Manley Hot Springs - Day 1: A visit to a small town at the end of the road.
Manley Hot Springs Travel Blog› entry 4 of 18 › view all entries
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...