Sunday, September 04, 2016


June 14, 2016

Arrived in Anchorage with my travelling partner Pat, and took a cab to our rental car site the Midnight Sun.  Appropriately named because even though it's only 7 p.m. when we arrive, the entire evening is fully lit.  Despite my best effort at navigating we ended up Downtown and found a nice woman-on-the-street who said she would lead us to the restaurant.  It had been described as being across the street from a peanut farm, which I thought was strange for Alaska, although not for Virginia, home of Mr. Peanut,  When we arrived at the restaurant, I saw that the Peanut Farm was actually a restaurant also and so we went there.  We enjoyed delicious seafood -- salmon and halibut -- on an outdoor porch overlooking a small stream.

Finally arriving at Elderberry B&B, we found our hosts, Norm and Linda, to feel like old friends.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Linda served us French toast and reindeer sausage.  So much for sticking to my diet!   The sausage were sweet and tender.

Directed to the Tony Knowles Trail near Earthquake Park, we walked along a lake for an hour or so, spying the beautiful Mount McKinley 300 miles or so north of Anchorage.  Some people never see Mt. McKinley and here we had the luck of seeing it the first day.

Afterwards we drove to the Alaska Native Heritage Center where we watched a group of young people play, sing and dance -- and interpret for us -- the Alaska native cultures' expressions.  It was very beautiful.

Outside the main building are a series of native log buildings or earthen hogans.  We heard a lecture at one about the meanings of the various carved totems and at the next an informal talk by a lovely 13-year-old boy who is Athabascan.

By that time we had only a few minutes to quickly walk around the other structures before leaving for our luncheon date downtown with a former student and her husband at the Glacier Ice House.  They have lived in Alaska for three years now, both working in capacities to support Labor.  Their jobs sound interesting as do their lives.  They tell us Anchorage is very liberal despite the many Republicans statewide.  Both are so attractive, dedicated and smart. 

Thursday, June 16

We left to drive to Denali National Park.  Today we saw Denali at full view first around Willow, north of Wasilla.  The sky was blue, no clouds until late in the day.  

At our hosts' recommendation, we stopped at Talkeetna Lodge to look at the mountain and have lunch.  A very good idea.  We saw many sightseeing planes taking off nearby.

We arrived at Denali Visitor Center in time to sign up for the bus trip the next day (11 hours), to visit the museum and later to have dinner at the Salmon Bake Restaurant.  I had an elk burger.  We found our cabin -- Birch -- at a place called Alpenhaus near Healey and we also found the liquor and grocery store -- our host told us there was a reason the word "liquor" came first.  We bought some very good wine at an inexpensive price and enjoyed it on our cabin porch.

Friday, June 17, 2016

What a day!

We arose and had a country breakfast at Rose's Diner by 8:30.  We started our tour from the Wilderness Access Center at 10:15.  

Denali/Mt. McKinley was clear the entire day.  We saw moose, grizzly bear, caribou, arctic squirrels, white tail hare, Ptmargan (state bird),  Mew Gull, Black BilledMagpie, Northern Harrier.   Our sightings included distant Dall sheep grazing near Eielson. caribou grazing, a napping grizzly in the river area, a mama grizzly and two cubs and a grizzly on a hill sitting down.  We observed four caribou grazing together in low Brush and then finally the Mama and Baby Moose as we returned home.

Plants included white spruce (bottlebrush is nickname and it looks Dr. Seuss-like); balsam poplar (a form of cottonwood), willow (low bushes, 15-30 species).  Fish species included grayling, trout (introduced), slimy sculptin, Arctic char, Burbot (fresh water cod).   Our driver Jeremy (NH-Wisc-AK) told us that Denali has 39 species of wild mammals, 168 species of birds, 14, fish, 1 amphibian, and over 1400, plants.


We met people from Indiana (originally Harrisonburg), Singapore and elsewhere.  Beautiful stops for great birds and mammals.  We ended with a mama moose and baby.  How cool is that.

Our first photo of the mountain was taken 78 miles from the top.  the South Peak is the highest at 20,310 feet.  There is l-1/2 miles between the two peaks.  While Denali is not the highest mountain from sea level, from its base in the park to its tip, it is the highest mountain in the world.

The highest point on the park road was 3980 feet.

The Savage River runs into the Teklanika into the Nenana into the ____ to the Yukon to the Bering Sea.

Charles Sheldon is considered the father of Denali because in 1906 he had the idea and promoted it among prominent people in the lower 48.  The park was established for the preservation of wildlife in 1917.  

We drove 85 miles from the Visitor Center to Wonder Lake, stopping at the Savage River, the Toklat River, Eielson Visitor Center and Wonder Lake.

We were shown evidence of the Muldrow Glacier, a 30-mile long area that appeared knobby and bumpy but was vegetated.  The glacier is underneath the permafrost.

What amazed me were the curving hairpin turn roads, wide enough barely for two buses to pass.  Denali and nearby mountains are spectacular in their snowy splendor but other mountains -- brown with valleys of snow or green with plants or orange/yellow -- provide an incredible array of landscapes.

I thought it also remarkable that the Grizzly and Caribou have blonde coats similar to some of the blonde mountains nearby.  One was named Polychrome Mountain.

The valley is filled with many river beds, some now dry but others with rushing waters -- The Susitna, Cantwell Creek, Glacier Creek, McKinley river, Muddy Creek, Toklat River.
For part of the trip I sat next to a woman from Singapore who with her 7-year-old daughter and husband had been visiting a brother in law in San Diego with whom they travelled to Alaska.

Near the end of our trip, a ranger came aboard to give the Junior Rangers badges and they pledged to protect the environment.  It was very sweet.

We finished our tour at 9:05, 11 hours after we started.  We bought a bottle of Pinot Noir  (do you detect a pattern here?), and a yellow pepper.  With our cheddar cheese and purple grapes left from our picnic, we had a yellow and red dinner.

Saturday, June 18

Breakfast at Rose's -- this time cheese and bacon omelet and fruit cup.

At the Park, I spied tracks I thought were dog prints leading us to the bus to the sled dog kennels.  Imagine our surprise when we entered the Science Museum and were told we had followed dinosaur tracks.  Back to the Center, we had missed the early excursion so we strolled and then drove 15 miles into the park to see Denali again in glorious form -- our fourth day in a row.  We returned visited the bookstore, had lunch and then finally went to see the sled dogs.  The ranger from the previous day -- Marie-- emceed the show.  There was Sultana and her son, plus Tulia and Lukor, five dogs in all who pulled the sled around.  Usually 7 or 10 dogs comprise the sled team with the lead dogs setting the pace, the next two swing dogs, and the third pair -- very strong -- pulling the load.  The sled unloaded is 180 pounds.  Dogs haul supplies into Denali and bring trash out.  they travel 3,000 miles per season.  The dogs' paws are built to move through snow.

The dogs usually work for 12 years before retirement.  When retired, they are adopted into homes and enjoy being pets.

After this presentation we drove to McKinley Resort near Healey to hear a park geologist Sean Duffy discuss geology of the Park.  He was great using audience participation to create a puzzle regarding the geology of sedimentary, metamorphic and igneus rocks.

After the talk we went into the Public House and had martini and gin and tonic.  We sat at the bar next to a couple celebrating their 50th anniversary.  They came to Anchorage 21 years ago from New Jersey when AT&T made the guy an offer he said he couldn't refuse.  Their daughter is now general manager of McKinley Resort and was treating them to the weekend.  The husband said it was payback for all they went through in her teenaged years.  He had a mandolin and tattoos "I is what I is I aint what I aint."  Another tattoo was a mermaid.  His wife also had a tattoo on her back.

Tonight we had dinner at the Black Diamond Grill -- I had salmon caesar and crabcake appetizer.  Big portions, ditzy waitress but okay.

Sunday, June 19

Very windy.  We awoke to many clouds and somewhat calmer air but much cooler.

Because we weren't hungry we skipped breakfast but Pat tried to make coffee without a filter.  After cleaning that up, we had a pot and packed.  We had slept in so we didn't leave till 11 a.m. leaving our host Ted our one third bottle of red wine.  Ted told us Anne Marie, his wife, came to Alaska from New Jersey in 1989, and he from Iowa a couple of years later, when they met, married and had kids.  They built a house on the property which has since been sold, and they then built the other houses and cabin.  He said Anne Marie is the people-person but we couldn't say, because we never met her.

We stopped for gas near Salmon Bake and then moved on.  It rained most of the way back to Anchorage.  We finally found a open restaurant in time to eat again at Cantwell where I got a Caesar salad and Pat, a grilled cheese.  The radio or CD played old Patsy Cline country music.

I asked the young man working the counter and waiting tables if he was a native Alaskan.  He must have thought I was asking about Indian heritage because he answered he was Sioux from lower 48, Wyoming, Little Rock.  Then he said "No, that's in Arkansas."  But he had lived in Alaska his whole life.  His father came for fishing, and his mother along with him.

Back on the road.

We had planned to go to a nearby restaurant in Anchorage but it was closed so we went to Uncle Joe's Pizza for Pizza and spinach salad.  

We spent the evening with Norm and Linda playing with our I phones and swapping stories.  They are retiring from the B&B after this season, downsizing and eventually selling house to spend time at their cabin which is out in the country near Talkeetna.  They also have a motor home in Vegas and Linda has enjoyed the Elvis show there.

Tomorrow on to Seward.  Depending on the weather we would like to go to Mt. Ayesha Train and to Portage Glacier Visitor Center on our way to sewards.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Belgian Waffles for breakfast.

We left about 9 a.m. driving south toward Seward and pulled off several times to take pictures of the water and mountains shrouded in clouds.  We were in and out of rain.

At Ayesha Resort near Girdwood, we took the tram up the mountain.  At the top i studied the history of the area beginning with Captain Cook finding Prince William Sound and seeking the new passage (Turnagain Bay was not it).  Henry Seward helped with the purchase of Alaska in 1867.  Seward was the third Seward when Alaska was established in 1900  Alaska convinced Teddy Roosevelt this site was worthy of the great main.  In 1959, Alaska became our 49th state.

We drove on to Portage Valley and visited the Begich/Boggs Visitor Center which has great information about the 1964 Earthquake, the Exxon Valdez disaster, etc.  We had lunch nearby (salad and stew) and saw rufous backed hummingbirds and maybe a thrush.

We arrived at the Seward Hotel around 5:30, an older hotel in a town that is reminiscent of an old western town except that it's on the water.  We had dinner at Chinook:  Halibut Cheeks with lime, encrusted cod.  We walked along the Gulf of Alaska which is where people camp.

Tuesday, June 21

We had breakfast in the hotel -- Mrs. Gene's.  I had an egg and ham sandwich.  

Our cruise was great.  We boarded around 11 and took off at 11:30.  Our captain  Josh looked like a teen although he said he had been steering the boat for 17 years.  He was listening to other cruise boats and changing route depending on wildlife sightings.

Near Fox Island we saw otters who swim like they're floating, paws up.  We saw stellar sea lions on the rocks as well as other seals.  Birds included puffins, eagles, glaucous gulls, cormorants.  

In all we saw more than 10 humpback whaltes and 3 to 5 Orcas.

For lunch we were served salmon and prime rib in a buffet with rice pilaf, slad and dessert of cheese cake, brownie and fruit.  Yum!   Very well prepared especially since there were just under 200 on the boat.

Ranger Chad from the US Park Service lectured on icebergs, geology, animals throughout.  He and Capt. Josh were a great team.

A couple from Pasadena set at our table but seemed largely in themselves or occupied with phones, he with camera.  She had been in a half marathon the day before in Anchorage.  Lots of kids on this cruise.

We arrived back in dock at 5:30 and went to Ray's Waterfront where I drank a purgatini -- hempseed and fireweed vodka with bay leaf.  It was good.  Then i had the King Crab appetizer.  Delicious.  It tasted a lot more like lobster than crab.  I also got steamed clams with onion and butter brother, parsley and dill.  Perfetto!

When we got back to hotel we turned on Olympic diving trials but I fell asleep by 9, waking only at 5:30 a.m. and then sleeping again till 8.  I was tired.

Wednesday, June 22

Today we walked the coastal trail to downtown and had breakfast at an eatery.  "it's just a small biscuit" the waitress told us, but in reality it was quite large, very sufficient.  

We had stopped at the Park Service Information Center, where the young ranger, Griffith Plush told us he is a native (meaning to the area, not Native American).

Pat's ankle hurt so i walked home and got the car.  We had lunch at Christo's Palace.  I got crab salad sandwich with salad.  Pat got fruit and salad.  She then rested at the hotel while I visited the Seward Sea World Museum and Aquarium -- a good way to see some of the birds and seals close up.  

This evening we went to the Seward Grill where we drank beer and ate oysters and cookies and cream ice cream cone.

I'm listening to History of Alaska by Douglas Brinkley.

Thursday, June 23

Breakfast at Motel Grill - Single Star.  

After breakfast, Pat went to the Sea Life Center and I walked at Two Lakes Trail.  Fearful I would encounter moose or bear, I sang Charlottesville Women's Choir songs from our concert as well as numbers from Hamilton.
Lunch was at the Breezewood Grill where we had cod and salad.  We had a four hour cruise today, Orca Song was our boat with three women as crew. We saw otters, four to six eagles, several humpbacks, including one that breached for us almost 10 times.  My camera stopped taking pictures before I could take the closest ones.   Today we also saw more glaciers, including Bear Glacier up close (I forgot to mention glacier sightings we did on our previous trip).

We came back and went directly to Ray's for drinks (Negroni for me) and delicious Halibut in Macadamia nut coconut curry sauce with rice pilaf and broccoli.  I had a salad for appetizer.  But no oysters.  Apple mango cobbler and prosecco for dessert!

Watched Olympic Finals of gymnastics and listened to more of my book.  

Friday, June 24

This a.m we had breakfast across the street at Yudy's -- eggs over easy, reindeer sausage and toast.

We checked out and drove to Exit Glacier about 10 miles away.  I walked to Glacier and back -- about two plus miles -- while Pat stayed put.  I met an Argentine - German couple who'd been to Denali-Seward and Homer.  They had no views at Denali.

I also attended the ranger talk on thrushes.  Varied Thrush (West Coast) has long sound.  Think I saw and heard Hermit thrush.  The Graycheek's song is long.  Not sure how it varies from Swainson's.  I thought also I had heard a chestnut sided warbler but after talking with the ranger I believe it was a Wilson's Warbler.  The ranger said that studies show birds have high levels of endorphines and dopamine when they're singing.  Hence, birdsong that sounds like "All's right in my world" is a good interpretation.  

I purchased cards of birds and flowers/trees of Alasks, and fridge magnets for Book Club.  we left about 1:30 and had lunch at a lodge on Route 9 about 3 p.m.  We arrived in Anchorage by 5.  We finally had dinner at the very good nearby Restaurant and I finally had oysters -- I actually like the sweet Bay oysters better than the Alaska ones but it was fun to have something new.

Packing, repacking, emailing and resting at Elderberry.

Saturday, June 25

We awoke early and had an egg and cheese strata and coffee cake.  YUM.

We went to the Saturday Anchorage Market -- a fun event with lots of crafts.  I bought a western-style hat, crocheted necklace for Margaret, photo of an eagle for Ian and Linda, otter for me, books for MJ and IV.

We then went to a botanic garden which was wonderful.  We ended there by listening to a wind quartet playing in the herb garden.  Lovely.

We had  kobe beef hamburgers at the City Diner before returning to Elderberry to finish packing.  We left early to return car and arrived at the airport to find bedlam, computers down, a sudden warning to evacuate the building and then a call back.  

Finally, when we're in our plane we sit on the runway for hours ensuring that we will miss our Dallas Ft. Worth connection to Dulles.  Nevertheless we get rerouted in Dallas and we're only a few hours late.  I'm able to reach our driver Tommy in time to tell him.  

A great trip with a wonderful travelling partner.  I'd like to go back and see more of Alaska.

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