North to Alaska: Destination Denali

Four weeks of vacation to Yukon and Alaska

Leaving the small community of Beaver Creek, Yukon, we were once again on the Alaska Highway, and very soon found ourselves at the highway’s entrance into Alaska at Port Alcan.  We’d finally made it to the border of ‘the last frontier’ state – and just that much closer to Denali National Park.

The border guard checked our passports, looked at the dogs health certificates, and had a good chat with us about his own dog.  Seems like wherever you go in the world, if you travel with pets you will always strike up a conversation with others that have companion animals.

The highway from the border to Tok, Alaska, follows along the edge of the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, which has a scenic backdrop of huge mountains and snow covered peaks.  We had a sunny day and the temperature was about 22° degrees Celsius as we travelled along.  Thank goodness the highway was in better repair here than what we had experienced from Haines Junction; but there were still a few unexpected pot holes, and quite a bit of road work and dusty gravel patches in the construction zones.

Construction zones can cause some excitement in our pickup truck; our two dogs ride in the back seat, and one of them, Brandy, relishes the opportunity to pop up out of nowhere with a gigantic bark to see how high the flagmen can jump as we pass by!

Her claim to fame is when she pulled this same stunt a few years ago as we drove past an Alberta field where a cowboy was lazily walking his horse along with several dudes riding along behind while he sipped on a can of coke.   Just as we passed by (a distance of about 50 feet) there was a sudden eruption from nowhere from a black hairy monster barking out the window.  The cowboy’s horrified horse immediately went into two warp speed  360° degree spins that defied gravity and definitely woke up the cowboy!  Fortunately though he managed to stay aboard, although it wasn’t a pretty picture.  He did however manage to keep his hat on, and when we looked in the rear view mirror he still had his can of coke.  Needless to say we thought it best not to stop to apologize; but those dudes sure looked to be mightily impressed by the unexpected display of trick riding.

As we travelled along to Tok it was interesting to see the telephone poles along the road that had fallen into disrepair, they leaned every which way; and we guessed that the muskeg or permafrost  they were set in probably had a lot to do with this.  New poles and wires had been placed and the old ones just abandoned where they sat – seemed kind of sad to see them so forlornly fighting both time and gravity.

On arrival in Tok we stopped early at the Tok RV Village for the night, and then played tourist for the rest of the afternoon.

‘Tok’ means water in the Athabascan language; and the city has a population of about 1,400.  It is the trading centre for many Athabascan Native Villages; and it is also a tourist destination as it is here that travellers can continue north/west on the Alaskan Highway, or they can take the historic Taylor Highway (which is just down the road from Tok) at Teslin Junction.  The Taylor  leads to Eagle, or tourists can turn off to the challenging Top of the World Highway which will take them to Dawson City, Yukon; from there they can turn north on Dempster Highway and travel on gravel to Inuvik, North West Territories.

Tok has just about anything a traveller will need, and it boasts a very informative Visitors Centre where you can find oodles of brochures, maps, and traveller assistance.

Next morning we travelled the final stretch of the Alaska Highway to its true end in Delta Junction.  We took photos at the final milepost and even enjoyed a farmers market that offered numerous fresh veggies, eggs, baking, and crafts.  This area is the largest agricultural centre in the state, and has a weather that permits framers to successfully grow grains, vegetables, raise dairy herds, yak, reindeer, and bison.  I would never have imagined a grain field in the heart of Alaska!

Delta Junction is a fairly large city, and has a permanent maintenance station for the Alaska pipeline.  There is also a lot of gold mining in the area, with an underground mine called the Pogo Mine that has an annual production of 350,000 to 450,000 ounces over the 10 year life of the project.  Just imagine how much those shareholders are making with the price of gold as it is today!

From Delta Junction we took the Richardson Highway which ends in Fairbanks.  The highway is in good repair, and steadily improves the closer we get to Fairbanks.

Alaska is an area famous for the birds that migrate here from all over the world each year.  Although we were not travelling at peak migration times we did see numerous trumpeter swans, and quite a few sandhill cranes.  The sandhill sightings made me wonder if any of the birds we saw were some of the same ones I have photographed in the past on Rainer’s corn fields in Darfield?

The highway into Fairbanks increases from two lanes to four the closer you get.  This is the hub of Alaska’s Interior and Arctic, and the city offers first class accommodations, restaurants, museums, concerts, entertainment, Native culture, and is of course the gateway to the Alaskan wilderness.

Fairbanks is Alaska’s second largest city with a population of 30,000, and an area population it serves at just under 100,000.  That’s pretty huge for bordering on wilderness.

We planned to stay a few days here so we could enjoy all of the sights, sounds, and history; so I pulled out our trusty camper travel guide and found an RV Park for us to settle into.  Then I called the Park, booked a spot, and received directions.

As we negotiated the route to the RV Park, found the right exit off the highway, and took the turn, imagine our surprise when we read a sign that said “Welcome to the North Pole”!

Watch for the next installment of North To Alaska: Destination Denali in an upcoming issue of the Star/Journal.