Alaska: Journey to the Last Frontier
Alaska! I've been hearing about Alaska since the day I got married, that would be 41 years at that time. I'm a warm weather person so I really didn't push for this vacation. My daughter, however, sympathizing with her father, called one day and said we're going to Alaska. She had begun to plan our trip. We were going to Alaska the end of May. She'd done her research on the Internet and joined several blogs to learn more. We got together and made the rest of the plans. There were six of us going; my husband and myself, my daughter and her husband, and my son and his girlfriend. We had ruled out the Alaska cruise tour because we wanted to do our own thing.
The plan was to fly to Anchorage and pick up a rented RV so we could drive and see what we wanted to see, when we wanted to see it. Three couples could split the cost of the RV. My daughter and my husband planned our itinerary. I agreed even though I didn't want to go north. We got off the plane at 9:00 p.m. The beginning sunset was incredible and the mountains breathtaking. It was hard to believe it was still daylight at that hour. I was truly impressed with my first look at Alaska.
We were showed a little bit about the RV and then on our own. Okay, we're in Anchorage, it's 9:00 p.m., we have our RV, now what? We have no food and we're exhausted. Well, there's a Walmart down the road, sort of. We did find Walmart after one or two false starts, it was closed by the time we got there so we just tried to go to sleep, emphasis on tried. The first obstacle was the daylight -- three skylights in the RV let the daylight in. It did get dark for about four hours during the night. The second obstacle was some sort of security vehicle parked not far from our RV with the red lights going most of the night. No one bothered us or asked us to move. It seems it is common for folks to park their RV's in the Walmart parking lot. Exhaustion finally took over and we all fell asleep. Did I mention it was cozy with six people in the RV? My children graciously let my husband and I have the "bedroom" while they slept in the rest of the camper showing just how close they really are.
Morning slipped in quietly. We went into the Walmart to purchase food and necessities for our trip. It goes without saying that Walmart is Walmart, even in Anchorage, Alaska. Of course there were a few things peculiar to Alaska like miniature souvenir totem poles and things that had Alaska printed on them, but most things were the same as any you'd find in NY. The prices weren't too bad either. Groceries in the rest of Alaska were a bit more expensive than the lower 48. Thankfully, it was a bright, sunny day and not too cold. We had breakfast and started out to find the campground where we would spend the next two days, in Seward.
The Road to Seward
The ride to Seward was amazing. I'll be using a lot of words like that because this trip was truly a breathtaking, once in a lifetime trip. I can't tell you how many times we stopped to take pictures. We also stopped at our first glacier, Exit Glacier. The walk back to the glacier was beautiful. What we didn't realize was that our sneakers weren't going to cut it nor were our lightweight jackets. As we got closer to the glacier the snow got deeper and the air got colder. We kept on anyway and were thrilled at the sight that awaited us. The large bear tracks were interesting too.
We saw snow covered mountains, waterfalls, saltwater bays, and endless natural beauty. We saw eagles sitting on rocks near the waters' edge. One advantage was there was almost no one on the road and the highway is well paved and an easy ride. Lots of twists and turns with lots of sites waiting for you! The Seward Highway is 127 miles long. The ride from Anchorage to Seward is about two to two and a quarter hours but it took us more than four with all our stops. The beautiful mountains we were seeing were the Chugach Mountains. Nothing prepared us for the sites we were seeing.
Sea Otter - My photos and video
Numerous stops and a gazillion pictures later we reached Seward. Seward is located between Resurrection Bay and the Kenai Mountains. I have never seen a campground like this one and we did our fair share of camping when our children were young! Seward is a port town. It is also a stop for cruise ships so is tourism friendly. We found that we were a little ahead of the tourist season so had no waiting at hotels or attractions. Anyway, the campground itself was nothing fancy with rows of RV's but the views were incredible.
On one side of our camper were two Alaskan gentleman there for the fishing. On the other side was a lady (we never saw her) who didn't like our late night camp fires. The great part about our Alaskan friends was they took our guys fishing on their boat! What a treat. While they were fishing the ladies visited the Alaska Sea Life Center right in Seward within walking distance from our campground. The really astounding thing was we also ate ice cream on an outside bench, with no coats on. This may not be astounding to you but it sure was to me!
We could watch wildlife from our campground as well. Sea otters frolicked nightly swimming back and forth and chasing each other up and down the bay.
The food was great and restaurants really nice. Walking around one night my son asked someone who was chopping wood in his backyard if we could buy some for our campfire. The man was very gracious and gave us the wood! Everyone we met was friendly and outgoing. We stopped at an American Legion (my husband is a member back here in NY.) Everyone there made us feel at home. We hung out there for an hour or two then went on our way. There were incredible views even from the American Legion Post!
We took a Kenai Fjords cruise on Alaska Heritage Tours that was freezing but indescribable. We saw glaciers calving. The boat couldn't get too close to the shoreline because of the calving and the wildlife! We saw cold water porpoises, whales, puffins, seals, walruses - all up close and personal.
While at Seward we visited another glacier, Portage glacier. This one was really back in the wilderness. Kindly the Alaskan people had built a small gazebo about halfway in for us city folk to rest.
Rate an Alaska: Our Visit
Mt. McKinley aka Denali
Our next planned stop was Mt. McKinley. On our way we found Crow Creek Mine right out of Alaska's past. We stopped to pan for gold. I don't think I need to tell you we left all the gold right where it was. It was a fun experience though. We made several other stops to take in landmarks and scenery including the Alaska War Memorial.
Our next formal stop was the Talkeetna Camper Park, in the shadow of Mt. McKinley. The Alaskan Railroad passes through Talkeetna, and right through the back of the camper park. We only spent one night here but have to admit it too was a nice spot. This was just a stop gap. In the morning we headed for Denali National Park. We were going to stay at an RV and Campground in Denali National Park. We were able to pick up a bus to tour Denali within walking distance to our campsite. We were truly in the wilderness now as there were signs and warnings about leaving food that might attract bears.
Walking around our campsite and its surroundings was incredible. We saw more wildlife up close and personal including the Alaskan state bird, the ptarmigan. There are actually three types of ptarmigan and all are found in Alaska. We also walked past marmots and snow shoe hares, but our next visit would be Mt. McKinley on a tour bus.
What a treat! We were among the elite that actually see Mt. McKinley. It was visible when we stopped to take pictures but by the time we were finished taking pictures it had disappeared into the mist. What a thrill! There was wildlife everywhere. Several times we had to stop to let bear cross the road.
We ended with some typical tourist shopping in Denali. I know I have let you down by not being able to fully explain the beauty and awe inspiring views and wildlife but hope you have the chance to one day visit this incredible state.
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