USA - Alaska

When we hitch-hiked from Whitehorse to Skagway back in 1986, it was still a sleepy place. Today, thousands of crusaders are there every day. At least two ships per day are at the pier and everyone is rushing into the small town. 

However, the city is totally adjusted to the crowds and makes it a flourishing business. At the time of the gold rush in 1898, the lucky seekers arrived by ship and then did the Chilkoot Trail and travelled via Whitehorse to the Klondike gold fields at Dawson. Later, the railroad was built and everything became a bit easier. We stroll thru the city, which is undoubtedly very nicely done on old, with wooden walkways and many well-preserved historic buildings. However, almost every second store is now a jewelry store. In view of the many fully packed bags that the crusaders are hauling back onto the ship, this seems to be a booming business.

We stay for 2 days and in the evening, we take the ferry over to Haines, a small hop of one hour. There is nothing to see of cruise ships and the city has not much to offer, except for the hammer museum. There are over 2000 different hammers on display. That is really amazing! A spur road leads to the Chilkot State Park where you can see bald eagles. Unfortunately, we are 2 months too early, because if the salmon go through here from August, hell is going on. Then the bears stand for fishing in the water and the eagles get their prey in between as well. Idle to mention that in the middle of course, a lot of tourists with the camera are. Here is a link to live cams with bears fishing. That motivates us to visit Alaska again at the salmon season in a couple of years. Link: Bears

60 km to Haines we have to enter Canada again. Why the borderline here makes a zigzag course must have a reason and we get advice from Wikipedia. When the Americans bought Alaska for $ 7.2 million from the Russians in 1867, the borderline was described very vaguely and repeatedly led to conflicts. In 1903 it was finally determined by a six-man court of arbitration. In the north the border follows the 141st longitude in a dead straight line. It gets complicated in the south on the Gulf of Alaska. There, the mountain peaks were defined as boundary points and numbered and this explains the zigzag course.

The next 300 kilometers take us through a beautiful landscape of rivers and lakes and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The road follows the course of the old Dalton Trail which in 1898 was an alternative route to get to Dawson in the Goldfields. From the wildlife is not much to see on the track, or is stubbornly hidden from us. Even in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Reserve, no bald eagles are yet to be seen, because the salmon come in August and also the Dall sheep have retreated far into the mountains.

Therefore we make a glacier flight in Haines Junctions. With a small propeller machine, it takes us one and a half hours into the depths of the Kluane National Park via the St Elias Mountains into a magnificent snow and ice landscape, the largest non-polar ice field in the world. We have a blue sky and can even see Mount Logan in the distance, with 5959m the highest mountain in Canada. An unforgettable experience, especially since Karin also had to leave a souvenir there. For photographing you could open a small window while the wind had torn the camera out of her hand and was gone. Now it lies buried in ice and snow and in 10,000 years or so, a researcher will wonder with what strange devices we have photographed in the past. In any case, he or she can look forward to great pictures but the biggest problem will be where to get an SD card reader in the year 12.000 a.D.

We drive on and suddenly the animals are back. In quick succession we see a Grizzly Mama with two cubs and then one with three. A little further afield is a moose in the swamp and a porcupine passes by. We are completely thrilled. 

In Beaver Creek at the Visitor Center we meet Bernd and Heike again. We know each other for five years and met for the first time in 2013 in Valdez, Argentina. Since then, we have been crossing each other's paths and spent Christmas 2016 together in Tucson Arizona. The joy is great, the evening long and at the end the supply of wine is significantly reduced.

Shortly after Beaver Creek we cross the border again and return to Alaska where we follow the Richardson Highway towards Valdez.

On the way, a partially unpaved road branches off into Wrangell-St Elias National Park, a vast and largely untouched wilderness of which 25% or 8000sqkm are covered with ice, snow and glaciers. The road follows an old railway track over 100 km to McCarthy and ends there in front of a pedestrian bridge. On the other side a shuttle bus that takes you to the small town and from there to the old Kennecot copper mine, which was one of the richest mines in the United States from 1911-1938. The problem then was only how to transport the copper to the coast. In a tremendous effort, a 196-mile railway line was built from 1907-1911, of which 96 miles of bridge constructions, as far as Cordova on the Gulf of Alaska. Given the prevailing climatic conditions an incredible performance and comparable to the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942. The buildings are still very well preserved and you feel transported back into another world. A hike continues from there to the Kennecot glacier which continues to descend and leave a moon-like rocky desert in the valley.

Back on the Richardson Highway we continue to Valdez. In 1989 the place reached sad notoriety by the oil accident of the supertanker Exxon Valdez. Over 41 million liters of oil poured into the sea and polluted 300km of coastline. The subsequent cleansing and animal rescue work cost the Oil Multi more than $ 2 billion and, thank God, the tracks are now largely eliminated. Just outside we visit the Soloman Gulch Hatchery. Since 1983, the salmons are passed over a fish ladder and then lay down their eggs. Every year, millions of pink and coho salmon are raised there and released when they reach their target weight of 0.5 grams. 2-3 years later, they return to lay their eggs and then die. On average, 10 million returning salmons are expected each year. Unfortunately, we are too early for this spectacle because the main season is from July to September. But at least a lonely bald eagle sits in the tree waiting for prey. He was probably wrong in the date.

Actually, we wanted to take the ferry from Valdez to Whittier, which goes over six hours through the fjords and glacier world. But the ferry is already sold out and since we do not want to wait three days and rain is predicted, we make a plan change. We save the $380 and drive back to Glennallen. On the way in we had rain and all was gray in gray, but now we have beautiful summer weather and can marvel at the great landscape, the numerous waterfalls and glaciers in the best light. On the Thompson Pass, which lies at only 816m, 25 meters of snowfall was measured many years ago and a few meters further on the Worthington Glacier still show the signs, çlosed for winter ', in the beginning of June, and indeed it looks like at a ski area in the European Alps at 3000m.

Back in Glenallen we take the Glenn Highway to Anchorage. We have great sunshine again and the landscape is gigantic. At Palmer we visit a musk ox farm with over 80 animals. Unlike us, these animals love the cold and feel really well at -40 degrees. Below the top skin grows a woolly undercoat that is light as a feather and silky soft and much warmer than sheep's wool. This is combed out once a year and processed by aborigines to garments, the so-called Qiviutprodukten.

We continue via Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula and down to Seward. The place is well visited, especially because of the boat trips into the fjord landscape. We take a day trip in the glaciers and ice landscape and see humpback whales, orcas, dolphins and sea otters. The highlight is the drive to the Holgate and Aialik Glacier which both calve into the sea. Our boat runs close up and we float between the ice floes and can hear how the glacier works. A very worthwhile trip.

Seward also is a top destination for anglers. At the moment Halibut is in season and at the harbor the catches are presented in the evening. Later in the year, there's the Salmon Derby, with $10,000 in prize money for the biggest catch. But the big goal for everyone is to catch the salmon, which was previously exposed and marked with a note (grand price tag). This is then a $50,000 catch. 

At the entrance to Seward, a 15 km road takes us to the Exit Glacier. Nowhere else it is so easy to get so close to a glacier. Year marks show the decline of the glacier. In recent years, he gets 70 meters shorter each year. You cannot document climate change more clearly.

We drive the stitch road from Seward back to the other end of the Kenai Peninsula. The drive there is not quite as varied, but some Orthodox churches testify to the Russian influence in this area and are beautiful photo opportunities. The road ends in Homer. The small town is also the destination of sport anglers from all over the world in the summer, which we can look at the harbor while taking out the catch. One is even so nice and gives us a freshly filleted half salmon. In Homer we also visit our travel friends Linda & John who have their three month summer residence here. We have met several times since 2013 in South America and also last year on the Baja California. Was great meeting you again. See you in Mongolia….

Now it goes all the way back to Anchorage. With over 300,000 inhabitants, the city is the economic center of Alaska. In long pants sweater and rain jacket we stroll through the city center and wonder about the obviously weather-resistant Alaskan. At this time of the year is probably hot summer and that means shorts, sleeveless T-shirt and flip-flops at 10 degrees outside temperature. We are already cold when looking at it. The city sightseeing falls more or less into the water and so we pass the time in the museum and use the rain breaks to visit the water airport where up to 800 of the small machines start at a good day.  Also, a visit to the huge outdoor store of BassPro is not only in rainy weather an experience of a special kind. Alone the animal exhibition is worth seeing and gun fans are also fully satisfied. 

About 600 km north of Anchorage is the Denali National Park. With over 800,000 hectares a huge area whereby two-thirds of it is wilderness covered with ice, snow and glaciers and has never been visited by humans. In good weather you can see Mount Denali in the distance, the highest mountain in Alaska at 6194m. In the summer months hundreds of mountain climbers cavort there and try to conquer the mountain, but only a few succeed. The first 80 miles of the park are open to tourists but only accessible by a shuttle bus.

Unfortunately, this also means that you have to take an eleven-hour bus ride in gas-powered buses, if you want to breathe a little wilderness air and watch wildlife. We did it and it was a long, but also a very nice day with a mostly blue sky and a lot of wildlife like cariboos, moose, dall sheep, foxes and twelve grizzlies. On the way back a grizzly bear did us the favor to run very comfortably next to our bus and was not disturbed by the machine gun-like clicking camera shutters on the windows hanging tourists.

We spend a total of 3 nights at Denali on the Riley Campground where at the time a moose walks with her two calves on a regular basis. Nights, however, is a bit over the top. Sunset is now, just before midsummer, long after midnight and shortly after three it is already daylight again. After our bus day we explore the area around the visitor center the next day. Everything is top organized and easy to reach with a free shuttle bus. We take a look at the sled dogs who make three screenings every day in their summer camp. Sled dogs are the means of transport for the locals in the winter for centuries. South of Denali Park in Wasilla, the world's most famous sled dog race, the Iditarod Race, kicks off every year and goes over 1,200 miles to Nome on the Polar Sea. The fastest will make the track in less than 10 days.

After the demonstration, we make a nice hike in the area and then drive the 14 miles by car in the park up to the barrier and see, quite photogenic, a male moose right on the roadside.

From the park we head east across the beautiful Denali Highway, an unpaved road that winds for 200km through magnificent scenery. In Paxton it goes on the Richardson Highway where the Alaska Pipeline runs partly parallel to the road and offers beautiful photo opportunities. Built from 1975 to 1977 for $ 8 billion, the pipeline spans 1,400 km from the Arctic Ocean on Prudhoe Bay down to Valdez on the Gulf of Alaska. In the 1980s, 2 million barrels of oil were pumped per day over this distance at a flow rate of 4.5 days.

Via Delta Junction and Tok we drive over the Top of the World Highway to Chicken. There we meet our Swiss travel friends Edy & Brigitte whom we last saw on the Baja California. The weather is great and we spend a wonderful evening at the campfire before our paths separate again. 

Shortly after Chicken we leave Alaska. We got to know a great country that we did not expect in this beauty. The season was perfect for us, the rain and the mosquitoes were limited and the landscape and the vastness are simply unbeatable. On top comes a daylength of more than 20 hours, so that you can still read at the campfire after midnight.

Now we are back in Canada and have reached Dawson City, where we have been with or canoe back in 1986 while paddling the Yukon. From there we follow the Dempster Highway up to the Arctic Ocean.  But what we experience there is then part of the next blog. Until then, enjoy reading and watching the pictures and like us on Facebook. 

And finally a few nice snapshots

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