Sunday, June 29, 2014

Day 3

Denali Natural History Tour

Although we could have upgraded to a longer Wilderness Tour (6-8 hours), we elected to take the tour that came with our package (4-5 hours.)  We thought even that sounded like a long time on a bus, and it was, but the bus driver/naturalist was very interesting and we made a few stops.

The first stop was at the park wilderness center to view the park film Across Time and Tundra. Interesting, but what I really thought was cool was this set of windows depicting the park animals.

At the next stop, a short walk led to Savage Cabin, originally occupied by the cook in the park's first tourist camp and still used as a ranger patrol cabin.  The ranger who met us there gave his talk in character as the first park ranger.

The nails in the shutters are to discourage bears from breaking in!

Our naturalist told us that moose are plentiful in this area.  We didn't see any moose, but there was plenty of proof of their existence.

This area is called taiga forest and populated predominately with black spruce.  The new cones add a splash of color.

The good news is that we saw the one animal I had never seen in the wild and never would if we had missed them this trip - caribou.  They were very far away and we had to take our pictures through the bus windows, but you can certainly identify them.

Now for the bad news, other that some white dots on the mountain that our guide claimed were Dall Sheep, those are the only animals we saw.

And the bad news didn't stop there.  Here's where Mt. McKinley should be.

Nancy and Joe (of Streamin with Joe and Buddy) were much luckier.  You can see their pictures of the mountain and the animals they saw here.

Our final stop was for a talk by an Athabascan Alaskan Native who talked about the changes her family has seen.  That was very interesting to me.  Imagine that just a few generations ago, her people were living in tents.  Now she has an apartment, cell phone, and computer.

On our way back, we asked to be dropped at the visitors center where we saw what those white specs on the hill would look like up close.

Needing to stretch our legs, we walked from there to Glitter Gulch, which I just noticed is called Nenana Canyon on the map.  It was a nice walk, maybe 2 1/2 to 3 miles.

On the way, we happened to pass under the train trestle at just the right time.

We were told that Alaska does not have rabbits, so this is a hare that posed for a picture.

And they have the cutest little red squirrels, although this one doesn't look too red in the shade.

We joined back up with our group and ended the day with a dinner/show called Cabin Nite.  After serving us an all-you-can-eat, family-style meal, the waiters and waitresses entertained us with stories, song, and humor.  The food was good (especially the berry cobbler) and the entertainment was excellent, but the price was steep, even for Alaska.

When we arrived back at the lodge, we finally saw Mt. McKinley.

Although I was a little disappointed with the mountain's non-appearance, I was prepared for that.  I understand most people who visit for just one day have the same problem.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Day 2

North to Denali.

This might have been my favorite day.  Promptly at 8 AM, we boarded a bus (a Prevost, no less) for the first half of our trip north.  Our tour guide Michael introduced us to our bus driver Michael.  Humm, that made it easy to remember their names.  There were 48 of us who would at least recognize each other by the time we transferred to the ship on day 4.  That was an advantage of taking the tour first, because when we encountered any of the others on the ship, it was like a reunion.  Michael informed us of Alaska facts and points of interest along the way, including the fence around Sarah Palin's house in Wasilla.

The bus trip ended in Talkeetna, supposedly the inspiration for the town of Cicely from TV's Northern Exposure, but I don't remember Cicely having so many souvenir shops.

But my fun really began when we boarded the Alaska Railroad for the remainder of the trip to Denali.

And we weren't riding in just any old rail car, but in back half of this fancy, dancy observation car.

Cool, huh?

At the first break in the trees, we were all snapping pictures out the window.

But soon we were called downstairs to our own personal dining room.  Ron and I split a french dip sandwich, so we could share the wildberry pie à la mode.  Yummy!  (Don't bother looking for us, we were at the empty table on the right.)

By the time we got back upstairs to our seats, the scenery was changing and becoming even more interesting..

Since we were in the last car, we also were able to pop out on the rear deck.

I wasn't the only one trying for a picture of the engines going over a trestle.

That's some turbulent water.

One more out the back.

Down there, right next to the river, we spotted our home for the next two nights, the Grizzly Bear Lodge.

The rooms were really cute.

Each room had a little balcony overlooking the river.

The lodge was about 5 miles from the entrance to Denali National Park and about 6 miles from Glitter Gulch. Glitter Gulch is a collection of lodging, restaurants, and shops, with no pretense of being a town.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Saga Begins

Months ago, Ron decided that this was the year I would finally go to Alaska.  (He had already been, twice actually, BB - Before Barbara.)   He elected to tag along.  :-D  Next was the discussion, okay, many discussions, about how we would accomplish this.  Do we take the RV, fly and rent an RV, fly and rent a car, or take a cruise?  After tossing it around for awhile, we decided to combine a cruise and some touring.  Luckily NCL (Norwegian Cruise Lines) had what we were looking for -  a seven-day cruise from Vancouver, BC, combined with a four-day land tour to Denali.  We decided to do the tour first, then take the cruise south.  I thought this had a couple of advantages, and it did, but also one disadvantage which I will whine about in a subsequent post.

We planned to fly out of Denver and timed our RV travels accordingly.  Then we had to find someplace to leave the RV for 11 days, hopefully not too far from the airport.  The Northglenn Elks was willing to let us leave it there and, although it's not really convenient to the airport, it was the closest we could find.

We were up way before the crack of dawn preparing for Super Shuttle to pick us up.  We had a few anxious moments when they were 15 minutes late, wondering if my special instructions that we were in the Elks lodge parking lot had gotten passed along.  But we were still really early for our flight.

We had a layover in Seattle, then it was off to Anchorage, Alaska, flying right up the coast of Canada with amazing views of snow-capped mountains through the clouds.

NCL picked us up at the airport and shuttled us to the Millennium Hotel.  It's funny, I had read nasty comments online about this hotel, but we thought it was fine.  The only drawback was the distance from the lobby to our room, but we were only there one night.

In the lobby, we met with Michael, who would be our tour guide for the land portion of our adventure.  He patiently explained all we needed to know, right under the watchful eyes of some of the local wildlife.

At first, we were surprised to hear that no meals are included in the land tour (I must have missed that in the itinerary,) but soon realized that would add on to the cost and Ron and I can eat really cheaply.  And with the cruise coming up, we'll eat plenty then.

We explored some and watched the seaplanes take off from the lake behind the hotel.

So cool.

There were planes docked all around the lake.  I believe some belonged to local residents, but they also offered 'transient aircraft parking'.  The first 72 hours were free and it was $10 a day after that.  I thought that was very reasonable.

We asked some locals where to eat and they recommended Gwennie's.

Ron and I split a meal of fried halibut - very good and plenty of food for us.  (Don't worry, I'm not going to tell you every meal we ate.)

Our trip began only about a week before the summer solstice and wondered about how we would sleep with constant light.  No worries, the hotel had good light-blocking curtains.  I happened to wake up at 1 AM and snapped this picture out the window.  Since we were hundreds of miles south of the arctic circle, the sun was down, but the sky was still light.  Way cool.

And this brings us to the end of Day 1.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

We're Back

Where did we go?  Well, does this give you a clue?

How about the plane with this image on the tail?

I'm sure you have it by now, but just in case . . .

I finally got to that 50th state that I've been missing for over ten years. We got back really late last night and I've just begun to go through the 658 pictures.  Details to follow.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


From Salida, we made a 143 mile jump to Denver area with only one overnight stop on the way.  Whew! We took US 285 through the area of Colorado known as South Park (not the same as the cartoon.)  It includes about 1000 square miles of high altitude grassland, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains.  Traveling through it in the spring, it looks like a dream park.

We will spend about a week visiting with Ron's two daughters and their families.  Of course little Harper is the star - I'm sorry to admit that, but it's just the way it is.

Harper was pretty excited to see 'Grandpa's big bus.'  He's such a boy - all he wanted to do was drive it.

And (pretend to) talk on the CB.

One day he and his mother joined us for a trip to Tiny Town close to Morrison.  This fascinating place opened to the public in 1921, although it was pretty much destroyed in a flood in 1969 and remained closed for years after that.  But it's open now with over 100 1/6th scale buildings and a miniature train.

They are justifiable proud of their new steam engine.  Harper really liked watching it and waving to all the passengers, but he declined a ride.

He would have loved to get closer to this 'Thomas' box car.

Tiny Town is a place for little ones just his size and they can explore all the kid-sized buildings.

Some are open to further exploration.

See Harper looking out the window?

Ooops, Harper, I think the entrance is around back.

All he needs is a rocking chair for sitting on the porch.

The gas station had cars inside that he wanted so badly to play with.
I think Harper had almost as much fun as I did.

Finally, I have to share this 4 second video that Ron's three grandchildren sent me for Mother's Day.  Adam and Shannon have both magically changed into young adults while I wasn't looking.

Ron and I are making a side trip and will be out of touch for about 12 days.  I'll write all about it when we return.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Perfect Salida

Just over the Monarch Pass, and after 10 miles of 6% downgrade, is one of our very favorite boondocking spots. About 5 miles west of Salida, Colorado, is some gorgeous BLM land with nearly unlimited room for those of us who prefer dry camping.  And it's within a short distance of one of the prettiest towns anywhere.

Here we are with our backdrop of Mt. Shavano and the locally famous Angel of Shavano.

What?  You don't see her?   How about now?

Downtown Salida is a fun and active place with the wild Arkansas river to provide entertainment for rafting and white water kayaking.  But what I like is how the town is surrounded on three sides by mountains with numerous trails.  Although we stick with hiking, many of the trails allow biking, horseback riding, and dirt bikes.

We tried three of the choices while we were in the area.  The first was part of the Colorado Trail along the base of Mt. Shavano.  It began as a lovely walk through the newly-budded aspen.

With some nice wildflowers along the way.

I brought along my hiking sticks thinking we might need to cross some streams and, whew!, am I glad I did.

Speaking of wildflowers, how about that gorgeous carpet of dandelions?

Soon we had to make a choice.  Let's see - should we climb Mt. Shavano or continue on the Colorado Trail?

Okay, there was not really a choice for us, especially since I forgot to mention that the trailhead was at 9800 ft. elevation.

But the Colorado Trail had some surprises for us as it began to climb also.  And you know how it is, "Let's just see what's up the next hill."  The answer - another hill.

One more picture on the way back to the trailhead.

Another day we took the Lost Trail just outside of town to the south.  That's Salida with its population of 5000 nestled at the foot of the mountains to the east.

The lady at the visitors center recommended the Greens Creek Trail which follows Greens Creek up a canyon.  She thought the wildflowers would be blooming.  Well, although we saw lots of budding activity, I guess early June is just a couple weeks too early.

With the continued snow melt, the creek was quite impressive.

In a few places, the path was its own little cascade.

Mr. Fix-it Ron did his best to encourage the water to stay in the creek, sometimes with more success than others.

I was actually quite happy when this trail climbed partway up the side of the canyon for a nice, dry hike.

For those of you who are interested, the BLM land begins about two miles north of US 50 on CR250.  We turned as soon as we hit the mesa top at 38.55431, -106.11692, but that's just the beginning of the available area.  Next time I think we'll continue on a little farther.