Several years ago I went on what it to date the most memorable of holidays a 21 day camping tour around the Canadian Rockies. Not long after this holiday I moved to the UK from Oz. Since then my travel has included a lot of city breaks ex London.
When planning my RTW for this year I was determined to get off the beaten track again and an extended stay in ANC was looking like the best way to do this.
Once the decision was made I needed to find the most appropriate way to see some of Alaska. I have been getting tired of travelling solo but do not like the big bus tours that are mostly offered these days. With some research on the internet I was able to identify a couple of companies that offered small group tours of Alaska.
I finally decided to go with a local company and booked a slot on a 7 day All Alaska Tour. I chose this tour as it seemed to offer inland, mountain stays as well as some time amongst the sea life that abounds in the waters off the Alaskan coast.
As usual with me time was the problem and I would have liked to opt for a longer tour but as a contractor time is expensive.
After I made my decision I booked the tour back in September and had to wait the day when I could finally get into the mountains again.
My first day in Alaska was on my own in Anchorage prior to the tour starting.
The view from the Sheraton where I was staying was quite nice with the mountains beckoning in the distance. The photos from my room where taken at 23:00 with still plenty of light in the sky. The sun did not fully set on me for the next 7 days.
My free day in Anchorage started in the Sheraton Executive lounge where a light continental breakfast was on offer. The lounge was on the opposite side of the hotel to my room and looked out over the in town airfield Merrill Field. Small planes were constantly landing and taking off from this field. Later I was to learn that Alaska has one of the highest percentages of Pilots of any other state. There is something like 1 pilot per 30 inhabitants in Alaska.
I did not spend the day as productively as I should have but I did get to walk some of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail that stretches out along the coast of the Cook Inlet. The trail is quite long and there were many bike riders enjoying the trail as well as some other walkers and runners.
I stopped along the way at Westchester Lagoon before heading back into Anchorage city.
I spent some time wandering the stores and tourist shops in Anchorage.
I spent a lot of time looking for a drug store in order to purchase some anti histamine tablets. My friends in Kyle had told me friends of theirs had just come back from Alaska and that pollen filled the air at some of their stops. I unsuccessfully spent the afternoon in search of these though.
After grabbing a bite to eat I headed back to the Sheraton for some sleep.
After breakfast in the lounge again I packed my bag and headed down to reception to check out of the hotel.
My tour leader was going to pick me up at the Sheraton which has two road entrances and I was unsure which would be used so decided to wait in the lobby. Whilst waiting I wandered into the hotel gift shop to buy some water and what do you think they had in there. Yep the anti histamine tablets I had wasted time the previous day in search of.
I was just attaching my camera to my belt when a man came in and said I am looking for Moomba. I said you have found him.
We headed out to the van and he explained there were only going to be four others on the tour. The tour could have had a maximum of 10 so this was quite nice to hear. There would be plenty of room for us all in the van. I jumped into the front seat next to the driver and we went to pick up the other tour members.
We pulled up at a B&B and four 50 somethings came over to us. They introduced themselves and were 2 sisters, their brother and the husband of one of the sisters all from Wisconsin.
We all piled in the van and the tour leader gave us the ground rules for the trip. No mobile phones in the van, no smoking and keep your cameras ready. The van was furnished with many books on birds, animals and geography of Alaska for us to consult if we wished.
After the formalities were taken care of we headed on out of Anchorage.
Our first unscheduled stop was a small native community of Eklutna in Eagle River.
The guide said he likes to stop here to show people the cemetery. The natives believe that the soul needs a place to live after death and they build little houses over the graves. The houses were brightly painted and included the colours associated with the tribe that the deceased was a part of.
There were two churches at the cemetery both of which were heavily influenced by Russian architecture as it was the Russians that first brought religion to the natives in this area.
It was at this stop that we were first acquainted with the humongous mosquitoes that inhabited these parts. They were big but were slow because of this and were easy targets for big hands. Our guide told us that the mosquitoes actually get frozen in the winter and revive the next spring and they were actually two years old hence their size.
Back on the van and we continued our drive up to Wasilla where we stopped off at a huge store to buy nibbles, alcohol and anything else we had forgotten to bring along.
We then drove to the Iditarod Headquarters just outside the town.
Our guide left us to explore the centre and watch the film on the Iditarod whilst he went to buy more supplies and refuel the van.
Outside the centre was a shack that is like the once used for over night stops on the race along with an old style wooden sled and a new metal sled. There was a musher there with a team attached to a sled with wheels that one could pay to have a ride on.
We had been told that these dogs just love to run and in fact were born to run. They were all sitting around on the ground when I arrived. However a little later some visitors were willing to pay the 10 bucks for the ride and the musher got his dogs up on their feet. At this point they became very animated and were yelping and jumping about, itching to go for a run.
Our man with the van returned and we hopped in for the long drive up toward Denali ‘The High One’.
Our next stop was Talkeetna for a lunch stop. We could have optionally taken a 1 hour 30 minute scenic flight but the cloud cover was low over the mountains and we decided not to go out.
We went into town and had lunch at one of the many restaurants. We spent some time wandering around the quaint town before heading to the National Parks visitor centre. Talkeetna is the starting point for those people hardy enough to attempt to climb to the top of Mt McKinley. The visitor centre keeps track of who is out there and at the time there was something in the order of 300 people on the mountain. A hike to the summit takes up to 21 days round trip. It is quite a gruelling climb and weather is the biggest problem for the climbers. Many don’t make it back each year as we were soon to learn at our next stop.
Our guide took us to the outskirts of town to visit the cemetery. In there was a memorial to those that attempted to make the summit but never came back. The memorial names all those that have lost their life on the mountain. There was a special memorial for the many Korean climbers who perished on the mountain.
After this chilling stop we drove onwards to get a closer look at the deadly mountain.
We stopped at the Denali South View Point to see if she would show her face.
Denali is the native name for the mountain and means ‘the high one’. Mt McKinley is the official name used on maps but all the locals call it Denali.
Denali is notoriously shy and is often hiding behind the clouds. Today was no exception and she remained hidden until just as we were about to leave the view point. The very smooth peak did appear all but briefly above the clouds for us but not in her full glory though.
We moved on driving though the spectacular Alaskan ranges over some pretty high bridges such as the one at Hurricane Gorge.
We made a brief stop outside a trapper town called Cantwell where our guide showed us the biggest Beaver Dam I, and my Wisconsin friends had ever seen.
Finally late in the day we ended up in a little no name town that has sprung up outside the entrance to the Denali National Park. Here there were shops, restaurants and some huge lodges run by the cruise lines, Princess and Holland America.
We ate a very lovely dinner at the Salmon Bake and then proceeded just outside of the town to our overnight accommodations.
One of the reasons for my choosing this tour was that they did not charge extra for solo travellers on the proviso that you are willing to share a room with another traveller. As there were no other solo travellers on this tour I had to share with the guide. This was a bit of a bonus for me as I the recipient of more tales from the guide during the evenings. Our guide had been doing these tours in Alaska for the past 13 summers and heads south for the winter.
With a beer in hand and another tale of Alaskan wilderness I will leave you to view the many mountain pictures until I write up my next days travel in Alaska.
Oh my God! Yer already here! I didn't think you were coming until next week. I just finished my "Friday" run out to Eielson yesterday and am now in Fairbanks where business of another sort awaits me this weekend. I've PMed you with my phone number in Fairbanks. Hopefully we can get together. Sunny and 80 degrees in Fairbanks today ~
Today was an early start as we had to be at the Wildlife Access Centre in Denali NP in time for our 06:30 bus ride.
We ate breakfast on the porch of the motel we were staying at and were on the road by 06:00.
After driving back through the town we took the turn off into Denali National Park.
At the WAC we had to wait a while before our bus came along to collect us.
It was a pretty grey sort of morning with dark clouds in the sky and there was a chill to the air.
Our bus showed up and we all piled on for the 6 hour round trip to Toklat some 50 odd miles into the park.
The Denali NP is over 6 million acres and there is one road that plies through the middle of the park. In order to keep traffic under control most people are only allowed access on one of the park busses.
The busses stop a few times for toilet breaks and will also stop if there are any wildlife sightings.
On the way out to Toklat we stopped at an Owl next where two chicks were sitting in the nest with the mother on a branch just behind.
We also saw some Caribou on the drive out.
The bleak tundra looked quite foreboding and with the grey drizzly day adding to the atmosphere.
After around 3 hours of driving though the park we came to our turnaround point at Toklat. At this site we were able to spot so Dall sheep up on the mountains.
These critters were the reason the park was established in the first place as a refuge.
After spending some time at Toklat we hopped on the bus to return to the WAC. On the way back we spotted a grizzly bear on the side of a hill and stopped to watch for a while. He seemed to be having an altercation with a pair of Ravens. The driver suspected it was a squabble over some food. The bear kept swiping at the Ravens like he was swatting flies.
We also saw some foxes at a den the driver knew of.
Back at the WAC our guide picked us up and we went to the Visitors Centre to view a film about the park and grab a cuppa.
It was then we hit the road again for the long drive along the Denali Highway. We retraced out steps back to Cantwell before picking up the start of the highway there.
Our guide told us a funny story about Cantwell whilst we were driving through. For the longest time the village did not have electricity and when they finally joined a grid, along with that came television.
Not long after this marvel had come to town an episode of America’s Most Wanted was shown on the townsfolk’s new TV thingys.
Well what do you know 3 of the most wanted on the show were inhabitants of Cantwell. There is also an unsubstantiated rumour that one of them was the mayor.
The Denali Highway joins the two North / South roads that lead from Fairbanks to Anchorage and Fairbanks to Valdez. The road is 135 mile of gravel road with 135 million bumps from Cantwell to Paxson.
The scenery is spectacular as you are driving in amongst the Alaska Ranges.
We stopped at one point to walk up to a vantage point that looked out over a the Sustina river valley. At this time a complete rainbow appeared before us. I think it is the first time I have ever been able to see both ends of a rainbow.
In this part of the world you are constantly surrounded by wonderfull magestic mountains. I felt like I was where I belonged as I have always been drawn to mountains and heights in general. Perhaps that is why I always select a window seat on my flights. I was itching to go for a long hike in the hills but that would have to wait for now.
After all the bouncing around our guide thought we needed a break and we stopped at Gracious House where we partook in some local ale in an interesting pub.
The pub, like most things in the area was a makeshift type arrangement made from a converted mobile home. The characters running the place were a great laugh to talk to whilst we supped our brew.
In this little community there were lots of makeshift homes, only inhabited in the summer. There was an interesting looking truck that had been fitted with tyres from a small aircraft.
After imbibing for a while pushed ahead to where our overnight accommodations were.
Further along the road we stopped at a river crossing to look at the hundreds of swallows nesting under the bridge.
Finally we made it to McLaren River where we partook of a meal in the restaurant and bedded down for the night.
Our accommodations were a little less that luxurious and could best be described as Alaskan rustic. It seems after the oil pipeline was completed there was a glut of work huts on the market and every community you pass seems to have reused these huts for one purpose or another. Our rooms for the night were in a converted hut and were, shall we say, barren? In the hut our guide confessed his embarrassment at the state of the place. They used to use a lodge further down the road but it had been closed after the owners passed away. This new place was one they were trying out but he was not impressed.
I dug out my bottle of Aussie red wine I had purchase in Wasilla and we drank away the pain.
After breakfast at 07:00 it was on the road again for the final 40 odd miles of the gravel Denali Highway. En route we had another encounter with some moose and stopped to take in the view of the mountains with Summit Lake in the foreground.
Time for a bit of a geography lesson me thinks. One thing you notice about the rivers and creeks in most parts of Alaska is the colour of the water and how wide the rivers are.
Most of these are glacial rivers which mean it is the run off from a glacier that creates the river. Glaciers are huge fields of ice that slowly carve their way through mountains. As they do this they literally grind the earth to a powder under their weight. This powder is then washed down the rivers and gives them their earthy colouring. Also this powder tends to build up in places and diverts the river many times. This creates valleys with very wide rivers as the water takes the path of least resistance.
Summit Lake captures the flow from the Gulkana Galcier and allows the silt to settle and the river flowing from the other end of the lake is unusually clear.
Moving on, once again on bitumen, we stopped off at a point where we could get up close and personal with the Alaska Pipeline. The pipeline carries oil from the North at Prudhoe Bay to Valdez almost 800 miles away where is it then loaded onto ships and took just over 3 years to construct. The pipeline has to wield its way around the rugged Alaskan landscape above ground instead of the normal underground pipes. This was due to the permafrost that is below the surface soil. This permafrost is very hard and is extremely difficult to work in.
This causes problems in other ways also. The fir trees are all stunted as they cannot dig their roots down far enough. People cannot install septic tanks as the cost of digging out the permafrost is prohibitive.
Enough of the geography lesson on we head towards Wrangell-St Elias National Park.
We stopped at the visitors centre and watched the very informative and visually stunning presentation on the park. To put some perspective to this spectacular part of the world the Wrangell-St Elias NP is larger than the country of Switzerland and has higher mountain ranges.
I tried to take some photos of Mt Wrangell in the distance but she was hiding like her sister Mt McKinley. I went for a bit of a walk around the centre before heading back for a picnic lunch.
After lunch we boarded the van again headed off toward Chitina and the road to McCarthy. On the way we stopped for a break at Liberty Falls. We then stopped at Chitina to take in some of its rustic charm.
Next up was the McCarthy Road that winds its way through the NP to the little town of McCarthy deep inside the park.
We stopped at the Kotsina river to watch the Salmon Wheels in action. These wheels are used by the natives to catch salmon. The wheels are powered by the river that turn paddles on the current. The big baskets scoop up the salmon as they swim upstream. We didn’t have to wait long to see a salmon being caught by one of the many machines along the river bank.
The other method of catching these spawning salmon is with dip nets. Men wade out into the river with large nets on poles. They dip the net in and wait for a salmon to swim into it.
After our river stop we headed up the McCarthy road which was once again a gravel road. The trip was made even worse as we had to keep an eye out for railway spikes.
The road follows the old railway line and was made by simply removing the tracks grading away the sleepers. This left bits of timber and spikes littered along the road. More of these spikes are unearthed each time the road is graded. Our guide told us of one time when he had two punctures on this 62 mile road.
We stopped several times as our eagle eyed guide spotted some spikes and picked them up off of the road.
We eventually made it to our stop off point which was still around half a mile from McCarthy. We took our overnight packs and walked the rest of the way across two foot bridges over the Kennicott River.
On the way into town we stopped off at the Museum to get a glimpse of what life was like there back in the 30’s.
We took up our lodgings for the evening at the Ma Johnson’s Hotel. We had some great grub in the local bar and then went off to explore this old town. After an evening stroll it was back to the hotel for some sleep – we hoped.
This hotel is reported to be haunted but I had a pretty decent nights sleep.
Compared to the previous night’s digs this place was palatial. They had robes and slippers and nice amenity kits. The hotel interior is decked out with lots of old memorabilia from the mining days when this town was at its peak.
I awoke at around 03:00 briefly and listened to the heavy rain outside. This did not bode well for our morning hike to a glacier the next day.
The rain abated over night and was a light drizzle by the time we needed to catch our 08:00 shuttle to Kennecott Copper Mill.
Kennecott Copper Mine was named after the Glacier it overlooks although it was miss-spelt. The glacier is Kennicott and so is the town that sprang up to support the mine operations. The seam of green was found in the early 1900’s and with funding from Guggenheim and JP Morgan a company was formed and a railroad was built to this remote part of Alaska.
The railroad was necessary to transport in the materials with which to build the mine and of course to export the copper ore once the mine workers had extracted and processed it. It was this rail line which forms the road we had to gingerly negotiate the previous day.
The mine was an ongoing operation until 1938 when the seam ran out and the whole shooting match was abandoned. Only the most expensive equipment was shipped out and the rest left as it was.
The national parks service bought some of the site and is in the process of shoring up the buildings to make them safe for visitors.
The mine buildings are a fascinating place to wander around and peer into the windows of. One of the more accessible buildings is the power house which has an opening where you can peer into the building.
The main grinding mill is a fourteen story high building that stands impressively on the side of the hill and makes for some fabulous photos.
We walked around the back of power house to get a great view of the moraines of the Root and Kennecott Glaciers. In some of my photos you can see the ice underneath the earth rubble. You might also notice that some of the moraine is a different colour. This is caused when multiple glaciers meet up and have rubble from different rock sources on top of the ice.
After wandering around the town and mill it was time to go for a hike up to the Root Glacier. It had stopped raining by this time and the walk was made all the more pleasant. There were many wildflowers along this walk and a scenic waterfall to pass by as well.
At one point we headed down towards the glacier and were able to walk onto the base part. This section still had some moraine covering which enabled us to have a reasonable footing without slip sliding all over the place. We spent some time taking a break on the glacier and ate a snack.
There were many rivulets streaming through the ice and I realised I was watching what was part of the beginnings of a river.
We made our way back to Kennicott to have lunch at the hotel there before catching the shuttle back to McCarthy.
We hiked back across the Kennicott River and to our van to yet again drive the 62 miles of gravel road back to Chitina.
The weather was decidedly better on the way back and we stopped a couple of times to stretch our legs. The first stop was the magnificent Trestle Bridge at Gilahina River. The bridge was built to carry the ore trains from Kennecott to the coast. It is a magestic structure standing high above the river bed. It was partially destroyed by an earthquake but much of it still stands today. What is even more remarkable is that the bridge was pre-made is Washington State and shipped to this spot in the mountains. It was then assembled in 9 days!
Our next stop was the road bridge over the Kuskulana River. This bridge is high above the river and we all turned into kids again for a while throwing rocks down to the river below. A few of us then clambered down under the bridge and walked back across on the repairmen’s walkway that runs under the road bridge. This walkway was made of open mesh steel and you could look straight down to the river below.
After this exhilarating little stop off it was time to get the heck off that bumpy gravel road and on to some bitumen again. But not without stopping for one more picture opportunity out over the Chitina River.
We drove back along the road past Chitina and towards Valdez which would be our home for the night.
On the way we stopped at Worthington Glacier in the Thompson Pass. Our guide was much perturbed about the amount this glacier had receded over the years he has been doing these tours. It seems a lot of the glaciers are moving forward under their weight but also receding due to melting. In fact the magnificent views over the valley from Kennecott Mill were not the same as they were in the 30’s when the mill was in operation. At that time you could not see past the glacier that stood high right beside the mill.
The Thompson Pass has a unique record of having the record for the deepest single snowfall ever recorded in Alaska of 62 inches. It was a glorious drive through the pass and then driving down into the valley towards Valdez.
On the way into Valdez we stopped a couple of times to view an old railway tunnel carved straight through the rock and to view some lovely waterfalls.
We arrived in Valdez in the late evening and ate a superb seafood dinner at a local restaurant before settling in for the night at a B&B.
Today was a particularly lazy start as we were on our own until around 11:15 when we needed to head down to the ferry terminal in Valdez.
I awoke pretty early and had a shower etc and went down to get breakfast and left our guide snoozing away in the room.
After a bowl of cereal and some fruit I decided to go walkabout in the town of Valdez.
The first place I ventured was a scenic lookout that I could see on a hill in the middle of town. From here I could get a feel for how big, or not as it were, the town of Valdez was.
I could still not get used to, nor tired of, being in a place where there are mountains all around you. One of the pertinent facts and figures I forgot to mention about the Wrangell-St Elias ranges is that they are the tallest coastal ranges in North America. Although the mountains in this are were, I think the Chugach.
After a wander around the not insubstantial dock area, this is a fishing port after all, I headed off to the Valdez Museum.
The museum contained an odd mix of information about the formation of Alaska, the local tribes and their lifestyle, the gold rush and its affect in Valdez and of course the earthquake that devastated the town in 1964.
When gold was found north of Valdez in the Klondike the only point where the gold seekers could enter Alaska was here in Valdez. They then had to traverse across the treacherous Valdez Glacier to make their way north. The gold miners had to carry a years worth of supplies with them before they were allowed to make the trek. This meant sometimes they needed to hall a sled of goods up to 20 times over the same stretch of steep glacier on a sled. Hard times indeed for these fellows wanting to make their fortune.
On our previous day on the drive into Valdez our guide showed us where the old town used to stand pre March 27, 1964. In the museum I was able to find out why they moved the town rather than re-build it. The earthquake and resultant tsunami flattened the town and land subsidence meant that the whole port area was subsequently underwater.
The quake lasted 4 minutes, was centred 45 miles west of Valdez and was 9.2 on the Richter scale. There was a loss of 30 lives in Valdez, mostly as a result of the tsunami that followed the quake.
In recent times Valdez has remained a fishing port and the ending point for the Trans Alaska Pipeline. The terminal sits across the Fjord from the township. Many of you will remember also the infamous Exxon Valdez disaster that occurred just outside of the port in the Fjord. The bar where the captain got himself inebriated was just behind our lodgings.
Ok enough of the potted history of Valdez and onto the ferry to head towards Whittier. The ferry plies its way through Prince William Sound towards the Kenai Peninsula. Oh one more interesting tid bit I learnt in the museum. The sound was originally named Sandwich Sound by Cook after his patron the Earl of Sandwich. However by the time Cook returned to England the Earl had fallen out of favour with the Royals and it was subsequently renamed Prince William Sound.
The trip was decidedly smooth, made even more so by the fact that we were on a very modern catamaran type ferry. There was a little café on board and plenty of very comfortable seats. The even have the ferry equivalent of a flight path on screens dotted about the cabin. Very nifty!
Our guide had put the van on the ferry as well and got a well earned break on the 2 hour 45 minute journey to Whittier.
Well almost a complete break except he provided us with a picnic spread for lunch on one of the many tables on the ferry.
On arrival in Whittier we had a race against time to make it to the only road exit from the town. This was a one way road / rail tunnel that cut through 2 miles of mountain side. It is only open for 15 minutes every hour but we made the slot with time to spare which saved our having loll about in the less than attractive town of Whittier for an hour.
Just outside the other end of the tunnel is the Portage Glacier which in one of the cruel tricks of nature played havoc with the NP service of Alaska. They built a lovely visitors centre looking out towards the glacier only for the glacier to recede completely out of sight over the next few years.
After a break at the centre we moved on towards Hope which was to be our final resting place for the tour. Here we got to spend two nights in the same digs.
On the way we stopped at a point on the road our guide knew and he took us down to have a look at a set of rapids on Canyon Creek.
Moving on we made it Hope late afternoon and did a bit of a spin around this small community.
Hope sits on the edge of Turnagain Arm. This inlet was so named by Cook no doubt after yet another frustrating attempt to find the North West passage. Navigating up the arm only to find he needed to turn around again and go back.
Another interesting phenomenon of this arm is that it has what is known as a bore tide. This is where the water takes so long to leave the arm on the low tide that the tide turns before the arm is empty. This results in an incoming tide that pushes back against the outgoing tide causing a wave that rushes up the arm and can be several feet high.
After our mini tour of Hope we made our way back to the cabins where we would be spending the next two nights.
The cabins were built and are owned by the tour company and are sparse mountain cabins with lovely views over Bear Creek. They do have a few creature comforts including heating and electricity but there is no running water in the cabins.
There is a main lodge where we could all congregate and this is where our hosts cooked a great BBQ dinner for us this evening. This lodge was also where the bathroom facilities were housed.
After dinner we chatted a while in the lodge went to our cabins for some kip.
We all met up for breakfast in the lodge this morning at 08:00 and had some lovely blueberry pancakes out host made for us.
At 09:00 we jumped in the van for the drive down to Seward where we would be taking a 6 hours cruise around the Kenai Fjords.
On the way we stopped to see if we could see any salmon swimming upstream but there were none to be seen.
In Seward we boarded our cruise boat at 11:15 and our guide went about his way for the next 6 hours.
The cruise took us out through Resurrection Bay and into the Gulf of Alaska before cutting back into Holgate Arm.
In the bay we encountered our first wildlife for the day in the form of a sea otter that was turning in the water to let the sun warm it up.
Next up we spotted a pod of Orca whales that we tracked the path of for a while.
Moving on further our next encounter was with a humpback whale although he didn’t give us much of a show.
We encountered some more humpback whales en route the Holgate Glacier. One of which delighted us with breach, where they rise up out of the water and slam back into it. Another went for a dive showing us its tail as it did which is called a fluke. Unfortunately the lack of decent camera and needing to be pointing in the right direction at the right time meant little in the way of photographs for me though.
We were served a light lunch on the cruise that consisted of a wrap, carrots, an apple and a cereal bar. Tea and coffee were free and you could purchase alcohol.
We reached the glacier midway through the trip and the captain stopped the boat so that we could sit and listen. Every now and again you could hear a crack as the ice moved. We didn’t get to see any spectacular calving though which is where a great chunk of ice drops off and falls into the sea. There were a few crumbles but nothing picture worthy.
After spending half an hour or so at the glacier we moved on out to the Chiswell Islands where there were numerous rookeries.
Here we got to seem Puffin and Murre birds nesting and a colony of sea lions basking in the sun.
We then turned tail and headed back to Seward passing another Humpback on the way. The captain also spotted a Minke Whale but it dived and although we hung around a bit it did not reappear for us.
It was pretty damn cold out on the open deck of the boat and we were pretty chuffed when the crew came around with freshly baked warm chocolate chip cookies.
Back in Seward we went for a bit of a wander along the port and saw the days Halibut catch being displayed and weighed. We also watched the fishermen on the wharf filleting their catch.
Back in the van we did the whistle-stop tour of Seward before heading back to Hope.
In Hope we had dinner at a local café before heading back to the cabins for a night cap. The blackened halibut pasta I had for dinner was particulalry good.
Next up the last day when we head back to Anchorage.
Another nice breakfast in the lodge at Discovery Cabins before heading on into Hope for a spot of gold panning.
One of the local miner characters will teach you how to pan for gold at a spot outside the Hope museum. He seeds the soil so that everyone gets a chance to take home some gold. The other tour members all tried their hand at panning whilst I went for a morning walk down to the river inlet. I had panned for gold before several times in Oz and didn’t really need to do it again.
On my walk I took some photos of some of the old buildings around hope. When I got to the end of the main street over looking the Turnagain Arm I witnessed yet again some Gulls chasing a Bald Eagle, who I suspect was after their eggs.
At 10:00 I went to rejoin the group and we had a guided tour of the Hope Museum by one of the local volunteers. The Museum holds some old buildings, such as a bunk room and blacksmith and has many pieces of old mining machinery to ponder over the usage of.
We learnt about the townships of Hope and Sunrise as they were during the gold rush days. Our guide also showed us a nifty sized nugget that was found in the creek that ran past our cabins.
We then had a brief stop at a local gallery and gift shop before heading out to the Hope camping ground for a loo break. On the side of the loos there was a sign warning of bears in the area. Our guide said that a grizzly and her cub had been seen in the area recently.
After finishing out tour of Hope we headed back out of the peninsula and to the town of Girdwood. Here we stopped at a local bakery for a lovely lunch before going for a hike through the rainforest. Yes you heard me correctly. As this part of the state is subject to the influences of the Pacific the weather is more temperate and subsequently there is a high annual rainfall.
After a great walk through the tall spruce we got into the van for the final leg of our journey back to Anchorage. As we traversed down the other side of the Turnagain Arm we were able to see Hope in the distance across the other side.
In Anchorage we stopped at a local mall for a pit stop and last minute chance to buy some smoked salmon.
We then moved onto the airport where I was going to be dropped off.
We did make one last detour past the world’s largest float plane airport which is just beside Anchorage International airport. Here there were many, many float planes tied up to little docks on a large lake.
We past some great road signs stating that aircraft have right of way on the roads.
There was also an enormous field where many private planes were parked. We got to see a unique method of transporting the float planes around which consisted of truck with no rear wheels but an extension in front of the cabin on which the float plane was sitting.
One last stop was a visit to Earthquake Park where we read some more about the devastating earthquake that shook this part of the world in 1964.
After encountering our worst onslaught of mosquito attacks in the park we made our way to the airport where I said my goodbyes to my new Wisconsin family and to our wonderful guide.
I would recommend Alaska to anyone, especially on a small group tour such as the one I did.
As I stated before I could not get enough of the mountain scenery and would love to go back and hike some more in parts of this magnificent state.
On the trip we saw many huge busses with Holland America and Princess Cruise lines passengers being ferried around. I don’t think that would be my cup of tea and really enjoyed all the out of the way hidden gems that the small group tour was able to offer us.
I hope you enjoyed my little foray into Alaska and if you want to come along for the ride on the rest of my year you can come on over to my Passion or Addiction TR.