Maiden Boondock Voyage

You could argue that our first two trips with Nunc Pro Tunc were boondocking because we didn’t have shore power, water or sewer hook ups, but both at established campgrounds with amenities such as vault toilets, potable water and internet access. Last weekend we went true boondock.

As navigator, my plan was to stay at either Upper Chatanika mile 49 (A state run campground) or Cripple Creek mile 60 (A BLM, Bureau of Land Management,  campground). A lowly third option was a riverside stop I had seen on Google maps where there were images of RV’s parked circa 2011, which may be called Perhaps Creek or Jeep Trail. All of these are on the road to Circle, Alaska up the Steese Highway.

Note that the Steese Highway is a particularly hilly and winding road with little to no shoulder and several hair-pin curves. The Captain and I have been to Circle, but it’s been 25+ years and my fear of heights hasn’t improved over time. I looked at elevation and road conditions before we left.  The highest point on the way to the farthest campground was 2233 feet at Cleary Summit and the road is paved through mile 81 so we had pavement the whole way. Had we decided to go on to Circle, we would have climbed Eagle Summit at 3,685 feet and faced 80 miles of gravel road. Someday we’ll go back.

We left Nenana at 12:30, stopped in Fairbanks for water and Modelo and were on our way down the Steese by 2PM. I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to find camping because it was the 4th of July, but we were out early and most of the traffic we passed was headed south.

The Steese was just as hilly and curvy as I remember it, but we made good time and the Captain’s only concern was gas mileage on some of the higher climbs. There were a few good dips in the road and a couple of resulting jolts. Altogether, though, it was a pleasant and scenic drive. We lost internet and cell service about mile 30.

The first campground was Upper Chatanika: 24 campsites, river access, vault toilets, drinking water and picnic tables. A loose dog was guarding the entrance, something we watch for because Meeka LOVES visiting and won’t come when she’s called. The road inside the campground was abysmal, it could barely be called a road. The bumps were invisible, and we seemed to hit every one..HARD! The sites were all back in and large enough, but it would be quite a walk to the river and there was no view or sunlight at all. There was river access, but it was inundated with RVs and tents, non-camping-designated, making the water access completely inaccessible. The only good thing we could see were the firepits, not enough to make us stay! We decided to press on.

As we continued up the Steese, I pointed out the mysterious pull out (down) that had one RV parked there. The turn in would have taken us nearly 180 degrees into a 100% hair-pin (jack-knife for sure) and it was pretty steep. We pushed on toward Cripple Creek.

Cripple Creek was not at all what I expected. The road was much better than Upper Chatanika and there were 12 RV sites with a trail to hike in tent sites. The sites were back in, large and had picnic tables and fire rings. There was a vault toilet and many trails leading off in different directions. There was only one person camping. Again, though, there was no view and it was heavily forested, making the entire campground seem eerie. We pulled over and went a little ways down a couple of trails, but saw no sign of the river. The mosquitoes were FIERCE. I had expected a sunnier campground riverside.

We turned around and headed back toward Fairbanks. It was just a few short miles to the mysterious turn out and, from this direction, it would be a simple Y-turn to the left. The captain decided to go for it. I was concerned about the grade and curve, but the truck and Nunc Tunc handled it with no problem, and soon we were scoping out the different site options, of which there were many.

There was a back in site in the trees that was right by the river, but the ground was uneven. We decided to park Nunc Tunc right where she was by a sizeable pond, in the open sunshine with the only other camper slightly obscured by trees, and a rock fire ring. It was perfect.

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The Perfect Site

It took less than 20 minutes to get set up and leveled and there was no fee station, were we really staying in this wonderful spot FOR FREE?? We had a beautiful view from our dinette of a quiet pond and majestic hills. We watched a beaver swim back and forth and fish jumping.

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View from Nunc Pro Tunc

We spent a very quiet evening just soaking up the atmosphere, the occasional sunshine and a small bit of rain. The open area was perfect for throwing the ball for Meeka and the pond was shallow out for several feet, so she was able to splash around. We had a nice dinner and a small fire with MARSHMALLOWS!

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Small fire with Marshmallows

With a full tank of water and plans to stay for only 2 days, we each were able to take a full shower indoors. The tub/shower combo is a dream and a real upgrade from the wet bath of the cab over. It was a quiet, peaceful night and everyone (even Meeka!) slept through until late morning–around 7 a.m. for us.

After breakfast, we were surprised to see a BLM ranger pull up. Thinking we were going to be asked to leave, we waited nervously, but he just pulled down a side road and a few minutes later he was gone.

We spent all day Saturday relaxing, enjoying ourselves and the surroundings,

fishing

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Reading

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Hiking

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And fireside

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We even convinced Meeka to swim! We kept her running most of the day, and by suppertime she was ready to go to bed.

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By late Saturday afternoon, our peaceful time was over. Several other campers showed up, and even though they parked quite a ways away, they brought generators breaking the silence. We employed Nunc Tunc’s outdoor speakers to offset some of the noise and were able to enjoy another fire.

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The party at our neighboring campsites hit full tilt around 2AM, replete with trucks gunning their engines,  kicking up rocks, women hollering back and forth and general ruckus. It didn’t seem to bother our local beaver who swam back and forth through the pond, or the rabbit

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who explored our campsite. I watched the wildlife for awhile until it was quiet enough to go back to sleep.

We were up, full of coffee, packed up and back on the road at 8:30 AM. We agreed that it was an amazing spot, and we will return another time.

Now, for the next.

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