Thursday, September 4, 2014

Finishing the AlCan

From British Columbia to Alaska, the Alaskan Highway aka the AlCan, was the answer to the Japanese threat during World War II.  Completed in 1942, it ensured the United States and Canada could defend their northern borders as well as provide support to their Russian allies.  Our journey to the end of the AlCan ended in Fairbanks.

On Tuesday we headed into Tok as soon as we closed up the Visitors Center.  We stayed at the Tetlin NWR Headquarters, which allowed us to easily dump our black an gray water tanks, fill our fresh water tank, do our laundry and reconnect briefly with the world.

We were on the road the next morning by 10:00 am and spotted two moose before we even got to Delta Junction.  The first was a cow with twin calves who ran along the highway while considering crossing until she saw us.  The cow turned and gently nudged one of the calves toward the woods and away from the road.  It was an obvious gesture that mommy knew best as she taught her young ones road safety.  They disappeared safely into the woods and we drove on.

The views of the Alaskan Range were wonderful and we began to talk about our future trip to Denali. We still needed to make reservations and see if we could get more consecutive days off to make the trip.

Just south of town is the Delta Junction Meat Market.  A clean  processing plant that packages local domestic protein including reindeer, pork, elk, yak, and beef.  We sampled and then stocked our freezer.

Back on the road, we followed the Alaskan pipeline across the bridge honoring the black army brigade that helped construct the highway.  It's amazing bridges stand for so many years.  What beautiful works of architectural art they are!  The pipeline follows many miles of the Richardson Highway and became our shadow between Delta Junction and Fairbanks as it ran beside the highway, through the woods and along mountain ledges.

We arrived in Delta Junction and located the original mile post signaling the end of the Alaskan Highway. There is also a final milepost in Fairbanks which we address below.  One of the intentions of the highway was to join up with the north to south running Richardson Highway.  We took our photo with the milepost and Joy got silly with the worlds largest mosquito.

Nearing Fairbanks, we noted two significant military bases.  Eielson Airforce base and Ft. Wainwright Army base.  As we drove past Eielson, we warned by signs to not stop, stand or photograph, as the highway paralleled the airport where we saw C-130's and F-16's parked.  Joy, of course, ignored the signs and got a great shot of an airwacs doing touch and go's.

After driving on the first divided "highway" we'd seen in months, we saw signs for the North Pole. Driving right past Santa's house, we decided to save our visit for the trip home.

We drove to the county park that we had intended to stay at but all sites with electricity were full.  The air was also full - of mosquitoes - so we drove down the road to Rivers Edge RV park.  Clean and busy, the park was clean although a little cramped.  At least they had cable and yes, we watched TV!

After getting hooked up and taking care of the pups, we went out looking for Mexican food (the last time we've done so in Alaska.)  We found a promising restaurant and even had a Hispanic waiter; but alas, the food was gringo style.  Sweetened tomato sauce instead of enchilada sauce and microwave quality food.  The chips and salsa were actually good so we ate our fill.

The next day we went to the visitors center and cultural center.  We watched a movie about the aurora borealis, walked the river path to other attractions, and actually ran into some tourists from Germany we'd met at the Visitor Center back in Tetlin.  Eventually, we found the final AlCan milepost signifying when the the AlCan was rebuilt to make the road available to car travel and Fairbanks became the final milepost. It was the first city in Alaska available for tourism via automobile.

With our sightseeing done, we headed out to conduct business.  Keila and Frances conducted theirs at PetCo.  Keila got her nails trimmed, Frances found an antler and both got their next month's supply of dog food. After Petco, we all headed to the dog park as it had been quite a while since the pups were allowed to run off leash.  At the park, we met a nice young woman and her typical Alaskan street dog, long legged with long pointy ears, playful and energetic.

After dropping the pups back at the RV, we headed to Fred Meyers, a cross between Wal-Mart and Costco.  The store was enormous, clean, well stocked, and provided  great customer service.  We bumped into some more people we'd met at the Visitor Center - this time a graduate student who was studying the aurora borealis and her older sister.  We laughed as this was the third time we'd run into visitors we'd met at the refuge in other parts of the state.

The next morning, on our way out of town, we conducted our last piece of business - getting the tires rotated on the Jeep and having someone look at a faulty valve extension on the RV. We found a tire shop large enough to work on the RV.  They were friendly and helpful and let the dogs hang out with us in the shop as they worked on the vehicles.  It was cold and rainy so we enjoyed all being together.

Within an hour, we back on the road and headed to the North Pole!  Growing up, Joy's neighbor, Pinky, and her family were from Alaska.  They moved to Minnesota after working on the pipeline.  Pinky often told Joy about meeting Santa Claus in North Pole but Joy never believed her - until now.  North Pole, Alaska is home to Santa's shop and post office where it is Christmas every day of the year.  The shop is full of not just decorations, but clothing, gifts, and fudge.  Joy lined up to sit on Santa's lap just like all the children - thankfully, she wasn't arrested.

We purchased our few items, including fudge, and got back on the road.  The stretch between Delta Junction and Tok provided several more moose to view and we now tell our visitors to look for them when we find out they're traveling that same stretch of road.

On our way home, about 10 miles from the visitor's center, we rounded a corner and found this juvenile black bear sitting smack dab in the middle of the road.  We came to a stop as he stood up, glared at us, and walked away.

We would hear several visitors report to us about seeing him as the summer went on but luckily, we don't think he got any closer to our campsite.  Juvenile black bears are unpredictable and certainly not the animal you want to confront.

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