We broke camp and headed north west to the Watson Lake State Park.
We decided to drive out to see the historic Watson Lake Airport. Walking through the terminal doors was like taking a step back in time. The terminal reminded Joy of the TV sitcom Wings, while the walls had historic pictures of its creation. The airport was built in order to ferry planes to Russia during the WWII for a lend-lease program. It also became a major player in the shipment of supplies to build the highway and the area around Watson Lake was a boom town. It was fascinating.
Back at camp, we warmed up leftovers for supper and then hopped on our bicycles looking for adventure. We hadn't gone too far when we realized that we were beat out by full stomachs and steep dirt hills. We returned to camp and opted for a game of dominoes and a camp fire.
With our new route slated, we left camp early the next day, headed west instead of north and hit construction and gravel roads. According to the maps these are considered paved, a term we've come to use loosely, especially in the Yukon! The roads were were relatively smooth but dusty and muddy. We parked and waited our turn to cross the one lane bridge towards the Rancherias Water Falls. It was a beautiful easy walk with the pups with nice warm temperatures and the falls were gorgeous. We ate a quick lunch in the parking lot and were once again back on the road.
We circled the grounds twice, found no suitable sites and too many loose dogs so decided to go over the bumpy bridge once again to head further west to Carcross where we would get off the Alaskan highway and head south to Skagway.
We found the Carcross State Park, disconnected and set up in a back up site. There were already a few RV's there but it wasn't crowded at all. We headed to town looking for wi-fi, which usually meant driving towards the visitor center, which happened to still be open. The super nice women volunteers suggested we make ferry reservations since it was going to be a weekend trek.
We drove around town and found a beautiful beach. Kathy needed to touch the water to feel how cold it was so we walked to the waters edge as we watched a local dog play fetch with its owner. The rest of town was a tourist's dream but seemed asleep or dead. We couldn't tell if this was a revitalization project just starting or one that had already gone bad.
A cool night meant poor sleep and time to put the 'winter' blankets on the bed. Kathy called for ferry reservations as soon as they opened the next morning and we were on our way to Skagway. The views through White Pass were picture postcards turn after turn as we slowly climbed toward the border crossing. No one even came to the booth to ask if we had anything to declare and we left Canada without any fanfare.
We drove another mile and began our descent toward sea level. It was at least a 9% grade and we still didn't have the brake buddy set up on the Jeep. Turn by turn Joy snapped pictures while Kathy eased the RV down the mountain across the river from the White Pass train. Then Joy smelled something. Kathy thought it was the vehicle in front of us - except there wasn't a vehicle in front of us. Then there was smoke. It was us!
We rolled into a out near an Avalanche area and stopped. Smoke billowed out from both front wheel wells. Joy grabbed the fire extinguisher and hopped outside. At this point we were pretty certain it was the brakes as Kathy admitted she'd been riding them all the way down the pass and never downshifted into a lower gear. She was so caught up in the amazing scenery that she forgot how to drive through it!
1. drive the Jeep down and get a tow truck to come tow us
2. drive the RV down in low gear with Joy following in the Jeep
We decided to do what we should have done - descend in our lowest gear. We put the emergency flashers on and Joy followed the RV in the Jeep. Our next stop was the US Border and after he questioned us, we questioned the agent about overheated brakes. He assured Kathy if the brakes had time to cool they should be OK. We cautiously drove to Skagway without incident although it took about 24 hours before the burning brake smell left the RV.
We had to return to our vehicles by 1:30 even though the ferry wouldn't depart until 3:00. After the German tourists in the lane next to Kathy in a rented RV hit her mirror twice with their car door she had had enough. She was not looking forward to maneuvering the RV into the belly of a boat and was a little anxious. Turns out not only did she get it into the boat was she made a u-turn once in so she was facing in the right direction. She almost threw a fit when they folded in both side mirrors but remembered about the back up camera and quickly turned it on to help her drive down the narrow lane between other cars, RV's and buses.
We met near the stern and walked around deck admiring the amazing views. This was our mini Alaskan cruise and was a great idea. Joy had asked the Ticket agent how much a ticket from Bellingham, Washington would be and was told it was just $330.00 per person. That's a pretty cheap week-long cruise if you were willing to sleep in the waiting areas or on deck. You could also rent a room on the ferry for an additional fee.
Arriving in Haines was a little disappointing for Joy as she thought it would be a larger town. We opted to stay right on the water but the Oceanside RV Park was simply a parking lot. We did face the water and had an absolutely beautiful view so figured it was worth it. At check-in we were assisted by "Buffalo," a Bowie, TX native who came up on his trike in May, got trapped by the fires, and decided to stay awhile. He invited us to a crab boil the next evening and we eagerly agreed.
We watched two bald eagles talk to each other and hunt while perched on pilings close to the beach. We watched cruise ships slide by and were warned by the locals that the wind was coming and watched people pick up chairs etc. The wind never came and the temperature overnight hardly dropped it and it was perfect 60's weather.
We spent Saturday exploring Fort Seward and the town of Haines. Seward's folly (aka the purchase of Alaska) brought so much to the United States and Joy isn't not convinced it was in the best interest of the local peoples or ecology. Like most of the forts established in Alaska, Ft. Seward was established to police the thousands of men who were flocking to Alaska to search for gold. Once the gold was gone many of the forts were abandoned or sold to the locals.
They chatted for awhile and he agreed to take Kathy up for a discounted rate and teacher her a few things about mountain flying and glacier landing. They agreed to watch the weather and stay in touch. Kathy could NOT believe her luck and was so excited she could barely sit still.
Back at the RV Joy made a salad for the crab boil and we joined the table of fellow travelers for one of the best meals we've eaten since leaving Houston. Afterwards, we drove to a "beach" and hunted for agates. It was the perfect ending to a near perfect day.