Breaking news: on 18th June we reach the 49th State Brewing Company in Anchorage, Alaska. We have an Indian Pale Ale. Some consider this the only reason why we’ve travelled from Lesotho to here. Probably there are a few other arguments. Whatever, in addition our journey thru Alaska. Many bears, the highest mountain of the US and Alaska’s Riviera: the Kenai Peninsula.
Fairbanks, 15th June
On 13th June we drive on from Eagle. Back to the Alaska Highway. Still slightly wondering about Eagle’s dedication to Uncle Don. Just imagine how these Eaglies will be frustrated once they discover that their fishing flies will be 20% more expensive or no longer available due to Uncle Don’s trade war with the rest of the world. No pity, they deserve it. Voters just get the kind of politicians they voted for.
Thus, we head on the small road back to the Top-of-the-World Highway. Today weather is pretty good, so lots of opportunities to admire the landscape.
Then on, eastwards. Initially we’ve planned to stay in the village of Chicken. Arriving there, it immediately becomes visible that since our last visit in 1998 this place has converted into a world-class tourist trap. Just 3 houses of the historic center left. 2 converted into gift shops, the 3rd 1 selling cinnamon rolls. 2 huge RV parks with motels’n’cabins. Each dominated by an oversized gift shop. And nothing to see or to do. Great. Isn’t it? We move on to Tok on the Alaska Highway.
Tok: ok as an overnight stop. Definitely a place where you fall into deepest depressions should you stay more than a night.
So we definitely decide to drive on the next day. To Fairbanks. Alaska’s 2nd largest city. Nearly 350 km on the Alaska Highway. Landscape as usual, …
… some large riverbeds to cross, …
… the Alaska Range to admire.
We reach the small town of Delta Junction: the very end of the Alaska Highway. Prado has to pose again – as it did on the other end in Dawson Creek, 2237km away. Well, some few km of this highway we didn’t drive – we headed for some scenic bypasses. Later, driving southwards we may still have a chance to complete.
Then shortly before arriving in Fairbanks a visit to the town of North Pole. It’s not famous for its name or because it’s really situated at the North Pole. It isn’t. No, it’s the home of Santa Claus (Nikolausi). This guy distributing every year millions of completely useless and mostly unwanted gifts to kids and those who stayed children – thus most of us. E.g. that’s the guy responsible for the terrible woollen socks you may find every year under the x-mas tree. Of course, we visit the place. And if it’s only to verify the exact address of Nikolausi in order to return correctly this year’s socks.
Should you still have a pair of stinky woollen socks from Santa Claus return them trustingly to:
325 S. Santa Claus Lane
North Pole, Alaska 99705
Uncle Don’s Own Country.
Don’t forget to explain him your real wish – e.g. a car, a new husband, for men probably another mother-in-law, etc.
On to Fairbanks. Despite its importance, rather small with some 50 000 souls every winter just waiting for the next summer. When we arrive it’s hazy, smelly. Wildfires in the area are the cause for that.
A stroll thru downtown. Quickly done, not too much to see …
… until we discover the Mecca Bar – a rather weird place.
The next day to the Chena River State Recreation Area. Long name for this wooded valley near town. And the opportunity for a hike to the Angels Rocks.
Well, in Chena we have probably reached the northernmost point of our trip: 64,50°. Of course we could drive a little further to the north. To Prudhoe Bay, where they produce all this arctic oil. But why should we go there. There’s not much to see, for the last few km to the Barents See you have to take an extremely expensive tour – many thanx to all monopolists – and on the whole way you’re at great risk to damage tires’n’windscreen.
Quite some time ago we’ve driven up to Inuvik on the Canadian side. We’ve been very proud for having done that. Even if there was nothing else than 4 days of constant driving to arrive at a lousy small town the 2nd evening. So what the hell.
Denali National Park, 17th June
2 days in Fairbanks is definitely enough. Well, we have reserved the national park bus in the Denali Park on 17th. So no need to arrive there too early. Just some 180 km to reach Healy near the gate to the national park.
Denali is not really a national park to discover on your own in a short time. Few roads are accessible by your car, hikes normally take days – not hours, and bears on the way are abundant. Remains the national park bus to enter.
Nevertheless, the park seems to be 1 of the most visited in the US. Again mainly by cruise shippers on 1 of their excursions. Accordingly the infrastructure: huge villages with luxury hotels’n’eateries surrounded by numerous gift shops. Fortunately there’s a separate bus system to carry all these cruise shippers into the park.
Thus, not too many options left for overlanders. Camping or motels rather limited and filling up quickly. Few eateries remain for ordinary citizens and a limited number of national park buses where seats are available. Consequently the need to book ahead – even if you hate it. Being rather hopeless in longterm planning we have to content ourselves with some overflow accommodation and long waiting times at the eatery. Nevertheless, the 49th State Brewing Company is somehow a cool watering hole’n’eatery – even if you have to wait for more than 1 hour to be seated.
Despite our doubts we opt for the longest bus tour in Denali: 12h for 300km. We booked this monster tour some 3 weeks ago, as it was mentioned everywhere that it’s extremely unlikely to find shortterm availabilities.
Whatever, arriving next morning at 8 in the national park’s visitors center it’s still not fully booked. Thus, booking is definitely for wimps; not for us of course.
Before starting the driver has to explain the whole trip. Emphasis is given on the use of the seat belts and of not hanging out of the windows should a bear attack the vehicle. Ok, then we’re ready for the adventure.
As weather is pretty good – at least in this part of the park – some nice views of the mountains, …
… a 1st glimpse of Mt. Denali’s south peak – Uncle Don’s highest mountain, …
… and further on the gravel road in this kind of American school bus.
Most important when visiting the national park: Grizzly bear family life. Here munching some wretched remains of a poor raven.
Reaching the highest point of the road – some 1000m.
The road: high above the river bed. The bus driver: hopefully used to the road.
Some chaos on the road: for some time it converts into Grizzlies’ feeding station.
After 4h we arrive at the visitors’ center. Time for a break. And a stroll.
Unfortunately Mt. Denali is hiding in the clouds.
Then the tour goes on. Another 2h to Kantishna, …
… on the way some hungry moose and then …
… an all-important road sign. Without that the driver supposedly would never have stopped the bus.
In Kantishna there’s definitely nothing to see. It’s outside the national park. Just a couple of wilderness lodges probably asking a fortune for the luxury of running water out in the wilderness. And a nearby village having running water anyway. And a complimentary million of mozzies.
Now we’re ready to drive back. Just 6h. On the way a stop at Wonder Lake. The wonder seems to be limited to pouring rain.
Then weather changes within minutes. Mt. Denali becomes visible.
Some more bear life – the same guys we met on the outward journey – still hungry.
Then a marmot – a very specific species. Forgot the name.
By 8.30 pm we’re back. 12h after we’ve left. The trip: much better than expected, not boring or much too long as worried about. Maybe driving to the very end – to Kantishna – is not really worth the effort. Wonder Lake, a little less far, would be more appropriate. Well, now we can tell everybody we’ve been to Kantishna – as far as we can go. It’s just for their aaaahhhh and oooohhh.
Anchorage, 19th June
The next morning: terrible weather. Wind, rain, cold – Alaskan summer. We head for Anchorage. The biggest town in Alaska – and our most important intermediate destination of the whole trip from Maseru to Ushuaia. More about this a little later.
The road follows Mt. Denali to the south. Thus it’s famous for its awesome views. Well, we tried our level best. Probably we have to buy a postcard.
A few hours later we arrive. The drive into Anchorage is not extremely impressive …
… but visibly some guys are still optimistic that things may change once politics make everything great again.
A little later we learn from a local that it would be best if Canadian government would take over the US – as they make about all as it should be. Remains the problem that the Canadians understandably have no interest in this great deal.
Whatever. 1st of all we send Prado to a car doctor. He’s supposed to identify why its transmission is leaking. As eternal optimists we opt for the Toyota Service Center. Definitely they should have some professionals understanding Prado’s ongoing suffering. Well, it looks good – nomen might be omen. A guy checks in Prado. For that he needs the usual information about Prado: Age, grandpa’s name and date of birth, countries visited in the last 12 years, date and result of the last oil test with the car doc, etc. All necessary data just to have a look at its transmission.
We have to wait. Not a long time. Then the friendly gentleman explains us that they cannot do anything at their all-professional service center. Simply because it’s not an American model. And they definitely have no spares for Prado. Thus, they can even not have a look at him. Helpful as they are they give us an address of another guy who may eventually do the job. Remains for us to thank them for their great support and think about a harsh complaint letter to Toyota.
Whatever, we drive to this guy who eventually ….. This guy immediately inspects Prado’s transmission. He finds a broken sensor for the reverse gear, identifies in no time the necessary generic spare and repairs the whole thing. He asks us to return tomorrow should the problem not be solved. Interested in such a constructive workshop? Here you find it.
Of course, we’re not in Anchorage to see the car doc, but because that’s the most important intermediate destination from Lesotho to Argentina. On our whole journey we only fixed 3 points:
– of course our starting point: Maseru in Lesotho
– the probable final point (or maybe not): Ushuaia in Argentina
– and Anchorage somewhere in the middle. Remains the big question why Anchorage. At that time we thought we’d ship Prado from somewhere in Asia to Anchorage on our way to South America. So 1 reason for this place.
Nevertheless, more – or probably solely important: Anchorage’s brewhouse and its excellent Ale. Definitely worth a journey. AND THERE WE’RE HEADING TO – NOW: to the 49th State Brewing Company. 6 years after our modest start in Maseru and having driven some 170 000 km thru 51 countries (about) we’re here in Anchorage.
And after this ceremony we’re ready for Ushuaia.
Whatever, before heading to Argentina the next morning we have to return to Prado’s car doctor. The transmission is still leaking. Some more inspections – finally it’s confirmed: a seal in the casing has broken. We opt for the pragmatic option: as many guys in their stage of sexy senior life need some medication to keep everything running. Prado is now in the stage to need some transmission oil every few 1000km. Still easier than dismantling and repairing the transmission. Then we have the front wheel rotors replaced and again we can use the break without shaking the whole car like driving on an African gravel track.
A look at downtown Anchorage. Not too fascinating. Just be careful where you park your beloved car.
Homer, 22nd June
Enough of this urban life. We head on to the Kenai Peninsula. A kind of Riviera for the poor Alaskies. Not really for sunbathing. Rather for fishing.
But before that we have to buy some warmer cloth for Monika. The Bass Pro Shop is the place to go for that. Whatever you think, we swear, we buy a sweater for Monika, not a machine gun with atomic bullets for Grizzly bear hunting. Even if they’re available without any proof of identity – contrary to these T-shirts with Alaskan Brewery imprints where you must be 21 to buy them.
A beautiful drive southwards on the Seward Highway along the Turnagain Arm, …
… then inland thru the peninsula. A landscape with numerous lakes and forests. Pretty bear infested.
In the afternoon in Kenai. Not much to see, except a few old houses and a Russian orthodox church – a leftover from the time before some Russian politicians greedy to fill their pockets sold it for a dime to some clever Americans. Whatever, bad luck for Uncle Wladimir; good luck for Uncle Don – Alaska offers huge potentials for greatification.
Of course’ there’s also a certain potential to enjoy the beaches. Again, more for fishing addicts than sunbathers.
Finally, not to mention the ultimate place in Kenai for lost souls and lonely fishermen to spend a sociable evening. Even with some live music.
Next morning we head on to Homer. The furthest point you can drive. Weather is pretty awful – as usual in this area. On the way a wet moose munching some wet grass, …
… then we arrive in Anchor Point. The westernmost point you can drive in continental America. As we learn from the signboard it seems that Uncle Don loses some of his westernmost land every day. And why the hell should he somewhen make America great again if there’s no more land left. Well, it’s a question of priorities – greatification of shore protection.
Despite the irrevocable fact that being at the westernmost point is pretty fascinating Anchor Point has more to offer. The beach. And it’s a beach where unwary wannabe fishermen junk some fish. Of course this attracts quite some hungry guys. The usual seagull …
… and slightly unusual hordes of Bald Eagles. To see these guys many people pay fortunes to cunning tour operators. Here at Anchor Point you see these eagles just hanging around, munching smelly, rotten fish and quarrelling with the seagulls.
After this spectacle on to Homer. Mainly a fishermen’s paradise. And famous for its spit. Thus quite a few tourists here. Mostly in their huge RVs.
As we’re not too keen on fishing, remains a stroll along the beach, …
… a visit to the spit – mainly to find out how ugly it is. Instead of preserving its natural potential the area developed into a huge RV – park, a marina and a string of quickly built restaurants’n’gift shops to satisfy all the tourists’ needs.
To make everything worse they even installed a big fuel depot at the end of the spit – just behind the 2 hotels with the top view. A paradise for sulphur addicted Prado, a nightmare for many tourists.
And then the view from the end of the spit. The 1 these hotel guests pay a fortune for.
In the evening a couple of wines/beers and an exchange of stories with Evi’n’Martin, the Swiss couple we met for the first time at the Columbia Icefield in Canada and now again in Homer’s Safeway.
And finally a glimpse of Homer’s panorama in the midsummer night.
Seward, 23rd June
We’ve seen Homer. Thus, time to drive back, eastwards to Seward.
On the way a stop at tiny Ninilchik. A former Russian settlement still keeping some of its tradition. And very much reminding of 1 of these lost villages in eastern Siberia.
Then along the turquois Kenai river to Seward.
Late afternoon we arrive. Well, Seward is the ultimate place to see a lot of marine wildlife. And to hike to a huge icefield. Nevertheless, it’s also the place with the worst cost-effectiveness probably in all Alaska. And that definitely has its significance and its consequences on poor overlanders’ life at this place.
More about this and many more stories, rumours and logical consequences of the famous American way of life in our next post.