The Devil Is In The Details

Finally, a day off with no chores. No groceries to shop for, no laundry to do. Just a day to go out and have some fun. The weather could have been better, the forecast called for on and off showers and cloudy skies, but that wasn’t going to deter us! After visiting one of our favorite websites, Atlas Obscura, we knew we had to take the 30 minute drive to Sparta, Wisconsin and visit FAST Corporation. FAST stands for Fiberglass Animals, Shapes and Trademarks.

We’ve all seen larger than life advertising or roadside attractions, you know, that 20′ tall strawberry at the fruit stand or the giant cow standing in front of the farm. If you are like me, you’ve probably never given a second thought to where did it come from or who made it? But, chances are, it came from FAST Corp.

When we pulled into the parking lot, I didn’t know where to look first. Acres of fiberglass molds and finished products beckoned me. As we walked around, familiar characters stared back at us under dreary skies…

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Some items where purely decorative, while others were more functional.  It’s easy to picture this hippo water fountain at the zoo, just across from the lion bench where tired parents watch as the kiddos get a drink…

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In my mind, I can hear the squeals of delight as the kiddies come down the water slide…

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As we walked passed the cows…

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The familiar shape Hard Rock Cafe guitars caught our attention…

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FAST Corporation has kept every fiberglass mold they have ever created. After being used, they are taken out back and put in the “graveyard”. Acres and acres of molds await the day they may be called for again. Who knows when someone might need a giant bear…Fast Corporation-2410

Or an elephant…

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How about an ice cream cone…

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What if Chevy needs another boulder?

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Here are some of the other neat molds we saw…

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The mold for the lion bench

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Behind one of the shops, there was a sculpture of 2 boys rough housing, I think this will be used to create the mold. It looked like it was carved out of some type of dense foam…

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There were also finished products, waiting to be shipped…

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If you are ever in Sparta, Wisconsin and find yourself on County Road Q, stop in and visit FAST Corporation! It’s a pretty neat place!

Up next, my first kayak trip on the Black River…

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We are heading to Wisconsin to work for the summer, but needed a few adventures first. There are quite a few places on the Georgia coast that have been on my “must see” list for, literally, years. We stayed at Walkabout Camp and RV, just south of Woodbine, Ga because 1) it is a Passport America park, saving us 50%, and 2) it is centrally located to so many great places.

Jekyll Island has been a destination for more than 3500 years. The Muskogian Tribes hunted and fished there, the Spanish and the English fought over it and the richest men in American played there. In 1886 it was purchased by the Jekyll Island Club.

Munsey’s Magazine called “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world. . . .” For those who represented 1/6 of the world’s wealth at the turn of the century, the Jekyll Island Club became an exclusive retreat. Families with names like Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, and Baker built the elegant Clubhouse and “cottages” in Victorian architectural styles. Read more history here

While the history is incredible, our destination was Driftwood Beach. Since it came so highly recommended by several people, I didn’t do any research before we went. What I pictured and what we found were worlds apart. I had conjured up images of little pieces of sun bleached wood scattered over the beach, brought in by the tide. Isn’t that what driftwood is? What we found can only be called a tree graveyard.

Near the north end of the island is a small parking area and a path leading to the beach. Walking along, I stopped to photograph a dead tree. I’ve always loved the bare bones beauty of skeletal trees. Their up-reaching branches naked for all to see…

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When we reached the beach, I was shocked by what we found…

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Skeletal trees, some standing, some fallen in tangled masses, littered the beach. I later learned this is due to the fact the north end of the island is slowly eroding. The uncharacteristically small waves have enough strength to carry grains of sand, but not enough to carry the mighty oaks and gnarly pines out to sea. What was once the tree line, is now the beach. Since trees can’t live in the salt water, they die, leaving behind twisted sculptures…

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It was low tide when we arrived, but it was easy to see how far up the beach the water would be in a few hours. Several of the stumps were covered in barnacles…

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And hiding in the hollows of many of the logs were critters waiting for the tides to return…

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I was pleasantly surprised by how few people were on the beach, perhaps because tourist season hasn’t really begun yet. Between the lack of people and the otherworldly appearance of the trees, the beach has a lonely, haunted feeling…

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When the returning shrimp trawlers appeared on the horizon, they could have been easily mistaken for winged leviathans coming to reclaim the beach…

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There were a few people scattered along the beach. Some getting their morning exercise…

While others were planning a relaxing afternoon…

Along with the scattered tree, hundreds of washed up cannonball jellyfish lay dead or dying on the beach. I found a great website which allowed me to identify it and let me know what other jellyfish one could expect on Jekyll Island…

Not everything was dead, sign of life could also be seen, like the tiny common spider crab that scared the bejezzas out of me when I almost stepped on it…

And the nesting area for the Wilson’s plovers…

And atop a surviving (for now) oak , a woodpecker found some lunch…

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The incoming tide swallowed the beach while sun baked seaweed waited to be drenched again…

And shorebirds scrambled for a last minute meal…

Across the inlet, the St. Simon’s lighthouse stands sentinel over the tides…

Walking back to the trailhead, I was mesmerized by the patterns of the tangled roots, imagining all sorts of images…

Steve was kind enough to go back to the parking lot and get my lensball before we walked on the southern end of the beach…

The main difference heading south is all the rocks strewn on the beach…

When we ran out of trails, we returned to the Jeep to continue our drive around the island. If we had more time, we might have stopped at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center or taken the tram through the historic district, but it was time to call it a day. Jekyll Island offered me one last photo op as we headed back to Waldo, a raccoon scurried into the marsh as we passed…

We really enjoyed our time on the island and have the picture to prove it…

 

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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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.

The Day Facebook Saved Our Lives

I try pretty hard to keep my posts in order, even if it means getting behind by weeks (sometimes months) where we actually are in real life. But, something happened recently that  I think is too important to wait.

We’ve been meandering our way back to Florida. My last post was about Yellowstone NP and since then, we’ve visited Grand Teton NP, Capitol Reef NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Grand Staircase NM, Carlsbad Cavern NP and finally Guadalupe Mountains NP. This found us once again in Texas. Our plan was to catch up with some friends from our job last summer then head to NOLA to check out the WWII Museum before making our way to Crystal River, FL to visit with Daddy. We were unemployed at the moment, so taking our time was fine.

Just outside of Odessa, TX our plan, and Waldo, came to a screeching halt. We were broken down. Naturally, this happened on a Friday afternoon. With the weekend looming, no one had any interest in getting us on our way. One company Steve called said sure, they’d come look at Waldo, but “Be prepared to pay ALL the money.” Gee thanks, but no thanks.

What do you do when you are broken down in a strange place and no one seems to care? You reach out to whoever you can think of, anyone you think *might* know someone in the area. Last year, when we were working at Wind Point Park, we met Ben Miller, the promoter of Turkey Drag. I was hoping with all of his car club connections he might know someone who could help. I reached out to him via Facebook and then something incredible happened. Ben posted a “looking for recommendations” on our behalf on his page and within minutes, people started leaving suggestions, tagging friends and offering help. Someone sent Ben a screenshot of a contact on their phone. It was Jake from DropTine Auto in Midland, Texas.

Steve called Jake and explained our situation. Despite the fact DropTine is a very busy shop, Jake said we could bring Waldo there. When Steve explained he was a mechanic and could do some of the work himself, Jake said – “Great.”  To make a long story short, not only did Jake allow Steve to do 99% of the work himself, but he let us stay in Waldo in the yard. It turns out the problem was related to what caused us to break down in Alaska, only this time, there wasn’t a “band-aid” fix. The gear which runs the hydraulic pump is located on the mainshaft of the compressor and it was toast! Steve called Caterpillar and they said sure, they could get a new one for $2200 in about 6 weeks. I just cried. “6 weeks, stuck in Midland? $2200 we can’t afford that!” Jake called the manufacturer of the compressor to see if there was a replacement available. The unit had been discontinued. WHAT? But, they offered to rebuild ours for $250 plus shipping.  All we had to do was get it to them in North Carolina.

In the meantime, I had been looking for winter work. I found a seasonal job in Fort Lauderdale selling Christmas trees. Would Waldo be repaired in time for us to get there? We had already been broken down for 15 days, now we had to ship the compressor to NC and hope for the best.

DropTine is a busy shop with several great employees, but Jake allowed Steve to help out in the shop when he wasn’t working on Waldo. That was awesome! It gave Steve something to do and helped make us feel like we weren’t just taking up space in his yard.

The rebuilt compressor showed back up on Monday the 5th…

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with its shiny new gear. Isn’t that sexy?! It took until Tuesday afternoon to get everything back together. When the work was complete and we were ready to hit the road, we asked Jake for our bill. He said we didn’t owe him anything. He took into account the work Steve had done around the shop and called it even. I was floored. He also said if the shop was still busy in the spring, Steve could come back and work for him for a month or so before our next workamping job. It makes my heart happy to know there are still people in this world like him.

Happiness through the windshield…

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We have since arrived at Daddy’s house and are leaving on the 14th to head to Fort Lauderdale. I’ll keep you posted on how selling Christmas trees goes and promise to eventually go back and write about the places we’ve been.

A heartfelt thank you to Ben, his friends and all the guys at DropTine Auto!

(Wild) Life on the Road

After spending 4 1/2 months in Alaska, it was time to return to the lower 48. I spent weeks reviewing our route. We had already driven the Alcan, so I wanted to travel other roads. It was a horrible year for wildfires in British Columbia, so I changed our route several times. BC has a great website I used to make sure the roads I wanted to take were open. Eventually, I settled for returning on the Alcan. It just seemed safest.

We had seen some pretty cool wildlife while we were in Alaska, but we always want to see more. Not long after we crossed into the Yukon, we got our first chance…

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These wild horses were contently munching on the grasses along the highway. I felt pretty lucky to see them, apparently there have been efforts over the years to capture the remaining wild horses. I don’t know how many are left, but it can’t be many.

When we crossed into BC, the first thing we saw was a highway sign warning us of bison in the road near Muncho Lake. Herds of wood bison move pretty quickly and we spotted them long before the lake. At first we saw lone males hanging out by the road…

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Or in the road…

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It’s always a good thing to remember, these are wild animals and to always keep your distance.  Steve did that by taking his pictures out the window…

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A short while later, we came across a herd of wood bison. We stopped and watched as a calf nursed…

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After a while, we had so many pictures of bison, we didn’t pull over to watch the next few herds we saw.

What there weren’t any warning signs for was the herds of mountain goats. Early one morning, as we were driving along, we had to stop because they just wouldn’t get out of the road…

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I took this picture looking through the windshield…

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Mooned by a mountain goat! Finally, they moved off the road. One stopped to look back at us as if to say, “NOW you may go”…

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I liked seeing them on the upper slopes better than in the road…

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We had seen a couple bears along the way, but they were always heading into the woods. By the time I got the camera, they were gone. Until this guy came along…

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We saw more wild animals in 4 days in Canada than we did in 4 1/2 months in Alaska. And that’s the wild side of being on the road!

Up next, the wonders of Yellowstone.

Have you ever had to stop because an animal wouldn’t get off the road?

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

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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.