Saturday, May 22, 2010

Alaska Expedition 2010 - Day 11 (May 22, 2010)

Tok, Alaska – pronounced toke - We got up at 5:30am to a bright sunny day. Temperature is in the 40’s F. The bed was super comfy, and I slept great. I really like these cabins, and I like it that cabin #4 has a ramp to the door, so that it is whellchair accessible. Our cabin has a queen size bed and a single bed on the main floor and two double beds up in the loft. There is a fridge, freezer, microwave and pretty blue stonewear cups and saucers. There are little decorative touches that make the place very homey.  Rafael and I walked over to the office and grabbed some breakfast, while Dave ate leftover pizza from last night's dinner.

Last night, after eating yummy chocolate cupcakes that Hannah and Holly had helped their mom, Carrie ice, Dave and I went for a walk in search of grouse.

Along every road here is a snowmobile/quad runner lane. We walked up Borealis Lane toward the Tok Cutoff and then turned N into the boreal forest. It is so cool and peaceful in the forest. The mossy forest floor, called muskeg is spongy when you walk on it. There are no short little trees or shrubs growing beneath the tall skinny spruce trees. We see a snowshoe hare scamper across the road. I have to take a picture of Dave, because he is walking through the Boreal Forest wearing a Tshirt that says "The Boreal Forest" from International Migratory Bird Day! 

Every once in a while, we see a patch of lichen on the forest floor.  It is so cool, because it looks like leaf litter!

Dave shows me a tree stump that is surrounded with pine cone scales, where red squirrels will perch and eat. We also see moss flowering (for Hickey). It is fascinating. If you look closely, the moss has tiny little red nubs where the new leaves(?) come out, then there are these 3inch-ish vertical spires pointing toward the sky. I love the smell of the forest.

There is a noticeable change in road conditions and housing when you cross into Alaska from the Yukon. Homes and businesses are more modern and the roads are in really good condition. We can drive 65mph with ease. Tok is 93 miles from the Canadian border and is a trade center for the nearby Athabascan villages. Some say that Tok’s name derives from the native word meaning ”peace crossing”, but others say Tok was the name for a survey crew’s dog. Still others say the name Tok comes from the native word “Tokai” which means “creek”. Tok claims the title of “Dog Capital of Alaska”, as it is a center for dog breeding, training and mushing.
The town of Tok began as a construction camp during the building of the Alaska Hwy. Today, it is also the only town in the interior of Alaska through which visitors driving to and from the state have to pass twice. There is no road leaving the interior that doesn’t pass through Tok on its way to the Yukon border at Beaver Creek or Boundary.
As we head north on the Alaskan Highway, we are amazed to see over 20 Snowshoe Hares within the first 5 miles of road. It is also funny to see the mile markers on poles that are 12ft high. They must get a helluva lot of snow here! At Robertson River, we stop on the bridge to take a picture of the ice that is still covering most of the river. It must be 10 feet thick in some areas.

 I can see that same soft blue color in the ice that I remember from the glaciers in Kenai Fjords outside of Seward, AK in 2002. The river is named for Sergeant Cady Robertson, who helped map Alaska. We see a moose trot into the woods and many Swainson’s Thrush zipping across the road. It really surprises me to see Robins up here too. I don’t think of them as arctic birds, but they are everywhere.
I find it very interesting to see the tree line along the mountains to our left (West). I thought that the tree line was a result of the top of the mountain consisting of just rock, and no dirt. But, the lack of trees on the mountain is due to more than just a lack of soil. Elevation, a short growing season and a lack of microbes in the soil all contribute. There are some trees, but they are very short and few and far between. We are still travelling through Boreal Forest along the highway, and the trees here are Trembling Aspen, Balsam Poplar, Felt-leaved Willow, Alaska Paper Birch, Speckled Alder, Subalpine Fir, White Spruce, Black Spruce (which I find so ugly), Tamarack and Lodgepole Pine.
At the next bridge, we see an Osprey perched on a snag in the middle of the river bed. Very cool.

The river is almost dry with just a few tendrils of water making their way from the mountain toward the Tanana River. At the Gerstle River bridge, we see someone on a quad runner driving the dry river bed – yet the bridge is very long and the river bed is very wide. I can imagine this river full of water, once the snows melt.  As we get within 20 miles of Fairbanks, we see Mt McKinley in the distance to our left.  Most of the time, the mountain is shrouded by clouds, so we quickly pull over and snap a few photos!

While taking the pictures of the mountain, Dave yells that there is an eagle flying right below us!

Fairbanks, Alaska:  We arrive in Fairbanks a little before 11am, and follow the signs to UAF and the “Really Free Market”.

Once there we asked someone to direct us to our contact, Michelle, and off we went to find her. This market is such a great idea! The place is packed – and every other person is a hippie! I love it here! Fred, Leslie and I would fit right in. We find Michelle, who directs us to campus police to pick up the key to our apartment, and we make a date to have breakfast with her in the morning.

It is so interesting to see the various pamphlets on display at campus police - many different brochures on domestic abuse and drugs. I remember from when we were in Nome, AK on our honeymoon, the locals told us that there is a big problem with battered women and drugs and alcohol. I picked up the pamphlets on meth, XTC, crack and coke. I can always learn more for my drug class. But what really struck me were the ones on driving while you are tired. We drove by a coffee hut that advertised “Don’t die driving tired – stop here!”
Our apartment is 140 MacLean, which is one in a series of buildings called the MacLean House.

These apartments share a common computer lab and laundry room (free too!). The “House” is for native people who come to the college and provides them with a safe, family environment. Rafael says that our 2 bedroom apartment is bigger than the Candlewood Apartments in Oxford, where he and Nancy will be living when we all get back in August.
The apartment is fabulous!

We busily unload the truck and haul everything inside. I take over making the beds and putting our clothes and personal items away, while Dave and Rafael unpack the kitchen. They are so cute!

Organizing the kitchen just the way they want it, and washing up all of the dishes we brought. In less than an hour we have the apartment set up the way we want it, and head out to the store to pick up items we still need: garbage cans for the kitchen and bath, a toothbrush holder, a broom and dustpan, etc. We head over to Fred Myers, and are thrilled to see that the prices of goods are just about the same as in Oxford, OH! Can you believe it?! They even have an olive, bar, Diana!!!

After shopping, Rafael offers to buy us dinner, as a belated Mother’s Day dinner. Michelle had recommended that we go to Pike’s Landing, because we can sit outside on the river. Good choice. The meal is fabulous! The best we’ve had on the trip. I had salmon, and the boys had the seafood platter. The weather is perfect! In fact, I think I might have gotten a little sun-burnt!
We drive around campus a little after dinner, and eventually head back to the apartment to unload our goods from Fred Myers (which is very much like a Target and Kroger combined) and settle in for the night.

1 comment:

ActualBob said...

Great job Jill. I enjoyed the trip and didn't leave the farm.

I am sooooooooo envious