Previous • Next • ContentsAboutSitemapHome

Photo © 1980 Kathlyn Anderson; Minnesota frame is a gift from Betty Droel
Donald B. Johnson tours Alaska in Jerrianne's van, 1980.

My Second Incredible Journey To Alaska
by Donald B. Johnson
Ashby, MN

Editor's Note: During the last two summers of his life, my dad toured Alaska with me for a couple of weeks at the end of the summer, first with my sister Kathy and in 1981 with our mother (Twila). He wrote detailed accounts of both trips that were published in The Ashby Post. This story was published in sections in The Ashby Post in 1981. The author died in 1982.

Nobody was as surprised as I was when I found myself on a plane headed for Alaska again this year, after spending three weeks there with daughter Kathy last year. When the chance came to go last year, Twila couldn't go because of visiting relatives coming and she had been turning "green" every time Alaska was mentioned ever since.

I was sure one trip to Alaska would be all for me, but on the July 4th weekend when the kids were home, I jokingly said, "If we could sell my business I would leave for Alaska tomorrow."

Kathy and daughter-in-law Donna picked it right up and said, "Go anyway; we will run the laundry and Treasure Cove while you are gone."

They soon got on the phone to Jerri, who has been a photographer-journalist for six years in Alaska, and she said, "Come on, I will probably never be as free as I am now, to take you everywhere there is to go, in the Volkswagen camper-bus again!" She had quit her steady job with the "Alaska" magazine and was freelancing now.

Twila immediately turned from "green" with envy to "tickled pink" and July 22nd found us on the plane out of Minneapolis headed for Alaska -- a little over a month earlier than Kathy and I had gone last year.

As for me, some of the thrill of anticipation was lacking, after having done it once, but I had also learned some things from experience. One of them was not to eat in the airport to kill time waiting for the plane and then not be hungry when all the food is served on the plane.

We boarded a Northwest Orient plane and the time went all too fast -- first they served cakes, etc. and then a real good Capon dinner with all the trimmings and an Oriental flavor.

We flew seven miles up and the clouds were heavy below most of the time, but Mount Rainier and other mountains stood out real plain. In Seattle, we had to disembark so they could clean the plane and then we boarded the same plane again.

The pilot kept reassuring us that we would leave in a few minutes, but the minutes stretched into an hour or so, as the Canadian government would not let more than one plane over their territory every 10 minutes on account of the air controllers' strike that was just starting, and we were fourth in line.

We were in the last row of the non-smoking section and two chain-smokers took the seats right behind us. In a short while, my damaged lungs started killing me and I moved up to an empty seat on the front row. That was where everyone stood and waited their turn to the lavatory and the perfume and deodorant and other sprays polluted the air almost as much as the smoke, but I survived the trip to Anchorage.

We had another big dinner on the plane, beef and gravy, rice and mushrooms, etc. -- really good. We didn't see much of the scenery below, on account of the clouds again.

Jerri was waiting for us when we landed, at 4 p.m. We had left Minneapolis about noon but gained four hours in time changes. It was sure good to step out of the airport and fill my lungs with that fresh Alaska air, which Jerri says is washed and washed by the wind as it comes in off the Bering Sea.

Jerri had a journalist reporter friend there for supper that night; she was formerly from Arkansas and she and I had a really good visit, just a matter of two talented writers getting together, I said. Jerri's husband, Mic, had baked an extra good pie for supper -- his specialty, Concord Grape Pie.

We slept late the first day to unwind and had a big breakfast of waffles (baked on the old cast-iron waffle iron I had sent up there last year from the Treasure Cove), covered with a sauce of delicious native wild blueberries.

In the afternoon, we toured the rich peoples' district where all the new, beautiful mansions have been built since the earthquake and the flowers around them and in hanging baskets were really gorgeous.

We stopped and toured an antique store similar to ours and could hardly believe the prices; most of the things were about four or five times higher than we price them.

We stopped at a big fruit stand and bought the most delicious, ripe fruit at reasonable prices. It probably came up on the same plane as we did from Washington and was nothing at all like the green-picked stuff we get in the stores here at home.

end of part 1

A trip down to Homer is always a must when you go to Alaska so the second day we got a late start for there, after packing the bus with provisions and sleeping bags, etc., stopping at Portage Glacier on the way. The wind was coming through the canyon about 70 miles an hour that day, which happens there now and then, and it was also raining.

Last year the river was full of salmon spawning, and there is a viewing platform to walk out on, but this year we were a little too early and they hadn't come that far up the river yet.

A short way down the road from Portage, a big cow moose was out in a slough about 40 feet from the road eating underwater plants and she acted like she didn't even see all the cars and people that had stopped to take pictures of her.

The wild flowers along the road were in the peak of their bloom and were really gorgeous, especially the red fireweed, which covered whole sides of some of the mountains.

The weather while we were in Alaska was about half rainy and half sunshine, which was good, as the rain only came in showers and made a wide variety of colors of the flowers and clouds and mountains.

At the point where the Russian and Kenai rivers come together, about a hundred people were out in hip boots fishing salmon, a real colorful sight in their many colored slickers and raincoats. We were too far away to see if they were actually catching any salmon right then.

Another place we could stop and watch quite a bunch of Dall sheep and lambs, although they were only white specks without field glasses, and the average motorist would miss them if they didn't know where to look.

We had hoped to make it to the Glacier Drive-In out on the Homer Spit for fresh caught, deep fried halibut for supper, but a sign on the door said hours 11 to 8 and it was 9 p.m. when we got there, so we had left over chicken and noodles from the night before instead.

They wanted $7 for us to park overnight on the Spit plus $2 if we wanted electricity and $1 to shower and it was as crowded as a mall parking lot, so we drove back up on the hills and found a good place to park for the night.

Luckily, Jerri had equipped the bus with a new chemical porta potty this year, which solved the problem that night. Mic had filled the water tank with a not much used garden hose and the water was beginning to taste pretty rubbery and got worse and worse each day. Whenever I took pills, I had to swallow them with that "rubber" water, which got to tasting just like old fashioned medicine did when I was a kid, but it still made good coffee and cocoa.

For breakfast, we had cereal made from coarse ground grain, like we used to feed to baby chicks, called chick-starter and also mixed with raisins. Jerri says you at least have the satisfaction of knowing you are eating something that is good for you.

We had halibut for dinner (lunch) out on the Spit and then zigzagged way up on the mountains, where the beautiful homes and flower beds are, and also the wildflowers blooming profusely. It was cloudy where we were but the sun was shining on the tops of the snow-covered mountains across Kachemak Bay. They looked just like the Tetons, south of Yellowstone.

There is a fish cannery out on the Spit and a lot of the summer help live out there on the beach in tents and the most crude shelters made of driftwood and plastic covering. They call them "Spit rats" and are trying to figure out some way to get rid of them as there are no sanitary facilities. I wonder what they actually cook and eat to go with the beer.

In Homer, we stopped and took a picture of the "Yah Sure Club." I said I would like to go back and see how it looked inside at night and Twila said, "You'll have to go alone," and Jerri said, "Go to that place alone at night?" so I guess I never will know.

Then we went to the Pratt Museum, a sort of natural history affair. Eskimo stuff, etc., whale skeleton and an aquarium. While we were looking at that, an arm came out from behind a rock and it turned out to be an octopus that decided to stretch. He came out, one arm at a time, until he was about 1-1/2 feet in diameter. He was covered with suction cups all over his bottom, with which he fastened himself all over the front glass.

After we had a good look, he folded himself up behind the rock again and nobody would know he was there. We were the only ones that saw him and that was worth the $1.50 admission alone.

Our next stop was the Alaska Wild Berry shop where they make jelly out of every conceivable thing in Alaska and ship it all over the country as gift items. They have it so you can taste each kind and I was especially interested in tasting the wild black currant jelly, which my mother made when I was a kid and my dad always said it tasted like bedbugs.

However, we found that the Alaska jelly had so much water and pectin in it that you could hardly taste a trace of the wild berries and almost all kinds tasted about alike, although they were all colored different. Apparently, they only drag the berries through the water, the same as a commercial soup only drags the chicken through the soup.

We camped that night in a forest campground about 30 miles north of Homer at Stariski Creek on a high bluff overlooking Cook Inlet. The sun came out just before it went down over the mountains. Across the Inlet, the scenery was fantastic. It was still light enough to see to write at 10 p.m.

Last year we drove back to Anchorage in the night, but this year we drove back in the daytime and I got to see the opposite side of the trees and road signs that I missed last year.

We stopped in Ninilchik (Carolyn Bratvold Leman's husband's old home town) to buy fresh salmon and then on to Soldotna where we always stop for Kathy's "specialty" -- 75-cent ice cream cones, which have about a pint of ice cream on them, but this time Twila came out with a large burrito instead. She was curious about what they were like and planned to share it with Jerri and me.

One smell was all we wanted, so she was stuck with the whole thing. I'm sure they were made with spiced burro meat instead of the beef they advertised, and we drove with the windows open most of the way back to Anchorage. Every time Twila burped for the next 18 hours, the air reeked of spiced "burro-burger."

We stopped off at Portage Glacier again and the sun was shining and there wasn't a ripple on the water. We got a chunk of glacier ice for the cooler. The big icebergs glistened white in the sun, but the other day when it was cloudy and windy they were a real dark blue.

The salmon were just coming in to spawn and hundreds of people were standing out in the rivers, fishing.

end of part 2

After a stopover in Anchorage to get supplies and clean up, we headed north, stopping at the University Experimental Farm where the flower beds were so lush last year. This time they were just beginning to bloom and weren't as lush.

Camped in the forest at Willow Creek, where the capital of Alaska will be if they move it from Juneau. Next stop, Talkeetna, another "must" when in Alaska. That's the take-off place for the mountain climbers that climb Mt. McKinley and is at the end of a 12-mile dead end road.

Had lunch at the Talkeetna Road House where we stayed overnight last year. I would like to spend a week there, just soaking up the local atmosphere. There wasn't a dog or cat in sight this time; they were all hiding from the numerous small kids that belonged to the proprietress and her helpers.

One lady pointed at her little girl and said, "Did you fill your pants?" and the kid pointed at her brother and said, "No, he did it."

We took a picture of the magnificent jukebox, which I tried to buy last year. It was now for sale for $2,500. They are trying to preserve the original atmosphere of Talkeetna and hate the sight of "developers."

I saw a couple of lawns that had been mowed, so there must be a lawnmower somewhere in town. Lots of three-wheel Hondas, though, with racks on them for bringing in big game.

We had stopped at the "Little Susitna Roadhouse," run by the Miles family (formerly from Erdahl, Minnesota,) but they had locked up for the day and "gone fishing."

The next stop was at the Reindeer Experimental Station near Cantwell. One reindeer had one horn [antler] sawed off in an "experiment." There is a big market in Japan for ground reindeer horn as an aphrodisiac.

The whole town of Cantwell was for sale in one unit; someone had previously bought it for a tax shelter and they had it for sale again.

We camped that night at Brushkana, a primitive campground on the old, unimproved McKinley Park road [Denali Highway]. We went on down the rest of the 35 miles in the morning to Adventures Unlimited, a place that had fascinated Jerri previously. We had pancakes for breakfast there.

This was a most interesting place (another place where I would like to spend a week). They have parties come and stay from all over the world -- geologists, prospectors, hunters, etc. Helicopters land right in the yard and they are 35 miles from a post office. Occasionally, the road grader comes by and brings their mail or takes letters to mail for them.

Sure hated to leave that place, run by the most friendly, interesting and accommodating people, a roaring river just outside the door, modern rooms and plumbing and moose, caribou and bears right in the yard, occasionally.

We backtracked up the Denali Highway, old state road #8, toward Denali National Park and Mt. McKinley, stopping to pick enough blueberries to go on tapioca pudding for supper.

We stayed in a park campground at Savage River, 12 miles into the park, that night for $4. The tour through the park is by shuttle bus only, but I had hurt my leg getting out of the camper and we managed to get one of four permits the next day to drive our own car because I could hardly walk and was too short winded to do all the walking and climbing in and out of the buses. This gave us a chance to stop more for pictures of animals, etc.

At the Eielson visitor center where we turned around is where you can view Mt. McKinley the best, but when we were there it was shrouded in the heaviest fog I have ever seen. There had only been one clear day in June and one in July there, so far this year, but the day after we were there the sun came out and stayed for three days.

We hit the best "animal" day Jerri had ever seen in the park, with many of them right close to the road. Several places we saw large bands of Dall sheep, up on the steep mountainsides, and the lambs were running and playing on the narrow ledges. We counted about 140 sheep and lambs, altogether.

We were lucky to hit a good day, as we talked to a man who had made the trip a couple of days before us and hadn't seen any animals.

We saw many caribou right near the road, several bears, an old grizzly with three yearling cubs, one with two cubs and some other odd bears. Also three big eagles soaring between the mountains and ptarmigan running along the road in front of us.

One big bull moose was browsing about 40 feet from the road, facing us. Jerri stopped and took several pictures and he was still there, eating leaves, when we drove away.

The tour was 106 miles, round trip, and took us 14 hours. Sometimes we were down along the river and sometimes above the timberline where the air is thin and I was especially short-winded.

We camped that night in the same campground so we could watch the sled dog demonstration the next morning, which was a lot more interesting that I expected.

The rangers hitch and drive a dog team on a sled with small wheels under it every day and 30,000 people watch them every year. The sled is chained to a big post and the dogs are so eager to go that they can hardly control or hitch them. Also, they are so nervous and excited that they lift their legs by anything they get near, including the ranger's leg if he doesn't watch out.

There is a lady ranger who takes care of them, each one tied to its own dog house and she came running with a shovel every time one got excited and forgot where he was. She didn't have any trouble getting through the crowd when she came with her shovel full.

I had a ringside seat on my stool, right by the dog sled. Jerri had to take the bus about a block away to park it. When all was ready and they unsnapped the chain, the dog sled and ranger were off in a cloud of dust and made a round trip. Sometimes, they said, the sled came back without the ranger.

The dogs are used in the winter to patrol the park. For a while, they used snowmobiles but had so much trouble with breakdowns far from headquarters that they went back to sled dogs again.

The dogs are ready to fight every chance they get and the girl ranger [Sandy Kogl] said if they got to fighting they had to get right in and pull them apart by the tail or harness, never by the neck, as that was where all the biting was going on.

I said I'd sure like to see her do that and she said, "I knew I didn't like you as soon as I saw you!"

When it was over, she offered to take me up to the bus with the dog team, but I didn't dare try it in my decrepit condition. I knew she planned to give me my money's worth; also, she promised to stage a dog fight for me if I would come back next year.

From there, we headed toward Fairbanks, stopping at Nenana, where a big fish-wheel was sitting on dry land, propelled by an electric motor, to attract tourists to a bunch of gift shops.

Also there is a big tripod, from which they attach a line into the ice on the river to signal the spring break up. It's a big thing called the Nenana Ice Classic, a legal lottery. You have to be an Alaskan to bet on it. It's something like the one at Ashby where you guess what time the car with go through the ice on Little Lake, except they don't have to pull the car out afterwards.

Mic was flying from Anchorage to Fairbanks and we met him there so he could spend the weekend with us and drive up to Circle and Circle Hot Springs. We chickened out on that trip last year when the pavement ended and new construction started and we saw the mud.

Nothing was going to stop us this year, so when the pavement ended, we kept right on going into the mica and shale combination that looked like clay.

We were following a big oil tanker semi-trailer, pulling another four-wheel trailer, with 50 wheels altogether under them and chains on three sets of "tandems." That went fairly well with two camper wheels in the trailer tracks and two wheels in the mud soup. We made the truck driver nervous and he pulled over and got out and motioned us past.

It had rained for several days and the road was a sea of mud, churned up by the big tankers hauling oil in over it. With Twila and I in the back for ballast, the little camper plowed right along. It reminded me of the cartoons of a boat with a big lady in the back and a little man in the front about three feet above the water.

All we had between us and a half mile drop-off down to the river was a small ridge of mud and rocks. The bus waddled along through the mud like a duck. I could hardly believe it could move an inch but the passengers didn't "murmur" this year, like we did last year.

In one of its side swipes, the front wheel hit a rock and broke a hole about three or four inches long in the side of the nearly new tire. A fellow came along in a 40-wheel drive" and asked if we had a spare and a jack, etc. and said, "You've got six more miles of this" and kept on going. We had already gone five miles in it.

With much mud shoveling and careful jacking up, with the help of several flat, muddy rocks, Mic and Jerri managed to change the tire and turn the bus around (carefully). No Circle trip this year, either.

I brought home a sample of mud I scraped off the broken tire. One the way back to the pavement, we met four of those 50-wheel truck-trailer combinations with nervous looking drivers. They were apparently desperate to get oil in on that dead end road for some reason. [Truckers hauled winter heat and fuel for the residents of Central and Circle and surrounding areas.]

We went back to the Chatanika campground for the night. That's one where it was so cold last year and this year it was sunshine and mosquitos instead of ice and frozen ground. I had my picture taken in front of the same outdoor restroom with the stainless steel seat where I nearly froze to death last year and it was actually warm this time.

I was disappointed in the mosquitoes. I had always heard how big and black they were, but the ones we saw were small and light colored, and they really whined when they came in for a landing. They all landed in the upper berth of the camper and Jerri had to kill all that were inside before she could go to sleep.

end of part 3

After getting two new tires in Fairbanks, we decided to go to Chena Hot Springs to soak in the mineral water, as long as we didn't make it to Circle Hot Springs. Besides, some of us needed a bath, anyway.

That was a beautiful 56-mile drive from Fairbanks. The Chena River zigzags through the same valley and we crossed it seven times in the 56 miles, going through beautiful hills and valleys. We saw some farming there, but mostly grass and hay, which they were having quite a time to put up in the steady wet weather. The road went up and down from valley to valley, much like the Finger Lakes Region in New York state.

Because of the hassle getting to and from the pool, Twila and I rented a cabin for the night for $65 and Jerri and Mic slept in the camper. I took a swallow of water from the tap and Ugh! It tasted worse than rotten eggs and we wondered if we would smell like that when we had been in the pool.

This is an old place, started in 1905, and someone said the cabins were 60-70 years old. They were furnished with the most elegant walnut antique furniture, more elegant than I have ever seen.

The water comes out of the ground at 180 degrees and they have to cool it before it goes into the pools. There is a big pool there and two small whirlpools and a small pool called a "Jacuzzi" that you walk down a couple of steps into and sit under the water in chairs.

The big pool has too much activity for me and the whirlpools were too hard to climb into, so I spent 5-1/2 hours in the "Jacuzzi." (Temperature: 104 degrees.)

There's another place I would like to spend a week. Lots of interesting sights and people. Shortly after we got in there, a little boy came running in without a stitch on and Twila said, "Do they let them run naked in here up to age 10?"

Shortly after, a man came running in and yelled, "Bryan, come back here!" and grabbed him.

A little later, a lady was frantically asking if anyone had seen Bryan and Mic said, "He's in the men's restroom."

The lady said, "Do you know Bryan?" and Mic said, "Yes, I know Bryan. I just saw him sitting in there wearing only a big grin!"

The whole place has glass walls and they say a moose walks past the windows while you are in the pool, occasionally.

The Jacuzzi had several chairs and was about 10 feet square. Different people kept coming and going. When they got tired of the big pool, they would sit in there and rest a while and I could visit with some very interesting people there. Some were old and some were young, some skinny and some fat, pretty girls and homely girls, but all friendly and interesting.

Six big, burly fellows with long hair and whiskers came in and more or less took over the big pool for a short time. They would stick their big, hairy heads underwater and then raise up and shake them and water would fly from wall to wall. In a short while, they got out and dressed and put on their big leather jackets and headed for the bar. They had "Brothers" printed on the back, which is an Anchorage motorcycle club of famous troublemakers like the Hell's Angels.

No aches or pains while you are in the pool, but they all came back when I got dried out and cooled off again.

We stayed in a campground right in Fairbanks that night. We had been staying in free U.S. Forest Service campgrounds, but there we paid $8.50 for a parking place. Twila took a batch of clothes to the campground laundry but came back with them. It cost $1.70 to wash one batch in a small Speed Queen and 25 cents to dry for five minutes. She decided to look for a cheaper place or stop by a river and wash on a rock. We stopped at another real big laundry but it cost $1.60 there, so she skipped it again.

We went to the University of Alaska museum to take a better look (and pictures) of the big, mounted brown bear and other things that we saw last year. We knew were were going to have a big day and a lot of walking, so Jerri located a place to rent me a wheelchair for the day and we could keep up with the people from the excursion buses.

From the museum, we went to the Chena River to board a sternwheeler, the Discovery II, for an 11-mile ride down the river and back. A most interesting trip with something to see all the way. Hundreds, almost, of private floatplanes, several fish wheels operated by the Native Indians, and sled dogs sitting in top of their individual houses. The dogs would all "sing" or howl as we went by.

Lots of beautiful log cabins on the side where the highway was. One had a ridge log in the peak three feet in diameter and one had a solar heated greenhouse built into an upper room; two had heated outdoor swimming pools and some of them had sod roofs.

The boat carried 325 people and I had the front seat on the lowest deck, a perfect view of everything. The boat is owned and operated by the most gracious people! When the two young deck-hands saw me coming in a wheelchair, among four tour busloads of people, they came running and took me across the narrow gangplank and right into the best seat on the lower deck. The owner's wife pointed out all the things to see and kept up a continuous and humorous explanation over her portable microphone.

An old Athabascan Indian lives the year around at a fish camp and he lets the boat unload its passengers there. Four good-looking girls from the boat divide the passengers into four groups and take them around the fish camp and explain all the native things there. The one we followed was Kathy. She said her mother was pure Athabascan and her dad was an Italian from Rochester, New York.

The buildings were log or native lumber and bark. There were fish drying in a drying shed made of wood and bark and there were several other old log buildings, but the Indian (Howard) was mowing the grass around them with a new JCPenney lawnmower.

A little farther down, the Chena River joined the Tanana River for the rest of the trip. The Tanana is a real muddy river, looks like 20 per cent clay and moves 100,000 tons of silt and rocks past a given point in one year. It doesn't seem possible that the salmon could find their way up it to spawn, but they do, and the Natives have fish wheels in it. The channel is wide and keeps changing, with sandbars and stumps sticking up all over.

The lady said we could run aground, but only those over three feet tall would have to get off and push the boat off if we did.

On the way back, the two pretty Native girls -- Kathy, the Indian-Italian and Rachel, the Indian-Eskimo -- gave demonstrations on all three decks of the furs and skins the Natives tan and use.

The girls were real cut-ups and Rachel modeled some of the furs while Kathy explained all about them. Jerri went up on the top deck to take pictures and one of the girl guides said, "Weren't you in Chena Hot Springs yesterday?" When Jerri said she was, the girl said, "Have you got your dad along today?" How do you like that?

end of part 4

There was a whole busload of Australians on the boat, also a busload of Germans and one of Japanese. From the boat, we went to AlaskaLand, a big area in Fairbanks laid out in streets where many of the old, original cabins occupied by famous people in the old days have been moved to. They are now little shops and stores of various kinds. No cars in there! You have to walk, but that was the day I traveled in the wheelchair.

There was a salmon bake in there that evening, under the trees, a beautiful, sunshine evening. They grill the salmon right there in the open and you can come back for "seconds" for $11. Also, a big, old ore wagon was a sort of salad bar where you could help yourself to baked beans, Jell-O, salads and many other things.

I don't care that much for baked salmon, but Twila looked like a kid watching another kid eat candy, so we stayed for that, too. We were about the last ones there and the boy at the grill said, "Does anyone want the rest of this salmon? We are closing up and I have to throw these last ones away."

Twila almost ran over there and he gave her enough for dinner for herself and Jerri the next day. I think that was the highlight of Twila's trip.

The next day, we went up on the Chena Ridge Road where you can see all of Fairbanks and the Tanana River. The sternwheeler we rode on the day before went by while we watched and took pictures.

We were parked by the Pump House restaurant where a lot of huge, old mining machinery was sitting around. Gold mining was done in a big way here many years ago and a big 10-inch pump operated there to supply water from the river to the gold mining machinery up in the hills.

From there, we headed for North Pole, Alaska, population 268, a real interesting tourist trap where you can see Santa Claus the year around. Jerri took some pictures of Santa Claus's animated elves, for special kid interest, a real tricky place to take pictures there indoors. They have a real big building full of souvenirs and gift items and interesting displays.

The roadsides were solid red with rose hips in that area, but the roses had all bloomed earlier in the season. It must have been a beautiful sight.

Twila and Jerri picked a lot of big, ripe raspberries, right in the campground and along the road, but most of the other berries, like high bush cranberries and lingonberries and several other kinds, were still green.

Right near North Pole, we drove through Jesus Town, where the big radio station KJNP (King Jesus North Pole) is located. They have a lot of nice log buildings with sod roofs. The Chamber of Commerce building in North Pole had a sod roof with a good crop of ripe, red raspberries growing on the roof. Some of the roofs were mowed and some had tall grass on them. A garden in Jesus Town had sweet corn just in the silking stage, about three feet high and growing through clear plastic to attract the sun [and hold the heat inside.]

We had rose hip tea for supper, nothing great, about like watered out tomato juice. Three rose hips have as much Vitamin C as an orange so it's a cheap source for Vitamin C "nuts" to prevent colds with.

Nice, sunny, short sleeve weather at North Pole with mosquitoes. There were only about five hours of darkness at night.

From there, we started working our way toward Valdez, where we planned to take a 12-hour ferry trip to Seward. Stopped at a lookout where we could look across the wide, silt laden Tanana River to the Alaska Range, where the sun was shining brightly on the tops of Mt. Hayes, Deborah and Hess. We had gone past Birch Lake and Harding Lake and across a new bridge over the Tanana River, right alongside of the big Alaska pipeline, which is hanging on cables from towers across the wide, muddy river.

We stayed at the BLM campground and filled our empty water tank with good, fresh mountain water, which was a welcome change from the Anchorage rubber hose water we had been using.

From there, we drove through part of the Delta Barley Project, where they are clearing thousands of acres of brush land for raising barley. That's where the wild buffalo herd have discovered the taste of barley and a man and his Australian dog are employed full time, chasing the buffalo away from the barley fields. We saw a girl with a big, new, swather cutting a real luscious crop of green oats for hay or silage. Lots of beef and dairy cattle and saddle horses in that area.

Stopped at Summit Lake, where rivers flow out of both ends. One goes to the Pacific and the other north to the Bering Sea. Camped that night in the Sourdough campground near Glennallen. We went to the Sourdough roadhouse for breakfast. All the pancakes we could eat, two eggs, a 3-1/2 inch sausage and coffee for $4 -- one of the best bargains on the trip.

After breakfast, Bud Lauesen, the proprietor, opened up his antique store for us. He had some real treasures, some of them from Russia. Among them were trunks covered with fine, decorated leather, also other very fancy brass things, etc. Bud's specialty is clocks, which he makes. The "works" are set in jade or agate polished rock. Twila bought two of the agate ones.

The Sourdough Roadhouse is the fourth place I would like to stay for a week or more, just soaking up the atmosphere. Bud was 74 years old but said he had married a child bride of 60 a year ago. She was apparently doing the work in the roadhouse while he "shot the breeze" in the antique shop.

end of part 5

We stopped at a waterless campground down the road a ways and a fellow came along with an empty water jug. Jerri gave him some of our good mountain water and he said he was from St. Peter, Minnesota. He and his brother had just come back from trying to drive to Valdez. He said there was a flood down the road a ways and the road was closed and washing out, with three feet of water going over the bridge.

We went to the state troopers' headquarters for more information and a sign there said, "Road closed at Thompson Pass," so our ferry trip was going to be canceled out, too. We heard that three campers were trapped in there near a glacier between two washouts. They had plenty of food and would have to sit it out until the road was re-built.

Jerri had a friend at Copper Center whose husband had an airplane and she was hoping he could fly us to Valdez, but we found out he was trapped at Cordova, where they had 7-1/2 inches of rain, and he couldn't fly home.

We stopped at a cemetery where the Indian graves had picket fences around them and little houses over them where they put food and the personal possessions of the deceased. Sometimes, when the Indians ran out of food, they had to borrow some from the grave-houses and then replace it later. One old lady had an accordion and sometimes they would borrow it for the Saturday night dance and then return it to the grave house again.

We stopped at the Squirrel Creek campground that night in the rain. Twila talked to two girls by the restrooms, and they hadn't heard about the floods and closed road. They had come all the way from Anchorage, five adults and over 20 4-Hers, going to Valdez to go on the same ferry trip we had planned to go on. They looked pretty dismayed.

We were only 80 miles from Valdez. We heard at Copper Center that the waves were 25 feet high at Valdez, so we were glad we weren't on the ferry.

Lots of ripe, red raspberries right in the campground, so we had fresh raspberries and rice custard pudding, along with the usual "chick-starter" cereal for breakfast.

We decided to take a side trip to Chitina over an old, rough, unpaved highway, through deep cuts through solid rock and old, settled country with some farming (oats to wheat) and old buildings and junked old cars and trucks everywhere. We stayed in a campground there, up in the pass. We stopped on an old wooden bridge there to take pictures of Liberty Falls, the most gorgeous waterfall we had seen, right above the bridge.

We went through a canyon that looked a mile deep below the road shoulder. Crossed the Copper River on a bridge and stopped to watch a fish wheel in operation, but didn't see any fish come up in it. The fish wheels are made of poles and woven willow and turn with the current, scooping up the fish and dumping them into a wooden trough. Only the Natives are allowed to use them. [Fish wheels are a Scandinavian invention that has been adopted in Alaska.] The village of Chitina seemed to be mostly old, abandoned buildings and junked cars.

We stayed in the Dry Creek campground outside of Glennallen that night and started back toward Anchorage, taking a side trip to Lake Louise on a new, wide, unpaved, rough road. Everything in the Tin Bus rattled. We went past Crater Lake and the Tazlina Glacier on the way in. We were high up and could see Lake Louise 8-1/2 miles ahead of us.

The blueberries were thick and ripe along the road and Twila and Jerri picked several quarts with Swedish berry rakes. Twila saw fresh moose tracks and droppings where she was picking berries, but no bears, although she was a little worried about that. An eagle was soaring overhead.

We camped on a hill overlooking beautiful Lake Louise that night. Hot pancakes with fresh blueberry sauce over them for supper. Lake Louise is a big, blue lake with several islands, some of which have cabins on them, and is supposed to be full of big lake trout, some of them up to 45 lbs. Lots of gulls there yet but the ducks and geese had evidently gone south to Canada by August.

Picked some more blueberries on the way back out, took pictures of wild "cotton-grass" and red foxtail (squirrel-tail grass) and back to the Glennallen to Anchorage road [Glenn Highway]. We saw some great scenery along this road. Gunsight Mountain, a mountain with a notch in the top, just like a gun-sight. Everything along the road is named gunsight, like Gunsight Lodge, etc.

Then Sheep Mountain. We didn't see any mountain sheep but the mountain is coppery colored, must be full of mineral of some kind, then past Matanuska Glacier. The glacier lays on a ledge and we followed it on the other side of the valley for a mile or more.

Getting near Palmer, we saw a big pea vines harvester harvesting green peas. Some real lush gardens in that area. Stopped along a creek on the old Glenn Highway that was full of salmon spawning last year and a few had just arrived this year, a month earlier.

End of part 6

Stayed at Jerri and Mic's that night and made a tour of Anchorage the last day. Went to the Book Cache and bought 34 Alaska books to add to the 50 already in the Johnson family library of Alaska. Went to the Raven Pond Jelly shop to see how their jelly compared to the shop in Homer. We bought a jar of black currant and a jar of fireweed blossom jelly. Same thing: mostly pectin!

Twila and Jerri canned blueberries that night and packed four jars in our suitcase. I kept wondering how a suitcase's contents would look with a broken jar of blueberries in it, but they survived the trip.

We stayed up too late and overslept but made the airport just in time to board for Seattle at 6:30 a.m. We had worried quite a bit about being stuck in Alaska on account of the air controllers' strike, but the service going back was better than ever.

The sky was cloudy again and we could only see the coastline once in a while. We were supposed to have half an hour to wait in Seattle but our plane was half an hour late and we worried some more. When we got there, they told us the plane was waiting for us and wouldn't leave us.

The visibility was good all the way to Minneapolis and it was a pleasant trip. It seemed that we spent half of our time in the air just eating.

At Minneapolis, an accommodating Sky Cap met us at the plane door with a motorized cart and delivered us in a few minutes, right to a bunch of big smiles. Kathy, Colette, Sheldon, Mitzi and Shane were there to meet us.

Wyatt, left; Weston, right, 1981.

It was a good trip and I had my usual seat to myself in the middle of Jerri's bus, with a table in front of me to take notes on and keep a log of everything we did. I didn't hear much of the steady chatter from the front seat but caught a few words now and then, mainly about how beautiful and gorgeous everything was.

Alaska has changed much since the pipeline came and now they have the crime and burglaries and vandalism that they never had before. I can understand fully why they don't want any more immigrants. Before the pipeline they never locked their cabins. It would be an insult to their neighbors. But now they have to spike them shut, even out in the wilderness.

Also, I think that every road sign over three months old we saw in the whole state was shot full of holes, even right up to the edge of the towns, some of them totally beyond recognition.

People wonder about the price of gas in Alaska. We bought gas 11 times and paid from $1.29.9 to $167.0 for an average of $1.52.3.

I used the old name, McKinley Park here, but the name has been changed to Denali National Park, the old Eskimo name, and the Natives are trying to get the name of the mountain changed back to Denali from McKinley. The Natives don't have a very high regard for President McKinley up there.

The only place we saw that clay-like mud [mica shale] was on the road to Circle. All of the other roads we traveled on that weren't black-topped were built of bank-run or crushed gravel and sharp edged rocks and pebbles and you could travel on them in any amount of rain. The Delta Barley Project country is level and over tundra and peat. They build the roads there by spreading two or three fee of gravel and rock mixture over the top of that and the roads are solid right away.

Jerri is an excellent driver, rarely had to look at a map, and took us to some places the guided tour buses don't go. Also, she has taken wild plant classes and knew the name of every grass, weed, flower and berry that we saw. She took more pictures of "things" for me this year, which we will integrate with the more "boring" scenery pictures from last year, which will spice up our future slide shows more.

The End

Previous • Next • ContentsAboutSitemapHome