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Awesome Beauty in Spades:

Why People Rave About Alaska

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One of the things that has been really impressive about our time in Alaska has been the care and concern that Alaskans have for protecting their pure and unadulterated parks, wildlife and resources. It is so obvious how much respect, both the residents and the Athabascan Indians, have for their precious untouched land. It’s clearly been a hard-fought battle but the foresight shown by people as far back as the 1920s in protecting their beautiful asset is a credit to many people. So much is done on a daily, and practically automatic basis, to care for this pristine wilderness, and is a lesson for so many of us. If I say any more I might get political, but suffice to say, there is a lot to be learned from their efforts!

And wonder of wonders, no-one I’ve come across in Alaska is a “climate sceptic”! They’re all far too convinced by the data in front of their eyes to even discuss it! Funny about that!!

But let’s move on.

From Denali Princess Lodge and the National Park, we moved on to Mt McKinley Princess Lodge (also just outside the National Park) arriving on Sunday 30th August.

This was an auspicious day because, as of Aug 30, Mt McKinley will now be called Denali which is what the Athabascan Indians have always called it and means “the High One”. That is entirely appropriate as Denali (Mt McKinley up unto Aug 29 2015) is the highest mountain in North America and the 3rd highest in the world. Apparently Pres McKinley only got a look-in because some bloke was schmoozing him. McKinley never set foot in Alaska, nor did he do anything for Alaska. It could have been changed federally years ago, but the Ohio senator (Ohio being McKinley’s home state) kept blocking the legislation. Clearly he wasn’t voted in to act for his country!! But now it’s done.

We started our Mt Denali (or The Mountain) experience with a bus ride in clear sunny weather! An amazing change from the 2” deep snow and freezing conditions we left at Denali Lodge. It is said only about 30% of people get to see the Mountain in all its glory and we got lucky that day, and the next, with clear and gob-smacking sightings of this sleeping giant under sparkling sun!

OMG I never thought I would get excited about mountains like I have here!


And then when we checked in, we’d somehow lucked into a two-room suite for our room for the night. Comfy, spacious and with lovely views of surrounding mountains we took to it like ducks to water.

And speaking of water, we had booked an excursion to do a walk around Lake Byers with another naturalist. The newly-fitter Chrissy was a bit worried that this might be above and beyond her capacity, but I even surprised myself!

Again we were met by a young woman with a passion for ecology, biology, and natural history. The lake was serene and still and the walk was a soothing and fascinating journey into a woodland dense with beauty and learning! Our friend Steve (the awe-inspiring naturalist from Denali national park) had taught us well. This girl built on that, and so the walk was like peeking under the covers of an ecosystem we had seen from above as we bus-toured with Steve. It was also mild, sunny, and delightful.

Our wildlife count went up a bit further with the discovery of some spruce grouse and plenty of fresh fox droppings to suggest he was just ahead of us. Sadly though, our friend the fox remained unseen. And no bears either!!C9578B5AC4B77BBFABC6808CCE2B752B.jpgC958EA27D8595DC1AE1E6331EDE25C29.jpgC95CA0F0F3D78299E8650DFF5EF3EDDC.jpg

The next day saw us moving on again as we finally made tracks for the sea at Whittier (60 miles south of Anchorage) where our cruise ship would await us. To do that we were coached (sigh!) to the Railway Deepoh. That was, in fact, an area of gravelled ground beside the railway line where we were lined up (herded) according to our carriage number. There was no Deepoh building in sight! Very upmarket! I told you, it’s like the Wild West out here!


Then we discovered that we had been allocated to a table where 2 couples would face each other for the FIVE-HOUR journey to the ship’s dock! As we approached the steps onto the train, my brain ran wild with thoughts of what a nightmare was presenting itself. 5 bloody hours forced into the company of 2 strangers. Yes I’m a bitch, but my gut was churning at the thought!

As we approached our table a staff member asked if we were the Owens. OMG! What now? How much worse could this all get? Turned out a couple wanted to swap places with us, so they could sit with their friends.

Then along came the other couple seated at our new table. Praise the Lord! It was a pair of ex-pat Americans who have chosen to live in NZ for the last 15 years and whom we’d already met and found delightful. Americans with a world-view, rather than the sometimes narrow and skewed view that we’d bumped into already during our travels. The five hours flew by with lots of laughter and common ground at the table. Should have trusted, shouldn’t I?

More to come soon. Maybe tomorrow even seeing I have over-walked my knee into inflammation. Think I will probably stay on board for tomorrow’s port visit. It’s supposed to rain so I’m not that distressed!

Love Chris

Posted by OwenGadflies 18:31 Archived in USA Tagged alaska denali talkeetna lake_byers Comments (2)

Believe It or Not:

It Turns Out Chris Can Cope with Some Discomforts!

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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

Love Chris

Posted by OwenGadflies 18:29 Archived in USA Tagged snow alaska moose denali ptarmigan fall_colours athabascan Comments (3)

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