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!

 

 

 

 

We Made It!

As we passed from the Yukon back into the USA, not much changed scenery wise.

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One thing was certain, the road conditions turned to crap. The Yukon has done a great job of road repair and Alaska – not so much! But that’s okay – we were in ALASKA!!! After two months and over 6000 miles we were within a day or two of being at our summer home. Or so I thought. We woke up on May 1st, our first full day in Alaska, to some seriously ominous skies. Then it began…

Snow so thick we could hardly see the road. This wasn’t what I had planned! But, you know what, it was the 1st of May and had to be expected. We were trying to reach Anchorage, where we would resupply before heading to Moose Pass. Once you get on the Kenai Peninsula, shopping become more expensive in two ways: 1 you have to pay the tax and 2 you have to drive at least 45 minutes to get to the nearest store. We were just about to crest a big hill we’d been climbing when Steve got very serious looking. He pulled over as best he could and I asked what was wrong. Waldo had lost it’s power steering – completely. We got out to see what had happened and found a giant puddle of oil under Waldo. Oh man, this isn’t good! We were in the middle of nowhere! Glenallen was an hour behind us and Anchorage was 2 1/2 hours in front of us. We called for roadside assistance from Good Sam’s and waited. And waited. And argued with them on the phone about exactly where we were. I gave them our GPS coordinates and told them we were at mile marker 37. Yes, 37 – I can see it from here! Finally, the tow truck arrived and Waldo got carted off…

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We were towed back to Glenallen, the closest “qualified repair center”. I was not a happy camper! Despite the bad luck of being broken down, we had the good luck of being towed to Glenallen Fuel and Service. First thing in the morning, the lead mechanic, Dawson, came out to talk to Steve. While the 2 of them conversed, I sat in Waldo and stewed about our situation. It could have been a lot worse. GF&S let us stay in Waldo in their parking lot, so we weren’t “homeless” When Steve came back inside, he explained what had happened. A bolt had come backed of the power steering pump and broke the other bolt holding drive on the pump. I just nodded my head as if it meant something to me. How long to fix it – that was my question! The part we needed was in Anchorage, naturally. But again, luck was with us. Scott, the tow truck driver, had to go to Anchorage anyhow, he’d pick it up for us. Dawson was quite happy to let Steve do all of the work he was capable of and loaned him any tools he didn’t have.

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All in all, we ended up being there 3 days and with Steve doing most of the work, it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been. We were back on the road and I was just blown away by the scenery. Every time I thought the view couldn’t get any better, it did!

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We finally made it to Anchorage and got all the shopping out of the way. Only an hour and a half until we are home for the summer! Yea! I wasn’t prepared for the amazing scenery yet to come…

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The Seward Highway leaving Anchorage
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Driving along Turnagain Arm

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Well, here we are in Moose Pass. We parked at the bottom of the driveway and walked up to meet our new bosses, Gary and Treva. They pointed out our spot and Steve brought Waldo up the hill. I wasn’t sure Waldo could make the turn and get enough traction in the dirt drive, but he made it…

Whew, that was a climb. But what a view…

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Our backyward
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Our front yard

Wow. Now that we made it, it’s time to go to work. Up next – settling in.

Thanks for coming along. I’m getting caught up on posts, I’m only 4 or 5 behind now. If you want the latest, follow us on Facebook or Instagram!