Alaska 2017

A Journey Through Alaska’s Scenic Terrain: The Call of the Wild

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

At various junctures in my life, I’ve felt an inexplicable pull that Jack London famously dubbed the Call of the Wild. The most recent occurrence was in July 2017, when I spontaneously decided to venture out to Alaska. Unlike the characters in London’s tales, I opted for a cozy RV to traverse the vast Alaskan roads. I intended to connect with nature and experience the wonders of the wild Alaskan terrain. It was the perfect way to appreciate the landscape’s allure in a secure and comfortable setting.

I squint into the sun. It hangs low in the pale sky, almost ready to set at midnight. The Alaskan summer days seem to stretch forever, which is disorienting and dazzling. This is my first impression of this road trip.

Travel Route: Anchorage – Denali Park – Fairbanks

The Majestic Beauty of Mount Denali: A Symbol of Alaska’s Wildness

Mount Denali is the highest peak in North America and stands 20,310 feet above sea level. It is hidden behind the clouds more often than not, with the mountain view obscured on average two out of every three days. Despite this, the grandeur of Mount Denali is still a sight to behold and is a powerful symbol of Alaska’s wild beauty. This majestic peak also holds a special place in the cultural history of the indigenous people who live in its shadow.

Exploring the Role of Sled Dogs in Alaska’s History at Denali National Park

During my visit to Denali National Park, I had the opportunity to attend a sled dog demonstration. The Alaskan Huskies have relatively long legs and heavily furred tails, which allow them to survive the harsh winter months. Their long tails act like a scarf; they wrap themselves around their faces and noses to provide warmth. After witnessing this demonstration, I have a greater appreciation for these animals and the role they play in Alaska’s history.

The dog formation for a sled dog team, up to 12 dogs, consists of two-leader, two-swing, several team, and two-wheel dogs. The leaders have the most crucial role and must understand and respond to all commands the musher (the driver of a dogsled) gives. The swing dogs help to maintain a steady pace and provide assistance with turning directions. Most dogs are in the team position, which involves following the dog in front of them and providing constant pulling power. Finally, the role of 2-wheel dogs is to be at the front of the carriage and bear the weight of the cargo drawn. They are usually the team’s most muscular dogs.

Reflecting on the Legacy of Christopher McCandless

A few miles north of Denali Park on the way to Fairbanks, there is a trail named Stampede, which gained fame when traveler Christopher McCandless died in the wilderness in an abandoned school bus in 1992. This story of adventure and loss was made well known by the book and later film “Into the Wild.” It’s a powerful story that reminds us that the wilderness is a powerful and unpredictable force that should never be taken lightly. It is also a reminder that life is an adventure to be embraced, come what may.

Travel Route: Fairbanks – Delta Junction – Chitina

The Uniqueness of Fairbanks: A Gateway to the North

I arrived in Fairbanks, anticipating a small mining town. Contrary to my expectations, I discovered that Fairbanks is much more than a mining town. It is a thriving city of over 30,000 people, a transportation and tourism center with a massive military presence. It began as a gold-mining town in 1901, but the constructions of the Alcan Road during WWII and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1973-77 propelled its status into a hub city for rural Alaskans. In addition, Fairbanks’ location, 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, and the vast wilderness surrounding it, made it an attractive destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

It is an uncommon experience for someone living in Los Angeles to see the sunset at 12:47 am, only to appear again two hours later. And despite it being the middle of the night, the two hours of darkness were not dark at all but more akin to the light of twilight. This phenomenon is integral to Fairbanks’ life cycle, being so close to the North Pole.

In addition, Fairbanks is one of the best spots to view the Aurora Borealis. Websites, like the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute, provide detailed predictions of when the Northern Lights can be seen, making it easier for visitors to plan their trip accordingly. I read that it is a euphoric and spiritual experience to watch.

The ALCAN Road: A Journey Through Untamed Nature

The ALCAN Road (Alaska-Canadian Highway) was constructed in 1942 by the US Army Corps of Engineers to connect the contiguous United States to Alaska across Canada. Its construction, which involved more than 10,000 troops, was finished in a record-breaking amount of time—less than a year.

The drive from Fairbanks and Delta Junction is part of the historic ALCAN Road. The primary military justification for the construction was the defense and re-supply of the skyway to Alaska and Siberia. Russian pilots picked up over 7000 aircraft in Fairbanks and flew them across Siberia to the Russian front.

The airplanes helped the Soviets withstand the full force of the German Army until the Allies could open a Second Front with D-Day Invasion at Normandy in 1944.

The Trans-Alaska pipeline snaked through the vast expanse of the wilderness like a silver ribbon, cutting through the crisp air. The morning was gray and misty, with occasional patches of sunshine breaking through the clouds. Cars are rarely seen, and the human outposts can be counted on one hand. It was a scene of pure and untamed nature. The lack of buildings and other human structures made the green of the grass and trees all the more vivid.

Travel Route: Chitina – McCarthy – Kennecott Glacier – Kennecott Copper Mill

A Flight to McCarthy: A Bird’s Eye View of the Wrangell-Saint Elias

McCarthy is only accessible by air or a 60-mile road from Chitina. I hoped to drive, but my RV rental company said no because of the road conditions. I looked for alternatives and found that a small outfitter offers 30-minute flights to McCarthy, which is at the heart of the largest national park in the USA, Wrangell-Saint Elias. The outfitter’s website said the flights were weather-dependent, so I called the day before my planned departure, and lucky for me, they had a seat available.

Sitting in my seat, I couldn’t contain the thrill of excitement I felt. It had been a long time since I had flown on an airplane of this kind, and the anticipation was unmistakable. As the plane ascended, I was amazed to discover aerial photography. The photos were like a beautiful abstract painting, with the details and colors of the earth below forming exciting shapes and designs. The bird’s eye view of the area was breathtaking, and I felt so lucky to have such a fantastic view of the world below.

How Glaciers Form and Shape the Landscape

Although I knew glaciers were massive and constantly moving, I was unaware of how they were formed. More snow falls in the mountains each winter than can be melted in the summer. Consequently, some of the previous year’s snow remains, and more snow accumulates every year. Over time, the compressed snow transforms into solid ice, creating a glacier. This vast mass of ice and snow moves downhill under its own weight, forming a river of ice.

As a glacier flows down a valley, it shapes the land and picks up an assortment of mixed rocks called till. As the glacier advances, it leaves the till behind, and over time, this debris accumulates, forming mounds called moraines. These moraines appear as long ridges running parallel to the glacier that created them.

Discovering the History and Impact of the Kennecott Copper Mill in Alaska

The Kennecott Copper Mill is the perfect example of how the American system works and some of its key values: discovery, ingenuity, and capitalism.

In 1898, the area now known as Kennecott, Alaska, was nothing more than a small mining camp. Two prospectors, Bingham and McCarty, found a vein of high-grade copper ore and staked their claim. They began mining operations, and the Kennecott Copper Corporation was born. However, the process of extracting the copper was extremely difficult and required significant investment.

The development of the Kennecott Copper Mill was a major undertaking that required the involvement of many different people and organizations. When studying American capitalism, the story of the Kennecott Copper Mill is an excellent example of the system in action.

In its first year of operation, the mill produced more than $30 million worth of copper. The mill soon became one of the most important copper processing centers in the United States.

Glimpses of a forgotten era remain in the artifacts and structures of Kennecott Copper Mill. The 14-story mill building where copper ores were processed, and other buildings are standing as a sentinel of history. Their interior has a unique atmosphere that evokes a sense of decay and decrepitude while simultaneously telling a unique story of the past. It is an impressive reminder of America’s westward expansion. A period defined by exploration, discovery, and technological innovation, these ruins stand as a testament to the nation’s ambition.

Travel Route: Chitina – Valdez – Columbia Glacier

The Aftermath of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: Environmental Recovery in Prince William Sound

I recall the news reports and images in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez tanker crashed into a reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the surrounding environment. At the time, I remember feeling deep sorrow for the wildlife and ecosystem of the Sound, and it made me eager to visit and see the area for myself.

Today, more than three decades later, the Exxon Valdez oil spill is remembered as a historical event, but its effects have been significantly reduced by time and a concerted effort to clean up the environment.

The wildlife that once populated the area is slowly returning in greater numbers, and many of the habitats that were damaged by the spill have been restored or are in the process of being recovered.

Where Has All the Oil Money Gone? Celebrating 40 Years of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) has been in operation for 40 years, transporting crude oil from the Prudhoe Bay oil fields of Alaska to the Port of Valdez. As the pipeline celebrates its anniversary, many are wondering where all of Alaska’s oil money has gone.

TAPS is considered an engineering marvel, spanning 800 miles across the state. It was originally built in 1977 to transport oil from the Prudhoe Bay oil fields of Alaska to Valdez, where the oil could be loaded onto tankers and transported to markets in the Lower 48 states. The pipeline crosses three mountain ranges and hundreds of rivers and streams, including the largest river in North America – the Yukon River.

TAPS is one of the most technologically advanced pipelines in the world and is operated 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It was originally built in 1977, and its 40th anniversary this month has brought up the question of where all of Alaska’s oil money has gone.

Over the years, Alaska collected $141 billion in petroleum taxes. And the short answer is: Look out your window. If it weren’t for the oil money, about half of what is currently around – buildings, roads, bridges, homes, even people – wouldn’t be here.

A Voyage to the Columbia Glacier in Alaska: The Impacts of Global Warming

Lu-Lu Belle, a sightseeing boat, carried twenty-five passengers and three crew members. Captain Fred piloted the vessel while his two helpers managed the passengers. As Lu-Lu Belle drew near the glacier, Captain Fred launched into a global warming discussion, pointing out that when he started the tour company in 1979, the Colombia Glacier’s edge was 12.5 miles further into the ocean.

The glacier’s height was 100 feet from the water’s surface in 1979; now, it’s only 30 feet. The engine sputtered to a stop, and the only sound was the chunks of ice crashing into the water.

I love the colors; I can’t get enough of them. Though it’s the same scenery, each snapshot is a world on its own.

The Beauty and Science of the Blue Light in Glacial Ice

One of the most mysterious and beautiful sights to behold in nature is a glacier, its depths often appearing a transcendent deep blue. This phenomenon is caused by the refraction of light passing through the thick ice. Sunlight passes through the glaciers and is broken up into its many distinct hues and energy wavelengths. Red and yellow have little energy, so the ice absorbs them quickly. The blue light, however, has enough energy to escape absorption, leading to its strong presence in the glacier’s appearance.

Travel Route: Valdez – Anchorage – Seward

“Alaska” by James Michener

I found great enjoyment in James Michener’s book “Alaska.” Through its narrative, I could better understand this majestic state’s history, culture, and some of its more unique and memorable characters. After listening to the book while driving, I can not help but recommend it to others. It is undoubtedly a captivating tale of a place that has left an enduring mark on the American landscape.

The Power of Tides: Stand-Up Paddle Boarding in Chickaloon Bay

I woke up early for the last full day in Alaska and found that the engine didn’t start; the battery was dead. Taking a deep breath, I accepted the situation and searched for a solution without getting ripped off. Thankfully, I was only 20 miles away from Anchorage, and the rental company came to the rescue.

Five hours later, help arrived with a new battery, and I was back on the road. During my wait on the road from Anchorage to Seward, along the Chickaloon Bay, I had the opportunity to observe Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) surfers, who had been attracted to this bay by its slow, steady waves that stretch for over a mile.

The only limitation is that the waves come twice a day only. This phenomenon relates to the Earth’s gravitational force.

There are two high tides every day in the majority of coastal areas on our globe. Only once a day does the moon pass directly overhead a particular spot since it takes the moon 24 hours and 50 minutes to complete one full lap around the Earth. A high tide will occur at that precise time at this location. But once it is directly opposite the moon, this same region will experience a second high tide because of the impact of the Earth’s orbit’s centrifugal force on the ocean. As a result, the water will swell away from the surface of the Earth.

Lessons Learned from a First-Time RV Road Trip in Alaska

Driving an RV for the first time can be an intimidating experience. I was very anxious, but the process went surprisingly well. I drove slowly and was lucky enough to avoid any unnecessary backing up.

Overall, taking a road trip in an RV is a fantastic way to explore the world and have an exciting journey. My rental RV was a 2005 model, and I quickly realized that many of its mechanical components, such as the generator, refrigerator, and battery, needed to be better.

If I offer one tip for anyone looking to rent an RV, I advise them to opt for a more recent model with fewer issues. This way, they can spend more time exploring and less time dealing with maintenance.

Reflections on the Journey Home: From the Wilds of Alaska to the Comforts of Home

As I drive down the winding highway toward Anchorage, I can’t help but notice the signs of civilization beginning to appear. The road is in excellent condition, with many passing lanes and plenty of well-maintained guardrails along the sides, giving a sense of security as I drive. The towns and cities are coming closer together now, with restaurants, gas stations, and convenience stores popping up every few miles. The scenery is beautiful, and I can’t help but stop and take it all in.

The next chapter is rapidly approaching, and I look forward to reuniting with my family, my home, and the sanctuary of yoga and dance. My artistic spirit is eager to complete the last series of mixed-media panels I have worked on since the summer. As my mentor often advises, it is all about the journey – not just the destination – creating a meaningful path.

My Book Recommendations

Alaska A Novel, by James A. Michener

Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer

Coming into the Country, by John McPhee

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

To Build a Fire, by Jack London

The Man with the Gash, by Jack London

The White Silence, by Jack London