Tuesday, September 29, 2015

From Land to Sea

Hey peeps, thanks for joining us again.
This will be a relatively short post because today we are being transferred from Anchorage to Whittier where we embarked the beautiful Coral Princess in order to commence the 7 day sea portion of our Alaskan adventure.
On our route to Whittier we stopped by The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center herein referred to as the (AWCC).

AWCC takes in injured and orphaned animals year-round and provides spacious enclosures and quality animal care. Animals that cannot be released into the wild are given a permanent home at the center.
Does anyone know what extirpation means? I didn’t, and have since learned what it means by visiting the AWCC. If you didn’t know “Extirpation” means completely gone from a particular region—in other words, “locally extinct.”

After more than 100 years of extirpation throughout Alaska, wood bison have found their way back to the state! In collaboration with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, AWCC is working to reintroduce the wood bison back into the Alaska wild. In 2003, 13 wood bison were brought to AWCC from a disease-free herd in the Yukon Territory in Canada. Yay Canada!!!!
The goal is to release the AWCC herd back into the Alaska wild. Currently, AWCC is home to the only wood bison herd in the United States. The first wood bison calves born in the state of Alaska in over 100 years were born at AWCC in 2005. In 2008, AWCC received 53 calves from Canada and placed them with the existing AWCC herd. Since 2006, AWCC has seen the birth of multiple calves every spring.
We were lucky to be able to see some of those that will be released back into the wild as well as a few that will remain at the center for educational purposes. I believe about 130 have been released back into the wild since the onset of the program, here is a link in case you would like to read more about the final release.

Here a few more pictures of some of the residents…

Alaska’s growing season is about 100 days and studies have shown some interesting effects the midnight sun has on plants. Here are a few examples of what a vegetable garden yields during this short growing season…

The drive from Anchorage to Whittier had us travel through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel—the longest (2.5 miles) highway tunnel in North America.

The one-lane tunnel is shared by cars and trains traveling in both directions, and it usually needs to be aired out in between trips (with jet turbine ventilation). The unique design enables a single lane of traffic to travel directly over the railroad track and automobiles and trains take turns using the tunnel. It’s actually a pretty cool experience driving through it too. We were sitting in the front seat of the bus and captured a small portion on video of us exiting the tunnel on the Whittier side. It is our intention to upload it or at least a link to it soon.
In the below picture you will see one of the entrances to the tunnel, we have just left a staging area.

And look what is waiting for us on the other side!
The next leg of our adventure begins, 7 days onboard the Coral Princess. Our next posts will be all about where we travelled and what we saw or did from this point on. We do hope you stay with us as we make our way to Vancouver.
Rick and Sandra :)

Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, Talkeetna to Anchorage...

For many folks, a trip to Alaska isn’t complete without seeing Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), and with good reason. Denali is North America’s tallest peak (20,320 feet), and beautiful.

From afar, Denali is massive. You can see that for yourself in the picture that we posted in our previous “Denali National Park and Preserve” post. We weren’t far from Fairbanks when we were given what we now know was the only opportunity to see it let alone photograph it.

Sadly the entire next day and evening was raining and very foggy. The McKinley Princess Lodge's location provides for that up close and personal view of Denali. One would think it would be easy to see it whilst there, but actually seeing the mountain can still be difficult; Denali is so massive it makes its own weather apparently, and it’s completely shrouded by clouds roughly 1/3 of the time.

Clouds, storms, fog, and sunny high-pressure systems all battle it out around Denali; the peak can actually appear at any moment and be gone in the blink of an eye. You might see it from a river rafting trip outside Talkeetna, driving the Parks Highway from Anchorage to Fairbanks, as we were fortunate to do or from the Alaska Railroad tour. Unfortunately it didn’t do that for us and therefore don’t have any close up pictures to share with you.
Our travel companion Wendy, had the zoom lens on her camera the day we stopped on the highway. She has kindly allowed us to post a couple of her pictures. Bare in mind we were about 50 miles from Denali when these shots were taken so it will give you some idea of just how massive Denali truly is. The first photo is Denali or the high one, and the second photo is other mountains that form part of the Alaskan Range.

I will talk a little bit about the lodge itself and share a few pictures. The lodge is located approximately one hour from the town of Talkeetna, which is nestled at the base of Denali and is where we will be catching our train to Anchorage.You may be tucked away in the wilderness, but you won’t lack for anything that’s for sure.
 Below is a sweet spot provided for guests to capture the best view of Denali when it does make an appearance.  This was one of those fleeting moments that I previously mentioned when the skies tried to clear; in our case it wasn't enough for that photo op we were all waiting for.
The sign is strategically placed that if you stand facing it Denali is perfectly centred within the two posts along with a well positioned advertising opportunity!
Here is Wendy hamming it up for the camera outside our rooms.
Okay, Sandra getting in on the action too…

Okay enough silliness; let’s move on to our trip from Talkeetna to Anchorage via The Alaskan Railroad…

I’d like to point something out before we go any further. A little tidbit of information that I personally think is pretty cool. As we stood watching our train pull into the station I immediately looked at Rick and asked him if he built this particular locomotive. He in turn said, “I sure did”!

I can’t begin to describe how it felt to know my husband helped build the engine that would ultimately transport us from Talkeetna to Anchorage Alaska. How cool is that?

All aboard!!!

Traveling on the Alaskan Railroad is a fantastic way to see Alaska. Beautiful domed cars with lots of room to walk around, excellent food and drinks, wonderful friendly service, and amazing views. The 2 hour trip was narrated from start to finish, and the train would slow down for any scenic or wildlife photo ops, and with fall at its peak the vistas were extra amazing.
If you are lucky you will see Denali from many different viewpoints, but of course today was another day where we couldn’t capture it.  


Rick had the opportunity to chat with one of the two engineers on board and he took a moment to have his photo taken with him once we arrived in Anchorage.


After that we were bused to the Captain Cook Hotel for an evening of leisure. Check out the awesome hotel room we lucked out with. Isn't it suite? Pun intended!

The next morning we will be heading to Whittier to embark on the sea portion of our trip. We will also be stopping off at a wildlife refuge along the way, so I hope you continue to tag along with us. Thanks for stopping by. 

Rick and Sandra :)


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Denali National Park and Preserve

Hey Peeps!

This post is all about the second day of our Alaskan land adventure.

 We boarded a beautiful coach from our hotel in Fairbanks destined for the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, which just so happens to be located one mile from the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve.
It was approximately a two hour drive from Fairbanks. The sun was shining and there was barely a cloud the entire time. This afforded us what we were told a very rare opportunity to see Denali, formerly Mt. McKinley which was off in the distance.  The picture below isn't the best view because of haze, and it was an impromptu stop therefore Rick didn't have his zoom lens on. If you look really hard you can see Denali in the background, it is hard to see because it is completely snow covered.

We were given other opportunities to stop along the way to take advantage of photo ops, such as a little town called Nenana; which is home to the famous “Nenana Ice Classic”, a nature-based lottery in case you didn't know. What is the Nenana Ice Classic you ask?

Well the residents of Nenana sponsor an annual contest where entrants buy a ticket and pick a date in April or May and a time, to the closest minute, when they think the winter ice on the Tanana River will break up. This lottery began in 1917 among a group of surveyors working for the Alaska Railroad. They formed a betting pool as they waited for the river to open and boats to arrive with much needed supplies. People play it to this day from all over the world. The only hitch is that you must be in the state of Alaska in order to place your bet, and if you're wondering we opted not to play.

Nenana also has a little bit of history to it, such as when the railroad was completed in 1923, then President Warren Harding arrived to drive the final, golden spike at the north end of the 700 foot-long Mears Memorial Bridge (pictured below) which was built over the Tanana River. This railroad truss bridge, the longest in the United States and its territories at the time, gave Nenana a rail transportation link north to Fairbanks and Seward, Alaska.
The bridge still ranks as the longest span in Alaska and the third-longest truss bridge in the United States.

 There was a little museum of sorts there as well, and Rick couldn’t resist the opportunity to snap a pic of this beauty…surveyors used this first generation snowmobile to get around! 



When we finally arrived at the gorgeous Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, we spent the afternoon exploring the property and facilities. We had a lovely rustic room, and the property had many little shops, and restaurants not to mention some pretty stunning views.




After an amazing Alaskan King Crab leg dinner we retired relatively early as it had been a long day of travel, and we had our second excursion to look forward the next day; the natural history tour of Denali National Park and Preserve.
Denali National Park and Preserve

Generally speaking, I am the person that wildlife truly goes out of it's way to avoid. Seriously, they do. So if that sounds familiar than Alaska is the place for you. Denali National Park and Preserve hosts an array of wildlife from moose, caribou, Dall sheep and grizzly bears to gray wolves and red foxes. You would be pretty hard press not to see something.

In my humble opinion you haven't fully experienced Alaska unless you've been there. Its boundaries encompass an impressive six million acres, and it is simply wilderness at its best.

Look what was one of the first things we saw…isn't she awesome.

To see the park one utilizes a bus system (verses private car) that travels on a narrow ribbon of road, which was designed to reduce traffic and roadside disturbances so you can better see what you came to see. As you saw above, a single moose, wolf or bear, breathtaking close is priceless. The buses go along quietly, and stop constantly for photo ops as they come into view. When we booked this trip we had no idea that Alaska was going to be ablaze in fall colours. Apparently fall is an extremely short season in Alaska; from the first sight of colour change to leaves completely off the trees takes the span of about three weeks.   

A huge thank you should go out to people like Charles Sheldon, the parks forefather, Theodore Roosevelt, the “conservationist president”, Woodrow Wilson, the president that created the National Park Service and who signed the then Mt. McKinley National Park into law, along with a handful of other activists. For without them places like Denali National Park and Preserve wouldn’t exist today.

Think for a minute just how grand an ambition Charles Sheldon had when he took on the task to see to it that these icy mountains of granite, the living tapestry of flora and fauna that forms the vast wilderness, native animals big and small and pristine waters be preserved as a national treasure.
His task was to create this national park, and it's our task to maintain, defend and ultimately preserve it for our children and our children's children.

Ok peeps, we’re going to leave you to enjoy these few gorgeous pictures. I must say that most of what I saw in Alaska will be forever imprinted in my mind.
We might add a few more pictures to these posts as we come across them and of course some narrative to go along with them. Perhaps our travel companions have a few that they might like to share with you as well. Oh here is one Terry wanted to share, wink wink...

Tomorrow we are off to Mount McKinley Lodge, which is another 2 to 3 hour bus ride. Hopefully we will have some better photos of that magnificent mountain now known as Denali or “the high one” which is what it is referred to in the native Athabaskan language.

I hope you join us, thanks for stopping by.

Rick and Sandra :)