Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Great Wildlife Sightings in Denali NP

I had hoped to post a full blog tonight on the animals we had the opportunity to view (and photograph) during our three day stay in the park. It's late and I'm pretty zapped, so I'm going to let the photos speak for themselves!

This beautiful black wolf was seen as we left our Tek Campsite heading out at around 7:30am on Tuesday morning.

These two carried on for about 10 minutes. David has a great video of them wrestling, which we'll post on YouTube when we return home.

Young bull moose eating in a marshy pond near Wonder Lake.

Young male rams up high on the hillside overlooking the tundra near Polychrome Pass.

A caribou herd was moving across an open area as we were exiting the park on Tuesday morning. There were about 10 in the herd.

Fairbanks to Denali National Park

Our original plan was to take in the University of Alaska – Fairbanks (UA/F) Large Animal Research Station for their first tour of the morning (10:00am) but unfortunately, they were not yet open and with the day ahead and rainy conditions, we took a pass on their tour.

Once we had picked up the RV and returned the rental car out at the airport, we headed south on the Parks Highway . . . destination Denali National Park (approximately 150 miles from Fairbanks). David did great driving “the beast”.

We stopped in Nenana, home of the Nenana Ice Classic, Alaska’s version of the lottery where the winner is the person (or people) who guess the exact time (or closest if there is no exact match) that the Nenana River ice will break in spring. This typically occurs between late April and early May. We bought four tickets, predicted our dates and times and then headed back to the RV to fix lunch. By this time the weather was a bit clearer, at least the rains had stopped.

We traveled the rest of the way on down to Denali arriving to the Teklanika Campground, inside the park, at around 5:30pm There are a number of campgrounds inside Denali National Park. Tek is the deepest inside the park approximately 30 miles from the park entrance. Once at the campground, your vehicle (RV, car, camper, etc) must remain parked until you are ready to leave. There is a minimum three night stay at a very reasonable $16/night. Visitors staying at the Tek campground have the option of purchasing the Tek Pass, an unlimited on/off shuttle service throughout the park to the west. The only drawback is that you cannot go east, towards the entrance or visitor’s center and return to Tek without purchasing a new shuttle pass.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Arrived Safely!

Just a quick post to let everyone know we arrived last night without incident and on time (8:00p local). We had some minor issues with Avis at the airport (they had our reservation but at more than double the rate I had been quoted and had documented). Once that was cleared up, we were on our way to the hotel, less than 10 minutes away.

Beat from the long travel day, we were fast asleep when the Aurora Alert tweet happened at 3:38am. Unfortunately, we were under thick clouds and rain, so the KP=4 did us no good. Come to think about it, waking David up to go venture out the Cleary Summit would have equated to waking up a momma grizzly from her hiberation slumbers. It was good to not have to deal with what to do . . . go out alone, wake him up . . . or ignore the alert.

We are off for the UA/F Large Animal Research Station and then grocery shopping. We'll return the rental car and pick up the RV from Tracy & family.

WooHoo . . . we're on vacation in Alaska.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

August is Finally Here!

So in just four short weeks we'll finally be in Denali National Park for the first of three weekends in Alaska. This trip has been fine-tuned and tweaked to what I expect will be the final itinerary, covering much of this beautiful and wild state.

Friday 8/27 flight into Fairbanks; arrive around 8pm. Overnight in a local hotel with a rental car.

Saturday 8/28 AM tour of the University of Alaska/Fairbanks (UA/F) Large Animal Research Center and grocery shopping before picking up the RV. By noon it's off to Denali NP where we'll be camping for three nights at Tek(lanika) campground. Tek is roughly 30 miles inside the park boundary.

Sunday 8/29 will be the first of two days on the shuttle deep into Denali Nat'l Park for wildlife viewing, photography and some walking/hiking. I expect we'll make it as far as Wonder Lake and with any luck, Mt. Denali in full glory.

Monday 8/30 another day of adventure inside Denali Nat'l Park via the shuttle bus system. The wildlife sightings and trip reports on TripAdvisor (TA) have been very exciting. Bear, moose, caribou, sheep (including rams), wolves and lynx have been frequently reported.

Tuesday 8/31 will find us rising and shining to make the drive down to Talkeetna. We will be doing a boat tour w/Mahay's and then overnighting at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge with high hopes of seeing Mt. Denali from our room. A good hot shower will be in order after three nights of roughing it RV style.

Wednesday 9/1 morning Denali Grand Tour, with glacier landing (hopefully) flightseeing tour with K2 out of Talkeetna. Afterwards, driving on to Palmer and the Alaska State Fair. If time permits, I hope to stop by the Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla before reaching Palmer. We will overnight in the RV there at the fair.

Thursday 9/2 is scheduled for the Knik Glacier Tour by boat. This tour has received mixed reviews so I'm very interested in seeing how it really is. We may do the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer while in the area, as time (and weather) permits. Afterwards, we will have a somewhat long drive down to Ninilchik. Perhaps the worst of it will be the part going "through" Anchorage. We will camp here for two nights, which is also our home base for our first of two fishing charters.

Friday 9/3 fishing charter out in the open waters for halibut. I'm looking forward to bringing in a barn-door sized fish. Mmmmm good eating are those halibut.

Saturday 9/4 is one of our lightest days, schedule-wise. We may venture down to Homer (I would love to see the Time Bandit from The Deadliest Catch). This is also Labor Day weekend, so it will be interesting to see how many people are out on the road on the Kenai Peninsula. We will eventually end up in Soldotna (just 40 miles from Ninilchik); camping for two nights at another fish camp.

Sunday 9/5 is our silver salmon fishing charter on the Kenai River. If we're lucky with our two fishing trips, we'll have 100 lbs of fish to ship home, but we'll be happy with just 25 to 50 lbs of fillets. Of course, it is very possible to be skunked . . . but I hope that doesn't happen!

Monday 9/6 Labor Day . . . and the much anticipated fly-in trip to Silver Salmon Creek Lodge for our overnight bear viewing (and photography) experience. Some of the video coming out of there from trips earlier this summer have been wonderful and have really heightened the anticipation of these two days.

Tuesday 9/7 has a very good negative tide for the morning, so I'm expecting to be able to watch bears clamming on the shoreline and getting out there to do some clamming of our own. Who knows if we'll have anything to clean and take with us. If the bear viewing is too good, clamming may have to take a back seat. We fly back to Soldotna in the early afternoon, and will head on to Seward. We have two nights reserved at the Seward Windsong Lodge.

Wednesday 9/8 will be a full day in Seward. In addition to our six hour Kenai Fjords tour, we will also visit the Alaska Sealife Center and the Exit Glacier area of Kenai Fjords Nat'l Park. Our schedule is such that we have some flexibility to do these last two areas on our trip into Seward on Tuesday . . . or as we depart Seward on Thursday.

Thursday 9/9 starts the long trek north, back to Fairbanks, covering just about 550 miles. We will probably get as far as GlennAllen, taking in spots along that way in Palmer that we didn't make when we were there the week before. Camping near GlennAllen will also provide us with an opportunity to stop by the Wrangell Elias Nat'l Park visitors center.

Friday 9/10 will find us back in Fairbanks in the late afternoon, with campground reservations made and plans to do a couple of classic Fairbanks' tourist attractions . . . the Alaskan Salmon Bake and the Palace Theatre show. A stop in North Pole to see Santa can be expected too!

Saturday 9/11 has a light agenda, allowing for some sleeping in and no RV driving. I will pick up a rental car for the rest of the weekend driving in and around Fairbanks. We will be doing the afternoon El Dorado Gold Mine tour, which is much to the chagrin of my dear friend John/FTI from TA. I don't care how much of a tourist trap the place may be; our trip to Fairbanks wouldn't be complete without it. The Alaska Pipeline near Fox is also slated for this afternoon.

Sunday 9/12 and a fond good bye to our RV when we return it to the family who has made all of this possible. "The Beast" as already nicknamed by another TA friend Pete, will have her holding tanks emptied and other fluids replenished. That afternoon we will enjoy what I hope will be an educational and leisurely trip down the Chena River on the Riverboat Discovery. At some point over this weekend, we also plan on a visit to the Museum of the North on the campus of UA/F. We will spend our last night in the same hotel that we stayed in the night of our arrival.

Monday 9/13 8:00am flight home to the lower 48, arriving in Milwaukee at 6:45pm (assuming no "special adventures" compliments of Delta).

As you can see, we have tried to put as much into the itinerary as possible, without killing ourselves by over doing it. David has some pretty mixed feelings about driving the 29' RV but I'm totally confident in him. He did great driving on the opposite of the road during our two weeks in the UK four years ago . . . so this should be a piece of cake!

Thanks for stopping in and please be sure to follow us along the road later this month and into September. We have the route mapped out to right at 1, 500 miles over the 14 days in the RV. With WiFi available every few days, I expect updates (with photos and video) to be possible at least every three (or four) days.