Monday, August 15, 2016

Scenic Alaska by Bus...

Parks Highway...

The things we have seen thus far and just being in Alaska have been incredible! The Parks Highway crosses several ecosystems found in Alaska. Up north in the Interior, near Fairbanks, we saw large spruce and big rivers. Now we are in a high tundra area near Cantwell including the Denali highway. Next as we travel the Parks Highway south, we will see thick forests and birch trees in the Susitna River Valley. The state’s two largest cities, Anchorage and Fairbanks, are connected by the Parks Highway, with historic towns along the way.

Alaska Range and Talkeetna Mountains...

The Parks Highway as we go south travels between two mountain ranges. The Alaska Range, also seen in Denali National Park, continues along the highway to our right. With the rain coming down, which required using the wipers, and reflections through the bus windows I did not get any photos of the Talkeetna Mountains to our left.

Alaska Range to our right

Alaska Range to our right

Alaska Range to our right
Historic Towns on our way to Anchorage

While we were in Fairbanks, I remember commenting about the television program “Northern Exposure” and how I could see it being filmed here. It was then that I learned that Talkeetna was the inspiration for “Northern Exposure”. As we continued south on the Parks Highway, we passed by or through a number of small towns.

Trapper Creek was a mining town in the 1930’s. We stopped at a gift shop as we were passing.

Talkeetna celebrates its centennial in 2016. There is always something fun happening and beyond its laid-back personality, it sounds like there is old Alaska tradition and extraordinary things to do. Talkeetna is a railroad and river town located at Mile 14 of the Talkeetna Spur Road. It is best seen on a “walking tour”. The historical society has bolted information to the outside of historic buildings. You can read about who owned the buildings and how they were used to tell the story of Talkeetna in unique and personal ways. During parades, it is so small that floats march down the street; then they turn around and come back. So now when I think of Talkeetna, I also think of the TV program “Northern Exposure”. We did not stop here as it was off of the highway.

Then there are communities that grew up every ten miles or so… Wasilla (mile 42), Big Lake (mile 52), Houston (mile 57), Nancy Lake (mile 67), Willow (mile 70), Sheep Creek (mile 88), and Montana Creek (mile 97). These modern communities are about the same distance apart that an early miner during the Gold Rush could travel in a day. Thirty years ago the stretch of highway now known as Wasilla was only a blinking yellow light, but its appeal increased when the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was being constructed.

The town of Palmer is only about ten miles from Wasilla, but Palmer and Wasilla are both about 42 miles from Anchorage. Palmer is a farm town that was made famous when 203 families, mainly from the Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan) were sent north by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression of 1935 to start a farming colony. The Alaska State Fair is held in Palmer. People who live in Anchorage are fans of the produce from the Palmer farms. An “Alaska Grown” logo promotes local foods.

Welcome to Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city...

Anchorage is located on Turnagain Arm and surrounded by the Chugach Mountains.

Downtown Anchorage in the rain
We came in on 5th Avenue. Our tour guide was telling us about a variety of places to eat as we turned and went up 6th Avenue, and then turned and went down 4th Avenue, where the bus stopped to let us off to explore Anchorage and have lunch.

I wrote down some of the places he mentioned and any specific foods they served, but I know I did not get them all. He was trying to tell us about them as we drove by them so we could find our way back to them after we got off of the bus, in the rain.

Sacks Café had salmon.
Snow City Café had breakfast, chicken salad with tomato basil, and Kodiak eggs benedict, but many locals eat there, so it may be busy.
Tia’s with the yellow awning had Reindeer Dog (hot dog) and Reindeer Gyro and tea sauce.
Uncle Joe’s had fat ptarmigan wood-fired pizza.
Brown Bag had soup, salad, sandwiches, and chips.
The Salad Box was recommended by our bus driver, John.
Humpy’s had burgers, fish tacos, and reindeer chili.
The mall had a food court on the 3rd floor.
There was also a place that had peanut butter pie, which someone came back with as a carry-out.
There were other restaurants, but I think our guide wanted us to know about these places as well.

So where did we eat?

If it weren’t for the fact that anywhere we went, we had to walk in the rain, we might have picked something different. We thought we were going to the closest place, but when we figured out that the Brown Bag was four or five blocks away, much further than we initially thought, we stopped in at a shoppe to look at something that caught our eye.

Shoppe diagonally across street from Hard Rock Cafe
When I looked up and saw a Hard Rock Cafe diagonally across the street, I suggested we head there and get out of the rain. We were able to sit down and had a very delicious salad served to us. When we were done, we still had time to explore the shop across the street and more on our way back to the bus.

Midnight Baseball Game...

Mulcahy Stadium near downtown Anchorage is where the Alaska Baseball League has their fun summer series. After the late game ends at midnight, they have a big annual fireworks show.  Keep in mind that it is still daylight when they hold the midnight baseball game.  Imagine going to a baseball game while it is still light that ends at midnight!

Seward Highway...

Turnagain Arm, along the Seward Highway south of Anchorage, offers breathtaking views of mountains, wildlife, and the ocean. It is the recreation center of Anchorage where locals and visitors go to experience nature. Anchorage is only three hours away from Seward, a distance of 126 miles.

Seward Highway after leaving Anchorage

More rain as we continued on Seward Highway

Still traveling on Seward Highway

Rainy day on Seward Highway

Beautiful scenery while traveling Seward Highway

Beautiful mountains traveling Seward Highway
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Only 45 minutes south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway, we stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. It was still pouring down rain when we stopped here and after looking at the walking area in the next two photos, I thought it best to stay on the bus rather than walk around to view the animals in various fenced locations. If they had a shelter, most were in/under it, due to the rain, and not close to the walking area where they could easily be photographed.

Gift shop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
This non-profit wildlife refuge is dedicated to wildlife conservation and education. Some of the animals here are bears, moose, caribou, bison, musk ox and others. It is located on a scenic 200-acre preserve.

Building and fenced areas at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Kenai Peninsula

Fifty-two miles after we leave Anchorage we enter the Kenai Peninsula. We are now 70-some miles from Seward. We will be driving through Chugach National Forest. Two major highways cross the Kenai Peninsula. One is the Seward Highway we are on. The other is the Sterling Highway which branches off of the Seward Highway at Tern Lake Junction and goes west and then south to Homer. Homer is 136 miles from Tern Lake Junction.

Seward Highway

Seward Highway -- Kenai Peninsula

Seward Highway -- Kenai Peninsula

Beautiful snow-capped mountains on Seward Highway -- Kenai Peninsula

Founded in 1903, the city of Seward was named after William Seward, who purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for America. This is where we bid Bob, our bus driver, and Jared, our tour guide farewell. We’ve seen and experienced incredible things, and made fantastic memories on this leg of our journey!


We’re here! This is where we board our cruise ship. As we arrive via the Seward Highway, the Alaska railroad tracks are on our left. We cross over them to reach the dock for the cruise ship, proceed to gather our luggage, paperwork, and passports to go through the boarding process.

The next two photos are taken from our balcony deck after we board the ship. Behind me and my sister respectively is our view left to right as the ship continues to board passengers.

Me on our balcony on board ship with ship docks and mountains
in the background to our left.

My sister on our balcony on board ship with the beautiful mountains
in the background to our right.
We left the dock at 9 PM.

Thank you everyone for visiting and following my adventure. Feel free to make comments. As we embark on our cruise, we will see more beautiful Alaska scenery as we cruise, stop at ports where we will have more beautiful sights and shore excursions from which to choose, and more life experiences to share.

If you would like to be notified when a new post is published, put your email address in the box at the top right of this blog and be sure to go to your email to confirm your subscription. We respect your privacy and do nothing with your information.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Alaska's Denali National Park - Part 2 ...

This was a good time to check out our box of snacks. We may want to start munching as the afternoon wears on. I think there were about five or six packages of different types and flavors of crackers. One may have been a package of crunchy cookies.  It was nice to have a variety from which to choose so we could snack between photo opportunities. It definitely helped to tide us over until later.

There are also other animals in the park. The snowshoe hares are one of them, and their main predator is the lynx. The lynx is Alaska’s only native cat. We did not see either in the park, but this photo of a lynx was hanging on the wall near our room at Grizzly Bear Lodge in Fairbanks.

The lynx is Alaska's only native cat.
Because the bus system reduces traffic as well as disturbances along the roadside, you can better see what you come to see. Jason, our bus driver and tour guide, told us if we see an animal, we need to be quiet when he says and keep our arms and hands inside the windows of the bus.

A single animal, breathtakingly close, is priceless. 

The animals are used to the buses on the road and pay no attention to them nor do they pay any attention to softly clicking cameras inside the bus.

We saw a Grizzly Bear!  Oh what a joy!

The grizzly bears love to eat berries they find in the wild. In a single day, they can eat 200,000 berries.   

The Grizzly Bear in the Wild in a series of progressive photos that I took  – 

A grizzly bear walking along the side of our road!

The grizzly bear paid no attention to us as our bus got closer for us to get a photo.
 This was taken through the window of the bus looking over the side of the road.

The grizzly bear still paid no attention to us.

Even with the closeness of the green bus, he continued to ignore
us as he walked along the roadside.

Is that bear claws I see in this photo?

He was drenched from the rain, and appeared to be eating,
but had no interest in us or our bus.

Seeing and photographing a grizzly bear in the wild in Denali
makes this one of my prized photos!
We continued to mile 64, turned around and headed back to the Denali Visitor Center Complex. By this time the grizzly bear was walking along side of the road and again paid no attention to us. 

The grizzly bear continued his walk along the side of the road,
still paying no attention to us or our bus.
Our tour guide told us a portion of the road in Denali National Park is on the list of most dangerous roads in the world. I do not know if we traveled any part of it, or if there is a more dangerous section further into the park. 

On our return, we still had to negotiate all of the narrow roads, curves, etc., but this time we were on the outside of the curve.

As we returned to the Visitor Center Complex, we were on
the outside of the curves on the narrow part of the road.

Even though not many young moose survive their first year, Moose continue to come to Denali to give birth to their young in a large area in full view of their predators. Moose have been spotted with twins.

The bull moose in the next three photos was spotted as we got nearer to the end of our tour.

Bull moose is barely visible in the heavy bushes.

The bull moose is well camouflaged off to our right.

Bull moose is moving through the bushes that provide camouflage.
What an exciting day it was! It was after 8 PM by the time we got to our motel for the night. Our tour guide picked up the keys to our room and distributed them as we got off the bus. We were staying in two buildings of multi-cabin units. The atmosphere reminded me of a cedar cabin with a rear patio door that opened on to a deck with a view of pine trees and rippling water. 

View for the night off our back deck
There was a restaurant across the highway, but it was more of a walk than we wanted to tackle. Instead, we opted for our bag of goodies from the one-stop shopping at Fred Meyer. As it turned out, we shared our grub, which turned out to be quite a feast of bite-sized broccoli pieces, celery sticks, oranges, and nutritious energy bars in a variety of flavors. The next morning we had our bags out by 5:30 AM. At 5:45 AM our bus picked up anyone, including us, who wanted to have breakfast at the restaurant across the highway. We opted for their breakfast bar, which was very good, and allowed us plenty of time until departure time. 

My Photos From Denali taken in the rain...

My photos from Denali are not as good as I had hoped they would be, but I did the best I could, and that has to be good enough. It was my choice to take photos in the rain and be happy with them instead of foregoing any photos during the short, precious moments we had to spend in Denali. I could go on and on, but let me just say that experiencing Denali, even in the rain, is something that many people do not have the opportunity to do in a lifetime.  

What I have Learned about Denali

The story of Denali cannot fully be told here, nor can I begin to do it justice. However, I would like to share some things that I have learned which may give further insight into this National Park and Preserve.

First of all, did you know there are only eight different types of trees in Denali? They include white spruce, black spruce, quaking aspen, balsam poplar, paper birch, Alaska birch, larch (or tamarack) and black cottonwood. It can take 100 years for a black spruce to reach six feet tall. Even for trees, this can be a challenging place to survive. They may get as much as 70 inches of snow, but precipitation-wise, it amounts to less than 12 inches total for the year.

There was no question that this crown jewel was the tallest peak in North America. As early as 1794, it had been referred to as the “stupendous snow mountains”. In 1834, Andrei Glazunov called the peak “Tenada”, which is Athabaskan, meaning “the great mountain”. This name actually appears on a map of the area from 1839. And there were other names, translating to “Big One” or similar.

A Yale man, Charles Sheldon, who preferred to be in the wilderness, decided to dedicate himself to the conservation cause of President Theodore Roosevelt. In January, 1908, after journeying to Alaska, he stood on a rise, looked through his field glasses and saw the America that used to be. Could this vision be a national park, the Yellowstone of Alaska? What he saw was like an ocean of land. It appeared storm-tossed by mountains and glaciers. Yet with waves of rolling tundra, it was vast, intact, winter-white, holding its breath, a landscape like no other. He knew it was inevitable that hunters would come aiming to kill the magnificent wild game that graced the land. After spending ten months in the region, he headed east to make his dream come true.

President Woodrow Wilson signed Mount McKinley National Park into law in February 1917. This was a park to protect wild animals by protecting the place where they lived. The story does not end here.

From 1939-1941, a wildlife biologist who had studied coyotes in Yellowstone came to Mount McKinley National Park. Adolph Murie, with his family, lived in the heart of the park. With the aid of his field glasses, he could watch wolf pups play by their den and he also studied Dall sheep and caribou. Nature was becoming a community that people belonged to, and Murie and others wanted to protect the integrity of its ecology. The park was big, but it wasn’t big enough.

It took 40 years for Mount McKinley National Park to enlarge from two million acres to six million acres  and become Denali National Park and Preserve. In December, 1980, Jimmy Carter, with only weeks left in his presidency, signed into law legislation that established over 100 million acres of new national parks, preserves, and wildlife refuges in Alaska.

Controversy over the name started before the park was established. Alaskans wanted it to be Mt. Denali National Park to preserve the old Indian name, meaning ‘the Great One’.  When “Mount McKinley” was officially decided as the name of the peak and the national park, that did not stop the name debate.  

The name “Densmore Mountain” or “Densmore Peak” was used by prospectors along the Yukon River, after a gold prospector named Frank Densmore had talked about this tremendous mountain a couple of decades after the US purchased Alaska from Russia when he explored Interior Alaska.  “Mount McKinley” surfaced after a gold prospector named William Dickey used the name in an article in the New York Sun in 1897. Dickey was an admirer of President-elect McKinley, but the new president had no connection to Alaska. After president McKinley’s assassination in 1901, the name Mount McKinley became popular.

The State of Alaska petitioned the U.S. Board of Geographic Names (USBGN) in 1975 to change the name to Denali; their efforts were blocked for the next four decades by an Ohio congressional delegation (who represented former President McKinley’s home state). Alaskan politicians continued to lead name-change efforts that continued to be prevented by Congress. A 1947 law that empowers the Secretary of the Interior to use authority when the USBGN does not act within a reasonable time was cited by Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell; In 2015, President Barack Obama and Sally Jewell took action to restore the name “Denali” to the mountain.

Interesting Tidbits about the National Park Service as it relates to Denali…

In 1872, Ulysses S. Grant created the first national park, Yellowstone.
In 1916, the National Park Service was established to take charge of historical and natural sites including national parks and monuments.
In 1917 Mount McKinley National Park was the first national park founded following the creation of this new agency.
In December, 1980, Mount McKinley National Park became Denali National Park and Preserve and was enlarged from two million acres to six million, but the name of the mountain did not change.
In 2016, the name of the highest peak in North America changed from “Mount McKinley” to “Denali” on the eve of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. 
Next year, 2017, a hundred years after becoming a national park, Denali National Park and Preserve will celebrate it 100th anniversary.

Denali Adventures

Our day in Denali was definitely an adventure that we will relive over and over. The Tundra Wilderness Narrated Tour was a great choice! In addition to tour buses, however, there are many other ways to enjoy Denali. One-of-a-kind adventures are whitewater adventures, trail rides, flightseeing from fixed wing airplanes and helicopters,and ziplines, Of course, it goes without saying that there is camping, fishing, etc. and seasonal activities like hiking and picking berries. 

Thank you everyone for visiting and following my adventure. Feel free to make comments. In the next post, we will travel more beautiful country along the Parks Highway and make a stop in Anchorage, visit a wildlife conservation center for animals, and we might even get on board the cruise ship in Seward. If you would like to be notified when a new post is published, put your email address in the box at the top right of this blog and be sure to go to your email to confirm your subscription. We respect your privacy and do nothing with your information. 

We also appreciate your clicking on any of our links. Any purchase you make when you use our links may generate a small percentage of income from that vendor, but it will not increase any cost to you. This is true no matter how many pages you visit or which item(s) you purchase on a site after initially entering the site from my blog.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Alaska's Denali National Park - Part 1 ...

It was a short drive from the train station to the Denali Visitor Center Campus at mile 1.5. Everything there was within walking distance. When we got off our bus, we took our purchases from the Fred Meyer Store in Fairbanks with us. We were not sure when we would get to our lodging for the night, but we should be in good shape.

It was near 11:30, so we headed for the building with the Morino Grill. It was a much smaller version of a food court you would find in a mall. The difference was we paid for everything at once in a cashier line after we made our choices. Then we got our cutlery and condiments and selected a vacant table where we enjoyed lunch.

It was a short walk to the National Park Service, where we picked up a free map for Denali National Park and Preserve. On the lower right corner of the map, there were two stamps. One said Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska and had a date of June 5, 2016, the date we were there. The other stamp said Denali NP & Pres NPS Centennial 1916-2016 for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Outside we viewed the Resting Grizzly plaque from the Berry Family, and the Resting Grizzly. From there it was an easy walk to the area where we would board our bus.

The Resting Grizzly 

Berry Family Gift
Denali National Park was a dream come true.  It was the reason we were signed up for the land portion tour prior to our cruise. Having the opportunity to be in a place where we could see wild animals roaming freely in the wilderness like no other place on earth was phenomenal.

We boarded a tan Bluebird bus for our Tundra Wilderness Tour, a narrated seven to eight hour tour, that offered opportunities to view the park’s wildlife and scenery. It included a box of snacks and water. Prior to June 1, 2016, this tour traveled 53 miles into the park to the Toklat River Contact Station. Since June 1, 2016, it travels to mile 64. The only exception to this distance is if the mountain is visible. Unfortunately, the mountain was not visible due to the rain that started after we ate lunch.

The beauty found in Denali is many things. It is not only the tallest mountain in North America. It is a  preserve where visitors can view nature…wildlife, plants, flowers, whatever it has to offer… in its natural habitat, without fear of being disturbed. It is also a place where wildlife can live in harmony without fear of being hunted, with the exception of their natural predators, where nature keeps the balance.

The Wilderness of Denali can be described as a weave – an intact living tapestry.

“An ecosystem is a tapestry of species and relationships. Chop away a section, isolate that section, and there arises the problem of unraveling.” – David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo.

There is only one road in Denali National Park. It is 91 miles, between McKinley Park Station and Kantishna, a mining camp from 1923 to 1938, and is the longest trail in the park. There are a variety of ways to experience Denali National Park, but private vehicles are restricted at Mile 15 at Savage River. Only tour buses are allowed beyond Mile 15. The road is paved to Savage River where we checked in at the ranger station, so they had a record of who was in the park

Remember you can click on any picture to enlarge it and simply click the x to close out of it..

Checking in with the ranger at Savage River Check Station, milepost 14.7 
It was definitely raining as we continued past mile 15 where the pavement ended and mountains came into view. A heavy equipment crew parked their equipment on the other side of the bridge after getting rained out for the day. You can still see rain on the windshield as the mountain with patches of snow appears.

Rain continued as the pavement ended. 

Mountains came into view.

Heavy equipment crew was done for the day.

Rain is still hitting the windshield when this mountain with patches of snow appears.
Green shuttle buses also travel the park road farther into the park. They provide no narrated tour, nor snacks or beverages.  Farther along I spotted a scenic stream from the window of our bus.

A green shuttle bus was headed back to the visitor center complex. 

Scenic stream from the window of our bus 
The next two photos taken through the windshield clearly show that we have reached an elevation where patches of snow are visible. The road also shows signs of getting narrower. We get a better view of the snow as we negotiate more curves on this narrow road.

View through front windshield of our bus with patch of snow to our left. 

Another view through front windshield with patch of snow straight ahead as our road narrows. 

Better view of snow as we negotiate more curves. 
It appears the mountains in the distance are somewhat hazy, but hard to tell since the rain has not let up. Even the mountain with patches of snow is barely visible in front of us as our narrow road curves. Notice the mountains in the background where we prepare to meet a green bus on a narrow curve.

Mountains in the distance appear somewhat hazy as it continues to rain. 

A mountain with patches of snow is barely visible in front of us. 

We prepare to meet a green bus coming around an outside curve
on the narrow road with mountains visible in the background. 
The next four photos are a progression of photos I took out the front of the bus window as we prepare to wind around more curves on this narrow stretch of road.  The second photo has a waterfall at the far left.

A dangerous curve ahead

See the waterfall clear to the left in this photo.

Another dangerous curve with low visibility straight ahead
 This is the area where the Dall sheep can normally be found.  The three white dots barely show up against the green grass in my photo. My camera was not powerful enough to get any closer. The video of the sheep taken by our driver projected on the onboard screens brings them closer.

My camera was not powerful enough to bring the three Dall sheep any closer. 

This is a photo of the monitor screen and the video taken of the sheep by the driver. 
The green bus in this photo helps to give perspective to the size of the mountainside as well as the road.

The size of the mountain and road gain new perspective compared to the green Bluebird bus. 
I almost did not share this photo. Look at it closely to see the snow-covered mountain peak beyond the greenery of the trees. I put my camera setting at full zoom as far as it would go and took this out the side window of the bus because I wanted to see if anything would show up.

Full zoom photo taken through the side window of the bus reveals a
snow-covered mountain peak beyond the greenery of the trees. 
Although we watched for animals throughout our entire tour, it appears that certain groups of animals prefer specific habitat and can usually be found in that general area.

Two caribou – Just slightly lower than center, one is to the left and one is to the right about half way to the edge of the photo.  This is the best I could do with my camera at maximum zoom.

Two caribou, barely identifiable, with my camera set at maximum zoom 
Large animals, caribou, bear, wolf, Dall sheep, and moose, may still be seen in the wild in the vastness of this park. Think about it – In A Naturalist in Alaska, Adolph Murie says, “One need not see a wolf to benefit from his presence; it is enough to know that there is the possibility of discovering one on some distant ridge. It is enough to know that the wolf still makes his home in this beautiful wilderness region to which he contributes vividness, color and adventure. . . an emblem of unspoiled country.” And, by the way, we did not see a wolf. We did, however, see a Willow Ptarmigan (tar-me-gan), the Alaska State Bird.

This is the end of Part 1 of Denali National Park. Thank you everyone for visiting and following my adventure. Feel free to make comments. In the next post, we will continue with Part 2 of Denali National Park and more animal sightings. If you would like to be notified when a new post is published, put your email address in the box at the top right of this blog and be sure to go to your email to confirm your subscription. We respect your privacy and do nothing with your information.

We also appreciate your clicking on any of our links. Any purchase you make when you use our links may generate a small percentage of income from that vendor, but it will not increase any cost to you. This is true no matter how many pages you visit or which item(s) you purchase on a site after initially entering the site from my blog.