Friday, August 24, 2012

7 Long Days: The Alaska Edition


We arrived in Fairbanks around midnight and checked into our hotel, exhausted.  On Sunday morning we woke up early (being in a whole different time zone and all) and went to Mass at the 
 little church across the Chena (CHEE-na) river from our hotel.  Stay tuned for more photos and some of the fascinating history of the first Catholic church in the interior of Alaska!

After church we explored this little park,

(I was excited about the fact that we were closer to Tokyo than to Washington, DC.)

and after a yummy lunch at a nearby diner, we visited the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

(One of the more bizarre artifacts in the museum)

(This is Mount McKinley--I think.)

Creamer's Field is a former dairy farm where we saw lots of migratory birds--mostly Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes--and took a little nature hike.

Finally, dinner at The Pump House, right on the Chena River.  Three of the five of us ordered Alaska salmon, and it was delicious.  

(I took this photo at about eight p.m.  Sunset is still hours away.)


Monday morning we drove the three hours to the entrance to Denali National Park.  From there we caught a bus for a six-hour ride to the end of the park road.  Here's a glimpse of some of the amazing sights along the way:

(We saw lots of caribou.)

(Mama Grizzly and her two cubs.  I'm not sure which is the mama and which are the kids.  Obviously teenagers, likely soon to leave the nest.)

(On a break to stretch our legs.  That's our bus driver in front, Kirsty from New Zealand.)

(Our first glimpse of "The Mountain")

(Denali decided to peek his head out for us.)

We arrived at Kantishna Road House, the lodge at the very end of the Denali Park Road, around eight p.m., where we were treated to a delicious dinner.  There's a river called Moose Creek that runs right behind the roadhouse.  Here's what it looked like at 9:40 pm:


On Tuesday we took a guided hike to the McKinley-Bar River.  The day was clear and we had some spectacular views of Mount McKinley.

(Heather, our guide, showing us how this rock was scraped up by a glacier.)

(Yes, those are EXACTLY what they look like.)

(Wild blueberries are a delicious snack for bears, and for humans, too!)

(Autumn has already arrived in Alaska.)

We got back just in time to try our hand at goldpanning.

(Wait, did Curly find something?  Alas, no.  We walked away emptyhanded.)


While Joe and the older two boys went for a bike ride, Moe and I took another guided hike with Heather.  We hiked straight up for about a mile and then along a ridge.  Another clear day, more beautiful views of The Mountain.

(Kantishna, our home away from home)

(Lunch time!)

Upon our return we were introduced to some sled dogs in training.

(This is Emmitt Peters, Junior.  His dad, Emmitt Senior, won the Iditarod race in 1975.)

(The original Kantishna roadhouse)

The boys had some time to do some fly fishing with Dad before dinner.


We bid good-bye to Kantishna and boarded the bus for the long ride out of Denali Park.  It was cloudy and drizzly in the early morning, and bright and sunny by afternoon.  Even though we couldn't see the mountain, this ride was just as exciting as the first:

(The Ptarmigan, Alaska's state bird.)

(Grizzly Number One)

(That's a dall sheep.  We saw lots of those, looking like tiny white dots on the mountains.)

(Grizzly Number Two, Three, and Four)

(Grizzly Number Five.  Don't worry, we were safe inside the bus.)

(Grizzly Six, Seven, and Eight.)


We spent two nights at a place called Chena Hot Springs, about an hour's drive north of Fairbanks.  Here you can soak in a hot spring, swim in their geothermal-heated pool, go horseback riding, hike, and eat the fresh vegetables they grow on their property.  This is the view we had from our little balcony:

After a late breakfast Joe and the boys took a horseback ride while I took a dip in the hot pool.  After that we took a lovely hike.

We explored the grounds of the resort, and admired the gardens, greenhouses, and the beautiful flowers planted everywhere.

(I was excited when I saw this mint.  That night when I ordered a mojito at the bar, I was told they didn't have any of those.  Go figure.)

(The long hours of daylight help the vegetables grow extra-big.  Check out the size of this parsley.)

(And this will be the first time I've ever seen a walrus head hanging on a wall.)


We set our alarms for two a.m. on our very last night in Alaska in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights.  We weren't disappointed!

(Even at 2 am, there is light on the horizon.)

After a few more hours' sleep, we had another late breakfast and took a tour of Chena Hot Springs' ice museum before heading back to Fairbanks.

We took a small detour to check out the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

(We saw this across the road from the pipeline.  Drill, Baby, Drill!!)

Back in Fairbanks we had a few hours to kill, and decided to check out the uber-touristy Pioneer Park; formerly known as "Alaskaland."  Quite possibly the tackiest place in all of Alaska, but teeming with families with kids.  Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.  And it's free.

And finally, the most important place we visited that day:

After Mass, it was dinner at The Cookie Jar (Guy Fieri ate there once), then off to the airport for the long flight home.  We left Fairbanks Saturday night, arrived home on Sunday, and walked around like zombies for the rest of the day.  The adventure is over, but it's good to be home!

 Later I'll tell you more about the churches we attended, and maybe some deep thoughts about what we saw and learned on our vacation; meanwhile, thanks for letting me share some of our memories with you.

And if you're not already bored out of your skull after scrolling through this mega-post, check out Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes.  They are sure to be much quicker and more entertaining than mine.  Have a wonderful weekend!

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