Homer's Travels: Installment #10: Alaska 2002 - Part 2

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Installment #10: Alaska 2002 - Part 2

Here is part 2 of the Alaska 2002 Vacation. In our last chapter, our heroes had made their way from Seattle to Juneau. We pick up their journey at the Juneau Airport.

The next day we flew to Anchorage. Our hotel was on the edge of downtown so we were able to walk around and enjoy the shops and restaurants in the area. The place that made us both chuckle a little was Humpys. I failed to go in an by a shirt when I was there but the wonderful wife corrected this situation the following Christmas.

The next day we booked a glacier tour. The tour took us by bus to Whittier on the shores of Prince William Sound where we boarded a catamaran-style ship and headed out. A great tour - highly recommended. Our ship, being smaller then the cruise ships, was able to get us closer to the glaciers. In total, we saw 26 glaciers in the area. The views were amazing - the sound of the calving glaciers was like a gun shot. The ice floating in the water made for a strange and beautiful setting. They even served drinks with glacier ice that they had picked up during the trip. The weather, again, was perfect.

I did another geocache while we were in Anchorage. While I was hiding in the bushes examining the cache I was nearly eaten alive by the Alaskan state bird - the mosquito. I have never been in such a swarm or seen mosquitoes that size. The wife decided to stay at the hotel and do some laundry.

Alaska Railroad and headed north to Denali. The train ride was wonderful. We passed through forests, mountains, and over rivers - each more awe inspiring then the last. We even passed by a place called Waikiki, AK. Once again, as in Juneau and Anchorage, the weather was kind to us. We were able to get a view of Mt. McKinley from the train. Train porters said that the mountain creates it's own weather and a clear view of the mountain from the train is rare. 

We arrived at Denali and we took the shuttle bus to our hotel. I was surprised to find that all there was here were five or six cruise company run hotels and a few stores and restaurants. For some reason I expected a small town or something. Since we didn't have a car, it made for limited opportunities. We booked a bus tour into the park for our first day and a plane trip around Mt. McKinley for the next. The bus tour was supposed to be eight hours long. When we got on the bus we were almost dreading it but we were pleasantly surprised. Cars aren't permitted in the Park unless you are camping in the park. The absence of cars results in wildlife that are not afraid of the road so we were able to see all sorts of wildlife from the bus - wolves, bear, deer, rams, eagles. The bus stopped at various places to allow picture taking. Polychrome Pass was one of my favorites.

The next day we took a plane trip around Mt. McKinley. We had worn our out welcome with the weather gods since it was cloudy this day and visibility was reduced. We got in a small plane with a nurse from Marshalltown and some people from Omaha - The wife's 'small world' aura was at it again. We took off and we all got our oxygen masks hooked up and working since we were heading up where the air is mighty thin. Overall the flight was cool. The views, even with the clouds, was awesome. We even saw climbers leaving camp heading for the summit.

In total we spent three days at Denali. This was one day too many. The only other thing we did there was witness a sled dog demonstration that was cool but only took a few hours. This left us with a lot of dead time with nothing to do. I was hoping to be able to do some hikes or something but it didn't work out. An added disappointment was the limitations of the restaurants. Most of the menus had 5-8 items and, since we didn't like everything on the menu, we often had to order the same thing twice during our stay. The burger joint across from the hotels got our business a couple times as well.

On day 14 we got back on the train and headed north to Fairbanks. This is the northern most point of our vacation. Actually, I don't think I have ever been farther north. Anyway, the place that we stayed turned out to be a little disappointing. It was located in a residential area and it was more like a bed and breakfast then a hotel. There was nothing in the area worth walking to and the water smelled funny. Fairbanks is a frontier town ... a dirty frontier town. It felt like you were in the 1800s. Once again we didn't have a car so our choices were limited. We ended up taking a riverboat down the Chena River. The riverboat stopped at various locations a long the trip so we could see sled demonstrations and Native-American crafts and history. Unfortunately I left the camera back in the hotel room and I missed quite a few interesting pictures.

On day 16 we flew home from Fairbanks. We both enjoyed Alaska. During the trip we had been on trains, planes, ferries, catamarans, buses and automobiles. I really enjoyed everything until about day 13. Days 14 - 16 should have been done differently. I would have spent one less day at Denali and I would have rented a car in Fairbanks and done more exploring - panning for gold and visiting the Alaskan pipeline that runs nearby. Having said this, the wife suggested panning for gold and I poo-poo-ed it at the time. I was wrong.

There is one last note about Alaska. It didn't get dark until after Midnight. From Juneau until we got back home - 11 days - we never really experienced night. The actual night lasted 3 or four hours. Most of what we called night felt more like twilight. Very weird. We were wide awake at midnight and sleeping was sometimes difficult.

This was a good vacation that was almost great. Alaska is a beautiful, pristine wilderness worth the effort to experience at least once in your lifetime. There are more photos from the trip here.

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