(C)  2002-2014 J. Watson       All rights reserved  
Travel Letters
RV Travel notes from
      the traveling gran'ma and gran'pa
Vol 17  No  3                                                                                                                                                 Late May/July, 2007___________
Dear Gals…   Your guys …
Our grandchildren…     and sisters

On our way to Alaska.  For the past week we’ve
driven north along the Pacific, enjoying grand
seascapes.  It could only be seen in fleeting glances
because of the tortuous road.  The coast of Northern
California and Oregon is the most protected
coastline in the U.S.  State and National Parks line
much of the coastal area.  There are redwoods and
further north the forests are composed of somewhat
smaller trees.  It’s rugged country.

In the years we’ve been traveling along the Oregon
coast there has been a lot of growth.  In some
coastal villages large projects have been built to
capitalize on the small town atmosphere – and of
course that causes it to vanish.  At Cape Kiwanda
there is a new timeshare.  There are more ocean
front homes and a motel is located so all rooms face
the “haystack”, 0.8 mile offshore.  It’s the curse of
progress.  (We tend to forget that when we moved to
Connecticut it was undergoing similar growth – then
we were the problem.  Our road was dug thru the
woods; schools had to be built; etc.)  

The stay at Cape Kiwanda was pleasant, though a bit
cool, hardly ever getting above 60 F.  We climbed
the sand dunes, sighted several whales spouting
offshore and of course enjoyed the seascapes.  With
record high temperatures reported inland the stay
was a bit longer than expected.  

Coming inland the temperature soared – from the
60s along the coast it went up to the high 90s as we
headed east.  Along the Columbia River Gorge is the
scenic river, views of the surrounding hills and in the
distance snow covered mountains.  First to get our
attention was Mt. Hood in Oregon and then in
Washington there was Mt. St. Helens and traveling
further north Mt. Adams came into sight.

While touring the village of Toppenish there are
seventy murals on the walls of the buildings.  They’ve
made this a tourist attraction.  They can’t match
Norwalk, CT’s WPA murals.

The headquarters of the Yakama Nation is here at
Toppenish.  The Yakama nation was established by
treaty back in 1855.  There is a casino, but without
the glitz one normally sees.  There’re not the casino
vans that would be expected to be circulating around
the RV Park.  This is recognized as a sovereign
nation by an 1855 treaty stemming from a
confederation of 14 tribes.  It now has about 8,500
members living on the 1,800 square mile
reservation.  We were surprised while entering
church this morning to see that most people
appeared to be Caucasian – so I checked the stats.  
Three quarters of the people here in Toppenish are
not of Indian heritage and therefore not members of
the nation.


The area has marvelous scenery.  The Columbia
River cuts north into central Washington.  As you
know dams block the flow of the Columbia repeatedly
to harness the power – so of course we had to visit
the Rocky Reach Dam just north of Wenatchee, WA.  
Here the emphasis is on helping the fish continue
their migratory pattern.  There is an extensive routing
system to guide the fish down stream without getting
tangled into the generators and for the return
upstream there is a large fish ladder.   
North along the valley, up to and including southern
British Columbia, there is almost continuous fruit
farming – apples, pears, cherries, peaches and
grapes.  Along with vineyards there is a scattering of
wineries.  It seems that every place says their climate
is uniquely suited for growing grapes that produce
the finest wine.  Wenatchee has dozens of mammoth
plants for packing and processing fruit.  Empty
camps for migrant workers will be full by harvest time.

The ride to British Columbia is marvelous.  No
wonder the young folks from Atlantic Canada
gravitate to the area where the pay (as well as cost
of living) is substantially higher.  It is a vibrant area
that reflects growth.  

The scenery of BC can’t be described.  The first page
shows a photo of a snow capped peak in Oregon –
here the mountains on both sides of us are not just
capped they’re almost covered with snow and have a
bonus of glaciers.  Snow melt creates water falls
cascading down the steep face of the mountains.  

Some claim that the road leading to Stewart is the
most scenic spot in the province.  Gets our vote.
Even saw a bear ahead of us while driving down the  
road.  (A note on the RV park registration form was
advice not to go out in the dark because of bears –
however, with the sun setting after 10:30 and rising
around 3 AM we don’t plan to be outside in the dark.  
Visible light is 19h and 39m.)  

Stewart, BC is a small village of about 350 people on
the US/Canadian border.  Hyder, Alaska, with less
than a hundred people, is just a mile or so down the
road.  I guess the customs officers are not
overworked.  The only land access to Hyder is
through Stewart.   There is ocean access via a canal
to the Pacific and the port is open year round.  And,
like many remote areas there is an airport.  The forty
mile long road into Stewart has numerous avalanche
gates that seem to be common-place for the area.  


Two environmental problems impact the area.  Pine
beetles are devastating the forests from the U.S.
Northwest up into British Columbia.  These beetles
have killed over a quarter of the pine trees.  It’s sad
to see mountains that are brown with the dead trees.  
(Keep in mind; it is tinder for forest fires.)  For an
economy that depends upon forests this is very
serious.  The other problem is somewhat related.  
The general warming of the climate has meant the
temperature seldom reaches minus 40˚F at which
point the beetles are killed.  Also, the warmth is
reducing the glaciers and causing more problems of
flooding as well as reducing the water shed.  
FAIRBANKS, AK; 7/11/2007
Yes, we’re in Alaska.  First a few miscellaneous

You should see this RV Park.  You’ve heard of
Alaskan bush pilots.  It’s for real.  Our site faces a
narrow stretch of water used for float planes and just
next to it is a runway for planes without floats.  We

others were along the runway; a few were tied down
on the side of the road or in people’s backyards; and
a half dozen are tied up in the water.  Signs along the
side of the road invite customers for “fly-in” fishing at
remote locations.  Bush pilots who deliver the mail
pick up extra money by taking passengers on their
mail runs.      

A visit to Alaska in late June is unique.  The days are
long.  But there is more to it than that – there is also a
substantial difference between locations that seem
quite close.  Here at Fairbanks a couple of days ago
the sunset was before sunrise – it set at 12:40 AM
and rose two and a half hours later with a day of 21
hours 34 minutes.  At Denali National Park, only about
120 miles away, the day was about 40 minutes
shorter.  In Fairbanks the length of visible light is 24
hours a day for over six weeks.  People are sort of
quiet about December!  

Along the coast from California and well into Alaska
the gold prospectors have left their mark – but it
seems more pronounced in Alaska. That might be
because the boom was more recent here, the
Klondike was booming at the turn of the twentieth
century.  In fact there are still a number of working
mines.  Some are quite profitable and a few large
companies dominate.  Old timers talk of their
grandfathers having come up in the early 1900s.  
One man said he was the third generation to work the
family claim.  Some former towns that had populations
of thousands have disappeared.  Others have less
than a dozen people.  This is frontier with many
supporting themselves off the land – hunting, growing
some food, and selling some pelts or picking up cash
from a seasonal job.  Large areas are designated for
“subsistence” hunting.  Police have a list of people
they call to claim road-kill (moose, etc.) for food.

The last of the miscellany concerns the native
population, which is most evident – both those of
Eskimo and Indian heritages.  These peoples
continue their traditional ways – sometimes under
difficult conditions.  More on this.  Getting on with the
journey north.  The scenery continues to be superb.  
The roads in Alaska as well as British Columbia and
the Yukon Territory are like most places – some good,
some poor.  With such a short season to do repairs
there are many maintenance projects underway.  
They joke that there are four seasons: fall, winter,
spring and construction.    
WATSON LAKE, YT; 6/19/2007

Do you recall hearing of the construction of the
Alaskan Highway?  The highway began as a crash
project, after the Japanese attack of the US, as
defense from a possible invasion on the West coast.  
A homesick soldier on a construction battalion posted
a sign at Watson Lake pointing the way home.  That
has ballooned to, they guess, over 50,000 signs.
The next stop after Watson Lake is Whitehorse, YT.  
There the route heads north of the Alaska Highway
to Dawson City and the top of the world.  The area is
wooded and there are a number of lakes and
streams fed by the melting snow.  

Dawson City is on the Yukon River which was the
sole means of contact with the outside world until
after WW2.  Sternwheelers with a shallow draft plied
the river when the ice melted.   Dawson is still a
mining community and has become popular with
tourists who take the “Top of the World” highway.  
The roads in town are not paved.  Many of the
homes were built by the miners decades ago.  When
Dawson was in its prime in the early 1900s there
were theatres, schools, churches, and countless
saloons.  Some remain in the downtown area.  

From Dawson City we were told that it’s a short four
hour drive back to the Alaskan Highway – but first
you must take the ferry to cross the Yukon River.  It
can only take one motorhome and two cars a trip.  
We chatted with people in an RV caravan who waited
in line for six hours and it looked as though they had
another five or six hours to go.  (We waited to the
next day and had no wait.)  But with it not getting
dark until almost midnight it made little difference,
plus it is legal to park at pull offs for the night.  And
about that four hour drive – it took us seven, and
much of it was at less than 25 mph because of the
rough road and the twists and turns.  
see them out our
window. They come
and go.  On a walk
around the pond the
other day I saw 100 or
more planes.  Some
were next to hangers;
This was part of the well known Klondike gold rush
area.  The grandkids should learn that Klondike is
more than an ice cream bar.  Roadhouses were
spotted every few miles where the prospectors could
stop for some R and R.  One, Rika’s Roadhouse,
below, is a National Historic Site.  

The road was gravel and dusty.  Signs warned that it
was “extremely dusty”.  Over the border it got no
better.  At one point we stopped to see if we could
assist a stopped pick-up pulling a trailer.  No way
could we help – it had a broken spring – it probably
was one of the vehicles that sped past us on the
rough road.  The nearest service was a hundred
miles away; there was no cell service and few vehicles
on the road.
That aside, the views are spectacular.  The highway
name “Top of the World” is certainly descriptive.  We
could see for miles and everything appeared to be
below us.  At this altitude the mountains had stunted
growth or none at all.  Photos can not even suggest
the feeling one gets from the top.

Back to the Alaskan Highway there is a somewhat
better road though we heard that the part we by-
passed is as rough as the Top of the World.  
Approaching Fairbanks the road crosses the Alaskan
pipeline, above –what an accomplishment.  It carries
oil for 800 miles and is designed to minimize damage
to the tundra.  The oil coming out of the ground is hot
and as it travels it cools to around 100 F by the time it
reaches the southern port of Valdez.  The pipes are
insulated to keep the permafrost from thawing.
Fairbanks is a marvelous city with a small town
atmosphere.  The population of the borough is large
for Alaska, about 85,000 but the area over which
these people are spread is about the size of
Massachusetts.  The center of town has most
businesses on a few streets and then scattered
businesses spread out from them.  As a major
population center there is an active airport, some TV
stations, a daily newspaper, etc. that we would
associate with a larger city.  

The University of Alaska is a "must see". This
campus is quite new and seems to sparkle.  The
museum, below, has quite possibly the best portrayal
of the state -- its history and its peoples.  The
university has a Large Animal Research Center and
botanical garden that does extensive agricultural
research to develop hybrids suited to the severe
Much of Alaska is heavily forested and semi-arid.  In
other words it’s a tinderbox.  Forest fires are a
continuing problem.  Just in the past couple of years
the fires have consumed six million acres – about the

The AAA Tourbook calls the Discovery boat trip on
the Chena River a Fairbanks “gem”.  It’s more than a
boat ride.  There is an onshore demonstration of dog
sledding by a winning team of the Iditarod, the one-of-

a-kind race that takes place every March.  An Eskimo
lady demonstrated her skill fashioning ceremonial
costumes made of hides – her work is so
extraordinary it is on display at the Smithsonian.  Until
1923, when the railroad was built, hundreds of
sternwheelers plied the shallow Yukon River as it was
the only practical way to reach Fairbanks.
People talk of the giant
cabbages in Alaska –
these were about ten
inches in diameter the
first week of July – just
wonder how large they’ll
be when picked.    
The most memorable part of the stay in Fairbanks
was a tour to the Arctic Circle and beyond.  The
“beyond” part was the part that made it extra special.  

We left Fairbanks at 5 AM.  (Seems early, but with 24
hours of daylight it was bright as day.)  The van took
the Dalton Highway straight north along the Alaska
pipeline towards Prudhoe Bay.  The tundra is
primarily permafrost and is quite barren with
occasional small trees and marshy areas.  The frozen
ground keeps moisture from sinking into the ground
so there are many lakes – some tinted blue and

The Dalton Highway is used by the pipeline
maintenance crews and is the only truck route to
service the oil fields at Prodhoe Bay.  We crossed the
Arctic Circle with great ceremony, below.  Every .  

Coldfoot, about 55 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  
The visitors center for the
Gates to the Arctic
National Park and Preserve
is located here and has
about 10,000 visitors this year.  About 450 workers
lived in a camp here when the Trans-Alaskan pipeline
was being built.  From here we took a light plane a
hundred miles further north.


We arrived at Anaktuvuk Pass. This Nunamiut Eskimo
community has about 300 native people.  What a
grand experience.  We were met at the air strip and
escorted through the village, to the community center
where there was a special performance of dances.  
There were four couples in the audience.  This dance
group has been recognized as one of the best native
dance groups in Alaska.  (As you know I avoid taking
pictures of people, however, we were told that they
would like us to take photos, providing it was for non-
commercial use.)  
couple of hours or so
there is a roadhouse to
serve the truckers.  That
means fuel for man and
vehicles.  The last
roadhouse before
Prodhoe Bay is at
area of Connecticut
and then some.  After
the fires about the
first plant to take over
the area is colorful
fireweed.  It’s all over.  
Following the entertainment we were guided through
the village.  There were four couples on the tour and
each was escorted by a guide.  The guides were
cordial young ladies from the high school and what a
marvelous tour they gave us.

We learned so much from our guide.  She thinks she
would like to join the U.S. Air Force and then attend
college.  She told us that the village was settled by
wandering nomadic Eskimos some years ago.

The school has about a hundred students (K-12) and
a faculty of a dozen.  Sounds like a great ratio.  Gals,
you may recall that two years ago we learned that
native students had been schooled in the larger cities
until recently when schools were built in their home
communities.  This was to help them retain their
heritage.  The school at Anaktuvuk Pass is quite new
and provides instruction of the heritage of the
Nunamiut Eskimos.  Today we read in
Alaska Park
that our guide had discovered artifacts while
participating in an important archaeological research
study of native heritage.

The Eskimos are Presbyterians and their church is on
a hill overlooking the community.  Nearby is the
hospital that is staffed by a nurse who handles the
medical needs.  If necessary a doctor can be
contacted for assistance by phone or patients go to a
hospital by air.  Periodically, physicians visit the
village.  There is a store for some needs. Fishing and
hunting caribou is relied upon and many goods
including much food is ordered from major stores and
shipped in by air as there is no land or water access
to the village.  

About eight years ago the village installed central
water so there was indoor plumbing.  Also, can you
imagine, school is not canceled until the temperature
is 50 F below zero!!  We were not told how the water
is kept from freezing.

The village is nestled between high mountains where
they can climb and camp.  Our guide told of camping
in the nearby mountains.  It’s a great place to live.  

Have a great summer, y’all!
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