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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Eddie and George Wake Up Somewhere In the Sign Post Forest - Watson Lake, Yukon

The Sign Post Forest is Watson Lake’s most famous attraction. Travelers from around the world have been bringing signposts from their hometowns to the Sign Post Forest since 1942 and continue to do so today.

The tradition began during the Alaska Highway Project in 1942, when U.S. soldier Carl K. Lindley spent time in Watson Lake recovering from an injury. A commanding officer asked him to repair and erect the directional signposts, and while completing the job, he added a sign that indicated the direction and mileage to his hometown of Danville, Illinois. Others followed suit, and the trend caught on. In 1990, a couple from Ohio added the 10,000th sign in the Signpost Forest. Today, there are over 82,000 signs in the Forest, and the number grows each year as visitors contribute signs and continue the tradition. The Town of Watson Lake maintains the site, adding more sign posts as they fill up.

Given this august history, the boys couldn't resist adding their own sign to the Sign Post Forest:

They pleaded so endearingly, that we planned in advance for the project.  In January 2016, when we were at the RV event in Quartzsite, Arizona, we stopped by the shop of "Too Crazy Ladies," who make all sorts of signs for RV'ers, to work with them to specially design a plastic sign memorializing the boys' anticipated visit.

George and Eddie both said they liked the finished product, so today we hauled out the ladder some screws and drill bits, and our battery-operated electric drill, and hiked over to the Sign Post Forest to add the boys to the legend.

We decided to erect our sign on the same post on which our friends, Eric and Ginny, posted theirs a couple years ago.  Of course, given how big the forest is, we had to locate their sign, so we e-mailed them asking for directions to their sign.  Luckily, they had taken a video of the spot, and we could triangulate the location from the background, then verified the post from the other signs on it.

Unfortunately, Eric's and Ginny's sign had disappeared.  We don't know whether it fell off, got blown off, or was taken off by some inconsiderate signposter who wanted their spot for his/her own sign. While it is possible that their sign, if it was lying around, would have been reinstalled on another post in the forest, we searched over half of the forest thoroughly and didn't find it.

We felt bad that our friends' memorial of their visit was apparently lost.  But the boys insisted that, in memory of the Lost Lajuene Sign, the boys wanted their sign on the same post.  And we made it so. We even used our hiker GPS to record the coordinates:  N 60.06329, W 128.71254.

David drilled the holes and prepared to set the screws to attach the sign to the post:

When it was done, the boys were pleased.  As we walked back to the RV, we turned to take one last look at the Sign Post Forest, with our sign perched somewhere in there:

Will we come back?  We don't know.

If we do, will we remember the coordinates?  Thus our notation in the blog above.

If we remember that we put the coordinates in this blog entry, will it help us find the sign?  We don't know.

If we do find the sign location, will the sign still be there?

Que Sera Sera.

Friday, July 29, 2016

To Know Teslin, Know the Tlingit

We had three nights in Teslin, on the Alaska Highway in the Yukon Territory between Whitehorse and the junction with the Cassiar Highway.  We had driven through on our way up to Alaska, but hadn't stopped here.  We found it a stop worth making as we've been making our way back down to the Lower 48.

The Village of Teslin is not large, but they have done a lot to welcome visitors.  The signage, in particular, is attractive and introduces you to the story:

The bridge is an appropriate logo on the sign, because the bridge in town crosses the Nisutlin Bay of Teslin Lake and is the longest bridge on the Alaska Highway.  It has an attractiveness all its own:

Teslin Lake is gorgeous.  It is 75 miles long, seeming to go on forever as it parallels the Alaska Highway, and up to 3 miles wide.  Nisutlin Bay lies on the north edge of the lake about midway along its length.  Our campground, at the Yukon Motel & RV Park, sat on the shore of the lake, and we had some beautiful views to the north as we took our coffee walks in the morning:

The Village of Teslin is, essentially, a Tlingit ("KLING-git") First Nations community, and it has a welcoming aura about it.  On our walk along the highway, we found the George Johnston Trail, which is an ATV-snowmobile trail that runs from the main part of the village out to the Teslin Tlingit Heritage Center.  More on all of that shortly.  We decided to bicycle the trail and see some of the sights.

The trail is gravelled and relatively easy to bicycle, if you're willing to deal with occasional patches of deeper sand or gravel.  This is bear country, and we saw lots of bear sign in the area.

The Tlingit are an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. Their language is LingĂ­t, meaning "People of the Tides."    The Tlingit are a matrilineal society that developed in the temperate rainforest of the southeast Alaska coast and the Alexander Archipelago. The Tlingit maintained a complex hunter-gatherer culture based on semi-sedentary management of fisheries. An inland group, known as the Inland Tlingit, inhabits the far northwestern part of the province of British Columbia and the southern Yukon Territory in Canada.  The Teslin Tlingit are a branch of this group.  While they maintain close contacts and family relationships with the coastal Tlingit and other Inland Tlingit, the dialects of the various groups differ significantly.

After the arrival of the Russian sealers and fur traders in the 18th Century, many Tlingit converted to Russian Orthodoxy.  Once Canada and the U.S. took control of the area, Anglican and Roman Catholic influence increased, and many Tlingit converted to those religitions.

One of the earliest buildings in the village is the Anglican Church:

What is thought to be the oldest building had been the original Anglican church, but, on the building of the new one pictured above, it was converted to serve as the Parish Hall:

The Tlingit seem to have been successful in combining their own cultural traditions with the new religions.  We found the village cemetery.  Many gravesites are adorned either with headstones bearing symbols of the deceased's tribal clan, or with traditional white fences around the gravesite:

The story of Teslin is not complete without knowing the biography of George Johnston, one of the Yukon's renowned photographers. With a brownie box camera, entirely self-taught skills and a rough dark room in the corner of a bush cabin, he produced hundreds of works depicting the life of his Tlingit people. His photo gallery shows them at church and at school, at cabin building and holiday picnics, beading and dancing, working hides and catching fish, traveling by dog sled and snowshoes, and wielding the tools of work and play. Most of all it records their fruitful lives as hunters and trappers in prosperous years of the early 20th century. It is a masterful sociological and historical record, created in an unlikely place and over 20 years.

In 1928, flush with fur trapping funds, Teslin Tlingit George Johnston purchased a new car, had it shipped by small paddle wheeler several hundred miles upstream in the Yukon River watershed to the remote village of Teslin, then located in a vast and roadless wilderness. There he had readied four miles of crude road, road that 13 years later was to become part of the fabled Alaska Highway north. The car became an icon of enterprise serving as local taxi, pulling his hunting sled, transporting locals up and down 80 miles of frozen lakeway and the vehicle for his renowned photography. The original car, in excellent working order, is on exhibit with a photographic history of its exploits.

Much more can be said about George Johnston and his family, who had a settlement at the south end of the lake, some miles from Teslin.  But the George Johnston Museum, which we visited, fleshes out this man and his community very effectively.

As we left the museum, we happened upon these two little birds, who seemed to be so curious about us that they forgot to be frightened as we approached and set up our camera to take their photo:

The shore of Teslin Lake is beautiful.  We explored it as we worked our way down the George Johnston Trail:

We finally reached our destination:  the Teslin Tlingit Heritage Center, about 8 km north along the Alaska Highway:

As with many other First Nations cultural and heritage centers in Canada, this center is as much a place for the Tlingit to gather and preserve and share their culture as it is a museum and exhibit for visitors.  We were welcomed by totem poles depicting the five main clans of the Tlingit - the wolf, the raven, the eagle, the frog and the beaver:

The center also works to preserve and share Tlingit crafts and arts as well.

We felt that we understood Teslin a great deal better once we began to understand the history and culture of the local Tlingit.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Eddie and George Wake Up in Haines Junction

...Yukon Territory, that is...

The boys couldn't resist posing in front of the Village sculpture depicting Kluane National Park and all the activities and wildlife it fosters:

This is the view that inspired the sculpture, and it's visible from all over the Village of Haines Junction:

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hanging Around Haines

Today we woke up in Haines, Alaska, having driven down the Haines Highway from Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, yesterday.  The weather forecast for our entire stay is rainy, so we decided not to try any ambitious hikes, but rather to focus on the town of Haines itself.  We found there was more than enough to fill a day just hanging around Haines.

The most prominent thing about Haines is its harbor, situated on Chilkoot Inlet, just below Skagway. Chilkoot Inlet is part of the Inland Waterway adjoining the Gulf of Alaska, with Juneau to the south and Valdez and Anchorage to the north. Ferries connect Haines with the other cities and towns.

It's not surprising, then, that the town's sign is located at the marina and has a fishy theme:

The marina itself is not large.  It emphasizes fishing boats - both commercial and sport - but mainly sport fishing.  There are a few sailboats, but these are in the minority.  The marina was smaller than we expected, because the fishing industry has really bypassed Haines now, so there is little need for docking space for many commercial fishing boats.

Here is a view of town looking from the south, near our bed & breakfast and Historic Fort William H. Seward.  Bright red and purple fireweed graces the green areas. and orange, yellow and purple seaweed graces the rocky beaches:

Most of the town's buildings are quaint and historic, but unpretentions, and the entire community is nestled below the Chilkat and Chilkoot Mountains:

Haines grew as the port terminus for the Chilkat Trail, an alternate trail for gold rush sourdoughs headed for Dawson City north in the Yukon.  The Chilkoot Trail ran north from Skagway, further up the inlet, but this was an alternative that was promoted by Jack Dalton, a famous explorer, trader and entrepreneur who was responsible for much of the early development of this area.  Unfortunately, Skagway and the Chilkoot Trail overshadowed the Haines-Chilkat Trail because of the construction of the White Pass & Yukon Railway, which made trekking overland obsolete.  And, further, because the Gold Rush only lasted two years, what business there was faded quickly.  Haines survived for a number of years on logging - which has faded away - and fishing - which has also faded with over-fishing by commercial fishermen - leaving Haines with the slimmest of lifelines through tourism.  An average of one cruise ship stops here once a week, but even in that respect Haines is overshadowed by nearby Skagway, which can have as many as five cruise ships a day! As a result, Haines, while very tourist-friendly, does not have the wealth - or the honky-tonk atmosphere - of other tourist traps. It's a very quiet, attractive town, and, due to its other assets, is one we enjoyed.

Our B&B was built relatively recently, but in a style compatible with that of other buildings in this historic district of Fort Seward.  It in fact is built around and adjoins the concrete powerhouse for the old fort:

Fort Seward was not constructed until the early 1900's, but during the period between World Wars I and II was the only U.S. military fort in Alaska.  It thus served an important role in staging other military efforts in the rest of Alaska.

Another claim to fame that Haines has is for having been the location for the Disney film, "White Fang."  The movie set for the Dawson City and Skagway of the 1890's was built by the filmmakers just outside Haines.  After the filming was completed in the 1990's, Disney turned the set over to the town, which arranged for the set to be moved to the Fairgrounds, which are in the northern part of town:

This brings us to another claim that Haines has, which is as the site of the annual Southeast Alaska State Fair. We just missed the festivities, which are due to start next week.

Another claim to fame of Haines, but one we had to pass by for lack of time, was the road to Porcupine Creek.  This is the area made famous by the Discovery Channel's reality TV series, "Gold Rush."  Parker Schnabel is a real person, as was his grandfather, and their claim is also real.  One of the local museums happens to have a photo of local community leaders which included the grandfather, John Schnabel.  If we'd had a Jeep, it might have been fun to drive up and see the gold mine workings.

Something we did NOT miss was the thimbleberries!  Not just bears love them.  We love them too, having discovered them in Glacier National Park and then munched them again in Sault Ste. Marie right next to Lake Superior.  We can't tell you how sweet and luscious these fragile little red berries are:

The town boasts three museums aside from its Visitor Center.  One is the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, which was founded by the family of Stephen Sheldon, has the mission of collecting, preserving and interpreting the history, art and unique blending of diverse cultures within the Chilkat Valley region.

Mr. Sheldon, the son of a wealthy vice president of the New York Railway, went to school in England and, when he returned to the United States, started west looking for work, as the "panic" of the early 20th century was going on. He worked in hay fields in Oklahoma, and orange groves in California, eventually finding his way to Seattle. Steve managed to get a job as a storekeeper on the Alaska Steamship "Northwestern" and made seven trips to Nome. During one of his trips, the ship was held fast in the ice in the Bering Sea for a time. Intrigued with Alaska, he applied for work with Michael J. Heney who was building the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad out of Cordova. The winter between his two seasons there, he was a storekeeper in a remote supply station far up the track. When that railroad was completed, some of the crew members went with their boss, John Rosene, to Haines to work on the survey for the Alaska Midland Railroad which was to connect Fairbanks with the deep-water port of Haines.  When plans to build the railway failed, he stayed in Haines and established a series of businesses, becoming, with his wife, one of the most influential members of the Haines community.

Another museum-type facility in Haines is the American Bald Eagle Foundation, an organization dedicated to educating and inspiring guests from around the world about the American bald eagle and interconnected species through its natural history museum and raptor center.  The foundation and center are well located in Haines because the community lies just south of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, located on the "flats" of the Chilkat River along the Haines Highway between miles 18 and 24.  The preserve is the main viewing area for eagle watchers and considered critical habitat for bald eagles in western North America. Bald eagles are attracted to the area by the availability of spawned-out salmon and open waters in late fall and winter.  In mid-late November, thousands of bald eagles can be seen hunting for Coho salmon as they make their late run up the river to spawn.

The center contains numerous exhibits on the natural history of the area, and includes a 100-foot mural depicting the area's natural resources, one segment of which is in diorama format and depicts bald eagles nesting near the town of Haines:

The center includes information on Alaskan wildlife other than bald eagles and raptors, including these moosey friends of Kathy's:

The aviary is home to a number of birds that, due to injury or other reasons, cannot be released into the wilds.  One resident is this red-tailed hawk:

Another pair of residents are two female bald eagles who spent our whole visit watching activities outside their home in the aviary, occasionally commenting with their high-pitched calls:

The third museum was Kathy's favorite - the Hammer Museum - yes, that's just what it is - a museum devoted to and displaying thousands of hammers of all types, both historic and modern.  Here, Kathy's demonstrating that the Hammer Museum was a hit with her:

This photo gives you an idea what a wealth of hammers the museum has.  Also included in the museum are some very interesting sculptures of artisans using hammers, which the museum acquired from the Smithsonian Institution:

The museum was filled with quirky hammers, including this "Little Man With the Hammer," a trademark of the Western Exterminating Company:

Another quirky hammer is a piece of driftwood, naturally shaped like a hammer, that a local resident happened to grab from the river bank to break open the window of a car that had driven into Chilkoot Bay, saving the life of a poor dog trapped inside the sinking car:

Haines also has an excellent brewery, Haines Brewing Company, which we visited both nights we stayed in Haines, to sample their excellent brews on tap.

This just about exhausted our time in Haines.  This is an area we'd like to return to.  Besides its drop-dead gorgeous scenery, some good restaurants, the brewery and some diverting cultural and historical sites, Haines is a center for outdoor activities.  Numerous hikes were available, had the weather been better, and people here enjoy fishing, kayaking and other water sports.

Apparently, bicycling is also a passion.  We passed numerous bicyclists on the Haines Highway, who were patiently pedaling over the Chilkat Pass, along the eastern border of Kluane National Park, toward Haines Junction and Whitehorse.  In fact, one couple of young bicyclists from Vancouver stayed at our bed & breakfasts one of the nights we were there, getting some well-needed bed rest after 6 weeks of cycling, before heading over the mountains into the Yukon interior.  We spent some extended time sharing stories with them over breakfast.  Eventually, however, they had to excuse themselves to hop on their bikes and pedal up the highway:

We hope to see them tomorrow as we drive back up to Haines Junction.  We promised to honk.  They assured us they would be very jealous of our mode of transportation.

Adventures on the Haines Highway

Hi Blog!

On Thursday, July 22, 2016, we began our last road trip into Alaska. Our destination - Haines. The town of Haines has a long and colorful history. The first known meeting between white men and Tlingit took place in 1741 when a Russian ship anchored near Haines and started the fur trade in the area. In 1892, Jack Dalton established a toll road on the Tlingit trade route into the interior to cash in on gold-seekers and others heading north into Canada. Parts of Dalton's Chilkat Trail are now the Haines Highway.

We left our rig in Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, Canada, and drove down the Haines Highway. It's about 150 miles and most of the highway borders Kluane National Park and Preserve or Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park. We wanted to take our time driving down and enjoy some of the sights along the way.

With our Haines Road Guide in hand, we began our adventure with a stop at Kathleen Lake. We parked in the day use area and hiked around the lake on the Cottonwood Trail. At the trail junction, we took a short side trail down to the shore of Kathleen Lake. Here Kathleen is pointing the way to Kathleen.

The normally blue-green waters of the lake were steely gray. The weather forecast called for rain all weekend. We find it hard to see the mountains that surround the lake. It made for a very dramatic, if muted, setting.

We left the lake shore behind and began to climb over the shoulder of the King's Throne. Since we had a number of stops to make, we opted not to climb the three miles to the top. After hiking for about two miles along and above the lakeshore, we turned around and headed back.

We had one last look at the lake. The Dalton Range was almost visible. We plan to stop again on the way back from Haines if the weather is better.

Our next stop was Rock Glacier.  The Rock Glacier Trail is a self-guided trail with interpretive panels providing information on the rock glacier. (Thank you Canadian Conservation Corps for building a lovely boardwalk and stairs.) The trail took us right up and onto the glacier. No need for crampons on this glacier.

Unlike an ice glacier, rock glaciers usually have very little ice visible at the surface. If you are on the ground looking at one from a short distance away, it might not look at all like a glacier. Rock glaciers move very slowly, typically just a few centimeters per year. You wouldn't even notice the trail move.

If you wanted to, you could follow the rocks all the way into the mountains to the St. Elias Icefield. Dave is pointing the way. Unfortunately, it will have to wait until next time. We have more stops to make today.

Before heading back down, we took one last look at Dezadeash Lake. Miles to go before we sleep!

How could we resist a stop called "Million Dollar Falls"? The falls are located in a Yukon Provincial Campground. We drove in and parked in the day use area and hiked over to the falls.

The water builds up force as it tumbles down the narrow canyon.

To get a feel for the power of the water, click the link to watch the video of Million Dollar Falls.

We spent a few minutes admiring the beautiful blue-green color of the crystal-clear water before continuing with our adventure.

We crossed over the Chilkat Pass and began our slow descent toward the U.S./Canadian border.
We drove through tundra with mountain ranges on both sides of us.

The Three Guardsmen is the name popularized in Old West literature describing three lawmen who became legendary in their pursuit of many outlaws of the late 19th century. Deputy U.S. Marshals Bill Tilghman, Chris Madsen, and Heck Thomas were The Three Guardsmen, working under U.S. Marshal Evett "E.D." Nix. The Three Guardsmen pictured here guard the Chilkat Pass.

The Chilkat Pass marks the boundary between the Coast Mountains and Saint Elias Mountains.

There was a break in the clouds just long enough for us to get a photo of one of the glaciers.

The border crossing was uneventful. The Haines Road follows the Chilkat River into Haines. There were several fish wheels right next to the highway. The baskets were spinning, but there were no salmon running that day.

We thoroughly enjoyed our drive to Haines. The road surface was one of the best road surfaces we've encountered during our whole trip. We did save a few stops for the way home.

Now, it is time to explore Haines. Stay tuned.