Saturday, October 23, 2010


I would like to thank the readers that have commented on this Alaskan journey. Some of you have made the same trip in the past and some of you are planning it in the future. For those who have been there, I enjoyed your comments and for those others I would say this is a trip well worth taking. Alaska is a place you really need to see.
I would like to apologize to the un-named rental car company about their car. I checked in late and the young lady forgot to mention the restricted roads where their cars are not allowed to go. Sorry ‘bout that.
The James Dalton Highway (the Haul Road) is mostly a 414 mile gravel road. The road starts north of Livengood, Alaska and travels north through arctic tundra to the farthest reaches of Alaska ending in Prudhoe Bay. You can travel all but the last 8 miles on the road. After that you can only travel by tour bus or oil field pass. Livengood is about seventy miles north of Fairbanks and by the time you get there you are “off the grid”. meaning no electric service or running water for your house ! There are places off the road, provided by the state, where you can buy water, but they don’t deliver!
Just north of Fairbanks where the sign says no service for the next 118 miles, that’s just what it means. Don’t expect any small forgotten gas station to appear, it won’t. This is not a road for the faint of heart, or those with a brand-new vehicle! It is still the main supply route for the Prudhoe Bay oilfields, and you are sharing the road with large tractor-trailers which have the right-of-way according to the signage. Windshields are easy targets for flying rocks. Most rental car companies will not allow you to drive their cars on the Dalton. Trucks speeding along the slippery gravel kick up thick clouds of dust or mud, reducing visibility to absolute zero; potholes take a heavy toll on cars and services, gas, and repairs are practically nonexistent.

After two hours of driving we reach the Yukon River. It was a beautiful day with plenty of sunshine. A very basic café, gift shop (T-shirts & sweatshirts) and motel combination with a large above ground gas tank next door is the entire community. Rooms at $199 per night were in side by side singlewide trailer houses with shared baths down the hall. There were quite a few boats putting in and some hunters also looking about. It was a place for real men, fishermen, hunters and truckers. Here at the Ranger Station they give you a certificate for crossing the Arctic Circle, but the Circle is still sixty miles north. After lunch at the café we charge onward.
My sweetheart was maybe expecting balloons and a circus when we finally reached the Arctic Circle but no, just a small park and scenic view. This was the only place in Alaska we encountered mosquitoes. They were so thick you had to plow your way through them and you could not sit still. If you felt nature call, which we did, you had to make it quick!! We took the requisite pictures and climbed back into the air conditioned rental car and headed south. The only other visitors at the park while we were there were two soldiers from Austin, Texas seeing Alaska before returning home.
This was the opening weekend for moose hunting. You could go three miles off the road to hunt. We saw quite a few hunting groups, fathers, sons & brothers. The weather was wonderful and they were excited to be there.
Once off the Haul Road and headed back into Fairbanks, Sandy spotted something ahead in the bar ditch. Sure enough, we were up front and personal with a moose. We pulled over to the side where she was munching fresh grass. She just looked at us and kept on eating just 15 or so feet from the car. She did not seem to mind our presence and allowed us all the pictures we wanted.
In a couple of days we will say goodbye to Alaska and make our way back home. We have enough time for a couple more coffees at the River City Café and some more sightseeing downtown. It has been a wonderful trip, it could fit into the category of “The Trip of a Lifetime”, I know it sure comes close for us.
Next blog we arrive back in Texas, I’ll call it Home, Sweet Home.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks, with a population of 36,000, is the second largest city in Alaska. I don't know but I would bet that considerably less live here in the dead of winter. Temperatures in January average between zero and a minus sixteen. The natives talk about minus forty degrees and days where the sun never rises. Sounds like the perfect time to visit kinfolk in the lower forty-eight. Every parking lot has electrical outlets to plug in your engine block warmer and you don't even turn off your car while you're gassing up or the engine block will freeze. Fortunately we were there in September and the weather was beautiful. Like the Alaskans say, when it's above freezing it's tee shirt weather. For them it's tee shirt weather but I felt comfortable in shirt sleeves. We had coffee at the River City Café on the street side patio and enjoyed the sunshine.
There are lots of interesting things to do in Fairbanks and we needed to do the tourist things first. It's out to the El Dorado Gold Mine to see if we could make it as gold miners. I was too careful in my panning technique, not believing that yes the gold really does sink to the bottom of the pan. Between my sweetheart and myself we ended up with over forty dollars in gold. You would think that was a good haul but then you go to the gift shop and you simply must buy the sixty dollar locket to display your good fortune. Why do I do these things, I should be holding her hand.
Next it's on to the north pole, North Pole, Alaska. Where Santa lives year round is 22 miles from Fairbanks and has a McDonalds and traffic circles. The City of North Pole was incorporated on January 15, 1953. The major attraction is a giant statue of Santa and Santa's Workshop, where you can buy all things related to Santa Claus, I bought something but now I even forget was it.
We stayed at Pikes River Resort which was nice and an interesting feature you could leave a "Northern Lights Wakeup Call". Sure enough ours came at 3:00 am. At that time even I thought about rolling on and going back to sleep. My sweetheart would have none of that, so I in my pajamas and she in her cap, out on the balcony on a cold winter's night. And lo! The Aurora Borealis. The auroras, also known as northern lights are natural light displays in the sky, God's own night light.. The Alaskan natives call them the Dance of the Spirits, which I consider a much more romantic notion in keeping with their mystery. This night they hung in the night sky like a long extended shower curtain fading from white to light blue and floating from left to right. Mark that off the bucket list and back to bed. Tomorrow we tackle another item on the bucket list. The haul road north and the Arctic Circle.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Trans Alaska Pipeline

The year was 1973 and we Americans were being blackmailed by OPEC. America was out of gas and the mid-east wasn't selling us any. Remember the red flags at gas stations? That little incident prompted the United States to start construction on the Trans Alaska Pipeline System or "the Pipeline" as it is known up here.

Eight hundred miles long and forty-eight inches in diameter, the pipeline made the Prudhoe Bay oil field economical and delivered oil to the lower forty-eight. At a cost of $8 billion the pipeline crosses three mountain ranges and delivers oil to the port at Valdez, Alaska. Valdez is the northern most year round ice free port in Alaska.

Upon our arrival in Fairbanks we stopped at the pipeline's visitor center, real similar to a wayside park here in Texas, but dang!; there's this huge pipeline flowing over your head. It flows like this or dives underground on it's long trip north. The pipeline is not in a straight line but zig-zag’s along shock absorbers high in the air. The purpose of this curious configuration is protection from earthquakes. The earth can shake and the pipeline can flex. A few years ago a smart young man decided to shoot the pipe. He did it, created a leak and then sat in prison for 17 years with a fine of $150 million. He now lives in a mobile home. Don't know the balance on the debt!

Trips by rental car are not allowed to Prudhoe Bay but, if you have sociopath tendencies you could drive the rugged Dalton Highway (the haul road) 487 miles to Deadhorse . The last nine miles is off limits except by authorization of the oil company. The pipeline parallels the Dalton Highway, but access to the Prudhoe Bay oilfield complex is available only through commercial tour operators. You need to be aware that most rental car companies will not allow their cars to be driven on the Dalton Highway, wonder why?

Stick around for the answer to that question in our continuing saga of traveling to the Arctic Circle. I'll call that one Ice Road Trucker.
See you then!