Off to Valdez, Again.

On the highway headed east to the connecting highway to Valdez we came across a sight which looked vaguely familiar to us… For those who have seen the off-road crowd that dry camp in large groups west of the Salton Sea and run around in ATVs, this was the place in Alaska. Just picture tundra instead of sand dunes.

Heading down (south) to Valdez, the tundra gives way to hills of evergreens then more mountains. You pass a huge landlocked glacier then climb over Thompson Pass. Just when you think you can’t see anything better, another incredible sight. We were so lucky to pass through on a sunny day; when we left Valdez, the pass was filled with clouds and you could see nothing of the beautiful mountains. As you descend from the pass you enter a narrow canyon before getting to Valdez. From the tops of very high cliffs, several waterfalls bedazzle you. Valdez is a rather small fishing town. Actually the high mountains behind it are a lush, verdant green and usually the tops are enshrouded in clouds. It looks a lot like Hawaii, but certainly much cooler in temperature. Valdez was where we celebrated the 4th of July, fireworks and all. We signed up for a cruise to a glacier and got to see a lot of sea life: whale, sea otters, sea lions, and a covey of puffers, the little black and white birds with the red heads. The captain was a wealth of information and very entertaining, and one of our fellow passengers gave us a unique take on sea lions – he is a native Aleutian and commented that a particular sea lion colony we were viewing would make a great dinner. Yum! Yum! Honest, that's what they eat.

Out of Valdez, back on the road to Tok, the town through which you must enter and exit Alaska if you are traveling by car. On the way to Tok – the fun part: a stop at a delightful roadhouse/RV park whose claim to fame is 30 different tequilas, choice of melon or lime margaritas; the owner winters in the Bahamas, on his boat. In Tok a stay at the Sourdough Campground: nightly entertainment, a sourdough pancake toss, and one of the worse rainstorms of the trip – drops as big as the sourdough pancakes!

The non-so-fun part: the ugly engine light again. After two nights in Tok, we limped our way for the 400 some miles to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. We had lots of opportunities to take in the scenery (more aqua blue lakes) at 45 miles per hour – the maximum we could drive in the “engine protect” condition. We spent another five days in diagnosis and repair, of what you ask? The pump. We were beginning to think we should look into real estate for the winter as it seems we would never going to get out of the north country.

The Worse Road Award certainly goes to Alaska Highway 1 from Tok south to Whitehorse. Even at the reduced speeds we were forced to drive, this road has the heaves that gave us the heaves: the permafrost beneath plays havoc every winter; twisting, bending, and throwing the highway up and down. Add in vicious pot holes – saw one in the middle of the road with a small tree emerging from it, no lie – and you have one drive from hell. Four nights camped with the Cat service folks in Whitehorse – the rent is cheap – one more pump, and we were on our way again, this time to Skagway for three nights, back in Alaska again. We took a train ride up through the pass that leads to Skagway and retraced the path of thousands of miner hopefuls that made the trip to find their fortune in gold during the Klondike gold rush. Promise of wealth is surely a strong motivator because to visualize those folks making that trek by foot is hard to imagine.