Monday, August 30, 2010

Dempster, Dalton & Denali Highways - A dedication to the Red Rocket!

These x3 highways are really roads to no-where, but as they say the journey is the important part not the destination!

Dempster Highway

The Dempster Hwy is Canada's most northern road, it is 670km one way to Inuvik, all dirt and rough as buggery for many a mile! This road decided to give me a flat tire and many hours of nervous driving on mud...muddy part was fun but the fact that they build roads up this far north with a 14 foot gravel base to insulate the permafrost meant that I was slipping and sliding on a road with rather large drop offs each side!
I shared this highway journey with a young Swiss fella who was great company and pulled a classic comedy act every time an on-coming truck passed as he would duck for cover from the flying rocks...he must have known something I didn't because after a fit of laughter at this action I passed another truck that sprayed a rock which hit with enough force to knock a chunk of glass on my lap!
We spent a total of 50min in Inuvik (end of the road) and decided that we might as well start the long trip back...after an obligatory photo of the church built in the shape of an igloo. Over 2.5 days we covered 1300km on dirt and brought back memories of living/driving in Australia. Grand total of x1 flat tire and x3 large rocks in the windscreen...I thought the Red Rocket had sustained worse damage after parking it in the creek for a wash...she certain sparkled afterwards but it also washed the mud out of only one-side of the wheels...hence the vibration when I got to the bitumen was took my non-mechanical self a while to realise that I could fix this problem by chipping the remaining mud out!
Dalton Highway aka Haul Road

This road extends 700km north of Fairbanks to Alaska's North Slope...built to provide services to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay and the oil industry is is also maintained extremely well...gotta keep the money flowing! It has a vicious reputation as being "as rough as buggery" but apart from the first 20miles (this is to scare the tourists off I believe) was one of the best dirt roads I have ever driven.The landscape when you head as far north as the Dempster/Dalton take you is stunning. The Dalton starts in the Boreal/Spruce forest and rolling hills, it passes over the Yukon river and other drainage's. Each rolling hill provides a vista and then it starts to become more rugged as it reaches the Brooks Ranges. They are the last barrier before the tundra starts, the tundra not being entirely flat until closer to the roads end. I drove this road in Autumn and was fascinated by the colours.The other feature that is constantly with you when driving the Dalton is the Oil Pipeline. Built above ground to stop it melting the permafrost it is a feat of human perseverance over nature. It cover 800miles in total in areas that freeze/remain frozen all year, suffer earthquakes and the shear distance make it a constant feature in your photos.

(Nice picture showing a moose eating pond-weed and the oil pipeline behind it)

I didn't make the roads end as 30miles north of the Brooks range I decided I had seen enough tundra.

Denali Highway

This highway is not even in the Denali NP or state park but rather is a connection between other highways, although it once was the road of choice to access the Denali area (gold prospectors). With "fall" colours in full swing it is extremely pretty and it was a slow 135miles getting in and out of the car, again and again for photos.
As I had no-where to go I hadn't already been once I was at the roads end I simply turned around and drove the 135miles back...good thing I like to drive! I had a stupid moment when I drove down a side road to investigate a possible campsite and slipped off the road. I had to hail down x2 German blokes to help push me out...more mud to play in!

Tribute to the Red Rocket
People (Alaskan's) laughed a lot when I said I was going to drive my tiny truck on these highways...the Red Rocket performed fantastic. A real disco car...flashing lights on the dash (minor things like airbag, battery, engine, etc) and a disco chandelier windscreen...with so-many cracks is glows and refracts sunlight! The little truck also has the added bonus of that she does much better economy than the monster rigs most Alaskans drive...about double their economy in fact! Last but not least she has become a home away from home...the canoe rack now supports a sheet of wood which I use as my tent base...yep I pitch my tent on the roof of the Red Rocket!

Cost of buying/maintenance = approx $15per day...cant get a rental for that cheap and there is still hope that might get something for it before I leave!

Keep your fingers crossed the Red Rocket makes it another 4000miles south to Los Angeles!


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wrangell St Elias National Park

This national park is the largest in is BIG...combine it with Canada's national parks and Glacier NP and you have the largest area of internationally protected environment on the planet...and bugger-all roads into and out of it...sounds like a place to loose yourself! (or get lost)

As all regions with crazy geological features and earth movements it was heavily prospected and mined 'back in the day'. Kennecott is the remains of a copper mine in the heart of the National Park and is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen/been to!
For a avid bush-walker it has everything...Mountains, Glaciers, Flora/Fauna and Historic landmarks.
A photo of the mine buildings does better justice than to describe it...
It is amazing that it has was built at all and in the isolation that it is located...'back in the day' when men were real men and everything was built but hand and carted across terrain not meant for human habitation.
The mines are perched high up in the cliffs of the mountain were the copper rich seams were was all dragged up by hand and later tramways (how did they pull those cables up has me still stumped). Hiking to the mines is rewarding exercise and then you get to play in the abandoned buildings which they just simply walked away from when mining ceased...everything is still in the buildings as it was cheaper to leave it and buy new stuff than cart it out of the isolation.
The minerals (particularly Cu) have created the most amazing rocks, the vivid green and blue rocks are constantly catching your eye. The slopes on the which the mines are built are hard to get up but faster going the small video shows...the longest scree slopes I have every gone took millimeters off my boots "skiing" down the scree...mostly out of control!
Once on the mountain tops the views of the glaciers were the best I have every encountered...the most memorable part was watching the scenic flights circle BELOW me while on the top of the changed my mind rapidly about paying for a scenic flight after that!
The converging glaciers and ice-falls (where the glacier descends rapidly to create huge crevasses) create the most unbelievably stunning landscape and you can sit watching them for endless time thinking of the forces involved and the power that water/ice has.
The Wrangell St Elias NP will remain my favorite memory of Alaska no doubt is a big call after seeing the sights I have seen this trip but what a place and probably the deciding factor is what fantastic weather I had whilst there!
Hopefully you enjoy the pics as much as I enjoyed the experience!