A Travellerspoint blog

DENALI NATIONAL PARK

sunny 13 °C

Our transport to Denali the next morning was by coach, a scenic drive with some wildlife spotting along the way. We had developed the clock system for animal spotting on tour as 12 o’clock being to the front and 6 at the back, so whoever saw the spot would call out “ moose at 3 o’clock”, for example. When things got boring we would have some fun by calling , tree at 9, or mountain at 4!!

We arrived in Denali around lunchtime and were surprised at just what was there. A small splattering of shops and tour operators on either side of the highway with the Denali Princess Lodge dominating the landscape on the left. The lodge was a few kilometres away form the entrance to the park but situated along the Nenana River. Holland America have their own accommodation lodge up on top of the hill.
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We had the afternoon to our leisure in Denali so after grabbing a Subway for lunch and having a wander through the galleries and few shops we caught the shuttle over to the visitors centre in the park so we could find out more. The kids of course wanted to get the booklet start for the junior rangers of Denali so we spent some time there looking at the displays and wildlife that could be found in the park so they could get as much information collected as possible.
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We decided to walk the couple of mile back to the lodge and enjoy the fresh air and time to ourselves. As nice as it is to have some more social time with others in your group each day, if we had known how easy it was to get around Alaska we would probably have rented a car or motor home and driven ourselves allowing more time to do the things we enjoy. We are the only family with kids on the tour and as nice as it is for the kids to have endless grandparents to talk to we have developed the saying “hurry up…and wait”. We seem to always be waiting on someone to join the group so we can get on with the next thing. I think we are suited to a more flexible itinery where a bit more spontaneity can be enjoyed. In saying that, all the accommodations and tours that were organised have been great, we would probably have enjoyed spending more time at them.
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Our tour for the next morning was an early 7.30am start. A Natural History Tour into the park we were picked up and with breakfast in a paper bag, we boarded our coach into the park. The tour took us about 16 mile into the park with stops along the way to view and listen to a re-enactment of an old cook’s camp in the park complete with log cabin and mosquitos the size of humming birds!!
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Our next stop was at a point where we listened to a native Athapaskan talk about his family life in the area and the way his native people lived on the land. He was a wonderful speaker with excellent sense of humour and a wealth of knowledge. A beautiful vantage spot we could see over the valley a herd of caribou grazing. We also saw on our trip into the park, 3 moose, including a yearling, lots of caribou, dozens of snowshoe hare and lots of pairs of Ptarmigan, the state bird which resemble a young white and brown bantem. We were amazed at the different landscapes of the park from the real Arctic tundra to Tiagra forest areas. The seasons were just staring to turn and in the warmer, sunnier areas of the park the birch were all starting to bud with new growth. We watched a video of the 4 seasons in the park which was spectacular; the colours here in late spring and summer when all the wildflowers are in bloom look stunning.
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Through the winter when all the roads and rivers are snowed or iced in the rangers patrol the park by dog sled and camp over night in the log cabins dotted around the park. The park is open all year round for people to explore. The kids finished off their booklets on the bus and later in the afternoon we returned to the park for them to hand in their books and pledge their commitment to the parks and the environment once again.

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Posted by fiveofus 06:32 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

MT McKINLEY - DENALI

sunny 13 °C

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Our mode of travel for the first day of our land tour was by Alaska railroad however Princess have their own domed rail carriages along with Holland America. I’m starting to think that these 2 companies must have shares in Alaska when you see the bus loads of people they bring into these towns. We boarded our car and settled in for our couple of hour journey to Talkeetna. I was really excited to be stopping here as apparently it was the town that Northern Exposure ( TV series) was based on. Northern Exposure was filmed in Washington but I so wanted to see a little outback Alaskan town.
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Our trip into Talkeetna was enjoyable and very relaxed arriving about lunchtime with the afternoon at our leisure to wander around. With magnificent weather we strolled around the entire 4 small blocks and enjoyed a pub meal at the only pub in town then the best homemade cookies from the “road house”.
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We strolled over to the ranger’s station where we watched an amazing video about Mt Mc Kinley and the many people that travel from all over the world in an attempt to reach the summit. At 20 320 feet it is the highest mountain in North America but the extreme weather conditions make it one of the most difficult mountains to climb. There is much controversy over the name of this mountain, the local Alaskans call it Denali, a native word meaning the “high one” but it was named after a governor from one of the southern states that had never even visited the area.

We finally caught the shuttle up to the Princess McKinley Lodge which was about an hours drive from Talkeetna where we were to spend the night. Fortunately we had been able to see the mountain nearly all day with such perfect conditions and some people we had spoken to in our group that had done the scenic flights over the mountain said they saw climbers on the mountain only about 100metres from the summit. Our weather has been just amazing, so much better than we ever imagined. Apparently, the mountain is usually covered in cloud and the majority of people coming out here are lucky to get a glimpse so we considered ourselves very lucky.
Mc Kinley Princess Lodge was very impressive!
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Beautiful decks overlooking the valley and further onto the mountains, it was in the middle of the wilderness. There were a number of choices of places to eat but we decided to attend a ranger talk on wolves before dinner and let the rush for dinner disappear.

The ranger to give the talk was a retired mental health nurse, become ranger in the national parks of Denali and over the last 3 years has tracked and studied 3 of the wolf packs in the area. What a fascinating man to listen to. At first we thought he was a bit eccentric but after listening to him and discovering his passion we understood how incredibly knowledgable and involved this man was with the incredible work he does every year. We found it fascinating to listen to his stories about how the pack of wolves live together, communicate and relate with each other. He had the most amazing photographs of new pups in their den and the pack playing in the snow.

Following the talk the kids were awarded their Ranger badges for Mt Mckinley in front of the entire theatre - very special, then we went for dinner in the cafe, overlooking the mountains.

After a magic sunset at about 11.45pm, we settled down again ready for our adventure into Denali the following day.
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Posted by fiveofus 06:29 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

ON LAND IN ALAKSA - ANCHORAGE

sunny 10 °C

Our disembarkation was rather smooth and not too early so we could enjoy a leisurely breakfast and the kids could say their good byes to the staff that they became friendly with. It was a very international crew, of various ages all on the ship for a different reason. Many of the younger staff were there to see Alaska, some for the first season, so very excited and others working to support their family back home. One of the buffet stewards that developed a friendly rapport with the kids, always looking out for them with special treats was actually working on the ship with his wife while his inlaws looked after their 6 year old son in Macedonia. A tough gig but his view was that they could earn a lot better money for a few years to be able to provide a good education for their son. They work 7 days a week for a full 6 months, mostly 10-12 hours shifts. Many of the staff were from the Philippines and a lot of European countries so I’m sure the money is very good for them compared to what they could earn waiting tables back home.
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Fortunately our coach driver hurried everyone up as we got through the terminal so we didn’t have to wait for the next hour to pass through the tunnel. We arrived with about 5 minutes to spare and made our way through the long dark tunnel.
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Our trip into Anchorage where we were to spend the first night at the Hilton was broken up with a visit to the National Heritage Centre where we wandered through replicas of the native villages and watched one of the groups perform some of their ceremonial dances. From there it was off to the Anchorage Wildlife Rescue Centre where we were able to get an up close look at elk, caribou, deer, Dall sheep, grizzly bears, black bears and some moose. Lovely to see these animals up close, especially the moose who even enjoyed a scratch on their nose. I was amazed at how soft and velvety the antlers were on the elk and caribou and to find that they lose their antlers every year.
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Our drive into Anchorage was very picturesque along Turnagain Arm. It was one of the weekends when locals could go into the inlet and fish by scoop net for a small oily fish called Hooligan (not sure of the spelling). Apparently a good catch as all you are allowed to take per day was half a bucket load and by the number of cars lining the highway it was obviously worth it.

The tides through here are huge to the latitude, in the vicinity of 18-20 metres and as this area is all glacier fed, the incredible build up of silt makes it inaccessible to boats. There has even been reported deaths from people walking out onto the silt beds which act like quicksand. Don’t think we’ll be taking any walks out there.

Downtown Anchorage is a sleepy place however the largest city in Alaska with around 75% of the population of the state. It must be a great place to live as a lot of the people we have spoken to have visited from other states and end up residents! The main difference I have noticed about the North Americans and Canadians is how much they enjoy the outdoors , regardless of the weather as compared to us down under that retreat indoors when the weather gets colder. They all make the most of every opportunity in all weather to fish, ski, hike, dog sled, snow shoe, whatever the season, there is an activity that gets them out.

The whole hunting culture was quite amazing. If it’s furry, they shoot it. There are still hunting trips that go out in the search of bears and wolves, moose and elk and mostly for the sport. However our guide on the whale watch tour in Juneau did say he hasn’t bought meat since moving to Alaska.

The only areas that are out of bounds are the national parks unless you are a native Alaskan who can take a specific quota from the park every year. One of the signs that amazed me as we entered national park boundaries was the gun with the red line saying NO LOADED WEAPONS!

We were amazed how many people own guns and quite an arsenal of them. Up until 2 years ago when a new governor was elected, High school children were still allowed to take their guns to school because a lot of them would have been hunting before school!
It really is another world!!

Our accommodation at the Hilton for the night was very comfortable with a room each we could really spread out and enjoy a big sleep after watching a magnificent sunset over the mountains and water, we even caught a glimpse of Mt McKinley in the distance.
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Posted by fiveofus 06:24 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Back on land!

sunny 15 °C

Well it has been a while but without internet access and too much fun to be had I've got a bit behind on all the news so over the next couple of days I intend to do as much as I can and get as much up to date as possible.

We are off the cruise to Alaska and at the moment I have just watched the sun disappear behind Mt McKinley in Denali. It's 11pm and the sky is still blue! I love these Alaskan skies. Our cruise was magnificent but I will give more details, just wanted to let you know we are still here, having a ball and thanks mum for letting us know we now have only 11 sleeps left!

Only got about another 1000 photos to download so must get onto it...stay tuned!

Posted by fiveofus 00:01 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

2 DAYS AT SEA - GLACIER BAY AND COLLEGE FJORD

overcast 5 °C

After a busy 3 days of visiting ports it was a pleasant change to not have to get up and go anywhere. Days 5 and 6 were spent in Glacier Bay and then College Fjord.

The morning in Glacier Bay everyone with a balcony room was offered the opportunity to enjoy a champagne breakfast on their balcony with a half bottle of Moet , crab and spinach quiche, fresh fruits and various pastries. I didn’t need much convincing to be part of this special event so we ordered the kids room service for their breakfast as well so they could enjoy their’s on their balcony as well.
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The day in Glacier Bay was drizzly and grey but we were still able to enjoy our breakfast on the balcony as our balcony, being on the top deck was totally covered from the weather. Unfortunately, all those below us would have eaten inside but their view would still have been equally breathtaking.
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The ship managed to move in very close to the glaciers in the bay and amazingly the captain spins the boat just about on the spot so both sides of the ship get equal viewing time. We would have spent about an hour at each of the glaciers listening to the ice crack and calve as the glacier dropped huge chunks of ice into the bay as new icebergs.
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While in Glacier Bay, 4 rangers also boarded the ship to give information about the area and its wildlife. The kids had a special talk from one of the rangers in the kids club about sea otters which are often found in this region but yet to be sighted this trip. They managed to complete enough activities in their booklets to receive another junior ranger badge for Glacier Bay.

The ranger had brought along with her a young native Tlinggit who was born and raised as a fishing boat child. I had read about these families and been amazed at their lifestyle so to meet and talk with him was fascinating. His father was a fisherman and fished 12 months of the year while his wife and son lived on the boat with him. This young man was home schooled by his mother until he was 11 years old when he went to a community school, then onto secondary school the year after. He commented on how difficult it was fitting back into mainstream schooling and how he was isolated from his peers for being different. Socially he didn’t cope well and to make matters harder for him, he was also more advanced then his peers with his education so again ostracised for being different.
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As we left Glacier Bay we had a commentary from the onboard naturalist of the wildlife that he was spotting from the bridge. We did get to see some sea otters and humpbacks in the distance but as the seas got rougher out into the Gulf of Alaska wildlife was harder to trace.
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By late afternoon the expected swell was in the 18-20 foot range and we could finally tell we were on the ocean. Open waters now and even with the ship’s stabilisers out she was rocking big time!

We all decided we would head out to the pool for a swim however as we walked through the doors to the deck the ship went down a big swell, knocking all sorts flying and nearly emptying the pool in the process. The 3 kids that were already in the pool were like corks in the ocean and as the water in the pool also picked up the motion of the ship it created an enormous swell and flung them out the pool onto the edge and back in again. One of the 3 struggled to get out as the opposite motion dragged him back in to the pool. Poor kid got quite a fright and was a pale shade of grey for some time after. The pool was closed after that incident so instead we settled into the hot tub and watched the seas from there.

Thankfully the kids were set to go to the club disco that night so with a green apple with their dinner they weren’t too bothered by the seas. I passed on dinner and also enjoyed the apple remedy and was amazed at the difference it made to the queasy tummy. Wayne and I were set to go to one of the shows but as I entered the theatre, everything was rolling and swaying but within about 15 minutes my queasiness had gone and I could enjoy the performance. We were amazed at how these dancers and performers could keep their feet under such difficult circumstances but they didn’t miss a beat the whole show. Quite a spectacle!

Later I quite enjoyed sleeping to the rolling seas and luckily no-one rolled out of the top bunk

College Fjord

The following day was picture perfect. We had made it through the Gulf of Alaska unscathed and were entering College Fjord. The sun was shining, the seas were like a mirror and it was definitely a wow sort of day! More glaciers to visit however there was still quite a lot of pack ice here so we couldn’t get quite as close as the day before but spectacular nonetheless. We also saw many groups of Dall’s Porpoises catching a ride on the bow wave. They were incredibly fast and swapped from one side of the ship to the other.
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Don’t know how many photos I took that day but can’t wait to show you all!
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P1030394_1_.jpg <br />The weather was so spectacular on this day in College Fjord that they even sent out this raft with the photographer and videographer to film for the cruise ship video. They motored around for nearly an hour.

The sun is now setting about 11.30pm but is twilight for a couple of hours after. The long days are incredible however you don’t feel like going to bed with so much to see and the possibility to miss out on something. Nevertheless we were still packing up suitcases ready for our departure for Anchorage, in the morning, well after midnight.
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By midnight we had docked at the port of Whittier which you could not really call a town. All the residents here live in one condominium block and are incredibly isolated, I believe a population of about 19 families.
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The only way in and out of Whittier is through a one way tunnel that was built in the late 1950’s for the goldrush.. At the time it was solely for trains and until a couple of years ago all vehicles were actually loaded onto a rail car and transported through the tunnel by rail. Now vehicles can pass through in one direction every hour so if you miss the hour for your direction you can wait at the entrance for the change over. Interesting fact, when it was built it was blasted and dug from either side of the mountain and as both sides met in the middle they were only out by 2 inches!

Posted by fiveofus 06:09 Archived in USA Tagged cruises Comments (1)

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