Author Archives: roads-rus

About roads-rus

Since the beginning, I've had to avoid writing about the downside of travel in order to sell more than 100 articles. Just because something negative happened doesn't mean your trip was ruined. But tell that to publishers who are into 5-star cruise and tropical beach fantasies. I want to tell what happened on my way to the beach, and it may not have been all that pleasant. My number one rule of the road's disaster is tomorrow's great story. My travel experiences have appeared in about twenty magazines and newspapers. I've been in all 50 states more than once and more than 50 countries. Ruth and I love to travel internationally--Japan, Canada, China, Argentina, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, etc. Within the next 2 years we will have visited all of the European countries. But our favorite destination is Australia. Ruth and I have been there 9 times. I've written a book about Australia's Outback, ALONE NEAR ALICE, which is available through both Amazon & Barnes & Noble. My first fictional work, MOVING FORWARD, GETTING NOWHERE, has recently been posted on Amazon. It's a contemporary, hopefully funny re-telling of The Odyssey.

Totems Everywhere

There is an aspect of Northwest travel that I have completely avoided for no reason–totem poles. They are everywhere you go when you’re on your way to Alaska while cruising the Inside Passage. Emily Carr, the great Canadian painter, focused on deteriorating ones in her art. We met a doctor at the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver who had been to the former Queen Charlotte Islands, now a repository of native culture and a place to study totem poles by the score, and she talked about them being everywhere she went. She encourage Ruth & me to go and see them like she had. We saw hundreds of totem poles as we made our way to Alaska. What is more important than totem poles as a symbol of culture while one learns about the native people of Canada and the US? Nothing. So I had to write about them.

Totem poles, those ubiquitous examples of Northwest culture, are certainly misunderstood. We first focused on the many totem poles installed in Stanley Park before even getting on the ship to where they are everywhere. Most believe that they are worshipped religious items outside the homes of native tribes from Vancouver to Alaska and beyond. This would not be completely accurate. Experts differ on the use and importance of totem poles to the various tribes who installed them. Most claim there are 8 or 9 reasons for their use. Some were carved to honor important tribal members. Some claim that most totems record important events. Most agree that the history of totems speaks of the lineage of the people in the dwellings behind the poles. All totem poles seem to record particular animals important to tribal members and are carved cedar logs that stand 20 to 30 feet high outside homes. They are clearly works of art and critical to understanding the humans who erected them and then watched their colors fade. Almost all totem poles focus on an animal important to the social group inside the dwelling behind them like an eagle, a raven, or a wild sea creature often seen. Totem poles accurately tell about people, perhaps those who have died and\or events that the group considers critical to their existence. I began considering totems and hoped to show that they are different from each other, but they are actually quite similar and the symbolic nature of the icons on them is fairly universal.

Ketchikan was our first stop where there were many totems to see. They were basically in 3 spots around this town but perhaps the most important of these was the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. In Wrangell totems could be seen at the Kiksadi Totem Park and in its main museum that also has a tribute to Wyatt Earp who was once marshal there. In Sitka and Haines there were totems at both Sheldon Museums. It was not hard to find totem poles everywhere Ruth & I went.


Towns Named Fulton

This town name didn’t start off promising, but it got so interesting that I decided to include it anyway. There are supposedly 24 towns named Fulton in the United States. Robert Fulton did not invent the steamboat as reported. That was James Watt. Fulton, however, made travel by steamboat a reality. He was an engineer and inventor who made the first commercially successful steamboats. In 1800 he was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to develop the world’s first submarine, which he did with a means of transport called The Nautilus, the world’s first submarine. Fulton died at the age of 49 and was buried in New York, not in Lancaster, PA, where he had been born and worked.

So are there 24 towns named Fulton out there? Yes, there are. However, most of them are tiny and have not thrived. However, there are 7 Fulton’s that are fairly large today and about 38,000 people live in a town named Fulton. The largest Fulton is in the state of Missouri. It is a town near the main campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia, which has quite a positive reputation. Winston Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain speech was delivered by him in Fulton, MO, at a college. Its name is Westminster. There is a better than average museum about Churchill in this town of about 13,000 people that Ruth and I have been to. Churchill developed into quite a painter, and this is the only place I have seen his works on display. I also saw some of his pipes there. Robert Fulton has been honored in books, sculptures, and on postage stamps. After he built the first submarine for Napoleon, he developed some torpedoes.

Winston Churchill portrait from British money – five pounds

Most but not all of the towns named Fulton were named for this inventor and developer of the steamboat, one of the most important inventions in human history. For example, there’s a town named Fultondale is Alabama. It was not named for Robert Fulton. It began as a mining town, and 2 places joined together to name it. They were Fulton Springs and Glendale. The Fulton in Illinois was named for Robert Fulton, but the Fulton in California was named for Tom and James , the town’s founders. The Fulton in Arkansas was named for a former Governor. There are 8 counties in the US named Fulton. Seven of them were named for Robert Fulton, but the lone exception is the county in Arkansas that was not named to honor him.

For the record, the 6 viable towns named Fulton that still exist and are doing well are in Mississippi, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, and Texas. Fulton, New York, is a town of about 12,000 people northwest of Syracuse and not near where he died. Fulton died in New York City. Fulton, Texas, is a small town northeast of Corpus Christi.

US postage stamp: Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) British Conservative politician.


Pronounced Soo Word, Not Seward, Alaska

William Seward was perhaps the most important Secretary of State in US History. The statue of him above is a landmark in Juneau. There is a town named after him in Alaska. Seward is a divided city of about 2,700 people 127 miles almost due south of Anchorage on a drivable highway. Ruth and I had not been to Seward until this cruise. I recently learned that Seward, like Lincoln, was assassinated. He was stabbed in the throat and later died as the result of his injuries.

When I say that the town of Seward is divided, I mean that it’s in 2 parts and both might be considered rather gritty. We spent all of our time there in the commercial section among Seward’s many parking lots after disembarking from our cruise ship, and we had a tour of the town as the result of bonding with a lady from Unalaska. She was spending the summer in Seward after leaving her Aleutian Island home. Maybe the fact that I had been there caused her to talk more about her island, her husband, and her children. She did not seem in especially good health, so I wondered if her summer on the mainland had something to do with her decision to leave Unalaska temporarily. She had learned Seward well, gave us a good tour of it, and dropped us where we could catch our bus to Anchorage. I’m sorry I did not get her name.

The town of Seward is adjacent to Kenai Fjords National Park. The part we were now in was mixed businesses and a boat harbor, not new developments. We did find a popular restaurant across the street with coffee, food, and a usable restroom while we waited for our bus to return. We had spent the previous day staring at the Harding Ice Field and Exit Glacier, which has unfortunately receded a lot due to global warming and other factors. This glacier is considered the #2 attraction here. #1 is the National Park. Other attractions that we could have gone to included the Kenai Fjords Visitor Center, the harbor that included a mix of available fishing boats, a library that doubles as a museum, the Van Gilder Hotel, and the renowned Alaska Sealife Center that was within walking distance. Sea Life’s proudest accomplishment is the rehabilitation of damaged sea life. This aquarium ‘s main attractions for both of us included octopi and puffins. Its octopus encounter is especially popular, but we had watched an octopus for hours at an aquarium while on our way to the Gulf Islands so were not especially interested now.

Seward has had an interesting history. It was the town closest to the epicenter of the largest earthquake in history, a 9.2 monster that was centered just 95 miles from it. It was supposed to be the start of the famous Iditarod Race that ends every year in Nome, which is far away from Seward but another city won that honor. It is the mural capital of Alaska.

While we waited for our bus to Anchorage, a city that now looks like any other, we were joined by a cruising couple from Memphis. They had nothing good to say about their city in Tennessee. We liked our bus trip to Alaska’s largest city, and it gave us the opportunity to reminisce about 2 attractions from the past, The Turnagain Arm and the Alyeska Ski Resort that is unfortunately 35 miles from Anchorage and a very cold place to ski. Seeing the mud flats gave the bus driver an opportunity to warn all passengers to avoid them when the tide is coming in.



I thought and thought about what I could possibly say about bears that was original to me. I didn’t want to write about what someone else learned about bears and publish it as my discovery after finding out about it, but I failed to learn something that only I knew about bears. So what follows came from Moon Alaska and was apparently learned by Lisa Maloney. Lisa lives in Anchorage and writes about Alaska for Moon and other publications. She has probably seen wild bears on many occasions.

I have had close bear encounters two times. Neither was personally threatening. What was threatening was a film I saw in Canada about bear attacks. It was so vivid that I hoped never to have a similar encounter while by myself. The film really frightened me. I have put myself in harm’s way repeatedly over the years but have been lucky not to have had an actual face to face with a bear. I have never met one in the wild even though I have been to Kodiak Island and other places in Alaska where they live. I have talked to people who have seen them accidentally and never want to be confronted with a bear. My 2 meetings with real bears were encounter enough to last a lifetime and not make me crave another.

Ruth and I accidentally saw a bear family crossing a road up on Mount Rainier once. It was an unforgettable experience but short-lived. Another time I watched for hours in the town of Aspen, CO while a trapped bear tried to decide whether or not to cause an incident at a weekly market. He decided not to cause a problem and leapt toward a honey display without actually scoring food. He climbed a tree near the booth and stayed for hours. The police tried to get the gathered crowd to leave the bear alone and go get lunch instead, but no one paid any attention to his request to leave. I was included among those who stayed to see what would happen. This was not among my proudest moments. I deserved to have a genuine bear encounter but did not.

What I learned from Lisa is that there are basically 3 types of bears in Alaska: black, brown, and grizzly. People associate bears with this state and actually hope for an encounter. It’s the one animal they hope to see there, but most don’t. Ruth and I have seen foxes and elk and other large animals in the wild but not bears. I am really glad to have avoided such an encounter and, after seeing the movie in Canada, am very glad to have avoided such. They can weigh up to 350 pounds and can be mean to humans they meet. Blacks are fine climbers so scurrying up a tree is no solution, and they can run up to 35 mph for short times. They are usually encountered by humans while they are foraging for berries or salmon and we spot them.

What Lisa told me is that black bears are not always black. They can even be white like polar bears. Relying on color is to cause trouble for yourself. There are upwards of 100,000 black bears in Alaska, so seeing one is not unreasonable. A more reliable guide to which type of bear you have met are face and body shape. Black bears have prominent ears and long, straight noses. They also lack a pronounced shoulder hump that can be seen always on a brown or a grizzly. Can you imagine checking out a bear for its type under any circumstance? Meeting a brown bear on Kodiak or near Nome is actually less likely than not. Browns and grizzlys are the same type of bear, and meeting any of these three is to be avoided whenever possible. More about bears coming up later.


Last Juneau Attraction

Ruth & I had been to Juneau before, but there were several new attractions for us to see including the tram to the top of Mount Roberts. Mendenhall Glacier was not one of them. We had been to this eerie attraction on a previous visit and felt no need to repeat what is one if the most visited attractions in the state of Alaska. Since being on this still stunning but shrinking glacial mass that keeps Juneau from having a road to another spot in this “Lush land of contradictions”, I have visited John Muir’s home in California’s bay area near San Francisco. I was a bit surprised to learn that Muir had visited Mendenhall when he was in Alaska.

Ruth has been to Juneau several times, but the last time she was here I was not with her when she visited the state capitol. We were there this time on a Sunday and this time the capitol was closed so I did not get to experience it. This was OK because I now had time to visit the Juneau-Douglas City Museum across the street from it. After admiring the flowers, the sculpture across the street, and the totem pole in front of it that has become its main symbol, I found this a worthy stop.

Douglas is where Juneau began. At one time it was the largest city in this state. It’s still a vivid community on an island across a bridge from downtown.

The city museum began with a very fine and dramatic film about Juneau. It contained a lot about Juneau’s gold strike that I knew nothing about. I quickly learned that $158 million dollars was earned by 3 mines here and that Joe, who gave his surname to this city and is buried here, ran one of them. This gold strike preceded the more familiar Klondike Gold Rush, and I learned that Joe Juneau was an important player in this local gold discovery before rushing to the Klondike and dying in Dawson. The problem was that it was not high quality gold, and the mines that produced it were not long lasting businesses. They did last for 60 years, however; and The Treadwell was one of them until it closed in 1922. If the film and this museum have strengths besides the seasonal flowers outside, it’ s its focus on this city’s gold years.

There is also a lot about World War II and Alaska’s statehood difficulties here. Juneau was the scene of a major prisoner of war camp during the world war and has been its capital since it became a state in 1959. Other exhibits included local art, fishing in the area, Tlingit canoes, shipwrecks, and the commercial history of Juneau. We went from here back downtown and had a better-than-average coffee and lunch at Heritage roasters.