Alaska   June 26-July 9, 2013  


Mount McKinley, seen by only about 20-30 per cent of visitors to the area due to cloud cover.


Our flight left MSP at 6 pm. on June 26.  We arrived in Anchorage at 8pm after a smooth 5 hour flight.  There is a three hour time difference, of course, and being so far north, we never really did have any total darkness during our stay there.

On Thursday, June 27 we woke up at 4 am.  At 6 A.M.  we headed toward Fairbanks seeing our first moose along the way.  We stopped a couple times as we passed Mt. McKinley and saw some great views. The mountain peaked through the clouds like a specter.  You weren't really sure it was there at times or whether you were seeing a cloud, but every once in a while it came clearer, and we could see the massive peaks. 

The trip took longer than we thought it would since we went through two long road construction sections and had follow a pilot car for 27 miles due to wildfires just past Nenana.  The fire was very near the road and there was one spot with flame and there were quite a few burned trees that were smoking.

 It gets the adrenalin flowing a bit to know you are right next to a forest fire!  







On Friday, June 28 we headed off early to see the view from the University of Alaska campus. 

At 9:00 we went to the Museum of the North.  It was a great museum with a movie about the Aurora Borealis, and exhibits on geology, nature, and history with some great exhibits. 

After lunch we headed out to the university’s Large Animal Rescue Center to see musk ox, caribou, and reindeer.  It was very interesting.  They had a specialist there talking about the animals, and what they are trying to accomplish.

After a rest we hiked 1 ½ miles in the Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge which was just behind our motel.  We saw several dozen Sandhill cranes in the fields and lots of wild iris. 

On Saturday, June 29 we woke to a lot of smoke from the wild fires, so much so that a view at any distance was just a haze. 

Later that morning, we boarded the Discovery III paddleboat for a cruise down the river.  The boat had 4 decks. 

A pontoon “bush” plane took off and landed near the boat.  We stopped at a sled dog training facility that had puppies and a team pulling an ATV.   

We then stopped at a reconstructed native/Eskimo village with homes, salmon drying, reindeer, and handmade clothes.  The interpreter was very good.  She modeled a beautiful fur parka worth $15,000.00.


Because we were so close, we figured we needed to see the Alaska Pipeline just NE of town.  The pipeline was much bigger around than we thought.  Since the oil is 180 degrees the pipeline has to be above ground where there is permafrost.

There was less smoke in the air on Sunday, June 30.  We went to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center downtown.  There were great exhibits and videos that were triggered by motion.  We walked along the Riverwalk under an antler arch.  We saw a statue commemorating the history of Fairbanks and then went to Pioneer Park and walked around the rustic cabins that had been moved in from around the area.  In the Indian museum there we saw a good video on the lives of the Eskimo and Sami people. 

We rested a bit, then did some shopping in an antique store where we bought a tiny leather mukluk  and a soapstone Eskimo as souvenirs.  



On Monday, July 1 we headed west toward Denali quite early.  We were escorted by a pilot car again through about 10 miles near some wild fires.  Closer to Denali National Park we saw and photographed two moose.  

 We hiked down a beautiful trail at the end of the road, then drove as far as we could on the park road (15 miles), where we saw another moose eating in a pond.  On the way back we stopped to see a ranger program on sled dogs with a demonstration.  They still use the sled dog teams as transportation within the park during the winter. 

We then headed to Cedar Creek Lodge and settled into our little cabin.  Interestingly, it had no television, but it did have wi-fi.  To celebrate our 46th wedding anniversary, we ate supper at The Perch across the road, and it was a beautiful location.  Joan had caribou steak medallions wrapped in bacon with mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts, and I  had olive oil poached halibut with baby potatoes and Brussels sprouts.  We shared a snicker doodle ice cream sandwich that was wonderful.  

Naturally, we were up early on Tuesday, July 2, and drove out to Savage River, seeing a moose on the way.  We hiked the Savage River Loop, 2 miles, in the crisp mountain air.  It was beautiful.  We were surrounded by rocky cliffs and there were many kinds of tiny tundra flowers beside the path and up the hills. 




There were marmots and several birds.  We then drove back to the ½ mile Mt. Vista Loop where we saw Mt. McKinley peaking through the clouds and saw a dark colored wolf with a radio collar.  He stood at the next turn of the trail we were on long enough for Rog to get out his camera and get a picture.  

We later learned that there is a pack in that area of the park and that there are only 49 wolves in the park, which is bigger than the state of Massachussetts, so it is unusual to see one.  



On Wednesday, July 3 we were up early for our shuttle bus ride 65 miles into Denali National Park, which is very protective of its interior.  So much so that there is only one road in, and it is restricted to buses filled with sightseers.  The gravel road has some exciting sharp hairpin turns as well, so that added a bit of excitement to the drive.


We saw a variety of animals, including moose, caribou, eagles, hawks, Dall sheep, and more. It was a long day on what was basically a school bus, but it was beautiful unspoiled wilderness.  We had very good pizza for supper.

Here is a video I shot to show a bit of the road.  Click here:  DENALI ROAD










On Thursday, July 4, we headed out for a last drive on the park road.  A moose and her twin calves went across the road in front of us. 

After seeing no animals in the park, we headed out on some local roads seeing 5-6 moose close up on or near the road.  They were very casual and pretty much ignored us.


Later in the morning, we hiked the 1 1/2 – 2 mile trail down to a beaver dam and up again.  It was a lot of stairs.  There was a ranger on the trail giving a talk, and she was pounding in a stake to see how deep the permafrost was, and it was less than two feet. 


Early the next morning, we headed south on the Parks Highway.   We drove over a little used mountain pass on the Hatcher Pass Road.  It is only open from July through September.     It started as blacktop, then became gravel, then narrowed as it wound up and down and around in the Takeetna mountains through the Hatcher Pass.  The road was filled with deep potholes, so it was pretty slow going.  At the top it was very rough and narrow with no guard rails.  It was beautiful, but a bit scary when a car met us.  At the very top was a small lake half covered with ice.  We walked out to the view.

From there we headed to Palmer and out motel.




On Saturday, July 6, we headed east on the scenic Glenn highway to see the Matanuska Glacier about 60 miles away.  It was visible from the road and was really massive.  We took a 1 ½ mile hike at a Glacier View State Park.  





On the hike we came upon a female moose and her small calf.  We stopped and we all stared at each other for a while, but the moose held her ground, so we figured that we had better not challenge her for the trail.  Discretion being the better part of valor, we slowly backed up and went back to go the other way on the loop. We started making more noise after that.  



On the way back, we stopped for a tour of the Musk Ox Farm.  They had 78 musk ox of various ages.  They are attempting to domesticate them for their inner wool that is very warm and soft and expensive!  It cost about $175.00 for a small stocking cap or scarf!

The wool has to be combed from the animals in the spring when they normally shed it. 



  We also stopped at a reindeer farm where we fed the reindeer and saw elk, a moose, and a bison.  Reindeer are basically domesticated caribou.  They are not a separate species, but they are  smaller and less prone to wander.





As we headed south to Seward on Sunday, July 7, it rained for most of the way.  South of Anchorage the mountains came down to the sea, forming a fjord.  It was beautiful with the snow on the mountain peaks and the sea below.  It was very cool and very windy.  

Just north of Seward, we stopped to see the Exit Glacier.  We walked about 1 ½ miles up to the side of the glacier.  It was massive.  We were just above its base and could see the cracks and blue ice.  It was impressive.  

We ate at the waterfront in Seward and went to the Sea Life Center.  They had a great sea bird exhibit that you walked into.  It had puffins and other sea birds with a large tank of water.  






The center also had sea lions, salmon, and ed. displays.  






We looked around Seward, shopped some, went to find our marina, and ate at Chinooks.



On Sunday Jan. 8, we drove south on a very rough road to a park.  On the way back to town we saw a bald eagle near the road.  It cooperated very nicely by posing for some photos.

Back in town, we walked along the bay and saw a little harbor porpoise swimming along.  You are never very far from the wilderness in Alaska, that is for sure.






Our boat was the Glacier Express, a large catamaran with three decks.  We headed out on our six hour cruise to a sunny day but the air was crisp, and we were glad we had heavy coats and hats along.   As we approached the open sea it became quite rough and Joan started feeling motion sick.  She looked a pale shade of green for most of the trip.  It did get rough, and very difficult to even walk at times.  



We went around a point into the next bay where the water was much calmer.  They served a buffet with salmon and prime rib which was very good, but there were a few folks on the boat who were suffering terribly from seasickness.  












There were many glaciers along the way and the Ranger on board pointed out animals and glaciers as we went along.  In the second bay we stopped in front of a large glacier.



Here's a little video of the largest glacier we saw:  Iceberg



We saw it “calf” with a “boom”.  That's what it is called when a large piece of the glacier breaks off.  There were floating small icebergs and you could see harbor seals on them.  

The glacier had a lot of blue ice and was very large.  During the trip we saw several humpbacks – blowing, flukes, and tails.  There were also a lot of dall porpoise that were very quick.  






The boat went right up to a rocky island where we saw puffins and gulls and steller sea lions sunning on the rocks.  On the way back we saw a dall sheep up on a mountain and another humpback.  We happened to have a rare sunny day for our trip.  The summer days are usually overcast and foggy.  We returned to port after a six hour trip. 

We drove back to Anchorage that night and stayed close to the airport, and the next day we flew back to Minnesota.  Quite the trip and a lot of memories.  We probably won't go back soon, but this was a wonderful place to visit.