Thursday, September 27, 2018

Down Memory Lane 6

The next morning, after a breakfast of sourdough pancakes, we headed on down the Richardson 115 miles to Valdez, where we got married 51 years before. The rain had stopped, the sky was blue, but clouds still lingered over the high mountains to the east--the Wrangell-St. Elias Range, which boasts 9 of North America's 16 highest peaks.

12,010 ft. Mt. Drum from the Glenn Highway Courtesy
Mt. Drum, the westernmost Wrangell volcano is 12,010 feet high, yet it dominates the local landscape more than the much higher volcanoes. Mt. Wrangell (14,163 feet), Mt. Sanford (16,237), and Mt. Blackburn (16,391) are all visible from the Richardson Highway as we proceed south but are farther away. We stopped to take photos. One shot was not sufficient to take in that entire string of peaks in the Wrangell-St, Elias Range to the east.

The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is by far the largest of our national parks—almost six times the size of Yellowstone. Four major mountain ranges converge here: the volcanic Wrangell Mountains, the Alaska Range, which boasts of Denali, at 20,310 feet, the highest peak in North America, the southern Chugach Range, and the St. Elias—the tallest coastal mountains in the world.

 The St. Elias Range merges with the Wrangells in the heart of the park. Together, they contain 9 of the 16 highest peaks in the United States, 4 of them above 16,000 feet, including Mt. St. Elias, the second highest peak in North America, which soars from the Gulf of Alaska to 18,008 feet. There are more than 150 glaciers in the park. One of them, the Malaspina, is larger than Rhode Island.

At the park's Visitors Center along the Copper River, which forms the western boundary of the park,  we saw displays about the Ahtna (an Athabaskan tribe of Native Americans of Alaska) and their subsistence way of living. Many signs along the road indicated areas of hunting and fishing reserved for the Ahtna. 
Another shot of the Wrangell-St. Elias Range
The drive from Glennallen to Valdez is one of the most scenic highways in Alaska. Here are more of the photos we took. As we climbed into Thompson Pass, Worthington Glacier can be seen just ahead. Today, it is much smaller than it was 51 years ago. Then, we could actually walk from the parking area right onto the ice. Now, it has retreated so far that it requires a difficult hike to reach the lower tip of the glacier.

Worthington Glacier

Worthington Glacier has two arms.

Thompson Passa 2,805 foot-high gap in the Chugach Mountains northeast of Valdez, is the snowiest place in Alaska with an average annual snowfall that exceeds 700 inches. The 24-hour record is 90 inches! On December 7, 2017, an incredible 10 inches of snow piled up in one hour--around 1.7 inches every 10 minutes. This is an absolutely incredible snowfall rate. The furious storm dropped another 5 inches in 30 minutes, for a remarkable 15 inches in an hour and a half. In the end, 40 inches of heavy wet snow accumulated in 12 hours. Snow patches still remained when we drove through on July 12.

Thompson Pass in December 2017 after record snowfall.

Note poles along the roadway guide snow removal

Razor-sharp peaks surround the pass.

After descending from the pass, we entered Keystone Canyon3-mile-long gorge near Valdez. At an elevation of 307 feet, its walls are almost perpendicular. It connects the upper and lower valleys of Lowe River. The old tunnel we remember from all our previous trips has been blocked off and the roadway rerouted around it. I'll close with these photographs of Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls. Next week, I'll complete this summer's trip into Valdez and back to Anchorage.

The Lowe River which flows through Keystone Canyon

Entering Keystone Canyon
Horsetail Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Down Memory Lane 5

As we said goodbye to our wonderful hosts, the Bakers, in Fairbanks, we headed south in a light rain down the Richardson Highway, which brought back many memories. This was the road we traveled to Valdez to get married 51 years ago. We noted many changes in the route itself. Many of the deep curves had been eliminated. Back then the trip from Fairbanks to Valdez was close to 500 miles; now it is only 362 miles.

After driving past North Pole, Alaska (not the actual North Pole), home of radio station KJNP and Santa Claus House, where you can celebrate Christmas year-round and drive on streets such as Santa Claus Lane and St. Nicholas Drive, we came to Eielson Air Force Base, where Bob graduated from high school in 1962. His father had been the base engineer there.

Along the way south, we pulled off to view a section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that often parallels the Richardson Highway through the Alaska and Chugach Mountain Ranges to Valdez. (To read about the amazing construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, click here.)

A section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that runs 800 miles from the Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to the Port of Valdez. To protect the pipeline from  permafrost, some 420 miles of the 800-mile-long pipeline is elevated on 78,000 vertical support members such as you can see here. 

 A few miles farther down the Richardson, we came to the Birch Lake Military Recreation (USAF) Camp, where Bob got his first job after graduation. Here, he made rounds in a skiff each night--more like twilight with sunrise at around 2 a.m.--and dreamed about his future.

We continued on into the Alaska Range through Delta Junction (at Delta Junction, the Alaska Highway joins the Richardson Highway). From there, we continued on toward Summit Lake and Paxson. Here are some scenes along the way. 

Summit Lake

While it was raining on us, it was snowing on the mountaintops in mid-July!

During his first year at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Bob took a course in surveying. That summer (1963), he got a job as a surveyor with the Alaska highway department in Paxson, the turnoff to the Denali Highway. This photo shows the first lodge he lived in. Now it has collapsed and is moldering into the ground. The current Paxson Lodge on the other side of the highway, where we stayed overnight in 2003, was closed in 2013 and remains closed.

Ruins of the first Paxson Lodge

As we turned onto the Denali Highway, we spotted a cow moose with her calf and quickly snapped a couple of photos. It was raining, so we did not get out of the car, merely opened the window.

The cow soon became aware of our presence and assumed a protective mode.

Bob at Gulkana River in 1963 
We crossed the Gulkana River but didn't stop to take a picture. We already had several photos taken on that bridge years ago, including this one of Bob taken before we met. The river bed contained a lot of jade, which Bob once compared to my eyes in a poetic love letter.

The last time we were there, the river had been teeming with very red and ragged salmon that had fought their way hundreds of miles upstream to spawn and die.

We drove as far as the Tangle Lakes, where Bob and his father had gone on a fishing trip while Bob was in high school. Along the way, Bob pointed out a lake he triangulated and benchmarks he had placed while surveying this road so many years previously. In spite of the rain, the mosquitoes attacked immediately whenever Bob got out of the car to take photos. The first 21 miles of Denali Highway on this end are paved. When we came to the end of the pavement, we turned around and headed back to the Richardson Highway.

The Tangle Lakes from the Denali Highway

Tundra and a mountain Bob climbed while on the trip with his father during high school. It was higher than it looks!

From Paxson, we continued south to Glennallen, where we would spend the night. Here are more scenes along the way,

After a long day of driving and sightseeing, we checked into the Caribou Hotel, a rustic but comfortable inn in Glennallen near the junction of the Richardson with the Glenn Highway.

Next week, I'll share the spectacular drive to Valdez.

In the meantime, if you'd like to read more about Alaska, check out my books at

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Down Memory Lane Part 4

After exiting Denali Park, we continued up the Parks Highway to Fairbanks. It was near dinnertime when we drove into town. The first sight we saw was the University of Alaska, where I met my husband in 1964. It has grown so big we almost didn't recognize it. And the Parks Highway turned into a four-lane bypass through Fairbanks. That had not been there when we last visited there in 2003.

University of Alaska Fairbanks Courtesy
We finally arrived at our long-time friends' home just off the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks. Bob had gone to high school with Ted and Elizabeth Baker, and I met them in college. We attended the same church. Elizabeth's parents were Alaska missionaries and had visited in my parents in Seward while I was in high school, but she wasn't with them. My mother and her mother had gone to Bible school together. I actually met Ted and Elizabeth for the first time at their wedding when my parents drove me up to the university for the first time.

The Bakers when they visited us last fall.
The Bakers took us to the Turtle Club, a popular restaurant near their home, for a delicious prime rib dinner. I ate halibut. I can get prime rib at home but not fresh Alaska halibut!

The next morning the Bakers served us homemade sourdough pancakes made from starter that had been in their family a long time. And I did a taste test to compare Maine and Alaskan blueberry jams. Alaskan blueberries won--so flavorful. No comparison!

Elizabeth's sister, Gwen, came by after breakfast. We visited all morning. Then we headed out to explore Fairbanks and the university. The area had changed so much that we actually had to use GPS to find our way around the city we'd lived in for so long. Driving around the main part of the campus is no longer possible. Some of the buildings are  no longer there. Others have been added. We drove past the cafeteria and reminisced about how we had met in the upstairs lounge for the first time at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting. Two-and-a-half years later in the same room, Bob asked me to marry him.

In Alaska it is said that there are two seasons: winter and construction. Several of the roads on campus were closed for reconstruction, so we were not able to get near the first dorm I had lived in--Skarland Hall, opened my first year at UAF.

My first dorm--Skarland Hall Courtesy
Next, we looked for our first home after we got married. It had been located at 16th and Stacia Streets in downtown Fairbanks, but it was gone. We couldn't even determine where it had been. We'd only lived in it for two months before we got flooded out of it in the worst flood of the Chena River (1967).

Our first home--after the flood it was unlivable
The next day, Sunday, we attended services at Fairbanks First Assembly of God, the church I had gone to throughout my college years, renamed True North Church. The old sanctuary is now the fellowship hall. We reconnected with several friends from years gone by and made several new ones.
After church, the Bakers took us to a scrumptious buffet at a restaurant along the Chena River. From our window seats we watched people canoeing and a variety of birds floating on the water.

Sunday afternoon, we visited the Fairbanks Visitor Information Center which featured wonderful dioramas of the seasons of the Interior of Alaska in this land between the mountains. Three life-sized dioramas depict the seasons. Summer features a fish camp and a view of the place where the Yukon and Tanana Rivers meet. In fall, a grizzly digs for ground squirrels, and a hunting camp shows the connection the people have with the land. The winter diorama is a view from inside the warmth of a public use cabin. A moose peers in through the window as northern lights dance across the sky above. In Elder's Hall are displays of the Athabascan culture and historic and contemporary art and tools. There, we met more friends from years gone by.

Monday morning, we drove to North Pole, Alaska, about 15 miles south to visit KJNP, a Christian radio station in North Pole, Alaska. The station had opened the summer we got married, and I knew the current CEO, Bonnie Carriker, since my childhood days in Juneau. I also knew the founders, Don and Gen Nelson. Bob had had classes at UAF with their daughter. After 51 years, the station had to replace the broadcast tower this summer. The buildings that house KJNP are log cabins with sod roofs, a true Alaskan motif.
That afternoon, we toured the ultra-modern Museum of the North at the University of Alaska for a history of Alaska. Well worth the visit!

Courtesy Google,.com
One of the displays in the Museum of the North Courtesy
Tuesday, we visited Pioneer Park, formerly know as the Alaska Centennial Exposition, where I worked as a ticket taker and cashier the summer we got married. Located on the Chena River, it was flooded out in the recording-breaking flood in August of 1967.

One of the cabins like I worked in.
Many original log cabins from the early days of Fairbanks had been moved to this location to recreate a pioneer village. I had worked in one of them, but they all looked so much alike, I couldn't remember which one was my office.

We rode the train around the site, saw the old stern wheeler that had been floated in after the flood, viewed "The Big Stampede" murals painted by Rusty Heurlin and narrated by Ruben Gaines, and visited the Pioneer Museum.

Every morning and evening over delicious home-cooked meals, we talked for hours.The Bakers were wonderful hosts. We wished we could stay longer, but Wednesday it was time to head south. I'll tell you about that segment of our trip next week.

If I have whet your appetite about Alaska, you can read more about it in my books. See my website: