Touring the Alaskan Wilderness: Fairbanks to Tangle River

772070231_x56om-S-5The route for the Best of Alaska turns south after Fairbanks. Goodbye to Gold Rush History and Sourdoughs, hello Santa. Yes, that’s right, Santa. As you head South East out of Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway, you pass right by the town of North Pole, and the prodigious roadside attraction of Santa’s House.

Santa’s House at North Pole, Alaska

Now, you may not be into roadside attractions. Nor do you believe in Santa. But let’s face the facts: this is probably one of the most boring sections of highway on the entire Alaska Highway system, so take what you can get. Plus, North Pole does have something about it. It may be the candy cane decorated streetlights, or the 70 foot tall paper macheesque statue of St. Nick himself. Whatever it is, you can feel the excitement. You are in Santa’s front yard, so go in and say “Hi.”

Santa can be found at the back of his house, holding court. He will be happy to take a picture with you, and if your lucky, Mrs. Santa will be there too. Two banger. This is the place that all the children’s letters come to. This is the vortex of Christmas cheer and consumerism. Don’t miss out!

Further down the road, there will be the other roadside attraction worth mentioning. The Knotty Shop has been in existence since anyone can remember, and features two memorable things. The first is amazing ice cream! The second, lawn art made out of wood with large knots in them – hence the name. If you like ice cream and large mosquitoes made of wood, then this is the place for you.

Alaskan Wilderness along the Richardson Highway

It’s rather flat heading out of Fairbanks on the Richardson, but be patient. After an hour, you begin to see the peaks of the fabled Alaska Range. After a little more, you come across Delta Junction, the home to the best lawns in Alaska. After that, you are in riding heaven! The road begins to twist and turn into the mountains.

Glaciers, wild rivers and 15,000 foot mountains peaks surround you as you slip into an Alaskan wonderland. Before long, you are at timber line, and there is nothing but unobstructed wilderness. Keep your eye out for critters, because as you head through Isabel Pass, you have a good chance of seeing them. Moose and Caribou range through this area and are often spotted from the road.

The road plateaus at Summit Lake and skirts it. To your left, Isabel Glacier, to your right, pristine alpine lake….not bad for an afternoon. Summit Lake is the location of the fabled Arctic Man competition, held every winter. This enigmatic challenge couples the disciplines of snowmachine (that’s what Alaskans call Snowmobile) and skiing. I’m a little cloudy on all the rules, but there is a rope pull, speed and jumping involved. During that period, Arctic Man actually becomes Alaska’s third largest town!

Solitude on the Denali Highway

Our ride this day ends big as we turn onto the Denali Highway. This “Highway” starts out as a two-laned paved road, and then turns to a dirt road. It used to be the original entrance road to Denali National Park, but has somehow fell off the radar as a destination.

However, ride the Denali Highway on a good day, and tell me it’s not one of the most scenic rides you have ever done! The road is 120 miles long, and parallels the Alaska Range. Stop your bike, and you will again be overwhelmed with solitude. Look left or right, and no buildings will be seen for miles. The Denali Highway is Alaska in a nutshell: wild, remote, and scenic.

We don’t actually ride the dirt on this day, but stop short and stay at the quaint Tangle River Inn. Nadine has been running this oasis with her husband for over 40 years, and it has been a highlight on MotoQuest’s tour routes for over a decade.

Tangle River Inn is a private landholding in the midst of an ocean of untouched public land. From the dining room, you look out over a wild and scenic river system, framed in by majestic mountains. Walk outside and turn a full circle: not a soul in sight but the beauty of nature. You’ll find the hospitality to be warm and welcoming, the goods to be delicious with generous portions, and the scenery to be hard to beat. Not a bad ending to great day of riding!

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