Horsing Around on Cumberland Island

Since nobody seemed to be a fan of kayaking with alligators, I thought I’d go with something cuter. Our last adventure in Georgia was one I had been waiting for for a very long time. Cumberland Island National Seashore has been on my list of “must visit” places for years. Every time I drove from New Hampshire to Florida I wanted to fit it in but just never could. Since we were already adventuring in Georgia, I would not be denied! Cumberland Island or Bust!

Cumberland is the largest and southern most of Georgia’s barrier islands. We would only have one day to explore and I was determined to make the most of it. We boarded the 9 am ferry in St. Mary’s and began our relaxing 45 minute journey to the island. Our fellow 148 passengers were quite a diverse group. There were cyclists, campers, hikers, fishermen and even a couple getting married.

After disembarking, we started out on the River Trail…

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We stopped near the edge of the sound and watched as the Cumberland Queen II headed back to St. Mary’s…

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The trail ends at the Ice House, this is where we got our first glimpse of the famed wild horses of Cumberland Island…

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Horses were originally brought to the island in the 1700’s. Now, a herd of feral horses resides on the island. They are left to there own device with no help from the National Park Service. Some of the horses we saw seemed a bit thin, but overall looked to be in decent health. And obviously are healthy enough to mate and produce colts. Steve sat down to watch at one of the picnic tables and I noticed how huge the live oak tree next to him was. I had to back up so far to get most of the tree in, you can hardly see him…

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You are warned to keep at least 50′ from the horses, after all, they are wild. But what do you do when you are taking a picture of the beautiful lane, lined with spanish moss laden trees…

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And the horses suddenly decide to cross the road, right where you are standing?

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You do what I did and hide behind a tree! We continued on towards the ruins of the Dungeness Mansion. Since it was nearly noon, we stopped at a picnic area and had our snacks. As I was reading the signs about the wildlife, another group of horses came by. This foal couldn’t have been more than 6 weeks old…

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In 1736 James Oglethorpe built a hunting lodge he called Dungeness. In 1796 Phineas Miller and his wife built a 4 story mansion on the site and named it after the lodge. In 1884 Thomas Carnegie, brother of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and his wife Lucy bought Dungeness and raised 9 children there. Today all that remains of Dungeness is a sprawling shell …

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There was a time, it looked like this…

Dungeness Mansion

Some of the outbuildings remain, as well as some of the statues…

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There are several other buildings from that era which are still in use. While we were walking around the mansion, I spied another family group of horses. I thought the colt was beautiful and spent lots of time taking pictures of it…

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We were almost done checking out the mansion when an altercation broke out between the horses, I have to tell you, the horses scared me way more than the alligators!!!

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We continued on to the Dungeness Beach boardwalk…

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I watched as the fiddler crabs defended their territory in the marsh…

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At the end of the boardwalk, sand dunes create a barrier to the interior of the island…

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When we finally reached the beach, it seemed deserted. One of the benefits of limiting the number of visitors to the island each day is you get to see this…

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Unspoiled, salty air bliss. We walked over a mile and a half on the beach and only saw a handful of other people. We did see a horseshoe crab skeleton…

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And one of the few people we did see was kind enough to take this picture for me…

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As we neared Seacamp Beach Campground, I stopped again to marvel at the gnarled live oaks and their spanish moss adornments…

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Our day was nearly over, the 4:45pm ferry would soon take us back to the mainland. Cumberland Island was everything I had imagined and more. We had walked about 6 1/2 miles and taken countless pictures to go through later.

If you’ve been thinking about visiting Cumberland Island, all I can say is DO IT! Hopefully we will return again another time to see the north end of the island.

My friend Dawn, from Random Bits of Trial and Error wrote a lovely post about her adventures on Cumberland Island, read about it here.

Thank you for coming along.

I’m a couple weeks behind, we are currently at our summer job in Wisconsin. I can’t wait to tell you about it!

What are you more afraid of feral horses or alligators?

Kayaking with Aligators

We only had 2 days to explore the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, not nearly enough time considering it covers 630 sq miles. The swamp is only part of the Okefenokee experience, there are also vast wet prairies, pine uplands and cypress forests. This mosaic of habitats makes the Okefenokee a “Wetland of International Importance.” The swamp itself is 38 miles long and 25 miles wide and remains one of the most well preserved and intact freshwater ecosystems in the world.

Day One

We stopped at the visitors center and asked about the 120 miles of water trails. Like hiking trails, they range from easy to difficult. We wanted to plan an easy paddle, maybe 4 or 5 hours in total. A trip to the Cedar Hammock canoe shelter sounded just right.

With the next day’s kayaking plan in place, we had the rest of the afternoon to explore. We took the 7.5 mile Swamp Island Drive. The ranger told us to be on the lookout for several species of carnivorous plants and orchids blooming along the borrow ditch. She explained the ditch was created when workers “borrowed” the material to build the road.

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Rose Pogonia
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Butterwort
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Pitcher plant

 

We crossed onto Chesser Island, which was named after the family who settled there in 1858. A short path led us to the homestead…

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It’s hard to imagine what life was like in 1927 when Tom and Iva Chesser built the homestead. The yard was kept free of vegetation to reduce the fire hazard and  to increase the chance of seeing any snakes that might wander by. There are many remnants of family’s life on the island…

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Cane syrup hearth

Our final stop on the Swamp Island Drive was the Chesser Island Boardwalk…

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We kept our eyes open for wildlife. The ranger told us a bobcat had been hanging around the boardwalk, but alas, I had to settle for lizards…

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We climbed the 40-foot Owl’s Roost Tower for a view of Seagrove Lake…

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Day Two

Our first plan was to be at the refuge early, but when I woke up, it was a chilly 63 degrees. I decided I wasn’t in a hurry! It was almost 10am when we arrived warming up quickly. We signed the paddlers’ log, we began our adventure.

We followed the Suwanee Canal for about a mile and a half before finding the entrance to the Cedar Hammock trail. Along the way, I marveled at the reflections in the tannin rich waters…

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We saw a few alligators in the canal. Despite being in a kayak, I did not feel threatened by their presence.  Okefenokee NWR-1990

Although, one surfaced so close to the front of my kayak, I could see it’s eyes but not it’s snoot. A little too close.

We left the motorboats behind when we entered the trail. They had all been courteous, slowing down to no wake speed when they passed, but I was happy to head deeper into the swamp…

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The trail was peaceful, with scores of water lilies blooming along the way…

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At the end of the trail there is an overnight shelter and outhouse.

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I got out to stretch and watch the alligator swimming by…

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As we were leaving, I noticed a baby alligator among the lily pads…

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Steve took the lead on the way back to the canal. I wonder if he saw this guy…

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I loved every minute of our paddle! From the anhinga…

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To the turtle…

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It was amazing!

Would you kayak with the alligators? Do  you think we’re nuts?

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!

 

5 Truths About Our Life on the Road

When we first decided to live full time in Waldo, I had a very different idea of what our life would be like. In some ways, it has far exceeded my hopes and in other ways, it has fallen drastically short. Here are 5 things I have learned about myself and our lifestyle:

1. We are NOT on vacation.

While most of my posts deal with all of the cool places we visit, the truth is we have to work. Neither of us are old enough to collect social security, nor do we have any type of retirement. Our only source of income is from the workamping we do. I had visions of living in Waldo the way my parents did, never staying anywhere for more than a week or two before moving on, sooner if the weather turned cold or rainy. But the fact is, we usually end up being somewhere for several months, after all, we made a commitment when we took the job. Quite often I find several months to be too long. I either get bored with a place once we’ve explored the area or the job isn’t really to my liking, but again, we made a commitment. For me, selling Christmas trees in Florida was nearly the perfect job. It was short term, it was warm and the money was great. If there was a “downside”, it was we didn’t have any time to explore the area.

 

2. Two people in 400 sq/ft can be a challenge

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We had been married for 14 years when we made the leap to full-timing. I thought I knew everything I could possibly need to know about us – nope! The biggest difference between living in an RV and living in a house is if you find you need some “space”, there isn’t any. I had a home office in our house, now my office is in the same room as the kitchen, living room and steering wheel. Steve had a garage to go putter around in, now he doesn’t. We don’t generally get on each others nerves, but it happens. We don’t generally have disagreements, but they happen. The difference is we can’t go to our separate space. Living in the confines of 400 sq/ft has taught me that I need my space more than I thought I did. Don’t get me wrong, I love Steve with all my heart.  I would never want to live this life without him, but sometimes I just need my space.

3. We’ll never get to see it all

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Thanks to my grammar school teachers, I know there are 50 states. If we spent 3 months per state, we could only see 4 a year – that’s 12 1/2 years (assuming we could drive to Hawaii). While we could probably hit the highlights in each state in 3 months, we’d never have time to seek out the out-of-the-way places we both enjoy so much. Oh yea, back to #1, we aren’t on vacation. By the way, I’ve added travel maps to the blog. You can check out where we went by year. I hope to keep it up-to-date from now on.

4. We are 6 wheels away from homeless

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I know this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it isn’t far off the mark. There isn’t much worse than seeing everything you own put on the back of a tow truck. I mean nobody ever towed off our stick and brick when it needed repairs. We’ve been exceedingly fortunate, nearly every time we’ve needed repairs, we’ve been able to stay in Waldo while the work was being done. The only time we couldn’t was when the roof was done. That wasn’t an issue because we were staying at my dad’s house. Every now and then, I get a little panicky when I think about what “could” happen. I know, no sense borrowing trouble. I just can’t help it.

5. We wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything!

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When I compare our stick and brick life to our RV life, I realize I wouldn’t change a thing. We love our life. We have met some of the most wonderful people, in person and online, because of the way we live. We have seen places lots of people only talk about seeing. We visited 15 National Parks in 2018 plus countless state parks. And we are doing it together! I doubt it really gets any better.

 

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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.

 

 

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!