Friday, May 21, 2010

Glacier Calving, Whittier, AK

I'm in Whittier, southeast of Anchorage at the gateway to the Kenai peninsula. Whittier isn't much of a town, known mostly for being a good deep-water port for cargo, cruise ships and ferries. It is also near some pretty spectacular glaciers, and local operators do a pretty good business taking folks out to see them. Sometimes you get lucky.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Parks Highway Mini Road-Trip

My good friend Greg flew into Fairbanks to join me for a five-day mini road trip down to Anchorage. We chose the Parks Highway route -- down the "west-corridor" -- primarily because it runs past Denali park and Greg was hoping to get a look at the great mountain.

Our first stop was a famous roadside attraction, an old sofa with a bunch of stuffed animals on it. Although I've driven the Parks Hwy many times during my winters in Alaska, I've never seen this oddity before -- because it's always been either dark, a blizzard or covered in snow -- so I'm glad to be able to check it off my "life list."

We also made a stop at a very typical Alaska bar/saloon/tavern/eatery. Greg got a kick out of how corny it was, and a big laugh from the fact that I've become so accustomed to the way things are around here that I didn't even notice. I got him back by making him stand in the middle of the room while I took his picture, without telling him that he'd grown antlers. Yeah, dumb and childish, I know... But still funny.

It was pretty overcast when we got to Denali park, and the mountain was hardly visible. Greg said, "Take my picture anyway!" A few minutes later, the clouds parted for just a bit and I was also able to grab a shot in which you can kinda see it. Denali truly lives up to its name as "the great one."

Our next stop was the metropolis of Talkeetna, which Greg had read so much about as the major support center for Denali climbing expeditions, air support, etc. He sat on a bench in front of the general story and said, "I want to sit here a while and take it all in!" He hopped up about thirty seconds later. "Okay, I've got it. Let's go." We spent the night in a nearby campground and passed a "bush airport" the next morning. Greg is certain his flying buddies won't believe that's a runway.

We next stopped in Willow, where Greg declared that he really likes truck camping... So long as somebody else does all the driving and work. Good old Greg! He asked me to show him where the Iditarod starts, and had a hard time believing that a hundred vehicles and a thousand dogs were gathered on the lake behind him when it was frozen solid only two months ago.

We had a great time together, as always, and I'm happy to add Alaska to the long list of places that Greg and I have traveled together!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Retreat To Fairbanks!

The weather turned decidedly nasty as I was leaving Circle City, so I beat a hasty retreat to Fairbanks... Non-stop! I've checked back in to the Express, where all my friends were sad to hear my travels were cut short but happy to see me again so soon.

I'm going to stay here this week to get Darth his check-up and service, plus a bunch of other who knows what. I'm sure there must be something in Fairbanks that I haven't seen or done yet.

My good friend Greg is due here next week, for a week of what I am sure will be our usual antics. The only "plan" we have is based on the fact that he is flying in to Fairbanks and out of Anchorage. So, we'll obviously be heading down one of the two highways -- Parks or Ridhardson -- that connect the two cities.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Circle City AK

Fortunately, the ice on the Yukon River near Circle City did not break-up while I was there. The more I heard about the flooding that usually accompanies break-up, the less I liked the sound of it. So, I took the advice of the local experts and got out of there first thing in the morning.

I shot a little bit of video to give you a feeling for the place. The Yukon is so immense -- even as far upstream as Circle City -- that it's very impressive and a bit intimidating, especially when you're worried about it marooning you in Circle City!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Steese Highway -- Circle City

I've often said that most people who visit Alaska don't really get to see the real Alaska. They usually sail through beautiful SE Alaska on a cruise ship, arrive in charming Seward, take the train to Anchorage, then continue up through majestic Denali to Fairbanks and fly home. Along that pathway, Alaska is indeed beautiful, charming, majestic and well developed. Throughout much of the rest of the state... Well, not so much.

I mean no disrespect, of course, but let's be honest. Most of the remote villages are pretty basic affairs, with only as much development and "spiffing up" as they really need. It costs so much to transport anything out to them that you spend all your money on necessities, not on appearances. Okay?

With that said, I offer you a glimpse of Circle City, at the end of the Steese Highway and on the banks of the mighty Yukon River.

It's altogether possible that the guys in that last photo are pretty much always hanging out by the river, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it's because I arrived in Circle City on a very special day. As you can see, the river behind them still has quite a bit of ice on it, and the spring break-up of the ice on the Yukon is a really big deal. It marks the moment when the river becomes navigable again for supplies, fishing, tourists, etc.

There was quite a bit of hub-bub when I arrived, because the locals have a huge betting pool on when, exactly, break-up will occur. From many years of observation and experience, those in the know were predicting that tonight might just be the night! Shortly after I arrived, what seemed like the whole town had gathered at the river's edge with hopes of witnessing the big event.

As you might imagine, I was quite keen to be there and join in the festivities. Until, that is, I was told by a very helpful native that if break up occurred while I was there, I would probably be marooned there for a few weeks! Apparently, break-up does such a fine job of releasing pent up water in the river that it floods much of the surrounding area, including large nearby stretches of the Steese Highway which is the only way out of here.

My new best friend suggested I park my rig on the highest ground in town, sleep with one ear open for the sounds of break-up and get out in a hurry if it happens. I intend to heed his advice on all counts and, even if break-up does not occur tonight, I plan to haul ass out of here in the morning. There's only so much time I can spend in remote Alaskan villages, and "a few weeks" isn't it!

Steese Highway -- Day 3

Back down at lower altitude, the road suddenly became a lot more... um... interesting. For one thing, I crossed a number of bridges which are -- thankfully -- better than they appear. I also had to pass over many stretches of dirt road that were pretty stinkin' soft due to surface-only thawing. (The ground not far below is still frozen and doesn't drain!)

At one point, I got out of my truck and took a good, long look at what I was about to drive over... or perhaps through is a better word. After all we've been through together, I have total confidence in my "Road Rig"... But sometimes you just want to make sure you're not asking too much from the laws of physics!

The "crossing" was a bit dicey but successful. I actually faced some worse spots further along, but didn't even bother to check them out. Go Darth!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Steese Highway -- Day 2

I headed up and over the pass today. As you can see, the road at altitude is not quite clear yet. The road has switched from pavement to gravel, but it's pretty solid and good to drive on.

On a roadside bulletin board I found a good example of Alaska humor -- and spelling -- that I thought I'd share with you:

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Steese Highway -- Day 1

After two more days of freezing rain in Fairbanks, I finally hit the road on the Steese Highway this morning. As advertised, it was a nice, easy drive on a well paved road. As you can see -- on these images from my "DashCam" -- it is barely spring up here. The roads are clear and dry, but so are the trees!

I'd asked around before leaving Fairbanks and everyone told me that I must stop at a particular campground, that it is by far the best and most popular in the area. I found it with no problem and pulled in, also finding that it was completely empty. Not another soul was there! I had the entire campground to myself, so I picked the best spot and settled in for the night.

I guess it really is very early in the season if nobody else is out camping yet!