Friday, July 31, 2009

Arctic Circle or Bust

It has been hot in Fairbanks so we guessed that we would get out of town - and head north! So we decided to go take a drive in our car to the Arctic Circle. This involves a trip of about 200 miles from Fairbanks.We kept passing this guy, guess he traveled farther than we did.

This trip involves taking the Dalton Highway sometimes referred to as the North Slope "Haul Road" as it is the road built for truck traffic to the North Slope oil fields around Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean and later opened to the public. We had considered taking the road all the way to Prudhoe Bay but had decided not to for several reasons one of which was the negative reports that we had heard about the road by various individuals, tourist guidebooks and internet forums. The Milepost for example describes the road as "remote and challenging" and notes the official recommendation that "at least" 2 mounted spare tires be carried by all vehicles, and warns of scarcity of services including fuel, and numerous potential hazards. So we decided to leave the bus in Fairbanks and limit ourselves to driving our Toyota Camry the first 115 miles of the road to the Arctic Circle to at least get a sense of the road, and Arctic terrain.
This photo shows both the roadway and the pipeline running side by side.

The first part of the trip was uneventful and scenic but marred a bit by smoke from the wildfires in the area. When we reached the Dalton Highway about 85 miles from Fairbanks it was a wide, rough, dusty gravel road the first 20 miles or so. We couldn't move very fast on this section and were thinking that it was looking like we were in for a very long day. But the road improved after that with long paved sections and the gravel ones not as rough. There were places where we were slowed by the maintenance that is perenial on these northern roads but this was not a major problem.

We stopped at the Yukon River crossing which is about halfway up the road to the Arctic Circle. Here as in other areas we had a good view of the Alaska Pipeline as well as the Yukon River and bridge over it. We talked with a ranger there who encouraged us not to stop at the Arctic Circle as she said the Brooks range a little farther up is very scenic and she described the road as in good shape. We talked about concerns about smoke and fires. She reported that there are in fact many forest fires in the area but that the wind direction the day before had kept the area of the road clear, and she did not have current information but had observed that the wind appeared to be shifting again. We decided on a plan of driving 17 miles past the Arctic Circle to Gobblers Knob viewpoint at which point we would be able to look to the north and see whether the Brooks mountains were clear of smoke to make a sightseeing trip further north worth while.

We continued to travel without problems and as you can see we reached the Arctic Circle. The smoke had been increasing as we drove north. Although we expected that it would be too smoky for sightseeing we went ahead and drove to Gobblers Knob. At that point the smoke was too thick to see very far, so we didn't go further.Too smokey to see the view

These pretty flowers are called fireweed. We have been told that they are the first vegation to reappear after a wildfire.

Overall we felt that the road was not as bad as we had been led to believe. Of course, we went only about a third of the way. And we did suffer a casualty. We took a rock on the windshield from a passing pickup. But then, windshields are known frequent casualties on any trip to Alaska.

Even after heading back to Fairbanks, the smoke continued to stay with us.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rough Road to Blueberry Hill

Today we went 4 wheeling in the hills north of Fairbanks. Dennis' cousin Dan and his wife Janet invited us to go with them and another couple on this outing. The plan was to see if we could find some wild blueberries to pick while we were out there. It all worked out well.

Dennis rode out with Dan in the Unimog which is a very large truck that Dan used to haul the larger 2 of his 4 wheel all terrain vehicles. Barb rode in the Tahoe which pulled a trailer carrying the 3rd ATV. We went to an old trailhead and unloaded the ATV's.

Then we got to the fun part. After a quick lesson Dennis was driving one of the ATV's and we were off.
he looks dangerous to me.

We drove up through the hills on an old trail that was at its best like a one lane dirt road but often narrow with large ruts and holes in the trail and branches on either side, up and down hills that were sometimes quite steep. We were able to move along quickly enough to be an exciting ride. It was unfortunately quite dusty for those of us who were not in the lead.

they should have stayed further back ate a lot of dust.
Guess we were kinda of lucky to be in the middle and not at the end.

looks like we found our thrill on this blueberry hill

We found a patch of blueberries and picked for a few minutes. Then we moved and looked for more. We came to another area with a larger patch where the blueberries were thicker and larger than the first area. We stayed and picked until we had each picked around 2 quarts. We quit when we were tired and felt that we had enough berries.

After the trip back in the ATV's and loading them on trailers and driving back to Dan's house we were all tired. We later had Buffalo burgers, corn on the cob, and of course ice cream and blueberries for dessert.

first time Barb had had buffalo burgers, she said they were great and I said I told you so.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

North Pole, Alaska

Today we took our car for a visit to North Pole, Alaska which oddly is south of Fairbanks. Here is a picture of the "North Pole".

In this little town it is Christmas all year around as you can see.

This is where Santa Claus lives in the summer. He showed up while we were there. We told him about some of our favorite kids.

Of course they have reindeer.
just had to get close to this polar bear.

We bought some cards to send with a North Pole postmark.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sightseeing in Fairbanks

Yesterday we went to the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. This is an impressive collection of Alaskan art, history, native animals and geography with a special focus on interior and northern Alaska. There is currently an impressive display of Polar Bear still photograpy and film clips. The building itself is of a major landmark due to its distintive architecture. Films on the aurora borealis and human and animal adaption to the extreme winter cold do a nice of job of showing an appealing side to extended darkness and deadly cold of the Alaskan winters.

really big buffalo

another polar bear

We took a morning cruise today on the Riverboat Discovery on the Cheena and Tanana Rivers. Although temperatures here have been near record highs with smoke from forrest fires in the air at times, we were again lucky to have pleasant sunny day for the boat ride. Highlights of the tour included 2 takeoffs and landings of a ski plane very near the boat, a stop at a sled dog training center of a famous Iditerod champion, and a visit to an Athabaskan native villiage and fish camp.We were able to watch this plane take off 2 times.
Barb really liked this coat made by the locals.

The natives stored their food in one of these buildings to keep the animals out.

This is a wheel that is designed to catch the fish for preserving.

In the evening we stopped in at Pioneer Park and looked at some of the exhibits and listened to the live musician. We went to the Salmon Bake buffet for a tasty but we thought somewhat overpriced meal.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fairbanks Festivities

We were lucky enough to get to Fairbanks on the weekend of the Golden Days celebration. We arrived in town too late Saturday to go to the parade, but Pat invited us to see the River Parade today. This is an interesting and offbeat event involving boat floats that are clearly of amateur or homemade construction. One of the rules is that each entry must use duct tape in a visible manner in the construction of the float. It is not clear if there are other rules as it mostly seems to be a sort of partially organized chaos. Many of the boats have "gunners" who have the large soaker types of squirt guns that they use to attack other boats. These were on a few occasions directed at onlookers on shore but this was an exception and didn't work well in any case. It was perfect weather and turned out to be an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

The boats in the parade were varied

This is one of our favorites, was made out of cardboard boxes, but stayed afloat the entire parade, of course the guy in the back was constantly bailing water out.

Even Palin showed up for a ride.

Santa showed up a bit early this year.

and of course frosty followed along with the chill baby chill.

This one needed a bit of female power.

Here comes the bar float will be followed by the band,

This is the band, they were pretty good too.

Ahhh, the water slide to cool off a bit.

On our way back we stopped for a few minutes at Pioneer Park which was very crowed. It looked like most of the Alaska State Police force must have been present. The event involved the formal resignation and formal transition of Governor Sarah Palin and her replacement by Sean Parnell. We saw this Tina Fey look alike serving hot dogs to the crowd. We thought of getting in line for a free lunch but the strain on Barb of keeping her mouth shut for this Republican party event would have been too great so we went on our way.

took this picture for Bailey.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Saturday was time to move on from Cantwell after 4 days. We took our time in the morning then did the 150 mile drive into Fairbanks. We saw one moose along the road but didn't even try to get a picture. We had just been talking about not hearing about forest fires for a while when we started to see and smell smoke. It appeared that there were fires on both sides of us. but the smoke eased off quite a bit.

We went to Dennis' cousin Dan's home on a wooded hill in Fairbanks. We are lucky that he has an RV full hookup spot that he invited us to use while in Fairbanks. We also have a great view with views of the Alaskan Mountain range. Here we are parked next to Dan and his wife Janet's log cabin.

We look good parked next to this beautiful home.

Dennis and Dan just kicking back, notice the bear rug on the wall, really cool.

Dan enjoys the outdoors and has a lot of toys to do it with. Here is a picture of his Alaska SUV. Do you think he has trouble getting to work in winter?

We had a pleasant dinner with Dan and Janet, their daughter Megan as well as Dan's sister Paula and his mother Pat and a couple visiting from Holland. Barb was able to put together a rhubarb and raspberry pie for dessert.
Pat and Paula helping the guest from Holland with the trip to Denali Park.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Glipse of Gold

We planned to get up early today and go to Denali and look for some wildlife, then do some gold panning later. But we overslept. So we decided to go our separate ways. Dennis decided to drive up to Denali where he spent time going through the Visitor Center displays and watched the movie and went to a ranger talk both relating to the park in winter and adaptations of wildlife to the Alaskan winter. After that he walked one of the trails. It was the wrong time of day for wildlife and he didn't see any but it was a pleasant hike in pretty scenery.

Barb meantime went gold panning with one of the staff members of the park. She went to the Jack river. They found just a bit of gold but had a good time.

Hmmm coming up empty.

Looks much better, is it real?? I will never tell.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Visit with Friends

This afternoon we went to visit with Jim, Jane, Mark and Chris at their campground about 40 miles away from where we are. We took the salmon that Barb caught to grill and of course something sweet for Jim and Mark's sweet tooth.

The only words to describe this visit for me is simply, this is what this lifestyle is all about, good friends, good food and most certainly good laughs with this group.

Mark was in charge of grilling the salmon, as you can see there was some difficulty and Jim was right there with his expert advice.
Jim, just how did you say this is supposed to work?????

Maybe we should get one of the ladies to give us a hand on getting this going.

When the food was finally ready, we had a wonderful meal, and Jane prepared one of her puddings with home made whip cream which she always whips by hand.
Love sharing the good life with these folks.

This evening was one to warm my heart, just being with these friends, can't wait for the next run in, back in the lower 48, see you there.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Denali National Park

We are at Cantwell RV Park in Cantwell, Alaska, which is 27 miles south of the Denali National Park. This park has a tight turn coming in that worried us a bit and some sites are not too level but otherwise is ok. They gave us and Escapees discount on an electric and water pull through site. We choose this park rather than one closer to Denali because of the wifi and that they offered dog sitting which we thought that we might want to use to go to the interior of Denali.

On our way from Trapper we stopped again at the Denali View South viewpoint which is part of Denali State Park. Views of the mountains were a bit better than the night before but still a large part of the mountain was obscured by clouds. We drove a few miles north and saw several cars at a large pullout on the west side of the highway and Dennis quickly pulled the bus over. We were able to see the top of Mt. McKinley (aka Denali) as the clouds opened up briefly. This was lucky as it was a cloudy day and the mountain is notoriously hard to see. This is what we saw.

Last evening we drove up to Denali National Park headquarters and looked around. We bought tickets to Eielson Center 8 a.m. shuttle. This is an 8 hour round trip, 66 miles each way. It is a mid range trip into the park (you can go only 15 miles by car). We decided to leave Roxie as we felt that she could be alone for this length of time without a dog sitter.

We made the trip into the park today. Mt. McKinley was hidden by clouds most of the time but we did get some views of the top. We also were able to see 4 grizzly bears, including 2 young ones playing vigorously, 2 moose, a very large group of Dall Sheep high up on a ridge, and a number of caribou. It was a pleasant trip. We have heard others complain that the school buses are uncomfortable, but did not find this to be so, although we were tired of riding when we were done as the stops off the bus were brief.

Here are some of the mountain and wildlife shots.
This is really a great view of the mountain, the clouds kept coming in an covering up the top as I was snapping these pictures.

I just couldn't resist this shot of the caribou.

Just about the most beautiful views of the mountains surrounding the park. The colors are amazing.

The grizzly bears in the park are mostly blond in color instead of brown. We found this mother with her two cubs playing, they were fun to watch.

Hard to see, but this is a Young golden eagle, the bald eagle is not seen often in the Denali park.

We spotted this lovely couple of ptarmigan (Alaska state bird) along the road.

Saw this large darker brown grizzly out in the field just before coming back into the visitor center

The guy has been tagged so his habits can be studied.

Dennis goofing around, he is kinda of cute.
My turn, would be really hard to cover these babies with a hat.

We have found that the campground in Cantwell is the only thing here that is reasonably priced. For others coming here we would say do not plan to buy gas here (3.50/gallon), do not buy bread here (6.29/loaf), do not buy milk here (4.59/half gallon). Well you get the idea - fortunately there is not much else here to buy.