By far, the most exciting and memorable experience we had in Alaska was flying around Denali and landing on Ruth Glacier. The scenery was amazing! Denali is the tallest mountain peak in North America. We were fortunate to see The Great One from three different areas on the ground as well as from the air. The mountain creates its own weather which constantly changes, but much of the time it’s blanketed with clouds. It’s estimated that only 30-40% of visitors have the honor of seeing Alaska’s famous landmark. Some still refer to Denali as Mount McKinley, others call it The Great One, The High One, The Tall One or simply The Mountain. It's had many names in the past, but today it's is officially known as Denali.
LEFT (picture 1) - Just after take off from the historic village of Talkeetna we could see where three great rivers converge. They drain the entire south side of the Alaska Range. The plane banks over the Susitna, a mile-wide river with dozens of braided channels.
RIGHT (picture 2) - Our first view of Denali from the plane.
Another view of The Great One!
LEFT (picture 1) - We are standing on Ruth Glacier with Denali being the tallest point in the background. Here we are 3 vertical miles below its summit and approximately 10 miles away. It was about 40 degrees, but with the sun reflecting on the snow it was very warm. RIGHT (picture 2) - This is the Don Sheldon Mountain House located at 5800’ overlooking the Don Sheldon Amphitheater aka The Ruth Amphitheater.
The planes that travel here land going up Ruth Glacier. They do not have brakes with their skis on. The pilot parks the plane so it’s ready for take off back down the glacier.
The Dalton Highway was built in 1974 to facilitate the Trans-Alaska Pipeline construction, and today it’s mostly used for pipeline maintenance and by truckers carrying supplies to oilfield workers in Prudhoe Bay. They claim it’s one of the most isolated and dangerous roads in the world and has been featured many times on the History show 'Ice Road Truckers'. There are five long hills in a row which truckers refer to as the roller coaster.
Here the pipeline comes down the mountain emerging at the bottom. More than half of its 800 miles is underground due to permafrost. It goes in and out of the ground many times and crosses over and under the road several times as well. It also crosses 38 major and 500 other rivers and streams. It’s one of the largest pipelines in the world.
LEFT (picture 1) - There’s only one stop for services on the section of the Dalton Hwy that we drove, and only two stops total on the entire road. RIGHT (picture 2) - The procedure is to take a picture after you pump your gas to show the clerk inside. This was a new one for us! Notice the price...yikes!
After driving 200 of the 414 mile road we reached our goal. Dale points to our exact location and I jump for joy for making it to this imaginary line.
We obviously focused on the scenery of this rugged state, with its beautiful mountains, rivers, waterfalls, glaciers and more. But we would also like to mention that Alaska’s cities and towns have a lot to offer. There are many shops, restaurants, museums, tours, shows and other entertainment. Alaskans love to share their culture and history, and there’s a lot to be learned. Below are some interesting facts about our 49th state: - Alaska was purchased for 2 cents per acre - Alaska has more earthquakes than any other state - Alaska boasts both the highest and lowest (Aleutian Trench - 25,000’ below sea level) points in North America - Admiralty Island is home to the highest density of brown bears in North America and has one of the highest densities of bald eagles in the world - Most of America’s salmon, crab, halibut, and herring come from Alaska - Alaska contains 17 of the 20 highest peaks in the United States - The four largest National Parks and the two largest National Forests are located in Alaska - Alaska & Hawaii are the only two states where you cannot reach the capital by road (only by air/water transportation) - Rhode Island would fit into Alaska 425 times! - Alaska is more than twice the size of Texas - Alaska is also larger than the next 3 largest states combined, which are TX, CA & MT - Nearly one-third of the state lies within the Arctic Circle - More than 70% of Alaska is not accessible by road - Alaska has more coastline that all other states combined!
We now better understand just how large Alaska really is because we only saw a tiny portion of it, and can’t believe how much vast wilderness we encountered. If visiting Alaska is on your bucket list, we hope you get to cross it off someday! We traveled 6300 miles from the lower 48 and back in our motor home. This doesn’t include mileage driven separately in our tow vehicle. We entered Canada from Montana and returned via Washington. Of course, mileage also depends on where you want to visit in Canada and Alaska. So it is possible to get to Alaska and back with less driving than we did.
If you don’t have the time or desire to do that much driving, but would still like to see the state in an RV, you can fly there and rent one. MANY people come from all over the world to do this. But a heads up regarding that option ~ you will miss scenery in Canada that rivals that of Alaska (which we may share in a future article). We also saw much more wildlife in Canada. Of course, that may not be the case for everyone, but it’s certainly worth considering.
As always, happy camping! Until next time - Dale & Debbie