Alaska Trip, Northbound
July 28 to August 15, 2013

This was the big trip of 2014, for both me and my wife Nora. We spent three weeks together, heading north by road and ferry as far as Denali National Park. Then she flew home to resume work and I drove back alone. There was a tremendous lot of driving in both directions, undeniably, but the camping was comfortable and the scenery spectacular.

We spent fifteen nights in campgrounds, one night parked in line for the ferry at Prince Rupert, one night in a berth on the Alaska ferry to Juneau, one night at Glacier Bay Lodge, and the last two nights in a motel in Anchorage.

The north-bound part of the trip took 20 days and I created 147 panoramas.

(Click any picture to open a larger version.)

July 28, 2013

An early start from our home in the foggy Berkeley Hills.

A fast smooth day heading north on Interstate 5. We stopped at the Ide Adobe in Red Bluff.

In the Oregon Siskiyous we drove right through a major forest fire, gawking at the bombers flying low overhead and dropping their orange loads.

We had a camping reservation at Valley of the Rogue State Park, but when we got there it was unbearably hot and we decided to keep on driving. We just happened to notice a camping symbol at the Coburg exit and got a nice campsite in their community park on the Willamette River.

By the time we reached camp at Coburg the shadows were long and the temperature reasonable. We went for a walk and watched ospreys at the river.

All panoramas taken this day (4)

Panoramas of the Ide Adobe on the Sacramento River

July 29, 2013

I-5 is so fast and easy that we were at the Columbia River before lunch and enjoyed a brief stop at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Nora had never seen Mount Saint Helens, so we drove the long road out to the Johnston Ridge viewpoint and back, then continued north. Despite inevitable congestion through Seattle we made it to camp just at sunset.

Deception Pass on Whidbey Island is one of my favorite parks, with campsites screened by lush vegetation and a beach to walk on.

All panoramas taken this day (2)

Panoramas of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Washington

Panoramas of the Johnson Ridge Observatory on Mount St Helens, Washington

Panoramas of Deception Pass State Park

July 30, 2013

After an easy border crossing at Camas I tried to get Nora to have a cup of coffee and a donut at Tim Hortons's, but she insisted on a turkey sandwich and Diet Coke. We proceded northwards up the Fraser River Canyon and interior dry belt until late afternoon, with stops at Hope, the Alexandra Bridge, and Hells Gate.

There was a provincial park shown on the map at Loon Lake, and an encouraging sign at the turnoff, so we took a minor road up into the hills. We drove all the way to the far end of the 8 mile long lake, but no park. So we asked, and were told "Oh they closed that campground fifteen years ago - they should take the sign down!"

We settled for a private campground on the shore of Loon Lake. There were a lot of flags because it was almost BC Day.

All panoramas taken this day (3)

Panoramas of Hope, on the Fraser River, British Columbia

Panoramas of the Fraser River Canyon

July 31, 2013

We continued due north on what is called the Goldrush Trail, roughly the route of the Cariboo wagon road to Barkersvile.

We stopped at Williams Lake for gas, and my VISA card was declined. We tried Nora's card, same result. We went to an ATM for cash and both of our (VISA) debit cards were declined. This began to look like a serious problem, since the only remaining credit card was my American Express, which seldom works at gas pumps, and is not accepted by many businesses, especially in Canada.

We parked on a side street and started making phone calls. After a lot of confusion and run-around, the Bank of America VISA people determined that a hold had been automatically put on our account because it was showing a pattern of use that varied from our norm. Apparently they were afraid that someone had stolen all our cards and was joy-riding across British Columbia. We assured them that it was actually us, and pointed out that we had indeed notified them of our travel plans in advance. No apology, and they offered to send us new cards, to our home address - what idiots! Eventually they agreed to re-activate them all, so we filled up on gas and resumed our journey.

Two long days of driving though had taken their toll, and we stopped early, at Ten Mile Lake Provincial Park near Quesnel.

It was a balmy afternoon and there were showers available - put a loony in the slot. Notice the beautiful cedar tables that are characteristic of BC's provincial parks.

All panoramas taken this day (5)

Panoramas of the Goldrush Trail in British Columbia

August 1, 2013

Just past Prince George, the big city of northern BC, we stopped at historic Fort St James, a restored Hudson Bay Company trading post. I enjoyed an hour shooting panos of the buildings and the interpreters in period costume.

It was British Columbia Day, a holiday, which usually means trouble getting into campgrounds, but we were far enough from cities I wasn't too worried. We pulled into camp simultaneously with just about everyone else on the road, but got a site and enjoyed an amazing purple and red sunset on the lakeshore.

The thing I remember about this campsite was the way a swarm of wasps appeared instantly, cleaned all the squashed bugs off the front of the vehicle, then went away.

All panoramas taken this day (11)

Panoramas of Prince George, BC

Panoramas of Fort St James National Historic Site of Canada

August 2, 2013

Smithers is where northbound travellers really begins to feel they are somewhere different and exciting. We hiked to the twin waterfalls on Hudson Bay Mountain, watched First Nations men dip-netting salmon at Moricetown Rapids, and admired totem poles and other native art at Ksan and other villages along the Skeena River.

The day ended at Prince Rupert, where we checked in for the next morning's ferry, then enjoyed a long drawn out dinner with a view from high above the harbor.

There was a sign that said "No Camping", but the ferry terminal staff assured us that we would be "waiting" not "camping", so we spent the night parked in line. By the time the ferry began to load at 4:15 am we were surrounded by other vehicles.

All panoramas taken this day (11)

Panoramas of Smithers and vicinity, British Columbia

Panoramas of the Hazeltons and Ksan historical village, BC

Panoramas of the Skeena River, BC

August 3, 2013

The ferry was underway at dawn and steamed smoothly and slowly north all day and all night, through the beautiful scenery of the Inside Passage. There was a brief stop at Ketchikan, which we had visited before on a cruise ship in 2000.

Our little house on wheels spent the voyage down on the car deck. We would have been happy to put the top up and camped in it, but for safety reasons that is not allowed.

So we rented a cabin with bunk beds, porthole, bathroom with shower, even wi-fi. We enjoyed a morning nap after our early start, three meals, a few drinks at the bar, walks around the decks, great scenery, and a good nights rest. The pervasive sound and vibration of the engines was strangely soothing.

All panoramas taken this day (3)

Panoramas of the Inside Passage ferry between Prince Rupert and Juneau

August 4, 2013

We got to Juneau in late morning and went straight to the Mendenhall Glacier. It was cold and raining heavily, but we hiked to the waterfall anyway. We drove across to Douglas Island and back, then made a major resupply stop at Safeway, and early camp across the lake from the glacier.

It is best to cook well away from your tent or camper when in grizzly bear country. I got thoroughly soaked and practically hypothermic cooking a couple of steaks in the steady cold rain. Thank heavens for the camper and its propane heater.

All panoramas taken this day (7)

Panoramas of the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

Panoramas of Douglas Island, Juneau

August 5, 2013

We had a leisurely morning because our flight was delayed by the rainy and cloudy weather. The airline, Wings of Alaska, was a tiny outfit, just like the television series "Wings". Eventually the pilot said we could go. Nora got to ride in the co-pilot's seat! It was a scenic flight, avoiding the mountains (which were still hidden in clouds), over pale green water and dark green forests.

Upon arrival at the little air terminal in Gustavus we realized that the Chinese couple who had been on the plane with us had no reservations for that night and no idea what to do. The airline staff were wonderful, they called the lodge, no luck, then a few B&B's, and ended up arranging with an auntie who put people up when necessary.

We stayed at the Glacier Bay Lodge, the official (and only) accommodation in the national park. The visitor center/museum shares the main building with the restaurant and lobby. The sky had cleared and it was beautiful on the pier and cobblestone beach, and we enjoyed dinner by the big windows in the long twilight.

All panoramas taken this day (6)

Panoramas of Bartlett Cove and the Glacier Bay Lodge

August 6, 2013

Glacier Bay was one of our two big destinations on this trip, along with Denali. It can only be viewed from the water, either a cruise ship, or the daily nature cruise run by the park service. We were out all day, the weather was perfect. We saw bears and marine mammals, lots of sea birds including puffins, and so many whales we stopped counting. The naturalist gave an excellent running commentary and several serious birders pointed out the rare species for us.

The main event though was the close approach to tidewater glaciers. They have receded miles, literally miles, back up the fiords since John Muir described them in the nineteenth century, but there are still several that calve icebergs directly into deep water (though many others no longer reach the shore). We steamed up to within a mile or so of the Johns Hopkins Glacier, an awesome sight.

The return journey was by a slightly different route, then a van ride and the short flight back to Juneau. That flight, actually, was one of the highlights of the entire trip. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant and camped near the ferry terminal, handy for another cruelly-early departure.

This time I grabbed the co-pilot seat and we flew low over the mountains, affording a good view of mountain goats in the green alpine meadows.

All panoramas taken this day (8)

Panoramas of the Glacier Bay nature cruise

August 7, 2013

An early ferry departure from Juneau, then a slow journey up the inside Passage to Haines. We had lunch in a little cafe overlooking the boat ramp, a quick look around town, and bought groceries, then started driving again. We crossed into Canada then crested the coastal mountains and started downhill into the Yukon. This was our first view of boreal forest and tundra.

Campground at Million Dollar Falls

All panoramas taken this day (11)

Panoramas of

Panoramas of Haines, Alaska

Panoramas of the Chikat River, near Haines, Alaska

Panoramas of Chilkat Pass and the Haines Highway in British Columbia

Panoramas of the Haines Highway in the Yukon

August 8, 2013

This seemed like the longest driving day, 450 miles in about ten hours, from Haines Junction along the Alaska Highway to Tok Junction. There was some mountain scenery and Kluane Lake, but mostly boreal forest and muskeg. Despite the novelty we got thoroughly tired of it, especially since low clouds usually hid the higher mountains.

A nice campsite just south of Tok, Alaska

All panoramas taken this day (2)

Panoramas of Kluane and Kluane Lake, Yukon

Panoramas of the Alaska Highway west of Kluane in the Yukon

August 9, 2013

South through the Alaska Range to Glenallen, but low clouds hid any views. Then we started west on the Denali Highway, just for a few miles until pavement ended. Dark low clouds and sometimes light rain, not a very interesting drive.

Serious rain had begun by the time we reached Tangle Lakes Campground. This tundra landscape must be beautiful in the sun, but we were happy to just stay inside the camper with the heater on.

All panoramas taken this day (3)

Panoramas of the Gulkana River

August 10, 2013

First, let's get it straight. Denali highway is, well, not a highway, and it is not how most people get to Denali. It was the original road, west from the Richardson Highway, to reach the park, but was largely obsoleted by construction of the Parks Highway, which connects Denali north to Fairbanks and south to Anchorage. But it is a scenic unpaved route with lots of wild country and mountain views.

Unfortunately, we didn't see it at its best. It rained the entire distance, and it was crowded with local families out to hunt caribou. We got to the park in early afternoon , picked up our bus and campground tickets, then checked into the campground.

Riley Creek Campground at Denali, convenient to the visitor center and services.

All panoramas taken this day (4)

Panoramas of the Denali Highway

August 11, 2013

In the morning we went to the visitor center, watched the Alaska Railroad train from Fairbanks come in, had lunch and bought souvenirs, enjoyed the sled dog demonstration, then drove to the campground at Teklanika River. The second half of this road is only open to vehicles with a camping reservation and official buses.

Teklanika River Campground, just gravel parking pads in a boreal forest, nothing very interesting. To stay here you must have a hard-sided camping vehicle (we qualified because the pop-up fabric starts above six feet).

All panoramas taken this day (11)

Panoramas of the Riley Creek area at Denali National Park

Panoramas of the first miles of the Denali Park Road

August 12, 2013


All panoramas taken this day (7)

Panoramas of the Eielson Visitor Center on the Denali Park Road

Panoramas of the western park of the Denali Park Road

August 13, 2013


All panoramas taken this day (7) (7)

August 14, 2013


None of our maps showed a campground near Talkeetna, but the visitor information center in town suggested the marina. Sure enough, there was a scattering of campsites in dense forest along the river just outside of town.

All panoramas taken this day (8)

Panoramas of

Panoramas of

August 15, 2013

In the morning we walked around Talkeetna and bought a few more gifts for folks back home. The town has a certain raffish charm, but is totally touristy.

We could have driven straight into Anchorage from there, but I wanted Nora to see the scenery along the Hatcher Pass Road in the Talkeetna Mountains. It is a slow gravel road that climbs gradually through forest to tundra, then steeply to a lake and the pass. On the other side we stopped at Independence Mine State Park. It was a worthwhile side trip, despite dull gray weather. Nora says it was her favorite Alaska experience.

All panoramas taken this day (17)

Panoramas of the Hatcher Pass Road, Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska

Panoramas of the Independence Mine Historical Park in the Talkeetna Mountains

August 16, 2013

This was the last day of the trip for Nora. We did laundry at the motel and had dinner next door. I guess we were exhausted.

Don Bain at Google+