The day after we visited the Chena Hot Springs Resort, we had a tour to the north! At around 1:00 PM, we boarded a small 9 person prop plane and headed about 250 miles north of Fairbanks to a small truck stop north of the Arctic Circle along the famous Dalton Highway called Coldfoot. It was the smallest airplane I’ve ever been on and the ride was smoother than I thought it would be. We flew over a lot of beautiful scenery over the course of the one hour and fifteen minute flight.
Originally a mining town, Coldfoot became irrelevant until the Alaskan Pipeline was under construction. The town was used as a base camp for one of the crews during construction and services truck drivers that travel the Ice Road (the Dalton Highway) to supply the oil rigs up north in Prudhoe Bay. The town is still very small – there are only about 10 permanent residents in the winter and 30 in the summer.
After a quick lunch in Coldfoot, we had the opportunity to visit the camp’s sled dog kennel which was utilized as one of the main methods of transportation until snow mobiles took over. Now, the sled dogs are primarily used to take tourists on rides around the camp.
We then boarded our van and headed south along the Dalton Highway. As I mentioned earlier, the Dalton Highway is used by truck drivers that need to drive supplies up to the oil camps in the Arctic Ocean. The road was built as a supply road to facilitate the delivery of materials for the Alaskan Pipeline and was opened to the general public in the early 1990’s. Throughout the drive, I was very impressed by how courteous the drivers along the route were. The truck drivers were in constant contact with our bus driver and let him know when they were going to pass him. Our bus driver would also pull over if a truck was coming down a hill in the opposite direction.
After about an hour and a half, we reached the latitude of 66.66 degrees North. This is significant because it is the southernmost location in the Northern Hemisphere that goes without daylight for a full 24 hours in the winter and has 24 hours of daylight in the summer. The tour company put a red carpet down with a line on it so we could take pictures of us crossing the Arctic Circle!
Our next stop was a quick restroom stop just north of the Yukon River. There is no running water outside of the major cities of Alaska, so the only facilities were outhouses.
After the Yukon River, we drove through an area that our bus driver called the Enchanted Forest. The moisture coming off the Yukon River is caught up in the trees nearby then freezes on the trees to create a winter wonderland. It was a very cool, almost eerie site.
After another hour and a half, we stopped at a trading post in Joy, Alaska to try and see the Northern Lights. The lights started going just before our bus stopped, but the burst was over before we made it to the trading post. The trading post was built by a pretty interesting person – he moved his wife and eight children from Minnesota to Alaska in the 1960’s. He had three natural children and five adopted children at the time – two of his adopted children were struggling in a standard school environment, so he and his wife wanted to homeschool them in Alaska. After a few odd jobs around Fairbanks, he bought a parcel of land from a homestead about 60 miles outside of the city and built a home. Over time, they would have three more natural children and adopt another 11, so they raised a total of 23 kids! When the Alaskan Pipeline was announced, he was a construction worker for it. The road that went by his house became much busier, too, as it fed the Dalton Highway. His children decided to start a lemonade stand next to the road & it was very successful. As the majority of the soil of Alaska is permafrost (it never thaws), he dug a hole in the ground and it was an instant cooler for the lemonade! The success of the lemonade stand helped him realize the necessity for a trading post, so he built one!
While we were listening to our host’s life story, the Northern Lights didn’t come back out. After about two and a half hours, we boarded our bus and drove towards Fairbanks. Along the way, the Northern Lights came back out in spectacular fashion, so our bus driver stopped the bus and we were able to get off and take a few pictures before boarding the bus.
We finally made it back to our hotel around 4:30 in the morning! The following morning, we left our hotel around 11:30 for a day of ice fishing. Our guide drove us to a lake in the Chena Lakes Recreation Center where his company set up a series of heated huts on top of the ice. We fished for about five hours & I only got a few nibbles, but no fish. One of the people in our hut caught three fish while another caught one. The rest of us, four in total, caught nothing! Despite getting skunked, I’m happy we went as I’ve always wanted to try ice fishing. The heated hut made for a much warmer experience than I expected!
We made it back to our hotel around 6:00 PM, had dinner and took a quick nap before meeting up with a tour guide at 10:15 PM for our final viewing of the Northern Lights. We were the only ones on the tour, so we made it to our viewing location to find out that we had a whole yurt for viewing the lights to ourselves! A yurt is a small round house made out of canvas and wood that was originally built by the Mongolians – it was very warm as it had a heater in it. The yurt was located on top of a hill and had unobstructed views of the lights.
We were treated to an amazing show. Even the local tour guides were hooting and hollering as the lights danced and changed colors above our heads – that is how you know it is a great show. The strong lights stayed out for about an hour and a half, so I was able to take a few pictures and enjoy the beautiful show for the remainder of the time. Once the lights died down & didn’t spark back up, we headed back to our hotel satisfied!
The following day was our final day in Alaska. We got an early start and headed to the Museum of the North located on the campus of the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. The museum was recommended he nearly all the local people we met in Fairbanks and provided a great history of Alaska from the period before mankind through today. It was quite impressive. The museum also had an art exhibit, but it was a bit too abstract for my taste!
After the museum, we headed back to our hotel to change into our outdoor attire for our final activity – dog sledding. We drove about 20 minutes out of town to a dog mushing school named Paws for Adventure where we had a 30 minute dog sledding ride through approximately four miles of trails. It was even better this I could have imagined & I was immensely impressed by the dogs. They moved at such a quick pace and it was easy to tell that they were having a great time!
We returned to our hotel, showered & headed out to walk around the area of our hotel. I bought a few souvenirs before having a delicious tomato and basil crepe at a local restaurant called The Crepery. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and got a ride to the airport for our flight to New York with a connection in Seattle!