Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pioneer Park, Cheena Hotsprings, Hurricane Train


We're heading off to Denali soon - no internet there!

Stinky still traveling well - often enjoys 'surfing' on the dining room table while we're flying(figuratively) down the road.

Will quickly summarize the last couple days.

Cheena Hot Springs is about 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks. There are natural hot springs that miners found which cured their aches and pains associated with mining injuries. It has turned into a destination resort with dog sledding, biking trails, hiking, horseback riding etc. They turn old vehicles into landscape centerpeices. 

 There is an ice house on site (it has been featured on 'Sunday Morning' show) that is kept at 25 degrees. They issued one size fits none and the zippers don't work' parkas to anyone who wanted one. EVERYTHING in side is made of ice, including the bar and the maratini glass that they serve appletini's in. 

 There is a husband/wife competitive sculpture team that keeps the place carved up. Ice is carved from large blocks harvested out of the on-site ponds.

We boondocked (overnight free camping) in the parking lot of Pioneer Park, a very touristy 'attraction' in Fairbanks that all the cruises go to. It's a way to get a taste of Alaska, without seeing real Alaska. Was entertaining to watch the parade of guests. It does serve as a spot for relocation of historic log homes from downtown Fairbanks.

The Nenana sternwheeler was there - 237 feet long, in service from 1933-1964. It's a national historic site.

The engine room was beautiful

 Hurricane Flag Train

We took a day long ride out of Talkeetna on the last flag stop train in the United States. It's a train the folks can take out into the rural bush to fish, camp, hike etc. Also, the people who live out there use the train to come into town to buy groceries and supplies. 

 Anyone can literally flag the train down, and it will stop for pick-ups and drop-offs. 

The conductor, Warren, was a hoot - filled with information about life in the wilderness, the history of the train etc.   He loves his job and it was a joy to be on his train.

The train travels along the Susitna river, through bogs, past beaver ponds and over big gulches.

The conductor stopped the train so that we could get off, walk a short way to a woman's house (she's a homesteader), and see her vegtable garden. She did not expect to see the crowd of 20 visitors - but was delighted to show us around her place. She is also a well known children's book author / illustrator. Her logpile:

The train stopped so that we could get out and walk around a favorite camping and fishing spot. 


 The conductor also stopped the train (at our request) at the 'trackside' bookstore where we purchased her autobiographical book about their journey from Missouri to Alaska, to homestead, with 4 children, in 1963.

We pulled off onto a spur track to wait for a passanger tain to pass.

We STOPPED on the hurricane gulch bridge - a 900 foot span, 300 feet above the bottom of the gulch, built almost 100 years ago in 90 days. That was creepy.

We stopped to see a family of trumpeter swans.

The flag stop train is a national treasure. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

We are in willow 'bloom' season. The willow trees/bushes are spewing seeds into the atmosphere and they fly all around and eventually land into pretty carpets of fuzz - on every flat surface.

There is monster Queen anne's lace (or something like it).

 The salmon are beginning to run up-stream.


We are frantically preparing the camper, cleaning, re-arranging, to accomodate Becky, John and Juniper, who will arrive in about a hour. After a day settling in and figuring out how to house all of us in the RV, we'll head to Denali for 3 nights. Hoping to see wild animals !



Thursday, June 25, 2015

Arctic Circle

 One of the goals of this trip was to be inside the Arctic circle, on June 21st to see the sun NOT set.

That would involve a 275 mile (each direction) trip down the famed and treacherous Dalton Highway to Coldfoot Alaska. We didn't want to go all the way up to Prudoe Bay. The Dalton is similar to some of the horrible roads we've seen before, but with the added 'feature' of many large long-haul trucks. They barrel down the road, and have the right of way – it is their road. It's also, hard to imagine, even more remote than where we had been so far ... but it is.

We decided that rather than drive Miss Daisy (the RV) , we'd take the 'Dalton Express' public transportation to and from Coldfoot, and stay in the lodge there. The 'Dalton Express' service uses the vehicle size appropriate for the number of booked passengers. We were the only passengers in an E450 van outfitted with beefed up tires, along with the driver, his 9 year old daughter. and 3 oil drums and other supplies that we dropped off at camps along the way. Our driver had driven the route about 60 times, and loves it. It was a very rough ride and Daisy was thankful to have been left behind. She got a good rest, and it turned out to be a good decision for another reason - gas was $4.99 a gallon in Coldfoot.  

Daisy stayed at a campground in Fairbanks and the young campground host fed Stinky while we were gone.

Dalton Highway

The Dalton is considered one of Alaska's most remote and dangerous highways that opened to the public in 1995. It is nicknamed the 'Ice Road' or 'Haul Road' (as featured on a TV series). It was built as the primary access road for transport of goods, materials, and construction crews for the building of the Alaskan pipeline. There are very few and only the most basic services – no cell service, no roadside service etc.  

  Communication by CB radio is essential – the drivers all talk to each other along the way, reporting their location, giving permission to pass, and driver alerts. We saw massive structures (wider than the road) being transported. In those cases, there is a pilot car that re-routes all oncoming traffic into large pull-outs.

 The road is built 6-15 feet above the permafrost with small or no shoulders and, of course, no guardrails. There are 10-12% grades in some areas. Rollovers are not uncommon. The 415 mile long road took 5 months to build in 1974.  It goes on, and on, and on ... relentlessly.  Notes regarding pictures - please forgive some of the photograph quality as they were taken from the back seat of a truck going down the road over teeth shattering frost heaves, potholes and rocky surfaces.

The highway was built for the pipeline construction, although not beautiful in itself, is an engineering marvel.

We saw a distant wildfire.  There are many in Alaska this summer. 

We saw several motorcycle groups (mostly international guests) on organized tours.

Along the highway, we stopped at a way station that was started by a family many years ago. They raised 6 biological and 18 adopted children, home schooling them all, in the compound that they built themselves. It's a very interesting outpost. Free coffee!!!

We saw miles and miles of little white flowers.  They turn out to be high protein food for caribou and moose who migrate through here fattening up their new calves before the hard winter. 

We saw miles and miles of Black Spruce - a native tree that grows well with shallow roots (as the roots cannot penetrate the permafrost).  They grow in this harsh environment and look pretty ratty in their natural state.  They don't grow very big.  A tree with a 2 inch diameter is about 150 years old. 

 We crossed the Arctic Circle. 

As we approached Coldfoot, there were mountains.

Coldfoot Camp

MOSQUITOES. The most we've seen anywhere. Since this area is all permafrost (permanently frozen ground right under the surface), there is no place for rain to be absorbed – so it sits on top of the land in puddles and creeks that go nowhere – prime mosquito producing territory. And so little time for all the multiplication that needs to happen to sustain the population !!! 

  Coldfoot airport:

Sign just outside Coldfoot for those wishing to drive to Prudhoe Bay.  There is NOTHING between Coldfoot and Prodhoe

We over-nighted in very basic accommodations  (the white building). It might be considered a two star motel because we did have private indoor plumbing in our room, and it appears that the only bugs were mosquitoes on the other side of the screen.

Coldfoot now is a big truck stop – the last gas and services before Prudoe Bay, 240 miles to the north. It was built on the site of an old mining camp. It was named Coldfoot because many of the green gold seeking stamppeeders tasted the northern climate, didn't like it, got cold feet, and departed. Coldfoot Camp was re-established in the 1970's to house pipeline workers and later as a major truck stop.  There is a pay phone on site.

Kris's shadow at 10:30p.m.

 Coldfoot has the furthest north watering hole in the United States (the Frozen Foot Saloon) – we made a point to sample their beer. 
The post office is open 3 days a week.  

Sign inside the post office entrance:


We had a 30 minute hour tour of Wiseman (at 9:00 at night – still in full light).  It's a short, beautiful drive north of Coldfoot.

The town was established in 1908 as a mining camp and currently houses 13 anglo (non-native) permanent residents who lead a subsistence lifestyle. The town is in a county that has 3500 students, and two teachers. Most of the students are home schooled. There are some original residences in the area we toured.

A local resident spoke with our group for about 20 minutes on how they live in such rugged conditions. He hunts, traps, fishes, berry picks and grows vegetables. He is married and has a two year old daughter. He hates his windmill (the mechanics don't hold up) and loves his solar. They store 600 pounds of potatoes, other roots and tubers, and berries in a trap door from his kitchen down to a 'permafrost' cellar that acts as a refrigerator. They eat off that all winter. He reminded us that June 21st is the MIDDLE of his summer – not much growing time left for the vegetable garden. The growing season is 60-90 days long. When he hunts, he must carry out his kill my non-mechanical means (one of the requirements of the sustainable lifestyle permits). He field dresses the animal and carries as much as he can, then goes back for more. Sometimes there are other animals 'working on' his catch when he returns for the balance and he has to relinquish the rest to them.

Sunset (NOT)

We stayed up until 12:00 to watch the sky, then set the alarm for 2:00, and 4:00 to watch it again.  

2:00 - After midnight, the sun tucked behind the mountains, and did not drop below the flat horizon, which we could not see, because of the mountains. 

4:00 - the second picture is the across the valley 'alpenglow'  on distant mountains from the not set sun


 The next day was a pretty tired one since we could not sleep going back – again, the frequent teeth shattering bumps and potholes.
 We left early morning to return to Fairbanks.She was on the driveway of Coldfoot camp as we were leaving.

The views returning gave up a tremendous appreciation for how many rows of mountains needed to be traversed to get back to Fairbanks.

Animals we saw: porcupine, great horned owl, rabbits, unknown bird that plucked food off our dinner plate, and a 1 year moose.  Flowers ... many, including fireweed: 

It was a wonderful and exhausting two days.  Stinky did fine without us ... we're not sure he even knew we were gone !Happy trails until next post ...