Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Yukon-Alaska Border to Fairbanks

When we crossed the border from the Yukon Territory to Alaska on the morning of September 6th we’d been on the road for 8½ days and 2,876 miles. Our plan was to arrive in Fairbanks on September 9th. This gave us a few days to spare. We felt it was high-time to slow down and really absorb the natural beauty all around us.

The first town of any size after entering Alaska was Tok (rhymes with poke.) Here we sought the very first restaurant meal of our trip (tired of cold turkey sandwiches) a few groceries (everything is expensive here) a full tank of gas, and camping information from the Tok visitor center.

At the visitor center a friendly volunteer gave us a tip on great camping 65 miles south on the Tok cut-off towards Anchorage. She told us to watch for the Nabesna road and a ranger station right after the turn. We had no idea what to expect but were quite amazed when we pulled into the ranger station and learned we had just entered the largest National Park in the U.S., Wrangell-St.Elias, with 22.9 million acres of park and preserve lands. There are only two roads that go in and neither goes out again unless you turn around and drive back the way you came. Nabesna Road was the northernmost of the two. We were told we could camp in any pull-out along the 28 mile gravel stretch. There was no entry fee and no camping fee, just enjoy! We set out in search of a site with a great view. There were plenty to choose from.

We parked Moonshadow on a rise with spectacular views all around. We had the place entirely to ourselves. Only a few other park visitors drove by each day. We were especially enthralled by the carpet of autumn colors painted on mountain slopes and valleys by the  low growing brush with oddly skinny black spruce trees sometimes growing like a dense, dark forest and other times just poking up here and there.

Snow covered Mt.Sanford, a 16,237 ft. peak, and one of the many lakes
along the 28 mile drive.

View from our campsite, watercolor by Spike Ress.

Leaving the park after two relaxing days we intended to travel south to Gakona Jct., then north towards Fairbanks on the Richardson Hwy. Needing gas soon we consulted our Milepost guide and learned of a Texaco located at the junction. When we arrived we found it was an “EXACO” and was boarded up. Across the way beckoned a colorful little espresso wagon surrounded by flower pots full of blooming flowers. We drove on over and met Louise Lindley, “owner/slave” of Jeanni’s Java/ Loui’s Lunches.  She had a warm, friendly smile and was happy to give advice. She assured us we’d find gas up the road at Sourdough. There was no Sourdough on the map but we had to believe her. She then suggested we try one of her “famous” salmon sandwiches. It was a sunny day, we were hungry and her picnic table surrounded by flowers looked inviting. When she brought us the sandwiches we knew the lettuce was very fresh because every flower pot and planter had big, healthy lettuce growing along with the nasturtiums and pansies. It was delicious. If you are ever passing through Gakona Jct., stop by to chat with Louise and eat a sandwich (except in the winter – forget it- she’s not there!)

Up the road a piece, sure enough, there was a place called Sourdough – an RV park/lodge/store/gas station, i.e., one lonely pump. As we pulled up to the pump (hidden here by the van) we were doubtful. The pump looked rusty and leaned to one side. The price on the pump meter read $1.79 per gallon. Before we could drive away a lean, tan, lanky man appeared, asked us if we wanted gas, then unlocked the little gray shed, went inside, flipped a few switches and the pump came to life. We had no idea what price per gallon we were about to pay but we had no choice. We were close to empty.

We had a nice conversation with the man about Airstreams and gave him a look inside our Moonshadow. When our gas tank was full he sent us inside to a woman at the register who calculated our charge based on current prices. The total was fair and we were pleased. We asked the man about buying drinking water. He said they had none for sale. They had to truck in safe drinking water for themselves, but he took our 3 gallon water container and filled it up from his own supply, no charge. Everywhere we go, we are meeting very nice people here in Alaska.

Back on the road we encounter two Caribou bucks.

Our first glacier sighting, Gulkana Glacier just south of our next camping destination, Fielding Lake.

We set up camp beside an inlet stream at Fielding Lake.

A view out our Airstream window, sunset on mountains to the east.

The previous day as we set up camp at Fielding Lake we met our camp neighbors who were renting a public use cabin right next to us, Alaskans Charley & Liz. They filled us in on recent moose and grizzly bear activity in the campground and welcomed us to Alaska with a package of their own unbelievably delicious smoked salmon.

The Richardson Hwy. parallels the Alaska Pipeline for many miles. In this view you can see its zigzag path across the landscape. We learned the zigzag is necessary to allow for expansion and contraction sideways during periods of extreme temperature fluctuation. This sideways movement prevents ruptures.

We arrived in Fairbanks area as scheduled, the afternoon of September 9th.  For the coming week we will be camped in the driveway of our generous hosts in North Pole. More about these good friends in our next posting.

A. Yukon Alaska border
B. Wrangell-Saint Elias NP
C. Fielding Lake
D. North Pole, AK


  1. Great job you two! I posted this to my Facebook page and simply commented that I was envious! :-) I look forward to the next update.

  2. Fabulous blog, photos and painting! And I love the slide show of images scrolling down the right side. Buen viaje! Jacqui

  3. Great photos, Spike! And leave it to you to pull into a spot and be inspired....love the watercolor!

    - Lynda, Jim & Boone

    ps - we're back at Enchanted Trails awaiting to start of the 40th Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta...warm temps!

  4. I love these stories and photos, and the painting looks more beautiful than ever. I guess I need to my get excuses ready for the next report (for unfinished siding, torn shirt pockets, lame hunters . . . yikes!). Hope the trip south to Kenai has been warm, dry, and enjoyable.

  5. Lovely watercolor Spike and great job on the blog writing Sue. It is entertaining and informative. Never knew about the required zigzag in the pipeline. Can't wait to read your next installment. Arlene B