Tok, North Pole, Fairbanks, and the Brooks Range to Anaktuvuk Pass

Visited June 18 – 28, 2017 

What a double thrill it was to cross the border back into the USA–to be in Alaska AND have good cell service again! 😉  The Tundra RV Park in Tok was our first stop for a few days of “civilization” after several in the middle of beautiful nowhere.  Tundra RV Park is very much like a state park with lots of trees which we loved.  We used our days to walk, get caught up on email and chores, and explore a couple different directions via car. We also made some more new friends, Larry and Cheryl, who’ve been full-timing for several years and had great tips and stories!  Plus, they are big readers and Larry has an extensive library of electronic books that he generously made available to my Kindle.  In an hour and a half, he transferred over 500 books, how cool is that?!  I’m reading Michener’s Alaska which is fascinating but sooo lonnng.  You think it’s long in hardcover? On my Kindle it’s over 20,000 pages! Larry and Cheryl were heading south while we are heading north, but we will keep connected and see if we can cross paths again.  Their home base park is in southern California, so maybe we’ll see them there in a few months. 🙂

The first few hundred miles from the border were not what I envisioned for Alaska, but still beautiful.  I was expecting mountains and glacial blue water, but this part is densely forested on both sides of the highway with tall spruce, birch and aspen, so tall that you can’t see beyond.  But the mountains come into view wherever there’s a clearing and they take up the horizon in all directions!  The water is silty here but we’ll see the glacial blue further ahead. 🙂  I also expected to continue seeing wildlife along the highway, but didn’t…bummer, but we know they are further ahead as well!  By the way, you know how wildlife viewing is supposed to be best at dusk and dawn?  Well, here, that means 12:30 A and 3:45 AM!  This is the Land of the Midnight Sun, after all.  We have adjusted well to sleeping because we have good blackout shades!

North Pole is as kitschy as you’d expect, but quaint.  The streetlight poles are candy canes and most of the buildings and businesses are adorned with Christmas decorations all year.  You can visit Santa and reindeer at his village but we opted for a drive-by instead. 🙂

From our homebase in Riverview RV Park we made several trips to Fairbanks just 10 miles away.  We celebrated our one-year-on-the-road anniversary with a fantastic meal at the historic Pump House restaurant overlooking the Chena River.  Tom had bacon-wrapped elk meatloaf and I had a seared Alaskan salmon filet wrapped around artichoke and spinach; oh my, they were equally delicious!

Our friends, Sharon and Roque, rejoined us for a few days which was great!  We all got much needed provisioning and errands done in the big city.  I really miss my Publix grocery stores, but was pleased to find a new and well-stocked Walmart where the prices on most of what we usually buy were exactly the same as in Florida!  That was a big, good surprise.  Also, gas is under $3 again which is great compared to well over $3 in Canada (exchange rate).

We really enjoyed the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in downtown Fairbanks, arriving just in time for a First Nation native dance performance. One dance was invitational and they picked Tom who enjoyed the cultural experience. We had a picnic on the lawn outside along the Chena River and found a live webcam (check out the antler arch!) on the building that we could tell our kids to watch us on, which they did!  They were in Florida watching us wave to them from Alaska, incredible!

The Museum of the North at the University of Alaska is another super museum full of art, artifacts, and wildlife specimens that capture the past, present and future of the Alaskan native cultures as well as the explorers of this state, also known as the Last Frontier.  There is a window wall for viewing the Alaska Range, including Mt. Denali which was in full view the day we were there (a rarity)!

We took a morning drive on the paved Elliott Highway north from Fairbanks.  The Elliott leads to the Dalton Highway, an isolated 400 mile gravel road built to supply the Trans-Alaska Pipeline from the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay.  Driving the Dalton is an extreme adventure that wasn’t for us!  But the drive on the Elliott was beautiful, green and rolling.  We had great views of the pipeline along the way, including one spot where it is right next to the highway with educational exhibits.  In Fox, we stopped at the famous Hilltop Truck Stop to buy pie to go with our picnic lunch.  One slice is huge, a quarter of a whole pie!  We chose triple berry and it was fabulous!  It was too early or we would have stopped at the nearby Silver Gulch Brewery, too. 😉  Halfway up the Elliott we stopped at a trail head parking lot so Tom could make a conference call!  We were literally in the middle of nowhere but good cell service…this is why we stick with Verizon!

The absolute highlight of our week, however, was our bush plane trip from Fairbanks over the Arctic Circle and the Brooks Range (actually through them!) to the village of Anaktuvuk Pass, settled by the Nunamiut Eskimos.  Six of us including pilot boarded a Piper twin prop plane for the three hour roundtrip flight that delivers mail and freight to outlying villages with no road access.  We had good weather and were able to fly under most clouds, over others, and sometimes right through them.  Tom’s seat was a couple seats behind me and he experienced more bumpiness than I did right behind the pilot.  I thought the flight was great, and I’m not a fan of flying.  We covered over 250 miles, flying low enough to see the terrain, lakes and rivers but not any animals.  In the mountains we flew right through the pass, with the snow-veined peaks of the Brooks Range at our eye level.  That was spectacular!

We made a turn and saw the village (population just over 300) in the valley below.  The weather was mild, in the 50s, and no snow.  We had only a few minutes on the ground, just long enough to snap a few pics and walk a block to the only grocery/convenience store.  We spoke briefly with the two employees and bought a regular size bag of chips for $6.05!  All the prices were very high which was not at all surprising.  Back in the air, our pilot took a different route back to Fairbanks, at a higher altitude.

The flight was awesome and the destination was surely once-in-a-lifetime for us.  In hindsight, we should have spent a little extra money to have more time on the ground to explore the village.  But the memories we made that afternoon were extraordinary!

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