Alaska does not hand over her parks easily; you have to earn them. Getting to Kobuk Valley was a struggle. We stewed and stewed as to how we were going to get into the park. Kobuk Valley is just so far away from everything, that chartering a flight is very expensive. If you want to spend more than 15 minutes on the ground, you will have to pay for a drop-off and pick up, which essentially doubles your flying time (some of the charters we got quoted for were over 3000 dollars! WAY out of our price range).
We finally put together a plan that was still on the expensive end of our budget, but we figured we would get more of an experience. I feel like we talked to most of Northern Alaska’s bush pilots in the process. We called a confusing web of referrals and landed up talking to Dave. Dave is definitely the cheapest way to get to Ambler, AK. The low price may be due to the fact that he likes to fire up his pipe and get nice and loose before take off. Or maybe it is due to his relaxed demeanor and inaccessibility. Whatever the cause, I love the smell of pipe smoke and I love cheap air fare – so this was perfect.
Right before take off, people came out of the woodworks to give Dave a few more things for their family or friends in Ambler.
Dave is such a bush pilot boss, that he does crosswords at 3000 ft. No big deal.
I told Dave that if he was tired, just let me know – I could take over whenever. He laughed and just kept doing his crossword. I am sure he could have taken a nap and still got us there; I’m confident he could literally fly us there in his sleep.
Once we landed in Ambler, we were met by the owners of The Kobuk River Lodge. We jumped in the back of the mini truck and rode to a “good spot to camp”. The lodge will take you down the Kobuk river to the actual national park and show you the way into the famous sand dunes. Normally, when people go on this tour, they will stay in the lodge as well. When we told the owner of the lodge that we were looking for the cheapest way to get into the park, and asked if we could camp, he was agreeable and cut the price for us.
We got dropped off on the river and were told that anything above the high-water mark of the river is “native land”. That meant that we had one place we could camp – the gravel bar island in the middle of the river!
We pushed a little boat across the river and found a neat spot to pitch our tent.
We hung out on the river bank for two days. We didn’t explore all that much, but we did listen to a good audiobook – Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol! We were pretty lazy. We hung out by the edge of the river, swam a little when it got hot, and then just listened to our audio book together. It was fun! We didn’t feel pressured to get out and hike or move around. It was nice to just relax.
After our alone time out on the river, we jumped on a boat to headed to the dunes!
The river was stunning. The air was cold and fresh. The boat ride was almost two hours long – about 60 miles down river!
After locating the correct bend in the river, we got out and started bushwhacking our way to the dunes. It was just over two miles into the dunes. This doesn’t sound like it was that far, but when you are literally pushing your way through scraggly bushes and up past your socks in marsh water, two miles is a long way. Trust me. (watch the youtube video at the end of the post to get a real taste of what it is like)
After the strenuous route, we finally came to a wall of sand. The end of the dunes was about twenty feet high. Once we got to the top, we could see the sand stretch out for miles.
This is proof that I’m actually a sweaty-backed werewolf! Or maybe we just found a few sets of wolf tracks? You’ll never know.
We had to improvise with our sign photo again – thanks Jen Groves for throwing this one together for us too!
You may see this photo and think, “what a beautiful stroll in the Alaska high country with bear tracks and everything!” You would be half right. The day couldn’t have been more beautiful, but it was a far cry from a stroll! The hike was tough! In fact, one of the teachers in Ambler who decided to tag along last minute, was throwing up because of the physical strain! It was rough.
I think the only reason that I made it through the hike was because of the mass amounts of blueberries! They were EVERYWHERE. I would stop about every 10 yards and shove a handful in my mouth. All-natural-super-fresh-super-food support brought to us by Alaska!
On our flight home, Dave brought his puppy, Flaps, along for the ride. You can tell that this dog has spent a lot of time in the air!
The meanders of the river were so fun to follow from the air. The oxbow lakes that have been cut off from the flow were all over the landscape. We enjoyed the bird’s eye view and the perspective that it brought.
We loved the adventure that Kobuk Valley threw at us. The park was so cool. We didn’t have the best experience with the Kobuk River Lodge, and would probably go about getting into the park a different way if we were to do it again. (If you are interested in the dirty details of what happened, you can read the TripAdvisor review I wrote here)
When all was said and done, we cherished the journey and we had a blast when we got there. And that is the recipe for a successful outing! Sure, things can be difficult to figure out; there will be problems along the way. But, when you can look back on the couple of days and say, “yeah, that was awesome,” then that is all you can ask for.