S: Alaska 2012
BC: To another 15 years even more wonderful than the last
FC: Alaska 2012 | 15th Anniversary Trip
1: What a beautiful view! | The kids are settled in with Grandma Barb and Grandpa Ron. Off we go on the adventure of a lifetime! | Waiting to board the plane
2: Vanity area (shower room not pictured) | Bedroom | Sitting room | Our corner suite at The Hotel Captain Cook
3: Desk (table and chairs not pictured) | Bar | Our suite on the 10th floor of the Hotel Captain Cook surpassed our expectations. The view was spectacular. There was more space than we could ever use in only two nights. The location was perfect, right downtown within walking distance of everything.
4: Breakfast at the Snow City Cafe - there was a wait, so we had time to walk over and check out the view of Mount Susitna and the mud flats while we sipped our coffee
5: Kippy had recommended the Museum of Anchorage, so that's where we headed after breakfast. We explored some science concepts, learned some local history and culture, and saw beautiful works of art. (photos clockwise: musk ox nuzzling Sara, Darren cozying up to a moose, giant marble works, Sara looking closely at modern art sculpture, Alaskan native mask.)
6: We pulled over on the Seward highway to watch some kite surfers negotiate the winds. It was cool to watch them get up, recover, and do amazing stunts. | Kippy picked us up in the late afternoon and brought us for a drive. It was windy and rainy, but that made for some extra special sights.
7: Dinner in Girdwood at Chair 5 | We opted for dinner with a "local flair" at Chair 5 in Girdwood. The food was delicious. Where else can you experience Roasted Potato Pizza and Blackened Halibut Tacos? And see a parking sign mauled by a bear???
8: Then it was back on the road for more sightseeing, starting before we even left Girdwood with the spray painted camper that we were charged by its occupants to photograph. We headed past rainy vistas, back into Anchorage, and out on the airport road. From there we could see Mount Susitna, the Anchorage skyline, and planes coming in for a landing. Unfortunately, no moose this time.
9: We stayed up a little late considering we had to get up early, get ready, eat breakfast downstairs at our hotel, pack our bags, check out, and walk a mile in the rain to the train station for an 8:00 departure. Luckily we could roll our suitcases downhill for most of the way. At the station, someone still gets paid to yell, "All aboard." Then we climbed onto the train for our "gold star" treatment.
10: The gold star cars had glass domed roofs to maximize the view. There were high school aged tour guides pointing out sights along the way. A bar tender served free coffee, pop and water and sold snacks and other drinks.
11: Alaska Railroad | We ate lunch on the train. It was definitely overpriced even considering that everything is more expensive in Alaska.
12: The one "state bird" that we saw | The osprey that never comes out of its nest | Trumpeter swans sitting on a nest
13: On the lookout for wildlife | A moose crossing a river - MOOSE | A bald eagle's nest | A baby owlet
14: And the town of Wasilla, now famous as the home of a former governor and unlucky vice presidential candidate. | Through small towns, like this one named by an unlucky gold prospector with wishful thoughts of warmer places.
15: Picturesque views through raindrops and clouds. It was a good day to be sitting on a train. Crossing Hurricane Gulch
16: We made our way from the railroad station in Denali to the Mount McKinley Chalet Resort via brown school bus, which is a common mode of transportation up in Denali. After checking into our room and finding our luggage had indeed arrived, we made our way to the main lodge for dinner. | The view from our ground floor room. Luckily no bears came knocking. Dinner was delicious. Salad and seafood chowder for Sara. Pizza for Darren. But the highlight, by far, was the turtle cheesecake.
17: We decided to sleep in a little later the next day. The plan was to take a bus into Denali National Park to get closer to Mount McKinley and hopefully get get a glimpse of this great peak. Weather was not looking promising, however, so we decided not to rush. This turned out to be a good decision. The roads had been shut down earlier in the morning due to snowfall the previous night, so buses were backed up. We were fortunate that the 10:00am shuttle was quite empty and the weather was clearing. To make the trip even more special, we were interviewed by an NBC news affiliate out of Anchorage for a documentary about tourism in the park. Pictured: a green shuttle bus leaving the Wilderness Access Center, Steve the news guy's car, Mike the cameraman on the bus, Steve and Mike hanging out at one of the stops
19: Matt, our bus driver, was great at pointing out wildlife and describing the flora and fauna. We spotted our first moose before we left the tree line. You can see the trees get more sparse and the tundra take over as the mountain peaks get snowier. Matt was also good at reassuring his nervous passengers, as the roads got more narrow and mountain passes more steep, that he had been driving this route for a long time, "going on two hours now." But he was obviously familiar with the best vantage points. He even passed up one of the most popular stops at Polychrome Pass to bring his little crew to our own private overlook that was free of crowds.
20: Darren washing the dust off the windows so we could spot grizzlies, moose and caribou.
25: Ground squirrel in front of Eielison Visitor Center Inside: This quilt depicts the gravel bar on the Tolkat River The peaks drawn on the window show where the peaks of Mt. McKinley would be if they weren't shrouded in clouds, as they are 2/3 of the time.
26: For Fish 'n' Chips | After a long day on the trail, we had worked up an appetite. Okay, not really, but all we'd eaten since our breakfast of fruit, yogurt and a breakfast sandwich were a couple energy bars and some beef jerky. We'd heard good things about the little fish'n'chips place, so we stopped there for some coconut crusted salmon & salad for Sara and a tradition fish & chips for Darren. After dinner we did some souvenir shopping. Darren shopped too, but had to pose on a "husband's waiting bench" just for fun.
27: Good morning and good bye, Denali. After leaving our luggage outside our door as instructed and hoping for the best, we headed to the main lodge for a repeat of the previous day's breakfast and a bus ride to the Denali National Park Visitor Center. We saw on live webcam that Mt. McKinley was in full view from Wonder Lake, the last stop on the shuttle bus route. We hadn't gone quite that far because of the cloud cover, but on this particular morning, the skies were perfectly clear. We caught part of a ranger presentation about the squirrels in the park. Then we grabbed an early lunch, since we now knew what to expect from train food. We called to chat with the kids for a bit. They were having lots of fun and told us about the monarchs they'd released. Soon we heard the train whistle blow and it was time to board the train back to Anchorage.
28: Beautiful day for a train ride - we were barely sorry we weren't on our way up to Denali | Two Trains passing, exchanging tour guides | Our bartender this time, Bobby, was refreshing. He turned "spin doctor" right from the start and turned half the seats in the train into foursomes opening up our view and giving us a spot to put our feet up in the fairly empty car. He was on his 9th straight day making the trip from Fairbanks to Anchorage, so he was living it up, giving away free hot cocoa and snacks.
29: Denali shows herself in all her awe inspiring glory
30: Denali- the Great One
32: Back in Anchorage, we grabbed our luggage and a cab to the always comfortable Embassy Suites. It was a little farther out of downtown, but we couldn't complain. The house cabernet at the manager's reception was great. The decor in our room and the lobby was modern and tasteful with an Alaskan flair. Sara was excited for the made to order omelet in the morning before picking up a rental car and driving to Seward.
33: Scenic Seward Highway | -The Nissan Versa we drove. It was small, but it got the job done. -Target, Anchorage style, where we picked up a cooler for the fish we hoped to purchase. -The first stop in Seward was for fish and chips, which ended up being more than we bargained for, especially when our next stop was to sign up for a dinner cruise.
34: A ladies' foursome had a good day fishing | Our boat waiting at the dock | King of the light post, much to the sea gull's dismay | Seward Harbor
35: On board the Nunatak (noon-a-teck) cruising over to Fox Island for some king crab and salmon. The island was beautiful with a calm lagoon and a beach covered with smooth round stones they called "wacky rock." | This daredevil cliff goat was the extent of our wildlife viewing on the trip to the island. We were feeling a bit skeptical about the wildlife portion of the tour.
36: When we rounded a point and started seeing whale blows by the dozen in the distance, we knew we were in for a treat. A large pod of humpback whales, normally solitary creatures, had come together to feed. It was amazing to watch their mouths come up, gaping wide, gulping fish. And then to watch them dive back down again. With the engine cut we could hear their calls and blows. It was awe inspiring. By this point in the trip it had become our running joke that everyone in Alaska says, "That NEVER happens," be it a moose swimming, a bird coming out of its nest, or Mt McKinley on a clear day. But when our boat captain said, "In all my years of driving boats for National Geographic film crews, I have never seen a group of humpback whales bubble net feeding," that took the cake.
37: We watched the whales come up for fish and dive back down at least a dozen times before turning back. Our return was delayed due to the uniqueness of the event, but no one seemed to mind. The glacier flows were also beautiful to see coming down the mountain. As the sun was getting lower, it was time to head back to Anchorage for our last night in Alaska.
40: Midnight sun in Alaska
41: We woke early to eat our last meal in Alaska, complementary and made to order at the Embassy Suites. We had already purchased a pound of Kaladi Brothers coffee to bring home with us. We just needed to stop and fill our cooler with fish at 10th and M seafood market and we could bring a bit of Alaska home with us. Until we can return.