DESTINATIONS PART 1 — Where have you been

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the seriesRVers Choices
Old Faithful in Yellowstone -- right on time

Old Faithful in Yellowstone — right on time

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers*

WHAT ARE RVers FAVORITE DESTINATIONS?  I asked RVers two questions via the Internet.  Responses poured in from more than 200 other travelers.  Question No. 1 was, “What is your favorite RV destination?”, which I’ll talk about today.  PART II is responses to the second question, “Where are you planning to go?”

Topping the immediate itinerary list is Yellowstone National Park.  It’s gratifying to realize that every one of the top responses would be on our list of favorites, although not necessarily in the order of voting.  Meanwhile, some of our favorites – the Ozarks Mountain region of Arkansas, for instance — was rarely mentioned.  Bryce Canyon, the Oregon Coast, the Michigan Upper Peninsula and the route to Alaska through British Columbia are definitely high on our list, but didn’t make the top five.

Music all around in a Mountain View, Ark., "pickin' shed"

Music all around in a Mountain View, Ark., “pickin’ shed”

Why didn’t the Ozarks get the recognition we feel it deserves?  I would attribute it to differences in our likes, dislikes and reasons for traveling in recreational vehicles.  Before we started our first cross-country trip in our get-acquainted-with-RVing 22-footer, I told Monique, “You’re going to love Arkansas.”  … and she did!  As soon as we crossed the state line from Missouri, the beauty of the serrated, thickly forested hills enthralled her.  When we stopped at the usual travel spots on our way to exquisite Blanchard Springs Caverns, she felt the warm reception from everyone she met.  And when we parked in Mountain View, she was swathed by the loving folk music wafting from throughout the town and in the “Pickin’ Shed.”

This August when, on our way westward from the Canadian Maritimes, I complained that I was tired of staring straight ahead at interstate highways.  A jolt of joy surged through me when she asked, “Do you want to take a detour to Mountain View?”   Of the thousand places we’ve been, I think that little happenin’ town is my favorite.

Now to list places that got the highest number of responses in that online survey after

Spectacular scenery at Bryce Canyon

Spectacular scenery at Bryce Canyon

Yellowstone: 2) Bryce Canyon was often mentioned, and it’s definitely among our favorites.  To me it is the brightest gem in the crown of Southern Utah parks, which include Zion, Capitol Reef and Arches.  3) The Oregon Coast is spectacular, but probably not so different than Northern California and Washington State.  Why it was singled out over its neighbors, I suspect, is there are fewer other must-see places competing for the traveler’s interest (Columbia Gorge between Oregon and Washington and the Cascades are worth a few days on its own.)

One of my favorite memories -- the Oregon Coast offers serenity in the fog

One of my favorite memories — the Oregon Coast offers serenity in the fog

4) “Uppies,” as the denizens of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are known, are fiercely loyal to their spit of land among the Great Lakes, and they have a right to be proud.  It’s a different kind of place, a secluded woodland away from it all.

Michigan's Upper Peninsula is a different kind of place with some unconventional folks

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a different kind of place with some unconventional folks

5)  As for the inland roads up to Alaska through British Columbia and the Yukon by way of

The Alaskan Coastal areas are unforgetable

The Alaskan Coastal areas are unforgetable

Banff and Lake Louise, I vote it as the most beautiful scenery that we’ve seen in North America.  That leads you to ask, “What about Alaska itself?” Alaska is friendly.  The people there are, well, Alaskans, quite a bit more independent, more “I-can-do-anything” types.  When it’s 60degrees below and you have sled dogs to care for, you’ve got to be heartier than us lower-48ers.  There are adventures in Alaska around every curve.

1.Glacier National Park’s Weeping Wall greets motorists on the Road to the Sun – but park your RV and take your tow on this narrow, steep drive.

Glacier National Park’s Weeping Wall greets motorists on the Road to the Sun – but park your RV and take your tow on this narrow, steep drive.

The top pick in the survey, Yellowstone National Park, is what I consider “Nature’s Amusement Park.”  It’s miles of almost unbelievable unique colorful formations, plus bison, elk, moose, bear and other critters rarely seen in such abundance around the contiguous states.  It also has campgrounds with hook-ups, making it more popular than many national parks.

Stay tuned to find out what the RV community named (in my unofficial survey) THE NUMBER ONE PLACE TO TRAVEL IN THEIR RV.

As for the * Asterisk at the top, let me take a moment to explain that Monique is my “Cruel Editor!”  She fixes punctuation and spelling, inserts words that I forget to put in, and scratches out sentences that she finds offensive in one way or another.  Cruel, but I agree with her changes 99% of the time.  She definitely earns having her name included in the creation of my blogs and articles.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

DESTINATIONS PART 2 — Where do you want to go?

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the seriesRVers Choices

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

WHERE ARE YOU HEADING?   I know you’ve waited with bated breath for the second episode in the saga of where the hippest RVers are.  My second question posed via the Internet was “Where are you going?”  By far, the No. 1 answer was Alaska, hands-down.  My recommendation is that everyone should put the “Land of the Midnight Sun” as the mustest of the must-see places in North America.  I mentioned the beauty of the trip up and the friendliness of the people.  What you can’t grasp without being there is the immenseness (is that a word?), the variety of terrain, the diversity of animals, and the feeling of accomplishment from making the long drive.  If there were ever one place to call a trip of a lifetime, Alaska is it!

The Screech-In was an absolute highlight of our visit to the Canadian Atlantic Provinces.  Visitors toast the Province of Newfoundland/Labrador and are then subjected to the “kissing the cod” ceremony, which, along with other rituals, is what it takes to officially become a Newfie.

The Screech-In was an absolute highlight of our visit to the Canadian Atlantic Provinces. Visitors toast the Province of Newfoundland/Labrador and are then subjected to the “kissing the cod” ceremony, which, along with other rituals, is what it takes to officially become a Newfie.

Going down the list of top destinations mentioned by blog readers after Alaska, we hit 2)

It’s like walking into a postcard.  Touring Arches National Park in Southern Utah is an unforgettable experience.

It’s like walking into a postcard. Touring Arches National Park in Southern Utah is an unforgettable experience.

the Maritime Provinces of eastern Canada, 3) Yellowstone, 4) the parks of Southern Utah, tie 5) Washington State and 5) Key West, Florida.   What all these have in common is they can strain the budget. Utah being the most centrally located of the top choices, is probably the least expensive, depending on your starting point.  On an Alaskan trip and to a lesser degree Washington, it’s the cost of fuel to get there; for the Maritimes,

Key West, Florida, may be the only place in the Continental U.S. where, no matter how long you stay, you still feel like you’re on vacation.  It’s an island paradise connected to the mainland by causeways through “the Keys.”

Key West, Florida, may be the only place in the Continental U.S. where, no matter how long you stay, you still feel like you’re on vacation. It’s an island paradise connected to the mainland by causeways through “the Keys.”

the ferries and fuel; and for Key West, time, fuel and camping costs.  On the other hand, if depleting the piggybank gets you nervous, think about them as ultimate places to see.  Consider Washington and Idaho for a summer trip – beauty abounds.

This was all compiled before Monique and I went to the Atlantic Provinces of Canada in 2013.  You, the readers, had listed it as second most desired place to visit.  Now that we’ve been there, I can say New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland/Labrador and Prince Edward Island are special.  It’s not just the sights, but the people, lifestyles, history and beauty that come at you from all directions.  It’s among the top spots on my favorite places list.

5 - Final 4 Collage

As I tallied the votes, I wondered what happened to some other big-name national parks, primarily Yosemite in California.   Yosemite has, to be sure, the most spectacular variety of views of any national park we have been to (we’ve been to 46 different ones).  Our reason for avoiding one of naturalist John Muir’s favorite haunts more often is, to quote Yogi Berra, “It’s so crowded, nobody goes there anymore.”  It is the second-most popular national park (after Smoky Mountain), which accounts for lots of visitors … and that convergence of tourists also afflicts the Grand Canyon.  We’ve been told often that Yosemite is in its greatest glory in the winter when snow-covered.  We might have to park the trailer in warmer climes and four-wheel in to check it out.

If you haven’t been on “The Road to the Sun” in Glacier N.P. in Montana you’ve missed one of the best touring roads in America, but hurry.  The glaciers are melting. Acadia National Park in Maine is also considered to offer the most beautiful views of any of the parks except maybe Glacier.  It is beautiful, but we felt it is more of a park to visit because it’s symbolic of the Maine Coast.  Neither got the attention they deserve in the survey, but they are at least better known than another highly touted national park, Big Bend on the Texas-Mexico border.

The Olympic National Forest on the western peninsula of Washington State is a trip into a rainforest.  The “Evergreen State” offers some of America’s most interesting and varied scenery.

The Olympic National Forest on the western peninsula of Washington State is a trip into a rainforest. The “Evergreen State” offers some of America’s most interesting and varied scenery.

Additional recommendation:  Don’t miss the Black Hills of South Dakota.   Hugging the coastline of Lake Superior is unforgettable.  Sedona and Canyon de Chelly on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona are classics.  Cajun Country in South Louisiana and New Orleans is like visiting a different, fun country.   Another destination to consider:  we spent a week last May parked outside of Washington, D.C., taking the Metro from our campground into the city almost everyday.  We started with D.C. After Dark, enjoying a bus tour of the Capital under the lights, and then returned to visit the Smithsonian Institution, the traditional and newer monuments, memorials and sights.   I’ve been there many times before, but doing it with our home-on-wheels as our base made it even better.

There were some surprising responses to the survey, which I’ll mention in the weeks ahead.  I think for now, you’ve got enough ideas to chew on without those.  We welcome your recommendations.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

OUR ALASKA TRIP Part I – North to Alaska

This entry is part 1 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

June 9, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 20 Comments

This is the first in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska.  As the hundreds of commenters to these blogs will attest along the way, each of the 36 entries has value, not only to travelers and future travelers, but for those who just enjoy learning about RVing to Alaska.

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

We’re hitching up and leaving tomorrow for Alaska.  It’ll be our first trip there and our first time traveling as part of a caravan.

This escapade all started four years ago at Smokemont Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina.  We asked a camper about the Alaska sticker on his map on the side of his motorhome.  We were pretty new to camping, and Alaska seemed so remote.

Barry & Monique, left, meet Adventure Caravans' Wagonmasters Ken & Carole, right, and Tailgunners Spense & Madi

Barry & Monique, left, meet Adventure Caravans’ Wagonmasters Ken & Carole, right, and Tailgunners Spense & Madi

Since then we have gotten into conversations with maybe 250 or 300 RVers about their trips to Alaska.  All but one thought it was about the greatest thing they had done with the RV, but none – zero – had signed up to be part of a caravan going there, with the exception of a Good Sam Club “wagonmaster” in Key West, Florida.

We had planned to head north from Key West this spring to visit the Maritime Provinces of Canada, but Monique suggested that we should veer left at Tampa and set our compass for “The Last Frontier,” Alaska.  That was at the end of 2009,

We bought “Milepost,” the bible of RV travel to Alaska, and Monique started poring over its 800 pages to map out our route and stops along the way.  During the process, a neighbor mentioned that there was a wagonmaster in the camp, so we sought him out and spent an hour hearing about the benefits of caravanning.

Over the next two months, we continued to gather information from the Internet and kept asking RVers about their Alaskan adventures.  All of them said, “Go!” and none of them had any problem doing it on their own.

Week after week we waivered, until I finally said, “Let’s just do it.”  With the caravan, we don’t have to worry where we will camp, we’ll have advice each day on what’s worth seeing and what to skip while on the road, and we won’t have to hassle with getting tickets to boat excursions along the way.  And since all the extra attractions are pricey by our standards, this would eliminate the decisions of whether to spend the money for a boat trip, a show or other offering that would heighten the experience.

What we didn’t want was to be one of a line of ducklings following mother duck 7,000 miles.  That’s not what a caravan is.  Each day we can go on our own or join one or more other members of the group.  It’s very flexible.

I’ll write about the company we signed up with, Adventure Caravans, once we get on the road.  We didn’t really eliminate any company in our research.  Our decision was made based on the length of the trip (58 days) and the stops along the way.

Our first social -- getting to know each other

Our first social — getting to know each other

Sunday we met Ken & Carole, our wagonmasters, and Spence and Madi, our tailgunners (they follow the caravan to help anyone having problems).  For the past three days, we’ve been getting ready for the long journey and spending time getting to know the other members of the caravan.  When we link up with a few more RVs, we will have 18 rigs, plus the two staff motorhomes.

Spence, right, guides me and fellow Caravan Member Larry, left, in putting protection on the front of our truck

Spence, right, guides me and fellow Caravan Member Larry, left, in putting protection on the front of our truck

Thursday we depart from Soap Lake, Washington, heading for our first stop, Oliver, British Columbia.

In the days ahead, when internet service is available, I hope to share our experiences with you so that you’ll join us in our excitement without being so detailed that we take away the discovery that lies ahead when you make the long trek north yourself.

I just ask that you wish us fair weather and paved roads …

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved


20 Responses to “North to Alaska Part I”

▪.  Jerry X Shea on June 9th, 2010 4:42 pm 
Have fun. We went for 4 months last year. So much to see, we still did not get to see everything. Homer and Seward are a must. Keep your camera handy. The animals do not “pose” for pictures – you have to be quick to ge the shot.
Check out our trip at

▪.  Carol & Wayne on June 9th, 2010 5:09 pm 
What an adventure. I will watch for your posts! We are travelling across Canada later next month (July) and then end of August head up to Alaska, so am interested in what you encounter. Not sure I like the pic with putting up guards on your truck, sounds like there could be damage to truck and trailer, so keep us informed on that…. Have a safe trip, and awesome weather……

▪.  Kurt Hammerschmidt on June 9th, 2010 5:10 pm 
What I’d like to know is what the total cost at the end of the trip was including fuel and everything. I recognize that number would be different for different people but a ball park number would be nice so I could decide if it was even feasible for someone like me that lives on a fixed income.

▪.  susan on June 9th, 2010 5:42 pm 
Wow…this is something we are thinking about in a year or two.
Will look for your posts.
Enjoy your adventure!!

▪.  Leah Vercellono on June 9th, 2010 5:46 pm 
Have a WONDERFUL trip–am turning green with envy! We have “done” Alaska four times and would go back in a heartbeat (medical issues prohibit travel now). Our last trip was in the motorhome and we were gone three months–what a wonderful experience. We saw different areas each trip and still didn’t see everything, but met some great people along the way. That trip was in 1993 and gas up there at that time was $2.67—boy now we would jump for joy to see that on our pumps down here! Every town, no matter what size has a museum and you can find great souvenirs at many of them. I collect ornaments from where ever we go and got some really unique ones. If you are in Fairbanks during the Eskimo-Indian Olympics (July)–don’t miss them. Their contests are completely different from what we have and so interesting. Couldn’t get over how many of the contestants were from Barrow. And yes, one trip we flew up to Barrow–what an experience. Did a tour of the Pribloff Islands on our first trip (out in the Bering Sea)–quite interesting, but wouldn’t want to live there. Eat LOTS of salmon—there is nothing like Alaskan salmon. The Discovery RiverBoad cruise is a must see–you learn a lot about Alaska there. And the museum at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks–don’t miss the gold exhibit!! This is one of the best museums ever. If you are in Homer–lots of artists there. I got a watercolor of a baby otter–just love watching those little clowns. Will be looking forward to your posts about your trip–oh and take your bathing suits incase they stop at the Hot Springs in BC!! Such a fascinating world we live in and so fortunate to get out and see beyond our own boundaries. Hugs,
PS–the next year we did the Maritime Provinces and loved that trip also–were gone almost three months.

▪.  Dennis L. LEE on June 9th, 2010 6:09 pm 
Think all of you will have a great time. We do camp, but haven’t taken on quite a large experiment yet. Yea for you all and God Bless

▪.  julie rea on June 9th, 2010 6:34 pm 
Oh, looking forward to reading of your travels. Want to attempt it next summer. Are you taking any pets? Want to know how they do. Mine have travelled to Mexico with no problems. Will your caravan be on any ferries?

▪.  rrrick08 on June 9th, 2010 6:40 pm 
You will love Alaska. We RV’d w/ a caravan 2 years ago. Glad we did the caravan as we had no idea what to see or do by ourselves in such a huge state. The caravan was worth it to us as we saw a lot and had quite a bit of free time to explore on our own as well. Always figured we could go back again some day and see the areas that we want to see more of. Have fun, you will also enjoy 24 hours of daylight. Quite different.

▪.  Gary Underwood on June 9th, 2010 7:05 pm 
Looking forward to your posts. We went thru the same thought process – i.e. go it along or do the caravan or put together a mini caravan of our own. We have tried the latter for three years and just can’t get it going so we too put down the bucks and leave from Dawson Creek, BC on June 30. Good luck to you folks and have fun!.

▪.  Peggy on June 9th, 2010 8:01 pm 
You’ll love your trip but a caravan…? We did it twice on a motorcycle, by ourselves…
So many folks think you need so much ’stuff’ – there are so many places/businesses to stop along the way if you need something (food, automotive) or whatever…
August, 2009 we rode from Whitehorse, YT to Skagway, Alaska, USA – awesome, beautiful…
Fairbanks area, look for the pipe lines – I thought they were all underground but that’s not the case…
Pictures and stories (blogs) are on our website… Have fun and enjoy all that you can – don’t put it off… 
Three months ago my husband passed away so I’m going to become ‘one of you,’ an RVer…

▪.  Peggy on June 9th, 2010 8:07 pm 
I’m new here but love reading what you all have written… See where my website wasn’t posted – it’s: http:/
Again, enjoy and have a wonderful time…

▪.  Jim Hammack on June 9th, 2010 8:33 pm 
I will be looking forward to your post. My wife and I have made two cruse/land tours and have talked about going back at a slower pace with the RV.
I too would like to know the difference (cost wise) between doing it on your on or with a caravan. With the initial layout of ~$5000, I’m wondering just how much of this is the (included) cost of the campgrounds and tours. It seems like the campground across from the McKinley chalet (abt a mile from the entrance to Denali park) runs abt $35/night.
from what i saw of fuel prices, in Fairbanks this last fall, they ran abt $1/gal more there than Louisiana.
What I would like to find out, from someone that has done it both with and without a guide, is was the guided tour worth the cost?
I am really interested in finding out what your experiences are.

▪.  Jerry Vitale on June 10th, 2010 12:40 am 
Taken off from Mesa AZ on the 16th of June. If you come across a 1995 Vectra give a “say hey”! We’ll be crossing at Sweet Grass Montana. Plan on making all of 300 miles a day.

▪.  Steve & Mary Margaret on June 10th, 2010 5:05 am 
We plan to retire in 3 years, looking at Motorhomes for the last 3 years and can’t wait to get on the road. In the US, (and I include Alaska!), there is so much to see. I have read books and followed every day. I feel that all I need to do is to buy the RV and off we go. OK, I do know there is still a lot to learn by experience, but I will start off will a lot of knowledge. I plan to follow your travels to Alaska. Enjoy, be safe and hope to meet you on the road.
Do you have a Blog to follow ?

▪.  Peter and Terry on June 10th, 2010 5:21 am 
Have fun!
We met Ken and Carole on an Adventure Caravans Twin Piggy Backs tour of Mexico in ‘07, which unfortunately isn’t available anymore.
Ken showed us the rings of Saturn on his telescope at Playa Santispac.
Ask them about the campfire and the outhouse that night!

▪.  Robert & Nina Windle on June 10th, 2010 8:25 am 
I’m sure you will have a great time on your Alaska trip. We went there on our own in 1995, the year I retired. We have talked about going again. The rate of exchange in Canada is not as good as it use to be.
I noticed You are touring with Adventure Caravans. We have taken 4 trips with them. (Maritime, Sunshine Coast, Rose Bowl, and Cabo San Lucas), our favorite was the Maritime trip, but they all were great adventures.
Hope you have a safe & fun filled trip.

▪.  Chuck & Marci on June 10th, 2010 6:05 pm 
We are looking forward to doing some long RV trips in the near future, and after taking a cruise to Alaska, couldn’t wait to travel up there in the RV. We ran into a gentleman at the Flying J Truckstop, and while just “visiting” over the pumps, got into a conversation about Alaska (we had noticed Alaska plates on his vehicle). He made a comment to only take an RV to Alaska if you’re preparing to trade it in soon after the trip as “the roads up there will tear it up.” Does anyone have experience with this?

▪.  Dennis & Chris on June 10th, 2010 7:46 pm 
We rode our Harley from Michigan to Alaska in 07 and had the trip of a lifetime. It’s beyond anything you would expect. Watch for animals large and small everywhere. Enjoy yourselves. I look forward to reading your blog.

▪.  rich on June 10th, 2010 8:05 pm 
we plan to travel to Alaska from pa next year. Taken a southern route to Alaska then a northern route back home We plan to spend six months on the trip trying to see all we can on the way out We are also planning a land and sea cruise.

BARRY’S NOTE:  every question and lots more will be answered along the way, if not by us, then by readers who commented.  Stuff you won’t find anywhere else about traveling to and in Alaska.  You’ll read about good roads, bad roads, rigs, adventures, scenery, pets, medical care, facilities, gas/diesel, RV parks, First Nation natives and much, much more.  So, don’t touch that “dial” – plenty of fun, fascinating information coming your way in this series.]

Our Alaska Trip Part XIV Caught in the Spell

This entry is part 15 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

June 29, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 11 Comments

This is the 14th in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska

Alaskan Poetry

In the Broadway play, “Oklahoma,” the song “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City” mentions, “You can walk to the privy in the rain and never wet your feet.” I harkened back to those days while here, with two changes: the privies are in the quaint stores and you can’t cross the wet streets without getting a line of mud up the back of your legs.

The Boardwalks

The Boardwalks

Front Street, Dawson City, Hasn't Changed Much from the Early Days

Front Street, Dawson City, Hasn’t Changed Much from the Early Days

There’s lots to experience here; too much to see to get it all done in a day. Our group paused here for two-and-a-half days, and we are leaving with things that we still wanted to see.  The history and historic sights in town are truly interesting, from the dredge to the “kissing” buildings.

From 1897-99, mining flourished. Since then, as the price of gold fluctuated and mining technology improved, there have been several revivals of the industry, and over the past 113 years, the population has gone from as few as 50 residents up to 60,000. The street along the foothills is 8th Avenue, but at its height (literally), it went to 19th, up and over the hill.

In the summer of 1898, Dawson City became the largest city west of Winnipeg and north of San Francisco. That’s despite the fact that 100,000 sourdoughs left their homes in hopes of striking it rich, but only 30,000 made it to the Klondike. Some 88 percent of the gold in the

Tailings -- Rocks Left Behind by the Gold Dredges

Tailings — Rocks Left Behind by the Gold Dredges

Yukon comes from the Dawson area, and the Klondike became the fourth largest gold producer in the world.

Big-time gold prospecting was done with dredges that inched their way along creeks of the Klondike plying their course until the early 1960s, leaving mounds of “tailings,” piles of rocks churned up by the behemoth machines looking for precious gold.

More of a glimpse of the story of today’s Dawson City, Yukon Territory.

Kissing Buildings, The Effect of Permafrost, & TastyByte --Technology at the Frontier

Kissing Buildings, The Effect of Permafrost, & TastyByte –Technology at the Frontier

Dredge #4 -- A Monster in Dawson History

Dredge #4 — A Monster in Dawson History

IMG_8054This warehouse is one of Dawson’s numerous storehouses in 1898, which “provided the lifeblood” for the city. For four months a year, the Yukon was open for shipping “and in the ensuing flurry of activity, the warehouses were loaded with every conceivable item … Over the next eight months, virtually cut off from the rest of the world, Dawson City drew on these supplies to satisfy the needs and wants of a modern metropolis.” Nowadays, when the cold comes, about 2,000 people or half of the town’s population, head south for the winter. The others brave temperatures as low as 60 below. Don’t even think about RVing in the winter, unless you have eight huskies along.

[In rereading what I’ve written so far, I realize it sounds very bloggy, full of information you don’t really need to know.  What I hope you get out of it, however, is that there is so much history, so much variety, just a wealth of fascinating stuff everywhere.]

More thoughts about visiting and RVing in the area. We’ve been caravanning for 20 days, awaiting the onslaught of bad roads and mosquitoes. I’ve written about the roads often – there have been bad spots, but not as bad as we expected.

And from the comments to Part XIII, we know that what’s coming up promises to be far worse. Yesterday on a not-very-bad portion of the road, a rock hit a back side window in RV #11 shattering the glass. Strange, but those things happen.

Tailgunner Spence advised me on the road ahead not to move onto the side of the road for an on-coming vehicle. Just stop! He also said that if it’s dry, the dust is terrible; if it’s wet, you’ve driving over mud. Hope that it rains Tuesday and clears up Wednesday.

The worst invasion of mosquitoes was at the Ancient Cedar Forest in British Columbia.  Other than that, not much of a problem, and I can’t say we’re disappointed.

Responding to a question about travelers with disabilities. Group member Jenks has used his scooter only twice, once in Prince George and once at Liard Springs. Since we are only in most places one or two nights, he said it’s not worth unloading it. He uses braces with a painkiller instead, which, in his opinion, is not a good solution, but it’s the best alternative. Using the motorized disability scooter rocks him on the bad surfaces.

We’ve been learning to live with the long days, which sounds like a plus. It is, except, of course, adjusting our sleeping times to the clock. We look at the clock and it’s 11:30 and still daytime. And we don’t want to go to sleep now anyway because when we sat down to eat and looked at the clock, it was 9:45. Where did the day go? Answer: It didn’t. It’s still here.

Finally, Monique and I are not qualified to judge restaurants, campgrounds or caravans. We eat most of our meals onboard, leaving the dining out to our fellow travelers. We only know the campgrounds we stay in, most of which are full-hook-up places. We don’t know what else is out there. We know our caravan and the people who comprise it. This is our first time going with others, so we can’t give a knowledgeable opinion, and besides, each of us has our own criteria for judging.

This is most important. These articles are letting you know our impressions of some of what we see and experience, and, incidentally, we play tourist much more than these blogs indicate. For instance, we’ve been to two shows and several museums, etc. As for the decision of how to RV to Alaska, it’s your decision about caravanning, going alone, or making the trip with a few compatible friends.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.



▪.  Peggy of Texas on June 30th, 2010 8:15 pm  
Beautiful pictures and wonderful story… Thank you for passing it on…

▪.  Margaret on June 30th, 2010 8:52 pm  
Two years ago husband/I travel basically this same route by rental van (thinking we’d save bucks sleeping in the back). Love your pictures, brings back memories. We drove from NH to Fairbanks and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Enjoy your visit. I anticipate every evening reading your blogs. Bet it’s the most popular.

▪.  susan on June 30th, 2010 8:53 pm  
Still here…reading your posts and enjoying them. Love the pictures too!
We were in Alaska 10 years ago, not RVing, but on cruise/land package…so some of it is bring back memories. Thanks for sharing.

▪.  George on June 30th, 2010 9:38 pm  
The photo with the Downtown Hotel is taken with Front Street (which parallels and is next to the Yukon River) behind the photographer. This shot is looking towards 8th Ave. For more fantastic Yukon scenes, and songs, go to and query Hank Karr who’s a wonderful singer who lives in Whitehorse. His CDs are available on line too.

▪.  Mike A on June 30th, 2010 10:55 pm  
THANK YOU so VERY much for your thoughts and comments. I am dying (not literally) to get to AK. Travelling vicariously with you this trip.

▪.  Lynne schlumpf on June 30th, 2010 11:22 pm  
Yes, when you get to the gravel and dirt washboard roads just outside Chicken and just past Boundry, please be very careful when other RVs try to pass you on those curved roads. They will shove you onto the shoulder, which is almost nonexistent. Couple of hold-your-breath moments every time we go that way. You will LOVE the Wrangell-St Elias National Park along the Taylor Highway. Be sure to look behind you when you leave Glenallen to drive towards Anchorage (if you’re not going to Fairbanks first) so you can get a look and a gasp at the jaw-dropping Mount Drum. If you are going to Fairbanks first, you’ll get to see her when you leave Anchorage and go up the Glenn Highway past Matanuska.
You’re going to love what you see after Chicken!
I have a lot of pics, too on my website in a flash movie format, if anyone wants to see them.

▪.  Ron on July 1st, 2010 8:03 am  
First, great travelogue! We spent 4 days in Dawson in early June last year. The place was almost deserted. We were about 2 weeks ahead of the tourist season, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. It is one of our favorite places on our Alaska trip. Hope you got to spend an evening at Diamond Tooth Gerties. 
Every day when we’d go into town, I would spend some time looking at the little ferry crossing the Yukon River and couldn’t quite convince myself we would fit on it and actually get to the other side without a problem. Of course, we did and it was quite an adventure. Thanks for the travelogue.

▪.  Dale Kincaid on July 1st, 2010 8:21 am  
If you haven’t left Dawson City yet, you might consider leaving a day early and playing the golf course on the other side of the river and spend the night there. That way you will reduce or eliminate the long wait you will have getting on the little ferry and you can play golf until about 10:30. We did this in 2003 and left early the next morning. The route to Tok was mostly gravel in Canada, but just plain dirt on the Alaska section. Good luck.

▪.  Don & Irene Ritchey on July 1st, 2010 5:52 pm  
Great pictures, Lynne.  We travel almost yearly to Yukon/Alaska and live in the North (Terrace BC) we are so thankful that we chose our home up north and away from the hustle and bustle. We actually have time to “smell the roses.”
Anyone reading this go to Lynne`s viewing!

Ralph Delgado on July 2nd, 2010 5:31 pm  
Excellent blog, my wife and I enjoy reading it. It’s been a few days since your last post, probably difficult to get internet service from time to time. I hope your ride to Chicken was uneventful.

Our Alaska Trip Part XV White-Knuckle Driving

This entry is part 16 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 4, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 9 Comments

This is the 15th in a continuing series about our trip to Alaska

NOTE:  For whatever reason, Part XV didn’t get posted, and since the Top of the World Highway is one of the real adventures of the trip, I want to make sure it is available.  By way of a weak excuse, we’ve had long days of travel and touring.  My energy level is eroded by the need to be alert for hours on the road, and these days with only three hours of daylight are confusing.  I think the problem was probably my fatigue.

Time Change sm - 8121

Did you even know there is Alaska Daylight Time?  Wednesday we set our clocks back an hour as we waited to cross the border from Canada back into the United States.  We entered Alaska.

Getting through the border checkpoint at Poker Creek was the easy part.  Getting to this remote outpost at the border and from there to the next town, Chicken, Alaska, was the part that many travelers dread.  The ride took us four-and-a-quarter hours from Dawson City to Chicken, a distance of 108 miles.  Some of you who have already made that trip are probably wondering how we made it so fast.  Well, road conditions were good, except for slow-going through the clouds.

The Top of the World Highway -- A Memorable Adventure of Our Trip

The Top of the World Highway — A Memorable Adventure of Our Trip

This fabled Top of the World Highway is torturous to vehicles — not more difficult than IMG_8130some other roads we have traveled, just a lot more of it.   Because of careful preparation, we and apparently all other 20 rigs in the caravan made it with no major damage.  When we weren’t socked in, we could see for at least a hundred miles.  What we saw were trees and more trees, creeks and rivers, and beyond it all were the mountains dressed in blue, grey, purple and emerald.  We were told that you can see Denali (a.k.a. Mount McKinley) from the road, but we didn’t take the time to stop at the overlooks except to get snacks from our trailer.

One other thing that helped speed us along was that Monique and I left Dawson Tuesday afternoon, catching the Yukon River ferry after only a three-minute wait, and driving six miles of washboard to the Top of the World Golf Course.  This 9-hole course carved out of the forest is rustic, particularly the greens.  I suspect that the same guy who made the roads around here also did the greens.


Having played in Key West, Florida, at the Southernmost Golf Course in America just six months ago, I had to play at the Top of the World in the Yukon.  Two other members of our group and their wives had a very enjoyable time, particularly since we didn’t keep score.  The tradition is to play at midnight, but since that’s a bit past our bedtimes, I proposed that we tee off at 8:30 and just tell our friends we played in the bright daylight of midnight.  Please don’t tell anyone we cheated.

Main Street Chicken.  An outpost in the middle of nowhere that's a welcome sight.

Main Street Chicken. An outpost in the middle of nowhere that’s a welcome sight.

The bustling city of Chicken is a hoot.  In addition to the no-hook-ups RV park with a restaurant, office/gift shop, gold-panning opportunity and the Pedro Dredge, there is the town.  It consists of one building about 100 feet long separated into another gift shop, a liquor store with reasonable prices, and a saloon.  We passed another RV park nearby.  After the drive up here, it is an oasis.

The reward for reaching Chicken was a chicken dinner prepared by the caravan staff.  Afterward we sauntered over to the restaurant for homemade dessert and to hear owner Mike’s talk about Chicken’s history and ability to survive despite minus-80-degree weather.  There are only four year-round residents; the rest (146) begin to disperse for less harsh conditions in the fall.

Two days before arriving in Chicken, I didn’t know what a gold-mining dredge is.   Now I’ve toured two of them, one in Dawson, the other in Chicken, which is probably my lifetime quota.



This morning I joined an expedition to find a mama moose that Larry had photographed standing in a pond just up the road from the camp.  By the time we made another excursion, she was gone, but the scenery made the hike a complete success.  So now it’s on to Tok, another rustic spot, before reaching Fairbanks for a five-day recovery stretch and rehabilitation of our RVs.


I called out to ask this bicyclist how his trip was going: "FANTASTIC!!!"

I called out to ask this bicyclist how his trip was going: “FANTASTIC!!!”

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.


9 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XV White-Knuckle Driving”

▪.  Mike Busby on July 5th, 2010 12:06 am  
Sounds like you enjoyed your stay in Chicken at our park, Even though you had no hookups, we do provide hookups in the lower park and soon will in the caravan park. Hope your travels are great. Nice blog! You will find more info on our Chicken life in our blog:

▪.  Lynne schlumpf on July 5th, 2010 4:19 pm  
Glad you made it ok!
Chugiak, Alaska

▪.  Alex Gendron on July 5th, 2010 4:22 pm  
It is quite interesting to get other views on the Alaska Trip as we just returned from a one month visit to the North via Dawson Creek, BC to Whitehorse, Dawson City, Top of the World, Fairbanks, Wasilia, Tok, and down HW 37 to Stewart and 16 to Prince George and South again. It was truly a wonderful experience in contrasting scenery. All I can say is the North is especially beautiful and its beck-and-call will take me back to some special spots in the next few years. Atlin, Dawson City, Dease Lake area to name a few that I thought were special.
I look forward to another RV venture up there.

▪.  Sharon Brandt on July 5th, 2010 7:37 pm  
We went over the Top of the World Highway to Chicken on the day the road opened. It was so very quiet at Poker Creek that we saw a hoary marmot taking a sunbath in the middle of the road. Though Top of the World was slow going (we stopped a lot to take in the scenery — no clouds), it was a much smoother ride than we had on our return through Destruction Bay.

▪.  Jerry X Shea on July 6th, 2010 4:52 pm  
It took us about the same time last year, going from Chicken to D.C. We made the trip on our way out of Alaska. Two days before our trip over the Top of the World Hwy it was all fogged in and raining. The day we made the trip it was between two storms and it was sunny and clear. One of the best and most beautiful drives we made in Alaska – the road however was the worst we ever drove on or ever will again. The next day in D.C. it rained.
My advice to those of you following this trip and planning your trip – check the weather. If it is raining or foggy, just pass, as you will see nothing. Go when it is sunny and it is beautiful – but bumpy.

▪.  Gordon and Martha Wagoner on July 7th, 2010 1:20 pm  
My what memories that picture of Chicken brought back. We went thru there in 2000–IT HASNT CHANGED A BIT! Ha.
Was the bearded lady[?] still working there running the place?
We traveled on a tour bus however, and when we left to start our trip up the Highway, it was a misty rain…by the time we got to Chicken is was completely raining. We were told then, that we were the last persons allowed to travel on the road as parts of it had washed away. We drove thru little rivers made in the gullies of the missing road and slid on the muddy road. Fortunately we had a truck spotter who traveled ahead of us to warn us of oncoming vehicles since there were very few places to pull over. Can’t say I got a lot of pictures as we were all holding on for dear life as the bus slipped and slid along … and our driver [who looked all of 17 yrs old] kept assuring us that she had it under control and had driven that road many times. Oh, yes what memories we had of our Alaskan trip, but that ‘highway’ was one experience we often relate to others. Enjoy your trip!!

▪.  marianj on August 12th, 2010 5:57 pm  
Boy you had a nice trip on the Top of The Highway. It has since been closed most of the due to washouts and rain part of the road is no longer there, it will take months to fix it.

 [It reopened in a couple of weeks, reportedly with a constant flow of traffic.]

Our Alaska Trip Part XVI Getting To Know Alaska

This entry is part 17 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 3, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 33 Comments

This is the 16th in a continuing series about our trip to Alaska

Maybe after today’s article, I can stop talking about the roads.  After what is known as the worse stretch of roads going to Alaska, The Top of the World Highway [see PART XV] we have arrived in Fairbanks, a fairly typical U.S. city of 33,000 and with 70,000 in the “interior” or non-coastal expanses of the state.

All the major retailers are here, and for us, we see a chance for relaxation in the days ahead – but not yet.  After nine hours of playing tourist today and another full day tomorrow, we’re on our own for two days before departing.

Statistics about the number of people who brave the harsh winters here probably aren’t important to you as an Alaskan traveler or a prospective one, and besides that, we hear lots of statistics that change depending on the teller or brochure.  Alaska, with its 1.2 persons per square mile, also has 3,000 rivers (or maybe 4,000), many of which we have already crossed in our two days in the state.  I’m even more impressed with the estimate of 3 million lakes.  Where does that 1.2 person stand?  Probably in water.

4 Rivers of Alaska

Here are some other interesting observations.  Monique and I think that at this time of year there are at least three times as many RVs on the highways as cars.  The wildflowers along the Richardson and other highways make the long stretches of roadway enjoyable.  The state flower, the forget-me-not, competes with fireweed and other colorful wildflowers for attention all along the way.

We also believe that here are 2.4 gift shops per tourist here with no sign of any having trouble staying in business for four months a year.   We encountered several of them in one of the most orchestrated tours we’ve seen since Disneyland.  The Binkley family has put a day or more of historic and profitable information in front of us, from the Riverboat Discovery III ride, which passes a world-renowned sled-dog training facility, gives very interesting information about the river and its history, and then stops at the replica of a Chena-Athabascan Indian village.  Definitely a place to see while in Alaska.

In the Athabascan Indian Village, Panning for Gold & Watching Campion Sled Dogs

In the Athabascan Indian Village, Panning for Gold & Watching Campion Sled Dogs

As an added memory, we met Dave Monson, who runs the training facility and husband of the late Susan Butcher.  Susan was the first woman to win the prestigious Iditarod sled-dog race in 1986 and went on to repeat the feat in 1987, ’88 and ’90.  Hence the saying, “Alaska, where men or men and women win the Iditarod.”  And on our way back to the dock, Mary Binkley, who fashioned all these events, came out into her yard and waved as the riverboat passed.

After lunch we took the gold mine tour and then all 300 people aboard the tram de-boarded and panned for gold.  Each participant found gold in his or her pan – real gold from real panning.  Our cache was appraised on the spot for $52, not exactly the mother lode, but gratifying.

Oh, and you may have heard that you don’t have to worry about where to stay at night … you can just stop on the side of the road for the night.  We haven’t really seen RVs doing

Three and a half hours of night ... but can it be night when it's not dark?

Three and a half hours of night … but can it be night when it’s not dark?

that, but, of course, most of our driving has been from 9 to 5.  However, we have seen “No Camping” signs at all the large pullouts.  It could work out to sleep in roadside pullouts during the day and travel at night.   Since there is no real night, you won’t miss any sights, but the museums and attractions will be closed.  There are no RV spaces available in our campground in Fairbanks now.

If you feel confident enough to drive to Alaska on your old tires, you can take advantage of no sales tax, but that’s true in Oregon and Montana, also.

It rained today, which is a very unusual occurrence since Fairbanks averages about 11 inches of precipitation a year, almost qualifying it as desert.  Our tour bus driver told us that going outside when the temperature gets down to minus-40 is akin to getting hit by a baseball bat.  We don’t want to personally verify that.

Smoke from forest fires that can burn in the buried vegetation for 25 years can be a

A spruce burl railing that caught our attention.

A spruce burl railing that caught our attention.

problem.   That smoke comes from Siberia as well as Alaska.  One more road alert:  the dreaded frost heaves, dips and humps in the pavement or gravel, can sometimes be expected when you see “drunken” or leaning spruce trees on the side of the road.  Growth of the trees is stunted by permafrost.  They can’t get a strong footing, so they lean.  This isn’t foolproof, just another indication that there may be problems coming up on you quickly.

While the lion maybe king of the jungle, the “doyon” or chief of animals in Alaska is the wolverine.  Truly a nasty beast.

Now for a few more pictures from the past two days.  There is so much to see that the sprinkling of photos I’ve included in this and past articles doesn’t even come close to telling the story.  I just hope it whets your appetite enough to brave the Top of the World Highway and visit the Last Frontier.

Caribou Land collage - 8170


The Famous Alaskan Oil Pipeline at Fairbanks -- A Few Feet of the 800-Mile Project

The Famous Alaskan Oil Pipeline at Fairbanks — A Few Feet of the 800-Mile Project

The afternoon rain has turned into a very rare thunderstorm.  We are celebrating the dim light outside, and maybe it will clear the air for when we reach Denali in a few days.

 From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.


15 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XVI Getting To Know Alaska”

▪.  Wayne Cunningham on July 4th, 2010 9:24 am  
Last year we made that trip with our Class C with another friend and their little travel trailer.
Having come from southwest Florida we spent 10 weeks in Alaska.
We are enjoying every post about your trip, comparing notes and laughing as we recall the same things. We drove about 22,000 miles and were gone 6 months.
The trip of a lifetime.
Stay safe and there are three places we suggest for eating experiences.
Itchiban in Fairbanks
The brewery in Fox (can’t recall the name) but it is a very small town. Probably the best meal in all of the 6 months gone.
The Fresh Catch Cafe in Homer.
When they say fresh they mean it. I watched the fisherman bring in the fish and scallops right off the boat and into the kitchen.

▪.  ft-rver on July 4th, 2010 10:11 am  
What happened to entry # 15? Yes, we are keeping up with you with great interest and enjoy the blogs very much. I am keeping a full pdf library of your Alaska trek. Thank you.

▪.  bob west on July 4th, 2010 12:24 pm  
Yes I too am reading and wanted to hear your take on the TOW Highway as you seem quite sensible. I chickened out last year and didn’t go to Chicken. The road around Destruction Bay was no treat but I think better than the TOW.

▪.  Don & Irene Ritchey on July 4th, 2010 5:17 pm  
Yes please post #15 for us either you were to disgusted with the road conditions “over the top” or ???

▪.  Jim & Glenna Penny on July 4th, 2010 5:21 pm  
We missed XV as well ! Look forward to your installment daily. Thank you 

▪.  Brian Morris on July 4th, 2010 5:33 pm  
Thought for a minute I had missed your post XV but it appears many others did also. Looking forward to saving and reading it along with all of the others. Brian

▪.  Norm Bakemann on July 4th, 2010 5:49 pm  
So how long should it take to drive our 40ft Motorhome with tow car from Whitehorse to Tok , be there in a week

▪.  Jane on July 4th, 2010 6:00 pm  
I also missed your XV post…went to but it was not on there…Can you re-post it? I also look so forward to your adventures and hate to miss XV….sounds like that might have been rather exciting…

▪.  Old Gray on July 4th, 2010 7:18 pm  
I’m also hoping to find out about Chicken: Blog post XV! Loved XVI. Great writing, great pictures.

▪.  macsly on July 4th, 2010 11:50 pm  
I’m a new RVer who lives in Tok. It is 392 miles and in the car we make it easily in a day. Most of the road is pretty good except from the border to here. The Top of the World would take you several more days, first to Dawson then down to Tok. We are headed down the road in September for the first time in 36 years. I expect some changes!

▪.  macsly on July 4th, 2010 11:50 pm  
That is 392 miles from Whitehorse to Tok. And I wish that Barry and Monique had stayed here for our July 4 celebration.

▪.  Garry Scott on July 5th, 2010 1:43 am  
Keep it up, fascinating reading, from Garry scott England UK

▪.  Dick and Cindy on July 5th, 2010 3:58 am  
We were in Valdez last year on the 4th of July. The town put on a free hotdog lunch and everyone was invited, even we visitors. Then later, before the fireworks, they provided, free, a giant fire and s’mores. Then some fantastic fireworks. Nestled down there at the foot of the mountains, just off the ocean, it was quite a sight. Some friends we met there took pictures of the fireworks and I was surprised you could see the display since it was still daylight! Wonderful memory.

▪.  Chris Clarke on July 5th, 2010 10:34 am  
Hi Folks, I’m really enjoying your driving diary and am happy to say that I found part XV. It was fascinating. Here’s a suggestion, open up Google Earth and you can “drive” along the stretches of “road” that you adventurous sorts are following. There are photos taken along the way just like in the cities and some other picturesque one taken by others who have travelled it before. However, the pictures that Barry & Monique have included are great, diverse, and really add to the experience.
Thanks for all that you have given us so far.

▪.  Margie on July 5th, 2010 11:51 am  
Hi Barry and Monique,
I live in Anchorage and have been enjoying your posts about your trip up to Alaska, especially since I bought my first RV a couple of months ago, became a full-timer, and will be heading out later in the summer for a two year trip around N. America. I just realized today after reading his latest email that we have a mutual friend in Sam C. How ’bout that?
When do you guys get down here to Anchorage? It would be great to catch up. I’d love to see my first RV Caravan! Please feel free to email directly.

▪.  Jerry X Shea on July 5th, 2010 12:10 pm  
Also want to see XV – Make sure you go to Pioneer Park and go in the -40 degree room. You only go in for about 4-5 minutes, but you sure get what it is like to be in really cold weather. Also to the Air Museum – it will surprise you what they have in there. Keep posting.
Jerry X

Our Alaska Trip Part XVII Going It Alone With the Group

This entry is part 20 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 5, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 12 Comments

This is the 17th in a continuing series about our trip to Alaska

Monday and Tuesday are free days for members of the caravan, a chance to drive or fly to the Arctic Circle or some other desolate spots, return to North Pole, Alaska, for a missed opportunity of hard-core shopping, or just resting.  We’re not doing any of the above.  Today we are catching up on routine RVing tasks, including laundry, rehabilitating our trailer and, of course, sitting at the computer.  As the weather clears, we will head to town to see what’s left.

We took off on our own for a few hours on a excursion that included a round of golf.

We took off on our own for a few hours on a excursion that included a round of golf.

At left is a photo of me holding two caps, the top one (appropriately) from the “highest golf course in the world” in Fairbanks, and from the “southernmost golf course in America,” in Key West.  I had already played the Top of the World course across the Yukon River from Dawson City a week earlier. As my golfing buddies can attest, I’m in the hacker class. [NOTE:  After this trip, we stopped by Death Valley, where I placed third in the 49ers Encampment tourney, played on the lowest golf course in America — all four in 2010!]

I’ll have some photos from a very busy day yesterday at the end of this article, but I want to digress in this issue to talk about caravanning as an unaccompanied driver.

Without a doubt the bravest of our tribe of RVers is Karen, who is driving with her bird Bobby at her side.  Karen drives a Winnebago View, a 23.5-foot motorhome without a “toad.”  From my conversation with her, she seems to have five obstacles not faced by most of us, but all of these would apply whether she were in the Lower 48, Canada or Alaska:

1)   She is single so she has to do everything herself, unless others volunteer to help

2)   She is not retired – the rest of us are

3)   She doesn’t have a separate vehicle to use on the road, like all but one other member of the group

4)   She is slightly disabled, a situation which got much worse when she injured the sciatic nerve in her back, and

5)   She takes care of Bobby.

Again, being on a trip to Alaska doesn’t pose many unique problems, except that our schedule is tiring.  We drive, we see, we meet, we socialize, we sleep, we drive …  Other than driving and sleeping, most of it is optional, but why spend the money for a caravan if you’re not going to participate with your fellow travelers?

Karen left Jacksonville, Florida, and drove 3,300 miles to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, stopping for a tire repair, then again when Bobby’s entry into Canada at Grand Forks, North Dakota, required the approval of an agent, who was on vacation for three days.  Bobby has a real passport declaring that he is legal and a protected species.

“I think I chose the right way to do it,” she said, referring to signing on with the caravan.  “I don’t regret my choice.  The idea of being in Alaska or on the Top of the World Highway with no phones and very limited gas scared me.”  She explained that she really joined for the safety of having the tailgunner following the RVers to make sure everything was okay.

Asked about the need to look at the Alaska Caravan Travel Log while driving, which outlines what’s on the road ahead, supplementing “Milepost,” she said she can glance down to see what’s ahead without a problem, and most of the roads and attractions are marked well enough.

Wildlife on the side of the road isn’t considerate enough to stand where there are places to stop for photos, so that’s a problem.  She has stopped in the middle of a lonely stretch once (as have we all) to get a shot of Dall Sheep.

The decision to make this long trip started when she and her husband began to talk about it.  Her husband passed away, but she continued to think about experiencing it.  Asked why go in an RV, she said that she doesn’t like the process of traveling – the packing and unpacking, eating out, etc. – but she did want to go to Alaska and see Denali.

As I said, she is the bravest of us all.  She actually started her Alaska trip with an earlier Adventure Caravan group, but the sciatica stopped her long enough to miss the next stops, so she waited for our team.  Having joined us late, she was concerned about being accepted.  Some offer to help, ask her to sit with them at restaurants or offer her rides.  But since some travel with others and others don’t have space in their cars, she may have to ask.

As for the Winnebago View, she likes the comfort of traveling in her own house.  “I’m an urban person.  I want to go to cities, but I want to see Denali.”   Since she is uncomfortable with the idea of towing a car, she’s considering other means of RVing.  These include getting over that phobia; buying a toy-hauler in which to carry a SmartCar; getting a stable-lift truck camper that makes leveling easier; or buying a small Class B van conversion.

Now for some sights from yesterday … and believe me, the pictures I publish and the places I write about are only a sampling of what we are actually doing and seeing. 

A Collage of our visit to the U. of Alaska Museum and the Ice Museum. In between, we went to the U of A Large Animal Research Station and had a buffet lunch.

A Collage of our visit to the U. of Alaska Museum and the Ice Museum. In between, we went to the U of A Large Animal Research Station and had a buffet lunch.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.


12 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XVII Going It Alone With the Group”

▪.  GK on July 5th, 2010 10:22 pm  
A question I had: I’m assuming you have several types of RV’s in your caravan. Has any one type been better, or more of a challenge, given some of the road conditions and such? Are people with a motohome+toad having an easier time of it, or are people with travel trailers or fifth-wheels having fewer issues? Not looking to start a “this is better than that”, just wanted to see what people’s experiences were given what sounds to be a somewhat challenging journey.
If some kind of summary is possible at the end of your trip (don’t worry about it now, you have more important things to do, like enjoy the trip  ) that might be interesting to those of us who are about to be new to RV’ing, like me  .
Reading about Karen’s trip has got me thinking about what could be done to make using some of the supplementary material that’s been provided easier to use while underway. No solutions yet, but something involving Velcro is starting to come to mind. I’m only thinking about this because sometimes its a matter of someone travelling solo, and at other times it may be when the co-pilot/navigator might be incapacitated and the healthy driver still has to carry on. Being able to secure a map or other material in easy view but without obstructing it could be handy.

▪.  Jeff Glazer on July 6th, 2010 6:26 am  
I hope you were in Fairbanks on July 4 and went to their celebration in Pioneer Park. It was easily the best Fourth of July celebration we have ever attended. It was right out of an Andy Hardy movie. Military bands playing from the paddle-wheeler. A parade with marching bands and “Uncle Sams.” Lots of families having a good time. Crazy tubers in the ice-cold Chena River. And, of course, lots of good food. Just a magnificent day!
On a different note, my hat’s off to Karen. We had a single (male) on our last Alaska trek. It was a lot more work for him, and he, too, did not bring a toad. But he made friends with everyone, and he fit right in with the group. He was always invited to tag along with someone who had a car, and he had a great time.
I always admire people who overcome some adversity to follow their dream. We could all learn a lot from them. Tell Karen I said, “You go, girl!”

▪.  Jeff Glazer on July 6th, 2010 6:44 am  
One more quick note on Fairbanks on the Fourth of July. We were trying to find someplace where we could see fireworks. Duh! It doesn’t get dark on July 4th.

▪.  Full Timer Normie on July 6th, 2010 5:33 pm  
I am so loving every one of your posts…and I am so jealous…we are hoping to be able to do the Alaska trip in ‘11 or ‘12…depending on finances…so we are devouring your every word and picture…
You are doing a great job, but please enjoy your trip first, think about us second!

▪.  Melanie on July 6th, 2010 5:36 pm  
Way to go Karen! I admire you for braving the long haul to Alaska and back. Like you, I’m a widow, driving a Winnebago View, without a toad, with my dog for a companion. Soon I’ll be joining a caravan around the Great Lakes, which will be my first experience with a caravan. At least I can count on good roads!
I’ve been on the school bus traveling the road in Denali and two buses can’t pass on the curves. There were no guard rails. Hopefully there has been improvement since then,

▪.  Jeff on July 6th, 2010 8:55 pm  
Great posts and I am really enjoying your travel log. Having lived in the Northwest Territories for 10 years and having also visited the Yukon, I plan to return one of these days. I live in Manitoba now, so it will be a considerable drive but not insurmountable. You never mentioned if you went to Diamond Tooth Gerties or if you tried the Sour Toe Cocktail! 
Not to quibble about little things, but Grand Forks ND is about 80 miles from the border and she would have crossed at Emerson, Manitoba (across from Pembina, ND).

▪.  Steve & Mary Margaret on July 7th, 2010 6:37 am  
You blog has been great. I log on every day looking for it. I’m making a map to track your route for OUR future trip!
Quick question: Have you caught any salmon with your new rod ?
Enjoy the trip and thank you for sharing your experiences

▪.  GORDON MILLER on July 7th, 2010 1:55 pm  
I am truly enjoying your Travels. My dream is for my wife and I to make this trip ourselves in a few years. We took a land and cruise trip last year and that embedded my need to travel Alaska with out 5th wheel. Keep up the great work. By the way what was the web site for you travel map?

▪.  James Bennett on July 7th, 2010 3:19 pm  
How is the trip with animals such as dogs? Are there many who are traveling with their dogs? And what do they do with them when on tours?

▪.  Marie on July 7th, 2010 8:22 pm  
I am thoroughly enjoying your posts. I can totally relate to Karen as I am also widowed, live in Florida, go RVing myself, and have traveled to Alaska on my own (not via RV, however), and abroad. As a ‘loner’, one has to join in and enjoy the group setting. Sounds like she is doing her best in this regard.
I considered a caravan and obviously, as a single person, there are additional supports and safeguards. Downers for me include: the price and not being able to stay for a while when enjoying a place. I’ve been to Alaska by myself (airline, ship, train, and rental car). My next trip there will be by myself or perhaps via a small caravan within an RV group for singles (Loners on Wheels). There is more opportunity to alter the plan with group agreement and it is far less costly.

▪.  marianj on July 12th, 2010 1:28 pm  
Great blog. We live in Alaska and have driven the Highway many times in our 5th Wheel and love it every time. Marian

Our Alaska Trip Part XVIII Audience Participation

This entry is part 18 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 8, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 17 Comments

This is the 18th in a continuing series about our trip to Alaska

First, a couple of observations.  1)  Don’t bother packing fancy outside lights for your summer trip to The Land of the Midnight Sun.  Nobody does that here, and 2) When we see the vast expanses of wild land surrounding us on the highways of Alaska and northern Canada, we appreciate being here.

In the Old World of Europe and in at least some of Asia, cities, towns and villages have dotted the landscape for centuries.  But here, there are lots of huge expanses of trees and sagebrush fading into the distance for miles until they reach a ridge of highlands.

Before focusing briefly on Fairbanks’ Pioneer Park, I want to ask the readers of these articles two questions:

One commenter asked about the best RV for the trip.  We see every kind, even some we’ve never seen before, and it’s our guess that whatever fits your lifestyle in the Lower 48 will be the same here.  While diesel pushers do have larger windshields to view roadside wildlife, they are also a larger target for getting dinged by rocks., but don’t make your decision based on windshields.  I think it’s still true that most of those cracks for our caravan came before crossing into Canada.

Now for the question, which I’d like experienced Alaskan RVers to give their opinions below to the question:   “Is one type of RV more suited (or less suited) to the Alaskan terrain than others?

And for this one I’m really interested in the comments of both previous and prospective travelers to Alaska.    Why spend the time and money, take the risk and endure long hours of driving to make the trip? We know what motivated us and we’ve talked to many others about their expectations, etc. What do you think?

To that I’ll add a reciprocal question:  Why would anyone want to leave Alaska?  Lots of people we have met came and decided to stay.

This afternoon the caravan arrived in a private campground outside Denali National Park, with Mt. McKinley hiding behind a highest-mountain-wannabe.  Tomorrow we have a 14-hour-day tour into the park.  I’ve heard that the mountain is visible today, Wednesday (or as the locals say, “the mountain is out”).  We hope that holds out through tomorrow.

Our truck managed to be in a group of cars, trucks and RVs led by an escort vehicle as it went around a construction area and followed the truck spraying water on the road. Our clean truck and trailer are now caked with mud.

(Clockwise from Top Left: An invitation to “chill;” a Steamshovel that helped dig the Panama Canal; A Fetish on sale in the museum; and Fairbank’s first artifact, the Wheel from the ill-fated Lavelle Young.)

(Clockwise from Top Left: An invitation to “chill;” a Steamshovel that helped dig the Panama Canal; A Fetish on sale in the museum; and Fairbank’s first artifact, the Wheel from the ill-fated Lavelle Young.)

Having heard many good things from you, our readers, about Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, yesterday we headed that way.  It is a delight, with numerous interesting gold-rush days cabins converted into shops and a museum that we wish we could have spent more time in, plus many other attractions.  In addition to the things to see and do there, we also enjoyed talking with fun, interesting shopkeepers.

Dioramas on the lower deck of the Nenana steamship were Monique’s favorite.  Intricate displays depict the turn-of-the-century villages in the Alaska interior, both native, forts and mining.  I was most taken with the unique high quality artwork and crafts in the shops.  We decided against going into the establishment that would allow us — for $8 each — to experience -40o temperatures.  Since our bus driver described that as like getting hit with a baseball bat, we didn’t see the point.

Our Wagonmasters, Ken and Carole Adams, invited the entertainers from the Bonanza Gold Mine train to play for us in the RV park Wednesday evening. Not long after they started, our own Jeff Totten tuned up his banjo and joined in the music-making, and then caravan member Ira Miller was handed the bass guitar by the visiting musician and joined in, caressing the instrument as he strummed it like a long-lost friend.

We invited every other visitor in the RV Park to come by and listen in.  That really worked!

The Caravan Gets an Unexpected Musical Treat

The Caravan Gets an Unexpected Musical Treat

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.


17 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XVIII Audience Participation”

▪    Jeff Glazer on July 8th, 2010 1:41 pm  
There are two kinds of RVers, and we have been both. There are those who set up for months at a time and live in their RV. We are doing that this year workamping in Pennsylvania.
The other kind has a constant itch to see what is around the next corner. For this kind of RVer Alaska is an absolute must. You have to have a sense of adventure and be willing to take things in stride. You have to LOVE to drive. (The round trip from our home in South Carolina is 12,000+ miles.) But it is an adventure you will remember and talk about for the rest of your life.
I have only once met a person who was not happy that they made the trip. After talking to her for a while I realized that she is the type of person who is never happy about anything.
Why leave Alaska? There are two major reasons: the weather and the economy. There is often not a supermarket on the next block (or within 100 miles!). Jobs can be hard to find and low-paying. But there are several places in Alaska where I think I could be happy living. I think Fairbanks is a great town, and I am partial to both Seward and Homer down on the Kenai Peninsula. Just give me a good Internet connection!
What’s the best rig for an Alaska trek? The one you are comfortable in down south. We drive a 33′ Class A with a toad and were very happy. I have been in groups with everything from a small Class B to a very large 5er (full-timers) and no one seemed to have any more problems than anyone else. The trailers and 5ers did seem a bit more prone to tire problems and I would recommend carrying an extra spare. Those who drove a motorhome without a toad were almost always sorry.

▪    GK on July 8th, 2010 2:36 pm  
Good start on info about rigs suited to the trip. The only reason I was asking is because there are times when some types of issues appear on some types of RV’s in some areas. For example, I was reading about desert boondocking, and one point that came up in forums and blog posts was the issue of air filters on pushers: because the engine is at the back, and the dust kicked up goes to the back, you might have an issue with clogged air filters if you drive far enough into the desert (and back). Units where the engine is at the front had fewer issues, and some pusher owners had made mods to their unit to have the air intake further forward, or higher up with a second set of “prefilters”. Admittedly, this is a pretty specialized case, but knowing in advance can make it easier for others to avoid problems. Even just knowing “business as usual” is instructive.
If you don’t ask, you’ll never know  .

▪    Jeff Becker on July 8th, 2010 6:56 pm  
We traveled more than 60 days last May from Cape Coral, Fl. to Alaska…..about 15,000 miles. I’m a changed man as a result of this trip! We did it in a Class C with NO toad…..27′…..and it was perfect. We also brought along our 3 dogs; 2 Shar-Pei and a terrific Bull Terrier.
Had very few problems. Biggest was a double blowout in the Yukon. Now THAT was a trick to get resolved, but we got it done.
Greatest scenery! Greatest trip ever! I’m ready to do it again!
Here’s a problem that no one thought about: After returning to Florida, the idea of heading to Orlando or Tampa or ANYWHERE in the RV just seemed like it couldn’t measure up. There’s NO sequel. Result? We SOLD our RV! Give it a breather!

▪    David Campbell on July 8th, 2010 7:06 pm  
I think Jeff is right – whatever one is comfortable with anywhere else. Three years ago we traveled to Alaska in a 30 ft class C with a toad. That was the first time driving, but certainly not the first time to be in Alaska. Having a pilot’s license I flew up and around there both for sightseeing and as an occupation taking commercial aerial photography. That too, was enjoyable, but not as enjoyable as driving and being able to stop at many more places. 
Dings and cracks are inevitable wherever one travels. We had two windshield dings on the Top of the World Highway, but have had many more on roads all over the lower states. At least the smaller windshields on a ‘C’ are little cheaper to replace!

▪    Tom Funkhouser on July 8th, 2010 7:55 pm  
We made the 9,400-mile round-trip from Southern California in a 35′ Class A towing a Honda CRV. As others have said, it was the trip of a lifetime. We did not have any problems with the coach and it was very handy having the toad along. Two of the most memorable side tours we did were a Denali sightseeing flight out of Talkeetna – landing on a glacier – and the Kenai Fjords boat trip out of Stewart. We could not see the mountain from the valley when we were there but the flight took us over the clouds for a spectacular view. The boat trip featured glaciers, humpback whales, hundreds of dolphins, killer whales, puffins, and otters. Unforgettable. These side tours are very expensive so we bought a Great Alaska TourSaver booklet for $99. These tours as well as fishing trips and many other attractions were all 2 for 1 discounts so we saved our money many times over.
Our new RV is a 25 foot class C Sprinter. I think we would enjoy the trip to Alaska even more with this set up as we do not need a toad and it gets double the fuel mileage. We burned 1,300 gallons on our trip with the Class A and I figure we would use less than half of that with our Class C diesel. As others have said before me, whatever works for you in the lower 48 will work for you in Alaska.

▪    Peggy on July 8th, 2010 7:56 pm  
‘…Our truck managed to be in a group of cars, trucks and RVs led by an escort vehicle as it went around a construction area and followed the truck spraying water on the road. Our clean truck and trailer are now caked with mud…’
Want to say have thoroughly enjoyed your articles – has brought back many memories of which I’ll never forget…
The first paragraph is from your latest article – I have to comment on it:
We were 2 up on a Harley Sportster – we’d be in line waiting for the escort vehicle when the flag person would motion us to the front of the line… We were told that was so we wouldn’t get all the dust from the bigger vehicles… Then there was the ‘water truck’ – to this day I still don’t want to be near one…
As you said, the water truck would start out to water down all the dirt to keep down the dust – we were in the front so just imagine all the MUD we were covered with – yes, have the pictures…
After that, we’d shake our head no, and let everyone go before us and my hubby would just take his old, sweet time – most likely irked the other folks waiting to come from the other direction… Still was great fun and a wonderful experience…
Oh, that’s when I saw a guy standing on a ladder, with a long stick (squeegee) in his hand cleaning off his windows (an RV) – I said ‘wow’….
Sometimes what we rode over was not even a road, then maybe there would be a little red-flag sticking out of the ground on the edge of the highway – no guardrails and it was a long way down in many areas… So interesting…
Again, thank you for all your work…

▪    Barbara Mull on July 8th, 2010 7:58 pm  
I lived in Alaska for 18 years and traveled in a 20′ Minnie Winnie first and then a 27′ Jayco – both Class Cs. Though small, the tough old Minnie was just right for some of the roads we traveled. We told ourselves each year that this year could be the last one in Alaska and so what did we want to see before we left. The best of all trips was 3 weeks traveling the Top of the World, then to Inuvik (as far north as the road goes) in NW Territories, Yellowknife, Calgary, Banff and back home to Anchorage. What a trip! One road was built up across the tundra with gravel resulting in a barely 2-lane road with no turnoffs. We stopped on our side of the road after not seeing any other traffic for two hours, put the kettle on and set out the coffee cups. An 18-wheeler traveling the opposite direction stopped beside us on their side of the road and the couple driving it shared a cup of coffee with us for about an hour. Then we both went on our way, still seeing no other traffic for several hours. BTW, it took two ferry crossings to get to Inuvik.
Why leave Alaska? Only health issues forced us to move back to the Lower 48 near family. This southern gal loved the winters, Northern Lights, sundogs, ice fog, beautiful snow and I’m still homesick at times. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading about your adventures. Thanks for sharing.

▪    GaryM on July 8th, 2010 7:59 pm  
We pulled our 29.5 foot 5er to Alaska in 2006 – with our new (at the time) 3/4 ton Ford Power Stroke. The only problem we really had was getting in and out of some of the small out-of-the-way camp sites that we picked. It was probably just a fluke but we never got a ding of any kind although we did put some protection on the truck. We could park the trailer and take side trips. 4×4 was beneficial once in a while. We only had a month and would do it again if we had 2 or even 3 months. We had room for the cat and everything we ever needed. We were very comfortable once we figured out how to get it dark enough to sleep at night. Even the road from DC to Chicken was good.
We took the time and money needed to drive up because we just wanted to see it all. We enjoyed every moment and have most of the pictures as a slide show on the computer. We loved it.
Not sure why we came back except that the thought of the long dark winter day is a bit of a turn off. We like the sun and since we live in Montana, we love it here too.
It is fun to travel along with you on this trip. Enjoy every moment…

▪    Stan Zawrotny on July 8th, 2010 8:04 pm  
We drove up last year with a truck and 29 ft. travel trailer. When we got back, we immediately traded it in for a 31 ft Class C. We discovered that on the long drives, it would have been better if the passenger could have been able to get up and go back into the rig to get a snack, drink, take a nap, etc. We drove through all 49 states and 9 Canadian provinces with the travel trailer, but we find the Class C to be much more flexible. Yes, we do have a toad.
As for why anyone would want to leave Alaska, it’s too expensive for one thing. For another, Alaska is beautiful, but we have some other beautiful states in the lower 48. And you can enjoy them for more than just a few months out of the year. Most of the people that I met there live there for a few months in the summer then spend the rest of the year in Florida, California or Arizona.

▪    Tom on July 8th, 2010 8:20 pm  
Alaska will spoil you for any other trips. I remember the pullout with a sign that said you should see every place else you wish to visit before coming to Alaska. If not, you’ll never wish to go anywhere else. It’s true for us.
We spent the entire summer of ‘09 roaming throughout Alaska from Seward to Dead Horse back down to Denali and Homer and everywhere in between – even spending a week at Teklanika where we were blessed with 3 clear days. 
We came back because my wife doesn’t favor the thought of endless nights, the price of everything is very high, and my job called me into an office. 
We traveled in a 38′ class A pulling a Yukon XL (our garage) with our son (who wishes we could go back every day).

▪    Virgil Owen on July 8th, 2010 9:27 pm  
After several vacations and cruises to Alaska, my wife and I decided we wanted to move to Alaska. We bought a 34 foot Class A motorhome. It is a 96 Southwind so we decided to remodel it before we left. We spent a few months using it on weekends in southern California so we could get used to it. We sold everything we could before we left and put the rest in storage. We leased our house to friends for two years while economy recovers a little. We loaded up our four cats and headed north. It was the trip of a lifetime. We rented a house in Homer for almost a year and discovered that some places that are great to visit are not great to live. We ended up in Kenai where I now work at WalMart. I love it. We towed a Jeep Liberty here and I later went back and drove my car up to Seattle where I got on the Alaska Highway ferry for a four-day ride. I have not regretted for one minute the move. The cost of living is much higher and the wages are not high but it’s a small price to pay for world-class fishing. Our RV trips are short thanks to great fishing everywhere. The only thing I miss about Southern California is the fast internet. Alaska internet is not fast. The only thing that we have had problems with as far as the RV is concerned is Direct TV. Because we are close to the horizon, you have to have a much larger dish to use it. It works great in the house but not at all in the RV. The caravan may work for some people but we loved the freedom of being able to stay where we wanted for as long as we wanted. It was the trip of a lifetime. I hope to fulltime when I retire.

▪    Jim Taglianetti on July 8th, 2010 11:26 pm  
I have only been to Alaska once. Spent 3 days in Juneau and 1 day in Anchorage on business. I got hooked on returning to Alaska again. This time I want to take my wife. I could not get over the country, the pine tree covered mountains, the glaciers, and the eagles. It is truly inspiring. The reason for leaving is easy for me; I live in Hawaii. Can’t handle the cold weather. 
I read these articles each night and I am very curious about the caravan approach to traveling. We are novice RVers. Mostly renting now but plan to buy a 5th wheel. I’m also quite interested in the informal survey about the best type of RV.

▪    Alpenliter on July 9th, 2010 7:40 am  
Barry & Monique, when you started this blog, you probably thought you were only going to share your adventures with the rest of us. While you have succeeded in doing just that, the comments section have grown to proportions that rival many forums. Thank you for starting this discussion and thank you all for your comments. We are caravanning with a few other couples in 2011 and your comments and suggestions are all being noted for future use.

▪    Dick and Cindy on July 9th, 2010 8:38 am  
We drove up last year with a ¾ ton van and 29 ft. travel trailer. We liked that setup because we could easily drop the trailer and take side trips. (For example, we dropped the trailer at Tok and went to Chicken and back. It was a little rough, but we heard the other side was a lot worse than what we had come through. And the uninhabited views are awesome.) Some new friends we met pulled a Casita (a VERY compact trailer) and by the time they got to Valdez they were ready to kill each other, even though they had been married for many years! So we don’t recommend that. We also met a couple who had an older trailer and their slide out broke from the frost heaves and washboard roads. So probably newer is better.
Why go? It was a life long dream of my husband’s, so when he was laid off, we went. We had heard too many “we were going to go when he retired, but then…” (Fill in the blank.) We went on our own and stopped and went as we pleased. The long drive is made so enjoyable when your driver has eagle eyes and points out all the fauna along the way. One highlight was a large mound in a large pond that moved and then raised its head as we drove past and we realized it was a huge moose that had been feeding underwater! And we were blessed with perfect weather. Mt. McKinley put on a fantastic display the day we were there. The tour bus driver said 2008 was a year when it was rarely seen, so we took a million pictures and realized how lucky we were. But someone mentioned a double blowout in the Yukon? We had a triple blow out. Are there tacks on the road??
Why leave? We talked to people who had moved there for work and found they couldn’t take the winter darkness. Seems that can really get to you. And then there’s family down south who would rarely be seen (but that could be a plus OR a minus  
It was the trip of a lifetime, and if you have an adventurous soul, go!

▪    Jim Sathe on July 9th, 2010 8:53 am  
We took 7 weeks in 2008 in a 26′ travel trailer pulled by a 3/4 ton Duramax Diesel truck. Round trip from Idaho was about 8,500 miles. It was the best RV experience of our lives. We now have a 34′ 5th wheel and are considering another trip. Our highlights were Denali, Homer, Seward and Chicken. We don’t travel far in a day so we spent 3 weeks in Canada going and returning. Canada is very expensive, much more so than Alaska, particularly fuel and alcoholic beverages. Another brief highlight was the ferry ride across the Yukon at Dawson City. I also wrote a daily blog of our trip. You can see it at

▪    Lynne Schlumpf on July 8th, 2010 11:07 pm 
What kind of RV is best suited to Alaska?
We first bought a Class C in 2006. We loved it, but we had a lot of problems camping with it in Alaska.
There are very, very few places to get fresh water out of the ground. This is because you have to dig a trench 15 feet deep to lay a water line in Alaska to keep it from freezing and busting up. (we know because we had to hire an excavator to dig such a trench in 2005 to lay a water line from our house to our garage).
We love to RV into very remote areas. We kept filling up our grey and black water, and we kept running out of fresh water.
                                                                                                                                                              Another problem: Though we had a Ford F450 as a cab, it just did not do well on the many mountain roads we travel. We also kept running out of gas in the most inopportune places. Our gas generator gulped it, and we would keep having to find places to empty our septic or grey, and to fill up our tank.
We bought a 40 -foot diesel pusher the following year. It has 90 gallons of diesel capacity, a much quieter generator that barely sips, and we never have problems filling up our tanks. We also have a 90 gallon fresh water tank that we usually fill up at home from our artesian well and never hook up to anyone’s fresh water hookup.
The 300 HP Cummins does the trick on mountains roads and once saved our life in Hatcher Pass with its air brakes and air shocks. We were so glad to have our “Hog” on that day.
We drove the Alaska Highway in 2003 to escape layoffs and a life that just did not seem to make sense. My husband found a great job here with a big telecommunications company. We fell in love with Alaska then.
There were almost no murders here, the weather suited us just fine here in south-central (about 20 miles north of Anchorage).                                                                                                                                          We fell in love with our neighbors.
Things began to change.
The mayor of Anchorage started threatening rolling natural gas outages. We started hearing stories of people in the bush so desperate for fuel that they were stealing from each other.
The natural gas costs here are UNBELIEVABLE. The cost for heating oil for other places that don’t have access to natural gas are 6 dollars a gallon and up. Milk is 9 bucks a gallon in the bush.
We fell in love with an Alaska that was changing rapidly. We were sitting in a state that has an overabundance of gas and oil and minerals, but we were paying more for our vehicle’s gas and diesel than any other state in the U.S.
To ship a package is also outrageous. Recently, I tested the cost to ship something from camping world. The cost was $456.00 to ship this particular item that cost 500.00. Just to see, I tried putting in an address in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The cost to ship was 16.00. I am not kidding.
We rarely get good fresh fruit and vegetables here. Our bananas are often spoiled before they get here – bruised.
There are currently almost no doctors here who accept Medicare. We have a group insurance policy, and it cost us $1,500.00 out of pocket just to get a colonoscopy.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I recently took my little dog to have an x-ray and get some medicine for a urinary tract infection: $450.00 bill.
Doctors and veterinarians often charge unreal prices here.
Although that is not true of all of them, there are many who do.
People who are getting ready to retire often leave Alaska because they just cannot afford everyday things. (unless they have saved a boatload of cash in their lifetimes).
I have seen many, many people leave because of the cost of food and gas and just living here.
We are leaving after almost 9 years because my husband is retiring and because he needs to get better medical care somewhere else. We often wait months to see a specialist and many weeks to get test results.
If you think it is like that where you live, this place is very, very, very different. I have lived in many places in the U.S. Alaskans are the last to get anything as far as transportation. We have only one route to get from the Valley to Anchorage. If there is a traffic accident, people are often held up for hours and are late to work. This is not what you would call normal, because we get 80 to 140 inches of snow every year, and every
time it snows – there are hundreds of accidents and no one can get to work. There are no alternate routes here. We only have a few highways. You cannot travel to very much of Alaska by road.
And the winters are brutal – more so in some places than others of course.
                                                                                                                                                                                                         We once visited Fairbanks in March to see the Ice Castles and Lordy Lordy it was COLD! It was a blast driving there, but to do everyday things with dogs in the car was a challenge. Had to plug in everywhere. (we don’t normally plug in all the time in south-central)
If you love to RV, you can only do so from April to September. If you don’t winterize your RV properly, temperatures of -40 happen. This causes batteries to explode.
You only have a very limited amount of time to travel to the Lower 48 on the Alaska Highway because driving an RV in the winter out there is pretty tricky. 
So, we fell in love with this place, but it truly is changing a lot. There has been a lot more crime, and the transportation challenges are making it really tough.
Alaskans are typically very tough people, but many people do leave after awhile. The darkness is truly a challenge also, though you do seem to get it back in the summer. 
I don’t mean to sound negative in any way here. I love Alaskans and what they stand for, and how tough they are. But, if a place is starting to get to you – it is time to go. And it is tough to survive here on a retiree’s pension. It is also tough to earn a salary that enables you to live an equivalent life compared to other places. Housing is very high, and electric is also high because it is normally generated by natural gas. So wintertime utility bills can be anywhere from $400.00 a month to up to $1,000.00 a month for larger homes. 
Hope this helps.

Our Alaska Trip Part XIXa Bucket List

This entry is part 21 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 9, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 11 Comments

This is the 19th in a continuing series about our trip to Alaska

 Majestic Mt. McKinley, North America's Highest

Majestic Mt. McKinley, North America’s Highest

On 99 days out of the hundred of summer in Denali National Park, Mt. McKinley – highest peak in North America – is either totally or partially obscured by clouds.  We have talked to many people who saw only the base or part of the grand mountain.

Thursday, the day our caravan boarded a bus for Denali, IT WAS THE ONE PERCENT!  During our 13 hours on the bus, every glimpse of the Alaskan Range in Denali provided a sparkling view of these snow-covered giants.

If you saw the movie “The Bucket List” you know it means doing the things you wanted to do in life before you kick the bucket.  I didn’t know I had a bucket list until yesterday.

We saw, from top, Arctic ground squirrel, moose, trumpeter swan, wolf, Mt. McKinley, Dall sheep and grizzly bear -- plus, eagles, harriers, hikers, bikers, muskrat, caribou, ducks, ptarmigan, gulls and probably more

We saw, clockwise from top, dall sheep, a mama moose with her calf, a ptarmigan, a wolf, a trumpeter swan and grizzly bears, plus  Arctic ground squirrels, eagles, harriers, hikers, bikers, muskrat, caribou, ducks, gulls and probably more .. and, then, there was a mountain or two.

Today I’m heading for a whitewater-rafting trip, so I’ll try to keep this short.

I’ve got to start out by saying, “I’m stoked” with the comments from the “Audience Participation” article [See Part XVIII].  The diversity of thought is, I’m sure, much appreciated by those thinking of traveling here.  On our caravan, we have mostly motorhomes, two 5th wheels, a Winnebago View and a Citation in what I would call the Class A in-between class, a Class B and one travel trailer (ours).  No one seems to think his/her rig isn’t appropriate for the difficult trip.

Yesterday we woke up to having no water service in the campground.  One day one of our campgrounds had a power outage; another time, it was the entire town.  Most of us just say, “Well, that’s Alaska.”  As RVers we try to be ready for anything the road throws at us, so I think that the glitches along our path make it an experience.

It’s no big thing, according to group member Bill Kern and wife Marilyn, who made this same trip10 years ago.  “The infrastructure is much better today,” he said.  There is far less gravel and far less construction along the way.  Ten years ago at this same RV park by Denali, there was no communication.  No phones and of course no internet.  Today, everyone camping here can get on the park’s WiFi (except me).  Bill said they are pleasantly surprised by the differences.

Because of the harsh winter conditions, I don’t know if this land will ever lose its sense of adventure.  Personally I’m thankful for the improvements; thankful for the opportunity to rough it.

Getting back to yesterday’s Denali visit, the word “spectacular” probably comes closest to summing it up.  Larry, our bus driver, reminded us often that he has rarely if ever seen it like that in eight years.  A ranger at the visitors center in the park agreed it was a 1 percent day for the summer, although there are a few more clear days in winter.

This is a good time to mention that the density of visitors to Denali is sparse.  Personal vehicles are only allowed to go in 15 miles.  Most shuttle buses go about 32, and very few do what we did, going all the way to Denali Backcountry Lodge at the end of the road 92 miles from the entrance.  We went 184 miles and could only lose interest for a few minutes before something else drew our undivided attention.

We were blessed with perfect weather conditions and the variety of wildlife that came to see us yesterday.  We hope you get the same views, but thankfully the powers above knew we were doing this blog and wanted you to have an idea of all there is to see here.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.


11 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XIX Bucket List”

▪.  Jerry X Shea on July 9th, 2010 4:27 pm  
Talk about “luck.” What a great treat you guys had. Spent a week there and saw nothing by rain. When we took the bus ride the driver said ” Mt. McKinley is over there.” So I took a picture “over there” of what we could not see.

▪.  Sid Burklund on July 9th, 2010 5:36 pm  
I am glad to hear you had such a great day visiting the park! Been there twice and it rained both times but that’s OK as we live in Washington State and our mountains are many and beautiful.
 A comment about the bus ride:  on our last trip we decided to take the bus into the park for wildlife viewing. To our dismay and before the bus left, I concluded that there wasn’t enough leg room for me. I have arthritis in both legs and am 6′4″ and would not have made 10 miles let alone the trip you took. I am happy for you but just a warning to those that have health issues, the bus won’t turn around for you.
I enjoy your posts and have the time of your lives.

▪.  Margie on July 9th, 2010 6:35 pm  
I’ve lived in Alaska for 7 years now and have been to Denali many times (including just a couple of weeks ago) and I have NEVER seen the mountain look like that. I’m happy you guys were so fortunate!!! We definitely get crystal clear days like today, but being in Anchorage, even when Denali is out in all its glory as it was this morning, it is still almost 250 miles away and doesn’t compare to what you guys got to see. Good for you!!!

▪.  susan on July 9th, 2010 8:03 pm  
Good for you! What a day you had…so glad you could see the mountain so clearly.
What memories!

▪.  jim hammack on July 9th, 2010 8:53 pm  
We went on a cruse 3 years ago and took the land tour to Denali. We got glimpses of the mountain, saw lots of wildlife. was told by the driver what a good day we had with all the wildlife and the view of Denali. We had a wolf walk down the road toward us then walked out into the brush. the driver killed the engine on the bus as soon as the wolf was spotted. saw lots of sheep, bear, moose, and several varieties of birds.
this past sept, we took another cruise with land tour to Alaska. took a shorter trip into Denali. we went about a mile beyond the Bradied River and listened to a native describe life in Alaska. we were then driven back to the lodge (not the one in the park). the highlight of that tour was someone spotting a wolf that turned out to be a dog tied to the bumper of a motorhome at the visitors center. the mountain was not out that day.
the first tour was all day. the second lasted at most 4 hrs. the driver also pointed out how lucky we were to have the native elder describe life in his village. i didn’t feel the same; especially after being on a better tour a couple years earlier. my point is that they all hype their tour. sometimes it is really a good tour. there is also more than one guided tour into the park: stay away from the natural history tour…it is a real bust. the wilderness tour is a good one. we saw very little wildlife on the natural history tour. those that took the wilderness tour, the same day, saw about what we had seen on it a couple of years earlier. the animals cooperated on the wilderness tour but were apparently on strike on the natural history tour.
we did get some very clear views of Denali from the train to Anchorage the next day though. i mean very clear.

▪.  Stan Zawrotny on July 10th, 2010 8:03 am  
Congratulations on seeing the mountain. The brochures say you are more likely to see a grizzly bear than the mountain. We didn’t see the mountain, but we did get some great pictures of a mother grizzly and her young ones. We met some people on the bus who saw the mountain the day before and they exchanged some pictures of it with us.
I agree with the comments about the bus ride. If you aren’t up to a long and torturous ride, don’t try it. There is no turning back and it can be a miserable day. The hours going out will be broken by seeing the sights, but coming back will be several hours of pure misery.

▪.  Thomas Pallone on July 10th, 2010 9:08 am  
I have been enthralled reading about your Alaskan adventure. While I am a modest 5th wheeler in the lower forty-eight, I have not attempted anything quite so edgy as this. Thank you and again, thank you for giving all of us a rare glimpse into such a journey and allowing some vicarious thrills along the way! This has really inspired me to move out into even more of the country. The picture of Mt. McKinley is dazzling!

▪.  JimHutt on July 10th, 2010 11:17 am  
Thanks for all the great dialog and pictures. We are enjoying your trip even though we are not there. Hope to make the trip next year.
I copied and pasted the picture of Mt. McKinley to an 8X10 print, it is beautiful.
Looking forward to reading and seeing more of the wonder sites as you folks continue your journey. Thanks again for taking the time to share!

▪.  Julian Cane on July 10th, 2010 4:58 pm  
Just got back from 6 weeks in AB, BC, YK and Alaska. One huge and big place. Disappointed in Denali……Yosemite is better. If going I would forget THE TOP OF WORLD HIGHWAY as the day I took it, it started to drizzle, then rain then hail and more hail to the point we had to come to a complete stop. The road is dirt and the rain turned it into a sea of mud and was tough to navigate. The next day we heard a Class A went off the road but fortunately on the high side. Chicken was a huge disappointment. Fuel got to $6/gal and was sparse in some places. The Canadian border folks are tough and it took some of them 30 minutes to clear me.
Need more info???????? give a holler

▪.  Phil S on July 12th, 2010 12:36 am  
The 9th was indeed a great day here in Denali. I work for the National Park Service here at Denali National Park and it’s always great to hear when visitors have a great visit. The 9th is when my wife and I traveled from our home here in Denali to Wasilla, and picked up our very first travel trailer! We enjoyed the view of Denali all the way home! I sure have enjoyed reading about your travels and looking forward to continued reading about your wonderful journey!

▪.  Lynne Schlumpf on July 17th, 2010 4:09 pm  
Where we live off the North Birchwood exit in Chugiak, we get to see Denali hundreds of times during the year, and I have to say the most beautiful she is has to be on a gray winter’s day on New Years. She never fails to show us her pink and orange glowing beauty on that day. We also get to see her all the time from the end of our driveway. Where we live is one of the few places where you can see her almost year round. So glad you got to see her.
Here’s what she looks like on New Years every year:

Our Alaska Trip Part XIX-B Stalling for Time & Healthcare!

This entry is part 19 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

July 12, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 13 Comments

This is the 19th in a continuing series about our trip to Alaska. 

[Oops, it’s actually the 20th entry in the series, but I guess a tinge of exhaustion overtook me and I lost count.  Because of information in the comments section, it’s one of the most important episodes.] 

“I’m wiping reindeer hair off my shoes,” Marvin Curb told me yesterday when I asked what he was doing at the door to his motorhome.  Now there’s something you don’t hear everyday, but in Alaska, well, a lot of unusual things happen.

On the serious side, one of the caravan members went to an Anchorage urgent care provider when an insect stung her.  She was refused treatment there and at a second clinic, because they don’t take Medicare or accept secondary health insurance.  I hope we hear more about this from others who have asked for medical care in the 49th state.

To be honest, this edition of Our Alaska Trip journal is stalling for time.  I have three items that I want to put together, but the photos that go with one story were fried in a laptop, so we’re trying to resurrect them, and a member of the group that I want to talk with hasn’t been available to tell his story.

So now for some random notes and just a tad of travel log:

RVers who travel to Alaska with their dogs and who plan to embark on a 12-hour tour, as we have, need to plan ahead for pet care while they are gone.  We’ve had a dog-walking service available at one private campground and I’m sure others offer it, also.

I mentioned before there are something like 2.5 gift shops per tourist in Alaska.  Still true.

Landing - 0286A more interesting statistic is that one of every 59 Alaskans has a pilot’s license.  Our tour yesterday stopped along a lake that is the busiest seaplane airport in the world, with an average of 250 takeoffs a day, according to our bus driver.  It goes up to 800-1,000 a day on occasion – I don’t recall Anchorage ever hosting the Superbowl.

In addition to the seaplanes parked on the lake, there’s a parking lot filled with seaplanes

On calm waters for the moment, but more challenges lie ahead

On calm waters for the moment, but more challenges lie ahead

on the tarmac or on trailers.  Since these little aircraft can’t make it to the Lower 48, I asked where they all go.  In addition to hunting, fishing and sightseeing excursions, lots of them make trips to the Interior to deliver supplies.

And that segues into the life of our whitewater rafting guide, Tim.  Tim shares an apartment with others and apparently survives on Chef Boyardee from the can.  Not only are food prices steep in Denali, but it’s over a hundred miles to the nearest supermarkets in Anchorage or Fairbanks.  They make the drive once or twice a month.

And that brings us to today’s outing.  We started the day at Costco for lunch and stopped at Walgreen’s on our way to the Alaskan Native Heritage Center.   Our knowledge of native life among the many clans (tribes) of Alaska was broadened greatly.  I found out that the Aleutian Island chain is “the birthplace of the winds.”  Winds there often top 100 miles per hour and get up to 200 miles per hour.  I suspect it’s not a good place for a high profile RV, even if there were roads there.

An Athabaskan youth shows his nimble abilities in the native warrior games

An Athabaskan youth shows his nimble abilities in the native warrior games

From Left, Natives' Relationship to the Sea Otter and Crafting a Totem Pole

From Left, Natives’ Relationship to the Sea Otter and Crafting a Totem Pole

We’re “goin’ coastal” tomorrow, heading to Seward, headquarters for the Kenai Fjords National Park.

 Thanks to Ada Beavers for the rafting photo.  Good thing she didn’t get a shot of me volunteering to take a dip in the 38-degree river — Monique would panic.  Well, you only live once (in theory).

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.


13 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XIX Stalling for Time”

▪.  joe on July 13th, 2010 4:42 pm  
Is the lack of Medicare providers a problem in Alaska? I bet that would put a severe damper on their tourism trade with retirees. Did they try a hospital? I will not plan any trips to the state until I checked those things out for sure. OUCH!

▪.  Gary Altig on July 13th, 2010 5:09 pm  
No urgent care for Medicare or supplemental medical insurance in Anchorage? That’s disturbing. What was the final outcome?
 Are we expected to purchase a medical insurance rider for Alaska?/ga

▪.  Lynne schlumpf on July 13th, 2010 9:26 pm  
Alaska has a very severe Medicare problem. There are no doctors who take Medicare here. Some have tried, but the government doesn’t pay them enough so they refuse new patients.
The only option for most Medicare patients are Alaska Regional Hospital, Providence Hospital, and the Matanuska Hospital.
 Channel 2, our NBC station, did a special on Medicare in Alaska and found not even one doctor that would take a Medicare patient.
Alaska also stopped the longevity bonus, which used to be $250.00 to retirees. Both of these things sent retirees out of the state in droves.
Alaska has the highest concentration of veterans in the U.S., but if they cannot get Medicare help, they may leave as well.
The only thing left is the property tax exemption for up to $150,000 of your house value.
I have talked to many, many retirees who cannot stay. There’s just nothing to stay for.
If you have anyone coming here who needs emergency or any kind of Medicare assistance, the hospitals are ‘It.”
Thanks for a great travel log.
P.S. Hope Whittier is one of your stops. I am so in love with Prince William Sound and its beauty. And hope you get to take the 26-glacier cruise. What a beautiful 1/2 trip to visit all the glaciers of the Sound.
You will LOVE Seward, too…love that town. It is so beautiful and has made such an amazing recovery from the ‘64 earthquake.

▪.  truman on July 14th, 2010 8:37 am  
Count me out for a long visit to the great state of Alaska NO Medicare No second insurance!  Guess you have to bring a ton of money when you visit? And someone from that state was running for vice president! WOW!! Just count me in for a brief excursion to that wonderful state. Thanks

▪.  Stan Zawrotny on July 14th, 2010 8:52 am  
We didn’t have any health problems in Alaska, but coming back through British Columbia, my wife had a serious finger cut and had to go to an emergency room. I’m pleased to say that the Canadian health care system had no problems with our Medicare coverage.

▪.  Kellie on July 14th, 2010 10:46 am  
Truman – surely you aren’t suggesting that the government can FORCE docs to accept Medicare are you? What exactly does Sarah Palin have to do with this problem? I’m quite certain it is the FEDERAL govt which sets the reimbursement level for Medicare and she was not elected to a federal position. Perhaps this would have been something she could have helped to resolve.

▪.  clkek on July 14th, 2010 11:40 am  
The refusal to see Medicare patients is as big a problem in the lower 48 as well. My our GP is reimbursed $11 for a Medicare office visit- that does not even cover the costs of her office help and utilities for the time of the office visit, not to mention her professional liability insurance and medical school student loan payment. The Federal Gov reduces the costs of Medicare by cutting provider reimbursement!!! That in turn has raised private pay costs as some how the bills have to get paid.

▪.  Mike on July 14th, 2010 4:12 pm 
What about Tricare that us retired Military have as our medical provider.. Do the doctors in the 49th take that?

▪.  Lynne schlumpf on July 14th, 2010 8:09 pm  
Yes, some providers take Tricare here, as this is a big military state. You can also go to the Elmendorf hospital, which is very good.

▪.  Jane on July 14th, 2010 10:12 pm  
WOW!! Is this blogsite starting to get politcal?….Lynne, I LOVE all of your info…you are certainly well informed! clkek is right on! As well as Kellie…Truman…u need to take a hike!!! Barry and Monique…We wait every day to hear your blog…we have actually signed up for next year for the June 9th 42-day caravan…..We appreciate your info on dog sitting while on an extended tour…Happy travels…

▪.  macsly on July 16th, 2010 5:14 pm  
My husband is on Medicare. We live in Alaska and have secondary insurance. We have had no difficulty getting emergency treatment and he is in emergency fairly often (COPD and bowel blockages) Perhaps Anchorage is that way, but Fairbanks doctors and hospital have treated us great. (So has Providence). I did have difficulty getting a friend on Medicare into a neurologist (4-month wait) and other friends have had difficulty getting into a dermatologist, but those are pretty specialized.

▪.  jim on July 20th, 2010 8:04 am  
on Medicare coverage in Canada, i suggest u go to the Medicare web site. There are rules and each case is evaluated on its own merit. It isn’t automatic.
I was told by one that had traveled in Canada that to be sure u needed to purchase their insurance. he was spending time in Canada so he wasn’t ” traveling the most direct route without delay.”