Monday, July 9, 2007
GLENNALLEN, ALASKA — RV campgrounds like to provide little extras to outshine the competition, and we have seen a number of these in the five weeks we’ve been on the road. One bragged "you’ll love our showers!" — and indeed, they were very nice, with your own little suite accessible through its separate, code-operated door. Another had vases of fresh flowers on the washroom counters and hair dryers. Then there was one that had a little patch of green grass between each site; that must have been a pain to keep mowed and neat.
The Northern Nights campground where we are staying tonight offers free desserts to campers on Mondays and Fridays, and as luck would have it, here we are on a Monday! So, at 7 o’clock we trooped over to the dining tent, sat down at one of the picnic tables, and were served hot coffee and a steaming bowl of homemade peach cobbler topped with ice cream, courtesy of the camp owner. It was a nice chance to meet some of our fellow campers, and it also gave a local river tour outfit a captive audience to describe the trips along the Copper River salmon run.
We entered Alaska this morning, just 30 kilometers from our campground in Beaver Creek where we spent last night. It was a grueling ride, with more of the dipsy-doodles that tossed our dishes yesterday, and we were hoping that, once we crossed into Alaska, things might improve. They did and they didn’t; there were a number of smooth stretches, but plenty of lumpy bits as well. I’m beginning to be an expert at rebuilding our shoe tower by the trailer door! One of the worst hazards we saw — which Val managed to miss in a stellar display of fast reflexes — was a pothole at least two feet across and a foot deep with no warning flag of any kind! Our hearts were pounding for several minutes after that close call.
The scenery we passed today included quite a few marshy areas where only black spruce can grow successfully, and a number of sandy stretches. We also saw a lot of small lakes, crossed the Chisana and Tanana Rivers, and navigated through the Midway Lake and Wrangell mountain ranges. There were some lovely mountain passes. When we turned one bend in the road, along the side was a whole field full of magenta-coloured fireweed, with a few white birches growing amongst them and a scattering of yellow buttercups. It was a delightful scene, with a backdrop of blue mountains in the distance.
The first Alaskan community we came to was Tok (rhymes with smoke), the "sled dog capital of Alaska", and our hunger for information and maps brought us to the visitor centre there. There were actually two centres next to each other, so we gleaned material from each one. At the second, we learned how the town got its name. During the construction of the Alaska Highway, the highway commissioner was camped at this spot. He had a pet husky and a bear cub that were the best of friends, and used to play-wrestle and scamper about. He decided to name the town after one of them and the husky won out; its name was Tok. I can’t remember the name of the cub! But the town is not named Winnie the Pooh!
Many of the mountains, lakes and rivers are named after explorers and people involved in the building of the Alaska Highway. I was very surprised yesterday to read in the guidebook that there was actually a creek called No Name Creek, in spite of hundreds of people whose names could have been immortalized!
We turned southward from Tok and reveled in a beautiful, long, straight stretch of freshly-paved highway, smooth as butter, that must have been built as an antidote for all the jangled nerves of travelers who had come into the state on the route we had followed. Unfortunately it did not go on for very long, and more frost-heaved surfaces awaited us further on.
We turned aside at the Indian River because the guidebook told us salmon were known to use it as a spawning run from mid-June through July, but we didn’t see any of the silvery creatures. We did bundle up, though — the temperature had dropped quite a bit from the sunny warmth of Tok, as some cloud cover had come in and the wind had picked up. No matter; it actually washed off some of the dust we had picked up earlier.