Saturday, July 21, 2012

Alaska Border to Fairbanks

Sun, July 1st - Wed, July 11th                                                   

We are leaving the Yukon and entering Alaska finally, at Poker Creek, population 2. 

Just another beautiful view as we leave the "Top of the World" highway and enter Alaska.  

Yeah, we're back in the U.S.A. 

Davis Dome Wayside with information about the Forty Mile Mining District and the Forty Mile Caribou Herd that migrates near here.  The caribou herd was once a massive herd of 500,000, but was down to 6,000 in the mid '70s.  It is now about 40,000.   

Boundary Roadhouse, one of the oldest roadhouses in Alaska and Boundary Airstrip, one of the many, many unattended airstrips in Alaska.  They have more small planes and small airports than any other state.  About one in every 25 people have a pilots license and about one in 50 own an airplane. 

Interesting sign entering Chicken, Alaska.  Coming from both directions they have a city sign hanging from an old crane.  They also have an old gold dredge here, the Pedro Dredge, named after the first guy to discover gold on Chicken Creek. 

And, of course, there is the big chicken on the hill, just to make sure you won't miss their little town!  So, of course, we had to stop. 

And this is it, the whole town of Chicken, well the original part anyway.  There is now a new gas station, gift shop and RVark nearby, but they are very new.  This is all that has been here until recently. 

They have these very nice bathroom facilities out back, and if you look close, you can see that they are growing a garden just behind the "Chicken Poop". 

We had a very nice supper here and camped free out in their back parking lot, just across from these modern accomodations that people seemed to be staying in or living in.   While I was sitting in the RV working on the computer (believe it or not, they had free WiFi here), a Momma Moose and her baby came running out of the woods right next to the window and across the parking lot and right between these tents and back into the woods. 

Down the road at the new gas station/gift shop they had these husky puppies for sale.  They were so cute and they just cried as we walked away and didn't take them with.  

The miners who named their mining camp Chicken (the second town in Alaska to be incorporated) wanted to call it Ptarmigan (Alaska's state bird), because they were so plentiful here and they ate them like chickens.  But no one was sure how to spell it and they didn't want their town name to be a source of ridicule and laughter. So in the end, they just called it chicken.  This is a little sign they had posted in the restaurant. 

We just made a quick stop at the very nice Visitor's Center in Tok and drove right on through.  We will have to come back through here on our way out of Alaska.  This little gift shop across the street caught my eye with the lawn mowers on the roof.  Most of the sod roofs we have seen have very long grass growing on them.  A totally new concept, mowing your roof.

Gerstle River Black Veteran's Memorial Bridge, originally named for the president of the Alaska Commercial Company, was renamed in 1993 to commemorate the 3,695 black soldiers (from five different companies of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) for their contribution in constructing the Alcan Highway.  It is one of 4 "steel through truss-style" bridges on the highway.  There is a nice little, free campgroud here. 

The official last mile marker of the Alaska Highway at the Visitor's Center in Delta Junction, Alaska.  They also have a couple six foot mosquito statues here and a ten foot thermometer showing their all-time low record temp of 70 something below.  Sounds tempting to move here, huh?  Across the street they have a very nice free museum in the Sullivan Roadhouse, which was dismantled and moved here from out in the wilderness somewhere.  We also stopped at the Delta Meat & Sausage store to get some buffalo and elk sticks and summer sausage.  They also had yak, musk ox and reindeer.

We camped at the Big Delta State Historical Park just as we were leaving town for just $5.00.  In the park there is a walking tour of Rika's Roadhouse and several other historical buldings, including a WAMCAT buildiThe whole grounds is a beautiful museum including a two-story roadhouse, gardens, barns, shop, army barracks, etc.  Why aren't all state parks free? 

Just a short walk down the road, we got our first up-close look at the pipeline.  There was a security guy sitting in a pick-up keeping an eye on it and lots of FBI Security signs posted.  I guess there have been several attempts to sabotage it at different locations.  He didn't seem too concerned about us. 

This monster of a boat was holding up traffic, but it's name "Margarita" reminded me that I still have some left in the freezer, so I have something to look forward to when we pull into camp tonight.   Mm, Mm! 

We made a short stop in North Pole, Alaska.  I'm not much of a shopper, but you can't pass up buying Christmas ornaments for the grandkids, that say North Pole on them and actually came from North Pole...can you? 

We arrived in Fairbanks on Tuesday, July 3rd, with reservations at River's Edge Campground for a week.  They were having an all day July 4th celebration at Pioneer Park, about a mile and a half from the campground, so we walked over and spent most of the 4th there.  There were several interesting totem poles in the park.  We actually stopped and visited with a guy in Whitehorse who was working with a group of young natives carving a totem for the grand opening of their new cultural center there. 

We watched a sled dog pulling competition, somewhat like a tractor pull at the fair.  They keep adding more weight to see how much they can pull, until they all drop out and only the champ is left.  I think the most they pulled that day was about 1,000 pounds or so.  One of the dogs there held the record for pulling 1,400 three years ago.  

We walked through a little art gallery with pictures from Alaskan history.  There was also a collection of quilts.   This one was my favorite.  It reminded me of one that John's Mom made for Dawn when she was little.   There was also an antique airplane museum, a little train giving rides around the park, an antique carousel and miniature golf, but no fireworks, as it really never gets dark here.  The sun is down somewhere between 1:00 and 4:00 when it is just somewhat dusk-like. 

We watched a kiddy parade with these bagpipers, some Jedi guys from Star Wars, Smokey Bear and lots of little kids all dressed up.  The bagpipe guys did a concert a little later with a girl doing some Scottish jig or dance.  They were pretty good.  There were other little bands playing in different areas of the park.  At the edge of the park is a Salmon Bake Buffet mostly for the busloads of tourists traveling through.  So we stopped there for all-you-can-eat grilled salmon, deep-fried cod, prime rib, salads & desert.  It was pretty good, but a little over-priced.  But pretty much everything is over-priced compared to what we are used to back home.  The $10 Pizza Hut pizza is $15.  The $5 Subway is $8.50. 

The community band put on a really good show in front of the Nenana sternwheeler.  They played a whole set of Beatles tunes, my favorite.  We walked thru the sternwheeler where they had dioramas of all the little native villages along the Nenana River. 

Another day we walked about two and a half miles to the Alaska University campus to go to the museum.  When we got there, of course, more stairs.  We were huffing and puffing when we finally got to the top and here comes some young college kid with his bike on his shoulder running up the steps behind us.   Then we ask him how to get to the museum and he says, "Go a couple blocks up this street, take a left and it is about 3/4 of a mile."  Are you kidding me?  Then we spent all day in the museum and walked back to the campground again. 

  This outhouse was one of the pieces of art in the museum.  Quite interesting.  It has saloon style doors and bars on the windows like a jail.  Lots of people up here choose to live in old cabins in the woods with no indoor plumbing, so outhouses are a popular subject.  They probably have satelite dishes, cell phones,WiFi for internet, etc., but no plumbing and maybe only a generator for electricity and cut enough wood to keep a fire going all winter.  Another thing I thought was interesting because I had never heard of it.  There was a painting someone had done, based on a story he had heard about that the Nazis used to kill those who tried to escape concentration camps.  Then they would hang their bodies upside down to remind everyone how foolish they were to try to escape, and they called them "clowns" for being so foolish.  His painting was some kind of figure hanging upside down with the word "clown" in the title.  Kind of morbid.

Another day we took a flightseeing tour over the Arctic Circle.  This is a view from the plane as we passed over the little village of Livengood. 

The instrument panel on the plane as we passed over the Arctic Circle at 66.33 degrees latitude. 

Another view just before we were coming in to land.  I think you can see the pipeline below.  

This is our plane just after we landed at the Coldfoot Airstrip.  The pilot near the plane is talking to the driver of our tour van that will take us back over the arctic circle to Fairbanks.  Our van driver, the young man in the light colored pants, is going to school for his master's degree, and he and his wife live in one of those old cabins without plumbing. 

This is me at the Coldfoot Post Office, making John take one of those rare pictures with me in it, so I can prove I was actually along on this trip.  A combination restaurant/gift shop next to me and a very small motel across the road made out of trailer houses is all that's here.  Our driver is ready and off we go.  It's about a ten hour drive back to Fairbanks with eleven of us in the van.  We stop about every hour and a half for an outhouse break, and a couple places actually have flush toilets.

Here we are at the actual Arctic Circle, the stop we made this whole trip for.  I surely better not delete this picture by mistake! 

I took this picture by zooming in from the very back seat of the van, so not too bad.  Think "Ice Road Truckers".  If you've ever seen it on TV, this is the infamous hill on the "Haul Road".

This is a view of the pipepline.  As it heads up the hill, you can see how it kind of zig zags.  This was done in a lot of places to allow for expansion and shifting caused by permafrost changes and in case of earthquakes. 

A closer view.  The pipe is 48 inches in diameter and is not attached to the framework at all, but merely rests on a shoe-like device that is able to slide freely something like 12 feet in case of earthquakes, which it has done.  The pipeline is 800 miles long from Prudhoe Bay on the Artic Ocean to Valdez. 

Our guide took us walking through the tundra, where you feel like you are walking on bags of marshmallows.  It's so soft, your feet just sink down into it a couple inches or more.  Our guide lifted off a small area of the surface and dug a hole about a foot deep, so we could all reach in a feel the permafrost.  Rock solid ice! 

Another stop along the way was at Finger Rock, which our guide said points directly to Fairbanks, so if we get left behind, just head that way.  Ha, ha!

This is an extremely beautiful area.  The purple flowers are called Fireweed.  It is the Yukon's official flower.  They bloom profusely after a forest fire covering hillsides for miles.  They have been everywhere across Canada and Alaska. 

This is just a drive-by shot out the window to show what it looks like after the trees have all been burned from a forest fire.

Memorial in downtown Fairbanks near the Visitor Center to the Lend Lease program we had with Russia during WWII.  We gave almost 8,000 airplanes to Russia to help them fight the Nazis.  Our mostly female pilots flew the planes out of Great Falls, Montana (where they were adapted for cold weather and had the red Soviet star painted on them) up to Alaska, where we trained the Russian pilots how to fly them and they flew them back to Russia. 

Another day we went on the Discovery Cruise down the Chena River to where it meets the Tanana River. 

While on the cruise, we had a bush pilot give us a demonstration on taking off and landing a float plane. 

A little further down the river, we came to the dog kennels of Susan Butcher who won the Iditarod four times.  She died of cancer about seven years ago, but her husband, Dave, still has the kennels and talked to us about training the dogs and gave us a demonstration with the dogs pulling him on a four wheeler around the little lake on his property there.  He goes through about 60,000 pounds of dog food in a year. 

Here we have reached the end of the Chena River where it flows into the Tanana River and we will be heading back. 

On our way back, we stop at an Athabascan summer fish camp,  where a native girl describes how the fish wheel catches the salmon, and demonstrates how they clean and cut this fish and then hang it to dry before they smoke it. 

They also had a few reindeer here for us to see.  The government introduced the natives to reindeer farming, to replace the loss of caribou herds.  Reindeer and caribou are basically the same thing.  Reindeer are just a smaller, domesticated cousin to the caribou.  Both male and female reindeer grow horns and shed them every year, but the female shed their horns in the spring and the males shed their horns in the fall.  So, no wonder Rudolph could get all those presents delivered all over the world in just one night.  Rudolph was a girl.

This little gal explained some of the uses the natives made of the different fur pelts. 

And then she modeled one of the beautiful parkas that cost $1,500 to $2,000. 

The last thing we did in Fairbanks was go back to Pioneer Park to eat supper and go to the play.  Pioneer Park is a lot of the old original cabins that were in downtown Fairbanks in the early 1900s.  They moved them all to here in the 60s and created this park to save them.  A couple of them are home museums and one has a pioneer/miner history museum.  The others are being used for gift shops, art gallerys and restaurants.  We had the Bulgogi at this little Korean place.  It was good, but very spicy. 

They have a very small theater in one of the old buildings here and we went to watch the musical comedy about the history and characters of Fairbanks.  It was very good.  

They finished off by telling how people from Fairbanks deal with the 60 to 70 below zero weather.  They broke out in song (think church praise songs).  "Hon  olulu, Hon  olulu, Honolulu, Honolulu,  Ho No Lu Lu!"

On that note, I will say, "Good night to all, and to all a good night."


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