Alaska!

After 6 nights on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry, we arrived in Homer with our friends Chris and Chris to start our month+ exploration of Alaska. Here is a Google mapped overview (generally) of where we traveled:

 

The darker blue lines are a roughly mapped itinerary of where we went. The yellow loops that appear to fly over mountains, lakes and glaciers, are flight-seeing tours. The lighter blue is a GPS track and may have a few photos attached along the way. If there is a big jump of blue or missing connections, the GPS was not recording and recorded a crow-flies view – or a gap where there was no GPS signal.

Ferry departure in Homer, AK

Once in Homer, we made our way to our waterfront campsite on the Homer Spit. Homer Spit is a natural gravel/sandbar extending out into the Kachemak Bay, an arm of the Cook inlet – just inside the Gulf of Alaska. The Homer Spit survived only because humans settled there. Time for us to explore the Homer area.

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Arrived and awaiting the unload process – a turntable and elevator will get us up and onto the dock.
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Arrived in Homer. Robin left, Christian and Christine. We’ll sleep in our own (van) beds tonight.
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Our first glimpse of the mountains around Kachemak Bay. At high-tide, the water is all the way up to the green grass.
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Fisherman snag (it is legal in this area) their fill of salmon. These mature salmon, once introduced as hatchery salmon to a nearby bay – now return to spawn and die. One way or another they’ll be belly-up on a beach or on someone’s plate.
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92.7% sure this is a juvy bald eagle. His/her parents scavenged on the beach each evening.
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Arriving for a nice dinner at The Saltry in Halibut Cove.
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The famous Salty Dawg Saloon.
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With this huge tidal range the docks are quite a challenge to get to/from.
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Really? You’re really going to take my photo at this time of night? Yes… It’s mid-summer – July 14th and the temps are already in the 50’s at night, but the good news is there are very few mosquitos.
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The Homer Spit at low tide from the hill above town. Our campground was on the left/north “protected” side of the spit.
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Zoomed in on one of several glaciers across the bay.

The road to Seward, AK

After a few days exploring Homer, it was time to head north and east to see more of the Kenai peninsula.

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Distant mountains across Cook Inlet.
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Lots of lakefront campsites in Alaska.
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Beautiful lakes and mountains as we wind our way north and east on the Kenai peninsula.

Side-trip to Hope, AK

Before heading east and south again toward Seward, we took a detour to the town of Hope on the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. It’s a very historic and quaint town established as a mining camp in 1896. Some of the town was destroyed by the 1964 9.2 magnitude “Good Friday” earthquake. Many surviving buildings were moved inland a bit. Hope has a fun hippie, artsy, outdoorsy vibe.

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Our campsite on the edge of the marshland of the Turnagain Arm.

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On to Seward, AK

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The Exit glacier just outside Seward.
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The marina in downtown Seward.
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Not a bad way to see Alaska.
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Camping here got quite competitive! It is a busy place in July. Luckily our travel-mates get up early – scoring two waterfront sites.

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We detoured out to the Eagle River Nature Center only to find it closed. No worries, this guy was hanging out along the roadside just outside the nature center.

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Hatcher Pass and the road up to the Independence Mine.
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Camping roadside on Hatcher Pass.
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Leaving Hatcher Pass, heading to Talkeetna.

Talkeetna, AK

The “gateway” to Denali. A nice tourist and adventure operations town down the road. We took our first “flight-seeing” tour with the highly recommended K2 Aviation.

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Glacier landing. Why not?

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Duncan gets to sit in the co-pilot seat on the seat.
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Just don’t touch anything! Flight-seeing is not without its risks.

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Denali National Park, AK – Teklanika River Campground

With a reservation in Denali National Park, we’re allowed to proceed into the park about 30 miles. Once into our campsite at Teklanika River Campground, we were not allowed to “drive” anywhere, other than out of the park on check out day. From here on, all exploring will be done on foot or by bus or some combo of both.

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Sunset / sunrise along the Teklanika River. The sun never really set on this day.
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Robin the trooper. Torn ACL, sprained MCL, torn meniscus. Have brace and trekking poles? Will travel.
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A spectacular first glimpse of Denali. The sky is clear and the mountain is out. This only happens about 25% of the time. We picked an excellent day to bus the 80 miles out to Wonder Lake.

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We saw distant grizzlies, a few raptors and many caribou. An up-close caribou as our bus flies past.
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ABC. Another bloody caribou.
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And just in case you are feeling sorry for our 5 days of “camping food” while “locked” inside the park campground, this night was a couple of fantastic peppered pork tenderloins.
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…and brown rice, and sautéed veggies and Spy Valley Sav Blanc, and …  Rough it we do not.

Healy, AK

Just a quick trip up to Healy to re-provision, refuel and have an excellent lunch at 49th State Brewing.

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The bus used to film the based-on-a-true-story movie Into the Wild is parked out front.
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Ummm, beeeeer.

The Denali Highway, AK

Our vans are made for rugged 3-5 day “get away from it all” trips on roads many rigs cannot (or should not) navigate. The Denali Highway is a gorgeous 134 mile mostly dirt road short-cut from the edge of Denali National Park to the edge of Wrangell- St. Elias National Park on the eastern edge of the state.

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Excellent campsite to hang-out for a few days.
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Several day-tripping Jeep tours navigate this road.
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We had some clouds and rain, but it was still quite beautiful.
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The view from our roadside campsite.
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Campsite “the knob” – on a gravel hill just off the main road.
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The ground all around the road was a mushy loamy blanket of living plants. Very strange to walk on. Squishy, lush and up close, kinda beautiful.
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Project: the $17 “Windshield Repair Kit” acquired in Healy – applied to our first big windshield chip. It worked quite well – the repair holds to this day.
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Our view on the day we got the call that my dad passed away after his long struggle with Alzheimers. This landscape helped us cope with that news.
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A roadhouse before Paxson – on our way down the Denali Highway.

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Curiosity sent us boldly down a 4×4 track toward the Maclaren glacier. About 2 miles into a 15 mile trail – until we thought better of it.
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At the turn-around point. Time to find an evening campsite near the end of the Denali Highway. The quads behind us seemed amused by our attempt to get up to the glacier in our RVs.

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The highest point along the Denali Highway.
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The view from the Maclaren summit.
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We shared one very wet campsite that evening at Tangle Lakes Campground.
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This was a common sight all over Alaska, generators running many hours a day powering large household freezers rigged up for storing their annual salmon catch. This unique rig had a secure box for the generator and the full-size freezer hung off a hitch mount.
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Our tandem spot at Tangle Lakes.
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The Tangle Lake – at Tangle Lake Campground.
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Meiers’s Lake Roadhouse – another nice roadhouse, this one with a decent cheeseburger.
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Ready for any weather in her (loaner from Christine) fisherman’s hat.
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With all the rain, our rain gear, awnings and occasional rain tarps got good use. A creekside campground with hook-ups and showers. Severely needed after that many days away from civilization.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Our last hurrah in Alaska will be the spectacular and huge Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Mountains, glaciers, lakes, historic mines and historic (almost) ghost towns – now being restored by the National Park Service in a state of “arrested decay” or in some cases full building restoration. McCarthy and Kennicott are at the end of a rough 60 mile “Road to McCarthy” – the re-purposed train-bed-now-road that leads to McCarthy and Kennicott and the Kennicott (or Kennecott) Mine area.

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First, to the visitor center for a full park orientation.
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Second, lunch at a local establishment.
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Third, a night at the Copper River Princess Lodge. Wait… What?
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Even intrepid adventurers need a break from #vanlife now and then.  Ahhh – restaurant, bar, private room, queen-size beds, hot showers. This is the Princess Cruise Line’s outpost in Wrangell for cruisers that take excursions to the park.
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The view from the Princess lodge bar – out across the wet patio.

The road to McCarthy – McCarthy-Kennicott, AK

Fully rested and showered, it’s time to hit the road for another adventure away from civilization. After a quick re-fill of fuel and water and holding tank dump, we are ready for a few days at the remote end of the road near McCarthy. Once we cover the 60 miles of road, we’ll enter McCarthy via footbridge. We read the true scary/sad/horrifying book Pilgrim’s Wilderness before we headed up here, just to get in the spirit of things.

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The “road” is the original train bed up to the Kennicott Copper Mine.
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This precarious re-purposed rail bridge only recently got a guard rail…

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This place looked abandoned – must have shut down because it was too loud.

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The Root glacier viewed from the primitive campground near McCarthy.
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The raging glacier melt-water river running by the campground. When we learned glacial lakes sometimes collapse out the bottom of the glacier driving giant waves down the valley, we were glad we picked the campsites on higher ground.
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Our campsite view of the Kennecott Mining Company Copper mine. Tour later.
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On August 8th, 2018, it’s snowing on the glacier.
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Rustic campground. One outhouse.
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Off to McCarthy via the footbridge. Once there, we hop the every half-hour shuttle that will take us either to McCarthy (1 mile – for $3pp) or up to Kennicott (5 miles – for 5$ pp).
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McCarthy is the first stop.

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Then up to the Kennecott Mine at Kennicott. Don’t ask about the spelling difference.

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Lunch at the Meatsa wagon food truck was excellent.
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The view down the valley. Mostly gravel-covered glacial ice, but the town area on the left was all built on mine tailings.

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Duncan takes the mine tour. Hard-hats. Obstacles. Hundreds of steep steps.

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Another flight-seeing tour, this time with Wrangell Air.
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The footbridge in the foreground, the locals-only road bridge in the background, and our vans right in the middle near the footbridge.

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This bunkhouse tumbling down near an old mine entrance was several thousand feet up the mountainside. Mine workers would get there via an open bucket tramway and live up there for months at a time. In the winter, they slept inside the mines. Crazy.

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Cool, huh.  Back on the ground again and treated to a little rain mixed with sunshine…

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Departure day – leaving McCarthy on the McCarthy road. The same rail bridge from before, but with a distant photo of us crossing.

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Ah, back in civilization at Chitina, AK. Wait a minute.

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Nebesna Road, AK

On our way out of Alaska we looped up along the northwest edge of Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Just before exiting into the Yukon Territory, there is another road to explore that dips south again into the park – Nebesna Road. Time for some more remote camping.

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The end of the Nebesna road. At least for us. Time to head back and look for a nice campsite for the next few days.

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This will do. Right off the road, 360 views. Virtually no traffic – maybe 10 cars / day.

 

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Cheers. The bug tent and head nets were a requirement here. Very annoying small midge/flies that flew blindly into every available orifice.

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A bit scruffy, a bit stinky, but supremely relaxed.

And that was our Alaska whirlwind tour in photos. A great time was had by all. Now it is off to Canada and to start the trek south. Winter is Coming.

2 thoughts on “Alaska!

  1. Beautiful photos and enjoyed the virtual tour. Looks like Miles & El Chapo had a serious workout and only the minor windshield injury, not bad for such a rigorous journey.

    Like

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