This may be a bit long, but it was a long trip, so here goes:
Arrived in Anchorage on June 23 and stayed at Quality Inn near airport. Not much there.
June 24--drove from Anchorage to Seward. My wife, Julie may have been the first person to ever get lost on the Seward Highway. Leaving Anchorage she ignored my request to take the appropriate turnoff for the Highway, and we ended up on a side road on a residential street. When she finally made a U-turn we saw a group of snowcapped mountains way off in the distance. This fortuitous wrong turn led to our only view of "The Mountain" on our entire trip! It took us 10 hours to drive the 110 miles to Seward. We made plenty of stops, including Potter's Marsh(saw our first bald eagle and some bear tracks in the mud--more on the Marsh later), Beluga Point(no belugas, but did see Dall's sheep), Turnagain Arm. At one point we drove over a small bridge and I saw what looked like a horse on the riverside. We did a U-turn, found a place to park, hiked down to the river and then along the bank. The horse turned out to be a moose with 2 calves. It was such a great sighting as no one else spotted this(it was total luck that I saw this out of the corner of my eye). As beautiful as the Highway is, the highlight was stopping in at a little dive liquor store called Jim's Mary Lou's. Mary Lou told us her whole story. Her uncle came to Alaska in 1902 after joining the circus, and built the little store. Mary Lou arrived from Iowa in 1952, and has been selling beer at the shop ever since. They were originally in Portage, but the 1964 earthquake destroyed the entire town. Somehow her little shop survived. They moved her shop on trailers to its current location. Mary Lou has been written about in several newspapers across the country but hates having her photo taken(she has a sign out front saying no cameras allowed). There are amazing B&W photos along the walls of her uncle when he first arrived in 1902, when she arrived in 1952, etc. There's also a newspaper article from 1984 about how she outran a grizzly bear and made it safely home. Mary Lou was the first of many interesting locals we'd end up meeting, which turned out to be just as memorable as any nature sightings. Arrived at Hotel Seward at 10pm. Nice, old hotel.
June 25--first day of our 3 day private Kenai Fjords boat trip. The weather was cold and rainy, but luckily the waters were calm. Our boat was just myself, Julie, one other guest, a professional photographer and our Captain. We found a humpback whale and calf who decided to play in front of our boat. They slapped their tails, rolled over, grunted. The mother even briefly lunged out of the water to show her head. We saw lots of sea otters, seals and puffins as we made our way to anchor at Aialak Glacier for the night. We had the entire glacier for ourselves that evening and saw many calvings. About 10 minutes after each calving our boat would rock from the waves. As we ate dinner we spotted a black bear walking along the beach--my first ever bear sighting. I really felt like I was at the end of the world at Aialak. It was just the 5 of us surrounded by floating icebergs. Every now and then a seal would poke its head out of the water. About every 20 minutes
we'd hear or see the glacier calve. Some of the calvings were enormous.
June 26--more rain in the morning. Our boat had a zodiac skiff and we made our way to the beach to look for bears. Unfortunately, as we were getting out of the skiff a sudden swell knocked Julie off her feet and she fell into the icy Gulf of Alaska. Capt. Mike immediately took her back to the boat to change clothes so that she wouldn't get hypothermia. The rest of us walked around photographing a bald eagle. Julie returned about 20 minutes later all dry and in better spirits. Eventually we spotted a black bear in a field of wildflowers. It was incredible as he would completely disappear from view when he lay down. At times he got up and was trying to smell something in the air(presumably us),but he never saw us. The rain finally broke in the afternoon and we had beautiful blue skies as we made our way to Cataract Cove, which was full of thunderous waterfalls. We spent the evening anchored at Northwestern Fjord, another beautiful spot.
June 27--another cold, rainy day. For the first time the waters got a little rough, but nothing unmanageable. We went to the Chiswell Islands to photograph puffins. They are the coolest, most interesting looking birds. We saw a couple of more humpbacks, stopped at a sealion haulout and returned to Seward
by late evening. Spent another night at the Hotel Seward.
June 28--It was recommended that we visit the SeaLife Center in Seward, but we woke up to sunshine and blue skies and decided to take advantage and spend the day outside. We started by hiking to Exit Glacier, a nice little hike right to the base. We then drove over to Soldotna, where we were to leave the following day to originally spend a day/night bear viewing at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge in Lake Clark National Park(our guide on the boat insisted we stay 2 full days and 2 nights, so we would have to inquire about that).
The drive through Cooper's Landing was beautiful with lots of snowcapped mountains and blue-green glacial rivers. One odd thing we found was that a scenic pullout had its view completely blocked by trees--this was to happen a lot in Alaska. We drove up another mile to a nice pullout, and found a tree with a small sign
that said we had found a beautiful spot, and that we were welcome to spend the night on that spot if we could leave a $5 donation. I didn't understand why that spot hadn't been made into an official scenic pullout. We spent the night at a condo in Soldotna owned by the owner of the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge.
It was a beautiful condo right in the woods, and we kept looking outside for moose(it just seemed the perfect spot for them.)
June 29--Our flight to Lake Clark left at 9, so we left the condo at 8:30. And as we loaded up the car a moose and 2 calves showed up! They started out in a yard across the street and started walking over to our driveway. Julie told me to get in the car before the mom got upset, but I mistakenly thought I was okay because they were coming to me. As they got closer and Julie got a bit more panicky that I kept taking pictures, the mother flattened her ears and glared at me. We had previously read a moose warning sign that said flattening the ears was a warning that the moose was ready to "stop the living daylights out of you." I immediately got into the car and the moose went around to the back of the condo.
We got to the tiny Soldotna airport by 9 and were the only passengers on our little bush plane. It was a nice flight with the pilot narrating about all the volcanoes we passed and the Ring of Fire. After 30 minutes we made our way to land at Lake Clark, landing right on the beach. As we came to a halt we were met by a huge brown bear and her 2 cubs standing right in front of the plane. The cubs stood up to get a better look. The pilot told us to stay in our seats until the bears moved away. How often do you hear that after landing? It was an amazing welcome to the park.
We immediately met our guide, Jenny, who told us to drop our bags off at the lodge and come back out to meet her. Within 20 minutes we were back at the beach, standing about 30 feet from a large group of brown bears who were digging for clams. At times the bears came within 10 feet of us. It was somewhat intimidating at times, but absolutely incredible. At one point a sow rolled over onto her back and her 2 cubs climbed on her to nurse. This was about 20 feet in front of me--simply amazing.
We spent a few hours with the bears, then had lunch. Afterwards I told Jenny I wanted to find some bald eagles, so she drove us around in an ATV searching for eagles. After a couple of hours the owner of the lodge, David, took me and Julie and another couple
out on his boat to go to an island full of puffins and other birds. David told me they had enough room for us to stay another night, which was awesome. We returned for dinner, and then went back out formore bear viewing in the evening. I stayed up with another couple and we watched as a whole group of bears came into the yard of the lodge. I took some videos of this and of the sow and her cubs running through the yard. All this happened between 11:30 and midnight, and it was still light out.
June 30--I'm so glad we stayed another day at the lodge because it was totally blue skies out! We had our guide, Jenny, to ourselves the entire day. I had already taken over 1,000 pics of bears in one day, and decided to explore the landscape today.
We drove around looking for scenic shots of the mountains(the volcano, Mt. Iliamna, was visible for the first time in weeks). As we drove along the beach that morning we encountered a bear playfully gnawing on a log. He saw us and charged at us. Jenny yelled for him to stop, and he backed off. Then he charged again, and Jenny drove the ATV directly at him. He finally stopped a couple of feet from us. It was pretty exciting! Jenny said we can never let the bears intimidate us, otherwise they would not have any fear. Since we were so far from the lodge this was a bear that wasn't familiar with everyone, which is why he probably came at us.
We spent the afternoon hiking around beautiful fields of wildflowers surrounded by snowcapped mountains. There wasn't another person in sight. This was the most peaceful, relaxing day I had had in ages. Every now and then we'd come across a bear grazing in the grass or napping. I can't say enough good things about this place. The only comparison I can make is that it was like the Galapagos Islands for bears.
That evening at dinner we had an interesting coincidence. A few months earlier I entered a photo contest where the grand prize was a weeklong trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone with a professional photographer, Jess Lee. Well, Jess happened to be at my dinner table that night. He was leading a tour group at the lodge for the week. Two of my photos won Honorable Mention in the contest(they finished in the top 50 out of 10,000 entries). Jess was one of the judges for the final photos and he actually remembered one of my photos!
July 1--Sadly, we had to leave Lake Clark in the morning and return to reality. We said goodbye to a few more bears and to our awesome guide, Jenny. Our goal for this day was to pick up a friend in Anchorage who would be joining us for the rest of our trip, and make our way to a 3 day camping trip in Denali(the original intent was to camp at Byers Lake for the night).
As we left Soldotna we saw a moose grazing by the side of the road. I decided not to stop, and then kicked myself for the next few days for not taking pictures. Julie wanted to make a little detour to visit the town of Hope. Our guide at Lake Clark, Jenny, told us Hope was a cute little town(while another guide vehemently disagreed). Well, I'm not sure what to make of Hope. We visited "Old Town Hope," which was a dirt road with a few shops and cafes with rusty rooftops. We went into one cafe for lunch, but they only had 5 tables and were full. Deciding to leave, we went to the one gas pump in town to fill our car. You have to knock on someone's door, which had a note saying if they weren't in to go their trailer and look for them there. We found a young woman who pumped our gas. I asked if there was a bathroom, but she told me to go in the woods. Julie asked how the girl wound up here. Surprisingly, she had been going for her Master's Degree in English at a university in Anchorage when she met her husband. Her husband convinced her to come to Hope with him.
We reached Anchorage at 3, met our friend and had lunch at the Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage. It was a nice, lively place and quite a difference from all the remote places we had been. Julie and I hadn't showered in days, and with 3 days coming up in Denali without showers we realized we desperately needed a motel room. We decided to drive up to Talkeetna for the night, which was a good midway point between Anchorage and Denali. However, there was a horrible fatal traffic accident on the road, and it took us 3 hours to get to Wasilla--just 35 miles outside of Anchorage. We got a room in Wasilla and spent the night.
July 2--We made our way to Denali this morning, stopping at Talkeetna along the way. Talkeetna was a quaint little artsy town, and I wished we could have spent the night the day before. There were lots of shops to help supply you with hiking/camping in Denali. It gives the false impression that you're near the Park, but it's still 120 miles away. The town ran out of water on this day and you weren't allowed to use the bathrooms anywhere. After stocking up on food for our 3 days in Denali we met a woman in the park who was selling husky puppies. They were 5 adorable 7 week old puppies. We spent about 30 minutes playing with them. Their prices ranged from $400-600, as some were show dogs and others could be good sled dogs.
We wanted to get some bear spray for Denali, and it was recommended we visit "The Store" back on the highway. We got there about noon and found a sign on the door that said, "Be back around 2:30ish." A little old woman came out of her house next door and told us she might have a key. She found one and let us in, and proceeded to tell her story of how she arrived in Alaska in 1960, about all the bears in Denali. I was so surprised and amazed to meet all these locals. We found our bear spray and I got really excited when I saw "The Store" had marshmallow peeps! I love these and had never seen them after Easter. It wasn't until I got back to the car and started opening the peeps when I finally thought, "But they don't make peeps after Easter. What if these have been lying around for the past several months?" One bite of a stale, crunchy peep confirmed my suspicions. Of course, Julie had to throw in the suggestion that they may have been lying around for years!
We arrived in Denali around 5, checked in at the reservations desk, and drove the 30 miles to the Teklanika campground. We spotted several snowshoe hares along the way. A light rain started by the time we got to our campground, and we quickly put up our tent. We tried to start a fire with the wood we bought, but it wouldn't light. We gave up after 30 minutes and I settled on cookies for dinner. I had brought Ike Waits' book on Hiking in Denali, and it said you could often find foxes along the river in the evening. We hiked around the river for a bit but didn't see anything.
July 3--We got on our 6:30 reserved bus for Wonder Lake. I was told to sit on the left side for the best wildlife viewing, but those seats were all taken. There was one overly enthusiastic person on our bus who would yell for the driver to stop everytime he saw a big rock that looked like an animal, a bush that he thought was moving, or every bird that flew by. He quickly got on my nerves. Our first major sighting was of a bear with 2 cubs that were climbing up the hill right next to the bus--on the right side where I was sitting! The cubs climbed right onto the road next to the bus and began wrestling each other. Their mother carried on eating grass and berries, unconcerned about our presence. Eventually they crossed the road and ran up the hill on the other side. A short while later we saw some Dall sheep way up on the mountain--again on the right side of the bus. The weather was very cloudy with periods of rain, so we decided to just stay on the bus all the way to Wonder Lake. It was not a good day for hiking. Between Eilson Visitor Center and Wonder Lake we saw a moose by a pond--also on the right side of the bus! Shortly after we saw a trumpeter swan, which our overly enthusiastic passenger(who I referred to as Mr. Tour Guide) was very rare. Again, this was on the right side of the bus. I felt fortunate to be sitting on the right side as most of our sightings were here. So although there are
better chances of spotting wildlife on the left side, there is obviously a decent chance of seeing some on the right side.
Riding back from Wonder Lake to Eilson we saw a moose with 2 calves. Shortly after Mr. Tour Guide got off to hike, and I was very happy! No more having to hear, "Stop! Oh, it's a rock. Wait, stop! Oh, it's a bush. Stop! A bird just flew by!" Shortly after leaving Eilson the driver stopped and said there were bears at 11:00. I was confused as everyone on the left side of the bus jumped up to look out the windows on the right side as I was sure that 11:00 is on the left. Sure enough, I spotted the same mother bear with her 2 cubs running up a hill out of the left(of course, this is once again opposite the recommended side to sit on when returning from Wonder Lake). Just then someone yelled "wolf!", and we saw a wolf running in the opposite direction of the bears. It appears the wolf got too close to the cubs, and the sow chased him away. It was a very exciting event. Later on the drive a caribou ran right up to the bus, looked at us for a minute, and then moved along. We got back to Tek at 3 and were very impressed with all the animal sightings. It was raining heavily at this point and the only thing we could do was sit in our tent or get back on another bus. We opted for the bus. This bus went as far as Toklat. The only major sighting we had on this trip was a coyote trying to get at a magpie nest. The driver said coyotes were rare in Denali. A magpie would circle and try to attack the coyote, who was more than content with just sitting on the hill by the nest. One part about this bus ride I didn't like was the return trip over Polychrome Pass. This requires going over a 750 foot drop, which is not fun with my fear of heights. It was raining very heavily as we made this drive, and the driver told us to open our windows. His window was getting foggy and he said if he couldn't see clearly that we could go off the cliff. Not what I wanted to hear! Then he told us to look out the right side of the bus. "Do you see those little mud
slides coming down the mountain? That's usually the start of an avalanche. Keep your eyes open for large rocks that may start rolling down towards our bus. It's at this point that passengers begin to panic and tell me to go faster, but I can't go faster or we may go off the cliff." I did NOT like this trip and was very happy to get back to our campground.
Back at Tek we were faced with the dilemma of how to start a campfire, and now trying to do so in the rain. Out of desperation we asked for help from one of our neighbors who had a big, roaring fire going. They were an older couple who completely saved us! They gave us starter logs and used a propane blow torch to start the fire. We looked pretty pathetic trying to light big wooden logs with little matches. We were finally able to eat a decent meal. Another issue we had was the matter of an alarm clock. We opted to use our cellphone alarms, but soon learned that we had no reception in Denali. Therefore, we had no clocks. With the constant daylight we would have no idea what time it was during the night/morning. It was continually light inside our tent, and I would lie there during the night wondering if it was 3 a.m, 9 a.m., noon?
July 4--We awoke at some point during the night/morning to lots more rain. This was getting a bit depressing, and I did not want to ride the bus over Polychrome Pass in the rain again. I suggested we leave early and head for Fairbanks. We could get a room, visit the famous hotsprings, and eat at a nice restaurant. The others were okay with this and we started to pack up. Of course, by the time we finished packing the rain began to let up. At this point I was ambivalent about what to do. I felt bad about leaving early, but I also didn't want to spend another day riding the bus in the rain. We decided to ride the bus for a short while. If it was still raining hard we would return to the camp and head for Fairbanks. Well, we got on the bus and about 15 minutes later the dark clouds parted and blue skies appeared!
The park looked completely different from the day before. There were lush, green-red mountains all around us. All we had seen the day before was fog and rain. We saw several bears and caribou. We opted for one of the hikes in Ike Waits' book, but the driver forgot to let us off(he mentioned this about 10 minutes after passing our dropoff point. I had been told by a pro photographer that we might see wolves if we got out just after the spot where the roads were closed to foot traffic because of a wolf den. He told me the wolves will go past the closing point. We got off at that spot and did our first hike in Denali. It was so nice to finally get off the bus after a day and a half. The tundra was all spongy as we hiked up to a good lookout ridge. We spent some time hanging out along the ridge, but didn't spot anything.
We hiked back to the road to wait for another bus to take us towards Eilson. I saw a bus coming from the opposite direction just sitting around the corner, and realized there must be some animal over there. I flagged the bus as they came by and the driver told me there was a caribou over there. Funny how
it could be so close to us and we couldn't see it. Even after we got to that point it took us a while to find it. Finally we saw one lone caribou grazing on a hill right by us. It took about 30 minutes for a bus going in our direction to finally arrive, so we just hung out
with the caribou all that time.
Within 5 minutes of getting on this bus, we saw a bear with 2 cubs. About a minute later the driver stopped and said a wolf was running right towards us, and if we sat and wait he would come right past us. We looked out and saw a wolf with an Arctic squirrel in its mouth running right up to the bus, and then run right alongside us. I felt a bit bad for the squirrel, but I guess that's nature. Shortly after we saw more bears and caribou. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to do any more hikes as it was already about 5 p.m. by the time we reached Eilson. But at least we were able to finally get out and see Denali on a beautiful day. Despite the blue skies, the "Mountain" was still shrouded in clouds. On our return trip we found many more bears, a brief sighting of a fox, and lots of caribou. We had the same driver
that warned about us going over the cliffs the day before, but today he was content with just telling bad jokes and lots of stories. Just before we got to the Tek campground we found 2 moose standing right in the middle of the road. They stood there for a few minutes before disappearing into the woods. It was just the most amazing day of wildlife sightings.
A couple we met on the bus who were also staying at Tek told us that their neighbor at Tek was none other than Ike Waits, the author or our hiking book! We all went over after returning to Tek to meet Ike. He was a very talkative, friendly man and we had a great time talking with him. I complained about how his book said there were foxes along the river by the Tek campground, and I had gone out several times and hadn't seen any. He laughed and told me to get a pen and cross that line out of his book. He was impressed with my photos of the wolf running alongside the bus as that was very rare. We got Ike to pose for a couple of pictures with us, and he laughed when I insisted that we hold his book up for the photo.
We started a great campfire with the starter logs and blow torch loaned to us by our neighbors, and they came over to check up on how we were doing. It's incredible to think how close we came to packing it all in and leaving, and this turned out to be the most incredible day. We saw many bears, a very close wolf sighting, and met Ike Waits! Plus we met some really nice people. After dinner we did a short walk along the road hoping to spot some animals. I saw what appeared to be a muskrat swimming in a pond, but nothing more. But we were treated to a beautiful sight of glowing mountains lit by the setting sun.
July 5--We left Denali to make our way to Matanuska for a glacier hike the next day. I was hoping we'd be on the road by 6:30 a.m., but that didn't happen. We had to repack, take the tent down, etc., and we didn't leave until 9. On the drive out we saw another brown bear, a caribou and some snowshoe hares. We did another hike at Horseshoe Lake by the Visitor Center, and then spent some time watching a film and doing some souvenir shopping.
Denali exceeded my wildlife viewing expectations. We saw between 12-15 brown bears/cubs, 2 wolves, 6 moose, lots of caribou, a coyote, with many of these animals right next to the bus. I found it interesting that I was initially concerned about running into bears at the Tek campground. However, the only wildlife we ever saw there was a squirrel--and even that was as we were packing up to leave. We went out to the river 3 straight nights and hiked around and never saw a thing. As Ike Waits said, "Cross that line out of my book!"
Outside of Denali we wanted to see what the nearby town of Healy looked like and get some lunch. We drove the 11 miles to Healy and saw a couple of motels, one or two small cafes, and then nothing. We were routinely surprised at what constitutes a "town" in Alaska. We turned around and had lunch at one of the restaurants just outside the park. After lunch I was a bit stunned to see that we wouldn't be leaving for Matanuska until 5:30! We had over 200 miles to drive.
Fortunately, the road going from Denali back down to Anchorage isn't as scenic as some other drives, and the speed limit is mostly 65. The scenery became striking once we turned on to the Glenn Highway heading towards Matanuska. It was late by the time we drove through here, but since it doesn't really get dark in Alaska we were able to observe the beautiful mountains surrounding us. We stopped for a bit to watch a moose and 2 calves at the side of the road shortly before getting to Matanuska. The calves would hide in the bushes and then cautiously make their way down to the road. A passing car would scare them back into the bushes.
It was a great sighting for which we took lots of pictures. We made it to our lodging, the Sheep Mountain Lodge, at 11:30 that night. The lodge left a note on their door for us, telling us where to find our room. We got the cheapest room they had, the bungalow, which had 3 bunk beds and a shared bathroom. The lodge is beautiful and is set right in the mountains. It was a shame we couldn't see more of the area.
July 6--We checked out of the lodge and went to MICA Guides for our glacier hike. Julie and I had done this in New Zealand, and although it was beautiful it was very strenuous. In NZ we climbed way up the glacier, with our guide carving out steps in the ice for
us to climb on. The special boots they gave us didn't fit well, and it was very painful on the knees and ankles. I was dreading the same experience here. Fortunately on this hike they just fitted crampons onto our boots and there was no uphill hiking. It was just a pleasant stomp across the ice to the base of the glacier. What I really liked was how informative this hike was. Our guide told us all sorts of interesting facts about the glacier mud that is used for facials at spas and other stuff about the ice and glacier. It was a perfect day for a hike.
We were excited by the fact that we were leaving the Matanuska area at 1:30, which should give us plenty of time to get to our next stop, Valdez, which was about 200 miles away. We were planning to take the ferry the next morning from Valdez to Whittier. We stopped for lunch in the "town" of Glenallen, and once again were surprised by the small size. We found it amusing at one point when we saw an isolated house along the road with a sign out front stating that it was part of a Neighborhood Watch Program. How useful is that program when the nearest neighbor is 10 miles away?
Once of Lisa's goals on our trip was to find a beaver. So we made it a point to slow down or stop at every lake, pond, etc. Our MilePost mentioned a pond that may have moose, and as we slowed down to take a look I noticed a large animal diving in the water. We quickly got out of the car and ran over, and sure enough we saw a beaver swimming away. It came up and slapped its large tail on top of the water before disappearing(we heard they do this to warn others of predators). It was a quick sighting, but our first beaver nonetheless!
Despite our excitement about having plenty of time to get to Valdez, we didn't make it until 10! It took us 8.5 hours to drive 200 miles. I guess with all the stops looking for beavers and lunch the time just flew. Originally we planned to camp in Valdez, but with arriving so late and having to get up very early for the 8 a.m. ferry, we booked a room at local B&B(more like a motel, but close to the harbor). Just before entering Valdez we passed some strikingly impressive waterfalls and stopped once again to take photos. There was a small stream running alongside the rock walls, and they were filled with dead salmon. The salmon all had their skin stripped away, which we read was how bears eat their salmon.
July 7--We woke up to find Valdez completely obscured in fog. We couldn't even see the water until just before boarding the ship. It was neat looking out and seeing all these fishing boats with their lights on going back and forth in the darkness. Apparently they can't start fishing until 8:00, and they just wait and wait. At exactly 8 all the boats lowered their skiffs and nets. The fog began to lift to reveal some of the mountains. But it was still pretty cloudy, very cold and rainy. We could barely make out the huge Columbia Glacier, but we did see all the ice floating for miles. There were several sea otters floating on the ice. We spent most of the 6 hour ride sitting in the cafeteria, looking out the window. It was just too cold and rainy. We saw one Stellar sealion, and nothing else.
We arrived in Whittier in the cold, pouring rain and checked into our room at the Inn at Whittier. It's a very nice hotel right on the water. I booked a room on the Internet for 3 people, but found the room only had one bed. Fortunately, they were able to move us to a room next door with 2 beds. We were in Whittier to go on the Sound Eco Tour the following day for a 10 hour whale cruise on Prince William Sound. We had been talking to the owner, Gerry, about a possible cancellation because of rough weather. If it was cancelled, we decided to rearrange our plans a bit and take the cruise the day after.
We were all pretty exhausted and would have loved nothing more than to just sleep, but I had to return some overdue rented camera equipment. So we were forced to drive to Anchorage to find a UPS facility. By the time we got about 15 miles outside of Anchorage the skies started clearing up. We had dinner at the Moose's Tooth. Of course, when we returned to Whittier it was cold and rainy.
July 8--Gerry from Sound Eco tours called early in the morning to say it would be best not to go out. The water was just too rough. We decided to go out the following day, and rearrange our helicopter glacier tour that we had booked in Girdwood for our last day, Saturday. We were to check out at the Inn at Whittier at 11. We were running just a little bit late when the front desk called at 11:08 to remind us that check-out was at 11, or would we like to stay another day? Usually hotels give you about 15-30 minute leeway for checking out, but 8 minutes?
We were spending our last 2 days at the Glacier View B&B in Girdwood. But since we had several hours before check-in, we decided to go back to Anchorage for the day. Once again, we left a cold, rainy Whittier for a partly cloudy Anchorage. We had lunch at the Glacier Brewhouse once again, and then took a walk along the coastal trail for a couple of hours. We made it to Girdwood by early evening and checked in at Glacier View(check-in was really just a note on the door telling us where our room was). This was by far the nicest room we'd had on our trip, and a great way to end an exhausting adventure. We had 2 beds, a nice couch and plasma TV.
July 9--We awoke to sunny skies, our first totally clear day in a week and a half! We had to hurry to get through the tunnel before it closed at 7:45. The mountains on the Seward Highway looked incredible with the blue skies above them and I wished I had time to stop and take some pictures. And despite the bright sunny skies, when we got to Whittier on the other side of the tunnel it was so foggy that we couldn't see a thing! We met Gerry and boarded our boat. We couldn't see more than 5 feet when Gerry decided to beach the boat for a while. We could hear foghorns of the other boats trying to make their way around. We reboarded about a half hour later, and a short while later the fog finally began to lift. We passed a kittiwake rookery and saw a couple of bald eagles up close. Later, we found some sea otters and sea lions. Eventually we picked up 2 other people who had been out kayaking. We didn't see too many whales, but once the fog lifted we were treated to some sunny skies and our first clear look at Prince William Sound. It had been nothing but fog and rain
on the ferry and during our stay in Whittier, so this was nice.
July 10--This was our last day in Alaska. Of course there was no way we could have 2 consecutive beautiful days, so we awoke to more rain and fog. Surprisingly, our helicopter trip was still on. Julie and I had never been on a helicopter and I was bit nervous. But the whole experience was just exhilirating. We skimmed the treeline looking for animals on the way to the glacier. We saw black bears and moose. It was very rainy by the glaciers, but it was neat flying over the tops and looking deep down into dark blue crevaces.
Once we returned we took the Alyeska tram to the top of the mountain. I was a bit upset that we were supposed to do this and the helicopter the day before when it was sunny, but I also realized that we got to spend 10 hours cruising around Prince William Sound on a beautiful day. There were was no view at the top of the tram, but it was fun to play in the snow at the top and throw snowballs at each other.
We left the Glacier View B&B(a beautiful place with an owner, Connie, who makes the greatest cookies) and headed back towards Anchorage for our flight home. We decided to make one last stop at Potter's Marsh, which is just outside Anchorage. I thought this was fitting since this was our very first stop at the beginning of our trip, and Lisa hadn't seen it. We had seen a bald eagle on our first stop at the Marsh, and I was hoping to find one again. We quickly found 2 bald eagles, one that flew right in front of us. Then as I walked to the end of the boardwalk I saw a male moose just hanging out in front of us. He posed for about 10 minutes before disappearing into the woods. We were all saying what a great finale this was to our trip, when someone yelled "there's a bear!" We looked up to see a brown bear running
out of the woods before disappearing into the brush. It was an absolutely amazing finish to our adventure. A quick stop before the airport find 2 bald eagles, a moose and a brown bear.
I'm amazed at just how wild Alaska really is. Not just the animals, but the people as well. I found them to be just as interesting as any wildlife encounter. The stories we heard from Mary Lou at her liquor shop, the woman who lived next door to "The Shop," our guide, Jenny, from Silver Salmon Creek Lodge(who lives in a cabin in the woods w/o water and electricity during the winter!) and many others were just fascinating. It definitely takes a certain type of person to live up there year round, braving up to -70 at some parts during the winter to tons of rain in the summer. Alaska is definitely a place I would like to explore again, but without a time constraint. It much be a lot more fun to just rent an RV and drive around, stopping for the night at any place that looks nice. If the weather is bad, just go down the road where it will probably be nicer and return when it clears up again. As one local told us, if you don't like the weather just wait 20 minutes for it to change.
I took many photos and video on this trip and will post a link to them when I finish working on them.Edited: 15 July 2010, 22:31