Misadventures in the Wild
After the long, long road trip to Fairbanks, I decided to take another long road trip north of Fairbanks, another end of the road. I had heard about non tourist hot springs about 3-4 hours away. I arrived at the trail head for a six mile hike in, but decided to push on to Manley first to get gas. A sign I read a while back mentioned there was gas there, at the end of the road, but I was afraid of arriving they closed on Sunday so drove the additional 25 miles.
It’s the wild, off the grid. What I think of a “gas station” was not what I found. It was a pump. A person in the general store had to turn it on and she wasn’t there. Some extremely nice locals told me where I might find her. I did not find her, but I did find a sign saying, “back at 5.” I was almost out of gas. The locals, a daughter and her mother, gave me the gas they had in a tank but it was not enough to get me back to Fairbanks. So, I waited.
I’m glad I did. I had passed the path for the springs but it was not what you might think. Paths aren’t much of anything this far north. The locals told me I was given bad information. The springs are wonderful–after the freeze. Right now, it’s about a six mile hike through swamps. There was a set of hot springs in Manley but they were closed due to a shifting ownership. So, I ignored the “private property” sign after being told I probably wouldn’t be shot, and went exploring.
The springs weren’t there. The hot water had been diverted by pipes into a bath house that I might have been shot if I entered, so I stayed out. It was just interesting wandering around though.
Manley truly is the end of the road. Hunters come there with their boats to go out on the river and hunt moose. Or elk? It’s a tiny town, with a general store, an air strip, and no cell phone coverage for miles. It’s really the place to get away from everything. People were nice, as they all seemed to be in Alaska. One couple told me they keep a house up here and a house down by Homer.
I was waiting at the bar when a guy drove up and said the women was at the general store so I better go find her immediately. Alaskans don’t mince words so I went right then and caught her.
“You’re lucky you caught me,” she said, “or else you’d be waiting till the morning to fill up with the hunters.”
I got my gas and then proceeded back to Fairbanks, catching some great shots as I navigated the almost passable roads that I was told were really much improved. I had wanted to avoid the “touristy” Chena Hot Springs, just an hour Northeast of Fairbanks, but after encountering all I did in Alaska, I thought it might be my best bet afterall.
The Last Frontier State is truly the last frontier and is treated as such. You need to come prepared with the right equipment and thick skin. A lot of people enjoy living off the grid and this is the place to do it, with small communities around.
On the way back, there was a turnoff that I thought, “maybe?” Route 2 turn into Route 11. 11 will bring you to the end of the road, Proudhoe Bay, within the arctic circle and the beginning of the Trans Alaskan Pipeline. The arctic circle is just a couple hours north. Next time. Exhaustion and the constant driving were telling me I needed to slow down and get some rest.
The Drive North