Tag Archives: Athabasca Glacier

3500 miles of Wow. Our Journey from Perham, MN to Fairbanks, AK

Well Readers, it’s been a long time since I’ve put up a post here. And it’s not from lack of desire, rather lack of time. I’ve been Very, Very, Very busy. Capitalized “V”s are supposed to emphasize. Here’s the first part of our journey to Fairbanks. I have been involved heavily in RA training. I’m working at the “sustainability village” for the year and am very excited about! I’ll be the head of 16 residents that are dispersed amongst 4 apartment buildings. The buildings are hyper efficient, and residents that live here pledge to live sustainably (which manifests itself in many ways). My interests and past experiences in Northland College will fit me very well. Residents grow some of their own food (I ran the campus greenhouses for 2 years at Nortland) and are asked to bike, walk or carpool when necessary.

On top of my RA duties, I’ll be diving into my graduate work very soon, and classes start just after Labor day!  I’ve actually been so busy that I didn’t have time to write it, fortunately, Kass could help out again! Without futher ado, here she is, with small interjections from me:


Our planned trip to Fairbanks, Alaska was a total of 61 hours not including stops for fuel, food, or road construction! Then we added another 12 hours or so to head down to Denali National Park and to see Anchorage then head back to Fairbanks. It was a little daunting to think of all those hours in Ian’s pickup but we were up for the challenge!

Out west again…

We left Perham on the 8th of August and headed to the first destination on the way to Alaska, 16 hours to Sandpoint, ID.


As you can see we were pretty heavily loaded. Ian planned to have his entire load of luggage on the trailer then we would “boondock” (park in random spots for the night, mostly rest stops or pullouts) in the back of the truck were we rigged up a bed instead of having to pull out a tent every night. Nice thinking Ian! He created the trailer from an old popup camper his parents let him use. He tore the whole camper off of it, leaving the strong frame and built it all up for this journey in the last few remaining days we had before leaving. (CRAZY!)

We drove about 12 hours that first day before hitting a rest stop, and then we finished the rest of the way the next morning to Sean and Jada’s house. We got to see the little man again and spend some quality time with the loved ones we miss rather dearly! We dropped off a few things for them, Ian’s kayak for them to use while he is up in Alaska, and a huge china hutch for Jada that was her grandmother’s, and some clothes for Dane from Darla. We spend all of Friday and a good piece of Saturday morning with them. It was a very nice spot to stop and rest up for the remaining chunk our journey.


As a side note, those of you who know Ian well enough, know that there is a part of his brain that just so happens to be a human jukebox. (If you didn’t know that, now you do ; ] ). This jukebox is always on random (well typically) and it rarely ever can finish a song before its attention has skipped into another piece of a different song. One of the many songs Ian often had on repeat during this trip was of course John Denver’s, Alaska and Me. He often sang, “When I was a child and I lived in the city I dreamed of Alaska so far away… somehow I knew that I’d live there someday.”  It popped up more and more in the jukebox’s playlist the closer we came to Alaska. He typically ended almost shouting every time, “Here’s to Alaska!!!” Good thing I’m a John Denver fan! : ]


Our destination for Saturday night was Banff National Park. I have had the pleasure of visiting Banff before but this was Ian’s first journey there. Banff was only about five and a half hours from Sandpoint so we made it their easily. It started to pour as we got to the park and managed to find an overlook to pull off on and we boondocked for the night. Ian captured the rainy mood of the mountains the night before and then the subequent sunrise of the same mountain range. What a difference!

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The next morning we rose and greeted the beautiful view once more before continuing up Highway 93 (Icefields Pkwy) that drives through Banff National Park in British Columbia/Alberta, and up to Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada. The highway was amazing! It led through the mountains, next to glacial rivers and lakes, all the way up to the glacial ice fields themselves! If you are ever in the area we highly recommend this drive! So awe-inspiring! The mountains continue to change a head of you showing new types of geological structures and chemistries. We stopped at the Athabasca Glacier, that had a trail up to it and even showed signs of where the terminal moraine used to be in decades of the past all the way back into the late 1800’s. We weren’t able to touch the glacier as I was hoping; the river at the end of the moraine was just too fast and wide (and probably freezing!) for us unprepared visitors in our sandals.


NOTE FROM IAN: This glacier was full of “Nerdy” glacial stuff. Here’s a little bit about what I learned while looking at this glacier!!


The glacier has receded greatly in recent years. Here is a panoramic of the glacier:

Athabasca Glacier Pan 1

Glacial recession has been going on for centuries, however has sped up in recent years. This glacier has retreated about 1.5 km (.93 miles) in the last 125 years!! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athabasca_Glacier). The location here had each 20-or-so year mark posted to you could see the progress of the glacier. What an eye opener! In fact, at the location (picture below) shown you can see the vegetation growth that has occurred since the glacier left that spot 105 years earlier. It isn’t much growth!


Glaciers play a key role in the landscape and the evidence of their movement can be seen everwhere. Here, the glacier has grown over the solid surface of the rock cutting into it as it recedes. This is a classic show of the power of a glacier. You can also see the typical glacial rocks in the area. Each of these shows the glacier in the background with some of its left over rocks in the front. COOL!!

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Another piece of a glacier is the glacial moraine. This area is covered in silt and rock that has been ground by the glacier. In many instances it may look like land, however, we were lucky enough to see where the terminal moraine has shattered away exposing some of the ice beneath.


So there you have it, a little bit about the Athabasca glacier!

As we headed up the road and got closer and closer to the town of Jasper it was my turn to sing John Denver, “Up in the meadows of Jasper, Alberta, two men and four ponies on a long lonesome ride…” However we didn’t see any meadows, just lots of mountains, trees, and streams. It is so beautiful I can see why in inspired John Denver to sing about it. However the town of Jasper was completely PACKED! I’m sure it was a nice little town but it looked like rush hour in New York City! We couldn’t even get into a gas station, so we just drove right through.

I wanted to see Maligne Lake and Canyon so we took the little side road that led there and when we got to the canyon we couldn’t believe how packed it was! We got out and started on the trail and even made it to a bridge overlooking the canyon before we just couldn’t handle the amount of people. It was gorgeous but just too packed to truly enjoy. So we left the park and continued our drive northwards. That night we ended up boondocking in a the Walmart parking lot in Dawson Creek, the start of the Alaskan Highway, along with about a dozen or two other dockers.

Note from Ian: Boondocking is awesome! Here we are boondocking the Dawson Creek Walmart.


Monday arrived early; we noticed that the sun kept waking us up earlier and earlier if the truckers and other early morning drivers didn’t beat the sun to it. Another day on the road, we had an actual goal of where we were going to stop for the night though which made us anxious to get going. One of Ian’s coworkers in Maine suggested to we visit Laird River Hot Spring Provincial Park. With such a pleasant name to it and rave reviews we were excited to get there, which made time go rather slowly. To make time speed up and keep our minds occupied through the drive I got Ian to play “My cows” with me. This was a game my parents got my sisters and I to play when we were young and bored on the long car trips to my grandparents’ houses. Ian and never heard of it and maybe you haven’t either so I’ll break down the rules (or at least what I could remember) in the way I was taught by my parents. Every time you see a cattle or a cow you say “my cow” or if you are bored with the small amount of cows around, whatever the animal happens to be so “my deer” if I saw a deer etc. Scoring is rather up to whoever is in on the game or that’s how we used to play. So Ian and I decided (or mostly I decided, him being new to the game) the following.

Points Justification
Ravens 1 They were everywhere!
Cows 1 Common for a while in the bit of farm country that exisited
Horses/Deer 2 Rare-ish (horses should have only been 1 there were common)
Elk/Caribou 3 Hadn’t seen any yet but figured they would be more common than the following
Mountain Goats/ Big Horned Sheep 4
Buffalo 5
Black Bear 7
Grizzly Bear 10

Now typically when playing my cows anytime someone sees a graveyard they can shout out, “Bury Your Cows!” then all of the members playing the game start back at zero except for the observant player that spotted the graveyard. We figured we wouldn’t be seeing many graveyards in our drive through the mountains and boreal forests so we decided to cancel the burring of cows. 😉 All that is left before you start to play is deciding on a number that wins say first to 10 or even 21 animals. We played a few rounds over the next few days. Ian was very quick at catching on; I think he won most of our games.

Eventually we made our way to northern BC, the mountains came and went and the roads and construction got worse. We pulled over by a campground on Mucho Lake, which was a beautiful lake surrounded by stony mountains. I’m banking on Ian adding a picture HERE: 😉 If you drive this way make sure to slow down and you go farther north because the mountain rock comes all the way to the water and so do the Bighorn Sheep! Other notable species in this area were Caribou, and a little farther north were Bison and a Black Bear right by the side of the road!!!

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NOTE FROM IAN : This goat has a satellite tag! I thought that was pretty cool. I’m assuming he’s being used to look at the movement of goats around the roads. He was right on it! He’s at MUNCHO LAKE, which can be seen here:


Finally after the last hour of excitement we made it to Liard River Hot Springs! It is a nice little campground which fills up fast during the peak season so get there early. The main spring was beautiful and super-hot! Over 110 degrees F, this is above my comfort level but Ian loved it right from the mouth of the spring. I had to go down to the next tier where the water was a little cooler. The water was a clear dark blue to green and lovely. The only problem was the smell of the sulfur, but well worth the relaxing temperature! Even more so after driving long distances every day, cramped muscles are able to loosen in that hot water.


That night at the campground Ian got up at 1am to take pictures of the slowing Perseid Meteor shower. I eventually got up to look at the stars as well, some of the brightest I’ve ever seen. Ian set his camera up to take more photos during the night with his intervalometer and we went back to bed. In the morning when viewing the photos we realized we had missed the Northern Lights by mere minutes, if it wasn’t already out faintly when we headed back to sleep. Shucks!

NOTE FROM IAN: The great thing about having the intervalometer set up was that I could timlapse it! Although it wasn’t set up ideally for capture, here’s my first timelapse of the northern lights (very short video <<<<CLICK HERE>>>) . Many, many more to come! Also, I didn’t manage to capture any meteors, however, I was able to capture a stunning movement around the north star, which I thought was very cool! It hasn’t been enhanced in any way beyond the original shot.


From here we decided to make it up to Fairbanks as soon as possible so we could still have time to spend in Denali and Anchorage before Ian had to move in next Monday. We managed to make it up to the Yukon and we stopped in Watson Lake at an information center.


At the center we were informed that you could win a 5 ounce or 10 ounce gold nugget if you participated in a Yukon passport challenge. If you visited 10 or 20 of the cultural sites while driving through Yukon and get your passport stamped at each site as proof you would be entered into a drawing when you hand the passport into your last stop. Most of these were on the way so we were gung-ho about winning some gold. However, our chances of winning when out the door a little while later in Teslin our second spot to pick up a stamp we were waylaid. We had stopped to find a museum and a gentleman came over to our car and asked us if we had enough room on our trailer to fit a BMW motorcycle. I was a little taken aback not understand at first, how would this be possible? He explained that his clutch had gone out and he had been waiting for hours hoping someone would come a long that would have enough room to bring his motorcycle to Whitehorse. He explained that he would give some compensation but the $700 to get a tow truck was too expensive for him to be able to afford. I was leery, as horrible as it is sometimes it’s hard to take people at face value these days. I figured Ian is a big guy we would have no qualms were I normally would balk at picking up a man I didn’t know, following the rules my dad had set down for me as a female driver in the past. The only thing left that worried me was that I wanted to know if the bike was really his. I asked if he had his title with him, he didn’t but he had his insurance and an ID. So no stealing a BMW bike here! We rearranged the trailer and with the help of Randy and his friend, Ian got the bike on the trailer. Randy had to sit in the jump seat of the truck but he didn’t seem to mind. The next two and a half hours to Whitehorse flew by with a new conversationalist joining in our little two person foray.

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We got our first and only meal in a sit-down restaurant that night with the $50 Randy gave us for bringing him to Whitehorse. After eating we headed out of town a few miles and stayed at little a rest stop for the night. By this point I was getting rather tired of using latrines… Rest stops never seem to have good bathrooms once you leave the states. So hold your breath, put a good layer of toilet paper down, and make sure to bring lots of hand sanitizer!

Wednesday was all about getting to Alaska. We jetted down the road, stopping only briefly at gas stations. Ian picked up a book by Velma Wallis, an Athabascan native of Alaska, called Bird Girl and the Man who Followed the Sun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_Girl_and_the_Man_Who_Followed_the_Sun). So I set about reading the book out loud for the rest of our journey to Fairbanks. I made the mistake of reading the back of the book incorrectly. It stated, “This story speaks straight to the heart with clarity, sweetness, and wisdom. When you’ve read this book, you will feel that you are a slightly better person that you knew you were.” –Ursula K. Le Guin. I got all excited for the book and then was disappointed. Don’t get me wrong the book was good, but it was very sad I thought it was going to be a pick me up. I looked at the back of the book again and it turns out it was a review for her last book, Two Old Women, not this one.


Thursday, we pulled into Fairbanks, we made it!! We dropped my gear off on campus and then headed south for the second leg of the journey. Blog to come!


So, how much does it cost to do a trip like this? Lucky for you, I kept almost all of the receipts and put them into a convenient table! If gas was purchased in Canada I put it into Gallon equivalent and if it was purchased in the US I put it into liter equivalents. All told we drove 3,500 miles between MN and Fairbanks, and this is the breakdown from those miles.

Alaska Gas Table

Still reading? Not too much else to read for now, however, here’s a few more images from the trip that didn’t make the blog. Thanks for reading!

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