From McCarthy/Kennecott we return to the main road – The Richardson Highway. Our first detour is to the town of Copper Centre for a quick look at the tiny museum. We pop in to visit our friends, but as it is midday, they are out -probably at work, so we continue north to the Denali Highway. Third time lucky – it is fine, so we head off. It is a really lovely drive through high tundra with lots of kettle lakes. There are hundreds of great spots to stop & camp. We finally stop beside a small lake, tucked out of the chilly wind & light our fire. We see a few female moose with their calves, & loads of cute ground squirrels.
The next day dawns bright & sunny. Yay. Lots of snowy peaks today, but not a glimpse of the mighty Mt McKinley, the highest mountain in the USA. Eventually we reach the George Parks Highway & head north to Fairbanks. Here we have errands to do get done - food, water, fuel, washing, Wifi. Our favorite camp spot tonight is Camp Walmart.
We leave for The Haul Road (as in Ice Truckers fame – the service road put through beside the oil pipeline to Prudhoe Bay) by midday. Naturally it starts with seal with the usual frost heaves that create a rock & roll effect. Then the surface changes to dirt – wet slushy slippery dirt, made worse by blasts of rain. Surprisingly it is very hilly – in fact the hills are very steep, creating a roller coaster effect. Poor old GR2 struggles up these (she really is not going as well as usual – and John is a little concerned – maybe we will only go as far as Wiseman, which we have been told is good!) After crossing the enormous Yukon River we stop for a late coffee at the picnic/camping area & meet an Aussie couple from Weipa touring in a rental camper. What a small world. We could have stayed & chatted all evening, but decide to press on. Lots more miles to go. Eventually we stop at a lookout, high above the road & oil pipeline. Fortunately there are fewer mozzies here. We have never seen such large mozzies, and so many of them – they could nearly carry you away. Apparently they can kill a baby caribou by swarming around it & sucking its blood!
We get up early 4am– we have been told we will see more animals that way! But sadly not too many – mind you it is a ginormous area, & they do wander everywhere – not just on the road in front of us. But a great drive. The weather is superb. A quick stop at the Arctic Circle before we are engulfed in mozzies. Then on to the little mining town of Wiseman. We try to walk fast to avoid the mozzies! There are lots of old log cabins & lots of assorted stuff. Everywhere in Alaska “stuff” accumulates beside houses. It doesn’t look as if they can bear to get rid of it. It is here John decides to risk GR2’s problems & head on to Prudhoe Bay.
The Brooks Range is pretty amazing. Poor old GR2 crawled up the steep 15% grades. A lot of the road here is sealed. Now there are no longer any trees – we are looking down on a huge flat area of tundra. We follow the Sagavanirktik River to Deadhorse/ Prudhoe Bay. Not really a town at all, but a centre built purely for oil production. It has been built on raised/reclaimed land as the whole area is swamp over permafrost – not a good base to build on. We overnight on the river – the nearest we can get to the Arctic Sea without going on a $60 trip that takes you through a secure area to the sea (Actually we forgot to book it at Coldfoot where it has to be booked to allow 24hrs security clearance) We couldn’t be bothered waiting to organize the trip & instead started back the next day. A good decision as the weather deteriores as we go. By the time we reach the mountains it is raining. Finally we pull over just past Coldfoot for the night. The next day we make it back to Fairbanks, much to John’s relief. Next stop is a car wash….GR2 is filthy- and apparently the sodium chloride they put on the roads is best washed off asap. Then find where the Powwow is that we have heard about – it has stopped for dinner so we decide to spend the night at (you guessed it) Camp Walmart & go tomorrow.
Late morning we head off to “The Midnight Sun Intertribal Pow Wow”. John decides to do a few maintenance jobs on GR2 (he finds it all a tad boring) while I watch the parade & a few dances. The highlight was the release of a rehabilitated eagle. The blanket dance is the final straw for me – it consists of 4 ladies shuffling around the ring, each holding a corner of a blanket. Into the blanket you toss money! Back at Pioneer Park- which is a where all the all houses from downtown have been relocated to make a living museum, we bump into new friends Dot & Dale (who we met at Camp Walmart) & have dinner out. Again Walmart…..it really is time to leave this place. But wait – must do some exciting paperwork before we head off. MYOB done, Activity Statements done, bills paid, food & fuel topped up. Finally we leave. Our original plans had been to explore a few more back roads – right up to Inuvik on the Dempster Highway, but with GR2 out of sorts John is reluctant to risk it. Instead we will slowly head down to Haines to catch the first of our ferries, eventually reaching Bellingham in the USA.