It Turns Out Chris Can Cope with Some Discomforts!
28.08.2015 - 30.08.2015
The next morning after our Northern Lights Adventures we had a ride down the Chena river on a Paddleboat.
Yes it was just as cheesy and plastic an excursion as that sounds, and probably more so. Complete with a local community radio announcer as MC; a bush pilot conveniently needing to land and take off on the water right beside us while talking to the MC on the radio; and the musher with his dogs (and handy little portable mic) placed to whip around an oval track so that he looked like Santa flying along the ground (though those Alaskan Huskies were wonderful). Every single stop and person had a script they kept to word-for-word, and we got herded everywhere. It was relatively interesting information, but was also the stuff of our worst nightmares about being on a tour.
Having been shuffled through the lunch area and then the gift shop (of course) we rejoined our bus and headed off to Denali, a massive National Park in the centre of Alaska. Here we had scheduled 2 nights at the Princess Lodge as part of our tour.
A couple of hours after we arrived we were scheduled to go on a Covered Wagon excursion into the National Park. Remember I mentioned how cold and wet it was in Fairbanks? Well up in the mountains of Denali it was even colder and wetter! Swearing I would just cancel because it was too cold to be going anywhere in a covered wagon, I checked the paperwork to discover it was too late to cancel without losing the $200 we’d paid for the excursion. Yes indeed!! I was wondering what possessed us to book that too!
So rugging up with multiple layers and gratefully wrapping ourselves in the provided blankets, we climbed up into the wagon behind two enormous draught horses and bumped our way along the track. It was our first look at the expanses of now-autumn-toned bushes on the ground. With only about 15 or 16 in our wagon, chatting was easy and despite our concerns, it wasn’t too cold and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. A warming country dinner awaited us at our stop and we bumped our way back to the warmth of our hotel. I can assure you BUMPED is the operative word!
After a restorative sleep-in, we headed off on a 5 hour History tour encroaching just 17 miles into the 6 MILLION acres that is this mountainous park. Here the striking “fall” colours of the ground covering bushes are broad sweeps of intense colour with intermittent and somewhat straggly 10 metre high pines and birches and shorter alders.
On this tour, there was no complaint from us about the fact that we were herded everywhere, because our driver Steve was a BRILLIANT and highly-educated naturalist, deeply and broadly informed. We soaked up information from someone who loved that land and understood how to convey it in ways that fascinated and engaged everyone. It was blissful!
Up to this point I had begun to believe that Alaskan wildlife was a load of marketing hype! We had seen 2 squirrels and 2 ducks in the 4 or 5 days since our arrival in the 49th state.
But no, I had to eat my words. There, not 10 metres off the road, was the most HUMUNGOUS bull moose. His rack (antlery thingy being the technical term) was enormous (and they grow it in just the 2-3 months of summer and then shed it). Most bulls top out at about 1500lb but this magnificent specimen we were told was about 1700-1800. Later we saw three arguing cow mooses chasing each other. It’s just about rutting season so the girls were fighting for superiority to entice a bull. The bull we saw was still feeding and fattening himself in readiness for his fast during the weeks of battling his fellow bulls and winning his chances for rutting.
While all of this was going on slowly but surely that persistent rain turned to sleet and then snow. As we stood outside in a clearing hearing about the history of the rangers in the newly created National Park during the 20s & 30s the snow became thicker. This little non-snow-bunny got a bit excited because it felt a little Bing Crosby-ish and I came over all White Christmas! Holding out my hand, I realised that the sleet that had melted on contact was now icicles of real snow shaped like the diagrams and vectors of snow. It really looked like that! Alright, so I have to get a life and snow is not romantic! I get it! But for a few moments it was! And by God it was MIGHTY COLD!
We also saw ptarmigan which are a little like grouse but sadly no caribou as they were already on the move. And virtually no flighted birds, so the wildlife count hadn’t gone up a lot in number, though the moose had a bit of weight to put on the scales. No bears though, and other people have seen bears! (she says pouting)
We also heard about some of the history of the indigenous and incoming peoples of Alaska. Unlike the conquering “heroes” that have scarred Australian history, the relations between the Athabascan natives and the incomers seemed positively collaborative. Each learning from the other! Who’d have thunk that was possible? Hmm!
More of Alaska soon