The Ultimate Roadtrip pt.2

Flashback Friday

DAY 1, 05/21/16: Fairbanks to Lake Creek Campground - 369 miles

    Day 1 on our road trip we drove east, towards Delta Junction, Tok, and eventually into Canada. Fairbanks is an epicenter of the Boreal Forest. Deep forest consisting of mostly the fire-prone Black Spruce, but also the abundant White Spruce, Birch, Alder, and other deciduous tree species. As you drive east on the Richardson highway, you also drive along the Tanana River. It always makes me think about Paul Simons song "Diamonds on the soles of her shoes", in which he sings: 

"He's a poor boy
Empty as a pocket
Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose
Sing ta na na
Ta na na na"

    After you leave the deep forest behind you, the mountains move in closer, at the same rate as the braided stream comes closer to the road, and you are during many miles driving through the mountains, well if you can see them. Eventually, the mountains move away again, and you are left with more of a boggy wetland landscape with dead standing spruce and large mountains in the backdrop.

Crossing into Canada

    About 6:30 in the evening we got closer to the Canadian border, and eventually our campsite. With the midnight sun above us we didn't see any sign of a late evening.  The border crossing into Canada was smooth, they asked about our trip and where we were headed. Then the rhetorical question about fruit and alcohol, oh, and weapons. The only thing we could potentially classify as a weapon was the bear spray. The border crossing agent welcomed us and we continued into one of the most remote areas of our trip, the Yukon Territory (YT). The Yukon Territory has a very low population, only 36,000 people live here, in an area that is almost 3.5 times the size of New York State, which makes their slogan "larger than life" even more fitting. 

White River Lake Creek Campground

    Once you get into Canada and the Yukon we are back into deep forest and mountains for real. Mountains everywhere, just like Alaska. We finally arrived at a completely empty campground later that evening. It seems as everyone had disappeared after the border crossing. We got the tent up, had dinner and then went for a short walk along the river.  Later that evening rain that had been following us all day picked up and we fell asleep with the rain pounding on the tent. 

Day 1 trip Details - Gas, Camping, and gas mileage

  • US: Jacks service Delta Junction, AK, 99.5 miles. Gas mileage: 23.6 miles/gallon
  • US: youngs chevron milepost 1314 Alaska highway, AK, 109.2 Miles. Gas mileage: 26.25 miles/gallon
  • Canada: Fas gas beaver creek 1202 Alaska highway YT, 110.7 Miles. Gas mileage: 25.33 miles/gallon
  • Total about 319.4 miles + 49.6 miles from gas station to campground
  • Campground: Lake Creek Campground

DAY 2 05/22/16: Lake Creek Campground to Wolf Creek Campground, 241 miles

    The next morning we woke up early, it was still raining. At many of the campgrounds in Canada, they provided free firewood, unheard of in the US. Priority number one: coffee, priority number two: get a fire started, so we could get warm, and also try to dry our tent out before continuing. There is nothing worse than a wet tent. 

Summer is the season, for roadwork

    We continued through Canada, the Yukon, and the deep forests, mountains, and abundance of water. Never in my life had I expected Canada to be such an eye-opener. Here I had lived in Alaska for about 7 years and thought that nothing will ever top this. Well, I was of course wrong. With the northern region of North America being underlain by permafrost and the harsh winters, summertime not only means tourist season but also roadwork season. It is not uncommon to have to wait half an hour for a pilot car to guide you through the roadworks.

Hey Bear

    About 8:30AM we spot a car standing still by the side of the road. As we approached we could see the reason why. A grizzly, not only any grizzly, a mama grizzly with two bear cubs. Two bear cubs that can't have been more than a few days old. They even had issues with their coordination, and it was pure joy seeing them play with each other and loose their balance from time to time. Mama bear was of course patiently watching nearby.

Mountains

    The mountains disappeared and appeared as we continued driving through Canada. It's hard to fathom how large Canada is, if you thought Alaska with its wilderness was big, that is nothing compared to Candaland. When you think it can not get any more incredible it can, and it will. Again, and again, and again. We stopped at a rest stop by the Kluane River. Oh my, what a treat for the eyes. Those mountains are just right there, in front of you, and sometimes it gets hard to understand how mighty they actually are. 

Wolf Creek Campground

    We finally arrived at Wolf Creek Campground, after about 291 miles of driving. In comparison to the previous campground, this one was a bit more crowded, as in there were other people than us there. Of course it was still raining. I had been dealing with an early rainy field season, but also rain, rain and rain the past couple of years in the field so I guess I had been hardened a bit. W had not. When the rain finally stopped we put our tent up and tried to dry our sleeping bags that had gotten damp earlier. We even had a fire before going to bed after another late dinner. 

Day 2 trip Details - Gas, Camping, and gas mileage

  • Canada: Petro express Haines Junction, YT 185.5 miles. Gas mileage 31.66 miles/gallon
  • Total about  185.5 + 105 miles from the gas station to campground. The grand total of the whole trip: 609.9 miles
  • Campground: Wolf Creek Campground

The Ultimate Roadtrip pt.1

IMG_9443.jpg

Flashback Friday

Two Years ago

    It has now been two years since I packed up all my belongings and took the car south, from Alaska, and into the lower 48. Well, I didn't drive all by myself, which was nice, considering that I think we ended up with about 4500 miles or so (7200km). People in Alaska generally call the rest of the US the lower 48, or just straight the US. They say that many people go to Alaska to disappear because you easily can. Alaska is larger than any other state in the US, and it is impossible to see all incredible places in one short trip. 

The Last Frontier

    There is a reason why Alaska is often referred to as the Last Frontier. With only one road going north and south from Fairbanks. The road north eventually turn into a gravel road, and once you hit Atigun pass, it's just you, you and the 18-wheelers. There are many villages in Alaska that have a road system, but a road system that does not connect to any of the major road systems in Alaska. Which mean that the only way to get there is by plane. 

Tundra, Mountains and deep Forests

    I have often wondered why I fit in so well in Alaska, and I am pretty sure one of the reasons are the fact that the vegetation in the interior of Alaska is almost exactly the same as in Sweden. In Fairbanks, you are in the boreal forest, the same boreal forest that covers almost all of Sweden. There are some differences though, I am pretty sure there is no black spruce in Sweden, and the dominant Scots Pine in Sweden (or at least in the boreal forest I connect to over there) is non-existent in Alaska. Then we have the ocean, or rather the lack of ocean in interior Alaska. That is a big difference, and I think I missed the ocean and water in first year or so in Fairbanks.

Packing the Car

    W always talk about this when the move from Alaska to Wisconsin comes up. And lately, he's been pretty forceful about packing up our home in Madison, in preparation for the big move to New York. W flew to Fairbanks a couple of days before we had planned to leave, and as he describes it, nothing was packed. I on the other hand, still believe that some things were packed, while other items such as bedding and clothes you wear were not. I can admit that I probably had not packed as much as I should have, that on top of some things that needed to get done in the lab before I left, made for some stressful last days at the cabin. But we packed the car and departed on May 21st. 

The typical Alaskan Weather

    The weather in Alaska is always changing, and one day it might be rainy and cloudy and the 40's, while the next is full on sun, accompanied with smoke from wildfires that fills your lungs, along with mosquitos from hell. The day we departed was cloudy, and Alaska did not let me leave on her best behavior. I would have wanted a clear blue sky while driving east through the mountains. But, there would be no lack of mountain views on this trip, especially since we also had half of Canada to drive through.

Wilder pt. 2

DSC_0172-2.jpg
"Wilder than a brushfire burns deep inside the bramble
Baby, I think God made your soul born to ramble
Maybe you'll take to the far away places
Where life is gonna deal you a hand full of aces
But it doesn't really matter how great the spaces
We're chained, and when everything else changes our love will stay the same
We're chained, and when everything else goes away our love will still remain"

Flashback Friday

Getting Married, Again

    This past summer we got married, again. Well, this was more of a wedding celebration, a celebration where we were able to invite our friends and family on this side of the ocean, to the state that holds our hearts, Montana. Last Christmas we went skiing at a place called Homestake Lodge, outside Butte, MT. It was one of those places where you felt like you were in heaven, snow on the trees, newly groomed cross-country ski tracks and rolling hills and mountains. I happened to notice that the lodge also hosts wedding parties, and after some debating over where to have our wedding celebration, we decided to pick Homestake Lodge. 

DSC_0114.jpg

Homestake Lodge

    There are many wedding venues around Bozeman, Montana. I really wanted a place surrounded by mountains. We talked about renting a forest service cabin, but with all the additional logistics that a place like that would bring, and our limited budget we figured that we probably were better of with a place that had the amenities a social gathering like this would require. Paradise Valley is as it sounds like a very beautiful place, located between Bozeman and Gardiner. I have seen many different lodges around there, all beautiful and all very expensive to rent. Instead, we dialed down on Homestake Lodge in the mountain pass between Bozeman and Butte and right on the Continental Divide. Homestake Lodge itself is this beautiful rustic cabin that sits on top of a small hill overlooking the deep forest and the mountains surrounding it. We rented the whole place, which included a couple of cabins and one yurt. It was a great way to host a wedding celebration, having the option for a lot of people to stay at the lodge and surrounding cabins. Butte is only about 20 minutes away, so we had a few guests who went back there as the afternoon slowly transitioned into the late evening. It was my dream wedding, being surrounded by these mountains and the deep forest. 

We are a Fiery Couple   

    The morning of the wedding we found ourselves driving from Bozeman to Homestake Lodge through Homestake Pass. Smoke from wildfires across the state covered the pass and the mountains surrounding Bozeman. The smell of fire was in the air. In some sense, this is kind of ironic, because we both study fires, so of course our bond to each other would be tied during a fiery day like this. Every time we drive anywhere in this state I have this feeling of excitement and love in my heart, love for all this nature surrounding us that is also tying us together. We met once upon a time when I moved into the cabin across the driveway from W's cabin. Since then we have helped each other with fieldwork in our different systems. W has helped me in the deep forests of interior Alaska, and I have helped him in the deep forests of Yellowstone National Park. We have lived apart for several years to be able to pursue our PhDs, me in Alaska and him in Wisconsin until I was done with all my fieldwork and was able to join him in Wisconsin. 

Walking down the aisle

    In my dreams leading up to this wedding, everything was already planned, my mom and dad would be there. I would finally be able to show my parents one of the many places that now holds my heart. Life doesn't always turn out the way you expect them to, and mom passed away about 10 months before the wedding. She had been so excited and had already planned everything she wanted to do and see. My dad came alone, but instead of thinking about all the sadness surrounding the fact that my mom was not able to be there, we made this trip all about us. We drove together all the way from Madison WI, through Badlands National Park, through the Beartooth Pass, and through Yellowstone until we finally arrived in Bozeman a few days later. We camped along the way, and dad had not been sleeping in a tent since the 70's or 80's. And then at the wedding, my dad finally got to walk me down the aisle. 

Not your average kind of wedding

    We are not the average type of people, so our wedding was not the average kind. We chose for instance very untraditional music for the wedding. We walked down to Brandy Carlile's "We're Chained", had two of our poet friends marry us, and walked out to John Prine and Iris Dement "In Spite of Ourselves". Because we are not your average type of human. We have been shaped by our surroundings, W in the backcountry of Montana, and then the forests of Alaska, and me as a full-on city girl from central Stockholm with my heart in northern Sweden, and then the sharp turn to dry cabin life in Alaska. We don't blink or hesitate about camping along a frozen river at 20 below and get up and do a 20K ski race the next day. We see possibilities where others see problems. 

A Dream Wedding

    As the afternoon turned to evening the hazy air, created by the smoke from all the wildfires, developed a beautiful veil over our wedding venue. You could smell the fire in the air, but those fires were far away from where we were. The kids were playing and family and friends helped out to bring the dessert out to the pavilion where the homemade smoked pulled pork dinner had been served. W had spent days with his aunts' husband, smoking the pork on low heat. We moved between tables and talked to all of our friends we hadn't seen in a long time. 

A Couple of Post-Wedding Photos

    Before the darkness arrived and within the magic hour of sunset and light we went out and took some pictures of us with my dad. So that we could keep some memories from this wonderful day. We didn't hire any photographer but instead we took turns taking pictures of each other, and I think we did a good job!

The Yurt

    There were a couple of cabins at Homestake Lodge and many beds at the actual lodge, and then additionally we had the yurt. W and I decided to stay at the yurt because we would not mind using an outhouse, or the fact that the place had no running water, it would be just as in Alaska. Past midnight, in the dark summer night we found ourselves trekking back to our yurt. We managed to get one of the lanterns from the party because of course our headlamps were already in the yurt. We kind of knew how to get to the yurt, but since the lantern was not that bright, and we did have a bit to walk it was a bit of challenge. I instantly started thinking about this Swedish comedy where they are waiting for Santa to come. A Santa that they dropped off, a couple of km from the cabin, with a car. The guy was supposed to bring all the gifts on a sled back to the cabin, equipped with a sled, the bag of gifts and the lantern and a bottle of whiskey he slowly approached the cabin, and about two hours later (much later than what they had anticipated) he finally arrived. We finally arrived at our yurt and slept until sunrise, which was a few hours later...

The Morning After

The morning after the wedding we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise. I don't know if you have ever experienced a sunrise in a fire-prone environment with wildfires surrounding you, but the sunrises with the smoky veil are always out of this world. We woke up filled with beautiful memories that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. Later that day we went on a short hike with some of our friends and later on camped by a lake, in the deep forests of Montana. 

Matanuska Valley and Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier

Flashback Friday

Palmer, Alaska

    If you drive south from Fairbanks, past Talkeetna, and past Wasilla you get to a place called Palmer. We went there the first time my mom and dad came to visit us in Alaska. It was late August, or maybe even September when we went for this long roadtrip. W and I had bought tickets to see Avett Brothers at the annual Alaska State Fair that late summer. My parents stayed at a motel across from the fairground, and they could hear the music play in the late summer evening. Those summer nights were colorful and warm, mosquitos were out but not a real problem. No smoke in the air for once, and everyone were in such a happy mood. Afterwards W and I drove towards a camping spot outside of Palmer and camped for the evening. 

Views from the drive south:

Palmer, Alaska:

Culture

    You could think that there really isn't that much to do in Palmer, but there are quite a few things to do around there. Since we are all interested in culture, and my mom used to work at a large open air museum in Sweden (Skansen), we went to the Colony House Museum. The house is showing its appearance during the 30's and 40's. It is always interesting to see how people lived, especially in a landscape as Alaska, with the long dark and cold winter months, and short summers. The Colony House came to life during the depression and the big investment in New Deal by Roosevelt in the 30's. I have mentioned "Civilian Conservation Corps" (CCC) earlier, which also was a part of Roosevelt's New Deal. The "Resettlement Administration" (RA) was part of Roosevelt's New Deal, and about 200 families were relocated from the Midwest to the Matanuska Valley. The reason they chose families from the Midwest to be relocated to Alaska, was because that area experience a similar climate to the Matanuska Valley. Not too surprisingly, many of the families that were relocated had Scandinavian ancestry.

Musk Ox Farm

    While you are around Palmer you can also visit the Musk Ox Farm. There they use sustainable agricultural practices to produce qiviut. They focus on public education and also provide some income opportunities for Alaska Natives. Muskox can be seen roaming free along some coastal areas in Alaska. There is also a small herd of Muskox that roam along the border of Sweden and Norway (if that wild herd still exist, I can't find any updated information about them), but then there is also the Muskox centre in Härjedalen where they breed Muskox, with one of the main purposes to increase the genetic variation in the wild herd. That wild herd on the border between Sweden and Norway started of with a population of about 5 individuals 1971, At most the herd had about 30 individuals, in the 80's, but since then that number has decreased to about 11, so they have suffered some inbreeding problem unfortunately, something that is common in small populations of animals. 

Mat-Su Valley

    Palmer and the Musk Ox farm are situated in the Matanuska Valley, just south of the Talkeetna Mountains. To the east and south of Palmer you have the Chugach Mountains. As you can imagine this area is extremely beautiful with these large mountains surrounding the area. To the left of the Matanuska Valley is the Susitna valley, and the whole area is often called the Mat-Su Valley. The whole area in southern Alaska is covered by glaciers, it is quite spectacular to think about, since these glaciers most likely will disappear in the near future, and many of them have retreated significantly or just disappeared. If you are interested in seeing how many glaciers there are in Alaska you can see a map from Alaska State Library, which list 667 individual glaciers in Alaska. The Mat-Su Valley, although dark winter nights, is the most productive area in Alaska, and the area experiences less cold weather compared to for instance Fairbanks and the Tanana Valley. This area is part of the Southern Cordillera region and was glaciated during the Pleistocene (compared to the area around Fairbanks and Interior Alaska, which mostly was unglaciated), and is the reason why there are so many glaciers in southern part of Alaska. 

Matanuska Glacier

    Out of all of these 667 glaciers in Alaska, Matanuska glacier is one of the few glaciers you can actually drive all the way to the foot of the glacier. The access point is privately owned and charges a small amount of money to be able to drive all the way to the glacier. Well it seems like this small amount that used to be 25-30$ per person has gotten a pretty steep increase in the last few years. Apparently you now have to pay 100$ fee, for a guided tour. Which is in some way understandable. This is a glacier and while many of the visitors are following the guidelines and are sticking to the detailed path to walk on, others are running around the glacier like small kids, jumping crevasses and climbing ice towers with sandals. 

 Standing on the Matanuska Glacier

Standing on the Matanuska Glacier

Glenn Highway

    Of course you can see the views of the glacier by driving the scenic Glenn Highway, and visit the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation site. I have visited the Matanuska glacier twice, but we never went on any extreme outings out there on the ice. But the views, and the feeling of being on the ice like that is out of this world. 

    Have you visited any glaciers?