Alaskan RED

A lifelong Alaskan learning about the world one backroad at a time

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Klondike Highway – A Surprise at the Robinson Flag Stop

On our last day of our summer roadtrip, we were headed from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to Skagway, Alaska on the Klondike Highway.  It’s one of my favorite drives and one I’ve made many times.  There is so much wonderful scenery and historic significance from the Gold Rush.  It still feels almost novel to me because I remember when this highway didn’t exist. There was so much talk around building the road and what a treacherous mountain pass it would be but the economics of transporting ore by road made it feasible.

Before the road was built, there was a railroad that traveled the entire distance – the White Pass Yukon Route, a narrow gauge railroad.  It now runs only as far as Lake Bennett for tourists and and to pick up hikers following the Gold Rush route on the Chilkoot Trail.  Mom and I took the train the year before I graduated from high school and as it happened, the year before the road was built. But the story of the train is for another day.

Inevitably on our roadtrips, we make our first stop not long after we’ve gotten underway – a symptom of drinking lots of water and coffee while we are packing up the truck to head out!  On this day, our morning rest stop was at the site of the Robinson Flag Station, a whistle stop on the original railroad line.  It closed in 1983 after the train quit running the full distance into Whitehorse.   It was a nice day and I grabbed my camera to walk the short easy trail.

I saw this little guy not steps from our truck.  It’s a gray jay but we just call them camp robbers, a name well deserved as they are always on the lookout for food and will steal anything they can find in your camp.  All About Birds by Cornell University calls them “deceptively cute”.

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There are some great signs about the history of the area and I walked slowly along reading each of them.  There is also a lot of discarded stuff,  various remnants of the flag station here and there, including this old stove about halfway down the trail.

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I emerged from the brush next to the railroad tracks and was rewarded with this view of the original building.

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I thought I might be able to get a good picture from the railroad tracks and once up there, I turned west but the view was mostly of an overgrown rail line.  Still hopeful for a good picture, I turned around to look down the tracks towards the east and there it was:

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I was surprised to see him and from this look on his face, apparently he was surprised to see me too.  How long had he been watching me?  Fortunately, the bear wasn’t too close and he wasn’t moving at all – just standing there staring at me.  I zoomed in and snapped a couple more pictures before backing off the tracks and heading down the trail towards the truck.

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I hollered for hubby to let him know there was a bear in the area and at first he thought I meant a black bear which we see all the time both at home and on the highway, in fact we saw a baker’s dozen alongside the highway in just two hours a couple nights before.

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When I told him it was a brown bear,  we had to walk back to the tracks so he could see it for himself.  Surprisingly, it was standing in the very same place and looked back at us again before ambling off into the brush.

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We’d been talking just the day before about all the wildlife we’ve seen on our recent Alcan Highway drives and realized one thing we had yet to see was a brownie.  They are pretty rare in Juneau proper so we only see them when we are outside of town or traveling.

Happy we’d seen some wildlife, we returned to the truck and got back on the road.  Not too far along, we came across these two.

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Not as exciting as a brownie, but a couple of nice deer who thoughtfully posed for my pictures.  What a great end to another fabulous drive on the Alaska Canada Highway!


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Growing up in Juneau, Alaska meant very little locally produced food. We have the proteins mostly covered – my family hunted moose and caribou in Alaska’s interior – dad’s idea of a vacation – and we hunt deer in the fall and do some occasional grouse hunting.  Then too  there is the incredible bounty from the sea – all varieties of salmon, halibut, cod, clams, crab and shrimp – for which we are eternally grateful.

But when all is said and done, there’s not a lot of land available between the mountains and the sea for farming.There was a dairy in town long before I was born but the land became the town’s first shopping mall accompanied by a variety of businesses stretching south along…you can guess this…Old Dairy Road. I was in my 20s before I saw an apple hanging on a tree, a sight that thrills me to this day. (See my prior post on apple orchards.)

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Cabana Boy loves radishes (!) and laments that we can’t buy anything but plain red radishes that are usually on the old side.  A local produce manager tells us radishes, in particular their leaves, don’t keep very well as they are shipped north in a refrigerated van so they don’t even try. Back in the day, we ate “boat eggs”, shipped in by barge and weeks old.

Things have become much better recently for finding locally made foods.  We live near the Alaskan Brewery which has grown their distribution throughout the western states but still retains the craft brewery vibe and awesome seasonal brews.  We can smell Heritage coffee roasting their beans when the wind is right.The Wild Oven and Silverbow Bakery provide fresh baked breads to local restaurants and there are some artisan foods available at markets held periodically.  But fresh produce is limited to what we grow in our backyard, including a huge quantity of rhubarb, and what can be purchased at the end of the short growing season from the folks who have overflow from their plots in the community garden or greenhouses scattered here and there in Juneau and neighboring (and by that I mean a 4 hour ferry ride away) towns.

So when we travel, we love to visit farmers markets, local seafood producers, cheese shops, dairies and of course, wineries.  Our first search in a new area is to find places where we can buy locally produced food and our recent foray to Vancouver Island was no exception. The homeowner left us Creekmore Coffee, roasted just up the road from her home.  From there, we checked out every supermarket, natural food market, little food shops we saw on our drives, and the Qualicum Farmer’s Market which was the only one open in the winter.

The farmer’s market produced some green onions, squash, and carrots, a loaf of bread, and some whiskey bacon.  Also available was locally roasted coffee, some meats, and various jams and jellies.  We branched out into other food emporiums and this is what we found.

Island Farms – Dairy products of all varieties, including the critical half and half for my morning coffee.  This is a corporate dairy but they do make their Island sold products in Victoria from local dairy milk and are readily available in most markets.

Avalon Dairy – Not actually on the Island but rather in Burnaby in the Fraser Valley, I found their half and half in Naked Naturals, a natural foods store.  They had me at certified organic and of course the cute signature glass bottle didn’t hurt.

Fanny Bay Oysters – Lovely little briny oysters harvested from right off the beach near their processing facility.  Nuff said!

French Creek Seafoods – down in the French Creek Marina, these guys have lots of different fish and shellfish, including lots of local stuff but it wasn’t fishing season so most things were frozen.   On the list for a return visit.

MooBerry Winery – located on a farm between Parksville and Qualicum, they produce some wonderful fruit wines including apple, blueberry and my favorite, raspberry.  Drink it as a after dinner sip or mix a little with champagne for a delightful treat.

Little Qualicum Cheeseworks – in the MooBerry tasting room, you can also watch them make cheese and sample some until you find your favorite.  I love them all but their brie is especially yummy and I discovered spiced cheese, a lovely white cheese speckled with cumin, which I believe is related to dutch Leyden cheese.

Hillier’s Gourmet Foods – a lovely discovery on our very first day during a drive to Port Alberni, thanks to their sign which was visible from the road.  We knew we’d hit the jackpot when a local lady insisted this was the “best bacon on the island”. So we bought a half dozen slices, along with some sausages, and were delighted by the different seasonings, Ukrainian inspired perhaps.  We ended up going back for more and a nice steak for dinner one Saturday night.

Island SodaWorks – naturally fermented probiotic low sugar sodas made in Errington. Yes…soda.  I rarely drink soda as I don’t like sweet drinks but these are light, not too sweet and so refreshing.  We found them at Unicorn Farm and bought all the flavors but my favorite is the Ginger Salal.   I hear the Skookum Tonic is wonderful if you are a gin and tonic fan. And did I mention the weekend tacos?

Tree Island – the piece de resistance in my mind, I found their yogurt in Naked Naturals and realized my search for locally made yogurt may be over, at least on the island. I have raved about some local yogurt Mom and I had in Scotland and have been searching for a similar experience ever since.  These folks came very close.  We were delighted by the vanilla bean specks in the Cream Top Vanilla,  their lightly flavored Lemon, and the unique Chai spiced. Even Cabana Boy, never a yogurt lover, succumbed to their charms.

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There were so many other food experiences and I’m sure a summer visit will produce many more local fruits and veggies but I felt we made a successful start.  Now if we could convince their liquor stores to carry a better selection of Okanagan wine!


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THE SERENDIPITY OF OKANAGAN WINE TASTING

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We spent a couple days in Banff doing all the touristy stuff – visiting Bow Falls, taking pictures of the Fairmont Chateau, walking in the pine forest, and pretending we were twelve years old racing through the streets of downtown on bicycles on loan from the hotel. But it felt like time to move on so we drove back to Lake Louise, across through Revelstoke and on Vernon where we rested up for the wine country to come.  We were fortified by a visit to the Okanagan Distillery where Peter shared with us the workings of the copper still and some very fine spirits and liqueurs. Do not miss this place if you get to Vernon or Kelowna where they have a second location.
The next day we began wine tasting in earnest. Anyone who knows me knows I like wine so the hundreds of wineries stretching from Vernon to the border seemed like heaven. We visited several on the drive from Vernon to Penticton where we decided to spend the night so we could venture up onto the Naramata Bench before winding down to Osoyoos for a last bit before we crossed back into the U.S.
When touring wine country where the options are vast, it is often difficult to choose where to stop. Recommendations from friends or locals help and a stop by the local visitor center can net a map and a few ideas. I’ve asked hotel clerks and restaurant waitstaff for ideas and I’ve had strangers offer up a suggestion. But sometimes the best thing is to drive through an area, stopping where the whim strikes – a neat logo, a funny name, or a beautiful property. But our favorite experience tasting in the Naramata Bench area of the Okanagan, northeast of Penticton can only be described as Serendipitous.
While we had recommendations, we attempted some other wineries that looked inviting only to find they were not open. Then we spied the sign…Serendipity…and I knew we had to stop. It looked small, my favorite kind of tasting room, and the name was perfect. When we hopped out of the truck, a woman walked out of the vines – we’d obviously disturbed her at work and apologized but she brushed it off saying that it was her job to both work the vines and to serve tastings.
Now what most people don’t know about me is that the part I like most about wine tasting is finding a small operation and learning the story. And the story of Serendipity was no exception and the owner was happy to indulge me.
She had been a lawyer in eastern Canada but has hesitations about returning to work after a bad car accident. She loves food and cooking but was physically unable to be a chef. On vacation in Kelowna, she saw an apple and pear orchard for sale, made an offer on it while at the airport for her return flight and by the time she reached home, she was the new owner. She went to farm school, ripped up the fruit trees, planted grapevines and started making wine, the kind of wine that goes well with food. If she couldn’t be a chef, she could provide the wine that went with the meal. Every bottle had a picture and a quotation that meant something to her. A picture of Sir Isaac Newton’s apple and gravity moment, the inclusion of Alice and her Wonderland companions, a wine named Devils Advocate, and intriguing Red-Handed, bearing the quote “Don’t regret the things you do, regret getting caught.”
She named the winery Serendipity because that is how she came to trade her life as a married lawyer for that of a strong woman running her own business, owning a winery, sharing that experience with her children.And indeed it was serendipity that brought us to her door and had us packing several bottles of her wine in our truck and that has kept this story in my head.


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Fall Comes to Canada

They talk about the colors in New England and they’re right – I’ve seen them and they are spectacular with red, yellow and gold. But a late September drive through the Yukon and British Columbia has its own beauty, lots of it! While it lacks much red, the golds and yellows are offset by the beautiful dark green of black spruce and accented by fluffy yellow larch – a deciduous conifer. P1050170~3And then there is the sheer magnitude – miles and miles of color. Add in the decided lack of other people, top it off with the wildlife which are more evident as they move to lower elevations with the cooler weather, and it’s not to be missed trip.

Wednesday’s drive began in Watson Lake, British Columbia – a popular stop on the Al-Can Highway. We had made the wise decision not to camp, a decision confirmed when we stepped out of the Big Horn Lodge to find ice on the truck. We headed south and it wasn’t long before we spotted sign (aka critter poop) along the roadside and soon we came upon a black bear though he moved off into the brush quickly.  Next up, we spotted a Wood Bison bull.  The British Columbia Wood Bison is endangered but we saw many throughout the day – singles, groups, adults,and youngsters. My favorite was a group with young ones lying flat out like tired teenagers. Further down the road we saw and heard two large Vs of migrating Sandhill Cranes – a sure sign of fall

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A stop at Liard Hot Springs is required on this drive. Its a mostly natural sulphur spring,  accessed by a wood boardwalk through the bogs and forest. The park has built changing rooms and is working on a small day lodge to be finished this year. There are also upper pools but they were closed due to a problem bear. Because of the warmth, there is an amazing amount of plants not normally found here so even if you don’t take a dip, its worth the walk                                      .

image[1]After our Liard stretch, our next stop was Muncho Lake – a wonderful geologic area with alluvial plains and fans created by summer runoffs washing down the steep bare mountains. Muncho has areas of emerald to jade green, caused by the copper oxide in the rock and we pulled off on the shore for lunch overlooking the lake.

Continuing our drive after lunch, we saw two separate caribou, both of which were fairly unconcerned with us. In fact, one seemed quite interested for a bit, walking towards us and stopping to stare.image_2[1]

A bit further along, we slowed for Stone sheep ewes along the road. We also saw porcupines, swans swimming in the distance & mallards paddling in roadside ponds.

image_3[1]All in all, it was a wonderful wildlife day accompanied by awesome scenery!