I could almost say that if you ever intend to go to Fairbanks, AK for a vacation then read this blog, but I can't because apparently their winter has been so mild this year that 17 degrees midday in March is practically balmy. We did not have a "true Alaskan experience" thank God, because I probably wouldn't have survived.
I say "we" because I invited my mom to go with me. Truth be told, I didn't know anyone that could afford to travel this trip alongside me, and mom had to decline at first because she couldn't really afford to go either, until the next day when dad won at the casino and handed her $500 in an envelope that said "Alaska" on it. (It's okay, go ahead and say "awwwwww!" I'll wait.)
Our flight departed Seattle after 7pm on Thursday March 3rd, and we rolled back the clock an hour once we landed in Fairbanks over 3 hours later. That airport was so tiny it was probably smaller than some mansions I've seen on TV. Our hotel was a mere two miles away, and taxis were waiting outside to drive people to their destinations. Apparently it's cheaper for hotels here to flat rate taxis to drive patrons to their hotel than to own a shuttle. My first ride in a taxi was in a city smaller than Puyallup. Go figure.
We stayed at the Best Western Chena River which was in a perfect part of town, and the rooms were quite nice, with continental breakfast, free wifi (Thank goodness since I didn't have any service outside the hotel!) and even an elevator to get us up to the 2nd floor.
Starting at 10am the next morning, we were already pre-booked for an Arctic Circle tour that our guide, Jason, was going to take us on using the old Dalton Highway; or as some of you might know it as the famous road from Ice Road Truckers.
Of course, with the mild winter they've had, the road wasn't nearly so dangerous, although there were plenty of icy spots.
This is where I found out that Alaska is rather unsightly. My background consists of living in one of the greenest places in North America, with gorgeously huge forests of Fir trees in an endless expanse of lakes and waterfalls. They don't call Washington the Evergreen State for nothing. I've been in Eastern WA and it looks a lot like death. In fact, very similar to Alaska's interior, with more rolling hills than mountains, and 200 year old trees that are barely 6 feet tall and scrubby as hell thanks to the permafrost. Beauty means different things to different people, and some people find deserts and/or tundra gorgeous, but I just don't. I was expecting Alaska to be more like Washington; oh well!
Although I have to admit, I did grab a few gorgeous shots.
Our first tour stop was the Alaskan Pipeline. I tried to be artistic with my shot.
Mapwise, we weren't driving very far in order to reach the Arctic Circle, but visitors constantly seem to forget that Alaska is bigger than the state of Texas. What does not seem far on a map took over 4 hours by road, and we weren't even going half way to the other end of Alaska.
This depressingly beautiful map will put it in perspective for you.
As will this equally depressing road sign. (Found where Dalton Highway starts, which is shortly after passing Livengood).
I took some pictures once we reached the Yukon River, and it became a running gag about whether people would realize I was taking a picture of a river, or just a place where the trees don't grow.
As expansive as Alaska is, I was actually rather surprised about how little pristine, untouched snow their was. Up at say, Mount Rainier National Park, you would see tons of untouched powder, and then occasional footprints. Here, it was all about snowmobile tracks (they call them snowmachines up there; probably because they don't need actual snowmachines) or marred by animal tracks everywhere. And to make matters worse, the only animal I saw besides birds on the whole trip was a squirrel mom almost ran over with our rental truck. Figures.
We had been traveling in a van with 6 young 20-something male Asians (whom some were from LA) and one older woman from Virginia named Judy, who had rode shotgun the entire way up to the AC (Arctic Circle), and our guide seemed to make her very nervous with his driving habits, including straddling the middle line because there was no ice there. He had a CB radio and kept in contact with the truckers on the road, which I found fascinating. We had a conversation on the way back (when I rode shotgun because Judy was too freaked out) about how most of the Alaskan shows on the air these days were probably 50% fake. The truckers on Dalton highway are actually very nice. Jason would say something to the effect of "Northbound oil tanker, I'm right behind you, let me know when it's safe to pass". In fact, one stunt that made Judy upset was passing on a double yellow because the trucker said it was safe. I was not scared of Jason's driving in the least, in fact I found him a respectable driver and was very informative about Alaska in general - he gave us several good tips including how to take good Aurora photos and how it wasn't necessary to go on a dog mushing tour for more than a half hour (I'll explain why in another post!)
When we reached the AC, celebrations were abound because it was a very long drive, and Jason had the Gray Jays literally eating out of his hand during lunch.
The air outside was probably 0 degrees with the wind chill. Even with all my new gear it was hard to stay out there for too long.
There wasn't anything to see besides the sign, really, and an outhouse to pee in. But, we got a certificate and it is still awesome
to say that I had traveled to the Arctic Circle.
Wow. I actually didn't expect for this post to be so long... (sorry for the awful editing, sometimes blogger can be a pain in the ass!) I should probably save Friday night for another post! Join me next time as Jason drives us back to his place for a night of fun. *grin*