Alaska June 15-23, 2019
My wife had a 2 day business trip to Anchorage...figured I'd tag along! Looong travel days from Virginia, door to door probably 14 hours. I had a boat delivery planned the same dates, but when that fell through I decided to join her last minute, lemon to lemonade!
Neither of us had been to Alaska and since it has the highest mountain peak in North America we figured it's a must see! However, the research that we did revealed that only 30 percent of visitors actually see just portions of the mountain because it generates its own weather patterns. What the heck, let's roll the dice!!
Let's start in Anchorage where we spent our first 4 nights. Our trip was over the summer solstice, so maximum daylight hours for us! We stayed just outside of the city limits, but Ubers into restaurants were only $10. Anchorage itself seemed relatively small and quiet, we like quiet. Arrived around 9pm, so we ate then slept until 6am on Sunday.
Skies were mostly cloudy but dry to start our day. We drove south along Turnagain Arm on the north end of Cook Inlet, witnessing the largest bore tide we'd ever seen, impressive! Continued south into Whittier after passing through the longest tunnel in North America, box checked! Once in Whittier we were greeted by constant rain and heavy cloud cover, that's normal we hear, but bummer. Watched some fishing boat traffic and had our best ever smoked salmon chowder there! Back through the tunnel we ventured on to the edge of the Kenai region and walked a little, this area and Seward will require a return trip I think! Heading back towards Anchorage we stopped at the Portage glacial lake, opted not to take a boat trip in the drizzle to the large Portage Glacier, instead we put on our frog toggs and hiked to the Byron Glacier, awesome! Last stop of the day would be at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, we're not zoo people, but this center does great work in rehabilitating injured and orphaned animals in a large natural setting, worth a look! I guess I should add some pics up to this point....
Monday and Tuesday I was wandering solo since Donna had to work. Mondays weather was very nice, so I chose to hike the most hiked mountain in Alaska, Mt. Flattop in Chugach State Park. This 3500 foot peak is only 20 minutes outside of the city and I figured that's why it is hiked by so many people, but once there I realized it was popular because of the views! I may have seen 2 people on the trail up at 0900 hours and probably 10 at the top, go early! It was sooo clear, I read I was able to see from Denali to the Aleution Islands from there, not knowing for sure what I was looking out at...I'll just say "Yea I saw that"!!! it's close to a 1500 foot elevation gain in the 3.3 mile loop. It's considered "difficult", but at the end it does become steep and there is some rock scrambling and a little climbing to be done. Once on top the plateau is maybe 10 acres of wildflowers and 360 degree views, outstanding! Sorry Donna had to work. Tuesday, solo driving day, 100 miles north to the Matanuska Valley, along the Matanuska River home to the 4 mile wide Matanuska Glacier! Short hike to the Thunderbird Falls, nice stop to stretch the legs. It was a day of rain and low cloud cover, but still a great day!
Wednesday...Donna is officially on vacation and off to Denali we go! It's approximately 240 miles (4 hours), but we made pit stops along the way, so more like 7 hours for us. A local bush pilot (20 percent of the population are pilots, go figure) in Anchorage told us to provision at the halfway point in Wasilla because costs go way up the closer we get to Denali, so we bought sandwich food, snacks and beer there. There are a couple gas and grocery store options around Denali, no big concerns. 2 hours out we took a 30 minute detour to the funky little town of Talkeetna. Lots of old log buildings, quaint shops and coffee, coffee, coffee! oh and a microbrewery!! We stretched our legs there walking to where 3 rivers converge, on a super clear day you can see Denali, it was just a clear day for us. They had an open air handmade crafts market for the summer solstice, lots of talented artists in the world. We bought our only real souvenir other than a baseball cap and t-shirts here, a beautiful birch bark basket, hand sewn by the local woman who sold it to us, it will look great in our WV cabin! A local photographer had a beautiful print of Denali from the river's edge, he said he waited "7 years to grab that shot"! I wanted a large hand forged knife with bone handle...but over $400 would be extravagant, no? After a couple hours we were off again, stopping at an overlook about an hour out to see our first real glimpse of the mighty Mt. Denali. There were layers of clouds and we could see the peak and middle of the 20,310 foot American treasure aka Mt McKinley, interesting history in the naming if one cares to google. We have come to realize that if you've been and "think" you saw Denali, then you probably didn't...You "know" you see it when you see it!!
We arrived at our lodging at Denali Park Village in time for a late dinner, then sleep! Since we planned this part of the trip less than 2 weeks out we booked their "only remaining" room. There were a couple other hotels and airbnb's with vacancies, but this worked out quite nicely. The buses in the parking lot shouted "crowded cruise ship location", but we enjoyed our quiet surroundings, except for the 0430 hour train whistle! We had only light dinners here and really enjoyed the blackened Halibut salad! We were 6 miles from the park's entrance making it really convenient.
On days 1 and 3 we simply drove the maximum 15 mile limit into the park to hike around Savage River and on day 2 we hopped on a bus to Eielson Visitor Center 66 miles into the park, still putting us 33 miles from Mt Denali. Over our 3 days we saw beautiful vistas and lots of wildlife including...Grizzly's, Caribou, Red Fox, Moose, Dall's Sheep, Marmot's, Porcupine, Golden Eagle etc, they are all there!! I wanted to keep the photo count to 20 for this report...lots of great pics out of my 900 taken! The weather gods were on our side the entire visit, priceless!
GOD BLESS AMERICA!! "Those who wander are not lost"!!