Week 9 ~ Sunday, July 26 to Saturday, August 1

Day 54 ~ Sunday, July 26 - It rained all night long and was sprinkling in the early morning when we met the day. As we ate breakfast, we listened to a sermon recording that I downloaded in 2004 of Charles Stanley. He had a good message delivered with his smooth southern preacher man style. Now it's time to leave Riverside RV Park and head toward Denali in a light rain.

Driving in the rain is no fun and we have been doing it a lot since we arrived in Alaska. The truck has an issue with the heater and AC system. The windows get fogged up when it's a bit chilly outside and raining. I think the AC's evaporator drain may be plugged and we still get a hint of anti-freeze smell on and off. It goes away and we keep driving. The stop-leak I poured into the cooling system hasn't helped, yet. It's probably still stuck in the overflow bottle. Oh, well. At least the new microwave oven is working well.

A ways up the road, we took a 16 mile side trip to Talkeetna which is an old, old town with a bunch of historic buildings, gift shops, restaurants and more gift shops. It's a tourist trap much like a tiny Gatlinburg, but 6000 miles further away. The town is now known for being one of the starting points for the masses of idiots that want to climb Mount McKinley. They gotta start from someplace and they do have a lot of restaurants here.

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We had a great time here in Talkeetna despite the rain. There are gift shops galore and some very nice, not-fancy restaurants. We ate in the Denali Brewing Company restaurant. Good food. I had an "I can see Russia from here" burger. Obviously named for Sarah.

Even though it rained a lot and there were mud puddles to deal with, and the parking absolutely sucked (no town planning whatsoever), we had a great time and spent the whole afternoon here, ate dinner in the local pub and had ice cream for dessert. Fun place and we were glad we stopped and left some money here for the locals.

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After leaving Talkeetna, Alaska, the rain eased up a bit as we headed north toward Denali National Park on highway 3 (a.k.a. George Parks Highway). Those are probably the mountains of Denali National Park way up there in this picture.

Well, we certainly weren't going to make it to Denali today so we stopped in Denali State Park, Byers Lake Campground on the lake and rustic. Our kind of camping - quiet and a cheap fifteen bucks for the night. Hand pumped well water and pit toilets. We had everything we needed for a restful night including more rain, rain, rain all night long. We did have a break in the rain long enough to take a walk by the lake, pick wild blueberries and for me to enjoy a cigar outside and drink a nice Rum & Coke to help me stay warm. Good evening.

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Our Byers Lake campsite had a lot of greenery. It's amazing how much this stuff grows up here in the chilly weather. They claim the long days and short nights make it happen.
Day 54 Summary ~ We drove about 118 miles today which puts us at 7034 total miles into our journey.
It is 55 degrees outside at 11:30pm Alaska time with heavy clouds and starting to rain.

Day 55 ~ Monday, July 27 - Oh, what a lousy day! The weather pretty much sucked all day with a heavy overcast and rain on and off. We left the Denali State Park campground a little after noon and continued our journey toward Denali National Park. We stopped to buy gas and got completely hosed for $4.299 per gallon. Highway 3 was under construction here and there with one-way traffic - several times. We stood in line for ten to fifteen minutes waiting for the traffic coming from the other direction to clear so we could go thru the muddy road that was under construction. The truck and trailer were covered from front to back and side to side with mud. You would think the rain would wash it off, but no. Thanks Alaska DOT! And they were working in the rain.

Of course, the heavy clouds hanging down about ten feet off the ground and the constant rain obscured all visibility of Mount McKinley. We stopped a couple times and confirmed that the mountain had, in fact, been removed from sight and maybe doesn't even exist. I think all the pictures of it we see are fake, just like the bears we hear so much about. Not a single bear sighting in Alaska by us and now no Mount McKinley. It's all marketing BS just to get people to come here and spend money on Alaskan gifts designed by local artists and made in China. It was a lousy day of crappy driving in the rain on muddy roads and no damn mountain.

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Rain, rain, and more rain. Throw in some orange barrels and what do you have?

We did get to the National Park visitor center only to find out that the 180 RV campsites for the millions of visitors were all taken. Wow, who designed this place. Apparently they don't have enough land, right, to make the campgrounds any bigger because it will bother the animals. The park encompasses six million acres of land. Granted, a lot of that is inaccessible mountainous terrain. But, come on, seriously, they have fewer campsites here than are in Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee (the most popular National Park) that has 912 RV campsites and the park is a nine hour drive from Detroit. We've been driving for over 7000 miles and there are no available campsites here. But, they advertise it very well. Come to Alaska! Go fishing! Go hiking! Go camping! See the mountains! But, you have to wait for the skies to clear. Maybe in a day or two, or never.

Gregg and Gale had a small issue with a locked motorhome with the keys inside. Oops! That slowed us down a little before we put our heads together to figure out how to "break in" without actually breaking anything. We finally left the National Park in search of an overnight resting spot. We drove thru two disgusting RV Parks that were under water with muddy sites and rejected both before stopping at Denali RV Park & Motel for the night. This place had gravel sites that were slightly above the water table. It was close to seven o'clock and time to settle down for the night.

We've stayed at crappier places. They do have individual unisex bathrooms that are clean with expensive pay showers ($3 for five minutes). At least the driveways and parking areas aren't flooded like the other RV Parks that we rejected. We're getting discouraged and, honestly, everything looks lousy in this relentless Alaskan rain.

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Here we are somewhat higher than the mud in Denali RV Park & Motel.
This campground is about 6½ miles north of the Denali National Park entrance.
I washed some of the mud off the truck around the door handles and edges of the doors.

So, here it is midnight and it just started to rain hard again. We have to get out the umbrella to go to the crapper - well, we are close. After a nice glass of Captain Morgan Parrot Bay Mango Rum, it's time for bed. We listen to the rain on the metal trailer roof. It is so relaxing.

Day 55 Summary ~ We drove about 101 miles today which puts us at 7135 total miles into our journey.
It is 50 degrees outside at midnight Alaska time and raining, again, still.

Day 56 ~ Tuesday, July 28 - Well, it did rain most of the night, but ceased by the time we awoke from our slumber and remained overcast most of the day. Checkout time was eleven o'clock and time to hit the road south back to Denali thru the muddy road construction and orange barrels.

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We drove thru here yesterday in the heavy rain and got muddied. It's not so bad this morning.

The main theme for today is "In Search of Mount McKinley". The chances of actually seeing the real mountain are slim to none because of the nasty cloudy weather that hangs around here most of the time. Denali is so big that it creates its own local weather and today was no exception. We kept looking. No mountain. So we kept ourselves busy by returning the Visitor Center in Denali National Park and....

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The train station is a stones throw away from the Denali National Park Visitor Center.

.... then went on a free bus ride to the dog kennels where they keep the sled dogs. Fun, fun, fun, and the 9-week old puppies were so cute. They had about 20 dogs here who were in training and trying to keep fit for the upcoming winter season. Mushing is really important in Denali. It's tradition and practical. No pollution, just dog poop. The dogs work all winter pulling the rangers around the six-million-acre park as they keep an eye on everything including the wild animals and watch for poachers. During the summer, the dogs are on display and become the recipients of lots of petting and hugs from the tourists. I just had to give Annie a rubbing. Most are very gentle dogs. Some are a little wild. All are on top of their game. They put on a 30 minute show and demonstration of dog sledding around a short track. The dogs really loved pulling the sled. They got so excited. Cool. I took a video. You just can't find this in Detroit, but they do mushing in the U.P. Good for them.

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The Dog Kennels in Denali National Park is the home for about 20 mushing dogs.
Each dog has his / her own little log cabin style condo.
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The puppies have so much fun getting treats out of the orange Kongs. Cool idea.

Puppies

This video is 1 minute
and 3 seconds long

These nine-week old puppies had so much fun getting treats out of the orange Kongs as they knocked them around.
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Annie (the dog, not the girl) just loved a good chin rub. These dogs are so gentle.

How to Pull a Sled

This video is 2 minutes
and 25 seconds long

The dogs are hitched up to the sled and pull it around a short course. Do they love this!

The Dogs Return to their Homes

This video is 2 minutes
and 27 seconds long

After the sled-pullng run, the dogs are returned to their log cabins.
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The ranger put on about a twenty-minute informative presentation with a dog sled run.

We went on a road trip into Denali as far as we were allowed to go, searching for glimpses of "The" mountain. It was still too cloudy, but didn't rain all afternoon. Visitors are encouraged to take the pricey guided bus tours. Since the clouds were so low, we decided that the people on the bus weren't seeing anything more than we could from our truck. So, we drove the Park road back in as far as allowed. This is a huge park with the most beautiful scenery. The weather tried to clear up, but just not enough. Mt. McKinley is hiding today from everybody.

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Where the heck is that darn mountain?

I made the executive decision to go further south down the highway to Denali State Park, Denali View North, which is a parking lot campground. This will get us about 30 miles closer to the mountain. So off we go. We arrived about seven, but the mountain didn't. The clouds were teasing us and not quite showing us the main attraction. Maybe tomorrow. We're spending the night for fifteen bucks.

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We looked for Mt. Denali and saw this. It's way back there somewhere behind the clouds.

Some of the outside metal on the bottom front of our trailer tried to leave the planet and I had to spend some time doing trailer repair with lots of screws. I tell you this trailer is taking a beating, but is still rollin'. Forty-two years old and it keeps telling us "I'm not dead yet" (a line from the Monty Python movie). I must say that this trip has put more wear and tear on it than all of the camping in the past since its birth in 1973.

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Alaska is trying to consume our little Lark trailer. I won't let that happen. It's a good thing I brought a lot of screws with us and an electric drill.

Tomorrow is another day. Maybe we'll see the mountain. I do see a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps with my name on it. Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

Day 56 Summary ~ We drove about 113 miles today which puts us at 7248 total miles into our journey.
It is 56 degrees outside at 11:30pm Alaska time with very cloudy skies and no mountain.

Day 57 ~ Wednesday, July 29 - Well, no mountain visible today. Apparently, one can only see the mountain about 20 to 30 percent of the time in July. It's after 3 o'clock and we give up waiting for the mountain to appear. Oh brother, another camping couple from Texas stopped to chat about everything. They were very nice and have the same opinion about Alaska as we do; nice place to visit and we think this will be our only trip here. Wow, we have talked to so many tourists with the same opinion. Alaska is over-hyped. The lower 48 is just fine and a lot closer and thousands of dollars cheaper to visit and you don't have to drive thru Canada and destroy your towed trailer. Our poor little Lark looks like shit, but not as bad as the duck tape and bubble wrap repair on the one from Texas.

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This is what we have been looking for since Monday, Mt. Denali. I took this picture of a sign here in this parking lot campground - our only picture of Denali.

Well, it's now past 4 o'clock and still no mountain, so we finally hit the road going north toward Fairbanks driving thru the muddy road construction and past the National Park entrance, again . The Texas couple are spending the night in hopes of seeing the mountain, maybe tomorrow. Good luck to them; their chances are slim, maybe not.

The drive to Fairbanks is about as blah as it gets. Once again, we compare the scenery to that of "up north" Michigan, and yes it rained again. It was cloudy all day, it might as well rain. We stopped at a motel cafe for a really good burger, fries, onion rings and potato salad dinner with ice cream for dessert. Tasty!

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We were just a bit south of the Denali National Park entrance at half past five enjoying the rather nice skies ahead of us and this lousy construction. We still couldn't see Mt. McKinley in our rear view mirror due to all the clouds in back of us. This is our third time driving thru this long stretch of road rebuilding. It was rainy and muddy the first two times yesterday and the day before.
I wonder if we would have seen the mountain if we had stayed another night with the Texans in the last campground. Coulda, woulda, shoulda... Who knows?

It was a late eleven o'clock by the time we arrived at our planned destination, Tanana Valley State Fair Campground, in Fairbanks. The office was closed, but there was a note on the door listing the available sites for the night. Just set up camp and settle the bill in the morning. It was dark outside and we did this quickie after-hours check-in and settled in for the night on site 14. This site has no electricity so we ran a longer extension cord over to Gregg and Gale's site for power. We'll re-register and change sites tomorrow.

This place is old, crappy and filthy like most private Alaskan campgrounds, but it isn't just an RV parking lot. It has a lot of trees and the sites are kinda nice, real camping. The office building is a real hoot. It's a very small log cabin with a sod roof and a four-foot-high door. Watch your head.

The rain started up again later, of course, because this is Alaska. We already had dinner and are ready for bed. Good night.

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Our temporary campsite, number 14, in Tanana Valley State Fair Campground in Fairbanks.
Day 57 Summary ~ We drove about 196 miles today which puts us at 7444 total miles into our journey.
It is 54 degrees outside at 1:15am Alaska time with very cloudy skies and no rain, yet.

Day 58 ~ Thursday, July 30 - First things first; we needed to change sites to one with electric. The part-time campground manager, Taylor, was very helpful and moved us to site number 6. Very good.

Gregg and Gale took off for the ever-so-risky Dalton Highway excursion to the Arctic Circle and who knows where else. Four hundred miles of gravel road over-run by truckers throwing stones every-which-way and who couldn't care less about others on the road is not very appealing to us. Our little trailer just shuttered by the mere mention of this journey. We have talked to several people who made the trip and wouldn't do it again. Too much damage to towed trailers. We'll play it safe and stay here.

Today is a work day for Diane so we set up office in the trailer and I cleaned off the picnic table so I could do some computer work. The Free Wi-Fi was half okay for light web surfing, but Diane used our Verizon hotspot Wi-Fi to assure a better connection to the cloud. Speaking of clouds, the sky looked very nice for a couple hours, then the rain started and forced us to set up our green outdoor rain shelter for the first time on this trip. It lightly rained for about an hour and then cleared with some nice sunshine. Crazy weather. Let it rain, we'll stay dry.

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This is probably the coolest campground office we have ever seen. It has a sod roof!
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Our new site has electricity. Diane is busy inside doing her work and I have my computer set up outside on the veranda. We are both warm and dry.

As I sit here in the late afternoon sunshine, raindrops are falling on my tarp-like roof. And then it's gone, the rain, not the tarp. Happens all the time. What doesn't happen all the time is our camping neighbor is carving a totem pole as a present for his wife. This is a campground first. We just might have to go over and see his work. Oh, and then another two minutes of rain.

I kept myself busy by crawling under the truck looking for a fix for the AC drainage problem with no success and then worked on the computer to fix a hard drive problem with some success. Crappy Western Digital hard drive. Before you know it, it's after nine o'clock and Diane and I are taking a break for a late dinner. We never left the campground today. After dinner, I watched some recorded TV shows and Diane finished her work. Rum and Coke were in order and then off to bed for some sleepy time after a rather relaxing day for me.

Day 58 Summary ~ We drove about 0 miles today which puts us at 7444 total miles into our journey.
I have no temperature to report tonight.

Day 59 ~ Friday, July 31 - The skies were cloudy first thing in the morning, again, but no rain today. We went to Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge located just a short distance from the campground. This place has quite a history as a dairy farm and creamery in the early 1900's and went out of business in the sixties. The state got hold of it after realizing the significance of the property as a stopping point for migrating birds and as a bird sanctuary. Alaskans go out of their way when it comes to preserving nature using taxpayer dollars and federal grants. Now, it's an 1800 acre historical place with nature trails and, well, birds. No cows in sight. We witnessed a flock of cranes doing their thing in a newly plowed field.

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The Creamers Dairy in Fairbanks, Alaska, went out of business and became the 1800-acre Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. The cranes like it a lot.

Next on our agenda was the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center in downtown Fairbanks. Once again, the Alaskans have put together a bunch of old stuff like indian artifacts and old gold pans, created some very impressive displays about Alaskan history and call it a cultural center. The Visitor Center part is the same as the other Visitor Centers all over Alaska. Tourism is real big here and the tourists need a lot of help. They helped us and we left for our next stop - the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

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The nicest thing about the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center are the beautiful flower gardens that greet visitors at the main entrance.

If you go to Alaska, you gotta see the pipeline up close. Wikipedia has a great article on the pipeline; read it before you go to get the whole story including the economics part. This pipeline was the best thing to happen to Alaska in modern history. There is a visitor portion of the pipeline eight miles north of Fairbanks right next to the road. You can walk right up to the 48 inch pipe and touch it. It is the most expensive man-made project at 8 billion dollars and worth every penny. We are oil independent and most Americans don't know it. I remember when the environmentalists tried to stop the construction because it would bother the caribou. Well, oil has been flowing thru it now for forty years and the caribou are doing quite well.

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The construction of the 48-inch diameter Alaskan pipeline is an amazing technological story from one end to the other, 800-miles away - Prudhoe Bay to Valdez
Some of the pipeline is above the ground and some is below.

Our evening dinner was the best because we ate on a sternwheeler, the Tanana Chief. This dinner cruise lasted two hours and we cruised up and down the Chena River that flows thru downtown Fairbanks. The food was very good and they had a cash bar to make me happier. We enjoyed prime rib, salmon, vegatables and desert. The price was very reasonable and it was great fun with nice weather.

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The Tanana Chief was the nicest restaurant we have been on in a long time.
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The sternwheelers here on the Chena River will never die. The tourists love 'em.

Our dinner cruise ended at eight-thirty and we had time to kill in downtown Fairbanks with a walk in the Golden Heart Plaza on the Chena River. There is a fountain in the middle of a plaza that presents a whole lot of Alaskan history on a series of bronze plaques. Very well done and informative. There is a pedestrian bridge that goes over the river to another park on the north side. There are flowers everywhere.

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The Golden Heart Plaza in downtown Fairbanks has a fountain. All plazas have fountains.

It did not rain today, amazing. But the skies were overcast. We went back to the campground and called it a day. Called it a good day.

Day 59 Summary ~ We drove about 41 miles today which puts us at 7485 total miles into our journey.
It is 59 degrees outside at 11:00 pm Alaska time with very overcast skies.

Day 60 ~ Saturday, August 1 - Again, we woke up to cloudy skies and everything was wet from the rain during the night. The free Wi-Fi is actually quite good here, so I went on-line and paid some bills and got all my email. I made a couple of phone calls using my cellphone with the MagicJack app. Works pretty well. I needed to take care of some real company business before we did any tourist stuff.

It's a Saturday in summer so there is a Farmers Market; one of the best things about summer. The Fairbanks Farmers Market was very nice indeed with all the fresh produce, arts and crafts, and carnie food of all sorts. We spent a bunch of time here and bought some lunch. We love the Farmers Markets.

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The Fairbanks Farmers Market was a lot of fun with good food and crafty souvenirs.

As we left the Farmers Market and it started to rain and continued with a light rain for the rest of the day with a temperature of about 63 degrees. It was about two o'clock and we headed for Pioneer Park and the rain followed us. Admission to the park is free and worth it. The park was created back in the sixties and had amusement rides which have since been removed and replaced with a children's playscape and other attractions. There is a small old west town, a railroad car, a sternwheeler, a narrow-gauge railroad, small food joints, at least two ice cream places, a pond with ducks, and lots of gift shops. There is also a very popular all-you-can-eat prime rib and salmon dinner buffet with a full bar. Lots of fun stuff to do here.

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The entrance to Pioneer Park is quite impressive. This place is designed to handle a lot of people. It rained the whole time we were here. Just a sprinkle.
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The small old west town was loaded with gift and food shops. Diane took pictures of everything, in the rain. We used our umbrellas. Our granddaughter calls them umberellas.

Georgeson Botanical Garden located on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus was our final stop for the day, in the rain, but it was a light rain. What can I say about a botanical garden? This one is a little rough and not nearly as pretty as the one in Anchorage, probably because it is attached to the University. The whole place looks like it's a work in progress.

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Look how small my foot is. What the hell are they feeding their veggies?

The end of day was upon us and we headed back to the campground for a good nights sleep. We had a pretty good, fun day today even with the rain. Rain, rain, go away.

Day 60 Summary ~ We drove about 15 miles today which puts us at 7500 total miles into our journey.
It is 54 degrees outside at 10:40 pm Alaska time with nasty overcast skies, again.
This is the end of Week 9 ~ Tomorrow is Sunday and start of a new week, so you'll need to Click Here to Go to Week 10