Pointing out that Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley National Parks are tough to get to would be a gross understatement. We tried last August without success. Airplane problems derailed our efforts to get to the wilderness parks. We almost had the exact same thing happen this time. Fortunately this trip we were able to overcome flight delays. We completed our journey to visit all 59 National Parks on June 5th, 2015 north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska.
There are just a few ways to approach Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley. They are remote, wild places inaccessible by car. No roads or services. Most people do as we did by chartering a bush plane. We chose to fly from the small town of Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska. Kotzebue is almost as hard to get to as the Parks. Alaska Airlines flies there daily but their flights are frequently canceled.
Our itinerary to the Parks as follows. First we were going to fly to Anchorage from our home in Kansas City on June 3rd. Weather caused a delay and we became stuck in Salt Lake City overnight. Taking the bush flight to the Parks on June 4th became impossible. We did ultimately make it to Kotzebue late on the 4th. Fortunately our pilot had availability to fly us to Gates and Kobuk on the 5th--weather permitting. We had arrived at the brink of completing our journey on time with no room for error. We couldn't afford a third try.
Kotzebue has a population of about 3,000 people. Its a sleepy town with few services. We stayed at a "bed and breakfast" for $135. Breakfast consisted of cereal and coffee--if you made it yourself. The local hotel's tariff was $279 a night. The bed and breakfast proprietor told us that we had arrived on the second day midnight sun. Kotzebue experiences 39 days in a row when the sun does not set. She suggested that we walk to the harbor to see the sun at its lowest point around 2:30 AM. We did just that and this is what we saw along the Arctic Ocean.....
At 8:00 AM on June 5th our pilot, Jim Kincaid, of Northwestern Aviation picked us up for our five hour "flightseeing" tour of the Parks. He warned that the weather forecast wasn't good with snow and high winds predicted. We might have to cut the trip short. Landing at the Parks, he suggested, was unlikely. Still we pressed on and our four seat Cessna flew across the bay towards Gates of the Arctic.
It is hard to express how immense and beautiful this Alaskan Arctic paradise is. There is no place like it anywhere else in the United States. It is a highly diverse landscape with volcanic remnants, rivers and tundra. Wildlife such as moose and bear are abundant. Gates and Kobuk Valley are home to the famous annual caribou migration. One thing visitors should not expect to see are other people. Our pilot suggested that we were the only ones there.
The Arctic sun along with a fresh dusting of snow created unique colors at Gates of the Arctic. The scope of the wilderness is nearly impossible to describe. Few people ever attempt to cross is by land. It is one of the least explored areas in the world.
The tundra along the river valleys in Gates were both stark and beautiful. Readers can see the snow is falling in the background on June 5th.
As we approached the limit of our trip into Gates of the Arctic the weather began to clear. Our pilot Jim announced he would be able to land on a gravel bar. He executed a perfect landing allowing us to get out and stretch. Perhaps the thing that grabbed our attention was the lack of sound. With the exception of occasional birdsong, there was just quiet. At our landing spot we were 168 miles off the grid standing in one of the most remote places in the United States.
The landscape of Gates of the Arctic was not the most stunning we saw on our 59 National Park journey. Gates, however, was the most inspiring place we visited. We were just awestruck knowing we had been blessed to see an area that had remained exactly as God had created it.
After about a half hour we got back on the plane and headed to Kobuk Valley with 58 National Parks under our belts.
Kobuk Valley National Park is a bit more accessible than Gates of the Arctic. There are no roads but the Kobuk River is navigable three months of the year. The area was mined in the past, most notably the aptly named Jade Mountain. Still most visitors will have the Park to themselves on a short visit.
We landed at the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes. The dunes are massive covering 20,000 acres and rising over 100 feet above the Kobuk River. These remnants of a glacial past are an important route in the annual caribou migration. Bears prowl the area. We didn't see any bears but we saw evidence of them. The same thing goes for people.
Kobuk Valley was the 59th U.S. National Park we visited over a sixty-one week period. We lack the words to express how happy and blessed we felt to finish our journey. We have plans to take more adventures in the future. As someone told us recently, however, we are a hard act to follow...
Had we been able to go to Gates and Kobuk Valley last August, we would have completed our 59 National Park journey last April 6th at Haleakala National Park, Hawaii. We are happy the way things turned out. Finishing north of the Arctic Circle was quite a cherry on top of our travel sundae. We want to thank travelgumbo.com for their support and we appreciate everyone that has followed along.