North to Alaska (again) – Part 4

Please remember that this blog entry recalls our trip in 2023, but I am posting in 2024, slightly less than one year later. With that in mind:

We made it to Denali National Park and took the spot the Chens saved for us. However, they were nowhere around when we got there. We disconnected the trailer, went to the visitors center, and then headed into ‘town’ for a bite. The ‘town’ is a collection of hotels, restaurants, etc, just up the road from the park. Very tourist-oriented. When we returned to the trailers the Chens still were not there. We found out later that they had taken a much longer than expected hike and were pretty tired.

We all got up the next day and headed south to our next destination, Palmer. We stayed at Paradise RV (now called The Springer RV). We got to know the owners pretty well when we stayed there in 2019 since we were there for over 3 weeks! This time we were only planning on staying a week as the Chen’s had to send their daughter back home at this time.

On our trip to Palmer, however, we got 2 more chances to view Mt McKinley.

and

We filled our week in the Anchorage area with mundane things like laundry and groceries but we also got to visit some sights around there.

We went to Earthquake Park, where you can see where the ground shifted in 1964. You can also just make out Mt McKinley again to the north (it’s the white blob, really).

We drove out the see the Matanuska glacier.

It was a bit too far to walk to and you had to hire a local company to get you there. But on the way back we did see some wildlife. A moose with two babies.

We continued down to Eklutna Lake. This is where we met the RVing to Alaska group in 2019. We took our chairs and sat by the lake while the Chens took a little hike. We all stopped for a hike to see Thunderbird Falls. It was a bit tasking on my old knee but the mosquitos were worse. So bad that George ran back to the car!

Another stop we took was a road trip up to Independence Mine, we continued down the loop road around through Wasilla. I think we went pretty close to the homestead that the Raney’s have from Homestead Rescue, but I didn’t see it. It always amazes me how much man did in Alaska to mine the minerals based upon what years they did it! Some tough people back then.

Our time in the Anchorage area, for now, was done. We had to come back through on the way out though. Now we were heading to Homer, one of our favorite places. We decided not to push a whole day to get down there and stayed the night in Soldotna in the Fred Meyer parking lot, with about 15 other RVs!

We made it to Homer in good time. We went to the overlook and down to the spit before starting off the next day to do some things here. We drove to Anchor Point, the westernmost point in the American Highway system. We noticed there is a boat ramp here into the bay but it was unlike any boat ramp I have ever seen. The water is so shallow that they use a tractor to drive out into the water with the boat trailer and then retrieve the boat and trailer back to dry land.

There is a Russian influence in the area. You see many Russian Orthodox people and we drove to their towns for a small excursion. We visited Razdolna and Voznesenka. We drove by the Kilcher’s ranch, they were on the TV show Alaska: The Last Frontier. It was very scenic.

On our last day in Homer we took a ferry ride across the Kachemak bay to the town of Seldovia. Another Russian town with no road access. We were a little unsure about Roxie on a boat but it worked out just great. We saw some wildlife on the ‘cruise’ and toured the town for as long as we could before catching the ferry back.

That evening, Roxie made sure she had one last meal of halibut fish and chips as we were departing the next morning.

We headed to Tenderfoot campground, our 2-night base for our next drive. The night we got there, we headed to Hope AK. This is a quaint town that had people fishing in the stream that goes through town and a good view of the mud flats.

Our main reason for staying where we did was a day trip to Whittier AK. Marcia went to high school in Whittier CA so it only made sense. The odd thing about Whittier is access to the town is through a multi-mile tunnel which is a vehicle and train tunnel. Only one way at a time though. We passed by the Portage Glacier on the way.

The majority of Whittier’s population lives in one building but there always seems to be the ubiquitous cruise ship at the dock.

We went to a park to see some salmon running and people trying to catch them. These two photos are at different tide levels, it changed while we were there.

The next stop on our whirlwind tour was Valdez. We stayed at the KOA there, like we did 4 years prior. George and Marcia had set up a boat tour to the Kenai Fjords NP. We tried that last time we were here and Roxie got deathly seasick on it, so we were skeptical of doing it again. However, she did well on the ferry to Seldovia so we thought we would roll the dice and we got tickets.

Our first day there was very rainy and we could not do much but the second day was the boat tour. It turned out to be overcast with occasional rain. Roxie loaded up on Dramamine and she did well the entire trip. We took the longest trip that they had and saw numerous glaciers.

We were also witness to an ice waterfall, and George was able to capture it.

We also got up close to a regular waterfall.

We did see a lot of wildlife on the boat excursion and the crew was quick to spot them and slow down. Here is a killer whale.

We all made it off the ship after about 130 miles on the water.

We made a quick stop at Mile 0 of the Iditarod race.

The next day was our last day there and finally saw the Exit Glacier near town. George and Marcia did another strenuous hike up to the glacier.

This leg marked a turning point of sorts as we had pretty much gone as far south on the Kenai Peninsula and we were starting our return trip. However, we still had a few places to go on that route.

North to Alaska (again) – Part 3

We bypassed the Top of the World (TOTW) highway due to weather concerns but while in Tok we all took a day trip to Chicken so we could see it, and say we went there, in case we could not take the TOTW on the way out of Alaska. It was interesting to see the small town:

We drove past Chicken toward the Canadian border but stopped short of actually crossing since it would have been difficult for us at that time.

But we got a nice view from a viewpoint.

On the way back we saw our first moose on the road.

The next day was the 4th of July. Since we were in the US there was a minor celebration. Tok shut down the ALCAN highway for a cute little parade.

Most of the participants in the parade threw out candy to the viewers. There was a lot of candy strewn about.

At Tok, travelers need to decide on which way they want to go. Head south toward the Anchorage area or continue the northern track onto Fairbanks. We opted for Fairbanks so we could head out on the Dalton highway toward Prudhoe Bay.

We stopped at Delta Junction, the professed end of the Alaska highway. However, I have seen other places that say they are the end.

We continued to Fairbanks and stayed at a not-very-nice RV park. We all had to do some laundry and also stopped by an Alaska Pipeline information stop.

It was time to get on the Dalton Highway. The Dalton goes from near Fairbanks to the Arctic Ocean for a total of about 415 miles, pretty much all gravel. Like the roads our family traveled in 1964:

The Dalton highway was pretty similar to this. We crossed the only bridge on the Yukon River in Alaska. We ran into road construction and lost the lead vehicle, going down the wrong road in a construction zone with me leading the group, naturally. I rounded a corner and found a large tractor in our lane. I got out and started telling everyone behind that we had to backup and get on the correct lane. Luckily the pilot driver came back and the tractor moved.

The road is pretty rough, especially for our trailers. I wanted to get to the Arctic Circle so we only went to Coldfoot, we didn’t have a desire to drive all the way, on those rough roads, to the ocean. We stayed at Coldfoot for 3 nights, George and Marcia left their trailer in our care and took their truck only up to the Arctic Ocean. We had 50amp electric hookups in Coldfoot so we had Starlink working and the AT&T service was very good. We were set.

Coldfoot is primarily a truck stop, with some tourists coming through. Pricing on things, like fuel, is pretty high. Part of the cost for staying overnight in their ‘RV Park’ is they include a shower. The shower is inside one of the rooms that they rent, for $250/night!

The Chens made it back from the Arctic Ocean and we determined it was a very good idea to NOT take any trailers up that stretch of the road. They had some dicey issues with just the truck.

We were already having some issues with our trailer wheel on the road up the Dalton. I noticed the tire pressure increasing on one wheel, and it was getting hot. I initially thought it was a dragging brake heating it up. I tried to break the brake loose with a mallet, I even cut the brake line to stop it from possibly locking.

On the road back, about 90 miles from Fairbanks, I checked it again and found the entire wheel was loose! We raised the trailer off the bad wheel and were able to pull the complete wheel off of the trailer without removing the lugnuts. That should not happen. Our bearings had failed on that wheel.

My father had an issue with an Airstream many years ago as I was a kid and I remember him towing it for a short distance on only three wheels. The axles that Airstream uses, Dexter, allow this to happen, most RVs don’t have this capability. Off we went on three wheels, monitoring the tire pressures on those, which are overloaded now. We would drive until the pressures got too high and then pull off and wait for them to cool down. It was only a 220-mile drive from Coldfoot to Fairbanks but it took us almost 12 hours to accomplish it, the last 90 miles at 30mph. George and Marcia stayed right with us the entire way, many thanks to them. We finally made it to our RV park and ended up eating dinner around 10:30 pm that night (and it was still light). The next day was starting the process of finding out how to repair the trailer.

We had initially planned to only spend a few nights in Fairbanks and then on to Mt McKinley (Denali) National Park. We knew this would take more than that so the Chens went on to Denali and used the reservations we had, we had been to Denali in 2019 so the trailer did take priority.

My mind went through all kinds of permutations about the repair. Dexter axles are not tremendously common and somewhat specialized so I didn’t hold out hope of replacing it, if needed. If we had to get a replacement, we would have to have the trailer shipped back to the lower 48 or store it locally to get fixed later. There was a place in Fairbanks that was a Dexter dealer, which surprised me. I talked to them but they did not have a shop there, only in Anchorage. That was better, we would only have to go to Anchorage (360 miles). I called Anchorage and they weren’t confident in repairing it. They, however, did know of a place in Fairbanks I could try, Bulletproof Trailers.

There was hope! I talked to Brett, describing the problem, and he immediately knew it was a Dexter Nev-R-Lube axle. He was very confident that they could fix it. We set up a time in a couple of days and I got with it ordering a new hub overnight from Toscanos in California (not cheap). The repair was scheduled to start after the weekend so we tried to put it behind us and become tourists again.

As most of you know, my family traveled to Alaska in 1964. Here is what Fairbanks was then (the most recent population is 32,000):

I was able to recreate a 1964 photo again in Fairbanks:

We had a few more things to do in Fairbanks, I needed an oil change, we had to get our windshield replaced (a small crack) and one of my crowns came off. We got those three items checked off and finally took the trailer in for repair:

Not knowing how long the repair would take we headed to the library. After we were there for about 20 minutes we got a call that the trailer was done:

Bulletproof trailers came through for us in Fairbanks and it was very reasonably priced. We ended up staying just over a week in Fairbanks for all of this and finally headed down to Denali for one night. On the drive down we were able to see Mt Denali from the road (I hear not many people get to see it):

Hopefully, all of our angst is now behind us.