Sunday, August 1, 2010

Alaska in July...

Grab your coffee and have a seat...  this is gonna be a long one....
July 8, 2010 – Fairbanks, Alaska – The end of the Alaska Highway
After our long drive on the 7th, we decided to take the day and relax in Fairbanks.  Our campground, Rivers Edge, had a great location and the sites were wide and grassy.  It is right next door to the airport so we did have to giggle and say “DUCK” as we heard the airplanes flying very low over our heads.
July 9, 2010 – Fairbanks, Alaska
Matt had some work to do so I spent the morning doing our restocking and also visiting a few scrapbook stores.  It was nice to be in a place that had an actual Michaels and Jo-Anns for a change. 
July 10, 2010 – Fairbanks, Alaska
Today we decided to do some exploring around Fairbanks.  We visited the Large Animal Research Station (LARS) which was a part of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.  We did a quick tour of the animals and marveled at the musk ox (the only surviving ice age animal), the caribou and the reindeer on site.  We then drove through the campus of the University and spotted the Farmers Market.  It was great to get fresh produce (although a bit expensive) and we were amazed at the size of the zucchini & squash’s there.  Matt would have had to have nothing but for a month to finish one off.  So we settled on some very fresh cucumbers & tomatoes.  We then drove out Northeast of Fairbanks to see the Alaska pipeline in one of its above ground locations (due to permafrost ground that it can’t be buried).  The size was amazing!!  The construction of the 4 foot diameter pipeline for 800 miles in Alaska’s wilderness is definitely a modern marvel. 
July 11, 2010 – Fairbanks, Alaska
Another day of rest and relaxation for us in the big city.
July 12, 2010 – Fairbanks, Alaska
We started out the day with some errands and then visited Pioneer Park.  Pioneer Park is a bit run down but looked like a great place to take the kids to play (free entrance to most items).  We toured the 3rd of the surviving riverboats, SS Nenana.  We also paid a small fee to visit the Aviation Museum there.  Both were very neat and we just enjoyed walking around the park in the sunshine.
July 13, 2010 – Fairbanks, Alaska
Today, we journeyed back to the University campus to visit the Museum of the North.  We watched 3 good films about the museum, Fairbanks in the winter and the aurora lights.  They also had a great exhibit on the different areas of Alaska and its history (especially the gold rush days).  We did get to see the 36,000 year old mummifed bison remains and an impressive collection of wild animal displays. 
July 14, 2010 – Fairbanks, Alaska
We visited the ice museum in downtown Fairbanks today.  We watched a great film on how the ice sculptures are created in the freezing Fairbanks winters (Negative 50 is typical for them).  We were then treated to a demonstration by an ice artist as he created some sculptures for us.  Lastly we viewed the gorgeous ice sculptures there in the museum including one (very cold) room where we could walk in among the art.  Overall, one of our favorite places to visit.
Here we are as iced eskimos

Yep, this is an ice cabin and the bed was made of ice...  and a cold butt...

Let me out...  its cold in here...  Ice cabin at the ice museum
July 15, 2010 – Fairbanks, Alaska (Chena Hot Springs)
We decided that it was time for some more hot springs.  About an hour east of Fairbanks is the Chena Hot Springs.  It was a great drive out there and we counted at least 10 moose on the drive to and from there.  The hot springs were great as the day was misty and cool and the outside pool was reserved for adults only so it was quite peaceful.  We did have to laugh when they explained that the huge boulders all around the natural pool were to keep the moose out.  I can just imagine a cantankerous moose deciding that it needed a dip in the wonderful hot waters.
July 16, 2010 – Fairbanks to Denali National Park, Alaska – Teklanika campground
We made the 2+ hour drive today from Fairbanks to Denali National Park.  Our campsite was in Teklanika campground at mile 30 on the park’s highway.  The first 15 miles were paved and in good shape, but the last 15 were a bit bumpy and dirty.  We chose this campground as it is the furthest that you can drive into the park with your own vehicle.  The park’s road is closed to motorists and served by old school buses that run the entire 84 mile length of access into the vast park.  We had a great site as usual in the parks.
July 17, 2010 – Denali National Park, Alaska – Teklanika campground
Denali National Park is setup as wilderness area, meaning that there are no (or very few) established trails in the park.  This makes hiking difficult with all the tall brush and willows that would very easily hide a bear (yep, really sucks NOT to be at the top of the food chain).  We decided to try out our waders and walk/wade through the Teklanika River bed upstream today.  We crossed the many channels of the water numerous times and at times had to link arms to cross some of the deeper, swifter sections.  We hiked about 2 miles upstream until we came to the wolf area closure.  We did not see any wildlife at all, but did see lots of tracks (wolf, caribou & bear). 
Matt in full rain gear as we hiked the Teklanika River

Me in full rain gear as we hiked the river

What a beautiful view of the river and mountains
July 18, 2010 – Denali National Park, Alaska – Teklanika Campground
Today is our last full day at this campground (in the RV) so we decided to walk down river today to check it out.  We only made it about ½ mile from the campground when we had to turn around and pick our way back upstream as the water was too deep and swift to be safe for us.  We hiked again up to the wolf closure area and then turned around for home to get all our gear packed for our upcoming tent camping out at Wonder Lake.
July 19, 2010 – Denali National Park, Alaska – Wonder Lake Campground (tent camping)
We had to get an early start to drive the 30 miles back to the park entrance to park the truck and trailer in long term parking and catch our 11am campers bus back into the park to ride the 85 miles out to the Wonder Lake campground.  We loaded our backpacks as full (and then some) as we could with all our camping gear (tent, sleeping bags, therma-rests (sleeping pads), food, cooking utensils & clothes.  It was a 6 hour drive out the bumpy dirt road in a school bus (no upgraded suspension).  We were really glad to arrive and pick out our camp site.  On a clear day, most of the campsites have a perfect view of Denali Mountain (Mount McKinley), however, as we all know Alaska weather, clear days really don’t happen that often. Of course, it was sprinkling as we got there, so we quickly setup our tent and got everything inside before it really started to rain (we just made it!!!).  We then headed over to the cooking area which was a really nice covered area with our food storage locker (can’t have any food near the campsites due to bears) and picnic tables.  We cooked our freeze dried food and got to know our fellow campers.  We listened to the ranger program on Climate Change in Denali before heading back to our tent for sleep.  Of course, as soon as we got back into the tent, we noticed that it wasn’t DRY.  We ended up wrapping our sleeping bags inside our rain ponchos so that we could stay dry through the night.  Needless to say, it rained all night and the tent leaked all night.
Getting out of the rain and relaxing in the tent with a good book.

Hey...  we are still smiling...

Our sleeping bags are in there somewhere...  The green shown are our rain ponchos keeping us dry in the tent.
July 20, 2010 - Denali National Park, Alaska – Wonder Lake Campground (tent camping)
We woke to rain again and debated our options for either sticking it out and hiking or catching the camper bus back out of the park to the warmth and dryness of our RV.  It cleared enough that we decided that we would stick it out and see what the day brought in terms of weather (we had the option of a 5pm bus out).  We decided to hike the McKinley Bar Trail which is one of the few maintained trails in the park.  It departed just outside of our campground and wound its way over to the riverbed of the McKinley River.  It is over a mile wide in some places and just constant streams of water zig-zagging through the glacial rock riverbed.  The trail was beautiful and very well maintained, however, when we reached the riverbed, both of our pants were soak and wet from all the wet brush that was on the sides of the trails.  We dried out and had lunch down by the river before starting our 2 mile hike back to camp.  The sun was actually out and there was blue sky when we got back so we decided to open up the tent and dry everything out.  We also decided that we would stay another night as it looked like the weather had improved.  Well, of course, we were wrong again and the heavy rain moved in about 6pm and it rained solidly throughout the evening and night.  We did attend another interesting Ranger program on the history of Denali Park.
Matt on the McKinley Bar Trail

Isn't this a beautiful trail?

Me crossing one of the many river crossings on the trail.  Look...  there is blue sky
The weather tricked us into staying by being beautiful and blue...  Here we are trying to dry everything out...  The sleeping bags are on top of the tent...  It would not stay this nice for long...
July 21, 2010 – Denali National Park to Cantwell, Alaska
We decided to catch the 8am bus that left the Wonder Lake campground and then drove the remainder of the park road to Kantishna (mile 89) and then returned all the way to the park entrance.  It was another 6 hour bus ride and it rained and was such a low cloud ceiling that we really did not see anything on the way out.  Once we got back to the RV, we (and everything else) was soaking wet so we loaded it quickly into the truck and trailer and set out for the 30 mile drive to Cantwell for our RV reservation.  We enjoyed the campgrounds showers and finally got warm.
July 22, 2010 – Cantwell to Anchorage, Alaska
We drove the Parks Highway from Cantwell (just south of Denali National Park) to Anchorage today.  We got checked into our RV site and proceeded to unpack and dry all our wet gear.  We also set out to find  a new tent (one that will keep us dry).  We visited a couple gear stores (including our first trip to REI) and found what we thought we wanted. 
July 23, 2010 – Anchorage, Alaska
Matt worked some today while I ran errands to pick up our tent that we had decided on.  It started out as a nice day, however, it soon turned rainy.  Little did we know that it would rain (and I mean rain) for the next 4 days straight.
This is our new (and hopefully dry) tent.  Pinky was enjoying it.
July 24, 2010 – Anchorage, Alaska
We braved the rain to go and visit several parks in the area.  We first visited Earthquake park with some great information on the 1964 earthquake and all the destruction that it caused.  It is amazing to us that whole cities were wiped out (including Seward, Portage, etc) and that in some places, the land “fell” 10 feet and was inundated with ocean water.  We then visited Kincaid Park on the south side of the city which is known for its moose population and low flying airplanes.  We were rewarded with seeing both moose and very low flying airplanes. 
July 25, 2010 – Anchorage, Alaska
We decided to revisit the Aviation museum.  We had done a very quick browse through it a couple years ago, but definitely wanted to go back to take more time there.  We enjoyed the indoor museum about Alaska’s flight heritage.  Did you know that there are more pilots in Alaska than anywhere else?  Makes perfect sense since most of Alaska is not serviced by roads.  It is still raining buckets so we ask for a pass to come back later to view the outside aircraft and the repair shop.
July 26, 2010 – Anchorage, Alaska
Still raining – Don’t think we even stepped outside of the trailer as we were afraid of drowning in the puddles.
July 27, 2010 – Anchorage to Chugach State Park, Alaska
This is our last day in Anchorage and we requested a late check out so we can visit the aviation museum again.  We enjoyed the break in the weather as we explored the outside aircraft and visited with the mechanics in the repair shop.  We then headed south out of Anchorage on the Seward Highway and stopped first about 10 miles south at Potters Marsh.  This is a huge open wetlands that was actually made accidentally when the railroad was put in (it damned up several water drainages).  We were treated to seeing a couple of bald eagles in addition to lots of other small birds.  We then visited the Potter Section House with its great snow grinder rail engine.  On to several pullouts in the very picturesque Turnagain arm.  The highway is beautiful with the ocean inlet on one side and 2000-5000 foot mountains all around.  We only drove about 25 miles south of Anchorage and stopped just north of Girdwood to stay at the Indian Creek Campground in the Chugach State Park.  It had beautiful wooded sites but was a bit noisy as we were sandwiched on a very narrow strip of land between the highway and the railroad tracks.  After negotiating the very potholed drive through the campground, we setup the trailer and then took off again to explore Girdwood and the Alyeska ski resort there.
Matt enjoying the Aviation museum (yep, you do see shadows so there must be some sun)

What a collection!!!  This is one of the exhibits at the Aviation Museum.

Salmon fishing on Indian Creek near our campground - They must not have been running as we didn't see anyone catch anything.

Our campsite at Indian Creek.  Beautiful!!!

Pink enjoying the campsite.
July 28, 2010 – Chugach State Park (near Girdwood, Alaska)
We drove the 10 miles into Girdwood today to hike the Winners Creek Trail that had been recommended to us.  It was a beautiful trail through the northern most rain forest (called a temperate rain forest).  We could not believe how large the plant and especially the size of the leaves on the plants.  It was a very unique trail as it utilized a hand tram to cross the creek.  It was a basket that you climbed into and then proceeded to pull yourself across the open ravine with the rope that ran through the basket.  A little nerve racking for me, but I found that on the second time we crossed, if I didn’t look down it was ok.  The trail continued all the way to the Alyeska ski resort hotel and then we hiked back the same way.  We then took a 5 minute walk to photograph the Virgin Creek Falls.  It was beautiful and deserted as it was tucked away behind some houses.
Look at the size of these leaves in the rain forest.  This wasn't the largest that we saw.

Matt on the hand tram across the creek.
July 29, 2010 – Chugach State Park (near Portage, Alaska)
Today we decided to drive about 20 miles south of us to explore the Portage Glacier area.  We first stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to view the animals.  We had a great time watching the bears (both brown and black), the bald eagle, great horned owls, moose, elk, caribou, muskox and a fox.  The area was devastated by the 1964 earthquake when the ground sank and was overrun by ocean water at high tide.  All the old forests were killed and today, lots of snags can still be seen.  We then drove into Portage to hike the Byron Glacier Trail.  This was a great easy trail that led us right up to the foot of the glacier.  We then stopped by Portage Lake to photograph the huge chunks of calved glacial ice floating in the lake.  After a quick stop at the Williwaw campground (to scope it out) and to look at the salmon platform (no salmon), we headed back home.
A huge chunk of glacial ice floating on the Portage Lake

Yes, there are several glaciers back there...  we saw them peak out of the clouds periodically.

This black bear takes a nap at the wildlife center.
July 30, 2010 - Chugach State Park (near Girdwood, Alaska)
We had decided to hike from the Alyeska Hotel up to the top of the ski mountain (a 2.2 mile, 2000+ foot climb up).  Today’s weather was not as rainy and our visibility was the best yet.  We decided to take the North Face Trail that wound around the left side of the mountain and were rewarded with beautiful glaciers on every peak.  The Chugach mountains are the most glaciated mountains in the world.  It’s pretty easy to see why when they average over 600 inches of snow in a year and last year, Alyeska received 927 inches of snow at the top.  We were wondering why the ski lifts were about 20 feet above the ground with huge metal slopes coming down to about 5 feet above ground.  I guess with that much snow, you have to build them high.  Since we walked up the trail, we were entitled to a free tram ride down the mountain.  Let’s see a 2+ hour ascent followed by a 4 minute descent…. 
On the trail on the way to the top of Alyeska.

Just a few switchbacks...  The hotel& tram are pictured here.

Almost to the top...  I can see the end... 
July 31, 2020 – Chugach State Park to Homer, Alaska
We left our campground to start the 180+ mile drive down to Homer, Alaska where we will be for the next couple of weeks.  As we got closer and closer to Homer, it seemed as if we were driving in the clouds (and we were).  We have a great campsite at OceanView campground with the ocean about 150 feet from us but we could not see it until late in the evening, we caught a few glimpses.  Hopefully the weather will improve.  We will RV camp here for 4 nights before storing the RV here for a week while we fly into McNeil River Sanctuary and then we will stay another week here to explore the area some more.  Here’s to keeping our fingers crossed for some better weather so we can make our float plane flight on Wednesday.

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