Monday, July 30, 2007

Homeward bound!
Day 15 June 30

After a sleepless night, caused by rowdy drunk neighbors in the campground, we got the motorhome turned in at the appointed time. Since we had several hours until our flight left, we walked several blocks to get lunch, and to a quilt shop that was on Old Seward Hwy. We had a nice visit with the owner, and then walked back to the rental place, to catch their shuttle to the airport. Our flight left Anchorage at 5pm, and we got into Orlando at 7am July 1. It was uneventful except for one lost piece of luggage, containing ALL our dirty clothes. That's ok, I can do laundry another day. There were many people in the lost luggage line. Apparently Alaska Air doesn't have such a good reputation with luggage. Our connection time in Seattle was very short, and I think that's what caused the problem. It did show up the next day, thank goodness.

We just scratched the surface of what Alaska has to offer, and I'm sure we will go back. It was a wonderful trip, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

Mantanuksa Glacier

Day 14 June 29 Our last full day in Alaska! This is one of the few glaciers you can walk on without a lot of equipment and experience. We drove most of the way to it (after paying our fee), and then had to travel through the mud to actually get on the ice. We saw a group that had special shoes for ice climbing, and I wish we had had some of those. The ice was slippery, as all ice is. Parts of the ice was actually clear enough that you could look through it, and see the water flowing underneath.

Later in the day, we drove back to Anchorage and visited the Alaska Native Heritage center. This museum covers all 5 native tribes in Alaska, and was very interesting. We didn't get to spend as much time there as we would have liked. They had a demonstration of the Eskimo olyimpics, replicas of different types of native homes, native art, tools and many other interesting items. Almost everyone on staff had at least some native heritage and it was noted on their nametags.

We found a city owned campground for our last night, and spent the evening packing and getting ready to go home the next day.

Denali Highway/Glenallen

Day 13 June 28

This morning we finished traveling the Denali Hwy. That took way longer than we expected! We ended up near the Wragnell National Park. Most of this park is wilderness, and there aren't many roads. If we had been in a car or truck, rather than a motorhome, we might have gone on one of the roads within the park, but we didn't feel comfortable trying it in a rented motorhome. Oh well, next trip! We did go in the brand new visitor center. We also saw the Alaska pipeline, which goes from Prudoe Bay, south to Valdez.

Later we found out the salmon were running in a nearby stream, so we stopped and Steve caught a nice sockeye for dinner. We ended up getting 2 meals out of it. That fish was so good! Nothing at all like what you buy in the store.
Day 12 June 27
The sun was shining! Although there were still some clouds, you can see that there was blue sky too. We had planned to leave Denali NP today, but we decided to phone one of the flight companies to see if we could get on a flight to see Mt McKinley. We called Denali Air,and they had 2 seats available at noon, so we signed up. The plane was an 8 passenger, and Steve got to sit in the co-pilot's seat, so he had a great view. Best of all, the mountain was out! We flew over the glacier that the climbers camp on, and could see their camps, and a few of the climbers. It was an awesome experience, and worth every penny!

After our flight, we took off across the Denali Hwy, which is a 134 mile, mostly unpaved road. We saw a moose right away, which turned out to be the only moose we saw on the whole trip. The scenery is beautiful, and the road is not heavily traveled, which made it nice for sightseeing. Just us and the mosquitoes..........they were thick!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Denali Park/Wonder Lake

Day 11 June 26

Today we had planned to take the bus 85 miles into Denali NP to Wonder Lake. You can only drive about 15 miles into the park, and to go any further, you must take a bus. They leave at various times of the day, and you can get on and off whenever you like. You have to take any food, water, warm clothing, etc with you as there is no place to buy anything once you get on the bus.

We woke up at 5am to catch our 6am bus, and it was raining and cold. We dressed warmly, and made it to our bus stop. It cleared gradually during the day. We decided to stay on the bus until we got to Wonder lake, then do any hiking on the way back. We saw Dall Sheep, carbiou, and someone said they saw a bear from the bus. I never did see the bear. When we got to Wonder lake, the driver warned us about the mosquitoes, saying "This is where we breed them". He was right! Up to this point, we had very few problems with mosquitoes. These bugs were huge, and ferocious! There is a campground (with real bathrooms!) at Wonder lake, set up for backpackers, but I don't know how anyone enjoyed camping there with all those mosquitoes.

On the way back, we stopped and hiked in the tundra for a while. Denali is unusual in that there are very few marked trails. You simply walk wherever you want. We are used to hiking in the Smoky Mountains, where they are very strict about staying on the trails, so this was hard for us to get used to. The tundra wildflowers were blooming. Tundra plants are very tiny. Most are 6-12 inches tall, and some are many years old. The growing season is so short, and winters so harsh, that that's all most plants can manage. Once I got used to the idea of not having to stay on a trail, it was actually kind of fun.
As we were walking around, I kept watching 3 brownish "things" in the distance. There were far enough away, that I thought they might be carbiou at first. Then we realized they were a mama grizzly bear, and 2 rather large cubs! We were still pretty far away,(no way could I get a picture) so I wasn't worried about our safety. We watched them for quite a while, then walked down to the road and caught the next bus back toward the campground.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Denali National Park

Day 10 June 25
We arrived at Denali National Park mid-morning. We toured the visitor center, checked into our campground, and made sure our tickets for the bus trip tomorrow were correct. We were really, really hoping to get a good view of Mt McKinely, but we were told that only 30% of visitors do. Today, we are definately not in that 30%.

On the way to the park, we stopped to get gas and groceries. There isn't a "real" grocery store until you go to Anchorage or Fairbanks, but there are small markets. Fresh food is VERY hard to come by. I ended up paying $.75 for ONE apple! There were no fresh vegetables at all. Fortunately I had purchased enough frozen items in Anchorage that we were ok, but I guess the people that live there really have to plan ahead. We are so spoiled here in that respect, both with the availability of fresh items, and with many stores.

Later in the day, we visited the sled dog kennels in the park. These are working dogs in the winter, and are used for patrols within the park. They are much more reliable than snowmobiles! I was really hoping to see some puppies, but there weren't any at the moment. These dogs love to run and pull the sled. I really don't think they consider it work at all.

Talkeentna Lodge

Day 9 June 24
Today we went up to the Talkeetna Alaska Lodge. This is a beautiful resort, lovely grounds, great resturant, killer view. One of the managers is from our town, and used to babysit both our kids. We were able to have lunch with her,and tour the lodge. She was one of the best babysitters we ever had, and it was great to see her again! We also saw another friend, Duane. All through our trip, we were amazed at how many people from Florida, ended up in Alaska.
This is the view from the deck at the lodge. You can see Denali from here, when the clouds aren't in the way. It's beautiful even with the clouds.
As the day went on, it cleared up some.
We drove up the Parks Hwy towards Denali NP, and stopped at Mary Carey's lodge. She was one of the original homesteaders to Alaska, and ended up with some land about 100 miles from the national park, with a wonderful view. She opened a lodge and cafe, which her family still operates today. She wrote many books about her experiences, some of which I had already read. I bought her latest one, My Three Lives, which is supposed to be made into a movie.

Great minds think alike!

Steve's brother, Gerry and his wife Debbie visited Alaska 2 years ago, and saw many of the same sites we did. After I put up the picture of Steve with the old truck, Debbie sent me a picture of Gerry, next to the same truck, 2 years earlier. Love of old vehicles runs deep in this family, that's for sure!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Talkeetna and Hatcher Pass Road

Day 8 June 23

Still rainy, and there were some wildfires in the area, so we had smoke added to the mix. Not much visibility at all.We did some badly needed laundry, then drove to Talkeetna. This is the staging area for all the climbers that try to climb Mt McKinley. They are flown from here, to a glacier where the base camp is. I can't imagine camping on a glacier, but apparently it is necessary to climb the peak. It takes about 3 weeks from the time they are dropped off at the glacier, to get to the summit, and only about 1/2 of those who try it are successful. There are also flightseeing tours available, and if the weather had been better, we would have taken one. Talkeetna is a cute, old Alaska town, and there is lots of history there. In front of almost every shop, there was a moose of some kind,decorated to reflect the shop. There was a Hershey Kiss moose (in front of a candy shop), a "red Hat" moose, a MickeyMoose, and many others. Eventually they would all be auctioned off for charity. This one was the Wildflower moose, in front of the Wildflower Cafe, where we ate lunch. We did some shopping, ate lunch ( wonderful seafood chowder!), then decided to drive back down towards Hatcher Pass Road.

This road is a very curvy, gravel road, and we
got a lot of conflicting advice about whether
we should travel it in the RV. Finally we talked to a few locals that said it had just been graded and was fine so we decided to go for it. We came across a place called the "Albino Hare" and we stopped. It turned out to be gardens,and a small art shop. The owner was very friendly, and showed us all her plants. This is the blue Poppy she was very proud of.

There are lots of beaver ponds, and we stopped and watched them for a while. We did see the beavers, but the minute I opened my camera to take a picture, it heard the click, slapped it's tail on the water and was gone! At the summit, there was a beautiful lake, which still had ice on it.

We drove the entire road, and ended up staying at the same campground we stayed at 2 nights ago.

This is the creek that ran by our campsite.

Independence Mine

Day 7 June 22

We woke up to cold, wind and rain. We drove up Hatcher Pass Road to an old gold mine, now a state historical site. It was one of the most productive mines in Alaska and operated until the 1950's. We walked around among the buildings a bit, then went back to the motorhome and put on warmer clothes. I ended up putting on long underwear (in June!), and we left to explore again. We were much more comfortable in our warmer clothes, and walked around for quite a while. The scenery there is magnificent, too bad we couldn't see any for the rain!

Later we drove down to Palmer, and I visited 2 quilt shops. We wandered around and found an outdoor craft fair. Bought some homemade chocolate truffles.

We camped at Montana Creek Campground, off the Parks Hwy. The King salmon fishing was open in this particular creek at 12:01 Saturday am. By 8pm, there were many fishermen gathered at the riverbank, waiting for the countdown. Steve said it was like New Year's Eve. He kept trying to convince them since we were on FL time, 4 hrs ahead, that it was really midnight his time, and he should be able to fish right then. He ended up getting up at 4am, and tried his luck. No one was catching anything.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Heading north

Day 6 June 21

We drove back north to Anchorage, and got the RV restocked with clean linens and groceries. We decided to go to Ship Creek, on the north side of Anchorage, where we heard the King salmon were running, so Steve could try his luck. He did see one person catch a fish, but today was not his day. We drove north on the Glenn Hwy to Palmer and toured the Musk Ox farm. These animals haven't changed much since prehistoric times. They aren't really domesticated, but they stay in a fence,and most of them allow the handlers to comb their underfur when they start to shed it naturally. This underfur is incredibly soft, and after processing is sent to several native tribes, where is it knit into blankets, hats, and headbands. It's a way for the native people to earn some money, without having to leave their villages and traditional lifestyle. Later we drove partway up Hatcher Pass Road, and stayed at Gold Mint Mine Campground.

Northwestern Fjords Tour

Day 5 June 20
We were disappointed to wake up to fog, because today was the boat tour to Northwestern Glacier. Luckily, by the time we got out of Resurrection Bay, the fog lifted and it turned out to be a pretty day. We saw a lot of marine wildlife, including seals, sea lions (in the picture above), and sea otters, but the most exciting was a group of 6 humpback whales! The captain turned off the engines, and some of the whales swam right up to the boat.

As we got close enough to the glacier, you could hear the glacier "calving", when pieces of ice break off and become icebergs. It sounds just like thunder. You can't see them in the picture, but seals were laying on the ice, sunning themselves.
The captain took us into many coves, and we saw a lot of birds, waterfalls, and just beautiful scenery.
As we went back towards Seward, the fog rolled in again. I'm so glad it lifted enough for us to be able to see what we did.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


Day 4 June 19

We walked along the shore of Lake Kenai, where they have a "lifetime supply of skipping stones", according to Steve. It was a beautiful clear day, and we finally got a good look at the mountains surrounding us.

Exit Glacier. You used to be able to get close enough to actually touch this glacier, but it has receeded and that's no longer possible with wading through some pretty deep mud. We were probably 100 ft away in this picture.

Along the road to the glacier, there are signs with dates on them, indicating where where the glacier was in certain years. It's amazing to realize that the same ice that cools our drinks, carved this valley.

In Seward, we stayed at the Waterfront park, which is city owned, and right along the water. We could walk everywhere, leaving the RV parked. We got a good spot, in the first row, so we had an unobstructed view of the water and all the harbor activity. We saw sea otter, seals, eagles, and all kinds of boats. This was the view from our RV.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Trout fishing

Day 3 June 18

Celebrating 30 years of marriage today!

We continued driving south on the Seward Hwy, then took the Sterling Hwy to Cooper's Landing. For those of you who don't know about Alaska roads, well....there aren't many. I think there are only 8 major roads in the whole state, and considering Alaska is the biggest state in the US, that's not many. You can take the Seward Hwy, which goes to Seward, or the Parks Hwy, which goes to Denali, and so on. It really makes it quite easy to find your way around, once you get used to it.

Once in Cooper Landing, we made arrangement to go trout fishing with a guide later in the day. We went to Gwin's Roadhouse,and tried reindeer sausage. It was good and reminded me of kielbasa. The roadhouse is one of the original places that served the earliest white settlers.

We drove down to the Russian river, knowing it was the first day for Salmon fishing there. What a madhouse!! There was a 2 hr wait just to get in the campground, never mind getting a camping spot. People were fishing elbow to elbow. I know now why they call it "combat fishing" We just drove around and looked, and didn't even try to fish.

Later we met our guide and began our fishing trip. We fished on the Upper Kenai River, which doesn't allow motorized boats at all. We were on a rubber float type boat, and the guide steered with oars. He got a good workout! We fished for trout. Steve caught 3 and I caught 1. They were all over 18", so they had to go back in the water, so no trout for dinner. We saw bald eagles and several other birds.

We stayed at Trail River Campground on the Kenai Lake. It was a brand new section of the campground, and we were the only ones in it.

Crow Creek Mine

Day 2 June 17

When we woke up, we discovered the mine was having a gold panner's festival, so there was lots going on. Crow Creek was once an active mine, and quite a bit of gold was taken from there. Gold mining claims are still allowed in Alaska, and some areas are open to receational mining. We talked to a man from the Alaska Division of Mines,and were amazed at the lack of regulations there, compared to Florida.

I think Steve would have brought this truck home if he could have figured out how.

Later we went up to Alyeska Resort and looked around. It is a ski resort in the winter, so we took the tram to the top. It was a cloudy day, and we really didn't see much. We did watch some paragliders flying around.

We drove out to Portage Glacier, and went into the visitor center there. I was amazed to see the chunks of ice floating in the lake. I knew that's how icebergs are formed, but until you see it, something like that is hard to comprehend.
We spent the night at a USFS campground near Summit Lake.

Traveling tales

I started this blog to easily share our pictures and stories of our recent trip to Alaska. This was a destination that both Steve and I had always wanted to see.

Day 1 June 16

We were up at 4:30am ET to catch our plane. My mom arrived at 5:15 to take us to the airport. Once we got through security, we stopped to get some breakfast. Steve turned around and saw Nancy, one of the teachers I sub for. She and two other church members were leaving to go on a church mission trip. We sat and chatted until it was time to go to our plane. We took off from Orlando at 8:30, changed planes in Seattle (had to walk very briskly to make the connection), and landed in Anchorage, Alaska at 2:45pm Alaska time. There is a 4 hr time difference, so it was really almost 7 as far as we were concerned,and we had very little lunch. We got our luggage, and the RV rental place picked us up and took us to their place. After watching a very intimidating film about how to drive an RV, and signing a ton of papers, we were off. We went to Wal-Mart to buy fishing supplies and various items, then to the grocery store to stock up with necessities. Then we grabbed a bite to eat at a resturant near the grocery store. As we were driving south on the Seward Hwy, out of Anchorage towards Cook Inlet, I looked at the mountains and that's when it hit me. We really were in Alaska! I had wanted to go there since I was a teenager, and finally it happened.

Our 25' Winnebago motorhome. It had all the comforts of home and we throughly enjoyed traveling in it.

I had chosen a couple of possible campgrounds near Anchorage before we left home,not knowing how far we would want to drive that first night. We drove right by the first one (they aren't real big on signs up there!). We ended up driving 3 miles down a bumpy gravel road to Crow Creek Mine. The RV was not packed real well at this point, and we sounded like the Clampetts from Beverly Hillbillies going down the road. One of the cupboards came open and some pans went everywhere! By the time we got parked, unpacked, figured out where to store our suitcases, and generally got our act together, it was 11:30 AT, which made it 3:30 am our time. We had been up for 23 hrs! No wonder neither of us could think straight! It was still bright daylight outside, and we had trouble falling asleep even though we were so tired.