Alaska, the Last Frontier - Summer 2012 travel blog

Knotty Shop entrance

burl bee

knotty moose

on the pipeline

snaking cross country

underground with vents

river of silt

glacier shaved mountains

highway view



The weather in Fairbanks was just what we wet and cold travelers needed; we actually had to run the A/C now and then. Although there were some pleasantly forested rolling hills around the flatness that is Fairbanks, it could not compete with the stunning scenery in other parts of the state. So we began the route south toward Valdez and the mountains and glaciers with fingers crossed; the forecast is not particularly favorable.

Our first stop on the road was at The Knotty Shop, a store that capitalizes on the burl knots that trees form around here when invaded by insects. Imaginative creatures made out of burl logs graced the front lawn and the entire building was designed with burl logs in mind. Burl bowls make lovely souvenirs, but I resisted.

We saw glimpses of the pipeline periodically. Because of varying soil condition along its route, the pipeline is both above and below ground. Where the warm oil would cause icy soil to thaw and erode, the pipeline goes above ground. Where the frozen ground is mostly well drained gravel or solid rock and thawing is not a problem the line is underground. For the most part it is clearly visible more or less parallel with the Richardson Highway. Even when it is underground it is often marked by cooling towers with metal fins that modify the temperature fluctuations.

The pipe line zigs and zags as it goes, built that way to be more flexible during the earthquakes that occur here periodically. In 2002 a 7.9 quake epicentered 80 miles south of Fairbanks. The highway was damaged, but no oil was spilled. The oil travels 5.5 mph and takes almost 100 hours to travel from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. A maximum of 22,000 gallons of oil a minute flow through the line.

We passed mountains with sides so steep they appeared almost vertical. The glaciers had done a masterful carving job here. They were covered with a rainbow hued collection of gravel. The reds and greens were volcanic rock and the yellows and pastels are siltstone and sandstone. These mountains will never be vegetated. Nothing can take root on such a steep slope.

Then we passed Summit Lake, made famous by the annual Arctic Man Ski & SnoGo Classic. The main event involves two man teams - a downhill skier and a snow machine and driver. The skier starts at 5,800 feet elevation and drops 1,700 feet in less than two miles to the bottom of a narrow canyon, where they catch a tow rope from their partner on the snow machine, who tows them 2+ miles uphill at speeds up to 80mph before they separate and the skier finishes the race by going over the side of a second mountain and dropping 1,200 feet to the finish line. Sounds like fun!!!

We are camped in a remote BLM campground paying a grand $6/night. We’re above the tree line and it feels like we can see forever. The campground host said we arrive fifteen minutes too late to see the mama moose and her two young’uns. Hopefully, they’ll be back before we have to leave. Our host is also a snowbird as we are. He heads south for the winter - to Michigan. He pointed out he has to drive 4,500 miles just to get there. Not worth driving to Florida. Coming south we have also lost some daylight; the sun will actually set tonight before midnight rather than after. But it will be up again in four hours.

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