Our Alaska Trip Part II Crossing into Canada

This entry is part 2 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

June 10, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 21 Comments

This is the second in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska.

Our caravan was ready for OUR GREAT ADVENTURE early this morning, and most of the dozen rigs got off in fine fashion.  Oh, our tailgunner awoke one couple telling them that one of the tires on their SUV toad was flat, but that was a minor inconvenience since we were in town rather than on the open road.

All went smoothly from there as we traveled scenic Washington roads for 135 miles when we arrived at the Canadian border crossing.   Several of the members were told to dispose of the onions that they declared, and one couple was asked to pull into a separate parking area and report to the officers inside the building.  That couple was us.

Entering the Customs Station Crossing into Canada from Washington State

Entering the Customs Station Crossing into Canada from Washington State

We think the brief, serious interrogation was triggered by our admission of having bear spray aboard, [a large canister is okay; a small canister is not] a natural defense for veteran hikers, but we answered their questions, stood by while they did a computer background check and then we were on the road again to reach our first Canadian campground.  Just in time for the evening social and update on the plans for Friday.

Let’s back up a few miles.  About 16 miles north of last night’s campground at the Town of Soap Lake is the immense, deep canyon called Dry Falls, featuring “plunge holes.”  I think every member of our crew stopped there for a few moments to appreciate the power of geological forces.

A Plunge Hole Below Dry Falls Visitors Center, Washington

A Plunge Hole Below Dry Falls Visitors Center, Washington

Our route then took us to the Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River.  We have been to several dams in our travels, and although this one was more interesting than most, it’s not a “wonder of the world” that stops most people in their tracks.  It did us, but then it got better.

And this is where the two types of travelers separate.  Many are destination-seekers, with planned stops.  The rest of us travel to enjoy the scenery along the way, particularly unexpected discoveries like this.

These may be cherished memories or forgotten until you look at photos or videos years later, but if you’re not ready to trade time for destination, you won’t have these moments in your memory bank.  Across the United States and Canada, there are treasurers hiding around every turn and down every side road.

Once we crossed the surging Columbia and entered the information plaza, we discovered a labyrinth, a place for silent contemplation and appreciation of the flowers and flowing water.  No big deal, but for us, it is an enrichment of life.  You might want to keep your eyes and, more importantly, your mind open to stop at unheralded spots along the road.

Monique Walking the Labyrinth by Chief Joseph Dam

Monique Walking the Labyrinth by Chief Joseph Dam

It’s Thursday afternoon, the sun is shining through menacing clouds.  We look for the blue.

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

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

Comments

21 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part II Crossing into Canada”

▪.  bbwolf on June 10th, 2010 10:05 pm   
Barry & Monique, just wanted to let you know that my co-pilot and I are following your posts with interest. Please don’t leave anything out, as you are helping a lot of us decide on making this trip ourselves one day soon. Thanks for posting your travel!

▪.  Jerry Criswell on June 11th, 2010 12:43 pm  
Wish you had told us what a “plunge hole” is.
JC

▪.  susan on June 11th, 2010 4:46 pm  
Barry and Monique…we find you travels very interesting…please keep posting, like bbwolf we are deciding whether or not to make the trip one day…as of now we are leaning toward it, and love reading about your travels..
Sue

▪.  G Finley on June 11th, 2010 5:02 pm  
Tell us more about this plunge hole. What are they and why did they happen? Thanks in advance for the posting. Sure is interesting. We have driven part of your trip in a car. Beautiful country !!!!.

▪.  John Ahrens on June 11th, 2010 5:55 pm  
This link, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_Falls, briefly speaks to the formation of the Dry Falls. It doesn’t mention plunge holes specifically, but the plunge holes are the area at the bottom of a falls where the falling water leaves a deep hole. Incidentally, at the height of the flood, the surface of the river probably varied a few inches as it went over that falls.

▪.  Stan Zawrotny on June 11th, 2010 5:09 pm. 
Your Canadian crossing was better than ours. A guy with a chip on his shoulder made me turn my pockets inside-out, dumped my pill containers out on a dirty table, while his team rummaged around our travel trailer trying to prove that we were lying when we said that we had no booze, guns, tobacco, vegetables, etc. They found nothing. Didn’t make us feel too welcome to their country.

▪.  Jan on June 11th, 2010 7:06 pm  
Barry and Monique – Thank you so much for sharing your trip with us. We’d love to make the trip to Alaska someday. We also travel with enjoying all the side adventures on the way. Wondering what kind of orchard or field we are passing, what is that smoke stack in the distance, where does that road in the middle of nowhere lead, what is a plunge hole (thank you John), walking a labyrinth someone took the time to build, etc. Not that we always have time to investigate each thing, but traveling with the explorers’ curiosity really opens the trip to memories, meeting the local people and an education for a lifetime and underlines the reason most of us crisscross North America in our RV’s. It’s like Lewis and Clark’s push to the ocean, the miner’s quest for gold; it must be in our blood? Looking forward to your next trip itinerary entry.
PS
Chief Joseph Dam is the second largest hydropower-producing dam in the United States.

▪.  Dick and Cindy on June 11th, 2010 7:12 pm  
We went a year ago. At our border crossing they got all the apples we had just stocked up on. They were offended and said “We have apples in Canada, ya know.” Will enjoy comparing experiences. Hope you get to Laird Hot Springs. We enjoyed that a lot – both directions.

▪.  Chris Clarke on June 11th, 2010 8:10 pm  
Regarding the border crossing incidents, just a few comments: When we head south and cross into the US we basically have taken to having nothing in our refrigerator, no fresh fruit, nor vegetables. This is because of having had it all confiscated one time or another by the US border officials on previous trips. So don’t feel too bad about losing a few apples and yes, we do grow them up here. We get the same line fed to us going south.
Our first stop on the US side is usually at a supermarket to stock up the fridge and the pantry. (Oh, and yes, I have had my 5th wheel turned inside out because the agricultural inspector wanted to look into “all of the hiding places” that he knew us RVers use to stash our contraband oranges, steaks and milk.
The bear spray is sort of a moot point. I carry mine all the time when I fish or hike in the mountains and I think that our border officials should cut some slack on that one in spite of the fact that it has become a weapon of choice in assaults and muggings. (We don’t carry firearms up here – we don’t seem to need them, or at least the risk of needing them is pretty low.)
Sorry if you ran into one of the more uncouth border officials – there are many good ones as there are heading south. Too bad some of these folks make our crossing experiences less than fun in either direction.
  Perhaps some of our folks are smarting over the heavy criticism that we Canadians have been getting regarding border security from some of your prominent politicians in spite of the fact that the 9/11 bad guys did not come through our country. Some of the critics have been down right rude. We are grateful for the fact that most of the 350 million of y’all are damn fine people.
I hope that you don’t let some boorish behavior spoil what should be a great adventure for you. Sometimes I guess that some people just get out on the wrong side of the bed. There are just too many beautiful places to see and experiences for you to have on either side of the 49th to allow a less than smooth crossing experience cause to sour.
Happy trails!
 [We immediately put the delay behind us.  Another part of the adventure.]

▪.  Frank Howard on June 11th, 2010 9:01 pm  
Being stopped by border officials could also simply be a random inspection, designed to catch violators who are aware of what characteristics the officials
are looking for. The officials may be inspecting, say, every 20th visitor who comes through.

▪.  Sucie on June 11th, 2010 9:21 pm  
Mr. Clark,
You mentioned 9-11, as a proud yet humble American I want to take this moment and say Thank-you to the Canadian people for assisting the many people that landed that fateful day in Nova Scotia during that tragic time in our history. May the Canadian people be blessed many times over.

▪.  Shelia on June 11th, 2010 11:00 pm  
I would love to go to AK but my hubby has a fear of taking our 40ft motorhome across the border into Canada and than into AK/USA. Any motorhomes of great length taking the trip up north with you? Let me know how all fare on the travel across the roads. I hate to have only planned stops, I’m the type that wants to find the natural native places along the route. Those surprises are the ones you will remember. Have fun!

▪.  Chip on June 12th, 2010 7:06 am  
Barry and Monique – I just wonder how everyone in the caravan is keeping in contact on the road. Are you using the FRS radios with some kind of net control. Are there any Ham radio Operators among the caravan? 
BTW, what is the cost of diesel fuel in Canada?
have a great trip and keep the details coming – its awesome! 

[We communicate with each other via CB radio — more on all of this later]

▪.  Kay on June 12th, 2010 9:51 am  
A trip to Alaska that was to have started in late May has unavoidably been delayed. How late into July can we leave and still have enough time to make the trip in a somewhat leisurely way? How late in September can we return and not have to worry about now in the Rockies as we make our way East??

▪.  Thomas Becher on June 12th, 2010 10:00 am  
Too much hassle going across the border. I thought with NAFDA and being almost brother-sister things would be smoother. They treat you like a criminal. Too many things to see in the states to bother with Canada. Even with the exchange rate they rip you off, if you don’t have any Canadian money. No thanks. If I feel the need to go to Alaska, I’ll fly and then rent a camper.

▪.  Colleen on June 12th, 2010 12:58 pm  
This is an answer for Kay who wonders how late in July she can head north and how late in Sept. to return. I’ve driven out as late as Dec. 10 (leaving Anchorage), so it can be done. My parents were snowbirds for years and they made sure they were on the road by Sept. 10. Summers in Alaska are short and cool, but it can get downright hot in the interior (Fairbanks). June is the nicest month weather-wise, by mid-July the rains begin. By the third week in August there is often mild frost at night, even in Anchorage.
If you are looking for fish and going up late in the summer, you might try for Silver Salmon on the beach in Seward toward the end of August.
In ‘72, my first trip to Alaska, there were 1,500 miles of gravel roads. After 30 years living there and many trips driving in and out, the road is all paved now. 
And a note for Sheila, there are places where the roads are not as wide as you find in the lower 48, especially in the Yukon, so meeting an 18 wheeler on a curve or bridge can be a bit unnerving at times, you can certainly time those events by adjusting your speed. The last time I drove out was in a Class A 32ft Airstream. I live in the lower 48 now that I have retired. 
I’ve never gone with a caravan, preferring to make my own schedule, but for some people the peace of mind of “safety in numbers” thing should be worthwhile.
See ya down the road.

▪.  Stan Zawrotny on June 12th, 2010 4:29 pm  
To answer the question about how late to go to Alaska, we went last year in August to get away from the crowds. Turns out August is the rainy month and we had rain every day. By late August, many of the campgrounds are almost deserted. We didn’t see hardly anyone heading north on our return trip. Many of the campgrounds said they were closed after September 1. The owners were headed for Florida, California or Arizona. Our next trip will be in June.

▪.  tom connor on June 13th, 2010 10:50 pm  
hi, Tom Becher.  Looks like you have had a bad experience, I hear all kinds of stories of the treatment Canadians get from USA border guards, then I read about there attitude toward the border guard what one gives expect to receive.
 My trailer is permanently in Washington State, so we go there quite often.  Never have I ever felt not wanted, but always welcomed.
There is nothing we can bring across the border — we always have to stock up our larder in Seattle and likewise coming north we know the rules and stick by them.
If you believe all the stories you hear you would eat all you see.
Camping is supposed to be a fun thing not conferential.
Enjoy life; it’s short.  [Note:  We never had a bad experience on this entire trip.  Missing out on Western Canada is missing out on the most beautiful part of the trip.]



▪.  BJ Moffett on June 22nd, 2010 10:47 am  
What can you take in to Canada in the line of food? We are thinking of going in 2013. Have a 35ft. 5th wheel

▪.  Rebecca on June 22nd, 2010 10:28 pm  
Have been wading through the customs site searching for what we can and can’t bring when crossing into Canada. Didn’t find much that was helpful. This site was exactly what I was looking for. Although we have taken our RV into Canada, it has been a while and I’m pretty sure there had been some changes. I guess the best bet is to leave the fresh stuff behind and get it after we cross. That’s fine. I am assuming that canned & frozen goods are okay. 
We have traveled in and out of Canada for 40 years and have never been treated badly by the border agents or anyone else except one surly waitress in Niagara Falls years ago that we still laugh about. 
Any other tips for travel into Quebec would be welcome. Thanks!

Lenore Slater on June 29th, 2010 10:23 am  
It saddens me to hear such disparaging remarks about Canadians. I was taught here in Canada that it is prejudice to paint a whole nation with one paintbrush because of the actions of one person. Whatever happened to the concept of ‘Hands across the Border?” We should remember this was one large land and the borders were put in much later, separating whole families, my family being one of them. My genealogical study of my family shows that people crossed back and forth many times, and my family is your family. I would like to see more Americans speaking up for their neighbours and a few thank you’s would not go amiss! The Canadians do not hesitate to jump in and help when the many disasters occur in America. The Canadians are probably the Americans’ best friend and it is a great puzzle that we do not hear a whole lot about that from the Americans. 
To the moderator of this site I ask, Did I wander onto the wrong site? Is this site intended for Americans only?  [Please don’t paint all the respondents to this site with the same paintbrush used by one person.]

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.

Pedro

Pedro

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.

Comments

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, http://chickengold.com. 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: http://chickengold-blog.com.
Mike

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