Our fifth wheel and the truck

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stunning Seward and the Amazing Matanuska Glacier Hike.

Farewell to Homer as our next destination is Seward situated on Resurrection Bay and an RV park right on the Bay.

What a sensational spot!! Snow capped mountains behind us and the bay right in front of us yep more snow capped mountains on the other side of the bay. We arrived and set up and then took a walk around town to take photos of the murals. Like the painted Talkeetna moose and the Leadville bison, Seward has its own attraction, with about 15 murals painted on the buildings around the town. Some of them were beautiful while others were a bit suspect.

The next morning we walked up to the Ocean Centre and were so impressed. This is a rescue centre for marine animals as well as having beautiful aquariums and an aviary for the ocean birds.

From there we headed home for a quick lunch and then walked up to the harbour where we were taking a wildlife and glacier cruise around the Bay. We had an awesome time and although we ran out of time to see any of the many glaciers we did see lots of wildlife including lots of seals, sea otters, eagles and a humpback whale. Well the whale was really just quite a few glimpses as it came up and went down but we can still say we saw it!

The next day was also brilliant as we went hiking up to Exit Glacier. It is very sad to see the difference in the location of the end of the glacier 100 years ago and where it is now. It is actually retreating quite a bit each year - I can’t remember the exact number but it is scary to think that these magnificent places may not be around in the future.

We had packed a picnic lunch and found a wonderful overlook and enjoyed the most amazing view as we sat and ate.

The afternoon was spent doing mundane tasks like shopping, banking and catching up with emails. And no the emails weren’t boring!!! Thank you one and all for keeping in touch..

I must tell you that the evenings at Seward were just the most serene, peaceful times. Each night we had a campfire on the beach and sat around chatting. The first night we were joined by Mel and Dee (Melodee is how we were told we could remember their names!) who were in the space next to Jim and Jan, the next night we were joined by Rick and Karen who had just arrived in Seward that day and the third night Gerry and Phyllis (next to us) came down to the fire. It was so amazing and the wildlife was brilliant. The first night we saw an eagle come down and pinch a fish skeleton from a flock of gulls just in front of us. The last night we saw a seal, porpoises and a sea otter! Just sitting by the bay and having a beautiful time.

And when I get home I am going to by an ‘Air Popper’! On the last night Jim and Norm went for a walk to find out where we needed to go to empty the tanks so Jan decided that popcorn was the order of the day. And she has this Air Popper and you put ½ cup of corn into it, turn it on and within minutes you have popcorn. Drizzle a little butter and sprinkle on some salt and you are ready to go. Of course when the guys came back they bogged in like starving seagulls!!!!

Jan and I would have been quite happy to spend some more time in Seward however as I keep saying if you stay longer in one place to enjoy something you will run out of time down the road and miss out on something else. Catch 22!

Our next stop was Palmer just for a night then on again and where Nancy and Steve arrived to join us again.

The next leg of our trip was to Matanuska State Recreation Park and along the road we stopped at a Musk Ox farm where they are domesticating Musk Ox. The qivuit (the fur/hair that they remove from the Musk Ox) is soooo valuable! They make scarves and beanies that sell for about US$250 each!! They make one blanket a year that is raffled off and the value of the blanket is about US$10,000. Beautifully soft and warm but who could afford it? Oh yes, our guide told us about a female Iditarod driver who had her whole outfit made from qivuit!!

Arriving at Matanuska we gulped down a quick lunch and all piled into Steve’s car for a quick drive down to the staging point for our glacier trek. This was a mind boggling experience!! Jake, our guide rigged us up with boots, crampons and helmets and drove us down into the park. Jake is from Minnesota and is a uni student doing a degree in snow and avalanche science up here in Alaska .

Like so many of the young people who take on summer jobs in the parks, he was very knowledgeable and seem to enjoy sharing their knowledge and experience with others. A question I often ask is why we don’t hear more about these young people and less about the ones who do the wrong things. Our society is lucky to have so many wonderful young people. Off my soapbox again!!

The trek on the glacier was magnificent! Jake even tapped into the ice and found a stream which we were able to drink from - it was the most amazingly cold, fresh and tasteless water I have ever had. Norm even filled up his water bottle.

Jake showed us part of the glacier that had fallen overnight and explained that just prior to it falling, people were actually walking under this giant overhanging ice. It is possible to go out on the glacier without any sort of guide, protection or knowledge. And we did see some people out there doing pretty stupid things like going really close to a 40ft drop which they couldn’t see. Jake told us of one young guy who slipped and ended up about 2 inches from the edge the that drop. Lucky lad!

Another wonderful day was capped off with a great campfire and s’mores! They could become quite addictive I think.

A short day the next day as we drove to Glennallen. This is just an overnighter on our way down to Valdez. Nothing much to see in Glennallen so it seems like a good place to end this post.

To all our family and friends we send our love and hugs. Special thoughts of our son, Bryce as he wings his way from Australia to Northern Kentucky University for a year. As I write this, in the car on the way to Valdez, he is getting close to Melbourne where he will board a flight for Los Angeles, then another one for New York.

Stay safe and healthy everyone and Ooroo.

PS He arrived safely although a few hours late.

PPS Photos following in a couple of days.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

So much to do and so little time!!!!!

Where do I start?? It has been over a week since we left Denali and we have just done so much and been to so many fantastic places!

From Denali we moved down to Trapper Creek for two nights and spent a lovely day in Talkeetna. This is a lovely little historic town and we visited on a Saturday so it was really buzzing with the open markets and shops and lots of tourists (not always a good thing except of course if you live there!).

One of the cute painted moose scattered all over Talkeetna.

We watched a movie about one of the bush pilots from Talkeetna. Don Sheldon was not from Alaska but made his home in Talkeetna and made some absolutely mind blowing rescues of climbers off Mt Denali. In places where, by rights, no one in their right mind would land a plane let alone try to take off!

After we left Trapper Creek we drove down to Anchorage and spent some time there. We had a quiet day wandering around downtown Anchorage, saw a movie about how Jimmy Carter changed so much of Alaska to National Parks, gave so much to the Native Americans and made much of it into public lands. There were some very unhappy people around when he did it but it seems that many have come around now - probably because of the finance that is injected into the state with tourist money. We also saw another movie about the earthquake of 1964. Wow!! the devastation and loss of life and property was amazing. It is the strongest earthquake registered on the North American continent.

The next day Jim, Jan, Norm and I took a long drive down to Girdwood and took the gondola up to the top of Alyeska Mountain which was just the most stunning scenery especially with the tide out in Cook Inlet. When the tide comes in to the Inlet it can come in, in a six foot wave! Most of the inlet is covered with very fine silt when the tide is out and you don’t want to walk on it. Apparently it is like quicksand!!!

Jim and Norm being themselves up on Alyeska!!!!

Continuing down the peninsula we then went to Whittier through a 2.5 mile long, single lane tunnel!!! The traffic traveling east uses the tunnel at half past the hour for 15 minutes and the west bound traffic goes through on the hour for 15 minutes. This allows the trains to use the tunnel for half an hour out of every hour. So as you drive through not only are you worried about the rock walls right next to your truck but you also have to try to keep the truck off the rail lines. Interesting to say the least. Needless to say we didn’t have the rv on the back of the truck!!

This is the entrance to the tunnel.

The weather on one side of the tunnel was a bit overcast but not too bad but when we got through the tunnel the mountains had created a totally different weather on the Whittier side. Cold, wet and foggy!!! And we were going on a cruise to see glaciers!!!!!

One of the waterfalls we saw on our glacier cruise.  The water is that colour because of the glaciers that empty into Prince William Sound.

But…. Norm and I had decided a long time ago that we weren’t going to let a bit of rain spoil what we did so we all piled on the catamaran and took off for four hours in the freezing cold. Our table was by the window so we had a good view of a rain spattered window so unless we went outside we couldn’t get any decent photos. It was so cold outside that eventually I went and bought a pair of gloves just so my fingers wouldn’t be frozen.

Jan and I spent most of our time outside on the deck of the boat and got some wonderful photos of waterfalls, harbour seals, sea otters, glaciers and small icebergs. The blokes spent most of the time inside in the warm! We saw six glaciers and got quite close to some of them. Interesting that four of them are named after colleges in Wisconsin - Marquette, Beloit and two more I can’t remember off the top of my head.


Amazing glaciers in Prince William Sound, Whittier.

A harbour seal on an ice float just off the glaciers.

Amazing light on Cook Sound.

We just loved the cruise and even saw bald eagles although we couldn’t get as up close and personal as I would like - next time maybe!!!

Kenai was our next stop and Jan had booked us into a cute little rv park with only 12 spaces but it was so nice. Really neat and tidy with flower pots on the picnic tables.

Our first night there we took a drive down to Ninilchik where Steve and Nancy were staying with other family members and had dinner with them. Well! Let me tell you - there isn’t much that can beat the taste of fresh (caught that day) halibut cooked by Ed. It was absolutely delicious and is now one of my favourite fish. And then after dinner witting around Steve’s campfire swapping fish stories. What a wonderful evening. Thank you guys.

On the way home from dinner this moose was standing on the side of the road.

Next day we went to the visitors’ centre and watched a movie then took a walking tour around the town which was a bit disappointing except for the Russian Orthodox Church. the cemetery and the ‘dip net’ fishermen/women/kids!

Dip net fishing is where you have a huge net attached to a large round piece of aluminium on a long aluminium pole. The fisher-people then put on waders and wade into the freezing water and just push the net out as far as they can and wait for it to wiggle a bit. Then they flip it so the salmon can’t get out, drag it to the shore, bang the salmon on the head with a mallet to kill it, clip the tail (legal requirement) and then gut and clean it then and there on the shore. Alaskans are allowed to catch 25 salmon for the head of the household and then 10 fish for each other member of the family. So with three kids a family can catch 55 salmon - probably a year’s supply of salmon dinners!

All those blobs in the water are people up to their armpits in the freezing water waiting to catch salmon with their dip nets.

A bald eagle on a nest.

Since our arrival in Anchorage we have been impressed by the absence of the mosquitoes. Mind you, I have a new name for them now - moosquitoes - because some of them are nearly as big as a moose!!!!!

Our next destination after Kenai was Homer where we stayed for two nights. On our arrival we set up then took a walk down into the town and then a drive out onto the spit which is four miles long and is a real tourist destination. There are rv parks all along it with a hotel right out on the end. Shops everywhere and every second shop just about was a fishing charter business.

After a great deal of thought, and not wanting to miss out on something I had been soooo looking forward to, I decided to go on one of the fishing charters. I really wanted to, especially after having eaten it the other night, so, I booked to go on a half day trip. The limit was two halibut per person and I had to buy an Alaskan fishing license for just one day. Having had no experience with halibut fishing I was a bit anxious about whether or not I would catch anything but made sure that I had plenty of room in the freezer - just in case!!! Wishful thinking or doubtful hoping!!!!

So, the next day, after making sure I was suitably attired, Norm, Jim and Jan took me down to the charter place on the spit. We sorted out my license and got myself aboard the M/V Jackpot. We took a 1.5 hour boat ride out to the fishing site. Lucky for us it wasn’t rough and not much swell so no one got sick on the way out. Arriving at the ‘spot’ we were all given a talk on how things would work. Our lines were already baited with a large, very heavy, lead sinker on it so here I go! Drop the line over the side of the boat and watch it unreel, and unreel and unreel and unreel. No one said we were in 250ft deep water!!!! Easy peasy letting it out but let me tell you - winding that line in with a 10-15lb halibut on the end is HARD work!!!!! And how do I know that you may ask???? Well I caught my two and they were amongst the biggest on the boat so I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself.

Yours truly with her two halibut!!  Woo Hoo!!

Once everyone has their halibut and we start back towards the spit the guys on the boat fillet all the fish and put it in bags for each fisher-person. The seagulls are obviously very familiar with the process because there were so many behind the boat waiting for the carcasses that were being tossed over as we went along.

Back on dry land and met by the gang we went to a restaurant and guess what we all had for dinner - yep halibut!!!! Then it was back to the rv to cut up the fish and put it into the freezer ready for our first home cooked halibut dinner!!!! Can’t wait!!!!

While I was out fishing the others had gone for a hike and Norm and Jan had ended up wetter than I had out on the water!! They had both stepped in a bog out on their hike. Also, they found all the moosquitoes that we had been missing - lucky me! no moosquitoes out on the water!!!

This morning we are on the move again - this time down to Seward so until next time - take care one and all. Love to family and friends.

Ooroo for now!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Farewell Fairbanks - Dazzling, Dynamic Denali

G’day all and a warm welcome back. Grab a cup of tea or coffee, sit back and get comfortable as this is going to be a long post. I should have finished Fairbanks in the last post as I could write pages and pages on Denali National Park. Be prepared!!!

Picking up where I left off in Fairbanks after our awesome day to the Arctic Circle we had two more wonderful days before we were due to leave for Denali.

We took a really interesting trip down the Tanana River on the riverboat Discovery. The trip was really different with a float plane landing and taking off on the river beside us. The boat and the pilot were rigged up with microphones so we were able to listen to him explaining the type of plane and how the planes were used in Alaska. I was really amazed at the short distance it takes these guys to get off the water.

We also visited a replica Athabascan village where we were escorted by three extremely knowledgeable, young Athabascan ladies. All three were college students who were working at the village to share their culture and some of their heritage.

One of our guides in a traditional fur coat - it was stunning.

Susan Butcher came to Alaska as a young woman and went on to prove that yes, women can do anything.

I am sure you have all heard of the Iditerod race. This is a sled dog race between Fairbanks and Dawson City and is held in extremely harsh conditions. Susan Butcher trained her own dogs and went on to win the race four times with a lead dog named Granite. Granite became extremely ill after the third (I think) race they won. Against all advice she nursed the dog back to health and they went on to win another race. Susan Butcher died in 2006 at the age of 52.

We got to watch her husband work a dog sled team and I have never seen dogs get so excited. The dogs were just sitting in a line but as soon as the lead dog was attached to the harness the rest of them obviously knew this was the signal for a run and began barking and jumping at the leads and once attached and given the command to go they took off like rockets. They are so well coordinated - they were pulling a large quad bike and were amazing. The surprising thing is that there are no reins to the dogs, they are controlled only through verbal commands.

While in Fairbanks we also visited the Pioneer Park which consists of a whole lot of log cabins that have been relocated to the park and many are now occupied by cute little retail outlets.

The low light of Fairbanks was a visit to Big Daddy's BBQ  restaurant. It was advertised as the most northern, southern barbecue place! What a disaster!!! If this place is any indication of what a barbecue place is, I will not be in a hurry to visit another.

Apart from the dry bread that you take out of the plastic bag with your hands (who knows where the person before you has had their hands!!!!), Norm got a 1/4 chicken (after ordering a ½) and sent it back to then to be given a ½ chicken that was red and bloody inside (this went back to the kitchen too!!), Rick was given an order of beans (he ordered brisket). Instead of being charged $20 for his meal, Jim was credited with $79 dollars on his credit card and then no one in the restaurant knew how to reverse it and he had to speak to the manager at her home in order to sort it out. What a shamoozle! I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone going to this place even if you were starving!

Not to worry the next morning we were hitching up again and moving down near Denali National Park. We stayed a night at Healy and went to a great dinner and show in the town of Denali. It was a brilliant dinner (made up for the night before!) with all you could eat ribs and salmon and vegetables. So scrumptious!

The show was a historical musical sort of. Fannie Quigley and her husband Joe were miners in the Kantishna area and the show was based around them and the reasons why people came to Alaska. It was really interesting and very enjoyable and I could definitely recommend it to anyone coming up that way!

Fannie and Joe Quigley - we learned later that he actually left her and went off to Seattle and she lived on in a cabin in  Kantishna and eventually died there.

Early the next morning we got ourselves organized and drove the 10 miles down the road to the National Park. This would have to have been one of the most outstanding places we have ever visited. But we are lucky enough to now be in the ‘30%’ club! The story is that only 30% of the visitors to Denali actually get to see Mt McKinley.

Because of its height 20320ft and location the mountain creates its own weather and is more often than not shrouded in cloud so many visitors actually never get to see it. We did!!!!

We were boon docking 29 miles into the park at Teklanika campground. The first 15 miles is paved but with lots of potholes and repairs while the next 14 miles is a dirt road or should I say MUD!!

When we arrived and picked our spot, Norm and I spent about ¾ hour trying to remove some of the mud from the truck and rv. I couldn’t even get into the rv until I had removed heaps of mud from the steps. In places, it was up to two inches thick!!! Yuck, it is going to take us a long time to get it off the bottom of both vehicles. Minor hiccup in a wonderful couple of days though.

The first afternoon I took a walk down to and out onto the Teklanika River flats. It is glacier fed and so the water is very silty and grey. The river bed is extremely wide as the river changes course often and of course the wind, coming off the snow and glaciers was just a tad cold.

Gorgeous wild flowers everywhere.

Each night we were in the park the rangers gave a presentation in the little amphitheatre which was really interesting especially the one on how to behave if you come upon a bear. Not sure I could stand there and wave my arms in the air and talk to a bear!

The next day we were booked on a bus ride that took us half way into the park to the 92 mile peg. There are no roads past this point. What a wonderful day! We only had to go 126 miles but it took 10 hours with stops for the visitors’ centre, toilet breaks and the most important - photo stops.

The bus ride into the park was our first sighting of Mt McKinley, woo hoo!! However it wasn’t to be our only sighting as we were fortunate enough to see it again the next day and then again as we were leaving the park.

Our first glimpse of Denali - The High One.

On our bus trip we saw twelve - that is right 12 - grizzly bears. Our first sighting was the best as we came upon a mama bear with twins that were very close to the road. We saw more grizzlies the next day along with caribou, dall sheep, a golden eagle and moose. And while we didn’t see any wolves I did manage to get a beautiful photo of a wolf paw print in the mud in the river bed. The paw print was pointing north so I wanted to go south!!!!

Our first grizzly sighting of a mama with her twins.

To say the views are spectacular is an understantement. Mt McKinley dominates the park but is not the only mountain. The rivers beds are very wide but water only flows along channels that are constantly changing. The tundra is gorgeous which we found out the next day when we took a hike.

We caught the bus at 9.00am for the two hour drive to our hike at Stony Hill which was classified as moderate (it only climbs up to 1000ft!!!!). Strenuous is when the hike climbs over 1000ft. It was an interesting climb as we headed up the ridge to the top of Stony Hill and I mean the ridge! There was a sheer drop to the right of us and a sheer drop to the left of us with a very stiff wind blowing and nothing to stop us if we fell. The sides of the ridge were covered in loose rocks with no trees strubs or undergrowth of any sort!

Our guide Jennifer decided that she would take the group a slightly different way and not go right to the top of the hill however Matt (another hiker) and Jim did go right to the top while the rest of us started to make a slow descent down the scree and on to the tundra.

Before I forget I must tell you that while on the hike there was a young couple from Narrogin/Williams. She is a teacher on exchange in Canada and he is a cocky from Williams. Lovely couple and so strange hearing other Australian accents!

I have to comment on the rangers in the park. They are amazing - their knowledge of all things in the park is truly brilliant. Our guide Jen knew just about every flower that we found on the tundra - and there were so many it was amazing. She knew all the animal tracks and was able to point out all the interesting points about the landscape. She was from Florida and this was her first year in Denali. She was telling us that the selection and training process for the ranger positions is very rigorous. Thank you Jen, you were brilliant.

Some of our hikers reach the top!!

Our hike only covered 3½ miles but took us 5 hours. Combine that with the four hour bus ride there and back and the campfire and s’mores that night it was a long day. But I wouldn’t have changed any of it and slept like a log!

Another glimpse of Denali.

Alas, our time in Denali was over and we hitched up the rigs and headed out. Strange thing had happened while we were there - no rain and as a consequence the roads had dried out and now the car and rv were covered in dust!!! No pleasing some people!!

And would you believe as we left the park we got our best view of the mountain!

We did a quick visit to the visitors’ centre and unhitched the rv’s so we could go into Denali for fuel. We arrived back at the park and were hitching up again when I saw a truck and Airstream pass us on the road. I thought that it looked very similar to Steve and Nancy’s rig and blow me down it was! They had arrived back in Fairbanks the night before and had driven to Denali to have a quick look around. Funny how things happen. If we hadn’t stopped for fuel, t-shirts and photos of the Denali sign, we would have missed them. They will be going fishing with family over the next couple of weeks but we look forward to them joining up with us again down the road.

Denali has been a highlight of a trip filled with highlights. I am so glad we are able to do the things we do. We are truly blessed.

Our love and hugs to all our family and friends and until my next post I wish you all health and happiness. Stay safe!  Till next time.


PS Only just over a week and our youngest son, Bryce, arrives to spend a year at Northern Kentucky University. We won’t see him till later in the year but it will be nice to have him just a tad closer!





Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle!

G’day all.

I left my last blog as we were headed down the road to Tok with the legendary pancakes, but I will have to take everyone else’s word that they are wonderful as I didn’t make it. Norm did try the reindeer sausages but they were too spicy for him - he suffered for the rest of the day. I don’t think he will be in a hurry to have them again!

We went to the fudge place in Tok - if you take your toursaver book you get 1/4lb of free fudge. BUT… I love fudge so we walked out with 1¾ lbs of four different fudges! Our free 1/4lb + a lb that we bought (some chocolate fudge for Norm and some peanut butter fudge for me) and then if you bought a lb you got another ½ pound free!!! I am in heaven!!! And they were all soooo good.

Leaving Tok we drove to Delta Junction for two nights with the intention of taking a day side trip down to Paxson to visit a glaciated area. And the best laid plans of mice and men!! If this life teaches you one thing it is to be very flexible although having been a teacher for so many years I was already pretty good at that. The weather was appalling and it would have been a very long drive to Paxson so we decided to postpone it till we are in Glenallen and then we can come at it from a different direction - which won’t be as far anyway.

We visited the Visitor Centre in Delta Junction to receive our certificates for surviving the Alaska Highway as this is the official end of the highway. 

Jim, Jan, Norm and I went for a hike which was absolutely brilliant. We went to Lost Lake and hiked around to Moose Pond and yes!! we did see a moose. In fact we saw one moose and then a bit later we saw a mama moose and her baby.

This would have to be the worst place we have visited so far for mosquitoes! Seriously, as soon as you stopped and lifted your hands to take a photo at least a dozen giant ones would sit down to a meal. I guess it would be one way to lose weight! Just joking!! So apart from the pesky big mosquitoes it was a lovely walk and the scenery was just gorgeous.

We also got our first view of the Alaska Pipeline. This pipeline is an amazing feat of engineering and while I don’t want to get bogged down in facts and figures - here are a few -the pipeline was 799 miles long when completed but as the hot (160F) oil flowed down it for the first time it expanded to 800 miles. It goes from Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic Circle south to Valdez. .It was built to cope with 2,000,000 gallons or barrels a day but is now handling about 500,00. Originally it had a life expectancy of 20 years but is now 35. It was designed a mile at a time to take into account all the environmental factors. It is above ground in places where the permafrost is just below ground and below ground where there is no permafrost. Where there is permafrost, the support structures have a system that draws the heat out of the ground (from the sun and the heat from the pipeline) to ensure that the permafrost doesn’t thaw. The pipeline doesn’t run in a straight line but actually has zigzags and u-shaped bends in it to allow for expansion and contraction. Obviously the pump stations have to pump the oil through the pipeline but the number five pump station actually has to slow the oil down. Number four pumps it up a mountain and of course gravity plays its part on the downward journey so the oil is flowing too fast which then has to be slowed. Very interesting!!!

After leaving Delta Junction we set out for Fairbanks where we stayed for four days. There was so much to see and do in Fairbanks but as usual we didn’t get it all done. Sometimes just the boring everyday stuff gets in the way and sometimes you just need to stop and take some time out and recharge the batteries.

Did you know that just out of Fairbanks there is a town called North Pole. Yep and it is all about Christmas. We didn’t get a chance to visit but we did drive through it on the way to Fairbanks. We would have stopped however the roads are not very RV friendly - three roundabouts quite close together!

Okay so in Fairbanks we took a hike, a boat ride, visited the Pioneer Park, did some of the boring stuff and of course we took a day trip to the Arctic Circle!!!

First of all - the Arctic Circle!!! I really wanted to do this trip and having the generous hubby that I have of course he said yes so a 4.00am alarm woke us for a quick breakfast so we could be ready for our 4.30 pick up. The plan was to drive up to a town (?) called Coldfoot and then fly back to Fairbanks in the afternoon.

Our guide on the drive up, Emma, was sensational and was so knowledgeable about all the things that we wanted to know. It was Emma who provided much of the information about the pipeline and its structure and construction. One more interesting thing about the pipeline. When the oil companies finish with the pipeline, everything, and I mean everything has to be taken out of Alaska and the environment returned to its previous state. This means that every nut and bolt, whether above ground or below has to be hauled out - a very significant clause in an agreement drawn up in the 1960’s.

Anyway, thanks to Emma’s knowledge I am now able to determine the presence of permafrost from the type and size of the trees, I know that permafrost is only about 7% water and can be just below ground level or way down and can vary in its depth.

One of the highlights of the trip was a big black bear that we came upon in the middle of the road. Emma came to a stop and we were all madly taking photos as he moved across the road and into the ditch. As he climbed the bank on the side of the road he kept stopping to look over his shoulder at us. When he got to the tree line he looked over his shoulder again and disappeared into the undergrowth. Just as we were about to take off he stuck his nose out again and then made his way along the top of the bank and then down to the back of the truck. According to Emma he was standing behind the vehicle and had probably been fed by humans in the past and knew where to go to get a meal - or he could smell the food in the truck - 11 people!!! Anyway eventually he made his way back into the scrub but did leave a very discernible paw print on the muddy bumper.

We arrived at the Arctic Circle and with due pomp and ceremony, Emma laid out the red carpet with the white dotted line. She made sure that she aligned the dotted line with the actually line of the Circle and then we all very ceremoniously stepped across it into the Circle with a warm welcome and handshake from Emma. Such fun and many laughs as people performed for the cameras.

The good part is, that when we eventually take our cruise down to the Antarctic we will be able to brag that we have been to both Circles!!!

Given that, with the stops that we made along the way, we were driving for about six hours from Fairbanks to Coldfoot it was a very short one hour flight back. Unfortunately we couldn’t see much on the way back as it was very cloudy under 9000ft where we were cruising.

This is a very harsh environment and I found it difficult to comprehend how people can live here all year especially when the temperature can get down to -70F. We did watch a video in Coldfoot and these people are amazing in how they deal with the extreme weather.

I am debating whether or not to finish all the Fairbanks stuff in this post or continue it in the next one but as we are driving along the highway towards Denali National Park and we are drawing near our morning tea stop I think the finish it now has won out!!

Take care one and all and thoughts and prayers go to my mum who is once again having health issues. She is a special lady and we send our love to her.


PS No photos just yet.  We are off to spend three days boondocking (no power, water, sewer, phone or internet) in Denali National Park.  Just excited.  Hope we are in the 30% - will explain that comment later.  Bye for now.  Photos added 12/7/12.  At last!!