Alaska > The Three Scenic Highways from Fairbanks to Seward

[To catch up with the other stories in this Alaska Series, please CLICK HERE.]

After three wonderful nights in the beautiful log cabin, today we say good-bye, especially to landlady Nancy, the tough but friendly Alaskan lady who single-handedly manages the North Pole Cabins (for more info, please CLICK HERE).

The plan is to drive from North Pole (spot A in map below) along Route 2 (Alaska Highway), which goes all the way to Yukon in Canada, until Delta Junction. Then we will take the turn-off to Route 4 (Richardson Highway) which heads southerly for Glennallen (B). That’s a distance of 230 miles with the road climbing to 3,600 feet above sea level. After overnighting in Glennallen we will proceed all the way to the south via Route 1 (Glenn Highway), bypassing Anchorage, to our final destination Seward — a distance of 310 miles, at max 3,400 feet high.

Just before Delta Junction we encounter the famous Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAP) as it crosses Tanana river via a special bridge. See our normal highway bridge on the left.

The TAP is 1,300km long, carrying oil from Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic far north coastline to Valdez in the south, for onward shipment by sea. Pumping stations along the system push the liquid along, which under normal circumstances would take nine days to make the long journey in the wilderness — delivering 1.8mil barrels a day. That’s an engineering marvel!

A bridge especially designed for the big oil pipe, which is 48 inches in diameter.

Delta Junction is officially the end of the Alaska Highway, all 1422 miles of it. The highway was built during WW2 to connect the contiguous USA to Alaska through Canada, so milestone zero is somewhere in British Columbia, Canada.

As we push further south along the Richardson Highway, the TAP is never far away. Here we see it snaking up and down the hills in a zig-zag manner. This is an important design to make it flexible in case of earthquakes, for instance.

The metal structures jutting out of the ground are heat pipes connected to the pipe buried underground — to conduct heat from the pipe to the fins so that the heated flowing oil would not thaw the permafrost, which could cause structural problems.

Freezing cold sub-tundra landscape is typical of the Richardson Highway.

The TAP is still following us — it’s above ground here, normally so in the area of permafrost.

Operational 24/7, every hour more than a million dollars worth of black gold passes through that tough 4-foot pipe.

We reach another desolate junction, which also leads to the Canadian border, quite a distance away. All the best to the guy, we hardly see vehicles here.

Soon we enter a prime national park of the United States, our stopover point for tonight.

We are in Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve in eastern Alaska, largest in the USA at 5.3mil hectares (13.2mil acres), a UNESCO World Heritage Site too. It can easily fit 1.5 times the state of Pahang in our Malaysia!

At the visitor centre, the UNESCO WHS plaque is there for all to see — awarded in 1979, and the park itself was created in 1978.

We do a rare photoshoot together, since it is such a memorable spot, with Mt Drum at the back.

The photogenic 12,000ft Mt Drum dominates the landscape. The park contains a quarter of all glaciers found in North America.

This is Copper River, at the western edge of the park — the home for a lot of salmons. It was named after the copper deposits found and mined around here in the old days.

After the brief visit to Wrangell – St Elias National Park, we checked in at a hotel in nearby village of Glennallen for the night. Now, fresh from a good night’s sleep, we resume our journey westwards towards Anchorage along Glenn Highway. We glance back to say goodbye to Mt Drum.

Glenn Highway is indeed a very scenic route with snow-capped mountains, glaciers, forests and rivers, all the way. It’s 180 miles long from Glennallen to Anchorage, but we are bypassing the latter to head straight south to Seward.

This is the huge Matanuska Glacier, the largest glacier in the US which is accessible by car. The terminus seen below is 4 miles across.

Another major glacier in the distance.

Typical landscape we see as we travel along Glenn Highway.

Huge mountains with sharp peaks indicate they are relatively young — plate tectonics is still in action.

It’s quite overwhelming, the sights of huge frozen mountains and autumn leaves.

Traffic along the highway is quite scarce — the peak season has just ended, and maybe only non-mainstream visitors like us are still lingering around.

A different landscape offering coloured rocks, normally caused by the various minerals embedded therein. 

And yes, more last-minute travellers before everything is messed up by winter snowstorms.

As we approach Anchorage, we are still getting fantastic views of the mountains and forests. We are doing the city bypass to directly head south to Seward, our final destination.

After bypassing Anchorage we skirt the Turnagain Arm, a slender sea inlet.

We are still on Glenn Highway or Route 1. 

Well the Alaska Railroad track is with us too.

With the inlet to our right, the road keeps going in the southeasterly direction.

Glaciers are everywhere in all directions. It is believed that Alaska has almost 100,000 glaciers, but only a few major ones have names.

At the end of the arm (inlet), we arrive at Portage, with it’s own pretty glacial lake.

And I suspect this is Portage Glacier, hanging nearby.

We push further south towards Seward.

We do yet another stop, the last one — to see a natural salmon spawning stream.

Just imagine these fellas, ‘born’ here some 3 years ago, then went to the sea via a network of streams and rivers, to live in salt water for a couple of years. Only to return here now, to this exact birthplace, to spawn and to die.

After spawning, they peacefully die in the calm water. One amazing story of nature, these salmons.

There are four types of salmons spawning here — chum, coho, pink, sockeye. This is the sockeye’s story.

The sun is low in the sky, so we better get to Seward fast before nightfall. I hate looking for any hotel in a new place in darkness, especially in freezing weather.

After a whole day of driving (about 8 hours) from Glennallen (about 300 miles away) along a most interesting route, with us suffering from scenery overload, we finally arrive in Seward.

We check out the terminus of the Alaska Railroad, our query right from the beginning of this trip, but there’s nothing here. The train must have left for its trip to Fairbanks (almost 500 miles away) via Anchorage.

Seward is a pretty port, founded in 1903, named after Secretary of State William H. Seward, who brilliantly bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 for a mere US$7.2mil, or 2 cents per acre. I think now the Russians are still kicking their backside for this rather poor deal.

The population is officially less then 3,000 people, so I guess during the tourist season, outsiders easily outnumber the locals.

The sun is setting and the glint of the reddish hue on the mountain snow is impressive. It’s impossible to directly see the sunset here since the town is blocked by huge mountains to the west.

A posh-looking seafood restaurant opens for diners, but we opt for fish and chips at a nice eatery near the hotel.

And as we prepare to retire for the night, another surprise welcomes us — more aurora borealis! 

No spectacular pattern this time — just huge waving smudges of green.

Ah well, there’s a poor attempt at doing some sort of patterns, but that’s about it. The show is dynamic this time, with the aurora moving around quite fast. It’s like a huge green spotlight is shining in the sky, and moving around non-stop.

Anyway, good night from Seward, Alaska!

~ THE END (09/15) ~

#alaskaseries

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