Day 1: Evening in Anchorage
Apparently Denali is visible from the other side of the plane as we come into Anchorage. Even though we can’t see it, I’m taking that as a good sign.
The sunshine that greats us in Anchorage seems like a good sign too. I know that Alaska has been suffering through a summer that never really came – with cool weather and lots of rain. We are lucky to see the sunshine.
I am expecting our hotel to be near downtown, but it isn’t. Still, it has good views and comfortable enough rooms, so I’m ok dumping our stuff there and then immediately heading out to get another view of the city.
The trail is lovely too, with woods, meadows, and wetlands on one side and tidal flats on the other. I love the tidal flats, which are rich with color and waterfowl and seem to stretch away forever.
Day 2: Day trips around Anchorage
Morning at Potter Marsh
As much as I enjoy seeing birds, I’ll never be much of birder because it’s too hard for me to get up before dawn. Thus, we pretty much have Potter Marsh to ourselves when we arrive some time well after dawn.
It is lovely and serene, with large numbers of ducks and wading birds quietly going about their business.
We slowly work our way along the elevated walkways that connect various viewing platforms, but we don’t get all the way to the final platform. Not because we don’t want to, mind you, but because that spot is already occupied by a young eagle who has no interest in surrendering it to us.
Instead, we are the ones that decide to move on.
Growing up, the kids next door had an aunt who lived in Alaska. Periodically they would share a letter from her talking about her life in Alaska. We were all fascinated – Aunt Jody seemed to live in an incredibly exotic place.
Now it has been many, many years since I’ve lived next door to the Mehelich kids and got regular updates from them on Jody’s life in Alaska. Despite that, I’ve never forgotten about Jody, still think of her as “Aunt Jody,” and still get periodic updates on her life in Alaska from my folks. Now that we are in Alaska, it seems only right that we stop in to visit.
After a delay to search out a hostess gift (Where can I find flowers in Alaska? How about wine? What if they don’t drink? Where do they hide the liquor stores in this town?), we pull up in front of Art and Jody’s house just as dusk begins to fall.
Even though she’s not actually relative and we’ve only met a couple of times, Lane and I are greeted as if we really are family.
It is a lovely evening spent eating, drinking and talking about vacations past and future, our extended families, travel, and life in Alaska.
What a treat.
Day 3: On the road to Denali
Watching for Denali
Having satisfied our need for a fair fix before the day’s drizzle turned to rain, we are back on the road in search of Denali.
The Milepost conveniently lists all the spots along the way where we can pull off and enjoy striking views of the oft-shrouded mountain, so we eagerly stop at a few.
I’m convinced that the Alaska Range and Denali are somewhere behind these clouds. If only the skies would clear for awhile!
Day 5: The 7:15 Bus to Wonder Lake (Friday, August 22, 2008)
Day 6: Back on the road in Denali
Day 7: Leaving Denali for the Kenai
A Perfect Denali Morning (Sunday, August 24, 2008)
Rain or no, the Seward Highway provides plenty of wonderful scenery, with plenty of tumbling rivers, jagged peaks, and alpine meadows.
Seward Harbor View
At Ray’s Waterfront Restaurant we are seated at a corner table with huge windows that hardly separate us from the harbor.
The seafood is great, but that view. . . !
Day 8: Exploring Kenai Fjords (Monday, August 25, 2008)
Day 9: (Tuesday, August 26, 2008)
Vibrant Wetlands Along the Sterling Highway
Cook Inlet from a Distance
View from the scenic overlook:
View from my deck:
The View from Homer Spit
On the beach in the evening.
Day 10: (Wednesday, August 27, 2008)
Dining with Cranes
After a morning of museums and art galleries, I’m craving a relaxed lunch back at our house – but without having to cook, of course! Take-out pizza from Fat Olives seems to be the perfect answer and in no time at all we are sitting on the deck, basking in the sunshine, and watching a pair of sandhill cranes.
They provide excellent entertainment for a long time before flying off.
Views from Above
Skyline Dive offers some of the best views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers, including Grewingk Glacier directly across Kachemak Bay.
At this time of year, the views are often framed by fireweed, the northern plant that is to me synonymous with Alaska (although it grows in many places, including Minnesota).
Evening from Our Deck
Day 11: Thursday, August 28, 2008
Wilderness Along the Beach
We are too late for morning bird watching, but the road and trails behind the Alaska Islands & Oceans Visitor Center offer a fascinating glimpse of the flora found in this area – along with a tiny peek into the lives of the people who have settled here.
I was hoping the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord might be open today.
Of course, it wasn’t (it’s usually only open for regular worship services). There are other tourists here, including a loud and obnoxious family. I escape them for awhile in the far edge of the cemetery, surrounded by tall grasses and hardy native flowers.
It’s almost enough.
Day 12: Friday, August 29, 2008
John McCain has chosen Alaska’s governor as his running mate.
We learn this from the woman who is checking us in for our cruise, who – although professing to dislike the governor – is nearly giddy with excitement.
Apparently this news is as unexpected by most Alaskans as it is to us. (Actually, I thought our Governor was supposed to be the nominee and I suspect he is having a very, very bad day.) I only know who the governor of Alaska is because the one newspaper I have read since arriving here had a story about a scandal involving her firing her ex-brother-in-law . . . a story that ran next to a piece on Senator Stevens’ troubles. Is the nation really ready for Alaskan-style politics?
On the other hand, she sounds a lot more interesting than McCain.
Day 13: Saturday, August 30, 2008
In the Air
Alaska Really is a Small Place
Day 14: Sunday, August 31, 2008
The Stikine River
A Very Long Way from Home
I made the mistake of checking some internet news sites from home.
Thus far I’ve ignored the headlines that pop up every time I pick up mail, but perhaps the talk on the boat this afternoon about politics and the conventions made me curious . . . or maybe seeing the headline “Police smash doors, search for bombs, cameras and urine” got my attention.
It seems weird, to be far away while things seem to be going nuts at home, the police acting like goons breaking down doors at private homes in order to round up people they think might be planning protests. (Is that even legal?) Meanwhile, the convention itself seems to be half on hold while everyone tries to figure out the hurricane situation in the south and how to make themselves look best. It’s madness.
While I worry a little about my house, I think it is in good hands and that the police won’t come barging in to arrest our house-sitter. (Although, it may be a possibility.)
Mostly whatever is going on in St. Paul seems far away and unreal. It could be happening in another country where I don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language. . . a few incoherent tales from a faraway land.
It’s a weird disconnect, but I am happy to be here and not there.
Day 15: Monday, September 1, 2008
Finally We are on the Ferry
Day 16: Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Another Day on the Ferry
Day 17: Wednesday, September 3, 2008
To Gustavus via a Tiny Plane
During the summer there are a number of regular flights into Gustavus, as well as limited ferry service. However, now that the peak season has come to an end, Air Excursions was our only reasonable option for traveling between the two cities.
I’m eager to get to the airport and check-in, as my dealings with Air Excursions thus far have been pleasant, but unexpectedly informal. For example, when reserving our flights, I wasn’t required to provide a credit card number and when inquiring about receiving a confirmation I was told: “You don’t need one. I wrote it in the book myself. I’m the only one here, so just tell them Cam took care of it if there’s any question.” Last night when I called to confirm our reservation I laughed when I was asked to hang on a moment while she checked “the book”, but the agent also laughed: “Yup, we write it in a book. No computer here!”
I’m thinking I’m going to like this airline a lot.
At the airport we are cheerfully greeted, promptly checked-in, our extra bag sent off for storage, and assured that a cab will be arranged to meet us on our arrival in Gustavus. Perfect.
Soon the pilot arrives and escorts us and the other passenger on our flight to the plane. It turns out to be the smallest plane I have ever flown in (smaller even than the flight-seeing helicopters) and perhaps the smallest plane I have ever even seen close-at-hand. It is really tiny.
We slip in, buckle up, and in a matter of moments Juneau, the sea, and the surrounding mountains disappear behind the clouds.
The Great Sea
Lane has always wanted to visit Glacier Bay as part of this trip, but it isn’t a particularly easy place to get to and only a few cruise ships are granted permits.
It wasn’t included in the Majestic American cruise we had originally booked, so the cancellation of that cruise gave us a second opportunity to try to get there.
In the end we settled on an operation I found on the internet called Woodwind Sailing Adventures. Aside from the minor fact that I couldn’t find a single independent source of information on the company, it sounded perfect – a sailing adventure led by an experienced captain (and talented amateur photographer) on a custom-made boat.
That boat is the Great Sea, a 40′ catamaran that sleeps eight. On this late-season trip there will only be Lane and I; Captain Fritz and his wife, cook and naturalist Kate; and their friends Amy and Judith.
Fritz welcomes us on board, informs the others that we are hiding out from the Republican convention, and assures all of us that he subscribes to Sirus radio, so no one will need to miss a moment of convention coverage. We all groan and laugh.
I think we are going to have a very good time.
We anchored last night in Reid Inlet’s quiet cove. It was a lovely spot, with the glacier in the distance and just one other boat nearby, but today we have awaken to a landscape transformed by fog – a wispy gauze shrouding our world, creating a silent, shifting, ethereal landscape. . . the physical world asis otherworldly and utterly beautiful.
Reid Glacier is also nearby, but, heavily draped with fog, it is silent and invisible.
We set off through a magical world.
Day 18: Friday, September 5, 2008
Day 19: Saturday, September 6, 2008
- Around Anchorage
- The Kenai
- The Inside Passage and Glacier Bay