Eden Lake Bison Ranch
About 100 miles northwest of Fairbanks, Alaska (as the crow flies)
March, 2002

Warning -- this is a very long webpage -- it had to be, to fit everything in.


This webpage is about a woman with a dream and the adventure we had with her.

Mickie is Cheryl's sister.  She moved from Lake Tahoe to Valdez, Alaska about 10 years ago to get away from civilization.  Like Cheryl, Mickie has always had "itchy feet"; always searching for the perfect home.  Well, about seven years ago she finally found her perfect home and it is definitely away from civilization.  She bought 320 acres of raw Alaska land with a lake on it.  It's less than 150 miles from the Arctic Circle, more than 50 miles from the nearest store, telephone or road, and during some months of the year is completely inaccessible by any means of motorized transportation.

In a letter she wrote to us dated January 19, 1996, she says:

. . . . I want to move to Fairbanks.  From Fairbanks I could at least visit the LAKE.  It's become my whole direction in life.  It is my goal to live there someday. . . . .

.... and here's the story of her goal coming true.
 
 
John and Mickie are now providing some really exciting outdoor adventures.
To learn more visit www.EdenLakeBisonRanch.com

The last time you heard from us we were on our way up the AlCan to Fairbanks to help Mickie move to her new home, now officially named Eden Lake, or as she calls it "The Homestead."  Since her letter in 1996, she had moved from Valdez to Fairbanks -- a move that brought her to a city that was big enough to provide good job opportunities, but more importantly, allowed her to make more frequent visits to her lake.  Along with Mickie came her, (then boyfriend,) John and his son Matt.
Here's John and Mickie and one of their dogs named Mac, (a MacKenzie River husky.)

We had hoped to get to Fairbanks by mid-March to help them move their most fragile and difficult possessions -- 14 head of young bison -- but we didn't even leave Seattle until March 15th.

If you didn't see our previous webpage you probably should take a look at it for an introduction to this one.

Would you'd like an adventure instead of a vacation? CLICK HERE

While we were headed up the AlCan and experiencing a blast of minus 26oF temperatures in British Columbia, the first load of bison were on their way to The Homestead.  Fortunately, Mickie and John had recruited several friends to help them with the move.

The move was done in two stages.  The first leg was from their property in Fairbanks to the tiny village of Manley Hot Springs, (population 98.)  Manley is 150 miles from Fairbanks.  To get there you travel down a dirt and gravel road and when the road ends you've reached Manley!  Mickie and John have a small lot in Manley with a cabin where they can store things that will ultimately be taken the additional 52 miles out to The Homestead.

Here they are on their first trip from Fairbanks to Manley with the bison.  About 15 miles north of Fairbanks is the Hilltop Truck stop -- the last services for 150 miles.  From right to left is John's truck towing a trailer carrying six bison.  In the orange Suburban is their friend, Mac, towing a trailer carrying the buffalo sled that John built and snow machines.  Then there's Mickie's truck towing a horse trailer carrying two more bison.   Oh, did I mention the pavement ends just past the Hilltop Truck stop?  It's a long, dusty drive.
Even before we left Seattle they were busy hauling supplies.  The two big white rolls are hay.  Each one weighs between 500 and 800 pounds.  Altogether, I estimate they hauled out 17 to 20 tons of hay.  The other sleds could have anything from grain, barley seed, diesel fuel, drinking water, tools, you name it.  John's 15 year old son, Matt, is on the left.
When they got their load to Manley Hot Springs they moved two of the bison out of the trailer and into the "bison sled" that John had built for the move.  The plan was to tow the sled to The Homestead behind snow machines.  (OK, I know that everyone else in the world calls them snowmobiles, but in Alaska they are called snow machines.)

Here's a picture of Mac, a great guy who really helped a lot.  Here he is out at The Homestead.

It looks like this picture was taken after the second bison run since I see four bison in the pen.  Everything here seems to come with a story.  See the Snow Cat in the photo above?  Mickie rolled it trying to cross a section of the trail they call Deep Creek.  John drove it out, up the steep bank, balancing on the rear of the track looking straight up in the sky about to roll over backwards the whole time.

When stuff like this happens, the locals just say, "that's Alaska."
While we were making our way north up the AlCan, eight bison were on their way to The Homestead.   On our fifth day of driving, (and freezing,) we crossed the border between Canada and Alaska.  The boys are standing by the border monument and the border line is literally that -- a straight line.  Look carefully and you can see it run right over the furthest hill.
It was an interesting trip up the AlCan, both beautiful and frustrating.  We know why most RV'ers wait until the end of May to start traveling to Alaska -- it's just too cold.  Our water lines froze the first day out and we ended up using jugs of water heated on the stove for bathing and dish washing for the next three weeks.
We made it to Fairbanks in 6 days -- a little over 2,300 miles from Seattle. The timing turned out to be perfect.  Mickie had unloaded everything in Manley and just gotten back to Fairbanks to pick up the rest of the bison, the other animals and her stuff.  The plan was to get some repair parts for the snow machines, change some flat tires, pack up everything else and then head out to Manley for her final move.

We pulled into her place in Fairbanks at about 8:00 p.m. Wednesday night.  She had arrived there just ten minutes before us.

The next morning we were all up at 6:30 cleaning out the trailers, replacing flat tires and preparing to load the last six bison.  Since most of the bison are somewhat wild, we prepared the trailer so the bison could be loaded without us having to be in the pen or loading area with them. 

Here we are tying a rope that Mitch will use to pull the sliding door closed after the bison go into the trailer.

Nice bison, come on, get in the trailer now.

With the trailer ready for loading we let the bison into the loading area so they would get used to the trailer.  Meanwhile, Mickie went off to town to get three flat tires repaired and pickup a new piston for one of the snow machines.  We had errands too.  I went to get the front crank seal replaced on our truck and move our trailer to Mac's house.  I noticed the seal leaking after our first -20oF night and had been pouring oil into the engine ever since.

That's Alaska!


Blown Piston? This photo is from one of the the first trips out.  Here they stopped to hook up to a broken snow machine and jockey trailers to tow everything back in.
You can get a feel for the width of the frozen Tanana River from this picture.


Well, let's jump back to Fairbanks for the rest of our story.

Next it was time to catch and load the geese, chickens and a turkey.  Mickie said here's how you do it. 

"You need to . . . . . (gasp,  laugh,  flutter, flap, gasp, laugh, dust flying, flutter, flap, more laughing) . . .  hold the wings."

Then she said, "sometimes it helps to hold them upside down."

Well, its suppose to disorient them, but not this one.

So next, Mitch went in to catch another goose.
 

GOOD JOB MITCH!!!
Here I am with the last two chickens.  This was Mickie's last trip from Fairbanks.  We loaded the last of her barley seed, animal feed and final supplies. Next, it was time to get the bison loaded into the large trailer and then load her two horses into the smaller one.
Oh, we haven't talked about Joy yet --  she's the white husky in the photo above.  She's the queen of the hill -- really keeps everyone else in line -- and is Mickie's constant companion.

Below is a picture of Max standing on the fence that encloses the bison pen in Fairbanks.  The entire fence was lined with black fabric so the bison wouldn't be tempted to explore Fairbanks.

A short "ED-itorial" here --

We're sure glad we've gotten to the other side of the fabric in our society.  Stepping out of the "norm" and living as we do is really interesting and enjoyable.  Quitting a career, selling the house along with everything in it and moving into a RV was stepping into an unknown. But looking back, most of the challenges and hurdles were no stronger than this thin layer of fabric and the fence itself is no match for a buffalo.

I guess we could say Mickie "buffaloed" them into staying in the fence.  Think about it.
 

To load the bison we closed them into the loading area.  The bison had all day to look over the trailer and Mickie put hay in the trailer for them.  After work Mac came over to help load them up.  We all climbed up the backside of the fence and when they saw Mac they ran right into the trailer.  Ha Ha.

Really, we had to wave a towel and make a little noise but they went in quite easily.  Once the first one went in, the rest acted like sheep and all rushed in.  Mitch pulled the rope and closed the sliding door.
We left the next morning after loading the horses and headed for Manley. Mickie towed the trailer with the bison and I towed the trailer with the horses. It was about 1:00 p.m. when we arrived at Manley Hot Springs. As I said before, the dirt road stops here.  Manley, besides being a small community, is also a staging area for people that use the frozen rivers to haul supplies to homesteads and small communities along the Tanana River.  The  village of Tanana, (population 345,) for example, is 60 miles down river from Manley Hot Springs where the Tanana and Yukon Rivers meet.  It is accessible only by river or airplane.
As soon as we arrived in Manley, John transferred two bison into the sled and he and the others took off for The Homestead.  We barely had time to say hello before they were off.  We weren't sure where to stay, but another great guy that was helping them out named Pete, said we could bring our RV out to Manley and plug into power at his cabin.  So we unloaded the horses and headed back into Fairbanks to pick up our trailer, i.e. our home.
We don't recommend boondocking in Alaska in the winter in an RV without having either power or a fireplace.  Since we don't have a fireplace we looked for power.  If we have power we can run our furnace without draining the batteries and use our electric blankets at night.

If we come here again in the winter I'll buy a used school bus and custom build it to fully function in -60oF temperatures.  Commercial RV's just don't do it when it gets below +15oF (i.e. a warm day up here.)

Remember Mac?  He was in an earlier picture, (not the Mac the dog, Mac the big Alaskan guy.)  He invited us to park next to his house in Fairbanks.  (Pretty nice, these Alaskans; inviting complete strangers in and offering electricity.)  Here we are camped out at his house.

We tried staying without power at John and Mickie's place in Fairbanks, but without a fireplace or electricity it was too cold.

Oh, did I mention that even in Fairbanks, they live without electricity or running water?  Mickie hasn't had either for the past 10 years, ever since moving to Alaska.  I don't know whether she's crazy or just very tough -- probably a little of both.
 

I had adjusted the heater ducts to heat the belly of the trailer to prevent the tanks from freezing but with the generator running the adjustments caused fumes from the generator to enter into the living area.  I could run the heater and the generator, but not at the same time. The night time temperatures were about -10F and using our catalytic heater all night requires some air flow, (like an open window,) to vent the carbon monoxide so we don't use it while we sleep.  The forced air furnace works fine but running continuously all night would drain the batteries and I wouldn't be able to start the generator in the morning.   It was typically in the mid-30's in the trailer when we woke up in the morning.  I would usually wake up about 5:30 to light the heater, start the generator, and plug in the block heater to the truck so it would start.

That's Alaska!!!
We really appreciated staying at Mac's.  We would have stayed at an RV park, but none were open.

People ask, "did you see any moose?"  We saw these two a couple of times.  I took this picture standing in Mac's driveway in the same place I stood to take the picture right above this one. 

So off we went to Manley with our trailer, but before leaving we drained the gray and black water holding tanks and got drinking water.  This took most of the day.  Lots of gas stations have dump stations, but guess what.  Instead of "Free sewer dump with gas fill up" the sign should say, "Free sewer dump -- if you can find it."
Each station would send us to another that they thought was working, but it wasn't.  On our fourth try we found one we could successfully dig, chip and melt clear of ice.  Now all we had to do was boil big pots of water and carry out several gallons of hot water from the service station to back-flush the ice from our trailer drain pipe.

"That's Alaska."  It's also a plus for retiring young.

By now we have completely given up on the concept of running water in the trailer.  We picked up two 5 gallon water jugs and got water at a natural spring near a little place named Fox, just north of Fairbanks.  The spring's pressure forces the water out the pipe and then it forms a large ice stalagmite.  There's a valve in the little shed to fill the jugs.  Every time we went for water there was a line to get what's locally known as "the purest water in the state".  I'm going to bring ten gallons back down to the Lower 48 with me.  Did I mention it makes most any scotch taste pretty darn good.
I'm glad we planned on leaving early for Manley.  After all of this, we finally left Fairbanks about 2:00 p.m. and had a 150 miles of bumpy, dusty road ahead.  It took us six hours to drive the 150 miles.
Just past Fox is a roadside stop where we could walk right up to the Alaska Pipeline.  Seventy miles north of here is where that guy shot a bullet through the pipeline a couple of months ago. 
On the way out to Manley we stopped by this ice flow for a picture and a chance for the boys to play on the ice.  The water in the hillside continues to flow and builds up on the existing ice, making it grow even thicker.  This ice flow would cover the road if it weren't for the road crews continuously chipping it back.

We occasionally found ice flows like this crossing the AlCan highway.  Up here, if a sign says "Bump", "Ice on Road" or "Falling Rocks" they mean it!

Here we are on our fifth day in Alaska parked next to the buffalo trailer and next to Pete's cabin in Manley. The birch trees behind us are beautiful.  An Alaskan tour book we have says that "if you make it all the way to Manley Hot Springs, you'll only meet real Alaskans here." 

We found it to be a great place to visit.  There's a cool Roadhouse with rooms and restaurant, an airstrip for bush planes and beautiful scenery.

John and the others had left that morning with bison number 11 and 12.  They returned just after dark.  Cheryl had dinner almost ready and after the guys went to the Roadhouse for a shower, we had a chance to talk and really get to know each other.

Here's Pete, in his cabin

Mark and his snow machine
Matt, John's son, to the left

Remember the replacement piston parts?  After dinner, about 10:30 p.m. all the guys hopped on snow machines and we went over to a friend's small shop to replace the burnt out piston on John's Polaris.  The shop is heated by hot spring water running through pipes in the concrete so it was nice and warm.  Mitch and Max got tired about 12:30 a.m. so we went back to our trailer about the time the engine was all torn down.  John and Mark finished the repairs about 2:00 a.m. and then went back to John's place to finish loading supplies on the freight sleds.  I hear they finally went to bed about 4:00 a.m.
 

CLICK HERE FOR PART II
 
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