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The most beautiful way to drive between Fairbanks and Valdez or Anchorage is undoubtably to take the Richardson Highway (Alaska Rt. 4. Note, Alaskans do not use the numbers, but rather the names of the highways). The descriptions run from Fairbanks to Valdez or Anchorage. The description of the Richardson is current as of July 2009; the highway is in excellent shape.
The mileposts are posted in green on the side of the highway and are numbered from
Valdez (MP 0) to
Fairbanks (MP 366).
MP 357 Badger Road interchange, 3 miles up Badger Road is the clean and orderly Riverview RV Park on the banks of the Chena River.
MP 349.5 North Pole exit with a last chance at a big-town grocery store or gas. Santa Clause House is nearby for souvenir shopping or sending postcards from North Pole.
MP 341 Eielson AFB, built in WW II and used during the Cold War as a base for the aircraft that refueled the B-52’s in the air. You could judge the seriousness of the world news by how few refuelers were on the ground.
MP 322 Remnants of the Salcha Roadhouse from the Richardson Trail days.
MP 275 Tanana River bridge and Pipeline suspension bridge next to highway. Rika’s Roadhouse and river landing. Still active.
MP 265 Delta Junction, full services.
MP 261 Fort Greely, currently location of missile defence system. Formerly the Cold Climate Research center for the US Army.
MP 246 Donnely Dome, worth a few hours hike on a clear day for magnificent views.
MP 238 Donnely Campground and a bit south of that the “one-building town” of Donnely on the east side of the road. Donnely seems to be on all road maps, but I have never seen more than one abandoned building there.
MP 225 Marker telling about the surge of the Black Rapids glacier that almost blocked the Delta River valley back in the 1930’s. The gravel toe of the glacier is visible across the river.
MP 227 New lodge at Black Rapids and remnants of the old Black Rapids
Roadhouse next to the road. The gravel
air strip next to the highway is being overgrown by weeds and willows. One example of a "bush airstrip".
Heading south you pass the Black Rapids training center for the U.S. Army. At times you used to see troops practicing glacier travel in the adjacent mountains.
MP 216.7 Cross Lower Miller Creek. Proceed around the hill on the river side and pull into
MP 216 Denali Fault – Pipeliine Viewing area (just south of the hill). Good views and informative signs tell how the pipeline was designed to withstand a major earthquake, as it did in 2002. You can tell which way the earth shifts in an earthquake by looking at the sliders. Cross Miller Creek and about half a mile to the south there is a parking area to the east, used as a trail head for hikes into the adjacent mountains for climbers and hikers wishing to view the glaciers and valleys.
MP 210. The highway has been rebuilt to put this pull out on the south (east) side of the road. Pull in to get a view of Rainbow Ridge. Books say the reds and greens are volcanic stone, the yellows and pastels are siltstone and sandstone. View in the opposite (west) direction shows the raised pipeline on a hill crest.
MP 197 Richardson monument & turnout east of the highway. View of the valley where the Arctic Man competition takes place every spring. What is Arctic Man? Think northern NASCAR on snow.
MP 195 Summit Lake – small settlement, former location of Summit Lake Lodge.
MP 185 Paxson. Old lodge under new management. Takeoff point to Tangle Lakes 20 miles east on the Denali Highway, or Cantwell, 134 miles. Check for rooms at Paxson or at Tangle River Inn. On a clear day drive at least 8 miles east on the paved Denali Highway to enjoy the views, and enjoy them even more with the clacier views on the way back to Paxson.
MP 170 Meier’s Lake Roadhouse – sadly appears closed in 2009.
MP 157 Pullout with views of Wrangel St-Elias mountains.
MP 147 Sourdough Roadhouse. Rebuilt recently, looks well worth a try. Adjacent campground is recommended over Dry Creek campground at MP 118 unless you want a real Alaska mosquito experience.
MP 127 Turnoff to Gulkana 2 miles to the east. Worth a stop if you are hungry or thirsty.
MP 115 Glennallen, all services, turn west onto Glenn highway for access to Anchorage.
MP 106 Take the ‘old highway’ to
Copper Center, passing through an Indian settlement, then the park headquarters
for Wrangel-St. Elias National Park, and on to the Copper Center Roadhouse, a 2
story log building offering rooms and meals.
Be sure to stop in for at least a cup of coffee! Option to head into Chitna and McCarthy-Kennekott area.
MP 100 The ‘old highway’ rejoins the new highway.
MP 70 Tonsina Roadhouse
MP 29 Worthington Glacier turnout. The most road-accessable glacier in Alaska.
MP 26 Thompson Pass Famous for beauty and record snow falls.
Fairbanks – Delta 100 miles
Delta - Miller Creeks (the earthquake zone) - 50 miles
Miller Creeks – Paxson 35 miles
Paxson – Tangle Lakes 20 miles
Paxson – Glennallen 75 miles
Glennallen – Copper Center 15 miles
Copper Center – Valdez 100 miles
Valdez – Anchorage 300 miles
Glennallen – Anchorage 180 miles
The heart of a gold rush, Fairbanks is great for the riverboat tour, the Pioneer Park with the old, original cabins. Often unmentioned as you approach Fairbanks from Denali Park, is the town of Ester, with gold fields with the Malamute Saloon.
From Fairbanks you can take the 60 mile one-way road to Chena Hot Springs. Chena Hot Springs is a great place to spend a night in a camper or a cabin and offers hot soak, a beautiful drive and great hikes along with likely moose close by.
If you are only in Fairbanks for a day, rent a car and take a day trip from the University Museum to Musk ox Farm (Large Animal farm today), out along Farmers Loop past the permafrost houses and sunken radio station, along Goldstream Road to Fox, perhaps a stop for lunch at the Turtle Club, Chatinika Gold Camp and the abandoned gold dredge across the street, and then return to Fairbanks along the Steese Highway and stop to look over the detailed pipeline display on the roadside. Summer of 2009 the large permafrost ice lens exposed on the cliff a few hundred feet north of the pipeline display has shrunken but still exists. Who knows what will be exposed by melting in 2010?
At first blush Pioneer Park may seem like a tourist trap, but it is an open air museum with original cabins from Old Fairbanks and has the riverboat Nenana there as well.
Heading out of town on the Richardson toward Delta you will pass through North Pole. It is best known for the all-year ‘Santa Clause House’. It is a good stop for shoppers and a chance to send postcards from North Pole, Alaska. Further down the road you pass by Chena Lakes Recreation Area, the product of a flood control project. Along the road to Delta you will be passing through old gold mining country and paralleling the pipeline. Plan on stopping several places to enjoy the scenery and to take a break.
You will go about 100 miles to Delta Junction. 5 miles south of there you will pass Ft Greely, where some of the missile defense facilities are located. Once in Isabelle Pass you pass "Galloping Gertie", the Black Rapids Glacier on the other side of the river valley. In the 1930's this glacier surged forward and almost cut off the river.
About 50 miles south of Delta keep your eye open for the Denali Earthquake fault south of Lower Miller creek and north of Miller creek. You will see the pipeline with broad beams under the pipe so it can slide from side to side. You are also at the foot of the Castner and Canwell Glaciers, which will provide some hiking opportunity if you wish to see them close up and without a tour guide. As you leave there the next mountain ridge to the left is Rainbow Ridge. When the road makes a turn to the right (west) and leaves the ridge, there is a turnout on the left shoulder. Stop there and look back to see why they named "Rainbow Ridge" as they did.
About 76 miles from Fairbanks, the Paxson area is a great place to stop. Glennallen is fine, but it is a 'big town' down in the forest. You will see more staying up in the Paxson area with the more open transition of tundra and taiga (boreal forest).
In the vicinity of Paxson there are two high quality places for overnighting. Just a few hundred yards up the paved portion of the Denali Highway are the "Denali Highway Cabins" or "Paxson Alpine Cabins" www.denalihwy.com and just another 15 miles south along the highway is Meier's Lake Roadhouse - Atwater's Chateau Motel (closed in 2009).
This little side trip will take you up into high, glacier formed territory and at 16.4 mile you enter the Tangle Lakes Archaeological District, with over 400 archaeological sites in the area (nothing for tourism that I am aware of, however).
It is easy to picture this terrain as typical of Europe and the northern USA as the glaciers were retreating and ancestors were chucking spears at mastodon and deer. Looking out at the colorful tundra with the mountains and glaciers, lakes and rolling landscape in front of you, it is easy to imagine the days when these great beasts roamed very similar areas. Then you are rewarded with the beauty of the drive back to Paxson as you head east, back to the main highway.
From Paxson to Glennallen you may well experience what permafrost does to highways. Take it easy and enjoy the rolls and the bumps. Oh, you may encounter a bit of the same permafrost at work north of Healy after you cross the green (?) bridge at Rex and proceed to Nenana. Look for the leaning power poles as well, with braces to hold the poles up in the warming permafrost.
Then on the drive down you can always stop in Glennallen for information & lunch.
Heading south of Glennallen to Valdez, cut off onto the "Old Highway" and drive to Copper Center. You will pass through an Indian village along the way you would bypass if you stayed on the main highway. Your reward is a cup of coffee, a meal or an overnight at the romantic (this is a good time to be nice to your wife, yes?) night at the historic Copper Center Roadhouse. It is a beautiful place with great people.
The newer Princess Lodge gets rave reviews from visitors. The room, the view and the friendly service are worth what you pay - little more than what you'd pay elsewhere for ho-hum lodging.