After leaving Seward, we drove north, back through Anchorage, and up towards Mount Denali, the highest mountain in North America!
To set the scene for the next part of this post, here are a few facts, to frame our mindset.
First, it is almost impossible to find a good road map, or at least it was for me. I should have brought our big map book. Remember when road maps were everywhere? Does no one use a map anymore?
Two, I thought Alaska was showing signs of being really poor, with road signs peeling all over the place, but then I realized it was bullet holes. Almost every traffic sign, in several areas of the state we drove through, is full of bullet holes and covered in bullet dents! I’ve seen this occasionally in Canada, on back roads, but never so many right on main highways! Do people just drive around and do target practice from the passenger seat?
Three, during our vacation, people were being found dead on the other end of the Alaskan highway in British Columbia, vehicles burned, people missing. No one knows yet what is going on and who is doing this.
We didn’t really research much about the Denali area, other than places to stay were ridiculously expensive. After an extensive search, we settled on a room in a lodge for $200 US and booked it a few weeks before we left.
We assumed you couldn’t see Mt. Denali from the road, but then as we were still about 100 km away from the Denali cut off, we could see big white mountains. Hmm, could we really be seeing Denali here?
Assuming it wasn’t, because our eyes can’t see THAT far, and the mountain must be closer to the national park entrance, we kept going.
We drove through the town of the lodge, and headed north to the cut off for the Denali park. You can drive in just 15 miles on the park highway and the rest you need to jump on a park tour bus.
We had thought about doing this, but the scenery on people’s photos looked a lot like the Dempster Highway and we didn’t think we wanted to bounce around on a school bus all day. So we went in the park office and wandered through the book store.
While in the park office and looking at a map, we found out that it WAS Mt. Denali we saw way back south along the highway! If only we had a map, we would have known! Oh well, we saw Mount Denali at least, just don’t have photographical evidence for you. So you can see the one from Wikipedia above.
After we poked around at the park entrance, we decided to just drive the twenty or so minutes back south to find our lodge and settle in for the night.
The GPS on my dash couldn’t find it, but we saw a road sign pointing off the road.
Two miles down a gravel road, we were looking around wondering where this lodge was. Everything was looking desolate and sketchy. Was it the run down, old garage looking building? Because we’ve just crossed the railroad tracks, and I only see a dead end sign now.
We turned around, and sure enough, in the window of the rundown old building was a cardboard sign with the name of the lodge drawn on it, and another sign pointing people to enter through the back.
Jeff was flabbergasted. You booked THIS for us to stay in? Nope, no way, I’m not staying here!
But we booked it! We paid! We had to cancel 24 hours in advance! Let’s just go in and see.
Nope, I don’t care if we drive all the way on to Fairbanks, we aren’t staying here.
Now I’m hesitant to post the name of this “establishment” in this post. I can’t believe it was listed in Expedia. And it had good reviews! What a scam. You can’t cancel once you are already there. They make $200 for doing nothing.
Maybe the room was perfectly fine. But the vibe was bad. I’ve stayed in plenty of old run down motels. This was in an entirely new category of sketchy. Google tells me there was recently an arson event there that burned down all the rooms they had in a motel strip out back that wasn’t insured.
We left before we even got a photo. I don’t think Jeff even took the truck out of drive.
Unsure of what to do next, annoyed we just drove the same piece of highway three times, and grumpy at the thought of being scammed for $200 USD, we drove north towards Fairbanks.
We didn’t have USA data plans on our phone, so we were all alone and hoping we’d find a place to stay. We eyed a couple motels and cabin places as we drove north of Denali, then the options just got comical as we passed one called “Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn”. At this point we decided to press on to Fairbanks and stop looking.
I flipped through my vacation planning notes for the address of the place in Fairbanks we booked for the following night, and we went there hoping they’d have a room for us. They had one available, in a duplex cottage by the Chena River. It was really nice! Well except for the loud and violent shrieking from the other side of the cottage. I don’t know what sort of relationship those two had, but they were all kinds of violent. I kept thinking I’d hear a “help!” or “stop!” and have to call someone, but they seemed to both be on board, and continued smacking each other for an hour after the shrieking stopped.
Otherwise, arriving Fairbanks was a bit of a relief, and almost like coming home. Fairbanks is about the same latitude as Dawson City. It’s a real city, unlike our little village, and is spread out, and has a calm, laid back vibe.
We had plenty of shopping to do, but I also wanted to get us to do some touristy things!
So we went first, to the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. I was led to believe that these were all old vehicles that had been brought to Fairbanks over the years, and heard they mostly still ran, so thought it would be neat to see.
It was not what I was expecting. This place is a treasure chest of rare, valuable, priceless, antique automobiles. I think there are 73 and 70 of them still run!? It was the most amazing antique car collection I have ever seen.
First, outside, there were some typical old gems from the building of the Alaskan highway and the first workhorse vehicles of the Fairbanks area.
Inside was when we started to realize what an amazing place this was!
This thing was so neat! It is an 1899 Hertel. Basically just two bicycles with a seat between them! There is a stick between the driver’s legs that is the throttle and an arm attached to one of the front bicycle tires steers it! There was a video screen behind it showing the last time they had it out in the parking lot, driving it around. Driving it around! It is from 1899!!!
From there the museum led through the years, and had mannequins beside the vehicles displaying the fashion of the day to match.
Every vehicle had an info sheet talking about when it was used, where it came from.
This heavy work horse had these spinning turbines to move in snow. They were meant to be a workhorse but the fuel consumption was unreal! This one below is the only one operational left in the world!
There were a series of automobiles that were the first ones used to travel from Fairbanks to Valdez, when there really was no road yet. When they proved it could be done, they kept refining their vehicle choice, and made a stagecoach like shuttle!
It was striking just how many MORE automobile manufacturers there used to be. So many of these were one of just dozens or hundreds made. Often they were one of just a few left known to exist.
Some where found in the lower 48 and were salvaged and restored.
Most of these era automobiles weren’t cars that existed in Fairbanks back in the day, but were just part of this extensive car collection.
I had never heard of this place before, but I recommend it! You couldn’t touch the cars, but you could look right in them, and read the information sheets. The collection was too extensive to study them all. This was a place you could return to many times.
Later that day, we went to the Pioneer Park in Fairbanks to look for the Pioneer Air Museum I read about. It was another gem!
Alaska has an extensive history of aircraft, flights, and crashes. All of it was present in this little dome shaped tented building. There were helicopters, planes, pieces of planes, pilot log books, tributes, and other related historical artifacts.
This is a Huey! It’s a UH-1 helicopter, and this exact one was shot down three times in the Vietnam War, but eventually was fixed up and restored to service. I got to go inside and look at the dashboard.
As you can imagine with many Alaskan communities only accessible by air, there are many planes here that were used to deliver cargo and mail.
This place has so much stuffed in it, I think I could go three more times and read and learn more things. I highly recommend stopping in!
We shopped some, hitting the Sportsman‘s Warehouse again, where we bought a -40 sleeping bag for me for just $160! It is one of the good ones, with the sleeping bag inside a bigger sleeping bag. Now we both have one. It is huge, and about twenty pounds. I‘ll keep it in my vehicle when travelling in the winter.
I also finally found an Alaskan road map at Barnes and Noble, and bonus, it is laminated and made in sections to easy fold down. Now we could see the mountain ranges and water ways!
For our last night, we had another seafood dinner at the River’s Edge Resort where we were staying, in their Chena’s Alaskan Grill restaurant. We sat out on the deck, in the sun, by the Chena River.
Where we took photos of each other, it seems.
The next morning, we had a big breakfast at Denny’s, which bills itself as the Northern Most Denny’s in the World! They even sold t-shirt‘s saying so!
There was a wooden carving of Lance Mackey in Denny‘s! Remember we went to tour his kennel last time we were in Fairbanks?
The drive home was fairly uneventful. We hit some heavy rain around Tok, which really cut down the heavy forest fire smoke in the air. I always like to stop in Chicken and wander through the shops looking at the Chicken themed knick knacks, but this time, I just wanted to go home, so we pressed on.
While Hank always seems eager to pee on my leg when we drop him off at the shelter for boarding, this time we picked him up, the first thing he did was boot Jeff in the nuts. Oh Hank, you are one of a kind.
Poor Hankie is scabbed up with a million bug bites in his ears and belly and another couple battle wounds on his face and leg. We said he could sleep outside this time, because it is summer and hot. I didn’t think of the bugs. He was just like a sack of potatoes the whole first day after we picked him up, so exhausted and spent! I think he spent a bunch of time playing and wrestling with the other boarding dogs, so he was totally and completely worn out. He jumped up on our bed and then was practically comatose.
We head back to work tomorrow after a great vacation! I’m glad we decided to stay in motels rather than camping half the nights, like we usually do. While I’m feeling great health-wise, I was super stiff and sore by night. I think every time I got out of the truck, I felt like I was made out of concrete and walking was a real struggle for the first 10 steps or so! All side effects from chemo and radiation still. Oh well! It always seems to reset overnight and I’m good to go in the morning.
Vacations are so great! But it’s also nice to be back in our own bed!