The Day Facebook Saved Our Lives

I try pretty hard to keep my posts in order, even if it means getting behind by weeks (sometimes months) where we actually are in real life. But, something happened recently that  I think is too important to wait.

We’ve been meandering our way back to Florida. My last post was about Yellowstone NP and since then, we’ve visited Grand Teton NP, Capitol Reef NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Grand Staircase NM, Carlsbad Cavern NP and finally Guadalupe Mountains NP. This found us once again in Texas. Our plan was to catch up with some friends from our job last summer then head to NOLA to check out the WWII Museum before making our way to Crystal River, FL to visit with Daddy. We were unemployed at the moment, so taking our time was fine.

Just outside of Odessa, TX our plan, and Waldo, came to a screeching halt. We were broken down. Naturally, this happened on a Friday afternoon. With the weekend looming, no one had any interest in getting us on our way. One company Steve called said sure, they’d come look at Waldo, but “Be prepared to pay ALL the money.” Gee thanks, but no thanks.

What do you do when you are broken down in a strange place and no one seems to care? You reach out to whoever you can think of, anyone you think *might* know someone in the area. Last year, when we were working at Wind Point Park, we met Ben Miller, the promoter of Turkey Drag. I was hoping with all of his car club connections he might know someone who could help. I reached out to him via Facebook and then something incredible happened. Ben posted a “looking for recommendations” on our behalf on his page and within minutes, people started leaving suggestions, tagging friends and offering help. Someone sent Ben a screenshot of a contact on their phone. It was Jake from DropTine Auto in Midland, Texas.

Steve called Jake and explained our situation. Despite the fact DropTine is a very busy shop, Jake said we could bring Waldo there. When Steve explained he was a mechanic and could do some of the work himself, Jake said – “Great.”  To make a long story short, not only did Jake allow Steve to do 99% of the work himself, but he let us stay in Waldo in the yard. It turns out the problem was related to what caused us to break down in Alaska, only this time, there wasn’t a “band-aid” fix. The gear which runs the hydraulic pump is located on the mainshaft of the compressor and it was toast! Steve called Caterpillar and they said sure, they could get a new one for $2200 in about 6 weeks. I just cried. “6 weeks, stuck in Midland? $2200 we can’t afford that!” Jake called the manufacturer of the compressor to see if there was a replacement available. The unit had been discontinued. WHAT? But, they offered to rebuild ours for $250 plus shipping.  All we had to do was get it to them in North Carolina.

In the meantime, I had been looking for winter work. I found a seasonal job in Fort Lauderdale selling Christmas trees. Would Waldo be repaired in time for us to get there? We had already been broken down for 15 days, now we had to ship the compressor to NC and hope for the best.

DropTine is a busy shop with several great employees, but Jake allowed Steve to help out in the shop when he wasn’t working on Waldo. That was awesome! It gave Steve something to do and helped make us feel like we weren’t just taking up space in his yard.

The rebuilt compressor showed back up on Monday the 5th…

img_6974

with its shiny new gear. Isn’t that sexy?! It took until Tuesday afternoon to get everything back together. When the work was complete and we were ready to hit the road, we asked Jake for our bill. He said we didn’t owe him anything. He took into account the work Steve had done around the shop and called it even. I was floored. He also said if the shop was still busy in the spring, Steve could come back and work for him for a month or so before our next workamping job. It makes my heart happy to know there are still people in this world like him.

Happiness through the windshield…

img_6975

We have since arrived at Daddy’s house and are leaving on the 14th to head to Fort Lauderdale. I’ll keep you posted on how selling Christmas trees goes and promise to eventually go back and write about the places we’ve been.

A heartfelt thank you to Ben, his friends and all the guys at DropTine Auto!

(Wild) Life on the Road

After spending 4 1/2 months in Alaska, it was time to return to the lower 48. I spent weeks reviewing our route. We had already driven the Alcan, so I wanted to travel other roads. It was a horrible year for wildfires in British Columbia, so I changed our route several times. BC has a great website I used to make sure the roads I wanted to take were open. Eventually, I settled for returning on the Alcan. It just seemed safest.

We had seen some pretty cool wildlife while we were in Alaska, but we always want to see more. Not long after we crossed into the Yukon, we got our first chance…

Wildlife-9842

These wild horses were contently munching on the grasses along the highway. I felt pretty lucky to see them, apparently there have been efforts over the years to capture the remaining wild horses. I don’t know how many are left, but it can’t be many.

When we crossed into BC, the first thing we saw was a highway sign warning us of bison in the road near Muncho Lake. Herds of wood bison move pretty quickly and we spotted them long before the lake. At first we saw lone males hanging out by the road…

Wildlife-9873

Or in the road…

Wildlife-9845

It’s always a good thing to remember, these are wild animals and to always keep your distance.  Steve did that by taking his pictures out the window…

Wildlife-9861-Edit

A short while later, we came across a herd of wood bison. We stopped and watched as a calf nursed…

Wildlife-9881

After a while, we had so many pictures of bison, we didn’t pull over to watch the next few herds we saw.

What there weren’t any warning signs for was the herds of mountain goats. Early one morning, as we were driving along, we had to stop because they just wouldn’t get out of the road…

Wildlife-9927

I took this picture looking through the windshield…

Wildlife-9943

Mooned by a mountain goat! Finally, they moved off the road. One stopped to look back at us as if to say, “NOW you may go”…

Wildlife-9945

I liked seeing them on the upper slopes better than in the road…

Wildlife-9967

We had seen a couple bears along the way, but they were always heading into the woods. By the time I got the camera, they were gone. Until this guy came along…

Bear-9972Bear-9974

We saw more wild animals in 4 days in Canada than we did in 4 1/2 months in Alaska. And that’s the wild side of being on the road!

Up next, the wonders of Yellowstone.

Have you ever had to stop because an animal wouldn’t get off the road?

Joining the 30% Club

We feel downright privileged to have been inducted into the 30% club! When we first arrived in Alaska, we had no idea such a club existed. The chalets where we worked were usually the final destination for our guests. They had already explored Fairbanks, Denali National Park and Anchorage. The Kenai Peninsula was the end of their adventures. Time after time, we heard stories of visiting Denali NP only to be terribly disappointed they didn’t get to see Mt. Denali. I mean, after all, it IS the tallest mountain on the continent – how can you not see it?!?!?

Mt Denali is 20,310 feet tall, that’s about 3 1/2 miles. Its 2 peaks are over 2 1/2 miles apart. It’s hard to imagine you couldn’t see it! But the fact is, given its location and size, it creates its own weather.

“Denali is so massive that it generates its own weather; much the way a huge boulder submerged in a river creates whitewater rapids. All mountains deflect air masses and influence local conditions, but Denali rises so abruptly and so high that this effect is more dramatic here than perhaps anywhere else on Earth. Storms barrel in from the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea and collide with Denali’s towering mass. Weather can quickly change from sunny and clear to blizzard conditions with fierce winds, intense cold, and heavy snowfall.”

                                                         From The Alaska Range and Denali: Geology and Orogeny

This pattern of weather convergences means it can be sunny and 70˚ in town and Mt Denali could be obscured by fog and clouds. It’s estimated only 30% of visitors actually get to see Mt. Denali. We were in that 30% – FOR 3 DAYS IN A ROW!!!!   Denali means “the high one” in Koyukon, a subset of the Athabaskan language family, sometimes thought to mean “the great one.” Every time we got to see Mt Denali, I was in awe.

The park has an incredible history and many of the stories can be found here.

The First 15 Miles

a map showing the predominately east-west road through denali national park

Private vehicles can only be driven on the first 15 miles of the 92 mile park road. To go beyond Savage River, you must take the park shuttle or hike. We spent our first day driving those 15 miles and seeing all we could see…

Denali NP-9232
The view on the left side of the road
Denali NP-9244
Compared to the view on the right side of the road

It was strange how the left side of the park was in bathed in dappled sun while the right side was shrouded in clouds. There would be no view of Denali today, but, we did get to see some informative signage…

Denali NP-9242

And when we made it to Savage River, we were treated with a surprise…

Denali NP-9238
A rainbow over Savage River

We weren’t worried we didn’t see any wildlife on the first day. Guided by the weather forecast, the next day we planned a trip on the shuttle to the Eielson Visitor’s Center – Park Road Mile 66.

The First 66 Miles

We opted for the transit bus, as opposed to the narrated tour bus. The up side of the transit bus is you can disembark, hike, then grab another bus, while you have to remain on the tour bus. We promptly departed at 7:30am, along with 58 of our newest friends. Our shuttle driver Annie filled us in on what to expect, she said we’d stop for all wildlife sightings and several scenic overlooks, in addition to potty breaks for the 8 hour ride.

Denali NP-9247

Our first view of Mt Denali was over the mist settled in the valley. But, we had seen it! Already a member! As the morning worn on, we stopped for several wildlife encounters…

Denali NP-9262
Meet Mr Caribou
Denali NP-9289
Those 2 black dots at 2 o’clock and 8 o’clock are grizzly bears

It was a bit frustrating for me, jostling for a view out the window, but we made it work.

Denali NP-9295
Those white dots in the center are Dahl Sheep

Are you noticing a pattern? Lots of dots. The colors on the mountains reminded me of Death Valley, except this color came from brightly colored fall foliage instead of minerals…

Denali NP-9299

Denali NP-9302
The park road winds past colorful mountains

A good part of our day was spent taking pictures like this…

Denali NP-9307

At mile 46, we stopped to check out Polychrome Overlook. The myriad of colors were astounding…

Denali NP-9309Denali NP-9321

Denali NP-9318
Lots of buses filled with tourists

We also stopped along the route for the iconic picture of the park road with Mt Denali in the background. Yes, everyone else has taken this picture, but I couldn’t resist…

Denali NP-9374

We did get a closer view of some grizzly bears, but unfortunately, the sun was shining toward us and the bears ended up with a halo…

Denali NP-9360Denali NP-9356

We also saw a couple moose in the distance…

Denali NP-9327

And lots more “dots” on the mountains…

Denali NP-9343Denali NP-9336

I loved watching this group of caribou. With winter around the corner, they are beginning to shed the velvet covering their antlers. It’s  not a good picture, but the antlers were almost orange…

Denali NP-9392

The views, despite being out the window, were breathtaking…

Denali NP-9322

When we arrived at the Eielson Vistor’s Center, Mt Denali provided an amazing backdrop…

Denali NP-9399Denali NP-9403Denali NP-9411

We decided to stay at the vistor’s center and catch a later shuttle. We were treated with a couple minutes of solitude before the next bus arrived. While we were basking in the splendor of Mt Denali, some of the wildlife posed for a closeup…

Denali NP-9427
An Arctic Squirrel
Denali NP-9423
Munching away on an apple peel someone had carelessly or purposely dropped

The park rangers go to great length to educate the public about the dangers of feeding ANY of the animals. Annie had reminded us time and again, it was best to eat on the bus so as not to leave so much as a crumb for the critters. But, you know people, some of them just can’t help themselves.

We walked along the trail and looked back at the visitor center…

Denali NP-9435

And ahead to the 33 more miles to the base of Mt Denali…

Denali NP-9434
Hard to imagine, Mt Denali is still 33 miles away!

One of the interesting things about Denali NP is the fact it is a “trail-less” park, with a few exceptions near the entrance. People are encouraged to find their own path. Go out and walk on the tundra. Feel the springiness of it under you feet. Enjoy it in your own responsible way.

It was time to head back. We had seen everything we had hoped to except the wolves. Pretty darn good day!

Up next…Cruising the Denali Highway and Abandon Igloos

Are you a member of the 30% club? Did you even know there is such a thing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

No, We Didn’t Win the Lottery

After reading about all of the adventures we’ve had this summer, you must be thinking we hit the lottery. I mean, really, who could afford to do all of those things?

Links go to the blog post I wrote about the adventure.

Two glacier cruises…

Kenai Fjords Glacier Cruise-7651
Our cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours
IMG_4499
Our cruise with Major Marine

Two Helicopter tours…

Marathon Helicopter-8414
Marathon Helicopter tour
Seward Helo Dog Sled-8646
Seward Helicopter Tours

Dog sledding…

Seward Helo Dog Sled-8662
Turning Heads Kennel

Rafting…

img_5833
Rafting with Alaska River Adventures

Took the tram…

Alyeska Tram-8545
Riding the Tram

Visited the wildlife center

AWCC-7384
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

And did sight seeing on our own…

Whittier Glacier Cruise-8041

img_5653

Kenai NWR-8737

Kenai-8495

Hopw-8247

Hopw-8215

Drive From Anchorage-7268

Homer-9071
11 1/2 week old eagle in Homer

6J2A1219

 

 

One thing I haven’t written much about is the fact we are working. For May, June and most of July, we worked full time, 40 hours a week. We are the “On Site Hosts” at the Spruce Moose Chalets in Moose Pass. What does an on site host do, you ask? Well, lots of things. But one of the major things we do is be an ambassador for the area. Chalet guests come from all over the world and want to have the best experiences possible. But how can we recommend an excursion if we haven’t tried it ourselves? Would you recommend a restaurant you’ve never eaten at? No! So what I did was contact all of these businesses and explained to them we would be here for the summer and wanted to be able to tell our guests about our adventures. I asked if they would be willing to give us a discount in exchange for our testimony. Simple as that! Nearly every place I contacted offered us a deal and discounts varied from place to place.  We never would have been able to afford to do all these things if I hadn’t been able to leverage our position as the on site host.

I still have one more post to write (maybe two) about our time but I am pretty much caught up. Finally!

Our job contract here is almost up. We will be leaving Moose Pass on Sept. 4th, but our adventures are far from over! We are heading up to Denali for a week (where we have an interview for a job next summer), then we will be heading down to Haines for 4 days. I have mapped out a pretty ambitious trip back to Florida, 4 National Parks and lots of cool sights along the way. I hope you continue to follow our adventures!

We’d love to hear your comments!

We Made It!

As we passed from the Yukon back into the USA, not much changed scenery wise.

Alaska-7110

One thing was certain, the road conditions turned to crap. The Yukon has done a great job of road repair and Alaska – not so much! But that’s okay – we were in ALASKA!!! After two months and over 6000 miles we were within a day or two of being at our summer home. Or so I thought. We woke up on May 1st, our first full day in Alaska, to some seriously ominous skies. Then it began…

Snow so thick we could hardly see the road. This wasn’t what I had planned! But, you know what, it was the 1st of May and had to be expected. We were trying to reach Anchorage, where we would resupply before heading to Moose Pass. Once you get on the Kenai Peninsula, shopping become more expensive in two ways: 1 you have to pay the tax and 2 you have to drive at least 45 minutes to get to the nearest store. We were just about to crest a big hill we’d been climbing when Steve got very serious looking. He pulled over as best he could and I asked what was wrong. Waldo had lost it’s power steering – completely. We got out to see what had happened and found a giant puddle of oil under Waldo. Oh man, this isn’t good! We were in the middle of nowhere! Glenallen was an hour behind us and Anchorage was 2 1/2 hours in front of us. We called for roadside assistance from Good Sam’s and waited. And waited. And argued with them on the phone about exactly where we were. I gave them our GPS coordinates and told them we were at mile marker 37. Yes, 37 – I can see it from here! Finally, the tow truck arrived and Waldo got carted off…

img_5351

 

We were towed back to Glenallen, the closest “qualified repair center”. I was not a happy camper! Despite the bad luck of being broken down, we had the good luck of being towed to Glenallen Fuel and Service. First thing in the morning, the lead mechanic, Dawson, came out to talk to Steve. While the 2 of them conversed, I sat in Waldo and stewed about our situation. It could have been a lot worse. GF&S let us stay in Waldo in their parking lot, so we weren’t “homeless” When Steve came back inside, he explained what had happened. A bolt had come backed of the power steering pump and broke the other bolt holding drive on the pump. I just nodded my head as if it meant something to me. How long to fix it – that was my question! The part we needed was in Anchorage, naturally. But again, luck was with us. Scott, the tow truck driver, had to go to Anchorage anyhow, he’d pick it up for us. Dawson was quite happy to let Steve do all of the work he was capable of and loaned him any tools he didn’t have.

img_5359

All in all, we ended up being there 3 days and with Steve doing most of the work, it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been. We were back on the road and I was just blown away by the scenery. Every time I thought the view couldn’t get any better, it did!

Alaska-7192

We finally made it to Anchorage and got all the shopping out of the way. Only an hour and a half until we are home for the summer! Yea! I wasn’t prepared for the amazing scenery yet to come…

Drive From Anchorage-7242
The Seward Highway leaving Anchorage
Drive From Anchorage-7252
Driving along Turnagain Arm

Drive From Anchorage-7268

Well, here we are in Moose Pass. We parked at the bottom of the driveway and walked up to meet our new bosses, Gary and Treva. They pointed out our spot and Steve brought Waldo up the hill. I wasn’t sure Waldo could make the turn and get enough traction in the dirt drive, but he made it…

Whew, that was a climb. But what a view…

img_5401
Our backyward
img_5403
Our front yard

Wow. Now that we made it, it’s time to go to work. Up next – settling in.

Thanks for coming along. I’m getting caught up on posts, I’m only 4 or 5 behind now. If you want the latest, follow us on Facebook or Instagram!

Hanging Out the Window

Time was getting short and we still had almost 3000 miles to go. We were due to arrive at our job in Moose Pass as close to May 1st as possible. Here it was the last week of April and we were only half way there. Of course, we had taken the really long way. From here on out, it would be one night stops, often not even unhooking the Jeep. Our planned travel route would take us through about 13 miles of Idaho. What could possibly happen in 13 miles? Just before we crossed the state line, I saw a sign stating all boats MUST stop and be checked for invasive species. My first (and only) thought was “Gee, glad they are taking it so seriously.” What I never gave a thought to was our 2 kayaks strapped to the roof of the Jeep. I mean they hadn’t been in the water since we left Florida. We were half way though our 13 miles when Steve pulled over to give the car with the red flashing lights pass by. Much to our surprise, they pulled right in behind us. What had he done? He wasn’t speeding or driving erratically. Nope – kayaks are boats and we hadn’t stopped. The sheriff was very pleasant about it, but we had to turn around and go back to the state line. The kayaks were inspected and we got a little sheet of paper stating so. I threw it on the dash as we began our 13 mile drive though Idaho again. We breezed through Oregon and Washington state before I ever thought about that little scrap of paper again. Several times I remarked to Steve that the landscape wasn’t what I had pictured. There were no tree covered mountains or lush forests. Only more of what we’d been seeing all along, giant rocky mountains with little or no vegetation. We finally got to the border crossing, produced our passports and were welcomed into British Columbia, Canada. For the first hour or so of the drive, we passed grove after grove of fruit trees. Every kind you could imagine. Apples, peaches, plums, pears. All in bloom, waiting for pollinators to do their jobs. I didn’t get any pictures because there just never seemed to be a good spot to pull over. We knew our biggest problem would be finding campgrounds that were open in April, most of them don’t open until May. I had picked out a few possibilities and figured we’d just stop in rest areas or truck stops if they didn’t work out.

We got to see our first wildlife in BC. Large herds of wood bison hanging our on the side of the road…

BC-Yukon-6805

BC-Yukon-6808

As the scenery began to resemble more what I had expected, I spent a lot of time trying to capture it…

BC-Yukon-6787

BC-Yukon-6791

BC-Yukon-6800

Our best stop in BC was at Liard River Hotsprings. The provincial park wasn’t open yet for camping, but they had a large parking lot we were told we could dry camp in. In the morning, we headed over to check out the springs…

img_5272

img_5274
The boardwalk to the springs

img_5273

img_5279
Taking a nice soak

In a word – it was awesome! We were so tempted to spend another night, but we really did have to move on. We got to see a little more wildlife…

img_5263

img_5265

We didn’t see near as much wildlife as I thought we would. Maybe it was too early in the season.

We crossed into the Yukon and stopped for the obligatory picture…

img_5330

I spent much of the next few days hanging out Waldo’s window. Every time I thought the scenery couldn’t get any better, it did!

img_5320
Yes, that’s me with my camera out the window

When we got to Watson Lake, we stopped at the Sign Post Forest. It’s hard to describe and the pictures don’t really do it justice…

BC-Yukon-6826

img_5297

I don’t know how many signs there are, but I can tell you, it is A LOT! It took my quite a while to go through all of the pictures and here are some of my favorites from the Yukon…

BC-Yukon-6842

BC-Yukon-6859

BC-Yukon-6867

BC-Yukon-6880

BC-Yukon-6890

BC-Yukon-6897

BC-Yukon-6922

BC-Yukon-6950

BC-Yukon-6992

BC-Yukon-7009

BC-Yukon-7016

BC-Yukon-7084

And finally, we were heading back into the USA – Welcome to Alaska…

img_5331

Well, we made it to Alaska! Up next…Oh Waldo, you’re so……..

Our Hinkey Summit Adventure

Page had told us about another drive we would enjoy. “If you follow the road through Paradise Valley, you will come to the base of Hinkey Mountain. There is a road to the summit, your Jeep wouldn’t have any trouble,” he said. Frankly, the prospect of getting to do a little 4-wheeling really appealed to me.

First we had to find the road to Paradise Valley. Page had said it was easy. “Head out Hwy 95 for 25 miles or so, when you see a gas station in the middle of nowhere, take that left. That’s the road to Paradise Valley.”  Seems simple enough. Steve and I were enjoying the drive, just chatting about our adventures the previous day (you can read about that here) when I noticed these tiny heads popping up along the side of the highway. “Did you see that? What are those? Look, there’s another one. Slow down, I want to see what it is.” Well, there were cars coming up behind us so slowing down wasn’t an option. Lucky for me, our “middle of nowhere” gas station was just up ahead. Hopefully when we made the left, there would be more heads popping up. Sure enough, as we made our way down Paradise Valley Road, there they were. Steve pulled to the side of the road and I waited anxiously for the critter to makes its appearance. I didn’t have to wait too long…

Paradise Valley-6786

IMG_4070

They reminded me of the pocket gophers we had seen in Texas but these were prairie dogs. It was comical to watch them pop up and scurry around, only to disappear into another burrow. We watched for a bit then resumed our drive. All the sudden, without a word, Steve banged a u-turn. Huh? What had he seen that I missed? He pulled over again and pointed to one of the prairie dog holes and said “Isn’t that an owl?” We got out the binoculars and sure enough, it was a burrowing owl. The problem was, it wasn’t feeling like being social. Every time we tried to get a picture it either dropped back down into the hole or it would fly off to a fence post just out of camera range. With a little patience we were finally able to  get a few shots…

IMG_4075

IMG_4067

Leaving the owls to their activities, we drove on. I was thinking “Wow, Hon, get catch with the owls!” when a pheasant flew into the road. Naturally, it didn’t stay long enough for either of us to get a shot. Now it was my turn…”Pull over!” I wasn’t sure what I had seen, but I wanted a closer look. When I walked over to the fence line, this is what I had seen…

Paradise Valley-6726

Hey, it’s still wildlife, it’s just long dead wildlife. As I was getting ready to get back into the Jeep, I looked down the fence line and saw something a little more photogenic…

Paradise Valley-6782

Wow, I was loving all this wildlife! Once again, we started back towards Paradise Valley. Finally, we made it and had to get a few pics while we were there. It is another ‘has been’ town with more abandon houses/businesses then occupied, but it has a saloon too…

IMG_4118

IMG_4116

We finally found Hinkey Summit Road. It wasn’t going to be 4-wheeling unless the road got a heck of a lot worse further on. With no other vehicle in sight, we crawled along, ever ready for our next wildlife encounter. Steve stopped by a pond and I got out to check it out. Lots of ducks and geese and a couple birds I couldn’t identify at the time…

Paradise Valley-6739

Paradise Valley-6732
American Avocets – Thanks Google!

We came to the entrance to Homboldt National Forest where the road to the summit truly began. I oohed and aahed at the scenery…

Paradise Valley-6749

I took pictures of the winding road…

Paradise Valley-6776

Paradise Valley-6756

As we neared the summit, I noticed a natural bridge…

Paradise Valley-6759

At the summit, we almost got to go 4-wheeling. There was still snow to play in…

Paradise Valley-6764

Paradise Valley-6763

IMG_4106

OK, not really enough snow to 4-wheel in. Perhaps it was the elevation getting to me but I had an idea – I would take a video on the way back down the mountain. Maybe not my best idea ever, but what do you think…

Thanks for coming along.

I am almost caught up. I have one more post about our trip then I will start on arriving in Alaska and our adventures so far (there have been some cool ones!)