Sunday, September 15, 2013

ALASKA - the Land, the People and the Critters!

 WOW! Alaska is a BIG and MIGHTY place! (One fellow told us that ony 1% of Alaska land had ever felt a human footprint.) We visited Anchorage, Fairbanks, Coldfoot, Wiseman, Denali National Park and all spots in between!  It was an outdoor-back country adventure. (We are NOT the outdoorsy campy type, but loved it all the same.) It is truly the last great frontier.

The land is remarkable, beautiful, harsh and unforgiving. Only the strong survive! We trekked over mountains, mud, springs, perma-frost, gravel and a little snow. The temperature has been recorded to below 90 degrees on places in the higher elevation. The lowest we experienced was 38. Fall begins and ends in September. Winter follows close behind. The natives watched the mountain tips carefully, monitoring how far the snow has "come down" from day to day. It moves quickly.  (Even though it was the first of September, I realized I was wearing two shirts, long underwear, three pairs of socks, a stocking hat and a winter jacket.)

We breathed clean mountain air, shivered in cold rain and nearly froze on some occasions.  In September the golden Aspens shouted hallelujah and the hillsides were unbelievably beautiful. Red berries, blue tinted foliage tempted all kinds of animals to feast! The fog enshrouded Mt. McKinley was simply breathtaking! The reflections of the mountains, clouds and landscapes in the clear blue lake water was NGO perfect.

We took snapshots of grizzlies, caribou, moose, eagles, and ground squirrels referred to as "bear burritos." Their home in Denali National Park is well protected from too many visitors, no cars are allowed on the 92 mile road to the BackCountry Lodge without a very hard-to-come-by permit!  A limited number of ex-prison-buses haul the tourists down the gravel road that is lined with surprises. Visitor centers provide necessary bathroom breaks.

Kodiak Bear Pizza was yummy, salmon/potato soup and salmon burgers a delicacy.

This huge bull-moose greeted our bus early one morning, posed and smiled!  This is my favorite picture and moment.  He was magnificent and he seemed to know it! The bears along the way were so focused on eating cranberries they barely noticed our staring at them. The caribou and Dahl sheep lined the mountainsides. It was all surreal!

We rode planes, trains, buses and automobiles during this adventure, sometimes all in the course of a few hours.  We rented a car in Fairbanks and drove the 13 miles to the NORTH POLE! Santa was on a vacation until November but we sat in his chair and shopped in his store.  The reindeer were the only animals we saw that were fenced, but they were doing fine.

 It was in Fairbanks that we learned we'd forgotten to tell the hotel staff to wake us up if the Aurora Borealis appeared during the wee morning hours.  It did!  The entire hotel was evacuated to the back property and were stunned at the other-worldly sight,  as we slept on! (Can you believe it?)

Part of such a trip is meeting interesting people as well.  We learned that young folks from all over the world apply for "resort" jobs online and proceed to spend their summers working in Alaska. Some are so enthralled by the experience they decide to stay, even if it means living in a tent, going to the creek for water every day and somehow withstanding the cold. We met some fascinating tourists, one elderly PA couple told of their work establishing schools for the Masi children in Kenya! We visited with retired airplane executives, school teachers, authors, and photographers from all over the GLOBE. One young couple from New Zealand told their stories as we shared a dining car on the train, complaining that their country was becoming a "nanny state" as we just smiled in sympathy.

The people at Coldfoot and Wiseman were the locals. Coldfoot is a truckstop on the Dalton Highway. (Ice Road Truckers was filmed there.)  We stayed in a very primitive pipeline-worker camp.  The food was very expensive, filling, not good or healthy! The people working and living at Coldfood do their best to provide a little comfort to the drivers that haul all necessary goods up to Prudhoe, the working oil field. After 3 days, the guy that owned the place thanked us for coming, declaring that we had "good vibes." Maybe that meant he liked us because we didn't complain about the accommodations.

It was there we met Windsong!  She never stopped talking. She'd retired from the corporate world a while back, made her way to Alaska and evidently had not seen anyone to talk to since! She had words, STORED UP! We enjoyed that delightful, sweet woman.

Coldfoot was base camp for our nightly trips in search of the aurora borealis.  We left camp at 11 pm, arrived back about 3 am. The night hours were spent outside the little log cabin looking straight UP!  When you're right under the aurora oval, it's always straight up, never NORTH!  The weather changes constantly. It was raining, clear, snowing, clear, raining all in an hour or so. No lights for us, but a momma moose greeted us back at our "hotel" early one morning.

We met Dorothy, a widow woman that lives in a one room log cabin above the Artic Circle, no running water, or heat other than wood.  We met a young man that raises 25 sled dogs. We visited  Wiseman, population 13, where an outdoor expert, his wife, and his sister lead all educational talks and demonstrations for those that DO venture that far north.  We met a couple that run a restaurant on the Yukon, their building was broken into last winter by 3 bears that wrecked the place and stayed the winter.

Yes, most places are boarded up tight about Sept. 15 and revisited again the following June after winter. 

We learned that during the winter months, the Anchorage airport has a DAILY non-stop flight to HAWAII! Smart folks!

Would we return to the Artic Circle?  Probably not.  It's one of those once in a life-time adventures for two very spoiled city slickers like us.  But, WOW! What great memories and pictures forever imprinted on our minds. Too many to list! It is a remarkably beautiful place. The folks of Alaska are truly unique, brave, and kind. Stocking hats OFF to them!