September 8, 2004
As I mentioned in a previous post I have just returned from an awesome vacation to Alaska. I have included some of my photos in this post & also created a photo page that has scenery and wildlife shots.
My wife and I flew to Alaska on Saturday, August 28. We selected optimal seats on the Northwest 757 using SeatGuru.com. Much of the view was obstructed by clouds but as we neared the Alaskan Border we saw the peaks of St. Elias Mountains (see photo) which contain the highest peaks in Canada. Seeing this got me excited for the adventure ahead.
When we arrived, our friend Nikki met us at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport then drove us to her house in the suburbs. On our way there, I was stunned by the number of float planes I saw flying in the area. It was obvious that Alaska was a general aviation friendly state. I snapped a photo (right) of some float planes docked at Lake Hood Seaplane Base, not far from Anchorage International.
We were travelling with a few other friends so our host dropped us off to make a return trip to the airport for the next arrivals. Meanwhile our friend Tom, Nikki's husband, took us on a search for moose. Tom is a C-130 pilot based at Elmendorf Air Force Base. I enjoyed seeing the variety of planes sitting on the tarmac including C-130s, F-15s and a few transient C-5's, which are the Air Force's largest plane. Our quest was succesfull when we found a female moose on the side of the road.
After all our friends arrived we packed an RV (see photo) and departed for Denali National Park the next morning. The drive takes almost five hours but was enjoyable due to the scenery. The fall colors were beautiful. Though many mountain peaks were obscured by a layer of smoke, the result of Alaska's largest forest fire in recorded history. It is estimated that an area the size of Massachusetts has been burned thus far.
Denali is a neat park that there is only one access road. Most people can only ride this road on a National Park Tour Bus. But they do allow those who are camping within the park to also drive down this road. We took this road as far as our campsite - Teklanika. We stayed at Teklanika for two days while enjoying its beautiful scenery (See photos) and wildlife (see photos) from the bus and our hikes.
As we were driving out of the park on Tuesday we saw a moose and pulled over to take some pictures. He decided to cross the road right in front of me and I captured the picture to the right. Seeing the bears, moose and caribou of Denali have generated fantastic memories I will never forget.
Whittier - Sea Kayaking
After that adventure we drove south to a tiny town called Whittier. To get to Whittier you have to got through a two mile tunnel that is one way. They have toll gates that change traffic directions every half hour. When you make it through the tunnel you see a small fishing village in which 150 or so of the locals live in one apartment building. I have never seen anything like it. From there we loaded our sea kayaks, rented from Alaskan Sea Kayakers, onto a water taxi and took a 40 minute boat ride to a secluded island in Prince William Sound. We were dropped of there and told we would be picked up the next day. We quickly set up camp then launched our kayaks. We were surrounded by magnificent glaciers on all sides. Many of which were calving and making spectacular thunderous roars in the process.
The best part of kayaking was interacting with harbor seals and sea otters. They were both very curious and would swim up to the kayaks then swim under and pop-up on the other side. The photo to the right was taken by my friend Tom who organized this trip. He is a great photographer as this photo demonstrates. You can view his work at Rock36Photography.com, I hope you like the site - I built it.
The camping on Williard Island was fun although wet and cold due to a day of light then heavy rain. But, I enjoyed camping miles from people or cities. It was an amazing experience and I look forward to kayaking again.
Seward - Whale Watching
On Friday we visited Seward a port town on the Kenai Peninsula. From there we took a successful whale watching tour. Just an hour into the trip we stopped the boat in a sound that had a humpback whale. Within a few minutes there were four of them in view from the deck of the boat. They were amazing creatures. That would have been enough to quench my whale watching thirst but we were lucky enough to come across a pod of killer whales during the return trip. They swam right for the boat and a few went right under the boat. They were playing with each other as a few kept swimming over the top of one another. I had no idea how cool it would be to see these animals.
Flying in Alaska
On Friday afternoon my wife and I drove by Merrill Field, the busiest general aviation airport in Alaska. There are just under 1,000 aircraft based there. This is amazing especially since less than a mile away is Lake Hood Seaplane Base which has over 700 aircraft based there and Lake Hood Strip Airport with almost 250 land based planes. It is an amazing number of general aviation aircraft but after spending a week in the state it is obvious that aircraft are a primary mode of transportation for some and a secondary mode for many.
A trip to Alaska would not be complete without a flight seeing tour. So my wife and I drove to Talkeetna, which is the town Northern Exposure was based on. The tour was through Talkeetna Air Taxi flying out of the Talkeetna Airport. We flew in a De Havilland Beaver which had ski's and wheels for landing. I heard the Beaver referred to as the workhorse of Alaska aviation several times and I can understand why. It was a great plane. I mentioned to the pilot that I was a new pilot and he invited me to sit in the co-pilot seat which was a thrill. Our flight took us north into the mountains surrounding Denali (Mt. McKinley) which continued to be elusive. This day, it was obscured by clouds. So we flew through the Ruth Gorge which is the deepest in the world including a 4,000 foot thick river of ice. Next, we entered the Don Sheldon Amphitheater which is an area surrounded by enormous mountains on each side but along the floor is a small cabin that was build by Don Sheldon. Mr. Sheldon was a famous bush pilot, and according to legend, flew in all the materials needed to build this secluded shelter.
Next we made a glacier landing in these mountains. In order to land on a mountain side glacier the plane lands uphill. That way the plane can turn around and depart by sliding down the glacier. The landing is smooth which I guess you can expect since there was a few inches of snow on top of the ice. We got out and took in the spectacular view. We even yelled once or twice to hear the echos that called back from each direction. Then we got the engine started, to everyone's relief, and started the slide down the mountain. Sure enough the Beaver powered off the glacier and we were back in the air at about 7,000 feet just after take-off. On our return to Talkeetna we flew through some tight gaps in the the mountain range (right). During the flight back we flew over a few moose that were oblivious to our existence. The landing was smooth and the ride was memorable. I would recommend Talkeetna Air Taxi to anyone looking for a great flightseeing trip in Alaska.
Sadly, this was the last real adventure in Alaska. From there we returned to Anchorage to prepare for our return trip to Ohio. No post I could write, story I can tell, or photo I share can ever fairly explain the beauty, uniqueness, or wonder of Alaska justly. But, it sure is fun thinking about it and trying my best to share the journey!
View some of my photos from Alaska.