Sunday, April 11, 2010

One Year Update

It has been just over a year since we arrived in Alaska...and we have done A LOT! Of the original 86 items on our list we have completed 37 as well as parts of 3 more. We have also added and completed 14 items to our list. Over this coming summer we are hoping to complete over 30 more items from our list, so stay tuned...


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Alaskan Highways

There are only 12 numbered highways in Alaska, and obviously none of them are interstates:

Highway 1 (Sterling Highway, Seward Highway, Glenn Highway, Tok Cutoff) runs from the Canadian border through Tok, Glenallen, Palmer, Anchorage, and down into the peninsula all the way to Homer.

Highway 2 (Elliot Highway, Richardson Highway) runs from the Canadian border through Tok, Fairbanks, and all the way to Eureka and Manley Hot Springs.

Highway 3 (Parks Highway) runs from where it breaks off from Highway 1 between Palmer and Wasilla to Fairbanks.

Highway 4 (Richardson Highway) runs from where it breaks off from Highway 2 at Delta Junction all the way south to Valdez.

Highway 5 (Taylor Highway) is one of the shorter highways and runs from the Tetlin Junction to Chicken.

Highway 6 (Steese Highway) runs from Fairbanks north to Circle.

Highway 7 is not one whole road, but it is made up of several highways running through and outside of towns in the Southeast including Petersburg, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Haines.

Highway 8 (Denali Highway) runs from a turnoff on the Parks Highway at Cantwell to a turnoff at the Richardson Highway at Paxton.

Highway 9 (Seward Highway) runs from the turnoff of Highway 1 south to Seward, and is another of the shorter highways.

Highway 10 is another discontinuous highway covering portions of Cordova and Chitina.

Highway 11 (Dalton Highway) runs from a turnoff on the Elliot Highway all the way north to Deadhorse at Prudhoe Bay.

Highway 98 (Klondike Highway numbered because it is the approximate path taken by prospectors in the 1898 Klondike gold rush) runs from Skagway to the Canadian border.

So far we have driven on half. The entirety of Highway 9 and Highway 3, and parts of Highways 1, 2, 4, and 6. We will probably never drive on Highways 5, 10, or 98 but have a chance of driving on at least parts of Highways 7, 8, and 11 while we are living in Alaska.

By comparison there are over 400 numbered state roads in Georgia, not including the main interstate highways.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Long Drive Back

After visiting Fairbanks and Chena, we had to drive all the way back to Anchorage. We drove all the way back on the Richardson Highway and then the Glenn Highway. We went through Glenallen, Alaska. This route is only about 120 miles longer than the Parks Highway and we got to see many new things. First, was this store called the Knotty Shop. At first, I wasn't quite sure what we would find there. It ended up being a store (that was closed this time of year) with many different animals made out of knotted wood out on the front lawn.
After the Knotty Shop, we saw lots of mountains and trees. Pretty soon, we passed a bridge over the Chena River and what else did we see but the Alyeska Pipeline that carries oil from the North Slope to Valdez where it is loaded onto oil tankers. Here are a few pictures of the oil pipeline as seen from our drive.

Finally, we passed a small Native village named Gulkana. It was right across from a river on the side of the highway. It wasn't much but a few houses (maybe 8-10) and I am sure that they get lots of tourists coming by that want to see what a village is like (although I am sure they are nothing alike). Anyway, Steven and I thought that this sign was interesting...
This is an example of a "dry" village because alcohol can not be brought in, drank there or sold there. Some villages are considered "damp" because alcohol cannot be sold there, but can still be brought in for personal consumption/enjoyed.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

North Pole, Alaska and Chena Hot Springs

On Sunday, we got up early and enjoyed breakfast at the hotel. We got in the car and headed about 15 miles away to North Pole, Alaska (#70 on the list). There we saw reindeer and also a giant Santa Claus. There is a little store there, but since it is technically still the winter, it had limited hours. We were not too disappointed because we are sure that Steven's family will want to go back when they are here. FYI: You should not feed the reindeer white sandwich bread...they are on a special diet.

After a quick picture opportunity, we headed back to Fairbanks, grabbed some things for a picnic lunch and headed out to Chena Hot Springs Resort, about 60 miles out of Fairbanks. The resort is famous for its sulphur-smelling natural hot springs believed to help cure aching joints and muscles. The water that we swam in was about 105 degrees and was very warm (#72) !! After a few minutes, I needed to take a break and swim inside at the indoor pool for a little bit! The hot springs were nice and relaxing and surrounding the pool was lots of big boulders.

Also while we were at Chena, we took a tour of the Geothermal energy plant that is used to provide electricity and heat for the resort. It is necessary for the resort to make their own power as they are "off the grid" and are unable to get city power. The plant consisted of these large machines that were made of recycled parts from a salvage yard. The hot water is pumped up from the ground and run through these machines. A reverse refrigeration cycle is run on the hot water and the energy is harnessed to be used by the resort. After the water has been cooled, it is sent about a mile upstream from where is started, allowing the earth to heat it again and be reused. The hot water is also run through the floors of the buildings and used as heat. Chena also has a greenhouse where it grows lettuce and tomatoes that are used in the lodge restaurant.

Finally, before we left Chena, we visited the Aurora Ice Museum and had a drink at the ice bar (# 73 and # 74). The museum was impressive, but I am not sure that I would ever want to stay in one of the hotel rooms inside there!!! Too cold! We both shared an appletini in an ice glass!


Friday, April 2, 2010

A Long Drive North

On Thursday we decided to take a trip to Fairbanks (#68 on the list). So, we booked our hotel and left early Saturday morning. The drive was long through the mountains, snow, fog, and clouds. After 6 hours we arrived and immediately headed towards the World Ice Art Championships (new item #99 on the list) since it was over 32 degrees and we were worried about the sculptures melting.

This is several international ice sculpting competitions, all displayed in one location. The sculptures were very intricate and detailed, and were quite amazing to view.

(Octopus - one of the gold medal winners)

Seeing that the sculptures were mostly intact and being told that they were even cooler at night when colored lights illuminate the sculptures, we decided to come back later that night.

(our hotel room)

We next headed over to the University of Alaska Museum of the North (new item #100 on the list).

They have great exhibits on Alaskan and Native history and artwork. It is broken down into several sections of Alaska with historical presentations on each region.

We were ready for dinner after the museum so we drove up to Fox (just north of Fairbanks) and on the way we stopped at the Pipeline Visitor Center (part of #71). This was the first we had seen of the Pipeline and it was very cool. We had read much about the pipeline (it can be seen from space, the oil has to be heated to move through the pipeline so they have to raise it above the frozen tundra so the land isn't damaged, and although animal experts were worried about the effect on Caribou the animals seem attracted to the warmth and the Caribou heard is growing) and enjoyed seeing it up close and personal.

The Silver Gulch restaurant was recommended to us and it went above and beyond what we had heard. They brew their own beer, the food and service was excellent, and it was a very interesting place to eat (even though it looked like a dive from the outside).

After dinner we drove back to Fairbanks and had some time to kill as the sun was setting so we walked around downtown. We encountered some Fairbanksians (some Native, some not - all in the process of getting drunk) who were quite friendly. One, who said his name was Peter Alaska, insisted that I take his picture and told us how he was from Dawson Creek, British Columbia (which you can see from the sign beside him is 1486 miles from Fairbanks). And you can see the Chena River which runs through downtown Fairbanks in the background.

Finally the sun set and we headed back over to the World Ice Art Championships and below are some of our favorites.

(Roman God and Archer)

(Drew Brees - New Orleans Saints)

(Ice Maze)

(Plant Cell)




(Anaconda Eating an Alligator)

(Underwater Scene - Gold Medal Winner and My Personal Favorite)

(Ganesh, a Hindu Deity)

Exhausted and with another big day ahead of us we decided to go to the hotel and go to bed. However, in doing so we missed out on an amazing opportunity. We had talked to some people we know in Fairbanks who told us no one had seen the Northern Lights all winter and the Geophysical Institute has the Aurora Forecast as a 2 (on a scale of 0 through 9), so we didn't think the Northern Lights would be out. We found out the next day we were wrong, and now we have to try and see them another time.

Stay tuned for the rest of our trip to Fairbanks!