Editor’s Note: Sherri Fries is an i Love Dogs Ambassador who has agreed to share with our readers her family’s summer adventure traveling from Virginia to the Northwest. Her first post takes us through Canada to Fairbanks, Alaska. She is now heading towards Anchorage.
We are up in Alaska which is an incredibly beautiful state with interesting, friendly people. Today’s highlight was a trip to the Iditarod Headquarters outside Wasilla. We took a thrilling and very fast ride behind a group of Iditarod sled dogs, which was a blast.
My family and two border collies left Virginia July 23rd, driving across I-70 then I-90, and entering Canada from North Dakota. After leaving the east’s rolling forests, there were lots of prairie dogs, antelope, and open, dry windy prairie vistas along the way. Saskatoon was full of thunder storms and huge wooden grain elevators. In Alberta we saw the rare wood bison outside Edmonton. This oil-rich city is also home to the world’s largest mall–complete with an ice skating rink, amusement park, sea lion show, and IMAX theatre. From there we joined the ALCAN highway which is one of the world’s great drives. It winds through hills and then forests full of millions and millions of trees. Through the Northern Rockies on one day we saw 15 black bears, 2 grizzlies, and too many moose and bison to count. It’s a stunning mountainous drive.
On Canada Day, July 1st, we watched a great parade in Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon. It featured the famous Canadian Mounties and their highly-trained dogs. The Mounties have their own breeding program producing some of the finest police, tracking, and search and rescue dogs in the world. There were floats, decked out trucks bellowing smoke and flames, a dog parade section, and bagpipes. Later that day we drove past Kluane National Park which has the highest mountain in Canada. And after passing huge glaciers, glacial lakes, and many many more trees, at a very sunny 10 pm, we entered Alaska.
The constant daylight does make driving at “night” easy, though it doesn’t help with sleep. The sun gets dusky though not dark for a few hours each night. It’s never dark. You wake up at midnight–it’s light. It’s the same for 2 am, 4 am, and so on.
From the US/Canadian border we drove through many more spruce forests with small trees that are actually hundreds of years old, and through the small towns of Tok Junction and Delta Junction. Both have huge flowers from the constant summer sun. And both have old roadhouses that hosted the early travelers along the route when Alaska was still owned by Russia. The old wooden roadhouses have dirt roofs complete with grass and flowers on top. Many newer buildings have adopted the same natural insulation. A man in the Delta Junction grocery store showed us his bottle of small gold nuggests he’d panned out of the river the prior week.
After passing yet more moose and the Alaskan oil pipeline we arrived in Fairbanks in time for the Tanana Valley Kennel Club July 4th weekend agility trial. If you ever get a chance to go to a dog show in Alaska, do it. The people are incredibly friendly, there are some great dog and handler teams, and it’s like a picnic with your friends. I ran both my border collies; we had a great time, and we did well.
On the Fourth of July there are no fireworks in Fairbanks. Since it’s daylight, you wouldn’t see them, so they shoot them off on January 1st. A friend from California joined us to ride the train in Pioneer Park and celebrate the holiday at the famous and delicious Salmon Bake, complete with halibut and all the food you can eat. In Fairbanks we also visited the University of Alaska-Fairbanks’ very nice museum featuring the only fully mummified bison in the world (it’s blue from chemicals in the soil); gorgeous native arts; and displays about the native Alaskans. We also saw the UAF musk ox and carribou research station and learned that the huge hairy musk ox are actually related to goats. When the young oxen call for their mothers they do sound like goats. Their under-fur is spun into a soft, soft yarn which in turn is used to knit very, very warm scarves. And in Fairbanks we also took the paddleboat tour on the Nenana River. It goes to an actual Athabascan fish village complete with a fish wheel for catching salmon. For us the highlight was the appearance of 4-time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher’s dogs. Butcher died of cancer but her family carries on the mushing tradition. Her daughter will be competing in next year’s Iditarod.
Our next week was spent at Denali National Park which is one of the most stunning parks I’ve ever visited. We were among the lucky 30% of visitors to actually see Mt. McKinley, known to the local Athabascans as Denali or “The Big One.” The only way into the park is by bus along what is at points a very narrow road hugging the cliffs. Along the way are wide braided glacial rivers, tundra, wild flowers, glaciers and visible chunks of permafrost. Besides the mountain itself, the other highlight is the animals. We saw golden grizzlies with their cubs, Dall Sheep hugging the steep mountains, wolves (one walked right alongside the bus), fox, ptarmigans, caribou with huge antlers, marmot, the Arctic Ground Squirrel, Arctic Hares, grey jays, bald and golden eagles, and fuzzy grey gull chicks. It’s defintely one of America’s great national parks.
From here we took a trip to see Jeff King’s Alaskan Huskies. The 4-time Iditarod champion has a wonderful presentation featuring his dogs and how they’re trained. The huskies are long-legged athletes always ready to run. We all got our husky puppy fix first, getting to hold and at the same time socialize this year’s pups. Dogs 8 months and older are hooked up to an all-terrain vehicle which they pull quite energetically. And for those who didn’t know it, the Alaskan Husky is not a regular AKC breed. It can be any dog that pulls the sled. They don’t look like a Siberian Husky or the dogs in the Disney film “Balto.” Instead they are mainly black, brown, yellow or a mix of those colors, long legged and lean. The have a double coat that keeps them warm in the sub-zero temperatures. And they love to run. We also got to spend some time with Donna King, who I had met at the AKC Agility Nationals. She runs border collies and is a top dog trainer in her own right, having tried out for the AKC World Team.
The Iditarod Headquarters is north of Anchorage. It has pictures, films, and trophies of the past champions. There are even junior handlers who make the gruelling journey. The handlers really count on the knowledge of and relationship with their dogs. Many of the handlers have somewhere between 50 and 100 dogs, including puppies. But it’s only the best 16 that make the team.
Have you taken a thrilling sled dog ride or had other exciting adventures in Alaska or Canada? Tell us about them here.