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Our Uncruise Alaskan Adventure

The Wilderness Explorer

all seasons in one day

17 - 24 September 2017

Our map.....

Our map.....

Our days aboard the "Un"cruise ship were the same...but not really.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner, as with most cruises, are times to get to know the other people on the ship, talk about what we thought would happen each day and then in the evenings , talk about what had actually happened, what we had done and what we had seen. Happily, what actually happened far surpassed what we "thought" would.

Our room.....a little tight

Our room.....a little tight

Incredible Alaskan view

Incredible Alaskan view

Jim suiting up for kayaking

Jim suiting up for kayaking

My cold continued. I was rescued by Sarah (a fellow passenger) and her emergency medical kit. (Thank you!!!) Thankfully, the meds got me through the days so that I didn't miss "anything". I really didn't feel bad but could not stop sneezing - I think I'm a bit allergic to all the "green".

Our options each day were the same but the locations were different, which produced a variety of experiences. Each day we got to choose. There were never "too" many people for an activity. Eli (our cruise director) made it all happen.

Skiff (zodiac) adventures took us along the coast for wildlife sightings and sometimes reached a bit further when an opportunity presented.

One more beautiful view

One more beautiful view

Misty Alaska

Misty Alaska

Sea lion

Sea lion

Tails

Tails

Skiff tour advantage

Skiff tour advantage

Alaskan Beauty

Alaskan Beauty

Kayaking was something I really wanted to do though Jim has never been a fan. Kudos to Uncruise for having the "easy" kayaks. They were quite comfortable and had a rudder which made them a joy to navigate. The best part though is their EZ dock launch platform (on the rear of the ship) which was used for departing and returning....easy peasy!!! I kayaked four of the seven days - three with Jim (he decided it wasn't so bad) and one day with a new friend - Pam. Skiffed it a couple of days - one day which turned into the great whale adventure and then next time was a great bear sighting.

Michelle leading our skiff tour

Michelle leading our skiff tour

Hidden Falls

Hidden Falls

Heading out on a skiff tour

Heading out on a skiff tour

Our cruising adventure took us out of Sitka, around Baranof Island to Nakwasina Sound. The next day it was on to the Neva Strait, followed by Peril Strait and Chichagof Island. The Icy Strait was definitely that - which made way for the Glacier Bay. We were fortunate to pick up a National Park Service Ranger (Chelsea Mallory) at the park entrance who stayed with us for the two days we were in Glacier Bay. She was a great resource and also guided hikes during the day and presented talks each evening.

Note: for those thinking of this trip, IMHO, the trip from Sitka to Juneau was the way to go. They do the reverse and of course, you still see amazing things but I really liked having Glacier Bay at the end of the trip - it was definitely a highlight (Thanks Carolyn for the recommendation).

Kayaking on Glacier Bay was AWESOME. Actually all of Glacier Bay was incredible. On our first day at the park, we woke to an eerie fog that clouded the coastline. There is a small park near the Visitor's Center and the brilliant green moss was everywhere. It's an easy walk and very conducive to photo taking.

Morning Fog

Morning Fog

More green at Glacier National Park

More green at Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park walk

Glacier National Park walk

Cruising into Glacier Bay

Cruising into Glacier Bay

As we sailed away (still in the fog) we gradually made our way to clear sky. The view off the stern was incredible - brilliant blue water and a layer of fog which acted as a misty bed for the majestic mountains rising skyward.

Our second day in the park, we woke early to get the sunrise views of the Grand Pacific and Marjorie Glaciers. Click, click, click of cameras was all you could hear. So beautiful!! Breakfast was also early and then at 830am Jim and I were one of the first groups to navigate the ice fields in our kayaks. It was a little nerve racking as we make our way through the large and small chunks of ice....LOVED IT!!!

Sunrise over Marjorie Glacier

Sunrise over Marjorie Glacier

Water and Ice

Water and Ice

Dodging the ice on Glacier Bay

Dodging the ice on Glacier Bay

Our ship - the Wilderness Explorer

Our ship - the Wilderness Explorer

Beautiful day on the water

Beautiful day on the water

Before lunch....the Polar Plunge - yes, a fairly large group jumped off the rear of the boat into 38 degree water. I think more Aussie and Kiwis than Yanks. It was fun to watch the enthusiastic jumps "into" the water and very rapid exit from the icy sea. Not wanted to risk pneumonia , I elected to stay on the dry ship but it was a great photo op.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Friday the 22nd was our last full day on the boat. We could tell by the fog horn of the ship that it would be a misty day and really the only day that was rainy. I opted for the skiff in the morning, which took us to the Elfin Cove at Cross Sound. This is an area that borders open sea and we were fortunate to see (through the cold raindrops) a small pod of whales feeding. Even the rain guard for my camera couldn't keep it dry so I opted to put the camera down and just enjoy the view.

Beauty in the rain

Beauty in the rain

Last skiff tour in the rain

Last skiff tour in the rain

Thar she blows......

Thar she blows......

George Island

George Island

Decaying building on George Island

Decaying building on George Island

Marilyn - chilly but happy

Marilyn - chilly but happy

That afternoon, one of the options was a skiff ride to George Island and then a hike. We landed on the rocky beach with Dan leading us along the trail up and up ending up at the remains of what was a small military instillation. The "big gun" still stands but small buildings scattered on knolls near by have all but succumbed to nature.

We were on our own to wander the island. When I made my way down to the beach, the boat going back was full. Lucky for me, I got to go back with the crew. (If there is room and they are on their "down" time, crew members are encouraged to go on the different activities). As we headed back to the ship, they wanted to know if I was good with a "side" trip. Of course.... A quick up turn took us around to another side of island. Ahead was a beautiful coast side arch only view able only from the water....very cool!!

Our final night culminated with dinner and an Uncruise tradition of a video of photos that the crew took through out the week. It was fun to watch where we'd been and what we'd done though someone else's eyes. Uncruise sent the video to all of the cruisers and I've included it below - Enjoy!!

http://photos.un-cruise.com/Alaska/Wilderness-Explorer-91617/n-3JWBk8/

On Saturday the 23rd, it was up early, get our bags (which we packed the night before), set out for pick up and a final breakfast before departing the ship. Once we were off, with a final good by from all of the crew we were released back into civilization. The crew would be working furiously to turn the boat over for the incoming passengers. Fifteen of our fellow passengers continued on for the final leg (Juneau to Ketchikan) of the season. After that, the crew took the ship into Seattle for dry dock and a little refurb.

For us, it was two nights in Juneau before heading home. Another Airbnb home and another great location. We did rent a car, One option was to wait until 1130 to take the shuttle to the airport but we opted to Uber out, pick up the car, get our bags (once we finally found them) and make our way up the hills of Juneau. It's like a mini San Francisco. Our host, Frankie, had been in close contact and her directions were great. Their guest area is in the lower level of the house. Nice sized bedroom with a couple of comfortable chairs and a desk. The bathroom was huge and there was also a small kitchen area with everything we needed.

We spent the next two days, driving around the area, checking our Mendenhall Glacier and the local Alaskan Brewery. You could tell that cruise season was over as many of the restaurants had limited hours and the streets seemed deserted. Most of the people wandering the streets were people we had just left. We did have dinner one night at The Rookery. WONDERFUL food - highly recommend it.

A little taste of Alaska

A little taste of Alaska

Another IASW - as we were saying good bye to our hosts (Sunday night as our flight left at 0500 on Monday), we found out that one of the crew "Emily", who, we found out has family in Tucson, had also stayed at the same Airbnb when she came to Alaska. Emily...Frankie and Odin asked us to say "Hello".

Up early and heading home. Alaska was wonderful - along with the magnificent beauty of the area we also made friends with some great people. Beauty lends itself to more beauty....lucky us!!!

I promised more photos and again have used shutterfly.....take a look:

https://alaskanrvanduncruiseadventure.shutterfly.com/

That's us....kayaking off to our next adventure!!!!!

That's us....kayaking off to our next adventure!!!!!

Posted by pjburke 14:30 Archived in USA Tagged alaska uncruise Comments (2)

Sitka

Small town Alaska

overcast 55 °F

Note: The cruise portion of this trip was a welcome respite from all things "on line" but with no cell service or internet and a busy, busy schedule, I'm behind in my postings.. OK...add a little procrastination in also....

This next posting will be for our time in Sitka and the following postings will be "more pics - less words" - probably to the relief of some .....lolol..enjoy!!

14 September 2017

Sleeping in the parking lot of AM RV Center really did work out well. Our land tour of Alaska was over and and it was time to move on to the marine portion. Prior to boarding UnCruise's Wilderness Explorer, we spent two nights/three days in Sitka. It sounded like a cute little town, so why not.

Our flight to Sitka was by way of Juneau. Our stopover in Juneau was brief (we didn't even get off the plane).

Juneau is Alaska's capital and I was slightly amused that it was so small (only three gates). Little did I know that those three would far surpass the Sitka airport which has .....one gate and one small baggage carousel. The advantage being that the bags come out quite quickly.

Normally, when arriving at an airport there is a taxi stand. Sitka has a taxi phone. Actually, a phone on the wall outside the front door of the terminal. Pinned to the wall next to the phone are business cards for local taxis. I only discovered this after I asked the TSA agent about transportation. His recommendation was Hank,whose card was there along with others. I called Hank and he arrived just about his projected 15 minute ETA. A tall, friendly man with a southern accent, Hank knew exactly where we were going.

We'd soon discover that Sitka is the quintessential "small town" - everyone pretty much knows everyone else. We stayed at an Airbnb room which we found while researching Sitka for accommodations. I found that hotels in this little town are crazy expensive - $150-200 per night and that was at the Super 8. We've had good luck with Airbnb in the past but this is the first time we rented a room vs the whole house.

Our Airbnb Home

Our Airbnb Home


Our room in Sitka

Our room in Sitka

Deanna was our landlady for the two days we were there and she was great about being in touch. We couldn't get into the room until 3pm but we were able to leave our bags. With those dropped off - lunch was a good place to start. No time for breakfast that morning, so we were both a bit peckish. Lunch was at the Bayview Pub - really good burger and beer.

Next stop - I needed to see if I could get my glasses fixed. When I picked them up that morning, one of the lenses fell out. Agh!!! Our waiter at the Pub told us about the vision center and how to get there. It was probably a mile walk heading out of town but a good way to walk off lunch and see a bit of Sitka away from the tourist area. The office was easy to find but I'd have to leave the glasses - optometrist was out to lunch.

It wasn't long before we discovered that, a good afternoon walk in SItka would pretty much cover most of what was there...at least at this time of year. Many shops and restaurants had already closed for the season.

Harborview Sitka

Harborview Sitka

Reminder of the Fishing Industry

Reminder of the Fishing Industry

Totem outside the Healing Hut

Totem outside the Healing Hut

Totem outside the Sitka High School

Totem outside the Sitka High School

The "Mean Queen" got good reviews so for dinner we walked over and reviews were spot on....really good pizza.

Note: For those thinking of traveling independently to Alaska. I would highly recommend the trip but just an FYI regarding food. Grocery store prices are about the same as "the lower 48" but dining out is a bit expensive. A lot of reviews I've read mention the high price of food but then they always preface it with "but remember...it's Alaska".

15 September 2017

After coffee and scone/bagel at the Back Door (a little local coffee shop behind the local book store - hence the name), we walked towards the vision center to get my glasses. Another odd thing about Sitka. There is only one grocery store (that we found) and it's about a mile outside the main town area. Lucky for us,it's right next door to the vision center so it was a quick stop at both and errands were complete.

We walked back along the water and started chatting with a couple from Washington (state) who had just retired and were starting a ten year trek on their trawler. As we were saying our good byes - we both mentioned that we blogged. I glanced at his name during our card exchange and found out they were also "Gregorys". His family is also from England - couldn't really make a connection but you never know. We just might be cousins. Yes IASW!!!

Also, met a couple from Florida who are in port on the Oceania Regent. Chatted with them a bit. Sitka definitely lends itself to the friendly "small town" feel.

In front of the Pioneer Home

In front of the Pioneer Home

Early Settler

Early Settler

Reminisce of Russian Influence

Reminisce of Russian Influence

Starfish in Sitka

Starfish in Sitka

Back to the room just as it was starting to sprinkle. Worked on the blog and then back to the Pub for dinner. UA was playing on the bar TV, so we got a chance to see some of the game (against UTEP). Yes, we crushed them.

16 September 2017

Before boarding our cruise ship later in the afternoon, we had the day to wander Sitka - probably one more day than we really needed. Baggage needed to be dropped off by 330pm to a hotel which was a quick ten minute walk.

Last on the "to do" list was to finish up a load of laundry (no laundry on the ship) before leaving Deanna's lovely home. The Back Door again for breakfast.

We decided to walked to Raptor center (about a mile outside town). Along the way, we walked by a National Cemetery. Didn't even know that there was one in town. I do have this thing about cemeteries, so Jim indulged me.

There were over 1000 graves, some dating to the mid 1800's. We bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 and this cemetery was established in 1868. It is the oldest in Alaska predating Fort Richardson National Cemetery in Anchorage by almost 100 years. I found this fascinating and it made me wonder , "what was it like to live (and die) in Sitka in 1870?". For anyone who is interested, I've included a like to the cemetery's wiki page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitka_National_Cemetery

Moving View at the National Cemetery

Moving View at the National Cemetery

Continuing down Sawmill Creek Road, we finally reached the Raptor Center........and it was CLOSED!!!!

Oh well.....There was an entrance to the Sitka National Historical Park close by, so we wandered for a bit in this nice, local rain forest park.

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

Green....everywhere!!

Green....everywhere!!

Local Totem

Local Totem

Local Art

Local Art

Totem outside the National Park Office - Sitka

Totem outside the National Park Office - Sitka

The park area was busy this morning with a high school cross country meet - young people from high schools all over SE Alaska.

We picked up our day packs from Deanna's after lunch and made our way to the gathering point. The hotel lobby was full of cruisers coming and going. We chatted with a few and found that some had disembarked that morning and others would be our shipmates for the next seven days.

From first impressions, it seemed to be a really nice group of people. Demographics?? A few in the 45-55 age range and two adult children to two different families but generally the 60-75 age group with a number of Aussies and Kiwis. Most people were also first time cruisers with UC but none the less, most were experienced travelers.

Jim and I were playing cards in the lobby and I realized that I was getting a scratchy throat. I know my body pretty well - I immediately knew I was coming down with a head cold (DAMN!!). We've been planning this trip since last September and I really didn't want to be sick. We ran down to the pharmacy to pick up some EmergenC...of course, I had some but it was at home in the first aid kit..which I inadvertently left behind.

Arriving back to the hotel, just in time for our five minute bus ride to the harbor. As with all Uncruises, we were personally greeted by the captain and crew and also had our pictures taken in the rain. Up the gangplank and we were again greeted by another crew member (Peyton) who escorted us to our rooms She explained the room and it's idiosyncrasies The room (compared to the La Pinta) is minuscule and of course I get "inside" side of the bed.

All on board and we're off...our farewell wave to Sitka and thanks for an enjoyable visit.

Good-bye Sitka!!!

Good-bye Sitka!!!

A welcome cocktail, a few "ship" info tidbits and our mandatory Coast Guard safety instructions and it's time for dinner. The food is good...not the huge selection that we had on La Pinta but very tasty.

More intros in the lounge after dinner and there was a little socializing but my usual "perky self" was not so perky ....I left Jim to schmooze and I was off to bed to dream of whales, glaciers and the possibility of seeing the aurora borealis.

Posted by pjburke 14:08 Archived in USA Tagged alaska uncruise Comments (0)

Fairbanks

The farthest north we've ever been in North America

all seasons in one day 49 °F

Note: I've added some pics to the previous post...take a look.


04 September 2017

It's Labor Day and we're heading north to Fairbanks - traffic is pretty light. After leaving Denali, the mountain does seem to follow you. The area around it is fairly flat and with each look in the rearview mirror she seems to be keeping a watchful eye on us.

When we planned this trip, we had to make a decision.

1) Take the Denali Highway to Paxson (which heads east from just north of Denali but is mostly a gravel road)
2) Head north to Fairbanks
3) Back track and head south

All options would lead us to the Kenai Peninsula where will spend our 2nd week. The first option was out - we found out we aren't allow to take the RV on that road. Initially, we were going to backtrack but the week before we left on this trip, we changed our minds "again" and we decided to check out Fairbanks.

A short two hour drive brought us to the River's Edge Campground along the Chena River just outside Fairbanks proper - lovely little place and well situated. Along with a list from our friends, the Slocums, (former Fairbanks residents) and the young man at the desk we had a nice list of "things to do" to choose from.

The view of the Chena River from our campsite

The view of the Chena River from our campsite


05 September 2017

It must be the air because we've been sleeping in a bit. Up a little late, breakfast and off for the day. First stop... the UofA (University of Alaska) Museum - I highly recommend it. It's not huge but it's packed with exhibits on local wildlife, people and the land - both past and present. As with any museum, I could have spent alot more time there.

Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

Mastadon Bones

Mastadon Bones

Tribal totem pole

Tribal totem pole

Hope we don't meet him in the woods...the bear not Jim!

Hope we don't meet him in the woods...the bear not Jim!


Next, we're off to take a cruise on the Riverboat Discovery. This trip was recommended by friends. There is a shuttle from our campground picks us up promptly at 1pm. It's a 3 1/2 hour narrated cruise up the Chena River. At $64 per person, it's a little pricy but very enjoyable. The MC was a very knowledgable gentleman (and actually pretty funny) who educated us regarding life on the river and for those living in the area - dating back to the mid to late 1800's. The riverboat, as a tour vessel, originated in 1950 but the captain's family (Capt Jim Brinkley) came to the area in the late 1800's when the Chena River, along with the Tanana and Yukon Rivers, were used for transportation. For a little bit about our tour click here...http://riverboatdiscovery.com/

Riverboat Discovery III

Riverboat Discovery III

1954 Piper Cub

1954 Piper Cub

Athabascan Village

Athabascan Village

Demonstration of traditional clothing of the Athabascan people

Demonstration of traditional clothing of the Athabascan people

Had a bit of a IASW (It's a small world) moment. We were walking off the boat and the woman in front of me had a camera harness that said Tucson Audubon Society. I asked if they were really from Tucson...yes, her husband was, though now living in California, they knew Tucson well. We ended up chatting with them most of the trip.

With a long day behind us, we opted for Thai Take Out for dinner. Fairbanks (and Alaska in general) has a large Asian population. Great for us. We highly recommend the Lemongrass Thai restaurant and we had leftovers, enough for lunch the next day...even better. As the rain came down on our tin house, we were warm and cozy inside enjoying our dinner...yes, RVing is definitely growing on me.

06 September 2017

Now we're heading south but we want to check out the Tanana Valley Farmer's Market. It doesn't open until 11am and we have a little extra time so we decide to venture out to the Alaskan Pipeline Viewing spot. My Mom's late husband, Bob Huttinger worked on the pipeline project and having heard so much about Alaska (which he absolutely loved) we headed north about eight miles. Well, it's a big pipe!!! We really didn't need to make the extra trip..our drive south pretty much followed the pipeline and there were multiple viewing spots.

We really do love local Farmer's Markets. Unfortunately for us, timing was not great. We had done grocery shopping days a few days prior. As we walked in, all I noticed were incredibly beautiful, fresh veggies... Even with Jim loving his veggies, there is only so much he can eat. We saw radishes the size of beets - amazing!!

One of the things we did pick up was Birch Syrup. There are no maple trees in this area but there are so many birch...hence birch syrup. Same process but with a little different taste - a bit more earthy.

Onward!!!!

Fairbanks to Glennallen on the Glenn Highway was a pretty, though extremely windy drive. It was a long driving day for us and as we were entering the Glennallan area, we noticed a BLM Campsite. With no prior reservations, we made the short drive in and and found a beautiful site. BLM (Bureau of Land Management) sites are basic (no electric or water but there are bathrooms) and for only $15 and with us being self contained, we took advantage of this peaceful little oasis.

Alaska starting to get real....

Alaska starting to get real....

Fairbanks to Glennallen

Fairbanks to Glennallen

Glacier view from the Glenn Highway

Glacier view from the Glenn Highway

Slide area

Slide area

One OMG after another

One OMG after another

Beautiful

Beautiful

07 September 2017

Westward to Palmer along the Richardson Highway.

I hope I don't hurt anyones feelings but up until yesterday...Jim and I were both thinking...Well, Alaska is nice but other than Denali there were no real "wow" moments...Those thoughts have changed. The Glenn Highway was a tiny taste of what was to come on the Richardson Highway...OMG!!! Yup, one OMG sight after another...good thing I'm driving. Photo stops at my leisure!!

I said above that there hadn't been (until today) any super big WOW moments. I have to admit there is one thing that has really impressed me about Alaska....it's people. I know, people are people everywhere. And yes, I know we are all Americans, but the Alaskan people have a spirit about them. They are ready with a helping hand and a smile. Beyond the views, I will always remember these gracious people.

Along our drive today, we took our time and the views didn't fail to impress. I'll let the pics speak for themselves.

Glacial Beauty

Glacial Beauty

Richardson Highway

Richardson Highway

Beautiful view along the Richarson Highway

Beautiful view along the Richarson Highway

Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier

View from the roadway - Richardson Highway

View from the roadway - Richardson Highway

Another beautiful mountain along the Richardson Highway

Another beautiful mountain along the Richardson Highway

Distant Beauty

Distant Beauty

Jim checking out the glacier

Jim checking out the glacier

Ice!!!

Ice!!!

I just love glaciers!!!

I just love glaciers!!!

Our campground in Palmer (actually about five miles outside Palmer) was well run and very clean. Sorry, but I do judge a campground on it's bathrooms and Big Bear Campground is #1 on my list right now.

Tomorrow we'll be off to the Kenai...head from the mountains to the sea..........

Posted by pjburke 17:00 Archived in USA Tagged alaska Comments (1)

Denali

"The Mountain"

all seasons in one day 43 °F

01 Sept 2017 .....continued.

We started out from Talkeetna with just a sliver of sun showing. I was so optimistic - I grabbed my sunglasses. Well, that probably cursed us - it started to rain shortly after we got on the road and didn't stop until we reached Denali. There were times when I was sure that the rain was deciding between snow and sleet but just stayed rain....windy, cold and rainy...until we reached Denali.

Alaska Veterans Memorial

Alaska Veterans Memorial


Of course, we're told the best views are from a distance. With each passing mile, the mountain would tease us with just the slightest shadow and then would cover itself with a grey blanket of clouds.

Arriving at the National Park, we checked in and picked out a campsite. No water or electric, so we're a bit off the grid...which, thankfully, our RV is equipped for. Riley Campground is right as you enter the park and with Jim's Senior National Parks Pass it's quite a deal...$12 per night. We found a nice site that was relatively flat and after a couple parking attempts, settled in.

Denali.....check!!!

Denali.....check!!!

Riley Campground

Riley Campground

Denali, like many other national parks, to avoid traffic congestion and the environmental impact, uses buses for transportation into the park. There is a fee if you want to travel farther than the Savage Creek site - that shuttle is free but travels less frequently. All the shuttles are hop on - hop off (subject to a seat availability - no standing on these buses).

We opted for the shuttle to Eielson Vistor's Center - which is 65 miles into the the park and takes about eight hours round trip without hopping off. The shuttle does do a few short "rest" stops and will stop if there is wildlife sightings. Each ticket costs $35 per adult and reservations are required. We made our reservations for tomorrow this afternoon and will be on the 830am shuttle. Sunday (the day after tomorrow), I think we'll try the Savage RIver Trails....at least that is the plan right now...

After setting up the RV, it was time to see what the Visitor's Center had to offer. We always make use of the information offered by the rangers at the National Park offices. They provide wonderfully useful info. From our camp site, it was an easy 1.5 mile walk to get to the Visitors Center via the McKinley Station Trail. We chatted with the ranger and caught the ongoing video about the park.

We made our way back to our site and settled in to make dinner. We're still feeling our way around. The weather forcast indicates the possibility of rain and/or snow tonight. Not missing our tents today.

Relaxing in the RV, played some cards, pierogies for dinner and we're both about ready for bed...

02 September 2017

We actually slept quite well. The bed is queen sized and nice and firm.

Up, breakfast and we're on our way to the the Wilderness Access Center (WAC or AKA the bus station).

This information might be a bit redundant but I found it all a bit confusing before we got here and saw how the system works.

Our trip today will be out to the Eielson Visitors Center - 65 miles each way. If we took one of the "tours", there is a guide on board, multiple stops and a box lunch is included..for $80 and no option to hop on/hop off. The "tour" is a bit more extensive but drives the same road as the shuttles. With the shuttles ($35) you can decide how far out on the park road you want to go. Our shuttle ride will be an eight hours round trip. Also, shuttles are the green buses and tour buses tan. All buses start running at 0630 and run every half hour throughout the day.

We did luck out by getting Elton Parks as our driver/guide. He was funny and incredibly knowledgable. We learned about the animals, park history, local area information - probably one of the best driver/guides we've ever had. Elton shared that a good portion of the drivers have more than 25 years experience. And, also that most the guides at Denali are there because they love being there. We could just tell that his man loved his job!!

Our bus departed at 0830 (shuttle by reservation only and this was the first time we could get). One other thing that is very important to remember. Other than the convenience store at the camp entrance and a snack/coffee shop at the WAC, there is NO (and I mean NO) food sold in the park. You are able to replenish water at the Eielson Center. Even though this was impressed upon us many times, there was still a group of nine young people who boarded the bus with no food or water. They decided to get off the bus, get some food and I did see them at a stop later, so they were able to catch another bus. It was ok to eat on the bus and Elton told us he'd seen everything: pizza, mostly sandwiches, salads, some food choices that were more inventive than others and there was even a gentleman from Germany who brought a 6 pack of beer. He was not able to drink on the bus but at each stop he would step off and enjoy his tasty beverage.

It was a wonderful day. The skies cleared with just a few clouds. Again, we lucked out. "The Mountain" is usually clouded over at the peak and only about 20% of visitors get a chance to see it. We didn't get a clear view but did get that "almost" view. Clear but cold "The Mountain" rose up against the blue sky with a slight cloud halo circling the summit. Quite glorious!!

Our 1st view of Denali

Our 1st view of Denali

The Mountain follows you throughout the park

The Mountain follows you throughout the park

The Mountain

The Mountain

Old Glory

Old Glory

It was also a "bearly" good day. No caribou but we saw about ten bears including a sow and two pups and also two good sized bears bathing in one of the roadside ponds. We were not able to stop for a photo shoot on the swimming bears. They had gotten a little close to the some of the camp sites and the rangers were using some aversion training (bean bags).

Bear Sow and Cub

Bear Sow and Cub

Our trip was highlighted with the sighting of two rutting moose. As with many of the bear sightings, it was quite far off so my pictures were not good but the experience was great.

Rutting Moose

Rutting Moose


Regarding photos: about a year ago I invested in a new Nikon D3300 with hopes of learning more about photography and becoming a better "photographer". After some faltering and then help from John at Tucson Camera - I'm feeling a little more comfortable. I brought both cameras with me on this trip but only the "new" camera on today's trip. My "old" camera is a Lumix DMC FZ200. Tomorrow we'll be heading back into the park to the Savage Lake area. I'm going to take the "old" camera to compare.

Dinner was back at the RV. I'm really getting spoiled - I really don't think I can go back to tent camping after this treat...Jim....hint....hint!!!

03 September 2017

Another good night sleep until the CO2 alarm starting going off. This "RV'ing" is a definitely a learning curve for us. I called Katie from AM (yes, I know it's Sunday but after perusing the internet - when your CO2 alarm goes off - it's kind of a big thing.) Of course, she knew exactly what we'd been doing wrong. Quick fix (our batteries were low) and I could still get a hot shower before heading out for our hike.

The WAC was about a 15 minute walk from our campsite and we grabbed the 1030 shuttle. From our first "hello", I knew this driver was no "Elton".
Skies today are overcast and the air colder. The short ride (45 minutes) to Savage Lake passed quickly with no sightings. The walk is a two mile loop trail. It was good to get out and walk if only for the views - not spectacular but a subtle beauty. The return was into the cold, gusty wind but enjoyable nonetheless.

Savage River Trail

Savage River Trail

Messy little eater

Messy little eater

Lichen as art!!!

Lichen as art!!!

Jim bundled for the hike

Jim bundled for the hike

We walked to the ranger hut to wait for the return bus and chatted with the two rangers on duty. One was a young man who would be heading to Kansas for his next assignment and the second a local woman, who, after chatting with for a bit, we found out she graduated from SUNY Brockport. Yes, the world does get smaller and smaller.

We got back to our site just in time to drop off our backpack and head to the Visitor's Center to catch the bus to the Sled Dog Demonstration.
The sled dogs are housed at the historic park kennels and demos are given three times a day and are free to the public. The rangers assigned to this post show how they work and train with the dogs. These dogs are very important to the park as they are the only mode of transportation into the park once the snow arrives - no motorized "anything ". The public is able to interact with some of the dogs, then a brief demo, kennel history and Q/A from the crowd.

I'll give you about 2 days to stop doing that!!

I'll give you about 2 days to stop doing that!!

Her name is Party...for obvious reasons!!

Her name is Party...for obvious reasons!!

Upon our return we stayed and toured the small museum exhibits at the Visitor's Center before taking the trail back to our site.

We'll be off tomorrow for Fairbanks with wonderful memories of the views of this spectacular part of our country.

Posted by pjburke 09:47 Archived in USA Tagged alaska denali bears Comments (4)

Alaska ......here we come!!!

rain 46 °F

30 August 2017

Though it's always been there, Alaska has traveled in priority position...up and down our "to do" list. Last summer, we decided it was time to visit our 49th state. At one point, we thought we'd drive up and camp. After being here for just two days....what were we thinking??? Glad we changed those plans.

Our trip up was seamless. Tucson non stop to Seattle, a short layover and we headed north to Anchorage. As we dropped through the clouds, it seemed as if we would land on the mountain top. The sun was trying, oh so hard, to peek out but was shadowed by clouds and the dark images of massive mountains. Even though it was 730pm, it felt like the afternoon of a rainy day. Darkness wouldn't fully arrive until after 10pm...yup - we're in Alaska.

I've always wanted to try RV travel. Jim...not so much but with the encouragement of friends, this gave us the perfect opportunity to give it a shot.

We'll be picking up our RV (aka home on wheels) tomorrow am but tonight it's the Lakeshore Inn and Suites. My first discovery while researching this trip is that hotels in all the major cities are pretty expensive. This hotel was nice and clean and close to the airport.

After arriving and getting settled, it was time to feed my hungry husband. We walked the neighborhood and opted for pizza. Today's Pizza (the name of the pizza place) was a perfect example of "don't judge a book by it's cover". There were two other customers who appeared to be locals and known to the owner - A Chinese gentleman and his family. The pizza was tasty and the beer cold - all in all a good choice.

31 August 2017

My first night sleep away from my own bed is usually restless and this night would be no different. The airport was close by so there was the sound of planes, a group arrived late and although it sound like 100 people, I doubt that there was and as I would come to find out after an "after breakfast" walk - there is a nearby lake (Lake Hood) surrounded by seaplanes, as far as the eye can see, that were taking off and landing regularly.

Sea plane parking lot

Sea plane parking lot

Lake Hood

Lake Hood

Lake Hood

Lake Hood

Our check in for the RV is 12noon, so I wandered the neighborhood near the hotel for a bit. My first conclusion - Alaskans are pretty friendly people, from a quick wave from a morning runner, a conversation and walk recommendation from a woman walking her dog and even a "have a good" day from the seemingly homeless young man looking for a light for his cigarette.

With check out at 11am and Uber readily available we arrived at A and M RV Center a bit early. I've been in contact with Katie at AM for over a year. It was nice to finally meet. As the saying goes...our chariot awaits. After a complete walk through, we were off. Being the primary driver, I gave it turn around the parking lot. At 27'...it seemed so big and at first I was a bit nervous. But, truthfully, it really wasn't difficult at all.

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First stop, Fred Meyer's for food. Not being from the PNW, I'm not really familiar with "Freddies" but seems to be a Fry's on steroids. Not ten minutes into our shopping and another "friendly Alaskan". The lady behind the deli counter told us how sorry she was that the weather wasn't better (it was raining out) but that they had had a horrible summer. She laughed and wished us well.

We made our way out of town. Anchorage is a bit like Tucson in the fact that there really are no freeways (that we found). With Garmin in hand we're on our way north but not before a quick stop in Wasilla - no we didn't have tea with Sarah. Doing research we found an Eastern European Deli (one in Anchorage and the other in Wasilla) that got great reviews. The shop in Wasilla was right along our route with a good parking lot for our baby whale. After sampling a couple of different kielbasa, we came away with that, some highly rated potato salad and best of all - homemade potato and farmer cheese pierogies ...That will be dinner one night in Denali :-).

A rainy but easy drive brought us to our first stop - Talkeetna. A small, off the main road, town that is supposed to have some of the best views of Denali...our view....clouds. The campground is about a 10 minute walk from town, so after doing our first "set up" we walked in for dinner. With recommendations from our camp host - the Denali Brew Pub (DBP) was our destination.

The number of people wandering this small town is a definite indication that the "tourist" season is winding down. I'm sure earlier in the summer this cute little spot would be buzzing.

DBP was a great choice. Good food and the beer (made just down the road) was really good.

01 September 2017

With rain drops tickling the metal roof and the quiet of the forest surrounding us...we had a great night sleep.

After solving (with Katie's help) a minor issue (operator error)....we're off to Denali National Park. Rain today but sun predicted for tomorrow and Sunday - keep your fingers crossed. I don't believe we'll have internet in the Park but our following stop is Fairbanks and I'm hoping for some great pictures to share.

Posted by pjburke 10:56 Archived in USA Tagged alaska Comments (2)

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