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

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