When our daughter, a physical-therapy student, was offered a 10-week clinical experience in Fairbanks, Alaska, my husband and I encouraged her to go for it. "We'll come and visit!" we said. Upon hearing that her assignment was from February through April, though, we had second thoughts.
Would we freeze? Would there be enough daylight to enjoy the trip?
My husband and I decided to go for it, too. On Jan. 28, the three of us flew to Alaska to spend two days in Anchorage, then drove 360 miles north to Fairbanks.
From our initial glimpse of dramatic, snowy peaks through the plane windows, we knew we were in for an adventure. Our first day, we traveled south on the scenic Seward Highway to the Alyeska Ski Resort. Stopping frequently for photos, we saw a bald eagle and Dall sheep. At the resort, we took a tram to the top of the mountain, where we warmed up with soup while watching skiers and looking for the seven nearby glaciers.
The next day, we headed north on the Parks Highway, and by afternoon, after spying a couple of moose, we reached Denali National Park. Although only a fraction of the park's roads were plowed, Denali is open year-round. Our destination was the park's kennel. The 30 sled dogs, unused to winter visitors, were thrilled to greet us.
We stayed that evening at a B&B, the Denali Dome Home, and the following morning embarked on the highlight of our trip: dog sledding with a local outfitter. After donning the winter gear provided (necessary on this 15-below day), we were in for the ride of our lives. The dogs yelped and howled with excitement, and we were off.
We began as passengers, but after 10 minutes, and with rudimentary instruction, we switched places with our drivers, and my daughter and I were leading teams of eight dogs across the frozen tundra. It was exhilarating and fun, and without mishap - until one team took off after some caribou.
After dog sledding, I thought the rest of our trip would pale in comparison, but we had another memorable first: a trip to Chena Hot Springs. Part of the fun was buying bathing suits in Alaska in January (mine was purchased in a big-box supermarket). And there is nothing like a soak in soothing 104-degree water while the surrounding air is 20-below. Our hair froze, but we had smiles from ear to ear.
A winter visit to interior Alaska is not for everyone. We were really chilly at times and needed to plug in our car at night, but the trip afforded us a leisurely look at a wonderland of indescribable beauty. It also gave us the opportunity to chat with interesting folks along the way, including homesteaders only too happy to share their experiences living in the back country, especially their encounters with wildlife. A winter road trip in Alaska? Go for it!