At the Arctic Circle by Barbara Edwards

Are we going to the Arctic Circle today? Maybe. We’ve checked the weather reports and it is partly cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms this afternoon.

Dalton Highway
Dalton Highway

It’s a 200 mile drive. Not much distance on a normal day, but the road to Prudhoe Bay is not your normal road.

It’s made for trucks and the winter has damaged it. Heaves, mud, potholes and loose gravel are a few of the hazards. Trucks have the right-of-way always.

And you can’t drive to the Arctic Ocean. It is fenced off. You must take a bus and get security

clearance before you can go. That takes time and we didn’t know, so that part of the trip is out.

So we’ll drive up to the Dalton Highway and see what it looks like from there. How far we get depends on a number of factors.

Alaska Pipeline
Alaska Pipeline

The Alaskan pipeline is right outside town. It’s not like I pictured. It’s a shiny pipe about four feet wide on stilts. It doesn’t look controversial.

The Elliot highway is rough as the ocean. Up and down over frost heaves. The landscape is changing. Scrub pine, birch and alder crowd the road. Fewer and fewer mail boxes. The mountains are rounded but high. Not much traffic right now. I keep feeling like we’ve dropped into another space. It feels empty,  not abandoned, but without human prescence.

There’s mosquitos swarming whenever we slow, but patches of snow remain along the road. And we’re not to the Dalton Highway yet.

Alaska
Alaska

At the Dalton highway, the road is no longer paved. It is a mixture of gravel and clay that sticks to the vehicle with the poer of superglue. It is a mud brown, of course and we are covered with it.

The pipeline runs along the road or vise-versa. I stare at the stunted black spruce and then the 120,000 acre burn that occured two years ago. Cause by lightning, it jumped from place to place. The traffic is almost non-existent. Mostly big rigs and a few tour buses. I’m impressed by the bridge over the Yukon River made of wood. Heck, I’m impressed by the Yukon River. All those stories of prospectors and miners heading North repeat in my mind.

Arctic Circle
Arctic Circle

We stop at Finger Rock for a photo, then proceed.

The 200 miles takes us seven hours. With a posted speed limit of 50mph, we crept along at 35 mph because of the slick mud and potholes. Not a ride for the faint-hearted.

When we reach the Arctic Circle, Bill looks around “Is this it?” he asks. I take a couple photos and laugh.

Arctic Circle
Arctic Circle

There’s nothing but scrub and distant mountains. We debate starting the drive back, but Bill is tired. We are equipped to dry camp. And I don’t want him risking injury.

We’ll return tomorrow and spend a few hours removing the mud. Luckily, the campground  has an area to wash the vehicles. We’re not the first to drive out here.

Arctic Circle
Arctic Circle

 

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Finding Fairbanks by Barbara Edwards

Fairbanks, AL
Fairbanks, AL

Heading into Fairbanks. We stopped at the nicest campground. The gift shop had tons of decently priced Alaskan articles and we did buy stuff for the boys.

My daughter, Theresa P.

Fairbanks, AK
Fairbanks, AK

Stark lived in Fairbanks and worked at the hospital.

 

Fairbanks, AK
Fairbanks, AK

The place is among white birches and Alder on the banks of the Sistern River. Beautiful country, although the pine trees are short- look like they grow on the tree-line. Lots of people live here but the houses aren’t visible from the highway. I count mailboxes at each road or drive and there are several at each

I’m feeling a little sad. Fairbanks is not the end of our journey, but it does signal the end of the leg north in Alaska. We are debating the next goal. Up to the Arctic Circle? Dawson? Too many options to choose from it seems.

I didn’t get into the history of Fairbanks. It was on the gold trail and a major stopping point. You’ll have fun looking up the details yourself.

The longer we’re here, the more I like it. Despite the tough winters with 40 degree below zero weather, I wish I’d know about it 20 years ago. I’d have moved here.

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Day at Denali by Barbara Edwards

Denali
Denali

Denali finally. We waited three days for the rain to clear before heading out this morning. It’s going to reach the 70s with a bright sunny sky. Denali is the Indian name for the region. Mt McKinley is 20,230 feet high and growing 34 of an inch each year.

I’m so excited. There is a photo turnoff and I get my first clear view of the mountains ahead. I can’t talk. My mouth is hanging open. Is that the Mountain? If not its huge anyway. Denali is the native Indian name for the region. Mt. McKinley is 20,230 feet high and growing 34 of an inch each year,

 

Denali
Denali

Signs warning of moose crossing the road are frequent. It is low, wet forest along here. Lots of yound birch and aspen.

The drive towards Denali is long. Soon the land belongs to the government. I’m disappointed because we see little wildlife. A few caribous are in the park, but the photos are too distant.

The road into the park is 80 miles long and only the first twenty drivable with a car. A bus must take you on a 12 hour ride back and forth.  Hiking is the only real option to see the interior.

 

Denali
Denali

Bill and I have decided most of the trip has been fun. Some parts boring since neither of us can hike the trails. I have the binoculars for spotting  animals. He’s had two knee replacements and doesn’t take chances. I get out of breath with exertion.

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Impressed by Anchorage by Barbara Edwards

Anchorage AK
Anchorage AK

Somehow I managed to delete my post about leaving Whittier for Anchorage. What can I say—after several towns and many mountains it’s hard to remember details.
I am fascinated by the glaciers that appear along the road to Anchorage. And the surrounding mountains.

 

 

Anchorage, AK
Anchorage, AK

The city is widely spread out and has all the amenities of every other large city. Our campground is on the edge and we can drive around easily. What to do is the question. The weather is lousy. Drizzly and cool, it sucks the warmth from my Florida bones.

 

 

Anchorage
Anchorage, AK
Anchorage, AK

So we’re going to the zoo. I might not get another chance to see much of the local wildlife. I’ve found that a zoo is a great way to judge a city and this one is no exception. The place is beautiful with wide paths winding through trees and low scrub. Each animal looks healthy and well-cared-for even though most of them are here because they were injured in the wild and unable to return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wasilla
Wasilla

We want to see Denali and drive on, stopping in Wasilla. A fairly large town, it has five miles of stores and businesses on the main road. We camp here for three days of rain. No point going on until we can see Mt. Whitney instead of clouds.

 

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A trip glitch by Barbara Edwards

Image

ImageOn the Kennicott going into Whittier. Its three thirty am and dawn is breaking. I’m always awakened by the light. I look outside at the water. The mountains rise like the ancient gods to terrible heights. Snow and ice glitter in the increasing light.

The voyage on the Kennicott is an adventure for a staid lady like me. This time we found lots of space in the Solarium on the lounge chairs to sleep. Of the 499 passenger capacity, there are about 200 and most took cabins. Image

How did we get here?

On our final leg across, the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system had to reschedule us. To my vast disappointment, we could get a ferry to Gustavus, but no return to Juneau for the Whittier leg. Fly the agent said casually. That is a common method of travel up here, but I really don’t do well in small cabin planes. And what about the dog and trailer. Oh well. I am flexible I assure myself. Then the leg to Sitka got awkward. 2 am boarding didn’t work out with a five day layover.

With Bill poking me, I asked why we couldn’t get on the ship leaving for Whittier right now. The agent gave me a smile, called the crew and said okay, go get on they have space. It meant leaving our lawn chair and water hose at the campground, but we saved ten days of potting around waiting for the next ferry out.

The dog is upset. He’s confined to the camper with six hour potty breaks.

ImageThe voyage lasts thirty-seven hours with a stop in Yakatak to unload people and cargo. A tiny island it makes me feel lonely to look at the shore.

The full day has us out of sight of land with four foot waves rocking the ferry despite the stabilizers. I can’t concentrate on writing and stare at the rough water. I’ve seen several whales, a pod of porpoises, an Orca and seals alongside the ship.

Image

We disembark in Whittier at six am and the adventure continues. I thought I’d missed the glaciers, but am stunned by the one hovering over the town. ????????????Wow. There are 26 glaciers within a day trip from Whittier.

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Juneau, The Capitol of Alaska by Barbara Edwards

Juneau, AK
Juneau, AK
Juneau, AK
Juneau, AK

 

Reached Juneau for our lay-over for the connection to Whittier. I planned a side-trip to Sitka and one to Gustavus, the site of Glacier Bay National Park to use part of the ten day wait. I really anticipate seeing Glaciers.
Juneau is large, spread along the coast from from the Ferry terminal.
There is a huge tidal area that is a wildlife refuge before we reach downtown. I can see the Tram up the side of the mountain. I hate to admit this one is too high for me. I don’t get seasick, but I do get vertigo from heights. Not my thing. The downtown area has cruise shops as well as the usual local businesses selling local items.
I realize that I am not a city person. The small towns have charmed me with their differences, but the cities seem to be strangely similar.

Juneau, AK
Juneau, AK

We find the campground at the Mendenhall State Park. We can see the Mendenhall Glacier and lake. I’m impressed by the beauty of the formation. The breeze off the ice is cool and the lake is cold from the melting snow and ice. I’m shocked at a group of teen-agers in the water. Yikes. I’m bundled in three layers and still chilled.
Probably why I’m not an Alaskan.

 

Juneau, AK
Juneau, AK

The Marine Highway calls and says to check changes in our schedule. The trip to Gustavus has been rescheduled one day early. Okay. Since we’re like turtles carrying our home with us, it doesn’t matter.
Bill loves to drive and the area is interesting. Juneau is backed by high mountains, fronted by an arm of the sea. Beautiful.
I notice the departure for Sitka is at two am. Not a good time for either of us, so we go back to the terminal.
The people who work for the Alaska Marine Highway are so nice and helpful. He agrees it is a poor time and gets on the computer to check for a better option. Bill and I watch the crew loading the Kennicott, on its way to Whittier,
Now what happened— when they rescheduled our leg to Gustavus, they cancelled the return trip. We can get there but not back to catch our scheduled trip to Whittier. The other trips to Sitka are totally booked. With the Columbia in for repairs, the boats are all rescheduled. With both trips not available, we have ten days to fill in an area famous for hiking, and winter sports. Not my thing either.
I give the agent my evil eye and ask if we can get on the ferry loading now. Bill pokes me in the ribs and says don’t give him a hard time. I shrug. What can it hurt.
The agent calls the loading crew. They agree, “Room for one more. Load now.”
I look at Bill. “So if we stay, we have to pay for ten days camping with not many options for us to tourist around. If we go, we can add on the days to the next leg.”

Juneau, AK
Juneau, AK

So we abandon the two lawn chairs and our water hose at the campsite and get on. He calls the campground to explain.

Aboard the Kennicott
Aboard the Kennicott

Keeno is unhappy. He doesn’t like pooping on the Ferry or being confined to the camper.

 

 

 

 

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