We spent ten days in Alaska this month. The weather was almost perfect with only one rainy day which coincided with an 8 hour train trip.
We stayed at the Hilton, where I stayed when I was there 23 years ago. We had dinner the first night at Simon and Seaforts, which I considered the best sea food restaurant I had ever visited. For some reason the food was not as good as I remembered but it was still full on Thursday night.
The next morning, we got up early and caught a bus at the Convention Center, called the Eagan Convention Center. There followed a six hour bus ride, broken by a short stop at McKinley Wilderness Lodge, about opposite Mount McKinley (Denali now).
The view from the Lodge is terrific. We were still a long way from our destination, however.
The bus finally dropped us off at The Denali Cabins, which are right outside the park on The Parks Highway.
There we were picked up by another bus, this one to take us to the The Denali Backcountry Lodge, another 92 miles into the park.
The Backcountry Lodge is a private company that occupies (with some passive resistance by the Park Service) some old gold mining claims. It was not there when I visited the Park 23 years ago although the gold claims go back to before the park existed. There is another lodge back there called The Kantishna Roadhouse, and the whole area is a community called Kantishna, although some old prints show that the name was originally Kantshitna. You can’t find a link to the old name but it was there on a photo of an ancient poster.
We left the Denali Cabins at 1 PM and arrived at the Backcountry Lodge at 7:45 PM, a trip of seven hours. Part of that is the 92 miles, of which the last 72 are gravel. Part of the time was spent looking at animals we encountered in the park.
This was the first bear we saw on the way. We also saw caribou.
Here are two about 100 yards away. When I was there before, 23 years ago, we saw caribous cross the road just ahead of us but not this time.
Finally, we arrived at the lodge just in time for dinner, which they had delayed about 45 minutes for us. There were about 30 people staying there and our table mates remained as such the next few days.
The lodge consisted of a central building with rooms and the meal facilities. There was a second building used for meetings and lunch. The main building was for breakfast and dinner and the office was there.
As we walked along the creek, which ran in front of the lodge, there was a small suspension bridge.
The creek water was very cold and while gold panning was offered, while we were there we saw no takers. Along the creek were a series of little rock piles that I never did figure out. Maybe it was just something done by guests. Jill was cold almost the whole time as you can see.
The little suspension bridge with the lodge main building in the background. We crossed the creek on the bridge and walked along a path on the other side that leads to a small lake about 4 miles away. We did not take the hike, especially after we saw large, fresh moose tracks.
I followed the moose tracks and saw that they crossed the creek next to the bridge and continued downstream. Not wanting to encounter a moose, I didn’t follow too far.
Lunch was served at another facility which was next to the cabins.
The lunch and meeting building was next to the cabins, which are just to the right in the photo.
The cabins are arranged in three rows. Ours was at the end of the leftward row. There was, of course, no TV and no internet although was WiFi in the main lodge that was quite slow.
The room was nice size. The first night, we went straight to bed after dinner but the second night, I got up about 1 AM to see if we could see the aurora borealis. It looks just like the illustration at that site but the waves are moving constantly, going back and forth in the sky from the horizon to directly overhead. I tried to take a photo but my little camera, which was fine for animals, had no way for me to take a long exposure. I got Jill up and she dressed and came out to look. I had never seen them before because my prior trips to Alaska had all been in early summer when the sky never gets dark.
Sunday, the third day, we got up early again and caught another bus to go out of the park to the big Princess Lodge at the park entrance.
We saw more animals, including several large moose.
This one was quite large and standing by a “kettle pond” which are glacier remnants.
We finally got to the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge.
Here we spent the night after dinner in a nice restaurant called The King Salmon Restaurant,
The next day, we caught a train to return to Anchorage. The train trip took all day, leaving at 10:30 AM and arriving in Anchorage about 5 PM. It rained most of the day and that was the only rainy day. Some of the views from the train were spectacular.
This is called “Hurricane Gulch” and is below the highest railway bridge in Alaska. It was quite a feat to build this bridge in the 1920s.
In Anchorage, we spent a day driving around to Palmer and Wasilla. Palmer had just ended the state fair on Labor Day. We looked at the huge vegetables grown in 23 hours of sunlight each year.
We had lunch in a very nice inn that was once the teachers residence for the Palmer colony in the 1930s. The dining room was nice and the food was excellent.
We visited The Musk Ox Farm, just outside of Palmer. This farm was started by a man named John Jerome Teal, who was an arctic explorer and who wanted to start a project to help the natives support themselves and make some money. The musk ox has a soft undercoat the is very warm and which is shed every spring. He helped native women learn to knit the fibers into very warm soft textiles called Quivit. I bought Jill a scarf from this material.
Then we drove over to the Iditarod Race Headquarters in Wasilla.
We watched the video and got some tee shirts for grandchildren. The race commemorates a famous dog sled trip from Wasilla to Nome in the 1920s which carried a supply of vaccine for a diphtheria epidemic in Nome. The course is over a thousand miles long.
Homer is one of the most beautiful places on earth. This is the view from our hotel balcony. We spent one night in Homer.
We stopped and got some more tee shirts for the kids. We went to one of the shops located on the shore at Homer Spit and looked at the tents on the beach set up by kids working the fishing boats run out of Homer. They can make a lot of money in a summer and pitch tents on the shore while they are out fishing.
Here is a view looking toward the shore from the spit and showing the tents.