Paul's usually the one who writes our "where in the world" posts (here's his category link) but after a few folks specifically came up to us at SQLConnections and SQLPass and told us how much they enjoyed our shots, I thought I'd put together a summary post with a few of my favorites and a few tips I've learned a lot the way.
(NOTE: this is now part 1 of I don't know how many… but, I do hope to get the other parts done this weekend! Sorry, we had WAYYY too much fun on these trips!)
First, Paul and I took an amazing trip in August/September where we first went to Alaska and then we flew over to Anadyr, Russia to board the Spirit of Enderby (Professor Khromov) for a 14 day expedition in the Russian Far East and up into the Siberian Arctic and Wrangel Island. Our entire trip was absolutely perfect. We started in Alaska for 10 days with the girls (8 and 10 – at the time). We rented a nice big car and the four of us set out for a bunch of driving. We stayed in Anchorage our first night and we chose the Captain Cook hotel (which we'd all recommend!). It was only one night and it was solely because our first day of driving was going to be long. And, we didn't want to start the drive late in the day. So, we had a nice dinner and went to bed relatively early so that we could venture out the next day and drive up to Denali National Park. We had been told that the drive can be incredibly long – depending on traffic – and we were pleasantly surprised when the drive wasn't too bad. We stopped in Talkeetna for a late lunch and if we had more time (and if it hadn't been raining), I would recommend a scenic flight from Talkeetna. If you're planning a trip, you might even want to spend one night in Talkeetna. There are some trapper cabins there and quite a few little shops and restaurants. There's also a train that goes in/out from there so you might decide to take the train up to Denali from here?
We arrived up at Denali National Park around 5pm after a leisurely day of driving from Anchorage. One of the highlights was the moose that walked out onto the road right in front of us as we were leaving the grocery store in Anchorage. Wow, they are BIG!
But, at this pace I'll be writing about every hour of the entire trip… so, I'm going to cut to a few of the highlights and a few of the things that we'd recommend the most.
We loved Denali National Park but your options to access it are very limited. You can drive all the way in to the entrance at 15 miles in and I'd recommend that for sure. There's even a parking area by the entrance and you can wander around the river area that's there. If the lot is full they'll let you park in the lot that's just beyond the entrance area so if it's full, drive over to the guard and ask to park there. If it's not full then you're good! There are some bathrooms there as well and the river doesn't run too deep so you can wander around the river area and explore! If you want to explore any further then you have to book a tour or use the park buses. There are some special options for professional photographers and there are also 4 "free days" in September that you can sign up for (I think it's by lottery) but outside of that – you're taking a bus. We did the epic 96 mile drive into Kantishna on a bus that was not all that much better than a typical school bus and it did not have a bathroom onboard. There were frequent [enough] stops but it's definitely not the most exciting drive. We stopped for a lot of animals and because it was overcast and rainy – many animals came out. That was the best part of it. We would not have seen any of this if it hadn't been for the weather so we really can't complain. But, the bus picked us up at 6am and dropped us off just after 7pm. It was a VERY long day. Probably my favorite thing to see – wolves:
This first picture is of two juveniles (probably Spring 2010 pups) playing with two adolescents (probably Spring 2009 pups). These are pups from the pack where the second shot shows the Alpha female. Apparently, only the Alpha male/female breed within a pack and the park collar's the alpha pair (you can see the collar in the pic.. however, I did have to laugh when a couple of people on the bus said – wow, look there's a dog in the park, see, it has a collar… er, they weren't listening to the driver at all!!). Anyway, these were wonderful to see. The driver also mentioned that he doesn't see wolves every day – probably only 10-12 times a season. Cool!
And here's Momma:
And, I can't forget the Dall Sheep. Here's one of my favorite shots:
Our trip in Denali National Park was fantastic and I'd highly recommend the Kantishna tour (Denali Backcountry Adventure: http://www.denalilodges.com/denali_backcountry_adventure.html). Ideally, you should even try to stay overnight for a day or two in Kantishna but it all depends on how much time you have. You can also bus in and flight out. There are lots of possible options and you should really do your homework if you want to create some of these combinations as many have limits on luggage, etc. But, if you plan it right and have to the time to leave stuff with another hotel then you might be in good shape to do this. Staying in Kantishna would be especially good for those of you who want to hike/wander in DNP. But, weather is hit/miss and the bugs can be horrible during certain times of year. We got lucky as it wasn't a bad season (in general) and we were relatively late getting there as we didn't get to DNP until mid-August.
The day prior we also took an amazing trip via helicopter out to a glacier and we landed and wandered about for 20 mins or so. It was incredible! I'd HIGHLY recommend ERA Helicopter Tours and specifically their Denali Glacier Landing Expedition: http://www.flightseeingtours.com/content/e3/e15/e20/. One of my favorite shots is of Paul and our pilot in the distance with a large ice stream between us (the helicopter is even futher behind them off to the back far left). The colors were stunning and the flow was fast and powerful (and I suspect – VERY cold).
We also went to a sled dog display put on by the DNP Rangers (here's their link). We went with our good friend Don Kiely who lives up in Fairbanks and drives down to the DNP area to paddle the Nenana River. He also runs the Second Chance League (a sled-dog rescue program) in Fairbanks. I know things are tight for everyone right now but if you're a sucker for animals (I am!) and you have a few extra dollars this holiday – consider a donation to help feed and/or care for some of these very neglected sled dogs (it's a pretty harsh sport and dogs that don't perform can lead a miserable life). You can read more about the program here: http://members.petfinder.org/~AK17/index.php.
We stayed down at Denali Cabins (about 5 miles from the main entrance) and there are a bunch of hotels closer up to the entrance of DNP. Most of the hotels are in Glitter Gulch (if you look) and one that we thought had a good restaurant/bar/view was the Grande Denali Lodge. We ate at the Alpenglow restaurant a couple of times because we really liked the view. However, they did do some major landscaping to a beautiful mountain to get their view and as a few locals say it's a bit of an abomination of the view coming around the river. So… you can make the call. Now that it's there though – we took advantage of the view!
We only had 2 full days in DNP and we made the most of them by booking EVERYTHING in advance. Depending on the time of the year – you might want to do the same as some of these tours can fill up.
Then, we drove down from DNP to Seward. This was the longest drive of the trip and it took us a full day to do it! We did stop for lunch and we stopped many times for photos. So, if you give yourself about 10 hours then you can do it pretty leisurely. I think the total mileage is about 360 miles (with lots of hills/mountains, etc.) and after 2 days of rain on/off and not a single viewing of Denali (Mt McKinley) we thought our chances of seeing her were over. However, on the drive down to Seward, the sun came out and so did Denali. That's part of what took us so long. We probably stopped at 10 different viewing areas to see Denali. It was great. What a BEAUTIFUL mountain. Here's a picture of the monkey's standing in front of Denali.
We didn't have every moment planned in Seward but I was dying to setup a Kenai Fjords Tour. Paul was hesitant because he and the girls can get seasick. To be honest, I get seasick as well (almost always on the first day but then I get much better but the difference is that I don't care and will go on the water almost no matter what… I LOVE being on or in or near the water!!!). So, when the weather cleared and the seas looked like they were going to be calm, I was excited. Still, we decided to wait to book our tickets until morning. And, sure enough, at 8am I called straight away. If I had waited any longer we might not have gotten on the tour and in the height of summer I bet we wouldn't have. But, if you have any question of getting seasick then you might want to wait and see. Apparently the weather can be anywhere from "horrible and nasty" to "sunny and gorgeous" and anything in between. We got lucky and got "sunny and gorgeous" but it was cold! And, these Kenai Fjords Tour boats can go FAST! Paul used his GPS to clock our boat at 31mph just outside of the no wake zone. Wow!
We HIGHLY recommend this tour company: http://www.kenaifjords.com/ and our captain/guide was absolutely fantastic. I'm embarassed that I don't remember his name. He was alone in the bridge with the door open when I wandered in and he was only happy to chat. Paul joined me and we learned a bit about his cat. What an impressive boat: http://www.allamericanmarine.com/cats/P120_OrcaVoyager.html. We did the 11:30 am departure for the 6.5 hour tour: http://www.kenaifjords.com/kenai-nationalpark.html#1130am. As for a favorite from this trip – wow, that's hard! We saw Orca, eagles, sea otters, mountain goats, puffins (horned and tufted), all sorts of other sea/marine birds including kittiwakes and comorants) and a lot more! We saw the landlocked Bear Glacier (and the lake in front of it) and we went within a quarter mile of the Aialik Glacier (you can't get closer because of the potential for glacier calving). Here's a list of glaciers in Alaska: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_glaciers_in_the_United_States#Glaciers_of_Alaska.
Here's a picture of the Aialik Glacier:
And, another one of Aialik Glacier up close!
Finally, here's one of the land-locked Bear Glacier from afar. The trees are blocking the lake that's in front of the glacier:
As for animals, we saw lots. The Orca's are one of my favorites and I'm really looking forward to more whale watching with the family now that we've all figured out how to do it without getting sick (wrist-bands and dramamine seem to work wonders for everyone!).
And, we fell in love with Ray's Waterfront restaurant for dinner: http://rayswaterfrontak.com/ and the Marina Restaurant (for breakfast!). Both of which were recommended by our friend Pat Wright. Thanks Pat!!
Our other full day in Seward we visited the Seward Sealife Center (definitely recommended!) and Exit Glacier (also HIGHLY recommended). One of the cool things that they do at the center is a lot of rehabilitation and minotoring of the local sealife. They even have a live monitor at Chiswell Island. You can see the sea lions there LIVE: http://www.alaskasealife.org/New/research/index.php?page=NewChiswell.php. Their site is a bit hard to navigate (IMO) but there's TONS of information there. Definitely worth a read and possibly a donation (again, if you're a sucker for animals – which I am!!).
My favorite picture from the Exit Glacier hike is one where an idiot went way up next to the ice. The reason I like the picture is for perspective. Check out how small this guy looks (bottom left). Originally we thought it might be someone who didn't speak English but alas, no, it was an idiot who claimed he didn't see the MANY signs posted that said do not cross. And, if it had been an actual Ranger who had caught him (instead of a VERY nice volunteer) he could have been fined as much as 5K for going where he did…
OK, so, at this point we're 7 days in to our holiday and we're loving every minute of it. The next part of the trip is where we drove from Seward to Homer and stayed on the Homer Spit. This is probably the highlight of the trip for me as we went to view bears at Katmai National Park (yes, we were touring SQL Server code-names on this trip!). Since this post has already turned out to be WAYYYY longer than I had hoped, I'm going to stop here and leave the bears for tomorrow. My plan – to get all of my "where in the world" posts done this weekend!
I'm wishing you all well over this holiday weekend and I hope you're able to stay awake long enough to read this (turkey coma's are hard to overcome – I know!!!).
Thanks for reading,
PS – If you want any additional information about Alaska and/or the places we stayed, feel free to email me!