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The Alaskan Wilderness Odyssey - Panning for Gold at Chicaloon




Part 5

When we woke up on the 4th of July, the sun was shining and the views were finally clear. We had survived another cold night, but the sun was warming things up with mist rising off the wet leaves and trees branches. Jen made all of us eggs and toast, and we packed up our tents and gear. We headed out to a tunnel that had been hand cut but was never finished because of a gun fight that happened between two train companies. It was quaint - one of those places where you stand there looking around and trying to visualize what had occurred decades before in that exact spot.

After this, we headed into town for the bike parade, but the highlight of the parade was "Uncle



Salmon". It as a life-size salmon dressed up in a red, white, and blue Uncle Sam suit - including the top hat. Uncle Salmon was the perfect for a patriotic parade in salmon country! After seeing Uncle Salmon and the parade, we decided in the same theme to go see if we could catch some pink salmon on the other side of the bay by the power plant. Caleb caught three nice pink salmon. The rest of us did our best to get our own, but it was to no avail. For kicks and giggles, Caleb switched to a fly-rod to add to the enthusiasm of the fight. The last salmon Caleb caught put up quite a fight, and I waded into the water on the edge got the assist by throwing the salmon up on the rocks with my hands. We cleaned the salmon right on the same rocks and headed off to have a late lunch of salmon and red potatoes.




Once lunch was done he headed back to Valdez to watch a canoe jousting competition that was held on a pond in the downtown area. This event was an absolute hoot to watch. We wandered around the harbor and ended up doing a tour of a Coast Guard boat while we were there. Live music was playing downtown , so we snagged a burger and headed over to listen to the music. Truly it was a fabulous way to spend the 4th of July - Alaska style. One of the silly aspects of our trip revolved around this holiday. The entire way out to Alaska, we kept pushing and pushing so that we could watch fireworks at a harbor in Alaska for the 4th of July. The only thing we forgot was that it doesn't get dark, so no one has fireworks. It was one of many preconceived notions that got shattered on our trip:)

We left Valdez (maybe the prettiest spot on all of our trip) and headed back to Glenallen, but now that the sky was clear, we could see all around as we headed out the gorge and up the switchbacks to get over the mountain pass. We stopped at an overlook on the "summit", which gave a breathtaking 360 degree view! Caleb pulled out the Go-pro to catch the scenery of the area and take some memories back home with us.

That night, we had a campfire when we got back to the camper. We made s'mores again and hung out by the firelight just laughing and visiting. It was wonderful to sleep in a warm camper!!!


July 5th

As we packed up to leave the campground, we started noticing having more room than we previously have had, so either we're getting better at packing or we just have less stuff. Jen and I organized the food again, so we downsized one whole tub! It's little things like this that give you a simple satisfaction - providing just a little extra room helps everything. We headed out on our way to Anchorage, but we stopped by a little town called "Chicaloon".




A secondary aspect of being in Alaska is that it gives me an opportunity to do some research on specific aspects of Alaska. Chicaloon was one such aspect. I have started an outdoors survival novel, and the setting of it is Chicaloon, Alaska. So, what a treat it was to stop and walk around this tiny little ghost town. The only active building in the town at this point is the United States Post Office, so we stopped to see what we could find. This little post office was as Alaska as Alaska gets. We opened the squeeky door with the little bell ringing to find a little room (10x12')with various supplies scattered around the perimeter, including some glass pop that we just had to have. We walked up to the counter to meet the only gal who was working in the office. But, to our absolute delight, her full sized black and white St. Bernard came to the counter to greet us. He lifted his front paws up on the counter across from us, so we just had to pet the friendly fella. As we did this, we introduced ourselves to the post master and told her about the book and trying to get some local history on Chicaloon.

As we talked, in walked a slight older man with a leather vest, sun glasses, and an olive green pith helmet on. As soon as the post master saw this gentleman, she told us that he was the exact person we needed to meet - as unofficially he was the Chicaloon historian. What a blessing! We introduced ourselves to him, and we found out that he was a local gold panner. We asked if he'd show us how to pan, so we followed him across the road to the river that was behind the old shutdown gas station and convenience store/motel. He taught Caleb how to pan and shared tales of the area. As it turned out, his parents had owned the shutdown gas station. The man's name was Warren, and he was full of information about the area. He shared how the mining companies were ruthless in their dealings. Warren had a blended family with brothers who were Indian. The mining companies ended disputes with gunfire, and unfortunately, one of Warren's brothers had been killed in such a dispute. The mining company had no use for families who were blended like that. As we wrapped up, Caleb had panned with success and not thinking anything of it, he just dumped his gold back in the river. Warren stood there looking incredulously as he used the gold for making jewelry. He was dumbfounded that you'd dump gold back into the river.

I gave him a copy of my first book as a thanks for taking the time to talk and show us how to pan. After getting into Anchorage, we stopped at Bass Pro to get a few items. Caleb needed new hiking boots, since his had blown out. Karli picked up some sandals, and I was super fortunate to swap out a perculating coffee pot. We had lost the top of it and had tried making due with duct tape and other red neck solutions to fix it up, but the coffee pot took 2-3 times as long as normal to make a pot of coffee. This has grown to be very frustrating in the mornings, so when they just swapped it out, we were elated! That was an unexpected blessing! We called in an order to Pizza Hut and drove over there to enjoy a civilized sit-down dinner:) It was wonderful! We got a little news on the tvs in there, as well as a little baseball. Jen and the girls walked next door to Walmart to restock up on things while Caleb and I watched baseball. It seemed like a life of luxury after having been on the road for so long in nothing other than wilderness areas for day's on end.




We headed out of Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula (Alaska's playground). We drove right on the edge of the Turnagain Arm with only train tracks in between us and the water. This was a remarkable drive with the ocean bay on our right and mountains towering overhead on the left. Once you get down to the base of the Turnagain Arm, you can go on the west or east side of the peninsula, and we opted to start out on the west side, which would eventually lead us down to Homer and the Spit (Katchimak Bay). As we drove west, we were leaving the mountains behind us but we were headed into good fishing - the world renowned Russian River. We tried stopping at several campgrounds, but settled on Isaak Watson Rec. Site just outside of Sterling by Soldotna. It was late when we rolled in, so we just set up and went directly to bed.


July 6th

We slept in for the morning and had cereal for breakfast. We headed over to Sterling to grab a shower. We found a laundry mat that also had shower you could pay for. It felt wonderful to get clean while the laundry ran. We had a great visit with the lady who worked there. She agreed to move our towels from the washer to the dryer for us, so that we could get on our way to check out the visitor center (which had an interesting cultural center with it). After that, we went to the beach where the mouth of the Kenai River emptied out. The Kenai River is also a great fishing river, but we were about a week early for the next run of salmon coming up the river.

We made a quick lunch and headed back to our laundry mat to get our clothes and go back to make dinner. Caleb and I were planning a fishing trip for the next day, but it would require a bit of scouting on our part. But, little did we know that our plans for the rest of the day were going to be thrown into a whirlwind by meeting a former government agent back at the laundry mat who really liked to trout fish. And when I say really liked to fish for trout, I mean "really" liked to fish trout. Until I die, I will never forget the next couple of days - just because of Jillian, Julian, or whoever she really was....Buckle in for this next adventure!


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