Anchorage – Alaska

Since we have some down time, and the dealer gave us a beater loaner (complete with cracked windshield), Anne and I drove down to Anchorage yesterday. My friend Jeff sent a link to a local food truck, so we decided to check it and the town out.

We missed the Babycakes truck. Either I read the schedule wrong, or they couldn’t make it. Instead we ordered a Cuban sandwich from one of the other vendors. With a slice of ham, a slice of pork, cheese and zesty pickle on a pressed Panini bun, it was tasty. There was a second truck selling baked good, so we indulged in a cupcake parfait; that’s where they alternate layers of cake with icing. We needed a good walk after that.

K Street Eatery
Anchorage has several sites where local food trucks can set up and sell food. The trucks rotate from one site to another. We took advantage of the K Street place for lunch.

I wanted to check out the street made famous during the 1964 earthquake. The newspapers and TV showed how one side of the street sunk a full story. There was far worse damage elsewhere, but that image remained with me. The area affected was along 4th Avenue between C Street and E Street.

Anne's lured into the Kringles Store.
Anne’s lured into the Kringle’s Store

While we walked the sidewalk, I remarked that this part of town reminded me of the road next to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. It’s at the edge of downtown, nearer to the port. It had all the trinket shops and the cruise ships sent busloads of tourists as part of the tour. But I didn’t see a single place to eat seafood. There were plenty of bars, but no salmon, no crab, not even a sushi restaurant. Evidently, Anchorage knows that this is high on the sightseeing list, because the Hard Rock Cafe is at the end of the block, but it needs more local seafood.

South Side of Fourth Avenue
The south side of fourth avenue has a mix of building styles. It’s kitschy but at least has some charm.

The other observation that I made was the street had a split personality directly related to the earthquake. The south side of the street has the original buildings, a mix of old storefronts, bars, with an occasional log building here and there. The north side buildings that sustained most of the damage were replaced with two reinforced concrete structures designed in the 60’s. They act as a shopping mall, but there are few tenants. The owners painted the west building bright yellow, while the east one is purple. Inside of the west building we found the walls plastered with news clips and explanations of what and how the earthquake damaged the surrounding areas. Since the epicenter was in Valdez (an unknown little fishing village at the time), it will be interesting to see how it recovered.

Fourth Avenue's North Side
It was the north side of Forth Avenue that sank one story. Those buildings were replaced with two commercial building that serve as shopping malls. They are conspicuously devoid of tenants.


Palmer – Alaska

We’ve been forced to modify our plans. Anne and I had to leave the gang behind and go on to Palmer, a town north of Anchorage. That means skipping over a stop where we could have spent more time near the park. We will be here for a week, and Fred, Deb and Sally will catch up with us in a couple of days.

Fritz has been acting up ever since Montana. Whenever we would turn the key to start the engine, it didn’t react quite right. It has gotten worse. Now, we have to say a prayer, then perform yoga and hold our tongue just right to get him to start in the morning. That’s when the problem is the worse.

Since we carried some tools, and the internet, we narrowed the problem to either the lock that prevents the truck from starting when it isn’t in park or the ignition switch. There are only two qualified shops in Alaska that could fix it. An independent shop here in Palmer, or the only dealer in Anchorage, or the state for that matter.

When we got to town and set The Ritz up, we drove to the independent shop, where they confirmed it was the ignition switch/steering lock-out mechanism. They can’t fix it, because the part has to be programmed specifically for Fritz, and they don’t have the electronics to do that, I have to take it to the dealer tomorrow. Cha ching! Even the electronic key needs re-programming. We don’t have a choice, either we drive it in tomorrow or drag it in on a hook from who knows where.

Fox in the Field.
A red fox on the hunt, makes his way through an open field.

There is some good news however. Most things that come into Alaska, come in through Anchorage, and most of Alaska’s fresh produce is grown here in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. At the store today, tomatoes were 2.49 a pound instead of the five bucks apiece we’ve paid since we left the states. Even better, there is a variety of produce in Freddy Meyers, so we can save our canned goods for on the road.

Dall Sheep On Igloo Canyon
To capture mountain sheep you need an extreme lens, or be a big horn sheep. i neither have an exotic lens or am I a sheep. My lens makes little white specks into bigger white specks. That will have to do for this trip.

Once I get car things settled, I may get to try some salmon fishing. The rivers run clear here and salmon are in the streams. That’s quite different from the park where the glacial rivers are sterile because of the silt runoff. I’ll have to keep my eye out for bald eagles. If they’re around, there is fish near.

Black Wolf
There’s a competition among the bus drivers in Denali. The primary score is the mountain as I’ve already explained. The other triumph is to see the big five: Grizzly, Dall Sheep, Moose, Caribou, and a Wolf. Hunters have decimated Denali’s wolf pack because of recent law changes that govern area adjacent to the park. Here is the last of our ‘Big Five’. A beautiful black wolf we found in a part of the park where he had never been spotted before.

I’ve processed a couple of photos from yesterday’s bus trip, and I want to share them with you. I hope you like them, I’m sure that you don’t want to see the inside of a garage (OK, I know a couple of you might), so I will be away from my camera for a day or so when we’ll get to check out Anchorage (and the Costco store).


Success – Alaska

It’s been a long and successful day on the bus. After yesterday’s post I thought I’d share with you a shot from the Eielson Visitor’s Center and relieve the suspense. The shot is of the Denali complex, from The Wedge to Peter’s Dome all surrounding Denali like jewels in a diamond ring.

As I explained in a earlier post, only 30% of the Denali National Park visitors actually see the mountain. What we learned today is that only 10% of those visitors ever see a cloudless mountain. They sell the 30% T-shirts here, but not one for ten per-centers. At the end of our trip, the first thing that the Queen and I did was to march into the gift shop, and buy our tee-shirts. I can die now.

The Denali Chain
This is the great mountain, Denali and the lesser peaks surrounding it. They are visible and cloudless. A very rare sight for park visitors.

I can’t begin to explain how massive this mountain is. The photo included was not taken with a telephoto lens. It was a normal lens from thirty-two miles away. There are two peaks on Denali, the north, which is pyramid shape, and the south which looks like a scoop of ice cream. The south peak is over twenty thousand feet making it the tallest mountain on the North American Continent. The distance between the two peaks is two miles. Another bit of trivia that sells tee-shirts here is that Denali’s base plateau is under three thousand feet, while Mt. Everest sits on a plateau of sixteen thousand feet. So, with pride, the Alaskan’s boast that Denali is taller from base to peak than Mt. Everest. I’m not going to join that argument, I’ll just say there are windows in the visitor center two stories high, and this mountain fills the center panel. ‘nuf-said.


Nenana Canyon – Alaska

A high pressure front was supposed to move in today bringing warmer temperatures tomorrow. That means the weather should clear giving us the best chance to photograph The Mountain. So, we extended our stay another day here in Nenana Canyon (the real name of the community the ranger calls Glitter Gulch).

Eielson View
The view from the Eielson Visitor’s Center

We’ve already purchased tickets for tomorrow’s shuttle bus. We’re betting on the conditions being right. It’s been cold, windy and cloudy all day with the temperature never breaking into the sixties. We will be moving to Cantwell on Wednesday regardless, so we all have our fingers and toes crossed.

Teklanika River
The Teklanika River has a glacial source so it’s water runs the color of wet cement.

I wanted to get in this short post so that I could give you that update, but it’s also an excuse to show more of the photos from Saturday’s bus ride. Even if we don’t get a good shot, there are some scenes that I didn’t get the first time. We have a 7:00am departure, so the Queen is already¬† preparing for her beauty sleep. Wish us luck.

Carabou Antlers
Caribou antlers decorate the grounds of the Eielson Visitor’s Center. If Mt. Denali wasn’t socked in, it would be where the dark cloud is.


Denali National Park – Alaska

When we first talked about this adventure, my destination goal was Denali National Park. Everything up to this point and everything we do on the way home was icing on the cake. We’ve made it, and today is our third of five days camped in the community outside of the park, or as a ranger called it; Glitter Gulch.

I wanted to see the Great Mountain for myself and possibly photograph it. That’s an elusive task because as the Park Service explains, only a third of the visitors get to actually see the mountain. Normally the moist air coming up from the Alaska Gulf rises over the Alaska Range and the mountains squeeze the water vapor out of the air so it condenses into beautiful clouds. But Denali cloaks itself in those clouds most of the time.

Mountain from 70 miles
On our first attempt the only view of the mountain we got, was from seventy miles away.

The park is different from any other National Park that I’ve visited. Besides the visitor center on the east side, there are very few concessions within the park boundaries.¬† The intentions for The park was to be more of a wilderness experience. The park service limits traffic to fifteen miles on the single park road. Imagine, the state of Massachusetts having one road and you will get a sense of the space set aside for preservation.

Grizzly Sow
We spotted this female grizzly escorting two cubs across the meadows. Unfortunately, the cubs were shorter than the grass in this photo.

You can’t drive your car into the heart of the park, but you can walk anywhere you like, you can ride a bike along the road, but over three-hundred thousand people use the shuttle or tour buses each year. The tours offer guides and video screens, so you don’t even have to leave your seat to view the wildlife (you can even buy a DVD recording of your tour when you get back).

White Mountain in the Rain
Thunder clouds gather over this white mountain before breaking into afternoon showers.

The shuttle buses take you to various stops along the road and the cost is proportional to the distance. The guide is the driver and there aren’t any video cameras, so you have to spot the animals yourself. Anyone on the bus can yell stop, and the driver will stop, spot the object, move the bus so people can get a better photograph, and explain about what you’ve stopped for. There are only two rules: 1. No body parts can hang out of the windows (lenses are not body parts, so they can protrude). 2. You must stay quiet while the animal is near the bus.

Fox With Tonight's Dinner
A red fox on his way back to the den with three ground squirrels.
This will be food for his hungry kits.

So, that really sucks, right? I want to hang out and try to pet the bears! It’s actually a pretty good system. Because of the rules, the animals don’t associate the buses with humans. They’re just big inedible cows moving back and forth across the landscape. Like being in an observation blind, the passengers get to see the animals act naturally. The ‘Stop!’ thing? Believe me when you have a bus load of people staring intently out the window, you stop more often than if you were by yourself.

Wonder Lake
Wonder Lake was at the west end of our shuttle bus rid. In all, we spent eleven hours touring the Denali back country.

You may have guessed by now that we took one of the shuttle buses yesterday out to Wonder Lake and back. We did get to see Denali, but only at the first overlook, seventy miles away. That qualifies us for the “I saw the Mountain” tee-shirt. I didn’t get a good shot however. It’s raining today, but Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s forecast is for drier skies, so we’re going to take another bus. I still want my picture.


Chena River Crossing – Alaska

Last evening Anne and I drove to a river crossing our map said was a good place to fish. It was around six in the evening and we figured there would be another ten hours of daylight left. When we got there, Anne sat in the car reading her Kindle book while I assembled my fly rod.

I had started casting along the shore to the right of the car then, not having any luck, moved upstream to the left of the parking area. I made a couple of casts when I heard a car door close. I glanced back to the car, thinking Anne had gotten bored and wanted to go back to camp.

It wasn’t. Instead it was a young slender woman about medium height with long black hair walking towards me. She wore a smoke blue silk blouse over black skinny jeans tucked into shiny black boots. Then I noticed her dark brown eyes as they looked directly at me and she smiled. She seemed familiar, like Janet Lee; the pool player.

She carried something in her hand and it took me a moment to realize it was a fly rod case, large enough for a two piece rod and reel. When she stood next to me, I’d lost track of my cast and hit the back of my head with my wadded up fly line.

“Do you mind if I fish the bank below you?” she asked with a deep sultry voice. My mind tried to respond with something like “If it pleases you, my dear,” but I swear it came out as <curly> “Why sointley”</curly>. She then gracefully descended the muddy slope to the river’s edge. She remarked how she had caught two graylings the other night. Then she looked puzzled and told me that this wasn’t her spot, because it was closer to the downed log upstream and began to climb back up. I offered my hand in help, but she refused and walked up the bank as if there were stairs. When she stood on the grass, her boots still shined without a trace of mud.

She looked for a path through, and then around the aspens blocking her way. Then she slipped around the end one, and then . . . disappeared; vanishing without a trace. I looked for her for maybe a minute before realizing the Goddess of Fly Fishing visited me. After exhaling and releasing my gut, I began reeling in my limp fly line from the grass, then slowly walked back to Fritz . . . and Anne.

I put away my rod and reel and sat in the driver’s seat letting out a huge sigh as the door closed.

“What was that all about?” Anne asked.

I turned to her and excitedly blurted, “Oh thank God you saw that. I was afraid that I was hallucinating.”


Fairbanks – Alaska

We’ve spent the last three nights in the Fairbanks area and I’ve needed it as I’ve become road weary and needed the rest. During that time we’ve visited with Santa, got Fred’s truck serviced, fixed the inverter on Fred and Deb’s trailer, I scrubbed down Fritz, and I slept in for a couple of mornings. Tomorrow, we leave the Alaska Highway and head south for our ultimate destination; Denali National Park.

Cheena River in Fairbanks
The Chena River runs through the heart of Fairbanks and has a great river walk along its banks.

Fairbanks is not the large city I imagined. It’s a little town of thirty thousand encircled with expressways. Those are freeways with stoplights every other street. The University of Alaska is on the north-west corner of town while old town is centered like a bulls eye. The Chena River runs east to west through the center of town.

Ice Museum
One of the stranger museums that I’ve run into is Fairbanks’ Ice Museum. I suppose you can learn a lot from ice cubes.

The gang went out today to Pioneer Park, an outdoor museum with lots of displays and information, but I wasn’t up for it. Instead I went down to old town, or as they’re called these days, “The Historic District.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m a history buff, but I also like to see what’s happening today. I spent a couple of hours wandering around the shops, restaurants, and museums before checking out the river walk for a couple of blocks.

Fairbanks Downtown
In downtown Fairbanks, there are bars, restaurants, shops, galleries and museums to visit. Almost all of the people parked on this street are from . . . Alaska.

When I came back to camp, I scouted a fishing location indicated on our Gazetteer, and it took a while to find it. It’s been raining on and off for the last couple of days, so the river is high and running muddy. I may still try my luck later today because I need the practice before we get to Denali. Wish me luck.