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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

North to Fairbanks

October 4th, 2013 · No Comments

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On June 28 when I got to Fairbanks, Alaska’s second largest city with a population of about 32,000 people, I had driven as far north as I would travel on this trip. Fairbanks is approximately 65 degrees north of the equator, only one degree short of the Arctic Circle.

In the summer Fairbanks has long days. Technically the sun didn’t set the first night I was there. It set the next tomorrow morning at 12:44 a.m. Then, at 3:04 a.m. it rose again. But don’t think that this means that I had 2 hours and 20 minutes of darkness. For my first days in Alaska it never got completely dark. While I brought my night light for the bathroom, I never needed it in Canada or Alaska. Much more useful was an eyeshade.

My first overnight stop in Alaska was near a small town of about 1,000 people with an appropriately short name, Tok. Between Tok and Fairbanks I took a side trip into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Only two roads penetrate this 13.2 million acre park, the biggest national park in the United States. It’s bigger than the entire country of Switzerland.

I drove 30 miles down and back the gravel Nabesna Road. I didn’t know about it until a ranger mentioned it, but as soon as I knew that it went into a national park that I had never seen before, I had to go there. I collect national parks for a life list the way that some birders collect birds. My life list for national parks is now 38 of the 58 that we have in the United States.

I went as far as Big Twin Lake, where a different park ranger said that I could see trumpeter swans. I hiked a short trail down to the lake and didn’t see any. But I stood there, just me and the mosquitoes, admiring the beauty of the lake anyway. Then, I heard the unmistakable sound of big wings flapping. An adult trumpeter swan, the heaviest bird native to North America and the largest living waterfowl species on Earth, had taken off from the lake and was flying right into my camera’s view. This was the biggest thrill of my trip so far.

A Trumpeter Swan Takes Off in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

A Trumpeter Swan Takes Off in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Smoke from forest fires nearly all the way from Tok to Fairbanks made good photography generally impossible. But I got out of my SUV to take shots of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System that came close to the highway in some places.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Crosses Miller Creek near Glennallen, Alaska

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Crosses Miller Creek near Glennallen, Alaska

Click on the picture above to enlarge

One of the world’s largest pipeline systems, this one extends from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to Valdez, Alaska, a distance of 800 miles through some of the harshest land on Earth. Since the pipeline was completed in 1977, more than 16 billion barrels of oil have flowed through it. Building it cost more than $8 billion.

Before reaching Fairbanks I stopped for fuel, normally a routine task. But at the Tesoro gas station in Delta Junction some swallows had built a nest.

A Cliff Swallow Seems to Resent a Peeping Tom Looking Into Its Home

A Cliff Swallow Seems to Resent a Peeping Tom Looking Into Its Home

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Seeing this colorful bird almost made up for pain of buying gasoline for my SUV in Alaska. In spite of the all the oil that Alaska produces, gasoline is much more expensive there that in the lower 48. My pain was also psychological as I began to understand how much that my long solo road trip in a vehicle that gets only 21 or 22 mpg contributed to climate change.


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