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ALASKA

2007

 

The complete travelogue

 of our trip

North to Alaska

 

 July 2007

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PART 1 of 3

 

Mascoutah, Illinois to Anchorage, Alaska

 

Skip to Part 2:  Exploring Anchorage and South-Central Alaska  

 

Skip to Part 3:  Returning from Anchorage to Illinois

 

 

A few years ago, we started talking about going back to visit Alaska before Spencer graduated from high school and went off to college. 

We lived there from 1989-1996 and Spencer was born there in 1990.  There are a lot of good memories from those years in the "49th State". 

We hope you enjoy the photos and stories of our drive from Illinois to Alaska and back - a round trip of some 9,500 miles.  Here we go!!

 

 

 

 

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 Our trusty old van - 1996 Chevrolet Lumina APV with 129,000 miles.

All cleaned up, new tires, new oil and anti-freeze.

 

 

 

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Packing up.  My goal was to keep a clear view out of the rear window.

 

 

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Plenty of room to stretch out in comfort.

 

 

 

DAY 1:  Sunday July 1st

Mascoutah, Illinois to Omaha, Nebraska

Today 462 miles : Trip total 462 miles

 

 

 

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Spencer's driving the first leg of the trip.  Here we go!!

 

 

 

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25 miles from home.  Guess where?

(St Louis Arch)

 

 

 

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Look closely.  It's night, but you can see the space shuttle Endeavor getting a ride home to Florida on the back of a NASA 747.

Like us, it's over-nighting at Offutt Air Force Base, where we lived from 1996-1999.

 

 

DAY 2:  Monday July 2nd

Omaha, Nebraska to Murdo, South Dakota

Today 411 miles :  Trip total 873 miles

 

 

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The second-most-popular tourist destination in South Dakota, the Corn Palace in Mitchell is

decorated each year with ears of corn in varying colors to create very imaginative murals.

 

 

 

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Inside the Corn Palace.  Lots of "corny" vendors.

 

 

 

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Some of the corn murals on the wall at the Corn Palace.

 

 

 

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Close-up of a corn mural.

A lot of thought goes into the details.

 

 

 

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OK, we're done with the Corn Palace and heading west through South Dakota.

It's mostly loooonnnng stretches of straight road with occasional scenes like this.

 

 

 

DAY 3:  Tuesday July 3rd

Murdo, South Dakota to Sheridan, Wyoming

Today 442 miles :  Trip total 1,315 miles

 

 

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New day, same scenery (for awhile).

 

 

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Did I mention long stretches of road?  Oh, yes, I did.  Here's more!

Are we there yet?  Only 3,000 miles to go to get to Alaska.

 

 

 

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We got out to stretch our legs and enjoy the spectacular scenery of...  the prairies!

We did comb our hair first, but there is a constant 30 MPH wind.

 

 

 

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Wall Drug has been a popular tourist trap for decades!

There are literally hundreds of billboards all over the Dakotas advertising this site.

 

 

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Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota.

We stopped to look at the museum.  Very nice!!

 

 

 

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One of the museum displays is this nuclear (or, as George W. Bush says, "NU-CU-LAR")

missile launch command from an underground missile silo.

 

 

 

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Approaching Mt Rushmore - our first view as we ascend toward the monument.

 

 

 

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Uh, oh!  A half mile to go, and the traffic is parked in both lanes.  Moving verrry slowly!

When we finally got to within 2 cars of the parking lot entrance, it closed.  Full.

We drove past the lot about a mile, parked along the road, and walked back.

 

 

 

 

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A glimpse of George Washington from a side angle between the rocks.

 

 

 

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Family photo at Mt Rushmore.  (Left - 1996 / Right - 2007)

 

 

 

 

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Close-up of the 4 Presidents.

 

 

 

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Hiking some of the trails around Mt Rushmore.

 

 

 

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After Mt Rushmore, it was time to head west to Sheridan, Wyoming for the night.

 

 

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Leaving the Badlands and heading toward the Rockies.

 

 

 

DAY 4:  Wednesday July 4th

Sheridan, Wyoming to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Today 355 miles : Trip total 1,670 miles

 

 

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Westbound from Sheridan, Wyoming.

Interesting 2-lane road as it approaches the first of the Rocky Mountains.

Suddenly, we were climbing toward the sky on a twisty stretch of road.

 

 

 

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Near the top of the first climb, we looked back on where we took the previous photo.

 

 

 

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Steamboat Point, near the top of the first climb west of Sheridan.

Elevation is 7,200 feet.

 

 

 

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Welcome to Yellowstone National Park.  Road construction in progress.

 

 

 

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Continental Divide at Yellowstone NP.

All rivers west of this point flow into the Pacific.

All rivers east of this point flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

(See next photo for flashback!)

 

 

 

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Flashback to 1996 - We stopped at Yellowstone on our way back from Alaska.

The car was shipped to Seattle and we drove from there to Nebraska.

Who would have thought we'd be back for another photo in 11 years?

 

 

 

 

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Waiting for Old Faithful.  (She's brewing in the background)

 

 

 

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Thar' she blows!  Old Faithful.  (Left 2007 - Right Spencer in 1996)

 

 

 

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There were many active hot springs throughout the park.

 

 

 

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The North Canyon of Yellowstone.

Nicknamed the "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone".

 

 

 

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At Yellowstone with Spencer on our way back from Alaska to our new home in Nebraska - June 1996.

 

 

 

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Yellowstone - Lower Falls

 

 

 

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On the way back to the room, we passed this huge herd of bison.

 

 

 

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This guy wanted a little time to himself and was wandering up the road away from the herd.

 

 

 

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We also saw several elk.

 

 

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More hot springs in Yellowstone.

 

 

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Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone.

These have been mostly inactive since about 1998.  Beautiful colors, though.

 

 

 

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The moon was shining brightly above Mammoth Hot Springs.

 

 

 

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Mammoth Hot Springs is continually growing as water seeps from underground.

The water evaporates and the minerals stay behind and build up.

 

 

 

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Flashback - Family photo at Mammoth Hot Springs in June 1996.

 

 

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View of Mammoth Hot Springs from above.

 

We enjoyed a nice quiet evening at Grant Village Lodge.

No TV, no internet, no phone!  Ahhh, peace and quiet.

 

 

DAY 5:  Thursday July 5th

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming to Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana

Today 403 miles : Trip total 2,073 miles

 

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Goodbye, Yellowstone!

Leaving the North Entrance by Gardiner, Montana.

 

 

 

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Montana, northbound to Malmstrom AFB.

Over the next couple of hours, the mountains got smaller.

 

 

 

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As we got closer to Malmstrom AFB and the Canada border,

the landscape was becoming more level, but still hilly.

 

 

 

DAY 6:  Friday July 6th

Malmstrom AFB, Montana to Edmonton, Alberta (Canada)

Today 530 miles: Trip total 2,603 miles

 

 

 

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After leaving Malmstrom AFB, it was north about 150 miles to the border of Canada.

Here, we are approaching customs and border inspection.

 

 

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It was pretty uneventful crossing, but the line moved slowly.

It took about an hour to get through this line of about 15 cars.

 

 

 

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Soon, we were on our way!  Welcome to Canada!

Alberta is mostly flat farming country.  Lots of grain fields.

 

 

 

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What did I tell you?  It looks like this most of the way to Edmonton.

It reminds us of Nebraska and Kansas.

 

 

 

 

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We rolled into Edmonton after dinner, so the hotel pickings were slim.

The Travel Lodge was nice and reasonably priced, but the lady told me the only room left was a "Theme Room" with bears.

I thought Spencer would get a laugh out of this.  He did!

I promised to email this picture to all of his friends at school. 

 

 

 

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Edmonton Mall - the world's largest indoor mall.

 

 

 

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Edmonton Mall - HUGE indoor wave pool/ swimming pool.

 

 

 

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And, of course, there has to be an indoor skating rink since we're in Canada!

 

 

 

 

DAY 7:  Saturday July 7th

Edmonton, Alberta to Fort Nelson, British Columbia

Today 653 miles: Trip total 3,256 miles

 

We are up early and on the road by 6:00am.  We decide to drive for an hour before stopping for breakfast at

McDonalds in Whitecourt. Then, it was on to Dawson Creek, the start of the ALCAN (Alaska/Canada Highway). 

 

 

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After about 2,800 miles, we are finally at the START of the Alaska Highway!

 

 

 

 

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Nearby is the official starting point.  Mile "0".

We will be back here in a couple of weeks.

 

 

 

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This old maps shows the path of the Alaska Highway through British Columbia, Yukon Territory, and Alaska.

 

 

 

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This sign was posted back in the 1940s as a warning for

those applying for work on the Alaska Highway.

 

 

 

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We're finally on the ALCAN (Alaska/Canada Highway).  The first hundred miles is pretty tame.

This is where most of the countryside transitions from farmland to forests.

 

 

 

 

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About 50 miles up the ALCAN, we ran into the first gravel section - road construction.

The long, brutal winters are hard on the road and there is only a short window in the summer to do repairs.

 

 

 

 

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The gravel section did not last long.  Most of the ALCAN was well paved.

 

 

 

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Continuing on to Ft Nelson.  It's looking more and more remote.

 

 

 

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Suddenly Spencer shouted, "Stop!".  He took this great photo of a black bear

along the road through the open van door.

 

 

 

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About 150 miles up the ALCAN.

Civilization is rapidly disappearing in our rearview mirror. 

 

We made it to Ft Nelson and stayed at Woodlands Inn, a very nice (new) hotel.  We also got our first reminder of how expensive everything is on the ALCAN.  Gas was $5.00 per gallon and a medium pizza was $25.00.  Ouch!

 

 

 

DAY 8:  Sunday July 8th

Fort Nelson, British Columbia to Teslin Lake, Yukon

Today 475 miles:  Trip total 3,731 miles

 

I awoke this morning with terrible nausea and a headache. Could it be the greasy pizza from last night? I don't want to slow down our progress, so I decided to get out the pillows and sleep in the 2nd row seat while Beth and Spencer drove.  I rested for about 2 hours, then awoke when I heard the excitement - wildlife in the road! 

 

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Spencer getting a "thru the windshield" picture

of wildlife in the highway.

 

 

 

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They are not too concerned about our van.

Can't they see Beth is driving???

 

 

 

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Just up the road, Mama and baby are out for a stroll.

 

 

 

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Hey - When ya' gotta go, ya' gotta go!

 

 

 

 

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"Hey, take my picture!  Cheeeeeeese!"

 

 

 

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Nice pullout along the McDonald River.

 

 

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Family photo at McDonald River / Stone Mountain area.

 

 

 

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Farther up the ALCAN is Summit Lake. Spencer is trying to tell the stone sheep

the sign says they should be over here.

 

 

 

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Approaching the Toad River and Muncho Lake area.

By now, I was feeling better and gave

Beth and Spencer a break from driving.

 

 

 

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Liard Hot Springs area is noted for its bison herds.

We stopped as a herd passed in front and behind us.

 

 

 

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This crazy lady behind us stood out in the path of the bison.

I guess she wanted to socialize with them.  Cool until they get spooked.

 

 

 

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Ah, somebody's sleepy.  I guess he drove early this morning.

 

 

 

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We woke up Spencer for the "Welcome to the Yukon" sign.

He's smiling, but he's also asleep (Note the closed eyes).

 

 

 

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This is what a typical gas station on the ALCAN looks like.

Lots more personality than the corner Exxon back home.

 

 

 

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Continuing north into the Yukon forests.

 

 

 

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Ft Nelson, Yukon.  Legend has it that a homesick worker on the

ALCAN back in the 1940s put up a sign from his hometown.

Others soon followed.  Over the years, tens of thousands (yes!) of signs have

been added to what is now known as the Sign Post Forest.

 

 

 

 

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One of the many rows of city and street signs.

 

 

 

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More signs!

 

 

 

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Looking for places we've been.  Many are from Europe.

 

 

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Approaching Teslin Lake and our hotel for the night.

 

 

 

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Finally, we made it to Teslin Lake and stayed at the Dawson Peaks Resort.

 

 

 

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Beautiful setting of the cabins along the lake.

 

 

 

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Well, it may not be a fancy resort, but it was nice and quiet.

We had indoor bathroom, electricity, a bed, and very few mosquitos.

What more do you want?

 

 

 

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Spencer camped out on the floor.  We all slept well.

 

 

 

DAY 9:  Monday July 9th

Teslin Lake, Yukon to Tok, Alaska

Today 503 miles:  Total miles 4,234

 

 

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We got an early start (again) the next morning and headed north.

Here, Spencer is driving as we approach the Teslin River.

 

 

 

 

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The Teslin River Bridge is the 3rd-longest span on the ALCAN.

Spencer got to drive the one open lane with a 100-foot drop just inches to the left.

(Spoiler alert - We made it!)

 

 

 

 

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One of many motorcyclists we saw on the ALCAN.

I originally thought I'd like to ride it, but it's all paved now.

Not quite the motorcycle adventure that it once was.

 

 

 

 

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Caution - Elk next 20 Kilometers (about 12 miles)

The only elk we saw on this trip were back at Yellowstone.

 

 

 

 

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Haines Junction, Yukon.  Be sure to turn right or you'll end up in Haines.

 

 

 

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Heading north from Haines Junction toward Kluane Lake.

 

 

 

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Approaching Kluane Lake and Sheep Mountain.

This is the largest lake in the Yukon (154 square miles)

 

 

 

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Waiting for road construction at Kluane Lake.  The next 100 miles had a lot of

waiting for pilot cars to usher us through construction zones.

 

 

 

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Watching them tear away the side of the mountain to widen the road.

 

 

 

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Finally!  Time to go.  Follow the truck. 

 

 

 

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Rough road.  I hope none of those big rocks overhead fall.

You can see why they want to widen the road.

 

 

 

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Once we were past the construction zone, we had a nice view of Kluane Lake.

 

 

 

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Still a couple of hours away from the Alaska border.

The scenery is incredible! 

 

 

 

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Heading north past Kluane Lake and approaching the Alaska border.

A new bridge is being built alongside the old one.

 

 

 

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Not too far from Alaska now.

 

 

 

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More gravel.  More campers.

 

 

 

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Generally, oncoming traffic will slow and move over as far as possible to reduce dust and flying rocks.

 

 

 

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More construction.  They only have 3 or 4 months each year to repair the roads each year.

Our trusty old van is holding up well.

 

 

 

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The joy of following campers on a dusty road.

 

 

 

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Are we there yet?  Mastering the state-of-the-art gaming devices of 2007.

 

 

 

 

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WELCOME TO ALASKA!!

After 8-1/2 days and 4,100 miles, we reach the border of Alaska.

 

 

Click to Continue to Part 2 - Rediscovering Alaska, Our Home 1989-1996

 

 

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