Dead Lakes, Shuttered Saloons, and a Lady in Red en route to Death Valley

The Long Branch Saloon, Luning NV

With great anticipation, Tasia and I backed  out of the driveway around 10:00 am, October 31st, heading southward from Ashland Oregon towards Death Valley California, via Reno Nevada. But not until…  Since I mostly travel by airplane, I had packed light though I did throw a few extra things into the car such as a heavier coat and hiking boots.  But all too soon, when I realized the much larger capacity for STUFF, we made several trips in and out, adding just one more thing untilI I actually decided to take my big body pillow (named Hugly) and seat belted it into the back seat to enjoy the scenery.  It was time to draw the line before I packed the coffee pot, Soda Stream and microwave. 

I have not done any significant road trips since I had driven across country, when moving from Venice Florida to Oregon, and then driving on up to my second home in Alaska. Knowing that COVID, politics, and inflation have significantly altered the “landscape”of travel, including how things are now done AND how much things cost, I was in for some pleasant and unpleasant surprises. I had made a reservation for a hotel in Sparks NV, anticipating it was about the halfway point. Previous to leaving, I had become quite puzzled by the routing that all of the map apps I had checked recommended (Google, AAA, iMaps ). We would be heading over and down to the east side of the park through the Nevada desert and entering the park via Route 373/127 to 190. The night before leaving, in the process of checking for any last minute information, I saw an ALERT that due to a massive flood in August, many of the park roads, even after two months, were still impassible and the park could not be entered from the California side. Hence the circuitous routing down through NV, also bypassing the northern and closest Nevada route # 374 entrance. This naturally added an extra 80-90 miles to the trip so Sparks was certainly NOT half way. I guess a few miles extra on the road is not much of an inconvenience since I was not one of those 1000 people stranded in the park with my car mired in the mud in August.

Driving day #1: The advent of the interstate road system allows drivers to tear on through the these corridors, getting a macro-view of the countryside. For many, a myriad of reasons make this a sensible choice. But I have often asked myself what am I missing out on in my rush to the “finish line.” Is not part of the joy of traveling the journey and not just the destination. So I often take all the back roads and avoid interstate travel as much as possible. Fortunately after the first 75 miles, our routing was not on the interstate corridor of I-5 with its massive volume of semi-truck traffic and on which most drivers preferring to go minimally 10-15 miles over the speed limit. Now I am not actually opposed to going over the speed limit but I don’t care to dole out my whole months retirement income on a speeding ticket so I keep to, at most, 4-7 mph over, so as to preserve my sanity. Of course even then, a fast approaching vehicles behind will find it necessary to ride my tail until the other cars in the other lanes are all done jockeying for their position to get around the pokey Subaru going 70 (Speed Limit 65mph) . I don’t find this as much on the backroads and thus I arrived in the Reno area with my nerves not so badly frayed since the trip was on the rural two lane highways through small towns. We had to succumb to the interstate near Reno, exiting at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino (which we definitely were not staying at) but we did not head towards that area as I would have anticipated, but turned left and were immediately in a warehouse district with a multitude of big tractor trailers on each side of this newly renovated Best Western Plus Sparks-Reno Hotel. I am curious as to how they were able to photograph the facility and not get any of the surrounds.

Tasia and I were not feeling motivated to either sit in our hotel room (which was actually quite nice) and admire the mural of the city of Reno on the wall (pasted above for you to enjoy) since visiting the city and casinos here was not on our dance card. Nor were we motivated to walk about and admire the big rigs in our neighborhood. So we set out for a late-ish afternoon 150 mile round trip drive to South Lake Tahoe. Having never been there, it seemed like a splendid idea but we were going to have to high tail it as we would barely make it down there before sunset. But that we did, and after a slow drive along the lake enjoying the towns and houses rimming the lake, we arrived at a high vista point with enough sunlight left to genuinely appreciate the beauty of this lake. It was definitely a worthwhile “side trip” to add on to a low mileage day (350). Given inflation, I was gritting my teeth having heard about the exorbitantly high California gas prices and it was time to fill the tank, and in a resort town no less. One of the pleasant surprises was that in most places it was actually cheeper than in our area of Southern Oregon. Of course cheeper does not mean cheap, but I found I was paying between $4.79-5.49. All of this is a prelude to my rationalization that it would not cost much to go on this boondoggle driving adventure.

Lake Tahoe Visit Point, South lake Tahoe

Driving Day #2 : Avoiding interstate travel provides a lot of pleasure, experiencing some of the joys of the lesser roads traveled in todays world of traveling at stressful high speeds and weaving in and out between the massive piggy back trucks hauling all those Fed-Ex packages or Amazon prime purchases. So it was a pleasureful day of traveling from Sparks down to Death Valley and taking the time to explore the side “streets” of the typical highway bergs that existed before being cut off because of the rise of the limited access speedways. Its hard to fathom that the dying towns, the already deceased ghost towns, the dead lakes, and the abandoned mines which supported the towns and ghosts towns were thriving residential and commercial centers in earlier times.

Walker Lake Nevada, A High Desert Lake

Driving down Highway 95, Walker Lake, a high desert lake,  was a surreal sight in this arid desert scenery. It initially appeared to me as a mirage on the horizon as it came into view. The wind was brisk and a pulsating fog appeared on the steep rocky western shore of the lake. Upon driving  closer, the  mist rising off of it and the view of this ephemeral  lake nestled between rugged mountains in this desert valley corridor, was quite enticing.  Since I would soon need a break,  I somewhat impulsively pulled off the highway at Tamarack Beach  into the Walker Lake State Recreation Area. We clattered down the rutty gravel road with the dual purpose of using the outhouse ( always a crap shoot- pun intended- it was well maintained) and exploring the lakeshore. Thick slick muck covered with salt on the shoreline replaced what I thought would be a sandy beach and my shoes collected a good sample as I sunk in. I eventually proceeded to get the salty muck all over the floor of car, my jeans, my purse and anything else that got near those newly adorned trail shoes. From the lakeshore Walker Lake looked far less appealing when up close than it did from the highway. You would not know this or any of the following things from the government and local websites. 

In case you are still eager to have a camping or a day outing to this lake on your next vacation, keep in  mind a few of things. Timing is everything. I read that every summer the shores are infested with many many thousands of orb weaving spiders, vying for space on your campsite, intent upon attaching their spiral wheel-shaped webs too every available surface (i.e. plants, campers, picnic tables, you) onto which their sticky legs will attach. Guess they are the impatient sort because it seems this infestation is much more in keeping with the spirit of Halloween rather than infiltrating the area for summer vacationers. But since I was there the day after Halloween, I was mighty glad they vacationed in the summer. Since there are not  many natural predators for the spiders anymore, with the disappearance of species needing a healthy lake,  I can only imagine it will get even creepier. 

This lake, is fed from the north by the Walker River but too much damming and water diversion for agriculture has taken its toll. It has lost 90% of its volume and is considered a terminal lake, meaning that the lake elevation is low and there are no natural outflows other than evaporation, aka a DEAD lake. Any water comes mostly from spring snowmelt running down from the Sierra Nevada. Because water levels have declined so dramatically, the total dissolved solid levels in Walker Lake have increased and salinity as well to the point where it can no longer support its native fish and wildlife populations. As agriculture thrives, the lake dies.

An environmental cleanup of Walker was undertaken about 10 years ago. After a removal action, a 6.5 mile fence was erected around the impact area and the northern part of the Hawthorn Army Depot. The fence is to keep unauthorized personnel out of the impact area of this historical  munitions range on the land side and the second is to keep a wild horse herd from wandering onto Highway 95.  So unless you are eager for the possibilities of a lake funeral, being trampled by wild horses or blown up by unexploded ordnance you might reconsider this designation.

Hawthorn Army Depot Protected by a 5 Strand Barbed Wire Fence.

Shortly after being back on the road, we noticed that we were traveling through the  Hawthorne Army Depot which stores war reserve ammunition to be used after the first 30 days of a major conflict (meaning the first thirty days are stored on ship or base) and the depot will resupply as needed. It is the largest such facility on earth. Established in 1930, the Hawthorne Army Depot continues to be a vital element to the storage, renovation and issuing of weapons, equipment and ammunition for all branches of the military. I found it a tad unnerving to know that on both side of the road there were munitions bunkers which I am sure are well secured and guarded but the barbed wire fence sure did not looked veery imposing.

I was dumbfounded to discover that this munitions facility is managed by an independent contractor. Since it is run by civilian contractors, much of the land surrounding the depot is now deserted as the civilians and military personnel who once lived beside the post now have moved. Babbitt NV, a now-abandoned town established for military housing  encompassed approximately 40 blocks and 584 duplexes by the end of World War II with all duplexes on the same 10 room plan, with 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 kitchens, and two living rooms. Was this perhaps the prelude to the cookie-cutter neighborhoods and the tract housing of Levittowns built after World War II for returning white veterans and their new families. 

Our next adventure was the town of Luning. It’s main street – Plymire Street – is named after a long-time resident, Dr. Fred A. Plymire. After 20 years in Luning, Dr. Fred returned to California, retired there and died in 1929 at Napa State Hospital in “general paralysis of insane.” Hopefully Luning residents have fared much better, at least mentally if not economically than their patron. Luning had an active railroad loading facility for many years. Magnesium ore was trucked to Luning and transferred to railroad cars. We particularly admired the now shuttered Long Branch Saloon but were also very pleased to hear that, the news of import here was of their newly renovated public restrooms and the arrival of the internet! (Sorry, no photo of this very ordinary public restroom .) ON down the road was Coaldale, a former mining town, and is described as a true ghost town. Somehow, even though there are supposedly a few decayed structures in this true ghost town, it was about as visible for me as any ghost would be.  Perhaps I blinked.

The true prize of a town on this route was Tonopah, significantly larger and a bit more prosperous looking. One of its claims is that because it’s so far from the bright lights of any major city, its night skies are considered among the best in the country for stargazing. We opted not to hang around to find out. But the true focal point here would be The Clown Motel, a Tonopah landmark and supposedly, it is quite well known, though I am not sure where! Now, if I had only known!!! It is definitely a must do should I ever return to this area or NOT. So should you decided to travel to this desolate area  you just might want to spend the night here.

At some point (who knows when and by who) the Clown Motel was named “America’s Scariest Motel” because of its clown theme (scary, they are, to a kid for sure) and proximity to the Old Tonopah Cemetery. It is a well know fact (hmmm! to who?) that some of the murals in guest rooms will definitely give guests nightmares. Somewhere it states ( ) that The Clown Motel’s collection of clowns numbers 2,050! The other building of interest is the Mizpah Hotel. It was built in 1907 and has been restored to its former grandeur. If you choose to stay there, you might meet some spirits in this historic hotel, and preferably their resident ghost, the Lady in Red! The story goes that the hotel, which was voted the top haunted hotel in a 2011 USA Today Readers’ Choice awards, is haunted by the Lady in Red who was a prostitute that conducted her business with Mizpah patrons in the 1920s. A wealthy man supposedly killed her in a room on the fifth floor in a rageful fit when learning she was not his exclusively but had many many customers. Legend has it that the ghost of this lady roams the hotel to this day.

We breezed through Goldfield, Nevada (termed a”living ghost town”) and then on through Scotties Junction, a less than memorable place, and  shortly we were traveling adjacent to an extensive alkali flat glistening in the sun (alkali flat, also called salina, or salt alat, a playa, or dried-out desert lake, that containing high concentrations of precipitated dry, salts ). This was “the trailer” for what we would be seeing in Death Valley.

Located on the crossroads of Hwy. 95 and State Route 374, was the town of Beatty. The town  considers itself “the  Gateway to Death Valley National Park.” Not this year though. The August unprecedented amounts of rainfall (the park received 1.46 inches of rain at the Furnace Creek area) was about 75% of what the area typically gets in a year and more than has ever been recorded for the entire month of August. This Gateway town is likely suffering because with tourism one of its main business, it claim to be the Gateway is on hold, at least for the time with 374 closed. There definitely was none of the glitz nor the garishness I have seen at many national park gateway town and there was not anything that drew me to stay beyond the necessary pit stop and gas. I would not want to have my lodging there in Beatty and travel about 180 miles round trip to get to Furnace Creek and all the “not-to be missed”areas of the park. So unless you have a camper or plan to tent camp,  your only other alternative  for lodging near Death Valley is in the National Park at their very pricey hotels. We gassed up, got a few snacks and left Beatty behind, arriving 30 miles later at 373, the current Gateway to DVNP. Nothing remotely imposing here either. After another 25 miles through the Armagosa Desert and Valley, we arrived at route 190, the main thoroughfare through the park. It turned out to be an extraordinary travel day.

So much for the preface. Next chapter Death Valley National Park.

Growlers, Riding the Rails, Bergy Bits, and Ancient Ice

A must do, in almost every brochure listing for an Alaskan holiday, is a glacier tour. Not to be outdone by all the other tourist, Teresa and I opted to outdo most of them by going on the 26 Glacier cruise out of Whittier for a second time, but now three years later (before and hopefully after Covid). Had I not had many halcyon moments on my first tour I might not have been too enthusiastic about a second but I was game as its was Teresa choice of adventure on her last day in Alaska and it would be quite different in foul weather…  which I was already assuming would be the case as we made the reservations the day before. For Prince William Sound, the  location of the tour,  the climate is characterized as a coastal temperate rainforest and it has  nearly 60 inches of rain annually and close to 300 inches of wintertime snows,  That is an incredible amount of rainy days in this area. Well, my assumption was unfortunately correct and we had another gray, cloudy, rainy day. But I was nonplused by this fact and it would be a great reminder of what to expect when I returned to Oregon for the winter and its temperate rainforest climate.

But first a stop at the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center which was built in 1986 upon the terminal moraine left behind by Portage Glacier back in 1914. Portage Lake, which it overlooks, is deep enough to submerge the new 80 Story WTC 3 Building. Portage Glacier can no longer be viewed from here as it has retreated behind a mountain since the center was built. As recent as my trip three years ago there were still small ice floes bergs in Portage Lake whereas there are none today.

Unless arriving via cruise ship or some other sea worthy conveyance, a trip to Whittier begins with the adventure of a drive through a one-way, 2.5-mile tunnel, where the roadbed is railroad tracks! We paid the $13.00 fare for this privilege and then stood in line for the 10:30 opening of the tunnel to Whittier. You and of course your car are queued up in several waiting lanes for your turn to use the tunnel.

The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel (a politician and engineer who oversaw the tunnel projects), often called the Whittier Tunnel (I prefer this) after the town at its eastern terminus. This tunnel, with the long name to match its long mileage, is a dual-use highway and railroad tunnel that passes under Maynard Mountain. The tunnel flows towards Whittier on the half-hour, and back towards Anchorage on the hour: But trains have priority over other traffic. If there are no trains then cars, and then other vehicles like busses and trucks will go thru in a single lane over the train track.

Now I certainly was hoping that the schedule is computerized and that we were not at the mercy of a hungover button pusher who can’t keep their priorities straight this Saturday. The railroad tracks are slightly below the road surface so I would not worry about balancing my car on them (I am not very adroit at getting the car wheels on the track at a car wash so I can’t quite imagine what that would be like in a relatively dark tunnel.) The interior is exposed rock, and I read it contains several “safe-houses”, which are small buildings that are used in case of severe earthquakes, vehicle fires, or other emergencies. Thank goodness the ground under Mt Maynard choose not to tremble, fissure, crack, split, upheave or shake on this day.This 2.5 mile tunnel needs to be aired out with giant turbines between the scheduled crossings.

Once through the tunnel and just around the bend, I anticipated Whittier coming into view tucked in a valley of picturesque glaciers and mountains. However I was totally dumbstruck by the site of The Royal Princess Cruise Ship, a city unto itself with its 19 decks and a myriad of services including restaurants, spas, live theatre, movie theatre, fine arts gallery, shops, casinos, driving range, game lounge, retreat pool and bar, fitness center, fountain pool, plunge pool, sea view bar, sea walk, bistros, pastry shop, pizzeria, ice cream bar, wedding chapel, library, beauty salon, medical center… If one is a resident of this city anchored in the Whittier Harbor, these inhabitants don’t need to use the shops or services of Whittier. And this is probably true since, seeing the size of the ship I anticipated crowds in the town but that was not the case at all.

Following the recommendation of Phillips Cruises, we made sure to adhere to their recommended tunnel time. I soon realized this clearly is devised to give us an opportunity to peruse the shops in Whittier. However, Whittier isn’t what you’d expect of a typical, touristy cruise ship port, and waterfront town. There is nothing chichi about Whittier but its quite unadorned, unsophisticated, and on the edge of feeling like a mixed-use area, zoned commercial-industrial i.e. the cold war army port that it was circa WWII. Most businesses in Whittier are clustered along the small-boat harbor, where a combination of commercial fishing boats and pleasure vessels bob in the turquoise water. For me this is the most picturesque part of Whittier. The rest leaves me perplexed about the strangeness of this town.

After we stood in line for our reserved tickets, we walked the harbor “strip” but other than a couple small shops, 3 or four cafes and ice cream shops we saw a rail yard, lots of parking lots, storefronts for activities and charter services, “historic” neglected military buildings, and the post WWII-era 14 story Hodge Building — now Begich Towers Condominium (described as an arcology) and the now abandoned Buckner Building (the slum of Whittier). These edifices look alien to me in this harbor and valley of rugged raw beauty. Begich houses the majority of Whittier’s population, local government, public services, businesses and schools. With most of the community and its services either inside of or connected to this condo building, residents are able to remain inside the building for long periods of time if the weather is inclement, or they simply do not want to leave. I doubt these apartments have fire places to cozy up by on those long dark frigid days.

So after hoofing around the streets of Whittier we joined the jostling and shoving queue to board the M/V Bravest, the smaller of the two high speed catamarans.The upside here was that this was the overflow booking and this keel was not at capacity so less jostling down channel hopefully. It reminded me of the airplane boarding process where everyone congregates to be first in line even though all seats are reserved. We clearly did not need 1.5 hours to take in the town nor had I done enough research of potential hikes in the rain – or a change of clothes for the cruise if I got wet or muddy on hike).

We quickly found our seats at our reserved table in the interior of the vessel but gratefully did not have to share that table for 4 with anyone. I was a tad disappointed that we did not have a window table but as the day progressed those windows kept fogging over and those seated there had to keep the squeegee going constantly to de-fog them. Clearly the cabin was full of hot air and probably in more ways than one. Since there was plenty of access to the top and stern decks to get open views I knew I would be spending the bulk of my time out there. Shortly after the launch we were served a lunch of clilli or salmon chowder, chips and coleslaw while the boat made its way towards the glaciers. It was about an hours journey before we neared Esther Passage and passed the sea lion rookery. This narrow channel is navigated in the hopes of seeing the abundant wildlife in the area wildlife

Churning through Port Wells toward Esther Passage in Prince William Sound

The world’s largest concentration of tidewater glaciers is in the Prince William Sound. Of the 100 plus glaciers in the area our cruise advertises the magic # 26 Glacier Cruise. Perhaps I could have better used a Magic Eight Ball to predict whether 26 would be the magic number of glaciers we would be beguiled, bewitched, captivated, enchanted, fascinated by and in wonderment of. The number 8 on the Magic Eight Ball was more accurate. Now I know weather conditions did play a role but my tally for this cruise of over 100 hundred miles was 5 tidewaters glaciers (meaning they move down the glacier valley until they end at the waters edge) and perhaps around 8 hanging or valley glaciers (originate high on the wall they descend only partly down to surface of main glacier.) As we headed in towards Harriman Ford I began to see what I gathered was valley or hanging glaciers high up on the mountain faces.

We were informed by the Captain, that due to stormy conditions in College Fjord, where glaciers are named for colleges such as Harvard or Yale,  we would be bypassing that part of the cruise. I had no idea why anyone would choose to name glaciers after elite and very expensive eastern seaboard colleges in wilderness Alaska. The incongruence is astounding but I came to find out that College Fjord was discovered during the Harriman expedition (circa 1899) and the Harvard and Amherst professors on board named the glaciers in the fjord after New England Colleges. If I had my druthers I would rename them something more earthy and related to Alaskan plants and animals rather than elitist places almost as distant from Alaska as one can get in the USA. I doubt my ideas will get many votes but here goes: tundra, fireweed, salmonberry, goosetongue, partridgefoot, orca, moose, caribou, grizzly, humpback… I would add whale here but it looks like glaciers in Alaska have only first names.

Cascades Glacier

I stood on the outside decks most of the time, just gazing at this most astounding extraordinary scenery: the aegean blue waters (I checked out 144 shades of blue and this is best match 4e6e81 hex color code), brown and green forested hills and waterfalls, snow capped mountains and, ice fields and glaciers crawling down the mountain sides and valleys. I have heard that the tidewater glaciers have a language of their own and are prone to chattering as the get ready to calve. They crack, creak, roar, hiss, whisper and gurgle. Sadly though the chatter  is a lamentable sign of these vanishing glorious massive ice floes. I love the “silent sport” of kayaking and was wistfully thinking my preference would to be doing this trip tucked into a small watercraft closer to the icy water and without the noise of the catamaran drowning out all but the loudest crackling.

Tidewater Glaciers

After drinking in the magnificence of the glaciers in this amphitheater of tidewater glaciers, we churned our way up Harriman Fjord along a river of frigid water flowing with burgy bits and growlers, the mountains fringed with hanging and valley glaciers on our way to Surprise glacier. This is a very active calving glacier (not the calving where a domestic bovine is giving birth to a calf). We were churning along among sculpted bergy bits (a bergy bit is a medium to large fragment of ice (hint iceberg) with its height usually more than three feet but less than 16 feet above sea level and its area is about the size of 1,076-3,229 square feet house) and growlers (not to be equated with the glass, ceramic, or stainless steel bottle (or jug) used to transport draft beer. ). In icebergs, trapped air escapes as it melts, it sometimes makes a sound like the growl of an animal, and that’s how growlers got their name. Growlers are smaller fragments of ice. 

When we were within 1000 ft of Surprise Glacier, the captain idled the engine down as low as possible and kept rotating the boat so everyone could get better view and hear the calving. For most of our voyage the decks were relatively free but for all but the most adventurous of we human beings on this journey. Most (probably 80%) stayed inside to avoid the wind, chilly air and intermittent rain. BUT now the herd mentality set in and everyone donned their rain gear and a flock of bodies pushed and shoved their way out onto the fore and aft decks to get “the photo of the year” with themselves center stage. Clearly this was the moment everyone was waiting for. They rooted themself to their spot on the rail irregardless of the many others waiting for their moment. With a backdrop of Surprise Glacier and the brilliant blues in the fractures and crevasses, this was by far the best photo op and of course I too was one to briefly partake in this selfie-portrait movement and was not hesitant as ask strangers to snap a couple, making sure my head was in them. This is always a crap shoot because all photo takers are not created equal (notice I did not use the word photographer).

There was very little calving activity but I don’t think the “selfies and portrait gang” would have know since their back was to this mighty glacier as they posed and posed.This activity appeared to trump all of the other wonders of Price William Sound and when they were satisfied hurried back on into their cozier photo-shopped  environment. To each his own, but for me just being in this natural amphitheater carved by mighty glaciers, with shimmering waterfalls cascading down the dark rock to the sea was the trump card. An aside: the most electrifying part of this for me was when I standing on the rear deck to avoid the masses, I was up against the railing. Suddenly with one quick maneuver (the captain revved the motor to turn the catamaran) and a geyser of bone-chilling water skyrocketed up and rained down upon my head, my hoodie and right down the back of my neck. Not to be daunted, I just put on my rain gear and toughed it out and took a selfie!

We were told that the Prince William Sound was abundant with wildlife and to watch for sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, porpoise, humpback whales, mountain goats, black bears and migratory birds. I think since we were just about at the end of the season, all the wild creatures and critters (except for a few harbor seals on their little ice floe) were exhausted from performing for the multitude of tourists all summer and had just decided to rack their hat on this windy foggy drizzly day. There was one moment of excitement when on the return trip a black bear was sited scrambling up a rock face by Barry Glacier. The final “exhibit” in this “museum” of glaciers was the kittiwake rookery. When scoping the rookery (steep rocky cliffs with hanging vines and sparse greenery) on the return trip to Whittier, there were but a few. I saw two. The flock had moved on already, headed out to sea for the winter, with the breeding season over. And on that note it is time for me to move on as.

Black Bear Climbing Rock-face by Barry Glacier. Can you spot it? Helps to enlarge and zoom in.

Just A’Chugging Through the Rain… 

Not a Thomas Train nor a “I think I can, I think I can ” Train Ride…  

We spent the night in not-so-fair-Fairbanks, post-Bettles, (though we had a much classier motel to rest up in for the final two days of the 2022 Greater Alaska Adventure. I had reserved a seat in the GoldStar Service domed car on the the Alaska Railroad Denali Star flagship train for the 12 hour train excursion from Fairbanks to Anchorage. I had consistently heard glowing reports of how wonderful, excellent, terrific, first-rate, marvelous, superb, outstanding… this trip was. Trip Advisor has a 4.5/5 rating so there definitely was a pretty high bar set for this rail journey. I hope not to be a curmudgeon as I recount my own experiences. Now the fact that August and September in Alaska are the rainiest months and that this has been an exceptionally wet season, I was not exactly dumfounded that I ended up with quite a foul weather day.

Fairbanks Alaska Railroad Station

So true to form, the weather gods continued to throw the moisture that is condensed from the atmosphere and that falls visibly in separate drops at us. Teresa and I awoke to gray skies and though, in the 12 hours clattering along the railway, there were intermittent periods of just grey cloud cover, said clouds preferring to not yet dumb their pay load on us at various  points. There were very, very brief spots of blue sky. But for the most part we experienced pluvial periods … downpours, sprinklings, mist, rainfall, showers, and winds that at times turned those droplets into small darts when out on the platform. I will be the first to admit that this affects my experience.

Arriving at the Fairbanks Railroad Station in a light mist, we negotiated the check-in process, bag tagging and drop with ease and had plenty of time to head outside for photo ops and to also enjoy the model train exhibit. This was a great distraction while waiting to board the train. Though I would love to take my grandkids to this model train layout, as it is well worth seeing, I don’t think I would be heading out the door with them to be there between 7-8 am (daily May-Sept) as it is my understanding this is the only time it is open. What a shame to so severely ration this exhibit… Soon we were heading out of Fairbanks… and almost immediately, seeing the University of Alaska Museum of the North, for me the shining star of Fairbanks.

The section out of Fairbanks to the south was rolling hills, dressed up fancy in their fall finery, sporting shades such as bright yellow, mustard yellow, canary yellow, goldish yellow, sunflower yellow , faded yellow, lemon yellow, sunshine yellow (none of which was evidenced to us as an orb in the sky) and an occasional smattering of reddish and brown tinted leaves. With the  leaves changing colors and, in retrospect, with the foul weather that lay ahead, this section on down to Denali was probably the most enjoyable and lovely section of the train ride! It was the “best” of the grey , cloudy, foul, fouler, foulest weather.

The GoldStar Service was well worth the first class $$$$$! The glass domed carriages (sounds like Cinderella’s conveyance) gives one the experience of being surrounded by nature on all sides (almost). Seemed like I was sitting out in the rain and not getting wet (well not quite)! Nor was I in the line of attack from a bullheaded moose which by the way we saw none of. In fact we saw NO wildlife but who can blame whatever wildlife there might be for not being out in this drizzly weather to wave at us.

As for the train itself, it was quite comfortable and NO DREADED MIDDLE SEATS to be wedged into as the airlines do to annoy their passengers and maximize profit. Comfort was of high level importance since I would be planting my derriere on this seat for a considerable number of hours. The staff was helpful and affable (I feel obligated to say this though they actually were ). The barkeep kept my iPhone charged up on the bar outlets (none by our seats so the airlines score here) and me charged up with unlimited refills of coffee and diet coke. The three meals in the dining car were sufficiently good and the viewing platform wondrous. These “super-dome” (not the one in New Orleans) carriages are bi-level with the top floor the seating, bar, and viewing platform and the first floor the dining area which is accessed by a very narrow circular staircase. Now this staircase had great potential for one of unsteady balance (and there were quit a few, as the beverage and bar service was well attended by both the attender and the attendees in the upper carriage), to splat on down.

Meal service began shortly after departing Fairbanks. You could not choose where you sit and if you are in first, second or third seating. I certainly thought that I would be in the first seating (since I was seated in the front on the train car.) But NO! Unlike the airlines, who start their service from the front, they started with the passengers in the rear … though in this case it was probably a good thing because by the time I emerged up top after my Aurora Breakfast {scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, with choice of reindeer sausage (no) or bacon (yes) }, a goodly number of the first and second sitters were quite juiced on their Bloody Mary’s and Screw Drivers. Goodness knows how boisterous they might have become drinking on an empty stomach. The tables fit 4 people, so you have to sit with strangers which I was not too thrilled about in this era of COVID. (I did become infectious with COVID two days later). Seemed like it was a revolving door down there with 3 seatings only to start around again with the next meal. We were last to be seated and served and I hoped that the AK Rail would not run out of my preferred choice of meals as so often has happened on airlines when sitting in the rear (last served!). Fortunately for me they did not but I was very annoyed to always be last none-the-less.

The next part of the journey was the most enjoyable with its towns of Nenana and Healy, the Tanana River weaving through the country-side, the Mears Memorial Bridge, and on down to Windy Bridge. The metropolis of Nenana (population 358 in 2020) is  at the confluence of the Nenana and  Tanana  Rivers. The train crosses the Mears bridge over the Tanana river and then winds around of town very slowly. I saw glimpses  of this  small town which has a gas station, several restaurants, a train museum, and it definitely does not appear to be thriving. The town never recovered from a population of 5500 once the railroad was complete like many other town of the boom and bust town in Alaska. Don’t think I will scout for property here. BUT…

Since every town, city, state, village, municipality and berg desires a claim to fame Nenana has a couple. The Mears bridge still ranks as the longest span in Alaska and the third-longest truss bridge in the United States. Hmm Ho-Hum! BUT, the real claim to fame is the Nenana Ice Classic, a nature-based lottery. Since the train did not stop in Nenana, I was very disappointed at not being able top off and purchase a ticket for the 2023 classic. But, alas, I researched this and you will be relieved to know that if you’re reading this and a resident of Alaska you can get tickets at several hundreds outlets throughout the state. And if not, and you actually believe you can predict Mother Nature, you can buy a ticket by picking a date/dates in April or May and the time, to the closest minute, that you think the winter ice on the Tanana River will break up, mail it in to their office with your $3.00’s for each pick and they will fill out the tickets for you and mail you a copy (unlawful to mail the real ticket). No fancy lottery machines spitting out tickets here. A large striped tripod (see photo) is placed on the frozen Tanana River and connected to a clock. The winner is whoever comes closest to guessing the precise time when the ice beneath weakens to the point that the tripod moves and stops the clock. A real Alaskan twist one a lottery. A recent winning pool was $300,00. So buy your ticket and when you win by outsmarting Mother Nature, you can be grateful to me for putting you on to this event and give me a generous share!!! You better take your chances now, since with climate change , all too soon the river will not freeze over!

Miraculously – Minutes of Blue Sky Over the Nenana River North of Healy

Healy, the next town 53 miles south, with a declining population of 966 according to the 2020 census is another boom or bust town, which depended on coal mining and the building of the Alaska railroad. The only claim to fame now I could find was that currently the Usibeli Coal Mine is the chief economic enterprise in the area and it’s large deposits give it  the status as the only coal mine in the state (a dubious claim to fame if you are an environmentalist and rail against “dirty coal.”) Denali Village, whether it stands to benefit from efforts for American energy independence, remains to be seen  since coal can be converted directly into synthetic fuels equivalent to gasoline or diesel Or if it becomes mostly dependent on a service economy as the solitary entrance to Denali National Park is just over 10 miles from Healy, making it a base for excursions into the park. In the 1 minute span during which I took the pictures below we had another glance at a blue sky for just under one minute.

Clattering along southward, the train crossed under the Parks Highway bridge . This bridge is the tallest in Alaska and is know as “Windy Bridge”. It crosses the Nenana just above the confluence with the Jack River and as we clicked father south the views were quite striking.

“Shortly” thereafter and  “just around the bend” and perhaps then another, and  then another bend (actually 12 minutes time-wise) the “village” of Denali comes into view. It has been  nicknamed “Glitter Gulch” with its street of hotels, motels, lodge, cabins, resorts, motor courts, B & B’s, campgrounds, and not forgetting to mention the restaurants and souvenir and gift shops . This might describe it in contrast to the raw wildness of Denali Park itself.  But it in no way compares to the gateway town of Pigeon Forge for its garishness, cheapness and gaudiness outside of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, or the towns of Jackson Hole, Wyoming (Grand Tetons NP) and Estes Park, Colorado ( Rocky Mountain NP) for their chic, cool, outdoorsy, swank, upscale aura as you amble along their crowded, crammed, jam-packed streets of trendy expensive shops. Denali village does NOT deserve the adjective “glitter” in my estimation.

As we slowly crawled along the edge of the Nenana rive, the Five Star hotels, up on the hillside with the five star prices, were pointed out. These would not be the hotels I would be staying if I was getting off here. Just in case in the future you wish to stay in the village outside of Denali, this is a pre-primer of some options that you might choose if you wish to empty out your savings account and sell your stocks. Notice up on the mountain the green roofed Grande Denali Lodge and the Denali Bluffs Hotel, below and right; the Denali Princess Lodge, the largest hotel in Alaska, on the banks of the Nenana River with the red roofs; and the first major hotel we passed is the McKinley Chalet Resort (which I have actually stayed at previously (a barely affordable splurge which did empty my savings account). Minutes later we arrived at the Denali Park Depot to offload our revelers and unload a whole new patch, hopefully not of such boisterous ilk, as those offloaded. To this point, the journey has been just a shade over four hours.

I read on a website reviewing the The Alaska Railroad Denali Star Route, that the train ride from Denali to Talkeetna offers some of the most beautiful locations on the Alaskan Railroad.  This is 4 hour journey, clickity-clacking over many creeks and rivers, and it goes through the McKinley Village area, Cantwell, Broad Pass Hurricane Gulch and  the Indian Valley, until you come to the depot in Talkeetna. 

Just south of Denali National Park, Broad Pass is the highest point on the Alaska Railroad at 2,363 feet, with panoramic views of the Alaska Range. It is a wide pass with high mountains on the east and west sides and if the weather is clear you will still get some amazing views of Denali. At 20,322 feet Mt. Denali is the tallest peak in North America and the train offers a number of unobstructed views as it passes within 50 miles of the summit (on SOME days). At some point the wider corridor gave way to a narrow corridor of dense forest. Needless to say, I was not amazed or impressed as the weather was not clear! I would like to suggest that all literature for this ride state that at least 50% or more of the summer days in interior Alaska are NOT clear. I must admit though the landscape had, at times, a bit of a hauntingly eerie quality about it, the low rise mountains looked cold and angry, and I did delight in riding out on the platform, drinking in the raw wildness of this land, and seeing how ferocious this wilderness can be (and it is not even winter yet).

 It had not occurred to me that since there was only one visible sets of tracks, that unless there was some provisions we had not been informed of , we were going to be smashing head on into the northbound train from Anchorage around 2:00 pm in the afternoon. However, assuming everything is running on schedule, I was relieved to learn that one of the trains will typically pull onto a siding near Broad Pass, and the other will roll on by. I hoped they have their signals straight, which thank goodness they did and this was what happened on this Denali Star excursion. We were sidelined while I was hungerly devouring my “grilled Angus beef patty served with tomato, red onion, bleu cheese crumbles on a Brioche bun AND with Alaska Kettle Chips and a pickle.” Now I wonder if these were the real authentic Alaska Kettle Chips entered into  a national taste test of more than 150 kettle chips by the Chicago Tribune, which awarded the Alaska Chip second place! The Alaska Chip was voted #2 in the U.S because of its “butter-sweet aroma, fresh and almost caramel in flavor, beautiful golden sheen with hearty crunch”  Guess I am not much of a  discerning chip muncher because I totally missed all of this delectableness . 

Traveling farther down south about 70 miles along the Denali park boundary and the Nenana River, North of Talkeetna, the tracks veered away from the road system and into the Hurricane area with views of the snaking Indian River. I am told that the train crosses over the 918-foot Hurricane Gulch trestle, the most expansive trestle on the Alaska Railroad route. It towers about 300 feet above the Chulitna River below (though some websites say it crosses Hurricane Creek) and allows for the possibility of breathtaking photo opportunities. One writer … “the highlight of this railroad day trip is the stunning Hurricane Gulch Trestle.” However, I was not stunned and did not loose my breathe either, as this breathtaking drop and trestle was totally obscured by rain and haze, or the site announcer of the hour was distracted and this awesome site was not announced. The rest of this journey is a rained out blur. Up until this point there was a strange beauty with much of the scenery seen through the scrim of rainfall.  The frosting to go with the rainfall was the rainbows that popped up behind the train on a couple of occasions. 

I was fascinated to learn that on this same track between Hurricane Gulch and Talkeetna, AK RR operates a Flagstop Train. Local residents of Chase (pop. 19, 2020 census, down from 34) a settlement at mile 236.2 AK RR, on the Susitna River, 9 miles north of Talkeetna, have established their homes in the wilderness along the railroad and thus use the service as a way to reach their cabins or homes that aren’t accessible any other way. It’s a lifeline to transport necessary goods from the larger cities, get to liquor store but hopefully more often the grocery store. This train still operates as a “flag stop” service meaning it allows passengers to hop on and off if they want to visit a neighbor, go to the store, or if it were my grandson just hopping on because he is obsessed with riding trains. Just the wave of a flag will stop the train and, to disembark, one simply notifies the conductor of the milepost where they wish to stop to get back off. Seems like a pretty good system to me. I would definitely not want to be standing by the track, waiting here to wave down a train on this day!

From the Talkeetna railroad station on down through Wasilla and Palmer into Anchorage the rain was constant and steady. I took all of two photos of flooded forests. It was so unpleasant for me to stay seated inside the carriage rather than staying out on the viewing platform as I had for the early part of the trip. Even the towns looked, dismal, dirty and forlorn. I went down for dinner to give me something to do rather than just stare out the window at the rain. I had already walked through all of the train cars, up and down, and decided I was then in need of nourishment (more like in need of eliminating the monotony of the country side shrouded in clouds and fogginess.) Staring at the slow braised pot roast , roasted garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed green beans, red wine demi, and a tough to chew dinner roll was infinitely more satisfying at the moment. Overall though the food on the train was good, nicely presented and service efficient.

So finally at 8:06 we pulled into the Anchorage Railroad Depot. We disembarked efficiently and then it was stand in line and wait, bide our time, cool our jets … as we not-so-patiently waited for the bags to be unloaded and uncrated. I will never complain about the airport carousel again. Clearly there was no rhyme or reason from my viewpoint to the unloading of the luggage. Fork lifts took the crates of luggage out of the baggage car, dumbed crates on the platform under a white tent, the bags were uncrated behind a rope and then the herd of people began pushing and shoving at the ropes to grab their identified bag. It was a a free for all. Without getting trampled, we fetch our bags, secured a cab and were off to our motel.

In case you are interested in this journey and you have a clear day, according to a description of the train route , the railway route from Anchorage to Denali is lined with countless rivers, streams, and lakes and except for stops in towns of Talkeetna and Wasilla, there will be nothing but perfect wilderness. Go for it. So you don’t think I am a total curmudgeon as I feared being or a barrel of sour apples, I really was pleased overall with the trip. I would do it again but definitely reserve a clear day! A lot of what I write is really a whine because I had hoped for ideal weather after an awful summer of rain on the Kenai Peninsula. Since I am not an avid photographer (I am quite happy with my iPhone point and shoot camera), so my very mediocre photographic “genius” did not miss out on a million dollar award winning shot of Denali. So it is mostly a blog about what you might expect if you don’t get the awe-inspiring brilliant blue sunny sky that it seems all those reviews are hinting at. Of the scores of reviews I perused, I did not read but one that had anything negative. Next time…this might well be my photo. But then I wonder if it is photo-shopped.

Mushing Dogs, Tundra Trampolines, Muck Boots, and the “Slums” of Bettles

A Beaver Lodge – Construction Phase

Our third day at Bettles was a mish mash of mushing dogs, a “river cruise” and the donning of break-up-boots for a meander in the Kanuti Wildlife Refuge. On the first night of this Bettles adventure,  I was outside of the Aurora Lodge around 11:00pm, scouting the sky for any hints of the aurora and I kept hearing periods of prolonged howling… the mournful tone, length and harmony left me with a feeling of loneliness but also wonderment. I imagined wolves communicating affectionately with members of their pack, or perhaps it was a social rally call for party-time, or better yet a warning to the “deranged” humans, running around in the middle of the night taking pictures of the dark sky, to stay off their territory. Of course, my adrenaline also shot up and I excitedly envisioned a pack of grey wolves out there on the perimeter of Bettles calling. I knew this type of howling is a guttural call that’s associated with wolves, especially the grey wolf which is the distant ancestor of our dogs .  But eventually I recalled that, on the website and  in our orientation, there was a resident team of sled dogs down the road which were “100% Alaskan Husky and also 100% friendly”. I also knew the Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Akita, and Samoyed are more inclined to howl.  So I made it a point the following day to set up a “meet and greet” session with the local husky population.

Now we did not disturb the dogs but I am quite sure that their howling might have been disturbing to some guests. On the third morning, we visited the dog yard with their musher. Each dog has their own doghouse and they are tethered to a pole by a chain so they can run in a circle This does not sound like fun to me but I am not a husky who is bred to run – which I wasn’t bred to do and only was able to slog painfully as a triathlete. These canine residents were all quite eager to greet us and thanks goodness for the chain providing a modicum of restraint. Otherwise I would have repeatedly been bowled over by very eager-to-greet-me dogs . Come winter they will be working as mushing dogs. When one or maybe more dogs are utilized for pulling a sled, it is referred to as “mushing.” They will transporting loaded sleds (in this case tourist adventurers) around the metropolis of Bettles, population 23.

Late in the afternoon , Teresa, Chris, Rob and myself decided we wanted to attempt the hike into the Kanuti Wildlife Refuge which commenced at the end of the float plane lake. Kanuti is the Americanized version of the the Athabascan name “Kk’toonootne” meaning “well traveled river by both man and animals.” This area of the Kanuti Refuge is an example of Alaska’s boreal ecosystem and is dominated by black and white spruce and willow, highbush cranberry fireweed, and blueberry to name a few. We were advised to bring rubber boots if we were interested in hiking, but to save weight and space, I opted not to bring my rubberized boots which Alaskans call “break up boots” (so named for the puddles and mud, and soggy trails, especially in the early spring when the ice jams, the snow melts and the ground thaws). After viewing the wetland terrain from above I began to regret my decision as I could well imagine that the water and mud would be pouring over the top and into my ankle high hiking boots in a matter of minutes or perhaps seconds. We were informed that this hike (as are almost all wilderness hikes in Alaska) tend to be extremely wet, boggy and muddy.

Fortunately the Lodge had a decent selection  of “wellies” or “Wellingtons” that we could borrow. What follows is more not very useful or pertinent information : The type of boots I am talking about are what most people way up there in Alaska call  Alaska Sneakers, aka gumboots, or break-up-boots. They are almost up to ones knees and made of rubber or neoprene. The “Wellington” boot became  the foot wear for the British aristocracy and later middle class in the early 19th century and the  name was subsequently given to waterproof boots made of rubber.  Growing up as a kid we often called our rubber footwear galoshes. Galoshes are also known as dickersons, gumshoes, rubbers, or overshoes. So call them what you will.  I was able to find a pair that were a reasonable good fit, though being on the larger size for my foot, I was hoping they would not be sucked off by any mud we might encounter.

Well this trail did not disappoint. There was lots of sucking mud, spongy moss, and tundra grasses with very shallow root systems that allow water to collect below with the thawing of the permafrost.  What ground that would normally be solid had turned into a grassy trampoline.

Grassy Trampolines from Discover Magazine July 22 2016

The cause of the quivering patches is likely due to climate change and the current unprecedented thawing events occurring north of the Arctic Circle. How astonished I was when I planted my “wellies” on the green plants and grasses pictured below the ground wiggled and wobbled. I had just stepped on nature’s trampoline . Now I never have done anything remotely technical on a trampoline, so I executed only one of my entire repertoire of three moves: the straight jump and due to the level of springiness of this massive grass mat I rose about 1 inch. I chose not to do a seat or stomach drop (or more accurately flop) for some very obvious reasons, though if I had had on rain pants I might have been tempted.

One of the government monitoring projects in Kanuti is to conduct Beaver food caches surveys so we were particularly excited to discover a beaver lodge in the process of being actively constructed along the refuge lake. This usually begins in the late summer or early autumn (they are right on schedule there) so as to have a cozy den for the upcoming season of cold, ice and snow. This was a large domed structure built by the local beaver residents of Kanuti out of sticks, twigs, rocks, logs, and mud. Clearly these beavers did not have an architect nor were they working from a clear set of drawings but piling sticks and logs together haphazardly and dropping and plopping large clumps of muddy sediment from the bottom of the lake on top of the lodge and and probably hoping that it drips down to seal the massive cracks. If this were my log cabin this would not be a good thing but since it is a beaver lodgeI I have heard it provides ventilation and this will allow the lovely aroma of wet beaver fur, the gases they pass, and anything else that fouls the air to escape.

When reading the promotional material for the Bettles package, it stated that included in the package “will be the exciting Koyukuk River boat tour to the ghost town of “Old Bettles” founded in 1898, where the last gold rush took place.” I am not sure what I was expecting, but when I hear riverboat tour I think of the large Paddle-wheelers churning on down the Mississippi, or even the Riverboat Discovery Cruise in Fairbanks. Now I knew it would not be these but I kind of anticipated something much smaller but a tad fancier… but I had not expected a quite basic aluminum fishing outboard for our “cruise.”

Never-the-less our fishing boat excursion was really quite satisfactory and I should know better than to have visions of what might be available in rural Alaska, especially above the Artic Circle. We motored on down the Koyukuk River to Old Bettles, enjoying the scenery and the very brisk air.

“Old Bettles,” which I cursorily  called  the “slums” of Bettles, was founded in 1898 during the last great gold rush in Alaska. Gordon Bettles established a trading post at the junction of the John River and the Koyukuk River. This was the age of transport by large steam-powered paddle boats which brought miners and their supplies into the region. Old Bettles was the northern terminus of the Koyukuk River barge line.  But as the gold rush came to an end and aircraft replaced the riverboat as the main mode of transportation, the community migrated to the airstrip built up-river, 6 miles from the original location and the current location of “New Bettles” where we were staying. This airstrip that serves the community today was built in World War II. The post office closed in 1956 and the last inhabitants of ”Old Bettles” moved out in 1997.

Bettles Airstrip

Several “buildings” or better described as remnants of  buildings remain 25 years later, with the buildings left to decay … no historical society “lives” up here to preserve history. In its heyday, it was most likely a village built of rugged log homes and businesses. Some places appeared as if residents moved out in haste leaving behind, beds, appliances and some still are adorned with weathered moose sheds! The story is that the cost and task of moving belongings even a few miles can be prohibitive. So now there are those beds in “Old Bettles” but I don’t think they were one of the offerings in the brochure. I was glad not to be roughing it over there, as definitely not a AAA 4 diamond property. Definitely not too comfortable looking. All the buildings were in some stage of decay and you could see also that most buildings were slowly sinking into the soil because of the freezing and thawing of the permafrost. What an odd site this was. Perhaps thousands of years from now there will be an archeological did that uncovers the artifacts of life in “Old Bettles.”

Should you consider a trip to Bettles ? Bettles promised an authentic Alaskan experience 35 Miles North of the Arctic Circle and that is true. This was quite a unique experience unlike any other I have had. However from the detailed descriptions on their website (, I had expected something a tad more upscale that what Bettles actually was. But then I also know that most photos, brochures and internet descriptions are for the most part much more glamorous appearing that the actuality. The food was excellent, the personal friendly knowledgeable, and accommodating. The accommodation in the Aurora Lodge is clean and comfortable, though the wifi is sketchy at its best. Our room had a spa (which was basically a souped up, regular bathtub right in the room with a pull curtain if you wished privacy…). Most rooms have shared facilities. Both the communal rooms and bedrooms have everything that you need to make your stay extremely comfortable including soft drinks, hot chocolate, tea, coffee, snacks,  many DVD’s & board games. However if you desire modern and/or elegant facilities, fine dining, TV , fast internet, cell phone service, a structured schedule, events happening on time ( ideal Alaska weather and the aurora are not available for streaming “on-demand “) this is not the adventure for you. I thrive with this type of adventure and compared to some of mine it is downright luxurious.

The following morning we were scheduled to depart. The weather appeared ideal and we all too soon were on out way to Fairbanks. I was mostly fascinated by views of the famous “Haul Road,” aka Dalton Highway. The highway, which directly parallels the trans-Alaska pipeline, is one of the most isolated roads in the United States. It was visible below for most of the flight and this highway is described as primitive in places and traveled through rolling, forested hills, across the Yukon River and Arctic Circle. The surface is gravel and can be quite rough, dusty or slippery depending on the weather. There are long distances between commercial operations and here is where the problem lies. Don’t have any mechanical difficulties or medical problems as it can take hours or days to get help.

Flight Path over the Dalton Highway and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline to Fairbanks

Still known locally as the “Haul Road” it can be a very challenging highway to travel for many reasons. The primary users of the Dalton highway are the oil companies, which means most of the vehicles on the highway are large trucks. These truckers are professional drivers but they also tend to take up a lot of room on the narrow road (28 ft/8.5 meter wide). Could it be described as a scenic drive? Absolutely … that is if you can take you eyes of this largely gravel and extremely remote road, with little human habitation outside of its terminus. Now if you are eager to drive “The Haul” after my brief introduction, this is a list of supplies you will need to bring along: 2 full-size spares, emergency flares, extra gas and windshield wiper fluid, bug repellent, rain gear, first aid kit, emergency food & water and camping gear and be sure to travel with your lights on, slow down when other vehicles are approaching, do not stop on the road. Game anyone?

Next up: The Alaska Railroad from Fairbanks to Anchorage