Four months ago, Chris and I turned over the keys to the new owner of our house, and left on a road trip across the US and Canada. We drove 16,000 miles, and visited 18 states, four Canadian provinces, and 22 national parks. Plus a one week cruise, two flights, and two ferries! We made it to Burning Man festival in Nevada, and we got to stay with several friends along the way (always the best part of travel). We also spent ten days in Texas visiting family and friends, and then returned to Virginia for another ten days to visit family and friends, and pack for our next trip.
In case you missed any of the posts from the past few months, here they are:
Tomorrow we leave for Nepal. There, we plan to go trekking in the Annapurna Mountains, and we hope to do a side trip to visit Bhutan. We’d like to see Bangladesh, Maldives, and then spend the winter in India. If weather and international relations permit, we will try to visit the various ‘Stans in the spring. Click on the “Follow” button below if you want my blog post to come to your email each time I write one (about every 3 weeks).
Upon leaving Alaska, we drove some of the same stretch south along the Alaska Highway through Yukon. We stayed at a couple of provincial campgrounds near beautiful lakes and hiked a few hikes. Yukon is a pretty wild province, and there is a ruggedness to it… as well as a propensity towards mosquitos.
Once we got as far south as British Columbia, we decided to take the Stewart – Cassier highway, which is a little less traveled and equally beautiful as the Alaska Highway. In one small village, Kitwanga, we stayed in a free municipal campground. At the end of the Stewart Cassier highway, in Stewart, we found that the road dead ends at a small ghost town called Hyder which is actually in America. We crossed over a nonexistent border between Canada and the United States and spent one night in Hyder. Some locals told us about a gravel road that we could take for about 25 miles up into the hills and at the top we discovered the Salmon Glacier- about 60 miles long and is the worlds largest glacier that is accessible by car. What a really beautiful site!
Heading further south in BC, we stopped for two nights at Whistler, the site of the 2010 winter Olympics. It was BC Day and there was a yoga festival going on in Whistler so it was very crowded and had a fun festival atmosphere. We met two of Chris’s friends from Burning Man for some beers and had a nice chat with them. It was a hot day, so we hiked around a small lake and took a dip in the alpine water. We do a lot of driving, so we try to work in short hikes each day that we’re on the road so we can get our steps in!
Our next stop was the city of Vancouver, where we enjoyed visiting the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, Stanley Park, and the UBC Museum of Anthropology. We did a free walking tour of the city and explored downtown and Gastown, visiting several bars along the way home.
We took a ferry over to Vancouver Island, where we spent the next three days camping with some old friends of ours, Tom and Sue, who I taught with in Haiti. We swam, explored the island, and watched the Pleiades meteor shower. It was a lot of fun catching up with my former housemates.
We drove to Victoria and got in line for the ferry and were able to spend a few hours exploring the capital city of BC. We watched Dragonboat racing and caught the tail end of an Indian Mela festival, and did a short self-guided walking tour to see their government buildings and the Empress Hotel.
Arriving back in the United States by ferry at Port Angeles, we explored the Olympic National Park in the state of Washington for the next couple of days. It feels like a lost Jurassic world in there! We saw towering redwoods and old growth cedar trees, as well as dense rain forests, misty coastlines and imposing mountains.
Further south into Washington state we visited Mount Saint Helens and its very informative visitors center. Unfortunately, due to smoke from fires further south and east, visibility was quite low. We had an impromptu lunch with our friend Rob, who used to work with us when we lived in Chad, and then continued south.
Arriving in Vancouver Washington, we spent several days with fellow travel enthusiasts Shyla and Dan. They own a travel business (Wild Spirit Travel) and we had met them last year while we were all visiting El Salvador. What a fun few days we spent with them! For Dan’s birthday we hiked around the Columbia Gorge, seeing the waterfalls and Beacon Rock. They took us to several McMenamin’s pubs and breweries- so wild! We explored some of downtown Portland, sampled food trucks and went to Powell’s Bookstore, and visited drafthouses on Main Street in Vancouver. I discovered I’m a big fan of sour beers (its like a margarita mixed with a beer kind of taste). We all spent the night at historic Fort Vancouver for a stargazing event- we could see four planets and the moon through a dozen high-powered telescopes. On our last day, they took us to visit some friends who live on the Washougal River for a day of floating down the river and travel talk that evening- their friends are outfitting a bus to drive from Alaska to Argentina. What an adventure!
After a night sleeping outside next to the river at Andi and Kevin’s AirBnB, we left Washington and headed south. We stopped for coffee with a friend of mine from junior high, and we visited Bend and Crater Lake. We couldn’t see across the lake because of the smoke from several nearby fires, but we could see down to the crystal clear waters in some parts. Five trillion gallons of water! It’s hard to imagine.
We’ve just passed 10,000 miles on our road trip, and we are heading into Reno, where we will shop and pack for our Burning Man experience. We’ll be back online after September 4th so look for an update then!
Driving the Alaska Highway in from the Yukon, we arrived in Alaska and spent our first night at a campground in Tok. The next day, after a quick stop in North Pole, we arrived in Fairbanks. We celebrated by staying in a nice B&B for the first two nights.
While in Fairbanks, we made use of the excellent Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center, complete with a comprehensive museum and films about the state. Chris took a day tour to the Arctic Circle while I stayed in town and had a pedicure and watched Ocean’s Eight. We went to the Chena River Hot Springs and had a relaxing soak in the mineral waters.
From Fairbanks, we drove to Denali National Park. On the way down we had pretty clear weather and we could see the mountain and the mountain chain. We went on some hikes-amazing views of the green hills, braided rivers, and snow capped mountains in this wild 6 million acre park with only one road- and explored their visitor center, and visited the sled dog kennel. We attended a Ranger talk about how some of the animals are able to adapt to the harsh winter- fascinating stuff! Animals are so versatile. On our third day we took the bus into the interior of the park; sadly on that day it was raining and we did not have a very good view of the mountain at all. However we did get to see lots of animals: a moose and moose cub hung out in our campground, we saw three grizzlies, lots of snowshoe hares, ptarmigans, falcons, eagles, and arctic squirrels. My friend Danielle works at a shop up in Denali and so we got to hang out with her a couple times so that was really fun.
After leaving Denali we drove south, stopping in Talkeetna for an afternoon. My friend Rick worked there last summer for an air taxi company that ferries climbers onto Denali mountain, and he recommended that we stop in this cute town. Around 1100 climbers attempt to summit each year, and only half make it. Even base camp is at 7000 feet, and the summit is just over 20,000 feet. Climbers don’t use oxygen, and with -40 degree weather and winds over 100 mph, it is considered by some to be the most dangerous mountain in the world.
We arrived in Anchorage and spent two days exploring the city. While we were there we tried to arrange passage for us on the Marine Highway (the Alaska ferry) but after having difficulty with their website we jokingly wondered if maybe there was a cruise that we could take. We looked online and happily, there was one leaving in two days so without a lot of preplanning we booked it (more on that later).
In the two intervening days we drove down to the Kenai Peninsula. We drove all the way through the Chugach National Forest and out to Homer, where the western-most Alaskan road ends (there are roads further west in Alaska but you have to either fly or sail in order to get to them). We visited a small Russian town named Ninilchik and the Russian Orthodox Church there, and were wowed by the wildflowers everywhere- Alaska is surprisingly colorful in the summer! We camped along the Russian River for two nights and did a hike each evening. On one of our hikes as we were walking along the river we encountered a small black bear and her two baby cubs. They were there looking for salmon and they were able to find their dinner, and we were able to get a photo.
After the Kenai Peninsula we took a bus to Whittier, where our cruise ship departed from. It was a seven night cruise, heading south to Vancouver. The first two days were at sea, and we sailed by and stopped at the Hubbard Glacier and then Glacier Bay National Park. A park ranger came aboard and we got to learn all about this huge roadless wilderness. I have to say, it was pretty amazing to sit on deck beneath the midnight sun, keeping an eye out for whales, otters, orcas and sea lions.
On the third day we stopped at the small town of Skagway. We went on a city hike, and visited the first Gold Rush cemetery and the beautiful Reid Falls. The next day our port was Juneau, where we hiked all around the city and then up through a rain forest to Mount Roberts, and then took the tramway down- what a beautiful view!
Our last port of call was Ketchikan. This “first city of Alaska” has very temperate weather, seaplanes taking off and landing every few minutes, gold shops, and ice cold beer. We visited a hatchery and watched the salmon on their upstream run back to their spawning grounds.
After a final day at sea, our cruise docked at Vancouver, and we took the light rail to the airport and caught our flight back to Anchorage. The next day we headed north and east, and then south toward Canada, through Glacier View and Wrangell St Elias National Park. We kept stopping along the highway, trying to get in that last breath-taking photo, as if Alaska was trying to stay with us a little longer.
We drove about 1400 miles in Alaska, and cruised 1600 more. Now it’s time to explore the Pacific Northwest! Stay tuned for an update after we drive south through British Columbia, camp with friends on Vancouver Island, and visit with friends in Washington and Oregon.