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Dalton Highway

AlaskaPosted by Malin Sun, June 27, 2010 19:58:04

To “start” our road trip we wanted to see the Arctic Ocean and travel from the northernmost point on the American continent to the southernmost point, and that meant driving north on the Dalton Highway. Dalton Highway or the Haul Road as it was called until the beginning of the 80’s, was completed in 1974. The road was built to get supplies and workers up the newly discovered oil field in Prudhoe Bay and to build the 800-mile long Trans-Alaska Pipeline that would transport the oil to the ice free harbor in Valdez. Before we started the drive we had heard about the bad road conditions, and again we think the road is not as bad as we had imagined it. Sometimes we had to stop for road work, or slow down when we meet other cars and trucks. The dirt on the road is the worst, especially after driving on the stretches of the road where they mix calcium chloride with water which is sprayed on the road for dust abatement. Plenty of time in a car wash has to be included in the budget if you plan to drive up the Dalton Highway.

The drive up the Dalton Highway is beautiful and the landscape really changes from hills with boreal forest to the Brooks Range Mountains to tundra and to coastal plains up around Deadhorse. Guess we were lucky with the weather that gave us some amazing views and it was just the right time for the flowers that turns the tundra white and purple.

Another purple flower called “fireweed” grows where there recently has been a forest fire. Information from the visitor centers along the road explains that the forest in Alaska depends on fire to regenerate and maintain its health, and most of them are started by lightning. There are about 200 wildland fires in Alaska every year.

When we finally got close to Deadhorse, we saw caribou’s on the tundra, and muskoxen were grazing along the Sagavanirtok River. It was a bit chilly when we prepared our camp in 0 degrees Celsius and raindrops in the air, and pretty strong wind was blowing in from the Arctic Ocean. Not completely inexperienced with cold weather being from Norway, we pulled out our big sleeping bags for the night, and the only thing waking us up every now and then was the tent making noise in the wind gusts. Should probably have a talk with ARB about how to make tents for bad weather…

For normal people and tourists like us the road ends in Deadhorse witch is the industrial camp supporting the Prudhoe Bay oilfield. Our only way to access the Arctic Ocean is to go on an authorized 1 ½ hour tour that takes us the last 13 km to the ocean and cost 45 USD per person. It is really not worth the money, but it is the only way to get up to the ocean. The tour was taking us to the BP sites and we guessed it was their new method to make some extra bucks these days… J

Looking around at all the equipment and machinery in Deadhorse we understood why the road is called the Haul Road. Everything up there has to be hauled up the road or shipped during the short summer. On our drive we meet a few really oversized trucks and some places support car stopped us on turnouts next to the road. The most extreme was one truck pulling something really oversized, and there were four trucks behind the trailer helping to push the load up hills. We meet them about 150 km south of Deadhorse and it had taken them 5 days!!! to get there from Fairbanks (about 650 km). I total we used four days up and down the road.

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Manley Hot Springs

AlaskaPosted by Malin Sat, June 26, 2010 22:55:05

Espen and I were invited to come to Manley Hot Springs and to stay with Demaris and Art on our way up north in Alaska. So we did, and we had some amazing days meeting interesting people and see a bit of the Alaskan way of life. Manley Hot Springs, like many other places in Alaska, came into life supporting mining and the people involved in it. Today the community consists of about 60 people living there year round. Art and Demaris have cabins, http://www.alaskawilderness.net/index.html further out in the Alaskan wilderness were guests can come to stay for fishing, canoeing, hiking, and to do whatever they dream of doing in the Alaskan Wilderness. Guests come to stay for a few nights, a few weeks, or even for a year. There are no roads to the cabins, so Art, who is a pilot, will fly the guests out to the different cabins. When we got to Manley Hot Springs Art was flying up supplies to the cabins, and their first guests would arrive in July.

Manley Roadhouse

Manley Hot Springs got is name after Manley who built a hotel at the Hot Springs in 1906. The hotel burnt down in 1911 and today the hot springs is privately owned and there is a greenhouse on the site heated by the hot springs. Public is allowed into the greenhouse and the hot springs for a fee of $ 5 per person, but then you also have the greenhouse all to yourself. We had heard about the hot springs, but the surroundings took us by surprise. Who expect to be surrounded by tropical flowers and ripe grapes at 65 degrees north?

One day we visited Joe and Pam Redington at their Iditarod Kennel http://www.joeredington.com/ I have never seen so many dogs in one place my whole life, and we were told that that this was less than half of the amount of dogs they had at one point.

I cannot even imagine how much work it is to look after and train so many dogs. From a cooks perspective it was a huge pot of food that had to be boiled with fish, chicken and rice to make a “lovely” stew to feed the dogs.

Espen got a ride with one dog team when they were out in the morning for a run.

Espen meet his name brother Espen who lived in Manley, and Espen also happened to come from Norway… And it must be for that reason that Manley Hot Springs is the first place in America where everybody manages to pronounce and remember Espen’s name on the first try. He invited us for a boat ride down the Tanana River, and for us that has seen Alaska 98% of the time from the road, it was great to get out and see the nature from the river. Along the river we also saw two moose cows, but still no grizzly bear - where are they hiding?

On our last day in Manley Art took us out on a flight over to the Yukon River. I had never been in a smaller plane than a Twin Otter before, and for both Espen and me it was the first flight ever with floats. It was an amazing flight and beautiful views from the plane. It was incredible to fly over the Yukon River and to see how big this river is, and it has definitely changed since we last saw it in Whitehorse in Canada. Art was bringing mail and a few other things to friends that stayed along the river in their fish camps.

They had been in their camps for a little while preparing and waiting for the King Salmon to come up the river, and from reports further down the river they were expecting them one of the next days. Nets or fish wheels are what they use to fish the salmon. When the fish is caught then the work start to conserve it, and the fish camps that we visited all made smoked salmon strips that they would later sell.

Salmons with lower quality meat were dried and used for dog food. The beginning of August is the end of the season and the fish campers move back to their homes.

Thanks to Demaris and Art and all the people we meet in and around Manley that made it to an incredible experience for us.

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Stampede Trail

AlaskaPosted by Espen Sat, June 26, 2010 10:56:56

Every now and then you just feel like turning off the highway to poke around for a while, and not really look for something in particular. We heard about the Stampede Trail on our way north, and since we have read and seen the movie “Into The Wild” we just couldn’t resist the chance of checking out the trail leading in to “the bus”. We didn’t know what to expect as all visitors information centers always describe Alaska’s gravel roads as extremely dangerous and tell you to bring AT LEAST two spare tires (and comments as we leave; “It is much better to take the bus” (?!?!?) ). So, what to expect of a “bad” road is not always obvious. However, this was a bad road…

The first part, we found out in Glitter Gulch, is regularly toured with guided Jeep Tours, and not too bad, even if there is large puddles turning into mud holes in rainy weather. These tours go in about 19-20 kilometers and the guide company has a camp there with some facilities and food for the guests. Just beyond the Jeep Camp is a big mud hole and a some small rivers/riverbeds, but it didn’t look too bad, so we decided to go on a little further.

Crossed some smaller streams and the trail got more and more narrow as we drove on.

After about four kilometers further in we decided to turn around. Some of the places we crossed could potentially get very muddy if we got rain, and that was what the weather forecast had promised us for the evening and the next few days. Camping out here would probably be both fun and interesting, but we had not planned and prepared properly for it, so the choice was easy. With two cars, a “dry” weather forecast, and a few days of food and water, it could be a nice little project to see just how far in it is possible to get. Maybe next time…

On our way out we was told by the guy running the Jeep Camp, that after another kilometer or so from where we turned around the trail would become so wet it would be impossible to pass. And a little further in were big rivers with no bridges… Hmm. Maybe a winter trip with 38”?

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Denali Highway

AlaskaPosted by Espen Sat, June 26, 2010 07:02:15

Has been a little while since the last update. Sorry about that, and don’t jump to any conclusion of us being lazy… Alaska is a big state, and it is a loooong way between the internet access points! After McCarthy we drove the Denali Highway over to the Denali Park, then to Fairbanks, north towards the beginning of the James Dalton Highway, and had a detour into Manley Hotsprings that turned out not to be a detour at all. More about that later.

From the gravel road going back from McCarty, we got onto Highway 4 from Valdez, and drove north. We had a quick stop in Glennallen to fill up with fuel and food, and also got some Chicken Cashew and noodle dishes from a purple Thai food trailer next to the gas station. Delicious! If you see this trailer in or around Tok – go for it! Here we also bumped into some guys from Anchorage driving heavily modified Toyota Landcruisers. Turned out that they had been out scouting for a Landcruiser event in Tok the following weekend. Looked really muddy… We’ll see if we can coordinate driving through Tok this weekend. Would be fun to have a closer look.

So! From Glennallen we headed north to the start of Denali Highway. It is a gravel road going west over the mountains from Paxon, and it ends up just a few kilometers south of the entrance to the Denali National Park. This is a beautiful mountain pass, and on clear days it is possible to see the Mount McKinley/Mount Denali (highest peak in North America) from parts of the road. That didn’t work out for us, though, but the landscape is breathtaking. When we crossed over it was still early in the season, and there were not too many other travellers on the road. This also meant that most of the turnouts were empty, and we camped on the most scenic of them all.

The evening was spent watching a couple of beavers doing their beaver-things in the small lake just next to our camp, accompanied with a couple of very good Alaska Ale. We also noticed a lot of moose dumps around the camp spot, but no encounters with big animals so far. The only wildlife bugging us (besides the bugs...) was a ground squirrel a little too interested in our breakfast the next morning.

Closer to the west end of the road is a nice little gravel road going up into the mountains a little bit further north. This is a state road with public access, but mostly used by miners. It was an interesting drive, and we tried to shoot some video of the trip. If we can figure out our video editing software, there will be some posts with video clips on our page shortly.

Spent the night in the “city” at the entrance of Denali Park (Denali Rainbow Village), by locals often referred to as Glitter Gulch, as it is mostly souvenir shops there. We also saw some rafting companies, motels, and RV parks. Noisy place, and the water tasted funny… Continued north from here the next morning, and decided to check out the Stampede Trail before heading up to Fairbanks for more supplies.

More soon!

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McCarthy & Kennecott

AlaskaPosted by Malin Sun, June 13, 2010 23:29:50

The last few days we’ve had a great time driving down the McCarthy Road, built on the old railway, 99 years after the first train. McCarthy and Kennecott came into existence when copper was found there in 1900, but they needed a way to get it out, and a 196 miles railroad was built from Cordova on the coast to the mine at Kennecott. Kennecott mine and McCarthy was abandoned in 1938 when price on copper fell and there was no profit in the mining any longer. The railway was made into a road in the 1960’s.

Today we are able to drive the 60 mile road from Chitina almost to McCarthy even if we were warned that the road was no good, and that old railway spikes will surface every now and then and ruin our tires. Truth is, the road was not bad at all, maybe because we are so used to Norwegian road standards…

The drive in was beautiful!

On our way we stopped along the Chitina River as we saw some strange constructions on the river bed. It turned out to be locals fishing with something called fishing wheels. These are powered by the current in the river, and scoops out fish swimming upstream. We’ll try to post a video of this thing. This was quite an ingenious piece of fishing gear that would take care of the fishing for you, while you are off to other activities.

McCarthy cannot be reach by car. The city (55 residents) is just on the other side of a big glacier river, and the bridge is only wide enough for ATVs. We had heard that it could be possible to drive cross the river if the water level was low, but it wasn’t really. We would not risk drowning the car if we didn’t have to. After a short hike we found our self on the main street of McCarthy.

Some of the buildings were rebuilt, and ran tourist related business; flightseeing, hotel, restaurant, and guide services. The next day we hitched a ride up to Kennecott, the mining city five miles up the hill.

Here we walked along the old mining facilities

and took a zillion pics, before hiking the old carriage road back to McCarthy, and across the bridge to the camp, the Patrol and a dinner before driving back to Chitina.

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