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Old 08-22-2008, 11:07 PM   #31
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[b]Date (day): July, 19 (Day 22)

Source: Denali National Park (Teklanika River Campground)

Destination: Denali National Park (Teklanika River Campground)

Travel Miles: 0

Bug Activity: Moderate (Denali National Park)

Deviation from plan: None.

Moment(s): After a crowded and wet 9+ hour bus ride the day before, we decided we had enough of the bus system and just used today as an R&R day. I setup my camera in the center of a nearby drainage and just waited to see what wandered past. Other than the occasional hiker or passing rain storm I was alone. My wife spent the day in and out of the van, reading. It was a quiet day spent just enjoying the surrounding area.

Takeaway(s): My large Mossy Oak camo umbrella did not arrive before out trip and as such, I used what I had on hand... a small fading blue umbrella from 1995. Due to its minimalist urban sidewalk patrolling style... it offered little protection from the rain squalls that would frequently pass through the area. The camera would remain dry enough but the cameraman would get soaked.

Sportsmobile Note(s): The weather was getting colder and colder (down in to the high 30's / low 40's at night). While we were plenty bundled up in sleeping bags, we still occasionally started the diesel heater to warm up the van in the morning. The heater was both quiet and effective and the van would be noticeably warmer in less than 10 minutes. If my wife was to have input on a new van... this feature would be very high on her list.






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Old 08-22-2008, 11:29 PM   #32
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Date (day): July, 20 (Day 23)

Source: Denali National Park (Teklanika River Campground)

Destination: Fairbanks Alaska (B&B)

Travel Miles: 112

Bug Activity: Moderate (Denali National Park)

Deviation from plan: None.

Moment(s): For me, standing in the doorway of our Fairbanks B&B was like being on the edge of a worm hole in space... just before getting sucked in. My wife and I had just spent three consecutive days camping in the confines of a van - without access to a proper shower. In the past four hours we had been to a Musk Ox farm and a high pressure wash to clean off the sheets of mud that had accumulated on the van. At this point, I - for one - was about as haggard as I dare get and still try to mix it up in public. You know the moment... when you are in Subway ordering your sandwich, the kid who's making your sandwich hands are shaking; he bags your lunch and tosses it over the counter, opens the till, and then lays down on the floor with his hands over his head - that kind of moment. In any case, here we are standing in the doorway of the B&B that my wife had chosen to stay for the evening. She wanted to treat her/us - so we would be staying in the 'master spa room'. Upon entry into the B&B, I had to take my boots off in the entry and then put on slippers. Hmmmm... wet camo jacket, jeans, old sox... fuzzy blue Playboy Mansion slippers. I have just entered the worm hole. We are ushered upstairs to the spa room and shown all of the features (including a bidet, a shower with like 20 heads that could pass for car wash, a king size bed that was bigger than our campsite in Denali, and a closet full of terrycloth robes). For a little additional context... I have never seen a bidet before (nor was I about to start using one), our shower at home is really a tub and the one single cheap massage head we have leaks, and I don't even own a pair of slippers. Worm hole. Ok, ok... to my wife's credit the place was very nice and the hostess was very accommodating as well. The hostess even offered to put in one load of laundry for us (which we accepted). We ended up eating our breakfast for dinner, we used about 10,000 gallons of water, and then passed out early for the evening on the giant marshmallow mattress.

Takeaway(s): Don't question it, just go with it.

Sportsmobile Note(s): As it had been raining most often over the past three days, exiting the park from Teklanika back to Savage River (all unpaved) was a lot different than the dry road we had on the way in. The rain plus non-stop bus traffic had really worked the dirt road into a muddy soup (several inches deep). Our van was never in jeopardy of getting stuck... but it demanded constant attention as it 'hovered' over the mud.


Ptarmigan. Seen as we were leaving Denali National Park.



Morning coffee at Nenana Canyon (no special JetBoil blend today).



Entering Fairbanks



High pressure washing the van upon arrival in Fairbanks.



Musk Ox, University of Alaska Large Animal Research Station.








Caribou. Sometimes, having a long range lens brings the subject so close that you can almost see what they are thinking... and in this case, close is too close.



Our upscale B&B for the evening. Moving out of the van and into the occasional lap-of-luxury really earns me points with my wife.



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Old 08-23-2008, 12:04 AM   #33
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Date (day): July, 21 (Day 24)

Source: Fairbanks Alaska (B&B)

Destination: Dalton Highway (Marion Creek Campground)

Travel Miles: 266

Bug Activity: Low.

Deviation from plan: None.

Moment(s): Today was another one of those days where there was just too much to single out any one moment. Starting the run up the Dalton, eating a great lunch at the Hot Spot Cafe, seeing hundreds upon hundreds of acres of fully blooming fireweed, driving up and down the steep grades, poser shots at the Arctic Circle sign, finally filling the fuel cans in Coldfoot that I had made specifically for this portion of the trip, and calling it a day at the nearly empty Marion Creek campground (one of my wife's favorite places to stay).

Takeaway(s): I was told a great many things about traveling on the Dalton... that - fortunately - did not happen on our trip. I was told that I would suffer multiple flat tires (nope). I was told that haul road trucks would run me off into the ditch (nope). I was told that haul road trucks would spray me with rocks and break out all of my windows (nope). I was told that the road was so rough that it would destroy our van (nope). I was told that there would be a significant amount of truck traffic and that I had better drive in fear the whole way (nope). I was told that there was a jolly little fat man in a little red sleigh being dragged around by twelve flying reindeer as they delivered hand-crafted gifts to all good little girls and boys... (ummm, errrr... nope). Here are the facts. We suffered zero flat tires. The haul road truckers were absolutely courteous. We were always the fist to initiate pulling over, to slow down, to get the heck out of the way, etc... (long before there was any conflict) and we very rarely encountered any truckers that did not show us some level of courtesy back. True, the road was rough in places (and in 414 miles each way... there are a LOT of places) but our van turned out to be tougher than the road and we did not suffer any breakdowns (outside of a few minor issues). One the first day we encountered three trucks (three) in 266 miles that were heading the same direction as we were. Even at the peak, we encountered less than a dozen trucks in any given day. Drive using your head, be polite, don't wait until the last minute, prepare for the worst but expect the best. This is an incredible stretch of road to drive... and if you are driving it in an SMB, chances are you are going to spend more time enjoying it - and less time worrying about it.

Sportsmobile Note(s): Not 200 feet after we passed the Dalton Highway sign (MP 0.0), the passenger side armrest control that actuates the passenger window stopped working. The window could still be controlled from the driver's side, but the switch on the passenger side was dead. Once I got the chance, I popped off the passenger armrest cover and re-seated the wire harness that went to this switch. Success, the switch worked again and did not give us any problem throughout the remainder of our trip.




Starting up the James W Dalton Highway - for real. MP 0.0




Dalton patina



Hot Spot Cafe (excellent burgers for a very reasonable price - considering their location). MP 60.3





Fireweed.



Finger Rock. MP 96.0



Arctic Circle. MP 115.5




Coldfoot Alaska. MP 174.9




Marion Creek Campground. MP 179.7





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Old 08-23-2008, 07:55 AM   #34
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Love the writeups! Keep em' coming.
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Old 08-23-2008, 09:55 AM   #35
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We've been to Alaska twice. And to Labrador/Newfoundland once. I really want to go back to Labrador, but - your writeups remind me how much we enjoyed Alaska.

Labrador/Newfoundland were great. The friendliest people in the world live there. But the scenery in Alaska is so spectacular! And Alaska is 1000 miles closer for us (3500 miles vs. 4500 miles).

I do believe you've convinced us to head back to Alaska. Maybe up to Inuvik. 2009 Alaska. Hmmm, 1999 Alaska, 2004 Alaska, 2009 Alaska - do I detect a trend?

Anybody else heading North next year? We should arrange some meetings.

TwoLost - this is all your fault!!

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Old 08-23-2008, 01:33 PM   #36
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Thanks guys.

2009... Hmmmm, I may actually get this report finished by then

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Old 08-23-2008, 01:41 PM   #37
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Date (day): July, 22 (Day 25)

Source: Dalton Highway (Marion Creek Campground)

Destination: Dalton Highway (Galbraith Lake, primitive camping)

Travel Miles: 100

Bug Activity: Low.

Deviation from plan: None.

Moment(s): All of it... Chandalar Shelf, Atigan Pass, and the recurrent snow storms made this a very memorable awe inspiring kind of day.

Takeaway(s): There are not two consecutive feet of straight untouched guardrail anywhere on Atigan Pass. It is very beautiful... and by the looks of it, very unforgiving.

Sportsmobile Note(s): We drove up and over the Chandalar Shelf (a 10%, two mile long grade at MP 237) in a driving snow storm, with one lane blocked by a grader (who was in the process of dispersing several inches of top cover over the full length of the grade), on a road surface that resembled six inches of partially frozen and heavily rutted oatmeal. I have no idea what other types of vehicles attempted to follow suit... but we encountered 'very few' vehicles heading our same direction for the reminder of the day. If you had a bicycle, motorcycle, or road going RV... you may have been parked until the road conditions improved.




Is that snow... in July?




The (now dead) farthest north spruce.



Haul Road Trucker




Alyeska Pipeline




Dalton mud.





Atigan Pass












Dalton, snow storms.





The ever present pipeline.







Primitive camping at Galbraith Lake.





Company for the evening.


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Old 08-23-2008, 02:24 PM   #38
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Date (day): July, 23 (Day 26)

Source: Dalton Dalton Highway (Galbraith Lake, primitive camping)

Destination: Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay

Travel Miles: 149

Bug Activity: Low.

Deviation from plan: We had reservations to stay in Deadhorse overnight. However, once we got to Deadhorse, we realized that we were the square pegs in the round holes. Deadhorse is a bustling work camp... and we were on vacation. This lead to a pace differential that was more than we could overcome. Besides, there was more of what we wanted to see and do back out on the Dalton Highway. I looked at my wife while we were eating lunch in the cafeteria of our hotel and made the comment that we did not have to stay the night in Deadhorse... we could just start back south along the Dalton and find somewhere to boonedock for the night. She instantly agreed. We went back to our room, took showers, and put on clean clothes before checking out - two hours after we checked in. Go ahead and charge us for the full room rate, we said... we are dropping off our key and heading back south. The person at the front desk was a little bit puzzled... but only charged us $44.00 for two buffet lunches and the use of the shower. We dumped the extra fuel that I had been carrying in my Jerry cans into the van and hit the road. As it turned out we drove back past Galbraith Lake (where we started our day at 3:30am) and ended up boonedocking on the south side of Atigan Pass (17 hours later). The fact that it was light for so long really helped. The turn-around in Deadhorese also meant that we were now 'officially' headed back home to Washington State and the end of this spectacular vacation.

Moment(s): Had to be the moment that we both decided that we were more comfortable out on road than in Deadhorse.

Takeaway(s): Looking out the window of the van was far more interesting than looking into the back of the next work trailer.

Sportsmobile Note(s): On the way to Deadhorse, I hit one frost heave too fast (less than 40mph) and that was enough to successfully break the latch holding my Aluminess cargo box to my bumper. I had now broken both latches that secured my tire and tool box to the rear of the van. To reconstruct the broken parts, I purchased some raw material at the NAPA in Deadhorse and attempted to reconstruct these brackets. I checked on the price of a small vice too... just so I could do a first class job but the vice was prohibitively expensive (more than $500.00). Ultimately, I ended securing two pieces of wood beneath both the tire and the box swingouts - which supported the weight of each swingout. This hack held fast for the remainder of our trip... but the hinge bushings may now be shot.




Galbraith Lake. Up at 3:00am, ready to head to Deadhorse.





Early AM paint shaker.




Frozen Dalton.





Musk Ox & Caribou. The real deal... no fences this time.




The Good.



The Bad.



The Ugly (driving since 3:30am)



Inside the Arctic Caribou Inn






Oil fields in secured location (background)



Last set of poser shots (hey brother, these are for you)



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Old 08-23-2008, 02:35 PM   #39
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Love the pic of the running Musk Ox. Lots of "motion" with that hair flowing in the wind.


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Old 08-24-2008, 11:52 PM   #40
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Date (day): July, 23 (Day 26)

Source: Deadhorse

Destination: Boonedocking south of Atigan Pass

Travel Miles: 165

Bug Activity: Low.

Deviation from plan: We were supposed to be staying in Deadhorse overnight - but we decided that the scenery was so spectacular out on the Dalton… that we did not want to squander a second of it.

Moment(s): While driving south, we spotted a heard of Musk Ox grazing on the tundra just off of the pipeline. We pulled onto a nearby pipeline access road at the base of a steep hill and stopped within about 600 ft of them. I got out and setup my long range camera gear in the shadow of the van in order to get a better view. The Musk Ox did not seem bothered in the least that we were there. One of the Musk Ox decided to cross the road from right to left in a very purposeful manner and then started hoofing it across the tundra. I kept my eye on this one to make sure it did not come in behind us. In the mean time, the other Musk Ox seemed a little confused (follow… or not to follow). At first, there was one Musk Ox that followed the first one up onto the road, but then stopped and just watched the first one trot off into the distance. One by one the other Musk Ox started to migrate onto the road - and then stop. The section of road we were on was known as "Oil Spill Hill". This was a steep grade maybe an eighth to quarter mile in length and the Musk Ox were accumulating at the base of this hill (and they occupied the entire roadway). As the Musk Ox were not moving, we started getting a little concerned that if a haul truck came over the top of the hill (which was blind), the truck might be hard pressed to stop in time on this steep grade. My wife got on the CB radio (ch 19) and said that there were a number of Musk Ox in the road near MP 319 and to drive with caution in this area. There were a couple of responses back asking more detailed questions and the message was relayed. Five minutes later, an Alyeska Pipeline work truck showed up behind us. The worker got on the CB and reiterated the message again. In the next 10 minutes or so, another work truck showed up along with a couple cars. One of the workers from the Alyeska Pipeline truck walked over, struck up a conversation, and laughing said we were going to have to wait this out. He went onto say that they (as pipeline workers) were strictly prohibited with interfering with the Musk Ox in any way. At this point, the travelers in both cars wanted a closer look so they proceeded to move right in on the Musk Ox, stopped, got out, and started inching toward them while taking pictures. The Musk Ox, in a defensive move, began to form a loose circle (butts in, horns out). Nobody was moving at this point. Stalemate. After another ten minutes or so, a haul truck shows up from behind us. The pipeline worker laughed and said the show is now over because truckers don’t stop for Musk Ox. Sure enough, the haul truck kept right on rolling, moved in on the Musk Ox, and started herding them up the hill. Finally, one of the Musk Ox veered off to the right and the rest followed suit. The road was now clear of animals. Next step was to un-wad the cars that were tripping over themselves trying to get a closer look). The folks on the CB radios did a great job of communicating the situation out over the air waves (turns out there were more work trucks up and over the top of the hill blocking any oncoming traffic until the coast was clear). This just may have saved the lives of the folks in the cars who apparently lost all sense of where they were (stopped in the middle of a very steep hill with a totally blind approach) as they fumbled around to get 'the shot'.

Takeaway(s): We would have never stumbled upon this man vrs nature road show had we stayed in Deadhorse.

Sportsmobile Note(s): We were both glad that we had a CB radio installed in our van. This was just one of a dozen cases where this tool came in very handy.



Moose grazing in pond at the bottom of 'Ice Cut'.





The Musk Ox sequence… (at the bottom of 'Oil Spill Hill').










Back on the road (and into more turbulent weather)






The brilliant color of Fireweed






Just more random shots of the Dalton and the surrounding area.














Our company for the evening (three very curious foxes)...




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