Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

North to Alaska - Live!

by Kathy 27. July 2011 09:28

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Reaching the Arctic Circle

The Arctic Circle is an imaginary boundary line that marks the area where the sun never sinks below the horizon on the summer solstice (June 21), and never rises above the horizon on the winter solstice (December 22). In between those two days, there is a gradual transition; however, summer nights are still mostly bright, and winter days mostly dark.

For those who think visually (like me), here is a diagram that shows the tilt of the earth toward the sun in the summer, and away from the sun in the winter:

(The photo was from one of the informational signs at the Arctic Circle.)

Even with the scientific explanation, the Arctic Circle still held some mystique for me. When I plotted our route through Alaska, I knew that I wanted to reach the edge of the land where night and day are often blurred or stretched to their limits.

To reach the Arctic Circle, we drove north from Fairbanks on the infamous Dalton Highway. The term “highway” is used loosely here, as the road is mostly gravel, pretty narrow, and doesn’t have a double-line down the middle. One of our two guide books called it “an extreme road trip”, and the other said the road was “one of Alaska’s most remote, dangerous and challenging roads.”

Ben was not keen to make the drive. Even though we would only be covering the first 115 miles, all of the warnings had raised red flags in his mind. He was concerned about our safety, as well as whether our RV would make it there and back in one piece. However, he also knew that reaching the Arctic Circle was important to me. In the loving spirit of compromise, he put on a semi-genuine smile and humored my wishes.

The pavement ended shortly after the entrance to Dalton Highway:

The road ahead:

For the first ten miles, our RV was rattled and shaken so severely by the washboard ripples and potholes that I almost—and the key word is “almost”—said, “Okay, honey, we don’t have to continue if you want to turn around now.” But thank goodness the words didn’t fall out. A few miles later, the road smoothed considerably, and we even encountered a few long paved sections where we could gather our wits and breathe a little easier.

Ahead, the pavement ended and the dirt began again:

This road is frequented by big trucks, hauling loads to and from the Prudhoe Bay oil fields far north, near the Arctic Ocean.

The truck drivers that we encountered all seemed like safe drivers, but their rigs kicked up a lot of dust that made visibility difficult at times.

The need for care was reaffirmed by roadside crosses that bore the names of unfortunate loved ones:

Many parts of the road paralleled the route of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline:

In fact, the Dalton Highway was originally built as a supply road to support the construction of the pipeline in the 1970’s.

Portions of the pipeline were built in a zig-zag pattern so that the pipe would have room to flex and stay intact as it expanded and contracted due to the extreme temperature fluctuations between winter and summer.

The first part of the road wound through forested hills:

About half way to the Arctic Circle, the road dropped down to the Yukon River, which flows to the Bering Sea:

(This was the same river we had seen earlier in Whitehorse.)

The bridge had a wooden surface and seemed in good shape, although it was narrowed down to one lane:

The Yukon River:

There were no towns along the way, but an isolated “mom and pop” type of business appeared occasionally, such as the Hot Spot Café where we stopped for some ice cream:

The Hot Spot also had a small motel:

The road at this point consisted of fairly smooth dirt, and we were sailing along beautifully. However, we soon discovered that the smoothness was created by huge water trucks that slowly dumped enough water to create a bed of slick mud that dried evenly. We had to be carefully not to go slipping off the edge:

Some parts of the road had well-known names, such as “the Rollercoaster”, a steep drop down a long hill with an immediate uphill at the bottom. Getting ready to drop (hands in the air!):

Photos never quite capture the severe angles or length, but here we are descending the first hill:

All around were fields of fireweed, with their bright purple flowers:

Both sides of the road were lined with light green, as if Mother Nature had planted a border:

The landscape around us gradually changed from forest to open areas of tundra:

The pipeline was often visible beside us:

Our eyes naturally focused on anything that rose from the vast stretches of low grass. Here is a well-known landmark called “the Finger”:

Almost there!

Sebastian and Genevieve celebrated our arrival:

Near the Arctic Circle welcome sign was a free campground where we stayed the night. The area was spacious, with trees that appeared to be newly planted.

Genevieve and Sebastian set to work almost immediately, building a “fort” out of the picnic table:

We didn’t stay outdoors long, however, as the mosquitoes were particularly large and persistent, despite our layers of repellant.

The kids went to bed at 10:30 p.m., while the sun was shining brightly outside:

Around midnight, the sun was still above the horizon, casting shadows on the ground.

We had already experienced many incredible moments during our journey north, but here, on the edge of the Arctic Circle, I felt that I had finally arrived at the “Land of the Midnight Sun.”

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Map of Our Journeys

(click the map to enlarge)
Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin