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Old 08-25-2008, 12:14 AM   #41
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Date (day): July, 24 (Day 27)

Source: Boonedocking near Atigan Pass

Destination: Dalton Highway (Marion Creek Campground)

Travel Miles: 60

Bug Activity: High.

Deviation from plan: Due to the 17 hour stint the day before, we were a full day ahead of schedule at this point.

Moment(s): We spent part of the morning watching the three foxes that had visited us from the night before. We watched the smallest one jump up and down on sticks and rocks and play like it was trapping them in its feet (as if practicing for real prey). The second in line shadowed the largest one. Everything the largest one did, this one would mimic (even minutes later). The largest one would take a certain path through the brush for example, and this one (not having witnessed the path of the first), would follow the scent trail exactly. Every stop, every turn, every pause for a drink of water, perfectly. The largest one was the real hunter. It would disappear into the thick brush and emerge with a ground squirrel in its mouth five minutes later. The whole clan stuck very close together and very close to one specific location. I am by no means a fox expert... but it almost looked as if the parents (mom and/or dad) did not return to home and these three were left to fend for them themselves. Based on the hunting success of the largest one, the learning aptitude of the middle guy, and the vigilant practice of the smallest... these three should 'hopefully' do pretty well.

Takeaway(s): We never fed any of these foxes, left any food scraps or garbage out in the open, nor did we attempt to approach them at any time. We just kept very still and observed how the interacted with their surroundings and each other. It was a tremendous treat. The pictures of these foxes were with a long range lens (800mm). They look much closer than they really were.

Sportsmobile Note(s): Our Sportsmobile was developing one heck of a mud patina (several inches think in some places). Today being a much nicer (drier) day than the previous, I broke loose some of the dried mud that had collected on places like the exhaust pipe and diesel generator in order to remove some excess weight on these components in an effort to save them from further abuse as we continued on down the road.




Our boonedocking campsite, near Atigan Pass.





TwoTone...






Nicer weather today...










Moose, near Marion Creek Campground





Lunch in Coldfoot




Arctic Interagency Visitors Center (Coldfoot).


This was a stuffed Wolverine in the AIVC (I had hoped to get a glimpse of a wild one... but not on this trip). This would have to do for now.




Marion Creek Campground (the bugs were out in force this time)



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Old 08-26-2008, 10:55 PM   #42
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Date (day): July, 25 (Day 28)

Source: Dalton Highway (Marion Creek Campground)

Destination: Cantwell RV Park

Travel Miles: 443

Bug Activity: Low.

Deviation from plan: At this point, we were still a full day ahead of schedule. As such, we decided to make the long run through Fairbanks and down past Denali to the Cantwell RV Park in hopes of catching a glimpse of Mt. McKinley. As we closed in on our destination, so did the returning clouds and rain. Once again, we had been denied. Our chances of seeing this mountain had expired as all destinations lead back home and away from the mountain from here.

Moment(s): The first stop after exiting the Dalton Highway was a brief stop in Fairbanks to eat lunch (Subway), pressure-wash the van, and do laundry at a local laundry mat. After lunch and spending nearly $100.00 to wash the van... we located a laundry mat and proceeded to process load after load of laundry. I was even able to take a quick shower. While we were waiting in the parking lot of the laundry mat for the remainder of our laundry to finish, two gals in a custom Nissan 4x4 walked over and asked if we were on the Sportsmobile Forum? Shocked we said, yes. I knew I recognized the van exclaimed one of the gals. She went on to say that her and her husband wanted to get a Sportsmobile too. The other gal chimed in and said her and her husband were interested as well and that they felt a Sportsmobile would be perfect for towing their 'sleds'. We talked with them for a short time, briefly showed them the van, they took a few pics and that was that. We hope that each of them ends up with an SMB of their own. If you are the husband of one of these gals and you are reading this at work... I was told by your wife that you need to go back to work now...

Takeaway(s): By cloaking itself in heavy clouds during every attempt we made to sneak up on it, Mt. McKinley is tempting us to come back at some point in the future - and we can't wait.

Sportsmobile Note(s): While washing the thick mud out of the inside of each of the wheels, I managed to dislodge most of the stick-on wheel weights in the process. Add to the 'fix when I get home' list... have tires rebalanced.




Haul Road obstacles...





Drying layers of mud (mud + Calcium Chloride + more mud)



Evening light over the Cantwell RV Park


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Old 08-26-2008, 11:00 PM   #43
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Date (day): July, 26 (Day 29)

Source: Cantwell RV Park

Destination: Fairbanks B&B

Travel Miles: 177

Bug Activity: Low.

Deviation from plan: Today puts us back on schedule.

Moment(s): I ran out of disk space on 'two' laptops we brought along due to the quantity of images both my wife and I were clicking off each day. Originally, I had planned to use the laptops as backup only and keep all of the original images on each cameras memory card. That only lasted until day eight out of a planned forty day vacation. I was getting a little uneasy once I started to use the laptops to store the primary data only (with no backup). Then, the laptops ran out of space. I purchased one 8Gb USB thumbstick as a temporary repository for a select few images, but the OS's that I had installed on the laptops would not recognize the device (most of the time). Finally, I had enough. I ended up paying a visit to a Fred Meyer store in Fairbanks (Fred Meyer is just a general merchandise chain store). They had an electronics department where I ended up finding and then purchasing an external 250Gb USB drive made by Toshiba. Everything worked once I plugged it in (amazing) and I spent the rest of the evening condensing and backing up all of the image data. Turns out that I never actually needed to revert to my backup... but just having files located in completely different places made me feel like these images would actually survive our trip - which was important to me on many different levels.

Takeaway(s): If you are using electronic storage... don't leave home without a backup (solution).

Sportsmobile Note(s): Encountered a couple other Sportsmobiles today. There was one tan SMB parked in the Denali Riverside RV Park and there was a second silver SMB near the town of Healy (just outside of Denali).


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Old 08-26-2008, 11:45 PM   #44
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Date (day): July, 27 (Day 30)

Source: Fairbanks B&B

Destination: Kluane Lake (Cottonwood RV Park)

Travel Miles: 450

Bug Activity: Low.

Deviation from plan: We had originally planned to stay in Beaver Creek to cut down on the driving miles today... but we still had enough energy in our tanks to continue on to someplace more scenic - and we think we found it. We ended up in the Cottonwood RV Park located inside of Kluane National Park and right on Kluane Lake.

Moment(s): While driving just past Destruction Bay near the shores of Kluane Lake, a very large Grizzly Bear ran right across our path only four or five car lengths in front of our van. This bear had a guilty look on its face like it had done something wrong (like stealing a pie from a farmhouse window) and it was in one heck of a hurry to disappear back up into the mountains.

Takeaway(s): When they say that you are not going to outrun a bear... believe it. The bear we encountered was probably in excess of 500lbs, its ears were pinned back, and it was really motoring. It had to go up a gravel grade to get on the highway surface, cross two lanes of pavement, down a culvert, back up the other side, and then out into low lying dense vegetation. At least for me, I have never seen any animal that big move that fast - over such demanding terrain. Something I will never forget. Just amazing.

Sportsmobile Note(s): Once nice thing about having a relatively small (short) vehicle is that an SMB can park places other larger vehicles can't fit into. This was the case with our camp site on Kluane Lake. Nothing larger than a van was going to fit in there... and it was a prime spot, right on the water.



Our original destination for the evening. We decided to move on to a more scenic location (great decision).



More rain squalls crossing our path.





Cottonwood RV Park on Kluane Lake.



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Old 08-27-2008, 12:04 AM   #45
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Date (day): July, 28 (Day 31)

Source: Kluane Lake (Cottonwood RV Park)

Destination: Haines Alaska (Oceanside RV Park)

Travel Miles: 200

Bug Activity: Low.

Deviation from plan: Started at a location that was closer to our destination, which gave us more time to explore Haines... especially the Chilkat Eagle Preserve.

Moment(s): Haines was on our list of places to stop because of the Chilkat Eagle Preserve. I knew that this was not prime time to see eagles here, but it still had all of the right geology for eagles to congregate (ocean coast, rivers, and spawning salmon). Capturing a presentable close-up image of a non-captive eagle was something that was high on my list for this trip (somewhat representative of an Alaska experience). I had very few chances to photograph eagles up close on this trip so far... and I had pretty much muffed each and every opportunity. Fortunately, I knew that all of my failed attempts could just be considered practice as this destination had been specifically added to our itinerary way back in the planning stages of our trip for the sole purpose of photographing eagles. It took several trips out to the eagle preserve in order to find a high target area and then a few more to find a suitable target in that area. There really were not many eagles around (we may have seen a couple dozen in two days) so knowing where/when to go was part of our learning process. Finally, we got lucky and managed put a number of elements together (proximity, weather, shadowless light, clean background, presentation, observation time, etc...) to make me feel pretty good about the results.

Takeaway(s): An eagle will always have more patience than your wife (or - at least more patience than my wife). The bonus of having had a Sportsmobile only a short distance away was that my wife had a place to read, she had a place to snack, and she had a place to sleep... and she did all of these things. Sometimes it would take more than a couple of hours of waiting before an unprovoked eagle would decide to move on. Be prepared to wait a while.

Sportsmobile Note(s): With our specific Sportsmobile build, we opted to have the zippered screens installed in the pop-top so that we could deploy our van as a blind and still be able to photograph wildlife without obstructions. This feature may be most useful when you are stopped (engine off) and have been waiting in an area for a while... so that the wildlife may pass by your field of view. As we were often on the move during this trip, the diesel would scare most everything away... so there was very little chance we could have pulled up on something with the engine running, stopped the engine, setup the top, and then have whatever it was we were interested in still be there once we were finally established.



Leaving Kluane Lake





Haines Alaska





Oceanside RV Park





Bald Eagle sequence... Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve (Haines, Alaska).








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Old 08-27-2008, 11:00 AM   #46
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WOW. Those are some great pics.....
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Old 08-27-2008, 02:14 PM   #47
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Great report & pics. Thanks for taking the time...
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Old 08-27-2008, 09:10 PM   #48
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WOW ...for the Eagles....
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Old 08-27-2008, 10:44 PM   #49
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Date (day): July, 29 (Day 32)

Source: Haines Alaska (Oceanside RV Park)

Destination: Whitehorse, YT (Westmark Hotel)

Travel Miles: 282

Bug Activity: Low.

Deviation from plan: None.

Moment(s): Booney'ing around in the Carcross Desert. Ok look, I had managed to get us stuck right off of the side of the road once already on this trip. My wife being a student of recent history was not all that thrilled I was jazzed about driving out into the sand dunes. I acknowledged her valid concerns and then asked her if we were TWOLOST or TWOLAME. I vaguely recall her saying something about "ok, but you are the one digging us out" …as I jumped out and locked the hubs. Truth be known, we tippy toed our way around in the sand and did not attempt any Pro Truck drifting (although, in my mind...). In any case, we managed NOT to get stuck this time. Before my wife's premonition of us getting stuck actually came true, I put us back on pavement, unlocked the hubs and headed toward our next destination.

Takeaway(s): If you have any ideas about staying at a Westmark Hotel, be forewarned that the cruise lines use this chain of hotels as home base for many of their bus tours. What this means is there may be ten smiling happy people to meet you at the door, until you discover it is not you they are meeting. You may think you can sit in the hotels restaurant and order from the big kids menu... but alas... that's not for you either. Pretty much 'all' of the hospitality is dedicated to the cruise crowd (and both sides have 'handlers' to ensure the cruisers are happy). Ironically, very few of the cruisers seemed to be very happy. Grouchy, angry, put-off, and demanding maybe... happy, not really. For the staff, every non-cruiser is merely in the way and treated as such. Not a big deal, even though it probably costs you more $$ per night than the cruisers, just lower your expectations and go with it. Hey, at least it was a hot shower.

Sportsmobile Note(s): This was the first time I have had the SMB off into this kind of unpacked sand and we were both pretty squeamish as the van felt like it could get stuck at any moment. The van would sink a couple of inches as it crept over the soft lunar surface and the wheels would just barely spin faster than the rate of vehicle travel. I did not pull out all of the stops like airing down, etc... as my wife was really not going to let me get us into that much trouble.




Before leaving Haines, we found a couple competing Golden Eagles out on a beach looking for an easy meal.







Standard roadway signs in summer... double as a convenient targets to sight in a scope during the winter. Most every road sign in AK serves this dual purpose role. This one was smack dab in the middle of the Chilkat Eagle Preserve. Nice groupings... but maybe still a little high and to the right?




Angry skies precede us to Whitehorse.






Haines Junction and clearing skies.





Carcross Desert (the smallest desert in the world).



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Old 08-27-2008, 10:47 PM   #50
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Date (day): July, 30 (Day 33)

Source: Whitehorse, YT (Westmark Hotel)

Destination: Skagway, Alaska (Pullen Creek RV Park)

Travel Miles: 115

Bug Activity: Low.

Deviation from plan: None.

Moment(s): The fog was thick as we made our way down White Pass and into Skagway and visibility was probably less than 20 feet. This made it interesting when oncoming tour busses would show up out of nowhere (right on the driver's side-view mirror without 'any' warning). Before we got in too deep, I stopped, pulled the covers off of the bumper mounted HID lights, and flipped the 'let there be light' switch. These lights did not help us see any better... but, we were far more visible to oncoming traffic.

Takeaway(s): Unless you are really dying to acquire new non-Alaska specific jewelry... don't bother with putting Skagway on your destination list. What small Alaskan identity remains, is just not worth contending with the cruise boat hoards (nearly 10K added people at any given time).

Sportsmobile Note(s): This was the third occasion on this trip where we used one or more of the aftermarket light sets that we had added to our Sportsmobile build. In all cases, we never suffered a single incident while these lights were on... and that was the whole point.



On our way to Skagway via the Klondike Hwy (and into the ever present fog)...











One of the cursed demons of Skagway




Pullen Creek RV Park


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