Beautiful – what more can I say! We’ve seen some absolutely beautiful scenery, have stayed at some gorgeous campsites (and some not so gorgeous) and taken some fabulous hikes and all in such a short period of time. What a wonderful world!
I keep getting asked why I’m not posting more on the blog. I have a lot of excuses – we don’t have electricity and the computer needs to be plugged in, we don’t have internet service so I can’t download it, we are just too darn busy enjoying Alaska but my best excuse is that my computer decided to quit and Joe just won’t share his (best excuse ever). We have been looking for a new computer for me but not a lot of options in the area we are in. So Joe is sharing today or no blog.
What can I say about Alaska? I think I’ll start with the scenery. We see so much beauty that it is hard to put into words. You know what I mean when you take a picture of something that is so beautiful but when you look at the picture it just doesn’t do it justice. That is what putting into words is for me with Alaska. Don’t get me wrong, it is not all breathtaking. Some areas look like you are driving in northern Minnesota or Wisconsin (which can be breathtaking). But when you drive by the snowcapped mountains or hike to see a glacier – those are things you are in awe of – those are the things that can take your breath away. We have gone on some fabulous hikes to check out a waterfall or a glacier and have not been disappointed. I have to say that I do get a little nervous about the bear country thing and I do wear my bear bells but so far we have not encountered a bear while hiking only while driving and only black bears. We are still waiting on the brown or grizzly bear but not on a hike.
We drove to Fairbanks, had the oil changed and headed to Denali National Park thinking we’d be able to camp there. No such luck. You needed reservations to get in there for camping. We wanted to see Mt McKinley and thought that was our best option to see it. We did get the opportunity to see a moose with her twin calves while at Denali. That was pretty cool.
We headed south stopping at a few campgrounds on our way to Talkeetna, a very cute little town. The wildfires were burning south of there along Park Highway, the road we were traveling on, and some days they weren’t letting traffic through so we decided to stop and stay put for a few days. Talkeetna was a great stopping place. But our biggest surprise was as we drove into the town we got a beautiful view of Mt McKinley. We have been told so many times that only 30% of people who visit Mt McKinley actually get to see it because of cloud cover. We had a whole day of looking at it. Another gift we were given and it was spectacular.
In Talkeetna we took a jet boat ride down the river and a guided hike to an old Indian village and trapper’s camp. Our guide carried a 12 gauge rifle for bear but we think it was more for show than anything. The boat ride was fun but not something we’d do again. The fires in the Willow area had pretty much been put out but when we left to go to Wasilla to see my friend Wendy, we had to follow a pilot car through the fire area because of smoke and a few hot spokes that the firemen were working on. There wasn’t much smoke but we saw many burnt out buildings, homes and vehicles. That was hard to see.
Six years ago when I was working at CSEC I worked with Wendy, a special education teacher. One summer Wendy went to Alaska to volunteer at a wheel chair benefit and there she met Jimmy who eventually became her husband. Jimmy works on the Alaskan pipeline, two weeks on and two weeks off. He first tried the flying back and forth from Minnesota for his job but discovered that was too expensive so he and Wendy headed to Alaska with their baby daughter, Theora. I promised Wendy when she left the school that someday I was coming to visit her and that someday was here. We spent two days with Wendy and Theora while Jimmy was working. Theora is six and so much fun to be with along with Wendy, of course. Theora thought she should stay with Joe and I in the top bunk in the mini. She was looking for a grandpa and grandma who are back in Minnesota and I guess we were missing our grandkids because we all hit it off. We went to a reindeer farm and hiked up Bodenburg Butte which was no easy task for us old people. The Butte is a 1.5 mile hike almost straight up a mountain. Well worth the hike once you got to the top. We couldn’t keep up with Theora. We plan on stopping back to have one last visit after we leave the Kenai Peninsula.
Moving farther south we were told that we had to go through the . Whittier is a fishing/shipping community at the end of a road that was very important to the U.S. government for army supplies after WW II. The tunnel was built in the early 1950’s as a railroad tunnel and now runs trains and vehicles through it. This is one of those things that are hard to explain without seeing it. It was a fabulous experience to drive through it. It is 2.6 miles long, the longest tunnel in North America and is cut straight through a mountain. It runs on a time schedule from one side to the other in 45 minute increments. It is one lane and you drive on the railroad tracks. You start by going into an eight lane parking lot. Each lane is marked off according to what you are driving – cars and trucks, vehicle pulling a trailer, RVs, boats, tour buses, semis, motorcycles. You stop at a pay booth and pay according to what you are driving. We paid $12 which is the least it costs. It is much more expensive to drive other things through. You only pay on going into Whittier because of course you have to come back through the tunnel because there is nowhere to go but back out. When your lane’s green light comes on you go at 25 mph. Joe had a hard time with the dually on the train tracks. It is pretty awesome to be surrounded by solid rock. There is an exhaust system that pumps the exhaust out and lights and security system. It is really a work of art. It was an experience we are glad we didn’t miss. There isn’t much to Whittier except for the fishing industry and the beautiful mountains that surround it.
We also experience our first earthquake while staying outside of Whittier. We were sitting at the picnic table and things started moving. Joe and I looked at each other and realized we were experiencing an earthquake. We later learned that a 5.8 quake had happened in Willow about 150 miles north of us. Alaska wants us to have all the great experiences.
It was getting close to the 4th of July so we thought we should either go back to Anchorage where we had reservations at a CG or go to Seward where there was a city campground of 300 sites that were first come sites. We decided that we had plenty of time to get a site at this 300 site park. So we cancelled our reservations in Anchorage and headed to Seward. What a place!!! The park was already about 75% full with Alaskans and very few sites that we wanted to stay in. It was literally several parking lots and an old baseball field. This is how it was set-up – first it was an electronic self-pay station and you registered with your vehicle license number. There were sites on the water but forget those. Most of the sites were dry camping (no water or electric). We were lucky to get a site in the back row with electric and water. We could kind of see the water and we could see the mountains but our best view was of the people trying to move their RV to get a better site. When someone left in the morning people put chairs, orange cones, dog kennels or themselves in the spot to hold it until they could move their rig. We saw arguments on who got there first. It was a blast to watch but we couldn’t wait to get out of the mad house. We decided to take our chances and find a state park to stay at for the 4th. It worked out and we found a lovely park on the inlet. The city of Seward was another cute fishing/tourist town. Cruise ships came into port on Friday, Sunday and Monday. We might stop through again on our way off the Kenai Peninsula.
Soldotna and then Ninilchik were are next stops. Soldotna was on the Kenai River so we were amongst the salmon fishermen. The person camping next to us brought over a big container of salmon filets for us but we turned it down because neither of us cares for salmon. We met the grouchiest old fisherman as we were out walking the fishing trail. He was by himself and looked like he was a pro so I asked him if I could ask him some fishing questions. He said he didn’t care if I talked to him but after talking to him for a few minutes I realized he really did care. He didn’t like us foreigners (non-native Alaskans). He didn’t like that we were from Minnesota. We didn’t know what cold was and the best was that he told Joe that if we lived in Alaska Joe and I would be divorced by February unless I really loved him. Very crotchety fellow but fun to talk to. We also found the Moose is Loose Bakery in Soldotna. Glad we found it on the day we were leaving. Yummy bakery!
So we are now sitting along the inlet in Ninilchik at Deep Creek State Park. My brother Wayne recommended this place. Thank you Wayne! We have probably seen over 250 bald eagles and Joe has taken pictures many times of each and every one of them. Every time we walk out the door we have two cameras with and are snapping pictures. This has been one of our favorite spots so far. We see the snow-covered mountains across the water and the eagles all around us. The really cool thing about this place besides the eagles is the boat service. I’ll try to explain but again it is a hard one to explain without seeing it. Because the low and high tides are so extreme here they cannot use docks. Instead they use large tractors that look like front loaders to move the boats in and out of the water. They can put a boat into the water or out of the water in about two minutes. This is where the charter boats go out of so at times it is very busy. Each tractor has two guys working on it, the driver and the one that hooks and unhooks the boat. That person has an extremely dangerous job. The big charters are coming in at a fast speed aiming for their trailer. The second guy is standing on the tongue of the trailer waiting to hook up as soon as the boat is on the trailer. They all have to know what they are doing so no one gets hurt and they do it as fast as possible because another boat is waiting. It was awesome to watch.
I’ve covered what we have been seeing so I want to mention a little about some of the other things we have come across while in Alaska.
Campgrounds – Camping is different here. Most private campgrounds are gravel parking lots crowded into a very small area. They are expensive for what they are. We stayed in one that was a gravel parking lot, paid $45 a night and they had only portable toilets. And they get that kind of money because there are so many people traveling. Almost all private campgrounds charge for showers. You pay anywhere between $2 and $4 per shower. The nice thing about the private CG are most of them have laundry facilities. We try switching between the Federal Forest Service, state parks, and private parks. The Federal Forest Service has some of the most spectacular campground we have ever stayed at. Of course when you stay in those parks you have no services, no electric, no flush toilets, but the cost is around $12 a night and you have beautiful views, hiking trails and space between you and your neighbor. Joe has even figure out a way to take an outdoor shower by hanging up a tarp. We haven’t figured out how to use our indoor shower. It all works for us. The state parks are not like anything we have encountered in other states. They are more open and most of them have no rangers or host so they can get wild but better than the private parks.
Daylight– we are at 21 hours of sunlight but it is never really dark. I thought I was prepared by making window covers for the bedroom windows out of black foam board. Well silly me! We are living in a mini. The bedroom windows or the dining room windows or the kitchen window are all in the bedroom or any place else in the mini. It is light all the time. It took a little to get use to but we can now sleep in the light. When we get back we’ll have to sleep with a light on.
Weather – We were told it rains a lot in Alaska. The first week we had beautiful weather. In fact, we had shorts on and even ran the air-conditioner a few days. But then the rain came. I refuse to complain about the weather. Today is a typical day – it is 56 outside and raining. Earlier we put on our rain gear and took a two hour walk. We have adjusted to the weather also. We have done many hikes in the rain. If you don’t walk in the rain you will be confined to inside and who wants that.
Wildlife/wildflowers – what can I say! The sides of the roads are bursting with the colors of the wildflowers. Every hike we take you can smell the wild roses and see the purples, pinks and yellows of the flowers. Stunning! We have also seen so much wildlife. We are just missing that elusive grizzly and whale and we want to see a puffin. Hope to do a wildlife cruise to catch a glimpse of the whales and maybe a puffin.
Alaska has been wonderful so far. The views, the people and even the roads and I must mention the halibut. Love eating halibut! We are so blessed to be on this adventure. I ask Joe often what we have done in our lives to deserve this. We both just say we have to make the most of it and love every minute.
What a wonderful world!
Stay safe! Happy 4th of July! Love to all our friends and family especially our kids and grandkids. Miss you all!