Alaska Again: New Adventures in the North travel blog

Destruction Bay Panorama

Jonathan and Biggest Gold Pan

Mary and cranes at Tetlin Wildlife Refuge

Chena River from the riverboat

Float plane

Iditarod dogs racing

Cache at Tetlin Wildlife Refuge (above the snow)

Our paddleboat on the Chena

Athabascan salmon drying rack


Athabascan winter gear

Iditarod dogs

Mary at the Athabascan village

Granite, Susan's lead dog

No gun fighting!

The raven

Raven attacking Mary

Early aircraft

Early steamship

The Nenana

Distance to Sydney, Australia--quite a ways

At Destruction Bay, our campsite was right on Kluane Lake. A clean, pristine place called Cottonwood RV Park. After dinner, we walked the shore of the lake. We fell asleep to the gentle sound of the waves lapping at the shore outside our campsite. We awoke in the middle of the night to a howling windstorm, which had set something banging quite loudly in the wind, not at our campsite but somewhere else nearby. Jonathan got up and went out to look for it. We never did figure out what it was, or stop it. Our earplugs came in handy.

We noticed all the vehicles coming into camp from the north were coated with a layer of mud from the sections highway undergoing repair and which had been wetted down to the point of mud. The local glacial soil according to the Yukon highway department is unsuited for road embankments and “anything that causes the underlying permafrost to melt will cause the ice-rich soil to liquify”. When the soil re-freezes it will expand or “heave” causing the famous “frost heaves”. The Yukon Highway department, US Federal Highway Administration is experimenting with large air vent ducts under the road to keep the soil from melting. This multi-year long project will analyze results but from what we saw it didn’t seem to be working.

The next morning we stopped to see the world’s largest gold pan in Burwash Landing, Yukon. Impressive. We also stopped at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge after crossing back into Alaska where we had a picnic lunch and explored the Visitors Center. The Refuge runs 65 miles along the highway. It’s 980,000 acres! It’s along the Pacific flyway and is a resting place for sandhill cranes and other migratory species, much like the Preserve where Mary volunteers. Lots of the terrain is taiga and muskeg, and has lots of mosquitoes. Mosquitos actually bother moose quite a bit—a moose can lose a pint of blood a day due to mosquito bites.

We spent the night in Tok, Alaska. The RV camp where we stayed sponsors a nightly “Flapjack Tossing Contest”. We opted for our nightly Scrabble game but the contest sounded very exciting with the cheering reaching the levels of a Texas high school football game.

The following morning we went to the “RV Wash”one of several in town and removed the glacial mud coating we had picked up. Nasty stuff and said to remove paint within 48 hours.

The Alaska Highway officially ends at Delta Junction – milepost 1422 and we turned north towards Fairbanks. We actually didn’t stay in Fairbanks but at the North Pole! This is the location where all the letters to Santa go. Santa’s house is right across the street from the Post Office. And Santa’s reindeer are there, too. Did you know that reindeer are domesticated caribou?

While we were in the Fairbanks area we took the Riverboat Discovery Cruise on the Chena river to its confluence with the Tanana River. The Binkley family started these tours in 1950. The trip narrator discussed Athabascan culture and history, and we went to a recreated Athabascan village where we stopped and got off the boat and listened to presentations about Athabascan life. The presenters were two very talented Athabascan high school students.

We also saw, from the boat, the sled dogs of Susan Butcher, the first woman to win the Iditarod (1980). And she went on to win it 4 times! Her daughter (Susan died of cancer 4 years ago) gave a demonstration of how they train the dogs, pulling an ATV. The dogs were raring to go—all of them—although only six were selected for the demonstration.

And finally, from the boat, we saw a presentation of a float plane landing and taking off on the river.

We’re traveling Alaska Highway 1, which is a bad road with intermittent good stretches and lots of road work going on. Our trailer is covered with dust—a very fine dust that cakes on the sides and top. The gravel stretches are dusty and also rocks fly up and hit the truck and trailer. A few days ago the drain valve to the fresh water pipe broke off, underneath the trailer, probably due to a rock hitting it, and the pipe was spilling water all down the road. We noticed it when we stopped to look at an old bridge, and Jonathan cleverly McGivered a solution involving paper towels and duct tape (could have made a nuclear submarine if needed). It’s an ingenious solution but we wanted something more permanent. Then we noticed that one of the running lights on the side of the trailer lost its orange cover, probably a rock hit it and it cracked. So in Fairbanks, we found an RV place that had just the parts we needed (actually an “authorized" Jayco dealer), and Jonathan fixed the pipe (no small task) and replaced the running light cover. That took a while so we did not tour the University of Alaska’s Museum of Alaska, or the Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. We did have an hour, before the RV place opened, to tour Pioneer Park, which has authentic buildings from the gold rush days that once graced downtown Fairbanks. It’s also home to the S.S. Nenana, a National Historic Landmark. And a raven that attacked Mary. But we’ll have to come back someday to see what we missed.

From Fairbanks we drove on the George Parks Hwy to Denali National Park – a place we have been looking forward to for a while. On the way we stopped in a town called Nenana which is named for the river along which it lies. We had lunch at the Rough Woods Inn. The waitress was frazzled as an RV caravan had pulled in for breakfast and since the place is the only eatery in town they had to serve them all It was 80 people in a place designed for maybe 20 so she had worked very hard that morning! Poor lady!

Nenana is famous for its “Ice Classic”. Each winter a huge tripod made of logs is built on the frozen Nenana River. The town holds a “lottery” where people can select a day and time when the river will break up and the tripod falls into the river. The custom goes back over 100 years and the pot has grown each year over that time. Recent years have seen the winner collect well over $300,000.

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