Monday, September 1, 2014

Someone’s Having a Birthday in Haines!

Oceanside RV Park, Haines, AK – September 1, 2014

Since we are normally Rving on September 1, EJ usually doesn’t get to have a birthday party. She has to settle for my company. But she did want something special to remember Alaska and it’s spirit. And I think this necklace fills the bill nicely. Gold nuggets surrounding the northern lights with a sapphire as the north star over a little cabin in the woods.

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One of our first stops for the day was The American Bald Eagle Foundation Center. The Center selectively takes in raptors that are not suited for life in the wild. The problem might a broken wing, a malformed beak, blindness, or being imprinted on humans. For instance below are two bald eagles, Keene and Bella Donna.

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A red tailed hawk named Warrior.

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They have wonderful dioramas with every item identified on a numbered handout sheet as well as placards at the bottom of the displays.

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We timed our visit just right because right after we left a crowd of caravanners showed up. For those of you not familiar with the term, it refers to RVers who are more comfortable traveling in large groups and letting someone else do all the planning. In this case it was a group of 35 Airstream trailer owners traveling together.

Since we hadn’t explored the other side of Haines, we drove Mud Bay Road to New Park Road and on to the end. We found a small park facing Chilkat Inlet and Rainbow Glacier.

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This is one version of an Alaskan beach, all rocks. I check the water temperature and EJ looks for rocks to skip on the water. The water was…cold.

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Driving back we kept seeing houses across a tidal inlet above the high tide line. We couldn’t find a road to those houses. So we finally concluded they parked their cars on one side and rowed small boats across the inlet to their houses.

Going back to Big Guy, we pass the fire station which has a nice whale totem on display.

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We took a break and sat out in front of Big Guy to enjoy the day. As if on cue, these two blue herons showed up and began putting on a show. I think the guy with the punk hairdo was putting the moves on the other one.

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For EJ’s birthday dinner, we walk over to Mosey’s Cantina. Besides, the Brewery, it’s the only place I’ve been able to get a spruce tip ale. We ordered the Mole’ Enchilada topped off with a Chocolate Creme Brulee for the finale’.

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Walking home fantasizing that we are burning lots of calories, EJ finds another totem.

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I examine this contraption trying to figure out if it really does something or is just a collection of old parts thrown together. For instance, inside the rear wheels were ring gears, but nothing connected to them. There was a smoke stack, but no boiler. Hmmm? I’m leaning towards a collection of old parts.

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And to top it off we had a beautiful sunset (at 10pm!).

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It’s been another special day. I would tell you how old EJ is, but Keene is keeping a watchful eye making sure EJ’s secrets are kept secure.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Haines, Attitudes and Bears

Oceanside RV Park, Haines, AK – August 30 & 31, 2014

This morning when we looked outside Big Guy, we saw this little fella. This picture is being posted just to let a friend know that his rig could make it up here, too!

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Today, we decide to explore Haines proper and see if any of the local vendors can use our money. At one store I see a fellow sitting in one of several comfortable chairs and go join him. Meanwhile EJ goes inside the store while this fellow and I make some conversation. I, seeking some local information, ask his opinion about things we should try and do or see. I liked one of his responses “I could send you to one of the tour companies, but you can just drive out towards Chilkoot Lake and see bears on your own”.

I asked him why Haines didn’t have more cruise ships docking here and that really got him fired up. He said Haines wasn’t owned by the cruise ship companies like Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan were. The Haines business owners didn’t want to sell out like those other towns did.

About that time he realized EJ was in the store shopping and he jumped up exclaiming, “Excuse me, ‘I got a customer!” Shortly afterwards I learned that he was the owner of this store as well as the gold and jewelry store on 2nd street.

Later wandering around town, we saw this sign. Guess that fellow I was talking to wasn’t the only store owner that felt that way.

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In the early evening hours, we once again drove out near Chilkoot Lake and watched for bears. This time we got to catch them fishing for salmon in Lutek Inlet.

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In this picture, although it’s difficult to see, is a bear on the far side of the fence scooping up salmon. The fence is used to facilitate counting salmon so the state can determine the size of the various salmon runs.

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As we wind down our evening of bear watching, we catch an eagle looking for its dinner too.

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On Sunday we go to the Sheldon Museum. This museum covers a wide swath of area history and Tlingit information. It has the lens from the Eldred Rock lighthouse as well as a scale model of the lighthouse buildings. There are displays about shipwrecks, hunting, and Native clans.

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There is even a “totem in progress” out front. But no one is working on it so we’ll have to save that for a later time.

We wander around the harbor and see that it’s home to 50 or so boats. Most of them are personal boats and only a few are tour boats or commercial fishers. Oooo! Reflections!

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Back at the RV park we discover we didn’t have to drive 8 or 9 miles to see eagles. We have them right in front of Big Guy. We’ll let him keep an eye on things while we relax for this evening.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Happy in Haines

Oceanside RV Park, Haines, Alaska – August 28 through 29, 2014

It was pretty windy last night, but we were parked next to a stand of trees that blocked most of it. Those were the same trees that were blocking the view of Kathleen Lake. Hmmm, guess we’re kinda glad they didn’t cut them down to improve the lake view.

We continue to wind down the road to Haines enjoying the scenery. We’re still marveling that this is the best highway we’ve been on in Alaska or Canada.

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As we got higher into the mountains ( seems strange doesn’t it? We’re going to a coastal city, but we have to go higher to get there) we run into fog, or low lying clouds, or whatever you want to call it.

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We do encounter 23 km of road construction, but for the most part, they are just laying down new pavement over an already adequate paved road surface. But not to complain, it’s like riding on glass it’s so smooth.

We approach the US Customs building where we answer surprisingly few questions. “Where’s home?” seems to be a favorite. This agent asked how many people are there and we say 2. His response “in this big thing?” Then the obligatory firearms question, then the booze question and next thing you know you’re on your way. Hey, we’re back in Alaska again!

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It’s all pretty much downhill now. 42 miles to Haines. The road hugs the Chilkat River and we are passing through the Eagle Valley Preserve. It is said that 4,000 to 5,000 eagles will concentrate along here in mid-November when the salmon make their final run of the season. We spy an operating fishwheel, but it doesn’t seem to be catching any fish.

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We made it.

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Now that we have arrived, we begin looking for a place to park Big Guy for a few days. We pass by the Hitch Up RV Park as it’s kinda pricey although it is well kept. Then we check out Port Chilkoot Camper Park ‘cause it was recommended by Mark N. He warned us that it was cheap and rustic, which was fine because we enjoy a bargain as much as the next RVer. But when we checked out the Park’s laundry and restrooms, we just kept on going. We did have laundry to take care of but that place was just downright scary.

The last commercial park in Haines proper was the Oceanside RV Park right in the heart of town. It was priced midway between the other two plus it had a fabulous water view.

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When we pulled into Oceanside we were greeted by this big scary dude named “Buffalo”. He was wearing a tall felt hat adorned with pins and had a beard like Grizzly Adams. At first glance this was a person you would definitely want to avoid in a dark alley. It turns out, he was just as nice as he could be. At least to the paying customers.

That night we had Mexican food at Mosey’s. The Chicken Mole’ Enchilada looked interesting and tasted great. The salsa that came with the tortilla chips was spiced just right. It wasn’t spicy hot, just good spicy flavor.

The next morning we wandered around town on foot and saw just how pretty and unique this place was.

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Then Frank found the Hammer Museum and EJ made an excuse about having to go check out the grocery store. This is the life long passion of Dave Pahl who has collected thousands of different types of hammers. The museum is only big enough to house about 25% of his total collection. It has some really creative use of hammers in their signs and outdoor displays.

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Then we visited the totem carving workshop in the Ft. Seward complex. We spoke with a lady who had plenty of stories that we enjoyed. One story she told was about a Klukwan (Alaskan native) lady that she helped out and did errands for. The Klukwan lady wanted to “adopt” her. We told her that was great. But she said “No!” Apparently once you are “adopted” you are obligated to do chores for the person that adopts you. She was quite happy to keep it on a volunteer basis.

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While there we learned about the figures on totems. How the top figure indicates the tribal clan and the ones below tell a story and the bottom indicates the wealth of the clan.

The tribal elders wisely decreed that clans could not marry someone from their own clan. So a Raven had to marry an Eagle. Any children resulting from the marriage took the clan name of their mother.

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After learning about all that, We took a drive out Mud Bay Road in hopes of checking out the Haines Packing Co. Nice drive, but we arrived a little too late to see much. Did have great views though.

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After all our travels, we were mighty thirsty so we go check out the Haines brewery. And we ran head-on into quirkiness. For example, you could only get one sample of beer at a time even though they had 5 beers on tap. Baffled at not being able to purchase a “flight” of beers, Frank continued to press for a reason. The beer tender finally admitted it was because she didn’t want to have to wash the glasses. Now this next item is a point worth noting, after you finish with one sample, and are ready for another, she pours it in the same glass without rinsing it.

At the end of our sampling we decide to get a growler of spruce tip ale. So I walk back to the car to get our empty growler and return. The beer tender says she can’t fill it because she doesn’t know how it was cleaned. I tell her not to worry about it because I personally cleaned it and am satisfied with it’s cleanliness. She still refuses and says it will compromise the taste of the beer. Now this is from the person who just poured sample after sample into the same glass without washing it in between.

I continue to press for a valid reason or exemption from this meaningless policy. Finally the truth comes out. They will only fill growlers with the Haines Brewery logo on them. I point out that we have just spent the summer traveling Alaska and not one of the breweries we visited had refused to refill our growler. They wouldn’t budge.

Since I have no need for an extra growler, plus I don’t want to have to rearrange things make room for an duplicate growler bottle, I declined to make a purchase. I know, I know, the spruce tip ale was pretty darn good, but it was a stupid policy.

The brewery was located in ‘Dalton City’ which is a movie set built for the Disney movie “White Fang”.

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Not to let the sorry business practices of the Haines Brewery dampen our mood, we decide to drive out towards Chilkoot Lake. Along the way we pass the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry terminal and see the Malispina docked.

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More incredible views at Chilkoot Lake. Ele looks really small against the mountains. Oh yeah, they even have glaciers.

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We didn’t find any bears, but we did see this Stellar Jay. Beautiful isn’t it?

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On the way back into town we get a great view of Ft. Seward. What is Ft. Seward and how did it come to be here? In 1902, Capt. Wilds P. Richardson was sent to Alaska and tasked with building a new fort on the Lynn Canal, near Haines, Alaska. Why did the Army decide to build a post near Haines at that time? The reasons remain obscure. The fort was built primarily to be a showcase of the Army’s strength in Alaska. Over the years, the main duties of the fort’s inhabitants were to maintain the fort.

By the end of WWII, only two soldiers remained at the fort tending to it’s closure. Declared surplus property in 1947, a group led by 5 veterans purchased the fort for $105,000.

Now the bachelor officers quarters and commander's house have become the Halsingland Hotel; the hospital building is the home of Alaska Indian Arts; and the chief surgeons house Is a bed and breakfast inn. All officers and non-commissioned officer's houses are in private ownership. Several have been converted into condominiums. Great Alaskan philosophy of repurposing things.

This is also the first place overrun by tourists when the once a week Holland America cruise ship docks at the foot of the fort. What a great backdrop for a town.

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Meanwhile, back at Oceanside RV Park, an eagle keeps a watchful eye on Big Guy.

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Later in the evening, one of the many cruise ships leaving Skagway passes by our quiet little corner of Alaska. It’s well off into the distance.

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We retire for the evening, exhausted, but happy to be here in Haines.