Week 8: Hatcher Pass, Glacier View, Knik Glacier, and Hope

When we learned that the small town of Glacier View does a 4th of July ‘car launch’ every year, we knew we had to check it out. Wow, what a crazy event. Check out some of the videos in this article from Car and Driver. The best part was watching attendees scramble to grab a ‘souvenir’ car part from the event to take home. Why? The night before we camped at a great boondocking spot right on the Matanuska river just up the road from the event.

On the way to Glacier View we drove up to Hatcher Pass for some amazing views, visited the remains of the Independence Gold Mine, and I hiked the first 3-4 miles of the Reed Lakes Trail, one of the most beautiful hikes anywhere. Check out the photo link below!

We did a somewhat touristy boat/truck trip to Knik Glacier. I don’t think I’d recommend it. The 30 minute ride (each way) in the military surplus truck was very uncomfortable, and unfortunately one of their boats had broken down, so there was a lot of time waiting for the remaining boat to shuttle us to the glacier. But It was cool to see the foot of the glacier from the river, and the owner of the company had some great stories, including one about the time he was trampled by a moose. We camped 2 nights at an even better boondocking spot right on the Knik river with a view of the glacier.

Then on to Hope, AK, population 200. Hope is a very cute little town 1.5 hrs from Anchorage. We camped in the yard of the McCabe cabin (friends from SF). Hope is a great place for live music on weekends, and I heard a great rock/americana band and a fun traditional bluegrass band. Some of the headliners for SalmonFest play in Hope just before or after the festival. Hope is situated on the ‘Turnagain Arm’, which has the second largest tidal swing in North America. The inlet can see tides as large as 40 feet!

So many great photos from this week! Here is the set for Hatcher Pass, Knik Glacier, and Hope. Here is a collection from the car launch, but I recommend watching the youtube video to really appreciate the event.

Reed Lakes Trail. Wow!
Knik Glacier
Camping on the Knik River
Low Tide in Hope, AK
What exactly is his plan for that bumper?

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Week 7: Denali National Park and Talkeetna

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Our next stop was Denali National Park. A large portion of the park is no longer accessible (except by bush plane) due to a big rock slide last August. We had a reservation for 5 nights in the Teklanika River Campground, which you need to book 6 months in advance, as it’s the only campground you can drive to deep within the park.

Our first day started out beautiful, and we took a bus as far into the park as was possible. But unfortunately later that afternoon the smoke from several forest fires blew in and never left. The smoke was really unpleasant, so we ended up leaving a day early. I did get in a couple good hikes, both ‘trail-less’ hikes, one in the tundra, and the over in the Teklanika riverbed. I even found a full set of moose antlers. Too bad I couldn’t bring them home. Overall we saw way less wildlife compared to the last time we were here: only a few caribou and sheep. No bears, wolves, or moose.

From Denali we went to Talkeetna, stopping briefly at the never completed Igloo Hotel. In Talkeetna we spent 3 nights parked right next to the city park in the center of town. I love this town. Great food, live music and interesting folks. Talkeetna is the town where most climbers of Denali Mountain, the highest peak in North America (20,310 ft), start their journey. The local history museum is excellent, with a great video on what it takes to summit Denali Mountain. We also went on a touristy but fun jet boat ride. But mainly we hung out at the Fairview Inn listening to local bands and people watching.

Full sets of photos: Denali National Park and Talkeetna. There are not many good photos from Denali NP due to the smoke, but luckily the smoke cleared once we arrived in Talkeetna.

View from hike from the last bus stop
Moose was here
It will take a while before this road is repaired
View of Denali Mountain from Talkeetna
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Week 6: The Denali Highway

You might think the Denali Highway is the good road from Anchorage to Denali National Park, but in fact it is a mostly gravel road, only open in summer, between the tiny towns of Paxson and Cantwell. Before the Parks Highway was completed in the early 1970s, the Denali Highway was the only road access to Denali National Park. 

We spent 2 nights at Tangle Lakes BLM campground, which was quite windy (good for keeping mosquitos away, bad if you want to kayak on the lake). There is an easy short hike with great views from the campground.

Next we stayed in the camping area at the Clearwater Lodge. All the staff were extremely friendly and helpful, but everything except the camping fee was crazy expensive ($9/gallon gas, $15 hot dog!) We spent some time hanging out and playing cribbage with a retired bush pilot in the tiny on-site bar, and, of course, added our signed dollar bills to the collection on the walls/ceiling. On our last morning we woke up to see a mama and baby moose walk by.

There were a surprising number of Air Force jets flying over this part of Alaska from the Eielson Air Force base outside of Fairbanks. This is one of the only places they are allowed to break the sound barrier. We happened to be here during a thunderstorm, and it was really hard to tell which was thunder, and which was a sonic boom. We were told by the owners of the lodge that periodically the sonic booms from the jets will break their windows.

Unfortunately the mosquitos were horrible here, and smoke from over 100 fires started impacting our trip this week. Almost 2 million acres in Alaska have already burned this year.

Random week 6 observation: a surprising number of Europeans bring their RV with them. So far I’ve seen 3 small RVs with German plates, and 1 with French plates. I asked one of the Germans about it, and she said its fairly common for folks from Europe bring their RV over, and everyone comes in via Halifax.

The full set of photos for week 6 can be found here.

Tangle Lakes Campground
The Sluice Box Bar
Morning visitors
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Week 5: McCarthy, AK and Glacier Trek

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I first visited McCarthy 13 years ago with my friend Lisa (photos from that trip), and ever since then I’ve wanted to come back and do a glacier trek. There are 2 bridges into McCarthy: one for locals (you need a key for the padlock to open the gate), and the other a footbridge. There is a huge campground next to the footbridge with great views, a few pit toilets, and a food truck selling hot dogs.

Many folks warned us that the road to McCarthy was really bad, and to bring an extra spare tire, but advice is based on what the road was like 10+ years ago. The road was not bad at all, and no worse than the stretches of the ALCAN or Denali highways)

For my 60th birthday I treated myself to a 5 day trek out of McCarthy, Alaska. Five hard days of hiking with a 45-50 pound pack over glacier ice, rocks, mud, and a lot of bushwhacking. It was completely amazing. There were 4 of us on the trek: myself, my friend Leanne from Tucson, a great new friend, Alfredo, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Monet, our guide. We hiked about six hours per day. I’m so glad I did this while my knees and back could still handle it. We saw a total of 5 bears (2 were young cubs), but all were far away.

While I was trekking, Christine relaxed in camp, and did a tour of the Kennecott Mine (highly recommended), which I did when I was here in 2009.

To better understand the town of McCarthy, check out the book Pilgrims Revenge (available as an eBook from the San Francisco library). It’s a fascinating story, and there is a lot of history of the town and the national park thrown in.

The full set of photos of McCarthy and Kennecott are here, and photos from the trek are here.

Breathtaking views everywhere!
Hiked up a ridge for a better view of the glacier
Kennecott Copper Mill
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Week 4: Kluane National Park, Yukon

From Haines you have to cross the Yukon to get to the rest of Alaska. There are a complicated and randomly enforced set of rules on what food you can take when across the border. But Canada ended up letting us bring everything in, and the US just took away our citrus (even though it was purchased in the US).

Our first stop in the Yukon was the Congdon Creek Campground, right on Kluane Lake. This is the first time I’ve seen a campground with an electric fence for tent campers (to keep out Grizzly bears), and free firewood. We didn’t see any bears in the campground, but we did see a small grizzly near the road about 10 miles away. While there I hiked the Sheep Creek trail, which is a steep hike with amazing views. There was still a ton of ice on Kluane lake when we arrived, but most of it melted during the 2 days we were there.

Our next stop was back in Alaska in a great free campground in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, which is known for great birdwatching. It’s fantastic place to break out the kayak.

Next on to McCarthy in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, America’s largest national park. On the way we stayed at Uncle Nic’s RV park in Copper Center Alaska. Wow, what an interesting place! They have an amazing model train of the Copper River Railway, and we had a great time talking with several locals, who were all interesting/odd characters.

Full are of photos for the week are here.

View from the Sheep Creek Trail, Kluane National Park
Ice on Kluane Lake
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Week 3: Ferry from Bellingham to Haines

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The three day ferry trip to Alaska was very relaxing. Day one was cloudy and rainy, so we could not see much, but days two and three were glorious. Along the way we stopped at Ketchikan, Wrangle, Petersburg and Juneau to let folks on/off before arriving in Haines. The ferry is quite comfortable in that government service sort of way. We had a two person cabin with a bunk bed, but the upper deck of the ferry was covered in tents for those wanting to save some money.

In Haines we stayed at the Oceanside RV park with fantastic views, and right next to several restaurants and bars. I was able to Kayak right from the RV park, while Christine did a 4×4 tour. There were humpback whales and bald eagles everywhere. A whale breached only about 100 yards from me while I was kayaking, which is pretty scary when you are in 45 degree water.

Unfortunately the famous Haines Hammer museum was closed while we where there, and we were a couple weeks too early to see the salmon spawning on the Chilkoot river. But we really liked Haines, and would come here again.

We also did a tasting of the spirits made by the Port Chilkoot Distillery. I recommend their gin and bourbon.

A full set of photos for week 3 is here.

Our Ferry: the MV Matanuska
View from the ferry
Camp spot in Haines

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North, to Alaska

105 weeks later than originally planned (thanks to COVID-19), on May 15, 2022, we departed for Alaska! We plan to be on the road until Oct 1. We spent 2 weeks working our way north to Bellingham, WA for the ferry to Alaska. (soundtrack for this post is here)

Usually I try to do a weekly blog post on our travels, but this one covers two weeks, so will be a bit longer than usual. Hopefully I’ll get back to weekly, depending on cell coverage. I’m writing this on day one of a three day ferry ride to Haines, AK. So far we’ve mostly only seen dark or fog, but it is now starting to clear.

Our first night was just outside of Medford, OR, then a quick lunch stop in Eugene with my buddy Steve, then on to check out Salem, the Oregon state capital. The following day we continued on to Olympia, the Washington state capital. Based on our short visits, both Salem and Olympia seem to be very livable cities. It was interesting comparing the capital buildings in each: The Oregon capital building (1938) was the least ostentatious capital building I’ve ever been in, and the Washington capital building (1928) the most ostentatious. I prefer the Oregon building.

We spent the next week meeting up with old friends: Jimmy D, bass player from my high school band, who lives in Belfair, WA, and Elinor and Mark, friends from Berkeley in the 90s, who live on Bainbridge Island. Elinor and Mark joined us for two of the four nights we spent camping at Heart O’ the Hills Campground in Olympic National Park.

Olympic National Park is huge, so we really only explored the northeast corner of the park. Most of the campgrounds in the park are ‘first come first served’, which is great if you arrive mid week. I did several long hikes (forced to turn back when I hit too much snow at around 5500 feet elevation). On the last day the four of us went to Sol Duc Hot Springs, which was quite nice. Both the hot pool and the cold pool were perfect temperatures. We then spent a night in Port Townsend on the way to Bainbridge, Island. We had a great meal in Port Townsend at ‘the Old Whiskey Mill’, which, according to the waitress, has the actual crew boat from the book The Boys in the Boat, which I really enjoyed reading.

Christine wanted to do a night in Seattle, so we left the van in Bainbridge and took the ferry over for one night. We had great cocktails at Zig Zag, and a great meal at Elliott’s on the wharf. We stayed at the brand new “CitizenM’ hotel next to the ferry port, which was quite disappointing. The room was about the same size as our van, and had no coffee maker or hot pot. All the lights and blinds were controlled using an iPad, which was really confusing. It took us about 10 minutes to figure out how to turn on the bathroom light!

Next was a very rainy week in North Cascades National Park. Two of the five days we were there it rained so much we never left the van. In between the rain I was able to hike, bike, and kayak. We spent the first 4 nights dispersed camping near a waterfall along Cascade River Road, and the last night (after the holiday weekend) in Colonial Creek Campground. I had no idea there were so many waterfalls in North Cascades National Park. Oh wait… Duh…

The campgrounds in this National Park have a very interesting reservation system: All spots are reservable, but if they are not reserved 24 hrs in advance, they are free. Apparently the park went ‘cash free’ 2 years ago, and the only way to pay is online. There is basically no cell service in the park, so if the site is not reserved, its free. The only catch is that you might have to move on with short notice if you want to stay a second night.

Then on to Bellingham to catch the ferry. Bellingham also seems like a very livable city, especially if you like west coast beer. There are 14 breweries in Bellingham, of which we sampled 2 of them.

Full set of photos for these two weeks can be found here.

North Cascades National Park
Olympic National Park with Elinor and Mark
Diablo Lake, North Cascades National Park

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Puerto Rico, January 2022

The COVID Omicron wave peaked just as we arrived, so our 3 week trip to Puerto Rico ended up being very different than we had hoped. Everything had to close by midnight, restaurants and bars were at 50%, and no gatherings of more than 250 people. So needless to say the big San Sebastian Festival that we came for was cancelled, as well has New Year’s Eve festivities. So we ended up reading, watching Netflix and HBO, and sleeping a lot.

Here are a few random things about Puerto Rico that surprised me, probably just due to my ignorance:

  • More cats, and fewer chickens than the other Caribbean places I’ve visited (Jamaica, Granda, Belize, Cuba, coastal Columbia, etc.)
  • Most prices are about the same as the stateside, but Ubers were much cheaper. Usually around $7 to get across town. Rental cars were insanely cheap too at around $15/day.
  • PR has very strict COVID protocols everywhere! Most everyone wore masks, even outside, on hiking trails, riding bikes, etc., even tho the mask mandate was just indoors. And 100% if the restaurants we went to made you show a vaccine card to get in, even in the countryside.
  • PR has very loud frogs all night long!
  • Puerto Ricans love fried food!
  • The island has a lot more flat areas than I expected. San Juan is quite flat overall, which makes it a great city to get around by electric scooter. Bring a helmet.
  • PR cant seem to decide if they are metric or not. Gasoline is sold by the liter, speed limit signs are in MPH, and temperature is in Fahrenheit. Go figure.
  • Everywhere felt very safe, and we saw very very few homeless or beggars.
  • Watch out for Iguana roadkill everywhere.
  • PR is more Americanized than I expected, and seems to have every big US chain store. I’m told that only 15% of the population is truly bi-lingual, but it seems like everyone we encountered spoke English well.

We heard many horror stories about Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico 2.5 years ago. Sounds like most everyone had no cell phone or internet for a month, and no water or power for 3 (and in some cases up to 15) months. It’s hard to imagine going that long without power.

One thing that we did that we don’t really recommend was the Ron del Barrilito Tasting Tour, which lets you taste an $800 bottle of rum. We found the tour good, but the rum very unexceptional.

Full set of photos are here.

View of Old San Juan. Our apartment is just hidden on the left.
On the ‘pork highway’.
its a match!
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Dubrovnik, Croatia, September 2021 (and trip summary)

Dubrovnik was, as you might expect, pretty amazing. Walking the 1.5 mile city wall (with 1080 steps) is incredible. But even with COVID, it was quite crowded.

We are very glad we came here before the cruise ship industry is back in force. We were told that before COVID there were on average 4 ships per day, for a total of 10,000 passengers, here every day July-September. This year it’s only 1 ship per day at 1/3 capacity. Every local we talked to said it was unbearable getting around due to the traffic jams and hoards of pedestrians 2015-2019 that time of year. But I think the drop in cruise ships has somewhat been replaced by the increase in Americans, as there are now 8 direct flights per week between the US and Dubrovnik. Most of the tourists we encountered in Dubrovnik were American, unlike in other parts of Croatia, where most were German.

It’s hard to imagine Dubrovnik under siege from Serbia in 1991, as it is so pristine today. I did a 1.5 hour hike up to Fort Imperial on top of Srd mountain just outside the city, which was where much of the shelling was happening. There is a museum in the fort with photos and videos showing the attack on Dubrovnik. Crazy shit.

The most interesting part of our time in Dubrovnik was a day trip to the city of Mostar in Herzegovina, which was almost completely destroyed during the war in the 1990s. The iconic Mostar bridge was completely destroyed (watch here), but has been rebuilt in the original style.

Officially the region has two official alphabets, Roman and Cyrillic, and road signs are in both. But depending on exactly where you are in Herzegovina, in some places the Roman is crossed out, and in other places the Cyrillic is crossed out. Clearly there are still some strong feelings about the war. I could try to summarize all the conflicting things we heard about the war, but that would be longer than you’d want to read, and would probably be wrong. Short summary: it’s complicated and fucked up.

We went to Ston area to visit an oyster farm, and for more wine tasting. Seeing how they harvest the oysters was quite interesting, and eating them right out of the sea was amazing. After trying more Croatian wines, we still prefer Californian wine.

We went on a sunset dinner cruise with an amazing sunset view and so-so dinner, but we had low expectations on the food, so were quite satisfied. The boat was a replica of a ship from the 1500s or so.

Did you know that Dubrovnik is a cat lovers paradise? There are 100s of well cared for ‘stray’ cats everywhere, and most are surprisingly friendly. We saw a lot of cats in Split and Sibenik too, but Dubrovnik takes it to a whole new level. Christine found she had to factor in petting time when planning to go out on the town.

View of Dubrovnik from nearby hill
Oyster Farm
Mostar Bridge

Croatia Summary

What’s up with all the 80s rock/pop, Croatia? I’ve heard more 80s rock in the past month than in the previous 20 years. And not just in touristy places, but in taxis, buses, shopping area, etc. There seems to also be a bit of 80s Croatian rock in the mix, but mostly American/British rock. The times we had a rental car, it seems like all the stations played the same 80’s Rock, When it wasn’t 80’s rock, it was modern loungy versions of 80s rock (have you heard this lounge version of “Should I stay or should I go” from the Clash?) Maybe someone can explain the obsession with 80s music here to me?

Croatia is a very comfortable/ easy place to travel. Avoid August if possible. Prices are similar to most of the US (and cheaper than most of Europe, San Francisco, New York, London, etc). Sibenik was our favorite spot, as we found it a nice balance of historical and tourist activities without feeling like the town is just for tourists.

I haven’t said anything about Croatian food yet, as I’m hoping Christine will do a posting on that. I’ll only say that everything we had was excellent and reasonably priced. The biggest surprise was that there was almost no alternatives to Croatian food. We saw 1 Chinese restaurant near Plitvice, and it closed down during COVID lock down and never reopened. We also saw 1 Indian and 1 middle eastern restaurant, both in Zagreb, and 1 Indian place in Dubrovik. We also went to a good/unique Asian fusion place on Korcula. I’m sure there are others somewhere, but not very many (and I’m not counting the scattering of MacDonalds). This is very different from the rest of Europe.

COVID rates doubled in Croatia during the time we were here, but still way lower than in the US. Mask use dropped too, but not sure if that was due to city differences in the south or mask fatigue. Many people seem to wear the mask below their nose, especially younger people. But no one seems to be worried about Delta, and hospitalizations are low (or so we were told.)

Full set of photos for the final week of the trip are here.

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Split and Korčula, Croatia, September 2021

We decided to spend 2 nights in Split on the way to the island of Korčula, and are really glad we did. Split is built around an amazing Roman palace built by the emperor Diocletian. The combination of architecture (mainly from the 1st, 14th, and 17th centuries) makes for a really interesting mix.

Split is definitely a party town, and many bars were packed in the evenings, mostly with drunk, unmasked Germans, so we avoided those places. Nightclubs were still closed due to COVID tho.

Another highlight of Split is FroggyLand, a collection of over 500 anthropomorphic amphibians arranged in 21 cases. These dioramas were created by a Hungarian taxidermist, who devoted 10 years (1910-1920) to stuffing and meticulously arranging the frogs. There is a pithy commentary on each of the scenes, such as students in a classroom annoying each other. I’m not sure how this collection ended up in Split, but it is a must see if you are in the area.

After Split, we took a 2.5 hour very comfortable ferry to Korčula Island, where we had booked a great 2 bedroom (and 2 balcony) apartment with a view 10 minutes from the Korcula old town.

We rented a car for a day to explore the island. Its only a 45 minute drive from one end of the island to the other. We visited a couple wineries, but were pretty unimpressed with the local wines. The next day I rented an EBike to explore the northern shore of the island, which has several cute small towns along the shore.

Full set of photos is here. Next stop (and last stop) is Dubrovnik.

Split Palace

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