August 2008
Anchorage to Fairbanks

Most of the pictures expand when clicked 

I planned another day in Juneau  after we came back from Glacier Bay.  Unfortunately there was not much to do and it rained hard most of the day. Mostly we did laundry.

Next day we flew from Juneau to Anchorage with stops at Cordova and Yakutat to drop off and pick up fishing expeditions. 

Finally we arrived in Anchorage and got settled in the Extended Stay Deluxe Downtown.

The next day was museum day.  We started with a visit to the Anchorage Museum.  This was a nice museum with a great collection of native artifacts on the second floor.
The Alaska Native Heritage Center was next. 

The center has an outdoor walk around a pond with a guide and a stop at a typical homestead of each native group in Alaska, an indoor museum and arts center, and a stage with continuous performances. 

I definitely recommend a visit to the center but it seems to be a fledgling organization.  They need some work on their outdoor exhibits and performances.  But it is still worth a visit.

Six native cultural groups are recognized and are represented, the Athabascan of interior and southcentral Alaska, the Yup'ik and Cup'ik Eskimo of southwest Alaska, the Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik of northwest to northern Alaska, the Aleut and Alutiiq from Prince William Sound to the end of the Aleutian Island chain, and the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian of southeast Alaska.

A guide takes you around to a representative homestead for each group.
We had a nice talk explaining the significance of totem poles.
This group of Native Americans performed a set of songs and dances.

 
We spent the rest of the afternoon driving along the waterfront.  At right is a view of Anchorage from the Coastal Trail.
We left anchorage the next day and headed for Denali.  North of Wasilla, a now familiar town for most people, the weather finally cleared.

Coastal Alaska is a marine rainforest climate typical of the northwest, cool, damp, and rainy. Even when it is not raining it's cloudy.  Interior Alaska in contrast is dry and sunny and may properly be considered a desert.

Here we see some of the scenery as we approach the Alaskan Range of mountains.
 Saw a couple of moose grazing in the foliage.
Stayed at the McKinley Creek Cabins about 10 miles south of Denali.  There aren't many places to stay near Denali.  The cruise lines have four hotels near the entrance but they are often filled with guests from the cruises.  Otherwise there are just a few cabin places.

The cabin was ok but small.  It was in a pretty setting along the creek.  The place also had a small restaurant that had about 7 tables but the food was exceptional. 
We drove up to Denali.  Stopped at the visitor center then went to the kennels for a dog sled demonstration.

The rangers patrol the park in the winter by dogsled staying at a string of backcountry cabins. Sounds like fun to me.
We learned that during the gold rush, dogs of all sorts were shipped to Alaska.  If it could pull a sled it was an Alaskan Husky.  They've been breeding these dogs ever since.

The ranger came out an gave a talk then hooked up a team of dogs to pull the sled around a short circuit.  You quickly see that the dogs love doing this and are amazingly powerful and fast.
You can drive about 12 miles into Denali.  To go further you have to take an authorized bus tour.

Denali is very scenic, big vistas and towering mountains. 

The fall foliage has set in creating very colorful scenes.
The next day we took the Tundra Tour into the park.

Denali is a difficult park to visit.  There is only one road into the park which is about 100 miles long.  It's mostly a narrow dirt road. The first 15 miles to Savage River is paved. After Savage River the road is closed to private traffic.  The only way to see the park is on a park bus tour.


There are 3 tours. The History Nature Tour which goes 19 miles in and takes about 5 hours.  The Tundra Wilderness Tour which goes in 60miles and takes 8 hours, and the Kantishna Wilderness Tour which goes in 95 miles and takes 11 hours.

There is a park shuttle but its basically to drop off backpackers.  A day visitor will not find the park shuttle convenient.
You will see wildlife on the longer park tours.  We saw two groups of brown bears, a few caribou, and one herd of dall sheep.


So, if you tour Alaska you should see Denali but be prepared for a long day on a refurbished school bus riding slowly down a dirt road.  The are a few stops with large collections of porta potties and big crowds using them. A meager box lunch is provided that you have to eat on the bus. 

However, the driver was fun and the narration was good.
The last day in Denali was clear, our first sunny day in Alaska.  I had a hike scheduled for the day. Peggi was going to shop then wait for me.  I appreciate that.

There isn't much good day hiking in Denali.  There aren't established trails beyond the entry area. If you wanted you could get a shuttle in and bushwhack around.  Most hikers we saw were slogging up the stream gravel beds as in the picture above.

The one good hike is the
Mt. Healy Overlook Trail.  The trail climbs a steep face left of the picture to the right.  The trail rises 1,500 feet to a overlook then continues along the ridge toward the peak.
 Looking toward the peak from the overlook.
Looking in the other direction, Mt. McKinley or Denali towers over the surrounding hills. 

Mt. McKinley is not easy to see.  Like many high mountains it is mostly shrouded in its own cloud formation.  This day it made a morning appearance.
Further up the trail a dall ram was grazing. 
I finally got up the trail as far as I could go which was not quite to the top of Mt. Healy.  A large ravine separated a lower peak from a higher peak.

The picture looks back from the lower peak toward the park entrance and the  Mt. Healy overlook.
Back at the overlook I took some couple's photo and they took mine.  Next time I will tuck in my shirt tail and straighten my jacket.  I guess I was a little wasted from the climb.
While I was hiking Peggi decided to take advantage of the sunshine and ride out the park road.
Peggi also got a good look at Denali.
That afternoon we left Denali and drove to Fairbanks. We stayed at Bear Lodge in the Wedgewood Resort. This place was the only bargain we found in Alaska.  They had a nice internet special.

Next day we started at the
Large Animal Research Center at the University of Alaska.  They have a nice tour to see musk oxen and caribou. 
They had several baby musk oxen.
And a herd of caribou
In the afternoon we took a ride on the Riverboat Discovery.  This was a nice tour.  Like many tourist things in Alaska ,the Riverboat seems to be a creation of the cruise lines.  Something to do in Fairbanks while you wait for your flight home or the train south to Denali. 

But, for what it was, the riverboat was very nice and very well done.  Take this trip if you are in Fairbanks.

Sometimes it seemed we were the only old people in Alaska who weren't on a cruise.  People kept asking what cruise we were on and often expressed amazement that we were touring on our own and that we could arrange such a thing. 

Downriver we had a bush pilot demonstration.
Then the boat stopped by a kennel for a talk on dog sledding and the Iditarod, then a demonstration run around the pond.
There was another bush pilot demonstration further downriver.

The pilot showed how he could land and take off on small mud bars in the river.  I was impressed. The mud bar was not very big.
The final stop was at the Chena River Native Village.  The village consisted of several stations.  Each group was led by a guide from station to station to see or hear what was there.

One of the guides put on and modeled a traditional fur parka, the one hanging on the wall in the picture above. 

After dinner we went to the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska.  The museum had a good collection of native artifacts and had some pretty interesting exhibits.

In the various museums you see lots of examples of Native American clothing.  In the harsh environment of the arctic functional clothing is obviously important.  Much of the clothing was ingenious as well as beautiful.

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