North to Alaska (Fairbanks & Palmer)

Woke up to a chilly morning in Fairbanks; felt like our November weather back home instead of late August.

Drove around Fairbanks; it’s the second largest city in Alaska with about 30,000 residents. (Juneau is the capital, but smaller than Anchorage or Fairbanks.) Visited the Great Alaskan Bowl Company and saw them working on birch bowls of every size and description–very neat!

Moved on to the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. The exterior of the structure was designed to suggest, from different perspectives,  both the prow of a kayak and an igloo. We spent the rest of the morning looking at artifacts, animals, and displays of material culture. Amazing to see how the indigenous population adapted to the harsh conditions of the region over time.

Left Fairbanks and visited the Trans-Alaska Pipeline; learned about “pigs” that clean the pipe and other interesting facts. Listened for gurgling, but couldn’t hear anything. We had seen the pipeline several times from a distance, but it followed us a long way from Fairbanks.


Pipeline warnings
Trans-Alaska Pipeline "sign"
Trans-Alaska Pipeline "sign"
Cleaning "pig" inside pipeline
Cleaning "pig" inside pipeline

Pushed on toward Palmer; we planned to visit the Alaska State Fair the next day and gawk at giant cabbages and pumpkins.* It turned out to be a LONG haul from Fairbanks to Palmer, and though the road was good at that time of year, there were few “wide spots” in the road that even boasted gas stations, much less a place to eat. Luckily, we’d invested heavily in snacks at the Target in Wasilla (seemed like a good idea at the time), so we weren’t *starving,* but we were ready to have an early dinner. Nothing in Delta Junction; nothing at any of smattering of tiny communities along the way. Finally, there weren’t even any more pit toilets (Alaska’s version of the rest stop)!

Striated hills along Glenallen Highway
Striated hills along Glenallen Highway

As we neared Glenallen, we figured we’d be able to get gas, have dinner, and maybe even find a motel for the night. (Remember, we hadn’t made reservations anywhere before we left home.) Arrived in Glenallen…it was a gas station. A big gas station, but…a gas station. (People must live in the area, but we didn’t see anything like a community.) Every car on the road was pulling into that gas station; they must do a heckuva business! Went in to use a real bathroom (pit toilets are fine–and so is a short walk in the woods by the side of the road when you’re desperate–but it’s nice to see porcelain & paper, too) and re-stock our snack supply (decimated by hours of driving with no dinner in sight). Picked up an average family-sized bag of Sun-Chips and saw the price: $7.00. Are you kidding me? $7.00 for Sun-Chips? Aargh! Ended up with a package of string cheese and two containers of chocolate milk to keep body-and-soul together a little longer.

Finally rolled into Palmer about 9:00 p.m. and went to a small hotel (Alaska Choice Inn) directly across from the state fairgrounds. Another car pulled up ahead of us, but its occupants were still looking at the map when my sister went into the office–we got the last room pretty much in the whole town, which was uber-full because of the fair. Dragged in “Bertha” and the lesser luggage (do they call it that because you have to lug it?) and called it a night!

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