16 September 2013

Olympic National Park, WA

Lindsay has always wanted to go to the Boeing factory which was only half an hour away. The place is gigantic as you can imagine and 41,000 people work there. 30,000 work on the day shift that starts at about 5.30am, in 6 minute increments. We got to see the new 787 which is made out of composite - carbon fibre; what Lindsay used to make his yacht masts out of 20 years ago. Qantas had one on the production line that will only carry about 200 passengers and will cost about 300 million. For obvious reasons you aren’t allowed to take anything in there that could take a picture or movie. While they sound like they are the only ones making planes and they do make a lot, there are other competitors out there. They have orders for the next 20 years and as you have to make a one third down payment at time of order, they must make a fair bit of interest on their customers’ behalf. The first night it rained but since then the days have been lovely, warm and sunny. The guide at Boeing said it was unusual as the rainy season was usually from the 31 August to the 1st of August, so pretty much all year round!

After the Boeing factory tour, Lindsay also wanted to visit the Museum of Flight, which he thought was fantastic. Me, I could take it or leave it. As this is south of Seattle, we did this on the way to the Olympic Peninsula.

When I first looked at Olympic National Park, I didn’t know where to start, the places to go are spread throughout the peninsula, so I emailed a friend that we met last year whom I knew would know the area to get some ideas. Looking at my Allstays app there was a pretty good chance that we wouldn’t fit into any of the camping grounds in the parks as they had a limit of 21’. Some of them said there were a few 35’ sites, but really who were they trying to kid?

Hurricane Ridge

Wednesday and Thursday were due to be fine, so we had set off on Monday to be near the park when the weather improved. Port Townsend is a pretty little town and we stolled along the streets. We used Port Angeles as a base to visit Hurricane Ridge in the NP, there is a ferry that goes to Vancouver Island, so we’ll keep that in mind for another trip. The first time we went into Olympic, the ridge was mostly covered in low hanging cloud. Other friends had suggested that we go there for sunrise, so we got up just before 6 to be up there at 7. Even though we had driven it the first day, we missed the turnoff and wasted precious time. The drive up to the ridge is narrow, twisty with the normal roadworks to slow you down. There were two trails to sunrise point which looked the same distance on the map. The one we took was incredibly steep and long. First thing on a cold morning when your muscles don’t want to work and your lungs are saying, hey we are at high altitude here; it wasn’t fun. I couldn’t carry anything; it just slowed me down too much. We arrived in time to set up the tripod and camera before the sun had risen. The morning was clear with no clouds in the sky whatsoever (bummer), but I’m sure if there had been, they would have been covering the mountains. The light was beautiful. As the sun came up behind us, it spread a pink light on the snow caped mountain range in front of us. The steep walk had been worth it. We took the other path back down, which of course was a lot shorter and not nearly as steep, so take the left hand track!

Next was a walk through a rain forest to Marymere Falls which was really pretty. The drive around Lake Crescent is also really pretty. Sol Duc was next on the list, but we will do that another time, it would have been a good idea to do it as a day trip from Port Angeles.

Olympic National Park

Across to the coast and we checked out Mora campground which is where we decided that none of the campgrounds would fit us. There were two RV parks in Forks, the first we couldn’t get around but the second was extremely spacious and even allowed Lindsay to wash the trailer for the first time since the carwash episode in Whitehorse. We knew it was going to rain, but rain doesn’t clean a dirty trailer and so at least it would be easier to keep clean.

We went out to Rialto Beach at sunset and while many people were photographing the sunset out to sea. I was photographing the light on the fallen dead trees that litter the beach. 

Rialto Beach

Onto the Hoh Rain Forest, which they suggested you visit when it’s raining and of course it was. There was a herd of Elk on the way in, but they were just grazing and we didn’t see any males with racks, so we didn’t even stop. I was planning on two walks there but one was closed off, so that left only the Hall of Moss, where moss grows on everything. The heavy rain held off to a drizzle while we did our walk and then started again as we headed towards the car which was perfect. On reflection, we both thought that the drive in was actually prettier than what we saw on the walk.

Hoh Rainforest
Lake Quinault was supposed to be pretty at sunset, but as it had been raining all day, there wasn’t any hope of that. The 31-mile loop drive around the lake would have to be the worst sign posted tourist attraction we have come across, we missed all but one of the waterfalls, we just didn’t see them. The grey day reflected grey in the water, so the pretty pictures we had seen in the map/brochure were nowhere to be seen. We came across a herd of Elk at the ranger station that kept Lindsay entertained for a while. There was one male with a rack that was having a great time digging his antlers into the mown grass and tossing it everywhere.


We were lucky we arrived when we did, a few days down the track and all the national parks are closed due to the government shutdown, not even their web pages are accessible.

The rest of the trip we met up with friends in Ocean Shores, Portland, Grant's Pass, Watsonville, Carmel Valley, Paso Robles and of course Yucca Valley. 

13 September 2013

Looking for Moose in Jasper

Unlike our previous trip to Jasper, the weather was divine. 27-29C with sunny blue skies and not many mosquitoes. The campground we had planned on staying in was closed as the summer season had finished and all the electric and full hook up sites were taken in the campground we had stayed in before. But as we are self sufficient we were able to take a non serviced site, which was really nice and even though we could have got another site on the third night, we decided to stay where we were. We got caught by the time zone thing again and didn’t realise until the second day that we had been putting our generator on at the wrong times the previous day. Jasper is in Alberta and we were another hour ahead.

We went looking for moose in a couple of places and even hiked the 3.5kms around moose lake, but you guessed it, no moose! The visitors’ centre has a book that people write wild life sightings in and there were a few entries for moose and bears but not many. We saw a coyote walking along the road, but it quickly went into the forest.

Back in British Columbia, back an hour on the clock and we start heading south to Seattle. We picked a spot just north of the city and by absolute fluke and not good planning, it turns out it’s just where we need to be. We had ordered new reading glasses for Lindsay in Fairbanks and had them sent to Marysville, WA. There was also a branch of the place we had originally bought the air bags from, so we took back the broken one and the rest of the new package and got a complete refund. The Seattle Outlet stores are next door and we go to our favourite shop Columbia.

7 September 2013

Glaciers and a ghost town

Stewart, BC & Hyder, AK

We had decided to take the Cassiar Highway instead of continuing on the Alaskan Highway just before Watson Lake. My original copy of the Mile Post had said it had 15% gravel roads, but my new copy said it was 100% paved, yay. We knew there were some long sections on the Alaskan Highway that had road works, with one being about 15 miles long, so we really wanted to avoid that if we could. We had also heard that there were bears down at Fish Creek in Stewart/Hyder, which was a big draw card for us. The Cassier is a lovely drive. The first 30km has permafrost and the forest hasn’t got over a wildfire that happened a few years ago, but it is still more interesting than the Alaskan Highway. On the second day we saw seven bears on the side of the road. We decided that we had come to the right place.

As soon as you turn off the Cassier to go to Stewart, you get to see one of the few blue glaciers in Canada right next to the road. Stewart (Canada) and Hyder (Alaska) are two towns right next to each other. Stewart has a population of 500, and Hyder has 100. Hyder is very run down and more like a ghost town that has no police station and no customs. The Canadians on the other hand have a customs stop which even the school bus has to pass through each day.

Bear Glacier
Fish Creek (on the Hyder side) attracts so many tourists that they built a huge walkway on stilts along the river so that people can watch the bears fishing. The best time of the year for this is mid-August, not mid September unfortunately, so there were no bears at all! A volunteer there said it was very unusual and the school of thought was that it had been a very good year for berries and the bears were eating them higher up in the mountains. Further along the road, an hour away is the Salmon Glacier. A formidable sight and well worth seeing. We would go to Fish Creek a couple of times a day to see what was happening or not happening as it turned out and therefore had to keep going through Customs, one time I forgot my tripod so we had to make an extra trip. Even after seeing you so many times a day they still look closely at your passport hoping to see something they didn’t catch before. One time we had to wind down our rear window so she could check what we had in the back seat as, apparently, they are worried about guns coming in from Hyder (via the sea I assume). 

Hyder, it's like a ghost town except that people do live there!

We took time out from waiting for bears to visit Salmon Glacier which is further up the road from Hyder but takes you back into Canada.

Salmon Glacier

One of the other photographers had told Lindsay that we would definitely see bull moose in Jasper at this time of year and as we haven’t seen one yet, decided that was worth a side trip.

31 August 2013

Trying to leave Alaska

After our trip to Lake Clark we started to head back to the lower 48 (states). Lindsay had rung the Fisheries and Wildlife office at Haines and found out there were six bears fishing in the river, so we were pretty excited. While going through Tok, Lindsay decided to weigh our trailer which came in at 11,000 lbs! The guy at the weigh-station noticed that our truck looked a bit lopsided and on closer look we realised that a suspension airbag had collapsed. The local RV repair place couldn’t help and we rang the place that had installed them – 3 time zones away. Yes they were under warranty but Utah was a little too far away right now and their nearest store was in Juneau – 438 miles and a ferry trip away; so not an option. It was 200 miles back to Fairbanks, 4+ hours in the wrong direction. I was a little worried that a sign on the highway said “no studded tires before 15 Sept” which meant that it could be snowing in two weeks! During the last couple of days I had noticed that the leaves have started to turn, so Fall (Autumn) was arriving, but it’s probably a very short season and they may just skip straight to winter up here. Of course this happened on a Friday, the tyre company reluctantly fitted us in on Saturday to have a look as it might have been just a hose fitting, but no such luck. Three months old and it has a hole in it. And of course there’s a public holiday on Monday so we had to wait until Wednesday to have the new one fitted.

A week later and we are going through Tok again and we ring the Haines Fisheries office and they say there are only a couple of bears around at night. So we decide it’s not worth a 300 mile detour.

The road from the Canadian border to the Canadian Customs still had 20km of roadworks, they are constantly fixing the roads up here, then there is bad permafrost all the way to Destruction Bay. We saw what happens if you drive too fast and loose control. The bumps and lumps in the bitumen are even more exaggerated if you are towing a trailer, and just as you think its safe to increase your speed, here comes another one. A car had become airborne and landed in a side ditch a fair way off the road and every panel of the car was bent. They were still trying to pull it out when we passed, and it was a sobering thought about how treacherous it can be out here. A lot of the camping areas have closed down as the season has ended but we knew a great spot well off the highway where we couldn’t be seen from the road. Being self-sufficient opens up a whole lot of free camping opportunities that we just didn’t have last year.

24 August 2013

Grizzlies on the beach

Lake Clark, AK

About 18-months ago I researched where we could go to photograph some bears, and decided on Silver Salmon Creek Lodge at Lake Clark and booked it; so it has been a long anticipated wait. The booking included flights from Soldotna to Lake Clark, accommodation, food and a guide to take us to photograph the bears and a boat trip to photograph the puffins. We chose August as this is when the bears are fishing for salmon and our whole trip has been based around this holiday within a holiday.
Prior to our flight from Soldotna to Lake Clark it pretty much rained for two weeks, apart from about four days, which we spent looking around the rest of the Kenai peninsula with day trips to the towns of Kenai and Homer. 

On the way to Homer you see a number of beautiful snow capped mountains, with glaciers and mountains greeting you as you drive into town. 

We also went down to the Russian River an hour away a number of times as we were told that we would definitely see bears fishing in the river. Unfortunately we were either too late (by an hour) or at the wrong part of the river on the few occasions that this happened.  So we spent the days chatting to the locals, learning about the salmon, watching the fishermen and enjoying the sunshine. There is a walkway a couple of metres in from the river hidden behind thick undergrowth, which you then have to go down other walkways to get to the river which are numbered. The stairways are also marked with the name of the carpark that you came from, so you don’t waste time and energy (it’s a steep walk up). Like Haines, all the fishermen and women (and there are lots of females) stand in the river in waders to fish. The salmon are very tired by the time they get to this part of the river and most of them are starting to decompose, having spawned and being the end of their lifespan. The fishermen are hoping to catch (more like snare as the fish don’t eat at this stage) the younger fresher fish that are still silver on the outside. When they are red, they are no good. There are so many fish here that you could scoop them up in a net but only the natives are allowed to do this. There were some women from the same family fishing in the river in long skirts – their father said they were used to this which makes me think it is some religious thing (that they can’t wear pants)

On the day we were due to fly out the cloud cover was too low for safe landing, which wasn’t a great start. We had moved our truck and trailer to the carpark of the company that was flying us over, so we were able to spend the waiting time in comfort instead of their waiting room which we would have to share with the two boxers; one of whom needed constant entertainment (which consisted of annoying me). The pilot did another test run at 19:30 but it was still unsafe.

time to fly
The following day was bright and sunny so we were able to go, yay! We landed on the beach and were taken by a little trailer attached to an ATV to the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. This lodge is visited by fishing groups, photographic groups and of course individuals like us. This time there were two photographic groups and a group of five independent travellers – so we became the group of five. We were given a guide just like the photographic groups who took us out to find the bears. As we had found in numerous places on this trip, there just weren’t very many bears around this year which was disappointing. We really wanted to get a picture of a bear catching a salmon, and we both did, so we were both really happy. We were lent gumboots as we would often be standing in or walking across water or marshy land. David had said to Lindsay that he didn’t need to bring his new lens as the bears would be too close. But it turned out he did need it, so it was lucky that we had brought it anyway. We probably saw four or five bears altogether but never at the same time, so there was no interaction between them. Lake Clark is tidal and we had to go across creeks to get to the beach, with the full moon the tide was 27 feet, so time spent on the beach was restricted depending on the tide. We would have to come back across the last creek at a certain time or risk being left out there for six hours.

Silver Salmon Creek Lodge
We never saw any male grizzly bears or cubs unfortunately. Apparently there had been a lot of bears just outside the lodge in the meadow in July, but then a storm came through and they all disappeared. The bears spend a lot of time sleeping, then suddenly decide to get up, do some fishing and then go to sleep again! Then they will go looking for fish, scanning the waters like they are watching a tennis match. If they can’t see any they will walk off, they walk for miles and very quickly, I doubt I could keep up with them without running. Four legs are much faster than two! You spend a lot of time waiting for action, but when there is action it is explosive, the bear sprints through the water after the fish, sometimes catching it, sometimes missing. It makes exciting photography. They look like a dog chasing a ball. This was what we had come for...

Our river cruise

We had a couple of boat trips up the tributaries and one out into the sea to Duck island to photograph the puffins. Puffins are extremely frustrating to photograph; it’s like catching a fly with chopsticks. If you are lucky enough to spot one with fish in it’s mouth, you try and follow it until you can get a shot as it goes round and round in circles from the sea to the rocks. Then you get extremely dizzy and nearly fall over! My camera is great for landscapes but not really built for the speed of wildlife and birds, which made my job even harder. These birds are really fast. If I left the camera on multi focusing the puffin would be blurred, so I had to use a single spot which made it even harder to capture the target. Lindsay couldn’t keep holding his big lens up, it was just too heavy for this type of photography, so he had to use a smaller one. They are so far away that most of them are just tiny specs on our photo and we have to blow them up to see if they are any good or not. I was really pleased that I got a couple with fish in their beak.


Bald Eagle

Grizzly with salmon
Puffin with a herring

The day we went to the puffins was perfect and the sea was as flat as a pancake which made it easier to get off the boat onto the island – we had all been lent waders to walk through the water. On our return trip the tide was out and the boat couldn’t come even close to the beach, so we waded a fair way in to the beach with all our camera gear. I wouldn’t have wanted to do that with waves crashing around me.

We had booked 5 days, 4 nights, with the fifth day just flying out in the morning. Luckily because we were flexible and so were they, so we were able to add the day we lost to the end of our stay. We were extremely lucky with the weather, the first three days were sunny, the fourth was overcast, with no rain on any day. It held off until the night we got back, just perfect!

It was a great trip and we hope to go back there one day.

Sunrise from the balcony