Alaska Road Trip: North Pole, Alaska (Part 3)

Day 3 – North Pole and a Giant Tube of Oil

Jim’s North Pole, Alaska Christmas Birthday

After the previous day’s flight-seeing induced puke-fest we were in dire need of comfort, so we spent the day indulging in one of our favorite travel hobbies: weird small towns!

We drove some 200 miles north through Fairbanks and straight into North Pole, Alaska where we were promptly eaten by a gigantic Santa.

north pole, alaska gigantic santa

Santa feeds on milk, cookies, and overgrown children.

Here’s a funny story: My birthday is December 14th, so Christmas and my birthday are almost a package deal.  Jim’s birthday is July 5th, he doesn’t associate his birthday Christmas.  Well, we fixed that.  Behold, CHRISTMAS ON JULY 5th!

north pole, alaska in july

We loved North Pole’s reindeer pen.   The reindeer walk up close to the fence, giving everyone a great view of their fuzzy antlers and patchy fur.  (Plz no one tell them how much I love eating reindeer sausage :P)

north pole, alaska reindeer pen

We also loved the hand-painted tiles all over the Santa Claus house (and tried our best to replicate the slightly awkward kissing Clauses).

North Pole, Alaska tile mural

One more thing before we depart North Pole.  Here’s our obligatory photo of our well-traveled Wy at the furthest north he’s ever been:

North Pole, Alaska Wy Goes With

Thanks, North Pole, Alaska – you were a riot!  (For anyone wondering, we spent about 2 hours here total, and that was plenty of time to see everything.)

Trans-Alaska Pipeline

On the way back we stopped at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline near Fairbanks, which is all exposed and stuff so you can just walk right up to it and pretend to hug it, which is exactly what we did.

Trans Alaska Pipeline hug

Mandi: hugger of fish, whales, and oil pipelines.

Trans Alaska Pipeline touch

Reach out and touch pipe!

We geeked out about the pipeline for nearly an hour, which is about 50 minutes longer than other visitors hung out.  If you like massive engineering projects, you’d love this thing.  It’s built to withstand buckling and earthquakes, and it has shipped nearly 16 billion barrels of oil in its 33-some years.  Oh, look at me science-ing while there’s talking to do…

Trans Alaska Pipeline pig

Hey, pig. Yeah, you.

Trans Alaska pipeline near Fairbanks

The Drive Back

… was uneventful, except for when we stopped at Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn. We had high expectations after seeing their humping bears sign (Alaska is full of weird shit), but it’s just a bar with some barely R-rated sex toys and crude T-shirts for sale.

Alaska Skinny Dick's Halfway Inn


The drive back was also insanely scenic (Alaska is insanely scenic).

Alaska scenery between Fairbanks and Denali

 Sadly, our brief time in Alaska is almost over.  Tomorrow (here in Part 4) we’ll drive back to Anchorage for an overnight stay before flying back to Seattle on Sunday morning.

Alaska Road Trip 2013: Our Day in Denali (Part 2)

Day 2 – Our Ride on the Vomit Comet

Part 1 covers our travels from Seattle to Anchorage to Denali. 

We wanted to kick off our first day with something spectacular, something regretted not doing last time we visited Alaska: a flight seeing tour!  This was to be the highlight of the trip, and at $800 for the two of us we had pretty high hopes.  We boarded a small Denali Air aircraft designed to seat a pilot and 7 passengers.

Here’s a pic from what we now regard as “the Before time”.


The excitement lasted approximately 5 minutes into the flight, at which point Jim became extremely motion sick and began to throw up.   The aircraft came with some grocery bags, ostensibly for the purpose, but he quickly filled one and I handed him mine, which he continued to puke into.  Super pale and shuddering, poor Jim moaned and vomited through the entire flight.  I’m pretty sure he missed all the scenery.  I spent this time sobbing and trying to comfort him as best I could from my seat across the aisle.  Jim was puke-soaked from his eyes to his chin.  His hands and his coat were covered in yellow vomit.

I wanted to die, and I think he was halfway there himself.


Then… about 30 minutes into the 65 minute flight, I started to feel queasy, too.  What the fuck?  I’m a roller coaster champion, I don’t puke.  Was it the ups and downs of the aircraft?  The utter terror at realizing I was basically in a tin can floating over some mountains?  The stench of vomit that pervaded the cabin?   I grabbed a couple grocery bags from the seat behind me and the last coherent thing I did was toss my camera and phone from my lap,  out of the way of the torrent of puke that erupted from my own mouth moments later.

The plane dipped, we puked.  The plane climbed, we puked.  Together.  This, folks, is the ultimate expression of companionship.

We landed after an hour and our hell was over.  I carried three bags of yellow puke out of that plane, and Jim continued to heave for another hour.  His body wanted to keep puking, but nothing was left.

Denali Air doesn’t do refunds, they don’t even refund the dollar you put into their vending machine in a vain attempt to buy a Sprite to wash the flavor of puke out of your throat.  This was our $800 stomach pumping.  We didn’t even see the mountain.

Denali Air SUCKS!

Our day in Denali was ruined. We spent the next hour waiting at the flight strip for Jim to be well enough to ride the shuttle 12 miles back to Glitter Gulch, and then a couple hours after that recovering in the Denali Air’s parking lot.  We sat in the car.  Jim moaned and shuddered, I surfed the web on my phone.  I browsed a gift shop.  I scrubbed more vomit out of my jacket sleeves.

Driving the Park Road

Around 6pm Jim was finally feeling well enough to eat and ride in a car, so we ate a bit and then drove the 15 miles of paved road in Denali National Park.  The pictures are nothing like being there in person.  This 15 mile stretch was probably the highlight of our Alaska road trip.


Once we drove the park road, we returned to our cabin 12 miles south of the park entrance and spent a few more hours recovering.

ATV Tour: Midnight Sun Adventure

Normally, that’s where the day would have ended but we had signed up for a 10:50pm “Midnight Sun Adventure” tour with Denali ATV Adventures.   Had we known we’d spend the day puking we wouldn’t have signed up for a midnight ATV trip on the same day, but this turned out to be the brightest part of the whole day.

While there wasn’t much direct sun, the sky was very lit at midnight and the novelty was worth it if nothing else.  Highly recommend the ATV tours – they are super easy and fun to drive, we didn’t get wet like the pics suggest, and there were opportunities for us to switch drivers several times.


Part 3 (coming soon) is about our travels to Fairbanks and North Pole!

Alaska Road Trip 2013: Anchorage to Denali (Part 1)

“I love traveling, it makes me appreciate home more” – me
(More Alaska quotes can be found here)

We are back from Alaska!  Motivated mostly by desires to escape summer heat and see more of Alaska, which we enjoyed last time we visited in 2011, we planned a quick visit to Alaska.  I know, Alaska’s too big even for 2-week itineraries, but our annual vacation allowance is piddly and our budget is small.  This time, we wanted the freedom of driving so we landed in Anchorage, hopped in a rental, and took off for the interior.

Day 1 – Getting There

We went directly from Seattle to Anchorage to Denali in one day.  It’s totally doable and we had a few hours left over by the time we arrived, even without starting at the butt crack of dawn.

Our plan: 

  1. 10:10am – Fly from SeaTac to Anchorage (3 hour flight), pick up rental car
  2. Eat a reindeer sausage from an Anchorage street vendor
  3. Drive to our Denali cabin 224 miles away (4.5 hours of driving)

The plane ride was uneventful, aside from the eyeloads of beautiful scenery flying over Canada and Alaska en route to Anchorage.

alaska mountains from plane

In Anchorage we first got some groceries and snacks from a Carr’s and then grabbed reindeer sausages from a 4th street vendor. We ate in a nearby Home Depot parking lot because street parking is expensive and rare in Anchorage on a nice day.   Omg, yum.  Get yours with onion and pineapple sauce, it’s to die for.  (PS: In case you’re new here, Jim and I are obsessed with food. Especially regional food. MMMMM!)


We hit the road north around 2:30.  The 224 mile drive to our cabin was stunningly scenic, even for Alaska. Jim apparently went into beastmode before the trip, because he banged out the entire drive himself with hardly a stop.


Our accommodations were one half of a creek side duplex cabin at McKinley Creekside Cabins about 12 miles south of the park entrance.

After seeing the “Glitter Gulch” area 1 mile north of the park entrance, I was very glad I stayed at McKinley Creekside Cabins instead of anything in that area, which was tacky and crowded.  Our cabin was awesome – way more modern than this suburbanite wuss was expecting.

Amenities included:

  • Queen size bed, super comfortable (we’d have paid more for a king, but oh well)
  • Microwave & mini-fridge
  • Wifi access
  • Spacious bathroom with full shower, toilet, sink
  • A great view of the creek just a few dozen feet from the cabins

There’s also a breakfast/lunch/dinner cafe on the property (and the food was great the two times we ate there).


We had dinner at Panorama Pizza Pub, and oh my god was it amazing. This is the kind of pizza you dream about long after you’ve eaten it.  It was easily better than any pizza we’ve had since moving to Seattle, that’s for sure.

alaska_2013_pizzaWhy yes, vacations are basically an excuse to stuff ourselves, why do you ask? 

Day 1’s Good:

  • We drove our own vehicle to the airport and parked it for $60, much cheaper than taxiing both ways for $170 total ($85 each way)
  • The 10:10am flight was perfect, we had plenty of time for last minute stuff in the morning and we weren’t super tired by the time we landed
  • We loaded up on food (apples, bananas, cereal) at a Carr’s in Anchorage.  This was a genius move, as food only gets pricier the closer you get to Denali and fresh snack food basically disappears once you’re outside Anchorage
  • The scenery between Anchorage and Denali is spectacular

Day 1’s Meh: 

  • Street parking in Anchorage was rare and pricey. We grabbed our sausages and hopped back into our car.  We ended up eating them in a Home Depot parking lot, lol.
  • There aren’t a lot of places to stop along the way to Denali
  • Our rental car was both dirty and reeking of soap, yet it came at a cost of $55 a day (which the best deal I could find in three months of watching prices fluctuate between $55 and $100).

Continue onto Day 2 to read about the two full days we spent at Denali!

Alaska Vacation 2013 Quotes

We’re back from Alaska!  

alaska vacation 2013

Of course we brought Wy to Alaska with us, he’s practically our son.

I’ll write up a more detailed post about our trip, but in the meantime enjoy our best quotes from our 5 days in Alaska: 

“NACHO RAGE!” – Anagram of Anchorage and our new name for the city 

“Look at that scenic fucking river!” – said in presence of small creek moments into our first “scenic walk”

“Salt, water, salt, water, salt, water, SUGAR!!”  – Our take on road food

“There was no consciousness, I had become a machine devoted to pain.”  – Jim describing his experience on our flight seeing excursion

“My brain’s already shoved that memory into ‘recycle these neurons for something else” – Jim describing his recovery from our flight seeing excursion

“I believe we were just in the company of bona fide lesbians” – They were everywhere!

“No one here is good at anything!” – Me, exasperated by inaccurate menus, poor graphic design, and bad spelling everywhere in Alaska (us Type As never go on vacation!)
(I do want to add that Alaskans are very good at shooting, as evidenced by all the bullet-holed road signs.)

“You still have it on?!” – Jim, surprised I still have the lava-hot heated car seat turned on
“I’ve got a lot of butt, okay?!” – Me

“Pull over, there’s a JoAnn” – Me, spotting my favorite fabric store in Fairbanks

Write down your quotes as you travel, seriously – they’re more fun than the pics!


Secured By miniOrange