It’s 42 below zero outside my front door. Brrrr! It would be a good day for a “boiling water into snow” experiment, but I think I’d rather stay inside where it’s warm. There’s a layer of ice fog hanging over town, creating a misty view from my windows. It looks cold out there!
When I wrote last, I was planning a road trip with my friend Lori. I wasn’t feeling safe about driving my car 320 miles in 34 below zero temps, so Lori offered to drive instead. She has a jeep, which performs much better in the cold than my car does.
I packed a bag with emergency gear: arctic boots, extra socks, gloves and mittens, snow pants, a hat, several energy bars, and water. I wore my heavy parka and several layers of fleece, as well as long underwear. Many miles of the Richardson Hwy are deserted - even more so in the winter months.
As we left North Pole behind, the temperature gauge in Lori’s car was reading -34F. Brrrrr! Fortunately, it warmed up as we headed south on the Richardson Highway. By the time we reached the Delta area, it was a balmy -14F. Even further down the road I think we saw -4F, but the wind was really starting to pick up. It may have been -4F on the temperature gauge, but the windchill made it feel like -50F. I am so thankful to live in the Fairbanks area, where the wind is pretty much nonexistent. It was brutal down there. I felt like I was being stabbed by a million needles, standing out in the wind to take photos.
We hoped for a beautiful sunrise, but there were low hanging clouds in the Salcha area, which obscured most of the sky and the mountains. The range was visible from the first overlook, however, a little further down the road, the sky was dark with clouds again. Then they lifted as the sun came over the mountains.
We decided to take a side trip to Bolio Lake. I love the view of the lake when you approach. The road is higher in elevation, so you get to look down on the lake and get the full effect of the mountains behind it. This time of year, the lake is quite frozen (3 feet thick, from what I’ve heard), and there are a couple of ice fishing shacks on the ice. You can rent these shacks and try your hand at ice fishing (arctic grayling, rainbow trout).
In the photo below, you can see two ice fishing shacks on the frozen lake. It just so happens that my online friend Hayley (her blog is linked in my Blogroll list), was in one of those ice houses with her husband and daughter. I do hope to meet her in person soon.
We continued south toward Donnelly Dome. Donnelly Dome stands alone in the middle of a huge valley and is 2400′ in elevation. It’s a popular hiking destination, and one of these days I’ll actually attempt the climb. It’s not a difficult climb, but steep. They say to allow a half a day for the climb. For me, it would probably be an entire day since I have to stop and rest periodically due to my asthma.
Soon the Alaska Range loomed large on the horizon. It was overcast, so we weren’t getting the full spectacular view of the mountains against cloudless, blue skies. But that didn’t make it any less beautiful. If anything, the cool blues and grays of the landscape reflected perfectly the frigid temperature.
This pano shows the Richardson Hwy as it passes Donnelly Dome:
We saw a group of caribou along this portion of the highway, but the warm air coming out of Lori’s jeep when we opened the doors to get out, made my photos blurry. It was good seeing them, although I expected to see more. I do hope to get down to the Denali Hwy in a few months, when they’re migrating through that area.
After you pass Donnelly Dome, you come upon a Trans Alaska Pipeline viewpoint. The view of the range is spectacular from this pull-off, and since the sun was low in the sky, a band of pale orange was off in the distance.
In the photo below, you can see how the pipeline snakes off into the distance. The pipeline is 800 miles long, 48″ in diameter, and goes from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. It crosses three mountain ranges and over 800 rivers or streams. 420 miles of the pipeline is above ground to protect delicate permafrost. Permafrost is permanently frozen soil, and if the pipeline were buried, the heat from the oil moving through it would melt the ground - making it unstable. Check out the “Matter of Fact” section at the Alyeska website, for answers to commonly asked questions about the pipeline.
Here are the magnificent views from this portion of the Hwy:
The Black Rapids Glacier area is absolutely stunning. On a clear day, you can see Black Rapids Glacier off in the distance. Monday, it was invisible, as the clouds were too thick.
Black Rapids Glacier is known as the “Galloping Glacier”. Most glaciers move downwards at the rate of less than 3ft per day, but observation of the Black Rapids Glacier during 1936-1937, showed that it was moving more than 100ft per day, which earned it the nickname. This is the swiftest advance ever recorded for any glacier in the world and was probably due to the extremely heavy snowfalls that had occurred in the area some years earlier.
On the Richardson Hwy here, is the Black Rapids Roadhouse. It was opened by 1904 to serve travelers on the new Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. Roadhouses could be found along all Alaska trails in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Along the 386-mile Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, which at the time was Alaska’s principal travel corridor, roadhouses were typically spaced a day’s travel between each other. Of the more than thirty roadhouses that operated along the route between 1902 and 1923, Black Rapids Roadhouse is one of only a few that survives. The owners have repaired the original roadhouse to keep it from falling down, and built a brand new lodge up on a hill overlooking the old structure.
Length of day is less than 6 hours. With mountains surrounding us, the sun disappeared from view even sooner. The sky was already beginning to turn pink and pale orange as we approached Rainbow Mountain. We decided to keep going, past Gulkana Glacier to Summit Lake. That’s where we turned around and started back to Fairbanks.
Rainbow Mountain and Rainbow Ridge is one of the most beautiful stretches long the highway. When it’s not covered in snow, the mountain is a rainbow of colors, due to mineral deposits. Even in white, it’s a magnificent sight:
To the west, across the expanse of snow, the sky was turning golden:
Gulkana Glacier was barely visible from the road, but as we began to descend from Isabel Pass on our way to Summit Lake, the orange light of sunset was bouncing off the snow drifts and illuminating them with a warm glow. There are cabins on Summit Lake. Some are year-round homes, while others are seasonal homes, or vacation rental cabins. The sunset reflected off the metal siding.
On the way back, the light began to dim, and the moon rose over the mountains. It was gorgeous! The winds were still very strong, and blowing snow came across the highway in several areas.
It was a most spectacular drive, and I am so thankful to not only have the company of a great friend to experience this with, but also to have the most beautiful landscapes in the world only a drive away.
Until next time…