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Week 34: Ending 7/6/2003
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 13, 2003 11:27 pm    Post subject: Week 34: Ending 7/6/2003 Reply with quote

Week 34: Ending July 6, 2003

It is a beautiful sunny morning, a great day to enter Alaska which is only about 50 miles away. To get there, however, we have to drive through more construction: about 10 miles of dirt road (or gravel, as some call it). This time they are laying down calcium chloride, a road additive that, while it keeps the dust down quite effectively, is like concrete on/under one’s vehicle, and requires patience to remove with water.

The Highway to Tok is rough and dusty after Beaver Creek. We pull into Tok RV Village, recommended by Brian at White River Crossing and is highly rated by Trailer Life. Anyone driving on the Alaska Highway drives through Tok twice, once entering Alaska and once departing, so it is rather tourist friendly.

There is not a lot to do in Tok. We visit Burnt Paw kennel and gift shop. Sled dog puppies are resting, their older relatives out on a dog sled demonstration. We check out Fast Eddy’s for dinner and are pleasantly surprised. Elegant lighting and seating highlight a nice salad bar and a varied menu. We will be dining here again if we return via the Highway.

Another bright and sunny morning. We are on the road for about an hour when we notice a couple of motorhomes pulled over to the side of the road. A camper slows down in front of us and pulls over so we do the same, figuring there must be wildlife about. There is. A large female moose is waist-high(?) in a small pond, munching away. We spend about twenty minutes taking pictures and simply admiring the moose when she climbs out of the water and is met by a little calf. What a sight!

Click here to see the page on Delta Junction

Ron’s appraisal of the Alaska Highway condition: 10% excellent, 65% good, 10% poor, 15% bad. We shall re-evaluate when we reach Fairbanks, the unofficial end of the Alaska Highway.

Delta Junction, AK, MP1422 , is the “official” end of the Alaska Highway. We stop to take pictures and to pick up our certificate which verifies we completed the Alaska Highway. Northward to Fairbanks!

On the Richardson Highway/AK Rte 2, in front of Eielson Air Force Base, we see a large moose sitting in the middle of the road. Vehicles are stopped along both sides of the road. The moose is injured (there is blood on the road), but sitting up. The moose is trying to get up, but cannot, and it’s breathing is not normal. Ron maneuvers the motorhome around to the left of the moose. As we drive by a trailer and covered pickup truck on the left side of the road, we see the problem. The entire windshield of the pickup is shattered and part of the front end is dented. The driver and passenger seem fine and are being helped by others. We had spoken with them briefly when we all had stopped to view the moose in the pond earlier in the day. We pray for the well-being of the people and the moose. (Ron and Nancy bumped into the couple a few days later: $10,000 and two week’s time to repair the damage to their tow vehicle.)

The remainder of the drive to Fairbanks is quite somber.

It starts to rain as we pull into the city. We turn onto Rte 3 towards Denali. In a few miles we are at our destination, Chena Marina RV Park. It is a comfy-looking park, with plush grass and ample gravel at each site. Coffee and assorted teas are available round the clock along with cable TV and modem hookups. Civilization! Manager/owners Bill and Suzanne are well-organized, providing us with a bounty of tourist info and guiding us to our site. Our site looks out upon an active Bush Pilot Pond, across which are a number of small private propeller planes and a fishing charter. Although we worry about the noise at first, we experience few low-flying planes. Later in the week we watch their departures with awe and amazement.

The rain lets up and we walk around. A diesel Bounder with NH plates saying “CEE USA” has pulled in a couple of sites next to us. Joan thought she saw the same plate at Tok RV Park, so we knock on their door to say hello and ask. They had been in Tok. The husband’s name is Ron (great name) and the wife’s name is Nancy. Ron and Nancy, just like the Reagans, says Joan to her Ron. “Ahhh”, says Our Ron, “Now I will be able to remember their names.”. We chat for a few minutes, say good night and settle in for the night.

The rain continues throughout the day as we run some errands. We visit a much-heralded farmers’ market in search of giant veggies to no avail. We conduct a drive-thru of downtown Fairbanks to checkout the whereabouts of the General Delivery Post Office to pickup a package from home the following day. We do not want to do a lot of touristy things now because we will be returning to Fairbanks with Joan’s sister in a couple of weeks.

When we return to Chena Marina, the sun is shining and the sky is blue. Our neighbors Ron and Nancy are watching bush planes trying to takeoff. We join them near the pond as do other campers scattered about. Ron and Nancy are going to Barrow, AK, tomorrow, the northernmost community in the USA. It is a neat idea to celebrate the Fourth of July on top of the world in Barrow. Our Ron has been feeling under the weather ever since Mukluk Annie’s. We shall see how he feels tomorrow, but we decide to book the tour anyway. Hopefully there will still be space available. Our campground acts as a travel agent for the same price as booking everything directly and a lot less hassle.

Hurrah: there is space available on the plane (a Boeing 737) and room at the Top of the World Hotel for us, so we book our seats at 11am. Our gracious host Bill will be driving us and our neighbors to the Fairbanks Airport at 4pm. We have errands to run, so we hustle downtown. The line at the Post Office is incredibly long and slow and we get back just in time.

Alaska Airlines utilizes a unique version of the plane called a combi-737: the front half of the plane is strictly cargo, accessed from the side. It is rather neat to witness the unloading and loading of the plane. Our ride is rather uneventful until the end when the captain announces that due to poor visibility we may be forced to return to Fairbanks! (We later learn that flights are returned to Fairbanks as often as once a week!) We are allowed to land, and as the runway appears under the plane, the passengers, or should I say MOST of the passengers start applauding. Ron, however says to Joan: “I don’t know why they’re applauding, we aren’t on the ground yet.” We continue what seems to be a long way down the runway, finally dropping from the sky rather roughly, followed by a very hard braking.

Ron says: “Now, I’m not a pilot, but I wouldn’t rate this to be a top ten finish, given that first I lost 2 inches in height and then my shoes hit the cockpit door.” but the passengers applaud wildly. We guess they REALLY wanted to get to Barrow rather than return to Fairbanks, so they were happy for any non-fatal landing. There are over 50 passengers on our flight.

It is foggy in Barrow, a condition that would mostly be with us the entire time. Pretty normal for this time of year from what we gather. A native Alaskan named Joseph helps everyone with their baggage and into the Top of the World Hotel van. The hotel is just a few blocks away. Pepe’s world-famous-most-northern Mexican restaurant is pointed out to us as we drive by and park basically next door!

The hotel is about 2 ½ stories. There is some confusion and the hotel does not have reservations for us nor for an older gentleman. As a result, we both receive their newest, “deluxe” rooms. The best, of course, is at the top of three flights of stairs. We check out our view from the room quickly and hurry to join Ron and Nancy for dinner. Since we will be dining at Pepe’s tomorrow for lunch, we opt for Osaka for dinner. Good choice: breakfast available all the time, as well as American and Japanese fare. Hmmmm. Pepe’s Mexican served by a Caucasian, American breakfast served by a Taiwanese man, who also serves Japanese fare. Welcome to Barrow.

We decide to take the extra tour in a Hummer which will drive us out to Point Barrow, the most northerly point in the US. Tomorrow’s bus tour cannot travel to the point because of the rough terrain. It is a 2 ½ hour tour to start at 9 pm, so Ron and Nancy bid adieu for the evening.

Point Barrow is where the polar bears usually congregate, but the ice has already broken away from the land, and the Polar Bears float out on top of the ice, so it is dubious that we shall see any bears. That’s okay: riding on the top of the world in Hummer is a treat unto itself. We do catch a peregrine falcon (maybe a Jaeger?) dining on a gull plus numerous other birds swimming and or flying. Chris, our Hummer guide, originally from LA, informs us that many bird-watchers travel specifically to Barrow for the variety of feathered creatures to view. We have fun checking out old whale and seal bones and finding seashells on the rocky beach, playing in the “surf” of the Arctic Ocean, scampering over the Arctic sea ice. By the name we get back to the hotel, it is after midnight. The sun is still high in the sky, albeit cloudy, about the same as it was when we landed earlier in the afternoon. This is truly the land of the midnight sun. In fact, the sun doesn’t set for 83 days in a row here in the summer. In the winter, it doesn’t rise for more than 60.

Click here to see several pages of photos all about our trip to Barrow, Alaska

Happy Fourth of July from the Top of the World! Our tour guide Daniel (brother-in-law of Joseph, the tour’s porter from the airport yesterday) is very excited. First off, the tour is very busy today. Our bus has a full load of 40, the smaller bus is full, and one couple has the misfortune of having to take a private tour. Secondly, he says he loves to give tours on Independence Day, personally one of his favorite days of the year, because the whole town is alive. We had seen how “dead” the town usually is. Since we had landed, we had seen only a few natives out and about (although we hadn’t yet gone to the “Big Store”). Today, the streets are alive as we, in our big former school bus (painted white) tour bus, believe it or not, lead the parade!!! Too bad we didn’t have candy to throw, as all the kids were waiting for the “rest” of the parade to toss them goodies, but most of them waved back to us as WE became the attraction, and the locals we the gawkers.

We wave goodbye to the parade route, and Daniel takes us to visit areas of interest, the hospital (14 beds), college, science areas, and the native Heritage Center. At the Heritage Center, we watch a display of Native dance and Native sewing. Frankly, we got more info about the Native culture from our tour guide.

We had heard that Daniel is the premier tour guide, and we can see why. He is quite personable, knows nearly everything there is to know about the area, says “I don’t know” when he doesn’t (only happened twice). Daniel is Inupiat, and apparently fully participates in Inupiat traditional life, including whaling and goose hunting (goosing?). Daniel talks about festivals and communal sharing. He teaches us Inpiat words for things. Of course he didn’t spell them for us, but here is what he taught.

Bearded seal: Uguduk
His native tribe: Inupiat
Goose: Nagaluk
Snowy White Owl: Ukpik, and
Polar Bear: Nanuk

I guess we’re now practically natives ourselves.

His sister Mary’s husband, Joseph (remember him?), is also a good provider, we learn, as Daniel takes us by their house, where Bearded Seal (uguduk) skins are tanning, and a couple of goose (nagaluk) are waiting to be frozen.

Daniel grew up near Vancouver, WA. He came to Barrow when he was 11, and felt like he was home, speaking only English. He decided that before his Grandfather died that he would learn to speak his culturally native language and understand him. He then became one of the few adult speakers of the Inupiat language. Now, parents are given the option of enrolling their children in an Inupiat immersion program, when all day in school only Inupiat is spoken. Ron asked if these children were bilingual, and Daniel claimed that since they all have outside lives and external influences such as cable TV, they all speak both English and Inupiat as if primary languages.

(Ron’s note: These languages are, according to Daniel, very grammatically different, (Daniel claims that there are 68 cases, and that the language is THE most difficult language to learn). Given this, I wonder if these children will develop written English skills comparable to what they would develop should they not be immersion program. I seem to recall hearing of studies (or opinions) showing that bilingual education students communicate in both languages equally poorly, but I didn’t get into this discussion with Daniel. This would be very interesting to me, and something interesting to delve into for a week or two. Certainly, this approach will revive and extend the life of their native language if not their culture, at least for this generation. I just wonder if that will be at the expense of this generation’s freedom to migrate from Barrow and be successful in the lower 48.)

Back to the airport, and mandatory removal of our shoes, something that had not been required in Fairbanks. We can’t imagine why this is being done at this incredibly tiny and remote airport. (A few days later, we hear a report on the news that the TSA will not REQUIRE passengers to remove their shoes anymore, just strongly recommend it, especially if you have steel shanks or other metal parts in them. After listening to this report, it suddenly dawns on Ron why the requirement in Barrow and not in Fairbanks: In Barrow, the airport is TINY, and the security check was performed as you are leaving the building to walk across the tarmac to the plane. There is a very limited area to perform hand detection and frisks of people who set off the incredibly sensitive metal detectors. If another several people set off the alarms because of their shoes, boarding would take forever. Hence, the requirement to remove the shoes.

Now, assuming that this is the predominant reason for the requirement, if they had put on a poster this explanation, there would have been a lot less grumbling about it in line. And believe us when we tell you that the people in line were NOT HAPPY about this. But we digress.

The flight back to Fairbanks was much smoother and more uneventful than the flight to Barrow. The acceleration on takeoff from Barrow seemed to be quite gentle and to go on forever, so apparently they have quite a long (bumpy) runway. Guess that was a good thing the night before.

A quick word about Alaska Airlines: The food was surprisingly good, especially given the current condition of the airline industry. The plane(s?) was(were) very clean and looking like new. The staff was nice and efficient.

Back to the HappieCampground.

Yesterday was a long day, and a very long entry in the journal! Today is a day of rest and household chores.

We decide to hit the road, backtracking about 75 miles to Delta Junction and the official end of the Alaska Highway. We will then head south towards Anchorage.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 14, 2003 10:50 am    Post subject: Bullwinkle Reply with quote

Nice to see that you guys are keeping cool this summer. Smile
I saw your photos of the moose, and read your description saying that you think he looks thin. I saw a moose here in Mass once, and he also looked thin. I suspect that it's typical for moose to be thin enough so that their ribs are visible. The moose I saw also didn't have antlers. Disappointing, because without antlers the moose just doesn't look enough like Bullwinkle. Smile
Also, check out the photo you posted that has the sign post listing distances to various locations. Doesn't one sign say "Lake Placid, FLA"?
FLA? Lake Placid is in NY!! I guess when you're over 3,000 miles away, NY and FLA can seem like the same place. Smile
Have fun!!
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