Day 34 and 35…Seward AK

Days 34 (Aug 1) and 35 (Aug 2) were devoted to activities in and around Seward AK.

Saturday was a free day as far as the caravan schedule was concerned. So…we ran down the road a bit and checked out Lowell Creek Falls about a half mile from the campground and also the seaside community another 3 miles down the dirt road. We saw lots of what looked like permanent tents down there and thought we heard banjos so didn’t spend a lot of time…we figured that living in a tent in Alaska was a little hard core. After that we got a few groceries from the Safeway here in town and then had dinner with Bill and Linda…she made steaks and crab stuffed mushrooms and Turtle Brownies for dessert and Neil brought over some rosemary baked tater wedges. Had that and a great dinner was had by all.

Bill and Linda wandered down to the campfire afterwards but Neil had promised Connie a night out at the pub so we headed down to the Yukon Bar…met a nice guy named Chris and chatted with him for awhile. There was a wedding across the street in the park and the groom and some friends wandered in for some booze as there was only beer at the reception…they had a Jaeger bomb and left. Shortly afterward the bridesmaids showed up and had 2 Jaeger bombs each then left…returning in a few minutes with even more wimmen and they had some more bombs. We left the Yukon and went over to the Seward Ale House and met another town drunk…although he really didn’t accost Connie much so we decided not to update the Town Drunk Counter.

Sunday we went over to Mass early then headed over to the Seward Museum for the tour…turns out that the volunteer went fishin or something and it was closed so we headed up to our second activity for the day…a visit to the Exit Glacier about 15 miles north and east of Seward. Exit is an alpine glacier meaning that it just melts and runs downhill via streams/rivers and does not directly touch the ocean. We went on about a 2.5 mile hike with 230 feet of elevation gain up and down to the edge of the glacier…got some nice pics and had a nice walk. After that we came home and Neil grilled some chicken…Linda brought over a Caeser salad and we had rice pudding with dates, raisins, and caramel for dessert.

On to the photos.

A couple of shots of Lowell Creek Falls…notice the nice rainbow in both of these…the sun was in just the right angle to give a nice refraction. The falls is about 35 feet tall and flowing pretty well with glacier water full of what they call stone flour up here…makes the water milky and the dust is as fine as flour you would bake with.

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Stuffed Bald Eagle and Brown Bear at the Seward Visitor Center…this bear is a little bigger than the one that walked 10 feet from Neil the other day but not much.

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A cruise liner tied up at the dock in Seward…about a quarter mile north of the campground.

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The view in back of the RV park…our caravan leader David Baxley’s rig is the one in the center and our house is about 7 or 8 sites down from his just past the red truck.

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The 3,200 peak behind the park…you can just see the right hand side of the peak in the shot above. There’s an annual foot race up and down this mountain…6 miles total and 3,200 feet up and then down…the winner this year a couple months back finished the course in 41 minutes. Our friend Mike found another hiker in the park and they hiked up the peak this morning…the path starts behind the campground and goes over t the left side of the peak than up along the treelike then up the gray path on the right side then back to the left to the peak. You can just see Mike and his friend in the second photo which is a closeup of the tree line section…notice the white sandy section in both photos. In the second one…look down the tree line from the sandy spot and just below the tree line a little to the left of center you’ll see two little white dots…one is Mike’s lime green shirt and the other is his friend’s shirt.

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The Exit Glacier from about a half mile away…about 1/3 the way up through the hike. It leads back a few miles before merging into the Harding Ice Field.

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A closer view of Exit from the next to last viewpoint.

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This is as close as you can get to the glacier itself…about 100 yards away but it’s down in the valley a bit and the ground is unstable. The shadowed portion right of center is about 60 or 80 feet thick.

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Standing in front of the glacier…we were amazed that it wasn’t cold as it usually is when you’re near a glacier. About mid 70s overall today and only 10 degrees or so cooler with a nice breeze (rather than the gale you usually get off the glacier) despite being pretty close to it.

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The outwash plain…this photo is rotated about 90 degrees to the left from looking directly at the toe of the glacier…it’s where the glacier used to be before it retreated over the past 100 years.

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That’s it for today. Tomorrow we’re off early for Palmer AK via Anchorage AK where we’ll stay for 2 nights before moving on to Valdez AK. 


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Day 33…Day Trip to Kenai Fjords National Park

Day 33 (Friday July 31) was devoted to an all day boat trip to view some of the Kenai Fjords National Park. We departed the RV park about 0900 for an 0930 underway time on the Coastal Explorer which is run by the Kenai Fjords Tour Company for the National Park Service.

Our planned trip had two major highlights (other than the dinner at Fox Island on the way back that is). First up was a round down Resurrection Bay which is where Seward AK is located for wildlife viewing. Second was a short trip out into the Gulf of Alaska westward to the next bay over…Aialik Bay then a trip up to the north end of Aialik Bay to view the Aialik Glacier, which is the largest tidewater glacier in the park. The park contains 3 different kinds of glaciers…tidewater which eventually touches the salt water, alpine which does not but just has a melt stream runoff to the ocean, and cirque which are circular and contained entirely in depressions in the mountains. Both Resurrection and Aialik Bays…despite the Bay in the name…are true fjords…which is a Norwegian word for a U-shaped glacier carved valley leading to the sea that is filled with salt water and tidal.

Kenai Fjords NP includes almost 700,000 acres and over half of this is covered by the Harding Ice Field…this is a remnant from the last age and is the largest ice field in North America…covering the mountains to a maximum depth of about 3,000 feet…so it’s got a lot of ice in it.

After our stop at the foot of Aialik Glacier…we retraced our path southwards through the bay and then over to the Chiswell Islands which contain the rookery for the local population of Stellar Sea Lions…we had seen some adults earlier but found the pups at the rookery. After that we headed back for Seward with a stopover at Fox Island near the mouth of Resurrection Bay for a salmon and prime rib dinner before arriving back at the dock in Seward about 1815. 

The weather was beautiful today…high was in the mid 70s, sunny, few clouds and not much wind…although up at the foot of the Aialik Glacier it was quite a bit cooler, probably in the 40s at our viewing location 300 yards or so from the foot of the glacier. The reason for this is that the air up on top of the glacier gets cooled by the ice…then since the glacier slopes downhill the cold air rushes down and turns into a cold air waterfall over the lip of the glacier. Up close the breeze was 20-25 knots and temperature was in the 40s so that portion of the trip was mighty brisk…although as soon as we turned south and headed out into the bay away from the glacier it warmed right back by the time were were a mile or two away. In addition to the beautiful day…we also arranged a very rare calm day in the north Pacific Ocean. Although we were actually in the Gulf of Alaska…it’s connected directly to the Pacific and we had almost no swell and only maybe some 8 or 9 inch chop on the surface…we really couldn’t have asked for a better day on the water…and Connie really, really enjoyed it. Even Neil had a good time…he said that (for a boat trip) it was great albeit having two strikes against it just because it was a boat.

Ok, another blathering already…on to the pictures. Like yesterday’s bear trip post…lots of cool stuff to see in this one. Here are a few shots as we pulled out of the harbor and into Resurrection Bay.

The Seward City RV Park with the house just below the brown house immediately left of center. Another great view of the water here although it would have been better if our rear end was toward the water for views from inside. Sitting outside it is pretty nice.

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The view behind the park.

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And the view looking east from the boat…this is what we see when we look out. Pretty nice, eh?

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First up…right off the bat about 10 minutes out from the dock we spotted a Pacific Humpback Whale although we never got any closer to it than a couple hundred yards it was cool as it was feeding and kept leaping out of the water and slapping the surface with it’s pectoral fins. Humpbacks leap when the feed as the approach their meal at high speed from below…the leaping is a side effect of this eating style. We got several other Humpbacks along the way as well and those photos are mixed in with the first one. Although a lot of the shots look similar there are actually 3 or 4 different individuals in them and we saw about 30 or 40 breaches in total…the difference in background and water color sort of gives that away if you look closely.

This was the first breach of the first one we spotted…about 200 yards out from us.

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The “gotta have it” whale tail shot.

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About to slap the surface which is part of the feeding process…about 100 yards out here.

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Mighty close to that other boat.

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The next seven shots are all of the same individual in a single breaching sequence…about 100 yards out at this point and Neil cropped them all in the same so ya can see the whole sequence. Didn’t quite have it framed perfectly as the pectorals extend out of frame on some of the shots…but the sequence was so nice overall I just had to post it. That’s probably 30 or 40 feet of whale weighing 30 or 40 thousand pounds out of the water about 18 or 20 feet to the top of the chest…they almost always breach and fall over back first.

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Next up after a couple more nice glacier shots were some Stellar Sea Lions…

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These two were having a disagreement over something.

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This big male roared at us…sounded like a lion, hence the name.

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Gave us the stink-eye.

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And went for a swim.

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Another disagreement…3 of them this time it looked like.

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This one sort of looked at us like “what the heck is that?”

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Next up were some Orcas or Killer Whales…these are all female as evidenced by the shorter dorsal fin…males have a much taller fin. Orcas are the fastest swimmers in the sea at over 45 knots maximum…although this group was just lazily transiting somewhere a they did not appear to be feeding or going anywhere very fast. Mixed in with them is another couple of shots of a Humpback that was alongside us about 30 feet or so away…Connie got those as Neil was on the other side shooting Orcas at the time. 

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Connie got the best overall shots of the Orcas…happened to be on the right side of the boat at the right time and click the shutter at the peak of the roll.

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Neil got this one of the closest Orca…maybe 15 feet out.

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And Connie got one with her head out of the water.

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Neil caught this shot just as the far Orca was exhaling…notice the water plume over his head.

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Shortly after we left the Orcas we turned up Aialik Bay for a 15 mile or so transit up to the glacier…had a nice chicken wrap lunch while we were on the way. 

Spotted a sea otter as we got close to the Aialik Glacier itself.

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Then many shots of the glacier itself…although it was in the mid 70s elsewhere at the foot of the glacier it was probably in the mid to low 40s.

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Ok, a little glacier education. The Aialik Glacier is a half mile wide and 13 or 14 miles long and about 300-400 feet thick at the face and about 3,500 or 4,000 feet thick back in the Harding Ice Field where it starts. So…looking at the photo below…above the rocks in the middle about halfway up the white you’ll see a grayish section with a sharply defined line…that’s the top of the glacier and is about 400 or 500 feet back from the base of the face. Everything from the gray line downs the collapsing face with the base actually in the bay. The brown stuff you see is not dirt but a fungus that’s eaten by ice worms that live in and bore through the glacier.  This shot is about a quarter mile out.

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A shot from about 200 yards out after we closed showing the fungus a little better.

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A bergy bit that calved off the face earlier…there are actually 8 different names for icebergs depending on how large they are. This may be a growler instead as Neil can’t remember the exact details. Only the largest ones are called icebergs or floes depending on whether they’re flattish or roundish/peakish.

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Several pano shots of the entire glacier face…about 150-200 yards away at this point.

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Harbor seals that give birth on the floes near the face of the glacier.

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The only calving we saw…the pieces falling down just to left of center broke off while we were watching. Doesn’t look like much but that’s probably a couple thousand cubic feet of ice chunks…the larger pieces you see to the right of the dust cloud are probably recliner sized pieces. The second photo is the landing splash…made quite a whump when it landed. Neil was really disappointed we didn’t get to record a big chunk falling off though.

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After about an hour at the glacier we headed for Seward…from this point it was about 55 miles back through the islands to Fox Island south of Seward in Resurrection Bay where we were to have dinner.

Near the entrance of Aialik Bay we ran across the second fastest creature in the sea…Dall’s Porpoise which look suspiciously like their slightly faster cousins the Orcas. Dall’s Porpoises are found only in the North Pacific. They’re different from most other porpoise as they have very thick bodies and small heads…along with the Orca like coloration. Larger than most other purpose species…they grow to 7.5 feet in length and adults range from 300 to 500 pounds. They had quite a fun time surfing on the bow wake of our tour boat and despite the boat being at about 20 knots they had no trouble catching up to us…and came quite close as you can see the boat in several of the shots.

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From there we headed over to the Chiswell Islands right off the mouth of Aialik Bay. Saw some Puffins on the way and got a few photos…sorry they’re not the best but even with the long bird lens on Neil’s camera it was difficult to get a decent shot of them. 

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On the Chiswell’s we spotted some Murres which are also known as the Emperor Penguin of the North even though they’re not related to penguins other than both being birds.

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We got to the rookery for the Stellar Sea Lions and got a bunch of photos of both the cows and the pups…there was lots of roaring by the cows which is used to locate their offspring. Right after birth…the cow bellows in the pup’s face and this imprints it’s mother’s voice onto each pup for later finding for nursing. The pups are the small dark brown ones you see in these pictures.

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This little guy had quite a difficult time getting up out of the water…took him 5 or 6 tries. He would hop out of the water and start waddling up the rock like seals do and by the time he got halfway up the next wave would come by and wash him off the rock. He finally made it though…I think his mother is the one above and to the right as that’s the direction he was moving when we lost sight of him.

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After the Chiswell Islands we pretty much bade a beeline back to Resurrection Bay and stopped about halfway up it towards Seward at Fox Island. This is where the tour boats stop for dinner…which naturally was salmon and prime rib. Dinner was pretty good considering they were serving 300+ people and after that we headed home with a short stop in Thumb Cove were Neil got a shot of two cirque glaciers. You’ll recall from earlier that those are glaciers that exist entirely in bowls in the mountain side as opposed to alpine glaciers which have a downhill end where the meltwater runs out and tidewater glaciers that touch the salt water. Each of these two glaciers is probably 500 yards across…cirques are generally smaller than the other two types but it depends entirely on the size of the bowl it’s in.

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That was our trip for the day…we were quite tuckered out. Our plans for the weekend were a rest day with some shopping and such and then a trip up to Exit Glacier on Sunday so you can get some photos of the third type…the alpine glacier.


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Day 31 and 32…Homer AK and Transit to Seward AK

Today was Neil’s trip to Katmai National Park for bear watching…but more on that in a bit.

First off…let’s talk about those Kilcher’s from the Alaska The Last Frontier reality show. Now if any of you have watched it…they sort of imply that the extended family lives on a cattle ranch in Kachemak Bay and that they only rarely get to town and have few to no what most people would call “modern conveniences”. Connie was actually concerned last season for the pregnant one since Connie thought that she would have to give birth on the open range with only family members to help. The family owns a boat that…again mostly implied…is used for getting all of whatever they need from civilization up to their remote compound.

Well…I gotta tell ya…like most of Hollywood…it’s completely, absolutely, 100% fake. 

Turns out that the family lives 13 miles (by road) from Homer but is only 7 or 8 miles as the crow flies from the Homer spit…in fact except for careful camera placement on the show you could see the Homer spit from their boat landing beach.

And that whole ‘out in the middle of nowhere with no electricity’ image they project. Again…fake. When we drove out the ridge road yesterday to look around we get 13 miles up the road and sure enough we see Kilcher Road going off to the right toward the bay. Now I grant you…it was a dirt/gravel road…but then many of the highways up here are dirt or gravel so that’s nothing special. And as to that whole ‘off the grid’ lifestyle…well, here’s a picture of their road and what’s that I see going down the road to their little subdivision…why mercy me it appears to be a power line.

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With that in mind we drove a few miles further out on the ridge road and here’s what we found: 4 miles further from town than Kilcher Road there’s a brand new middle school with power lines and everything. Two miles in from Kilcher Road we saw a Chinese takeout and delivery place, and a half mile or so from the road there’s a school bus stop. Now I grant you that maybe…just maybe…in the dead of winter they wouldn’t be able to drive up their road as it is  fairly steep and dirt/gravel…but it’s only a half mile tops down to their compound as the bay keeps it from being much more than that…but it’s a private road and there’s plenty of space at the top to park a car or pickup and just take a snow machine or walk up the hill.

One other photo catchup from the other day…here’s a life size model of the Alaska State Bird we saw the other day at the Passage Glacier visitor center.

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Today when Neil was at the airport at Homer Air for his flight to Katmai National Park…we were talking to the guys in there and they said that they see the Kilchers in town all the time…so much for being isolated.

I think that what they really are is people that want to live alone and be mostly self sufficient…and that like many people who live out of town in Alaska they get gas, diesel, and propane trucked in during the fall to last the winter. What they’re not is the rugged survivalists that they appear to be…Connie was disillusioned by that conclusion.

Ok…I also owe you some eagle pictures…here are few from both last night with somewhat poor light and a few more that Neil got today after returning from his flight to Katmai. This nest is about 250 yards from our site 75 in the RV Park…walk down to the bluff, down the bluff to the beach, and another 100 yards west to the nest tree.

Couple of shots of mom sitting above the nest and then one of dad sitting on a rock over at the edge of the bay.

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Went back today and got a few more shots of mom and baby.

This is the larger of the two eaglets…it’s about 3x the size of the other one so eagles up here must lay eggs with more time between them than is typical down south…Ozzie usually lays her eggs on successive days so they hatch at approximately the same time but looking at these two chicks one is clearly weeks older than the other.

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Momma sitting over the nest. 

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The larger of the two eaglets…the smaller one didn’t come up into view while Neil was down there.

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On to Katmai. Day 31 (Wednesday July 29) Neil was scheduled to take the bear viewing flight…Connie wasn’t interested so Neil along with 4 other folks from the caravan…Joe and Mimi, Terri, and Sandy all met up at Joe and Mimi’s site 13 at 0715 and headed off to the airport. We got outfitted with our hip wader boots…which turned out to be totally necessary…and then loaded up the plane for the 120 or so mile flight southwest across the Cook Inlet to Katmai National Park. After landing on the beach we spent about 3-1/2 hours wandering around the grassland, beach, and river banks hunting bears and other wildlife. Was he successful? I’ll just let these photos speak for themselves…captions as needed.

A few shots from the air on the way down.

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Standing by our landing strip…from left to right our pilot, Terri, Mimi, and Sandy from our group. Joe (Mimi’s other half) and I are up in the grass marking our territory.

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First bear sighting on the ground…we had spotted a half dozen or so on the way in.This is a big boar about 125 yards away out on the tidal flats. Poor fella must be all tuckered out from digging clams. All bears in this post are coastal brown bears…which are exactly the same as grizzly bears except they’re bigger since they generally get more calories. Grizzlies and browns are identified via the longer snout than a black bear and the pronounced hump on the shoulder…extra muscle due to all the digging they do. Sows generally have shorter, dumpier legs than boars and are generally blonder where boars are more brownish.


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We wandered into the grass behind where Neil was standing for the plane photo and walked away from the beach…ran into this sow who we walked up to about 50 yards away from…this is as close as people are allowed to approach the bears. How close the bear approaches people is entirely up to the bear and there aren’t any National Park Service rules on that one.

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A couple of slightly closer views of the sow.

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From there we turned south and went a half mile or so to the edge of the river…where we spotted this sow and a pair of cubs laying around…our guide/pilot thought they were third year cubs based on their size which means they’ll likely leave their mother at the end of this season.

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After we saw the sow/cubs…we looked 90 degrees to the left looking downstream and spotted this large boar about 60 yards or so away…he was taking a nap as ya can see.

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We perched ourselves on a little grass bank and kneeled down to see what might happen…our pilot thought that he would likely get up and look for some fish in the river shortly. Sure enough…after a bit he woke up and watched the river for a few minutes…it’s just out of sight to the right side of this photo.

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Then he decided to get up an take a walk.

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Got himself a nice drink of water, pooped (didn’t get a photo of that unfortunately).

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Then continued his walk.

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He continued walking…notice how he’s getting bigger in each of these series of photos over about 2 minutes.

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He walked pretty close by us…despite the large size of his head…the lens was not zoomed in very much…

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Walked right past us and set up slightly upstream to watch for fish awhile longer.

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Just how close was he? In the photo below…the grassy bank to the left was where we were kneeling and the log right of center is the same log as in the earlier shot of him continuing his walk. From the grassy bank to the water is maybe 12 feet and he wasn’t in the water when he passed us…so easily under 10 feet was the distance to our group.

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We walked around the other side and got another nice shot of him eyeing the river for fish…unsuccessfully as the tide wasn’t in enough for any fish to make it upstream yet…most of the river at this point was 12 inches or so deep…just not enough for fish to get into. 

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He eventually gave up and wandered out of frame to the left away from the river…got some nice bear butt pictures but didn’t bother posting those. We waded across the river and got a few closer shots of the sow and her cubs.

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And verified that bears do…actually poop in the woods.

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After passing the sow/cubs we turned downstream again and wandered almost out to the bay…when we spotted this fox coming down to the river.

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He was thirsty do got himself a drink.

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Then cagily sat on the side of the river carefully not looking at the ducks…obviously hoping they would come close enough for him to have lunch. No such luck however.

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Eventually he gave up on the ducks and decided to wander down towards where we were standing…my guess is that he figured we might have some food for him.

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This was from about 20 feet away…don’t know what kind of fox it is but it obviously hasn’t been eating very well so far this summer…pretty skinny.

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At this point…the pilot said we were running out of runway (beach) as the tide was coming in so we needed to hurry back to the plane. It was a mile or so back…across the river which by this time was getting pretty deep…several of our tour members got pretty wet when the water came over the top of their waders. Once we got across the river…our pilot took off at a pretty quick pace for the plane…by the time we got back he was at least 400 yards in front of Terri and Neil…she had waders full of water and bad hips/knees so walking in the deep soft gravel on the heavily slanted beach was giving her trouble. Neil stayed back with her so she wouldn’t be all by herself…so much for the pilot’s instructions that we needed to stay together in bear country.

Getting back to the plane we quickly loaded up…had a pretty perfunctory pre-flight checkout and took off. Granted…the beach was narrower than it was when we landed but it was still 2 or 3 times the plane’s wingspan and while I’m not a pilot it looked like plenty of room to take off to me. Maybe it was closer to marginal than I thought though…the pilot’s the expert so we’ll defer to him although the one of us who was a pilot didn’t appear overly concerned about the lack of runway. Nonetheless…we got off safely and headed back to Homer. On the way we passed SomethingorOther Crater…which is a dead volcano that now contains a lake. The pilot said that on clear weather days they usually flew down inside the crater but continued on around the center cone…we figured that he didn’t think it was a clear weather day so was passing on it when…we banked steeply to the right and swooped down into the crater for some photos.  

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Another lake in the top of a mountain…along with some pretty deep snow on the cliff overlooking the river. Don’t know how deep but from flying over it I’m guessing the snowpack there is 60 or 80 feet deep at least…and I’m sure the water is quite nippy as well.

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On the way back we had a much nicer flight weatherize…saw some whales in the sound but only briefly so got no photos. We also saw a raft of sea otters or seals…apparently the get together and hook arms into a floating raft to protect themselves from Orcas or killer whales…seems to me that would just do a great job of concentrating the food for the Orcas rather than provide protection…but hey, what do I know.

Day 32 (Thursday July 30) was devoted to our 170 mile transit from Homer back up the highway we were on the other day then heading off on the Seward Highway another 60 miles or so to Seward AK. We got there about 1230 and quickly got setup in site 508. Again…we’re in a very nice park…it’s the Seward City Public Campground right on the water…so we got some nice pictures after we arrived.

We got some very nice scenery today…with lots of great photos as the weather was beautiful all the way up. The only hard part was the initial climb out of Homer…it’s about 1,500 feet from the town up to the top of the bluff and the grade is 4 or 5 miles long. Steep but not too bad as hills in Alaska go…we just downshifted BAT to 4th gear instead of 6th gear, set the engine RPM on 2400 or so and cruised up at 45-47 mph until we got over the top.

Our first stop of the day was at Tern Lake…which is supposedly named for all the Arctic Terns one can see there. We didn’t see any terns at all but did spot a Loon and some waterfowl along with some very calm water so we could get one of those cool mountains reflecting in the lake photos.

Fireweed on the shores of Tern Lake. Fireweed is so named because it’s typically the first plant that regrows in an area that has been burned. It blooms in the summer and there are huge swaths of these beautiful pink flowers pretty much everywhere you go here in Alaska.

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Common Loon.

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Red Throated Grebe (left) and immature Pie Billed Grebe’s (right).

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Beautiful reflections on  the calm Tern Lake.

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Lilly Pad Lake…I wonder where it got it’s name from?

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Couple of panos from spots along the road today.

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This one is looking out across the water in Seward…about 30 yards downhill from our site is the shore with this sight…and equally impressive peaks behind us.

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That’s about it for today…tomorrow we have a boat trip scheduled…Kenai Fjords Wildlife and Glacier Cruise. It’s an all day thing with both dinner and lunch included so hopefully we’ll get some nice pictures of glaciers calving or whales or other cool stuff. We’ll have to dress carefully to account for potential wet, windy, cold, or warm weather depending how lucky we get.


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Caravan Day 30…Homer AK


Got a couple good things to tell ya about today. First up is a couple of photos from the past couple days that Neil finally got off his phone for me…so I can now post them for ya.

You’ll recall I talked the other day about the young lady in the lime green mini skirt, flip-flops and carrying the almost newborn that fell into the water down at the base of Thunderbird falls…I figured I would post a couple photos for ya showing you exactly how young, foolish and dumb people can be.

Here’s a shot from about 205 yards downstream of the falls. Looking just right of center see the flat topped rock jutting out from the right bank…this rock was about 4 feet tall and not climbable so you had to walk around the rock to the left (river side).

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Standing in the water…well, actually perched on the rocks in the water looking past the rock about 6 more feet…Neil’s hiking poles are leaned up against the wall where he got the best shots of the falls. The water is 2-3 inches deep on that little piece of gravel bed.

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Looking directly to the left from the position of the hiking poles in the above shows you this very nice view of the lower portion of Thunderbird Falls…it’s about 15 yards over to the base and the pool is 6 or 8 feet deep I’m guessing, it was too deep to be sure.

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Standing by Neil’s hiking poles looking back to the rock you had to walk around and the second shot showing the remaining stepping stones put into the water to provide the walking area around the rock as the water there is over a foot deep, flowing pretty fast, and the rocks are wet and slimy with algae.

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Having seen that…would any sane person go around on those rocks both in flip-flops and carrying an almost newborn baby? Crazy I’ma tellin’ ya.

On to the shot from last night…as i said we stopped by the Salty Dawg down on the Homer Spit…of which there are more photos coming later from today’s excursions. Nice little place to have a brew and that mighty tasty Duck Fart shot.

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Off to the trolley ride…more later.

OK, today we got up and since we weren’t scheduled for the trolley ride until 1400 decided to hear up the road a bit that’s on the north side of Kachemak Bay to see what we could see. There are a couple of nice glaciers over on the south side of the bay (so they’re on the north side of the mountains on the south side of the bay…which means they’re in the shadow of the mountains most of the time and this helps them stay glaciers…most but not all glaciers are on the north side of the slopes). We were hoping the sun would come out and sure enough it did. We were up on the top of what is known locally as Homer Hill…it’s actually the ridge that parallels the north side of the bay…and ranged from 1,800 to 1,200 feet above the level in the bay…so we got some very nice views.

First stop was the ridge immediately above town…where we were able to get some nice glacier pictures as well as watch planes take off. Neil also got a nice pano of the whole city including the Homer Spit which sticks out into the bay and has all of the fishing dock facilities as well as most of the pubs, restaurants and some very expensive RV parks. 

Glaciers on the south side of the bay.

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The Homer Spit where most of the night life is located as well as the fishing infrastructure.

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A closer view of the spit itself…you can just see a couple of Sandhill Cranes just above the pond in the middle of the spit…lousy photos of them but we’ve now seen this species in both southern FL and here in AK.

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Next up after some lunch was our Homer Trolley tour…the first stop on this was a visit to the Norman Lowell Gallery…he’s a famous Alaska artist and has a large gallery of expensive paintings for view…a few of which you can actually buy. We spotted an original oil painting about 12 by 15 inches and it was priced at $25,000…the largest painting in the gallery was probably 10 feet high and 15 feet wide…who knows now much it would go for but most definitely in the millions. We got a few shots of some of the paintings in the gallery along with some very nice sculptures that were also on display. We very briefly considered getting a print as there were several we liked…but at $750 for an unframed but signed/numbered print it was way too much for something we would just have to put in our storage unit anyway.


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Along the way on our tour we learned about a new sport…combat fishing. Here’s a photo of some of the participants lined up trying to catch salmon…apparently the combat is partly with your fellow anglers who are lined up shoulder to shoulder and possibly partly with the potential bears that have been known to come down to the streams and steal the catch from the anglers.

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After the tour we came home and had the 30 day into the caravan appetizer potluck here in the park. Neil then walked down to the beach and got some pictures of the eagles that are nesting a hundred yards from the RV park…but was too tired to process the photos tonight so I’ll do them in tomorrow’s post instead. Sorry about that…he’s gotta get up early to head off on a bear viewing trip down to Katmai National Park where they’re looking for coastal brown bears looking for salmon. I’ve also got some more news on those Kilcher people from the Last Frontier reality show…turns out they’re not nearly as far out in the sticks as one might think and we got pictures to prove it.


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Caravan Day 29…Transit to Homer AK

Caravan day 29 (Monday July 27) was devoted to the 230 mile transit from Anchorage AK to Homer AK. The transit was down the eastern edge of the Turnagain Arm which is part of the Cook Inlet (hey, I only tell ya what it’s named, look it up in da atlas if it don’t make no sense to ya)…then down the Kenai Peninsula mostly through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to Homer which sits on Kachemak Bay. For those of you keepin’ score at home…this is the same bay that the Kilcher’s on that Alaska reality show The Last Frontier live…although if you watch the show you think they’re out in the middle of nowhere but they’re actually only 13 miles up the bay from Homer so it’s not nearly as far out in the boonies as one might think.

Anyway…it was a beautiful drive today…the best scenery we’ve seen to date and that’s going some as a lot of it has been pretty spectacular. We got hitched up and hit the road shortly after 0700…the weather started out cloudy and overcast but by 1000 had turned into a clear, beautiful day for the remainder of our drive.

Our major scheduled stop was at the Portage Pass glacier unit managed by the National Park Service…there’s a half dozen glaciers, a 600 foot deep lake at the base of the glaciers and a very nice visitor center that shows a great movie just chock full of beautiful Alaska scenery. 

Overlooking the Alaska Railroad and Turnagain Arm.

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The road right down the coast of the arm…a couple of our RV caravan friends pulling out of an overlook.

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A bergy bit floating in Portage Lake near the Portage Pass Glacier…this one is garage sized.

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A couple of magpies on the roof of the visitor center.

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Portage Pass Glacier.

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Closeup of the other glacier at Portage Pass…didn’t get the name of this one.

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Entering the Kenai Peninsula.

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Some rafters on the Kenai River…it has class IV and V rapids on it so is not attempted by beginners.

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Pano shot of the mountains across the other side of the Cook  Inlet…they’r about 50-85 miles away.

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Closeup of Mt. Illiamna and Mt. Redoubt…two of the larger peaks in the above photo.

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Overlooking the bay at Homer…the city is to the left.

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Site 76 at Oceanview RV Park…after staying in probably a dozen parks over the years with ocean and view in their name this is the first one that actually lives up to the billing. The second photo was taken standing in front of BAT looking towards the bay.

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Neil walked down to the tent camping area and took this shot towards the mountains opposite Homer.

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We had leftovers for dinner and then wandered down to the Salty Dawg Tavern here in town…it used to be owned by the parents of the Hillstrand brothers who run the Time Bandit on Deadliest Catch. We had a couple of brews and Neil had a Duck Fart…this is the shot that Captain Phil Harris from Deadliest Catch used to drink by the handful…Kailua, Irish Cream, and Crown Royal. It’s a shot and hence is designed to be consumed in one swallow…the liquors in it are layered so it looks nice in the glass but this means the flavors aren’t mixed except when you drink it. Nice and sweet with a lot of flavor…but one could easily have way too many of them and get into trouble.

Tomorrow we’re off to the trolley tour…hopefully it won’t rain again. After that it’s halfway night for the caravan and we’re having an appetizer dinner here in the park.


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Caravan Days 26, 27 and 28…Anchorage

Days 26 (Friday July 24), 27 (Saturday the 25th) and 28 (Sunday the 26th) were devoted to activities in and around Anchorage.

Friday we took in BAT to get an oil, oil filter and fuel filter change. In addition we headed over to the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to the commissary and package store for some supplies…we were bummed because for the second base in a row we were “randomly) selected for a vehicle search by the guys with guns and dogs. I’m thinking they must have a conspiracy against gold pickup trucks since it happened twice in a row. In the evening after all our chores were done we went over to the Alaska Wild Berry Gift Shop to spend money…then across the street for dinner at the Alaskan Sourdough Mining Company…the food at this one wasn’t so hot though. After dinner we went next door to see the Dusty Sourdough show. Dusty is a Glen Campbell wannabe who sings songs and tells stories…we had been told ahead of time that the show was terrible but we actually found it pretty decent. Dusty is a nice guy that sings mostly 50s music but did a pretty credible job of entertaining us for an hour or so.

Saturday we had a couple more chores…laundry mostly. Once all of that was done we headed out about 0945 for a trip 20something miles back up the road towards Denali to visit the Thunderbird Falls which are a nice 200 foot tall double falls in a canyon about a mile off of the highway. One thing we did notice in our travels around Anchorage is that there are an awful lot of freeway exits with just one or two places to go once you get off. The very small state park containing Thunderbird Falls was one such area…the exit went to the falls parking lot and only to the falls parking lot. After the hike up to the falls and our picture taking…Neil hiked down to the base of the falls as well but Connie wasn’t feeling great so she passed on the hike down into the gorge. In addition to some more photos of the falls…he saw a half dozen or so 20something braindead almost teenagers doing really dumb stuff. The rocks were wet and slippery and you had to sort of walk on some rocks in the stream to get to prime waterfall viewing and picture taking position…and while the rocks were perfectly navigable in hiking boots and with hiking poles as Neil had they were not so great to get out on when you were in a lime green mini skirt, flip-flops, and with a 6 week or so old newborn strapped in a carrier to your chest. He saw one young lady so dressed…warned her that where she was going was not the best place to go with her footwear choices…and was promptly ignored. He saw her a few minutes later with her lime green mini skirt pretty well soaked with the cold glacier water as she had obviously slipped on the rocks. The baby looked fine though…so the only apparent harm was to her pride. We were amazed at the number of toddlers, babies, and pregnant women we saw on this 2.5 mile round trip hike…it was pretty steep with a lot of ups and downs and not where you would typically expect to see those kinds of hikers.

After the hike we stopped by the Native Alaskan Heritage Center for an hour or so and took in some of the native exhibits. Came home after that, headed over to Mass and then grilled a pepper steak that we split with Bill and Linda along with some ‘shrooms and onions, cheesy taters, and some Turtle Walnut Brownies that Linda made.

Sunday we were scheduled for a trolley tour of downtown Anchorage…and in keeping with our trolley tour record from Dublin and Belfast last summer it poured rain most of the tour. Despite that we continued on the route and actually learned a few things…most noticeably about the Anchorage earthquake back in 1964. Known as the Good Friday Earthquake…it struck at 1756 local time on Good Friday which was actually a good thing as downtown was mostly empty due to the holiday. The quake went on for over 4 minutes and registered 9.2 on the Richter scale. Parts of Anchorage and Valdez dropped 38 feet. The resulting tsunami resulted in a wave 220 feet high in nearby Shoup Bay AK as noted by debris left behind by the wave after it receded. Despite the large magnitude…only about 140 people were killed but damage was about $311 million or $2.28 billion in current dollars.

We did get a few nice photos.

At the berry place they have a 20 foot tall chocolate waterfall.

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And a medium sized…but not adult yet… polar bear that Neil and Connie posed in front of for a picture by our friend Nick on the trip.

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On our hike out to the waterfall we spotted some nice berries near the path.

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A shot of Thunderbird Falls from the viewing platform at the top of the gorge…the lowest portion of the falls isn’t visible from here.

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Neil hiked down to the bottom of the gorge to get a shot of the lower portion…had to walk on some slippery rocks to the pool at the base but was rewarded with some nice shots.

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On the way back to Anchorage…we spotted an exit marked Mirror Lake so got off the highway to take a look…nice view, huh?

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At the Alaskan Native Cultural Heritage center we spotted this female mallard duck…but by that time we were a bit tired and it was raining on and off so we didn’t get many other photos.

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Sunday evening we had a potluck here at the park with the other caravan members…as with all potlucks there was plenty of food and we all went home happy. Tomorrow we’re off to Homer AK, about 220 miles south and we have plenty of cool stuff to see on the way there.


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Days 24 and 25…Transit to Anchorage

Days 24 and 25 (Wednesday and Thursday July 22/23) were pretty much devoted to transiting from Fairbanks down to Alaska with a stop overnight at Willow AK right near Talkeetna.

Wednesday morning the weather was pretty clear albeit a bit cold for us as it was in the 40s. We knew that the clouds around Denali would pick up later in the day so planned our first couple of stops for views of the mountain before the visibility went to heck. Good thing we did. We headed south along AK-3 towards Willow and stopped at a couple of places where the mountain was visible and got some nice shots. Our plans included stops at the marked North and South Denali overlooks…but the weather was turning bad at the North one and completely bad by the south one so our best shots were from about 45 miles away along AK-3 near Cantwell AK and the northern viewpoint.

After arriving at the park at the end of our 147 mile drive we got setup and unhitched…then drove into the little town of Talkeetna to see the sights. Talkeetna…for those of you who’ve watched Railroad Alaska…is the little town that the whistle stop train stops at after it picks up all of the off-gridders south of the town…for them Talkeetna is the big city where they can get parts and other store bought items…for Connie and Neil it’s a small quaint little town with a very nice bar in it and a couple of tourist attractions.

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Our first view of Denali today…about 60 miles away at this point and still have a few clouds in front of it…we hoped they would blow by in a little while as we got further south.

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Couple of shots of the Talkeetna Mountains which are on the other side of AK-3 from the Alaskan Range which contains Denali. AK-3 runs roughly northeast to southwest and splits the plain between the two ranges.

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A closer view from near Cantwell AK…about 35 miles away at this point.

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What we think is the best shot of the day of Denali…maybe 33 or so mile away and about as close as we got. I am pretty sure this one was taken at the northern viewpoint…you can see the clouds starting to build around the peak at this point in the day. The southern summit is the higher of the two and the most common climbing route is from base camp which is located behind the saddle in the loser mountain right at about center frame. From there the route extends upward and southward until just about directly below the higher southern summit then up it mostly directly away from the camera position with the final approach to the summit being up and to the right on the ridge just to the left of the summit. Total distance from base camp to the summit is about 14 miles and the climb typically takes about 3 weeks with time to get acclimated to the altitude.

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Denali…unlike most of the other tallest peaks in the world…is in the arctic instead of being pretty close to the equator…hence it’s weather-wise even harder to climb than Everest. Temperatures at the summit in summer average -40F…which is about the same as the temperature at Everest’s summit in the middle of winter…and the winds frequently blow to 100 knots as well. Climbers have been literally blown off the mountain by the wind. The rangers talked about whether it was the hardest mountain to climb due to the weather and said that a good training run for it would be to climb Mt. Ranier in Washington state in the middle of winter and you would have a decent warm up for Denali in the summer.

The climbing season lasts just 2 months June and July…after that the snow bridges over the crevasses in the glaciers get too soft to be safely crossed…with about 1500 climbers attempting the ascent annually; only about half of them succeed. Making it a bit easier than Everest no oxygen is necessary…but making it a bit harder than Everest is the fact that Denali is a clean climbing mountain…everything packed in must be packed out including human waste which gets put in cans carried by the climbers and flown out at the end of the season. With about 750 climbers reaching the summit in 60 days and with only probably a third of the total season having good enough weather for a summit attempt…that’s 30 or 40 climbers reaching the summit on every decent weather day…more like rush hour than mountain climbing I’m guessing.

This is the view at approximately eye magnification from the northern viewpoint…a mighty darn impressive mountain I’m tellin’ ya.

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We didn’t take many photos in Talkeetna…but as seen on TV here’s the Alaska Railroad locomotive.

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 Day 25 (Thursday July 23) we traveled from Willow AK to Anchorage AK…about 100 miles total. It was a pretty uneventful day…nice roads and good weather and we arrived at Golden Nugget RV shortly after 1200 and got parked in site 162. It was a bit tight getting in next to Bill and Linda’s rig…Bill and Neil were working on jacking the truck back and forth to get the rig turned into the site without hitting either the tree or the big rock when Connie (being alert to the big picture) offered us a much simpler solution. They were just trying to solve the problem while she saw the really easy solution which was to make a turn onto the next row and cut through a site across from ours. That was a much easier turn into the across the street site and allowed us to miss the tree and rock easily.

On the way we stopped by something called the Iditarod Trail Museum…apparently it commemorates some sort of dog race. Doesn’t sound nearly as interesting as say a bear race to me…but ya gotta wonder about those people. We did get a few shots and watched the movie…but mostly it was about dogs and dog sleds…go figure.

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Here’s a status of the guy that invented the race.

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After parking we headed out to the local greenhouse/botanical garden and Connie got some pictures.

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Neil thought this was a cool cactus.

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Once that was done…we came home. Bill and Neil went out hunting keys with no success then we had another wonderful dinner. Linda grilled some salmon for the three of them and some halibut for Neil since he doesn’t prefer salmon. Neil made a curry rice concoction to go along with it.

Tomorrow will be chores day for us…we need to get BAT’s oil changed and get some groceries and beer. The only scheduled caravan activity for the day is a trip in the late afternoon to the local chocolate factory (gee, I wonder if they’ll give free samples) then dinner and a show. 


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