Welcome to Alaska: Part One

I launched myself across Will in his window seat to smear my face up against the window. Our plane was beginning its descent into Anchorage, and although it was almost 10:30pm on Friday night, it was broad daylight outside our window. Guess that’s what happens when you head so far north!


The five of us had coordinated our flights so we were all in the airport at the same time. After gathering up mounds of luggage, we met up with Drew’s sister who lives in Palmer. We had quickly realized no one would allow us to rent a car for the Dalton Highway,  so Drew’s sis had volunteered her (almost) brand new Jeep Patriot….and her home for the night!

The next 12 hours passed in a blur as we drove to Palmer, chatted with Drew’s sister, packed our bags, and prepared to leave in the morning. We wanted to get started bright and early on Saturday morning as we had a 14+ hour drive ahead of us!

The first 7-ish hours were uneventful as we drove through Denali, finally arriving in Fairbanks. Once in town, we swung by the home of Ed, the owner of Northern Alaska Packrafts. Ed and I had communicated via email to arrange the packraft rental so a part of me was pretty nervous that the rafts wouldn’t be there or that something would be wrong with them. Luckily, everything went smoothly and we had some pretty nice packrafts crammed into the back of the Patriot!

While in Fairbanks, we also hit up the grocery store for last minute food and snacks for the drive. I scurried around and grabbed a few last minute things (including coffee for the trip!), before setting out on the additional 7-8 hour drive on the Dalton.


The Trans-Alaskan pipeline that runs along the Dalton Highway, all the way to Deadhorse

Y’all, I have something to tell you: the Dalton is not at all what it’s cracked up to be! From the trip reports and having seen Ice Road Truckers, we were all anticipating the worst with this road and dreading how long it would take us to arrive at the pickup site. Luckily, most of the road is paved now and it truly wasn’t that bad. Yes, the hills were insanely steep to descend and ascend and I imagine it’s a nightmare in the winter when it’s icy, but our largest problem was watching out for flying rocks against the windshield.

Once we realized we could cruise, we settled in for the long ride and just watched the miles tick by as the scenery changed. Naturally, we had to stop and take a photo when we reached this:


The crazy part was realizing that we were crossing the Arctic Circle and still heading north! After the sign, we still had a few hours of driving in front of us, and I think it was this realization that allowed me to process where in the world we were heading.

We finally located pump station 5, one of many oil stations located along the Trans-Alaskan pipeline that parallels the Dalton. We were told that this was our airstrip, so we set up shop at the pump station for the night.


The morning dawned cold, crisp and bright, especially since the five of us hail from the lower 48 where it’s still summer. Darkness was a distant memory but that didn’t mean the temps weren’t chilly! Cold frost covered the top of our tents and we truly felt like we had arrived in the Arctic.

We eagerly warmed our hands and waited in anticipation for our bush plane to arrive. Our first plane of the day was to drop us in Bettles where we would arrange our float plane that would take us into the park. When I finally saw the tiny plane approaching along the horizon, I started to get wicked excited. It was time for the adventure!

To be continued tomorrow!


When was the last time something was totally talked up and turned out to be unlike your expectations (ahem, THE DALTON!)?


  • Reply Dave at


  • Reply Christy at

    We have travelled the dalton too! No troubles but lots of construction delays when we were there. Had a great time chatting with locals during the delays! Can’t wait to read more about your trip! Trip of a lifetime!

    • Reply heather at

      Crazy on the construction– we didn’t see any! We say lots of oil trucks and that was it 🙂

  • Reply lynne @ lgsmash at

    yay! can’t wait to read about your adventure!

    • Reply heather at

      Yours too! Your initial photos are beautiful!

  • Reply Kayla at

    The light/dark schedule in Alaska is so baffling to me! I know a nurse who worked there during the winter and they had fake sunlight lamps to help prevent people from getting depressed.

    • Reply heather at

      It was definitely weird. I slept in this super heavy duty winter hat (you’ll see it in photos) and I pulled the eye flap over my eyes to give me a semblance of dark. It got fairly dark from 3-5am, but that was it.

  • Reply Marissa @Barefoot Colorado at

    Hoping this comment goes through!!

    I’m super jealous of your Alaskan adventures and can’t wait to hear more! I’ve never been north of South Dakota, so I’m pumped to hear about your escapade!

  • Reply misszippy at

    That’s some seriously long travel and you’re not even to your destination yet–so cool! The pictures are beautiful.

  • Reply Natalie @ Free Range Human at

    This is just truly incredible. The Arctic Circle has always seemed like something that is so far away and not a place humans venture too. I hope I can be half the adventurer you are!

  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb at

    I still can’t get over the light at night thing. I knew it existed and all but I just never thought about it.

  • Reply Heading into Gates of the Arctic National Park - Just a Colorado Gal at

    […] ← Welcome to Alaska: Part One […]

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    […] is also the same gal that referred us to Northern Alaska Packrafts which we used for our trip to Gates of the Arctic. We finally got to meet this past January at OR and she told me about her upcoming project, which I […]

  • Reply Johnny at

    When precisely did you guys go? Mid-August?

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