Killers on the high seas

August 30 – September 2, 2014

The ferry dropped us off at 2:00 AM in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. Rolling into town in the middle of the night is one of my least favorite things to do. I have absolutely no room to complain considering that with the XP, all we have to do is park the truck and push a button (literally) to raise the camper. Voila and we’re ready for bed after a few minutes of minor set-up. This is easy compared to our fellow campers Brent & Janis who traveled Alaska by motorcycle and tent camp everywhere. We meet many motorcyclists along the way and spend hours talking to them about their experiences. It’s a mode of travel that we have considered but will have to wait for another trip once we have some experience. We’re not up for learning how to ride in a foreign country like the 3UpCollective group that we met in Baja earlier in our trip.

We had the whole day to explore Prince Rupert so decided to walk to the town and see what there was to see. Sadly, it is a very depressed looking town with most of the stores boarded up and the few that were open looked like they rarely saw any business. The grey weather added to the dreariness of the area. We asked some residents where we could get lunch and were pointed to a section of town called Cow Bay. It appears that this is where the city has spent all of its economic development money creating a quaint neighborhood along the bay next to the marina. We arrived when most of the restaurants were closed, just after lunch and before dinner, so we settled on a dark tavern whose menu has probably not been updated since it opened sometime in the late 70’s based on its decor. We just had bad timing considering that the other restaurants looked inviting with interesting menu selections.

Later we dropped by the community art center and wandered along the marina before returning to our campsite where we spent the rest of the evening talking with Brent & Janis, or motorcycle traveling neighbors. They both live on Quadra Island which sounds like paradise! Brent recommended that we go to this tiny town, Telegraph Cove, and take the Stubbs Island Whale Watching tour. He was a tour guide for the company years ago and said that it is the best in the area. This turned out to be the best recommendation ever! Thanks Brent!!!


I said it was a sleepy little town!


The next morning we were treated to a major upgrade in ferry service when we boarded the BC Ferry. This felt like a luxury liner after the Alaska Marine Highway’s 30 year old ferries with food service that rivaled hospital meals in blandness. The ferries were new with a cafeteria style restaurant and another smaller cafe both serving freshly prepared meals along with a substantial selection of healthy, tasty vegetarian options. There was a small theatre room where we watched Tina Fey’s “Admissions”. The only downside was that the observation deck was reserved seating only. On the Alaska Ferry we spent many hours on the free observation deck watching the spectacular views provided by the Inside Passage so the restricted access to the BC Ferry observation deck was our only very small disappointment.

We reached Port Hardy on Vancouver Island in the very early morning hours and caught a few zzzzz’s before making the short drive down to Telegraph Cove. Once we rolled into Telegraph Cove later in the afternoon we immediately booked our tour with Stubbs Island Whale Watching. I was excited to see that their calendar showed orca and humpback whale sightings on every day over the past few weeks. I left feeling confident that the next day would be the highlight of our trip!

We had dinner at the Killer Whale Cafe where I fully expected to be underwhelmed. I was so wrong! If you ever make it to Telegraphy Cove be sure to stop in for a meal. Everything we tried at this family run restaurant was exceptional and the service was outstanding.

In camp later that evening we met Dave and Jenny, an English couple whose vacation on Vancouver Island was drawing to a close. They provided the entertainment for the rest of the evening with their banter about their lives in England. They figured out how to set boundaries between work and personal life, not allowing work to get its greedy claws on their personal time. This was a lesson that took me years to understand yet I never internalized enough to change. I quickly accepted the paid cell phone which also gave my employers free access to my personal time. I bought into the Silicon Valley myth that longer working hours were badges of honor rather than warning signs that I had an unhealthy emotional life; all work and no play. Thankfully my husband is a very wise man and steered us to an early pre-retirement to travel the Americas!

The stories that Dave & Jenny told us about the small town of Tofino on the other side of the island convinced us that maybe there was more to Vancouver Island than we first imagined. We originally gave ourselves three to four days to travel the length of the island. After our evening with Dave & Jenny we will definitely need to revise our estimates!

The next morning I was practically giddy with excitement about seeing my first orca. I expected that the tour would be the usual: pack a bunch of tourists onto a boat and take them out to the usual local places while the captain shares a mostly scripted commentary about the area in an unengaged manner. This tour was nothing like that! I can’t begin to praise Stubb’s Whale Watching enough for their genuine passion for their work creating an unforgettable experience for us.

Captain Wayne had more energy and excitement at 7 am than most of us can pull together after mid-morning and more than a few cups of coffee. This man loves his work and he was not putting on a show. He introduced us to Jackie (The Marine Detective), our on board naturalist who would share with us her knowledge of the orcas and whales that we would hopefully see. Jackie is truly passionate about her work. She became a naturalist on Vancouver Island after coming to the island for a vacation. She took the whale watching tour and was hooked. After her trip she returned to Europe where she was teaching, quit her job, packed up and moved to Vancouver Island to pursue a career studying marine mammals. When you watch Jackie and Captain Wayne at work you see true joy.

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A couple of bald eagles watching us pass by.
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Darryl caught the wider view. Can you find the same two bald eagles in this photo?

We were underway for less than 5 minutes when we saw the first family of orcas! Jackie identified them as the A30’s matriline, or family group, of Northern Resident orcas which are an inshore fishing group. Family groups are tracked by the matriarch and referred to as matrilines. Individual orcas and families are identified by distinctive markings on their dorsal fins and saddle patches. Swimming amongst the orcas were Dall’s porposes and Pacific White-Sided dolphins. The interesting thing about the Pacific White-Sided dolphins is that they were once extremely rare in the BC waters during the 19th & 20th centuries and some thought them to be extinct until 1956 when a fisherman spotted one north of Vancouver Island. Only since the 1990’s have there been regular sightings of them in the area. We stayed for almost an hour watching the orcas and dolphins. At one point an orca came swimming right alongside the boat! Eventually Captain Wayne received news of humpback sightings not far from where we were so we bid the orcas farewell.


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We easily spotted the blow, which can reach up to 9’, from a humpback hundreds of yards away. Once sighted, we started in the direction of the whale and soon we saw another whale, and then another whale! Captain Wayne had a very good problem, we couldn’t be at three places at once so he had to make a choice. The whales stayed in the general area and we were able to see their tails as they made their dives. Jackie is able to identify the various whales by the unique markings on the underside of the tails. Regular sightings of humpbacks in the area started again just in 2002. Whale hunting decimated their populations and they are just now starting to return.





We were lucky to witness a whale lunge feeding. Jackie and Captain Wayne identified the place where it was likely to happen. They could see that the birds were gathering and diving into centralized area. This behaviour will frighten the fish causing them to come together in a large group. The whale then comes up from the bottom of the school with its massive jaws opened taking in the fish, water and sometimes an unfortunate bird. The water is squeezed out of its mouth through the baleen then swallowing the fish that remain.

Our whale watching tour came to an end and we had to return to the dock. During the return Jackie gathered the group together inside the boat to talk about the current state of the orcas and whales. The orcas are dying too young due to the high concentrations of PCB’s in their systems. The concentrations of these toxins increases as you go up the food chain. Orcas and whales are high in the food chain and carry these lethal dosages. Because the chemicals are concentrated in the fat and the fat content of the female’s milk is extremely high, the females are able to release much of the poisons in their systems when they nurse their young, feeding the young this concoction of poisons.

The other threat this wildlife faces is the possible opening of the no-go-zone for boats / shipping in their hunting and migration route. Because of pressure from the business and shipping industries the Canadian government is considering opening the boating no-go-zone to commercial traffic. Just when these animals are getting a second chance and starting to come back they are facing yet another threat. Talk about hitting an orca when its down!

The whales are also fighting against declining food sources. They feed on krill but also schooling fish like herring, sand lance and pilchard pitting them in direct competition with our increasing aquaculture industry. Who do you think will win? Increases in aquaculture (fish farming) result in the capture of feed stock, like herring, for these farms. Between 50%-80% of all prey fish captured are fed to farmed fish and the majority of the remaining is fed to industrially farmed pigs and chickens. If you’re interested in learning more read the 2009 Oceana report “Hungry Oceans: What Happens When the Prey is Gone?”.

Want your omega-3’s without the risk of PCB’s & Mercury? Eat flax, hemp, soy and walnuts. The orcas and whales thank you for it!


Our Journey to our Overland Vehicle part 2

by Darryl

So where were we?
Leaving for our 1.5 year journey in less than 2 months time and no vehicle. That was pretty much the state of things in mid to late December 2013.

Knowing that most custom vehicle manufacturers would have a 6-12 month delivery time, going new was not an option. So, I began looking through various internet sites such as expedition portal, eBay, Craigslist, etc…in the hopes of finding a pre-owned overland solution which would meet our requirements. I looked for about 3-4 weeks before reaching the following conclusions: a) there are plenty of vehicles for sale at any given time, b) everyone has their own idea as to what constitutes an overland vehicle, and c) there were no vehicles out there in our budget that we felt comfortable purchasing.

I am not a car geek or enthusiast. However, if I see something that I like, I do get excited. All of my adult life I have had a fascination with just two vehicles. They are the Toyota FJ and the Land Rover Defender. I have read about these vehicles over the years on how they are the workhorses used to support various expeditions throughout the world. If these vehicles could work through the rugged deserts of Africa and the high mountains of the Himalayas, then surely one of them could support a drive from Alaska to Argentina. No?

The Land Rover Defenders were last available in the US in the mid to late 90’s. So relatively speaking, they are quite rare in the U.S. and have a price tag to reflect that fact. Looking at the older FJ models was not any more attractive. It seemed that you either get a fixer upper for a low price or a restored vehicle for the cost of a modern day luxury vehicle. We had no time for a fixer upper and no interest in buying a utilitarian vehicle which had the price tag of a Lexus.

However, Toyota was still at the top of the list since they were known for both their reliability and strong legacy of expedition support. So I began looking at their modern day lineup. The Tundra, the Tacoma, and the FJ Cruiser all seem to fit the bill. The pickup trucks would give us the space we required to carry all of our gear and allow us to do some level of customization(water tank installed in the bed, slide out cooking environment, storage compartments) all contained within a camper shell. The FJ,while not having quite as much room as the pickup truck, was added to the list because of its off-road capability. Every review that I have read or watched always came to the same conclusion on the FJ. Good enough on the pavement, awesome off-road!

Autotrader and Craigslist became my new best friend as I searched the ads daily. Living in California does have its advantages because there are a lot of cars for sale…and many within our budget! Test driving each of these vehicles proved to be critical as both my wife and I would be driving the vehicle during our trip and would have to like the platform.

A good friend of mine had a Toyota Tacoma and allowed me to drive it around a bit. I really liked the size of the vehicle, but had some reservations on its spartan-like interior and whether the six cylinder engine would be up for the task. It just felt a bit underpowered and he just has the truck. Imagine the performance when weighted down with a camper shell, gear, water, etc…This ended up being a non-factor since my wife came away from her test drive with the Tacoma uninspired.

If we don’t like it, we won’t buy it. No matter how desperate we are.

So on to the Tundra. We looked at both versions. Absolutely love the ultra reliability of version 1. My neighbor has one with well over 250k miles on it. No issues whatsoever. I loved the sheer size and power of the newer Tundra (v2) and felt that would make an excellent vehicle. It was the double cab model, lots of power, and an extended bed. We both did a test drive. I loved it!      The wife? Well, let’s just say that she did not share my enthusiasm. Oh well…

So that just leaves the FJ.
We headed over to the local dealership to look at their used inventory and take one for a test drive. Impressions: Nice. Smooth engine. Good pickup / acceleration, decent amount of room inside, and a funky look to it that I really liked. Not bad, but the asking price was not in our budget. I liked it but had reservations about whether the internal space would be enough, but my wife really liked driving the vehicle. So we are now getting somewhere.

We would continue to research this vehicle option a bit more and look for an FJ within our price range.

By now it is early February and we still do not have a vehicle to support our trip. Our planned departure of February 6, 2013 has come and gone. In mid February I came across an ad for someone selling their FJ in the local area which met our budget requirements. We went to check it out and do the mandatory test drive. Everything looked good. We did not make an offer on the vehicle that day. We went home and immediately dumped everything we knew about the car into Kelly BB to get a sense of what the car was worth. Our offer would be based on these numbers. We called back the next day and made an offer contingent on the local Toyota dealership going through the car from top to bottom so that we could get an idea as to the current mechanical condition of the vehicle. The inspection identified a couple of minor items. No big deal. We got a repair quote from the dealer and reviewed it with the owners. They agree to accept our revised offer which took into account the repairs costs. We are now the owners of a Toyota FJ Cruiser.

Great, a car that can do anything and go anywhere, but we still needed a place to sleep. Remember, while the FJ may have some storage capacity and off-road prowess, it is not an RV and has no accommodations for cooking, sleeping,etc…so we still had our work cut out for us.

Towing anything was out of the questions since we wanted to keep the overall vehicle setup simple. Additionally, towing some type of living arrangement just meant one more thing that could go wrong (axle, tires, etc…) and finding replacements on the road outside of the US / Canada could prove to be problematic. A trailer was definitely not something we wanted to deal with and not something we would use after the trip. Therefore, not a good way to spend our money.

During my research on the trip, I saw images of Australian and some Europeans over-landers with tents on the top of their overland vehicle. I later learned these are called roof top tents (RTT). The Australians use this method of camping since the ground critters in their country can actually be quite deadly! I figured this approach may work out for us.

Online research showed two manufacturers which were relatively close to us. They were Tapui tents which is located in Santa Cruz,CA and Cascadia Vehicle Tents (CVT) out of Bend, OR.

Santa Cruz is only about 30 minutes from where we live so I called them to see what type of inventory they had immediately available. The answer was none. They were expecting a major inventory shipment in March/April and anything they did have was going to be used for early season trade shows.

The next call was to Cascadia Vehicle Tents. I was able to talk with the owner Craig. I told him our situation and he confirmed that they did not have any inventory for the tent options that we were considering. Like Tapui, they too were expecting a major inventory shipment in the March/April time frame.

I hung up the phone feeling totally dejected. We had no other leads or ideas for sleeping arrangements at that time (we were not willing to do the ground tent method). It looked like we would have to postpone the departure date of the trip again while we waited for the vendors to restock their inventory. This was not looking good.

About two hours later, I happened to check my phone and noticed a missed call from the number I had dialed for CVT. I called back to see what was up. Craig called back to let me know that CVT may have a demo model of one of the tent options we wanted at his showroom in Bend, OR. He was traveling at the time to some early season trade shows, but had left a call for one of his relatives to check availability. He said he would let me know for sure once he had confirmation. Later that day he called to confirm that they had the Mt. Rainier tent at their shop. Great, we will take it!!

One problem though, Craig was out on the road doing trade shows to promote his products and would not be back in Bend, OR for a couple of weeks. So we could not take possession of the tent until he returned. Just for reference, CVT is a small, family owned company. We made plans to be there in Bend, OR the first day of his return.

We arrived in Bend the night prior to our meeting and stayed at a friend’s house for the night. We met Craig first thing in the morning and began dismantling the tent which was being demoed on an old Toyota FJ45 in his showroom. We then re-assembled it on top of our FJ Cruiser. We were now the owners of a CVT Mt. Rainier tent.

The power combo…FJ w/ CVT

We had some additional work done to the FJ Cruiser during the two week period we were waiting to go to Bend,OR to pickup our tent. A couple days after we purchased the vehicle we went to meet with Jeff Arabia at Arabia’s Overkill in San Jose, CA.
We wanted to have an additional battery installed on the vehicle and a inverter added so that we could charge our laptops, cell phone, etc…during our journey. Additionally, we asked them to remove the backseat and create storage compartments in the area behind the front seats and a fold out cooking platform which we could use when the rear door of the FJ was open. We brought the vehicle back a few days later for him to begin the work.

Even though this work was relatively straightforward, if you are in the San Jose, CA and need work done on your 4WD vehicle, I would recommend that you talk to him about your needs. He is a very knowledgeable person and has a great personality too!

Vehicle-wise we are all ready to go!! Finally!!

Power combo in action…
The calm before the storm

You are probably thinking that’s the end of the story, right?

Well, not quite.

So back in December 2013, I actually placed a call to XP Camper to find out their current production cycle times for a new camper. Unfortunately, it had not changed and was still at about ten months. My wife and I talked about it for a few days and decided to go ahead and put a deposit down which would officially put us in the production queue. We were given a delivery date of September / October 2014. So given that time frame, that would put us in the FJ Cruiser for the first six to seven months of our journey.

While I was searching for the vehicle which turned out to be the FJ Cruiser; in parallel I was also searching for a used one ton pickup truck that would be the platform for the eventual XP Camper build. In the U.S. diesel pickup truck arena, there are essentially three engines to consider: Ford PowerStroke, Dodge Cummins, and Chevy Duramax.

All are good engines. But from my research and discussions with the diesel experts in the area (Imler and Left Coast) the Cummins and Duramax engines were the most highly regarded overall. From the power stroke series, the 7.3L power stroke is highly sought after for both its reliability and performance. Other versions of the PowerStroke engine, such as the 6.0L,not so much due to potential reliability issues.

We ended buying a 2002 Ford F-350 7.3L V8 PS with 88,000 miles on it.

Why a Ford? It really came down to a couple of items.
The first was cost. Dodge and Chevy trucks have a much higher resale value than comparable Ford trucks. Great if you are the seller. Not so good if you are the buyer. The second was the 7.3L engine. As mentioned earlier, it is highly regarded and most diesel truck enthusiasts will tell you that the Ford engine designs post 7.3L production have not been on par with the 7.3L for both overall reliability and performance.

We found the truck on eBay in late December 2013. The truck was not being sold by a Ford dealer, but by what I will call a ‘2nd tier’ dealership. Not having previously dealt with this type of dealership before, I did my due diligence and searched the internet for customer reviews and BBB feedback. Everything I found on the dealership turned out to be quite positive.

The pictures linked to the auction showed the truck to be in very good to excellent condition. The truck’s location was in Southern California (SoCal). We live in Northern California. Distance-wise, it may sound close, but it is at least a 7 hour drive to the vehicle’s dealer location. Not wanting to travel that distance just be be disappointed or not purchase the vehicle, we hired an independent vehicle inspector from SoCal to check out the vehicle for us. The inspector would go over the car from head to toe and advise on current status, test drive performance, and provide additional photos of the interior and exterior. The report from the inspector came back a day or two later and was extremely positive. Only a couple of minor items were identified which we eventually reviewed with the vehicle dealership and they took care of them. I was feeling better about things, but still not eager to head on down to SoCal. I happened to be on Google Earth (or similar) and was looking at street view photos of the vehicle dealership. I happened to notice that there was an actual Ford dealership located near the vehicle dealership. I called the vehicle dealership and told them I was interested in purchasing the truck, but wanted to have a diesel specialist from Ford to inspect the it. The vehicle dealership agreed as long as I made the appointment and paid for the cost of the inspection. No problem!

Ford went through the car from top to bottom and remarked that overall the vehicle was in very good condition. Again, the issues which were identified were the same as the independent vehicle inspector’s. The vehicle dealership addressed all items which were highlighted during the inspection process.

We drove down to SoCal to look at the car for ourselves and take it for a test drive. Everything checked out just fine. We purchased the car that day and proceeded to drive it directly to Grass Valley, CA (XP Camper location) for drop-off. By now, it is late January 2014. Remember our planned February departure date? That is why we did not bring the truck back to San Jose, CA with us. We were in the process of moving everything from our house into storage as well as dealing with other last minute trip details. This was the only time we had available to drive to Grass Valley, CA which is a 4 hour drive from our home.

So by the time we leave for our trip, we will have a Toyota FJ Cruiser with a CVT roof top tent to use for the first 6-7 months of the trip and we have delivered a Ford F-350 pickup to XP Camper for our long term solution which is projected to be completed by September/October 2014.

Finally, no more thinking about and searching for vehicles!!

So, despite our original plan, we actually ended up leaving for our trip on March 8, 2014. We spent some time exploring Death Valley NP, Joshua Tree NP, Mojave Desert,and the Salton Sea area in California before making our way down along the Baja Peninsula to catch the humpback whale migration.

In the interest of time, we will fast forward a bit since this article is about vehicles and not the trip per se. Be sure to check out the other blog entries for actual trip details. 🙂

We took delivery of our XP Camper on July 10, 2014.


“Huh? I thought you said it would be done in the September / October time frame!”

I did, but…On April 16, 2014, my wife and I were sitting in a cafe in Loreto, Baja California Sur checking email. I received an email from the owner of XP Camper. In the email, he stated that there was a used XP Camper available and asked would we be interested in purchasing it as opposed to waiting for a new one? Heck yeah!! Going this route would save us both time and money. Our delivery date now pulls in from the September/October to June/July timeframe. What an unexpected surprise!!

We received the vehicle just in time to familiarize ourselves with it for a few days in the Tahoe National Forest before heading up to Bellingham, WA to catch a ferry to our next destination. ALASKA.

So, there you have it. The condensed version of our vehicle journey.

Next up: My impressions of each of our overland solutions (Sportsmobile, FJ/CVT combo, XP Camper)…

Last days in Alaska

August 23 – 29, 2014

On our way to Whittier we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The Center provides a home for animals that were either rescued due to injury or because they were found orphaned at a very young age and have little chance for survival in the wild. One of the exceptions is the wood bison program which is run in cooperation with Canada with a mission to restore the wood bison to their former Alaskan habitat. This is the only wood bison herd in the United States. The conservationists expect to release them into an area in the interior of Alaska sometime in March, 2015. At the center are three grizzlies, a couple of black bears, porcupine, moose, musk ox, reindeer a bald eagle, caribou, a fox, a pair of lynx and sitka black tailed deer.

Weighing in at around 2,250 pounds, the wood bison is the largest land mammal in North America.
Musk Ox
Reindeer buck shedding antler velvet.
Magpie catching a ride on a wood bison

The grizzlies were the most popular and I spent most of my time watching these beautiful giants. Two of the grizzlies are brother and sister and there is another female with them. When I first approached the grizzly enclosure I only saw the females. I was much impressed with their size, especially after watching their smaller neighbors, the black bears which I have seen in California’s Yosemite Park. But then big brother comes along, a giant among them. Although I saw a few grizzlies in Denali I was nowhere near this close to them. These are truly impressive animals.

Big brother eying the crowd.
The two girls looking for a snack.
Big brother towers over his sister!
Big brother towers over his sister!
One of the resident black bears.
One of the resident black bears.

Our next stop was Whittier, Alaska, a tiny town that sits along the Kenai Peninsula. We would only stay for less than 24 hours before picking up the ferry to take us to Valdez.

To get to Whittier we had to drive through a 13,200 foot tunnel that is a multi-use road / rail line. It’s only one lane and the traffic queues on each end of the tunnel awaiting an opportunity to pass through. The trains have priority to meet their schedule and the traffic alternates in 15 minute intervals. Once in Whittier, we realized just how tiny this town was. It took us just a couple of minutes to walk through the town of 222 (2013 population). There were only a handful of stores and a couple of restaurants. We were a little surprised to see a cruise ship docked here considering that we didn’t see many other tourists during our stroll. It would be hard to miss a couple thousand cruisers! Later we saw the railroad tracks for the train that picks up the passengers straight from the dock and takes them onto other destinations beyond the town.

Waiting in line at the Whittier tunnel.
Waiting in line at the Whittier tunnel.
Whittier against a spectacular mountain backdrop.
The Whittier marina. I think everyone in town owns a boat!
The Whittier marina. I think everyone in town owns a boat!


A view of Whittier Glacier from the road just behind the town that goes for just a short distance then mysteriously ends.
A view of Whittier Glacier from the road behind the town that goes for just a short distance then mysteriously ends.

We boarded the ferry to Valdez and spent a rainy couple of days there. After Whittier, Valdez seemed like a small city! It’s the end point for the Trans-Alaska pipeline which moves the oil from the Prudhoe Bay oil fields across Alaska to the port of Valdez. The town made headlines in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez tanker hit a reef, releasing over 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. “The Atlantic” website has a beautiful photo essay covering the 25th anniversary of the spill titled “The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: 25 Years Ago Today“.

We visited the museum which describes the spill and its continued impact on the environment and the social impact on the fishermen and Native Alaskans whose lives were changed forever by the spill. Exxon fought the $5 Billion dollar punitive judgement against it eventually paying only $507.5 Million. In response, a shame pole has been erected by the Alaskan Natives of Cordova at the Ilanka Cultural Center.

We spent some time watching people fishing along the docks in the marina for salmon lost in its maze. These salmon barely missed the entrance to their native spawning stream and ended up here. It made me incredibly sad to see them here, their epic journey at an end with no hope of achieving their life’s mission. Considering that I have no sense of direction and I could completely empathize with these navigationally challenged individuals. If reincarnation is the way of the universe then I hope that I never return as a salmon considering this would surely be my fate.

The marina where the journey of dozens of salmon has ended.
Things that make you say "...hmmm???"
Things that make you say “…hmmm???”

Our time in Alaska was quickly drawing to an end. We had a ferry to catch out of Haines in two days and 690 miles to cover in that time. This made for a couple of very long days of driving. The views and incredible landscapes made it an easy journey and one that I didn’t want to end too quickly.

Salmon spawning in Crooked Stream.
We stopped at Crooked Creek in Valdez to watch the salmon spawning in this small stream.
We could drive for hours just admiring these views. Oh right…we did!!!


We were treated with a glimpse of the fall colors.
We were treated with a glimpse of the fall colors.

We arrived in Haines, Alaska sometime in late afternoon. Just in time for dinner. Our first stop was the ferry terminal to see if they would let us camp in their parking lot since we would be boarding at 7:30 am which means they expect you in line by 5:30 am. We got the ok then we found something to eat. It’s been a lot of fish ‘n chips and hummus throughout Alaska and today wasn’t any different. As you can probably imagine, there are not a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables to be found but surprisingly, we consistently found that the restaurants were out of salmon! Go figure?!

After dinner we drove around the town for awhile and we were lucky enough to see two more bald eagles. The guide books say that there are bald eagles everywhere in Haines although we saw just these two. Given our very limited wildlife sightings we weren’t surprised that we didn’t see many bald eagles. Maybe when we return some day the eagles, bears, wolves, foxes, salmon, and others will reveal themselves to us.

This was a scrappy looking bald eagle but I was delighted to see him!
This was a scrappy looking bald eagle but I was delighted to see him!
Boaters in Haines, Alaska


We boarded the Alaska Marine Ferry for our second time through the Inside Passage. This time through we would be in Juneau for a few hours; just long enough to go see the Mendenhall Glacier. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to do the hike to get closer to the glacier but the views from the visitor center were wonderful. Nugget Falls, some distance to the right of the glacier ran directly under the glacier until the 1970’s. You can see from the photo below that the glacier has retreated quite a bit from those earlier days. Check here for a chronology of the glacier’s retreat along with some photographs of the glacier from earlier times.

Juneau’s beautiful Mendenhall Glacier
A group of kayakers floating past an iceberg from Mendenhall Glacier.
See the bald eagle at this top of the tree?!
See the bald eagle at this top of the tree?!
Here is a close-up of the eagle in the treetop.
Spawning salmon

Ketchikan was the next town that we visited during our trip through the Inside Passage. It was a very wet walk into town to the visitor center where we picked up a map of the town’s totem poles. We visited the Totem Heritage Center where salvaged Tlingit and Haida totem poles were on display. As we passed over Ketchikan Creek Darryl noticed a group of salmon in the waters. As we looked closer we noticed that the whole creek was packed with hundreds of salmon! It was the most amazing sight seeing the creek literally shimmering with life.

A close-up of the salmon in Ketchikan Creek.
All of those shapes that look like stone are actually salmon.

DSC05783Our time in Alaska has drawn to a close and our wild, beautiful adventure in this beautiful State was more spectacular than I expected. We are so grateful for this opportunity that we have to make this epic journey and we definitely made the right decision when we added Alaska to the itinerary.