Sunday, July 29, 2012

Home from the North

Yesterday was a long travel day but first a story about Friday evening.  We got back to Anchorage mid afternoon and checked back into our motel and just rested up a bit.  We had an early departure scheduled for our flight back to Seattle so ask the desk to put us on their schedule for a shuttle ride to the airport at 5:00 am.  That meant that we needed to get up a little after 4:00 am.  We brushed our teeth and hit the bed around 8:00 pm that night but then around 8:15 pm the fire alarm went off.  We both got back up, put britches and shoes on, and went outside to find only a couple dozen other folks.  About that time someone from the motel came out and said all was well so it was back in and soon to bed.  Yesterday morning we were in the lobby with our luggage a little before 5:00 am and the desk clerk ask if we were waiting for the airport shuttle.  We said yes and he looked at his schedule and told us that we were not on the list.  We told him that we had made the request the afternoon before so he called the van driver who in a couple of minutes was back at the door for our ride to the airport.

Our flights, both to Seattle and then to St. Louis, were right on schedule and it was smooth sailing all the way.  The only problem was the length of time and the three hour time zone changes.  We left Anchorage around 6:30 am Alaska time and after brother John drove us to the old JbarL it was around 11:30 Alaska time, 8:30 Missouri time.

We had a GREAT time on this trip with all the wildlife viewing that we were able to witness.  Then to top it all off as John turned into the JbarL driveway there were two deer grazing in his garden and while we were driving from there toward home along the gravel road we saw a red fox cross the road in front of us.

Stay tuned for our next adventure, now scheduled for an August 13 departure.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Back in Anchorage

The bus ride back to Anchorage was nice and uneventful.  It was a three hour ride as compared to the 5-6 hour train ride down and along almost a parallel path.  No wildlife spotted except for a bald eagle nest.  These past two weeks have been super nice but early tomorrow morning we hop on our air flight for the trip back to Missouri.  This morning Jo ask me, "when are we coming back?"

Kenai Fjords National Park

Yesterday morning we boarded a tour boat for a day long cruise of this part of Alaska.  This is the newest National Park and was established to protect the Harding Icefield which makes up about 90% of the park.  The remainder is 3% rugged shoreline and 7% the Gulf of Alaska.  National Park rangers ride boats instead of jeeps or horses.  We saw a good set of wildlife on this tour including Humpback Whale, Orca Whale, Sea Otter, Doll's Porpoise, Steller Sea Lion, Harbor Seal, Common Murre, Bald Eagle, Horned Puffin, and Tufted Puffin.  It really was a great end to our tours before having to head homeward.  They served us a nice lite lunch on the boat and then stopped at a lodge for an all you can eat Salmon and Prime Rib buffet before we returned to the dock in Seward.  There are many glaciers running downhill from this Icefield and we saw many of them.  The largest in this area is where we stopped for about 20 minutes and was able to see and take pictures of some major calving.  The captain shut off the engine on the boat and we were able to listen to the glacier noises as the large chunks of ice calved off.  One huge chunk caused some major waves that rocked our boat sitting out about a 1/4 mile from it's face.  That was the last picture in my album showing the calving.

I did get lots of pictures of the wildlife but was disappointed that while taking pictures of the humpback whale it chose to dive and show it's fluke just after I put my camera down.  The captain said that the sea otter was a rare siting as they were almost totally destroyed by the Russian fur hunters before Alaska was sold to the US.

Sadly tomorrow morning we catch a bus back to Anchorage and our flight back to MO on Saturday.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Anchorage to Seward

This morning we boarded the southbound train for our trip to Seward.  This was one of the most scenic parts of our train ride from Fairbanks south.  It was about a four hour ride that started early so we had breakfast on the train, the reindeer sausage was very good.  We arrived in Seward early for lunch but our room will not be ready before around 3:00 pm.  We had lunch and walked around town a  little bit, found Jo a watch to replace the one she bought in Deadwood and lost before she got back to Fairbanks.  I'm in the Motel lobby now using their wifi to upload this mornings pictures and posting this blog entry.  On the train we saw a couple of moose and a black bear with two cubs plus several bald eagles but all were not good photo ops so no pics of wildlife.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Alaska Native Heritage Center

We were able to sleep in this morning and then took a shuttle to the Alaska Native Heritage Center this afternoon.  This center shows the lifestyles of all the indigenous tribes of Alaska.  It seems that the word Eskimo is a French Canadian word for "those that eat raw meat" because their diet is mainly whale, walrus, and seal that are eaten raw.  Good for omega 3 oils and a very healthy but an acquired taste diet.  The tour started with a walk around and through several different sites that demonstrated the types of lodges and lifestyles of the several tribes.  Then we sat inside for some demonstrations of Eskimo games and dancing.  I didn't get any pictures of the games but they were designed to show the strengths necessary for life in this harsh climate.  I did get several shots of the dancing with drums and chants in accompaniment.  It was interesting to learn that the songs were composed from both ancient as well as modern themes.  They described some were about walrus hunting and unsuccessful whale hunt but others were about World Cup soccer and "rock and roll".  Traditionally the drums would have been made from walrus stomach lining but those in use today were goat skin over Home Depot wood.

Tomorrow we board the train again for a trip down to Seward, AK.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bear flightseeing

It has been a very interesting day.  After our breakfast in the motel we had a shuttle to the flight service.  Then we boarded a water taxi airplane for a trip to a remote lodge and a chance to see Alaskan bears trying to catch the salmon on the run to their spawning areas.  The flight was about 30 minutes in a southwest direction from Anchorage where we landed on a lake near the Redoubt Bay Lodge.  This lodge is isolated and only accessible by air.  We then boarded a pontoon boat with four other folks for a guided tour of this lake area.  Our guide took us to sites around the lake where small streams dump into the lake and that is where the salmon are trying to migrate upstream to spawn and also where the bears know that it is a place for their favorite diet.  These locations just at the mouth of these streams is where the salmon gather in large schools before attempting the run up stream to spawn.  This is where the local fishing guides take their clients to fish for the same salmon that the bears are after.  As you can see in our pictures that is up close and personal to the bears.  On the flight to the lodge we saw from the air beluga whale, trumpeter swan, brown bear, and moose while cruising at about 700 feet.  From the boat we saw bald eagles, harbor seal, black bear, schools of silver salmon, and a brown bear.  We had lunch at the lodge that included salmon burgers and black bean soup before our return trip to Anchorage.  On the return flight at about 1000 feet we saw moose and trumpeter swan.  Our flight both ways was in a bush plane with seats for 9 and our pilot was quite seasoned (the oldest in the company) and made several circles just to let us view the various wildlife sightings.  It was quite an experience just to get Jo into and out of the plane.  It was not easy to catch pictures from the plane so I only took a couple.

After our days excursion we walked to a local restaurant for a super seafood dinner.  It has been so nice to be able to enjoy fresh seafood and we are making the most of that situation.

Denali to Anchorage

It was about an eight hour train ride but the scenery was nice and being in a dome car we sat up high to see over the nearest trees.  We boarded around noon time so had lunch and supper in the dining car and both were very nice.  The seats were not full so we were able to turn the seats in front of us around which made for a small lounging area with plenty of leg room.

Our train as it arrived at the station

 Meeting the North bound train at a siding

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Denali National Park

Our trip yesterday into the park was awesome.  We were in a group of 37 folks on a 40 passenger bus with our driver, John of course.  John was very good at animal sightings and with his knowledge of this area of Alaska he kept us entertained over the 12 hour journey into the heart of Denali NP.  The day was off and on showers with a few minutes of nice sunshine so "The Great One" didn't make a photo op appearance.  While John said that it was a slow day for animal sightings we did see quite a variety.  We saw Moose, Caribou, Lynx (everyone but me), Grizzly, Red Fox (I saw him but not able to get a picture), Wolf, Dall Sheep, Ground Squirrels, Golden Eagles, Loons, and a Harrier Hawk.

The tour bus provided a sack lunch which was very nice.  Most tours only go 1/2 to 2/3 of the road and then turn back but our tour went to the end of the road.  There is only one road and personal autos are not permitted except for a few days at the end of the season.  The wilderness is kept pristine and the animals are accustomed to the buses and will walk right up to and use the road as a trail.  We did see another Grizzly but it was off so far in the distance that even with zoom it didn't show up.  The first Grizzly picture was way off also but I was able to zoom in for a shot.  Folks using binoculars said that she was sitting up nursing two cubs.  The fox that we saw was easily recognizable by eye sight but I lost him while trying to zoom in for a close-up.  Everyone tried to describe the location of the Lynx but I just could not find him.

It was a long but wonderful day that I would recommend to anyone.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Denali Cabin Nite Dinner Theater

We enjoyed this dinner theater very much.  The food was good, ribs, salmon, and cobbler.  The entertainment was excellent with a general story of the history of Alaska told in comedy and song.

to Denali

This morning after an early breakfast we boarded the Alaska RR for a train ride to Denali.  It was about a four hour ride through some very beautiful scenery.  It was a bit difficult to get good shots through the dome windows but I tried.  They did have an open deck area but it seemed to be always full of folks and beside it was windy and chilly out there.  We had lunch in the dining car and made it to our lodge a little before 2:00 pm.  We have reservations tonight for a dinner theater and are resting up a little bit this afternoon.  Tomorrow we have a full long day tour of Denali National Park.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Riverboat Discovery tour

This morning we took a ride on a paddle wheel boat on the Chena River.  It was a fun excursion with much to see and do along the way.  We stopped at a replica Athabasca Indian village for some presentations by natives.  We also stopped at Susan Butcher's house and kennel for some demonstrations of dog sled pulling using a four wheel ATV minus it's engine.  The power was provided by ten dogs from her kennel some were offspring of Granite, her champion lead dog.  Susan's husband took the team on about a mile run and explained some of the training for puppies to make good sled dogs out of them.  A little later on the trip there was a bush pilot that did a couple of take offs and landings for our viewing.  There was a very good narrator on board that talked throughout the trip with lots of interesting information of the area.

Our trip to Prudhoe Bay

Monday morning we left on a journey to the far North oil fields at Prudhoe Bay.  The group we were with were two couples from Columbus, Ohio and one fellow from New Zealand and our mode of travel was an eleven passenger E350 Ford van.  It took two long days of driving to get there and two hours of flight for the return.  The road started out a good blacktop surface and soon became mostly gravel surfaced with occasional patches of blacktop.  The route followed the oil pipeline and a major portion of the most northerly section was built to provide access to the construction of that pipeline.  There are very few roads in Alaska and only about 30% are paved.  The primary mode of transportation is small airplane.  Our first night's stay was in Cold Foot camp.  There aren't any residents that live there and the camp only provides services for construction workers and travelers.  Our second night was in Dead Horse camp with a similar story except that it is right in the oilfields and most of the folks that use it are oilfield personnel.  They are mostly contracted to work two weeks of 12 hour shifts and then two weeks off.  All of the area around the camp is dirt and they keep it watered for dust control which wasn't necessary while we were there as it showered off and on.  Due to the constant presence of mud everyone is required to remove their shoes/boots at the door and there were paper booties to cover our shoes if we didn't want to pull them off.  In both camps we slept in one building and ate in another which here in Dead Horse caused us to constantly have to deal with our shoes.  Wednesday morning we had a bus tour of the oilfield facilities with a stop at the Arctic Ocean for a chance to stick a finger in and check the temperature.  A little after noon we boarded a 10 passenger airplane for the quick trip back to Fairbanks.

remote area

Since Sunday we have not been in any locations with internet connectivity possible.  Even here now the signal isn't good enough to upload our many pictures so hopefully that will be possible soon.

We had a great trip north to Dead horse camp and will put together more details as soon as I can.  We have a riverboat cruise this morning and we will see what the computer connection is like this afternoon.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pioneer Park

After a very nice day of rest we went to this park nearby.  We walked around through the village which was mostly old log cabins that were from this area originally and moved here and re-erected.  In most of them local artists have set up their wares for sale and display.  There were a couple of museums of the pioneer life and it all is free admission.  Also connected with the park is a Salmon bake which we had reservations for.  It included the salmon grilled over an open fire pit along with Cod, Halibut, and prime rib.  That was along with veggies, salad fix-ens, and desert.  They had outside picnic tables where lots of folks sat plus an indoor seating area which was more comfortable for us.

Tomorrow we head on a three day trek to the Arctic Ocean.  I don't know what kind of computer signal I will find in these remote areas but will post again when we get back to Fairbanks.  This lodge had a very good signal at our cabin this morning but this afternoon it was imposable and I had to bring my laptop to the lobby for a decent connection.  I will post again whenever I can.

We're here

It was quite a long trip up but so far we are happy.  This morning when we finally got up for breakfast at 8:00 it was 58° nice.

We left John at STL a little after 3:00 pm Missouri time and we arrived in Seattle near 8:00 pm pdt, still daylight.  When we left Seattle a bit after 9:00 pm pdt it was already dark.  After a while the sky looked liked a sundown with an orange glow on the horizon and the further north we got the sky continued to lighten until it was bright and we were looking down on the white clouds.  It was around 12:30 am adt (5:30 am Missouri time) when we got our checked bag at the terminal.  I called our hotel for a transportation shuttle and was informed that at that hour we would need to just catch a taxi and the motel would pay the cabbie.  The only problem was that there were several folks waiting for cabs but not many were there.  We had to wait nearly an hour and it was almost 2:00 am when we finally got to bed.

Today is mostly a day of rest from the traveling but we do have reservations for this evening for a Salmon bake located at a park with other museum attractions so should be fun.  I plan to get out a bit later and get some pictures around our resort which is camera worthy.  I  will post some photos later.

Here are a few pictures that I took this morning around the Lodge.  There are many individual cabins and all with a hanging basket of live pretty flowers at each one.  There also is a connected campground.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

disaster averted

Jo has decided to not take her camera as it is just something else to pack and hang on to while we travel.  This morning I went to the truck to get my camera and when I looked into the case, nothing was there, oh where could it be?  While we travel with the truck and trailer our camera cases hang over the back of our seats from the head rests.  If they are not there then they have been taken into the trailer for transferring the files to the computer.  After the files have been transferred the cameras are hung on a cabinet door close to the trailer door so they can be carried back out the the truck where they belong.  I have searched (2 and 3 times) the truck, the trailer, and the house and can't find my camera anywhere.  This is not something that needs to happen just before we head to one of the most photogenic states of the US.

A trip to Best Buy produced a new Nikon Cool Pix L810 with 16.1 Mp and 28X zoom.  Best Buy beat Wall-Mart by $10.  I have it set up and took a few shots here in the house for practice and I believe that we will be okay and this is a nice improvement over my last setup.

Jo has started the packing and we are feeling like this anticipated trip is actually going to happen, Big Grin!  Now we just need to make sure that the large checked bag doesn't exceed 50 lbs.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

getting closer

Yes, it's getting closer to our trip to Alaska.  We fly out of Saint Louis next Saturday afternoon and will return two weeks later on the 28th.  We are so looking forward to getting back to this great and beautiful State and the excursions that we have planned.

The good news is that brother John has agreed to be our driver to and from St. Louis so we will not have to leave our car in a parking lot for those two weeks, thank you brother.

Now packing is our next concern.  We had hoped to be able to pack light and only use two carry-on bags.  We will see how conservatively we can pack before we decide on a checked $$ bag.  I'm beginning to think that one large checked bag with two lighter carry-on ones will make our life on the trip that much easier and with less worry.