The Last Frontier, or the LF, is what three young women named the white, 2001, Honda Civic Sedan that became a home and shelter for five days as we drove the 3200 miles to reach Anchorage, Alaska. This car became our safe haven as we engaged in what became an adventure. My sister Libby, our friend Audra, and I decided to drive to Alaska. Libby and Audra had both accepted jobs in Alaska for the summer of 2008. Libby wanted to have her car with her while she worked there, so we drove up.
This trip began on Wednesday April 30, 2008 in Kanarraville, Utah, a small town about fifteen miles south of Cedar City, Utah. This was where we packed our luggage into the trunk of the LF. Three girls, two of which were staying five months, had the automobile packed to the LF’s limit. We got into the car, Libby in the driver’s seat, Audra in the passenger seat, and I was in the back next to a large blue cooler, a couple of pillows and a few blankets.
Libby pulled the car out onto the street and we made our way to I-15. Our first destination was Idaho Falls, Idaho. The stretch of highway from Cedar City to Salt Lake was familiar, Idaho was a new domain. Just before we hit the Idaho boarder Libby and I traded places. I was now driving.
I hit snow the moment I arrived in Idaho. It was dark and I was keeping my eye out for deer, but was surprised by the sudden rush of snow coming toward us. I could only see white swirling around me hitting the windshield like pieces of cotton soaring toward me. I had never driven in snow, and now I was getting sudden experience by driving in a blizzard.
The world was colorless around us, as I continued to steer the car north toward Idaho Falls. My hands clutched the steering wheel, as Libby slept in the back and Audra listened to her iPod. After an hour of driving in the snowstorm the twinkling lights of Idaho Falls became visible in the dark, snow covered world surrounding us.
When we three arrived in Idaho Falls it was late and I was tired. I stopped at the first hotel I could find that was reasonably priced and unloaded the car. The outside of the hotel looked well kept, but it was dark and cold outside, and sleep was the only thing on our minds. I saw the old brown wallpaper, the peeling paint, and the torn bedspreads and realized that I could have picked a better hotel, but I didn’t care. Sleep was all that I wanted.
The first stop of the day was the Idaho Falls. The snow covered ground was like a blank canvas, and it was like I was the first stroke of color in the whiteness that surrounded me. Libby, Audra, and I walked out onto the wooden walkway. The world around us was quiet; it was like we were the only people left in the cold, desolate world. Shuffling around the snow covered pathway toward the Idaho Falls. The calming sound of the gray water flowed past us as we admired the view of the Idaho Falls Temple on the other side of the Snake River.
The Idaho Falls Temple was the first LDS temple built in Idaho, and is the eighth operating temple. It was dedicated in September of 1945.
When I drove up to the entrance of the Idaho Falls Temple grounds the white of the temple and the white of the snow were difficult to distinguish. The snow sparkled as it covered the flowerbeds and walkways on the temple grounds. The tall white steeple of the temple stood high above me as I walked around admiring the leafless trees and bushes that surrounded the square structure. Getting back into the LF and enjoying the warmth and shelter of the casing around us, we took one more drive around the granite building and then headed toward I-15.
Great Falls, Montana
Glacier National Park, North Entrance
United States and Canada border
Cardston, Alberta is a town that was settled by Mormon settlers in 1887. The Cardston temple was the first LDS temple built outside of the United States, just fifteen miles north of the U.S.-Canada border. The Cardston temple was dedicated in August 1923, and is the sixth operating LDS temple. The Cardston temple was named a Canadian Historic Site in September 1995.
-- from LDSChurchTemples.com
Since my sister and I try to visit every temple that we can we couldn’t help but stop and see the Cardston temple. The square architecture is different from many of the other LDS temple. The white granite of the temple stood out among the green grass and trees surrounding it. The temple stands like a castle amongst the town of Cardston. After admiring the temple we drove down Main Street and stopped at a Dairy Queen for lunch.
After spending time in Cardston we continued on to Calgary.
Libby drove on toward Calgary as the sun was diminishing behind the Rocky Mountains, transforming the azure sky and gray clouds to a rainbow of orange, pink, and purple. The unending cornfields soon disappeared into the darkness. With the night my eyes began to get heavy, I had been in the car all day, but we still had a couple of hours before we were to arrive in Calgary. Libby continued to drive the long stretch of road struggling to keep her eyes open. Eventually the lights of Calgary appeared in the darkness. The car continued on until we spotted a Holiday Inn Express and pulled into the parking lot.
The four story hotel was the light at the end of our tunnel.
As I left Calgary, Alberta I noticed that our next stop was Banff National Park. I pulled onto the highway and headed north. Not being able to explore and admire Calgary, we were forced to enjoy it from the car. We drove past the Olympic slopes where the Winter Olympics were hosted by Calgary in 1988. Libby continued to drive her white Honda Civic through the streets of lush, green Calgary.
It didn’t take long for the buildings to thin out and eventually fade away.
About two hours north of Calgary, is a small tourist town called Banff. Like any tourist trap Banff had several stores from candy to books as well as clothing and jewelry. We drove through the small town up a long road past the Rimrock Resort Hotel, a grand hotel built with gray bricks and standing like a palace surrounded by snow covered mountains.
We bought our tickets and got into line for the Banff Gondola, and then waited in line to step into the four person sky tram. While we waited in line I began to grow nervous. I don’t care for heights, especially when we are getting into a box carried by a few cables. Libby started to make fun of me and calling me a “chicken” or a “wimp” as the onset of a panic attack made my breathing get shallow. Finally we stepped into the small box. Libby and Audra sat so they could see the view on their way up, and I sat where I could see the mountain.
About two minutes into the ride I was beginning to calm down and feel okay. It was at this time that Libby began to panic.
“It’s so high. I didn’t realize how high it was going to be,” she said as her breathing began to get shallow.
Audra started to laugh, while I just sat and stared.
“See Libby, you shouldn’t have made fun of me,” I said.
“Shut up, Jessie! I’m going to have a heart attack!”
We arrived at the top of Sulphur Mountain where we had a view of the town of Banff and the Rimrock Resort Hotel, looking like a castle amongst the green trees. The snow capped mountains, clear blue rivers and majestic white glaciers stand under the azure blue sky, creating a splendid view for admiring. I took a short hike along the dirt pathway and then explored the gift shop before hitching a ride down on the Gondola.
Jasper National Park
As we left Jasper, Libby and I decided that Audra needed a turn to drive. Libby’s Civic has a manual transmission, and since Libby and I learned with manual transmissions, driving stick is second nature to us. Audra didn’t know how to drive stick, so we waited until we were in a rural area, and Libby gave Audra a quick lesson on driving a manual automobile. Libby pulled into a hotel parking lot and her and Audra switched places. Audra buckled up and shifted into gear. Her first attempt ended with the Civic stalling and rolling backwards.
I don’t know why, but I often travel on my birthday, and this day was mine. That morning, as we were getting ready, Libby called home from the hotel phone so that my mom could wish me a “Happy Birthday.”
I continued Northwest toward Alaska, Libby and Audra celebrated my twentieth birthday. Libby had a couple of small presents for me to open, one was a yellow, Vera Bradley backpack, and the other a box of travel games from my mom. When we stopped at a rest stop Libby pulled out a box of Zebra cakes and put a candle on one for me to blow out.
Dawson Creek, British Columbia
Alaska Highway Mile ‘0’
The Alcan Highway, also known as the Alaska/Canada Highway, is a bumpy road. The cause for the bumpiness was explained by a sign at the Canada/Alaska Border:
Every time a road is constructed the ground surface is disturbed. Disturbance of the insulating layer of vegetation allows additional heat to penetrate below the surface, thawing permafrost and creating a zone called a thaw bulb. Thaw bulbs, so called because of their shape, are responsible for the big, rolling dips and bumps that make you feel as though your car has become an out of control porpoise as you travel down the highway. Capable of growing deeper every year, thaw bulbs continue to bedevil road engineers, builders and motorist alike.
I noticed as I drove along the Alcan Highway that there were many times when the LF would drive over a bump, and scrape the bottom of the vehicle or she would gain air. If the bumps were extremely bad, there would be orange flags next to the bumps to alert the drivers to slow down.
Libby was driving, Audra was sitting in the passenger seat reading Wicked, and I was in the back listening to Sarah Brightman on my iPod as I began to fall asleep. I was almost asleep when the LF going about seventy-five miles per hour, took a sudden lurch as it zoomed over a considerable bump, gaining air, and landing with a screech.
When we reached the Alaska/Canada border the sign that described the Alcan Highway as “Roller Coaster Roads”
Watson Lake, British Columbia
It was my last night driving and Audra and I both stayed up to take turns driving while Libby was unconscious in the backseat. It was late into the night and both Audra and I were beginning to get tired. We turned on Twilight to help keep us awake. Since we were both exhausted we were jumpy and giggly. Listening to the book Twilight was hilarious to us, so we spent a lot of time laughing. At one point we were so focused on the book that when an unknown animal dashed across the highway we were both terrified. Audra had to pull over so that she could regain her bearings. At about two in the morning we finally arrived in Haines Junction, Yukon at the Kluane Park Inn, a small rundown hotel and bar. This hotel was the first that we could find, so Libby and I went in and got a room. The three of us unloaded our suitcases and walked into our room with two double beds, and a bathroom that was about the size of a closet. Within minutes of entering the room the three of us were unconscious.
“North Pole, Alaska: Where the Spirit of Christmas Lives All Year Round” is the phrase hanging above the visitor center. Driving through the town there are Christmas lights decorating each house. A sign welcomes the visitors to the North Pole as they drive down St. Nicholas Dr past a giant statue of Santa Claus, and the red and white striped “north” pole. There also sits the “Santa Claus House” where Santa is all year long for children to sit on his lap and tell Santa Claus what they want for Christmas. In the Santa Claus House there is a wall covered in letter to Santa from people all over the world. Prancer is also there to greet visitors.
-- from The Milepost
The final stop before Anchorage was Denali National Park. Audra was working in the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, so we dropped her off just north of Denali in Healy where she would be living for the summer. We said our goodbyes and Libby, the LF, and I continued south to Anchorage.
After five days I finally made it to Anchorage, Alaska. The last three hours felt more like six. I noticed a haze across the Alaska Mountain range. The lights of Anchorage were only miles away. I drove through the streets of Anchorage and reached the home of the Wilson’s, some old family friends that moved to Alaska in 1996.
Two years ago the three of us took this road trip so that my sister could have her car, but the simple vacation turned into an adventure that helped us to get to know each other more. It allowed us to see more of the world. I was able to enjoy the natural beauty that was unknown to me. The memories of this vacation allow me to remember the awesome experiences that I have been able to partake of. If I could do this trip again I wouldn’t change anything except taking more time to stop and enjoy the places that I wasn’t able to on this trip. This trip wasn’t about just having the car, it was about the experiences I had and the new places that I was able to see and experience for myself.