Quinth Family News

Days of our lives in the year 2001

The Alaska Adventure

In early May 2002 we packed our car full of kids and cameras and made the long journey along the historical Alaskan Highway.  We began our trip in Colorado and drove all the way to Kodiak, Alaska.  We were like nomads traveling along the winding road through Canada's wilderness. We spent an adventurous summer on the island of Kodiak in the Alaska Bay, camping, fishing, playing and living the pioneer life. The island is also the home of the giant bear, the Kodiak Bear. We had come to the island to work on a new film series and a book about Kodiak. Away from televisions and computer games we found time to learn to know each other better.  We also found that the primitive life, away from the comforts of home, can be both fun and enriching. 


All the pictures are "clickable" if you want a better view!

Traveling with children is always an adventure, many parents would agree. Many times just driving to the next town can be a trial. How many trips are made with a symphony of complaints sounding from the backseat?  "Are we there yet?" "I have to go potty!" "He's sitting in my spot!" 

But the rewards often outweigh the discomforts.  It is exciting to create memories with our children and to show them some of the places that we have been before. That is what we wanted to do with our five children,  Jonathan 11,  Erik 10,  Nicolas 8, Stephanie 4,  and Oliver 3. 

For the past 15 years Stefan has been traveling to the island of Kodiak, in Alaska.  Our film, Kodiak, the Island of the Great Bear, has sold all over the world and has been the beginning of a long and prosperous relationship with Alaska's wilderness. At times we have discussed moving to Kodiak to live there permanently. Now Stefan was going to be on Kodiak for several months working on a book about the island, a perfect chance for us to take the whole family and try it out!

We had spent the summer the year before in Colorado while Stefan was filming along the Colorado River.  We  bought a big 4WD 15 passenger Van with a big roof rack, a perfect vehicle for a long trip!  When you travel with kids it is important that everyone has plenty of room and in this car everyone had a window seat and could move around if they argued with their neighbor.  We did a test drive to the Grand Canyon with all the kids to see how they handled a long drive and it went really well.  So now we were looking forward to getting back on the road again.

We had to apply for permission to take the kids out of school, but they brought their books with them so that they could study on the trip and not get to behind. We were going to be gone for five months and needed to pack for all kinds of weather. Snowsuits and shorts, rubber boots and sandals. The drive to Kodiak would take two weeks, so we had to carefully plan what and how to pack the van for the trip.  Each child had a backpack with books, gameboys and toys. Suitcases with clothes, sleeping bags, tents, cameras and food all had to be easily accessible.  Extra tires, gas and equipment that we wouldn't need until we arrived in Kodiak went on the roof rack. With new comfortable captains chairs installed in the front we were finally ready for the great adventure!

On the road again!  It was exciting to watch the other cars on the road, the cities we passed and the beautiful mountains of Colorado.  When we drove over the border to Wyoming we turned west toward Jackson Hole and had vast prairie in front of us.  The scenery was the same for hours.  The kids soon lost intrest in their surroundings and fell asleep or played with their gameboys.

We had planned several stops along the way like Yellowstone and Edmonton, but we were also going to stop if we saw something along the road that looked interesting.  We had a long way to travel and a short time to do it, but we didn't want the trip to be boring.


Yellowstone was our first planned stop.  The oldest National park in the US is actually a dormant volcanic crater.  Well....maybe not completely dormant since sulfur laden steam rises from hot springs, and water sprays out of geysers forming a moon landscape around them.  Old Faithful spouts so regularly that you can almost set your watch by it!  
I hadn't been in Yellowstone since 1988 when the park burned wild in a great forest fire. Everywhere you looked the forest was burned black and only charcoal sticks were left, embers glowed in the ashes and a huge cloud of smoke hung over the park.  We told the kids about the fire that had nearly destroyed the park but since it was a natural fire, ignited by lightning, it was only controlled when it neared the buildings or came outside of the park.  Now, 13 years later, we could see how the forests exploded in green growth.  Nature heals itself. "In 20 years," we told the kids, "you can come here with your own children and tell them that you were here when these trees were only as tall as your knee!" Along the road that winds through the park we saw coyotes, buffalos and elk.  But the animal we were all on the look out for, the bear, kept himself out of sight.
The days that followed our visit to Yellowstone were filled with driving. We drove through a wide, flat landscape and the storm winds blew against us casting our big van all over the road.  Later, we heard on the news that some cars had actually been blown off the road! The kids were excited about entering a new country when we crossed the border into Canada. One of the first things we saw in this new land was this dangerous animal!  An Albertosaurous, named for the territory its remains were found in, Alberta.  
At night we would find a campground to put up our tent.  The older boys slept in the van and we slept in the tent with the younger kids.  Sometimes, if the weather was nice, we slept on the roof rack under the stars. It was a little difficult to sleep at first, sounds and smells are different at night and we laid awake and talked about what we had seen during the day. 
One of our unplanned stops along the way was at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, a small museum on a cliff about 12 miles from the highway. A thousand years ago when the prairies were full of buffalo, the Indians living here conducted a rather gruesome hunt. Villages gathered together to one big hunting party and with fire, drums and shrieks, rounded up the buffalo and stampeded them off the cliff.  The whole village, women, children and hunters, then worked together to butcher the animals and prepare the meat and hides for transport.  A successful hunt could provide food for several villages for a whole year.  Layers and layers of buffalo bones have been dug up around the cliff, evidence that the jump was used many times over the centuries. Legend has it that a young hunter, fascinated by the hunt, wanted to watch as the buffalo came flying off the ridge.  He climbed down and sat on a ledge below the cliff and waited.  Soon the buffalo were coming and he watched as they were crushed on the rocks below. But when the rest of the hunting party came down, they found their friend dead, his head smashed.  And that is how the cliff got it's name, Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump.
On the evening of the fourth day we reached Edmonton. We were going to stay at a hotel for two nights so that we could have one whole day at the worlds biggest mall.  In the morning we went direct to West Edmonton Mall, en enormous shopping center with EVERYTHING under one roof!
In addition to thousands of stores there is an amusement park, with roller coasters, an indoor lake with fish, dolphins and a pirate ship, and an aquarium. We looked around a little at everything there was to see, and had breakfast at a cinnamon bun shop, but then hurried into the water park.  This is also the worlds largest indoor water park with 20 different slides.  There were slides for everyone from the brave to the cowardly. Fast, straight and steep slides. Long, winding slides. And playgrounds for the youngest visitors.  There was also a giant wave pool.  All under an enormous glass ceiling that the sun shone through in the afternoon.
We played, swam and slid for eight hours. At the end of the day we dragged our tired but happy kids back to the hotel.
The next day we were on our way again.  When we reached Dawson Creek we had come to the beginning of the Alaskan Highway. Large signs mark the beginning of this historic road and we had to stop to get a picture of the family at this important milepost.  After Dawson Creek the towns are farther apart and we drove deeper into the wilderness. 
Finally , on the evening of the sixth day of our trip, we saw him. The bear!  A Black bear, out for an evening stroll along the road, grazing on the new grass that was growing there.  It wasn't a Grizzly but at least we had seen a bear!  Early the next day we saw another Black bear by the road.  And a little bit later we stopped because Stefan had seen some animals standing in a pond in the woods that he wanted to film.  He took Erik with him and they snuck up a hill to get a closer look at the two Grizzly bears that were playing in the water. 

In the afternoon we saw three more Black bears by the side of the road. The kids were beginning to think that bears lined the roads of Canada like cattle in Wyoming.  When we stopped to get pictures of the last bear we heard groans from the back of the van.  "Ohhhh! It's just a bear."

After driving for 10 days we reached the border to Alaska.  We had driven through Colorado, Wyoming and Montana in the US, and Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon in Canada.  Now we were back in the USA! The children were quiet in the back as they gazed at the breathtaking scenery.  They had been waiting to see Alaska for a long time.  Glaciers carved their way through the valleys. The enormous mountains rose up around us, their snow covered peaks against the deep blue sky.  It was gorgeous! 

By the time you have driven the Alaskan Highway all the way to Alaska everything and everyone is covered in dust.  Luckily the gas stations offer a free car wash when you fill up!  I gave the kids a shower while I was at it!

We drove to Anchorage, which is Alaska's biggest city. It is surprisingly similar to all other major cities in the world, not at all a wilderness city.  Our friend Bill Bacon lives here.  He used to work for Walt Disney, filming nature films, and is still filming and traveling around the world despite his 75 years. He welcomed us with open arms and made room for us in his little house.  It was a tight fit, but it is typical for Alaskans to share what they have with no thought to inconveniences.  

In Seward the next day we boarded the ferry that was going to take us to Kodiak.  Whales, dolphins and seals can sometimes be seen from the ferry on the ride over but there was nothing that broke the mirror clear water that evening, and the ferry as so still that we slept as if we were still on land. We docked in the morning at Kodiak. It is raining when we arrive.  On the dock there is a lady with rain dripping off her rain clothes with a Golden Retriever by her side.  She has a huge smile on her face and is waving at us.  It is Kathy Rostad who has come down to the dock to meet us and welcome us to the island.  After a long trip it is wonderful to see a friendly face!

The harbor area was full of people, carnival stands and rides.  A parade was going through town and most of the roads were closed.  It was the Crab Festival.  Crab fishing has been a major occupation on the island for decades. The Crab Festival is the highlight of the summer on the island.  People come from all over the island to meet here, eat Alaska King Crab legs and go to the carnival. The rain that was falling that day did not seem to dampen anyone's fun.
We camped for a while at Abercrombie State Park which is an old WWII fort. We sat on the cliffs overlooking the glittering sea and were treated to wonderful sunsets in the evenings. The camping area is surrounded by bunkers that remain from the war when soldiers stood watch here.  The kids played with sticks and rocks and chased each other around in the forest, and never complained that they didn't have anything to do. 
School books, that had been packed away during the drive up, were now unpacked.  We sat at the picnic table with the forest as our classroom and did reading, writing and arithmetic. 

Kodiak is about the same latitude as Vedum. The warm Japanese current circles around the island and the climate is relatively warm.  The high mountains are covered in snow from October to June and bring a lot of rain to the island. Kodiak is called Alaska's Emerald Island because of the lush green vegetation that covers the island.  The dark mountains with their blankets of snow, the green valleys and the blue ocean are so beautiful and when the fireweed explodes in bloom on the hillsides it is really breathtaking.  

The beach at Abercrombie was covered in flat, smooth, black rocks the size of quarters or silver dollars. When the tide was out we explored the tide pools and found blue, red and orange starfish, purple sea cucumbers, and funny little hermit crabs that crawled around in their borrowed shells. And we combed the beach for beach glass, pieces of glass that have been ground and smoothed by the waves to be like shining jewels.

Jonathan bought a fishing pole to catch some of the salmon that came up in the creeks and rivers. 
The city of Kodiak is on the northwest point the main island.  There are about 8000 people living here, 2000 more live in the villages around the island that can only be reached by boat or plane.  The fishing industry is the largest source of income on the island. You find most of the same stores and fast food here that you can find in the lower 48 states, but the prices are a bit higher. The town is built around the harbor and most everything is within walking distance.  The road that leads out of town is simply called "The Road" because it is the only road going out of town.  l

We drove out to our friends, the Burtons, who live at the end of "The Road" on a big ranch.   The Burton family has lived out here for 30 years and began raising cattle.  They soon realized that normal cattle was no match for the mighty Kodiak bear and began instead to raise buffalo. The ranch is surrounded by high mountains that run down to the ocean and build an natural barrier for the animals.  All the work on the ranch is done by horseback or with 4X4s, there are no roads and the animals have free range.  The nearest neighbor is a missile base and buffalos graze and rest in the shadow of the launch pads and satellite dishes.

We sat up camp under a tree near a creek.  Buffalo and horses grazed around us. The kids played all day in the creek racing boats and sticks all the way to the ocean.  Erik made himself a bow and arrows to hunt the buffalo.
The beach on this side of the island was different from Abercrombie.  It was a sandy beach, long and wide with fine black sand.  In the sun the sand became very warm and the kids warmed themselves  after swimming in the cold water by rolling in the sand.  Drift wood washes up on the beach and can create some incredible sculptures. The wood can sometimes come all the way from the tropics and has maybe floated around in the ocean for years before it finally washed up on Burton's beach. 
We put the kids up on the roof rack and went on Safari.  With our 4WD we could go almost anywhere.  We drove through rivers and up hillsides and across the beach. From the roof of the van we had a good view of the ranch, and could drive right into the middle of a buffalo herd. We could see whales jumping and spouting in the ocean, and a pair of Bald Eagles that were guarding their nest.
Kodiak is a paradise for birdwatchers.......

Even nearsighted ones!

We rented a house from the Stefansson family for five weeks while they were fishing.  The Stefansson's also have five kids, so the house was perfect for us.  There was plenty of room and beds, toys, computers, tv and videos.  Outside they had a huge yard with a tree house, hills to climb and bikes to ride, and a big pile of dirt to dig in.  But we hadn't spent very many hours in this children's paradise before we heard the familiar chorus, "We don't have anything to do!"  What good are all the toys and games when they are happiest playing with sticks and rocks?!

We drove out to Chiniak one day.  This is a beautiful area with trees covered in moss like in a rain forest.  A long sandy beach circles the bay.  And out on the point the cliffs overlook the ocean. The forest is full of Salmon berry bushes.  Salmon berries are like a mixture of raspberry, boysenberry and strawberry.  There are red and yellow berries and they are big and juicy and yummy!
We picked them by the bag full and brought them home to make pie.  Out on the cliff we spread out a blanket and had a picnic with berries for desert.  We were entertained by whales, jumping and playing in the water below us. 
Time goes by so fast and before we knew it, it was time to leave the island.  We had seen and done so much during the summer.  But what I remember most are all the people who were so friendly and welcomed us, helped us and became our dear friends. 


The great adventure was not over yet.  We were going on the road again.  We wanted to see more of Alaska so we drove to Fairbanks where we visited our good friend Boris who is a hunter in the Brooks Mountains.  He brought us some bear steaks that we grilled over the camp fire.
After Fairbanks we made a stop at the North Pole.  In this little town it is Christmas all year round.  Every thing is painted like candy canes, even the Golden Arches at McDonalds! Santa lives in the middle of town and we went to see him at his workshop.  The kids pointed out what they wanted for Christmas. Stephanie gazed at the doll collection for a long time, too bad it was behind glass!
Our friend Mari lives near North Pole.  We met Mari 15 years ago in Denali and later filmed her at her fish camp on the Yukon.  She is from Norway but has lived in Alaska for 20 years.  She raises and trains sled dogs, and right now she had about 70 dogs and puppies.  The kids could hardly believe it!


We were on our way to Dawson City, way up north in Canada.  We drove the "highway at the top of the world", a small dirt road that is only passable between May and September.  On the way we stopped in Chicken, probably one on the smallest towns in the US.  A booming town with the population of 70 in the summer time, it dwindles to 15 in the winter.  Stephanie disappeared and we searched everywhere for her, finally finding her sitting at the bar, nobody told her you had to be 21 to get a drink here! 
Dawson City was a cute old mining town with wooden sidewalks and dirt roads.  Quaint stores lined the main street filled with all kinds of souvenirs. But I only had to visit one with five kids in tow to realize that this was not a place for us.  We stayed long enough to pan for gold and then hit the road again.
Since Dawson City was not all that we had hoped, we made a quick decision to drive to Haines and visit our friend Steve.  It was only 800 miles more!  We drove to Skagway and took the ferry over to Haines. Steve claims that the climate in Haines is the best in Alaska.  The eagles must agree because they come here to spend the winters, eating salmon that have come up the rivers.  Steve has just recently moved here from Minnesota and now lives in a small community called Mosquito Lake.  Believe me, it is named that for a reason!  Steve films avalanches, he did the shots seen in the movie Vertical Limits. He also raised wild animals to be used in films.  He will soon be bringing his wolves and wolverines and more up to his property here.
Steve and his friend Dan took us out to a "Glory Pool".  We took a boat over the lake and then climbed through the forest to a small pond. On the way we noticed tracks from a bear with a  cub. The pool was crystal clear with a white sand bottom.  At the top of the tall trees that surrounded us we could see eagles nests, now abandoned.  Bright red salmon filled the pool guarding their nests of eggs and fighting over the females. On the way back Nicolas got to drive the boat.
Our last stop was Denali National Park.  The park, that is the size of the state of Rhode Island, was established in 1920 primarily to save the Dal sheep that were being over hunted. It is a huge area that is heavily regulated to protect the nature and the animal.  There is only one dirt road that goes into the park and you have to have a permit to drive here.  But there are busses that will take you all the way in.  We opted to take the long trip all the way to Wonder Lake, an 11 hour ride. 
The first animals we saw were two enormous bull moose.  Groups of caribou were spotted and we saw little white specks on the hill that were Dall sheep. A female grizzly with two cubs rolled down the hill by the side of the road.  And a wolf ambled right past the bus on his way home from a days hunt.  Amazingly we even saw a lynx that calmly crossed the road in front of us and ran up the side of the hill.  

Traveling all summer had brought us closer together as a family.  Away from television, computer games and telephones we had time spend with each other, to talk about everything and nothing at all.  We grilled hotdogs and marshmallows around the campfire and talked about what we had done and seen during the day. We learned to know each other better and to help each other. And the kids learned to take responsibility.  They all had to help out, whether it was putting up the tent, gathering wood for the fire or doing the dishes.  Our great adventure in Alaska is over but when we look at the video or pictures from the trip we are surprised by all the things we have done.  The memories come alive again.  We have been bitten by the travel bug and are looking forward to a new adventure.  We don't know where we will go next, maybe Sri Lanka.  But one thing we do know, traveling with children is both rewarding and exciting and the real great adventure! 


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