Monday, July 21, 2014

Denali National Park

At long last, a real wifi connection!  Yay!  It feels like its been months and months since I've been in real civilization!  Whew - do I have a lot of stories to tell!  I will try to keep this in somewhat of chronological order, but I warn you now, it may be a long one!

Before leaving Homer (actually closer to Ninilchik), we went down to the beach to watch some of the fishing boats come in.  After the fish are cleaned, they dump a lot of the fish guts and heads right on the beach, drawing hundreds of sea gulls and dozens of bald eagles.  What a sight to behold!!

This is just a sampling of all the great eagle pictures I took!  After leaving Ninilchik, we drove north, back through Anchorage, and on to Wasilla.  We didn't see Sara Palin (or Russia!), but did have to spend a whole day waiting to get prescriptions transferred from Rite Aid to Walgreens and while we waited, I ducked into one of those "cut and go" beauty salons and got my hair permed.  I was sick of it always being stick straight, limp and flat, but was trying to grow it out.  Not my best look, but at least its out of my eyes for a while.

From Wasilla we drove north to Healy, just north of the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve.  We stayed at McKinley RV - what a dumpy place that was!  They advertise full hook ups, but only have electric available, and their pay-showers were filthy.  We moved to Rainbow Denali  Campground - not much better, but closer to the entrance of the park.  We spent some time looking around the town and visitors center, and made a reservation to take the bus tour on Friday.

Denali National Park is more than 6 MILLION acres and has only one entrance and one park road.  The road is 92 miles long and only the first 15 miles is paved and accessible by private vehicle.  The rest of the park can only be seen by taking one of the park service buses, or by a private tour company bus.

The park is simply beautiful - we're talking "take your breath away" scenery and the vast expanse of wilderness and mountains are nothing short of humbling.  We wanted to take the full 92 miles "adventure" because you don't even get a good view of Mt McKinley until you are pretty far back into the park.

We boarded the bus, an old school bus, at 6:15 AM and after making rounds picking up other passengers from various hotels and lodges, we entered the National Park of Denali.  It wasn't long before we began to spot wildlife...

A mama grizzly with twin cubs

A caribou - that's only 6 weeks worth of growth!  They have the 
fastest growing antlers of all the deer-like mammals.

Another caribou

At first most of the sightings were pretty far off in the distance.  Then we got lucky, and this guy walked right across the road in front of the bus!  How awesome!  You should have seen the size of his claws!

Then we startled a caribou on the road

and saw some more bears

The views were amazing, and I swear in the 14 hours we were on that frizzle-frazzle-fricken bus, we drove through 4 seasons of weather!

The bus stopped at various nature centers and we had breaks to walk a bit to stretch our legs from the cramped and uncomfortable school bus.

In addition to wildlife, we would come across die-hard bikers and 
back packers along the dirt road that winds through the park

Sometimes you had to look close to see the tiny beauties

An "artsy" shot through some discarded antlers along the trail

A pica - a type of ground squirrel.  Or as the bus driver
called him - bear snacks.

Only 30% of the people that come to Denali actually get to SEE Denali, AKA Mt. McKinley.  At first we thought we were lucky when the top peeked through the clouds:

Everyone kept talking about how BIG it was, and I was thinking to myself (I was getting grumpy and in pain the longer we were on the bus) "we're surrounded by snow capped mountains...grumble, grumble, grumble, how much bigger can it be?"   And then there it was - the clouds parted and there it stood - above the clouds.  It really IS that big!  I am so glad I was able to see it with my own two eyes because otherwise I wouldn't have believed it.  It is a GIANT!!  And it towers over the other snow capped peaks.  No wonder it makes its own weather!!

So consider me impressed!  The clouds soon covered it up again, and we continued to scan the surrounding area for wildlife.  We saw a moose or two...

We got to try on some antlers for size at a visitor center...

Bruce the Moose!

Come back here and pose, Mr. Moose!

Those suckers are HEAVY!

By the time we drove the 184 miles there and back, I was in literal tears I hurt so much.  We had to take a few extra days at the campground just to rest and recover, before heading out again, towards Fairbanks.

Now Alaska is amazing.  Truly it is.  So big in fact that it is overwhelming.  I am so glad we didn't close on our house until late August, but had we left earlier in the summer, we may have reversed our course and gone to Alaska first.  Had we done that, I am 100% positive that we would not have done the rest of the trip.  It was just too much.  Too much driving.  Too much isolation.  Too much hassle.  Too much money.  Too much beauty.  Just too much.  More on that later....

So we headed to Fairbanks.  We were still traveling with Noel's sister and her husband, and though Jack and Alice had gone off to do some extra activities and flight seeing while I was in recovery mode, they caught up with us and we went to Fairbanks together.  There was only a few things we wanted to do and see while in the Fairbanks area - we'd pretty much had our fill of gold mining history museums, native Eskimo culture, etc.  

We took Jack and Alice's vehicle with the 6 of us and drove to the North Pole.  Yes, there really is a North Pole, and Santa lives there!  With real live reindeer!  (which I found out are domesticated caribou).  I made sure to mail some postcards so they could be postmarked from the North Pole - and did some browsing in the Christmas shop.

This one is Donner!

From there we drove about 60 miles out of Fairbanks to Chena Hot springs.  It's a natural hot springs discovered by the old gold miners that has since been turned into a beautiful resort.  They have harnessed the hot water to run the place mostly on geo-thermal energy and also have gardens and greenhouses that grow beautiful flowers and produce used not only at the resort but throughout the local area.  We toured the greenhouses and soaked in the hot water.  The pipe used to circulate the natural spring water made for a good neck massage!

Darlene being silly!

Some of the beautiful gardens

The flower beds and baskets were gorgeous!

They produce 500 heads of lettuce a week!

More pretty flowers along the wall of the inside swimming pool..  The pool
and hot tubs inside are chlorinated but warm, the outside is
just the natural hot spring water.  Stinky, but "healing"

That's Noel hoping he's not in the picture

Oh baby....hurts so good....

Also on the grounds is the Aurora Ice Museum.  It is open year round and houses beautiful ice sculptures, an ice bar where you can really order an apple martini service in a martini glass made of ice, and a few rooms that you can actually spend the night it, for a mere $600 a night!  Honestly, some people have more money than sense!

In this photo I used the flash, you can see the wall of ice - and
oh yea, they provide parkas since its 26 degrees inside

This is how it looks - the ice bar

The "Christmas Room" - one of the rooms you can rent if
you want...

The outside of the ice house

We saw this female elk munching the underwater grasses
on the way home

\So anyway, that was a fun day.  I had put some potato soup in the crockpot at 9 am when we left, and at 6 pm when we arrived home, those potatoes were still rock hard and it tasted disgusting! I used a recipe I found on Pinterest, but it was completely in-edible, even after trying to cook it on the stove to get the potatoes done.  I think maybe the can of chicken broth I used was bad.  No soup for us!

So anyway - Jack and Alice stayed in Fairbanks and we started to head south.  We went through Tok again, then crossed back into the U.S., into Whitehorse, Yukon.  We had to find a place to fix a slow leak in a tire on the trailer.  Noel had been re-filling it daily with the portable compressor he bought in Anchorage for it, but it broke after about 4 uses.  Cal-Tire wouldn't fix it, nor would Walmart.  Fortunately, we found Kal Tire and they fixed us right up.  Thanks Cody!   Back on the road....

Kal Tire in Whitehorse - great service!

Noel donating some of our finished books to the Tok Library.

Everything you hear about mosquitoes in Alaska?  All true!

Some of the beautiful views in the morning driving back through 
the Yukon.

We saw lots of black bears again driving through the Yukon,
including this little guy, feasting on berries!

And this guy....

See his tail up?  Yep - he's pooping!  I don't know if they shit
in the woods, but here is proof, a bear does shit in the meadow!

We saw a whole herd of buffalo - the video won't load, but there were about 50 of them, and the sound of them tromping through the woods and their grunting, was incredible!  And there were babies too!

We also saw a few loners, taking dust baths...

 We stayed in Toad River RV one night - the view was beautiful!

Another night we stayed in Teslin, along the river.  The view was beautiful - right out the back of the RV window!  Sunset was nearly midnight, and sunrise - 4 AM.  Yes, I was awake at 4 AM.

Sunrise over Teslin

The bridge over the Teslin River in the background

Now it looks all beautiful and gorgeous doesn't it?  Right out of a tour brochure, isn't it?  Yea.  That's where they get ya!!  But not all is as the Chamber of Commerce would like you to believe!  They don't tell you that the road is in terrible condition, at points we couldn't go any faster than 30 mph, bumping and dodging pot holes the size of Rhode Island.  There are LOOOOOONNGGG delays for construction where you have to wait for a pilot car to lead you through the construction zones, where they are patching the road with oil and gravel.  Yea, so as the big logging trucks, construction trucks, oil trucks and semi's go flying through all that gravel, it pelts your vehicle and RV with clouds of rocks and dust.  Yes, we have a big ding in the windshield, Darlene and Carl have a few cracked windows in their RV.

And they don't tell you that its a zillion miles between any sign of a gas station, or at times, another vehicle anywhere on the highway.  No people, no buildings, no utility poles, no wires, no cell service, no gas stations.  And the wildlife?  Sometimes we travel a full day without seeing so much as a bird.  Its weird.  I know that Alaska and Canada are gigantic, and if I were an animal with a million acres to roam, I suppose I wouldn't hang out on by the road either, but its eerie to drive through miles and miles and miles of wilderness without seeing anything or anyone.

To give you an idea of the size of just Alaska....

That's a "to scale" view of how big Alaska is
compared to the lower 48 states.  See why I say its just so overwhelming?

So we were back into British Columbia when we stopped in Ft Nelson to get a few groceries.  Fortunately, I went into the RV to put the food away, and smelled a horrible burning smell.  We couldn't find anything on fire on the inside, so we checked the outside.  We found a mangled, burning wheel on the trailer...

Since its getting late and we have another long drive tomorrow, I will close with saying it got fixed, then it happened again the next day - this time having to use the fire extinguisher to put out the burning wheel.  The wheel bearings locked up and burned up, including the brake assemblies.  We are ok and I'll give you details next post...Sigh.....


Anonymous said...

I have goosebumps looking at your pictures of the landscape and the wildlife. I was silently planning my retirement trips there as I was reading....Thanks too, for being honest and including the 'down-side' of things: bad roads, long waits, etc. You guys Rock! Stay safe and Healthy! And let the good times ROLL!!! Kris Scott @DML

Carolyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolyn said...

I 'happened' upon your blog yesterday when a pin on Pinterest led me to your blog entry on 'Traveling with Fibromyalgia'. I found the entry very interesting and was curious to how you came to make this journey. So I started from the beginning and have read through all your entries. Your travelogue is very interesting. I enjoy that your writing style is very conversational and your photography is wonderful. I was surprised to find out that besides having in common the fibromyalgia, that we also share several other interests. I thoroughly enjoy visiting art fairs, especially visiting the jewelry booths and I enjoy reading and scrapbooking.
It's a treat that you have chosen to openly share your adventure and I like that you include the good and the bad. I especially like that you have shared how the fibro affects your journey. Your husband sounds like a wonderful man. I have been to some of the places you have traveled on this voyage but it was 40 - 50 years ago; so it has been wonderful to 'see' them again and to 'see' and read about places I haven't been. I look forward to reading more of your travelogue.

Amy Schubert said...

I look forward to all of your posts. I am really enjoying your Alaska photos and descriptions of the trip. Thank you for sharing this with us!