Manley Hot Springs - Day 1: A visit to a small town at the end of the road.

Manley Hot Springs Travel Blog

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Bridge Reflection Take 1 (7:00 PM) - End of the Elliott Highway into Manley Hot Springs

There are 3 (no make that 4, but only 3 ways for a tourist) to travel the Haul Road from Fairbanks to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay:

1 - Travel with your own vehicle.  Saw several campers and RV's on the road, some regular cars. a few motorcycles, and a couple of bicycles on the Haul Road.  Of course this means getting your vehicle to Alaska in the first place as well, which means driving it from your home.  Most rental agencies in Alaska expressly prohibit rental cars from being taken on the Dalton Highway.  Over the course of this tale it will quickly become apparent why this is the case.

Reflections in Hot Springs Slough (11:30 PM)

2 - Travel as part of a cruise excursion.  Interestingly saw several buses (Princess, Holland America, etc.) that actually make the trip as part of a shore excursion either pre- or post-Alaskan cruise.  Most of these however are quick one or two day trips that don't spend much time in the area.

3 - Take a small group excursion up the Highway.  My group of 12 people (10 travellers and 2 guides) in a 15 passenger van with roof storage would ply the road for the next 9 days from Fairbanks to Manley Hot Springs and then on up to Deadhorse.  Since there was no way I was bringing up my own car to the road and I wasn't going on a cruise, this was my option to see this area of Alaska.

Flowers in the greenhouse.
  The other nice thing for me was that this trip was only 10 days.  I could not afford another 2+ week vacation from work after the Patagonia trip last year, so the time frame for this fit what I was looking for in ways of trip duration.

4- And oh yeah that 4th way to travel the haul road is to ply one of the big rigs that transports equipment up to the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay.  But that's serious business.

So I had met my group briefly the evening before as we prepped for our morning departure.    A relatively large, diverse group that would prove to be entertaining, humorous, occasionally exasperating, but all in all a fun group to travel with (Jody and Amy our guides; myself; Bill; David, Johanna, and Emma, father and daughters; Lenny; Ginny; Dianna; Elliott and Arlene, husband/wife).

Rain on the Elliott Highway north of Fairbanks.
  Went out shopping for some last minute goods (read beer and/or wine).  Then off for our last evening in a bed for a week.

Up in the morning for a quick breakfast, checkout and out to help load up the van.  Rain had been falling overnight and was an omen for the next few days of the trip.  Bill and I helped Amy with loading most of the food to last the group for the next 8 days.  I never knew that Ramen Noodles and Spam could take up that much space, but Jody told us that that is what we would be eating for most of our meals on the trip.  I also never knew that some people could pack so much gear for a camping trip.  But with everyone's assistance we managed to get everything onto the roof without having to leave anything or anyone behind.

Weird lighting on the Elliott Highway. Not sure what I did to have this picture come out this way.
  And with that we were off.

North of Fairbanks the Elliott Highway begins in Fox and runs all the way to Manley Hot Springs.  For the first half of its distance it is part of the journey towards Deadhorse and roughly parallels the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline.  But it is not truly considered the Dalton Highway on this stretch.  The road here is paved and runs through alternating strands of taiga and deciduous forest that stretches as far as the eye can see.  There was truly no way the camera could capture the majestic views that we had of the Alaskan wilderness here or anywhere on the trip.  The road meandered through the White Mountains to the destination of our first hike at Wickersham Dome.  As we parked to head out on our hike the ferocity of our first Alaskan storm hit.

The Arctic Circle Trading Post in Joy, Alaska. Located on the Elliott Highway north of Fairbanks
  Rain came down, winds picked up, and the temperature dropped from the low 50s to the low 40s in about 15 minutes.  We waited for a while for the storm to pass, but as it showed no signs of letting up we ultimately bagged the hike and continued on our journey.  It was to be the first of many challenges and changes of plans on this trip.

As we continued on the road we made a short stop at the Arctic Circle Trading Post in Joy, Alaska.  I decided to pick up a fleece vest as the weather was so far proving to be cooler than normal summer conditions in this part of Alaska.  Besides overall the prices weren't too bad and they would only get worse as we headed further north.  Back on the road we passed through Livengood, Alaska where the true Dalton Highway turns off and heads for Deadhorse 400+ miles away.

Our first moose sighting along the Elliott Highway on the way to Manley Hot Springs. I quickly learned that my camera was very poor for getting any wildlife shots in Alaska.
  However for now we stayed on the Elliott Highway as it headed west for Manley Hot Springs.  Stopped briefly for lunch as the rains had finally stopped for a while.  Spot proved to be slightly popular as two other groups had claimed space along the small stream.  It was also our first battle with the ever present mosquitos and the bug spray quickly appeared.

Back in the van again we made slower progress as the paved road had ended.  We saw our first large critter (a moose) rambling along the side of the road and we tried to spot Denali amongst the clouds and shadows far to our south while we up driving along a ridge.  Not 100% sure whether we ever did or not.  Eventually we reached Manley Hot Springs where we set up camp in the small town park along Hot Springs Slough.

Our camp in the park in Manley Hot Springs. The Manley Roadhouse in the background would prove a respite from the rain tomorrow.
  Of course town is a somewhat relative term here.  Manley has somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-70 residents.  Homesteads are scattered throughout the area and there is the Manley Roadhouse (restaurant, bar, lodging), a post office/general store/gas station (about $5.20/gallon), a school, and a community center which were about all the amenities that the town offered.  But in a way that was how the people here wanted it.

As we set up camp the mosquitos came out in full force.  The bug repellant came out as well and I would find myself coated in the sheen of bug spray on exposed skin for most of the remainder of the trip.  A few people found it so bothersome they pulled out the mosquito head nets and even checked out the cost of lodging in the cabins at the Roadhouse as an alternative; however no one ultimately availed themselves to this luxury.

Airstrip in Manley Hot Springs. Easier to get in and out this way then by road.
  While Jody and Amy prepared our dinner of ramen and spam and others checked out the Roadhouse, I took a short walk through town with Dianna and Ginny.  We walked past the small airstrip and out past the Gladys Dart School (more on the school's namesake later - and yes there are enough children in town to have a school and a teacher) and returned back to camp.  As if by magic the food had turned into a dinner of baked halibut and brown rice (cooked in dutch ovens) with a salad.  I later learned that Jody was a chef in her earlier life but I didn't know that anyone could do that with ramen.  -- Okay, okay, so I lied about the ramen and spam.  It was a running joke throughout the trip (initially perpetuated by Jody) and some detail is needed for a story later in this blog.
The three hot spring pools at Manley Hot Springs. Each pool was a slightly different temperature for relaxing and getting warm after the rainy day.
--

After dinner we took turns heading up to the greenhouse (about a 1/4 mile away) in small groups to enjoy the warmth of the town's namesake hot springs.  After the chilly, rainy day this was an amazing way to enjoy and end our first evening in Alaska.  And it was especially nice to be able to walk back and forth to the springs without the need for any artificial light as the summer light never moved beyond a dusky glimmer to end the day even with all the clouds still in the evening sky.  While it was strange heading to the tents while it was still light there was no choice as we would be waiting a few weeks for true darkness to descend...

 

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Bridge Reflection Take 1 (7:00 PM)…
Bridge Reflection Take 1 (7:00 PM…
Reflections in Hot Springs Slough …
Reflections in Hot Springs Slough…
Flowers in the greenhouse.
Flowers in the greenhouse.
Rain on the Elliott Highway north …
Rain on the Elliott Highway north…
Weird lighting on the Elliott High…
Weird lighting on the Elliott Hig…
The Arctic Circle Trading Post in …
The Arctic Circle Trading Post in…
Our first moose sighting along the…
Our first moose sighting along th…
Our camp in the park in Manley Hot…
Our camp in the park in Manley Ho…
Airstrip in Manley Hot Springs.  E…
Airstrip in Manley Hot Springs. …
The three hot spring pools at Manl…
The three hot spring pools at Man…
The greenhouse where the hot sprin…
The greenhouse where the hot spri…
Manley Hot Springs
photo by: Kramerdude