Oregon

Continuing on the 101 into Oregon, the highway finally runs directly along the coast. I drive through the beach town of Seaside and it’s packed, not a single parking spot within a mile of the beach. It’s Saturday afternoon and everybody is out on the beach. It seems a little strange to me as it’s so foggy you can’t even see the ocean from the top of the beach and the temp is about 63, but it’s crowded like Oak Street Beach on the 4th of July.

This little turnaround is the end of Main Street and the start of the beach. The ocean is right out there somewhere. Main Street in Seaside is like Coney Island, bumper cars, coney dogs, Tshirt shops, all the usual stuff.

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The fog lifts a little as the day goes on but it’s still in the low 60s. Finally some scenic ocean views, it’s like this most of the way down the coast. Slow going as I have to stop at all of the overlooks and get out to look at the ocean.

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I make it down to Tillamook, home of the Tillamook cheese factory, I called ahead and there is a campground about 10 miles up in the hills with a couple of tent sites open. Also made some online reservations for Oregon state parks the next couple of days, in each park it was almost the last site open. Most of the other state parks were completely full.

Started off the morning with a tour of the cheese factory. There is not much to see, on one side they make the cheese in giant vats then the 40 pound blocks are wrapped and sent off to the warehouse to age. When they are old enough they come back down to the other side where they are cut into blocks of different sizes, packaged, and boxed up. Had some samples and bought some cheese in the factory store and I was on my way.

It’s sunnier today but still cold on the beach, upper 50s in the morning. Despite all of the campgrounds being full and all of the No Vacancy signs at every hotel, at most of these beaches along the highway I’m the only person walking around.

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Cape Kiwanda at lunchtime.  I’m not sure how cold the water is but the surfers are wearing full wet suits with hoods. Everyone else is just tailgating on the beach. It’s pretty cool that you can just drive your car up to the edge of the water and set up your picnic stuff.

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There is a lighthouse at Yaquina Head with great views of the coast. I climb up the trail to the top of the bluff behind the lighthouse, the sun is out but the wind is really blowing. On one side of the switchbacks I’m leaning into the wind, then being blown along by the wind on the other side. From the top I can see some sea lions enjoying the sun.

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The scenery is always changing, as is the weather. The sand dunes below are much larger than they appear in the picture

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Camp for tonight is in Tugman State Park, a very nice spot about 1/2 mile inland. Since I have a full service site with power and water I decide to wash the mud and bugs off the Land Cruiser. It took about an hour or so using a wash basin, rag, and towel but I managed to get it pretty clean doing one section at a time. All of the Dalton Highway mud is finally out of the door jambs and tailgate.

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As I’m sitting there enjoying a cold drink and admiring the shining paint, a couple of guys from the campsite across the road stop in to look at the rooftop tent and they invite me over after dinner to join their families at their campfire for coffee and dessert. They have two RVs set up for the week and they are well prepared. As soon as I walk over they pull out a plate of brownies and get a card game started. I’ve never said no to a brownie so we’re off to a good start. The card game is Phase 10, I have never heard of it but it’s sort of a cross between rummy and Uno. The brownies are followed by a huge blackberry cobbler (blackberries grow along the road everywhere here, if you want some just pull over to the side and fill up a bucket. Glen grabbed a bucket this morning and made the cobbler this afternoon in the RV) then chocolate zucchini bread and finally blueberry muffins. The card game goes on until almost midnight then they send me on my way with a big package of desserts to tide me through the next day. It’s great to meet such friendly people. They seem to be having such a great time out camping with several generations of their family: Glen is coming up on his 75th birthday next week (it’s past by now, Happy Birthday Glen if you are out there) and his lovely wife, Dave his nephew along with his lovely wife, Glen’s daughter Katie and Katie’s daughter Brailey who is about 13.

In the morning the sun is completely out but still chilly, it may have made it up to the mid 60s at one point. Lots of places to see along the coast.

I think this was called Whaleshead but it looks like a full whale to me.

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At another Oregon state park, Harris Beach. This campground is right at the top of the beach. It has a very nice sand beach then rocky tidal pools off to the side. You can wade through the tidal pools and see all sorts of anemones, urchins, and starfish. It’s so hot out today, 66, that people are going into the water almost up to their knees.

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Washington

Crossed back into the US at Sumas WA on the way to Glacier and Mt Baker. There are some great hiking trails around Mt Baker but all of the campgrounds in the National Park were full with no private campgrounds anywhere around the outside of the park. Took the Mt Baker highway almost to the end, getting a few glimpses of Mt Baker along the way, then turned around and drove back out. I ended up at a KOA near Burlington by the 5 freeway. I’ve been spoiled in Canada and Alaska just being able to show up anywhere and find a camping spot. It’s nearing the end of summer and I guess everyone is out for that last camping trip before school starts.

Next day I jump on the 5 and battle traffic for hours all the way from north of Seattle, thru Tacoma, and down to Olympia. It takes some getting used to; for the last three weeks I’ve hardly seen a stop light.There are some terrible drivers here, three times somebody driving along in the far left lane suddenly realized that their exit was passing and just cut across three lanes of traffic and onto the very end of the exit. Then when I stopped for lunch south of Seattle somebody sitting in the left turn lane decided that they really needed to make a right turn, when the light changed they floored it across the two thru lanes and the right turn lane to make the right.

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With a sigh of relief I exit the 5 going west toward the coast. My plan is to take the 101 highway all the way down the coast to California, which looks like it will take some work finding last minute places to stay along the way. For today I stop at a little county campground near Montesano WA about 20 miles inland. There are a couple of women at the next campsite, one from Kodiak AK the other from Brazil, old friends out camping for the weekend. They invite me to join them at their camp fire. They have a cooler full of Rainier beer and they are worried it will get warm before they can finish it off. I pitch in and help out but despite our best efforts there are still a couple of warm ones at the end of the night.

Next morning I leave for the coast, but the 101 in Washington does not follow the coast very closely.Can’t see much of the ocean until I get to the Columbia River (border between WA and OR). The bridge over the Columbia River:

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This spot on the WA side of the river is where Lewis and Clark ended their famous expedition. They were quite excited that they had finally made it to the ocean, I wonder how long that lasted before somebody pointed out that now they had to paddle all the way back? They camped here for a couple of weeks then switched to the other side of the river and built a fort, where they spent the winter before starting the return trip.

Alaska Highway pt 2 and BC

After a rest day at Chena River doing not much but sitting in the sun and enjoying the summer weather (it was up to 72 that day) I leave heading back along the Alaska Highway to Canada. The weather is still good so it’s a different trip than on the way in when it was mostly raining. Since I’ve been through it before I decide to make the trip back to Watson Lake in 2 long days.

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Stopped for the night in Haines Junction BC then next day leaving the Yukon into British Columbia just before Watson Lake.

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At this point highway 37 runs south and west toward Vancouver. It’s about 400 miles long and very scenic, passing through mountains, forests, tons of lakes and rivers.

I stop for lunch by one of the many lakes then decided to go for a swim since it was such a nice day, almost 68. When I get in I realize that although the beach was small gravel rocks, the lake is filled with millions of sharp edged rocks. That’s when I notice that all of the little kids swimming around me are wearing crocs. Not having any crocs, it was a very short swim.

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It’s a beautiful fall day, upper 60’s and sunny, the leaves on the aspens are turning gold and starting to fall on the road. Hard to believe it’s the beginning of August.

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I camp at Bell Crossing 2, just a single resort in the middle of nowhere. It’s very nice, it has a main lodge with a fancy restaurant, a bunch of alpine style cottages and chalets.

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Also has laundry and exercise room, but best of all the hot tub. I sat in here for half an hour or so just soaking and looking around at the mountains.

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Next morning is a little overcast but still a nice fall day. I’ve only had one day over 70 in the last couple of weeks.

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There is a 63km side road to Stewart BC which I decide to take as it passes through a lot of glaciers and waterfalls.

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Just past Stewart is the town of Hyder Alaska. The only way to get here is though many miles of Canada. The downtown is pretty dead, I guess all of the 87 residents are at home.

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After 10 minutes touring Hyder I turn around and re-enter Canada. There is no US customs entering Hyder but there is a regular Canadian customs checkpoint going the other way. The customs agent is very thorough, I was tempted to point out that had she been looking out her window just ten minutes ago she should have seen me passing by into Hyder. After a few minutes I am back into Canada.

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The Canadian Railway Museum in Prince George.

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The engineer’s station in a locomotive. I would have thought there would be more levers and switches.

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Continuing south, river campground near Quesnel BC

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And finally at Cache Creek BC. This is Lisa the alpaca.

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I had been thinking of spending a couple of days in Vancouver but decided to skip the big city for now and return to the US.

The Dalton Highway

I’ve been looking forward to this section of the trip for awhile. Prudhoe Bay is the farthest north you can drive in North America and the start of the PanAm highway. I’m actually a little nervous setting out, even though I’ve spent a lot of work on the Land Cruiser getting all of the maintenance up to date and adding a new heavy duty suspension there are dire warnings about attempting the Dalton Highway in summer or winter.  There is no cell phone service between Fairbanks and Prudhoe bay, and only a couple of gas stations, with the longest stretch between gas stations at 240 miles. I have good tires with 10/32 tread, but they are only all season M+S and my spare is a non-matching summer tire. All my winter gear plus mountaineering gear if it comes to that along with several days worth of food and water.

The highway was built in 1974 to support the Trans-Alaska Pipeline running from Produhoe Bay to Valdez. Until 1994 it was closed to the public, restricted to oil company trucks only. It’s one of the main roads featured on Ice Road Truckers... I have seen a couple of episodes but don’t really remember much except a lot of cursing. The speed limit for the entire highway is 50 mph but you are lucky if you hit that. 30-40 is more like it. About 25% of it is paved (some nice and smooth, some huge potholes though) the rest is dirt, mud, washboard and potholes. Trucks have the absolute right of way, if you see a truck either oncoming or overtaking you are supposed to pull over to the side of the road and slow to 10 mph.The shoulders are very soft and also have a steep dropoff so you can’t pull over too far. The trucks are also supposed to slow down when passing but not many do. The rest fly past showering you in dirt and rocks.

The start of the highway is 80 miles north of Fairbanks over a highway that is pretty challenging in itself. It is 414 miles from mile 0 to Prudhoe Bay.

I turn off onto the Dalton highway and it’s mud and potholes from the very start (I look back on this picture and laugh at how clean it is)

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Mile 115 is the Arctic Circle. Above here, on the summer solstice the sun never sets, just dips near the horizon then comes back up. On the winter solstice there is a day with no sun at all. Sunset tonight at Prudhoe Bay is at 12:20 AM. I forget when it comes up but it’s probably around 3:00 AM. It never really gets dark just a kind of twilight then back to full sun. The road hasn’t been bad so far, this is one of the few paved sections.

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Sourdough Fuel in Coldfoot, mile 175. This is the line for the last gas pump for 240 miles. Surprisingly there is no sign anywhere mentioning this, I guess they figure if you are up here you know what you are doing. Gas is only $4.59/gallon.My gas tank is over 25 gallons so even with bad mileage I get around 350 miles per tank. Surprisingly the Land Cruiser seems to like this slow bumpy travel and I am getting 17-18mpg, way better than on the open highway.

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Stopped at the visitor center in Coldfoot. The ranger there tells mes that there is huge construction in the last 35 miles of the highway and they are warning off anybody without a high clearance vehicle due to mud and ruts from the trucks. He says it could take 1.5-2 hours to get through the last 35 miles. I have the Arctic Ocean shuttle booked for 3:30 so that should allow plenty of time tomorrow. He also mentions that every month through the summer it gets cold enough to snow over Atigun Pass 4-5″ and shuts everything down until it melts or is cleared out.

I drove through Atigun Pass at mile 245, the highest highway pass in Alaska at 4800′. There was construction on the north/down side but I lucked out and the flagger just waved me through. Most of the construction sites you have to wait up to 30 minutes for a pilot truck to come and lead you through.

North of the Atigun Pass there are no more trees, just mountains and tundra.

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Some video of the highway, from Mile 0 up through Mile 275

Dalton Highway 1

I camp at Galbraith Lake, mile 275.It’s a few miles off the highway, just a basic campsite. There are only 2 other people at this spot. It’s amazingly quiet and great to just sit there and look out on the mountains at the front of the Brooks Range.This day has been great, sunny and 65-67.

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Next morning the clouds are right on top of the road, not much visibility and after awhile it starts to snow. The temp is around 34-36.

Dalton Highway 2

I stop at the first construction zone south of Prudhoe Bay and the flagger tells me it will be 30 minutes or so until the pilot truck comes. There’s nobody else around for miles, just me and the flagger. I ask him about his work, he’s a young guy about 25 or so. He says he lives in the man camp a few miles back on the highway, he works anywhere from 12-18 hours per day, 7 days a week (nothing else to do here except work). Overtime but no double time, apparerently he’s in the wrong union. At the camp they have cooks, cleaners, satellite TV, internet, almost everything you could want. They are all men, and alcohol is strictly forbidden. He came up here in May, had a 6 day vacation around 4th of July, and will be here until it freezes over sometime in October. He says when he’s done here he’s going for a month in Hawaii, then on to Tora Bora in one of those straw huts over the ocean. Then maybe Italy, he’s never been to Italy.

It is the roughest part yet into Prudhoe Bay. but I never have to lock the transfer case into L or lock the center diff. A lot of really deep muddy ruts and loose rocks almost like driving through a river bed, finally I drive into downtown Prudhoe Bay and find the gas station, it is not at all obvious. The actual pumps are up inside the steel box, I guess to keep them from freezing.  You go inside the box, enter your pump # and swipe your card. Unleaded is $4.95/gal.  You can see the Land Cruiser has picked up some mud from when I started out.

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After filling up on gas I go back to Deadhorse Camp, where the Arctic Shuttle leaves from. All of the Arctic Ocean is restricted oil company property so the only way you can get there is via the Arctic Shuttle. You have to book the trip 24 hours in advance and provide your passport # so they can check your background before allowing you on.

I’m a few hours early so I go inside the camp. It’s like most structures up here, a bunch of prefab units stacked up together. Down this hall are rooms

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and the cafeteria. Across the hall is a dining room where you can sit and eat and watch TV. It’s also the first cellphone and internet access since Fairbanks.

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The exterior of Deadhorse Camp

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At 3:15 the tour guide checks our credentials and we are off on the tour. Our first stop is Drill Site #1, the very first wells in Prudhoe Bay dating back to the 1970’s. These wells are still active. Each of the green sheds in the picture below is an oil well.

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Every oil well is topped with a Christmas Tree, a series of valves

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This well is not active but still has the full Christmas Tree

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We have to take a detour through Drill Site 4  because a mobile oil rig is broken down on the main road. This rig is in 3 pieces plus another rig behind it. They move along the roads at 1-1.5mph. Our guide is not sure what the reason is, maybe a blown tire or transmission. It’s been sitting there since yesterday.

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Finally we arrive at the Arctic Ocean

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Some of the people on the tour are well prepared, with suits on under their clothes and coats. They strip right down and jump in, followed by a lot of screaming and cursing.  I go in knee deep or so. The water is about 36F, not too bad as the air temp is also 36F.

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The last stop on the tour is the general store, the end of the Dalton Highway. It’s also the start of the PanAm highway going south so a pretty exciting moment.

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A new camp just built for one of the oil service companies. There are about 3,000-4,000 people working here, they usually work 12 hours on then 12 hours off. They stay here for 4 weeks then fly home for 4 weeks while their relief takes over, then back for another 4 weeks.

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Due to all the detours and construction in Prudhoe Bay, I leave around 7 pm. On the drive back south to Galbraith Lake it had apparently been snowing throughout the afternoon. I really feel like I’m in the Arctic now, all of the mountains are now covered in snow. Temp is down to 32 with snow flurries along the way.

Dalton Highway 3

 

Arriving back at the campsite about 10:30pm, it’s very picturesque with snow everywhere.

 

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Since it’s only 10:30 I have a couple of hours still to make dinner and enjoy the scenery before sunset. Big difference in just one day. I throw my sleeping bag and an extra blanket up into the tent.

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A group of guys invite me to join them at their campfire. Two are on their way to Deadhorse tomorrow, the other 2 have been up here a couple of days hunting caribou. They’ve seen a lot but haven’t managed to sneak up close enough yet. The sneaking is hard out on the tundra as there is no real cover just some small scrubby bushes here and there.

Close to midnight the sun dropped below the clouds and lit up all of the surrounding mountains. Everyone pulled out their cameras at the same time.

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Just at midnight. I was too tired to wait up another half hour for the actual sunset. I did wake up just before 4am and stuck my head out of the tent. Sun was back out and shining.

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Next morning around 8:30 am it was still 32 with snow flurries. I chisel the mud off my back window with an ice scraper and I am off.

I was hoping the Atigun Pass would be passable, it was still snowing as I approached the north side. Once again the flagger at the construction zone waved me right through, so I had the whole uphill route to myself. A lot of snow around but the road is clear, then at the top and coming down the south side the road got snowy. Not too slippery just a little mushy. I engine braked all the way down and kept it under 30. Once again I had the whole downhill section to myself, just passed an oncoming truck at the very end.

Dalton Highway – Atigun Pass

Pulled into Coldfoot with 1/4 tank left, gas is still $4.59/gal.  I decided to stop in the cafe for the trucker special breakfast.

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Crossing the Yukon River at mile  56. Before this bridge was built the trucks crossed the river on ice in the winter and were shuttled across on a giant hovercraft in summer. In fall and spring nothing got through.

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Made it to Mile 0 and turned back onto the regular highway with a big smile. Just 80 miles back to Fairbanks.

Back in Fairbanks at the Chena River View RV Park. They are not kidding about the river view part, when I was checking in the first woman said “Take tent spot T8” and the woman next to her said “Oh, T8 is under water right now you’ll be better off with T4.”

I pulled into T4 then realized I needed to wash everything off first. Every time I brush up against the Land Cruiser I am covered in mud. Luckily they have a self service car wash at this RV park, $8 later I am fairly clean.

The before picture, I am glad I got new wipers at the start of the trip. RainX, well worth the extra couple of dollars.

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Alaska

It’s much easier entering Alaska than Canada, a few questions and I’m on my way. The no man’s land is really wide here at the US-Canada border; it’s 16 miles after I pass Canada customs until I arrive at US customs. After a week in Canada it seems a little odd driving in mph again but I quickly get used to it.

Shortly after entering Alaska I see a black bear

Alaska Highway – Black Bear

Arriving at Tok AK, the first town of any size, I stop for the night at the Alaskan Stoves campground. It’s a private campground on the honor system, pick your spot, put your money in an envelope and drop in the slot. It’s right on the edge of the Tok airstrip so there are some single-engine planes and helicopters coming and leaving until dark but not too bad. It has a nice outdoor area featuring the Alaskan stoves. I leave a couple of the books I’ve been reading on the road in the local library.

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Next morning I drive 100 miles or so to Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaska Highway.

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Then another 100 miles into Fairbanks. It’s rainy and cold so I grab a spot in the Chena River state park and stop in the local Pizza Hut for dinner. Tomorrow it’s off to the Dalton Highway.

 

Yukon

Leaving Fort Nelson I enter the Yukon Territory. The highway follows the border between BC and Yukon for awhile. The first stop in Yukon is Watson Lake. It was an old gold rush town then revived in WW II as an airport on the way to Alaska. They flew planes here destined for Russia on the Lend-Lease program and the airstrip has the only log cabin control tower anywhere.

The famous sign forest, started in 1942 by a soldier from Darien IL who nailed up his hometown sign onto the local signpost, since then it has grown to over 82,000 signs at last count. The visitor center has a box of hammers and nails so you can add your own.

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Rancheria Falls west of Watson Lake

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Here is my driving setup. Phone with bluetooth music streaming and handsfree calling, Toyota info center with MPG, range, temps and time, Android tablet running OSMand offline navigation. I download OSM maps for the region I am traveling through and have full navigation without any internet access. There is also an iOverlander project which maintains a database of camping, food, trails, etc which currently only works on iPhone but you can export all of the points for a particular country to a GPX file and import into OSMand. It’s seamless, all of the good camping spots, craft breweries, etc show up right on the main navigation screen.

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Stopped in Whitehorse and toured the SS Klondike. It’s a stern wheel paddle boat that plied the upper Yukon River in the 1930s-1940s. It’s amazing that Yukon is 3 times the size of Illinois and has a population of 37,000, 25,000 who live here in Whitehorse.

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Camped for the night in Haines Junction. Spent awhile chatting with the guy in the RV next to me, he spent 4 years working in Prudhoe Bay. When I tell him I’m driving there he says the Dalton Highway is very nice in winter, the ice and snow pack down and it’s smooth. Summer is nothing but dirt, dust, rocks and potholes. He tells me about some of his favorite experiences up there: watching the start of the caribou migration in the fall, polar bears on the ice, and that one day when it was -105F with the wind chill and nobody went outside.

Morning in Haines Junction

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British Columbia

Stayed in Dawson Creek BC at Mile 0 of the Alaska highway. It starts here and runs 1387 miles to Delta Junction AK, almost to Fairbanks. The highway was built in WW II to connect the lower 48 states to Alaska and for a long time was unpaved. It used to be quite an adventure to drive this highway but it’s not bad now. Since it’s summer there is a lot of construction going on with loose gravel everywhere on the highway.

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From Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson it’s mostly open road through the fir and aspen forests.

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Camped in Fort Nelson, then next day the highway turned west into the Rockies. Speed limit is 80 km/h the whole way. Saw a lot of wildlife along the road, a caribou:

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Lunch spot at Muncho Lake

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Saw a lot of goats along the road, I’m not sure what they’re eating; it looks like just gravel.

 

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In the more mountainous section a lynx walked across the road right in front of me, too fast to get a picture. Also saw a bear along the side of the road. It was digging at something, I couldn’t really tell if it was a black or brown bear.

Traffic jam with a small bison herd:

Alaska Highway – Bison