Our Arctic Ocean excursion took 4 long days of intense driving (there’re no public spaces or sightseeing spots in Deadhorse other than the shuttle, so we didn’t spend a whole day there), and we needed a brief respite before our re-provisioning stop back in Fairbanks.
Outstanding items on Nick’s list included a drive on the Steese Highway and a hike there. The Steese is an older road north of Fairbanks originally build to connect the city to the Yukon River where goods were shipped in. After the construction of the Alaska Highway, the port on the Yukon was less busy, though it is still in use today. There are also some mining operations along the way. Recreationally, the Steese is a beautiful drive to and through the tallest of the White Mountains. Since the road begins between the end of the Dalton Highway and the city of Fairbanks, it was a perfect opportunity for us.
OK! Who wants to hear about our 1000-mile excursion out and back on a (mostly) great, (mostly) gravel road? It totally rocked!
The James W. Dalton Highway, originally known as the North Slope Haul Road and now also known as Alaska Route 11, is the northernmost road in all of North America. It is one of the most remote roads in the US. We did some research before deciding to drive it. Guide books, including the Dalton Highway Visitor Guide, all mention the challenges of the drive and warn about rough gravel, no shoulders, steep grades, trucks, flat tires, broken windshields, breakdowns (and waiting for days for a tow truck), lack of services, no cell coverage, and that you could die. The Wikipedia entry: ‘Anyone embarking on a journey on the Dalton is encouraged to bring survival gear.’ We checked in again with Ed and A-J who drove the highway last year: ‘Yeah, you’ll love it!’
We’ve known Nick for a pretty long time. He was 2 months old when we first visited Stump Sprouts, the World’s Greatest B&B, owned by his parents Lloyd and Suzanne in the Berkshires. Little did we know at the time, that visit would evolve into a same-time-next-year, Memorial Day get-together with a group of close friends for over 30 years. Through the years, we got to know Nick initially as a little guy hanging around, then a kid who could come on some of our shorter bike rides, then as a teen who’d kick our butts on our longer bike rides. Then, he was off to college. Although we saw less of him, Lloyd and Suzanne kept us updated. As a young adult ready to take on the world as a nordic ski coach and continue living his outdoor adventure lifestyle, Nick moved around a bit, settling in Fairbanks.
Denali is Athabascan for ‘The High One.’ That is an understatement. There is so much rich, fascinating history about Denali and its relationship with the history of Alaska, gold mining, environmentalism and national park development it’s hard to know where to start. So, I decided to start with an abbreviated, simplified history of the Park Road.
Doug: Holy cow! Look at that! Sue: OMG! So beautiful! D: We’ve been driving for an hour and already have a hundred photos. Too many? S: You’re right. Maybe we have enough for today. D: Oh, wow, look at that. Let me get a photo… S: You’re right. Pull over!
A bit more than two weeks after leaving Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, BC, we arrived in Delta Junction, AK, at Mile 1422 and the official end of the Alaska Highway. Unlike Dawson Creek, where RVs line up for pix of the start and much of the town’s activity is focused on this unique claim to fame, there’s not usually much of a line at the highway’s end in Dalton Junction. Many travelers split off once in Alaska at Tok, choosing one of three directions, so there are fewer and far more distributed tourists arriving in Delta Junction, though we did see another RV during short our visit. And of course we did take the required Mile 1422 marker photo!
We’ve crossed the border into the interior of Alaska! We left Haines, re-entered Canada, then came back into Alaska (see photo) southeast of Tok, where we’ve still got a short way to go to the end of the Alaska Highway, then we’ll be poking around up here for awhile.
We’ll keep posting updates when we can get onto the internet.
When people think of Alaska, a lot of us think first of the Interior – that huge landmass that includes Fairbanks and Denali, just south of the polar bears. There’s also southeastern Alaska, also called the Inland Waterway or the Inside Passage or the Alaska panhandle. It’s a bunch of beautiful islands and peninsulas, featuring rain forests in close proximity to glaciated mountains. Our friend Gail who previously lived in Haines loved it and recommended a visit.
Fascinating and beautiful it is, but travel in southeast Alaska is primarily via the Alaska Marine Highway (aka ferries), cruise boats, and airplanes. It’s tough to visit southeast Alaska driving an RV! There are but two roads, for a total of 246 paved miles. One connects Whitehorse (which we’d just departed en route to Haines Junction, YT) with Skagway, AK, 100 miles to the south. The other 146 miles make up the Haines Highway which connects Haines Junction, YT (where we just happened to be) with Haines AK.
We’ve been on the Alaska Highway for 10 days. Several times a day, we pause and note – ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’ or ‘Look at that!’ Soon after we left Whitehorse, we started to see what appeared to be snow-covered peaks on the horizon. ‘Whoa, what’s that?’ As we approached Haines Junction, we realized the Kluane Range was in our faces. Our jaws dropped. We had to stop!
Literally. Ok, there was a crossroads in town where you had to bear left, turn right, or crash into the mountains that were in your face. According to the staff at the visitor center, these towering peaks were the foothills to the Kluane Mountains, among which are the 15 tallest peaks in Canada, #1 being Mount Logan at 5,959 m (19,551 feet). And although the Kluane National Park is ginormous, the only day hiking trails are right near Haines Junction. So we had to stop!
Along the Alaska Highway between Liard River, BC and Whitehorse, YT there are two small towns, a few service stops, and (as the highway crosses back and forth across the border) Welcome to British Columbia! and Welcome to Yukon! signs abound- making it no doubt the friendliest, least inhabited space we’ve ever visited. The Highway more or less follows the 60th parallel, crossing between BC and YT six times before definitively crossing into Yukon just south of Whitehorse.
We entered Yukon for the first time at Contact Creek. As with many major transportation projects – the Canadian Pacific Railroad, Transcontinental Railroad in the US, the Channel Tunnel – work crews on the Alaska Highway started at both ends and worked toward each other, connecting in September 1942 at a place known ever since as Contact Creek.