Alaska 2017 Flying the Yamaha from Vermont to Alaska

Having thoroughly enjoyed a similar trip from Vermont to Alaska in this same airplane in 1998 Linda and I decided to do it again in 2017. This time the Cessna 206 Stationair had a new paint job, an avionics upgrade, and a different motorcycle in the cabin. While many things have changed in the nearly twenty years between trips the basic element of touring by airplane while having motorcycle ground transportation and being able to sleep very comfortably in the plane at night were common to both trips.

With the motorcycle, full fuel (80 gallons) and and tools, survival gear, tents, tarps, clothing, etc. the C206 was still around 400 pounds UNDER gross weight.

The basic set-up involved removing 4 passenger seats, layering thin plywood on the floor and using air mattresses for sleeping. Additionally, a "screened porch" made from old tent parts could be slipped over the wing and attached to the fuselage with Thule straps adjacent to the large cargo doors. The sleeping quarters were surprisingly cozy, warm and dry. Sun screens came in handy to block out light and provide privacy. All of our gear except for the motorcycle could be stored in the plane, either on the front seats or on the shelf behind the floor, leaving plenty of room to move around within the cabin and sleep at night. We always felt that the fuselage gave us at least some protection from bears, although fortunately that attribute was never tested.

The "porch" as seen from inside the cabin.

Unlike our previous trip with the 250 cc antique Ducati motorcycle, this newer Yamaha, while more reliable and slightly lighter, required removal of the front wheel to be able to fit within the cabin. This was done by using a forward center stand, a quick disconnect front wheel, a small temporary front wheel, folding handlebars, and a folding aluminum ramp. The whole process could be accomplished in just a few minutes.

The "system" for loading the motorcycle in the cabin.

While our previous trip was a more direct route going north of the Great Lakes, this time we flew south to North Carolina to visit family, across Tennessee to Arkansas for the night, around the desert Southwest for about a week then up through Canada to Alaska, allowing plenty of time to relax, explore, see the sights and visit with friends. Ultimately much of our original proposed route was modified to avoid an excessive heat wave in the Southwest.

Each white dot represents a stop, some just for fuel but some for several days.

We spent one night in Raleigh, North Carolina, and our second stop was at a beautiful air park in Arkansas (Holley Mountain Airpark, 2A2). Our friend Andy wasn't in the country but was kind enough to loan us his house and a bottle of wine for the night.

Holley Mountain Airpark. It's nice to have friends scattered around the country.

The next day took us across Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to Carlsbad, New Mexico. While the long flight wasn't boring, there was a lot of flat territory to cross - something we weren't particularly used to doing.

From Arkansas to New Mexico, we crossed a LOT of Oklahoma and Texas, quite entertaining in its own right but flat compared to home in Vermont
The Carlsbad Cavern National Park was well worth the visit. The caverns are huge and the cool temps were in sharp contrast to the 100 degree temps outside. A highlight of the visit that should not be missed is the evening departure of hundreds of thousands of bats from the entrance of the cave.

From Carlsbad we altered our route to go north to Santa Fe, partly to escape the heat and partly because our proposed destination was the center of a large wildfire fighting operation. This route also avoided several active Restricted airspaces along the direct route. After relaxing for the night in town, we traveled to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument for a pleasant hike in around the canyons and the impressive tent rocks.

Exploring some more out-of-the-way places is one of the joys of a leisurely trip.

We departed Santa Fe and headed to Sedona, Arizona, crossing over desert rock formations and the large meteor crater near Winslow, Arizona.

The landscape across the country never got boring.
The meteor crater is almost a mile in diameter and was formed 50,000 years ago.

This would be our second trip to Sedona, staying one night at the Enchantment Resort and one night at the Kimpton Amara in downtown Sedona. We really enjoyed both places, and the approach into the airport is spectacular.

The next sequence took us from Sedona to the Grand Canyon, up to Page and Monument Valley, then stopping at Bryce Canyon for a few nights in the tent, while the airplane remained at the airport.

The Grand Canyon is, well the "Grand" Canyon and well worth seeing by helicopter, as they are permitted to fly below the rim. Airspace over the canyon is restricted for general aviation.

Our stop at Grand Canyon was brief and we headed up to Page, Arizona, that same day then on to Bryce Canyon (with a side trip to Monument Valley) the following day.

Horseshoe Bend, Page, Arizona
From Page to Monument Valley to Bryce Canyon we flew over Lake Powell.
Monument Valley
Monument Valley

Bryce Canyon was one of our favorite stops. The airport elevation 7590 feet MSL and the density altitude in the heat that day was over 10,000 feet. We weren't allowed to sleep in the plane so we rode into town to a campground next to the National Park.

Bryce Canyon Airport, KBCE.
Camping and hiking at Bryce Canyon, Utah.

While camping at Bryce we met the operator of the small campsite train and his wife and ended up meeting them for lunch the next day after we left Bryce and flew to Cedar City, Utah. We spent the night in Cedar City and the next day took a hike to some nearby canyon waterfalls.

Cascade Falls, near Cedar City, Utah

From Cedar City we flew up through Utah, fueled at Boise, Idaho then proceeded up to Spokane, Washington for a few nights.

Spokane, Washington.

After resting up in Spokane we planned a long day's trip from there to the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek. Crossing the border into Canada is considerably more complex than it was 20 years ago. We stopped in Kalispell and landed in Lethbridge, Alberta, for customs but only after struggling with a flawed EAPIS border system in the U.S. From there we flew through rain, turbulence and strong winds to finally arrive in Dawson Creek, BC, in a cold and dreary rain under low ceilings.

Glacier Park to Lethbridge.
The crosswind only contributed further to turbulence from unstable air. We had to navigate around a few thunderstorms en route as well.
It was something of a relief to finally land at Dawson Creek for the night.

After spending the night in Dawson Creek we proceeded up the Alaska Highway to Watson Lake, where we spent the night camping on the airfield next to the lake itself.

On a nice day, and even without GPS, it's hard to get lost following the Alaska Highway, every mile of which could be considered a suitable landing option in case of an emergency.
Watson Lake airfield.
On field camping at Watson Lake.

From Watson Lake we flew to Whitehorse then up along part of the Yukon River to Dawson, Yukon, the site of the Klondike gold rush in the late 1800s. Again, we had to navigate around airspace restrictions due to nearby wildfires, and the airport was busy with firefighting operations.

Miles and miles of scenic overload. It never got boring or commonplace.
Dawson, Yukon.

The flight from Dawson to Fairbanks was a challenge, and in fact ended up in Beaver Creek, Yukon, due to weather. We simply could not find a way through the terrain with low ceilings as we flew along the Yukon River and tried to go further westward. Again, customs back into the U.S. was a problem, having finally managed a difficult EAPIS glitch and filing a flight plan to Fairbanks. When I diverted to Beaver Creek I notified customs in Fairbanks right away, but they didn't pass that information along and ended up calling my daughter in Massachusetts and informing her that our aircraft was missing. Yikes. But fortunately that was alleviated by her simply calling my cell phone to find we were actually fine, and we spent the night sleeping in the plane at Beaver Creek.

At this point trying to go from Dawson to Fairbanks, we thought we would make it, but the weather got worse so we tried to divert to Northway, but about 5 miles from there we found it was under a thunderstorm, so we had to divert back into Canada and we landed at Beaver Creek for the night. Customs in Fairbanks was looking for us.
Beaver Creek, Yukon. We were happy to sleep in a warm and comfortable airplane that night as the airport was deserted, the weather was bad and the best place to go was into the airplane.

The flight to Fairbanks International was uneventful. The airport has an excellent on-field camping area with large campsites, showers and restrooms with several gazebos for pilot use. We were able to do some minor maintenance and an oil change there while we toured around town on the motorcycle.

En route and approach to Fairbanks International.
A portion of the campground can be seen in the lower right. There are 15 large campsites for airplanes, each with a picnic table and fire pit, all a short walk from the abundant float plane activities.
Fairbanks campsite.

After resting up in Fairbanks we flew to Manley Hot Springs for a dip in the privately available natural hot springs before continuing on to Talkeetna for the next few nights.

The hot springs are privately owned and privately visited for a small fee. Water flows constantly from the springs into separate tanks, each a little cooler than the previous one. "Showers" are provided by buckets, draining off onto the floor. The building itself is a greenhouse, kept warm by the springs.

The flight from Manley Hot Springs to Talkeetna was turbulent and rainy along parts of the main highway from Anchorage to Fairbanks.

We were able to get around numerous showers between Manley Hot Springs and Talkeetna, but some parts of the route were fine.
An otherwise pretty flight was interrupted by rain showers and lowering visibilities. By the time we got to Talkeetna it was raining, and we just relaxed in the plane and had a glass of wine before going into town for dinner.
Despite a damp, cool afternoon the interior of the plane is well insulated and was very warm, dry, and comfortable.
This is downtown McCarthy, reminiscent of Talkeetna years ago before the flood of tourists there. The photo was taken by Jim Covington as he and his wife flew the plane around Alaska then back home to Vermont.

From Talkeetna our final leg was to Lake Hood Strip in Anchorage, where we would end up leaving the plane for my partner and his wife to tour Alaska in the following weeks before flying back to Vermont. We spent five or six days with our friends Scott and Amber and took several side trips, one by train to Seward for night, one on their small shrimp boat in Whittier, and one in their C185 on floats.

We loved the train excursion from Anchorage to Seward, having flown the route on our last trip. It was nice to sit and relax as the incredible scenery rolls by.
On the GoldStar Dome car the upper deck is great for viewing and has a private dining space below. The Goldstar fare includes a meal on each trip along with a couple of free drinks. Most of the trip from Anchorage to Seward is through wilderness and goes past several glaciers. The lower right photo shows a mother and two cubs climbing a tree.

Back in Anchorage Scott and Amber, our generous hosts, put us up for nearly a week in their beautiful home on Campbell Lake, where nearly every home has a float plane. It was Amber's birthday, and the next thing you know it's 2:30 a.m. and it's still not dark outside.

Most of the residents on Campbell Lake seem to have an electric raft in addition to their float plane.
Flying directly over Anchorage International, Lake Hood is entertaining in its own right. Our C206 is tied down on Lake Hood Strip, visible to the upper left of the lake itself.
Lake Hood.

Everyone asks if we "went fishing" in Alaska, which we hadn't done in two previous trips, so we "went fishing" on this one. Amber flew us in the C185 float plane to a lake across the Cook Inlet, where we fished for salmon from the pontoons. It was also my introduction to what the locals refer to as "combat fishing". We didn't catch anything.

After 50 hours of being the pilot to get to Alaska it was nice to be able to ride in the back with Amber and Scott flying instead. Combat fishing also included a pontoon boat from a local hotel bringing guests to watch the bears come for the same salmon that the fisherman are after at the inflow to the lake. We didn't see any bears this time, either.

One final excursion with Amber and Scott took us to Whittier to harvest some shrimp in Prince William Sound. We also toured around the sound to a nearby glacier, harvesting some thousand year old ice for drinks.

Finally, after being on the road and in the air for about a month we left the airplane and motorcycle at Lake Hood where Jim and Melissa would pick it up a few days later and begin their own adventure. We had another fabulous trip and are ready to go back to Alaska again. Jim returned the plane to Vermont and he and Melissa were ready to go again as well. It's just hard to beat the traveling arrangements.

A final photo at Lake Hood.

Thanks for joining us! We met lots of great people on the trip and we're anxious to go back again.

Questions or comments? Contact me via email dbahnson "at" gmail.com.

Dave Bahnson