Tuesday, June 30, 2009

6/30/2009 So Long Denali

A travel day for us again. We're stopping in Anchorage for the night on our way to Seward, where we'll be for the next week.

Before I tell you about our day, I like to share some pictures I took at eleven o'clock last night. Yes, that's the sun! Still very much up!


Look how light it is...at 11 p.m.! This is still strange to us even after all the time we've been here.


OK, on with our day. This is one of the first scenes we saw as we pulled out of the RV park this morning. Sheesh, what a way to start the day!


I really need you to feel my pain. I have to spend my days sitting in that cushy leather captains chair in the truck for several hours every travel day and spend my time looking at scenes like this! Don't you feel my pain? Are you saying to yourself, "Oh thank heavens I don't have to do THAT!"


IMG_0129 IMG_0127

In this next picture I want you to take notice of the trees.


These are the evergreens of Alaska. The only kind I've seen so far. They are called Black Spruce trees. I was expecting big evergreens, Blue Spruces, Douglas Firs, all kinds really. Instead, there are these skinny trees with branches no longer than the arm of a seven year old child. What do Alaskans do for Christmas trees? Can you imagine how much a tree for the holidays must cost if they have to be imported? I bet there are a lot of artificial trees here come Christmas time.

We never expected to see a four story igloo!


Ok Here's some more scenery shots. I've been thinking about this and I was meant to take these pictures to help stimulate our economy. Let me explain. When I take a picture like this....


or even this.....


I'm using the battery in my camera which ultimately makes it run down. In order to restore it I need to plug it into the charger which runs by electricity of course. The more electricity we use in the campground, the more they have to pay in their monthly bill. The higher the monthly bills, the more money the electric company makes. The more money the electric company makes the more dividends its stockholders get. The more dividends paid to the stockholders, the more money they have to spend. the more they spend, the healthier our economy is. So you see, you think I'm out here having a good time, seeing all this beautiful country of ours when in reality I'm out here doing my part to stimulate the economy. And you thought this was all fun and games.

When you were a kid did you ever lay on ground in your backyard and look up to the clouds in the sky and play "What Do You See?" As we were going down the road today I happened to look up and this just jumped out at me. Bob saw it right away too. Do you see the dog?


As we were going down the road we came upon about a half dozen cars pulled over on the side of the road in a designated parking area. I had been really into the scenery we were passing and suggested we pull over too because I wanted Bob to take a few minutes and have a chance to really enjoy the sights before us. He pulled over and when I got out I noticed that everyone was in one area and all had cameras and they all seemed pretty excited. I thought maybe a bear or a moose was in the field. I looked but didn't see anything and asked one the guys standing there what was everyone looking at. Here I was looking at the field when I should have been looking beyond. The peak of Mount McKinley was visible. Not the whole mountain, just the peak, but it was still a sight to behold. Look at dead center.



See the mountains with the snow on them? Those are BIG mountains so you can get an idea of just how huge MT. MCKINLEY is. Its the tallest mountain in all of North America at just over 20,000 feet.

One fella was there that was coming from the south and had seen the mountain before the clouds rolled in about 40 minutes prior to stopping here. He got a picture of it and shared it with us. Just incredible. I am really hoping to see it on a clear day before we leave here.

We traveled through Wasilla on our way to Anchorage. No, we didn't see Sarah or any of the other Palins but what a nice town Wasilla is!


We couldn't help but notice all the fireworks stands.


I don't get it. Come 4th of July....it isn't going to be dark enough for fireworks. When do they use them?

We finally made our destination of Black Spruce Fam-Camp in Fort Richardson. We're only here for one night and tomorrow morning we'll pull out and head to Seward. One nice thing about this place... FREE laundry! I scrounged enough for a load just to take advantage of it. We'll be back here in a few weeks when we're here to pick up our friend Dianne at the airport.

Wow, I'm caught up. Being away from the blog for those nearly two weeks,,,,well, I thought it would take me a lot longer to get back to a day to day basis. It's one in the morning, I've got to get some sleep. Until tomorrow.......

Monday, June 29, 2009

6/29/2009 Back to the Park

After Bob took care of some maintenance things this morning we made our way back to the National Park to tour the Visitor Center more thoroughly, watch the movie about the park and take in the Sled Dog Demonstration.

When we arrived we realized we were just in time to make the bus for the Sled Dog Demo so we got in line right away. Because parking is limited in the kennels area it is strongly recommended that one takes the free shuttle from the Visitor Center. Probably 99% do.

Because this is so popular there isn't always enough seating for everyone in the stands. Today was such a day.


Jan, the Ranger was explaining to us how the dogs in the park came to be.

In the early days of the park, skiing, snowshoeing and dog mushing were the only ways to get around the park in the winter. Harry Karstens, the first superintendent of the park and a veteran dog musher, established dog patrols to monitor the park boundaries, discourage poachers and to keep in touch with neighbors in nearby communities.

Today the dogs still help rangers patrol the park. Each winter the Denali dog teams log about 3,000 miles, forging the trails, contacting winter visitors, collecting weather and wildlife data, hauling firewood and supplies to the backcountry. Dog mushing is the mode of transportation of choice because it is silent and non-polluting and fits in with the character of the wilderness of the park. Oh yeah, and you don't have to worry about running out of gas.

These dogs love to run! These dogs LIVE to run! They showed us a demonstration and I was surprised at how the dogs are handled. They are by no means hurting them, let me make that clear now. Here's what it looks like so you can understand what I'm saying.


See in the picture above how the dog's front legs aren't on the ground? They are brought to the sled this way because they are so strong that if they were allowed to walk to the sled on all four the handler wouldn't be able to control them.

These dogs are just chomping at the bit to get going.


And they're off!



In just a short while they race around the course and come to rest in front of the crowd.


Most of these dogs on this team are just a year old.


These dogs are just beautiful and just a picture of health.


I was especially taken with the dog on the left. Aren't these eyes just mesmerizing?


The Sled Dog building is one of the originals built in 1929.


I was going to a run around the grounds as the musher but the dogs just didn't seem to be interested.


It was time to get back on the dreaded school bus and check out the Visitors Center in more depth.

The first thing we did was see the movie, "Denali For All Seasons". While I certainly would not want to be here in the dead of winter when the temps run to fifty below, even at that time of year the park is just beautiful. In spring, with the snow melting off the mountains and rivers running fast, the fields come alive with color of spring wildflowers. The park wildlife numbers increase with the newborn animals in the spring of the year. Summer brings the influx of tourists, hikers, climbers and campers. The park is truly alive. Fall brings the lessening of tourist season crowds and leaves change colors and animals get fat for the winter and once again the snows come and for the most part the park is quiet and the wilderness thrives. And then the cycle starts again. This park is so incredible, it touches your very spirit and soul.

This is one place I could come back to again and again. Put this on YOUR bucket list of places to visit. You won't be sorry.

After the movie we went to the wildlife exhibit downstairs. Here were lifelike animals for an up close and personal look-see.




These aren't your usual stuffed animals. In fact, nothing about them is real. In fact, they are made of plastic. Since this building is not open in the winter time, and therefore not heated, the exhibits had to be made of material that could withstand the extreme cold. Plastic fit the bill.

In September there is going to be a PBS special all about Denali. I think its a six part show. Do yourself a favor and watch it. If Denali isn't on your traveling bucket list now I bet it will be.

We made our way back home for the rest of the day. While watching TV Bob and I felt "something". We looked at each other and both said, "What was that?" We had experienced our first earthquake. Actually, earthquake tremor is probably a better description. The 5th wheel shook a bit, no big deal but definitely noticeable.

Tomorrow we're on the road again. We're heading to Anchorage as a stopover to Seward.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

6/28/2009 The Quinn's Do Denali

In anticipation of the great day we have planned I was up before the alarm went off. It was either that or the pitter patter of raindrops on the roof that roused me from my sleep. No, it couldn't be rain, the weatherman said sunshine today. The weatherman blew it again, it was drizzle I was hearing. Stupid weatherman. In no time at all I was ready to go. Lunches packed, cooler filled with liquid refreshment, crock pot filled with beef and veggies to cook all day, let's get this show on the road.

We were told yesterday that the line would start forming at 8:45 for the 9 a.m. departure of our shuttle bus. We didn't want to take any chances of being late so we gave ourselves 25 minutes to make the 8 mile drive to the park. Mark this one up to another park we didn't have to pay an entrance fee for because of our park passes.


Needless to say, we were the first ones in line since we had given ourselves plenty of time to get there. the weather even started cooperating and the day became just cloudy.

Just minutes after we arrived 8 people, not of this country, got in line behind us. Of course we didn't understand anything they were talking about but it was clear they understood English.... when it benefited them.

We had a bus full and a second bus was even added for our time slot.


Though I'm not positive about this I do believe some that were slated for our bus were transferred to the second one. Here's why. When the group, not of this country, got on the bus right behind Bob and I they each took a window seat. None of them sat together. They all wanted window seats for photo opportunities and they all had very impressive cameras with the largest lenses....oh I wanted one of those lenses bad! So this practice really threw an fly in the ointment for seating. Finally, everyone had a seat and it was time to go.

We were setting off on our 8 hour, 132 mile roundtrip exploration of Denali. Denali. I like saying that word. Denali. Sounds exotic doesn't it?

Our ultimate destination was the Eielson Visitor Center. This Eielson person must really have been impressive because if you remember we just left the Eielson Air Force Base. I don't think they just pick a name out of the phone book and start naming important stuff after that person. Know what I mean? I'm sure when we get there we'll find out who this person is/was.

Our bus driver, Marilyn, was just the nicest person. Such a sweet lady. After going over all the safety precautions of the bus and such, she explained that since she had to keep her eyes on the road that it would be up to us to keep an eye out for wildlife and that we were to yell STOP if we saw anything. In turn, she would stop the bus so that we could get pictures and just observe. Ok, with all these eyes we are sure to see anything that moves. Yep, that was the plan. We weren't going to miss anything. No siree, we've got eyes looking everywhere. Bob and I were helping look out the right side of the bus as was the couple in front of us, the couple in back of us and there were several others we knew were keeping a watchful eye out on our side. Now the left side, or driver's side of the bus, was another matter. The eight WINDOW seats taken by the group not of this country, well nothing was seen out of those windows because the seat occupants were all sound asleep. Every one of them. The group, not of this country, must have been suffering from jet lag or they partied really hard last night. They could not keep their eyes open. In addition, a father and his ten year old daughter were sitting right across the aisle from us and the girl had the window seat. Do you think she was interested in looking for wildlife? No way, she had her I-Phone with her and played games the whole 8 hours we were on the road. So much for that set of eyes. And of course the open fields were on their side! Our side of the road was heavy brush and rock. For the first three hours our wildlife sightings consisted of five, count em' five snow shoe bunnies. No massive moose, no sly foxes, no large antlered caribou or fierce looking wolves. Bunnies! We got freakin' bunnies!

We stopped for a potty break and I got this scenery shot.


The road we are traveling is paved, two lanes (for now, it will later go down to one lane and dirt or in today's case, mud) and 90 miles long. It is the ONLY road in Denali. There is no other in all of the six million acres of this park. Visitors can freely drive the first 15 miles and that's it. A special permit must be obtained in order to take your vehicle beyond the ranger guarded turnaround point.

There are several small tenting campgrounds in the park along this road. You are bussed in with all of your equipment and dropped off. There is one small RV park, no hookups, probably no generators allowed though I don't know that for sure, and once you park, that's it, the vehicle doesn't move again for three days. The idea behind all this is to keep the animals safe and environment a true wilderness. In fact, this is the first place in the world established as a national park to conserve wildlife. In 1917 Congress established two million acres as a National Park and it was first named Mount McKinley National Park.

Someone in the back of the bus on the driver's side yelled STOP! BEARS! You can bet everyone was awake then. We had a mama grizzly bear and her cub. Our wildlife count just jumped up by two more bear.



A little further down the road and we had fox!


It laid there for quite a while then just got up and walked away.


All along the ride, Marilyn, our bus driver, was telling us about the park, the animal's habits, what it was like here in the winter and lots more interesting information. It is not uncommon for the temperature to reach fifty below in the dead of winter.

We stopped at the Toklat Rest Stop for a bit of a longer rest stop. There was a Quonset hut type building which housed a small gift shop, some displays and a ranger to answer questions.


Outside was display of antlers that have been found in the park.


The scenery from this stop.


We were all really getting bummed out and discouraged that we weren't seeing the wildlife we had hoped to see.

Fours hours after we left the Wilderness Access Center we reached the Eielson Visitor Center, 66 miles into the interior of the Denali National Park.



The first we noticed were these antlers outside the center.


These antlers were taken off the animals that died because their antlers somehow got so intertwined during a mating fight that the two moose could not disengage and they died together. Can you imagine the struggle that took place as these two huge animals tried to get away from each other and couldn't? I could feel their frustration!


This is the view from the front of the visitor center. Wouldn't it be nice to have this view outside your office window everyday? The people who work in this visitor center do.


On he way up here we passed this cabin in a field off the roadway.


This cabin is available for artists to use. It doesn't have to be an artist that uses paint as their artistic medium, it can be any kind of material used to make art. The cabin is used for the artist to use his surroundings as inspiration. For payment, the artist must agree to donate a piece of their art to the Eielson Visitors Center. This one particular donation stood out for us. Its a quilt depicting the four seasons in Denali. (Double click to enlarge)




They had a table full of pelts from animals in the park. Bob liked this one.


Some more scenery pictures.


I have to tell you, I was so surprised to see SEAGULLS!


And even more surprised that it chased this eagle! I don't know if it had a nest of eggs or young and was afraid the eagle was going to help itself or not. (Again, double click on picture)


Now here is what most of us came here for. The spot in which to see Mount McKinley. The highest peak in the North America at 20,320 feet. There are few days when the peak is visible. Today was not one of them. Here's what we saw. Where you see all those clouds, that the peak. We've learned that there are about 10 places in which to see this mountain so hopefully we'll be near one of them on a day when its visible. I've seen postcards...it is impressive!


It was time to get back on the bus for the 4 hour trip back. We were all hoping that we see more wildlife on the way back than we saw on the way in,

I'm happy to report that the wildlife was there for our viewing! First up was caribou and they were playing. Here they are running and chasing each other.



We watched this group run from a green field to a snowy area close by. They looked like they were just having the best time chasing each other.



A little later we found another small herd of caribou hanging around this snowy area. Marilyn explained to us why they favor the snow. In a word....flies. The flies like to make a home, if you will, in the nose of a caribou and lay its eggs. Because the nose is moist and warm its the perfect environment. The caribou know that the flies don't like the cold temps in the snow areas so therefore hang out there so that their noses don't become fly incubators. You know, you just never know what you're going to learn when you read Quinn's Awesome Journey.


Further down the road we came upon a wolf that was in the middle of a mid-day snack.




Here is a picture of an active landslide. Its still in the process of falling.



Sorry, have to subject you to yet another scenery shot.


Before I forget we also saw about 20 Dall Sheep. Now I took a picture of them but they looked like little tiny white specks on a brown mountain. We used binoculars to see them and even with those these animals were still small. So I'll add them to our wildlife count but I don't have a picture.

We were just riding along and all of sudden we heard a half dozen people yelling STOP! STOP! Two more grizzlies.





Another caribou showed itself to us.


So today we added quite a few more animals to our wildlife count.

We were very happy to get off that bus. Its been a long time since we've been on a school bus and I can guarantee you it will be a long time before we're on one again! Our very comfortable seats in our truck felt oh so good!

We got home and when we walked in the aroma of the beef stew that had been cooking all day met us at the door. Oh, what a good dinner we had!

What an absolutely great day!

Wildlife Count:

2 Black Bears

4 Moose

2 Marmots

5 Snowshoe Hare

4 Grizzly Bear

22 Caribou

20 Dall Sheep

1 Wolf

1 Red Fox

1 Bald Eagle

1 Golden Eagle

and a Dead Porcupine