Porcupyn's Blog

July 11, 2017

Alaska Trip – Day 7

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 4:24 am

Like I’ve written previously, we had shuttle bus tickets for three consecutive days; however, I never wrote how we were a bit fortunate to even have those tickets. Long story follows (for those not interested in the long story, please go to location marked “—– end of long story ——“)

Not to belabor the point of the three-for-two tickets, but I had to call the Aramark Denali (the concessionaires who handle all the transportation inside the park on behalf of the National Park Service) phone number to purchase them as there was not enough information available online to do it by myself through the online reservation screen. And remember, I didn’t really understand how the shuttle system works, as there were some gaps in the information available online (or at least, in the places I looked while researching the trip), so I had a few questions as well.

I called the phone number for Aramark late in the month of May for travel in the first half of July. At this time, there was a lot of availability that I could tell, based on the website. And I was on hold … and I was on hold … for over an hour! I had the phone next to me in the bed as I could not handle holding it with a bent neck. In that timeframe, I dozed off – but was suddenly woken up by a human on the other end of the line. I asked my questions one after another. Dude was a bit brusque and, it appeared, put off by all the questions I had to ask. However, he did answer them, even though it was somewhat impatiently.

Finally, we got to the point where I gave him the three dates in July I needed the ticket for. Remember, at this point in time, I am in the bed, staring at the ceiling and still only three-quarters awake. He replied back – so it is Thursday, Friday and Saturday (I believe those were the days he said – could’ve been others). I said, yes, and repeated the dates back to him. He then asked for the times, and I gave him the one early timing, followed by the one later timing and another early timing. He repeated back to me Thursday x am, Friday y am and Saturday z am. And I gave him my credit card information.

Fast forward to end of June. I am getting all my ducks in a row. I have printed twenty different pieces of the puzzle, labelled them 1 through 26, starting with the parking ticket for two weeks near the Airport, the MCO-SEA tickets … ending with SEA-MCO tickets. I am looking through each of them to check the timings when I suddenly come across the Denali shuttle bus reservation. I see June. I rub my eyes, look again. They are the same dates that we need, but they are for … JUNE!!! I’m more wide awake now than I’ve ever been in the last few years for sure! Not only are the tickets for June, but they are for two weeks ago. In other words, the tickets are invalid. I log in to the website, enter the ticket code and get confirmation – the tickets were valid in the past!

In a panic, I called the credit card company to see if there was anything they could do about it (I had given up on calling Aramark because their policy clearly states that changes are permitted only before the actual ticket date, and I was S.O.L.!). They asked if I had spoken to the merchant. I said not really. They said that they could try to see what they could do, but I needed to first see if the merchant could resolve the issue.

So, I call Aramark. An hour later – and this hour I had tea, coffee, donuts, milkshakes, etc stacked up to keep me awake (but did not need any of them) – I get through and spoke to a reservation agent, who was really nice about the whole story. He managed to rebook us back to July. Which is why I was not too worried about not getting a refund for the unused tickets for today and tomorrow.

—————- end of long story ————-

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO

So, we woke up bright but not too early on our second day in the cabins near Denali. We had to check out before 11 am, but we were planning to check out as soon as the front desk opened at 8 am. Now, I am re-reading the instructions for our Talkeetna reservation and notice that the latest someone will be available to meet us would be 10 pm. As today was our Yukon plan, that would not work. And we didn’t have a working cell phone. So, I asked if the folks at the front desk would help me reach Talkeetna folks. And they said I could use their office phone, which is what I did and was able to finalize plans on how we could get the keys to our accommodation that night, as we would be reaching really late. I am really grateful to the folks there for having let us use their phone.

Reaching the WAC before ten am, we went over to one of the ticket agents and informed her of our decision to relinquish our tickets for today and that my mother and Katya would also not need their tickets for tomorrow. She was nice enough to offer us some refund back for the tickets, though I hadn’t hoped to get any money back!

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO


With that settled, we went to the kennels to see the dog-and-sled show. As it was about 10:15 am, I knew that we would probably miss the first part of it, but would be able to watch the latter part of it – besides, we would be able to watch the noon show and leave right after that. When we got there, we saw folks leaving – and learned that the show is more like 30 minutes not 45 minutes. And that the next show is not at noon (as I had remembered) but at 2 pm. As that would be too late, we decided to just visit the dogs for some time and then leave. Katya was a bit unhappy but not too much πŸ™‚ It was almost noon by the time we left the kennels and headed back towards the park entrance.

On the way, we saw the Riley Creek bridge and decided to stop by the side of the road take a photo

On the way, we saw the Riley Creek bridge and decided to stop by the side of the road take a photo

Because I am a big train fan, I decided – on the spur of the moment – to check out the train station at Denali as it was quite near the visitor center. At this time, we were sure that the 12:30 pm southbound train had departed from Denali. However, when we reached the station, we learned that the train was running late and should be there in a few minutes. So, I decided to hang around, making sure the others did not have an objection. Everyone was OK!

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO


Shortly, the train made an appearance and there was no shortage of cameramen to record the event! Now that it was finally here, I thought that if we left rightaway and headed back up the Park Road, we might be able to catch the train on the bridge. I had to ask a couple of folks in the station before I could get a reasonably definitive reply that the bridge is south of the station (which it is!). So, back we went – away from the park entrance – to find a spot to park and take photos from. Fortunately, we were able to spot a location pretty soon (the other photo – previous post – having been taken from within the car). Folks driving by (we were there a good ten minutes) might have wondered what we were up to looking out into the open, cameras in hand, me and Baab.

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO


Soon, we heard the loud whistle of the train and, within a minute, out it came and went over the bridge. This is the best photo I have as I was busy recording its video πŸ™‚

Railfanning done, we zoomed out of there as quick as we could. It was 1:05 pm when we left the park northbound to Yukon (we hoped)!

2.5 hours to Fairbanks, 2.5 hours to Yukon R., five more to get back up to Denali (in the other direction), and two more to Talkeetna. Starting at one pm, some quick back-of-the-envelope estimates (stop laughing, you Alaskans!) informed me that if we were to touch Yukon R. (even figuratively if not literally), it would put us back at Talkeetna at one am. As the host had informed us that our keys would be in a place where we could pick them up even if no one representing them was around, I was still thinking that we could do it. By the time we headed north from Fairbanks at about five pm, I had revised the itinerary. But first things first.

Immediately after turning left onto the Parks Highway and crossing the first bridge over the Nenana River, we passed the grocery stores and adventure/excursion companies – and absolutely loved the scenery in front of us once we went past the Denali park-related traffic. Though there was construction crew slowing traffic from both direction, there was not much traffic to impede our progress. The river was to our left, and a horizontal cut along the slope of the hills to the left (west) of the river indicated the railroad track of the Alaskan railroad.

Soon thereafter, we crossed the river once more and now we were to the left (west) of it and climbing. The land started to fall away to our right. We were then in an area where the hill was to the left of the road, and past some vegetation to the right, we could see the sprawling landscape with greenery – as we didn’t have any human perspective from this area, it is difficult to judge the density and height of the vegetation though there are definitely a few trees mixed in with the shrubs and the grasses. Throughout this timeframe, it was still drizzling and cloudy. Not as much as when we had traveled from Palmer to Denali, but still a bit nevertheless.

After about an hour, we crossed a bridge over the Tenana River – the Nenana is a tributary to this river. When I had originally scoped out Alaska, I had thought of driving up here to take a photo of the train on its river bridge. However, that was before I had gotten ambitious and decided to take us all upto the Yukon! So, we didn’t stay to take in the sights or get down the car. I figured that – based on our itinerary – we would still be back here by about 7:30 ish and could take a photo of the train and the bridge at that time.

Not too late after this, we started seeing more continuous signs of human habitation and were in the outskirts of Fairbanks. At this point, I needed to get directions from Baab as I didn’t have the exact highway information in my mind. We had two options to get to the highway that goes towards the Dalton Highway – one involving cutting through town, and the other was to stay on the freeway. We decided to pick the latter option. As I was driving, we suddenly were on a bridge/overpass and I looked over to the right and saw what looked like a beautiful little lake and a paddleboat anchored by the shoreline. I decided to take a short detour to check out the area and take a couple of photos.

Turns out the boat - the Tanana Chief - is among the attractions of the area and offers cruises on the Tanana River

Turns out the boat – the Tanana Chief – is among the attractions of the area and offers cruises on the Tanana River

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO

And we also came across the site where the Iditarod race started twice since the turn of the century as you can see from the infoboard

And we also came across the site where the Iditarod race started twice since the turn of the century as you can see from the infoboard

Spotting a Walmart, we then decided to use the restroom and purchase some groceries. As we were about to turn into Walmart, we also spied a Papa John’s. So, we went online and placed an order for pizzas which we could pick up on the way out of Walmart. And so it was that by the time we were back on the Highway – I recall the names Steese, Elliott and Richardson. However, checking on google now, I am thoroughly confused which ones we were on and which we were not. For example, this site talks about Alaskan interstates but apparently they are unsigned! Also, sample this – I was quite sure we were on Steese, but the website informs us that Steese is an unpaved road (maybe for a portion of its duration). Similarly, the road numbers appear to span multiple road names and vice versa! Anyway, as we were following the road numbers and the destination signs (to Livengood), we didn’t have any navigational issues.

Right outside of Fairbanks, we came upon a sign that pointed to an oil pipeline. Though I vaguely remembered a reference to it from my friend, I had not researched the pipeline at all. So, it was fun reading about it and taking photos of ourselves by it.

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO


Apparently people do climb up the pipeline (and post their exploits online), but we didn’t come across miscreants like that. In fact, we met a nice family who had traveled from North Pole (Alaska), Anchorage and Phoenix, and were returning back to Anchorage that day!

The Trans Alaskan pipeline climbs a hill and disappears into the earth

The Trans Alaskan pipeline climbs a hill and disappears into the earth

Continuing on the road, we lost track of when we passed the final traces of human civilization and were all by ourselves in the vast Alaskan landscape. In my tunnel vision of the Dalton, I had not really read up on how empty and desolate the area would be – however, one thing I had made sure of was to fill up the gas tank after leaving Papa John’s πŸ™‚

There were quite a few sections of the road with pronounced frost heave

There were quite a few sections of the road with pronounced frost heave


Though for the most part, I could see the change in the pavement texture (such as in this photo) and slow down in advance …

... in some other places, we had what felt like a roller coaster ride (sorry, rental car agency!)

… in some other places, we had what felt like a roller coaster ride (sorry, rental car agency!)

By about 6:45 pm, we reached what we unanimously agreed would be the turning point - the point where the Dalton Highway begins

By about 6:45 pm, we reached what we unanimously agreed would be the turning point – the point where the Dalton Highway begins

As we stood there taking photos, a truck roared by and disappeared into the expanse of unpaved road. He was definitely not going 50 mph!!

As we stood there taking photos, a truck roared by and disappeared into the expanse of unpaved road. He was definitely not going 50 mph!!

We left at about 7:15 pm on our return trip. Mrs. Porcupyn drove back to Fairbanks and I caught a bit of shut eye. We took one more restroom break at the Walmart after which I got back in the driver’s seat. We stopped near the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus to look at Caribou in a ranch-type (?) setting. The trip was uneventful for the most part and we passed the Denali park area at about 11:15 pm. I took a couple more photos to wonder at how bright it still was so close to midnight.

Then Mrs. Porcupyn took over driving as I was feeling really sleepy. I had just about nodded off when she said “Moose!!”

“What?! Huh? Where?! Stop!!!”

I was wide awake now and camera in hand.

Mrs. Porcupyn: “There, right behind us!”

And sure enough, there was madam Moose and her little one. I immediately got out of the car and watched their indecision. At that moment, an eighteen-wheeler rumbled up and, being more experienced, he stopped well short of the pair as well.

At that point, mom and calf crossed the road and bounded off into the woods

At that point, mom and calf crossed the road and bounded off into the woods


We continued along – stopping at both the North and South vistas to see if we could catch a glimpse of Denali again (we barely saw the outlines of the mountains but not really the peaks) – and reached our destination in Talkeetna at about 1:30 am. Not too shabby, I would say!

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