In the summer of 1999, my brother Tom (being of sound mind and body) decided it was time for a change of scenery and headed out west. Loading everything he owned into a Toyota 4-Runner and a 6' X 12' U-Haul trailer, he rolled out of town late one warm July night and didn't stop until he hit Anchorage, Alaska. I figured it might be the last chance to see him for a while, so I decided to tag along.
Trip SynapsisLet me begin by saying that the definitive narrative of my adventures that summer is available elsewhere on the internet. The semi-embellished, two-part account is well worth the read: Part the First, Part the Second.
If you're in a hurry, the cliff notes are as follows:
Photo GalleryThe scenery in Northwest Canada & Alaska is the most beautiful that I've seen. The views along the Al-Can highway are particularly amazing. Bear in mind that a photo never does true justice to the actual scenery, and that reasonably sized (for the internet) scanned images never do justice to the original photos. What I'm trying to say is that these pictures are two levels removed from being there, and that it's really the kind of thing you need to see for yourself.
Mountain seen from about the half-way point of the Crescent Lake bike trail. The pinkish flowers
seen in the foreground and in clear spots on the mountain itself are called "fireweed," so named because
it is usually the first plant to grow in an area after a fire has cleared it of vegetation.
Also notice the very distinct tree line two-thirds of the way up the mountain, and the fact that there's still
plenty of snow at the top, even in late July.
This is the oil spill museum located in downtown Seward. We thought about giving it a look-see, until we found out they charged like
ten bucks or so just to get in. They get 18 jillion dollars from Exxon in the Valdez settlement, and they still
have to charge us for the museum?! I don't think so, Jabroni. For ten bucks you'd better be able to grease up an otter or something, and
they had better provide the motor oil.
A shot of our campground at Riding Mountain National Park in Central Canada. We camped here for a night and rode the "Moon Lake" trail.
The bells are for the sake of our good friend Mr. Bear. Supposedly if you make a bunch of noise while riding you're less
likely to take a bear by surprise, and therefore less likely to get eaten. I yanked the bells off a Christmas decoration, which explains the
red bow. Also note the gen-u-ine Canadian-style beer, the handy GPS receiver, the bottle o' Gatorade, and the shameless plug
This is the bottom of exit glacier, near Seward. A quick hike takes you to the vantage point this picture was taken from.
Note the distinct tree line on the mountains in the distance, and the milky-gray nastiness that is a glacier stream.
This is, quite possibly, the world's largest snowblower. It's mounted on the front of a steam locomotive and is used
to clear the tracks around Anchorage so supplies can get through in the winter. There's a festival in the spring where
native Alaskans come to the train to celebrate having made it through another winter. They traditionally bring vegetables,
breads, or a cut of meat to offer to the train. The giant engine is fired up one more time, and the natives throw their offerings into
the whirling blades of the snow blower. The resulting shredded food is collected and mixed together into a dish known as "Alaskan
casserole," which has a taste not entirely unlike shepherd's pie.
Northern Rockies Lodge; a none-too-good restaurant on the Al-Can highway where we stopped for lunch. It's
annoying to be forced to wait a long time for bad food. I include this picture in the hopes that you might avoid
a similar fate. The unfortunate truth, however, is that you really don't have many choices along the Al-Can highway.
If you don't like the looks of a particular restaurant and you're not willing to wait for another 100 miles or so,
you're pretty much stuck.
River at Independence mine near Hatcher Pass. The mine was shut down after WWII and is now a museum. Guided
and self-guided tours are available. It was rainy & foggy when we went, but there were enough inside exhibits to make
it interesting. The road up to the top is pretty sketchy, but the scenery is well worth it.
A nice scenery shot of the sun setting on some mountains. Well, OK, the sun doesn't actually set, but it gets
low in the sky and creates the same effect. I don't remember exactly where this mountain is (they all start to look
the same), but for some reason I believe it's just south of Tok, Alaska.
Bridge Somewhere along the Al-Can highway. More than this I cannot say.
If you're heading up to Alaska some time soon, be sure to bring along this handy
"to do" list and wildlife spotting checklist. I've filled in my scores, see how you do!
If you miss any of the above critters in your travels about Alaska, you can catch most of them at the Anchorage Zoo. This doesn't count, of course, but at least you get to see them.