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Old 25th March 2016, 22:18   #1
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Default 66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska

Did that look like a glacier!? It was raining pretty heavily as we came up to Whittier tunnel, and my eyes spotted a bit of blue and white on a mountain as we came around a bend. Whatever it was, it was massive and beautiful and almost mystical. But back to focusing on the twisty tarmac, needed to reach the tunnel in time for the vehicle schedule.

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Whittier tunnel is the only surface transport connection for this town of 130 odd people to the rest of Alaska and is a dual use railway/road tunnel. Whittier probably saw its heyday as a base for the US military during WW2 and now itís popular as a base to begin glacier cruises. And thatís exactly the reason we were here as well, expecting a grand culmination of truly otherworldly Alaska road trip over the previous 7 days. But greater problems presented themselves, we didnít really have accommodation booked for the night and the only true hotel in the town was horrendously out of budget. A few phone calls and we find the only other accommodation in town Ė a delightful apartment overlooking the incredibly beautiful Whittier harbor.

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The glacier cruise next day beat every description Iíd read and imagined it to be. Cruising through the waters of college fjord and Harriman fjord, amidst glaciers and arctic marine wildlife, I was truly a world apart from my home in suburban Mumbai!

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The Last Frontier. Thatís how Americans and Alaskans choose to call this state of the USA. And itís a description perhaps most apt. Its vast, its wild, its cold, its harsh, itís dangerous and more than anything else, itís breathtakingly beautiful. We had landed a week earlier in Anchorage, the state capital with no fixed agenda but just an idea that we would be renting a car and seeing the sights as much as possible. Though unlike the rest of the USA a car is not the easiest or the most effective way to see this wild wild land. Road infrastructure is quite limited and flying is to Alaskans what driving is to the rest of the country. Most towns (including the state capital Juneau) are not connected by roads and the only connectivity is flight or Sea. But nevertheless our plan was to drive, I am a born road tripper.

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There is pretty much only one major highway and it runs the length of Alaska north to south. This highway was going to be our primary road trip route.

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Contd. in next post. Mods, please take it to assembly line if required.
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Old 26th March 2016, 02:06   #2
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Default 66 Degree North: Roadtripping in Alaska

Think Alaska and itís difficult to not think about the Arctic. And thatís what was on our mind too Ė driving to the Arctic Circle and beyond. 66 degrees north. From Fairbanks, which is the northernmost major American town, you could drive all the way to Deadhorse on Prudhoe Bay in Alaska on the famed Dalton highway. Also colloquially known as the Haul Road after the big trucks hauling supplies to support the oil rigs in Prudhoe Bay and the Alyeska pipeline bringing down all the crude to the refinery in Valdez. Thing is though that Dalton highway is a gravel highway, passing through vast tundra land masses and the Alaska Mountain range. We didnít have enough time to actually do a full 3 day round trip all the way to Deadhorse and that was a trifle disappointing but we did the next best thing possible, i.e. drive the 380 mile round day trip to across the arctic circle and back on the Dalton highway. But it was not going to be an easy drive. Firstly, our regular Hertz rental RAV4 was not permitted to be driven on unpaved roads so we had to rent from a local shop renting trucks and SUVs with harder rubber compound tires that wouldnít puncture so easily on the gravel.

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Quote:
GoNorth was a very friendly rental shop for trucks, SUVs and campervans etc equipped for driving in the Arctic region
And you still couldnít do very high speeds so 380 miles for the day was a long shot but the extremely long days in the Alaskan summer (it would still be decently bright sunlight at midnight) allowed us longer daylight hours. It was a fantastic drive, over sweeping panoramas and vast empty spaces.

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The Ford Explorer we rented - humongous in size and extremely comfortable. Had 4wd bells and whistles providing good drivability over some of the difficult sections of the road.
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The Highway was built to support the Alyeska Pipeline.
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The road and the pipeline, snake parallel to each other for hundreds of miles
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The Explorer cleared this and much more, with minimal fuss all the while cosseting us in loads of comfort such as heated seats and steering wheel, etc.
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The Mandatory Sepia tinted photograph
Huge rigs would occasionally chug past you, hauling pipes and supplies. The gravel making it difficult to pick up serious speeds for fear of getting a flat tire, something you donít really want when driving in the Arctic. And jet lag was finally catching up with me and I felt a tremendous wave of sleepiness hit me while on our return leg from the Arctic Circle marker to Fairbanks. Handed over the keys to wife, and I just slept for the next 4-5 hours. And as my wife described it subsequently, she had the most amazing drive of her life, driving in fading light on that desolate gravel road just south of the Arctic with the evening sun playing fantastic light tricks on the tundra and only the occasional lorry truck providing some comfort that we were not completely alone.

66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska-dalton-highway.jpg
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This was by the end of the day's trip.
The big daddy of all things that could be of interest in Alaska though has to be Denali National Park. Itís the largest, perhaps the wildest and harshest of all the national parks part of the American National Parks Service. The mind boggles trying to get a sense of the size of the park Ė 6 million acres!! Thatís almost as much area as Goa and Delhi put together. Itís named after its famed resident, Mount Denali, also known as Mount McKinely. At 20,130 feet itís the tallest mountain in North America and its vertical relief (the distance from base to peak) is the highest in the world, more than any Himalayan peak as well. Wildlife abounds in the park including lots of bears and thatís one of the risk factors for hiking inside the park. We took one of the park shuttles and got dropped off for a short hike in the wilderness. Though it usually cloudy in Denali, we were lucky enough to be able to spot the Denali peak. Itís a majestic mountain. On the way back, we hitched a ride with a park guide driving back to park entrance in an empty shuttle bus. She regaled us with stories of wildlife encounters in the park, and we managed to see a whole bunch of typical Denali wild life including grizzly bears, caribou, etc. While chatting with her, she mentioned that sheís not much of a good pilot though knows her way around an airplane. Itís quite amusing but as I mentioned previously, Alaskans fly like the rest of us drive so itís perfectly understandable if you hear them talking about flying the way we do about driving. It was summer time, but in the park there was still a fair bit of residual snow from the previous winter though by now we were quite accustomed to the cold. Beers at a pub just outside the park entrance and we tucked in for the night at a lovely cabin with a great view.
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Apparently only 30% of all visitors to Denali ever get to see the peak of Mount Denali. We were lucky I guess.
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We saw a female bear and hanging around by a stream, all playful and all. Till a Moose turned up - notice the top right hand corner of the pic
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And scared the bear and her cub into taking flight. They ran away, quite fast for almost a few hundred meters. With the mother bear always positioning herself between the moose and the cub.
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Huskies are beautiful, loyal, intelligent and most importantly very hardy dogs. They were a mainstay of Alaskan peoples not too long ago, and are still an important cog in winter time Alaskan supply chains.
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Old 26th March 2016, 02:52   #3
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Default 66 Degree North: Roadtripping in Alaska

The next day was a longish drive to Seward, and part of the drive (from Anchorage to Seward) is known as the Seward highway, and is an All American Road, a term normally given to the most beautiful of roads in the US. We have driven on quite a few of these scenic All American Roads, but the drive from Anchorage to Seward was truly something else. The road snakes through nestled between Resurrection Bay and the Kenai Mountains and regularly opens out into stunningly beautiful vistas.
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Small turboprop planes are everywhere in Alaska
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The road runs parallel to the Alaska Railway line for the most part. Must be an amazingly beautiful train journey I guess.
We reached Seward close to midnight, but it was still pretty bright outside. It felt strange to drive into a small, almost completely deserted town in the middle of the night with the sun shining, and then walk into a totally buzzing pub. Almost as if the entire town was at the pub having a drink and generally making merry.

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As I had a sip of some local brew, I couldn’t help but think about the journey we’d made. Kalina in Mumbai (where I live) was a world removed from what I could see out the Pub’s window here in beautiful small town Alaska. To some it might seem crazy, travelling this far. And to some others, it might seem like the beginning of other even farther, longer, crazier journeys. No surprises I felt more like the latter.

Seward by itself is small town of about 2500 people and is a very popular port of call for cruise liners. The town boasts of the fantastic Alaska Sea Life center which is like a zoo and aquarium of arctic wildlife. What struck me was the massive size of these animals, like the sea lion. It was raining quite a bit but that was not a deterrent for us in our bid to go hike up a bit to see the Exit Glacier from close quarters. I think I mentioned it before, but glaciers are almost mystical – immense forces of nature moving slowly but surely and unfortunately gradually receding pretty much all over the world as civilization encroaches. The Exit Glacier is part of the massive Harding Ice Field, a 1000 square kilometer ice behemoth spawning almost 40 glaciers.

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It was raining pretty heavily and I was wet, cold and miserable. Somehow my face does not convey the same emotions!
By the time we were done with roaming around the Exit Glacier area, we were completely wet and cold with the rain but the road beckoned once again, to Whittier and to more glaciers. And then to Anchorage for a sumptuous "Thali Meal" at an Indian restaurant (yes Indian food is available in Alaska!) and the flight to Denver for the next part of the vacation, the road trip to Yellowstone!

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I took this pic at Anchorage airport just before boarding our 12 AM flight for Denver. Strange, beautiful and a fitting last image of this wondrous place!

Last edited by bobbafett : 26th March 2016 at 02:55.
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Old 26th March 2016, 16:29   #4
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Default Re: 66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska

My God, What a trip and awesome adventure. Looking for the rest of your update at yellowstone. Unlike most travellers you travelled so far to enjoy the wild natural wonders of US instead of the usual City Hopping most people do. Thank you for putting this up, most encouraging for all of us.
Manmohan.
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Old 26th March 2016, 21:42   #5
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Default Re: 66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska

One of my dream destination.

Remind's me of this movie



Remind's me of this scene



Thank you for sharing
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Old 27th March 2016, 04:32   #6
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Default Re: 66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska

Awesome! It is really nice to see some great pics and read about a great trip that you guys had in Alaska!! Hope you guys will make it one more time over there soon
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Old 27th March 2016, 12:13   #7
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Default Re: 66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska

Beautiful place !! Beautiful snaps !! A definite thing to do before we say the Final Bye-Bye !!


Reminded me of the 3-Week Road Trip that I did with my family last year driving across British Columbia and Alberta Province in Canada !! From the Snow capped mountains and thick forests in British Columbia to the Prairie plains in Alberta, an absolute amazing experience !!

Regards,
Kishor Shinde
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Old 28th March 2016, 10:02   #8
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Default Re: 66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska

Quote:
Originally Posted by LoneWolf9 View Post
One of my dream destination.
Happiness is real only when shared... good you shared this experience with someone and everyone on T-bhp. Lovely pictures, made me more hungry for road trip.

Last edited by ampere : 28th March 2016 at 11:20. Reason: Removed video link from quoted post
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Old 28th March 2016, 10:52   #9
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Default Re: 66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska

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Originally Posted by Mission_PGPX View Post
Happiness is real only when shared... good you shared this experience with someone and everyone on T-bhp. Lovely pictures, made me more hungry for road trip.
Completely agree!

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Originally Posted by junkishya View Post
Beautiful place !! Beautiful snaps !! A definite thing to do before we say the Final Bye-Bye !!


Reminded me of the 3-Week Road Trip that I did with my family last year driving across British Columbia and Alberta Province in Canada !! From the Snow capped mountains and thick forests in British Columbia to the Prairie plains in Alberta, an absolute amazing experience !!

Regards,
Kishor Shinde
Wow - the Canadian side of the arctic region is something I really want to visit as well. In fact we had considered driving from Seattle to Alaska via British Columbia and the Yukon regions, but couldn't do it mainly on account of time constraints. You should share your experience of that road trip in these forums!

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Awesome! It is really nice to see some great pics and read about a great trip that you guys had in Alaska!! Hope you guys will make it one more time over there soon
Oh Absolutely, in a perfect world - I would leave everything else and just travel!

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Originally Posted by LoneWolf9 View Post
One of my dream destination.

Remind's me of this movie



Remind's me of this scene



Thank you for sharing
In fact, one of the things that really inspired me to visit Alaska was this movie!

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Old 29th March 2016, 19:41   #10
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Default Re: 66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska

Beautiful Pictures. That's one hell of a trip for a lifetime.
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Old 5th April 2016, 19:48   #11
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Default Re: 66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska

You have made me jealous my friend. The trip looks Awesome and good pictures. Glad you guys had so much fun. Alsaka has always been that mystical place for me growing up from movies, books, tv shows. I try to watch anything with Alaska in it. My day can't come soon enough. Cheers.

Last edited by kilireddy0 : 5th April 2016 at 19:51.
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Old 6th April 2016, 18:32   #12
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Default Re: 66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska

Nice one!

I have a similar travelogue sitting in my Assembly section for quite a while now.

Alaska is definitely a beautiful place! A highly recommended to know the wilderness.
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Old 7th April 2016, 09:23   #13
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Default Re: 66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska

Extra-ordinary travelogue / photologue, bobbaffett! This is the kind of travelogue that makes all the planning, coordinating & and the attendant hardship all worthwhile! Great script - crisp and precise - and awesome photographs! No doubt the landscape itself is mind boggling, but the captures too are spectacular!

Many years ago I had made a couple of trips up & down the Magellan Strait near the Antarctic (during my stint on car carrier vessels) and some of the landscape en-route was as awesome as your Alaskan trip. Its my misfortune that I could not capture those voyages on camera.

For most of us an adventure like yours is still the stuff of dreams (even with glib phrases like "the earth today is a global village" !) and you are indeed fortunate to have lived it!
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Old 19th April 2016, 19:33   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunrock View Post
Beautiful Pictures. That's one hell of a trip for a lifetime.

Thanks!! It was indeed a trip for a lifetime.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kilireddy0 View Post
You have made me jealous my friend. The trip looks Awesome and good pictures. Glad you guys had so much fun. Alsaka has always been that mystical place for me growing up from movies, books, tv shows. I try to watch anything with Alaska in it. My day can't come soon enough. Cheers.

Thanks . All I can say is you won't be disappointed if you go to Alaska. Just make sure you have a lot of time. And yes, even I can't get enough of TV shows that feature Alaska, especially the Alaska Railroad reality show.

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Originally Posted by Fraz33r View Post
Nice one!



I have a similar travelogue sitting in my Assembly section for quite a while now.



Alaska is definitely a beautiful place! A highly recommended to know the wilderness.

Did you go to Alaska? Please do publish your travelogue.

Quote:
Originally Posted by shashanka View Post
Extra-ordinary travelogue / photologue, bobbaffett! This is the kind of travelogue that makes all the planning, coordinating & and the attendant hardship all worthwhile! Great script - crisp and precise - and awesome photographs! No doubt the landscape itself is mind boggling, but the captures too are spectacular!



Many years ago I had made a couple of trips up & down the Magellan Strait near the Antarctic (during my stint on car carrier vessels) and some of the landscape en-route was as awesome as your Alaskan trip. Its my misfortune that I could not capture those voyages on camera.



For most of us an adventure like yours is still the stuff of dreams (even with glib phrases like "the earth today is a global village" !) and you are indeed fortunate to have lived it!

Wow, thanks for your kind words! I am very curious about your experience sailing the Magellan Straits, and request you to share your experience in more detail. Antartica is basically on my bucket list.
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Old 24th April 2016, 16:57   #15
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Default Re: 66 Degrees North: Roadtripping in Alaska

[quote=bobbafett;3955510........Wow, thanks for your kind words! I am very curious about your experience sailing the Magellan Straits, and request you to share your experience in more detail. Antartica is basically on my bucket list.[/QUOTE]

This was sometime in the early 2000's (2003/2004) and I had taken some photos with the camera phone. I'll try & get them together and post it here as is where is!
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