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Archive of our Alaska trip -
We arrived in Alaska on June 17th. As of June 27th, here's where we've been:
We thought about flying into Denali (there's a 3000' gravel strip there - with mountains on either end), but decided it just wasn't worth the hassle. So we rented a car and drove the 130 miles each way to Denali National Park - home of 6 million acres of land, lots of wildlife, one 96 mile long road and the tallest mountain in North America - Mt. McKinley or Denali, if you ask the locals.
We wanted to get out to the back country, so we arranged to stay at the Denali Backcountry Lodge. It's a 96 mile drive over dirt roads and several passes. Time on the bus: 6.5 hours - each way, unless you spot lots of wildlife, then it's longer! (See, Yannis, there is one advantage to not spotting wildlife.)
On the way, we got our first glimpse of Mt. McKinley - it is often covered in clouds (we think it's shy). At 20,000 feet in height, it kind of makes its own weather.
The bus ride is often referred to as a "safari" - you have to love the marketing types :-)
We did see some wildlife, but mostly it was scenery and dust. Below is a moose and its calf feeding in a little pond.
Since we didn't see much wildlife, we tried to be the wildlife. Here Tasha does her best imitation of a moose - just 1/2 of a moose rack weighs a ton! So, Mama helps her out.
Once at the lodge, we were pretty much out in the middle of nowhere - it's estimated that less than 3% of the visitors to Denali (300,000+ each year) make the trek out to this part of the park. We got to hang out, kill mosquitoes, enjoy the solitude, kill more mosquitoes, take hikes, kill even more mosquitoes, etc.
On one morning hike, we ran across foot prints - wolf and moose. It looked like the wolf was running, so we speculated that it was a chase since they were in line with each other. However, Tasha's research indicates that a moose would not run from a wolf, but stand and fight. Furthermore, the moose would probably win! We took a mold of the various foot prints, and hopefully they'll survive the trip home.
On one hike, Denali wasn't completely covered, so we took the opportunity to grab a family snapshot. This is at Wonder Lake just outside of Kantishna - the former mining town.
We also panned for gold - Anika did turn up a flake (about 1mm square), but we lost it on the way back to camp. So much for that ivy league college for her, eh? :-)
Fortunately, on our last day, Mt. McKinley cooperated and gave us a very rare glimpse of its beauty and size. This is at Wonder Lake.
And of course, we took part in the park's Junior Ranger program!
Interestingly, we spent 13+ hours on a "safari" looking for wildlife, and when we got back to Fairbanks we were visited by a moose. The kids were swimming in the hotel pool (indoor, ground level) and a moose poked its nose onto the window. And then its friend/sibling popped over too. By the time we got a camera, they were out in the parking lot. Feels like we've walked on the set of "Northern Exposure". We love it!
When the linesmen at the airport in Fairbanks heard that we had not seen a bear in Denali, they suggested we head for a suburb of Anchorage, where a grizzly last week killed a moose in the driveway of someone's house!
That's all for now - next stop is Nome (or anywhere - just to get out of smoky Fairbanks - the winds have shifted and are blowing all the forest fire smoke into town - everything looks and smells like one big campfire area!). We'll update more when we next get connected.
Fire and smoke update
We hear that the Alaskan bushfires have made it onto some of the national news. That's understandable given how bad they've gotten - as of July 3, the two big ones outside of Fairbanks are burning in almost half a million acres - throughout Alaska, there are close to 2 million acres burning.
We first got exposed to them on our way back from Barrow when we flew through some of the smoke from a "forest fire" that was 80 miles northeast of Fairbanks, but Fairbanks was still in pretty good shape. When we got back from Denali 4 days later, though, Fairbanks was like a different world - all grey and smelling of a forest fire. The night we spent in Fairbanks after Denali included smoke alarms going off at midnight due to the winds shifting and bringing in thicker smoke over the city.
When we left for Nome on the 29th, visibility throughout the city was generally less than 1 mile. Fairbanks International Airport was reporting 1/2 mile visibility in smoke as we prepared to leave.
We took off and climbed through a thick smoke layer and finally got on top of it at 8000 feet and flew over 200 miles west before getting past the smoke. (3 days later, when we left Nome for King Salmon, Nome had a high layer of smoke and the smoke had gotten up to 15,000 feet - we flew in smoke for over 200 miles until we got south of Bethel. More on King Salmon in our next update). Bottom line: the fires are having an impact on many people all over Alaska, but we're fine and out of the smoke (for now).
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