September 29, 2010

We made the 2-hour drive to the north side Mount St. Helens, and it was definitely worth the trip! We went to the Johnson Observatory, which is about 5 miles away from the mountain. It has a lot of information, as well as a spectacular view. The “before” photos of the area show a beautiful, classic cone-shaped mountain surrounded by old-growth forest. Oddly enough, before 1980 although most of the mountain was owned by the Forrest Reserve, the top of the mountain was owned by Burlington Northern. When the crazy seismic activity started in 1980 reporters and curiosity-seekers arrived in droves, so Burlington Northern turned control of the mountain top over to the Forest Reserve, who could better keep people out.

Mount St. Helens is really beautiful and impressive. The whole 5 miles of plains in front of it are covered by the landslide that was part of the 1980 eruption.

In that eruption the top and most of the north side of the mountain were part of the massive landslide which moved about 90% of the mountain's mass. That triggered super-heated pyroclastic flows (powerful explosions of gas and rocks). The nearby trees didn't burn; there wasn't enough air around them during the eruption. The heat caused the trees to explode from the inside. Trees that were far enough away to avoid exploding (maybe between 5 and 15 miles) were snapped off and flattened by the tremendous force. In the picture below, Randy is on the road at the bottom of the frame.

After the pyroclastic flows came huge ash clouds. There was no big lava flow but the landslide was so hot that the ground became sterilized – nothing was left alive in those 5 miles. The area was designated as a National Monument to let it recover naturally and scientists are surprised how quickly it is recovering. The landslide area has significant ground cover now and a big herd of Roosevelt Elk have moved in.

Since the 1980 eruption, a big dome has been forming in the center of the crater. It’s completely surrounded by a glacier – probably the newest glacier in the world because it didn’t exist before 1980. The plains get 10-14 feet of snow each winter and the mountain probably gets more. The crater rim protects the glacier from melting, as do the rocks that crumble and fall onto it. Because it's covered in rocks, the glacier is almost completely black. I couldn't to get a clear picture, but the photo below is the crater with the new dome in its center, and lying across the front of the dome is the black glacier. With binoculars we could see that most of what looks like snow on the dome are active steam vents.
We've spent a few days south of Seattle, recovering from our dash across the border and deciding where to go next. We have been staying at Rainier View Adult RV Park in Graham, Washington. It's a nice place, reasonably priced, and you can't beat the view behind our RV!

Memories of Alaska, Part 1

There are many, many things we will miss about Skagway. For example, there is no significant crime. The most that could happen is someone may borrow your bike without permission, but it's a small town so they are sure to leave it somewhere nearby when they are done with it!

We will miss the amazing beauty of the area – mountains just outside our door and long hiking trails. Fishing, bear-watching and mushroom hunting. Watching for Northern Lights, and realizing that the night is so beautiful that it won't make any difference if they show up or not.

And the resourceful way of life here. We got by just fine without Wal-Mart or malls (although I am enjoying them now). People walk more in Skagway, and are just as likely to ride a bike as drive a car.

But mostly we will miss the people we met and worked with. Friends that we hope to see again, somewhere on the RV circuit. This part of RVing stinks - we get to know people in an area, make some good friends, and then have to leave. If we stop RVing, it will probably be because of that. But for the time we had with good friends in Skagway, we are very grateful.

What won't we miss? Well, there's the mosquitoes. I thought the old references to mosquitoes killing horses was an exaggeration, but it’s not. During a hike our neighbors’ German Sheppard was bitten so many times that she just laid down on the trail, ready to give up. Her owners carried her back down the trail and she recovered just fine, but her face was swollen for several days. Fortunately the people in the Park didn’t have that severe of a reaction. But there are also something known as "no-see-ums". Several people developed severe allergic reactions to these, including Randy. His hand and arm swelled up so much that he had to go to the local clinic (no doctor in town) where they gave him some meds (no pharmacy in town).

And, of course, the grocery store . . . we won’t forget that, and won't miss it, either!

The trip from Skagway through Canada

During our last week in Skagway, Dennis and Nancy Corrington gave a very enjoyable farewell dinner for all their employees. We all had a good dinner at the Skagway Brewery and the Corringtons gave us gift certificates for one of their stores. On Friday we had another farewell dinner at RV park; everyone grilled their own entrée and we shared side dishes.

We left Skagway on Saturday morning, but we didn’t get too far. At the Canadian Border we were the (un)lucky random vehicle to be searched – again! We had to pull off the road, put out both slides, unlock all the bays, unlock the car and wait. We were traveling with John and Diane again but they didn’t get searched, so they pulled aside to wait for us. Eventually we did get through and cruised on down the highway.

Shortly afterward we saw three bears in the middle of the road – a mama bear with two large cubs. Mamma trotted off the road when she heard us coming, but the cubs decided to run away from us – straight down the road. They kept looking over their shoulders at us as if they couldn’t understand why we were following them! Finally they veered off to the side of the road where Mama was waiting for them - probably shaking her head and wondering where she went wrong.

We used the Milepost again on this trip, and as usual it was very helpful. But this was trip had sort of a “Through the Looking Glass” feel because we were going backwards through the routes. I would get to a mile marker that said “look for steep grades in the next 10 miles” only after we’d already covered those miles.

This trip we didn’t get to travel very far with John and Diane. We parted ways at the head of the Cassiar Highway because they were heading out a different direction. So they went east and we turned south onto the Cassiar. The Cassiar is noted for being beautiful but rough; we’d heard varying stories about how rough, and decided to give it a shot. The beginning of the Cassiar was probably the roughest; it's packed gravel with lots of potholes. Eventually we did hit pavement but the road was always narrow and bumpy. At the end of the first day we boon-docked at the Rabid Grizzly rest area – not a comforting name, but we slept well. The next day we headed out as early as possible because we were focused on getting back to the USA. It would not have made sense to dawdle anyway, because not much seemed to be open. We didn’t see many services or RV parks along the way, and most of what we did see looked like they hadn’t been open for a long time. The road, even where it was paved, was not very good; there were a lot of steep grades, narrow turns, and no shoulders at all. But the view was really beautiful! Mountains rose up close to the highway, and the aspen had turned to such a bright golden yellow that they made the mountains look like they were covered in pollen. And there were big swatches of red fireweed along the road.

When we finally turned off the Cassiar and onto Yellowhead highway, we were very glad to find that it was a fully-paved road with shoulders. Sunday night we boon-docked about 120 miles outside of Prince George. During our trip we encountered many construction sites and at many of those sites we had to travel on temporary, narrow, gravel roads. This led us to discover that Canada has 2 seasons – winter and road construction. All the construction slowed us down so we couldn’t cover as many miles as we’d hoped in a day.

On Monday the goal was to get to Hope so we would be able to cross the border Tuesday. We stopped at Tim Hortons restaurant, which is a common Canadian fast food restaurant. There we had a good lunch and a needed break.

The final part of the trip was through Fraser canyon, where the road curved along the side of the canyon. It rained that day, which made it even less fun to be on a cliff-side road, but we made it through fine and boon-docked one more time around 8 pm, just outside of Hope.

Our final assessment of the Cassiar: it is indeed beautiful and it knocks about 200 miles off the trip; parts of it are still enough rough to add to the wear-and-tear on the RV; there are no turnoffs to get to another highway if you decide you don't like it and services such as fuel are very limited. So we would say it’s OK and we have seen the Cassiar.

September 17, 2010

Last night we joined our fellow-RVers for a bonfire. We grilled hot dogs, but with a Skagway twist; the grocery store didn't have any hot dog buns so we had our dogs rolled up in tortillas.

Afterwards most of us stayed outside, waiting for the Northern Lights. It was a clear, starry night so the odds seemed good. And sure enough, they appeared! The Northern Lights photograph green, but in the sky they are pale white lights with a hint of green. They change shape, spreading out into bands across the sky, then coalescing into beams like searchlights that reach high in the sky. At one point we saw a strong, white beam of light directly overhead that reached from one horizon to the other. To the north a big curtain of lights appeared and stayed for a long time:

Wednesday was our last day at Corrington's Alaskan Ivory, and tomorrow morning we will hit the road again. We'll be going south through part of Canada on a different route than the way we came up - we decided to try the Cassiar Highway. It's supposed to be very scenic but more rugged. There are different stories about how rugged it is because the recently there have been efforts to improve the road. We'll see; on our way up here a passing car threw a rock on and cracked our windshield, so it has to be replaced anyway.

There is a lot about Alaska that I haven't put on the blog yet. I don't want to forget it, so I will add it later. We will probably not be able to access email, blogs, or the phone for a couple of weeks. But for now, the weather is great and the road beckons. South, to the land of big, well-stocked, grocery stores!

September 5, 2010

What a wonderful day! Randy and Glenn hosted a brunch for everyone at the RV park. They fixed biscuits and gravy, fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. The starting time was posted at 10:30 but there isn’t any sense being in a hurry, so someone mixed up some margaritas, someone else brought a couple of coffee cakes, and everyone just relaxed and visited while they finished cooking. Everything turned out great!

After brunch we met with John and Diane (the friends we caravanned up here with) and went zip-lining. They bought a zip line package deal at a recent auction for the local day-care center, and invited us along.

Our guides were Jeremy and Billy – Billy, at 29, is the oldest member on the zip line team; Jeremy couldn’t be more than 22. During the winter he’s going to college to major in Physics, and during the summer he takes tourists on zip line and rock-climbing tours.

Our tour started with climbing up rough terrain to get to the ladders that would lead us to the zip lines. The ladders were a challenge all by themselves. The first one was a rope bridge with slats, but the slats were randomly placed, with some pretty big gaps. The second bridge was another rope bridge, with no slats – just the ropes! And the third bridge was a rope bridge with a 2x4 in the middle of it, like a balance beam.

Once we got across the bridges we hooked up to the first “baby” zip line. It’s a short trip, probably just to get people used to the feeling. They have a good system – our harnesses had 2 lanyards so when we were on the platform we were hooked up to the safety line with one lanyard while they were hooking us up to the zip line with the other. After the baby zip, we went on to the next five zips. The recommended take-off process is to either sit down and raise your feet (if the take-off platform is really small) or to lean forward and walk off the edge. I was not able to walk off the edge – I really wanted too, but couldn’t make my feet do it. One time I just gave up and asked Billy to push me off. But everyone else could do it just fine. It was such a great feeling – zipping down the line – it felt like we were in free-fall. It was absolutely amazing - one of the best experiences we've every had! It was so much fun that we did the last 3 zip lines twice! The first 2 pics are me (Jackie) and the next two are of Randy:

Wow - my second pair of earrings sold today! I am so EXCITED! I love working with ivory and can't wait to make more jewelry. The ivory I am working with is guilt-free - it's between 1000 and 2000 years old. The walrus either died naturally or was taken as a necessity by village hunters, and I can't argue with that.
The store we work at is Corrington’s Alaska Ivory. During the past few months I have become fascinated by ivory, so I bought some and have been working to create ivory jewelry. I have been blessed that a guy named Bruce Schindler (who is a wonderful ivory carver) has been very generous with his time, knowledge and equipment. And Dennis Corrington, who owns the store, has been really supportive, providing tons of information and encouragement, as well as offering to market my product. So today is a red-letter day – I sold my first piece of ivory earrings! These are simple pendent earrings, made from old walrus ivory.