Thursday, September 22, 2016

There's Gold in Them There Hills!

 Similar to many hunters and fishermen, gold seekers are a secretive bunch. Ask a hunter if there are any big bucks in the area or a fisherman if they are getting any fish and you will get a pretty vague answer that will not help you at all. A typical response will be: “Seen a couple small ones” or “Getting a few here and there”. I first learned this the hard way when we ran into Crazy Al, a backwoods gold miner outside of Haines Junction. He pulled up and talked to us when we boondocked next to his claim, talking our ear off for the better part of an hour. But when I asked him how this claim was doing I got a weird look from him and all I heard was crickets in the background.

Well in our latest adventure we were going to see firsthand how these gold miners operate. We were on our way to our son-in-law’s claim outside of Idaho City!

The drive from Craters of the Moon to Idaho City through the Sawtooth Wilderness area was gorgeous, along 75 highway and through the city of Ketchum where the infamous Sun Valley ski resort is located. We boondocked on some national forest land just outside of Galena. It rained on and off through the night, the next morning we woke up to frost on the ground around the camper and snow in the mountains we were about to cross over. Fall was definitely in the air!
Frosty Morning!

Following highway 75 we ascended the mountain to Galena Summit down the other side and turning right onto highway 21 headed towards the town of Lowman. We thought there was something wrong with our GPS when it said it was going to take us over an hour to travel the 30 miles between Lowman and Idaho City but the steep inclines and switchbacks quickly reduced our speed to 35 mph and it did indeed take us over an hour to travel the 30 miles.

Shane had given us the GPS coordinates to their claim and we soon found ourselves at their site the day before they were to arrive. We set up, did a little exploring and waiting for Jessica, Shane, Dylan and Kendall to arrive. We had not seen our grandkids since last April and were looking forward to seeing how much they had grown.  They arrived the next day and after the greetings and hugs were out of the way we started setting up the mining equipment. Their claim is a 20 acre section that follows along a creek where Shane concentrates most of his efforts.
Beautiful Creek

A fire came through last October
He has a portable dredge (~4’x6’) that comes complete with a built in pump and air supply. He set up the dredge in the creek put on his wet suit, hooked up his air supply and went to work. The dredge itself acts as a huge vacuum cleaner sucking up everything in its path up to the size of a tennis ball….rocks, pebbles, sand and anything else that may be in the creek.
Getting everything ready

At first glance you have to wonder why the wet suit and air supply is even necessary as the creek only appeared a foot deep in some of the deepest spots. We soon learned both of these were needed. Since gold weighs more than all the other material it works its way down to the deepest areas it can go so Shane started by moving a boulder and sucking up everything around it, then he moved another boulder and another sucking up all the smaller material around them. Deeper and deeper he went moving everything bigger than a tennis ball by hand.
See how shallow it is?

Getting started!

The big vacuum hose

Several hours later......
Drone shot of the creek and camping area

All the material that is sucked up goes into the dredge where it runs over a series of mats designed to let everything but the heaviest material pass right through while the heavy material settles into the mats. There really wasn’t too much that we could do at that point except watch Shane dig deeper and suck up the material. At about 4-5 feet deep he hit bedrock which is solid rock and is the best place to find the gold as it cannot go any deeper than the top of the bedrock. 6 hours later he had a hole about 4-5 feet deep and 5 feet wide. Then it was time to clean out the mats and see what we had! After cleaning out the mats he had about a coffee can of “heavies”. We could see lead from .22 bullets, we could see lead BB’s from shotgun shells and we could see gold!

This is where Barb and I could start helping out. We would scoop a couple spoonfuls and start panning it by hand. It took a little practice but soon we were panning out all of the lighter material and all we had left was gold. Some pans had a dozen or so flakes while others had much more and bigger pieces (pickers).
We got color!
This process repeated itself for 3 days, Shane in the water all day followed by a couple hours of panning. By the end of the 3 days he had a hole dug 4-5 deep down to the bedrock and about 10 feet square. A lot of work, and a very interesting process.

But alas, it was time to go. As much fun as that was we had even more fun awaiting us back in Salt Lake. Just days before meeting us, Jessica accepted a job in Pennsylvania and we had 5 days to get things ready and 5 days to pack up everything they owned into a semitrailer and get their house ready to go on the market, pick up and move back into our 5th wheel and sell that camper. Should not be a problem right?

In the end it wasn’t…. we got everything packed, moved back into the 5th wheel and got the camper sold! Not a lot of pictures, just a lot of hard work. We even managed to take in two of Dylan’s baseball games.  

Dylan up to bat

Baby K sporting some new upside-down sunglasses

We left Salt Lake with mixed emotions. Salt Lake had kind of been our home base since being on the road. But earlier this year Forrest and his family sold their house and went on the road, now Jessica is moving to Pennsylvania. Although we are happy for both of our kids pursuing their dreams, for us, Salt Lake will never be the same.

So, I am sure many of you are wondering how did we really do gold mining? Well Shane would not let me take any pictures of the gold we found and told me to write "We found a little color".

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Our Alaska Adventure Recap

5 months, 13,905 miles, 15 breweries, 31 National Park/Monument Passport stamps, 5 World's Best Cinnamon Rolls and good times, that pretty much sums up our Alaskan travel adventures. No new pictures in this post but some of our favorites!

Our Favorite Brewery
We had no idea what to expect when we left Salt Lake City on April10th embarking on this journey. Filled with anticipation and a little bit of worry at the thought of leaving our 5th wheel in storage for so long and living in a sub 100 square foot camper for the next 5 months. Now, 153 days later we have returned to Salt Lake having fulfilled lifelong dreams.
Where to start? The fishing? The wildlife? The existing friends we met up with along the way? The friendships we made while we were up there, the sights we saw or the adventures themselves? You just can’t put them in any order as they all were great. But alas, I must try……

Although the sights themselves were incredible, I would say that the highlights of our trip included the people that we met along the way. Working our way north we stopped by Sequim, WA and spent a few days with Johnny, then it was on to Sidney, British Columbia were we met up with our Quartzsite friends the Colibaba’s spending over a week with them touring the area. There were other planned meetings as we knew several of our friends were working or traveling though British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska. We met up with Lee and Trace in Glenallen, Bill and Kelly as well as Steve and Linda in Seward, and Les and Sue in Homer. In Fairbanks we met up with Wisconsin friends Bob and Lorriane, Minnesota friends Tom and Shelly and our main Fairbanks attraction; Barb’s cousin Lori and her husband Jim. Then there was Jo and Ben who we crossed paths with in Chicken and of course we can't forget Dino and Lisa in Yellowstone! We looked forward to each of these visits along the way happy to see a familiar face, catch up and compare adventures.
Then there were the friendships we made along the way. Each of these were unexpected and just icing on the cake! We met George and Nancy in B.C, catching up with them several times in the following months. Rod and Sharon of the Lazy Salmon who we had a chance encounter along the roadway outside Soldotna and the Ross’, Rich, Susan, Angela, Billy and Sandra (see our blog on how we met them here) who graciously allowed us to camp in their front yard for several days at a time on 3 occasions, took us fishing, whale watching and played several aggravating games of Aggravation! And last but not least Faye and Dave in Fairbanks. Encounters that we are grateful for and hopefully friendships that will continue.

Fishing…..We caught 4 variety of fish that we had not caught before; our best Grayling fishing was at Smith River Falls in B.C., a tough and remote area to fish but we caught several fish over 20”’s. Haines provided us with our best Dolly Varden fishing with some nice fish that provided a nice fight when combined with the current of the river. Thanks to our new friends Rich and Susan who took us halibut fishing we caught several of these tasty beasts. Not the hardest fighting fish but heavy and tiring to reel in when you have a big one on or the action is fast and furious. But our favorite fish by far was the Sockeye (Red) Salmon on the Kenai, Russian and Buskin Rivers. There is nothing like hooking one of these fish and have it spool you as it tries to run down the river. Not only was this our funnest fish to catch it is also the most hazardous as was demonstrated by several soakings from slipping in the river and injuries from reel handles banging against Barb’s wrist multiple times. We brought a variety of fishing equipment but next time we go we will one bring a set of 6wt, 9wt and light spinning rods along with good waders.

Barb with a Red

And a Dolly Varden
And a Grayling
Me with a Kenai Red

But let’s talk about the money as this was one of our biggest unknowns going into this trip. We researched many blogs trying to get an idea of how much it would cost so we thought we would provide our expenses to anyone looking to go in the future. We started out this trip with a loose budget of $15,000. I am happy to report that we came in under this amount at $14,195! We brought $5,000 in U.S. cash, $3,800 in Canadian cash and the rest in a Wells Fargo account that we had opened just for this trip. We chose Wells Fargo as they offer free foreign exchange and have branches throughout Alaska. While in Canada we paid cash for everything, food, gas, fishing licenses….everything…. we did not want to deal with the exchange rate on our cards. Ends up that we spent all but $5 so we pretty much nailed that amount on the head.

Our largest expense category was fuel at just over $3,400. Finding diesel fuel was never an issue as we tried to fill up anytime we got below ½ a tank. We only had one issue when we became extremely low on diesel exhaust fluid out in the middle of nowhere. Since that incident we kept an extra gallon or two with us.   

Next up was groceries at just over $2,700. We were told food was expensive in Canada and Alaska so although it was not a surprise but it was still shocking to pay 2-3 times lower 48 prices in some locations.

As many of you know we put our 5th wheel in storage and bought a truck camper specifically for this trip. Doing this allowed us to access many remote locations and dry camp/boondock the majority of the trip. We only spent 45 nights in fee campgrounds, our total campground expense for the entire trip was $762 for an average of 4.98/night.

All figures are from Salt Lake in April to our return to Salt Lake in September
Many fulltime RV’ers want to go to Alaska but think they can’t afford it, well think again, it is does not really have to be that expensive. Although we were probably a little conservative financially, we did not live super frugally either. We just watched what we spent and spent it on things we really wanted. Our usual non-Alaska monthly expenses are about $2,000 a month on the low side so we would have spent at least $10,000 in those 5 months anywhere we went. Looking at it that way, Alaska on cost us $5,000 on top of our normal expenses!
We have no regrets on how we planned the trip knowing what we knew at the time. Knowing what we know now we would do a few things differently. One of our primary focuses on this trip was fishing. Although we had good fishing, we missed the peaks of the runs in a couple areas. Next time we go up we are going to try and time the peaks a little better and make sure we are in the right areas. We visited a lot of cool and unique places and we are glad that we went. But now that we have “been there seen that” so to speak, next time we go up we will probably skip a lot of those places and head straight to some of our favorites; Haines, Fairbanks, Homer, Ninilchik and Soldotna.

Traveling with a pet in Alaska was not an issue at all. We were asked for Daisy's rabies vaccination papers entering Alaska but that was the only time and most of the National Parks did not allow pets on the trails but other than that we had no issues at all and would not hesitate to bring a pet along. She had a great time seeing all the sights and going on hikes where she could!

So obviously by now you may have guessed that this is not a once in lifetime trip for us. We are already planning a return trip! Our emotions, memories and friendship are pulling us back and we want to go next year again. But there are so many other things to see! The lakes of Ontario are calling us next summer and the summer of ‘18 we really want to do the east coast, so right now it is looking like the summer or ’19. So to all of our friends, old and new, and to Alaska itself…..Thank you, hope to see you soon.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Grand Tetons and Beyond!

After narrowly escaping with our lives from the aliens we left Yellowstone National Park and headed towards the South Entrance and the Grand Tetons.  This entrance had been closed for more than a week due to forest fires but it was reportedly supposed to open the day we were leaving. As luck would have it, it had just opened before we got down there!
The smoky haze that covered most of Yellowstone intensified the further south we drove. Soon we were driving through the remnants of the fire and observed first hand what had kept this road closed.  Fire crews were still out in force hitting hotspots and several uncontained fires were still visible in the distance.

Fire fighters lined the roadway
Our destination for the day was one of two boondocking spots that we had received from a fellow fulltimer that was recently in the area. The first one was in mostly open terrain and close enough to the fires to keep us moving. A few miles down the road just outside the boundary of the National Park we found the second spot we had been directed to and were not disappointed. The views from this spot were incredible!

Our boondocking spot
Sunset from our campsite
You will notice that most of the pictures in this post are of the Teton Range itself, but with mountains this incredible it is really hard to focus on anything else. Instead we embraced them looking for different areas to photograph them from and playing with our camera settings to see what we could create. The smoke played havoc and created an almost constant haze but we made the best of it. Some of the pictures worked out, some didn't.

The brown grasses and the yellowing of some of the trees showed the first signs of fall. At one point we came across a herd of horses with the mountain as a backdrop that we just could not pass up.

The next morning we got up early to take advantage of the clearer skies and headed to a nearby historic Mormon community with barns and homes from the late 1800's/early 1900's. Again we experimented with various views, angles and settings on our cameras. As we were taking pictures of the barn below we noticed a coyote walking through the grass searching for its next meal.

Our photography appetite satisfied we continued on to Jackson where we stopped at the Snake River Brewing Company for a sample of each of their home brews!

89 miles to the west of Jackson is the city of Idaho Falls. We had never been to this city before and really liked it. It is a fairly big city but has a small town charm to it. We spent two nights in the Cabela's parking and as luck would have it, the state fair was in town! It has been a while since we have been to a fair, for us the highlight was walking through the livestock area and watching the sheepherding trials.
Look what we found!!!!!!
The Midway, we didn't do any rides

Who wouldn't want to win a pile of crap?!

No fair is complete without hitting the craft shed!

Having our fill of the hustle and bustle of the city we drove another 87 miles west to Craters of the Moon National Monument. This volcanic rift in the middle of the vast desert-like terrain is just bizarre. The 618 square mile lava covered area contains lava rivers, scattered islands of cinder cones and also a number of caves that the public can explore after getting a free permit.

A cinder cone island

The cone itself could fit a school bus!

Only one more adventure before we return to Salt Lake where we started this journey last April. Next up we are headed near Idaho City where are meeting our daughter Jessica and her family to work their mining claim for a few days and spend time with the grandkids!