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:

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Down Memory Lane Part 3

The day after our trip to Seward for Independence Day, we did some sightseeing around Anchorage. Temperatures were in the upper 80s. Skies over Cook Inlet were clear, but clouds hugged the Chugach Mountains. We headed toward Earthquake Park but wanting to avoid mosquitoes, we decided to just drive along it, ending up at the end of the Ted Stevens International Airport. There we had a terrific view of downtown Anchorage.

Looking at Anchorage from the end of the Airport Runway and past Earthquake Park
The next day we headed up the Parks Highway to Fairbanks, a trip of 353 miles. We stopped at Wasilla to eat sourdough pancakes for breakfast. By then, the clouds had dissipated. 

As we drove north, a huge mountain loomed ahead of us. Not being that familiar with the Parks Highway, which has been built since we lived in Alaska, we didn't realize the mountain was Denali, the Athabascan name meaning "the high one" (formerly known as Mt. McKinley), the highest peak in North American at 20, 310 feet above sea level. 

How could we be confused?

Alaska is home to 19 mountain peaks over 14,000 feet. As you can see from the photos, Denali is accompanied by equally impressive nearby Mt. Foraker, or "Sultana" as she is known by the Athabascans. According to their legends, she stands proudly as Denali's wife, the third highest peak in Alaska and in the United States at 17,400 feet. Also nearby is Mt. Hunter at 14,573 feet. These three dominate the skyline for hundreds of miles. 

Our confusion can also be attributed to the fact that we were viewing Denali from the south instead of its usually photographed north view, so its profile differed from what we expected.

Denali from the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge Road
The upper half of Denali is permanently covered with snow and many glaciers, some more than 30 miles long. Denali is so massive that it generates its own weather; much the way a huge boulder submerged in a river creates whitewater rapids. All mountains deflect air masses and influence local conditions, but Denali rises so abruptly and so high that this effect is more dramatic here than perhaps anywhere else on Earth. Storms barrel in from the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea and collide with Denali’s towering mass. Weather can quickly change from sunny and clear to blizzard conditions with fierce winds, intense cold, and heavy snowfall. 

Denali often wears a crown of clouds, but that day, he bared his lofty head to the sky. What a thrill to be able to view the entire peak!

We turned in to view the Alaska Veterans Memorial and were able to snap even more photos.

Denali from the Alaska Veterans Memorial
A smaller mountain surrounded by black spruce forests as we headed north to Fairbanks

A typical Alaskan Rest Area! Look out for mosquitoes!

 Look for more about our trip next week.