by Judy Berman
The Land of the Midnight Sun, Alaska, is a wild frontier. It has a vast wilderness populated with bear, moose and wolves. Some of its communities are reachable only by plane.
In the time we spent in Alaska, we had just one regret. We never got to see Denali National Park. We were headed to the park – about 200 miles from our hotel in Fairbanks – when our trip was abruptly cut short just past Cripple Creek Road. About 14 miles outside of Fairbanks, we became another roadside attraction.
I was used to driving on icy roads, but I hit a patch of ice and overcorrected the car when it began to skid.
Huge mistake. The Ford Explorer veered into a ditch and flipped onto its roof. We were unhurt, but the rented vehicle was totaled.
Still, that wasn’t our most memorable experience in Alaska.
Ice Alaska had just wrapped up shortly after we arrived in Fairbanks. But the frozen images of a full dog sled team and musher, a huge ship and an ice castle were still intact. It’s amazing what works of beauty ice artists can create from a block of ice.
Another first for us was to see greenish Northern Lights in an inky sky dotted with stars above our hotel. (That story about the aurora borealis was in my previous blog: “Kaleidoscope Skies, Alaska, Part 1.”)
One morning after brunch, we flew in a small plane from Fairbanks to Fort Yukon – eight miles north of the Arctic Circle. It held only two other passengers and the pilot. Mail and boxed items took up most of the plane’s remaining space.
The folks at Frontier Flying Service must have alerted Richard Carroll that two tourists were on their way. He met us at the airport and gave us an exclusive two-hour guided tour of the village. Typically, this owner/operator of Alaska Yukon Tours has a busload of people. He also conducts river tours, lake tours, gold panning and wilderness camping.
The village seems to have one foot in the past and another very much in the future. Carroll said about “150 years ago, my people were in the Stone Age. Then, as if by slingshot, they were catapulted into the 20th century.”
To emphasize that point, he showed us the dinosaurs of technology left behind when the Air Force left town. A long-range radar site that look like a giant white golf ball with huge antennas. There is a string of these – 25 of them – from the Aleutian Islands across North America.
Just how cold does it get here? Wikipedia says: “The highest temperature ever recorded in Alaska was in Fort Yukon on June 27, 1915” when it reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). “Until 1971, Fort Yukon also held the all-time lowest temperature recorded at 78 degrees below zero.”
When we visited, the high was 38 degrees in Fort Yukon and the low was 5 below zero. It actually seemed milder than the weather we left behind in Central New York (where we lived at the time).
That lured us into thinking it’d be a great day for a drive, and off we went toward Denali National Park.
About 15 minutes later, our drive ended with our vehicle upside down in a ditch. Every passing motorist stopped and offered to help. Two great guys from the Department of Transportation – Mike Rogan and Chris Tilly – freed us from the car, made sure we got out of the Explorer unharmed, called state police and waited with us until a trooper arrived.
I wrote a letter to the local paper and to their boss thanking Rogan and Tilly for their help.
Months later, I got a postcard at work featuring the Northern Lights and I burst out laughing. It was from Rogan and Tilly, the guys at the DOT. The message? They invited us to come back to visit Alaska.
This time, Rogan ribbed us, we should see the Northern Lights right side up.
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Photo caption: A trip interrupted. Dave and I next to our rented vehicle.
Photo caption: A 9-foot-tall ice sculpture depicting New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the midst of a throw. Dawson List (the owner of the photo as well) sculpted it in Fairbanks, Alaska
Photo caption: On the way into Denali National Park and Preserve. It is located in Interior Alaska and contains Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. The park covers 9,492 square miles.
For humorous comments about mosquitos in Alaska and serious info, go to Alaska Wildlife: