A Trip to Canaveral National Seashore

Nature in harmony with science make Florida’s Space Coast an adventure not to be missed. I have been to the Space Coast twice, the first time in 2012 and again last week with Steve. There are several components making up the coast, you have the Canaveral National Seashore, consisting of 57,662 acres, the Merritt Island NWR, consisting of 140,000 acres which includes NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

On both occasions, my main objective was to visit Merritt Island NWR, specifically the Black Point Wildlife Drive. Both of my visits were in late March and I was surprised by the differences. The water levels were much higher in 2012 and my visit coincided with a prescribed burn.

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It’s natural for the water levels to fluctuate and we haven’t had a lot of rain this winter.

Merritt Island NWR is home to over 1500 species of plants and animals, including 15 federally listed species. It is also an important stop on the Atlantic Flyway. You never know what you might come across during a visit.

The wildlife drive is a 7 mile, one-way road through various habitats, from shallow marsh impoundments to pine flatwoods…

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With spring in the air, wildflowers are blooming, attracting lots of butterflies…

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In 2012, I was lucky enough to be visiting when a large flock of white pelicans were resting in the marsh…

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This year, we saw quite a few northern shovelers which are in the spoonbill family…

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While we were photographing them, a grackle made his presence known. He was finding a meal in the fallen palm fronds. When I got too close, he retreated to my spare tire.

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We saw flocks of blue billed ducks. I haven’t quite identified them yet…

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And tons of coots…

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The one animal you are almost guaranteed to see is alligators…

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After we finished the drive, we decided to head over to Canaveral National Seashore. On the way, we were lucky enough to see a sandhill crane with its chick…

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Using our America the Beautiful Pass, we entered our first national park of the year. I don’t think we will visit as many parks this year as last (15 in total), but we love not having to pay the entrance fees.

Our first wildlife encounter was with an armadillo. I’m fairly sure this little guy was completely blind. He was unfazed by my presence and at one point nearly walked into me…

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We also saw what I think was a box turtle on the side of the road…

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Only one of our encounters came with its own warning sign…

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I have to admit, we were a bit surprised. The seashore has 5 areas with beach access and apparently clothing is optional at beach 5. Who knew?!?!?

The one area we haven’t visited yet is the Kennedy Space Center. I’ve heard you can spend the better part of a day there, so it will have to wait until next time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Out With The Old

Almost all of the bloggers I know do a special post to mark the end of the year. I always enjoy reading them. Inevitably, it makes me reflect on our own travels, trials and triumphs.

2018 held lots of promise for us as we began our first full year of RV living and working. We knew we’d be starting in Florida, but had no way of knowing for sure December 2018 would find us back there. Hell, there were times when we were broken down, I didn’t think we’d ever make it back to Florida. But we did. We met so many wonderful people along the way. People who changed our lives, possibly without ever knowing so.

I count us a dang lucky…our adventures have been many and our trials have been relatively few, given our lifestyle.

I thought long and hard about how I was going to commemorate 2018. Usually I end up trying to pick a favorite picture from each month – a top 12, if you will. 12? Who was I kidding? We took pictures in at least 13 states, visited 15 national parks/monuments/preserves and drove through western Canada. I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to 12!

My solution was a collage made from every state we spent any real time in (and Canada will just  have to forgive my exclusion of them in this post). The following collages are in alphabetical order, not the order we visited. So without further ado, here is 2018 in review…

Arizona

Alaska Collage

California

Florida

idaho

Louisiana

Nevada

New Mexica

Texas

Washington

Wyoming

I don’t know for sure what is in store for us for the next year. We have some tentative plans and lots of hopes.

I sincerely hope 2019 brings health and happiness to you and yours! Thank you for wandering along with us.

Wild About Wyoming – Yellowstone NP

I don’t even know where to begin. We have never been to a National Park with as much diversity as Yellowstone. To quote for the National Park Service website

Marvel. Explore. Discover.

Visit Yellowstone and experience the world’s first national park. Marvel at a volcano’s hidden power rising up in colorful hot springs, mudpots, and geysers. Explore mountains, forests, and lakes to watch wildlife and witness the drama of the natural world unfold. Discover the history that led to the conservation of our national treasures “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Yellowstone has been a national park for 146 years. Founded in 1872, it truly has something for everyone. We spent 3 days exploring and we could have spent 30. I doubt a lifetime would be long enough to see and experience everything. One of the things I loved about it was how much of it is accessible by vehicle…

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There are 5 entrances into the park and the main road is laid out in sort of a figure 8. We were staying at Henrys Lake State Park in Idaho (a place I sincerely recommend), so we always came into the park through West Yellowstone.  Visiting in late September was perfect, a light jacket was all we needed and the throngs of tourists who flock there in the summer had mostly vanished.

Within minutes of entering the park, we saw out first wildlife…

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The west entrance follows the Madison River and pullouts on the road allowed for photography without obstructing traffic…

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We drove along Firehole Canyon Drive to enjoy the first of several waterfalls…

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We spent the rest of the day checking out many of the geothermal spots. Between geysers, bacterial mats and boiling mud I was pretty much left speechless…

When we made it to Yellowstone Lake, we walked along the boardwalk. We were nearly done the loop when we came across a small herd of female elk and their young ones…

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Unfortunately,  there is an idiot in every crowd and a 20-something stepped off the boardwalk (for a better picture naturally) and spooked the herd. They moved down into the hot springs area and stayed there…

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On the way out of the park that evening, we were lucky enough to see a pair of bull elk not far from the road. We were the first to pull over and get a few shots. What I hadn’t immediately seen was the Great Grey Owl in the tree above them…

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It didn’t take long for the roadside to be crowded with cars, so we moved on before someone caused an accident.

The next day, we drove north after we entered the park, heading to the Mammoth Hot Springs area. When we passed Thundering Mountain, I had to stop and get a shot. Yes, I know you aren’t supposed to take pictures looking into the sun, but it was nearly blocked out by the steam. And, yes, that is a layer of frost on the ground…

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Just down the road, the scenery was such a contrast to the steaming mountain…

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We finally made it to the Mammoth Hot Springs and took some time to explore.  I was intrigued by the dew…

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Millions of tiny droplets covered the plants. And I caught a chipmunk having a mid-morning snack…

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But the colorful formations are what took the cake…

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Our final destination for day 2 was South Rim Drive. This lead us to the “grand canyon” of Yellowstone, complete with an amazing waterfall…

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Knowing it would be our last day in the park, we set off early to try and catch more of the wildlife. Of course I couldn’t pass up another waterfall…

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Just as we were passing by, these 2 buffalo decided to but heads…

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After watching them for a while, we headed towards Lamar Valley. From everything we had read, this was the best place for wildlife viewing. Also it was noted for being a well traveled wolf route. It wasn’t hard to know were the wolves were expected…

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Unfortunately, we arrived about 20 minutes after the wolves. They had already laid down for the day and wouldn’t become active again until late in the afternoon. It was interesting to note most of the tripods held spotting scopes, not cameras.

We spent most of the rest of the day just watching the buffalo and enjoying the scenery…

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We couldn’t leave Yellowstone without watching Old Faithful erupt. We got there early, found a seat and waited. It didn’t take long for the crowds to arrive…

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Old Faithful was as punctual as predicted and we watched her amazing 4 minute spectacle with awe…

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Steve and I  often talk about which of the national parks we have visited is our favorite. We almost always agree, you can’t possibly pick one over the other because they are all unique. Each one offers something special. But, I think Yellowstone’s diversity makes it my top pick!

I’d like to thank Laura over at Chapter 3 Travels. She and her husband, Kevin, visited Yellowstone a few months ago and wrote a fantastic piece about it. They stayed at Henrys Lake SP, which is how I found out about it.

Next up…Grand Teton National Park

Do you have a favorite national park? I’d love to hear about it…

Joining the 30% Club

We feel downright privileged to have been inducted into the 30% club! When we first arrived in Alaska, we had no idea such a club existed. The chalets where we worked were usually the final destination for our guests. They had already explored Fairbanks, Denali National Park and Anchorage. The Kenai Peninsula was the end of their adventures. Time after time, we heard stories of visiting Denali NP only to be terribly disappointed they didn’t get to see Mt. Denali. I mean, after all, it IS the tallest mountain on the continent – how can you not see it?!?!?

Mt Denali is 20,310 feet tall, that’s about 3 1/2 miles. Its 2 peaks are over 2 1/2 miles apart. It’s hard to imagine you couldn’t see it! But the fact is, given its location and size, it creates its own weather.

“Denali is so massive that it generates its own weather; much the way a huge boulder submerged in a river creates whitewater rapids. All mountains deflect air masses and influence local conditions, but Denali rises so abruptly and so high that this effect is more dramatic here than perhaps anywhere else on Earth. Storms barrel in from the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea and collide with Denali’s towering mass. Weather can quickly change from sunny and clear to blizzard conditions with fierce winds, intense cold, and heavy snowfall.”

                                                         From The Alaska Range and Denali: Geology and Orogeny

This pattern of weather convergences means it can be sunny and 70˚ in town and Mt Denali could be obscured by fog and clouds. It’s estimated only 30% of visitors actually get to see Mt. Denali. We were in that 30% – FOR 3 DAYS IN A ROW!!!!   Denali means “the high one” in Koyukon, a subset of the Athabaskan language family, sometimes thought to mean “the great one.” Every time we got to see Mt Denali, I was in awe.

The park has an incredible history and many of the stories can be found here.

The First 15 Miles

a map showing the predominately east-west road through denali national park

Private vehicles can only be driven on the first 15 miles of the 92 mile park road. To go beyond Savage River, you must take the park shuttle or hike. We spent our first day driving those 15 miles and seeing all we could see…

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The view on the left side of the road
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Compared to the view on the right side of the road

It was strange how the left side of the park was in bathed in dappled sun while the right side was shrouded in clouds. There would be no view of Denali today, but, we did get to see some informative signage…

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And when we made it to Savage River, we were treated with a surprise…

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A rainbow over Savage River

We weren’t worried we didn’t see any wildlife on the first day. Guided by the weather forecast, the next day we planned a trip on the shuttle to the Eielson Visitor’s Center – Park Road Mile 66.

The First 66 Miles

We opted for the transit bus, as opposed to the narrated tour bus. The up side of the transit bus is you can disembark, hike, then grab another bus, while you have to remain on the tour bus. We promptly departed at 7:30am, along with 58 of our newest friends. Our shuttle driver Annie filled us in on what to expect, she said we’d stop for all wildlife sightings and several scenic overlooks, in addition to potty breaks for the 8 hour ride.

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Our first view of Mt Denali was over the mist settled in the valley. But, we had seen it! Already a member! As the morning worn on, we stopped for several wildlife encounters…

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Meet Mr Caribou
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Those 2 black dots at 2 o’clock and 8 o’clock are grizzly bears

It was a bit frustrating for me, jostling for a view out the window, but we made it work.

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Those white dots in the center are Dahl Sheep

Are you noticing a pattern? Lots of dots. The colors on the mountains reminded me of Death Valley, except this color came from brightly colored fall foliage instead of minerals…

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The park road winds past colorful mountains

A good part of our day was spent taking pictures like this…

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At mile 46, we stopped to check out Polychrome Overlook. The myriad of colors were astounding…

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Lots of buses filled with tourists

We also stopped along the route for the iconic picture of the park road with Mt Denali in the background. Yes, everyone else has taken this picture, but I couldn’t resist…

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We did get a closer view of some grizzly bears, but unfortunately, the sun was shining toward us and the bears ended up with a halo…

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We also saw a couple moose in the distance…

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And lots more “dots” on the mountains…

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I loved watching this group of caribou. With winter around the corner, they are beginning to shed the velvet covering their antlers. It’s  not a good picture, but the antlers were almost orange…

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The views, despite being out the window, were breathtaking…

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When we arrived at the Eielson Vistor’s Center, Mt Denali provided an amazing backdrop…

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We decided to stay at the vistor’s center and catch a later shuttle. We were treated with a couple minutes of solitude before the next bus arrived. While we were basking in the splendor of Mt Denali, some of the wildlife posed for a closeup…

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An Arctic Squirrel
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Munching away on an apple peel someone had carelessly or purposely dropped

The park rangers go to great length to educate the public about the dangers of feeding ANY of the animals. Annie had reminded us time and again, it was best to eat on the bus so as not to leave so much as a crumb for the critters. But, you know people, some of them just can’t help themselves.

We walked along the trail and looked back at the visitor center…

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And ahead to the 33 more miles to the base of Mt Denali…

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Hard to imagine, Mt Denali is still 33 miles away!

One of the interesting things about Denali NP is the fact it is a “trail-less” park, with a few exceptions near the entrance. People are encouraged to find their own path. Go out and walk on the tundra. Feel the springiness of it under you feet. Enjoy it in your own responsible way.

It was time to head back. We had seen everything we had hoped to except the wolves. Pretty darn good day!

Up next…Cruising the Denali Highway and Abandon Igloos

Are you a member of the 30% club? Did you even know there is such a thing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

Up, Up and Away

Our adventurous side was calling and Marathon Helicopter Tours answered! We’d seen Resurrection Bay up close on our glacier cruise, but seeing it from the air was an entirely different experience.We checked into their office at the airport, received our safety briefing and were soon ready to take to the air. Our pilot, Mike, has been flying helicopters since 2006 and moved to Seward in 2012. He clearly loves what he does! As we lifted off, he pointed out various Seward landmarks, giving a running commentary on the landscape…

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We hugged the shoreline as he told us how the 1964 earthquake forever changed the face of Seward (and all of southern Alaska).

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We flew over some kayakers enjoying the first sunny day we’d had in a while…

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Soon, we made our way up into the mountains, with stunning views of Resurrection Bay for contrast…

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We saw mountain goats, deftly crossing the rocky outcroppings…

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As the mountains gave way, we got our first look at Bear Glacier and its bay…

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With a practiced ease, Mike swung his flying machine towards the glacier, giving us a close-up view of its beauty…

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Mike explained the ridge of dirt on the glacier is a medial moraine. A moraine is the accumulation of dirt and debris on an icefield. When it is on the edge of the glacier, it’s called a lateral moraine and when 2 glaciers combine, their edges become the middle and a medial moraine is formed…

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As we flew near the edge of the glacier, we could see the lateral moraine forming…

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The landscape seemed other-worldly, as if Mike had transported us to another planet…

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As we crossed into the airspace over Kenai Fjord National Park, we were treated with the sights of glacial lakes and rivers…

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Mike’s in depth knowledge and humorous commentary is only surpassed by his ability to spot wildlife far below of the forest floor…

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We knew our adventure was nearly over as we flew along the Resurrection River with its many creeks and streams…

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It was an amazing adventure! Mike, in one word – AWESOME! The scenery so breathtaking, I’m still winded. If you’re ever in Seward, stop by Marathon Helicopter Tours and they will take you on an Alaska adventure you’ll never forget!

Have you ever been on a helicopter tour? Was your adventure as fun as ours? I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

 

 

Cruising Resurrection Bay

The town of Seward is about 26 miles south of us and is the heart of Resurrection Bay. There are glacier cruises, fishing charters, kayak adventures – nearly anything you’d like to do on the water in Resurrection Bay is found in Seward. In late May, Steve and I went out With Kenai Fjords Tours hoping to see some wildlife and knowing we’d get to see several glaciers.

Our cruise left Seward at 10 am and I didn’t have great expectations about the weather. It was overcast, cold and windy.

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Everyone was bundled up! As we left the harbor, we had a great view of the town’s waterfront RV park (a place I’d love to spend some vaca time!)

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Looking back at the pictures I took, I was really disappointed. I don’t think any of them captured the beauty and excitedness we saw and felt.

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We hadn’t even gotten out of the harbor when we saw our first wildlife – sea otters…

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The captain and crew gave a first rate running commentary on everything we were seeing and made every attempt to get us as close to the wildlife as was possible without disturbing them. Despite the crappiness of the weather, there is no denying the beauty of the scenery…

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Our next wildlife encounter was a group of Dall’s porpoises. They seemingly played in the boat’s wake, riding the waves and swimming along side of us, as if to race…

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With their black and white bodies, if you look quick and don’t know the difference, you might think they were killer whales (orcas). The porpoises finally tired of playing with us and we moved on. Our next sighting was special because it isn’t often the endangered fin whales are this close to shore. Fin whales are the second largest creature to ever live on earth!

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Leaving the fins behind, we came upon a pod of killer whales, aka orcas. Killer whales aren’t whales at all, they are members of the porpoise/dolphin family.

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As we were watching, a smaller boat drifted in. They got a close up view…

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As if the dramatic cliffs and soaring, snow capped peaks weren’t enough scenery to make your jaw drop, the captain brought us into a cove with a glacier fed waterfall…

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All this excitement and we hadn’t even gotten to the glacier yet. Our destination was Aialik Glacier, deep in Kenai Fjords National Park. The closer we got, the more ice we came across and, luckily, the bluer the skies became…

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And then, there was Aialik Glacier…

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See the group of kayakers near the center of the picture? No thanks! As much as I enjoy kayaking, that wouldn’t be for me!

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We didn’t get too witness any calving of the glacier, but the abundance of ice in the water suggested it had been active recently.I’m pretty sure Steve was enjoying himself, what do you think?

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We were about half way through our cruise, but there were plenty of things yet to see. On our way back towards Seward, we motored around several of the islands. My favorite was the one with all the steller sea lions on it…

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And the colony of kittiwakes nesting on the face of the cliffs…

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But, our luck hadn’t run out yet, we came across a humpback whale…

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One of the reasons we chose this tour over some of the others, was this tour stopped at Fox Island for an all you can eat prime rib and salmon buffet. I would have taken more pictures of Fox Island, but I was too busy stuffing my face! Steve and I both opted to add the king crab legs (at $15 a person, how could we not!)

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We were almost back to Seward when we got our final wildlife encounter. There were mountain gloats high above us on the rocky outcropping…

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All in all, even if I think the pictures don’t do it any sort of justice, it was an amazing cruise with stunning scenery and more wildlife than I ever expected.

Up next…looking for bears…oh my!

 

 

 

It’s OK – It’s a Dry Heat – Part 2

If you missed part 1 , you can catch up here. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the United States, at 282 feet below sea level. The walk to the actual spot (about 1 1/2 miles from the marker sign) is along a salt packed trail. The shallow pools of water will evaporate over the summer leaving crusty salt mounds as far as you can see…

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Since there was still so much we wanted to see, we didn’t walk all the way to the actual spot. We still had a couple hikes we wanted to do and with the temps pushing 90 degrees at 10 am we decided to move on. Our next stop was the natural bridge. It’s a fairly easy walk, despite being uphill. I can’t imagine the force of the water needed to carve such a bridge…

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See the 2 hikers in the shadow of the bridge?

The National Park system did a great job of designing the scenic drives through the park. Most of them are one way and loop back to the main road. One such route is called Artists Drive. It is a 9 mile loop through some of the most colorful formations in the park. The narrow road winds through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills…

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At the first pullout, we walked to the top of a fairly steep hill to get a better view of the landscape…

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A great location to snap some memories
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Steve – finding his focus

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Back on the road, I looked over and Steve was grinning, ear to ear. The twisting road had him itching to test the laws of gravity…

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The next pullout is at a spot appropriately named Artist’s Palette. The colors were amazing. It’s like Mother Nature filled her paint brush with reds, browns, tans and greens, then spattered the colors much like a child fingerpaints…

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As we were exiting the drive, the scenery changed yet again…

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We were running out of time at Death Valley, but there was on more place I HAD to see – Racetrack Playa! (Read more about the interesting history and geology here) A playa is a dried lake bed and the Racetrack is nearly 3 miles long and 2 miles wide. Scientists estimate the dried beige mud is at least 1000 feet thick. The surface is so flat, it only varies 1 1/2 inches from end to end. We first attempted to reach the Racetrack via Scotty’s Castle Road. We were hoping the road closure signs meant the road was closed somewhere beyond the turn off to the Racetrack. A freak flood event happened in 2015 and destroyed the road and caused severe damage to Scotty’s Castle. (See pictures here). Of course, the road was closed prior to the turn off, so we had to settle on seeing more abandon buildings (I know, poor us, huh?)

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You know I had to go inside and look around
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How long do you think these nails took to fuse together like this?

We had one more day and I was determined to get to the Racetrack. We checked the map and found an alternate route. One that comes with a warning…

Caution: Rough and Remote Road
The road to the Racetrack is rough, and good tires, 4×4 and high clearance are usually required. Standard rental vehicles are not recommended, and often get flat tires. Use extreme caution on this road in the summer heat. There is no cell phone coverage in the area. Drive time from Furnace Creek is at least 3.5 hours each way. Other access roads make for even longer and more remote adventures. Driving offroad is strictly prohibited.”

OK…let’s go! When we left the pavement, the adventure began. I was finding it incredibly difficult to make any time. I kept having Steve stop the Jeep so I could take pictures…

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There is only one sign along the 26 mile route and I found it rather bizzare…

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Legend says early travelers to the area put the first teakettles there to let others know there was water nearby. I don’t know if it is true or not, I never saw any water.

We were still 6 miles from the Racetrack, so off we went. As we rounded one curve in the road, we got our first view of Racetrack…

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The outcropping of rocks in the middle is called the Grandstand…

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What is so fascinating about Racetrack is the mysterious moving rocks. Although the mystery of how/why the rocks move was solved in 2014 (Read about it here), it still boggles my mind…

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See the tracks left by the moving rocks?

Two NPS Rangers were at Racetrack replacing a sign and we talked to them for quite a while. One of them said they have seen the playa completely under water and a day later, not a sign of water could be seen. He also said if people walk on it when it is wet, the footprints can stay there for years. The Jeep was just over half a tank of gas and we wondered if going back the same way we came was the best route. The ranger told us Hunter Mountain Pass was a drive we shouldn’t miss and we wouldn’t have a problem with 1/2 a tank of fuel. OK – Hunter Mountain it is! We drove back to Teakettle Junction and headed into the wild. As I mentioned before, there aren’t any road signs in the back country. Our GPS said we were on Hunter Mountain Road and I figured as long as it said that, we would be fine. Hmmm. When we came to the first split in the road, we went the werong way. That was ok, because it quickly dead ended  at an abandon mine…

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End of the line

We got back on what we hoped was the right road and continued on. I could see the road off in the distance as it began to climb Hunter Mountain…

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We passed a large area full of Joshua Trees…

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And began the climb. The road was barely wide enough for the Jeep and was a continuous set of switchbacks. The summit of Hunter Mountain is 7168 feet and the view is stunning…

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I was beginning to worry we were on the wrong road and were bound to run out of gas. I had no interest in being stranded, with no cell service, miles from anywhere! Finally, we passed another vehicle. The folks assured us we were on the right road, but it was still 30 miles to Panamint Springs. We got a bit of a surprise as we rounded a corner – free range cattle in the middle of the road…

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Death Valley-6586

When we made it back to the pavement, we made a beeline for Panamint Springs and fuel. When we saw fuel there was $4.99 a gallon, we made the call to continue to Stovepipe Wells -another 28 miles. We made it just after the idiot light came on. But, I have to say, I was beginning to hold my breath a bit! Fuel was still $4.17 a gallon, so we only put in enough to get back to Beatty.

Our time was up in Death Valley. We had only seen about half of it, but we had a time-table to keep. We still had 3344 miles to go to get to Moose Pass, AK. I hope to go back and explore more some day!

Thanks for coming along, I hope you enjoyed our take on Death Valley!