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August 26, 2016

The Cassiar Highway

The awesome Cassiar Highway!  It does have a bit of everything, which can be divided into 3 sections.  For simplicity I’ll call The junction with the Alaska Highway to Meziadin Junction NORTH.  Meziadin Junction to Stewart/Hyder CENTRAL and the section from Meziadin Junction to the Yellowhead Highway SOUTH.

Note the only cell service is in Stewart, BC. 

NORTH Cassiar:

We are taking the Cassiar north to south and filled up the gas at Nugget City, or get gas at Junction 37 at the Alaska Highway which also has gas and a small RV park.
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This is indeed what I’d call a good road, possibly the best we’ve been on.  BUT! It is very narrow, much of it is unmarked, with crushed sharp lava rocks just on the shoulder off the paved surface.  Are you towing?  Just be sure to keep the tires on the pavement and know your gas stops.

We passed 6 disabled units in the first 200 km, but none after.  Two trailers with flat passenger side tires – keep those tires on the pavement!  Two units with unknown issues that were being worked on and two out of gas – including an RV in the southbound lane.  I’ll repeat there is no shoulder, very few turnouts and no cell service.  But it is a beautiful, Beautiful drive!

Boya Lake Provincial Park is an ideal stop for dry camping for most units, but larger units may be more comfortable at the rest area 10 km north.  But we scored a waterfront site!
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The view out the dinette window after a brief rain.
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The Artesian Well provides great water for the morning coffee.
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and a little extra for the water bottles.  Our site is near the lake shore trail.  This is a short 1.5 km ‘lollipop’, we took the loop at the end counter-clockwise.   We mentioned to the neighbors that clockwise would be more easier.

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And they were back in just a few minutes.  Apparently we disturbed a bear, who we did not see, but they did!  It would have been a more interesting hike with a bear, but it was still a very nice morning walk in the woods.

Jade City is one of the larger jade cutters in BC.  It is currently being filmed by the Discovery Channel for a series titled ‘Jade Fever’.
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Jade City also offers FREE parking for self contained units …, but no campfires!

There are not near enough viewpoints along this great section, however we had the Gnat Lake pullout to ourselves for a lunch break.
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The Milepost calls these little lakes and swamps “Moose Ponds”, but we’ve only seen Goose, Duck, Beaver and Frog Ponds.  And beautiful lake views.
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We need to fill up again at Bell 2 Lodge.  A nice resort for the rich-and-famous!  Diesel is a bit more, dinning room is out of the question, but a FHU site is a reasonable $37.  The showers are unmetered!, their WiFi is pay-per-use at $20/hr (we did not use it), but I like that concept to provide something that works and charge for use.
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CENTRAL Cassiar:
This is the 37A spur to Stewart BC and Hyder, AK.  Finally some road markings, Sweet! and wood surfaced bridges ... quaint!
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The beauty of this road rivals that of the approach to Valdez.  WOW-some!, with bears ..
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Well, this is Bear Glacier and we are following the Bear River, makes sense there would be a bear ...
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Stewart is a small town doing what it can to serve the US residents of Hyder and visitors from all over the world.  An interesting challenge to perform in a beautiful location.  The estuary is crossed with a boardwalk, but we saw no birds and blessed with no mosquitoes on our walk.

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I did not want to drive the RV up to the Salmon Glacier and Stewart had the perfect solution.  The combination Video, Ice Cream, Sears, Hertz store was happy to rent us a Subaru Forester for the trip.
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Hyder is famous for fish/bear viewing platform.  We saw lots of salmon, but no bears.  There is a bear sighting chart at the ranger station, no bears were seen in the previous 3 days either.  Although this is a heavily advertised stop, I think the bears are not near as common as the hype would indicate.  Still a nice stop for fish viewing, and with our Senior Pass (free!), else $5.
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The drive up to Salmon Glacier is more WOW-some!  Glaciers in the mountains, white silt rivers and turquoise pools below.
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The destination for the little Subaru rental is finally in sight.
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I’ll also like to put in a plug for our night at the Rainy Creek Campground in Stewart.  This is a city park tucked deep into the trees along Rainy Creek.  It’s a short walk to town, has water and electric sites, provides metered showers and lame WiFi, but the location and price are hard to beat.  We did not use the hookups nor the city dump station, which allowed us to be tucked deep into the wooded sites, with a perfect tree for some tennis practice.
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Speaking of tennis there are courts (no backboard) just out side the park.  A Nature Trail starts at the courts, but we were talked out of following it due to the recent bear activity.

SOUTH Cassiar:
Except for the single lane bridge at the Nass River there is not much of tourist interest along this stretch.  It’s over 150 km of good road with no services and couple rest stops through farmlands.

Next up the Yellowhead Highway …

August 22, 2016

Valdez and beyond, on the way home

It was with some pleasure we drove onto the ferry Aurora and left Whittier behind.  The 7 hour crossing of Prince William Sound was to be our ‘glacier and wildlife cruise’.  With the added bonus of saving 350 miles of driving.  It did not disappoint!
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I shouldn’t say this is my favorite view of Whittier, but it does remind of Lee Marvin’s song in Paint Your Wagon “I never saw a sight that didn’t look better looking back…”.  Whittier was decimated by the 1964 earthquake, however the old WWII Army buildings were left undamaged.  The municipal facilities and the vast majority of residents moved in.
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The highrise now houses nearly all the residents, hospital, post office, and grocery.  The building behind is the school, gymnasium and an indoor playground.  A pedestrian tunnel connects the residents with the waterfront.  Another abandoned facility offers room for expansion.

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The waterfront is small, and there’s really not much there for the tourist.
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The views from the ferry across the sound are quite spectacular, with lush mountains, glaciers, avalanche bowls and rugged outcrops.
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Although not a scenic nor wildlife ‘cruise’ I was surprised at how much of both we were able to enjoy.  The two Orcra were at a bit of a distance, but the seals came right up to the boat to race along side.
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Valdez was also totally destroyed by the 1964 quake.  With nothing left, the town rebuilt itself 4 miles away, at its present location.  We really like Valdez, not just because it has a fresh appearance and is tourist friendly, but also because it takes care of its own as well as its guests.  And it has bunnies.
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Seward has the Fjords, Valdez has the glaciers.  The Columbia Glacier is among the largest.  However, both the Lu-Lu Bell and Glacier Spirit cruses were booked, so we did not have a chance to take another 7-hour cruise to get up close to the Columbia Glacier, but the ferry took us through litterally thousands of chunks of sea ice.  From the little growlers to some serious ‘bergs’, we certainly saw blue ice on the water.

In Valdez we stayed at the Bay View RV Park, a large gravel lot with spaces too tight to sit outside.  In walking around town the Bear Paw would have been a better choice.IMG_0024 (640x473)IMG_0027 (640x479)
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I bought fish at the Easy Freeze to take home.  Better prices than Safeway!IMG_0028 (640x473)

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The the drive out of Valdez is spectacular.  There was a heavy mist in the air as we left, but iquickly cleared as we climbed up from the coast.  Valdez only gets 30 sunny days a year, and we arrived on the afternoon of one of them.

On the outskirts of town is the Crooked Creek salmon viewing platform and Information Center.  It’s a good stop along the way.
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The Horsetail and Bridalveil waterfalls are hard to miss as they tumble down the steep cliffs on either side of the road.
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A railroad and tunnel was attempted to be built along the same route as todays highway.  It was never completed, however the old horse trail and tunnel was used until 1954.
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Although the drive is easy on good roads we took our time.  The views across the valleys to the distant mountains with their ice caps is just jaw dropping.  Ah yes we like Valdez!
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A few views on the road out of Valdez.
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The Worthington Glacier is a ‘must’ stop, if just for the view.  But we pulled on our boots for the hike.  It’s not as easy as it looked, but worth every step!
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While I was getting gas in Glenallen the gal at the adjacent Visitor Center convinced Fran we should camp in the Slana National Forest.  Just spectacular she chimed.  HA! it’s 75 miles up the Tok Cutoff and 40 miles off the road.  And it must be hunting season, every turnout had a pickup truck with an empty utility trailer behind.  Bet she’s still getting a good laugh out of that bit of advice.

We did find shelter at Midway Grocery.  Jay offered us a dry spot in his picnic area and would not take any money from us.  In the back is his version of The Bus that is used as a hostel.  A most welcome and unusual stop, thanks Jay!
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Note there are serious frost heaves on the Tok Cutoff!  Bad enough in an RV, but would be totally brutal if you are towing!  BRUTAL! even more so if you have frame extensions – really BRUTAL!

Eagle Trail is just before Tok with no fee for day use.
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Back in Tok for a return to the salad bar at Fast Eddies.  The place has been discovered and is obviously on the tour route!  THREE tour busses pulled in while we were there.  Glad we hit the salad bar first.
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With the rains and flooding in Dawson City we made a conscience decision to skip it on the way up.  The Top of the World Highway is again open and we discuss the desire to do it on the way home.  However we both concur, Rufus has taken a beating on this trip and anouther 100+ miles of bad roads do not justify a check mark in an box.  The Chouters have just driven the ToW and offer a good report on the current conditions.  Despite their assurances, we'll skip it.

The aspen cathedrals are already putting on their fall/winter colors
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We’ll reverse our trip and continue on the Alaska Highway back to Whitehorse.  At the Kluane Visitor Center there are 110 (per ranger count) sheep on the hill.  Many stayed still long enough for their pictures.
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We again we find ourselves at the Walmart camping lot in Whitehorse.  Hmm some of these rigs were here 6 weeks ago …  Like us I bet they just came back … right?

At the adjecent Canadian Tire we purchased a seat cover for Rufus, as the driver’s seat was showing signs of wear.  SoCal shorts are not as abrasive as Levis!, and the seat was showing signs of use.
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We’ll leave Whitehorse in the morning where we’ll pick up the Cassier Highway.