Wrangell-St. Elias, a Loo with a View, and Onward to the Kenai Peninsula

IMG_6361Tuesday July 31, 2018

I had hoped to spend another night in the Wrangell-St. Elias  area, but I wasn’t about to spend a 2nd night overlooking the cable spools, cell tower and the yellow and brown port-o-let by my tent-site. Any other tent camping prospects were dismal due the contraindication because of bears in the area,, I broke camp with the intent of spending a half day in Wrangell St. Elias NP and then push the last 350 miles to Soldotna. It was a sunny clear morning and I headed out with great anticipation of another day of drop dead scenery and rugged glaciated land. The drive from Copper Center to Chitina – the gateway to the route to McCarthy/Kennicot was miles of feasting on the lofty summits, glacier sweeps, forests, lakes, and the braided Copper River east of the highway.

The town of Chitina is a classic AK town that has mostly gone bust with the closing of mines and demise of the railroads as the primary movers of freight. It is the gateway to Wrangell-St. Elias, marked by a very narrow rock cut entrance.

I anticipated another challenging 61 mile, minimally 2 hour upwards of 3 hour drive from Chitina to the Kenicott River just west of McCarthy Historic footbridge. I was not in the least disappointed. The area is so vast and with its remoteness, and there were very few other cars. So I merrily bumped along the gravel road, with my heart and soul singing. Numerous bridges cross the rivers and the old  Kuskulana River Railroad bridge build in 1910 is still is being traversed. 

With the road rapidly elevating, I was soon above the clouds, thus obscuring the meandering rivers in valley below but glimpses of the mountains looming above previewed the grandeur of these glaciated mountains.

The road abruptly ends at the Kennicot River –  icy cold silt laden water rushing powerfully off the fingers of the Kennicot and Root Glaciers. Before venturing across, we made our way towards the edge of the glacier with a brief stop at my #1 rated pit toilet on this trip. It was definitely a loo with a view.

The only public access to McCarthy was an open-grate footbridge which crossed the river to the old mining town of McCarthy. The campground I had briefly considered was definitely not conducive to tents or privacy. 

 I started to  meander over to McCarthy and though the grated bridge is quite safe, there was something unnerving about seeing the icy swirling water rushing below. Once my wobbly legs made it across the grating, Kili and Simba had their first ATV ride from a local worker who offered us a transport across a shallow tributary so we didn’t have to wade through the icy ankle deep water to get to McCarthy.

This was a quaint old mining town to explore, but knowing I still had many hours of driving left, I only stayed for an hour and then began the 61mile torturously slow, rocky, winding gravel road down back to Copper Falls.

The upside of the slow-mobile was better viewing of wildlife, the best of which was a bear running across the road  and further on down two moose grazing in an open meadow and adjacent slough.  The clouds had lifted so there we’re good views of the Copper River and its network of sandbars, islands and channels. 

My intent was to gas up in the town of Copper Center. For some irrational reason I expected this to be a cute quaint little town but was sorely disappointed in its offerings and was a tad nervous about fueling up at the rusted old gas pump.  I was in need of a restroom and asked the proprietor of this sparsely stocked store if there was one.  There was, but he very ungraciously gave me permission to use it.  Didn’t like the fact that so many visitors, upwards of 300 daily,  could be compromising his septic system and he would prefer if I used the port-a -john across the street. I opted for his restroom since I felt I was entitled to stress his septic system after filling up my gas tank for $45.00. Back on the road around 3:00 pm, 

I headed back through Glennallen and the straight out the Glenn Highway, Route #1, to Palmer. Once I hit Palmer, a sizable town, I felt I had left the remoteness and wilderness behind and was soon on a limited access highway to Anchorage. The scenery out of Anchorage  to the Kenai Peninsula continues to be stunning, but driving  along the Turnagain Arm of the Cook inlet and then on through Girdwood and Portage became tedious due to the high volume of traffic. It was still the height of the tourist and sport fishing season so traffic abounded. Before long, perhaps 2.5 hours, my little 650 square foot house with its Tyvek covering and my wonderful daughter were a welcome sight when arriving around 10:00 pm and having clocked 3370 miles of the most rugged and remote, yet exhilarating , driving I had ever done. 

Smoke, Glaciers, Pit Toilets and the Raw Beauty (and Roads) of Wrangell-St. Elias

IMG_6302Monday July 30 , 2018

Last night was the first time I was up and out in the middle of the night for this entire trip!!! The special treat was a bright beautiful moon shining on the lake. And we awoke to warmer am than we had anticipated at 57 degree.  The sky was a cerulean blue, the sun bright (yes at 5:30 in the morning). I anticipated a wonderful day.  I was packed and ready to go around nine after a conversation with the next door campers.  They mentioned that there was a large forest fire in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve.   Within five mile, heading toward that National Park,  I began to see smoke shrouding the mountains in the distance.  I had such a sad feeling that more and more acreage of wilderness was going up in flames even tough I know it is the cycle of nature – not to mention impact of climate change.

Before I knew it I saw the signs for the US/Canadian border approaching and it was quite an exciting moment to think not only that I had come this far ( probably 6500 miles from Florida) but I was now entering what would now be my new home state. Of course it was monumental to take the obligatory picture at both the sign and in front of the demarkation line.

The next stop was  to find out more about the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, a landscape made up of forests, wetlands, tundra, lakes, mountains and glacial rivers against the backdrop of the  snowy peaks of the Alaska Range. My main interest was in the nesting trumpeter swans.   Prior to getting to Snag Junction yesterday, I had seen a pair nesting in a lake, thought about stoping for a picture but opted not to. Since I never saw another pair there, I wished I had stopped, but the reminded myself, I may well have disturbed them.


I decided to take the one road through the refuge to Northway, a small town within the refuge. It was a pretty decent gravel road and the first part it was mostly bordered by rivers, swamp, ponds etc.  When I reached Northway I was quite taken aback  to see such a very poor community. Folks in gated communities with deed restrictions would be horrified.  It seems that anything that ever came in via that road never left and the town was strewn with rusting out cars, machinery, broken furniture , houses cobbled together with what wood was available etc.  I was quite surprised to see a good sized school and perhaps even if the community does appear broken in the level of maintain a clean environment, they make up for it in friendship and helping others.

I headed back out and was on the road again and had a couple hundred miles ahead of me.  Gradually the sky became bluer and the smoke disappeared.  The road in general was good but there were many rough, gravel, and heaved sections.  So we heaved, and dipped and bumped along. I find it quite a lot of fun to drive as there is no risk of getting bored nor a glazed feeling from miles and miles of flat smooth surface. I am glad that I wasn’t planning to drive mega miles because it is not possible to maintain a steady speed and even the speed limit at time. Most of the other people I talk to in the campgrounds put in 7-8 hours of driving each day, making the grand circle.  That does not seem particularly enticing to me. 

I was now headed to Wrangell-St. Elias NP, designated as a Work Heritage site because of the natural owner of the largest aggregation of glaciers and mountain peaks  above 16,000 feet. Imopted to take the Nebesna road down to the town of Nabesna in Wrangell-St. Elias NP. .  This trip into the preserve and refuge would be 40 miles each way on varied surfaced road.  The first part was chip sealed and then relatively smooth gravel. But as the miles wore on and I had to drive slower and slower as it became rockier and narrower. 

At a couple of points there were stream crossing the road to drive through.  Lady Spitfire was so excited.  It was the first time she went into 4 well drive and she was ready . Poor deceased Pretty Priss Prius, my faithful work horse of a car that managed four coast to coast trips,  would have loved to attempt this, but had she had any miles left in her by now it would definitely done her in.  But Lady Spitfire was up to the challenge.

As we got further in, the snow and glacier decked mountains were getting in closer range.  The scenery during every hour  of the drive today just got more and more breathtaking. The road deadened at the town of Nebesna. Several of the homes/buildings had planes parked in the front yard with a grass take-off and landing tip along the road. This clearly is by far the best option to get anywhere given the 40 mile arduous drive in.   

After the drive out and a stop at the ranger station I headed back down Alaska 1 and continued to ooh and ahh every inch of the way.

The stop for the night was at Glenallen and I had made a reservation for a tent site at Norther Lights Campground and RV Park.  Well the fears that I had about the previous park had been unfounded and the campsites were lovely, BUT in this case they were well founded. The sites are not all in a row in a parking lot because  the have a very few skinny trees between them, but there is not much privacy.  My tent site overlooks the cell phone tower storage lot with its many cable spools and other equipment.  All the picnic tables are yellow and things all a round are painted “cutesy.”

One can hear the traffic whizzing by quite clearly. Since I was not sure about wilderness camping in the area I did not want to go into a park where there is active bear activity etc. especially with my two dogs. The one  campground in Wrangell-St. Ellai does not allow tent in the summer months so I thought I would play it safe and stay near town.  Bad choice.  However I got through the whole routine of camp setup though opted not to use the squeaky sagging plywood tent platform. But the six previous campgrounds were great so I guess, I won’t dwell too long on this one. I however do think I will steer clear of these private RV parks in the future. All of the pit toilets elsewhere are far better the chemical toiled across from my site  (and yes it is painted yellow also!)  Now for my photo gallery of the pit toilets along the way.  that had a more tolerable aromas and dean features. The worst was this night.  


The best was at McCarthy, Wrangell- St. Alias.

The rest of the cast!


The Azure Lakes and Jagged Peaks of Northern British Columbia

IMG_6135Friday July 27th, 2018

It was a late morning, not waking up until 5:30 am and Simba was shivering. I was very glad that there was no dew on things this morning. Since I was planning a very short 142 mile drive today (a semi-rest day),  I eased into the day with the dogs all wrapped up, Simba on my lap and Kili at my feet. It was around 54 but we still have Florida blood. I took my time breaking camp (as usual Kili does not want to leave a campsite and will try and keep me from rolling up the tent – guess he does not have the wanderlust I have. Made the final visit to the pit toilet – I mention this because I am starting to notice all of the pit toilet “architecture’ and variability. The one here at Mountain Shadow Park believe it or not brought on a wave of nostalgia.  It reminded me of the pit toilet we had at our summer cabin in Michigan when I was a child. So naturally I took a picture of it.


We took a nice walk down to the lake and then finished packing up camp.  I went to use the wifi up by the office/house as I could not get the signal at the campsite.  So I started my hour and was kick off in about 10 minutes.  I went to complain to the management and it showed I had use my 100 MG. I have come to understand that data availability is a precious commodity in these remote areas.  Since I had only sent three text with a couple of pics I was puzzled.  The owner looked on my IPad and I came to find out that I had the automatic update buttons on so in that short time the apps were updating in the background using up the allotted data. One can learn something new every day the hard way.  They were nice enough to let me use their signal to send the last three texts I wanted to send to let family know I was ok. She did sit by me the whole time though so I couldn’t go crazy with their data.

So we got on the road around 10:30 for a leisurely drive up to Boya Lake. This road continued with its steep grades, tight curves, no center line or shoulder and numerous gravel breaks in the pavement to watch for. 


Since I was not pressed for time to get to the destination, I found myself in the mode of stopping way to often to take yet another picture of the beautiful azure lakes and many hued mountain slopes. I was able to stop lakeside a couple of time and take short shore walks.  There were many many turnouts but most were never in the spot where one could capture,  what would have been in my minds eye a never to be forgotten picture, so I restrained myself somewhat and committed the view to emory rather that digital recall.

I had planned to stop in Jade City which upon arrival appeared to be a one family tourist attraction, selling jade products from the jade mined in the Cassiar Mountains. There was not even a convenience store or gas station. There were many lakes with certainly some interesting names which would not particularly entice me to stop such as Gnat Lake (pics) and Mud Lake.  A rests area  that I just had to stop at was named Rabid Grizzly – and  fortunately not populate by the carnivora ursus.  The mountains though quite varied, from some that look like hump backed whales to jagged multicolored peaks. 

As on the previous day, what I thought would be  thriving little communities where really one building and a gas pump.  Shortly before I I got to Boya Lake there was a warning of no fuel stops for many miles so I thought it best to fill up, get ice etc.  The Hope Lake “store” had a single pump with gas in a large above the ground tank. Mileposts said it was an unreliable source but there was gas on this day.  However the inside of the store was as larger than most 7-11’s but it had 1 shelf with a few items and naturally NO ice for the cooler. 

Just when I was beginning to think I did not need a reservation for the provincial parks in Canada I was very glad I had one at Boya Lake.  This is an aquamarine jewel of a lake and my campsite was shaded on the lake with a view of the lake through the trees.

But more importantly I arrived around 3:30 and by four thirty the steady stream of traffic in their massive RV’s looking for sites in the park was amazing to me in that this area which seems very remote from any populated area. They kept coming and by 5:30 there were  not even any of the less desirable site for the taking. It was a beautiful afternoon and the boys and I hiked a 1 mile nature trail with wonderful views of the lake.

Even with all 44 sites filled I felt like I had my own little island of natural beauty.After writing this it is now about 9:45 and the sun has not yet set so this will take some getting used to.  There are no blackout curtains or shades in a tent.

Driving the RV Highway to Iskut


Thursday 26th

The alarm this morning was another train roaring “through” the park  at 4:50 .  It was a toasty 55 out this morning, though I still opted for the hoody. First morning dew of this trip making for a damp roll up of gear. Simba and I hung out all wrapped up in blanket and I played Candy Crush as I had no cell service. I actually am doing quite well without the latest politics revving my system up!   Today I was headed to Iskut and had a reservation at the Mt. Shadow RV Campground.  There did not appear to be any provincial parks at a reasonable distance so this was my first foray at one of those private RV parks. The driving goal was more modest at 328 miles. Having perused the map the previous evening, I could see the Rocky Mountains were to the east-though quite a distance and the Cariboo Mountains to the west. This gave me hope that the driving today would have much more differentiation in the form of peaks and valleys.  I was so enthralled as I began driving north to have the terrain become rugged, with jagged peaks, crevices with snow pack, barren summits and deeply forested faces.

I got my 3rd morning coffee, ice and gas in Smithers (7-11). The towns seemed to be getting smaller and smaller the farther north I drove.  At this point the Hazelton Mts. were to the West and the route crossed  the Skeena River.  I had been reading about several things in the Mileposts, the bible for traveling to Alaska, that gives extremely detailed accounts of every town, gas availability, location of litter barrels, rest areas etc.  Somehow I had expected to see big signs a la USA for the interesting things I had wanted to see but I was long out of town on the Cassiar Highway (37)  at Kitwanga before I realized there were no signs for the identified Totems, Hell’s Canyon Bridge  and other places of note I had thought about seeing. etc.  In contrast, that has also been one of the most refreshing aspect of today’s drive.  There are almost no advertisement billboards and signs.  

The towns now were few and far between. I gassed up at the Meziadin Gassbar as roads signs stated there would be no more gas for the next 65K.  This junction was the town:  one station, convenience store, cafe, and sani-dump. 

I was merrily on my way and excitedly realizing and that this was mostly rugged unpopulated territory and for much of it no power lines in sight.  The road was well maintained  and I drove for a couple hundred miles with minimal signage, the only signs being warnings to watch for caribou, bear, wildlife , cattle, and a few small signs when approaching a town.  I was heading into the Cassiar Mountains on a 2 lane, rolling and curving highway flanked  by towering lodgepole pine and shimmering aspen and again bordered with many  lacing of wildflowers.  There were also many bogs with their unique ill formed scraggly trees and the mountains were strong and grand and craggy and adorned with icy glacier fingers reaching down the slopes.  The highway crossed several rivers but I recall a couple which still had wooden decking and  Bell 1 and Bell 2 with metal grating with the  waters appearing icy cold and rushing.

Unfortunately, there still was a smokey haze put not a heavy as the previous day and the farther north I got the brighter it became.

I am glad i knew where I was going because there was no cell service the whole way – and besides I have a GPS in my car, though I usually use iMaps through CarPlay. The  further north I drove the road began to get narrower, with no shoulder and no center line.  It  was a lot of fun to drive as there was very little traffic and I could take the curves right down the  middle. I began observing the nature of the other vehicle on the road.  There were a few logging trucks and just a few other semis.  The rest of the traffic I was passing or oncoming was huge RV’s, large pickup trucks pulling RV’s,  smaller pick-up trucks pulling mini-RV’s, camper vans, trucks pulling boats, RV’s pulling cars, a few local trucks servicing the area, and almost no normal cars!!!,  That was quite a surprise but then there are few services, almost no sign of house etc. I mused that perhaps I had missed a sign that indicated that this highway was for local traffic or recreational vehicles only. 

I decided to gas up at Iskut (a First Nation Community) before I headed to the resort.  It was was a very small community, the school appeared dingy and old, there was one convenience store and gas station. Kluauchon Center store,   I decided to buy ice  and took the last two bags which looked like they had been there a while and were in the bottom of the ice cream freezer. In retrospect I am glad I did because there was no ice to be had between Iskut and the Boyd Lake, my destination for the next day..  

I head to Mt. Shadow RV Campground  I had driven by many that basically looked like an RV parking lot so I had a bit of trepidation. The online ads looked inviting.  It did turn out that the camping/tent spots were great. Shaded and clean (the RV area was like a parking lot, all lined up in 2 rows ). They advertised showers. wi-fi etc.  Turns out the showers were 2 loonies and you got 100MG of wi-fi or one hour whichever came first.  I decided to wait til morning for the wi-fi and text I wanted to sent to let family and friend know all was well.  So with camp set up and and dinner accomplished,  the boys and I took very lovely hike down to the head of Lake Kluachon Lake  It was quite swampy and not lake to dive into so here is yet another day that am continuing to ripen though wet wipes are helpful.  The dogs don’t complain.