We continued our push through the Yukon on Monday and, that evening, camped in a Walmart parking lot in Whitehorse, YT. (It was actually a dirt side-lot of some sort, as the main parking lot was stuffed full of other RVs. I’ve never seen so many people camping at a Walmart at once.)
The scenery was beginning to change again as we moved farther north on Tuesday:
The Alaska Highway is like any other road in some parts. But in many parts, it’s just a dirty, bumpy, gravel road. Amy steered us through the worst of it on Tuesday, a minefield of potholes stretching over 115 kilometers. Masterful job, Amy!
I gotta hand it to the Canadian road crews. They seem to be out in regular doses doing what they can to keep this lonely road usable:
When we made a short stop in Beaver Creek — the last little town in the Yukon — we saw just how dirty that last stretch of the Alaska Highway had been:
Early Tuesday evening, we had finally reached Alaska! It felt great to be back in the U-S-of-A and speaking in gallons and miles again (and with hope of good internet).
Our first Alaskan camping stop was in the town of Tok (rhymes with “joke”, appropriately). The towns around here are…different. Things have a noticeably raw, undeveloped feel to them.
On Wednesday, I did a little work in the RV while the girls visited a nearby shop that featured sled dog puppies. Apparently, traveling in extreme winter weather requires extreme cuteness. (More on sled dogs in a minute.)
By Wednesday evening we had reached the end of the Alaska Highway:
We continue to enjoy all of the wildlife that we see as we drive, like this moose feeding near the side of the road on our way to Fairbanks, AK, Wednesday evening:
Like many previous places on this trip, the mosquitos were pretty bad in Fairbanks:
We stayed in Fairbanks for two full days, allowing me to suckle the sweet nectar of Verizon 4G internet and catch up on some work. The girls took a side trip to the Large Animal Research Facility at the University of Alaska. These are muskox, an arctic bovine with a fine undercoat that is warmer and softer than wool. It’s known colloquially as “Alaskan cashmere.”
Friday was a big day for Emily. Some very kind pilots from Fairbanks that Amy recently met via Facebook had gifted a flight lesson to Emily at the nearby airport. Here she is getting some gear:
…taking part in the pre-flight inspection:
..readying for take-off:
..and then up and away:
She had a great time and learned a lot from her instructor. In fact, this was the first time she was able to taxi on her own. We celebrated with ice-cream:
We made it to Denali National Park on Saturday evening, early enough to take in a short hike:
We could only see the peak of Denali (known by some as Mt. McKinley) from afar that evening, so we were quite eager to see her full glory on our bus tour the next day.
We camped for free at an airstrip a few miles from Denali National Park. It was fun to see the little planes come and go all night, but here’s what’s notable about this photo: it’s after midnight. (It doesn’t get any darker than dusk this time of year; my internal sleep-clock is so messed up!)
Denali National Park is 6 million acres of raw wilderness and one unpaved road. As such, the only motorized way of seeing the park is by a bus system operated by the park. Here we are about to board:
As expected, we saw lots of wildlife. Plenty of caribou:
A few Dall sheep sightings from afar:
…and several Grizzlies:
..and out there, behind those low clouds stands Denali, the tallest point on the North American continent. We hear it’s beautiful.
It was hard not to be disappointed. The clouds parted a few times to reveal some great vistas later in the day, but Denali remained completely shrouded in cloud cover.
It was long day of bus traveling; most of us dozed off during the return trip:
Covering so much area via the convenience of a bus was great, but it also felt good to use our legs for a short hike at the end of the day.
We stopped at a local brewery on our way back to the RV. They had the bus used in the movie Into The Wild, the story of Chris McCandless. (If you’ve not heard of him, he basically tried to live alone, inexperienced and unprepared in the Alaskan wilderness. SPOILER: It ends badly.)
Double rainbow back at the air strip!
Before leaving Denali on Monday morning, Amy, Natalie, and I attended a sled dog demonstration (Carrie and Em opted to sleep in).
Sled dogs are used by the Denali park rangers in the winter months to patrol this huge park. This isn’t just to be kitschy; sled dogs are simply a better alternative to snowmobiles (think noise, pollution, companionship, protection, lack of mechanical difficulties, etc.)
These aren’t froo-froo purebred huskies, either; these are mutts bred to work. I’ve never seen anything like it — these dogs wanted to GO!
As is the case with every National Park ranger presentation, it was excellent.
I found this thing parked next to us in the Denali parking lot. Big family? No problemo; this sleeps 26!
We’re stopped in Wasilla for the night in what might be the best view I’ve had from a Walmart parking lot:
Tomorrow morning, it’s on to Anchorage…