Before leaving Fairbanks we stopped back in at the Morris Thompson Visitor Center to look at the displays and post the prior blog. We’ve seen Tipsy trees everywhere we’ve been travelling so I included info on them here. Also everywhere around Alaska you will find these drive through Espresso booths so the local people must really be into their coffee!
Our next stop was the Chena Hot Springs but we had to survive some quite bad frost heave on the first 21 miles of the road and then we also had some torrential rain downpours as we got further up the road. This area had some quite bad fires and some of the parking lots for the trailheads were still closed. Once we got a campsite at Chena we bought tickets for the 5 pm Ice House tour and the guide said he would give us a private tour of the Greenhouse and Geothermal areas at 6 pm since they had cancelled the 4 pm tour. In the Ice House they have many ice carvings and there are actually two full time ice carvers on staff who make the ice glasses for the Appletini’s and practice carving projects for competition. If you want to sleep in the Ice House they have a few rooms where for $600/night you can stay in the cold. In the greenhouse they have these cool lettuce growing towers that works on hydroponics. They grow a lot of the vegetables used in the resort restaurant. Of course the hot springs are used for the therapeutic pool (which we went in after dinner) but they are also used by the geothermal plant to generate the electricity for the resort. All around the grounds they have historic vehicles since apparently the owner is a bit eccentric and a collector.
On our way out of Chena we decided to stop at Granite Tors SP for the night. We did an exploratory hike on the Granite Tors trail and were trying to decide if we would do the full 15-mile hike the next day to see the large granite rocks on the top of the mountain but decided that was too far for a day hike up and down the mountain. I BBQed steaks for dinner and while we were eating a red squirrel decided he wanted to see if I’d left him any morsels😉 In our evening walk we got to see the beavers busy at work on the pond by the campground. Did you know that a beaver can close the back of his throat so he can chew things underwater without swallowing water.
As we returned to the Richardson Highway we of course had to make a stop at Northpole Alaska to look through the gift shop and meet Santa😉
Further down the highway we stopped to see the Knotty Shop. We’ve seen lots of places in the northwest that use knots in trees to make art work but this place really had some amazing pieces. We didn’t buy any though as they are a little big to bring in the RV.
As we carried on there were viewpoints where you could see glimpses of the snow-covered peaks in the Alaskan Range. After we crossed the Tanana river bridge, they had a good viewing area for the trans Alaska Pipeline. This was a monumental engineering feat to build this 800 mile pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez where the oil could be shipped for refining (we saw the oil being shipped when in Valdez). They didn’t want the warm oil going through the pipeline to thaw out the permafrost and liquify the soil making the soil unstable (like what happened under the roads) so they built the pipeline above the ground and even installed support pipes beside it to dissipate the heat upwards. At this location it had to be suspended above the Tanana river as the currents were too strong to put it under the water. The pipeline flow has dramatically dropped so they are trying to study why, since the supply in Prudhoe Bay is still so extensive.
Like the travellers in the early 1900s it was time for us to stop at a roadhouse. In those days you’d stop for a meal and a nights stay. Our meal was an ice cream sundae and even though we could have camped we moved onto another location. Rika’s Roadhouse was originally built in 1906 but Rika (a good Swedish woman) worked there from 1917, bought the place in 1923 and ran it another 20 years. Rika grew vegetables and raised animals to feed the travellers, so she was well known for her meals. They had roadhouses every 10 to 30 miles (depending on the terrain) along the trails used by the settlers and prospectors coming to the area. Rika’s Roadhouse is now in Big Delta State Historical Park.
We ended the day at Clearwater SP having a Denali Spruce Gin cocktail in our ice martini glasses from Chena. Which will last longer, the bottle of gin or the glasses? By the river you could really see why they called this park Clearwater.
The next morning it was onto Delta Junction for our end of the Alaska Highway picture and a stop at another roadhouse. The Sullivan Roadhouse was famous for being one of the more decorated/fancy roadhouses. When we got back on the highway the moose were active along the roadside. We made a short stop at Dot Lake to see the Trumpeter Swans. These swans are very territorial, you will only find one pair/water body and they return to the same spot each year. If another pair tries to come into the territory they are scared off, probably the 7 foot wingspan helps. We also looked at the small community church in Dot Lake. We were very surprised how little traffic there was on this section of the Alaska Highway in comparison to the other areas we had been. We stopped in the Tok River SP for the night as we had to finish up some fruit and some wine before crossing the border back into Canada.
We stopped at a few viewpoints before getting to the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. They had some interesting displays and even quoted David Suzuki. The refuge was established as a major migration path for the Trumpeter Swans. The road in this area had lots of frost heaving. It’s said to be one of the most difficult areas to build a road in due to the permafrost. You could see the impact the permafrost had on the hydro polls as a lot were falling over. At the border crossing into Canada the guy was very thorough and must have asked us every question in his list, except if we had any fruit, so I guess we didn’t have to eat all the apples as we approached the border😉. They did have one younger guy pulled over and were searching his vehicle. It’s a lonely border crossing, I think they search vehicles so they have something to do. We are now back in the Yukon so it was time to dust off our Yukon passports and stop into the Beaver Creek visitor centre for a stamp and lots of helpful tips from the lady there. She told us the area had been impacted by fires this season. At one of the Yukon Campgrounds the trees all around the campground were burnt but the campground itself was saved. We drove in for a look but moved on as it was still early in the day. We ended the day at Lake Creek Campground where we had roasted Reindeer Polish Sausage for dinner over the fire. We had a very pretty campsite right beside the river.
The adventure will continue through the Yukon and we plan to drop back into Alaska to go to Haines and Skagway.