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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Heading north, way, way, north!

Tuesday was our moving day, on to Fairbanks.  The day started out with clear skies and a nice drive.  For lunch we called ahead and pulled over at Turnaround Arm Pitt BBQ.  We were in and out and back on the road in no time.  Our plans for the day were to switch out driving every 2 hours or so and make the drive all the way to Fairbanks.  Next stop was to fill our diesel tank in Houston.  As the afternoon progressed the clouds began building and then a light rain began to fall.  About 4pm we still had another 3 or 4 hours before reaching the campground.  After talking it over, we decided to call the campground and let them know we would arrive on Wednesday rather than Tuesday.  The Veterans Memorial POW-MIA Rest Area near Trapper Creek was a good free and quiet stop over for the night.  

Wednesday morning we left out in a light rain just as when we stopped the evening before.  The drive in to Fairbanks was not a bad drive and we stopped to top off the propane tank in Fairbanks on our way to the campground.  We arrived at the Riverview RV Park mid afternoon and got settled in for the next two weeks.  Time now to catch up on laundry and cleaning the coach inside and out.

Thursday was grocery day and time to wash the coach.  Since “washing vehicles” is not allowed in the campground it was to be a “dry wash” job.  The Wash Wax product we use is a waterless wash.  While Cindy did the grocery and Walmart run while Forest washed the coach.

Friday we drove out to North Pole to visit Santa and his Reindeer.  We walked in to the Santa Claus House and were thrown into Christmas in August.  We did a lot of Christmas shopping while we were there and then…. we visited with Santa and Mrs. Claus.  They were kind enough to take pictures and a video with us with a message to our grandchildren.  We left the Santa Claus House and went over to the Antler Academy where we spent time with Santa's Reindeer.  We were able to go into the pen to meet each of the Reindeer and spend time with them.  Well, except for Rudolph, he was getting an upgrade to led lights.  Very interesting and educational.

Be nice Prancer!

The Reindeer hooves are well adapted to walking the soft tundra

Sunday afternoon we drove out to pan for gold at the Gold Daughters just north of downtown Fairbanks.  We spent about three hours with dozens of other people panning for gold.  We enjoyed ourselves and did walk away with a little gold.  We had worked up quite an appetite and had been told of a very good restaurant not far away.  So we drove out to The Turtle Club to feast on their Prime Rib dinner we had been told was quite good.  We arrived early so had to wait a few minutes for them to open.  To start, we ordered the Halibut appetizer which came with 4 pieces of lightly breaded and fried fresh Halibut.  Their prime rib dinner included the salad bar (which was fresh and very good) and choice of Baked Potato or Rice (no gravy! just plain white rice).  It was one of the best Prime Ribs we have had.  We both walked away fully satisfied and too full to even consider dessert.  Even came home with some prime rib to enjoy later.
The restaurant was decorated with lots of turtles but no real turtle on the menu.  The only “turtle” I saw on the menu was “Stuffed Turtle Tails”.  It was an appetizer “made fresh, with cream cheese stuffed jalapeños & deep fried”, we did not try it.  So I don’t know how they picked the name for this restaurant but it sure does have great Prime Rib.  Are there even any turtles in Alaska?

Monday we visited the LARS, Large Animal Research Station in Fairbanks.  It is a 134 acre research station just north of the University of Alaska Fairbanks situated on land deeded to the University in 1963 by the Mike Yankovich family.  The facility is used for research on Muskoxen and Reindeer.  
The Muskoxen are found only in the arctic regions including Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Siberia.  They were reintroduced to Alaska in 1930 when 34 young muskoxen were captured in Greenland and brought to the Fairbanks area.  They were moved to Nunivak Island where there were no predators and their numbers grew to over 700 by the late 1960s.  At that time small herds were moved back to mainland Alaska and their numbers have continued increasing to over 4,000 in Alaska and 140,000 in Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Siberia.
We learned they are more closely related to goats and sheep than to cows.  Their undercoat is called Qiviut and is shed each year.  This Qiviut can be harvested and spun into yarn.  It is warmer than wool and much lighter.  
The Reindeer were domesticated in northern Scandinavia over 2,000 years ago.  They were raised for food and transportation.  Not native to Alaska they were brought in around 1900 to provide Alaska Natives with a stable food source.

Wednesday was our trip up the Dalton Highway.  This would be a long slow drive which would take us up to and beyond the Arctic Circle.  We left about 7am and reached the Arctic Circle about noon.  WOW the ARCTIC CIRCLE!  We have seen that line drawn on the globe all our lives but now we were able to actually walk around on THAT place on this earth.  After a few quick pictures we continued north on the Dalton to Coldfoot.  Coldfoot is 175 miles up the Dalton Highway and the only stop for fuel and food between the Yukon River crossing at mile 56 and Deadhorse at mile 414.  It is a truck stop which had diesel fuel and gasoline, Post Office (with mail delivery 3 days a week), restaurant and a very small “hotel”.  There is a very nice Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot, it is only open from May 24 - September 16.  Although the Dalton Highway is open year round, not many visitors come through in the winter months.

bridge over the Yukon River, 2290' long with a wooden deck

When we stopped at the Arctic Circle we saw a guy traveling on a motorcycle heading north.  Another visitor told us he had traveled from Argentina and was continuing on to Deadhorse (the end of the road).  When we arrived at Coldfoot he was in the process of fueling up his motorcycle.  We had a chance to visit with him a bit.  Note sure where he is from but in his broken English we understood he has been on the road for 5 months already.  His trip will continue on through Canada, Quebec, New York, Chicago, then follow Route 66, California, Hawaii, China and continue his travels through Europe and beyond.  His trip is planned for about 18 months.  What an achievement!  We paid for his gas and lunch and wished him safe travels.  He thanked us with a couple of candy bars and took his picture with us.

From Coldfoot we continued on the next 13 miles to the little community of Wiseman.  We had reserved the Polar Cabin in Wiseman for our two night stay.  Wiseman was established in 1907 to accommodate the needs of gold miners and prospectors as they traveled by steamboat up the Koyukuk river.  Although the current population is only 11, at one time it had a post office, general store, roadhouse, Pioneer hall, telegraph office and school.  Now there are a couple of lodging facilities, a coffee/gift shop and a couple of small museums.  From late September to late April the temperatures normally drop below sustained freezing.  In late January and February 1999 they had 18 days with an average temperature of -47.5ºF.  The coldest day recorded was in January 2005 with a temperature of -68ºF.  I guess that is why there are so few winter visitors.

After a bite of lunch and a nap we walked down to the  Wiseman Creek and to the Museum.  There were all kinds of mining equipment and an old flat fender 1943 Jeep outside.  Inside was tons of stuff; collections of gems and rocks, newspaper articles, old pictures, books and magazines, etc.  Before long we were joined by Clutch, an old miner that owns this museum.  Clutch  was a treasure of knowledge that he shared with us over the next couple of hours.  He even invited us in at his 1 room cabin and continued sharing information on Wiseman and mining and growing up in Alaska.  Not only did Clutch share his knowledge but before we left he shared his “sourdough starter” with us.  WOW, the starter goes back to the late 1890's.  We promised to keep it going back in Louisiana.

Clutch made this base guitar out of an army gas can

Thursday we continued north past the last spruce trees and over the Atigun Pass of the Brooks Range.  We saw such a change in landscape from spruce trees to TUNDRA.  We had reached the North Slope.  In the Tundra beneath the ground is permafrost (permanently-frozen ground) due to the low angle of the sun.  All vegetation in the Tundra is very low growth so you can see hundreds of miles, if the air is clear.  

Friday we started back down the Dalton Hwy to Fairbanks.  We stopped at Coldfoot to take on another 5 gallons of gas at $5.499 per gallon.  Didn’t want to fill up at that price but didn’t want to run out on our way home.  After a couple of bathroom stops along the way, we had lunch at The Hot Spot Cafe at mile 60.  The weather was rainy and the road very slushy so it took us almost 4 hours to cover 133 miles.  It was a much needed break.

The trip up the Dalton Highway was an experience, not one we would recommend in a car much less a motorhome.  Having the truck for this experience was just what we needed.  Our weather was far from ideal, we had light rain going in both directions which resulted in a very slushy highway most of the way.  We expected to encounter a lot of heavy truck traffic and we pleasantly surprised at how few big trucks we saw.  This is not a trip for everyone, but a wonderful experience for some.

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