Forward Chapter 8

Other than having our tomatoes confiscated, crossing the international border into Alaska was uneventful.

For the first 65 miles in Alaska the AlCan follows the north side of the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. It’s about 900k acres of mostly wetland habitat, and considered an important avian flyway. A bird blind in the small campground where we stayed was an added bonus. (Plus it helped the mosquitoes know where to find us.) It was overcast but we could see the mountains of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in the far distance.

Lots of mammals also inhabit the refuge, including beaver. Trumpeter swans were thought to be endangered until great numbers of them were counted here, which helped spur legal protection of the area in 1980.

The first sign of permanent human habitation on the AlCan is about 90 miles up the road in the crossroads town of Tok, (pronounced “toke”), population 1400. Our gas stop there took a little longer than we expected.

Just after we filled up, the van wouldn’t restart. It happened at the only pumps with a service station for unknown miles in any direction (and not while we were in the woods or at the Three Bears food store down the highway). It happened to be a weekday when the garage was open and not busy. It happened that the new part was available (and in fact was the last one in town). It happened that the mechanic fixed it right at the gas pump. And it happened to delay us by only 45 minutes. Hence the smile. (He’s typically the one who has to go under the van.) And hey - we got 212k miles out of that starter!

The AlCan officially ends 108 miles north at Delta Junction, but we didn’t stop to see the final marker, as it had begun to rain. A lot. And it continued to rain as we continued to drive for the next several days.

During inclement weather the choice is to keep moving and cover some miles, or stay put until visibility improves enough to see what we came for. We used our second rainy day to take care of some business in Fairbanks, then decided to wait out the weather near the Chena River.

The skies occasionally cleared but never for long
At times the rain blew sideways, never bothering a moose and her two yearling calves wading (and chewing) in and out of the nearby pond. Getting to watch them, and a big bird, was a great consolation for the weather delay.

But the forecast for dryer conditions the following day turned out to be wrong. We met an Alaskan who recommended that like him, we go south on the Richardson Highway toward Valdez, where the views are “picture postcards” and the forecast was for sun. So we did. (The Gates of the Arctic will have to wait.)

Our route south along the Tanana (doesn’t rhyme with banana) River in heavy weather.

We stopped in Delta Junction this time to see the AlCan Highway terminus marker. I couldn’t help but notice that the numbers on the sign as to cost, distance, and construction workers conflicted with what we had read at the other end in Dawson City.

Official sign and kitschy 7-foot-tall sculpture in Delta Junction

Over the next 2 days we drove about 300 miles looking for sunshine and we found it, as well as one of our favorite campsites of the trip so far. About 75 miles north of Valdez we found a side road into the forest, which ended at a gravel quarry, with views of the Chugach Mountains to the west, and the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park to the east. We could hear the Tonsina River tumbling in the valley below us.

Camping at a quarry was a first for us. They are abundant in Alaska - as roadwork is a constant challenge.
Chugach mountain sunset

The drive south to Valdez from there was spectacular, with peaks and glaciers overhead in every direction.

Views from the Richardson Highway
Can’t say we’ve hiked to many glaciers before. At Worthington Glacier (also shown in first/opening photo) a strong cold wind blew down over the ice and through the canyon.

We enjoyed the seaside city of Valdez (pronounced “Valdeez”) located at the southern end of the Alaskan pipeline, and inhabited by about 4k people. The aqua-blue bay is ringed by the glacier-topped Chugach mountains rising straight up from the water.

1st photo: looking west toward Prince William Sound; 2nd photo: fishing boat heading out with pipeline terminus in the distance; 3rd photo: city docks; 4th photo: waterfront wood sculpture; last photo: water & ice below Valdez Glacier
Our route so far in Alaska
Created By
alison blakeslee

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