(June 16, 2006 to July 5, 2006)
You can click on "photos"
directly to the first photo page, which has a connector to the second
page (if there is one).
June 16 - June 22 North Pole, Alaska (74 miles)
conditions: The road from Delta Junction to
North Pole was pretty good with a posted speed of 65 mph. One could
drive at that speed if desired, but I pretty much drove it between
50-55 mph. There were some frost heaves that were marked, as well as a
couple of construction areas and several areas of loose gravel.
RV Park is the most popular RV park in the area. We stayed for a
week at a
weekly rate of $168 (pay for six, get one night free) for a full hookup
site. Nice campground. Cable TV with about 30 channels. The park used
Nomad for its WiFi network. Nomad charges $9.95 per day which, of
course, is completely outrageous. To their credit, Santaland provided
the WiFi FREE to its campers.
The first thing we did was
to go to the nearby Safeway store to buy the tourist coupon book which
is a must if you are spending any kind of time in Alaska. The book
costs $99 and had a lot of coupons for various attractions and tours in
Alaska. We figured we would have no problem saving $99 on tours we
to do. The other thing we did was to go across the road to a glass
place to see if they could somehow stop the crack on our driver side
windshield from spreading. They told us that if the crack was more than
the length of a dollar bill there was pretty much nothing they could do
to stop it from spreading. When I explained the extent of the multiple
cracks they told us there was already too much pressure on the glass
and they couldn't do anything to stop the cracks from spreading. So I
guess we'll live with it until we get back to the lower 48.
The first couple of days
in North Pole was spent watching the US Open Golf Championship over the
weekend. Thanks to the time difference of four hours, it was over by
around 3 p.m. AT (Alaska Time). We did ride into Fairbanks to see a
movie, "The Lake House" on Saturday, and to check out the Sam's Club
and Wal-Mart stores. Sunday we spent watching the exciting final round
of the tournament and, sadly, watched Phil Mickelson make some poor
decisions that cost him the tournament. The Santa Claus House is next
door to the campground, so we walked over there to check it out. Well,
guess what. Santa himself was there, along with Mrs. Claus. They were
very accommodating to folks wanting to get a photo with them, and we
did get ours taken.
One of the attractions
that came highly recommended in Fairbanks was the Riverboat Discovery,
which is a three and a half hour cruise up the Chena River on a
sternwheeler. We agree that is was well worth the ride.
The company is owned by
the Binkley family and they are now into their fourth generation of
captains on Alaska rivers. In 1950, Captain Jim Binkley, Sr. began a
river excursion business with a 25 passenger boat that he bought from a
local Episcopal church. When the business proved to be successful, he
had Discovery I built in 1955. It was a 150 passenger sternwheeler and
it was built in his back yard. Jim and his wife, Mary, had three sons
who all worked on the boat and who all became U.S. Coast Guard licensed
riverboat captains. In 1970, Discovery II was built and put into
service. It had a capacity of 300 passengers and is still in use today.
Discovery I has been retired, but can still operate, if necessary. The
large four deck Discovery III with a capacity of 900 passengers was
built in 1986 and put into service in 1987. The sons had children and
the third and fourth generations currently run the boat.
It was a narrated cruise
and the narrator was great. During the cruise we got to see a bush
pilot take off and land along the shore of the river; got to see float
plane take off and land right next to the boat; got to see where Susan
Butcher and her husband live and have their dog sledding kennel along
the river; and got to stop at an Athabaskan Indian Village for a tour
and some talks about their culture and way of life. There were some
prime pieces of real estate along the river with some beautiful houses,
especially the log houses.
Each of the pilots of the
planes that demonstrated take off and landing also talked about their
planes. One was a canvas covered plane and, apparently, that isn't a
very common thing these days.
Susan Butcher and her
husband, Dave Monson, live right on the river. Susan is the only woman
to win the 1,100 miles Iditarod Dog Sled Race four times, and three of
those were consecutive. Unfortunately, Susan is currently battling
cancer at a hospital in Seattle. Dave happened to be in town for a
charity event, so he came out
to talk to us about dog sledding. There were pups out playing and a
team of dogs ready to pull a sled on its summer wheels (actually an
ATV without the engine). It was incredible to see the dogs get whipped
into a frenzy when they realized it was time to mush. They were barking
and jumping and couldn't wait to start pulling. The dogs are all
Alaska Huskies, although we were told they are not recognized by the
Kennel Club. They are bred to pull sleds. Dave gave the command and
off they went for a lap around the small lake. It was the highlight of
The stop at the Athabaskan
Indian Village was very interesting. There were three talks as we moved
from site to site. We heard how they lived, and how they made the
clothes, and there was a pen with a team of huskies where we could
watch them romp and pet them if they were so inclined to come over for
a pat or a scratch. There were also several reindeer. Did you know that
reindeer and caribou are the same specie? We learned that a reindeer is
a domesticated caribou.
The Athabaskan Indians
lived along the major riverways in Alaska. One of the talks was about
the clothing. Dixie Alexander, an Athabaskan, showed us some of her
work. One item was a parka that took her about six months to make and
was valued at more than $16,000. The inner part of the parka was made
with wolverine and the outer part was made of timber wolf. The main
part of the parka was made of muskrat, which is a small animal with
very warm fur.
A pleasant surprise was
running into Gay and Don Chaffin who we met at Rika's Roadhouse. They
were going on the same cruise so we sat together during the cruise and
toured the indian village together. It was a fun afternoon.
Another highly recommended
stop in Fairbanks is the University of Alaska Museum of the North. We
visited the museum and spent about three hours looking at the exhibits.
We enjoyed the time we spent there. After visiting the museum
we drove to downtown where the Midnight Sun Festival was about to start
up. It occurs every year on June 21, the summer solstice, to celebrate
the longest day of the year. In
Alaska, on the longest day, the sun
rose at 2:59 a.m. and set at 12:47 a.m. the next day. That meant there
was a total of 21 hours and 48 minutes of daylight. However, it's the
converse for the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the
year, when the sun will rise at 10:58 a.m. and set at 242 p.m. for
a total of just 3 hours and 43 minutes of daylight.
Three streets were blocked
off for booths
filled with crafts and food, plus three stages for entertainment. We
spent five hours walking around and eating and taking in some
entertainment. We even bumped into Tim and Barb Campbell who we met at
Rika's Roadhouse in Delta Junction. We had a fun afternoon.
One of the RV forums that
I was monitoring for Alaska information was rv.net. Dick Jewel posted
some stuff there and then indicated he was in North Pole. We made
contact and Diane and I met Dick and his wife, Ann, for dinner one
evening. As usual, we spent a couple of hours enjoying a meal and
I received a note from my
oldest son that he had an aunt (a former sister-in-law of mine) who
lived in North Pole. Her name is Sarah and I don't think we've seen
each other for around 35 years. I made contact and she invited us over
to her place for a cookout. It was nice to see her after so many years
and we spent an enjoyable evening visiting with her and her husband,
We did manage to catch a
couple of movies on our last day in Fairbanks. We enjoyed "The
Breakup", but "Nacho Libre" would probably only appeal to Jack Black
Before we left North Pole
we met our neighbors on either side. The conversations were very
interesting. On one side, the conversation was about driving the Top of
the World Highway. He had a fifth wheel and showed me a seven inch
in the fiberglass on the front curb side of the rig that he sustained
on the highway. We still have no desire to drive that highway and will
leave our car in Tok when we drive over in the CR-V. Here's a link to a
site that saw an accident on the TOTW highway several days ago:
The other conversation
with folks who were driving a Phaeton motorhome was about windshields.
mentioned I had two cracked windshields that had to be replaced and
would always opt for the two piece windshield rather than the one piece
windshield. Those one piece windows cost upwards of $2500, and more, to
replace. She told me that they had their one piece window replaced at
the Tiffin factory and it cost them $800. If that were, indeed, the
case then the glass companies are really uplifting their costs more
than to just cover the cost of labor to replace the window.
23 - June 26 Denali National Park (127 miles)
conditions: The road from
Fairbanks to Denali is
known as the Parks Highway (AK 3). The road started out smooth to a
little bumpy. Then we saw a sign that said "25 miles of construction".
At first, the road was newly paved and silky smooth, but we came to
the area where they were paving and we had to follow a pilot car on a
single lane. After that section the road was very smooth for a long
distance, but became very rough with frost heaves. Some were
marked, most were not. Lots of dips. Then the road became smooth again
until about two miles prior to the Nenana River where the road was dug
up and under construction. Finally, within 15 miles of Denali the road
became very rough with frost heaves that were not marked. The posted
speed was 65 mph, but we pretty much traveled the road at 55 mph except
when it got rough and we slowed down to around 40-45 mph.
were several campgrounds in the Denali area and they got more expensive
closer to town. We opted for the Denali
RV Park and Motel about eight
miles from the park entrance. We also chose to stay in a water and
electric back-in site for the four nights we planned to stay in the
area. Part of that decision was caused by the fact that two caravans
were in the park at the time. The park had FREE WiFi, however, it was
very erratic and not always available. It would come and go at the most
inopportune times. The problem seemed to be caused, at times, by the
provider of the campground's DSL connection. The power in the park
hovered between 111 and 113 volts most of the time. One heat pump took
that down to between 106 and 108 volts most of the time.
tank was just under three quarters, but we decided to fill up at what
was a great $2.889 per gallon price compared to the over $3 we had been
paying. We filled up in North Pole at the Tesoro station. One
interesting thing about the station was a sign that said the diesel
fuel contained extra sulfur (15 ppm). It also said Federal law
prohibited selling that diesel fuel to vehicles 2007, or later.
The drive from Fairbanks did not offer much in the way of scenery until
we got closer to Denali and saw mountains in the distance. We set up
the motorhome in the campground and then drove into Denali National
Park to the very nice visitor center. The short movie about the park
was very good, as were the exhibits. The next day we drove to the
Wilderness Access Center to pick up our tickets for the tour we were
taking the next day and to watch the short movie about the history of
the park. That movie was also very good.
You can drive into the park about 13 miles to the Savage River
turnaround. We drove out there to see if we could spot any animals, but
we came up empty. On the way back we stopped to visit the Denali dog
sled kennels. The dogs were the same Alaskan Husky breed we saw when we
were on the Riverboat Discovery tour. However, these dogs looked
different than the ones we saw in Fairbanks. We stayed to listen to a
talk given by a park ranger about the dogs and the work they do in the
park. It was very interesting. We learned that Alaskan Huskies were
bred for different tasks. The dogs we saw in Fairbanks were bred for
speed and racing. The dogs in Denali were bred for hauling supplies to
outlying ranger posts in winter.
Mount McKinley National Park was created in 1917 as a game refuge and
was the first
national park established after the creation of the National Park
Service. It was renamed to Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980.
It's crown jewel
is Mount McKinley and is the official name of the mountain that is part
of the Alaska Range. It is
better known in Alaska as Denali, the Athabaskan name for the mountain.
It means the "High One". It rises to 20,320 feet above sea level. From
the lowlands at Wonder Lake it rises 18,000 feet, which means its
vertical relief is great than that of Mount Everest. Today the park
encompasses 6.8 million acres which is about the size of New Hampshire.
We lucked out with the day we chose to take a bus tour into the park.
We selected the 9:15 a.m. Wonder Lake tour and the weather was pretty
nice all day except for the last hour of the drive back to the
Wilderness Access Center when we ran into a rain and hail storm. Our
driver, Mike Reifler, was very knowledgeable about the park and did a
good job explaining what we were seeing and stopping when wildlife was
spotted. He told us that this was his ninth year driving in the park
and that his wife also drove a bus in the park. In the winter they go
to a small town in Mexico to tutor people in learning to speak English.
On our drive out to Wonder Lake we saw 11 grizzlies, some caribou, a
red fox, some Dall Sheep on some rocks right above us on the road. The
drive took us 86 miles out into the wilderness. The views were
magnificent. The extent of the land out there was incredible. At one
point, Mike told us the mountains just across from us were five miles
away, but appear closer and has fooled many a hiker.
We suggest that anyone looking into a bus tour into the park take a
look at the Denali website and do some research (http://nps.gov/dena/home/visitorinfo/bus/bustour.html).
There were two types
of tours: park shuttles and narrated tours. Both were operated by
outside companies. The park shuttles offer more departures and more
choices. There were shorter tours lasting four to five hours and longer
tours, such as the Wonder Lake tour, that lasted 11 hours. There were
two narrated tours. One was a four hour tour that went 17 miles into
the park and the other was a six to eight hour tour that went 53 miles
into the park. The big difference was in price. We paid $33.25 for our
tickets for the 11 hour Wonder Lake tour. The six to eight hour
narrated tour cost almost triple the price at $90. Unless you feel the
need to have a narrated tour, we recommend the park shuttles. The park
website says that the drivers are not obligated to narrate on the park
shuttles, but do attempt to answer questions. Mike did do some
narration and answered questions. We were satisfied with our tour.
We met Al and Sandy Olson at the dog sled demonstration yesterday and
they were on the same bus so we hung out together all day. They were
from a town in southern Utah and were heading to Fairbanks. We chatted
about their stays in Skagway, Valdez, Seward, and Homer, and we told
them about some things we did in Fairbanks and Delta Junction.
The last day we were in Denali was cold, wet, and nasty. Other than a
drive to the Denali Visitor Center we stayed home all day. George and
Sandy Bickmore arrived from Fairbanks and we went to town for dinner
and had a nice visit over dinner.
27 - June 28 Wasilla (206 miles)
conditions: The road just
north and just south
of Denali was fairly bumpy and had some frost heaves. Then the road
became pretty good the rest of the way to Wasilla.
parking lot. We thought we would park at the Wal-Mart, but it was under
construction to make it a supercenter and they were not allowing RVs to
park there. We did see a couple of RVs parked in the Fred Meyers lot,
but it was pretty busy and not a very large lot. A lady in Wal-Mart
told us she thought the Sears across the highway allowed RV parking, so
we went there and asked if we could park and they said it was okay. We
spent two nights in a lot that was almost totally empty.
We checked out the visitor center and found out they had a terminal
available for email, which was nice. We both got caught up on our email
and picked up some information.
The Iditarod Trail was used by explorers of the Russian-American
Company in the early 1800s. It wasn't known as the Iditarod Trail
then, but rather was a network of trails in the interior of Alaska.
Early prospectors to Alaska after the U.S. purchased it in 1867 used
the trails as a winter route to the mining areas. The trail was
officially surveyed, cleared, and marked by the Alaska Road Commission
in 1908. For about twenty years the trail was used to deliver mail and
to ship out gold from the mines. Dog teams were the most popular means
of transportation with teams of six to twenty dogs depending on the
being hauled. In 1924, bush pilots started doing those tasks and by
1930 most of the roadhouses had closed. For more than 40 years the
Iditarod Trail was forgotten until the 1960s when interest in racing
Joe Redington, Sr., along with historian Dorothy Page, were determined
keep dog mushing alive and staged the first Iditarod race in 1967. That
race was between Knik and Big Lake. The next race was held in 1969 and
was run between Anchorage and Nome. Today the Iditarod race is known
internationally and is known as "the last great race". Susan Butcher
was the only woman to win the race and she won it four times, three of
those in succession in the 1980s.
The headquarters building had exhibits showing the winners of the races
and the huge trophy with the winners' names inscribed. There was an
interesting movie about the race and the dogs and you could take a ride
on a dog sled if you so desired.
29 - July 6 Anchorage (40 miles)
conditions: The Parks Highway (AK 3)
it meets the Glenn Highway (AK 1). Both roads from Wasilla to
Anchorage were four lane, limited access highways with a wide median.
stayed at the Golden
Nugget Campground. It was a large park with back
in and pullthru sites. We had a pullthru full hookup 30 amp site. The
sites were not very deep or wide, but passable. The power in the park
was horrible and hovered between 108 and 112 volts most of the time
with no appliances turned on. Attempts to use a heat pump would often
cause the power to drop below 105 volts and the surge guard turned off
the power to the motorhome to prevent damage to the appliances. For
that reason we would probably stay at another park. We do not enjoy
parks that do not provide adequate power to the sites.
filled up at the Tesoro station in front of the Fred Meyer
store at the corner of Northern Lights and the New Seward Highway. The
cost was $2.899 per gallon.
We were told by a few folks to just
blow by Anchorage as it was just
another city. That may be true, but we like to see what's going on in
areas we pass through, including cities. Plus, we like to sit for a
week if we can to catch up on chores around the motorhome. We drove
into the downtown
area a couple of times so we could pick up our mail and to hook up with
some old friends. I found Anchorage fairly easy to
navigate once I got the lay of the land and how the streets ran.
The unique bus that we saw in Newfoundland came into the campground one
day followed by a second bus. They cater to German tourists and travel
routes from Panama to Alaska, as well as the Maritimes and
Newfoundland. It is such an interesting bus that I had to include a
photo in this travelog. You can see more photos of the bus in the
travelog titled "A
Tour of the Maritime Provinces - Newfoundland".
I've said before that one of the great things about our lifestyle is
being able to hook up with people in different places as we travel.
Such a visit occurred in Anchorage as we were able to visit with Mike
and Carol Connor who we have known for about 40 years. We all lived in
New York and then in Georgia. They retired to the Myrtle Beach area and
we hit the road. It turned out they were on a Holland America land/sea
vacation that would end in Anchorage when we were there. We made plans
to meet them downtown and have a visit over brunch. It was nice to see
them again and we had a great visit chatting about places they've been
that we will be visiting over the next few weeks.
After we dropped them back at the hotel and said good bye we walked
over to check out the Saturday-Sunday Market. It was a beautiful day
and we appreciated the chance to walk off the great brunch we had at
the Snow City Cafe that came highly recommended. Then we decided that
since we were downtown we would take in the Alaska Experience Theater.
There were two exhibits that were of interest. One was a 70 mm movie on
a domed screen about Alaska. It was a good movie, albeit the quality
wasn't great. The other exhibit was about the massive 9.2 earthquake
that hit Anchorage on Good Friday in March 1964. The short film was
interesting as were the photos of the damage caused by the earthquake.
These two exhibits were part of the tour saver book we bought, so the
cost was $10 rather than $20.
Another attraction in Anchorage was the Alaska Native Heritage Center,
a 26 acre site with exhibits and programs about native culture in
Alaska. We joined a tour of the facility to hear stories about how
various native peoples lived. These people were the Athabaskan,
Yupiit, Cupiit, Aleuts, Alutiit, Eyaks, Tlingits, Haidas, and
Tsimshians. These groups comprised more than twenty different
Some lived along the coast and some lived way up in the very north of
Alaska. Some lived off the sea, others lived off the land. It was all
very interesting. After we got back into the main building we were able
to watch a demonstration of native music and dance. The center was also
of the tour saver book. The cost was $23.50, which we thought was too
high for admission to the center, but was worthwhile as a two for one.
Anchorage had a few movie theaters, so we were able to catch up on
movies before we go into a period of a couple of weeks with no movie
theaters within reach. We got to see "Superman Returns" (very good) and
"The Devil Wears Prada" (very good).
The Alaska Wildberry Products store had a chocolate waterfall that was
constructed in June 1994. It is believed to be the largest of its kind
in the world and contains 3,400 pounds of real liquid chocolate. Pretty
cool to see all that chocolate flowing.
The Winckels and the Hirths arrived in Anchorage toward the end of our
stay. We hooked up for dinner one evening in downtown Anchorage at
Rumrunners Old Towne Bar & Grille and traded stories about our
journey. On Wednesdays, the Snow City Cafe opens its doors for an
evening of Celtic music and dance for anyone who wants to come play, or
dance, or listen. We all went there and enjoyed a few hours of some
great Celtic music. There were up to 10 people playing instruments at
one time, including a banjo, a few fiddles, an accordion, a couple of
concertinas, a couple of guitars, and more. They were all talented
musicians and the music was lively. There were many young folks there
who were dancing different types of Celtic dances. One of the folks
seemed to know all the dances and was teaching the young folks. It was
great to see them all having such a fun time, and we all had fun
Having completed the Fairbanks to Anchorage leg of our Alaska journey,
we loaded up and headed to the Kenai Peninsula where we were
anticipating seeing the part of Alaska that we were came to see, that
is, glaciers and the sea, and more wildlife.
Until next time, safe travels.....
Copyright © 2006,
Roaming America with Rich &
Diane Emond -
All Rights Reserved