Alaska Day 7

May 26, 2004 - 6:12 am 1 Comment

Denali National Park

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline

“Well this stretch of road’s been pretty boring.”
“Yeah, we haven’t seen anything except for some…”

“Trees” is what I meant to say, but what came out was “Bears!!”

We started out this morning by going to the Talkeetna Roadhouse for breakfast. For $7.50 they give you about 3 eggs, a mound of home fries, a slab of home-made bread, and 2 thick slices of peppered bacon. Since sourdough is a sort of religion up here, I ordered a side of a small mixed berry sourdough pancake to taste. It ended up being around 12 inches in diameter, larger around than the plate.

After we waddled out of there, we started down the road to Fairbanks to see what the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline looks like. It transfers hot oil from the northern coast of Alaska down 800 miles of pipe, half of which is above-ground to avoid melting the permafrost, to the port of Valdez on the Prince William Sound (near which the tanker Valdez famously ran aground and befouled a thousand miles of coastline). Fairbanks is about a 270 mile drive from Talkeetna, so we were looking at a good deal of driving. We got on the road about noonish and spent the first hour not realizing that we had gotten the nifty FM transmitter thingie for the iPod and had been sitting in silence. Just as I was realizing this, the conversation above took place. As I was idly answering, I looked to the side of the road and saw a mama brown bear and her three cubs sitting right there. I was floored. We turned the car around and I started taking pictures. Hub slowly pulled alongside of them and had his hand resting on the steering wheel when he braked. Causing him to honk the horn. HONK. Mama bear decided that was an excellent time to saunter back into the brush. I got some vaguely bear-like pictures of the cubs. I know what they are anyway. The honking became a running joke for the rest of the day, at least to me, the only one in the car who found it quite so funny. “Hey look, there might be a moose over there, better honk at it so I can take its picture!” “Hey look, there’s a big fat black dog alongside the road, looks a little like a bear, perhaps you should honk.”

It got very quiet in the car a few times. Especially when we passed Monderosa Rd., and I mentioned that it’s where they filmed that western TV show, Monanza. And when we passed the “Nooutlet Road” and I mentioned that “nooutlet” is an ancient Eskimo word for “Dead End”. No, hub seemed a little lacking in the humor department today. That’s ok, I laughed and laughed and laughed.

On the way north we passed the turnoff for the Denali Highway, the 130 mile gravel road running east and west. We stopped in the gas station right nearby and asked the clerk if he’d heard anything about the road conditions lately – he said his cousin drove it the other day and it was passable, but you can’t go over 30 mph. Since it was rainy and foggy and visibility was limited, we figured we would miss out on some of the splendid views anyway, so we just drove far enough to see the gravel part and take a picture of the sign saying how it was unmaintained between October and May.

Heading further north we entered the Denali National Park and decided to head into the park proper for as far as we could go with the car. After 15 miles they don’t let car traffic in, in order to minimize impact on the local flora and fauna. There’s a sense of community amongst the park visitors – we drove up on a bunch of people looking into a field with binoculars; one guy came over and said there was a moose and calf down there and showed us where to look. We pulled into the parking lot just before the checkpoint and got out to stretch our legs. There was this really pretty tor just above us and I wandered down the trail for a bit to take a picture from another angle, but the trail was so nice I ended up just going. We probably went around a mile down, next to the river, spotting some Dall sheep on the mountain across the way. We played around in the tundra turf, which is made of sphagnum and peat moss and is springy, like walking on a trampoline. On the way back, we saw a group of people watching something else and noticed that it was a red fox trotting down the river’s edge. As we watched, the fox squatted down to take a pee and an angry seagull started dive-bombing it. I think the seagull had some family nested nearby, and he was determined to get that predator out of his turf. They and we went our separate ways, and we got back into the car and left the park. It’s fabulous there and I wish we had more time to explore. Next time I’d like to stay at one of the lodges in or right by the park.

Moving on we were making excellent time to Fairbanks. So excellent, in fact, that John Law pulled hub over to congratulate him and give him a certificate of high speed.

We headed right to the pipeline viewpoint and it was every bit worth the drive. The pipeline is not bolted into anything; it rests on big teflon pads that slide back and forth on the supports if there is ground movement. Alaska had one of the largest recorded earthquakes in history in the 1960s. There was a display with a “pig”, a device that they send down the pipe in order to clean the bore and report any problems. People had marked on the pipeline supports where they had rested on various dates, and some had moved 4 inches or more. I took a ton of pictures in the rain, and we went into Fairbanks to have dinner at The Pump House. The steamed clams were meh; the seafood chowder was very good, though not as good as Roy’s the other day; and my halibut florentine was nice but a bit greasy. The sourdough bread though – that was to die for. Best sourdough I’ve had so far.

After dinner we headed back to a mostly uneventful trip home. It didn’t get dark enough to wish for bright lights until around 12:30 am. Hub’s contact was bothering him so I drove the last 100 miles home: a very rare event in our family. I can count on one hand the times he’s let me drive him someplace. I had a difficult time getting used to the scale of things; the terrain reminded me of the road between Austin and Giddings, with hills and turns and pine trees on the sides, but the spruce trees here are at least twice as tall as the pines I’m used to, and I kept misjudging how sharp the curves were going to be, slowing down far too much for gentle curves that I thought were major. I’m glad I wasn’t the other way around and thinking that the curves were gentle when they weren’t – any Alaskans reading this, be mindful if you go to East Texas that the curves there are murder!

We got back to the hotel around 1:45 am, tired but accomplished. We have nothing to do tomorrow but pack and get on the plane.

One Response to “Alaska Day 7”

  1. aaron wall Says:

    that first picture looks so crisp it almost looks fake.

    i wish the second one were 🙁