So we left Tok for the drive to Fairbanks. Before leaving we all shared a Memorial Day cookout at our camp including Cindy’s famous Jambayla ….rave reviews from all. The views along the way to Fairbanks were again stunning at almost every turn. The approach to Fairbanks was very nostalgic for me (Alex) since it was 58 years ago that I last saw Eielson Air Force Base as we picked up my eldest brother being honorably discharged from there. Memories were great but new memories were being made. We also passed by Santa’s house at North Pole AK….more exciting when I was 10 yrs old but still nostalgic. Campsite, as most are in AK, was small with maybe 3-5 ft between RV’s with slides open.
Our first adventure was about an hour drive to Chena Hot Springs where we had messages, dip in large hot springs pond with temps 104-116 ( in front of direct feed from the springs), and apple-tini at the Ice Bar inside the Ice Castle which was amazing. (we think site of several Hallmark Movie locales). Even our tini glasses were made of ice which we smashed in parking lot afterwards.
Next up was our evening flight through the ‘gates’ of the Arctic Circle taking off at 8 PM for 5 hr air flight incl fuel stop at Coldfoot….an obscure ‘town’ along the Dalton Hwy. Last winter they received 62″ of snow in 24 hours. Basically just a fuel stop on the road as well as tour planes who all stop there. Not much more than a gravel parking lot with large fuel storage tanks, but a small mess hall for the workers who live there and all those tourists and truck drivers who stop. Food was amazingly good and we made a dent in the small gift shop off to 1 side of the dining room. Also saw the biggest fuel truck ever (pic below)….most fuel trucks hold 6,000 gal…this one, 10,000. Aah, but I digress…nothing like a good truck!…..then back on the plane for amazing sights of north Alaska as we entered the Arctic Circle through the ‘Gates’ which were 2 large mountain peaks about 20 miles apart but distinctive. Every view was incredible. We didn’t make it to the Arctic Ocean but could see off in the distance as we made our turn back. We saw a couple of towns which were inaccessible by road with maybe 500 inhabitants. Hard to imagine their existence but guessing the Alaska Pipeline provided them lots of funds for their lifetime.
The Arctic Circle encircles the true north pole where it remains so cold no plant growth exists….the true Tundra….with dramatic mountains in route. The return trip revealed the true ‘midnight sun’ as we caught the last glimpse of the sun between 12:30 and 1 AM. (from there we always have about 3-4 hours of twilight before the sun rises again about 4 am). We slept well that night with incredible images in our dreams. We arrived back at the RV park about 1:30 am.
Our next day had no planned activities so we wandered to downtown Fairbanks. It is a relatively small city of maybe 10 square blocks of ‘downtown’. We had a waitress suggest we visit the ‘ice palace’ downtown. We found it in an old movie theater that was turned into an ice carving display. It was pretty hokey but the carvings were pretty good. They even had a sled chute that I had to try. Ran from back of theater to the front on what had been the side aisle. The sled was made out of a boogie board with a blanket duct-taped to the top. I braved the challenge and took the ride…..all 13 seconds of it….but brought a smile to my and Cindy’s face as she videoed me. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Our final stop in Fairbanks was at the Raw Fur Store next to our RV park we had passed all week. So the last day we decided to stop in. It was an amazing store with racks and racks of fur hides on hangers. They included mink, beaver, rabbit, otter, caribou, fox, wolf, wolverine, sable, and more. There were also some finished products of coats, stoles, slippers, gloves, etc. It was a modern version of what you might imagine of an old fur trader back in the early days. It was pretty amazing and we did some Christmas shopping.
Our next stop was at the small town of Denali. But the road getting there was again filled with magnificent views in all directions. We kept looking for the majestic tallest peak in N America. We thought we maybe saw it covered by clouds a few times but unsure. (We later realized when you saw it, there was no mistake). We drove through a narrow ravine of sheer rock walls, along a raging river, to arrive at the town of Denali. It was all along the single road for about 1/2 mile. A row of shops on one side connected by a boardwalk and cruise ship lodges on the other side, also with dining and shopping. This was part of cruise and ride excursions since the ports were 4-5 hours away. Our narrow RV park was behind the boardwalk shops….not really designed for 45′ RV’s but we wedged ourselves into our spot, needing our neighbor to pull his slides in to give us the extra 2 ft needed to turn into our spot….whew! As in many of these RV parks, we would need to disconnect our tow vehicles prior to entering the parks since they were so small and narrow once you turned in. The next day our whole group loaded onto old Blue Bird buses for the ride deep into Denali National Park. The actual road into the park is about 90 miles but an active rock slide closed the road about 45 miles in while they diverted the road and build a new bridge to get around the slide. It was a bumpy and dusty ride on the dirt road averaging about 25 mph. But over a hill and around a bend….there she stood…unmistakingly rising above everything around her with pure ice and snow covering the entire top half….Denali, formerly Mt McKinley (not sure what old McKinley did in his past to have his name removed). Rising 20, 320 ft above sea level, it didn’t look real…..like it was super-imposed in a picture. For the next few days we would take over a hundred pictures of this stunning part of nature. Every time we saw it we just had to take another pic. Along our bus ride we saw mountain Dall sheep, caribou, porcupine, and some birds….but no bears we had been assured would be plentiful. Oh well. We visited several bars in the town and dined at a ledge-top lodge high on a cliff that was pretty cool with great views. The dirt road to get to this lodge was steep with several switch-backs. Ironically there were no views of Denali Mtn from anywhere in the town of Denali. We visited 49th State Brewery about 10 miles out of town. This had been recommended by friends Dan and Charlene who are regulars at Oceanas when they’re in town. What a great find. Much more than just a brewery with outstanding food in a gorgeous post and beam structure. I finally got my Alaskan King Crab which were surprisingly hard to find elsewhere, and no less expensive than if we were back home on the east coast. I also played a round of golf with another couple in our group at a nearby ‘tundra’ 9-hole course. It was a stretch to call the putting areas ‘greens’ since only about 25% of the surface actually had green on them. But it was fun and relaxing. The side road to the course finally led me to a Mama Moose and her 2 calves along the side of the road. A great photo op which is how Cindy was able to see them.
Our last stop for this blog posting was in Talkeetna…about a 3 hour drive from Denali, but the drive was filled with incredible views of Denali. They say that only about 20% of people actually see the full mountain due to cloud cover, but our day was clear skies with crisp views. Our RV park was a bit better but still small. We were beside the Alaska rail line, across the tracks to the small airport, and 1/2 mile to the Talkeetna River, so a good location. There was a small town within walking distance with varied eating options, but a beautiful mountain lodge about 2 miles away…yes, another cruise ship lodge. Day 2 here, had us load onto 12-seat Beaver planes for our flight to Denali Mtn and glacier landing. Our views of the mtn were incredible (I’m running out of adjectives, but all are worthy). We could only climb to 12,500 ft on the plane so it was strange to have to bend down and look up out of the plane window to see the top of Denali, in all her glory, up close. On their own, the surrounding peaks were also stunning, but Denali always took center stage. There were lots of glaciers surrounding the mtn and we landed on one where several other planes were already there. What a thrill to land, walk around, throw snowballs, and take off. This was a highlight of the trip so far.
The next day we loaded onto a jet boat for a ride up the river to class 5 rapids. But this wasn’t your standard Ski-Doo. This was an enclosed large, covered, boat with 3 water-jet engines totaling 1,000 hp, with 3-seat bench seating on each side of the aisle with about 8 rows. A viewing platform was on the back and the front windows were occasionally opened but no access to the bow. Even with nearly 50 passengers, the boat soared up river at 35-45 mph…amazing. We reached devil’s canyon where the Captain held the boat at the base of the Class 5 rapids while we all took pics…..very impressive. They say only 2 men had successfully rafted through the canyon. We could believe it as some of the swells of the rapids were taller than our boat. We stopped at an old preserved trappers camp for a brief tour. Very interesting to see how they coped and lived back then. The total trip was about 5 hours. On another note, our new power cord reel had arrived at this camp and 2 of our travelling cohorts took about 90 mins to install it, so we’re now back to normal with our power source….yea! So another 4 1/2 hour trip through Anchorage to arrive at our new camp in Cooper Landing on the Kenai Peninsula as we head toward Homer and the Pacific coast. Our next post will pick up with adventures here in C Lndg and then Homer. Hope you are all well and enjoying our posts. Please let us know if these posts are of interest because they are a PIA to do, but will be our diary of our trip for our memory banks. Will make me feel better if we know you are reading them. Thanks!
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