Glacier National Park

After being gone for 72 days we were looking forward to our return to the United States’ lower 48. We anticipated great cell service, lower gas prices and fabulous grocery stores. Well, that wasn’t exactly the case.

We came across the Canada – US border in a remote area of northern Montana, heading towards the KOA in St. Mary, Montana. We discovered that there is absolutely no cell service all the way down to, and including, St. Mary. Bummer!

While checking into the KOA I asked where I might find some fresh fruit and vegetables. US customs does not allow most fruits and vegetables to come in from Canada so we did not have any. The lady at the KOA office laughed and said the closest grocery store worth visiting was 45 minutes to an hour away. There is a small market in town but she could not recommend it. The thought of driving another couple of hours just for groceries was not appealing so we decided to check out the local market. OMG! I should have taken a photo. It was the saddest store I’ve ever gone in. The fruit and vegetables looked old and near the point of being inedible.  So, we decided to make the drive to Browning, MT. Since we were going to be in St. Mary for 6 nights I figured we had better stock up.

The drive to Browning was interesting. It is along narrow curvy country roads with wild cattle and wild dogs roaming around. We never knew what would be around the next corner. It was getting late and fog was rolling in so I wanted to make our visit in Browning as short as necessary. Driving in fog with cattle roaming the road did not seem appealing to me at all.

The town of Browning has the saddest looking IGA grocery store I’ve ever seen. Fortunately, there is a second grocery store, attached to a casino and gas station, which is run by Native Americans, that is fully stocked and awesome. We stocked up on groceries and then looked for a place to grab a quick bite to eat. We found a drive-thru burger joint that turned out to be pretty good. Next, we decided to see if the liquor store had any good bourbon for Old Fashioned drinks. LOL. I should have taken a photo of the liquor store. It was scary looking. Charlie went in and asked for a basic bourbon, like Woodford Reserve or Knobs Creek. The sales clerk looked at him as if he had come from a different planet. She said we have Jack Daniels. That’s it. Oh well. After dodging wild dogs running across the road we left the town of Browning and headed back to St. Mary.

A cute sign in Browning I thought I’d share with you.

We got up early the next day and headed into Glacier National Park. We drove along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, taking in the beautiful vista views. The road is narrow and windy, but fun to drive.

The view along the Going-to-the-Sun road, between St. Mary and the Logan Visitor Center
You can see the Going-to-the-Sun road. It is the thin brown line in the distance
The area of St. Mary Falls, where remnants of a past fire are still seen

We stopped at the Logan Visitor Center and hiked up to Hidden Lake. Our walk was timed perfectly, as right after I finished taking some photos some low clouds rolled in and covered the area.

The area of Hidden Lake Overlook trail
Hidden Lake Overlook
Hidden Lake Overlook Trail

After our hike we continued driving west, along the going-to-the-sun road. We stopped along the way to take in views of the river with its crystal clear water. 

We stopped at Avalanche Creek and took a hike along ‘The Trail of the Cedars’, and then continued hiking up to Avalanche Lake. Along this trail you pass a very beautiful gorge.

It was not an opportune time of the day to get a good photo of Avalanche Lake, but we did enjoy our hike and the scenery.

Avalanche Lake

Next we decided to take a drive up to Polebridge. This is a tiny village 25 miles north of the West Glacier park entrance. Half of the drive is on a rough dirt road, but the views were nice.

I had read that you should not miss out on visiting the Polebridge Mercantile, as their Huckleberry Bear Claws are delicious. Well, they were right. The claws were fabulous, as were the pecan rolls and cinnamon rolls.

In addition to the Mercantile building there is a tiny saloon and a stage where a band plays nearly every night during the summer. It was definitely worth the drive.

If you go to Polebridge, make sure you have a full tank of gas. This is the ‘gas station’ in Polebridge. Maximum allowed gas fill is 3 gallons at $6.50 per gallon!

We were going to drive on towards Bowman Lake but the mercantile sales clerk advised that the road was not maintained by anybody and she wasn’t aware of its current condition. It was getting late and we needed to drive 2 to 2.5 hrs to get back to St. Mary so we decided to forgo a visit to the lake.

For the next three days we had rain, fog and low clouds so we hunkered down and relaxed. We rarely do that, but felt we needed to as we had been going non-stop for what seemed like forever. Although we did not have any cell service in St. Mary, MT we found the WiFi at the KOA to be very fast. Having that gave us the ability to do stuff on-line and stream some movies. We enjoyed our downtime.

On our final day in St. Mary the clouds finally broke so we explored the Many Glacier area of the park. We hiked 8 miles around the lakes and took boat rides across Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes. We enjoyed lunch at the Many Glacier Lodge. It was good to be back outside, enjoying nature.

During our walk we came across this mountain goat skull. Just thought I’d share it with you. 🙂

We left St. Mary the next day and drove over to the West Glacier KOA for a night. Our original plan was to spend a few days there while exploring the western side of Glacier National Park. However, we felt like we had seen most of it during our drive on our first day and we wanted more time in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

The West Glacier KOA Resort is very nice. It is the nicest, outside of a Motorcoach Class-A Resort, we’ve come across. I highly recommend it if you visit Glacier. They have some great Huckleberry Ice Cream too!

After a great week in Glacier we headed over to Coeur d’Alene to visit with some friends that we hadn’t seen for many years. While in Coeur d’Alene we stayed at the Blackwell Island RV Park. It is a great park, and within walking distance to the Cedars Restaurant, which was excellent.

The beautiful Montana countryside

Our next stop is in southern Utah. More on that later.

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Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

OMG!! Talk about Eye Candy. This place is just gorgeous!

We had great weather for our drive down the Icefields Parkway, from Jasper to Lake Louise. On the way we had to stop for some female big horn sheep. It looks like they were trying to hitch hike a ride with the RV in front of us.

We also spotted some mountain goat. I was surprised at how close to the road these guys were. They are usually high up on the mountain side.

We stopped near the Parker Ridge area and took a hike along the river. I was thrilled to find this beautiful gorge. The water color of many rivers and lakes along the parkway is amazing, and the water is so clear.

Our RV is way in the distance, with Mo (our Jeep)

We arrived at the Lake Louise campground just before some rain moved in. We set up the RV and headed to the visitor center. Lake Louise is a small village. There is not much in the way of restaurants or grocery stores. You have to drive 45 minutes to Banff if your heart is set on shopping and being with the crowds. That, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that Lake Louise is quiet and peaceful. On the contrary. We were woken up countless times in the middle of the night to train horns! What is it with campgrounds almost always being next to train tracks? At least that is what it seems like.

On a couple of occasions we made the trek to Banff, but we took the scenic route, along Bow Valley Parkway. Highlights of the parkway include Morant’s Curve, which would have been really nice if there was an old fashioned passenger train in the picture.

Castle Mountain

And Johnston Canyon. I did not care much for Johnston Canyon, after having been to Maligne Canyon up by Jasper. I found Johnston Canyon to be overcrowded, with very narrow walkways. It is nice, but not nearly as scenic as Maligne. We did enjoy getting out and hiking though. After our hike we stopped by the bistro at the canyon and enjoyed a nice lunch sitting on the patio. Here are a few pictures from Johnston Canyon.

While in Banff we enjoyed walking around the town. There are a ton of great shops and restaurants to explore. We were happy to have stumbled upon the restaurant Saltlik, as their calamari and salmon were excellent.

We explored Yoho National Park, which is just 30 minutes west of Lake Louise. We took a walk around Emerald Lake, just in awe of its beauty.

We also enjoyed Takakkaw Falls, the 2nd tallest waterfall in Canada at 1,250 ft.

We spent a bit of time at Lake Louise; the lake, not the village :-). We took a hike up the Fairmont Overlook Trail and was rewarded with this view:

At the Fairmont we found the best bartender we have ever come across. Nils is very detail oriented and his drinks are exceptional. The Fairview bar has a Brown Butter Old Fashioned on their menu so we decided to try it. We absolutely LOVED it, so much so that I told Nils I was going to make it at home. He was kind enough to give me the recipe. I can’t wait to get home and make it!

Early one morning we did the Agnes Tea House and Little Beehive Hikes at Lake Louise. It was a 1,600 elevation gain and 6 mile trek roundtrip. It was fabulous! Highly recommend it. The day we went to the tea house was apparently delivery day. A helicopter flew over numerous times, dropping off propane tanks and other supplies. It was neat to see.

It is such a joy to reach the tea house, after the long hike up the mountain. We got there early so we didn’t have to wait for a table, unlike these folks who arrived a bit later.

After enjoying some great tea and scones we hiked further up the mountain, along the Little Beehive Trail. The views are amazing.

That’s me on the edge, taking in the beauty of Lake Louise.

(Click on the first photo to enlarge and start a slideshow)

The tea house sits on the tiny, but beautiful, Agnes Lake.

Here’s Charlie taking in the scenery along the hike.

Mirror Lake, along the hike:

You can hike to the top of the mountain, seen in the middle of this picture, by taking the Big Beehive Trail. We stuck with the Little Beehive Trail.

Then of course there is the beautiful Lake Louise.

I loved this statue, along the grounds of the Fairmont.

He’s just taking in the glorious view.

Sunrise on Lake Louise:

While I found Lake Louise beautiful, it was Moraine Lake that I could not get enough of. I’ve never seen anything like it. The view is so beautiful that it was on Canada’s twenty dollar bill at one time. The water color, the mountains, the reflections, oh my!!!

Another angle, shortly after sunrise the next day.

We returned, with our winter gear on, at night to capture the Milky Way over the mountains.

Moraine Lake is beautiful day and night!

We also visited Peyto Lake for a sunrise shot. Turns out, you don’t need to get there until a couple of hours after sunrise. However, I enjoyed watching the shadows fade as the sun worked its way out from behind the eastern mountain range. Charlie is such a good sport, and very patient, with my passion for photography.

Peyto Lake

On our way to Peyto Lake we stopped by Herbert Lake and caught this shot.

I just love mornings on the lake with mist and reflections!

I’ll wrap up this post with a few more pictures taken along the southern end of the Icefields Parkway. This is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I guess that is because I just LOVE mountains and lakes.

Bow Lake. You can see the red lodge on the lower right hand side of the mountain range.
The reflections on most of the lakes along the parkway make photographing them a joy.

Well, that wraps up our week long stay in Lake Louise. If I ever return I might just set up a chair at Moraine Lake and camp there. Seriously, it is BEAUTIFUL! If you make it up that way note that in order to get sunrise pictures at Moraine Lake you MUST be there 1 to 1.5 hours before sunrise. We got there at 6am for a 7am sunrise and almost didn’t get a parking spot. Lake Louise is a little better, as their parking lot is bigger. They also fill up though, but not nearly as fast.

The Lake Louise campground was very nice. It sits along the river and is within walking distance to the village. There is no water service at the sites though so we had to dry camp. Surprisingly, we made it through the week without having to drive over to the dump. Fortunately, we did have 30amp power. The trains were unbearable though. If you ever stay here you might want to consider ear plugs.

Our next destination is Glacier National Park. We will be thrilled to be back in the lower 48 of the US. We left it 72 days ago. Wow!

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Jasper, Alberta, Canada

In my last post I mentioned that we had just completed our Alaska trip with Fantasy Tours. We were back on our own, working our way to Jasper. We needed to find an overnight location between Smithers, British Columbia and Jasper, Alberta. We ended up at the Terracana Ranch Resort, just east of McBride.

The resort is beautiful. It is situated on a hill overlooking a river and surrounded by mountains. The RV park was just recently added and we were the only ones staying there. A group of twenty-somethings were staying in cabins next to the RV park.

They were very friendly, but quite the party animals. Every time we walked by they tried to get us to join them for a beer. Eventually they were successful in getting Charlie to do a beer bomb! He can’t remember the last time he had done one. The youngins’ were very proud of him, as he drank the entire can in one try.

The lodge had a game room and a TV room. It was very nice. The resort was a great place to stay for the night. (Click the first picture to begin a slideshow)

In the morning, on our way to Jasper, we stopped by the Mt. Robson Provincial Park. We were lucky enough to see the spectacular Mt. Robson break nearly clear of the clouds.

We arrived at Jasper’s Wapati Campground late in the afternoon and was very happy to find that it was easy to get around with our 40’ motorhome. Our site was very roomy and private. Although the park stated that they were full every night we only had neighbors one out of the five nights we were there.

I don’t know where to begin with regarding Jasper. It is just beautiful! There is so much eye-candy! I’ll apologize in advance for the large number of pictures I’ll be posting.

Let’s see…… well, on our first evening we decided to check out the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, as we heard that they make the best Old Fashioned drinks. On our way there we stopped to admire Elk grazing along the road.

The Old Fashioned drinks were great and we met a couple from New Zealand at the bar. We had a great conversation with them. The view from the bar is stunning.

Back at the campground we found more elk.

Over the next few days we explored the Jasper National Park, including the northern half of the Icefields Parkway. Below are the highlights.

Athabasca Falls:

Sunwapta Falls:

Maligne Canyon

As we pulled into the Maligne Canyon parking lot we spotted this grizzly bear grazing on berries next to the driveway.

The river along Maligne Lake Rd

Moose at Moose Lake. Makes sense, right?

I was thrilled to finally be close to a bull moose. He was kind enough to pose for me.

Mt. Edith Cavell – We headed up to the mountain about an hour and a half before sunset. As we worked our way up the windy road I kept getting glimpses of the soft light resting on the mountain. I was afraid I would miss the opportunity for good photos, but we made it in time.

I enjoyed the scenery of Mt Edith Cavell so much that we returned another day to hike the Meadow trail and grab a few more photos down by Cavell Lake.

Little river along the Mt Edith Cavell Meadows trail.

We found beautiful lake reflections at the Honeymoon Campground, along the Icefields Parkway.

Tangle Falls:

Pyramid Mountain from Patricia Lake:

Valley of Five Lakes: Yes, the water really is that color and that crystal clear!

Various pictures from the parkway:

Sunwapta Pass area:

Great totem pole downtown Jasper:

On our last morning in Jasper I headed into town just before 7am to do laundry (the negative of dry-camping). As I drove the short few miles into town I had to stop for elk crossing the road, as well as a black bear. I just love this town.

Our next stop is beautiful Lake Louise. We’ll be there for a week. More on that later.

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Canada’s Stewart-Cassiar Highway

We departed Haines and headed towards Stewart, British Columbia with overnight stops in Whitehorse, Watson Lake and Dease Lake. The landscape just north of Haines is spectacular. You travel alongside two mountain ranges. The first is within the Tatshenshini-Alsek Park.

The second mountain range is within the Kluane National Park.

Since our route took us back through the village of Haines Junction we just had to stop at the Village Bakery one final time. We stocked up on some frozen lasagna and enjoyed some cinnamon rolls.

Our first overnight stop was at the Pioneer RV Park in Whitehorse. This is the same park we stopped at on our way to Alaska. The temperature was in the low 40s and it was very windy.  The leaves were starting to turn to fall colors and it felt like winter was fast approaching.

We woke the next morning to temps in the 30s. As we drove to the Baby Nugget RV Park near Watson Lake we encountered a few snow showers.  Crazy considering that it is still August!

Leaving Watson Lake we turned onto the Stewart-Cassiar Highway (otherwise labeled as Hwy 37). We had heard many good things about this road and were looking forward to traveling it. As we drove from Watson Lake to Dease Lake we encountered a little more snow. There was a bit of accumulation on the ground, which made a really nice contrast to the bears we spotted along the road.

Charlie and I had no idea that 90% of the Jade in the world market is currently supplied from British Columbia, that is until we came upon the Jade Store in Jade City. All of the Jade for the products in the shop is mined locally. I purchased a small jade bear with a fish in its mouth, as it is reminiscent of our bear-viewing excursion, a highlight of our Alaska trip.   

The last leg of our route was from Dease Lake to Stewart. We had rain and snow most of the way. Hwy 37 is beautiful so I was a little bummed that we didn’t have better weather, especially for the area just north of Stewart, where you drive through a canyon with glaciers on both sides of you. We did spot a bear along the road, which is always a joy.

The purpose of our trip to Stewart was primarily to visit Hyder, Alaska. Hyder is a small village of less than 100 residents.  The only way to get to Hyder is through Stewart. Although you cross over the border between Canada and the United States to get there you will not find a US customs office. You can drive right into Hyder. However, you cannot get out of Hyder without going through Canada Customs. This system seems to work since there is nowhere to go from Hyder, except back into Canada.

Hyder is such a small and remote village that we would most likely had never visited it if we had not been with the Fantasy Tour group. We were very happy that it was included as a destination. We spent 2 nights in the area and during that time we saw nearly a dozen bear and some outstanding glaciers.

The small town of Stewart, BC

The locals say that bears in Hyder are like squirrels in other cities. You can spot them roaming the streets at all times of the day, which we did. We spotted a mom and her 3 cubs crossing a street.

We spotted a bear picking berries right next to a small general store.

The most exciting was watching a black grizzly bear fish for salmon. This particular bear was seen at the wildlife refuge. They put a platform above the river where bears are known to fish for salmon.

We took a drive up to Salmon Glacier and enjoyed some spectacular close-up views of the glaciers.

As we drove to the glacier we came upon a Hoary Marmot. We didn’t know what it was until we asked a local resident. They are a species of marmot that inhabit the mountains of northwest North America.

Our trip leaders let us know about this fantastic fish & chips place, operated out of an old bus. They weren’t wrong. The halibut fish and chips were excellent!

We are so happy that we had the opportunity to visit Hyder. As I mentioned, I don’t think we would have put this small town on our hit list. I’m glad Fantasy Tours did.

From Stewart we drove to Smithers, BC, our final destination of the 62 day Alaska your-way Fantasy Tour. We enjoyed a farewell dinner at Daddio’s, a local family owned restaurant. We were all impressed with the high quality of food and service.

As a side note, I was nervous about joining a group for our Alaska trip. I was afraid that it would hinder my photography opportunities or that we wouldn’t be able to be as free as we would otherwise have been doing the trip on our own. Well, I was wrong. Doing the Fantasy Tour was a great thing. We met some wonderful people, went to places we would not have otherwise gone, got help when things went wrong, and had the ability to modify the trip when we desired, such as when we went to Denali and Valdez a few days ahead of the group.

After 62 days together we bid our farewell in the morning and went on our way. We have 2 more months of travel ahead of us, on our own. Our next major stop is Jasper, Alberta, Canada where we will be dry-camping (no water, sewer or power) for 5 nights at the Jasper national park’s Wapati campground.

If a road trip to Alaska is in your future then I highly suggest that you get yourself “The Milepost” book. It is extremely detailed and informative. I would not want to do the trip without it.

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Haines, Alaska

In order to get to Haines from Valdez you have to go back through Canada. It is a long 675 mile drive. We did it over 2.5 days. The first day we drove from Valdez to Tok. We stayed at the same campground we did on our way into Alaska (the Tok RV Village Campground). The trip was pleasantly uneventful.

The next day we drove from Tok, AK to Deception Bay, Yukon. We had previously stayed here on our way to Alaska. We enjoyed a great home-cooked meal by the park owner, Loren.

Some of the ladies in our group decided to take a lesson in beading.

From Destruction Bay we worked our way on down to Haines, although we stopped in Haines Junction and revisited the Village Bakery. We picked up a cinnamon roll (can you see a theme throughout my posts regarding cinnamon rolls?). We also picked up some of their beef lasagna since we had enjoyed it so much the last time we were there. We put the lasagna in the freezer for future meals.

As we got close to Haines we came upon our group’s Tailgunners, Charlie and Lana. We noticed that their pickup truck was slightly off to the side behind their motorhome, indicating that their tow bar broke. They were aware of it and were in the process of pulling over. We went on ahead until we found a spot and then pulled over, unhooked the Jeep and went back to help them out. Again, I think traveling in a group in these remote areas has proven to be very beneficial.

The truck should be centered behind the motorhome. This is not what you want to see when you look in your rearview camera.

Once we got the truck unhooked they were able to drive separately the rest of the way. Their truck got a few bumps and bruises, but overall, they faired pretty well. They were able to replace the broken bolt in Haines. This is the second person in our group to have a tow bar failure. We are going to make sure that we get ours refurbished after this trip.

After dropping the motorhome off at the Haines Hitch-Up RV Park we drove the Jeep over to the the local cannery and picked up some frozen King Crab Legs, King Salmon and Halibut. I think we will be good on seafood for quite awhile! We then dropped by the Port Chilkoot Distillery. We enjoyed an Old Fashioned drink there. In the evening we drove out to the Chilkat State Park where there are often bear fishing for salmon. We saw a number of fishermen, but no bear.

The following day we took a scenic boat ride from Haines to Juneau, along with a number of other Fantasy Tour participants. We loved the scenery, which included glimpses of Glacier Bay National Park in the distance.

Below is a gallery of landscape photos. Click on the first picture to enlarge and then scroll through the collection.

We passed this scenic lighthouse.

We spotted some Eagles.

Some Oyster Catchers passing by.

Some Porpoise, although they were very hard to catch a photo of. They are very fast and far away.

And a few Humpback Whales. They never came out of the water very much, but they did show off their tails.

And of course Harbor Seals and Sea Birds.

And this adorable Otter which was surprisingly sitting on land.

In Juneau we toured the town and had a fabulous lunch at Twisted Fish. Their Halibut fish tacos are exceptional.

On our last day in Haines I decided to hunker down at the library and work on my photo collection and blog. Charlie visited the Hammer Museum. I guess they have 9,000 different hammers, with 2,000 of them on display. It didn’t take him long to get through the museum, but he said it was interesting.

Haines is a small and quaint town. There are a couple of small food markets, but because Haines is fairly remote the prices are fairly high. I thought about getting a 12 pack of Diet Coke since we prefer American Diet Coke over Canadian but I couldn’t bring myself to pay $10.99 for a 12-pack.

We enjoyed our 3-night stay in Haines and our short visit in Juneau. This was our last stop in Alaska. It is hard to believe that our trip is coming to an end. We left Haines this morning and in less than a week our 62 day Your-Way Alaska Fantasy Tour will conclude. Charlie and I will move onto the last portion of our whirlwind road trip. We’ll be in Jasper in a week, followed by stops in Banff, Glacier, Coeur d’Alene, Bryce, Zion and Albuquerque. Still a lot to see! For the next three weeks we will be in Canada with limited WiFi and no Cell Service so I’m not sure when I’ll get another post done. Maybe we’ll hit a library down the road. Stay tuned 🙂

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Kenai, Palmer and Valdez, Alaska

We stopped one last time at the Wild Honey Bistro in Homer to enjoy a Reindeer Sausage Crepe before heading up the road to Kenai for a three night stay at the Diamond M Ranch Resort.

After setting up the motorhome in Kenai Charlie and I took a drive north along the coastline to the Captain Cook State Recreation Area. Most of the drive was tree-lined, as was the recreation area, so views of Cook Inlet were limited. There are a number of hiking trails and lakes in the recreation area. We just did a drive through, as it was getting late. The next day we took a drive to Cooper Landing via the rustic Skilak Lake Road. This gravel road passes numerous lakes and rivers. It is very forested so there are not a lot of scenic landscapes, but the area is very nice. The lakes are secluded and peaceful, great for spending time on while floating in a kayak or canoe. On the way back from Cooper Landing we stopped at Watson Lake and enjoyed a scenic lunch.

For dinner we joined the Fantasy group for a King Crab leg dinner at the resort. The food was great, as was the setting. We sat outside on their Wildlife Refuge overlook deck and watched some caribou stroll through the field. We spent our last day in Kenai at the library, catching up on my blog posts.

I’ll give a shout out to The Flats Bistro (http://www.theflatsbistro.com/). We went there twice for lunch and found their fish and chips to be fabulous, as were their bacon wrapped dates. We sat on their back porch, which also looks out over the Wildlife Refuge.

Restaurant with a view

From Kenai we headed to Palmer, Alaska. The Fantasy group had a four night stay planned at the Mountain View RV Park and only two nights at our next destination of Valdez. Charlie and I wanted extra time in Valdez so we only stayed one night in Palmer, which was quite sufficient. We spent the one afternoon we had in Palmer at the Independence Mine, an operating gold mine back in the 1930s and early 40s. We strolled around the property for awhile until we found ourselves in the midst of a rain shower. We had wanted to do some sightseeing around Hatcher Pass Summit, just up the road from the mine, but it was a total washout.

In the morning I got my hair cut by Pam at B.Bella in Palmer. She did a fantastic job. After that we headed out for Eagle’s Rest RV Park in Valdez. It was a beautiful drive.

As you approach Glenellen on Alaska Highway 1, otherwise known as Glenn Hwy, you feel as if you are going to run into this spectacular glacier covered mountain.

You pass a number of other glaciers along the way, like the Matanuska Glacier seen below.

Below are photos from Thompson Pass, the summit just before heading down into Valdez.

(Click on the first picture to enlarge and then scroll through them)

With all these glaciers we found no shortage of waterfalls.

We found a river where the water color was a beautiful aqua.

As most people know, Salmon fishing is a huge thing in Alaska. In order to keep the salmon population robust there are a number of salmon fish hatcheries throughout the state. These hatcheries release more than a billion fish each year into Alaskan waters. In the wild only about 10% of fry (baby salmon) survive, compared to 90% of those in the hatcheries. The hatcheries provide a controlled environment until the fry are released and face the same elements as naturally-spawned salmon. If a salmon is born at a hatchery then it will one day return to it to complete its cycle of life. While we were in Valdez we visited the Solomon Gulch Hatchery. We initially visited at low tide and found squawking birds all over the fish. The scene reminded me of two horror movies. The enormous number of salmon swimming about reminded me of the Indiana Jones movie. In particular, the scene with all of the snakes. The squawking birds reminded me of the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds.”  And the stench. Oh the stench. I was less than enamored by the whole scene. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Charlie had me go back again during high tide. The situation was a little better then, as we could see the fish swimming up the fish ladder. But still, the stench. Anyway, here are a few pictures from our visits to the fish hatchery.

So many salmon!!
And so many birds
Birds and salmon in flight 🙂

A fun activity we did while in Valdez was to canoe on Glacier Lake. This lake is just 10 minutes from town. Charlie’s friend Don Edwards lives in Valdez and offered to lend us his canoe for the day. Joe and Stephanie, co-participants on the Fantasy Tour group joined us, as they had their kayak. It was really neat canoeing around the icebergs. We kept our distance from them, and the glacier itself, for fear of the ice breaking off or of large boulders falling off of them. The week prior three people had died on the lake. They were tourists from Germany. They were all in the same canoe and apparently something happened which tipped their canoe over. The water is so cold that you cannot survive more than a minute or two in it. One of the people had a severe head injury so they suspect they got too close to an iceberg or the glacier and something fell down on him. Very tragic, but the incident scared us enough to stay alert.

We put Moe to good use, hauling the canoe.
Joe and Stephanie
It was really neat canoeing around and through the icebergs.

Prior to going to Valdez I had read that rabbits can be found pretty much everywhere in the small town, just as squirrels are found running around other cities.  Well, it’s true. They can be spotted just about everywhere. They are cute and didn’t bother us a bit.

During our stay we took the Stan Stephens catamaran ride through Prince William Sound to the Meares Glacier. We passed the Columbia Glacier on the way. The Columbia Glacier is a large tidewater glacier, flowing directly into the sea.  It is receding rapidly. Each day a large number of icebergs break away. We passed by many of them. It was kind of eerie and reminded me of Titanic. How could it not, right?

Do you see all of the icebergs in the distance?

Some icebergs were covered with otters and birds, like this one.

The Meares Glacier is also a tidewater glacier, although it is advancing. Its face is about a mile wide, and it is very tall.

With the mountain in the background, and trees in the foreground, you might get some perspective as to the enormous size of the glacier’s face.

The weather was perfect for the boat ride. We even got some good reflections on the area where we had flat water.

We spotted some romantic sea lions.

As well as some adorable otters.

And some harbor seals

And this little guy who decided to pop out of the water for a photoshoot.

We even spotted a couple of puffin floating around.

We passed a large commercial fishing area. This particular boat was pulling in its net. I’m sure they were elated to find it full of fish. Although it would appear to me that they were not paying enough attention to the fact that their boat is nearly under water.

To end our stay we were blessed with a glorious moonrise over a glacier.

We really enjoyed our stay in Valdez. It is an absolutely beautiful area of the country. There’s not a lot to do in the town itself though. It is very small.

We enjoyed catching up with Charlie’s friend Don, as well as meeting his lady friend, Mystie. We’ll be seeing them both again when we get to Albuquerque for the balloon fiesta. Like Charlie, Don is a hot air balloon pilot.

Our next destination, and final stop in Alaska, is Haines. Keep an eye out for that post. I hope to have it done quickly, as we just left Haines this morning.

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Homer, Alaska

OMG!!! I could not wait to get to Homer. Charlie booked a bear sightseeing trip for us out of Homer back in April. Since then I had been anxiously waiting for the trip to materialize. I was so excited about getting close to the grizzly bears and photographing them fishing for salmon along the river in the Katmai National Preserve.

We booked our trip with Beluga Air (http://www.belugaair.com). It is a small family owned business. Wes owns and flies the plane while his wife Angela works the back office. The plane holds 4-5 customers and a bear guide. They did a phenomenal job and we always felt safe; in the air and in the river with the bears.

Wes landed the float plane on a small lake (Crosswind Lake) in the northern part of the Katmai National Preserve, just east of the larger Kukaklek Lake. The bears were prominent in this area.

Our bear guide directed us towards a quiet area of the river, away from the other photographers and fishermen, which can be seen in the photo above. Within the first 5 minutes of reaching the riverbank we saw two bears get into a battle over a salmon. You could hear the roars. It was an awesome sight to see!

We saw a baby bear scratching its back on the mama bear. So cute!

We watched the bears for hours. While we ate lunch on the river bank there were 6 bears very close to us either napping or fishing. This bear got lucky and pulled out a salmon.

There were some fishermen in the river, as this is a highly regarded place to fish for trout. The bears do not want the trout, only the salmon. However, the bear doesn’t know what is on the hook when you pull a fish out of the river so I think it is pretty foolish to fish near the bears. This fisherman thought he’d give it a shot though.

It was an AMAZING experience!!! If you’d like to see more of my grizzly bear pictures, and in full resolution, you can check out my photography website. (http://www.schobelphotography.com).

The scenery to/from Katmai is amazing as well.

After that experience Homer moved to the top of my favorite Alaska destinations! And as if that wasn’t enough, we went Halibut fishing the next day and I caught 2 large Halibut. Unfortunately, the Alaska fishing license only allows you to keep one Halibut 28″ or larger on a commercial vessel on any particular day. So, I had to throw this 31″ guy back into the sea. I cried :-(.

But I did get to keep this one, which produced 10.5 pounds of nice Halibut filets. Yummy!!

Charlie did not catch one fish, nor did most of the guys on our boat. It seemed to be lady’s day, as most ladies went home with a catch.

We stayed at the Heritage RV Park during our 5 night stay in Homer. It is located right on the spit and has great views. When the tide goes out the eagles come in. I could watch for them while looking out the windshield of the motorhome and then go down and snap some photos.

Homer’s Spit
Snacking on a piece of salmon
Giving me the Eagle Eye

We had a great view of the Kachemack Bay State Park mountain range.

Fishing right in front of the RV park was very popular. You can see the fishermen lined up in the photo below.

There are numerous shops and restaurants along the spit. The most notable one is the Salty Dawg. The Salty Dawg started out as one of the first cabins in Homer, built in 1897. It served as home to many different businesses over the years until it became the Salty Dawg saloon in the late 1950s. It is quite unique.

The ceiling and walls are covered with dollar bills that the patrons sign and leave. If you are wondering why they leave the dollar bills, well, I guess it’s just the thing to do if you visit the Salty Dawg. When they fall off the owner collects them and donates them to a local charity.

Along our walk we came upon this most unique, and cute, motorhome. It sits amongst the restaurants and shops on the spit.

We were blessed with beautiful skies the first evening we were in Homer so we found a great place to capture the landscape, looking over the fireweed to the mountains of the Kachemak State Park.

Another thing of interest that we did while in Homer was visit the Kilcher Homestead. Charlie and I had never seen the “Alaska: The Last Frontier” show on the Discovery Channel but a number of people in our group had and they suggested we visit the homestead. We arrived in time to participate in their 10:00am tour. It was led by one of the Kilcher daughters, Stellavera. She took us into the cabin she grew up in and told us all about her childhood, living on the homestead, her parents, her brothers who are on the show, the challenges of growing up the way she and her 7 siblings did, etc. It was quite informative and interesting. It was funny though when she went around the room asking what everybody’s favorite part of the series was. Charlie and I had to fess up that we’d never seen it. It’s hard to believe that the parents, 6 girls and 2 boys lived in this small cabin. Really hard to believe.

As a side note, the singer Jewel is Stellavera’s niece. She grew up on the homestead. She was coming into town and singing with her father, Atz. They were scheduled to perform at a local bar the day after we left. Tickets were only $20. We were sad to miss it.

There were 2 children to a bunk, although that covers only 6 of the 8 kids. Maybe by the time the others were born they moved to a bigger cabin. Not sure.
Running water for the sink, but no bathroom. No toilet. No shower. And this was in the 1950s.
Stellavera talked about how, after 30 years of living this way, her mother divorced her father and married another man from Homer. They traveled around the lower 48 until settling in TN. She finally got her bathroom! Stellavera’s father was a senator and traveled all the time so he stayed in nice hotels, etc. When he came home he liked the simple life of the homestead.

The views from the homestead are amazing!

After a great stay in Homer we headed to the northwest area of the Kenai Peninsula, to the city of Kenai. On the way there we had good views of the largely volcanic Aleutian mountain range.

And we passed some beautiful fields of fireweed.

Other notable activities:

We enjoyed breakfast twice at the Wild Honey Bistro. It was delicious! Both times we got the Deja Vu crepe. The crepe is stuffed with reindeer breakfast sausage, green apples, caramelized onions, scrambled egg and white cheddar.

We had heard from numerous people that the cinnamon buns at The Two Sisters bakery were fabulous so of course we had to try them. We headed up there late in the afternoon one day, only to find that they were sold out of them. We went back on Saturday morning, only to discover that the cafe was closed, as were numerous other places, due to the Salmon Music Festival being held in Ninilchik Alaska. So, we never got to taste the famous buns.

One evening we went to dinner at Patti’s, on the spit. We both got the grilled Seafood Platter. It was OK. Nothing to write home about.

We toured the Pratt Museum, which we found fairly boring.

On our way to the Kilcher Homestead we stopped by a cute general store in Fritz Creek. They had hot cinnamon rolls so of course we had to have one. It was pretty good. I can only assume it was not nearly as good as the Two Sisters’ bun would have been.

If you like bagels, check out “The Bagel Shop” on East End Rd. Their organic bagels are made on-site daily and are excellent, as is their soup.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center, just down the street from Homer’s visitor center. The displays and movies are very well done. We highly suggest you check it out if you go to Homer.

That about sums up our stay in Homer. We have memories from our stay there to cherish forever.

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Seward, Alaska

We spent 4 nights at the Stoney Creek RV Park in Seward, a beautiful area at the tip of the Kenai Fjords National Park. The main feature of this national park is the 700-square mile Harding Icefield. Nearly 40 glaciers flow from this icefield.

Shortly after parking the motorhome we ventured into town. We took a tour of the local aquarium. I thought it was a little over-priced considering they do not have a lot of exhibits. However, the exhibits they do have are very well done.

We enjoyed dinner at The Cookery with Dom and Kathleen, a couple from the Fantasy tour group. It was fabulous! The Halibut was cooked to perfection and was beautifully presented. Highly recommend this restaurant!

It rained all day the next day so we hunkered down and got some stuff done around the RV. The following day we went on an all-day glacier boat tour with Major Marine. We loved it! The crew was great, as was the scenery and wildlife. The captain made sure we had adequate time to view the wildlife once somebody spotted something. We spent nearly an hour stopped at the Northwestern Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park. We enjoyed watching and hearing the glacier calving and breaking off into the water.

The wildlife was plentiful along our way. We spotted lots of Otter.

A lot of Orca whales.

And Sea lions that looked like they had had a very hard day. LOL.

And a beautiful eagle.

And a Fin whale, which is rare to see. This type of whale can be as large as 68 ft long and over 100,000 lbs. This particular one was huge!

We saw lots of puffins on the boat tour and in Seward. I love puffins!

Horned Puffin
Tufted Puffin

We came across a busy sea bird ‘condo’ where babies were being watched over closely by their parents.

Spotted this little guy too.

Charlie enjoyed chatting with the captain and having a front row seat.

On another day we decided to join a small group and hike the Exit Glacier. The Exit Glacier is the only part of the huge Kenai Fjords National Park that is accessible by vehicle. As you approach the glacier you see posts noting where the glacier once terminated at a particular year. It is amazing to see how much it has receded over time.

It was a strenuous hike and a long day, but I’m glad we did it. We hiked 7 miles with nearly a 2,000 mile elevation gain. Much of the elevation and distance was on the ice field where we had to wear crampons. The ice feels like shards of glass melded together. It is very abrasive to the touch. Our guides made sure we were cautious and did not get too close to the crevices. It was pretty cool looking down some of them though.

We had perfect weather for the hike. At the base we were in t-shirts. On the glacier we had sweaters and jackets on. The scenery was spectacular from the glacier.

These pictures, each with a number of hikers in them, might give you a little perspective of the size of the glacier. Click on the first picture to enlarge. In the center of it you’ll see half a dozen people.

The hike to the glacier offered up some beautiful scenery as well, especially with the purple fireweed.

We really enjoyed Seward and hope to return one day.

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Talkeetna and Whittier, Alaska

On our way from Denali to Anchorage we took a side trip over to the quaint little town of Talkeetna. It is reminiscent of a hippie-town where local artists and musicians congregate.

The town is a launching point for mountain climbers preparing to trek up Denali. We stopped by the Talkeetna National Ranger station where many of the climbers register. A video about the climb was playing. We found it very interesting. After the video we listened to a mountain guide who had climbed the mountain over 30 times. He noted that they frequently got winds over 100 mph up on the mountain. The tents would often explode from the inside out under such conditions. Hikers would have to be fully dressed and have all their gear packed and on their backs when the winds hit. If their tent exploded they had to quickly move to a fellow hiker’s tent. At times, they made shallow ice graves to hunker down in until the storm subsided. One thing I can say for sure is that you won’t find me hiking Denali!

Getting a lesson on hiking Denali, as if we were going 🙂 !!!

We had a great lunch at The Roadhouse. It is a historic restaurant and hotel. We ran into another couple from our Fantasy Tour group, Bob & Meg, and met a few new people, as seating is family style.

After our brief visit to Talkeetna we continued down the road to Anchorage, for a 4-night stay at the Golden Nugget RV Park. As a side note, we did not take our motorhome into Talkeetna, as there is not a lot of available parking and the roads are packed with people. We disconnected the Jeep from the RV at a gas station up the road and drove the Jeep into town.

While in Anchorage, we took a day trip to Whittier. The drive from Anchorage to Whittier takes you along the dramatic shorelines of Turnagain Arm. As you travel the Seward Highway you have the mountains on your left, while on your right you have the bay and the mudflats of Cook Inlet. In the distance you have mountains covered with glacier ice. It is a beautiful landscape. Unfortunately, we had low clouds and haze on our drive, but it was still pretty.

The mudflats look like an inviting beach. However, the mud is like quicksand and the tides change extremely quickly. People have gotten stuck in the mud and drowned as the tide waters rose.

For those that are curious, the name of Turnagain Arm stems from when the British explore James Cook was forced to “turn again” when the inlet did not have an exit. Cook was looking for a Northwest Passage during his 1778 voyage.

On the mountain side we spotted some cute Dall sheep.

In order to get to Whittier you must travel through the Anton Anderson Memorial tunnel. Both cars and trains must use the single lane 2.5 mile long tunnel. Cars are allowed to travel into the town of Whittier each hour on the half hour, while cars are allowed to travel out of the town each hour on the hour. Trains fit in-between those times.

Entering the Tunnel
Tight Tunnel

The town of Whittier is small. There are virtually no homes in the town. Most of the yearly residents live in the same high rise apartment structure, which once served as military barracks.

It is a port stop for many cruise ships
Looking back to the town, across Prince William Sound

We meandered through tiny shops and grabbed a snack at the Lazy Otter cafe.

Tiny little shops in the tiny town of Whittier

As you turn off the Seward Highway and head towards the tunnel to Whittier you pass glacier covered mountains, lakes, rivers, wetlands and waterfalls. It is stunningly beautiful.

Our next stop was Seward, covered in my next post.

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Denali

Wow! Just Wow! I LOVED Denali and the surrounding area. I finally felt like the long drive to Alaska was worth it when we entered the beautiful Denali National Park.

Denali was established as a park in 1917 for the purpose of protecting Dall sheep, which were being over-hunted at the time. They seem to be doing well now. We found some grazing high up on a mountain.

The park’s size and purpose grew over time. Today, the park is around 6 million acres. There is only one road in the park, running east to west. It is 92 miles long. With the exception of the first 15 miles it is a narrow gravel and dirt road. Parts of it are subjected to landslides during heavy rains.

This section of the road, seen on the upper right of this photo, is prone to landslides. We saw one area where last year’s road dropped down about 10 feet.

This very scenic road starts in a low, forested area and then rises and falls along mountain passes. The only way to travel on this road past mile marker 15 is via a national park service bus, with the exception of traveling into a campground near mile marker 30. If you are staying at that campground you are allowed to drive in, but then your car must remain at your campsite for the duration of your stay.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we temporarily broke off from the Fantasy tour group in Fairbanks so that we could have a few extra days enjoying Denali. We spent 3 nights at the Savage River Campground in the park. It is located near mile marker (MM) 13, which is the area where anybody can drive their vehicle, and it is paved.

The campground is rustic and there are no services (no electric, water or dump station). Getting through the campground with our 40′ motorhome was challenging at times, mostly because the tree branches hung out into the road far enough to scrape along the motorhome. Very nerve-racking. All sites are first-come, first-served. When we finally found the one and only site that could possibly accommodate us we spent at least half an hour maneuvering into it. Once we finally got situated we took a breath and looked at our phenomenal surroundings. We were in the wilderness of Denali and LOVED it.

Less than a 1/4 mile from our site was a path leading to the Savage River and the flat lands surrounding it. I couldn’t get over how beautiful the area was. Here is an early morning shot.

The park was especially beautiful this year due to the unprecedented fireweed bloom. There were purple flowers everywhere.

Wildlife roam freely throughout the 6 million acre park and simply ignore the busses traveling along the road. At times, the busses have to come to a standstill and wait for the wildlife to mosey on out of their way, like this caribou.

There is no shortage of wildlife. We spotted numerous moose.

I didn’t spot any bull-moose in the park though. However, here’s a funny story. While we were staying at the Savage River Campground Charlie was outside fiddling with the motorhome when the people staying in the spot behind us ran over to him and said “Oh My Gosh, look what you just missed.” They showed him their cell phone picture of the biggest bull-moose they had ever seen in their life. It crossed the gravel road right behind Charlie. It was so quiet though that Charlie never knew it was there. Sadly, we never did find it after that.

We spotted numerous Caribou in the park.

I loved the antlers on this one.

These guys were just chillin’, watching the busses go by.

And this was my favorite. We never did see his body, only his antlers moving around.

I had quite a scare on one of the bus rides. The bus was cruising along a section of road that had tall bushes along the right side of the bus, where Charlie and I were sitting. We were in the last row and I was against the window. All of a sudden a caribou came running out of the bushes at full speed, heading directly for me. I jumped and squealed, as he was just feet away from his end of life, and maybe mine, or not. The caribou skidded on his hind legs, made a sharp 90 degree turn and just missed us. Whew!

We saw grizzly bears, including cute baby ones.

We saw many adorable arctic ground squirrels. This one was enjoying a snack.

We spotted a few Willow Ptarmigan (pronounced as tarmigan). The Ptarmigan is Alaska’s state bird. It stands 14-17 inches high and is a ground-dwelling bird. We frequently spotted them along the road and hiking paths. The Ptarmigan feathers are light brown in the summer but in the winter they turn white.

Since we are on the subject of birds, I’ll share a couple pictures of some cute fellas I spotted near our campground.

On our first full day at Denali we took a transit bus to Wonder Lake. There are two different busses which you can take. One being the Transit bus which lets you get off whenever you want to take a hike. The Tour bus is one which you stay on and the bus driver gives you information about the park, etc. There is no getting on or off, except for restroom breaks, which are only 10-15 minutes long.

The round trip transit bus ride to Wonder Lake, at MM 85, takes around 11 hours. Yes, 11 hours on an old school bus. We caught our bus at 5:45am right outside our campground. We had great weather; high clouds and temps in the low 60s. Between the awe-inspiring landscape and all the wildlife you see along the way, the bus ride goes by quickly, relatively speaking.

For our second full day at the park we decided to sign up for a Discovery Hike. This is a ranger-led hike with a maximum of 11 participants. They are called discovery hikes because the ranger gets to select a hiking area in the park that is off-trail and has not been selected by any other ranger that year more than once. Our hike was with a wonderfully energetic young red-headed lady named Cinnamon. She chose a hiking location around MM 53. We had some discoveries along our hike such as when we got to the top of the mountain and found that our path down the backside was fairly steep and rocky. As a group we decided we could handle it and actually had a fun time getting down. The scenery from the top of the mountain was spectacular. After getting down the hill we walked along the riverbed back to the park road. It seems that no matter where you are in the park you can always see the park road. That gave me a little comfort while hiking off-trail. We ended up hiking about 4 miles with an elevation gain of nearly 1,000 ft. We enjoyed it so much that we signed up for another one a few days later. Here are a few photos from our first hike.

Hiking up the mountain. You can see the park road in the distance.
Finally made it to the top
The landscape behind the mountain we climbed was a surprise. You could not see this area from the park road. I sprinted up the last portion of the mountain, eager to see the scenery that awaited us. I found it to be just spectacular. I just love good Eye-Candy!
Getting down was a little tricky, as the rocks were very slippery
We had a great group of people hiking with us.
After we made it down the hill we walked along, and through, the river
The river eventually led us back to the park road

In addition to our transit bus ride to Wonder Lake (MM 85) and our two discovery hikes (both near MM 53) we took a Tour Bus ride with the Fantasy group after they all arrived in Denali. As a side note, bus driving in the park appears to be a coveted job. Many of the drivers have been doing it for over 20 years. I guess the scenery and wildlife never get boring.

Below is a gallery of photos taken during our time in the park. Click on the first photo to enlarge it and begin a slide show.

On a clear day you can see Denali, North America’s tallest peak, as you travel along the park road. It is 20,310 feet tall. They say only about 20% of the visitors to Denali get the opportunity to see the mountain in its full glory. We were very fortunate in that we saw it numerous times during our stay. It is spectacular.

Denali, as seen from the Old Denali Hwy
Denali, as seen from the Denali State Park

In addition to visiting the National Park we took a day trip along the Old Denali Highway. This is a 135 mile gravel road connecting Cantwell, AK to Paxson, AK. Much of the road lies above timberline so the views are phenomenal. We drove nearly 70 miles of the road beginning in Cantwell. We ended up at Alpine Lodge. This lodge is one of only a hand full of lodging places along the road. We dropped in and found that they offered a small lunch menu. As we ate lunch we chatted with a gentleman that helps out at the lodge and a young man that grew up there. We learned a bit about the area and life in the wilderness. After lunch we backtracked back to Cantwell. If you are ever in the area of Denali we highly recommend you take a side trip along the Old Denali Highway. It is one of the most scenic drives we’ve done.

Charlie captured some good photos with the drone.

…while I captured some photos with my camera.

Back on the Parks Highway we enjoyed dinner at a restaurant called 229Parks. Its name comes from the fact that it is located at MM 229 on Parks Hwy. There is not much around this restaurant and we almost passed it by.

We had heard that it was a great restaurant so we wanted to try it out, and we were not disappointed.

As a side note, getting around Alaska is pretty easy. There is generally one road to take from one populated city to the next. The George Parks Highway (generally referred to as simply the Parks Highway), runs from Anchorage to Fairbanks.

Aside from 3 nights at the Savage River Campground we also stayed at the Denali RV Park. That’s where we rejoined the Fantasy Tour Group.

That about sums up our stay in Denali. I can’t say enough good things about it! After Denali we headed down to Anchorage and then on to the Kenai Peninsula, which will be covered in my next post. Stay tuned……

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