Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Valdez, Alaska

After quite a long drive we came upon one of the most beautiful drives in Alaska...the drive into Valdez. The first sight you see is Worthington Glacier. It has two arms descending the mountain.

Then you begin your drive into the valley. First you see Bridal Veil Falls.

And just around the corner is Horsetail Falls.
 Once into Valdez, we stayed at Glacier View Campground which is now run by the city of Valdez. When we were in Alaska in 2010, it was run by Ft. Greeley.
 The next day we drove back out of Valdez to sight see. Our first stop was Blueberry Lake Recreation Site. What do you think you do there? Well, you pick blueberries, of course!
 Each of us picked blueberries until we had about a gallon between us.
 From there it was out to Worthington Glacier. From the state recreation site, you can only see the left arm of the glacier. The large rock behind us covers the other arm!
 We then began our return drive to Valdez, stopping once again at Bridal Veil and Horsetail Falls.
 Someone had left a bouquet of red roses at the foot of Horsetail Falls.
Later that afternoon, Bob and I walked around the town of Valdez. There was interesting artwork on the railings....
 ...and in the sidewalks.
 There were a lot of kayaks at the boat dock in the marina.
 As we walked around town we also saw a lot of rabbits! I'm not sure what the story is on the rabbits, but one thing for sure is they are not snowshoe hares!

 Friday morning we took a cruise on Glacier Spirit. It is a smaller boat than Bob and I went on in 2010. It was also a shorter cruise--six and a half hours instead of nine.
 We spent most of our time in the cabin as it was cold outside.
 Columbia Glacier is calving and we got to see many icebergs as we approached the glacier.
 We didn't see nearly as many animals on this cruise, but it could have been because we were later in the season this time. We did get to see a humpback whale on our trip back to harbor. He flapped his tail for us several times.
 Once back in Valdez, we heard that pink salmon were being locked out of the fish weir across the bay. We went to check it out and found the  birds feasting on the salmon. The salmon were hatched at the local hatchery and too many returned this year. The streams they would have spawned in couldn't take the huge number of salmon returning so the gate to the weir was locked and the salmon couldn't get back upstream.
 Even the eagles had more than they could eat!
 The next day we left Valdez and headed for Tok, Alaska. We would leave Alaska and head into Canada on the part of the Alaskan Highway we missed by entering at Top of the World Highway.  Our adventures are continuing, but our time with Connie and Larry is fast drawing to a close.

Fairbanks to Valdez

After spending one night in Fairbanks, it was time to head for Valdez. We went by way of Delta Junction which is the 'End of the Alaskan Highway.'

We stopped for lunch at Delta Junction at Rika's Roadhouse. It is an historical park dedicated to the Swedish woman who ran the roadhouse for many years.
 This is an example of what a bedroom looked like back in the early 1900s.
 These are some kitchen items. I don't think I would ever be able to use a can of allspice that big! It looks like a gallon of paint!
 From the roadhouse we could see the Alaska pipeline crossing the river.
 A bit further down the road at the visitor center for Delta Junction, we saw these huge mosquitoes!
 And the end of the Alaskan Highway....
 Well, it looks like they are still working on it. Larry and Connie are once again leaving us in their dust!
We stopped for the night at a pull-off near Paxson Lake. It was a nice quiet site with beautiful views of the lake. The next day it was on to Valdez!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Our Final Days in Denali

After registering, finding a campsite and retrieving the car, it was time to get serious about our rafting trip! Bob and I went looking for the place to purchase our tickets since we had to do it in advance. After driving for a while, we found the hotel/resort selling the tickets and purchased four for the following day. We planned to get a hike in during the morning, then raft in the afternoon.

Friday afternoon we walked around the campground and in the evening we all went to a talk on mushrooms at the Murie Science Center. I learned that someone who specializes in mushrooms is a mycologist and I reaffirmed my stance that I will only eat mushrooms purchased in grocery stores I trust! There are so many mushrooms and many of them look alike. Some of them are edible, but many are poisonous. That didn't stop Connie, Bob and I from hiking and taking pictures of mushrooms on Saturday morning!

The three of us took off for Horseshoe Lake---so named because it looks like a horseshoe from the ridge overlooking the lake. (Larry had computer server problems and couldn't go).
 We enjoyed looking at the different mushrooms and seeing the beaver dams in the lake.
 But best of all was being able to watch this moose eat plants in the lake. She stayed in the lake and let us watch her for quite a while.
 The hike was enjoyable and the weather wasn't too bad--just a bit cloudy, but no rain.
 So, it was on to get ready for our raft trip! The guides gave us suits with instructions as to how to get them on and we were ready to go for our safety briefing.
 Yes, we looked like Oompa Loompas!
 Stone (our guide's real name, not a nickname) got us out into the current and we were off!
 Of course, halfway through the trip, Stone wanted to make a cup of tea.
  And we took on water! No, not really, we were just in a dip between the waves. It wasn't scary. This picture just makes it look as if we were going under.
  All had a good time and were ready to disembark when we got to shore.
To celebrate our successful raft trip it was off to Princess Lodge for seafood nachos and then to Lynx Creek Pizza for a calzone.

The next day we all went hiking at Horseshoe Lake. Then Bob and I took a hike along McKinley Station trail. We passed under the railroad bridge, but no trains were coming.
 It was a dreary day and before we finished our hike, it started raining.
 Later that evening, we decided to give 49th State Brewing Company one more chance. Their beer was still good, but the service was even worse than at our first visit. We had to track down someone to find out who our server was going to be and she eventually showed up to take our orders. The food was good, but like I said, the service was lousy.

Monday morning, it was back to Fairbanks to begin the next leg of our trip.

Monday, August 17, 2015

More Denali Adventures

Bob and I decided to hike further north from the campground. We followed the stream out to the river and climbed the rock to get to the top of the hill. Most things in Alaska are abandoned and left to rot or rust. This pipe in the stream behind the campground is evidence of that policy.
It was easy to follow the trail once we got to the top. We came upon a group of college students doing an archaeological dig. Once upon a time there was  a cabin at the top of the rock. The students were trying to find evidence of the cabin. What Bob and I found were more blueberries.
 We picked blueberries until we decided that we really needed to get back to hiking! This is a view from the top of the rock of the Teklanika River.
 The next day we went on a Discovery Hike with Ranger Alina. She met the bus at Toklat Visitor Center. Discovery hikes are limited to 12 hikers, but for our hike, we only had 7! One of the hikers was Marion, a resident artist for the summer at Denali. Discovery Hikes don't follow trails, you bushwhack with the ranger for about 2 to 2 1/2 miles. We were hiking on tundra so it there wasn't much bushwhacking involved.  It was a cloudy, windy day so we couldn't see Denali. We stopped for lunch on a hillside overlooking the wilderness.
While eating lunch we spied a big hole on the side of the hill across the gully from us. After we finished eating, we headed over to see what it was. It turned out that is was a hole dug by a bear in search of arctic ground squirrels! The other holes of the squirrels were all around this big hole. We wondered if the bear was successful in his quest for a tasty morsel.
We saw another large barren area, but it was caused by too much water underneath the tundra plants. The water soaked the soil until it started to slide away from the rest of the hillside. The ranger told us that the grasses get small holes punched between clumps of soil, like a perforation. When there are enough holes at the top edge, the whole area slides away.
Here,  Ranger Alina helps Marion across the small stream we had to cross to get to our pick-up area at the end of the hike. During this hike I learned a lot about berries and plants on the tundra. If we had more time at Teklanika, I would definitely have taken another Discovery Hike in a different area.
On our way back to the campground we saw Dall sheep on the ridge near the grass line. The rams stay on the rocky areas away from predators, but the lambs and ewes venture down to eat the tender grasses.
In Denali, there are five animals that people want to see: moose, caribou, sheep, bears and wolves. Well, we saw all five! On our way back to the entrance of the park a wolf was walking down our side of the road!
We stopped to see what he would do and he just continued right on by us.
We had a great time at Teklanika Campground, but it was time to spend a few days at the entrance to Denali at Riley Creek Campground. More on that in my next installment.

Denali National Park!

From Fairbanks, we drove to a pull-out a few miles north of Healy, Alaska. We were told by other Boomer friends that it would be to our advantage to do our paperwork and get our Tek passes the day before we were going to drive into the park. After getting set up for the night, we drove into Denali and completed our paperwork. On our way back to the RVs, we just had to stop at 49th State Brewing Company.
The beer was good, but the service wasn't. Bob and Larry had to go to the bar to order our drinks. The brew tanks were located between the restaurant and the restrooms.
In the garden before entering the brewery, there were family games like bocce ball, hoola hoops, and horseshoes. There was also bus 142 which the owners claim is the one used by Chris McCandless lived his final days in on Stampede Trail near Denali. There is a book, Into the Wild, about Chris McCandless' life. He was not prepared for the hardships he would face living in the Alaskan wilderness.

The next morning we left the parking area to head into Denali National Park. After unhooking the cars, getting everything we would need for the next four nights out and into the RV it was time to head to Savage River. We timed our arrival at Savage River checkpoint to coincide with the time we could continue on to Teklanika Campground. No vehicles are allowed to drive beyond Savage River unless they have a pass.

The drive in was beautiful. We couldn't have asked for a better day. Denali/Mt. McKinley was gorgeous. Only 30% of people who visit the park get to see all of the mountain. It is usually cloud covered.

As we drove along the park road, Larry and Connie were about 5 minutes behind us and got pictures of our RV as we wound around the curves creating dust storms behind us.

On our way out to Teklanika we didn't see any animals but we knew we would see them the next day on our bus trip to Kantishna.

After finding two RV spots near each other, we set off to explore the Teklanika River.
  Like most of the glacial fed rivers in the park, it is braided. We were able to walk quite a way upstream looking for animals and other interesting things.

Later in the afternoon, Bob and I went walking again, this time in the other direction, following a creek behind the campground as it flowed to the river. We didn't see any animals, but we did see moose tracks near the creek. I did get a better picture to give you an idea of the braided river. The silt and rocks from the glacier finally build up and the water takes different routes to get around the buildup. That is why you see so many 'streams' in a braided river.

The next day was also a gorgeous day! It was the day we were to ride the bus from our campground to Kantishna at the end of the park road. We packed a lunch and brought plenty of snacks and water as it would be an all day trip.When you ride the park bus, the driver will stop if anyone sees an animal, so everyone on the bus has a chance to see the animal.

One of our first stops was Polychrome Overlook. The colors in the mountain are beautiful.
 There was a male caribou running around among all the tourist trying to find a quiet spot to get away from everyone.
We only got on our bus to get our belongings off since the radiator on the bus decided it didn't like its current hoses and blew them apart! The next bus was a Discover Hike bus with just a few hikers aboard. Our driver took control of that bus and kept the hikers. He let them off to meet their ranger at  mile marker  59 and we continued on our way.

Due to our extended stop at Polychrome, we stopped for a quick bread at Toklat Visitor Center, but not long enough to go in the tent.

It was another beautiful day to view Mt. McKinley! The driver stopped the bus when the mountain came into view so we could have a photo op. We were still over 50 miles from Mt. McKinley.

From Toklat it was on to Eielson Visitor Center. The only way to reach this spot is by park bus. Of course, this is an excellent place to view Mt McKinley!
 Inside Eielson Visitor Center is a gorgeous three-panel quilt. A local woman made this quilt depicting Mt. McKinley and all the animals in the park. It took her over a year to complete the quilt.
From Eielson it was on to Kantishna. Kantishna started as an old mining camp. Now it is host to several private lodges. There is an old homestead located there. Fannie and Joe Quigley began as miners, but he got sick and ran off with his nurse. Fannie lived in the homestead for the remainder of her life. The house was built for her, she was a short woman and the inside cabinets counters were designed for her.
 Finally, we reached the end of the road! After a quick stop it we boarded the bus to make the return trip. This time we stopped at Wonder Lake. The blueberries were ripe and we picked a baggy  so we could have blueberry pancakes the next morning.
On our trip out to Kantishna we saw caribou, moose, bears and Dall sheep. On our way back, we got to watch this grizzly eat soap berries--a grizzly's favorite!
The hump on his back has the muscles he needs to dig roots and pull berries from stalks. He was kind enough to turn and face the camera before the bus left.
We had a great time exploring Denali by bus. The next day we would spend time around the campground. On Thursday, Bob and I went on a Discovery Hike. More about that in my next installment!