Larry Seale

International Consulting and Travel

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Eclipse Escape to the East-Aug 21-24

Traffic Jam Leaving Eclipse

 

After heavy traffic heading toward Boise after the Eclipse on August 21, once we headed east along the South Fork of the Payette river at Banks we had easy going. The line-up going the other direction was 6 miles long and we stopped once to explain to concerned motorists why they were stopped. After 60 miles of gravel road, both car and trailer were very dusty, so we made time to use a car wash in Garden Valley, then continued east. We ended up that night at a Forest Service campground at Kirkham Hot Springs. I doused myself with comfortably warm water from one of the springs and Cynthia sat in a pool which was too hot for me (see the featured photo above). The stream and pool was right next to our campsite.

On August 22, we had a short (two-hour) drive farther up the South Fork of the Payette, then over a summit into Stanley Basin, which is the headwaters of the Salmon River. We had a reservation for one night at a campground at Redfish Lake, but found another site we could have for two days at Sockeye Campground, so chose that. In the afternoon we visited the Visitor Center, and had a root-beer float at Redfish Lake Lodge. We were disappointed that they were not still serving the molten chocolate cake that made such and impression on us 10 years ago. We enjoyed some backgammon and a walk along the lakeshore, although the usually spectacular Sawtooth Mountains were hazy from fires in the region. We heard a lot of helicopter and plane traffic that we learned was related to the nearby fires.

Hazy Redfish Lake and Sawtooths

On August 23rd we geared up to take a hike to “Bridal Veil Falls” about 9 miles west of Stanley. But we were thwarted because the road off the main highway was closed to through traffic. There were two helicopters and ground support trucks and staff at the junction. It turned out that one of the fires was near the trailhead that we wanted to use and we had to abandon that plan. We considered other hikes, but decided that because the scenery was so limited by the smoky haze, we would “pull up stakes” and head for Craters of the Moon National Monument. This gave Cynthia her first drive over the Galena summit from Stanley Basin into the Big Wood River drainage and also a quick tour of Sun Valley.

Larry at Spatter Cone in Craters of the Moon

When we arrived at Craters of the Moon at about 3:00 PM, we were disappointed to discover that the campground was full. They were experiencing heavy demand from all the eclipse watchers deciding to see other points of interest in the area. We took an hour or so to tour the main loop and see a few of the features, then headed to Arco, where we spent the night in an RV Park that had views of local buttes and mountains. We met a couple from the UK (wales) who had come for the eclipse and had made plans over two years ago. They were in a rented sleeper van they picked up in Boise and were touring for nine days—and had also been turned away for camping at Craters.

We headed further east through the Idaho National Laboratory and lots of flat, straight roads on August 24th and had lunch in Idaho Falls and visited the Museum of Idaho there. We were ensconced in a Forest Service campground right along the Snake River near Swan Valley by 4:00 PM and had some time to relax, read, take a short walk along the river and continue our backgammon tournament, now in its fourth decade (Note: Cynthia is ahead in this decade).

Cynthia Reading by Snake River

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eclipse Rendezvous-Aug. 17-21

The initial focus of this three week trip is to meet up with three Seale Brothers and some of the family for the August 21 Eclipse. Cynthia and I left Olympia on Aug. 17 and stayed at the Crow Butte Park on the Columbia, then on Aug. 18 stayed at the Copperfield Campground Operated by Idaho Power on the Snake River at the Oxbox Dam. Normally this campground would be very crowded, but it is outside the path of totality so folks were heading elsewhere and the campground was only about 1/3 full. Thankfully, electrical hookups allowed us to run our A/C unit to counteract the 97 degree heat.

Partial Eclipse images through colander

On Aug. 19th we made our way to the family rendezvous point in the Boise National Forest north of Ola, Idaho. This involved taking gravel “back roads” for the last 30 miles. Brother Steve had already placed a trailer on a pull-out on a sagebrush-cheat grass covered ridge off a national forest road about 4200 feet up.  Brother Bob had arrived in his motor-home about an hour earlier.   Brother Steve and Lori arrived post-midnight on Sunday, and then most of the rest of his family later on Sunday. It was a chance for a nice family “catch-up,” especially with Steve’s grandkids (our grand-nephews) on Sunday evening and Monday morning. Our spot gave us great views of the sky and a good perch for the eclipse.

What to say about the Eclipse? It’s an unforgettable experience. No attempt at recording with my iPhone does it justice and I am not attempting to share it here. I was surprised that, although it got dark, you could see light some miles away, so were in a sort of “hole” of darkness. Even after the sun started re-emerging, it felt cool. We detected a drop of about 8 degrees.

Within an hour after the Eclipse we left, heading further east on a gravel road until we reached pavement (Idaho 55) at Smith’s Ferry and headed south. There were flaggers there to control traffic converging from three directions and we made good time for about five miles before getting caught in further congestion. After stopping along the Payette river for lunch, we ended up spending two hours in nearly motionless traffic to get ninw miles to our junction to head up the South Fork of the Payette River from Banks, Idaho.

Family in anticipation

Final Stretch

Sep 9-11.  As we proceeded south and east through central BC we had constant rain which not only made the driving harder, but pretty much eliminated much ability to see the scenery.  This part of BC is much less “wilderness” and we started to see more agriculture, including hay farms, equestrian activities and more commercial development.  We stayed that night at a provincial park near Lac La Hache, happy that the rain had mostly let up and that we weren’t trying to camp in a tent.

On Saturday we started to get into territory that is somewhat arid, much like Eastern Washington.  We

Railroad Tunnels on Thompson River

Railroad Tunnels on Thompson River

enjoyed more spectacular scenery as we descended along the Thompson River, watching trains and rafters, and then down the Fraser River, which descends rapidly in a fairly narrow valley before coming down in into lush, wider valleys that are similar to river valleys in Eastern Washington.  We finally got across the border into Washington at Sumas.  We decided to stop there to have a short final day.  But we had trouble finding a campground (we hadn’t done prior research) and ended up at a KOA in Burlington, which was away from the freeway so perfectly suitable.

Our final day was a three-hour drive which got us back to our home in Olympia by about 1:00 PM on Sunday, September 11.

BC-Cassiar Highway

Black Bear on Cassiar-Yellowhead Junction

Black Bear on Cassiar-Yellowhead Junction

Sep. 7-8.  From Teslin, we continued driving east on the Alaska highway to nearly the halfway point near Watson Lake, where we turned south on the Cassiar Highway (BC 37).  The road is paved, but sort of like a county road with slow speed curves, no painted center line and some ups and downs.  We still needed to keep our speed below 50 MPH anyway, in order to complete the break-in of our new car engine.   We continued to enjoy miles of mountains, lakes, trees and only occasionally a car coming from the other direction.  Anytime we saw a gas station, we filled up.  On Wednesday night we camped at Kinasken Provincial Park, cooked steak and had a short walk along Kinasken Lake in the drizzle.

As we continued south we saw at least five black bears.  We finished the Cassiar Highway at Meslian junction and continued then eastward on the “Yellowhead” Highway (TransCanda 16) that connects Edmonton, Alberta with Prince Rupert, BC on the Pacific coast.  Along the way we were stopped for 45 minutes as emergency crews dealt with a car fire, in which, fortunately, no one was hurt.  We camped that night at a commercial RV park in Houston.image

Haines-Skagway

Sep. 5-6.  We continued to enjoy spectacular alpine scenery as we traveled south from our campground in Kluane National Park, gaining elevation to the “Haines Summit” which marks the border between the Yukon Territory and Alaska.  Then we descended from about 3000 feet to sea level in 40 miles, entering the temperate rain forest with large trees that is typical of Western Washington as well as Southeast Alaska.  After parking our trailer at an RV park, we walked around the historic site of Fort Seward, which was established during the 1898 Klondike gold rush, but shut down in 1947.  The officer’s quarters are now private residences and B&B’s but there are a number of historical markers.  Not much else attracted

View from Ft. Seward, Haines

View from Ft. Seward, Haines

our interest in Haines.

On Monday morning (Sep. 5, Labor Day) we took the one-hour ferry to Skagway.  After parking our trailer there at about 3:00 PM, we had time to go to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor Center and walk the streets to see some other historic buildings, along with 20 Jewelry stores, which, like in Ketchikan, are owned by the cruise ships (there were two ships in the harbor).  We also drove out nine miles to the Dyea town site, which was the start of the Chilkoot Trail to the Klondike, the main competitor to the White Pass route out of Skagway.  Both were “boom” towns during the gold rush, but Dyea is nothing but mud flats now because once the White Pass railroad was built out of Skagway, no one used the Chilkoot anymore.  However, the trail is now maintained by the Park Service as an historic trail with various artifacts from the gold rush along the 20-mile route.

On Tuesday, the big event was to take the White Pass and Yukon Railway excursion to White pass and back, which took about 3.5 hours.  They were running at least four, 15-car trains, mostly loaded with folks off the cruise ships.  Unfortunately, it was a misty, low cloud day, and by the time we reached the summit we were totally engulfed in cloud and could see very little.  But there were some good views on the way up.

White Pass Railroad

White Pass Railroad

We were finally on our way out of Skagway with our trailer in the afternoon and found the sunshine as we descended over White Pass heading north back into the Yukon territory.  We are now in Teslin, Yukon, and have 1520 miles to go to get back to Olympia in the next 5-6 days.  Internet connectivity will be limited from now on, so this may be the last blog until I can do a final wrap up after returning to Olympia.

Yukon Territory

Sep. 3-4.  From Delta Junction, about 60 miles south of Fairbanks, we have been traveling on the famous Alaska Highway, built during WWII after the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands.  For the most part the highway is quite good, although there are spots where frost heaves require that we travel even slower than our normal limit of 50mph.   Pulling a trailer seems to exaggerate the “bucking horse” feel of those frost heaves.  Cars are few and far between and so are gas stations or any kind of human development whatsoever.  We also hit a major construction area requiring a 30-minute wait and then completely coating our new car and trailer with construction dust and mud.

Kluane Fall Color

Kluane Fall Color

We have been very impressed with the scenery.  At this latitude, fall has arrived already.  The yellow birch and cottonwood trees contrast with the green “black” spruce and low-to-the-ground there are orange and red shrubs.  The horizon is stretching many miles away, much like you would see in Nevada.  Overall it is much more impressive than the fall color in New England because it is presented on such a grand scale.

We skirted along the edge of the gigantic Tetlin Wildlife reserve in Alaska, then along the Kluane National Park and Preserve in Yukon.  One night we spent at a Yukon Government campground by a small lake, where we had a campfire for the first time.  Then, after turning towards Haines at Haines Junction, we stayed in the Kluane National Park at Kathleen lake which is surrounded by towering mountains and whose water is fed by many glaciers in the St. Elias Ranges, which contains the tallest mountains in Canada.  We have enjoyed this area more than Denali National Park and have resolved to return again wh

Campground at Snag Juncion

Campground at Snag Juncion

en we can spend more time.

On the Road Again (Sing with Willie Nelson

Sep. 1-2.  It appeared that our car might finally be repaired by noon on Thursday, but it still needed to be checked by the shop manager.  We also learned that despite replacing both the low pressure (in the gas tank) and high pressure fuel pumps, the electronic control module, which is the unit subject to recall by Ford, was not replaced.  So we would be driving home (through even less populated parts of BC) using a part that could fail at any moment.

We ended up deciding to buy a new car, a Lincoln MKT as pictured in the feature photo.  The dealer had made up a sales proposal on Wednesday and we had time that evening to do some research.  We learned that is essentially Lincoln’s version of the Flex—just “sleeky” vs. “boxy.”   This is a 2015 model, but brand new (unused).  So it was subject to substantial rebates by Ford and the dealer.  Basically we have the same car, but 36,000 miles newer and with four more years of warranty coverage.   As a new car, it needs to be driven “gently” for the first 1000 miles, so as we left Fairbanks we have kept it at 50 mph or below, which it probably somewhat irritating to the drivers behind us on this 65 mph road.

Alaska Highway heading to Tok

Alaska Highway heading to Tok

We managed to get about 150 miles south from Fairbanks, stopping at a rest area near the Tanana river somewhere between Delta and Tok.  Cynthia made pasta and we considered what we can to with the rest of our itinerary.  It appears we can delay returning to Olympia to September 12 (vs the original target of Sept. 2).  Here are the main points:

Sep. 3-4-Arrive Haines

Sep. 5-6 Ferry to Skagway, ride the White Pass and Yukon Railway

Sep. 7-12 Enroute through British Columbia on the Cassier Highway to Olympia (2100 miles from where we are right now.

Eleventh Day in Fairbanks

Aug. 28-31.  When I started to do this blog I didn’t anticipate weaving a tale of woe about car problems, but that is where our life is at this point.  Clearly this trip is not going to meet the expectation we had for it in advance, but we are not going to declare it a disaster…yet.  So our hopes for getting underway have been dashed a couple more time.  The needed part (high pressure fuel pump) did arrive on Monday (8/29) and was installed on Tuesday, and it worked.  The bad news was then the low pressure fuel pump, located in the gas tank, did not work, even though it seemed OK during diagnosis last week.  The good news is that that part was in Anchorage and arrived this morning (Wednesday).  The bad news is that the technician working on this had arranged to take this day off a month earlier for his daughter’s birthday.  Apparently no other techs can work on this unless they are certified, or Ford won’t pay for the warranty repair.  In desperation, we spent several hour this afternoon considering the purchase of new car, which we may do if we encounter another problem on Thursday.  At this point, we have had to cancel our plan to go to Haines and take the ferry to Skagway and may have to take other trip shortening measures just to get home a week late.

On the brighter side, we are secure in our “Habitat” (home away from home) parked near the Chena river with power, water, and so-so internet access.  The Chena river is a quiet tributary of the Tanana, which is big enough for barge/boat navigation and drains into the much larger Yukon River to the north.  We have been enjoying sunny days and the tranquility of the nearly glass smooth Chena, which is active with ducks, kayakers, and power boats.  Geese and Sand Hill cranes fly overhead, making their distinctive noises, as do zillions of planes, both large and small, coming and going from the Fairbanks airport, which is far busier than you would expect for a town of 33,000. We went back a couple of times to the Creamer Field Wildlife refuge to watch the cranes and also attended a lecture by a crane expert from California.  The other big event was that we traveled last night about 25 miles north of Fairbanks to an elevation of 2000 feet away from city lights to watch the northern lights (Aurora Borealis).  At this latitude, they are not so much north, as almost overhead.  They were “level 5” (out of 9 possible) and we enjoyed watching them for about an hour last night.  They make an arc around the magnetic pole and it was easy to see that curve as we watched, as well as the classic “waving curtains” that are often depicted.

buy generic robaxin canada LATE BREAKING NEWS-– As we were locking up the “Habitat” tonight, we noticed a terrific aurora display, better even than the one went out of town for last night!  It is hard to capture with our primitive photos, but the featured photo of this post makes an attempt.  Better in full motion!

HANGIN’ IN FAIRBANKS

Athabascan Dress

Athabascan Dress

 

Aug. 23-27.   Bummer! We are stuck 200 miles from the Arctic Circle waiting for our car to get repaired. We were warned that the Ford Dealer, where our car was dropped on Sunday, was jammed with other jobs ahead of us, but they did manage to diagnose the car by Tuesday and determined that the fuel pump needed to be replaced. Although we were told earlier that they had them in stock that was not the case for this model and further more it was on “national back order.” Then our hopes went up on Wednesday when we heard it was shipped and as late as Friday we thought it would arrive and we would be on the road by Saturday (today). However, late on Friday we learned it won’t arrive until Monday afternoon, so now the best we can hope for is to get underway on Tuesday, August 30. To add insult to injury we learned that on Tuesday our car was one of 91,000 in a recall for this fuel pump problem.

Despite the delay, we don’t feel like “rushing home,” but would rather continue to see the points of interest we had identified earlier, so we are not likely to be back in Olympia before September 8 or 9.

We only planned to spend one day in Fairbanks, but now have had a chance to explore the area more deeply. Some of our activities have included:

  • A leisurely exploration of the Museum of the North at the University of
    Museum of the North

    Museum of the North

    Alaska (https://www.uaf.edu/museum/ ).   This included movies about the bowhead whales, dinosaur excavation and auroras—and two great art galleries for Cynthia.

  • Walking the X-country ski trails at the University, but not for long because the mosquitoes were active.
  • Watching the Sandhill Cranes “kettling” (wheeling around in circles preparing for the trip south) and song bird banding at Creamer’s Field Wildlife Refuge (http://creamersfield.org/) on the edge of town—and walks along the nature trails. We are taking other activities related to the Sandhill Crane Festival here this weekend.
  • Taking a riverboat trip on the Chena River that included demonstrations of sled dog training and a review of a typical Athabascan native village
  • Visiting the Morris Thompson Visitor Center (http://www.morristhompsoncenter.org/) —with movies and exhibits of native and early pioneers.
  • Exploring the Fountain Head Automobile Museum (http://www.fountainheadmuseum.com/), containing well restored cars dating from 1899-1938.

    Moose Antler Arch

    Moose Antler Arch

  • I got a tour of the Poker Flats Research Range (http://www.pfrr.alaska.edu/) , which does sub-orbital rockets launches to study the Aurora Borealis and other scientific pursuits. We got to see the launch block house and went to the vehicle assembly buildings on the range itself. Meanwhile, Cynthia has explored a number or art galleries.

    Ducks on Chena River at our RV Park

    Ducks on Chena River at our RV Park

  • Five loads of laundry. And, some great meals, including Thai and reindeer beer soup.

BREAKDOWN!

Aug. 21-22.  After our 7-hour tour into Denali on August 20, we returned to a hotel complex about six miles south of the Park where, the tour originated.  That’s because its main customers are from the big cruise lines, like Holland America and Princess Cruises and they operate hotels just outside the park for their tour customers.  But as we attempted to start our car at about 4:00 PM, it just wouldn’t go.  It would “catch” and run for a 10 seconds, then die.  Then it wouldn’t start at all after trying 20 times.  Our Ford Flex is only three years old with not that many miles on it, so this is a big surprise. The bigger problem is that we were nowhere near any competent auto repair services.  Without dragging you through all the phone calls and difficult choice making, we were able to arrange a tow for both our car and trailer from Ford’s roadside assistance for the following morning (Sunday).  We then got back to our trailer by using one of the bus shuttles and had a dinner and a much needed drink.

The closest towing company was in Nenana, about 75 miles away, so it didn’t arrive until 10:30 AM on Sunday.  He first had to go where the car was to put it on the “tilt-bed” style tow truck he had.  And because that truck was rather bit to get our trailer out of the camp site we were in, I borrowed the pickup truck of the “camp host” and pulled the trailer out to a larger parking lot where it would be easier to connect to his truck.  The arrangement was to be towed to the nearest Ford dealer, which is in Fairbanks.  That involved a 2 ½ hour drive, but there was room for both Cynthia and me in the truck and at least we would have our trailer at the RV site we had reserved and not have to rent a hotel, or return later to the Park to get the trailer.

The 68-year old truck driver was a real entertainer.  He seemed like the stereotypical Alaskan “sourdough,” although he was raised in Indiana, so is only “first generation.”  But he had run barges on the Tenana river, worked for the University of Alaska getting biological specimens, been to many villages to perform mechanical services on the school bus fleets and brought musk ox to the University to support their research programs.  He regaled us with stories of the political history of Alaska, of the pipeline and the Permanent Fund (if you don’t know that one, it is too hard to explain), and of the political and financial structure of government.  He didn’t have more than a high-school education, but he had 13 different English translations of the Iliad, which he had read out loud to his fellow Marines in Vietnam in the 1960s.  To him, the Iliad was a “warrior” book, but the “Odyssey” was a “chick-flick.”  He was proud of his daughter, who now has a Masters from Johns Hopkins in medical illustration.  Rather than playing country western music while he drives, he listens to “Great Lectures” and shared with us a portion of philosophy lectures from “Hobbes to Habermas.”

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