Friday, July 25, 2008

Juneau: Gridlock at the Summit

July 25, 2008 Friday Juneau, Alaska

Did you ever read the book Into Thin Air? Krakaur describes the journey to get from one base camp to another and when it’s time to summit there’s gridlock – a traffic jam – of eager mountain climbing conquerors that have emerged from other base camps on that one good summit day. We’ve slowly plodded, albeit eagerly, to Juneau by way of road and dawdling ferries over a three and a half week period leisurely stopping at quiet scenic campgrounds and small cities. Only to arrive at a congested little town flanked with monstrous multistoried feats of transport engineering: the cruise ship.

After a 29 hour ferry ride we made it to Juneau, Alaska. The Taku (Alaska Marine Highway ferry) left Prince Rupert 4 hours later than the original scheduled time of 645am. The skies were clear the majority of the first day but as the sun set, around 1030pm the clouds moved in. We (and a few others) opted to sleep on deck under the solarium which had heaters aiming downward to keet us warm. However, the sound of the rumbling ferry motor was a trade off to sleeping below on the floor with hormonal teenagers running around.

Bruce slept as I awoke in the middle of the night hoping to see the Aurora Borealis. No luck, just some rain drops in my face at 2am. A fitful sleep until 6am I decided to get up and on with my day. It was foggy with islands peeping in and out of view. A large cruise ship off the stern looked like a ghost ship. After a nice hearty oatmeal breakfast Bruce headed below for a comfortable seat and more sleep. He was not feeling well. I stayed on deck reading, watching the rain, hoping to see some wildlife swim or fly by.

We saw whales sounding and birds perched on icebergs as we puttered by.

Arriving in Juneau was good and bad. The good is we loved BC but were glad to be back in US territory. Gas is in the 4.60s (vs 5.50s in BC) and food on the ferry was half of what it was on the BC ferries. Although, the Taku was 45 years old it was just as high quality as the BC ferries…..good ole US prices made things appear reasonable again.

The bad is Juneau appears to be a mega tourist trap, it was cold, rainy and Bruce was not getting any better. There were 2 large cruise ships docked and the streets were abuzz with shoppers. We stopped at the information office (unable to park in their empty parking lot reserved for buses, they directed us to drive to a parking garage) to inquire about a hotel. We scrapped our original plans to camp due to the weather and Bruce’s queasy stomach. It’s been more than 2 weeks since we’ve slept in a real bed and there’s no better time than now. The information ladies told us we’re the 4th ppl to walk in needing a hotel and there are none available in Juneau.

I was here 14 years ago with a botany/geology group and recall tourist activity but nothing like today. Back then the government was the main economic support (and still is) as Juneau is the capital of Alaska. Tourism is second and fishing is third. As of this moment, summer time – that one good summit day - there is gridlock with cruise ship and foot traffic. I guess we expected to find a town with hole-in-the wall restaurants, quaint coffee shops and fisherman, kind of like Prince Rupert.

As we’ve traveled to various places (especially natural scenic destinations) over the years we’ve come to realize you can never go back. To go back is to go to a place in time….we need a time machine. It changes as avenues open by way of ease of transportation, usually driven by economic gain. However, there is no one to blame as it is what most of us strive for: financial security to travel and see all these wonderful places. After all, we're here, right? However, there are 2-6 cruise ships in every day during the summer. Maybe a limit should be put on the number of ships and a forewarning of crowding, just like climbers summiting Everest.
Had it been known Juneau was this busy and crowded we would have avoided this stop. This would have relieved the congestion so those already scheduled to see Juneau would have room to run.

The Juneau I visit 14 years ago has “progressed” and now there is not even a hotel room for us, no parking places and the streets are jammed. We drove toward Mendenhall Campground and along the way found a Motel 8. Now, there were the days when Motel 8 was for the thrifty traveler…well, here we are revisiting this wonderful chain. For only $150/night we have a room……out of town, past the airport. Yep, times have changed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Baby Needs New Shoes!

July 23, 2008 Wednesday Back in Prince Rupert

Back to the warm and cozy Cowpuccino’s for coffee and free internet before our day of busy-ness started. Bruce anxious to get all new tires on the van as he no longer trusted the street-cruisers we had, plus we were unsure if any more gravel road driving would present itself.

Kal Tires (Canadian chain) gladly replaced the tires to the tune of $677.91….tough times for the homeless. Next, off to the car wash.

The wildlife was out and about at the tire store.

Baby's got TWO new pair of shoes.
Hunger pangs set in so the Safeway Deli was our next stop. We needed food for the ferry ride to Juneau tomorrow. It’s a 29 hour ride and the ferry food is outrageously expensive, i.e., small cup of yogurt is $2.49, an apple is $1.40, etc. It is true marine highway robbery….you are at their mercy if you happen to need food. I saw a man pay $52 for McDonald-like cheese burgers for his family of 4 (even the non-healthy food is expensive)! Luckily, there are designated times you can get to your vehicle to put things up and get things out.

Afterwards we went to the Aquatic Center for a swim, sauna and shower. We hit the timing just right as it was “Toonies Time”. Between 1-3pm on Wednesdays you only pay 2 dollars….that’s less than what the shower cost. So fun time in the pool swimming laps, relaxing in the sauna, a nice long hot shower and we’re set for the remainder of the day...which was basically lolly-gagging around town, napping and blogging.

Tomorrow the ferry to Juneau......

July 22, 2008 Haida Gwaii back to Prince Rupert

Kayden Camp

Up at 5 am to high tide on the beach. A relaxing morning bird watching and reading before heading into town. Yesterday the lady at the "i" informed Bruce the ferry from HG to PR was full and requested that reserved patrons check in 2 hours before departure rather than the customary 1 hour.

Bruce’s natural urgency to “not be late”, helped us out as on our way back heard the normal sound of tires on a gravel road, then a sound change. Yep, a left rear flat tire, no leak, no slow air loss, just flat.

Bruce changed it in 30 minutes and we’re on the road arriving early at the ferry terminal. Bruce cursed himself: due to his frugal nature he purchased the cheapest tires at Discount Tires in Puyallup. We never considered we'd be using pothole filled logging roads. A rock punctured…almost a slash…the groove inside the tread. [But according to Bruce the real pain came the next day as we purchased four new heavier-duty truck tires.] We squeezed 30K miles out of the cheapies.

Visiting BC on wheels is a worthwhile adventure, however, do yourself a favor and get good back road tires, it will pay off and you’ll be able to see much of the countryside.

The ferry ride was uneventful and we were back in Prince Rupert by 530pm. I relaxed at the Laundromat while Mr. Fix It took the spare off and put on the patched and air-filled flat. Dinner at Smile’s near the wharf was delicious but pricey.

Grey Bay Sunshine

July 21, 2008 Monday Grey Bay, Moresby Island, Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands

The sun was out early this morning, hallelujah! We went for a walk along the mile-long beach before breakfast.

With tide going out we were able to stop and be mesmerized by the activity in Mr. Rocky's tidal neighborhood: crabs scampering with shells on their backs, tadpole darting, anemone swaying and other tiny tidal wildlife. A beautiful day in the neigborhood!

The drive back took 50 minutes as Bruce found the right speed to glaze over the potholes….at least most of them.

Back at Queen Charlotte city, we hovered around the “i” center for a while, ate dinner at a local Asian dinner and were directed to Kayden campground: a primitive site at the edge of town on the beach. To get there we drove till the pavement ended and then for 2 more kilometers on a gravel road.

Now, we’ve been on a few gravel roads while in BC. On Vancouver Island we thought we could make it to Port Alberni from the west coast of the island, but after several miles realized it is not a good idea. The number one reason being our tires are not made for this type of road. Then we took the potted gravel road to Grey Bay, a total of 26 miles worrying Bruce (photo left: Bruce's worry stone....better than kidney stones). Well what’s another 2 kilometers (1.2miles)?

Another perfect campsite found, albeit littered with beer cans. Quiet with a serene view….after I picked up the trash.

Dodging Potholes

July 20, 2008 Sunday Skidegate to Alliford Bay

Rainy and chilly still we decided to hike to the Pesuta: a logging ship that ran aground in a storm in the 1920s and has since washed up on shore. It was a 6 mile hike round trip but we added another mile by taking a wrong trail to nowhere (must have been an animal trail). The first 1.5 miles was through a heavily dark forest with brackish streams and carpeted undergrowth.

The second half was on a river that drained in the sea. Flat, sandy, and rocky it was a bit of a workout as the sand was soft, the rocks were small and the wind head-on return.

The bow end of the ship, only 15% of the vessel, remained. This was the day of wooden ships and the only metal remaining the hawsepipe (tube for the anchor chain to flow), large nails and other joint fittings and the like.

We took the tiny ferry from Graham Island to Moresby Island (Skidegate to Alliford Bay). We heard Grey Bay had a nice secluded camp on a beautiful bay. The road to get there is a logging road and was full of potholes. A 21 kilometer (12.6 miles) drive took one hour as we dodged potholes all the way. But well worth it: we saw a black bear shuffle across the road and arrived early enough to grab the best site.

Grey Bay is probably one of the prettiest, pristine bay’s we’ve visited thus far. We rank it right up there with French Beach, Vancouver Island. The sites have small pavilion coverage over the picnic benches, your wonderful Canadian Provincial Park deep iron grates, and a small trail to the beach. It is a pack-in/pack-out camp without water but has outhouses. The beach is very shallow and the tide goes out for a mile it seems. Dinner, eagle watching and the sound of the water was a treat.
Getting around on Moresby Island is mostly on logging roads. Alliford Bay, Sandspit and the airport have paved roads but other places to visit are only accessible on active logging roads. Caution must be used and it helps if your vehicle has tires that withstand the bumpiness and gravel rock.

Tlell and Port Clements, Haida Gwaii

July 19, 2008 Saturday Tlell, Haida Gwaii

We left Hidden Island resort to find a campsite at Misty Meadows near Tlell. We walked to the beach a couple of hundred meters from our campsite then drove into Port Clements to buy fresh fish from a local for dinner. Oddly, it is difficult to find fresh fish from a fisherman here…even though this island has numerous fishing vessels. At Port Clements we visited the local museum after a walk to the Golden Spruce (see below). The museum displays old belongings from the non-native culture over the last 100 years: logging, fishing and mining industry.

A sad tale recorded was told of a German man who in the late 1920s left his family to work in BC and ended up in the QCI. He became a well-trained blacksmith. After several years he went back to Germany (~1936) to retrieve his wife and children but with the upcoming war he was disallowed to go back to QCI. Hence, he spent the remainder of his days in Germany - through the war - against his wishes

Another sad story involves a tree: The Golden Spruce. This was a biological mishap that produced a spruce tree with brownish-golden needles (there are only 2 known here). It was discoverd in the early 1920s by a forester. This later became a tourist attraction and a trail leading across the river to see it was developed and trees around the Golden Spruce were cleared for better viewing. In 1997 "a disgruntled former forester who claimed he had been denied work in the industry after speaking out for preservation" cut this rare tree down. It now lies with it's top end in the Yakoun River.

Sadly, reading the tree murder’s statements, this guy appeared to be mentally ill. Before punishment was given he planned to kayak in the Gwaii Haanas area alone and was never seen again. His kayak and personal belongings were found but no body.

We went to a bookstore in Tlell, however, missed the turn off. This town is so tiny there are no signs directing you there easily. You have to go west on Wiggins Road to find the stores which are more like artisan homes....very few of them.
It was chilly and wet at Misty Meadows so we cooked in the van, read and went to bed.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

North Haida Gwaii

July 18, 2008 Friday
We stayed at Hidden Resort Campground and RV park (private) and had a perfect site to park the van. This is a tiny gem of a place: only 16 RV and campsites with very good privacy, quiet and peaceful with coin operated showers, coin washer and dryer, a restaurant combo’d with a fishing store but very low key. They also have free IN access (5 bars)! This is on the north end of the islands near Massett. Surprisingly, the cost was only $20/night.

We lounged around till 1030am then decided to go for a hike to Tow Hill. This is of geologic interest in that this hill is the ruminants of the molten lava that once spewed from Mother Earth. The east facing edge of the lava flowing into the sea was eroded away by the last ice age (10-15K yrs ago) leaving this protrusion of upright lava cast.

We hiked on the waters’ edge on the lava and played near the blow hole.

We then visited the local cemetery and drove through Old and New Massett towns. The moss blanketed the graves softly.

Back at the campsite we did laundry and had the best halibut fish and salad at the restaurant (only has 5 tables and a bar with patio tables). It started raining (that incessant mild to moderate PNW drizzle) around 6 pm and continued into the night. We relaxed in our cozy little home.

Arriving Skidegate, QCI

July 17, 2008 Thursday

We took the ferry from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii (aka Queen Charlotte Islands) which was a seven hour journey. We met a nice lady on the ferry that was taking her kayak to HG for a two week kayaking trip and happened to give me a few tips on knitting. She longed for this two-week excursion on her kayak. These islands are excellent for kayaks, hiking and wildlife observing. The view pulling in to Skidegate was remarkable as the sun was shining on these out of the way islands.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Prince Rupert, British Columbia

July 16, 2008 Wednesday

We are now in Prince Rupert, British Columbia: a small port town along Canada’s west coast. We arrived via ferry late last night and slept in a parking lot (in the van of course) across from the “i” center. Upon awakening we realized we slept in the middle of tourist central and across from a memorial park.

Visiting here 5 years ago the town seemed practically deserted: no leisurely coffee shops, no tourist shops or nice eateries. Today is a different story. In 2004 a dock was built for cruise ships and has revitalized the town. There are many shops open, the museum is of top quality, downtown proper is alive and well….at least for the summer. We spoke with a couple of First Nation locals and they said a superport was built to regain jobs from a local mill closing but did not produce the number of jobs expected. Tourism seems to be the main source of income for the town.

I asked about totem pole making and was told they are only made if commissioned by someone. It is an extensive undertaking and one pole can take eight months. The cost: $1000/foot.

Places of interest:

  • Cowpuccino’s (sounds like Al Pacino) Coffee shop had the best Americano and hot chocolate and free IN service in an earthy setting. I could sit here all day.

  • Visitor Information Center, aka the “i”. The Canadian VICs are well equipped for tourists (big improvement over the last five years) a plethora of local information, a restroom, free IN and well-placed smack dab on the wharf.

  • La Cucina is an eclectic eatery. From tortilla soup to club sandwiches and wood-oven pizza this is a great place to eat.

  • Baker Boy Bakery an inconspicuous bakery (not street facing display windows) in downtown proper (near La Cucina). The best deserts, donuts, cookies and bread all made daily.

  • The Civic Center has an aquatic playground for kids, a small gym, and glorious showers. For 2.50CAN you can get a nice, hot, comfortable shower and for 4.68CAN, you can swim, workout then have a shower.

  • Sunken Garden is behind a government building, see photo above.

View Larger Map

Ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert

July 15, 2008 Tuesday
The ferry from Port Hardy, Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert was an all day event and was spectacular. The ferry boat was new and wide open. Most ppl on board were not from the US, but from Germany, Netherlands and other European countries. The auto decks were only 60% full. According to a ferry employee, the Northern Adventure (name of ferry boat) can accommodate 600 ppl and there were only 300 passengers. He said that the foot traffic had increased but the auto traffic decreased.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hike, laundry, drive

July 14, 2008 Monday
Bruce was ready to get on the road and I wanted a good morning hike. A compromise was made that we get up early go for a hike, get in to town (Campbell River) drop me off at the Laundromat and he can go to the “i” center and take care of his wireless needs. The hiking map posted was not to scale and the hike took longer than expected. Hence, we cut it short (but got 5 miles in) and headed to town.

Bruce caught up with his message boards and the falling market and I had a leisurely time at the laundromat. Interesting that I’d never thought I could really enjoy myself doing laundry….but here I was, relishing in the drone of a front load washing machine checking to see when the spin cycle completed. I casually walked over (dragging my feet) to a coffee shop and bought a cuppa, strolled back to transfer the clothes to the dryer. A relaxing morning.

On our way to Port Hardy to catch the ferry early tomorrow morning to Prince Rupert. We’ll stay there for all of the 16th, then on to Queen Charlotte Islands on the 17th.

Elk Falls Provincial Park - Campbell River

July 13, 2008 Sunday

Up late for a trail jog we left Rathtrevor just before 11am. We arrive in Campbell River around 1pm. Again we stopped at the visitor information center (“i”) to inquire of the local campgrounds, shower and internet access. Any IN access is piggyback…..just because we like the challenge. The “i” center had accessible IN service but incidentally wasn’t working at the time of our stop. They did inform us that Elks Falls campground has many sites available and no showers (back to babywipes).

We landed a nice campsite at the back of Elk Falls Provincial Park (campground) and went for a short trail walk behind the site. This trail leads to a loop around part of Campbell River and to Elk Falls which we took the loop the following morning (photo above).
Campbell River is a smaller town than Naniamo and has many outdoor activities: hiking, boating, fishing, etc. It is also in the process of suburban sprawl which leads me to believe this is a bustling town.

South of Parksville, Vancouver Island

July 12, 2008 Saturday
We arrived in Naniamo around 8am stopping at Ladysmith city park on the way. The town was having Dragon Boat races in the harbor. A serene and tidy town with a lovely downtown area. We stopped at Perkin’s coffee shop for a cuppa. Their personnel were in training and the service was painfully slow. It took longer to get a cuppa than to drink it. Time was not wasted waiting, I spoke to one of the participants of the dragon boats and she informed me that years ago, this type of exercise was to “rid the tribes of negative things from the past”, but now it’s just for fun. There are many levels of competition and this was a recreational level racing day.

Onward to Parksville in hopes we’d get a campsite at Rathtrevor Campground. Stopping at the information visitor center to inquire of availabilities we were kindly informed “slim to none” but advised that Englishman Campground was nearby. Years ago we were unable to secure a site at Rathtrevor and had to camp at Englishman (the overflow campground).

Ignoring their advice, or just hoping they’d be wrong, we took a chance and drove into Rathtrevor and luckily we had our choice of 1-2 nights. We were there early in the day to enjoy this lovely BC Park.

Rathtrevor (highly recommended) is a large campground just south of Parksville. There are more than 100 campsites and it has many amenities: beach, easy trails, beach-combing, views of the straight of Georgia. Their picnic tables and high iron grates at the campsites were fairly well secluded from your neighbor. They also have convenient clean showers and flush and outhouse toilets. This is a great place for a weekend or weeklong family get-away.

Most of our time spent walking the trail and sitting on the smooth rocky shore taking pleasure in the scenery.

A word about BC Provincial Parks: We’ve stayed at several provincial parks on our previous visits through BC and Vancouver Island. With the exception of Skutz, most have been quiet, well-maintained, clean and stocked with immediate camping necessities (toilet paper, trash area kept up), and park personnel readily accessible and friendly. We cannot say enough good things about these reasonably priced parks.

Evening July 11th

The evening stop of July 11: Party Animal Campground: Skutz on Cowichan River BC

A day of opportunities (challenges).
1. We got a late start. The park we stayed was way too relaxing.
2. We thought we could take the back roads to Port Alberni. However, they were gravel logging roads and we expended an hour of driving and two gallons of gas.
3. We waited too late in the day to find a campsite.
4. We forgot it was the weekend, today is Friday.
5. Did not plan the day well nor did we do our research in campground sites.
Late in the day (after rejection at other campgrounds) we ended up finding a spot at Skutz Campground on the Cowichan River. The river itself was tranquil, clean and beautiful. Clear water ran through this long rocky and shale earth with areas of lazy and superficial turbulent currents. Perfect for tubing, swimming or just sitting.

The campground was wide open but the sites were right next to each other (literally). There was no demarcation as to where your site stopped and started: a contrast from French Beach. This is a campground where the young and unruly congregate on weekends. By the time we were getting ready for bed the party was starting. Fortunately, we had our earplugs and heard nothing.

After overcoming our challenges and determined not to repeat them (at least the following day) we departed the campsite at 620am, but not without a chuckle. Our neighbors to the north of us had a picnic table full of beer bottles. I only recall 3 young men but more than 25 empty beer bottles.

The neighbors to our east were still fortified carrying tiki torches while trying to wake up their compadres who slept in the truck.

French Beach Vancouver Island

July 11, 2008 Leaving French Beach Provincial Park, Vancouver Island BC

We drove to French Beach just north of Sooke. According to the website you have to make reservations at least 2 days in advance. We took a chance that we’d get a site as there at 18 sites that are available on a “first come, first serve basis”.
Site 43 was perfect, plenty of natural privacy, a nice picnic bench and a deep metal grate for a campfires or cooking. There are outhouse-like toilets through out the park clean and well-stocked with TP and hand sanitizer. This park is impeccably maintained and perfect for family camping.
There is a nice walk to the beach and a coastal hiking trail. We never went hiking as sitting on the rocky beach listening to the waves was irresistible. Most of our time was spent just sitting, reading and relaxing.

Reservations must be made if you plan to stay longer than a day as the park fills up quickly with advanced reservations, especially on the weekend. Thus far, this has been our favorite campsite. The cost $15 per night.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

5.48USD/gallon of gas! Victoria, BC

July 9, 2008

We left Friday Harbor aboard the Chelan ferry and arrived in Sidney at 530pm and decided to drive into Victoria and stay at the Helm's Inn. We've stayed here 3-4 times over the past 7 years and are never disappointed. The hotel is old but very well kept and maintained, clean, comfortable, roomy, well-priced, has washer and dryer and is in an excellent location (behind the BC Museum in downtown).

Driving into downtown via Blanshard we were surprised that the local restaurants and coffee shops on the street were closed. More ppl than normal were walking and riding bikes, and there were very few tourist in the streets than what we've normally seen in past visits.

One stunning observation is the price of gas: 1.52CAN/1.0liter of gas. This translates into 3.8liters = 1 gallon which means Canucks are paying 5.48 CAN (USD) per gallon! The exchange rate is dollar for dollar.

We paid 4.31 USD in Puyallup before we left and 4.81 USD in SJI. Our neighbors to the north businesses are suffering. Chatting with a hotel employee revealed the government has given Canadian citizens $100 to offset the high price of gas and there are fewer travelers thus far. Yikks! Will the upward prices ever stop?

Dinner out exposed most of the same: few tourists and unfilled restaurants (the ones that were open). Glad to see a familiar busker in the harbor still drawing a crowd, albeit small.

This town is still just as beautiful as it was our first visit years ago. On our way to the west side of Vancouver Island.

July 7-9, 2008 San Juan Island

We stayed at Lakedale Resort for two days which has a lodge and campsites. We comfortably stayed at one of their premier campsites (#34) on the edge of the lake. Visited the English Camp on the north end of the island and had a bite to eat at the Hungry Clam in Friday Harbor. Went on a small hike then played tennis until Bruce broke a string....had to quit when I was coming back from a first set loss.

We'll be catching the ferry to Sidney, Vancouver Island BC this afternoon after we visit the lighthouse and look for whales. San Juan Island is not as hilly as Orcas Island but just as beautiful. Both islands are great for road biking, but Orcas has more strenuous hiking trails.
For those of you interested in this resort:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Doe Bay Resort/Campground

Doe Bay Resort sits on a lovely piece of rocky shoreline on the east side Orcas Island. The campsite and showers were adequate but their boasted internet connection was poor.