Reluctantly Leaving Denali – and Alaska

The last two days of this fantasy voyage began this morning. We packed up the car and made a final stop at the Denali Visitors Center for a ranger walk to Horse Shoe Lake, created by a beaver dam years ago. The dam separated the lake from the Nenana river.

DSC_2121The view from the park to our Lodge just outside. The ranger made some strong comments about the human footprint on this pristine area. We felt a little guilty, but remembered the views of the park from that perch.

DSC_2123Looking over the lake…with bits and pieces of humanity just beyond. This 350 year old forest is considered a mature, old growth forest vs forests in the east with much older trees and more diverse plant life.

DSC_2132This primarily white spruce forest depends on natural forest fires (usually from lightning) to release the seeds in their cones for regeneration.

DSC_2127We only saw some squirrels, but lots of evidence of beaver (above), moose who feed on tree bark, and stories of otter and lynx.

Walking back to the visitors center we ran into our accidental Australian friends again walking the other way. Now we’ve bumped against them several times on the ship, waiting for the shuttle to the Mendenhall galcier, in Seward where they had a room next to ours at the lodge. When we went to grab some lunch at the visitors center later, they were ordering at the same counter. Enough. We ate lunch with them and exchanged emails. When we visit Australia we won’t even have to contact them since we’ll most likely run into them on the streets of Sydney.DSC_2126As we drove south, out of the National Park and through the Preserve, the rain started in earnest. As we plodded on with windshield wipers sweeping we knew we were getting closer to civilization as a construction-generated traffic jam delayed us for a good half hour. At that point we were on the outskirts of Wasilla, a pretty bland suburb of Anchorage. Later we learned it was the day the Palins were involved in some kind of physical altercation at a gathering. And no, we couldn’t see Russia from there.

We got back to our Anchorage hotel in time to experience the city’s monthly First Friday Art Walk. Some beautiful galleries were open with authentic native art on display, both traditional and modern.

We walked around the block to Humpy’s restaurant, recommended by a couple of friends. It’s famous for being very busy and only offering “open seating”. You sort of hover over tables you think are finishing up and jump in the chairs before anyone else grabs them. Fortunately it only took a minute for us to find a table in the back. The food and beer turned out to be delicious, and watching the non-stop wait staff (not even writing down orders) and the mix of locals and tourists made it another memorable Alaska experience.

Tomorrow would be our final day before a 10 pm red-eye flight through Chicago to Newark.

DSC_2137We began the last day with a ride on what was touted as a National Forest Scenic Byway to the tiny ski resort town of Girdwood. The Seward Highway follows Turnagain Arm (an inland waterway that James Cook turned away from twice in his explorations) through the Chugach National Forest. Spectacular views of the Kenai mountains were everywhere.

This stop was at Beluga Point. An almost extinct species of beluga whale lives only in this arm of water (Cook Inlet). Why they are dying out is still unknown.

DSC_2154Sorry for this blurry photo, but it makes an interesting point. Turnagain Arm is known for it’s huge bore tide. The tide swing in this area can be as high as 40 feet! It’s second only to the Bay of Fundy’s tide swing. Can you imagine the bore wave sweeping through this area. The cloud bank above reminded us of what it might look like. Some kayakers and paddle boarders actually ride it when the elements are right.

DSC_2140We also stopped at the Bird Point Scenic Overlook for some spectacular views.

DSC_2144We made it to Girdwood, driving through some interesting, high-end architecture and the tiny town itself. We continued up to the Alyeska ski resort and decided not to take the tram. A mountain bike festival was going on accompanied by a sign at the bottom of the slope advertising the practice of a local orthopedic surgeon. He was probably pretty busy this week.

DSC_2155A beautiful ride back into Anchorage where we found a farmer’s market and an open-air craft/food market. Nothing too special and we ate our lunch from some food trucks. Linda bought a delicate Alaskan birch bowl turned by a local wood worker.

DSC_2181Our next stop was the Alaska Botanical Garden. They were having a special Harvest Day celebration that added to the beautiful garden settings and wooded paths.

DSC_2162A naturalist was showing off this huge porcupine and a beautiful red-tail hawk that was being rehabbed for an injured wing.

DSC_2167Beautiful plantings and other vegetation were very different from what we see in New Jersey…even when they were the same plant.

DSC_2171DSC_2175The variety of Alaska Boletus mushrooms growing wild on the paths were mesmerizing.

DSC_2177DSC_2178We had just a little time left before heading to the airport so we stopped back at the Anchorage Museum to see what some of what we missed and to raid the gift shop for some grandkid gifts.

We returned the Jeep at the airport, ate a the Humpy’s branch there (no hovering over tables at least), and boarded the late night flight toward home.

DSC_2057We are really glad you were able to join us on this spectacular journey. Hope you enjoyed it…and hope you’ll be with us for the next one!

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CREDITS and THANKS TO:

Linda Milstein for keeping an accurate and beautifully written log of the trip. It was used copiously in most of the descriptions above.

Nancy Burns, Ron Maxson, Mark Bilak, Diane Scura and others for all the tips and literature that made our trip even better.

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2 Responses to Reluctantly Leaving Denali – and Alaska

  1. Susan Pushman says:

    Loved it. Brought back memories of our Alaska trip.

  2. Marsha says:

    I totally enjoyed this post actually all the posts and want to go back!

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