Today, Andrew and I are embarking on one of the greatest adventures of our lives! For the next eighteen days we will be floating more than 250 miles down the Kobuk River, a wild and remote river just north of the arctic circle in western Alaska. It's technically an unguided trip, although we are going with two other guys one which has done the trip before, a retired wildlife officer and our good friend, Didier Lindsey, a wildlife photographer. The goal of the trip is to photograph one of the most spectacular animal migrations in the world. The western arctic caribou herd, made up of 400,000+ caribou, migrates 350-400 miles twice a year, once to their calving grounds on the North Slope and once to their wintering grounds in the Kobuk Valley. We hope to see them or some of them as they swim across the Kobuk River and maybe even crossing the Kobuk Sand Dunes.
Today we will fly from Fairbanks to Bettles, then from Bettles to Lake Minakokosa. By Sept. 28, if all goes well weatherwise, we should be flying from Kiana to Kotzebue, then Kotzebue back to Fairbanks. After that we'll be zipping down to Death Valley to start work on Oct. 6th. You can keep up with our location throughout the next few weeks with our spot beacon site at Find A+J.
No one knows the ways of the wind and caribou.
Andrew and I found our spot! We knew that eventually we would find just the right spot for us to make a home. It's exactly what we've pictured for several years now and at the right price. We found it just outside of small town Healy, Alaska. Even more perfect for us, it's only fifteen minutes from Denali National Park...what a backyard! It's about two hours from Fairbanks and a little more than four hours from Anchorage. The five acre lot is the next to last house at the end of a road off the Stampede Road (you might know from Krakauer's book Into the Wild).
This little log cabin is somewhere between 15 and 20 years old. It was hand built by the original land owner who lives just down the road. It's 11x18 on the inside and equipped with electricity, gas stove, and is set up for an oil burning heating stove which is what most Alaskans use nowadays (that's what the blue barrel is for on the outside in picture below). If you're wondering why I didn't mention water, it's because there isn't any. There is a community well at the beginning of the road, so we'll haul water for a while. No biggy though. Showers and a laundry mat are just a few miles down the road. We also love the grown up front yard with dwarf birch, wild rose, and other wildflowers.
This is a second unfinished cabin (just a short walk from our cabin down a cute little trail) that will be our guest cabin for the hearty folks that are willing to come and visit.
On our way home from visiting our new cabin in Healy, we watched a growing green band of light stretched across the sky. By the time we got home the northern lights were dancing up a storm as they celebrated with us. This was by far the best light show we have witnessed up here. What an excellent end to a very exciting day for us! Congratulations to us!
On our way to visit Wrangell-St. Elias NP, we drove across the Denali Highway to Chitina, the bordering town of the park. Chitina is where the Copper River runs through and Andrew and George go to fish, but it was new territory for me.
We love the scenery along the Denali Highway. The Denali Hwy. is about 100 miles of gravel road with a little pavement on each end.
We found a very cool spot with camping and river access where two rivers meet. The Nenana River, a glacial silt filled river, flows into the Tanana River, a tributary to the Yukon River.
Beautiful views of the Alaska Range along the highway. The highest ones here are Mount Deborah, Hess Mountain, and Mount Hayes.
We saw maybe a half dozen caribou strung out along the highway. All were pretty far away or on the move.
On the Richardson Highway (connecting to the Chitina turn-off) we found a huge group of tundra swans. Another beautiful species that mates for life!
Wooden bridge over an awesome gorge.
Walking to McCarthy! McCarthy is a small, colorful town in the Wrangell-St. Elias NP. The only access to the town is by walking a half-mile over two footbridges. You park on one side of the river and walk across the bridges, down a trail/dirt road to town. Some of the locals built a bridge to drive across into town, but it's only for locals and it's not even recognized by the Alaska DOT. The permanent (winter) population is around 50. There is quite a bit more summer/seasonal population.
It seems to be a friendly town that is definitely off the grid. Power lines stopped back in Chitina. Everything here is run by generators and propane. But it seems like they have a lot to offer.