2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   TRIP NOTES:  DENALI NATIONAL PARK TO
   FAIRBANKS + CAMPING AT FORT WAINWRIGHT

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3 (LABOR DAY)

 
"History buffs and families will enjoy a tour of Ladd Field, known today as Fort Wainwright.  
Ladd was the first U.S. Army Airfield in Alaska. The World War II facilities were designed  
to fulfill three purposes:  cold weather experimental station, air depot for repair and testing
of aircraft, and the principle base in Alaska for the Air Transport Command.
 
Today it is an Army installation and facilities have expanded to include modern barracks,
family housing, a medical center, and other structures. Private tours can be arranged . . . "
 
 
 
Fort Wainwright also includes the Glass Park RV Park for active and retired military personnel. Since we'll be staying there for the next three days I'll talk about it in this entry.


Nice grassy area to walk Cody near our campsite at Ft. Wainwright

But first I'll explain why we're going to Fairbanks and describe our road trip to get there from Denali National Park this morning.

Unfortunately, this was another not-so-great weather day on the George Parks Highway so I have even fewer pictures than I did when we drove between Anchorage and Denali three times in August. That's OK. From what I've read and heard, even on a clear day the northern third of the highway isn't as spectacular as the section between Anchorage and Denali.

SEEKING SUNSHINE

Our grand-but-fluid plan for touring Alaska has always included visiting Fairbanks, the second-largest city in the state. It is northeast of Anchorage and Denali in Interior Alaska.

If we hadn't wanted to go back to Denali so badly last week we would have spent more time in Fairbanks and the surrounding area. Now with winter fast approaching we'll be here only three days before heading east and out of the state. We'll do as much as we can in those three days.


The best place to start exploring Fairbanks is at the awesome
Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center.

We always keep an eye out for weather predictions up here, and this time of year that's even more important.

Not only are we tracking weather in various places in Alaska where we might travel, we're also looking at forecasts for potential routes back through Canada to the Lower 48. We need to avoid both freezing temperatures and frozen precipitation.

Another hazard when traveling and living in an RV is high wind. Our best reason to leave Denali today is the prediction for 70 MPH winds there tomorrow -- yikes!


Time marches on at the clock tower on the Chena River Walk in downtown Fairbanks.

We're hoping for warmer temperatures and less humidity while we're in Fairbanks. The weather tends to be more warm and sunny during the summer in Interior Alaska than in Southcentral Alaska, where Anchorage, Turnagain Arm, and the entire Kenai Peninsula are located. That's where we've spent most of the summer and it's been very wet and cool.

Alas, it was still cloudy all day today but the prediction for Fairbanks improves tomorrow and Wednesday. Because I took so few pictures today I'm including several blue-sky views from tomorrow.

I can do that since I'm uploading these entries well after the date we were here!

THE SHORT ROAD TRIP FROM DENALI TO FAIRBANKS

We woke at 7 AM to mid-40s F. and overcast skies but no rain at Riley Creek Campground just inside the entrance to Denali National Park. We got ready to leave the campsite a little after 8. Jim dumped gray and black water and we were on our way out of the park at 8:15.

We reached the campground at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks about 11 AM after driving 126 miles, mostly on the George Parks Highway. If the weather is clear and you're not traveling in an RV you should be able to get there faster than we did.

Here's the route, with a link to a larger map on The Milepost website:

The park entrance is in the blue at the bottom of the map section.

We made only one stop Ė in Healy to get a few gallons of diesel, which is still priced at an exorbitant $4.35/gallon. We heard that gasoline prices are the highest this Labor Day than any previous Labor Day. Iíd guess itís the same for diesel. Fortunately it's less expensive on post at Ft. Wainwright ($4.05/gallon) and at Samís Club in Fairbanks.

 
Along the George Parks Hwy.

We drove north on the George Parks Highway until we reached Fairbanks, where we got on Airport Way and headed east directly to a gate at Ft. Wainwright. The post is just a few miles southeast of downtown, in the "L" formed by the Steese and Richardson Highways.

This summer/fall the George Parks Hwy. is pretty smooth from Denali NP to Healy, a distance of about ten miles. I was surprised how bumpy the road was for the next 50-60 miles north of Healy. There are a lot of permafrost waves, potholes, and general roughness. North of the town of Nenana to Fairbanks the road was in better condition.

 
Nenana, Tanana, Chena . . . lots of rivers today

It was overcast the whole way to Fairbanks but we didnít get any rain. We had a strong wind from the south that helped push us north. 

The relatively flat terrain was fairly boring after we got north of the national park property. Spruce and hardwood trees blocked most views of the mountains and Nenana and Tanana River valleys. At the lower elevations some of the aspens havenít turned gold or orange yet. In this area south of Fairbanks they are very pretty:

Above and below:  Dry road, colorful aspens, and no traffic here --
guess I can't complain too much about the clouds, eh?

 
 

I don't know of any viewpoints for Denali north of the park. If there are, it was too cloudy to see The Mountain today anyway.

The views were more interesting closer to Fairbanks when we got up to 1,500 feet for several miles and could see more tree color and river valleys on both sides. We didnít stop for photos because it was too hazy to see clearly. My photos from the moving truck didn't turn out well.

We dropped down to about 450 feet in Fairbanks. Even though weíre up to the 66th parallel now and winter is approaching fast, not all the aspens have changed color in town.

I read in an exhibit about the seasons in Fairbanks at the visitor center that at this time of year, one hour of daylight per week is lost (next picture). That's a bunch. With all the clouds lately itís been getting dark even earlier where weíve been camped than if it was sunny. Now we're the farthest north we've been in almost three months so we'll probably notice the earlier sunsets.

 

Traffic was pretty light this morning, perhaps because itís Labor Day. I imagine traffic was heavier in the afternoon as folks headed home to Fairbanks or Anchorage. We saw more tour buses going south this morning than RVs. There were very few commercial trucks on our stretch of the road.

We saw several pickup trucks and groups of campers parked on side roads. Most of them appeared to be hauling ATVs on flatbed trailers.

Guess folks were having some fun riding around in the woods this holiday weekend.

GLASS PARK RV PARK

That's kind of redundant, isn't it?

Turns out this RV Park is located in Glass Park, a large recreational area at Fort Wainwright. It's easier to find the park and campground on post than some other military installations where we've stayed.

The entrance to Ft. Wainwright that is closest to the campground is at the end of Airport Way just east of the intersection with the Richardson and Steese Hwys. The gate is on Gaffney Road. We turned left at the first street and soon came to the Outdoor Recreation building. We got there at 11 AM, two hours before it opened today, so we continued another quarter mile to the dump station and entrance to the first campground loop (Moose).


Two of several available campsites in the rustic Moose Loop (we took one of them).

We couldn't find anyone to ask about where to camp. We weren't sure if that was the only loop because we couldn't find a map of the campground on the website. You can't make reservations here, there isn't a campground host on duty now, and Outdoor Rec was closed . . .

Jim drove a little farther into Glass Park and found a good spot along the road to park so we could figure out whether there were any other campground loops.

Jim went back to walk around the Moose Loop and see if he could find anyone. I took Cody and walked about three-fourths mile around a second loop through the park. There weren't any other RV campsites there, just tent spaces, playground equipment, picnic areas, and walking trails.


Nice playground in Glass Park

Jim found someone camped along the Moose Loop and determined that we needed to go back there and just pick an empty site with no one's name on the post. The loop road that I walked through the park was wide enough for Jim to drive so we could turn the camper around easily.  

There are about 25 wooded and open RV sites in the Moose Loop. None have sewers. Some have water and electric for $20/night, some only water ($15), and some are dry sites ($12). Most are long back-in sites; only four or five are pull-thrus.

The pull-thrus that were available had only water so we chose a long, wide back-in site with water, electricity, and plenty of room for our slide-outs and awning. Electricity is important for us to have for a few days so we can use electric heaters to try to get the interior of the camper drier. We've got mildew and condensation inside from all the rain this summer.

This is a more rustic-looking campground than most military campgrounds where we've stayed. It looks more like a state park campground. That's not a criticism, just a comparison. There aren't very many other campers here and we like all the privacy and quiet.

We have just 1Ĺ Verizon bars in this campground for our phones and MiFi (in comparison, we had 3Ĺ-4 bars at Riley Creek in Denali NP and 1-2 at JBER in Anchorage). Our MiFi connection is slower here than those other two campgrounds, however. Jim can get free WiFi for his laptop at the food court a couple miles away.

Other conveniences are lots of TV stations here and being able to do laundry at Outdoor Rec.


Cody loves all the woods here.

When Outdoor Rec opened we paid for three nights. The next two days are supposed to be partly to mostly sunny, then it's predicted to get much colder later in the week.

Although Fairbanks had a lot of sunny days in the 70s and 80s F. this summer, itís cooler and wetter this week. The afternoon temperature reached only the low 60s F. today and we got some light rain around 4 PM, just as Jim got done with a bike ride and Cody and I returned from an excursion downtown.

 
There are lots of grassy and wooded areas to walk in Glass Park.

I'll show more photos from the visitor center and Chena Riverwalk in the next entry.

EXPLORING FORT WAINWRIGHT

Jim rode almost 19 miles on bike paths and roads on post but he didn't take any photos. He enjoyed the exercise and education he got.

He read several historical interpretive signs (such as the one describing the 1935 plane crash and death of Will Rogers and Wylie Post). He rode near the Chena River, found the BX and commissary, saw a static helicopter display and Chinooks and Blackhawks on the flight line, and rode through some of the post housing areas.

A lot of people work and live here Ė over 6,000 service men and women, over 1,000 civilians, and almost 9,000 family members. I also read that about 2,000 military retirees call Fairbanks home, so they must really like living here.

They all have a big economic impact on Fairbanks, a fairly small city with about 32,000 residents within the city limits. The entire Fairbanks North Star Borough (like a large county in the Lower 48 states) has only about 100,000 residents.


Photo montage from Fort Wainwright's homepage on the internet (at the time I uploaded this entry)

As noted in the introduction to this entry, Fort Wainwright began as Ladd Field, the first U.S. Army airfield in Alaska.

Now Fort Wainwright is home to the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, the second-largest brigade in the U.S. Army, and 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, the newest unit of this size. You can read much more about the mission of the post on its official website.

OTHER MILITARY INSTALLATIONS NEARBY

We also considered staying at Eielson AFB but it's about 26 miles south of Fairbanks and not practical for our short stay this time.

Eielson is home of the northernmost U.S. fighter and refueling wings in our country. Its mission is to prepare U.S. and allied aviation forces for combat, to deploy Airmen in support of global operations, and to enable the staging of forces to promote our country's interest in the Asia-Pacific region.

Eielson is pretty big, too, with about 3,500 military personnel, civilian employees, and family members. Apparently it's under consideration for some changes because we picked up a brochure detailing how much of an economic loss it would have on Interior Alaska if closed.

On our next trip to Alaska we plan to spend more time in Fairbanks and maybe check out Eielson AFB and Fort Greeley, which is on the Richardson Hwy. south of Delta Junction.

Next entry:  photos from two visits to the impressive Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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