Monday, September 15, 2008

Back in Dallas and final thoughts on our Alaskan Adventure

Wow, what a trip!! The Alaskan license plate on their cars says “ Alaska- the last frontier” and that just about sums it up. Everywhere you go in Alaska you are surrounded by beautiful mountains. There is wildlife everywhere but not always immediately visible. Alaska is so big that the wildlife has plenty of room to move around; however, it is everywhere. We saw some beautiful moose right in a forested part of Anchorage. Alaska is a total outdoor environment. That is why people live there. They love the outdoors. If you are into cities that is not the state to move to. When we were in Anchorage we went to REI ( an outdoor gear store ) and that particular day REI was having a sale and the entire parking lot was full.

The hunting and gun culture is alive and well in Alaska. The tip off was seeing trucks full with dead animals and antlers sticking out. We also noticed as we were driving around that practically all the road signs had bullet holes in them. Sara asks me “what’s up with that” and my reply was “the road signs make good target practice”. Driving around was actually pretty easy. There are only several roads and the driving distances were not that great. The vast majority of Alaska is remote and can only be accessed by bush plane.

We found the people to be very friendly and helpful. You can tell that they have a definite toughness. The winters in Alaska can be severe. You have to be somewhat rugged to handle that type of environment. Some parts of Alaska can get down to forty and fifty degrees below zero. Lodging and food was pretty expensive but we finally realized they have from May to September to make their living. The rest of the year a lot of places are closed for the winter. Plus Alaska is a good distance from the rest of the country. It took us as long to get to Alaska as it takes us to get to Europe.

I shot 7000-8000 digital pictures. Many of them were the same picture but with different exposures which can be blended together to capture a wider tone range. Alaska is definitely a photographer’s paradise. You do have to know where to go and at what time of the year. We were very pleased with our selection of places and time of year. Sara did a fabulous job of arranging the flights and accommodations. I keep telling her she could be a tour director in another life. As usual our total travel weight was about 250 -300 lbs. The majority of that was camera gear and camping equipment. I actually built my own rolling carry on bag which I managed to get down to 3 ½ lbs but still we had a load.

Here is our last slideshow: End of Vacation

Note: If you click any of the small slideshows on the Web site you can view them full size.

To sum our trip up - we accomplished our goals which were not to get mauled by any bears, don’t need a medi-evac or rescue, and see beautiful Alaska and take good pictures. We hope you enjoyed our commentary and pictures. This was Sara’s first blog and I think she did a great job with it and I know she had fun with it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bears and Eagles in Haines

We reached Haines late Monday evening after a relaxing four hour ferry ride. We got up early on Tuesday morning and met with Ron Horn who is a minister in Haines and also is a superb photographer. Ron spent the morning showing us around Haines and pointing out all the hot spots for photography. Haines is famous for their eagle populations especially in November when the chum salmon make their final run up the Chilkat River. What we did not know was all the other photo opportunities in Haines. They have a very good bear population and the scenics are fabulous when the weather is good. So we were lucky enough to see quite a few eagles and bears. Unfortunately, the weather was somewhat cloudy, windy and rainy during our visit so there were no scenic opportunities. However we found plenty to do.

Haines is a cool town. It has a permanent population of around 1,600, a little more in the summer. It is only 39 miles from the Canadian border, and Tuesday we took a drive up to Canada to check out the views which were quite impressive. We went by a Native American center on Wednesday and saw an actual totem being carved. It was quite impressive and takes an extraordinary amount of time and work.

Here is the latest slideshow:

We are now back in Juneau arranging our luggage for the trip home. Hopefully Hurricane Ike will not prevent us getting back to Dallas, otherwise we will probably be stuck in Chicago over the weekend. Hopefully all our friends in Houston will be safe.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Juneau Float Planes

We had problems uploading these photos of the float planes we saw in Juneau, so here they are now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Alaska Highways

On Friday we drove the Denali Highway from the west Parks Highway, to the east Richardson Highway. The views were beautiful with the fall colors coming on strong and the tundra turning red. We also found a very cooperative eagle that let us get very close for photographs. The drive took us over seven hours since we could only go 25-35 mph and made numerous stops to take pictures. The road was in good condition for a gravel road, although with the rain and dust we totally covered the car in mud. Hunting season has started, and the road was full of hunters on ATVs, consequently we didn’t see any moose who wisely were hiding.

The next day we drove down the Glenn highway and decided to stop at the Matanuska Glacier. The Glacier is massive and very cool but looks somewhat dirty from all the glacial debris produced by the glacier. We camped at the glacier for the night, and in the morning walked onto the glacier and hiked around a bit. Then we headed back to Anchorage, managing to get a flat tire on the way.

When we got back to Anchorage we went out to look for moose. We had been given a tip from a guy we met at the Denali campground who lives in Anchorage and sure enough we found several moose in the place he suggested. It is a little mind boggling to have so much wildlife everywhere you go including the wild areas around a city. Bear in mind Anchorage is the biggest city in Alaska and we have more people in Carrollton, TX than they do. As a matter of fact, Dallas has more people than the whole state of Alaska.

We flew to Juneau this morning and had a nice lunch down on the port where all the cruise ships come in. There was a very cool float plane operation working all using the old single engine Otters with the turbine engine conversion. We are now on an Alaska Marine Highway ferry traveling up the Inside Passage going to Haines. It is a four hour ride; we may get lucky and see whales. Haines has lots of bears and eagles but it is rainy season here so we may be somewhat restricted.

Here is the latest slideshow from the Denali and Glenn Highways:

Alaska Highways

Friday, September 5, 2008

Denali National Park

We just spent four days inside Denali National Park camping at the Wonder Lake Campground which is 87 miles inside the park. It takes a long six hour bus ride to get there along a small gravel road, however the views are gorgeous and usually there is some wildlife along the way.

Mount McKinley (called Denali by the Alaskans), is normally only viewable 20% of the time. The mountain is so big (20,320 feet) that it can actually create its own weather system, and is typically obscured by clouds. Denali has the highest vertical face in the world, even larger than Everest, since the base of the mountain is at 3,000 feet. We were treated to clear views for three days and had beautiful autumn weather, although the temperatures in the tent at night were around 32F.

Click the slide show below to see the pictures in full size. If this does not work from your email try this link: Denali National Park

The bugs were pesky; however we got a tip from an Alaskan hunter that if you break off a bush branch and hold it above your head it helps keep the bugs away. We thought the guy was putting us on to make us look stupid, but we tried it and it actually does work. We did look stupid, but we were bug free!

It does not get dark until after 10pm, so John came up with a method to create his own darkness by pulling a hat down over his eyes and wearing an eye mask. We met some lovely people at the campground, mostly all of them photographers, so there were a lot of people getting up at dawn for photo opportunities.

Wild blueberries grow abundantly in this area, which is what the bears eat. We started picking them, and they are delicious. John asked Sara if they need to be washed first, the reply was they are completely fresh and organic. We will never enjoy store bought blueberries again.

We were so lucky with the weather we left the campground a day early. Since it was John’s birthday on the 4th and we had been wilderness camping for four days we decided to treat ourselves to a nice room in a lodge.

We have three days before we need to be back to Anchorage so we are going to drive the Denali and Glen Highways. The Denali highway is 135 miles of gravel, but should have great views. Supposedly rental cars are not allowed on it, but we have seen no evidence of this rule in our agreement, so we are going for it anyway.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Heading to Wonder Lake

On the way out of Talkeetna we stopped at a lake to take pictures of some float planes. On the spur of the moment we decided to take a scenic flight of Mount McKinley on one of the float planes, the weather was beautiful, and the mountains were all clear, unusual for this area.

View of the glaciers

Mount McKinley

It was an amazing unforgettable experience.

Today we head into the park to Wonder Lake. We have enough food and equipment for weeks, should be a fun experience.