Another great week in Alaska filled with excellent scenery, flowers, botanists, and adventure! During the last weekend in June I met up with the Alaska Native Plant Society for a weekend long camping trip east of the Richardson Highway in mountains sometimes referred to as the Delta Range (it's south of Delta Junction). The first day we hiked up towards the Canwell Glacier. It was really fun to be out hiking with well-versed Alaskan botanists - we saw lots of really cool plants (including a few Micranthes). That night we all camped together which was a nice departure from my normal camp set-up--in addition to just being with other people we had a campfire, homemade cookies, a delicious watermelon, and to top it all off, one of the people there was a talented musician so we had live music! The next day in the rain we took a route up a different canyon and saw many new plants including a coralroot orchid and a vibrant pink primrose. That afternoon I gave a ride to one of the women on the trip back to Fairbanks. It was great to have the company for the drive (she is a biologist who has lived and traveled around the entire world for 50 years!) and then when we got to Fairbanks she offered me dinner, a shower, and a place to sleep at her family's home! I couldn't even being to recount all of the offers of hospitality I have received from Alaskans in my five weeks in the state, but as a nice midwestern-raised girl I never want to impose so I rarely take them up on their offers. Well, this layover in Fairbanks right in the middle of my nine-day trip was a treat for which I am very grateful (I had no real plans on when my next shower would be...). Also, in addition to the warm and welcoming nature of Alaskans I have yet to encounter an Alaskan who doesn't have a good story to tell. It's just something about Alaska I guess.
The next morning after homemade sourdough waffles (I mean, really, how did I get so lucky?) I drove north on the infamous Haul Road. The Haul Road parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline all the way to the Arctic Ocean and is considered "one of the most isolated roads in the United States." I've never seen the show but it's the road where the TV show Ice Road Truckers is filmed. The drive itself is kind of brutal because the road is mostly unpaved and you have to deal with lots of large trucks. But, it's worth it. For one, it's pretty wild to think that I drove, hiked, and camped north of the Arctic Circle. I had delayed this trip by a week to give everything more time to melt out and I am really glad that I did because the flowers were in full bloom. In one day I saw six Micranthes, collected four, and two were new species for me! I also bagged Mt. Steere and stopped by the Toolik Lake Research station (at 68° 38' N). When I walked into the dinning hall at the research station the first person I saw was a researcher from UF who was in Alaska to collect moss...because of course I'd run into other researchers from University of Florida in the Middle of Nowhere, Alaska. I stayed for a delicious dinner and returned back to my camp around 9:30 pm. It was a long, but great, day.
The next morning I got an early start back down the Haul Road, made it to Fairbanks, and turned sharply east towards the Steese Highway for my second attempt to find Micranthes on that road. If you recall I first went down the Steese in early June and it was a frozen tundra with very few plants blooming. This time was much better and there was generally good botanizing but after a 16 mile hike I, disappointingly, didn't find any of the Micranthes that I was seeking. I was also cold, wet, and tired by the time I returned to my car. I did have a fun encounter with a rather brazen hoary marmot but that was about all I have to show for that hike. I decided to hit up the researcher housing at University of Alaska Fairbanks where for $25 I was able to hang my tent out to dry, shower, and get a warm night of sleep. The end of this post brings me up to July 1. I'll note that I had a really fun Fourth of July in Denali with some of my new Alaskan friends and I was feeling pretty rejuvenated for my next epic trip. Which will follow in the next post!