Chicken to Fairbanks, AK

Chicken to Tok, AK

Monday, July 1, 2013

Bright blue skies, mid 70s

Today marked the end of our first month on the road. We were back on it by 9:00, headed for the Tok, a sort-of crossroads of Alaska. It’s true, really. If you are driving to or from Alaska you must pass through Tok no matter where you’re going.

Happily, most of this section of the Taylor Highway is paved. The road rolled through lush-looking tundra and we soon had our first view of the rugged Alaska Range part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and the Denali Fault. We’ll be in those mountains several times on this trip as we visit Denali and Wrangell-St Elias.

Alaska-Style Backcountry Rides
Alaska-Style Backcountry Rides

We’ve driven through many old burned areas on this trip. Evidence of the burns lasts a long time because tree decay is very slow in this cool, dry environment and burned trees stand for many years while new growth appears only very slowly. This day we drove through another massive burn area from 2004. It is the largest in recorded Alaska history, encompassing about 1.3 million acres. Just before arriving in Tok the Taylor Highway ends and we rejoined the Alaska Highway which we will follow until it terminates in Fairbanks.

Arriving in Tok, we set up at Tok RV Village around noon. Car and camper were super dirty and this RV park had its own RV washing station. Remember the caravan of 24 motor homes? Well, we got in line just before that crowd arrived on the scene. We got camped and watched the parade as they waited late into the evening for their turns to wash their rigs.

Meanwhile, we went to the small Visitor’s Center and, generally, checked out area. Other than the several active wildfires nearby, there really wasn’t much that interested us in Tok. Dinner was burgers, yummy potato salad from the deli in Chicken and steamed, fresh green beans. Afterwards we listened to a young bluegrass group, Alaska Sweetgrass, who gave a free performance at the campground.

Tok to Fairbanks, AK

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sunny, breezy, 70

We had a relaxing morning and, eventually got on the road about 10:00. As we left we were able to see wildfire smoke visible in several nearby areas. It’s been dry here and there is a fire ban for all campgrounds.

Smoke from Not-So-Distant Wildfire
Smoke from Not-So-Distant Wildfire

The area of the bridge across the Robertson River gave us our best view, yet, of Alaska Range. We took time to walk the path to Gerstle River and the Black Veteran’s Memorial Bridge which commemorates the 3,695 black soldiers of US Army corps of Engineering for their contribution in constructing ALCAN Highway. These soldiers, in their segregated unit, demonstrated to the Army and to the world that they were perfectly able to execute the multitude of management, engineering, and construction skills necessary to build their portion of this extraordinary highway.

Alaska Range Looms over Tanana River
Alaska Range Looms over Tanana River

Later, we stopped at the Tanana River Pipeline bridge. Offering our first glimpse of the Alaska Pipeline, the pipeline is carried by a purpose-built suspension bridge. It is the second longest of the bridges along 800 mile pipeline.

Wildlife spot: saw our 2nd moose just outside Fairbanks.

Approaching Fairbanks, security was high at Eielson Air Force Base, probably signaling the arrival of a major political figure. Our first stop in the area was at North Pole. The town was named at its founding, in 1944, in hopes of attracting a toy manufacturer to the area. No manufacturers bit but the town did grow and now leverages the name to promote some tourism. We stopped at the Santa Claus House and Sandy had her picture taken with that legendary gentleman.

Then it was onward to Riverview RV Park, which is actually in North Pole and is as near as any commercial campground to the city of Fairbanks. And no; no presents showed up from Santa that night. We were set up by 5 pm right next to Leonard & Bonnie, who we met in Chicken. Dinner was trusty Wendy’s chili over a baked potato and Salad by Sandy after which we visited with Leonard & Bonnie.