Denali NP to Fairbanks, AK
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Rain, 48 to 57 F
The overnight rain continued as we broke camp during the morning. All was fine until Bill went to back the car up to the camper. Our battery was stone cold dead! There wasn’t anything wrong, exactly. It’s just that the Lexus uses battery power for everything, like dome lights, which we should have turned off, as well as closing and latching the tailgate. We couldn’t use the car while camped for the previous four days and we’re constantly in and out of the car for clothes and gear. It seems that was enough to run down the battery.
No big problem, I figured. Just dig out the jumper cables and get a jump from a neighboring camper. Oops; another Lexus gotcha! The jumper cables were stored under the rear deck with the spare tire. You need to open the tailgate to get into that space. The tailgate latch is electrical with no manual option. So, without a working battery I couldn’t get at the cables needed to jump the non-working battery! So I sheepishly asked a campground neighbor for a jump. He was happy do help me out, using his jumper cables. The car was quickly started and we were on the road by 10:30.
On our way out of the park we stopped to tour the Wilderness Access Center, have a quick lunch at the Visitor’s Center and to spend some time in the Murie Science & Learning Center. After that we were on our way back to Fairbanks and the Riverview RV Park. Along the way we stopped to drive through Nenana, a shipping center for barge traffic up and down the Tanana River. Not much for tourists there. Also, we had to wait for a “pilot truck” to lead us through a long, muddy road construction area. It was yet another reminder that there are only two seasons in Alaska, winter and roadwork.
It is said that there are two seasons in Alaska, winter and “road work”. True to form, we ran into some roadwork delays on our return to Fairbanks. Interestingly, they work differently here than back home. Instead of surrounding the work zones with orange cones and temporary Jersey barriers they use pilot vehicles. They have flaggers at each end of the work zone and travelers follow the pilot car as it negotiates the construction zone. On busy roads or very long construction zones they sometimes use two pilot vehicles.
Returning to Riverview RV Park in the Fairbanks area we immediately headed for much-needed showers. It had been more than four days since a proper shower and we were really ready to luxuriate in one.
Dinner was a simple one; items straight from the Safeway deli department.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Overcast to partly sunny toward evening, 60s
Bill was up early writing, working on the website. Sandy made eggs for breakfast. Then, while Bill continued writing, she worked on better organizing storage in the camper and the car, ran some errands, checked out Sears store, etc.
Then, who else but Bonnie & Leonard showed up in campsite next to ours, fresh from chasing gold in the streams near the towns of Central and Circle towards the Yukon River. We swapped stories of our adventures and prepared a common feast of grilled sockeye salmon, corn-on-the-cob, broccoli and roasted potatoes; excellent!
After the cleanup, Bill sat outside and read by sunlight until 10:30!
Friday, July 12, 2013
Bright blue sky, breezy
Today was another “work day”. Laundry was first on the list followed by a haircut for Bill. Sandy wrote cards while Bill wrote website things. We got the car serviced at the local Toyota dealer.
Dinner was tacos. We used soft corn tortillas. They tasted fine but were really a bit too soft for the job. After dinner we visited with Bonnie & Leonard.
Fairbanks to Arctic Circle and Return
Saturday, July 13, 2013
Bright blue skies, high 80
Today we drove north to the arctic circle with Bonnie & Leonard in their truck. The trip is 199 miles each way on Elliot Highway, which is mostly gravel. Sandy & I considered a drive all the way to Prudhoe Bay in our car but would take two entire days, a dubious hotel night, difficulty finding a dinner Sandy could eat and, usually, a windshield replacement. We just didn’t think we wanted to go through all that just to be able to say that we dipped our toes in the Arctic Ocean.
The portion of the road that we drove was not as bad as we thought it might be and, except for delays for sightseeing and road construction, the drive was reasonably fast. We stopped at one of several BLM log cabins that are along this stretch of road. The cabins are not locked so we went inside to examine it. It was pretty nice inside with one room, a table, stove, sleeping loft and, outside, a brand new pit toilet. Use of the cabin is free; you simply need to register with the BLM before using them.
At a twenty-minute construction stop we met Ray. Ray was the highway construction flagger at the beginning of the construction. Ray had the laid back California dude speech patterns and was pretty funny. This is a pretty remote area and when we asked where he lived while on the job he replied, “Hotel Ray,” and pointed back to his pickup truck. His attire was beautifully turned out reflective gear worn by all flaggers accented by a pretty heavy duty sidearm. Ray noted that there were several black bears inhabiting the immediate area and he was taking no chances.
The Dalton Highway was built as the construction “Haul Road” to used to transport people, equipment and construction materials for the Aleyska Pipeline. It is the road featured in the popular “Ice Road Truckers” TV series. The road is used year-round and is a public highway that anyone can use at any time. They wait for winter to move the really heavy loads when the road is thoroughly frozen.
Of course the road parallels the pipeline so you get to see it up close for long stretches. One especially neat view is at the Yukon River where the pipeline is attached to the wood-decked highway bridge that crosses the river. The half-mile long, E. L. Patton bridge is exposed to temperatures that range from +90 F to – 60 F and is designed to absorb up to 2½ feet of expansion and contraction!
Much of the drive is through tundra and, at best, scrubby tree-covered forest. There are a lot of areas that have burned in the past, usually ignited by lightning. Many of those areas are now covered by fireweed, first showy plant to colonize recently burned areas.
The location of the Arctic Circle is marked at a roadside turnout with a sign. Of course, as the earth wobbles slightly on its axis the location of the circle moves around a bit and the sign is a few feet off the actual circle location at his point in time. But who’s counting?
On the way home we made a quick picture at the Hot Spot Restaurant a few miles north of the Yukon River. This is where the volunteer caretaker of the small visitor center at the E. L. Patton bridge goes for an occasional meal. There’s not much in the area so the Hot Spot attempts to supply every need it can. It advertizes restrooms, food, an outdoor patio as a place to eat your food and fine jewelry.
There are booster pumps at periodic locations along the pipeline. We drove up to Pump Station 6 along the road. An armed guard immediately came up to us and let us know we were on restricted property. Leonard quickly engaged the guard in conversation and we ended up talking to him for nearly twenty minutes! Finally returned to Fairbanks about 8:00 pm; a thirteen hour day trip. It was really nice of Bonnie & Leonard to have us join them in their truck.
Dinner was grilled chicken sausage and asparagus.