“To know the wilderness is to know a profound humility, to recognize one’s littleness, to sense dependence, and interdependence, indebtedness and responsibility.”
-Howard Zahniser, author of the Wilderness Act of 1964
Downtown Fairbanks was more cosmopolitan than I expected (ok ok, I did not expect tons of urban life). Upon reflection, it warms my heart to say that visiting a place viewed as remote in the lower 48 turned out to involve many warm encounters with quirky, friendly folks. Even in a place with so much amazing, non-human-related nature, the people were a big part of what made the experiences so memorable. Thus, the quote above. Perhaps it is partly the unforgiving environment that forged a culture of down-to-earth friendliness among those who live here.
We witnessed various shenanigans on a Sunday in Fairbanks, some you’ll have to ask me in person for a recounting. Beyond those:
My grandma used to tell me that the Northern Lights were the spirits of our ancestors celebrating as they look down on us from above. If you whistle, they will draw near and dance for you.
-Raymond Frank (per the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitor Center)
Given the snow storm the weekend we were there, our chances of catching the Northern Lights were low, but we persevered to make the most of things either way. At least the cloud cover meant warmer temperatures for the friends who’d agreed to join me and Kris on these adventures, so I didn’t feel like we’d conned these poor Florida-borns into going on a vacation in a freezer.
Exploring Alaska in Late February feels like a study in contrasts, cold environment vs. warm people and houses, rustic natural surroundings and military-grade survival boots. It seemed fitting to double down on this, like some kind of dare from Mother Nature. Continue Reading
One of many excellent recommendations per our VRBO hosts was to book with Just Short of Magic** for a sled dog ride (a.k.a. mushing), a little drive north of North Pole. After a late-night pickup of our friends J & G who courageously agreed to share in our Alaskan adventures, Jenni found us some excellent (late) breakfast at the Creperie in downtown Fairbanks. Then, off to dog sled ride via a thirty minute drive. As mentioned in the previous post, sled dogs have been a fundamental companion to Alaskan life for centuries, so I was really excited to partake in even a small, touristy way.
Jenna called us as we were a little late showing up at a designated cushion time, to make sure we were safe, and tell us not to worry. So nice of her! Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the staff did some standard checks that we were layered up properly (maybe in case it suddenly turned into below zero weather rather than 30?) Of course, that turned it into a competition for me. Continue reading →
As I mentioned in part 0 of Alaska adventures, I flew in to Fairbanks around midnight. I got to sleep in the delightfully welcoming cabin (this one booked via VRBO) by about 3am, and yeah, it was in a city called North Pole. (!)* I loved staying at this cabin, and found the hosts helpful and responsive. This post may have a lot of photos, but consider it obsessively curated for you to get the full experience.
On the Road:
After a healthy breakfast of DIY oatmeal and Starbucks fancy-coffee, K and I headed out for the 2.5+ hour drive south to Denali National Park. Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake, but I hadn’t put the two names together, Mt. McKinley and Denali, until I was packing for this trip and reading my copy of Fodor’s.
Fun fact: President Obama changed what was previously known as Mount McKinley back to Denali, an Athbascan name meaning “the High One”. At 20,310 feet, it is the highest point on the continent, and tallest mountain in the world.
On the way, we drove through lots of snow clouds kicked up by passing trucks that would obscure the entire roadway briefly, and whole clusters of buildings boarded up for the winter. This was definitely not high tourist season, and while it was an intermittent exercise in faith (faith that the road was relatively straight in a snow cloud), it was also a very scenic drive. The Athabascans named this northern forest “land of little sticks,” and I couldn’t help but agree as I gazed at the sweeping landscape, laced on road side with countless trees poking up toward the sky together.
To try: we stopped in at the Alaskan Coffee Bean in Healy for some caffeine.
Apparently, a sludge cup is brewed coffee + 2 shots espresso, popular with truckers. I was curious, but abstained since the midnight flight was already messing with my sleep. Let me know if you try it. The folks there were friendly, and plus, the place was open, hooray!
Alaska is often called the Last Frontier, but it’s also home to some of the oldest pieces of our collective human heritage. We crossed this very river mentioned on our drive out of the North Pole! Amazing.
The oldest human remains found in Alaska are 11,500 years old, the second-oldest Ice Age remains to be found in the world. Found in Central Alaska near the Tanana River, the remains of a three-year-old girl are thought to be those of an Athbascan ancestral relative.
Fodor’s Alaska p.20
At Denali National Park:
A video gift for you, hope it brings you some serenity and delight. Click subscribe at the end for more!
Where one can let the spirit go with joyous abandon, to sense the freedome of the wilderness.
The first time I remember camping and absolutely loving it, I was twenty-one years old. My significant other and I had scored a great deal on tickets to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula from Minneapolis. As we landed and walked off the tarmac in Anchorage, I swore I could smell the ice and pristine air wafting in from the mountains of “the Last Frontier.” Continue Reading