While Lillian safety placed mother and sons on a flight back to Seattle, I headed to the Arctic Circle. It was not the plan to do both on the same day but the weather had other thoughts. We had missed out on a flight to Glacier Bay National Park because of weather and I knew that if I got a window to see our Northern most parks, I had to take it.
The day started at 4 am. The Alaska Air flight from Anchorage to Kotzbue left at 6 and it was the only flight of the day. Kotzebue is 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle, on the Bering Sea. It was just a way station to the National Parks. From there I chartered a flight with Golden Eagle Outfitters for a trip to Kubuk Valley and Gates of the Arctic National Parks. So while Lillian was doing the Airport shuttle and visiting the Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla, I was going to one of the most remote places on the planet.
You couldn’t ask for a more perfect day, flight or experience. My pilot was Jason. He had been a crop duster in Idaho for seven years. He quit not because it was incredibly dangerous but rather the liability. One over spray and the lawsuits could cost millions. Anyway, Jason was born to be a pilot.
The tour was spectacular. We left Kutzbue and headed to Kubuk Valley. The terrain looked like a championship golf course. It was surprising to see the number of “first persons” villages. And, every so often there would be a small cabin. Wow, I never knew that so many people just wanted to be left alone.
Kubuk Valley National Park is located above the Arctic Circle, in the Northwestern part of Alaska. It was designated a National Park to preserve the Great Kubuk Sand Dunes and the main migration routes for caribou. No roads go to Kubuk Valley so a chartered plane is the only way to get there.
I did see a few caribou and also moose and grizzly bears. When we spotted any large animal Jason would make a hard bank and get so close we could pet them. Almost.
Gates of the Arctic is the northern most Park, has no roads, and is the second largest Park in the United States. The adjoining Wilderness and the Noatak Wilderness form the largest Wilderness area in the US. This park is also completely above the Arctic Circle. It was designed a National Park to protect portions of the Brooks Mountains. The Brooks Range is considered the northern most part of the Rocky Mountains.
I actually got to land and walk around on the Kubuk sand dunes and a dry river bed in Gates. While it was in the 50s on the dunes it was in the high 30s in Gates of the Arctic. You will notice the oversized tires on the plane. These are specially made Kevlar tires costing $4000 for two. Apparently asphalt chews them up so we took off and landed on the gravel next to the runway. On purpose.
After the flight I spent the rest of the day in Kutzbue. This tribal town has three Chinese restaurants. Of course, they also serve pizza. I spent time at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center and walked around the town. It was five hours until my flight back to Anchorage. That’s about four hours more than you need.
My only regret is that the stopover in Nome was too short. Nome was Alaska’s largest city back in the gold rush days. An interesting factoid about Nome is that they have a city ordinance that says you can only have as many bars in town as churches. Seems that the whole town was excited about the new St Francis Catholic Church being being built. Fantastic, we get another bar! If only the Rock Hall Mayor and Council could be so enlightened. On second thought, Rock Hall would need to quickly build six new churches. Lillian picked me up at 10 pm. A long but epic day.