Many people set travel goals such as traveling to all 50 states or seeing all the national parks. As a part of one such mission, Alaska is home to eight national parks. One of the parks that lies north of the Arctic Circle is just East of a village named Kotzebue. It is called the Kobuk Valley National Park, and one of its features is a 25-square-mile area called the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes. This article shares one method of successfully reaching this remote destination.
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In 2001 a friend and I traveled to Alaska to see all eight of its national parks. It was a goal of my friend’s to see all of the parks, and I was happy to go along for the ride for this portion of his journey. I was the trip planner, which I did through various Internet searches and a few phone calls. It was a huge undertaking, as many of Alaska’s businesses had simple, information only websites and were not very interactive. My e-mail inquiries often went weeks with no response, and the time zone difference also played an impact.
Since Anchorage, Alaska, was our hub, we took a plane from Anchorage to a small Eskimo village named Kotzebue. Upon arrival we walked next door to a building labeled Northwestern Aviation. Essentially, it was an office for bush pilots with a sign-in book and a weighing scale. Someone greeted us and directed us on how to reach the local bed and breakfast. We walked the few blocks of muddy roads to our destination and waited. And waited. And waited. The local bush pilot said he would call, but he never did.
Finally, after not hearing anything by noon of the next day, we tracked down the pilot. He said that low-lying clouds prevented him from flying to the dunes. He had to fly by sight, and mountains lay between Kotzebue and the sand dunes. My friend explained his dream of seeing all the national parks and we were so close to the destination! Yet, all we could do was sit and wait for the clouds to rise.
We were scheduled to leave the following day, so if the clouds did not cooperate we would miss the opportunity to get to Kobuk Valley. It is important to realize when planning a trip to remote locations in Alaska that the weather plays a huge role. Thankfully, a few hours later, the pilot was able to take off. He took us to the sand dunes where no actual runway existed. Instead, a short flat area of the dune became our landing zone. We disembarked from the three-seat plane and spent about an hour exploring the area.
It was remarkable to discover sand dunes North of the Arctic Circle. I had never known of them prior to planning that trip. The air was cool but not cold. It was a crisp, clean smelling air reminding me of spring back in Michigan. Tiny flowers dusted the dunes, their roots holding them in tact as winds swept over the sand. We were the only humans around for as far as we could see. It certainly left us with an appreciation for the enormity of Alaska.
We could not stay long as the pilot still had to make the return flight before the clouds came back down. All in all, it was a very interesting experience, and one I will never forget. When planning a trip like this, be sure to plan extra time for the weather. We were fortunate, but just barely made it to our destination.
Have you ever traveled North of the Arctic Circle? Did you know Alaska had sand dunes? Please comment below!
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