<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Postcards Library 14
Little Log


Stephanie is one of those persons who can fit a lot of words onto a standard size postcard -- usually by writing sideways, around corners, and even upside down if she can find some extra space. Most of these go to family and friends. But some of them -- those which document our RV adventures -- find their way onto this portion of our website...

Postcard: The Railroad Speeder Cars

May 26, 1999

Idaho's Camas Prairie stretching from just south of Lewiston to White Bird , 80 miles south. It is crossed by US 95, Idaho's main north-south artery. At first, it appears just as a prairie should, mile after mile of flat grassy farm and ranch land. In the spring, the Camas plant blooms, its beautiful blue flower making the land look as if it were dotted with lakes.

It is not all flat land, however. Especially in the western part of the prairie, several deep canyons slice the land. When the railroad first came through here in 1907, wooden trestles were built over the canyons and tunnels were bored through several of the hills. You can see the old wooden trestles and tunnels from various points along the road. The tracks cross US 95 at only one location. There is no crossing bar or lights, as the tracks are only occasionally used for grain shipments used these days.

So we were surprised to see a flagger at the tracks this morning. We were more surprised to see what traffic was being stopped for. A convoy of small boxy cars was coming down the tracks. Each was only big enough to seat a maximum of 2 - 4 persons, and each seemed powered differently -- from a "one lunger", to lawn mower power to more specialized engines. Each was gaily painted, the predominant colors being railway yellow and railway orange. We were intrigued.

As the flag person allowed the traffic to resume, and started running for her train car, I rolled down the window to ask what these were. "We're a club", she explained, "these are railroad touring cars called 'Speeder Cars'".

That was simply not enough to satisfy our growing curiousity. We drove along the highway, passing the little cars as they rolled through their picture postcard landscapes, and turned in ahead of the entourage at the next town, Ferdinand, to watch the procession pass us one more time. We parked where Ferdinand's train station used to be, now a grain elevator, right next to the tracks, and had our camera at the ready. Here they came again... This time, as they passed us, each sounded its horn! Train horns of all sounds and volumes. Almost every rider waved as they passed by, one even tossed a couple of flags our way, which we dutifully waved at the rest of the procession. I would dearly have loved to have been given a ride.

Our unexpected arrival at the grain elevator, and then the arrival of the Speeder Cars, attracted the attention of two elderly gentlemen working in a gravel pit area just across the tracks. They were as intrigued as we were at this sight. After the cars had passed, one old man reminisced about the days when Ferdinand had a passenger train (3 cars) arrive in town daily -- back when there was still a station here. It seems that once there was a boy who ran out of money for train fare in Grangeville, a city 25 miles from Ferdinand, his destination. The train folks took him to the post office, bought his fare in postage stamps, applied them to the boy, and sent him to Ferdinand in the postal car!

We drove on in toward Grangeville, where the railroad roundtable is located, and where the little cars had to be headed. Here we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to learn more about the cars. Frank Higgins, the man on duty this day, was excited. "Are they here already? They're not due until 4:30". He showed us their itinerary which included dinner at the Elks Lodge, a museum tour, and a breakfast buffet the following morning, put on by the Grangeville merchants and the Chamber. On the wall was a flyer advertising the sale of chances to win a ride in one of the Speeder Cars. [If I had only known!] Lori Cox, the executive director of the Chamber, showed us the full schedule for the Cars. Each leg of their journey was at a different speed, with 18 mph being average, and 30 mph the fastest. After they left Grangeville the next day, they would travel back toward Lewiston, and then head into the mountains on the scenic Orofino to Headquarters railway.

What a great trip those folks in the "Speeder Cars" must have had this warm afternoon -- traversing remote areas of Idaho forests and farmlands, crossing over ravines hundreds of feet high on those old wooden trestles, and disappearing into a series of dark tunnels only to emerge into entirely new vistas.

You will probably never see them on a major freight or Amtrak line. But what a treat to see the wonderful little Speeder Cars in this picuresque section of Idaho!

Postcard: Following the Yellowhead

May 25, 1999

Canada has wonderfully picturesque names for its major highways. Today we followed Highway 16, the Yellowhead Highway, east from Prince George, BC to where it joins the Icefields Parkway. We were off to drive along the Great Divide in the Canadian Rockies.

As we passed the "Welcome to Prince George" sign from the north, we saw a mother bear and cub, sitting right next to it. Actually, the cub was sitting, his mother was standing on her back legs. Her mouth was open. From the car, we could not tell if she was growling, or perhaps just welcoming us to her town. After the bear in Fort Nelson, I am beginning to wonder if some of these bears are not on retainer! I have renewed respect for cautionary measures such as bear bells, and keeping all food in the camper -- bears seem to be everywhere! Our bear total is now 9.

The Yellowhead Highway leaves the city of Prince George and slowly climbs into the Rocky Mountains. Since it is Victoria Day weekend, a three day Canadian holiday, we were a bit concerned about campground availability. No problem, we found Beaverview, just east of the town of McBride. Grassy pull through or back-in sites, water and electric hookups, and right on the banks of the Fraser River. At 79 degrees, the temperatures were setting new trip records right and left. A perfect overnight spot.

Bunny Brown, proprietress, shared some stories of this area. How bears have been spotted just up the road, which means that any night now, they will be coming right through the campground, as usual in the spring. We told her of the frozen lakes we had found in the Yukon, and she told us stories of some friends who had gone to Alaska very early in the season. They didn't get to see some of the glorious scenery, as it was still under snow, but they rejoiced in "beating the bugs"!

Leaving McBride, the road continued its gradual climb. We passed neat farms and ranches, all with ground plowed for vegetable gardens, and each with acres of pastureland, but as we drove we saw fewer such farms and more forest, reaching from the fringes of the cultivated land up the slopes of the ever looming mountains. Spruce, pine and fir appear almost black against the steep snowy cliffs. And it just gets more spectacular.

Mount Robson Provincial Park is a good indicator of the scenery of the Icefields Parkway to come. The road crosses and recrosses the Fraser River, its waters a-boil with spring runoff. The road is a corridor among clear lakes, with snow capped peaks looking down. Many of these are signed -- here is Fitzwellan mountain, that is Ghita. There is Yellowhead Lake, and just down the road is Moose Lake. And scattered throughout the area are the beaver lakes -- those with lodges and dams carefully crafted by their furry denizens.

Mount Robson itself is simply spectacular. You can practically drive to the base, and look straight up at this 12,980 foot mountain. We noticed one car with Pennsylvania plates, pulled over near the visitor center. The driver and passengers were standing by the car, doing just that -- looking up.

At the entrance to Jasper National Park, grazing just beside the pay kiosk, was a large bull moose, antlers in velvet. Tom commented how nice it was for the park to arrange the elk to be there. The charming French girl laughed and said, "We have contacts"! I'm beginning to believe it.

The Icefields Parkway is named for the chain of huge icefields along the 230 km drive between Jasper and Lake Louise. These mountains are the Eastern Main Ranges, the ones that form the Great Divide. Carved by the rivers and the glaciers that feed them, they are the highest and most rugged mountains in the Canadian Rockies. It is a "must visit" area and a drive you will never forget.

Jasper is a beautiful town, ringed around by snow topped granite mountains. There are neat homes with manicured lawns, shops, stores and restaurants of every description. You can get a MacDonald's hamburger, experience Japanese sushi or treat yourself to a multi-course French dinner. Today, the last day of the three day holiday, as well as a beautiful sunny day, there were lots of people enjoying Jasper. They were walking the streets, browsing the stores and; signing up for day trips either floating on the Athabascan River, or touring the nearby glaciers.

The drive toward Lake Louise is breathtaking. At every turn in the road are new vistas of mountain. There is the high rounded dome of Mt. Edith Cavell, the corrugated side face of Mt. Fryatt and the chimney appearance of Mt. Christy. Others have spires or jagged tops, some are high snow covered mesas. And there are the glaciers. Stutfield, Saskatchewan, Snowbird, Bow and Columbia. There are some glaciers that appear to hang right off the steep sides of the mountains. You can see the blue of the glacier ice, topped with many feet of snow. By all rights, they should fall right off the sides of the mountains, to end up on the rocks of the river below.

If you tire of looking at these incredible mountains, and sensory overload is a real possibility, there are lakes. Turquoise blue lakes of every size, some just right for a canoeist or fisherman. There are hiking trails for the short distance stroller or the overnight backpacker. Near Jasper, there is a tram ride which will take you to the top of a nearby mountain and show this area as usually seen only by birds.

Tourists. With these area attractions, of course there are. Most of the road traffic comes northwards from the hotels of Banff and Lake Louise, so our southward journey was as fast or slow as we wished it. But every rest stop, every pullout and trailhead was full. People stopping in improbable, impractical or downright dangerous areas. One car with Utah plates was taking a picture of a Stone sheep. His picture was going to include, along with the sheep, the sign, "don't stop, avalanche area". Columbia Glacier, the largest and most accessible of the glaciers, is no longer accessible by private car. There is a conveyance called a snocoach, a greyhound type bus with the tires of a "monster" truck, which drives tourists right up to and onto the glacier. The adjacent Icefield Center was so full of people, that getting information involved standing in a long line. Warnings about approaching wildlife do not include how many feet away from them to stay, but instead, the sign reads, "do not approach closer than 3 bus lengths!"

It's still worth the drive. Since it was the last day of the three day holiday, campgrounds were emptying and campsites were available. We camped in a Provincial park site right on the banks of the Kootenay -- one I'm sure had been occupied the previous nights. There was room at Whistlers, the usually full campground near Jasper, and we could have spent an extra day exploring, hiking and scenery watching.

But our schedule still pulls us south. Tonight we will be in Idaho. We plan to visit our small cabin in the Sawtooth mountain for a few days, and thence go back to the Islands. Time to reminisce about this trip, and plan our next one.

Postcard: Driving Backwards

May 21, 1999

We left Skagway, and drove over the White Pass en route to Whitehorse. Stopping in Carcross, Yukon Territory's Visitor Center, we picked up brochures on the Yukon and talked with the woman who "mans" the Center. She lives 18 miles outside of town in what she calls the "bush". No neighbors, just solitude and scenery. Each summer, she plans her leisure activities, to include which mountain she wants to explore and which lakes she wants to fish.

After a grocery stop in Whitehorse, we were off to Takhini Hot Springs Campground, some 17 miles north and west of the city. Here will be our furthest north progress, as time constraints are going to force us to take the Alaska Highway south from Whitehorse just at the time when most RVs are heading north. We feel as if we'll be driving backwards.

Nestled in spruce and cottonwood trees, camping at Takhini's is like camping in the forest. It's quite a distance from one site to the next. Only a few sites have electricity, and none have water or sewer, but there is a dump station near the office and a spot where you can fill up your fresh water tank. Since the weather has been cold enough for us to want the comfort of our space heater, we opted for electricity. Next we were off to the hot springs. A large swimming pool has been built over the springs, which is heated naturally to a temperature of 100 degrees -- some areas a bit cooler, some, where the springs enter the pool, a lot warmer. The temperatures even out and the pool is a delight after a day on the road.

Now to head south. In the morning, we turned on the weather channel, hoping for some local forecasts so we would know what to expect along the route. What we got was local, all right. Town after town I had never heard of and could not find on any map, all with very severe weather. Towns with names like Ivvavik and Alsek were forecasted for freezing rain. Paulatuk and Aklavik were having snow, with high temperatures in the 'teens. But where were these towns? Would we have to drive through them?

It is unusually cool for this time of year. Most lakes still have a slushy layer of ice covering their surfaces. Mergnsers, Canada geese and Glaucous-winged gulls cling to the outer edges, where a little free water appears. The large rivers, the Yukon and Liard, still have icebergs floating in them. The smaller streams are either still snow covered or have snowy banks. Probably because of the weather, many of the RV parks, motels and restaurants along the Alaskan Highway have not yet opened.

But being this early in the season has definite advantages. There were only a few people at the always popular, usually crowded, Liard Hot Springs. Here there are two pools of natural hot water. The first pool, Alpha, has water temperatures ranging from 100 to 140 degrees. Ouch. Even with those temperatures, several adults and children were enjoying the water. One small boy was even using his snorkel and mask swimming in the stream just below the pool. Because of this hot water and the steam which arises from the springs, some plants grow here which could never survive the cold winters of this area. Soaking in the somewhat cooler Beta pool, Tom & I were surrounded by delicate ostrich ferns and philodendron appearing cowslip parsley -- like being in a pond surrounded by exotic houseplants.

Another advantage to driving backwards so early in the season is the wildlife. We kept a tally of animals seen on this drive. Sheep -- 11. Between Skagway and Carcross, on a hillside above the appropriately named Dall Creek, was a flock of 9 Dall sheep. One big guy turned his head just enough that we could admire the size and curve of his horns through our spotting scope! Further on, we saw two Stone sheep, a brownish cousin of the all white Dall sheep. In an area where there is a natural deposit of minerals, they were in no hurry to get off the roadway.

Our moose count is 3. Tom spotted the first as he (the moose) stuck his head out from the protection of a stand of trees. He spotted the car, and disappeared into the brush. His only trace was a loud splash and large waves made as he escaped across a small pond. The other two, first a female and further on, a male, were spotted in a section of road where the sign read "Caution, moose on roadway". Yup.

Our woodland caribou count stands around 15. We lost track. At first very exciting to see, they became almost commonplace. The highway has several areas with caribou caution signs, and virtually every such area had caribou in it.

Bears -- two. We didn't think we would see any on the Alaska Highway, as it is so well traveled. But as we approached Fort Nelson, we saw a large bear just off the road. He was attempting to cross, but every time he got to the pavement, something -- a truck or car -- would approach and scare him back to the tree line. He was a large bear; we guessed him at around 300 pounds, with a lustrous black coat. We pulled off the road and watched him through binoculars, just to get a closer look.

The other bear was right outside Fort Nelson -- right next to the "Welcome to Fort Nelson" sign. At first, we both thought this was some kind of trick -- that this was a fake bear designed purely as a tourist attraction. Until he walked toward us. At the visitor center, the woman at the desk told us no, they didn't need fake bears, they had plenty of the real thing.

Walking along the side of the road we saw a herd of 10 buffalo, 6 adults and 4 cute babies. They shouldn't count as wildlife, since the adults did have tags in their ears, but they were not fenced in, and I surely wouldn't consider them tame!

The trip from Whitehorse,YT, to Chetwynd, BC is around 1,000 miles and took us three days. Three days of weather watching. Three days of animal counting. Three days of enjoying simply spectacular scenery. Three days of watching campers, vans, motorhomes and fifth wheels driving forwards as they trek north to Alaska. Next trip we will drive forwards, too. But for now, driving backwards has been the best.

Postcard: Boat Day

May 19, 1999

We arrived in Skagway about 6 pm on Monday night. The town was largely deserted. Stores were closed, as were most of the restaurants. The grocery store was still open, although there was not a lot of choice in groceries. Whatever had happened to

The next morning, the town had a completely different appearance. Helicopters were taking off from the waterfront heliport. Taxis, double decker busses,gas driven trolleys, gray lines charter busses and 20 or so long yellow, 30s vintage, Skagway Street Cars lined the streets and ran back and forth from boat to town, a distance of well under one mile. The Yukon and White Horse Railway was revving up its locomotives and lining up its passenger cars. 5,000 tourists had arrived. There were three cruise ships in the harbor. It was Boat Day.

Ships from the Holland America Line, Celebrity, Princess and Royal Caribbean cruises regularly visit this town and turn it inside out. The shops open at 8 am or even earlier. Eating breakfast at the Sweet Tooth Cafe this morning, we watched the locals gearing up for their day. Large coffees and orange juice to go, and the occasional pack of cigarettes to get through the day. Of course, there was time to catch up on local gossip -- who's going to run for sheriff, what did he say about her; hot topics of conversation.

And then the tourists arrive. Clutching cameras, rainjackets at the ready, toting backpacks and purses, they browse in and out of the stores on Broadway, Skagway's main street. And do they buy. They return to their ships loaded down with purchases. While there are some touristy t-shirt shops here, Skagway has a lot of specialty stores. Beautiful jewelry, Russian made stacking dolls, Irish sweaters. Some stores specialize in things Alaskan. These stores sell such items as gold nuggets, Alaskan soapstone and ivory carvings and figurines by C. Alan Johnson (the cute Eskimo children). At the train station you can get White Pass and Yukon RR coffee mugs and thermoses, clothing and children's toys -- all with train motif.

The heliport was quiet yesterday, but today there are 20 or so people in uniforms of bright orange jackets and thick insulated boots. These intrepid souls are off to walk on the icefields of the surrounding glaciers, and judging from the number of helicopters lifting off, this is a very popular tour.

We opted to take a ride on the White Pass and Yukon ("WP&Y") Railway. White Pass is one of the two routes, the other the Chilcoot, taken by the miners of '98 en route to the gold fields of the Klondike. White Pass is longer but not as steep as the Chilcoot. It, White Pass, was named the "rich man's pass" because those who used it had to have enough money to buy pack horses. Those on the Chilcoot walked. The Skagway Visitor Center has a short documentary on these treks. On the Chilcoot Pass the problem was "the steps". For miles, the miners climbed the pass, which sloped up at 30 degrees, each with as much as he could carry, . There were steps literally carved in the ice, which had to be climbed -- and then climbed again. The Canadian government had decreed that no one could enter Canada who did not have a year's supply of provisions -- one ton. Since a miner could only carry between 50 -70 pounds per trip, he was facing a lot of trips.

White Pass had problems of a different sort. Mud and trees clogged the hillsides. The miners were terribly anxious to get to the top, where they would build the boats to ferry themselves along a chain of lakes en route to the Yukon River. They were so anxious, that they mistreated, starved and overloaded their pack animals. 3,000 horses died just getting to the Pass, earning this pass its other name -- Dead Horse Pass.

The WP&Y railroad trip is a three and a half hour trip. This narrow gauge train chugs up such steep grades that it is hard to imagine the Chilcoot being any steeper. A least two engines are used, more depending on the number of passenger cars.

Leaving Skagway, the train passes its Pioneer Graveyard. Here is the grave of the infamous "Soapy" Smith. A notorious con-man, he "ruled" Skagway for several years, until he was killed in a shootout. His grave is very simple. The town hero, who shot him, is buried nearby, in a grave with a fancy headstone.

Soon the train starts to climb. It climbs through cottonwoods and into the sub alpine areas. Here spectacular waterfalls course over granite rocks and through the stands of hemlock and spruce. Around the many tight switchbacks there are lots of places where you can take a picture of your own train as one end or the other rounds a bend.

It takes about 1/12 hours to get to the top. Here the engines are uncoupled and brought around the passenger cars to be re-coupled on the other end. Everyone flips his seat so it faces frontward, and many folks change places, so those on the right side of the train going up are on the left going down. That way everyone gets the opportunity to look down some of those canyons which fall straight off only a few feet from the track.

Tomorrow is another Boat Day in Skagway. This time two Princess cruises and a Regency cruise ship will dock. There will be more helicopter trips to the glaciers, and more train trips up White Pass. We will miss them. Tomorrow, we are off to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory and new adventures.

Postcard: Passengers and Places

May 17, 1999

The people you will meet on the ferry are a diverse bunch. There is a young couple who are on their honeymoon -- the door on their stateroom proclaims the "Matanuska Honeymoon Suite". There are single folks, men and women, some young, others less so, camped out in the solarium or in tents. One young couple, with the cutest twin boys, speaking little/no English seem to be from somewhere in eastern Europe. Another couple converses in Russian. There is a sophisticate from Montreal, and a gold miner from Maine. There are several military families en route to Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage. The family from South Dakota has a wheelchair-bound dad. He spends a lot of time in the observation lounge, watching the passing scenery, binoculars at the ready. His body may be disabled; his spirit is 100%.

Just as the passengers are diverse, so are their destinations. Kids with kayaks stop off in Ketchikan, with plans to take smaller ferries to other Alaskan ports. Some folks disembark at every stop, and fewer get on the boat than get off -- the passenger list is shrinking. So also is tent city on the upper deck, and the number of sleeping bags in the recliner lounge. Others are treating this as a round trip cruise, and get off at every stop, either to take a waiting tour bus, or just to walk around the towns before re-embarking.

The towns are as diverse as the passengers. The first Alaskan stop is Ketchikan. The ferry docks 2 miles outside of town, and this morning there were two busses ready to tour people around the city. Being Sunday morning at 7:30, there were not many open stores, but Ketchikan is most historic and is great for an early morning tour. The city is built on the perpendicular -- on hills which drop straight into the water, unless otherwise managed by man. Some of the streets resemble bobsled runs far more than they do streets. Ketchikan has an old "red light" district, now a boardwalk with very nice shops. Two miles south of town is Saxman, where you can watch Native American dances and see the artisans carving or making jewelry. In town, there are several nice clothing, and art stores. Rie Munoz and Barbara LaValle both exhibit here. Ketchikan is one of the cities demanding a several day stopover. Several businesses offer flying excursions -- the Misty Fjords National Monument is close, and there is good lake as well as salt water fishing in the area.

But our boat was due to leave at 11:30 -- and almost made its schedule. The gangplank had to be lowered anew for the three passengers who had been so interested in the area that they lost track of time. First one ran on, then another, puffing and panting like marathon runners. They were a bit embarrassed to be cheered aboard by the other passengers!

The next stop for the ferry was Wrangell. This is a very small town. There is no need for a tour bus -- city center is only three blocks away. There is a protected boat harbor and some very nice beaches. The stopover attraction here is the Stikine River, world famous for fishing and wildlife viewing. At 5:30 on this beautiful, sunny afternoon, everyone was out enjoying the day. We saw several fishing boats (though no catches), and one hardy soul was even waterskiing! In the center of town were several small boys on bicycles, doing "wheelies", jumping curbs, and riding down the center of the streets. No traffic worries here.

The children of Wrangell support kid's groups (church groups, scouts, etc.), by selling garnets to the ferry passengers. They have garnets of every size, some embedded in the rock as they were found, all with differing prices. There is a garnet mine outside of town, and several years ago, the owner granted the Wrangell kids the rights to the garnets! As one Mom put it, helping her very young son with his booth, " Some (of the money) goes to the church, some goes to overhead, and whatever is left, he can spend". Practical mathematics -- Wrangell style.

Our stop in Petersburg came at 10:45 pm -- a bit tardy for a visit to this Scandinavian village tucked deep into the fjord country. But the approach to Petersburg from the south, through the navigational labyrinth known as "Wrangell Narrows", is one of the top "must sees" when transiting the Inside Passage. On this occasion, we reached the entrance to this narrow, winding waterway just as daylight had faded into an eerie semi-luminous status. Ahead we could see a series of blinking red and green lights, marking the right and left side of that portion of the waterway which had been dredged to a depth which would allow our vessel to pass safely. However, they seemed almost randomly scattered for miles in front of us. Many of the "red" blinking lights appeared to be well to the left of some of the "green" blinking lights. The reason, of course, is that the dredged portion of this waterway was winding a tortuous course in the fading dusk before us -- much like a series of "Z's" and "S's" all strung together. With the tide having only recently begun to rise from its low (ebb) point, jagged rocks passed on either side of the ship -- sometimes so close that it seemed we could have almost touched them. In other areas, the mud bottom was "dry" only a 20 yards or so on either side of our vessel. Our wake was washing up on the banks as we passed through it, making a rhythmic "slosh" in the cool and still night air. The sound followed shortly behind us, threatening at times to overtake us -- but happily kept its distance.

Just how the captains of this vessel find their way through this maze seems extraordinary to those of us whose time is mostly spent fastened to dry land. But it is an amazing sight to see -- and most of those aboard the ship watched in awe as we finally passed through the final obstacles and on into St. Petersburg's ferry terminal. By now most hints of daylight had disappeared. The town was inviting, but much asleep. We'll have to wait for another trip to explore this interesting village.

The following morning I toured Juneau. The tour driver, Larry, has been living here for 20 years, and touring for most of that. Juneau has a population of approximately 30,000. There are 15,000 boats here and 700 planes. The cost of living here is high; for example, Larry said that a bale of hay (for livestock), can cost $50. On the other hand, gasoline is only $1.40 -- less than at home. 20 years ago, It was a tradition among the Juneau women to fly to Seattle and spend two days purchasing school clothes. It was actually cheaper than buying the same things in Juneau. Now, with such stores as Costco, Fred Meyer, K-Mart, etc., Juneau-ites shop at home. And the city has become a shopping hub for the smaller communities in SE Alaska.

Downtown Juneau is not situated on the steep hills I have come to associate with Alaskan cities. This is because it is largely built on the tailings of the A-J gold mine. The mine was never very successful -- unless you count the worth of the capital city build on its remains.

Larry drove us to downtown Juneau, past the state legislature, and the governor's home. We did not have enough time to tour either of these buildings or spend time in the downtown area. Instead, in order to sample all of the Juneau environs possible in 1/12 hours, we were off to Mendenhall Glacier.

The glacier "flows" down the north side of Mendenhall Lake, which has been created by the melting glacier water. It is a spectacular "must-see" -- a grayish, (glacier water color), lake. Icebergs float on its surface. There is a paved trail along the lakeshore has interpretive signs posted along it, explaining the working of a glacier, how it scours the underlying ground, how it "calves", and what sort of trees, animals or birds you might expect to see in different seasons. There is a beautiful visitor center set into the granite hills with a view of the glacier, which, with its blue ice and white snow, the grayish silted lake and the surrounding rocks, scrubbed bare of mosses or lichens by the glacier's backward progress is simply spectacular. Just to make the scene even more beautiful, there is a waterfall descending into the lake quite close to the glacier itself. Wow!

Not enough time. I want to hike the trails around Mendenhall Glacier. I would like to see the governor's mansion, and the state legislative buildings. And, O.K., I admit it, I'd like to go shopping in Juneau. Next trip, we must stay a couple of days.

I planned on taking a tour through Haines on the scheduled 2+ hour stop. As we passed up Lynn Canal, however, the captain announced an unplanned fire and disaster drill. The crew all donned lifejackets, put a lifeboat over the side, got into it, separated from the boat, and then spent quite a bit of time trying to get the lifeboat reconnected to the Matanuska. So now our layover in Haines was reduced to less than 30 minutes, not enough time to make it worthwhile to tour this town. Next trip, though, we will almost certainly disembark here and travel north toward Anchorage. Time enough to explore then.

This evening, we will arrive in Skagway. Skagway was the "jumping off" point for the miners in the gold rush days, and is trying to maintain and re-create this atmosphere in its shops and hotels. The White Pass and Yukon Railway had a twice daily trip to the pass which the miners had to cross on the first leg of the trip to the gold fields of the Yukon. We haven't had the opportunity to take this trip before now, and are looking forward to it. There are three cruise ships due into Skagway tomorrow, though so we may have to scramble for tickets. We shall see....

Postcard: North to Alaska

May 15, 1999

North to Alaska... After all the practice I had unloading while we were getting the fifth wheel ready for sale, I feel myself an expert packer. I can empty cupboards and crannies along with the best of them. My next project was to reload our camper with all the stuff we will need for a three week sojourn north. We are taking the Alaska State ferry to Skagway, and then a two week trek home. A shorter trip than we would like, but this time we have a deadline. So I cleaned out all the camper cupboards and shelves, and repacked them with northern clime "stuff", extra blankets, sweatshirts and long johns, soups, coffee and cocoa.

Go North, the rush is on... that song, popular several decades ago, was about the gold rush, but it could refer just as easily to today's people rush. By car and RV, singly or in caravans, people head north along the Alaska Highway. On cruise ships or by private vessel, people head north along the Inland Waterway. There are trains and busses to meet the ships, so that folks can continue their trips inland, better to sample the huge diversity that is Alaska. And there is another way to get there -- by ferry.

The Alaska State ferries do not look anything like their southern relatives, the Washington State boats. No blunt ended, shallow bottomed, slower moving boats; no, the Alaska ferries resemble the fancier cruise vessels. They have restaurants, cafeterias and lounges. Some of them show movies or provide live entertainment. They have observation lounges, where you can watch the spectacular scenery from the warmth and comfort of your padded chair. There are staterooms with single or bunk beds, and private bathrooms. And you can take your car along, to continue your trip when you reach your Alaska destination.

The ferries are not cruise ships, however. There will be no cabaret-type entertainment, but local talent. We once saw the "Shady Ladies" from Wrangell, en route to the Alaskan State Fair, put on a show for the passengers. Dressed in costume from the gold rush days, these women sang and danced to a thoroughly Alaskan tune of "Working on the Slime Line" (in a fish cannery). Great fun!

Other entertainment will likely include naturalist talks or slide shows. If you are lucky enough to find yourself aboard during an Elderhostel trip, you can learn a great deal about this state, its wildlife and history.

And what cruise line allows you to tailor your own trip? If you want, you may disembark in any of the ferry-served towns, stay a day or so, and catch the next boat. This can be a bit tricky, requiring careful reading of the schedule, but it's often done.

Not surprisingly, this is a popular way to travel. If you want a cabin, you must make a reservation from several weeks to several months in advance of your planned trip. It isn't as hard if you want to rough it and "camp out".

There are several ways to "camp" on these boats. People sleep in lounge chairs, or in their own tents which set up on the top deck of the boat . The solarium area has warming lights hung from a yellow ceiling -- all to give the camper the feeling (or illusion) of warm. This area is very popular, and is quickly filled, overflowing out onto the uncovered deck. The first campers stake out a chair under the lights, and tenters put up their shelters outside on the deck. Just to get through this tent city requires carefully picking your way in the few inches that exist between tents, people on lounge chairs, people sitting on the deck singing, playing guitars and bongo drums. People having a lot of fun. Others camp on couches or in the reclining lounge on chairs set aside for this purpose. The floors get used, too.

You are not allowed to stay in your cars, and your pets must remain there. Therefore, there are selected times for visiting, walking and feeding your pets. It takes approximately 36 hours to get to Ketchikan, and during this period there are 4 such pet times. After that, you and your pet can get off the boat any time it makes a stop, and it stops in Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Haines and Skagway on the trip north, adding Sitka on the return voyage.

The scenery is simply spectacular. This area had a hard winter, and the mountains are still capped with snow. Below the snow line, the fir and cedar laden slopes go right down to the water's edge. Last night, a pod of orcas, killer whales, put on a show for us, with one young whale breaching -- leaping into the air, to splash down in the water. We can expect to see dolphins, otters and seals.

We plan to end our ferry trip in Skagway, drive the Chilcoot Pass to Whitehorse, YT, and then explore some of Northern British Columbia on our way back. Unless, of course, we change our minds...

Postcard: There's Something about Sunshine

May 7, 1999

For Northwesterners this soggy year, there is something extra special about sunshine. And it wasn't until we neared Grant's Pass, Oregon, that we found any. But then, what a treat.

The temperatures climbed into the 60's and nudged 70 as we drove through the picturesque Illinois Valley, en route to the California coast. The fields were green, the trees were in bud, the birds were singing -- or was this just my reaction to a beautiful, beautiful day?

Even as we neared the coast, the expected fog, rain and wind did not materialize. Instead, this was what we call a "bluebird day". Temperatures stayed in the low 70's and there was no wind. The calm sea sparkled, but there were no real breakers, disappointing several hopeful surfers straddling their boards off the beach in Crescent City. South of town, viewed from the Vista Point, you could actually see the city's crescent, from the sandy beaches south of town to the rocky jetty in the north.

The weather stayed perfect as we traveled south -- Arcata, Eureka -- towns we associate with fog and cool weather showed us their springtime best. Patrick Point State Park had been recommended to us as a good place to camp, and we drove through it to explore. It is only a short distance from the highway, but far enough away so there is no highway noise. It is a very nice park, situated on a bluff overlooking the ocean. The sites are well spaced, and "fenced" in with natural growth. There are at least two places where you can access the beach, and several hiking trails -- one to an overlook which must give a spectacular view of the ocean. It is not for the biggest rigs, but our camper would have fit in very nicely. But tomorrow's weather was not as promising as today's, so we traveled on.

Highway 101 turns inland a little past Eureka. Now the temperatures were in the mid to high 70's -- shorts weather. We were headed to one of our favorite haunts -- the Benbow Valley RV Resort. A very attractive resort with well spaced sites and flowering trees, it also has its own golf course, and is 100% modem friendly. The south fork of the Eel River flows down one side of the park, and it is a very short walk to the Benbow Hotel -- one of the grand old hotels. We plan on spending two nights, playing 18 holes of golf and getting/sending all the email Tom could possibly want!

Leaving Benbow Valley we had another "bluebird" day. Highway 101 follows the Eel for 25 miles before the road heads inland again toward the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. The river is aptly named -- it meanders madly, crossing under the freeway time and again, almost describing circles as it wriggles along. It is turquoise blue and very clear, with banks of sand and large, sun-bleached stones. Every so often, there are signs of winter past, large logs wedged atop rocks or far up beaches, places which could only be reached during periods of high water.

We will have a day in the Napa Valley and then head again north -- back to the rainy May our Island is experiencing. We will take with us the remembrance of several of the loveliest May days ever along the California coast. And we will put this area on our return list for our motorhome adventure to come.

Postcard: "Stuff"

May 5, 1999

We have spent the last couple of weeks emptying our 5th wheel and readying it for the consignment lot. We had no fewer than three ferry trips from storage in Anacortes to San Juan Island, and still the "stuff" continued. We were stuffing stuff into an already stuffed house. Then, just when I thought I was done, that the rig was completely empty, lo and behold, one cupboard was still magically full! How could I have missed this?

It was hard work, but it was wonderful work. Emptying three years of accumulated "stuff" brought back memories of all the places we've been and the fun times we've had in the fiver. We played the game, "remember when". Remember when the t-shirt got its tear? Remember when the spoon handle got its twist? Remember when we got that picture? However can we let this great rig be sold? It's like saying goodbye to a loyal friend.

But we were finally finished, the fiver was on the consignment lot, and we were off to Junction City to start the next phase of our adventures. We would have a final "look-see" at the Monaco Dynasty and Country Coach Intrigue and come to some conclusion about purchase.

Decisions made, we next will head south for a few days of R&R, hoping to find some warm weather. So far, May temperatures in the Pacific Northwest have been reminiscent of November. We plan on visiting our Napa Valley homestead, and possibly spend a day or so in the Redwood country. Then it will be time to return and sort through the "stuff" to decide what goes with us in our new Country Coach.