Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Monday, February 12, 2018: Fairbanks, AK

A light snow began falling early this morning and the temperature was in the 20’s (as warm as in Iowa!) but we were not hurry getting around.  After breakfast we stopped by the business of our previous host Bob.  Bob & Jean have gone to Korea for the Olympics, but their daughter is an engineer for the business. She showed Cal what Bob showed me last week. The Artic Septic systems are their bread and butter of the business – right now they are designing one for Denali National Park hotels.  But to keep their innovative engineering spirit alive, they are moving ahead with designing and building this indestructible plastic boat with an inboard motor.  After much testing – running the boats on rivers with debris, in all kinds of weather (they do a run each month of the year when the rivers are open) - they have their first special order. A boat for 4 people and 1 ATV.  These boats are wonderful, but due to the expense, it will keep them in a niche market. You can buy 2 metal boats for the price of one these, however this boat will go anywhere. They have begun advertising in Outdoor Magazines. Cal enjoyed our time at the shop.

I also wanted Cal to see the museum section of the Morris Thompson Visitor Center. The YQ 1000 Starting Line was behind the museum, however on starting day, we only went inside the Visitors Center to warm up!!       

We were near the Red Couch cafĂ© where we shared a lunch of fish & chips, before stopping by the Wilbur Brother’s sheet metal shop. This is the family business of our host Jean, and the oldest business in Fairbanks. Jean’s grandfather came to Alaska with sheet metal skills, and Jean’s brother is now the owner.  However, no one was there.  The door was open, so we went inside.  The walls are hanging full of old antique tools and items used in Alaska (not very organized) – it is a shop!!  Someday a pioneer museum will love getting these items!

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a Fur shop.  They have not only furs, but a large section of quilting fabrics. I am not into piecing quilts, but if I were, this would have been the shop to spend money!   In the fur section, they had all kinds of furs for sale – even skunk!  This company trap themselves, flying into remote lakes and sites, but they also buy furs from hunters and trappers out in the bush. They even fly into the bush to pick up furs from trappers who live there.  When Cal was in Eagle he chatted with a trapper who has caught 7 wolves this winter.  The wolf population is growing, so conservation thru trapping and hunting is important.  We admired the coloration of the skins and felt the weight/thickness of them – We had seen mushers with Beaver mittens, and after feeling them today, I understand why they have them for the elements.  It was an interesting shop.

We were going to fill the car with gas this afternoon, as we are going to return the car to the airport. However, as we entered the gas station an attendant met us, saying the electricity was off!!  No pumping any gas! The electricity was off at the hotel too. We walked the steps to our 3rd floor room, with only emergency lights in the stairwell.  The electronic room keys are on an emergency system. This was a perfect time for an afternoon nap!  No TV to watch the Olympics! Electricity was off for over an hour.  Finally, we could watch the Olympics again!

By the time we returned the car, it was snowing again.  We have ordered the shuttle for 4:30 am!! Our flight leaves Fairbanks at 6:03am. We will be leaving in the dark!  We are to arrive in Cedar Rapids at 11:00pm! Cal’s brother Wilbur will be there with our vehicle.         

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sunday, Feb 11, 2018: Glennallen, to Fairbanks, AK
Finding a place for breakfast this morning was a challenge.  We had thought we would return to the IGA deli, however when we left the hotel, the grocery store was not yet open on a Sunday morning, so the gas station was the only option.  We bought the bare minimum, and it was not great!  We discussed our options as to whether we go directly north to Delta Junction where we eventually want to be or first go south to Valdez, before turning around and going north.  The weather had us confused.  In the end, we drove north.  It was 2 hours before we found a Roadhouse along Meier Lake for breakfast.  Today the clouds kept shifting, at times it appeared to be clearing, and at time the sun was on mountains, but then again it could be cloudy. The exciting part of today was that we saw 11 moose.  We are still looking for caribou!


Towns are NOT close to each other in Alaska.  It is a long drive between places. The road conditions today were usually good, but at times, the surface was totally snow covered.  In fact, in one area, there was almost no snow on the ground, but at other places there was at least 2 feet of snow.  We finally made it to Delta Junction! At Delta, we continued driving the Richardson Highway to Fairbanks.  About 20 miles east of North Pole is the Knotty Shop.  We had been told about this shop, so we stopped to look around – all the Alaska Souvenirs you would want!   It was around 4:00pm when we arrived at the LaQuinta Inn by the airport.  We will be here for two nights. Fairbanks continues to be a winter wonderland, due to the freezing rain before the snow several weeks ago. 
Tomorrow we will do things in Fairbanks, some of them will be things I did while Cal was in Eagle, but not everything.
Alaska in winter is lovely.  We are so glad we came.  It is great the weather did not hinder us from being able to drive around the State.  We are thrilled the weather was clear when we were near Denali, so we could finally see it – third time was the charm! HOWEVER, I have absolutely no desire to live in the bush, where everything you do in the spring, summer and fall is preparing to survive the cold and snow. Those who can afford to, close-up their Alaskan home, going south for the winter. Those who stay here, embrace the winter, enjoying the outdoor activities.  We have been told you need to be outside in the white snow to help fight the depression of the darkness.  February is an invigorating month, as the days are getting longer.   

Saturday, February 10, 2018: Anchorage to Glennallen, Alaska

Breakfast found us at a local restaurant, South Restaurant, located on the south side of Anchorage.  Joining us were two of Cal’s former students, a gal and her brother from Mt Pleasant.  We have not seen them since they graduated from high school.  The gal came to Alaska soon after high school to work as a dog handler at kennels who raced dogs.  We did not realize her brother was here in Alaska, but we had a wonderful visit, catching up on their lives. 

It was approximately 11:00 until we were ready to hit the road. Due to the cloudy weather we decided to drive east to Glennallen on the Glenn Highway, and hopefully get away from the weather system that has moved into Anchorage area. 

On our way northeast to Palmer, we drove on the Old Glenn Highway – the back way.  It was a curvy road, and right now the drive was beautiful.  Since it is located along the Knik River, the trees were covered with hoar frost (frozen fog). We were so glad we exited the main road. In Palmer we returned to the Glen Highway. The clouds were just above the mountains, so the mountains were clear, but the sun was not shinning - it was a black and white world.  About half way to Glennallen the sky did clear, and the sun was on the mountains. Soon after leaving Palmer, there was hardly any snow on the ground – not enough for snow machines. As we reached higher elevations the snow began to accumulate to the point of at least 2 ½ ft. 
Ice Fishing

Matanuska Glacier

Left: Mt Sanford, Right: Mt Drum

The sun shone beautifully on Mount Drum, Mount Sanford & Mount Wrangell in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park as we approached Glennallen.  These mountains were straight ahead of us on the road.  On this drive we kept our eyes open for moose.  Finally, we saw one! 

It was approximately 3:00 when we reached Glennallen. At this point, a decision had to be made as to which way we go.  We decided to stay here in Glennallen overnight, but before the sun set at 5:30, we would drive south on the Richardson Highway for at least 45 minutes, then turn around to return to Glennallen for the night. The sunset on the Mountains were simply beautiful.  We also took the back road into the wintertime ghost village of Copper Center.  We enjoyed this drive and saw 2 more moose at dusk. 

Glennallen is in the middle of nowhere!! Thankfully a hotel is here (we had called ahead and made a reservation), but no restaurants are open, so we went to the IGA deli for items to take to our room for dinner.  

Sunset on Mt Drum

Friday, February 9, 2018: Cantwell to Anchorage, Alaska

When we left the Backwoods Lodge, we drove eastward on the Denali Highway approximately .07 miles, to a point where there is a magnificent view of Denali.  Denali was showing-off in the morning sun. BUT before we reached that point, on the road ahead of us was a Moose, then we saw a second one in the ditch!  As we slowly approached them, they of course ran into the bush, but as we passed by, we saw a 3rd one, a young moose in the bush.  After many photos of Denali in the morning sun, we returned to the Parks highway, continuing south. 

Denali from Cantwell AK

Wow, did we have beautiful views of Denali as we drove south.  Denali is on the west side of the highway, so the morning sun was on it for a long time.  Plus, it was so clear today.  This was our third try to see Denali.  In 1999 we saw the peak approximately 5 minutes, and September 2017 it was raining in this whole area, so finally on a clear cold winter day! 
Denali Range


We continue south, stopping at Trappers Creek for gas and a bite to eat before continuing.  This afternoon I reconnected with a former student of Cal’s who lives in Anchorage.  We are going to meet her for breakfast. 

As the sun was going down this evening, we drove along the Turnagain Arm, south of Anchorage.  We were hoping for a beautiful sunset, but clouds are moving into the area tonight.  Today was such a brilliantly clear day, but we are losing it tonight.  We do not know what the weather will be tomorrow.

We are staying at a Hyatt House hotel tonight and will be meeting our friend for breakfast.  As to what we do tomorrow, we are not completely sure.