Alaska / USA, October 2015
Once Upon A Time In Alaska
A three weeks journey to Alaska's nature and cultures
A sunny saturday afternoon, you're home and feeling bored. You just signed a contract and gonna start working next month. What would you do? We said, "let's check flight tickets to Alaska". They were surprisingly cheap on October, because Alaska’s touristic season was already ended two weeks ago. - Let’s book it. We booked the soonest flight (same day - three hours after) and run to our bedroom, started preparing our backpacks, downloaded some maps while we were on the way to airport. Next three weeks were going to be in Alaska and we had no reservations, no plans. Just like the other road trips, we car-camped, cooked our own food to avoid spending money as much as possible.
We landed on Anchorage next morning, rented a car and began driving to Matanuska Glacier, after a morning hike in Kincaid Park. Our first stop was a random camping spot near Matanuska Glacier to spend the night before visiting the glacier next day. We set up our tent during the sunset, cooked dinner and went to sleep. The weather was so tough though. When I woke up, I felt like I was sleeping on ice (we forgot one of our sleeping pads). Rest of our time in Alaska, we just slept in the car. We woke up and brushed our teeth watching the sun rising and touching the mountains under snow poetically. After breakfast and washing dishes, we did a short hike around our camping spot. Some birds joined our hike and flied around us all the way. As they weren’t afraid of humans, we could take their close-up photos.
After Matanuska, we headed to Valdez. The freeway is a comfortable and very scenic two lane road that we really enjoyed to drive. We stopped in a gas station ran by a guy who moved from California to Alaska in 70s. His business was also his family’s beautifully decorated home. He had lots of vehicles in his place.
We saw this glacier accidentally on the road to Valdez, and just walked to it. It’s quite easy to access, and beautiful.
We arrived in Valdez on night, and camped in the glacier campground. Next morning, we woke up and went to airport to check out helicopter prices to Colombia Glacier.
Colombia Glacier is only accessible by helicopter on October, so I had to use some Turkish negotiation strategies until we got a good price from the helicopter company. And we took a flight to the Colombia Glacier by a small helicopter, as a first helicopter experience for both of us.
We saw a Thai Food Truck ran by Auntie Yum Yum on our second night in Valdez. My first impression was that Auntie Yum Yum is a lovely women and I asked her if we can come inside the truck while she cooking. She said yeah, and shared her lemon cake when we were waiting our food and taking her photos! Next morning, we were invited to have coffee with she and her husband. It was very cool to meet them, hear their stories.
After having coffee with Auntie Yum Yum and her husband, we started hiking to the reservoir next morning. Then we had lunch, the weather became sunny, and we decided to do another hike; Keystone Canyon Trail.
After Valdez, our destination was McCarthy. We drove about 8 hours to there. And 3 hours of that, was on rough road. After feeling so tired, going to sleep under aura lights made it totally worth though. In our first morning, we walked around little bit, took a look at the inside of an open bus, then headed to Root Glacier.
We stopped in a gas station on the way to Fairbanks, and Nova said “Hi” to an old & little drunk guy. He smiled and said “hi” back. - You’re native? - Yes I am. - Can we take photos ? - Yes. Then she asked where his name, he is from. He was from Mentasta. So we drove to Mentasta, his village, and knocked door of the house nearest to the lake. It was the house of an Indian Activist Katie John, and her daughter, Nora opened the door. We showed the photo of the guy we met in gas station, it was her cousin. She invited us to their living room and we started asking her lots of questions, anything comes to our mind about native culture. There was a framed letter from Barack Obama in their wall. My questions were mostly about how they grow and have food, Nova’s were more about their language and family. Their food culture is based on fishing and hunting. We tasted some of them, it was quite delicious. And they struggle to teach their kids Ahtna language. One thing I noticed about this village was that, all houses were almost same. The reason was, they were rebuilt after the original ones were burnt down. They got federal funding in 1981 and rebuilt about 8 houses in the village.
We drove to Chena Hot Springs near Fairbanks after Mentasta. Arrived at night and slept watching the aura lights again, and little disappointed with Chena. We didn’t know it was an over-priced resort with big hotel, and a some sort of small zoo with prisoner animals to show local tourists local wild animals. Hot springs is good, you can get aura lights, too. But we wouldn’t go there again.
We drove to Arctic Circle after the hot springs, and with no plans again. Arctic Circle is just a sign on the road. We made it to the sign on midnight, and we’re like “what do we now ?” We’re hungry, also the car needs gas. So, we kept driving to Coldfoot. Luckily someone built this truck camp because there is nothing on the road until Dead Horse. We spent the night in Coldfoot Truck Camp and drove back to Fairbanks next morning.
On the way to Denali from Fairbanks, we stopped by Stampede Trail, because we both love the “Into the Wild” movie & book. We spent a day walking around, didn’t make it to the bus.
The road inside Denali National Park was closed due to snow, so we just hiked around little bit and kept going.
We take two videos, the first one is from somewhere between Fairbanks and Arctic Circle.
And this one shows the sunrise near Matanuska Glacier;