Sunday, July 22, 2012

Our first trip on the Alaska Railroad and Driving the Dalton!

All Aboard!  We took the train from Denali to Fairbanks.  If felt like a very long trip at times, but we were up on the side of the mountain for part of it, so, yes, it was slow tracks.  I will spare you the details of the train ride because, well, it was part of that Gray Line tour package, and suffice it to say, the train ride was a large part of why we didn't like the package tour.  Also, when you're on a train ride with a lot of your family and even more strangers, please don't blast your cultural music.  And if you're a tour guide, please don't let a rude family ruin everyone else's expensive train ride...

And now, the reason we're all here...  Pictures!
When leaving Denali Natl Park, the train travels along the Nenana River.  You can see the area where the train travels halfway up the bank on the right.

We stayed at the Westmark in Fairbanks.  There are two parts to the hotel; we were in the new part.  Nice looking room, but weird layout.  Let's just say that we had to move some furniture b/c the layout was wonky.

The next day we did one of the coolest things of the whole two weeks...

So, do you watch "Ice Road Truckers"?  You know the one, where they have semi truck drivers driving way up north during the winter, driving on winter roads and frozen bodies of water.

Yep, they're crazy.

But if you've seen it, you know what the Dalton Highway is.  The Haul Road.

We totally drove the Haul Road.  Awesome, I know.  We went to the Arctic Circle for the summer solstice.  Most rental vehicle companies won't let you take their vehicles off the highway.  We rented from Arctic Outfitters, and our s.u.v. had 2 full-size spare tires, big ol' mudflaps, and a C.B. radio!

We left Fairbanks around 2 pm.  We stopped at this place at Joy, AK and used the (ew!) outhouses.  I do not recommend it.  I can now say with all certainty that I will never willingly use an outhouse again.  I'd rather squat on the side of the road.

Jeff's dad always had a Milepost when they would travel in Alaska.  It's an annual book about road conditions and tells you, by the mile-marker, about the road, changes in grade, curves, pull offs, scenic views, dangerous areas, etc.  Jeff made sure we had one for our trip.  As the navigator, my job was to watch for mile-markers and let Jeff know what was coming.  I probably should have chilled out a little, but I was so darned scared that we'd end up in the ditch or something, I took my job very seriously.  And just FYI, even though it's called a highway, it's not like those of us from the Lower 48 would think of a highway.  It's mostly gravel.  Like a country road.  Not a fan.

The trip was well worth it.  It took about 6 hours to get from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle, not including the time we spent at the Yukon River Camp.  We stopped there for lunch and fuel.  It looks like a dump, but lets think about the weather up there most of the year and we can all understand why it looks run down.  I was so happy they had a real toilet that I didn't care how not-nice it was - at least it wasn't an outhouse.  The guy who waited on us on turned on the gas pump was really nice.  If you're headed to the Arctic Circle, stop at the Yukon River Camp.
Drunken Forrest
In the tundra the ground doesn't thaw evenly.  It can cause trees to tip to one side or the other.  They're just fine, and the next year they may end up upright or leaning to the other side, but they do look drunk.  Hence the name Drunken Forrest.  They're all over up in the North.
Alaskan Oil Pipeline
The Dalton was built in order to allow workers to service the Pipeline.  But you can't always see it.  In fact, sometimes it passes beneath the road.

worth it for the views

Jeff put his toes in the Yukon River, and so did I

bridge over the Yukon River

Across from the Yukon River Camp is a rest area.  You drive under the pipeline to get to it.  Beware mosquitoes.

Hmmm...  is the road wide enough for both of us?

Finger Mountain

12:01 AM at the Arctic Circle.  Notice the sun has not yet set.  Yes, it says 59 degrees, but that's not accurate.  We didn't have 3G access, so our temps were always wrong on our phones.  According to the Escape, it was 76 degrees out.  At midnight.  At the Arctic Circle.  Huh?
3:36 AM
We got back to Fairbanks around 4:30 AM and we slept in the Escape in the WalMart parking lot.  Closest to camping I ever want to get...

See the full itinerary here...

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We've since moved to Alaska!  Read about Our Alaska Life here...

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