Exploring Haines

Trip Start Jun 18, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Friday, August 13, 2010

Short Version:

            A Sunny Day; Yea!

            Haines, AK

Wordy Version:

A pleasant night and the promise of another sunny day; what more could a person ask for? Today was the drive down to Haines, AK; the Cottonwood owner told us that the road is suppose to be good through Haines Junction and then have a stretch of the dreaded construction and loose gravel. We've been well educated in the Canadian Gravel and Dust so it was a good thing that we had not washed the rig.

As we left the campground and turned south, we were quickly greeted by a couple of cars pulled over where the people were out with the cameras. We are about as sharp as a marble at this time of the morning so it was a good thing they were there. As it turns out, they were viewing and snapping a few shots of momma grizzly on the opposite shoreline of a passing cove. The Cottonwood owner had mentioned that a momma grizzly and two cubs had been frequenting their campground for the previous three years. Perhaps this was the same female bear, but there were no cubs following her today. This is the second day in a row that our departure has been interrupted and slowed due to large animal sightings; what a fantastic way to exit this great wilderness with morning animal sightings like this.

Haines Junction was just 50 miles away and we made it with no road issues. On the way up we spent very little time in Haines Junction, but today we needed to top off with fuel because there are no services available between here and Haines, AK. While searching for the best price (turns out to be $3.58/gal after all the liter-gallon-currency exchange thing), we learned about the Village Bakery that advertises "fresh scratch baking daily featuring bread, pastry and muffins". While no mention was made of cinnamon rolls, any self respecting “made from scratch” bakery should have these little treats available; they did make them but didn’t have any left. Too bad, they just don’t realize what an opportunity they missed by not getting an entry in the “Greatest Alcan Cinnamon Roll Comparison Quest” ever conducted.

Down the road we go, once again being amazed by the scenery and how quickly it changes from tundra, to forest, to barren wind swept mountains with some good old Canadian road work thrown in. This was a lengthy repair section so there was a significant wait for a Pilot Car; but behold, there was a water truck wetting down this repair section so there was little dust but plenty of mud. Our already dirty rig now became a mud ball on wheels. Looks like another car wash session once we get to Haines (I wonder what car wash entertainment awaits us this time).

Not too much further down the Haines Highway, we have to drag out the passports for the final Canadian/Alaskan border stop; so far, these have been minor events without drama. At every crossing (we’ve had three previously), it is obvious that these border agents take their jobs seriously and a little patience and courtesy on our part perhaps makes their day go better. It has certainly made our days go better; at least we have never been taken out of the line and had our rig searched which can really mess with your mind and schedule. It is worth noting that the Haines inbound traffic side (the US Border) is a 24/7 operation; the outbound traffic (the Canadian Customs part) is closed from 11:00 PM till 7:00 AM; in other words you can get into Haines anytime, but you can’t always get out anytime.

The remaining drive down into Haines starts to remind us of the drive into Valdez; this similarity extends right down to the 20 mph head wind blowing back up this valley. A quick lunch stop at a road side pull out near the Chilkat Pass is soon in order; the view of the snow capped glaciated mountain range out the dinette window is not too shabby.

As we descended the Chilkat Valley for the next 20 miles or so, the terrain did another personality change; where we were just viewing grand vistas from a 3500’+ pass, we suddenly found ourselves driving through coastal forests on one side of the highway and tidal mud flats on the other.

As unbelievable as it sounds, Karen was just reading from the Milepost about how we should keep an eye out for swans on some of the marsh lakes and a couple of curves later, here are two swans on a lake just beside the road. I had to stop and take a picture to make sure these weren’t plywood cutout swans that perhaps the locals had anchored in this area. You might think I’m joking, but just yesterday as we were driving through the small community of Burwash Landing, there was a painted plywood cutout replica of a RCMP patrol car parked beside the road. It was very real looking and you could certainly tell when the drivers in front of you spotted it because the brake lights came on quickly. Whether for humor or real traffic control, it caught peoples’ attention and they slowed down.

You might think this Milepost statement and the swans was just a chance encounter with roadside luck, well just a few miles further on, we had a déjà vu moment when Karen was reading about watching for some fish wheels on the Chilkat River and then, as Emeril says, “BAM”, there they were. I don’t know how many people Milepost has working for them, but it must be a large staff to keep up this kind of accuracy year after year.

While I have not mentioned these fish wheels on our trip before; they are common and really quiet an ingenious device. Primarily, these are three big dip nets built on a wheel that rotates in the water current by paddlewheel action; they are a traditional means of fishing used by the Native Alaskans only, or they are used by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for fish studies.

Just a bit further down this Haines Highway was the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and we were getting excited about the possibility of viewing some eagles here. As it turns out, this is the wrong season to view the 3,500+ bald eagles that migrate to this preserve (you’ve got to be here mid September to January). The drive on in to Haines leads us past a spot where the Milepost warns: CAUTION! No stopping on highway; Watch for Moose. Now based on the Milepost’s previous accuracy, this gets our attention; we certainly don’t want a “Close Encounter of the Moose Kind”. This time, however, it was a false alarm, no moose.

Our ultimate destination is the Haines Hitch-Up RV Park for the next three days and it was easy to find as we roll into town. We  chose this RV Park because we had heard good things about it from a couple of different sources; we held off making an advance reservation here because we kept remembering how underwhelmed we were with the Beluga campground in Kenai and it got a high recommendation from these same people. If you are going to Haines, our recommendation would be the Haines Hitch-Up; if you liked the Beluga Park, then you would probably like the Oceanside RV Park in Haines; both seem to operate on that RV “stack-em and pack-em” concept.

Just like everyone has a different reason for visiting Alaska, we’ve found that everyone has a different yardstick for evaluating campgrounds. I will say this about the Haines Hitch-Up RV Park; I don’t see how anyone could be disappointed here. The sites have plenty of space, the WiFi works throughout the park (you have to pay extra for high speed), the park restrooms and laundry are spotless and the showers are not metered; besides, this park has lots of trees and actual grass in every site which is very rare in this part of Alaska.

Before we parked our rig for the evening, we decided to take a trip to the local RV/car wash; our motorhome was so dirty that you couldn’t get in or out without wearing some of that gritty, fine particle, wet down, road dust that we spent the day carefully collecting. Even I couldn’t stand it any longer. Guess what some enterprising entrepreneur built right across from Haines Hitch-Up? The self service Duck-In Car Wash awaits. I’m telling you I do not make these names up; life is quirky and strange enough on its own sometimes.

After spending all the change and dollar bills we could gather up, we finished washing the bulk of the crud off and then decide to drive out to a local area where we heard the salmon were running and the bears were a jumping. This drive is only about eleven miles out of town along the Lutak Road past the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry Terminal to Chilkoot Lake. We got there around 5:30 PM and indeed the fishermen were lining the banks of the Chilkoot River; much to our dismay, the people standing around with their cameras tell us that the bears had just left about 30 minutes before we got there. The bears consisted of a momma grizzly bear and her two cubs and we learn that this appearance happens almost every day, several times a day but especially in the evening.

We decide to head back to the RV Park, have some supper, drag out a book, roll up the sidewalk, put out the cat and relax. We concluded that we would have to include another visit to the bear/fishing area tomorrow evening. 
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