I had a lot of reasons for wanting to make the 6,000-mile roundtrip drive to Alaska. The scenery would undoubtedly be amazing. It would be fun to check out more of Canada. I’d flown to Alaska several times before, but traveling overland would let me add it to my mental map with a sense of continuity, to appreciate how it’s connected to the places I know best. And tackling the Alaska Highway would help fill out my roadtrip resume.
Most of all, though, I wanted to check some parks off my list. I’m trying to visit all 59 of the U.S. National Parks, and I only had five more to go. Four of those five are in Alaska. If I could make it to Wrangell-St. Elias, Kobuk Valley, Gates of the Arctic, and Glacier Bay, then the only park still on my list would be American Samoa.
I left Marie’s townhouse in Mountain View early on a Saturday morning and began the long drive north. On Sunday I hit Canada just outside a little town called Sumas, Washington, and by Tuesday I’d driven the length of British Columbia and crossed into the Yukon. Wildlife frequently appeared on the road, and along one particularly remote stretch I came across a bear, a fox, and a bobcat in quick succession. Each of them uncooperatively darted back into the woods before I could take a photo.
My 14-year-old car held up admirably on the sometimes-rough roads, and on Thursday I passed through the customs station at the Alaska border. At the Tok junction I turned left and dropped down through the northern edge of the enormous Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, where I drove about 20 miles on the gravel and dirt Nabesna Road. Thunderstorms were rolling through the area, and I waited in my car for one to pass before setting up my tent by Rufus Creek and camping in the park that night.
The next morning I drove through heavy rain to Fairbanks, where I was set to catch a flight to the tiny town of Bettles, Alaska, on my way to Kobuk Valley and Gates of the Arctic.