Archive for June, 2013

Summary of our Canada and Alaska Holiday

Despite the changes to our plans caused by fog leaving Sydney and arriving back home, we have had an absolutely fantastic holiday.  We have met some lovely people, we have visited some picturesque places, we have partaken in some brilliant adventures/excursions and have taken lots of photographs!

We have all grown up with images of Canada and Alaska from films, advertisements and other people’s postcards and photos, but we were overwhelmed by the natural beauty and majesty of the places we visited!!

At the start of our trip we had hoped that we might get to see some of the natural wild life of these two countries and particularly hoped that somewhere in our travels we could see a bear.  We were lucky enough to see several bears (brown bear and baby, cinnamon bear, black bear, grizzly bears) as well as Caribou, Dall Sheep, Bald Eagles, Whales, Arctic Ground Squirrels, Moose and two Red Foxes.  The only animal that we didn’t get to see was a Polar Bear – although maybe we didn’t recognise him against the frozen Arctic Ocean at Barrow.

There were a couple of things we were disappointed in – the accommodation in the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge and the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge were far below the accommodation we had expected and had experienced in every other place we stayed during the month of our holiday. Both lots of accommodation badly need to be renovated or refurbished.

This was only a minor hiccup in an otherwise fantastic holiday.

Although we loved each and every moment of our holiday, some of our highlights would have to be the impromptu helicopter flight over the glaciers and mountains outside Banff; a still frozen Lake Louise; the Rocky Mountaineer train; sitting together in our mini-suite having breakfast looking at the view from our balcony on the Diamond Princess; our floatplane flight up into the Misty Fjords and landing on the mirrored lake; the White Pass train from the Yukon to Skagway; watching the glacier ice calving at Glacier Bay; zigzagging through the mountains on our return flight from Barrow; and the spontaneity and good nature of all of the people whom we were travelling with, including our tour director, Inge Stamm, and our Canadian bus driver, Steve.

With the risk of sounding a little bit mushy, the best part of this holiday is the same as for every other holiday and that is that we were able to share all these wonderful adventures together!!

 

Fairbanks to Brisbane

At 10.00am on Sunday 9 June, 2013 we boarded the bus to take us to Fairbanks Airport.  A very friendly Alaskan Airline employee checked us in and with much glee informed us that he had checked our suitcases through to Brisbane. We weren’t quite sure how that was going to happen as we were gong to Sydney first and needed to go through Customs there and we were changing carriers from Alaskan Air to Air Canada domestic to Air Canada International to Qantas domestic.

We boarded an Alaskan Air 737 at 11.55am for the hour-long journey to Anchorage.  The aeroplane was very interesting because the front half was sealed off to carry cargo and the back half was for passengers.

We had a three-hour wait in Anchorage for our next flight, Air Canada A320 to Vancouver, which took 3¼ hours, arriving at 7.05pm.  On some occasions we were able to see the Inside Passage and some of the mountains and glaciers that we had seen close up from the ship.  We were surprised at how quiet it was at Vancouver Airport and also how much it reminded us of Singapore Airport, on a much smaller scale of course.  They had made an artificial stream and a giant fish tank in the centre of the eating and shopping area.

Our Air Canada flight to Sydney, a Boeing 777-200, left just after midnight for its planned 15½ hour flight to Sydney.  We were due to land in Sydney at about 8.15am on Tuesday 11 June, due to crossing the International Date Line, but about 8.00am, the pilot announced that Sydney was closed due to fog and that although we had slowed down some time ago, the fog still hadn’t cleared and we were being diverted to Brisbane to take on extra fuel and head back to Sydney.

The pilot negotiated with Customs and Immigration and the Brisbane passengers were able to be offloaded, however, our suitcases had to continue to Sydney.  We were taken along the tarmac and through all the back doors/entrances to a very quiet Immigration and Customs area, where we completed some forms for our suitcases that would be taken through Customs in Sydney and then they would be flown to Brisbane.

Katharine and our beautiful little Patrick came to the airport earlier than anticipated to collect us and by mid morning we were home.  Although we had some sleep after we left Vancouver we had been virtually on the go for about 35 hours, so we were a little tired and in need of a shower and a decent HOT cup of coffee/tea.  We enjoyed chatting to Katharine and having cuddles with Patrick and were surprised when Janet dropped in to say hello and deliver the cat.

Our suitcases were delivered to us by lunchtime on Wednesday so our holiday is now officially over.

 

Day Trip to Barrow, via Coldfoot

Last night we booked a taxi to pick us up at 6.35am this morning to take us to the airport for our Day trip to Barrow via Coldfoot.

Our Air Arctic flight, which was on a Piper Navaho Chieftan, took off at approximately 8.00am in sunshine and warmish weather.  It was an 8 seater – we had the pilot and 6 passengers (a young couple from Austria and a couple from Minnesota and ourselves).

From the air, we could see the Dalton Highway, which is 416 miles long and commonly referred to in the winter as “The Ice Road” which runs from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay.  It was originally a private road built to provide the materials for the Trans Alaska Pipeline, which is built beside the road. The road is now mainly used by trucks bringing supplies to Coldfoot and Prudhoe Bay.

We passed over the Yukon River, which is frozen over for 7 months of each year and the only bridge over it is the one on the Dalton Highway.  Three weeks ago it was still frozen solid and they have had quite a bit of flooding during the breakup of the ice.

Most of the area that we travelled over is Permafrost, which means that only the surface layer defrosts.

We passed over the Arctic Circle, which is an imaginary line around the earth at 66°33’ north latitude.

We touched down an hour after take-off at Coldfoot, which arose on the banks of Slate Creek in the Gold Rush of 1898-1900 and then was deserted until the 1970s when it came into its second existence as a Pipeline Camp.  Coldfoot, which is now the world’s most northern truck stop, is on the Dalton Highway and is classified as an isolated village – it is really not much more than a service station with a post office! We were picked up in a little van and taken across the highway to the truck stop for a comfort stop and to collect our pre-ordered lunchbox.  The lady who picked us up also looks after the post office and she told us that the truck stop not only sells fuel, but has a repair shop and a tyre shop and Coldfoot also has a small hotel accommodation made out of containers.  She told us that it is a 6 hour drive to Fairbanks for shopping, doctors and school – most of the children are home-schooled until they go to secondary school, when they go to Fairbanks. On the way back to the plane, she took us to the pipeline so that we could see how big it is.  Some of the pipeline is underground and some of it is above ground built on tressles to allow it to expand and contract.  At each of the tressles, there is a heat exchanger to stop the permafrost from melting or the pipeline would sink!

When we took off from Coldfoot and headed towards Barrow, the weather deteriorated so our pilot climbed above the clouds and we were not able to see anything.

When we left Fairbanks, the weather in Barrow was overcast, but by the time we got there, it was very foggy and 2° and we were lucky that the pilot was given clearance to do an instrument landing.  Just a few seconds before the wheels touched down, we could see the runway – interesting!!

Barrow is the northernmost community on the continent, 530 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and Alaska’s largest Eskimo village.

We were picked up from the airport by Olaf, an Inupiat, who drives for The Top Of The World Hotel tours.  After a quick comfort stop at the hotel (see photos – description just won’t do it!) Olaf took us to “the End of the Road”, which is the end of the most northerly man-made roads in Alaska and where we could have dipped our toe in the Arctic Ocean had it not still been frozen, so we stood on top of the Arctic Ocean!!!  This area is also what they refer to as their beach, which was a combination of dirt and gravel.  In fact, all the roads in town were dirt/mud/gravel.  On the way back into town we saw some seal skin boats that the women sew together with special waterproof seams.

We saw their college Ilisaguik, meaning“A Place to Learn”, with its motto “Honour your past and train for your future” and a Bowhead Whale jawbone – the whale was 120,000 lb.

We also saw the high school, the elementary school and the football field (specially made from a type of astro turf).

We stopped at the Welcome sign with a Bowhead Whale skull, at the Ancient Sod Houses, the Satellite Farm (satellites point to the horizon for the best signal), the Grave Site (where wooden crosses are used because the traditional marble ones only last 20 -25 years here) and we also stopped at the Whale Bone Arches.

We saw the Paraagvik (Place to Play) basketball courts and the first church in Barrow – the Presbyterian Church.

We saw the Distribution Centre where they distribute the alcohol – interestingly they have to each have a background check done on them and if approved they are given a Distribution Card with their photo ID and then they are only allowed to order a certain amount each month.  The card costs $100.

The houses are built up off the ground and are very basic – most made from timber and because it is difficult and very costly to get rid of old unwanted items such as old cars, fridges, bikes etc, they are left in people’s yards.

We thoroughly enjoyed our 3 hours visit in this very unusual place, learning a little bit more from Olaf about the Inupiats and their way of life in a small community and we were made very welcome.

We were delivered back to the plane at 3.15pm for our flight home.  The fog had lifted, so we were able to take off and head back towards Coldfoot.

As we approached the Brooks Mountain Range, the cloud and fog had completely cleared and we were able to see where the ice on the permafrost had melted in areas forming 1000s of lakes.

The pilot was also able to fly lower over the Brooks Range on the way home and zigzagged through some of the peaks, which gave us a great view of the mountains and a close up of the strata layers in some of them.  We absolutely loved being almost able to touch the mountains and to have such a great view of them and the valley below!!

We flew through the “Valley of the Precipices” where the mountains formed “the Gates of the Arctic” and landed in Coldfoot at about 5.15pm for a quick refuel and then back on the plane for our flight back to Fairbanks.

We arrived back in Fairbanks at about 6.20pm after a thoroughly enjoyable day.

We had a quick dinner and returned to our room to get our suitcases packed ready for our journey home tomorrow.

Fairbanks

As we didn’t have to get up early for any excursions or to be heading off to a new destination, we had a bit of a sleep in this morning before meeting the other 12 members of our group who haven’t headed home yet, for breakfast at 7.00am.

We caught a taxi into Fairbanks and wandered around the shopping streets as well as walking along the Riverwalk.  We saw a statue, in the Golden Heart Plaza, that is dedicated to the first families of Fairbanks, we walked under the Antler Arch, which has 100 moose and caribou antlers collected from all over Interior Alaska and we wandered around the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Centre, where we saw the different seasons of Alaska and exhibits about the people, land and culture of Interior Alaska.

We were quite impressed with the city of Fairbanks because it is neat and clean, with lots of flowers planted in flower boxes around the city.  When we mentioned this to our taxi driver on the way back to the Lodge, he said that when the snow melts at the end of winter there is some rubbish around and the people of Fairbanks all get together and clean it up.  There is not a lot of high-rise in the city and it seems very open and we found that all the drivers were very courteous and give way to pedestrians, waving us across the street, even when there wasn’t a pedestrian crossing.

We had lunch here at the Riverside Lodge and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and getting our luggage sorted out in preparation for our flight home on Sunday.  We also got our paperwork organised for our day trip to Barrow tomorrow.

Today has been warmish – long sleeve t-shirt and jeans, but we think tomorrow may be somewhat colder as we will be at the Arctic Ocean!!

We had dinner with the 7 other couples, who hadn’t gone home yet and said goodbye to 5 of the couples – the other 2 couples we will see at breakfast and will be able to say goodbye to them then. We ate dinner out on the deck overlooking the river but as soon as we had finished we all came inside for our coffee/tea as we were getting eaten alive by the biggest mosquitos we have ever see!!!  We had a lovely night reminiscing about our trip and the funny things that happened.

Denali to Fairbanks

This morning we woke to blue skies and cold breezes.  After a leisurely start, the bus picked us up at 10.00am for the 2½ hour drive to Fairbanks.  We drove on Highway 3, also known as the Parks Highway (there are only 3 highways in Alaska) – the highway goes from Anchorage to Fairbanks for 360 miles.   We left the Alaska Mountain Range and descended into the Interior of Alaska.

We drove through a little town called Nenana, whose claim to fame is that each year they hold the Nenana Ice Classic, which is where people can bet (for $2.50 each) on the exact date and time, down to the minute, of when the ice will break and the water will flow through the Tanana River.  They have electronic equipment that registers the first movement of water, The total money raised is dispersed among the people who guessed the exact time – this year it was $318,000.

We stopped at the Parks Monument and were able to take photos looking down on the Tenana Valley, with the mountain range in the background.

Our bus driver told us a funny story about how the little town of Esther got its name – 2 men came to the area in the early 1900s in the gold rush era and a lady by the name of Esther followed them.  According to our bus driver, Esther was “a woman with negotiable affections” (which cracked up the whole bus) and she stayed and opened a hotel and was very well liked, so they named the town after her.

We arrived in Fairbanks, which is the largest city in the Interior region of Alaska and the second largest in the state behind Anchorage, at approximately 12.30pm and were taken to the Steamboat Landing for our Riverboat Discovery tour.

We boarded the only remaining authentic Alaskan sternwheeler for a cruise along the Chena River.  With the feel of an old-time steamboat that frequented the river during the gold rush days, the modern-day Riverboat Discovery had an open sun deck, heated glass enclosed decks and was equipped with video equipment so we didn’t miss any of the scenery.

On the first leg of our journey, we saw a bush pilot perform a takeoff and landing demonstration on the river.

We made a stop at the home of Dave Monson and Susan Butcher, the late four-time Iditarod champion – we all stayed on the boat while her husband and daughters showed us some puppies on the riverbank and also David harnessed a team of huskies to a wheeled cart and mushed them along the river bank, past their house, back past the back of their house, up along the river and back to the house. The huskies seemed to be enjoying what they were doing and we loved the demonstration.

During the narrated tour, complementary coffee and donuts were served while we witnessed the ”wedding of the rivers.” The marriage of these two rivers creates quite a unique demarcation line – when the clear waters of the Chena meet the Tanana, the world’s greatest glacier river carrying tons of glacial silt from the Alaska Range, the result is clouds of silt that rise and fall over the river.

We continued on to the Old Chena Indian Village, and got off for a glimpse into Alaskan Native life and history. Young Alaskan Native guides took us on a tour of an Athabascan Indian village, a spruce bark hut, a trapper’s cabin made of spruce logs, and showed us how a fish wheel operates, as well as the difference in the village after western contact.

We were supposed to have 40 minutes to explore the village and talk to David Monson but as the guided tour finished, it started pouring with rain, so we headed back to the boat for our return journey.

The bus picked us up and brought us to the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge, which is close to the airport, and we checked in.  The room is on the top floor, is big, with big windows and is bright and cheerful and has a king size bed!!!

We had our Farewell Dinner last night and there was a lot of laughing and reminiscing over the past 26 days.  Everybody has thoroughly enjoyed the tour and the time we spent together.  Our Tour Director, Inge Stamm, was fantastic and ensured that we were picked up for all our excursions and gave us lots of information and funny stories.

Some of our group are leaving at 3.30am tomorrow and some are leaving at 6.30am, while the remainder are spread over the next two days, with us being the last to leave in 3 days.

Denali Tundra Wilderness

We woke this morning early so that we could have early breakfast (5.30am) because our tour today started at 7.00am.  We were looking forward to our Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour because we could finally get out into the wilds of the National Park and we were not disappointed!

Our “school bus” took us along Park Road and into the National Park – the road is 90 miles long but we were only able to go 62 miles and then came back along the same road because it is the only road.  The Park is open 24 hours per day 365 days per year but in winter, the road is closed because it is not maintained and the patrols are decreased to dog sled patrols.

In Denali National Park, it is estimated that there are 2,000 Moose, 2,000 Caribou, 2,500 Dall Sheep, 350 Grizzly Bears, 350 Black Bears and 50 adult Wolf.

Denali habitat is a mix of forest at the lowest elevations, including deciduous taiga (consisting mainly of spruce).  The preserve is also home to tundra at middle elevations, and glaciers, rock and snow at the highest elevations.

We travelled between the Outer Range Mountains and the Alaska Mountain Range, passing over the Savage River at Mile 15, where we stopped at the Check Point, where Ranger Happy Harry came out to welcome us to Denali National Park.  He also reiterated what the driver/guide had already talked to us about – respect for wildlife ie keep food, yourself and cameras inside the bus and he also told us that private vehicles are not allowed past that point without a permit. There are 450,000 visitors to the Park each year and 80% of those are cruise ship based.

We drove along Primrose Ridge, over Sanctuary River and Teklanika River where we stopped for a short break, then continued on and passed Igloo Creek and wound our way around Sable Pass and over East Fork River.  We stopped at Polychrome Overlook, with incredible scenery – we could see for miles and miles, but unfortunately Mt McKinley (Denali) was completely hidden behind clouds, and because it is only about 40 miles away, we should have had a great view.  Interestingly, about 1200 climbers attempt to climb Mt McKinley every year but only about half that number actually make it.  A plane takes them to the mountain where they set up base camp and then it takes about three weeks to actually climb up the mountain and back!

At times, we were driving around mountains on a one lane gravel road with a mountain on one side and a huge drop to the valley and plains below.

We could see the sweeping Plains of Murie that stretch to the Alaska Range and we could see a tributary of the Toklat River, as well as lots of wildflowers.  We crossed the Toklat River on the Toklat River Bridge and stopped for a short break before continuing on to Stony Hill, our last stop before turning around – if we were going to be able to see Mt McKinley, it would have been from there, but no luck, the clouds were still completely covering it.

During our trip, the driver/guide was happy to stop whenever he, or somebody else, thought they saw an animal.  If it was an animal sighting then he would stop the bus and turn the engine off and give us lots of time to take photos through the drop down windows, as well as to just enjoy watching these magnificent animals.  The only criteria was that we were not to talk or make any noise or hang out the bus windows and we had to stay on the bus.

We were very fortunate to see 2 Grizzly Bears playing in a river; lots of Caribou; a Marsh Hawk; two Red Foxes; lots of Dall Sheep, including two that were sitting on the edge of the road eating ptarmigan willow; a Mew Gull; an Arctic Ground Squirrel and a couple of Moose!!

At one of our stops, they had a display of antlers from Caribou and Moose – these animals shed their antlers each year – we were surprised at how heavy they were.

Our excursion started at 7.00am and we were returned to the Lodge at about 3.30pm. We were given a boxed lunch on the bus and we were told that it had to be consumed on the bus as nothing was to be left behind in the park, not even crumbs.  The opposite side of this is that nothing that is found in the Park is allowed to be removed from the park – this includes the shed antlers.  These things are done so that the park stays in its totally natural state and that the ecosystem of the park is not disturbed.

Today was an amazing day!  At times we felt totally overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and wilderness around us and in awe of, and excited by, the magnificent animals that we saw in their natural habitat, knowing that while we had seen a small number of animals today, we know that there are many more that we couldn’t see, living out their lives as they have done for hundreds of years..….. in the Wild and today, we were a very small, minute part of it!!!  THIS is Alaska!!!

McKinley Princess Lodge to Denali National Park

We woke this morning to discover it had been raining through the night and the whole of the mountain range is now hidden behind the clouds.

After a nice breakfast we boarded a bus to take us back to Talkeetna, a 45 minute drive, to board our Princess Domed railway carriage for the 4½ hour journey to Denali National Park.  The carriage was similar to the Rocky Mountaineer but the Princess carriages had tables set between the seats so that two couples faced each other with the table between.  We were sitting in the very last two seats in the last carriage but we could turn around and take photos of the view from the back of the train. There was nowhere near as much space nor was it as comfortable as the Rocky Mountaineer.  The tinted domes still gave good panoramic views of the scenery that we passed through.  Today we were back in the mountainous country that we have become so used to over the last few weeks.

The rail journey took us along beside the Susitna River and lush mountain vegetation, including lots of snow on the ground, for most of the way.  Just before lunch (we were the last small group to be called down to the dining car at about 2.00pm) we crossed Hurricane Gulch over the Chulitna River.  The bridge that the train travelled across was high above the gulch and gave us spectacular views.  The area was named because of the high winds that are generated in the valley.  The train slowed to 10 miles per hour to cross the bridge, although it wasn’t windy today.

We saw a moose swimming across the river with her calf watching her from the bank.

There are locals who live along the train line but interestingly there are no roads there nor are there any lakes to land floatplanes, so the Alaskan Rail works on a “flagstop” system – if the locals need to go into town, they stand out beside the tracks and wave a flag and the train stops and picks them up.  Also if they have bigger items such as building materials, that is not a problem, as the Alaskans help each other to load and unload supplies from the train.

We arrived at Denali National Park late afternoon and were loaded onto buses for the 7 minute trip to Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge.  Along the way, we saw another Moose, with her baby beside the road.

Denali National Park is located in Interior Alaska and contains Denali – Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America. The National Park is over 24,500 square kilometres.  In 1980 Denali Wilderness was established within the park and is 8,687 square kilometres.

We settled into our small room, which has a king size bed – yay, we get to sleep together tonight!!  The bathroom is very small to the extent that the handbasin is actually outside the bathroom in the main bedroom area.

We then went for a walk along the Nenana River, which the lodge overlooks.  This evening we are going to the “Music of the Denali Dinner Show” here at the Lodge.

Kenai to Mt McKinley (Denali)

We still can’t get used to the long daylight hours – last night after dinner, we went back to our cabin, lit the log fire and relaxed for a while before having showers and hopping into bed.   However, because of the skylights in our cabin, even with all the curtains drawn, at 11.00pm we were able to take a photo in our cabin without using the flash and at 12.00 midnight, Richard opened the curtains and took a photo of the Mount Cecil Rhode.

After breakfast, we retraced our steps in the bus, back along the Kenai Peninsula, where we saw a Golden/Blonde Grizzly Bear but he disappeared down an embankment to a creek in amongst some trees before we could get a good photo.  We drove past the turnoff to Whittier and continued on up the peninsula.  There is only one road in and out of the Kenai Peninsula – the Turnagain Pass Highway.  The government couldn’t build a bridge from Beluga Point (called this because you can see Beluga whales from there) over to the other side of the Beluga Bay because when they drilled down 950 feet, they still had silt.  The bay has a 30 foot tide and a 5 to 6 foot wall of water comes in at the end of the incoming tide – would be fascinating to see – apparently some people even try to surf it!  The tide was going out when we drove past it so we got a view of some stretches of water and some silt/mud flats.  This area would be quite spectacular when the tide was completely in.  We saw some fishermen netting hooligans (fish).

One of the funny signs we saw while driving along was for a Pit BBQ place at the Turnagain Arm – the sign said “Turnagain Arm Pit” – cracked us up!

We drove into Anchorage which has a population of 300 000 and in the outskirts, we saw a Moose and her twin babies.  Our driver took us to Lake Hood, which has a huge seaplane/floatplane terminal, with hundreds of docks with small lockup sheds for their gear, including big tyres for landing on glaciers and the tundra in the winter.  There are 300 landings per day on the lake – a huge number!

Adjacent to the lake was a small plane airport with hundreds of light aircraft parked.  We followed a light aircraft as it taxied along our road to his parking special parking lot.

Alaska has approximately 3 million lakes that are over 20 acres, the size required to be allowed to land a floatplane on and as there are not many roads in Alaska, lakes and planes are the way to go!  The Kids in Alaska even get their pilot’s licence before getting their car licence.

Our driver took us for a drive around Downtown Anchorage to point out various locations, amenities and points of interest, including where the Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod Sled Race takes place, before the two of us headed off to have lunch at the Bear Paw Bar and Grill and then had a wander around the town.  We were surprised at the number of lovely flowers, flower beds and handing baskets around the streets as they are just coming out of winter and it snowed a matter of weeks ago – apparently they had a huge delivery of flowering plants, which they planted last week.

Then, on our way out of Anchorage just past the Knick River Bridge, we saw another Moose and her two calves.

We continued on our journey passing through much flatter country than we have been seeing for the last couple of weeks.  The landscape was still thickly forested and lots of lakes.

We passed through a place called Wusilla, whose Walmart is the No 1 best seller of duct tape in the world – how interesting!  The restart of the Iditarod takes place here and goes for 1049 miles.  We saw a sign for fuel that was $3.99 per gallon, which is $1.05 per litre!

Our next stop was a place called Talkeetna, which is where we will catch the train tomorrow to Denali National Park.  Talkeetna is a small community that services this section of the Denali National Park – the majority of the shops catered to the tourist for the five months of the tourist season, selling arts, crafts and gifts.

It took another ¾ hour to get to the Mount McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, which is in the Mount McKinley National Park, arriving at around about 5.20pm!

The name of Mount McKinley National Park was subject to local criticism from the beginning of the park.  The word “Denali” means “the High one” in the native Athabascan language and refers to the mountain itself.  The mountain was named after president William McKinley of Ohio in 1897, although he had no connection with the region.  In 1980 Mount McKinley National Park was combined with Denali National Monument.  At that time the Alaska Board of Geographic Names changed the name of the mountain back to “Denali”, even though the U.S. Board of Geographic Names maintains “McKinley”.  Alaskans tend to use “Denali” and rely on context to distinguish between the park and the mountain.  Very interesting.

We settled into room, which has 2 small double beds (first time we haven’t had a queen or king bed since we left home) and took some photos of Mont McKinley, (20 320 feet), in the distance and shrouded by clouds.  We are hoping that we can get a clear photo tomorrow, weather permitting.

We had a lovely dinner with Fay and Ray before returning to do our blog.

Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge

After dinner last night, we came back to our cabin and lit the log fire as it was quite cold.  The timber that is supplied looks like pine so it burns very quickly and the fire needed to be re-stoked quite regularly, but it did provide a lovely warm atmosphere.

Several times on the cruise we had commented about the length of daylight and even in yesterday’s overcast conditions it was still very bright outside around midnight.  We slept well and didn’t get out of bed until 7.00am – our first sleep in on holidays!!  It had rained overnight and this morning was overcast and quite cool.

After a leisurely breakfast, we were collected in a small bus and taken to a section of the Kenai River to Alaskan River Co, to commence our river float.  It was quite different to our float at Banff – firstly, we were given gumboots and waders to wear and then given the usual life jacket.  There were 8 people in each inflatable raft and we got to sit on the edge of the raft at the back – a good spot for taking photos.  We floated down the river for approximately two hours, taking in the beautiful scenery and dodging rapids, rocks and trees hanging out over the river.

We had two people with us from the Alaskan River Co, who sat in the middle of the raft and took it in turns to row and steer us down the river and at times just allowed the raft to float. The river flows quite quickly so at various times we were travelling more than 5 miles per hour.  In some sections we travelled straight down the river but for a lot of the time we zigzagged down the river, which reduced our speed and gave us a chance to look for bears, eagles and other animals.  We didn’t see any bears, however, we did see a few bald eagles, ducks and other birds that live or feed close to the river.

During the time we were on the river, the sun came out but we were still quite cool because of the icy winds coming off the mountains and the river.

On a few occasions we did pass though some slight turbulent water, enough to give us a rocky/bumpy ride for a while but we only had a small amount of water coming into the boat onto Sandy and some of the others on that side of the boat, however the waders and boots kept them dry.

We landed approximately 11 miles down river and had several people ready to catch the boat as it came into to the bank.  After we took off all our wet weather gear and found our shoes in the plastic storage containers, we were brought back to the lodge by a small bus.

We sat with Fay and Ray in the Rafter’s Lounge and had a snack lunch and chatted about our wonderful morning and how much we enjoyed being out on the river for a longer period of time than we did in Banff and under slightly more adventurous conditions, but still sedate enough not to be dangerous.

This afternoon, we went for a walk and then had a cuppa on the back verandah of the lodge in the sunshine, overlooking the Kenai River and Mount Cecil Rhode, which 4405 feet above sea level.

Whittier to Kenai Fjords National Park

Our ship’s log showed that we berthed in Whittier at approximately midnight but we had a much more leisurely start to the day.  Our suitcases had been collected before we went to bed so all we had to do was dress, have breakfast and be ready to leave the ship with the rest of our tour group at 9.00am

We said goodbye to the Diamond Princess and the coach picked us up from the wharf and took us on a brief tour of the port of Whittier. It is overcast here, with low clouds and quite cool !!!!

Whittier, approximately 65 miles southeast of Anchorage, lies nestled at the base of the Chugach Mountains bordering Passage Canal. Established as a World War II port for cargo and troops of the Alaska Command, Whittier remained activated until 1960. Today, Whittier’s economy and its 250 residents rely largely on the fishing industry, the port and, increasingly, on tourism.

The only way in and out of Whittier is via a one-way tunnel, which is 2 miles long and goes through the mountain. Every 15 minutes it changes direction – trains in, then trains out, then cars & buses in, then cars & buses out. Sometimes there is so much traffic wanting to use the tunnel that all the cars can’t get through in the time, so some of them have to wait an hour for their next turn.

We were surprised to see so much snow on the ground – apparently they have had a long winter with it snowing just over a week ago.  Most of the residents live in a multi-story building in the town, which has a small tunnel from its basement to the school next door so that the children can go to school every day in the winter.

After we left Whittier, we gravelled through “Bear Valley” and stopped at Lake Portage to view a glacier.  We continued along the Portage Valley to the Portage area and saw the trail of an avalanche that ended just beside the road.

In 1964 there was an earthquake and the underwater landslides caused a tsunami, which wiped out the whole village of Portage.

From there we were taken to a Conservation Centre, where injured and orphaned animals of all shapes and sizes are taken to be looked after, as well as the centre providing educational programs.  Most of the animals would die if they were living at the centre.

The Conservation Centre reminded us of Dubbo’s Western Plains Zoo, because the animals, while restricted by fences, had large areas of land and trees to roam around as they pleased. We saw some grizzly bears, black bears, wood bison, caribou, muskoxen and a lynx (northern cat).

From there we entered the Kenai Fjords National Park, which is a United States National Park established in 1980.  The park covers an area of 2,711. square kilometres on the Kenai Peninsula in South Central Alaska, near the town of Seward.  The park contains the Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the United States.  The park is named for the numerous fjords carved by glaciers moving down the mountains from the icefield, which is the source of at least 38 glaciers, the largest of which is Bear Glacier.

We continued down the Kenai Peninsula past Summit Lake, which was frozen – unusual for this time of year and onto the Seward Highway, where we saw two grizzly bears beside the road – they were a very light brownish colour – didn’t get a photo as they took off into the bush.

We arrived at the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge at about 2.00pm.  We have a large cabin with its own little veranda and a log fireplace, which we have lit as it is quite cold here!

We had a late lunch at the restaurant in the lodge and then went for a walk down to the Kenai River and along its banks for a while before heading back up the steep hill to the lodge.  We sat out on the deck overlooking the river, chatting to some of our tour group.

We don’t have internet access in our room, so will need to go down to the lounge later on to post our blog and a few photos.