2 earthquake that devastated the state in 1962.

Perhaps the most memorable part of it was this exceptional wood stairwell. A piece of art in itself.

After dropping the Alfa off at 7:30 AM on Thursday, we went out for breakfast and then decided to go for a walk at a place called Earthquake Park. It looked like a peaceful wooded trail.

But we were no more than 50 feet down the path when we were attacked. By mosquitoes! The repellant I had did us no good, because it was back in the Jeep!  A huge swarm of them surrounded us as we made a quick retreat. I continued to swat them for a long time after we were back in the closed car.

So instead of a walk, we spent the remainder of the day at a local library.

We will be using this little step until we get back to
The work on the Alfa was done by 4:30 or so. It was very well done. 

They completely rebuilt the steel tray and cold welded it in place.

They even secured the broken fiberglass front corner with duct tape. We may have to reinforce it from time to time, but it should be able to get her back to California for a nice new nose. 
Thank you Karen's!

Anchorage to Palmer: 47 miles

We finally left Anchorage on Friday. 

Reindeer shedding its winter coat
After getting settled at the Mountain View RV park, we went over to the Reindeer Farm, which I had read about in Bill and Jan's blog. They were just there. 

It was as delightful as she said. I got to hand-feed reindeer and see elk, a bison, and a baby moose up close.

The remaining pictures in this post are from the farm and are interspersed with thoughts I wrote at the library the other day.

This is our fourth summer living in our RV full time. Now, by coming to Alaska, we have gone to the four corners of the country, all three coasts, and criss-crossed the middle states several times. 

This is what I wanted to do. 

I was too old to ride in the reindeer train

It has been quite an interesting journey, and by living this kind of life we have been able to take the time to savor many special places and meet so many other Americans. 

A quick snack

Alaska! In all my years of day-dreaming about travel, and watching hours of nature programs on TV, I never really expected to get to Alaska. It was so far away. 

And yet here I am.  

How cool is that.

Mike, our guide, helped everyone get a picture with these
very large moose antlers
Everyone we have met and had business with so far has been very nice and very helpful. 

An older guy in Watson Lake BC told me that tourists came first in his town because we provided a large part of the town's economy. That doesn't seem quite as applicable here in Anchorage, there are many other businesses in town, but the people are great anyway.

His antlers are about half the size they will be by
 the end of the season. They are still covered with

 velvet, which feels like very short fur.
In some sense, as RVers we are somewhat isolated from the everyday lives of the towns and cities we pass through. But at the same time we interact with other people in the parks in a way we never could as hotel-bound tourists. If they are out and about, RVers are often chatty. 

Reindeer do not bite. We were feeding them reindeer chow

In the short time we have been in the state we have seen many rental RVs. Flying up and renting a rig for a couple of weeks is an option. I've heard experienced RVers say they didn't want to expose their rigs to the rough conditions of the roads.

In spite of the accident, we did enjoy our drive up the Alaska Highway. However I'm not looking forward to driving the rough patches again. 

They have two toes and two due claws that spread out to support them on the snow
I am also seeing more Alaska license plates than I expected. Mostly on fifth wheels and trailers. RVing is a wonderful way of taking a vacation.

OK, enough thoughts.  

We also got to see a baby moose up close.
He was rescued from a rock quarry. Nobody knows what happened to his mother. He is considered a ward of the state, and will live in captivity for the rest of his life.

If left in the wild he would have died. 

At this point he is about three feet tall. He is bottle fed five times a day, and is gaining about ten pounds a week. By fall he will be at least six feet tall at the shoulder and will have first year antlers. We were not allowed to pet him since he is still in quarantine, but eventually he will be as tame as the reindeer. Which is why if released, he would be too people-friendly to survive the hunting seasons.

We also saw elk in another part of the farm. This bull elk came trotting over to the fence when he saw we had bunches of grass in our hands. There is only one bull in the herd. He has forty or so wives.

We did not go into the paddock with the Elk. We were told they bite, and to be careful when feeding them.

Only a few of the cows came over to be fed. Most were resting in the center of their area. There were six calves in the herd. You can see five of them in the picture above. 

And finally, there was Dolly:

She is an old, smaller-than-normal American Bison. She too was a rescue animal. The story we were told was that a rancher saw her alone and abandoned. He took her home and bottle-fed her for a month or so until she could be placed.

All in all, we enjoyed visiting these critters. Yes we hope to see moose, elk and possibly caribou in the wild, but this was a way to get a really good look at them. They seemed well cared for, and it is good that the small admission fee helps keep them safe.

The Williams Reindeer Farm in Palmer, Alaska is a delightful place for any animal lover! Put it on your list.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Midnight Sun plus Tok to Anchorage for repair appointments

Sunset or sunrise?  This is what the horizon looked like Monday morning at 12:06 AM.  Tuesday is the Summer Solstice. We do not have extra darkening curtains in the Alfa, but have not seemed to be kept awake by the all-night lightness. At first, the effect was to wake us up extra early, but after a few days we have returned to being able to sleep in. What does seem strange, is going to bed when it is still bright daylight. But our bodies seem to demand it.

Tok to Anchorage : 319 miles

We could have driven the entire 319 miles to Anchorage, but felt that the stress of the accident still weighed on us, and the challenge of driving separate vehicles would be more tiring. So before we left Tok, on Thursday, I picked out a park that was a little more than half way. The Slide Mountain Campground was small, but pleasant. 

It was a good decision. Although the Jeep and the Alfa are easy to drive, the road was a bit windy and we were constantly on ready for frost heaves, pot holes and construction zones. But most of the way was very smooth. We kept in touch with our Walkie Talkies and kept trading places.

The scenery was breathtaking
We were intrigued by this triangular mountain
Arriving in Anchorage Friday, we made an appointment with Karen's RV for Monday afternoon for an evaluation of the batteries and the metal tray they sit on. This is the most essential repair. They seem like an excellent shop, and were able to fit us in to do the work on Thursday. Seems they had two cancellations. 

Using a 4 pound sledge hammer purchased at Home Depot, Craig got the towing "horn" out of its connection on the Jeep. We were glad to see that it was the horn that was bent, not the face plate. It looks like everything will work with the new tow bar we are picking up on Tuesday. We found a place that would order it for us, and handle the air freight shipment, but will not install it.  But Craig thinks he can manage it.

On Sunday we went down to the river to see a bunch of people fishing for salmon. There was a festival/ contest.

Nobody seemed to be catching anything, but we did get directions to a couple of places to buy some. 

Probably not quite as fresh as if we had caught it ourselves, but it was still very good, marinated in a bit of soy sauce and brown sugar and cooked on the Weber Q. I even had some left over to make creamed salmon on toast for Monday night. 

My culinary goal is to cook fresh fish at least once a week while we are in Alaska. Yum!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Last day in Whitehorse, YT

If you are one of my regular followers, you will know how this post got out of order. As you can imagine, the accident shook me up so much that I didn't have this post ready to go up until almost a week later. 

On our last day in Whitehorse, YT we went to the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Center. It is an active gathering place for the First Nation people of the Whitehorse area. 

Craig caught his own reflection and the town behind him in this picture of a large etched glass window.

There was a large tent where native boat builders were working. The above pictures are of a canoe that is being carved out of a single solid piece of wood.

We also watched a good movie about the building of a bark boat. I'm glad these skills are being documented.

Next we went to a talk about the discovery of some old maps and the languages on it. It was interesting, but very non-touristy. For me, it brought back some of the stuff I had learned in an "introduction to linguistics" class I took in college.

Our next stop was at the McBride Museum of Yukon History

It contained the usual collections of 1800's gold rush things.

And some of the biggest trophy heads I have ever seen. We have been told that the moose of Alaska and the Yukon are larger than those in other areas.

Being interested in needle point, I enjoyed looking at this wall hanging created by the various needle point guilds in towns along the Alaska Highway to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its building.

This was my favorite. It is said that Whitehorse got its name from the frothy whitecaps on the river.

We ended our day in Whitehorse by taking care of mundane but necessary personal chores. We were both starting to look as shaggy as Musk Oxen, so we stopped in at a local barber shop for haircuts.

The fun thing is that the next time a hairdresser asks us when was the last time we got cuts, we can say "When we were in the Yukon!"

The Warriors won the game on Monday night, wrapping up the NBA championship. So it is time to get going again.  

(actually West)

Thursday, June 15, 2017


First off, before I get into a long narrative about the accident we had on Tuesday, I have to tell my dear friends and family that we are both OK. We feel very lucky that many possible things did not happen, and I have a new respect for the fragility of our lives.

The drive from Whitehorse to Beaver Creek on the Alaska Highway was not as smooth as some of our other drives, but not as bad as we expected. 

There were a couple of stretches of gravel road where they were rebuilding sections of the road, and many rough patches of filled pot holes and frost heaves. They try to mark the worst of these with red flags on the shoulders.

The last six miles or so are actually pretty smooth. That is where the accident happened. 

Craig was driving under the speed limit because we were approaching some red flags when for some reason the right front tire of the Alfa slipped over the edge of the pavement onto the shoulder. 

The picture at the right shows the rut as our tire left the pavement. How quickly it sunk!

This section of shoulder had recently been renewed with a base of extremely soft mud and gravel and large mounds  of rocks and dirt. The shoulder also had a serious slant away from the pavement, and was all the same color gray as the pavement with no white line to show the edge.

Once the tire was over the edge it was impossible to correct and the rig slid over the edge as well. It all happened so fast. All I really remember is seeing books and things falling from the overhead cabinets and sliding toward the right side of the coach. We ended up at a precarious angle that felt like we could tip and roll at any moment.

What saved us from that was that we ended up with the passenger side smashed up against a large pile of dirt and rock. 

At first we did not know this and although on the outside I think I was pretty calm, I was afraid to move about the rig, or try to get out the door since it was on the down side. I was afraid that my weight would cause the Alfa to tip over. You know, like the images of a car  halfway over a cliff, just balancing there!

When the dust settled and we realized nothing was on fire and neither of us was hurt, I found my purse and located our CoachNet card. Fortunately our cell phone worked, and I was able to contact them. This has got to be one of our best services as RVers. Their representative got our information, verified our account number, and located a tow truck for us very quickly. In fact the tow truck guys were there within 15 minutes, in a pickup, to assess our condition and figure out which trucks to send. She also contacted the police for us, and a Canadian officer showed up quite quickly. This may have been because we were only a few miles from Beaver Creek where both the station house and the tow yard were.

By the time they came, Craig had climbed out through the drivers side window. I did not. I waited until they had cables attached to the Alfa and they told me I should get out. Once out I could see that we were smushed up against a pile of dirt and could not have tipped. But I really didn't know this until I was out.

I felt like she could tip over at any moment

 Pull, Pull, Pull
And she is OUT!

This is the most visible damage:

The right front is really torn up. The entire right side is a bit broken, with the locks on the bay door damaged so it won't open, and sections of trim torn away.

The front tire was flat. Our new tire! But as it turned out Craig and the tow guys were able get it re-inflated so we could drive into town.

Some of the damage we couldn't see included the total destruction of our step, and the distortion of the metal tray that holds three of our big "house" batteries. 

The Jeep did not completely detach from the Alfa, but the tow bar was totaled.

The Jeep ended up on top of one of the gravel and dirt piles, and seemed to be OK.

Traffic seemed sparse on the Alaska Highway, but as we waited for help to arrive, many other RVs and pick up truck drivers stopped to ask if we were OK and if we needed help. Mary and Doug stoppedanother Alfa couple we had met at the park in Whitehorse. Later, when they saw us coming into the tow service yard, they came over and offered to save a space for us at the RV park. We had not made any reservations, and were glad for the help. That night the park was totally full!

That evening, Doug also helped Craig take things out of the bay from the driver's side and get to the lock on the big passenger-side bay from the inside.  When they determined the lock was broken, they reorganized things so important items, like tools, were more accessible from the driver's side.

Many of the other RVers who were at this park had seen us on the side of the road and stopped by to tell us they were very glad we were OK. Accidents bring out the best in people. 

The next morning we spoke to the insurance adjuster and verified that it was OK for us to move on to Tok. So far at least, the insurance company has been very responsive.

Because we totaled the tow bar we could not tow the Jeep. Craig drove the Alfa and I followed in the Jeep and everything seemed to be going fine for about fifty miles.

Then ...
 All at once the Jeep came to a sudden unexpected stop. It wouldn't go forward nor backward. I quickly grabbed the walkie-talkie and called Craig before he was out of range. When I told him what had happened, he slowly backed up the Alfa for about a quarter of a mile to get back to me. Good thing there was no traffic! 

We were both baffled for awhile until Craig noted that the Air Force One emergency brake connection was missing. When they are connected with the tow bar, the Air Force One connects the Jeep brakes to the Alfa brakes. There is a wire that attaches in such a way, that if the Jeep were to separate from the Alfa while being towed, the wire would pull a loop that would cause the Jeep brakes to lock, thereby preventing a run-away Jeep.

Craig looked at it, but wasn't sure how to disable it. He did not want to start disconnecting wires without knowing what he was doing. Unfortunately, we had no cell service. Verizon let us down in an emergency! But my AT&T flip phone was no help either. 

So, I stayed with the Jeep while he drove off in the Alfa looking for a cell signal.  After a pretty long time I turned on the engine to see what time it was, and just for the heck of it I tried to move forward. Magically, the brake was unlocked. (It seems there was something to do with built up air pressure, and that goes away when the engine is off.)  Off I went: with my hazard lights flashing I crept along the shoulder for a while. Once I felt comfortable, I just drove carefully being prepared in case my brake should lock again. It didn't.

It  turned out that Craig had driven almost all the way to Tok, about 50 miles, got a signal, talked to the service rep, and was on the way back to me when we met up about 15 miles out of town.

He got turned around again, and we made it into town and into our campground for the night. 

Two pretty long days! Friday we will be heading to Anchorage for the first of the repairs.  Looks like the Alfa will have a broken nose for a few months. We don't expect to get the body work done until we get back to Southern California in fall. That seems to be fine with the insurance company, as long as we document the damage now which we did with lots of pictures.

This too shall pass. It will all become another chapter in "Merikay's Dream".