The McKenzie's Official world tour site
Thursday, 17 September 2009
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
We find ourselves still dreaming of the Dalton and our experiences along the only highway in Alaska to cross north over the Arctic Circle, in all the glory of the Arctic tundra in the fall!
Next stop along our travels was at the Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park. We have really enjoyed our time at these State Parks, which are dry camps and very often beside a lake. Phil had a successful fishing session and we had Rainbow Trout for tea and then breakfast the next day!
We crossed the Border back into the States and arrived in Hyder, Alaska. WOW – it was just as good as we had been led to believe and well worth the journey! We visited Fish Creek Wildlife Site, which has a board walk for the viewing of wildlife........
Grizzly and black bears come to this creek to catch Chum and Pink Salmon which spawn in the creek, during the summer months. The spawning fish were our first glimpse of an activity of nature which we hear about, but are rarely in a position to observe. We had to be patient for the next few hours as activity was scarce, but just as we watched a pair of Bald Headed Eagles as they sat majestically in the tree – up the river came a GRIZZLY BEAR, in search of an early tea! An amazing sight – we were lucky enough to be able to watch two grizzlies as they ran through the water and grabbed their salmon tea that day. They would catch one and then leave the water to eat, before re-entering the water for another go. They both settled on three fish each........and we have over 20 minutes of video footage which we watched over that same evening at the Bear River Campground in Stewart (back in Canada!)
Our hearts took a good few hours to return to a normal beating pattern as the adrenaline took hold about the sights that we have been so honoured to see. There is something exhilarating about being that ‘dangerously’ close to nature- to a GRIZZLY BEAR, who was within metres of us and could have easily come and joined us up on the boardwalk if he had so wished! This experience has excelled what we have all been waiting to see, and we all feel elated and absolutely content with our memories, photos and video footage! To be in such close proximity to a mighty and powerful wild animal – born and living free – we only hoped that these bears didn’t have a headache or a grudge to bear!!
As we left Hyder, just for a bonus, a Black Bear decided to walk out in front of Nessie – Wow again!
When we stayed at Seeley Lake the following night, we were all still buzzing from our ‘time with the bears!’ For many, bears are obviously just part of a way of life –but to us they are the most amazing creatures to be able to spend a snippet of their time observing! Lions in Africa could well be our next stop.......!
On Labour Day weekend there were lots of children at the camp we next found ourselves at (Fraser Lake), as this would be the final long weekend break before school returned after the summer vacation (8th September)in Canada. We believe that many of the US schools went back around August 17th. So, as all the children were having a blast on their bikes and in the play area, we were ‘surprised’ when they were all advised to go back to their pitches, as a bear had been seen in the camp! Once again, this made living amongst ‘the wild’ a very real experience for us and the children too!
Wednesday, 16 September 2009 18:32:04 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska | Canada
• The Tongass National Forest is nearly 17 million acres in size and is the largest National Forest in the United States. It is also the largest contiguous temperate rainforest in the world.
• Stewart holds the Canadian Record for snowfall: 911.2 mm or 27 feet in one season.
Wednesday, 16 September 2009 18:30:37 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska | Canada
• Dall Porpoise
• Red Fox
• Salmon – Chum, Sockeye and Silver
• Stellar Sea Lions
• Harbour Seals
• Lion-Necked Jellyfish
• Common Murres
• Stellar Jays
• Alaskan Black Bears
• ALASKAN GRIZZLY BEARS!!
Wednesday, 16 September 2009 18:29:16 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska | Canada
Tuesday, 08 September 2009
Saturday, 05 September 2009
On Top of the World...............
Our next challenge was to be the Taylor Highway – otherwise known as the Top of the World Highway.....this would lead us through the Canada Border and to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. This road was once again unpaved and more challenging than the Dalton Highway as it was muddy, narrow, hilly and windy. For the first part of the journey the weather was lovely and so the views were breath taking. The track was hair- raising in places as it passed along the very tops of the mountains, with narrow passes and no guard rails! Being right hand drive, Phil did not feel honoured at being on the steep drop side of the vehicle for much of the way – especially when the fog and snow hit, as we approached the Canadian border!
Our time in Chicken was fun in this quirky old time gold mining town-the home of the Pedro Gold Dredge. We visited ‘downtown’, with its row of two shops and a western-style saloon Bar. It was very interesting to talk with the locals, and Downtown Chicken proprietress, Susan Wiren, to discover that the community now has around 50 members for the summer months and maybe as few as 5 permanent residents during those fast approaching winter months! As we had a pint in the Saloon, we met local gold miner called Kirk, who now spends about 5 months in Chicken at work and then returns to the warmth (?) of Fairbanks for the winter! There is no electricity, no plumbing, no telephone and post arrives twice a week by Bush plane- to help keep the community of Chicken alive and kicking – and long may it continue.
For our final night in Alaska, we camped along the Top of the World, at Walker Fork Campground-the best state park we have found, to date. The sunset that evening was the most amazing ever – we sat around the campfire and watched as the mountain tops appeared to be on fire, with the blazing burst of colour. Our first aid kit was required (and skills remembered from the first aid course that we both did, before we left on Macswayround), as Ben managed to cut the palm of his hand quite badly, with a knife, when he was busy whittling his wood. As we were in the middle of nowhere, many hours away from a hospital – this was not an option and so Phil cleaned up, added antiseptic cream, and bandaged Ben’s hand up. Phil wanted to put a stitch in it and we think that Ben would have let him but Jemma was having none of it! Ben was a brave soldier and has begun to understand the importance of self preservation in these remote parts!
The journey along the Dawson Highway up to the Arctic Circle and indeed the following journey along the Taylor highway (Top of the World) to Dawson City was a most amazing trip. We have been continuing to drive through some of the most spectacular scenery, with an array of beautiful colours – the most vivid we have ever seen in a natural setting. It has been as if we are travelling through a painted picture, for mile, after mile, after mile! We have caught the autumnal colours at the perfect time and before we get stuck in the snow (hopefully!). The camera has not stopped clicking.......
We travelled through Dawson City – rich in Klondike Gold Rush history, from 1896 when gold was found. This created, arguably, the world’s greatest gold rush stampede, as almost 100,000 people tried to strike it rich in the Klondike gold fields. The town was declared a National Historic Site in the early 1960’s and is it decorated by many brightly coloured buildings and restored cabins. There are tour opportunities and many chances to try your luck at gold-panning!
Back in the Yukon Territory, Canada, we camped at the Klondike River......another fire and more stew!
Leaving early the next morning, we spied two Canadian moose along the water’s edge. We got some miles under our belts before stopping for breakfast with yet another gorgeous view at the Five Finger Rapids Recreation Site! It has been excellent for us to be able to move our home along with us and to change the view out of our breakfast window, each and every day!
After a long drive, but beginning early in the morning (Phil says that this is easier than having to wait for the girls to wake up!), we arrived into Whitehorse and after a few chores we set up camp at the Pioneer RV Park.
1st September, 2009 saw us return south on the Alaska Highway and after a spot of relaxing fishing, our day was to be taken over by the matter of tyres! We had a blow out (actually a completely wrecked tyre) and two broken valves – all on the same day! That makes it 50% of the tyres! Was Nessie trying to go for the record or just telling us that she needs a couple of duvet days?! Hans passed us, and offered help, as we were emptying our fresh water tank, to reduce weight, while we crept along to find a flat place to change the wheel. As he was on a push bike, he was grateful for his drinking water bottles to be filled up! We wish him luck on his adventure from Fairbanks to Vancouver (for this trip!) and for the other routes he has planned in the future too.
So –with a brand spanking new wheel and 2 dodgy valves, Nessie cruised us into Watson Lake for the night. We had a warm welcome at the Downtown RV Park and were able to sort Nessie’s valves out and give her another bath too!
We called back into the Signpost Forest and added another Macswayround sign to the collection – one that Phil had prepared earlier-so now we do have a permanent spot in the forest and Macswayround can live on in there!
As Nessie was clean and rested – we decided to hit another unpaved route along the tracks to Hyder....we found a most beautiful camp spot at Boya Lake where the turquoise waters and stunning reflections reminded us of the Croatia lakes that we know and love. The boat was pumped up once more and fun was had by all. There were lots of little islands that the children rowed to and then got out to explore! Later we met Marilyn and Al, who had bought had Angus, Dakota, four dogs and two kayaks with them. Jemma and Ben’s faces lit up, children to play with, kayaks, dogs.........who could ask for more! Jemma and Ben’s charms (or persistence?) soon won the kayaks over and they had a blast! Ben even had Digger the dog sitting on and sometimes in the kayak with him! Obiously a very trusting dog but he could jump ship if he needed to! Those four dogs were the greatest swimmers we have ever seen and absolutely loved their time in the water too! After telling Jemma and Ben that it was far too cold to swim – Marilyn was diving in with a swimming costume on and swam around the lakes for a good hour and a half. We suggested that maybe she should swim the English Channel next!
Saturday, 05 September 2009 18:16:11 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska | Canada
On Top of the World...............
• Legend tells how miners working over 100 years ago hunted Ptarmigan as a food source, but since they could not spell the grouse’s name – decided to name their new home CHICKEN instead!
• Chicken was once home to 400 gold miners, but when gold was discovered in Dawson City in 1896, most of the miners went east to find their riches.
• The Top of the World Highway brings travellers through some of North America’s most remote and pristine backcountry scenery.
Saturday, 05 September 2009 18:14:56 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska
On Top of the World...............
WILDLIFE HITS (ongoing list):
• Mountain Goats
• Hump Back Whales
• Killer Whales (Orca)
• Sea Otter
• Tufted Puffins
• Horned Puffins
• Arctic Ground Squirrels
• Arctic Terns
Saturday, 05 September 2009 18:13:43 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska
Tuesday, 01 September 2009
More Alaska pics.......
Tuesday, 01 September 2009 08:14:36 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska
We made it to the Arctic Circle........
After bidding Chelle farewell, we took another look at Downtown Anchorage and sampled a reindeer hotdog! The children had fun at the Science Discovery Centre – Imaginarium. Later, at Creekwood, we enjoyed spending time with some locals at the campsite (Garrett, Renee, Daniel, Elizabeth, Joseph and Colt) and the children were entertained with magic tricks.
Heading north bound once again, the clear skies were on our side and we had amazing views of Mount McKinley and the rest of the Alaska Range. At Trapper Creek the World Famous Wal Mikes store was the ultimate in Bric a Brac experience! We stepped back in time and could have spent hours exploring the wide selection of goods on offer! We stayed at the North Viewpoint and Phil even took the tripod and camera up onto Nessie’s roof for a photo shoot – is that dedication or what?!
Further north along the Dalton Highway (or the Haul road) – we went for a distance of about 125 miles on an unpaved track. The truckers were busy with deliveries and it is recommended not to get in the way of these guys! We took the challenge of the most remote and challenging road in Alaska – although to us everything is relative and this road was in much better condition than some of those we have tackled in Eastern Europe. Nessie did, however, take off and perform her very first wheelie at one point, which was interesting!
For us and Nessie to have reached the Arctic Circle was almost a surreal experience. We were on the top of the world and the furthest north that Macswayround would see. We took the necessary photos of us and ‘the sign!’ and then scrambled back into Nessie as the Heaven’s opened. A while later, a couple of Irish lads arrived on motorbikes and Phil offered Steve and Peadar a warm up coffee and a dry awning to shelter their bikes and ‘stuff!’ It was great to meet these guys- both with amazing travels stories of their own. They ended up sharing some roast meat, a film and a wee dram too and kipped the night on Nessie’s spare bed (rather than tackle a tent in the rain!). On this trip they have travelled up from Argentina and are heading to Prudhoe Bay – the point at which the land meets the Arctic Ocean! Take a look at their entertaining journey blogs at www.footstops.com/argentina2alaska .
Having reached this point came the realisation that as we turn south we are actually beginning to head towards home ........although we still have plenty of miles to do and places to see along the way! The next scheduled appointment is happening in Michigan at the beginning of October and so as long as we head in that direction(ish), for that time – we should be right!
The next day we saw our first Alaskan Black Bear – and our biggest bear to date, as he circled the very remote Trading Post that we had stopped off at on our way back down the Dalton Highway! As we did the tourist thing, with cameras and camcorders, we were made aware of the realities of living with these potentially dangerous animals. The lady had been left there by herself for the day with no car and was not relishing the idea of having to look over her shoulder all day, to check what her big ‘cuddly’ friend was up to. The bear was not at all worried about us watching him and as winter approaches they are solely concerned with finding food and stocking up for their imminent hibernation.
We camped a little further along the road at a free dry spot, all by ourselves once again. During the night, when Phil heard a very low pitch and prolonged growl NOT very far away from us......he did not sleep any more. Instead, he sat up and brandished the good ‘ole faithful axe in one hand and pepper spray in the other – not at all nervous then!
We came back down to Fairbanks – the golden Heart city and the hub of interior Alaska and to the relative safety of the River’s Edge RV Park! We were grateful to Leo (whom we had met a few weeks ago), as he came by to share a few tips on things to see and do around Fairbanks and the nearby town of North Pole, where he lives.
At the Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks, we saw lots of the 200,000 Sand hill Cranes, who are busy returning from Northern Alaska, where they have spent the summer. This dairy farm has diversified into a migratory waterfowl refuge and in order to keep these spectacular birds away from the Fairbanks International Airport, they began to spread tons of enticing barley over their fields! This plan has succeeded and the refuge now covers 2,000 acres.
The University of Alaska Museum of the North, was a great place to discover more about Alaskan life and culture. It was incredible to see the remains of a Steppe Bison: Blue Babe-who is a left-over from the ice age, some 36,000 years ago! We were also dwarfed by a resident brown bear, standing up on two feet to reach an astounding 8 feet 9 inches tall! We figured that this guy really would be popping in to say ‘Hi ‘through the very top window of Nessie!
We saw two productions, the first recalling what it is really like to live through a winter in Alaska and the second explaining about the magical phenomenon of the Northern Light (Aurora Borealis), throughout the regions of the north and south poles. These lights are now known to be caused by particles, mostly electrons that are carried to the earth by solar winds. The particles become trapped by earth’s magnetic field, which causes a ring of light around the polar regions of the planet. It was very interesting to learn that experiments have proved that an exact mirror image is happening at the Antarctic, at exactly the same time during the auroras! It would be fantastic to see this beauty of the night......
We were made welcome at Leo’s house and also met his wife, Diane. Leo helped set us up with a campfire at the Chena Lake Recreation Area and later in the evening Phil sat out listening to the howling call of the wild!
We enjoyed very warm and sunny weather at the Pioneer Park in Fairbanks – a re-constructed gold-rush-town theme park. Some original buildings have been refurbished to create a variety of houses and stores in the authentic town. It was interesting to see models of the old-time town and to take a wander around the engine room of the SS Nenana. This is the second-largest wooden ship in the world today, coming in at 237 feet (72 meters) long and 42 feet (13 meters) wide. Despite its size, when this ship was fully loaded with ore, it could still operate in just 6 inches (15 cms) of water. These sternwheelers ran every major river in Alaska during the gold rushes, and were a major contributor in the creation of the State of Alaska.
We took the 40 below Fairbanks Experience by being dressed in very warm clothing and put inside a ‘freezer’ for as long as we wanted! Not long! There was a thermometer in there as proof and a frozen banana that the lads hammered a nail in with – just to say they did! Our best science experiment of the day was to throw boiling water into the air and watch it vaporize before it touched the ground! It is very difficult for us to comprehend living and working in these conditions. We were told that last winter Fairbanks had 3 continuous weeks when temperatures reached a high of -40 degrees F! Day to day life and school continues a tad on the chilly side for some!
A final stop in the Pioneer Park was at the ‘Old-time Photos’ and we were all amused by trying on the period costume and having our family pictures taken! It was not surprising how both Phil and Ben both went for the ‘Outlaw pose!’ definitely a case of ‘like father -like son!’ The photos were taken, expertly by Shaunessy and we would like to thank her for her time.
North Pole was our next, and very necessary stop – the place where the spirit of Christmas lives year round. The streets are lined with Christmas signs, and the lamp posts are candy canes! We all had our photos taken at the North Pole, in North Pole. At Santa Claus House, our children (and us too!) were delighted as the very special person was at home and open to visitors! It was fantastic to see Father Christmas in his summer outfit that Mrs Claus had made for him and to see him taking a Coke from the machine, inside his own house! We also saw 4 of his reindeer (Dasher, Prancer, Dancer and Vixen) and learnt that Rudolf was currently taking a break at the Reindeer farm in Palmer.
We called back to say our goodbyes to Leo and Diane before spending a final night at Chena Lakes.
Back in Tok we popped into the Tetlin Wildlife Headquarters to check in with the Ranger there and prove that the children did the Refuge Manager work to earn their badges and certificates too! Tok RV Village saw us fine for the night and the children missed Dave Stancliff who had entertained us with his Alaskan sing-a-long, last time we were here! We met up again with Ken and June, who we last met in Seward. It is good to catch up with fellow travellers, as we share similar routes around the limited road systems of Alaska! We all enjoyed moose stew (thanks to Leo), cooked over the campfire – another one to add to our tried and tested list! Also mountain sheep breakfast sausage which was on our menu the next morning!
Tuesday, 01 September 2009 05:58:33 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska
We made it to the Arctic Circle........
• Copper River Salmon are considered the best in the world. This is due to these salmon having developed more fat and omega – 3 oil reserves in order to travel hundreds of miles up the Copper River to reach their spawning grounds.
• The coldest temperature ever recorded in the United States was -80 degrees F/-62 degrees C at Prospect Camp, 39 miles south of Coldfoot (Alaska) in 1971!
• Winter temperatures in Interior and Arctic Alaska commonly range between -20 degrees F/-29 degrees C and -40 degrees F/ -40 degrees C, or colder!
• Mount McKinley (also known as Denali or the Mountain) stands at a proud 20,320 feet, within the Alaska Range. It is North America’s highest mountain and WAIT for this......when you consider rise from base to peak – this mountain is actually the TALLEST MOUNTAIN on the planet!! (Mt. Everest starts on the Tibetan Plateau).
• Fireweed is a pink and magenta flower that blooms in late summer and fall. As legend would have it, once fireweed reaches its full bloom, winter is but six weeks away.
• The 800 mile Trans-Alaska oil pipeline runs from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean south to Fairbanks and down along the Richardson Highway to Valdez. It was completed in 1977. The silver exterior that can be seen is not the actual pipe, but an insulated heat shield. The pipe rests in Teflon-coated bars so that it can move during earthquakes. The posts going into the ground also have fins on top to cool the refrigerant that circulates down the posts to keep the ground frozen!
• Wrangell-St. Elias is more than 13.2 million acres and is the nation’s largest national park. It is twice as big as Denali National Park and six times larger than Yellowstone National Park, in the Lower 48.
• In the wild, Ice worms are close to invisible: they come out only at night, and go back into the glacier before the sun comes out, since they essentially melt in temperatures above freezing. No one is quite sure how the worms travel. Apparently NASA is studying them as a model for life on other planets.
• The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race travels more than 1,000 miles between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon, and is widely regarded as the toughest mushing race in the world. It is scheduled to begin on Feb 6th, 2010, in Fairbanks, with a winner expected into Whitehorse about 10 days later!
• The ARCTIC is a difficult place to live but several species of animals have made it their home for thousands of years.
Tuesday, 01 September 2009 05:56:45 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska
We made it to the Arctic Circle........
• Stone Sheep
• BLACK BEAR!
• Trumpeter Swans
• Pine Gros Beaks
• Grey Jays (Camp Robbers!)
• Grayling (Lady of the Stream)
• Snowshoe Hare
• Caribou (with Antlers!)
• Fresh BIG Grizzly bear tracks!
• Canada Geese
• Beluga Whale
• Mallard Ducks
• Wilson’s Snipe
• Willow Ptarmigan
• Northern Harrier
• Harlequin Duck
• Northern Goshawk
Tuesday, 01 September 2009 05:54:39 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska
Saturday, 29 August 2009
Saturday, 29 August 2009 06:50:51 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska
Facts and more facts.....
• Alaska is 586,000 square miles and in the Aleut language, Alaska means “The Great Land”.
• Alaska is one-sixth the size of the Lower 48 (the other states of the USA), and with 30,000 miles of coast- line, it has more coastline than the rest of the states combined.
• Alaska has 54 million acres dedicated to 17 national parks, which is 13% of the state’s landmass!
• There is 29,000 square miles of ICE in Alaska! That is 5% of Alaska!
• Alaska celebrates its 50th birthday of being a State in 2009!
• Cheechako – describes a new-comer, generally someone who hasn’t spent a winter in Alaska.
• Sourdough – Any Alaska or Yukon old-timer.
• James Cook first explored Cook Inlet in 1778. He also reached Hawaii that same year.
• The Musk Ox has survived since the ice age. It is able to survive the harsh arctic winter temperatures by growing a thick layer of QIVIUT (pronounced Ki-vee-ute) over their entire body. This fine under wool is shed in the spring when it is no longer needed. They have the warmest fur of any animal (8 times warmer than sheep’s wool!) The Musk Ox farm at Palmer is the only place in the world to gather this wool and send it away to be made into something useful (scarves, hats etc). This fibre is one of the warmest and rarest on earth and feels extremely light.
• The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre is a non – profit organisation dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through conservation, education and quality animal care (www.awcc.org). The centre takes in orphaned and injured animals year round. Animals that cannot be released back into the wild are given a permanent home there.
• Seward is known as the land which has been carved by glaciers and polished by the sea. It has tidewater glaciers that thunder into the sea.
• The city of Seward was named for President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Henry Seward, the man who engineered the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867.
• In 1867 the USA paid 7.2 million dollars to Russia for the purchase of Alaska. This was equal to 2 cents per acre (roughly 1 penny per acre).
• The Harding Ice field is the largest within the USA boundaries. It spans a massive area of 70 miles long and 30 miles wide.
• The Kenai Fjords National Park consists of 600,000 acres!
• In Alaska law, motorcyclist must wear a helmet only until they are 18, however any age passenger must always wear a helmet.
• Anchorage is home to half of the State of Alaska’s population.
• Almost 30,000 Alaskan natives live in the Anchorage area. The largest native village in the State (Eklutna) is found here.
• At least 1000 moose live within the Anchorage City Limits!
• The 730,000 acre Tetlin Wildlife Refuge produces up to 100,000 ducklings a year. There are also over 186 different bird species here.
• In some parts of Alaska there are some days which are considered just TOO COLD for school. Usually the cut off point is around 50-55 degrees F -below zero – BUT – not in TOK, where school goes on no matter what the temperature! (-80 degrees F?!)
• A working sled dog needs up to 10,000 calories a day during the Iditarod sled dog race to Nome. Dogs in Alaska traditionally ate dried and frozen salmon during the winter.
Saturday, 29 August 2009 06:42:44 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska
• GRIZZLY BEARS- can weigh up to 800-1500 pounds and range in colour all shades from blonde to black. They have a shoulder hump and a dished face. 70-80% of their diet is plants and they use very long blunt claws to dig. The rest of their diet is made up from small mammals, and salmon! Grizzly bears have difficulty in climbing trees but are still reach heights of 12 feet up a tree trunk! While they sleep in the winter, their heart beat drops from 70 beats to around 10 beats a minute. They recycle stored fat, carbohydrates and muscle proteins in a way that allows them to survive without eating or drinking for months.
• BLACK BEARS – can weigh 220-330 pounds, and also range in colour from black to brown to blonde. They have no shoulder hump and shorter claws. 95% of their diet is plant material. Black bears loose 20-40% of their body weight during winter hibernation and so they must consume 20,000 calories per day prior to hibernation! During those winter months they ‘den’ in caves or hollow trees. This is where their tiny cubs are born, and where they are nursed until they emerge from their dens in the spring.
• MOOSE –are the largest member of the deer family. They have very long legs, a humpback, a short tale, and a flap of covered skin that hangs beneath their chin (called a bell). Males are the only ones to have antlers. Moose can swim continuously for several hours, dive down to depths of 20 feet, and remain submerged for up to a minute!
• ELK – resemble very large white-tailed deer. They weigh 660-770 pounds fully grown and males have large antlers. Elks are highly vocal animals, they bark to warn each other of danger and communicate by grunting and squealing to each other.
• CARIBOU – Both male and females grow antlers, however the males antlers are massive, in comparison to the females. Their favourite winter food of lichens, grow very slowly, but the caribou’s erratic movements keep it from becoming overgrazed. They have large hooves that keep them above snow through the winter months and paw through the snow in search of lichens. There are over a million caribou in Alaska.
• BISON- can be recognised by their dark brown, shaggy furred head, lighter coloured body, massive humped shoulder and sharp upturned horns. If Bison are caught in a storm, they will face the wind, using their woolly head and shoulder coat to reduce the chill, before it reaches the rest of the body.
• TUFTED PUFFINS- inhabit burrows.
• HORNED PUFFINS- occupy naturally occurring rock crevices.
• DALL SHEEP – live in high, alpine tundra on ridges. They eat grasses, lichens and moss. Rams have large, curling horns which grow to a ‘full curl’ in eight years.
• WOLVES – are social animals and live in packs of six or seven. They eat animals ranging from tiny voles and ground squirrels to caribou and moose.
• AMERICAN WOOD FROGS- freeze solid during the winter, even their blood and eye balls, and their hearts stop beating. They replace much of the water inside their cells with glucose and create their very own antifreeze so that their cell walls are not permanently damaged. Within hours, as temperatures rise in the spring – these frogs thaw out and hop away as if nothing has happened – how is this possible?
• SEA OTTERS – are an endangered species in western Alaska. It is the smallest marine mammal and the largest member of the weasel family. They like to eat crabs, clams, sea urchins and octopus. Sea otters have the densest fur in the animal kingdom; up to a million hairs per square inch!
• BALD HEADED EAGLES- are the symbol of the USA. They opportunistically eat other birds, fish and carrion. They have a majestic and proud beauty.
• HARBOR SEALS- are members of the true seal family and have no external ear flaps. They eat fish such as Capelin and swimming crustaceans, such as shrimp.
• HUMPED BACK WHALES – exhales water at over 300 mph (480 kph) in a fine spray. They surface every 5 to 8 minutes before diving to continue their 18 –hour-long feeding. Females must consume about 800 pounds (360 kgs) of krill and schooling fish a day, sieved through baleen instead of teeth, to support their 90,000 pound (41,000 kg) weight. A whale fluking (lifting its tail out of the water) is beginning a deep dive down and saying in Whale language “diving deeper; see you later!”
Saturday, 29 August 2009 06:41:15 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska
Friday, 21 August 2009
Anchorage and onwards...........
Lake Louise was beautiful and even featured an island with a few houses on it! We were lucky to see a caribou (with antlers) walking along the road in front of Nessie!
In Palmer we visited the Musk Ox Farm and found out about these animals that existed in the ice age and have a woolly coat that will continue to keep them warm at a temperature of minus 80 degrees! They are not as big as bison and look like a cross between a highland cow and an ox. We could also imagine these animals to be happy up in the Scottish Highlands. We enjoyed staying at the Town and Country RV Park in Palmer and learnt more about the Glenn Highway which is now a National Scenic Byway.
Our last stop before reaching Anchorage was at the Eagle River Park where the children collected more fire wood for a campfire.
When we got into Anchorage, we stayed at a camp near to the airport as we were collecting a very special guest early the next day. We sorted out Nessie to accommodate another person, as our very good friend Chelle has flown in via New York and will spend 10 days travelling Alaska with us.
We thought that it might add a different flavour if Chelle contributes to the blog for the time she is with us, as a visitor joining in with life on Macswayround!!
Over to you -Chelle – and many thanks for your thoughts and hard work.
It was great to see you again.
Friday, 21 August 2009 09:27:48 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska
Anchorage and onwards...........
I joined the McKenzie family in their travels around the world on the 11th August 2009, I had promised when they left England, on July 14th 2008, that wherever they were in the world in August 2009 I would visit them.
As I arrived in Anchorage airport I had been travelling for 17 hours as I had to fly from New York to Seattle then onto Anchorage. As I came out of the airport I saw the RV disappearing out of the exit of the car park, with ‘MACSWAY ROUND’ clearly visible heading over the horizon. I checked my phone no signal, help I didn’t know anyone, I had nowhere to stay, this trip was beginning to look like a bad idea. As I started to panic the RV came into sight again, I waved, legged it to the taxi rank pink case in toe and met the family. They all had a giggle about my pink Barbie case, but it was a great reunion.
Phil then drove us to a nearby broad walk so I could settle in to ‘Nessie’. I had not been camping for a long time and proceeded to break the toilet within the first 5 minutes of arriving, but Phil and Sharon were very understanding and gave me the guided tour of ‘Nessie’ which they have very much made their home and it felt very welcoming.
Ben and Jemma were then keen to show me the wildlife and they have learnt an amazing amount in their travels about the natural environment, the animals and their habitat. After an entertaining walk we then headed for Seward, setting up camp for the night at Chugach National Forest at Granite Creek campground. Ben and Jemma showed me where to get the best fire wood and what to do if we saw a bear. They also told me about the pepper spray I needed to carry in case we came across a bear. It was like being on tour with two young BBC wildlife presenters!!
After some much needed sleep we then travelled to Seward. Ben and Jemma then managed to complete the Kenai Fjords Junior Ranger booklet which involved many activities which entitled them to become junior rangers. They have been collecting these badges in all National Parks around the USA, they now have quite a collection of which they are very proud and rightly so!!
The next part of our journey in Seaward took us to ‘Exit Glacier’ this was just outside of Seward and this gave us the opportunity to walk to a glacier which was just amazing. It was enormous and really brought the process of glaciation to life. I hope that if Ben and Jemma study geography in future years they will have more of an appreciation of this phenomenon than I did at school having only been able to look at a book, as it really was truly spectacular.
There was great excitement in ‘Nessie’ the next morning as we prepared to board ‘Kenai Star’ which was the boat which would take us right into the heart of the Kenai Fjords National Park. We had been promised we would see a variety of marine life while we were on board and we were not disappointed.
We had been on board approximately 20 minutes and we saw a sea otter, lying on its back very chilled out watching the world go by. Soon after we spotted the hump back whale, which was amazing to see. Ben informed me at this point that the Blue Whale’s tail is the width of a small aircraft. Who needs David Attenborough on tour when you have Ben McKenzie ?? Capturing this magnificent creature on camera was however a different matter and it became a game of whale waiting not watching but we all got some excellent shots including Jemma.
Hunger by now had set in and we were all very glad to see lunch was being served it was salmon and steak, with salad as much as you could eat. It was delicious and comes highly recommended by us all. Soon after lunch the boat was buzzing once again, as the captain had informed us that he had spotted a killer whale. This was music to Ben’s ears I will never forget the look on his face as he ran to get the best view. The Killer Whale was better than we could have imagined and we were all in awe of this glorious mammal.
Holgate Glacier loomed on the horizon as we sailed further into the Kenai National Park. We waited in anticipation as we heard the glacier cracking to calve ice bergs into the fjord, we were lucky enough to see some small pieces of ice slip into the sea. The cruise had been a huge hit with all of us and as we travelled onwards towards our next stop we spent many hours reminiscing over what we had seen on that journey.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre was to be the next destination and although all the animals we saw were not in the wild they were in very large open spaces. The grizzly bears four of them had 18 acres so we were lucky to see them, along with moose, bison, caribou, black bears and elk.
We were then heading for the Denali highway and we set up camp alongside a river, unknown to us on a Friday night it was a local spot for bikers, however they were very friendly and interested in the family’s adventure. Wherever we go people are always keen and eager to know where the family have been and why they have embarked on the journey, and why Phil is travelling with two women. (He has given various replies!!!) Unfortunately that night I had a nightmare about the RV flooding and woke the whole family with a loud shout. Phil then decided to put on a night light on each night for me, how embarrassing a grown adult having to sleep with a night light – but it keeps Phil happy !!
Denali Highway was an experience it is over 100 miles long with only 25 miles with a tarmac surface the rest is rough track. Driving Nessie on this road was both challenging and tiring but Phil did a great job. We unfortunately did not see any bears but we did spot caribou and moose in the wild. We also camped in the wilderness which was a great experience.
Denali National Park was a beautiful national park we also visited and once again saw more of Alsaka’s wildlife along the Savage River. This included a marmont, ptarmigan, wild grouse and a coyote. Once again I was amazed at the family’s knowledge about the wildlife we saw.
We are now heading for Anchorage as my trip draws to an end and what an inspirational trip it has been, the McKenzie family have allowed me to join them for a short time on what is an evolving journey in which destinations are only a small part of the world they are living in. They have found great happiness in all they have done and I thank them greatly for having given me the chance to be a part of this fascinating exploration into the unknown.
PS – If you have not yet made a donation to the Devon Air Ambulance which is the fund raising element of this trip, I would encourage you to do so. This is a way you can recognise the achievements of the family and celebrate their success to date !!
Friday, 21 August 2009 09:20:59 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska
Sunday, 09 August 2009
Watson Lake and up.......in pictures
Sunday, 09 August 2009 21:47:49 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska
Watson Lake and up.......
Upon leaving Watson Lake, everyone was suffering from a lack of sleep – due to those darn mosquitoes.....the bites down by the river side on our way to see the bison took us all by surprise.....and we sure have learnt our lesson from that experience!
Driving through Yukon, we found the Continental Divide Lodge and decided to call it a day......we got a warm welcome there and gave Nessie a well deserved bath! We enjoyed a tasty meal in the restaurant, as a treat, and were then all asleep by 9.30pm!
Leaving the Continental Divide, we all felt much brighter having slept well and we enjoyed the beautiful colours of the flowers and the back drop scenery as we drove towards Whitehorse. We saw a big fire on the other side of the Swan River to us. We are not sure if it was controlled or wild, but at least the temperature was not too high and it was not too windy. At Whitehorse, we stopped to talk to Julie as her bike had a BRITISH number plate! It was strange to see and she explained that 17 of them were on a tour from Alaska right down to South America (Patagonia). One of the group was from Devon and also fundraising for the Devon Air Ambulance – as we are. So it really is a small world... We wish them all luck in their adventures! We set up camp at the Hi Country RV Park and enjoyed meeting Roef and Ina from Germany. They have also shipped their own Mercedes Camper over to the States and have given us the details of different options to consider for our return journey, later on this year. Following more sightings of the majestic Bald Headed Eagle along the Alaska Highway, we arrived at Cottonwood RV Park. We were interested to learn that the council run site just a little further along this road had been closed the day before – due to the presence of Grizzly Bears! A little unusual with us coming from England and all!
We spent the afternoon and evening cooking up many meals as we were told that we would not be allowed to take any meat over the border, into Alaska. We had a large choice of menu for the next couple of days, and our final campsite in Canada was Lake Creek, until we were ready to proceed with our journey! Jemma and Ben picked wild strawberries and wild raspberries (getting there before the bears!) and we mixed them into a concoction for our pudding that evening! We met Walter and Ruth from Switzerland, who have their own all- terrain vehicle with them and are also well- seasoned travellers! We didn’t realise how popular this travelling way of life can be – until we have been in the midst of it all! It seems to be a bug that sticks with you always.....and you just need to see more! We have had our body clocks thrown out once again by heading north. It was still light at midnight and very unnatural for us to have to sleep. The children’s bedtimes have become very tricky but we are glad Nessie has night blinds! It has also got colder and we registered -2 degrees in the morning!
Over the border and into ALASKA! We have made it to the ‘last new place’ for us to visit on Macswayround! Quite fitting as Alaska is referred to as ’The Last Frontier’ and also – ‘The Land of the Midnight Sun’ – and we can vouch for that too! It all seems to have gone so quickly.....but it hasn’t gone yet – still much more to see and do on Macswayround!
Our first campsite was ‘Deadpan’s Lake’ at Northway Junction. Although we didn’t know quite what to make of this name, the children had a great time in the water and with the dingy too! We later found out from Ranger Adriana that a few men had enjoyed themselves (a bit too much), one night, as they worked on constructing the Alaska Highway, and one man had actually drowned in this lake. Adriana also did a presentation on the Boreal Forest with many stories about the area. She showed us how to recognise, amongst others, Black Spruce, White Spruce, Willow and Quaking Aspen trees. We heard about a grizzly bear encounter not too far from us, the night before, and about Adriana’s own hiking and camping experiences – with the bears! We figure that the locals must treat the bears around here with the same degree of normality as the Australians treat crocodiles and sharks! As we were leaving the area, we came across Christie (the same signal board lady who we met the day before, our first Alaskan local!) – she also told us the story of the ‘bear’ and said that the trashed house was that one – just over the road from us. She was, and understandably so, being extra careful in checking behind her back on that particular day!
We found out about severe wild fires burning throughout Alaska at the moment. The numbers change frequently but there were 79 active fires in progress the other day. This has made much of the country very smoky, which can limit views for everyone. We now realise that the fires we have been seeing already (within the Yukon Territory also) are wild fires. This brings back memories of when we were in Australia earlier this year, and the wild fires burning there – where many lives were lost. Alaska also has such an immense coverage of land that hundreds of thousands of acres can continue burning without being of threat to anyone and fire is a necessary part of the forests regeneration cycles. Obviously these fires are closely monitored and defence systems are installed around the towns when deemed necessary. Speaking with the locals, wild fires are obviously another natural and regular occurrence, here in Alaska. However, this year is particularly bad for the extreme number and enormous size that some of the fires have reached. Some fires have met and joined forces making their power ever stronger and more ferocious. We have seen a fire helicopter (near Whitehorse), collecting water from a nearby lake.....it seems that where-ever we go on Macswayround – we are experiencing dramatic climate change, with fires, floods and extreme temperatures.
In Tok, we stayed at the RV Village and chatted to Pieter & Monique from the Netherlands, who have been travelling for about 7 years, to date (popping home from time to time!).We went to the entertainments at the camp which included songs and tales of Alaska with Dave Stancliff and his team of budding musicians. There is a magical appeal to the spirit and feelings that time in Alaska brings and these are the themes (among others) that Dave has expressed through his song writing. He also has a fun song about a moose – which has been echoed throughout Nessie ever since his show!
We had a very interesting time at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters and we would like to thank the staff there for their time. The children received booklets, on a similar theme to the Junior Ranger work – however completion of this work will make the children Refuge Managers (through the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service).
It rained heavily for a short while, and we are only hoping that this would have helped to control some of the fires ....... At the Dry Creek Camp, we met Leo and the children enjoyed roasting marshmallows in his controlled fire pit. We learnt more local knowledge, although after being up here 30 years Leo is still not sure if he is a local (this sounds like Devon or Cornwall!)
In the morning we were even offered pancakes for breakfast.....thank-you- they were yummy!!
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS – in this land of the midnight sun...........
Sunday, 09 August 2009 20:58:13 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska | Canada
Watson Lake and up.......
• The Continental Divide is the ridge line that separates two of the largest river drainages in North America. The Alaska Highway crosses the divide at one of the lowest points. Only humps of sand and gravel separate the west-flowing Swift River from the east-flowing Rancheria River. A leaf dropped into the Rancheria River would take a long course of 2,650 miles to end up in the Arctic Ocean. However, a leaf dropped into the Swift River would travel 2,300 miles and end up in the Pacific Ocean.
• The Bald Eagle is found only on the North American continent. Adults generally weigh between 9 and 12 pounds and have wing span of 7 feet. The district white head and tail of the mature bird is developed between 4 and 6 years of age.
• The Boreal Forest is very special as it runs along the same latitude, in a band, all around the world. It extends across the subarctic regions of Russia, Scandinavia and North America. Each of these forests has the same varieties of trees, mostly coniferous, which all do a very important job around our world.
• Arctic Tundra is usually defined as the land beyond the northern limit of tree growth. However, in the Yukon, arctic tundra may contain strands of the Boreal forest almost to the arctic coast.
Sunday, 09 August 2009 20:57:09 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Alaska | Canada
Watson Lake and up.......
• Stone Mountain Sheep
• Black Bear!
• Bison (buffalo)
• Trumpeter Swans
• Pine Gros Beak
• Grey Jays (Camp-robbers!)
• Grayling (Lady of the Stream).
Sunday, 09 August 2009 20:55:59 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00) Canada | Alaska