July 8, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 17 Comments
This is the 18th in a continuing series about our trip to Alaska
First, a couple of observations. 1) Don’t bother packing fancy outside lights for your summer trip to The Land of the Midnight Sun. Nobody does that here, and 2) When we see the vast expanses of wild land surrounding us on the highways of Alaska and northern Canada, we appreciate being here.
In the Old World of Europe and in at least some of Asia, cities, towns and villages have dotted the landscape for centuries. But here, there are lots of huge expanses of trees and sagebrush fading into the distance for miles until they reach a ridge of highlands.
Before focusing briefly on Fairbanks’ Pioneer Park, I want to ask the readers of these articles two questions:
One commenter asked about the best RV for the trip. We see every kind, even some we’ve never seen before, and it’s our guess that whatever fits your lifestyle in the Lower 48 will be the same here. While diesel pushers do have larger windshields to view roadside wildlife, they are also a larger target for getting dinged by rocks., but don’t make your decision based on windshields. I think it’s still true that most of those cracks for our caravan came before crossing into Canada.
Now for the question, which I’d like experienced Alaskan RVers to give their opinions below to the question: “Is one type of RV more suited (or less suited) to the Alaskan terrain than others?
And for this one I’m really interested in the comments of both previous and prospective travelers to Alaska. Why spend the time and money, take the risk and endure long hours of driving to make the trip? We know what motivated us and we’ve talked to many others about their expectations, etc. What do you think?
To that I’ll add a reciprocal question: Why would anyone want to leave Alaska? Lots of people we have met came and decided to stay.
This afternoon the caravan arrived in a private campground outside Denali National Park, with Mt. McKinley hiding behind a highest-mountain-wannabe. Tomorrow we have a 14-hour-day tour into the park. I’ve heard that the mountain is visible today, Wednesday (or as the locals say, “the mountain is out”). We hope that holds out through tomorrow.
Our truck managed to be in a group of cars, trucks and RVs led by an escort vehicle as it went around a construction area and followed the truck spraying water on the road. Our clean truck and trailer are now caked with mud.
(Clockwise from Top Left: An invitation to “chill;” a Steamshovel that helped dig the Panama Canal; A Fetish on sale in the museum; and Fairbank’s first artifact, the Wheel from the ill-fated Lavelle Young.)
Having heard many good things from you, our readers, about Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, yesterday we headed that way. It is a delight, with numerous interesting gold-rush days cabins converted into shops and a museum that we wish we could have spent more time in, plus many other attractions. In addition to the things to see and do there, we also enjoyed talking with fun, interesting shopkeepers.
Dioramas on the lower deck of the Nenana steamship were Monique’s favorite. Intricate displays depict the turn-of-the-century villages in the Alaska interior, both native, forts and mining. I was most taken with the unique high quality artwork and crafts in the shops. We decided against going into the establishment that would allow us — for $8 each — to experience -40o temperatures. Since our bus driver described that as like getting hit with a baseball bat, we didn’t see the point.
Our Wagonmasters, Ken and Carole Adams, invited the entertainers from the Bonanza Gold Mine train to play for us in the RV park Wednesday evening. Not long after they started, our own Jeff Totten tuned up his banjo and joined in the music-making, and then caravan member Ira Miller was handed the bass guitar by the visiting musician and joined in, caressing the instrument as he strummed it like a long-lost friend.
We invited every other visitor in the RV Park to come by and listen in. That really worked!
The Caravan Gets an Unexpected Musical Treat
From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.
17 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XVIII Audience Participation”
▪ Jeff Glazer on July 8th, 2010 1:41 pm
There are two kinds of RVers, and we have been both. There are those who set up for months at a time and live in their RV. We are doing that this year workamping in Pennsylvania.
The other kind has a constant itch to see what is around the next corner. For this kind of RVer Alaska is an absolute must. You have to have a sense of adventure and be willing to take things in stride. You have to LOVE to drive. (The round trip from our home in South Carolina is 12,000+ miles.) But it is an adventure you will remember and talk about for the rest of your life.
I have only once met a person who was not happy that they made the trip. After talking to her for a while I realized that she is the type of person who is never happy about anything.
Why leave Alaska? There are two major reasons: the weather and the economy. There is often not a supermarket on the next block (or within 100 miles!). Jobs can be hard to find and low-paying. But there are several places in Alaska where I think I could be happy living. I think Fairbanks is a great town, and I am partial to both Seward and Homer down on the Kenai Peninsula. Just give me a good Internet connection!
What’s the best rig for an Alaska trek? The one you are comfortable in down south. We drive a 33′ Class A with a toad and were very happy. I have been in groups with everything from a small Class B to a very large 5er (full-timers) and no one seemed to have any more problems than anyone else. The trailers and 5ers did seem a bit more prone to tire problems and I would recommend carrying an extra spare. Those who drove a motorhome without a toad were almost always sorry.
▪ GK on July 8th, 2010 2:36 pm
Good start on info about rigs suited to the trip. The only reason I was asking is because there are times when some types of issues appear on some types of RV’s in some areas. For example, I was reading about desert boondocking, and one point that came up in forums and blog posts was the issue of air filters on pushers: because the engine is at the back, and the dust kicked up goes to the back, you might have an issue with clogged air filters if you drive far enough into the desert (and back). Units where the engine is at the front had fewer issues, and some pusher owners had made mods to their unit to have the air intake further forward, or higher up with a second set of “prefilters”. Admittedly, this is a pretty specialized case, but knowing in advance can make it easier for others to avoid problems. Even just knowing “business as usual” is instructive.
If you don’t ask, you’ll never know .
▪ Jeff Becker on July 8th, 2010 6:56 pm
We traveled more than 60 days last May from Cape Coral, Fl. to Alaska…..about 15,000 miles. I’m a changed man as a result of this trip! We did it in a Class C with NO toad…..27′…..and it was perfect. We also brought along our 3 dogs; 2 Shar-Pei and a terrific Bull Terrier.
Had very few problems. Biggest was a double blowout in the Yukon. Now THAT was a trick to get resolved, but we got it done.
Greatest scenery! Greatest trip ever! I’m ready to do it again!
Here’s a problem that no one thought about: After returning to Florida, the idea of heading to Orlando or Tampa or ANYWHERE in the RV just seemed like it couldn’t measure up. There’s NO sequel. Result? We SOLD our RV! Give it a breather!
▪ David Campbell on July 8th, 2010 7:06 pm
I think Jeff is right – whatever one is comfortable with anywhere else. Three years ago we traveled to Alaska in a 30 ft class C with a toad. That was the first time driving, but certainly not the first time to be in Alaska. Having a pilot’s license I flew up and around there both for sightseeing and as an occupation taking commercial aerial photography. That too, was enjoyable, but not as enjoyable as driving and being able to stop at many more places.
Dings and cracks are inevitable wherever one travels. We had two windshield dings on the Top of the World Highway, but have had many more on roads all over the lower states. At least the smaller windshields on a ‘C’ are little cheaper to replace!
▪ Tom Funkhouser on July 8th, 2010 7:55 pm
We made the 9,400-mile round-trip from Southern California in a 35′ Class A towing a Honda CRV. As others have said, it was the trip of a lifetime. We did not have any problems with the coach and it was very handy having the toad along. Two of the most memorable side tours we did were a Denali sightseeing flight out of Talkeetna – landing on a glacier – and the Kenai Fjords boat trip out of Stewart. We could not see the mountain from the valley when we were there but the flight took us over the clouds for a spectacular view. The boat trip featured glaciers, humpback whales, hundreds of dolphins, killer whales, puffins, and otters. Unforgettable. These side tours are very expensive so we bought a Great Alaska TourSaver booklet for $99. These tours as well as fishing trips and many other attractions were all 2 for 1 discounts so we saved our money many times over.
Our new RV is a 25 foot class C Sprinter. I think we would enjoy the trip to Alaska even more with this set up as we do not need a toad and it gets double the fuel mileage. We burned 1,300 gallons on our trip with the Class A and I figure we would use less than half of that with our Class C diesel. As others have said before me, whatever works for you in the lower 48 will work for you in Alaska.
▪ Peggy on July 8th, 2010 7:56 pm
‘…Our truck managed to be in a group of cars, trucks and RVs led by an escort vehicle as it went around a construction area and followed the truck spraying water on the road. Our clean truck and trailer are now caked with mud…’
Want to say have thoroughly enjoyed your articles – has brought back many memories of which I’ll never forget…
The first paragraph is from your latest article – I have to comment on it:
We were 2 up on a Harley Sportster – we’d be in line waiting for the escort vehicle when the flag person would motion us to the front of the line… We were told that was so we wouldn’t get all the dust from the bigger vehicles… Then there was the ‘water truck’ – to this day I still don’t want to be near one…
As you said, the water truck would start out to water down all the dirt to keep down the dust – we were in the front so just imagine all the MUD we were covered with – yes, have the pictures…
After that, we’d shake our head no, and let everyone go before us and my hubby would just take his old, sweet time – most likely irked the other folks waiting to come from the other direction… Still was great fun and a wonderful experience…
Oh, that’s when I saw a guy standing on a ladder, with a long stick (squeegee) in his hand cleaning off his windows (an RV) – I said ‘wow’….
Sometimes what we rode over was not even a road, then maybe there would be a little red-flag sticking out of the ground on the edge of the highway – no guardrails and it was a long way down in many areas… So interesting…
Again, thank you for all your work…
▪ Barbara Mull on July 8th, 2010 7:58 pm
I lived in Alaska for 18 years and traveled in a 20′ Minnie Winnie first and then a 27′ Jayco – both Class Cs. Though small, the tough old Minnie was just right for some of the roads we traveled. We told ourselves each year that this year could be the last one in Alaska and so what did we want to see before we left. The best of all trips was 3 weeks traveling the Top of the World, then to Inuvik (as far north as the road goes) in NW Territories, Yellowknife, Calgary, Banff and back home to Anchorage. What a trip! One road was built up across the tundra with gravel resulting in a barely 2-lane road with no turnoffs. We stopped on our side of the road after not seeing any other traffic for two hours, put the kettle on and set out the coffee cups. An 18-wheeler traveling the opposite direction stopped beside us on their side of the road and the couple driving it shared a cup of coffee with us for about an hour. Then we both went on our way, still seeing no other traffic for several hours. BTW, it took two ferry crossings to get to Inuvik.
Why leave Alaska? Only health issues forced us to move back to the Lower 48 near family. This southern gal loved the winters, Northern Lights, sundogs, ice fog, beautiful snow and I’m still homesick at times. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading about your adventures. Thanks for sharing.
▪ GaryM on July 8th, 2010 7:59 pm
We pulled our 29.5 foot 5er to Alaska in 2006 – with our new (at the time) 3/4 ton Ford Power Stroke. The only problem we really had was getting in and out of some of the small out-of-the-way camp sites that we picked. It was probably just a fluke but we never got a ding of any kind although we did put some protection on the truck. We could park the trailer and take side trips. 4×4 was beneficial once in a while. We only had a month and would do it again if we had 2 or even 3 months. We had room for the cat and everything we ever needed. We were very comfortable once we figured out how to get it dark enough to sleep at night. Even the road from DC to Chicken was good.
We took the time and money needed to drive up because we just wanted to see it all. We enjoyed every moment and have most of the pictures as a slide show on the computer. We loved it.
Not sure why we came back except that the thought of the long dark winter day is a bit of a turn off. We like the sun and since we live in Montana, we love it here too.
It is fun to travel along with you on this trip. Enjoy every moment…
▪ Stan Zawrotny on July 8th, 2010 8:04 pm
We drove up last year with a truck and 29 ft. travel trailer. When we got back, we immediately traded it in for a 31 ft Class C. We discovered that on the long drives, it would have been better if the passenger could have been able to get up and go back into the rig to get a snack, drink, take a nap, etc. We drove through all 49 states and 9 Canadian provinces with the travel trailer, but we find the Class C to be much more flexible. Yes, we do have a toad.
As for why anyone would want to leave Alaska, it’s too expensive for one thing. For another, Alaska is beautiful, but we have some other beautiful states in the lower 48. And you can enjoy them for more than just a few months out of the year. Most of the people that I met there live there for a few months in the summer then spend the rest of the year in Florida, California or Arizona.
▪ Tom on July 8th, 2010 8:20 pm
Alaska will spoil you for any other trips. I remember the pullout with a sign that said you should see every place else you wish to visit before coming to Alaska. If not, you’ll never wish to go anywhere else. It’s true for us.
We spent the entire summer of ‘09 roaming throughout Alaska from Seward to Dead Horse back down to Denali and Homer and everywhere in between – even spending a week at Teklanika where we were blessed with 3 clear days.
We came back because my wife doesn’t favor the thought of endless nights, the price of everything is very high, and my job called me into an office.
We traveled in a 38′ class A pulling a Yukon XL (our garage) with our son (who wishes we could go back every day).
▪ Virgil Owen on July 8th, 2010 9:27 pm
After several vacations and cruises to Alaska, my wife and I decided we wanted to move to Alaska. We bought a 34 foot Class A motorhome. It is a 96 Southwind so we decided to remodel it before we left. We spent a few months using it on weekends in southern California so we could get used to it. We sold everything we could before we left and put the rest in storage. We leased our house to friends for two years while economy recovers a little. We loaded up our four cats and headed north. It was the trip of a lifetime. We rented a house in Homer for almost a year and discovered that some places that are great to visit are not great to live. We ended up in Kenai where I now work at WalMart. I love it. We towed a Jeep Liberty here and I later went back and drove my car up to Seattle where I got on the Alaska Highway ferry for a four-day ride. I have not regretted for one minute the move. The cost of living is much higher and the wages are not high but it’s a small price to pay for world-class fishing. Our RV trips are short thanks to great fishing everywhere. The only thing I miss about Southern California is the fast internet. Alaska internet is not fast. The only thing that we have had problems with as far as the RV is concerned is Direct TV. Because we are close to the horizon, you have to have a much larger dish to use it. It works great in the house but not at all in the RV. The caravan may work for some people but we loved the freedom of being able to stay where we wanted for as long as we wanted. It was the trip of a lifetime. I hope to fulltime when I retire.
▪ Jim Taglianetti on July 8th, 2010 11:26 pm
I have only been to Alaska once. Spent 3 days in Juneau and 1 day in Anchorage on business. I got hooked on returning to Alaska again. This time I want to take my wife. I could not get over the country, the pine tree covered mountains, the glaciers, and the eagles. It is truly inspiring. The reason for leaving is easy for me; I live in Hawaii. Can’t handle the cold weather.
I read these articles each night and I am very curious about the caravan approach to traveling. We are novice RVers. Mostly renting now but plan to buy a 5th wheel. I’m also quite interested in the informal survey about the best type of RV.
▪ Alpenliter on July 9th, 2010 7:40 am
Barry & Monique, when you started this blog, you probably thought you were only going to share your adventures with the rest of us. While you have succeeded in doing just that, the comments section have grown to proportions that rival many forums. Thank you for starting this discussion and thank you all for your comments. We are caravanning with a few other couples in 2011 and your comments and suggestions are all being noted for future use.
▪ Dick and Cindy on July 9th, 2010 8:38 am
We drove up last year with a ¾ ton van and 29 ft. travel trailer. We liked that setup because we could easily drop the trailer and take side trips. (For example, we dropped the trailer at Tok and went to Chicken and back. It was a little rough, but we heard the other side was a lot worse than what we had come through. And the uninhabited views are awesome.) Some new friends we met pulled a Casita (a VERY compact trailer) and by the time they got to Valdez they were ready to kill each other, even though they had been married for many years! So we don’t recommend that. We also met a couple who had an older trailer and their slide out broke from the frost heaves and washboard roads. So probably newer is better.
Why go? It was a life long dream of my husband’s, so when he was laid off, we went. We had heard too many “we were going to go when he retired, but then…” (Fill in the blank.) We went on our own and stopped and went as we pleased. The long drive is made so enjoyable when your driver has eagle eyes and points out all the fauna along the way. One highlight was a large mound in a large pond that moved and then raised its head as we drove past and we realized it was a huge moose that had been feeding underwater! And we were blessed with perfect weather. Mt. McKinley put on a fantastic display the day we were there. The tour bus driver said 2008 was a year when it was rarely seen, so we took a million pictures and realized how lucky we were. But someone mentioned a double blowout in the Yukon? We had a triple blow out. Are there tacks on the road??
Why leave? We talked to people who had moved there for work and found they couldn’t take the winter darkness. Seems that can really get to you. And then there’s family down south who would rarely be seen (but that could be a plus OR a minus
It was the trip of a lifetime, and if you have an adventurous soul, go!
▪ Jim Sathe on July 9th, 2010 8:53 am
We took 7 weeks in 2008 in a 26′ travel trailer pulled by a 3/4 ton Duramax Diesel truck. Round trip from Idaho was about 8,500 miles. It was the best RV experience of our lives. We now have a 34′ 5th wheel and are considering another trip. Our highlights were Denali, Homer, Seward and Chicken. We don’t travel far in a day so we spent 3 weeks in Canada going and returning. Canada is very expensive, much more so than Alaska, particularly fuel and alcoholic beverages. Another brief highlight was the ferry ride across the Yukon at Dawson City. I also wrote a daily blog of our trip. You can see it at
▪ Lynne Schlumpf on July 8th, 2010 11:07 pm http://blog.rv.net/wp-admin/comment.php?action=editcomment&c=96066
What kind of RV is best suited to Alaska?
We first bought a Class C in 2006. We loved it, but we had a lot of problems camping with it in Alaska.
There are very, very few places to get fresh water out of the ground. This is because you have to dig a trench 15 feet deep to lay a water line in Alaska to keep it from freezing and busting up. (we know because we had to hire an excavator to dig such a trench in 2005 to lay a water line from our house to our garage).
We love to RV into very remote areas. We kept filling up our grey and black water, and we kept running out of fresh water.
Another problem: Though we had a Ford F450 as a cab, it just did not do well on the many mountain roads we travel. We also kept running out of gas in the most inopportune places. Our gas generator gulped it, and we would keep having to find places to empty our septic or grey, and to fill up our tank.
We bought a 40 -foot diesel pusher the following year. It has 90 gallons of diesel capacity, a much quieter generator that barely sips, and we never have problems filling up our tanks. We also have a 90 gallon fresh water tank that we usually fill up at home from our artesian well and never hook up to anyone’s fresh water hookup.
The 300 HP Cummins does the trick on mountains roads and once saved our life in Hatcher Pass with its air brakes and air shocks. We were so glad to have our “Hog” on that day.
We drove the Alaska Highway in 2003 to escape layoffs and a life that just did not seem to make sense. My husband found a great job here with a big telecommunications company. We fell in love with Alaska then.
There were almost no murders here, the weather suited us just fine here in south-central (about 20 miles north of Anchorage). We fell in love with our neighbors.
Things began to change.
The mayor of Anchorage started threatening rolling natural gas outages. We started hearing stories of people in the bush so desperate for fuel that they were stealing from each other.
The natural gas costs here are UNBELIEVABLE. The cost for heating oil for other places that don’t have access to natural gas are 6 dollars a gallon and up. Milk is 9 bucks a gallon in the bush.
We fell in love with an Alaska that was changing rapidly. We were sitting in a state that has an overabundance of gas and oil and minerals, but we were paying more for our vehicle’s gas and diesel than any other state in the U.S.
To ship a package is also outrageous. Recently, I tested the cost to ship something from camping world. The cost was $456.00 to ship this particular item that cost 500.00. Just to see, I tried putting in an address in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The cost to ship was 16.00. I am not kidding.
We rarely get good fresh fruit and vegetables here. Our bananas are often spoiled before they get here – bruised.
There are currently almost no doctors here who accept Medicare. We have a group insurance policy, and it cost us $1,500.00 out of pocket just to get a colonoscopy.
I recently took my little dog to have an x-ray and get some medicine for a urinary tract infection: $450.00 bill.
Doctors and veterinarians often charge unreal prices here.
Although that is not true of all of them, there are many who do.
People who are getting ready to retire often leave Alaska because they just cannot afford everyday things. (unless they have saved a boatload of cash in their lifetimes).
I have seen many, many people leave because of the cost of food and gas and just living here.
We are leaving after almost 9 years because my husband is retiring and because he needs to get better medical care somewhere else. We often wait months to see a specialist and many weeks to get test results.
If you think it is like that where you live, this place is very, very, very different. I have lived in many places in the U.S. Alaskans are the last to get anything as far as transportation. We have only one route to get from the Valley to Anchorage. If there is a traffic accident, people are often held up for hours and are late to work. This is not what you would call normal, because we get 80 to 140 inches of snow every year, and every
time it snows – there are hundreds of accidents and no one can get to work. There are no alternate routes here. We only have a few highways. You cannot travel to very much of Alaska by road.
And the winters are brutal – more so in some places than others of course.
We once visited Fairbanks in March to see the Ice Castles and Lordy Lordy it was COLD! It was a blast driving there, but to do everyday things with dogs in the car was a challenge. Had to plug in everywhere. (we don’t normally plug in all the time in south-central)
If you love to RV, you can only do so from April to September. If you don’t winterize your RV properly, temperatures of -40 happen. This causes batteries to explode.
You only have a very limited amount of time to travel to the Lower 48 on the Alaska Highway because driving an RV in the winter out there is pretty tricky.
So, we fell in love with this place, but it truly is changing a lot. There has been a lot more crime, and the transportation challenges are making it really tough.
Alaskans are typically very tough people, but many people do leave after awhile. The darkness is truly a challenge also, though you do seem to get it back in the summer.
I don’t mean to sound negative in any way here. I love Alaskans and what they stand for, and how tough they are. But, if a place is starting to get to you – it is time to go. And it is tough to survive here on a retiree’s pension. It is also tough to earn a salary that enables you to live an equivalent life compared to other places. Housing is very high, and electric is also high because it is normally generated by natural gas. So wintertime utility bills can be anywhere from $400.00 a month to up to $1,000.00 a month for larger homes.
Hope this helps.