Friday, July 29 – Saturday, July 30
We woke up around 11 at a pullout at mile 6 of the Hartney Bay road. The spot was overlooking the water and green mountains. Its nearly impossible to fall asleep before midnight because its light out til then.
Brendan fell asleep to the sound of seals. We don’t hear the outside world that well in the lower bunk.
Anyway, it was a day of errands. Adding coolant…
…getting gas, filling van with water…
etc. I was responsible for laundry, and it was very exciting for me.
We had three loads. The detergent dispensing machine was broken and there was no attendant. But the exciting thing… Russians. The laundromat was full of them. I think they were gypsies so I had to be on my toes. They all wear silk dresses and head pieces and are large and seem tough, like they eat lots of meat and potatoes. As i talked to my mom on my cell, i managed to sneaked a couple of pics:
We then lunch at Baja Taco, a local hotspot, and worked on the Internet.
We left for better wifi at the library for a couple of hours and then returned to Baja Taco for dinner. It’s no Juan’s Flying Burrito… But Steve loves the sockeye salmon tacos and I love the milkshakes.
We head out to the end of the road to camp at a spot we call the “Bonsai Forest”. Here, we had in depth conversation about preparing for death, the “right way to die”, etc. Intense, hard, but important to talk about.
The next day, we woke up late in the beautiful Bonsai Forest.
Headed to the Whisky Ridge Tackle Shop to see Tom, who helped us gear up my fishing pole. Grumpy, friendly fella, reminded us of Ryan Gootee. Are you SERIOUS!!
Then head to Hartney Bay to make our first attempt at catching a salmon.
They were definitely out there. We could see pools of them in the clear water. But those bastards were not interested in our lures. I think they were laughing at us from below the water
A couple of guys next to us “snagged” some pinks, but they had to throw them back in bc thats illegal where we were fishing.
For those of you who don’t know what snagging is:
There are so many salmon in the water that your hook will ‘snag’ a fin or the side of a fish rather than their mouth. These salmon are kind of “salmon drunk” – they are mostly interested in dropping eggs or fertilizing eggs or traveling up the river to secret places where they can drop eggs or fertilize eggs. Kind of like teenage kids. Amazingly, these secret places are the same places where the salmon were conceived (a few years earlier) and also where they will die (post drunk fertilization) that they really aren’t interested in food (unlike teenage kids). So, instead of a salmon chomping on your lure cuz they’re hungry, your lure snags a “salmon drunk” salmon. That’s illegal here. -SG
There were a couple Russian who snagged a big Salmon and KEPT IT! We saw em.
Then back to Baja Taco for fish tacos and milkshakes. We saw familiar faces, as the town is very small. We’re recognized by the Ironhorse.
Last night sleep in the same pulloff in the Bonsai Forest. Still pretty, but difficult to pee on bc of jagged rocks. And it is Unbelievably Inconvenient how much you have pee when you’re pregnant and living in a car.
Bye to Cordova tomorrow morning. It’s been good to us.
We woke up at Child’s Glacier Campground and headed back to the glacier to eat breakfast and watch some more thunderous calving. The facade was a lot different than when we left it last night. Lots of action overnight.
It was hard to peel ourselves away, but we did and headed back to the small town of Cordova. We saw a bear on the way. Brendan said it looked like a teenage boy in a bear suit.
We heard about a ‘Salmon Fest’ this weekend and went to Orca Lodge for a Salmon filleting contest followed by a Salmon Cook Off. It was terrific. Most towns have a good side that, if you’re lucky enough to see it help you really love that town. This was Cordova’s good side. Live music from local musicians;
silent auctions to benefit the local salmon education; great food
…and cool people.
We found a decent place to sleep over looking the bay. The spot was just past the bridge that crosses Hartney Bay. About mile 5 of the Hartney Bay Road.
We sat at Childs Glacier for a day and a half.
The glacier is at the end of the Copper River Highway, 50 miles from Cordova. Literally, the end of the road.
We think this road originally connected to McCarthy Alaska but now ends just after the ‘famous’ Million Dollar Bridge.
We have seen several glaciers on this trip and thus far, we have commented on how none of us ever really been able to appreciate a glacier.
Child’s glacier was different. It’s 400 yards across a river and spends about a mile of Riverbank.
It’s 300 feet tall and drops icebergs the size of two story houses into the river 20 to 50 times per day.
This ‘calving’ sounds like bombs being dropped and echoes throughout the Canyon.
It can be dangerous:
It was sunny and warm to which usually helps most things!
I think we could’ve sat here for a week. We were lucky enough to catch a HUGE calving moment where literally tons of ice off the central face of the glacier rumbled into the river.
That was approximately five 30 story
buildings falling into the river!!
The campground here is spectacular. It costs $25 but is totally worth it. All night we could hear the thunderous glacier dropping icebergs into the river. Very much a National Geographic moment.
July 26, 2011
From Ptarmigan Creek Campground the Whittier Ferry terminal we backtracked along the Seward highway and then had to go through the famous Whittier Tunnel. Whiitier is a weird place and it starts with this tunnel.
The tunnel Is literally a single lane tunnel carved through the base of a mountain. Traffic for cars alternates every 15 min. East and West. Then railroad traffic alternates east and West every 30 min. The walls of the tunnel are barren rock. Until 2001 cars can only get through the tunnel on a train.
(Brief History of Whittier..
The town is tiny. Population- a whopping 174. Half the population lives in this one condo:
The weather is rough – almost always cold, rainy, and cloudy. Because of this and its proximity to Russia, the army, during WW2, chose to put a port here, hoping the Japanese wouldn’t be able to find it.)
**Whittier connection with NOLA. Hale Boggs died in a plane crash with a Whittier politician… from Wikipedia:
In 1972, while Boggs was still Majority Leader, the twin engine airplane in which Boggs was traveling disappeared over a remote section of Alaska. The airplane presumably crashed and was never found. Congressman Nick Begich was also presumed killed in the same accident.
After the tunnel experience, we got to the ferry terminal and checked in with a nice last named Mary. We called the brothers and Pauly tracked us on google maps.
Loading the Ironhorse onto the ferry:
Pulling out on the ferry.
Ferry – Clean and fast and great scenery, with a foggy mist. And we all got to see our first iceberg today. Luckily non contact.
We pulled into the city of Cordova about 2 hours later. It was cold. Dreary. Rainy. We were all struggling and feeling down in the dumps.
We drove around the town, stopped at the visitor center and the grocery, and then head to a place to camp. We found a sweet place near the foot of Sheridan Glacier at about mile 14 of the copper river highway.
and a couple of pulls from knob creek lightened our moods.
The swans in a lake in front of a huge green mountain helped things as well.
July 25, 2011
We woke up for the last time in Denali Ntl Park today at the Savage River Campground.
Head to the WAC to drop off Brendans bear box and then head to the Riley Creek Mercantile to take nice $4 hot showers.
We then picked up Mike and Jackie and had a long day of driving. We drove back through Anchorage and onto the beautiful Seward highway.
The scenery changed dramatically once we were here.. Waterfalls, Big lush misty green mountains right on clear green lakes (Fjords).
We got to the little fishing town of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula.
and had a goodbye dinner at Chinooks right on the bay.
We ate salmon and halibut cheeks and watched seals out the window.
The town smelled fishy and was chilly and rainy.
Goodbye to Mike and Jackie! Thanks again for joining us!
We cruised back up towards Whittier and stayed at Ptarmigan creek CG
July 24, 2011
Today we had our third bear encounter in three days. You heard about our chocolate chip cookie bear yesterday and Brendan arrived back in camp after some front row bear interaction the day before.
Michel stayed at camp today and Brendan joined my dad and I on the Eielson shuttle bus. From our last couple days on these buses we have learned that most the wildlife is in “the middle” of the park right now. The park road is some 90 miles long and most of the wildlife has been between mile 35 & 60.
We saw three wolves early on and Brendan got some good photos.
One of the wolves was tracking a squirrel or hare so we watched from the bus as it pounced into the brush.
I have been eyeing an area called highway pass. It has some nice lush tundra and the peaks and ridges are not too aggressive.
We got off at hiway pass and hiked to the peak of this ridge.
I set up my video camera for some journals and then had some lunch. This is my kind of nature. Big sky. Big sun. Soft ground.
After relaxing at hiway pass for a few hours we chose to hop back on the bus and head back toward the park entrance and get off at mile 47.5. A well known spot to watch wildlife. Before we got 5 miles down the road towards 47.5 the bus driver spotted a bear in a drainage just off the road. This bear was one of the bigger bears we had seen with a real healthy coat of fur.
It was tearing up the soap berry bushes in the drainage. As we drove off the driver, Anne, encouraged us to get off after a half mile and walk back to watch the bear through dads spotting scope. “…you didn’t come all this way to ride a bus, get out there in the food chain!” is how I recall Anne putting it. That was encouragement for us.
A half mile later we were watching the bus disappear around the next mountain. Things got real quiet and my dad suddenly bursts out …”Oh man, I left my glasses on that bus!”.
We grabbed the next shuttle coming up the road and, after some dispatch radio work, we caught ‘food chain Anne’ at Tolkat river.
45 minutes later, glasses in hand we caught yet another shuttle back out to where the drainage we saw that bear. We hopped off the bus before the drainage and walked along the road. As we crept up over a ridge where the bear was we saw a whole lot of nothing. That bear had made it’s way through the soap berries in that drainage and appeared to be gone. We figured it couldn’t have gone too far so we decided to split up and look for the bear. Bear spray in hand, Brendan and I went down the ridge while my dad moved up the ridge. After 20 minutes or so we were 3/4 of a mile from my dad but could see him up the ridge. Brendan pulled out our binoculars to scan the ridge. After a few minutes Brendan blurts out, “That bear is sleeping right behind your dad. I don’t know if he sees it but he is walking right towards it!”
We immediately start yelling and gesturing to get my dads attention. He wasn’t looking at us and we were so far away he couldn’t hear us. Feeling a bit helpless we started walking back up the ridge and took another look in the binoculars. It appeared my dad had noticed the bear and was gesturing for us to come his way. As if we didn’t understand there was a bear 200 yards from him he started miming bear signals… Give me a B. Give me an E. Give me an A. Give me an R. The next time we looked through the binoculars he was STILL waving us over… At this point he had gotten down on his hands and knees and was scratching around the tundra like a monkey which, I guess, also meant BEAR. After we made our way the mile or so back to him, he runs up in a huff, “Stephen, that bear is asleep right up that ridge!!”. We know dad, we know.
Watching a bear sleep is kind of fun. More fun than watching it chase you. We set up our scope on the road and got up close with the bear.
They sleep like humans. This one was waking up every now and again to adjust it’s head or put it’s meaty paws under it’s chin. In non- human-like fashion, it also woke up every once in a while to sniff the air around it. Hopefully not smelling Gleasons.
After 90 minutes or so it popped up and kept moving as if we were not there. Off it went up and over the ridge and into the horizon.
Tired and fulfilled we headed back to camp. On yet another shuttle.
July 23, 2011
We opted for shuttles for the next couple of days, as they allow you to get on and off the bus. As a rule, they won’t let you get off by wildlife, but the driver will drop you off 1/2 mile away from wildlife and you can hike back. Which is interesting.
We rode out today to one the farthest places available by road in the park – to “Wonder Lake” (about 90 miles in).
On the way, we saw plenty of wildlife AND we saw one of the cooler things we’ve witnessed yet. Yesterday, 7 Wolves killed a Caribou. Unfortunately we missed that, but today we drove by the remnants of the kill and were lucky enough to see a big Grizzly Bear finding it. All that was left was a pair of bloody antlers (FYI – there is velvet on antlers) and a red rib cage.
The bear gracefully attacked them, using his big paws and mouth to get whatever was left to salvage. It felt like a National Geographic episode for sure.
The lake ended up not exactly full of “wonder”. Average compared to other lakes we’ve seen on the drive and full of Mosquitos. But, now we know.
Next came the adventure for the day. Let me set the scene. Winds started picking up dramatically on the drive back. In fact, at a rest stop the wind almost knocked Steve over as he got back on the bus. But, he and Mike were pretty set on finding a place to hike and set up the spotting scope. So, they watched for a spot and finally found a good one. I think the driver thought we were nutters getting out in the windy conditions, but after asking Steve if he thought it was a good idea if I came and him not really giving me a direct answer, I bundled up and stepped off the bus with the boys…
We hiked up on the tundra for a ways til we got onto a ridge overlooking a river drainage and a valley. The ground was the most exciting part for me – it was grassy sponge that you could literally jump on or stick your feet in. A great part is that it doesn’t leave any stickees on your socks and it doesn’t leave your feet wet. It’s a difficult trek, though, because you can get stuck quite often and there are no trails so you have to traverse through lots of brush. Steve was a trooper as his stick would get caught quite easily.
We got settled in and checked out our surroundings for a while, with the binoculars and spotting scope.
After about 45 minutes Mike yelled “I got a grizzly”.
So he and Steve tried to lock in with the scope but then lost the bear. For about 20 minutes they couldn’t find it. I was relaxing behind them and felt hungry so I pulled out a chocolate chip cookie, and while I was eating it I said “oh, there’s the bear, right on the road!” So they looked, and we realized that the bear was, not slowly by any means, walking straight towards us. Here, a picture would be probably be ideal, but we had to make a quick decision of taking a photo or getting the hell outta dodge.
We opted for safety, so we began our hike back to the road, the opposite way of the bear, even though we lost sight of him, which was quite scary.
We survived. We got to the road about 45 minutes later feeling pretty amped up. I was also feeling the same feeling I did after that hike I did a couple of days ago.. “Mama Jill would kill me if she was here:)”
On the way back to camp, we passed by the antlers and rib cage. Next to them was the bear, passed out cold.
July 22, 2011
OK. We are nature drunk again…
Today Jackie, Mike, Steve, and I drove a couple hours away to a town called Talkeetna to take a scenic flight tour of Mt McKinley. We moved the flight to today because the weather forecast seemed decent. Luckily, since we were in the Savage River campground we could leave the park early with no penalty.
You only have a small chance no matter what to be able to see the whole mountain (a) and (b) by the time we reached Talkeetna, we were told we’d probably only be able to see 15,000 ft of the mountain due to incoming clouds.
We drove through town to find our outfitter, Talkeetna Air Taxi. Once we got directions Mike drove us through a plane field to get to our spot, literally on a runway. When we asked if we’d found the right place, the lady said “please don’t say you drove on the runway” and “no, you’re in the wrong place”
Once we found the right place, we boarded the 10 passenger plane, along with our wonderfully hot pilot, Tyler, a family of 5 from Jersey, and a lesbian named Lynn. We were anxious that we wouldn’t see the peak, but excited nonetheless.
And exciting it was. About 20 minutes into the flight we were soaring through snow capped mountains, so close it almost felt like you could reach out and touch them.
Then. There it was. About 40 minutes into the ride we came upon it – Mt McKinley, AKA Denali (The High One).. at 20,543 ft the highest mountain in the world (I was just corrected, highest in North America) clear as day for us to see. It was a bit overwhelming, I almost couldn’t believe it. So Naturally, I cried. I was just so excited that we were so blessed and lucky and that Steve got to see it.
Tyler circled around it a couple of times as we stared at it in awe, continually turning around to each other and fist pumping and open mouth smiling.
After this Tyler landed the plane on a glacier in the middle of the mountains. The glacier looked tiny as we were pulling into it but massive once we landed.
It was so beautiful and quiet.
We took pics. Mike did shirtless snow angels. We walked around, careful not to fall into the ice. Pretty spectacular.
We spent the rest of the day in the really cute town of Talkeetna.
It was a sunny day – i called home, we sat out at “Beer Garden” and the boys drank local beers.
Jackie and I ate the best milkshake I’ve (and steve) ever tasted. The baby really liked it too.
We then head back to Denali and dropped the elder Gleasons off and drove back to camp. On the way to our campsite, we saw two gray wolves!!
Pretty exciting for two of us who’ve never seen wolves. Like dogs but a lot cooler, even though we didn’t get to see them all that well.
We also saw this when we got home:
Brendan had to cut his back country trip short because he’d just been surrounded by 5 bears, one being a mama protecting her cubs. He said he’d had enough nature for now. More on this in another post…
July 21, 2011:
Last night we boondocked north of the park entrance. We had to push through some brush b/c the trail was over grown a bit. But the spot we found was worth it…
…A really cool valley overlooking the Nenana river.
On the drive from Amchorage to Denali NP we pulled off and caught a great view of Mt McKinley (Denali).
We chose to have a guided tour today to get an intro to the park. The Tundra Wilderness Tour (TWT) goes about two-thirds of the way into the park.
I’m not a huge fan of guided tours but,
there is only one road into the park and no public vehicles are allowed in.
It is a uniquely beautiful place.
Fifty or so humans crawling over each other to see a moose can get old after an 8 hour day.
I’ve never seen a caribou and we came across one in an old river bed early in the morning. I felt like crawling over the other humans to get a look.
Later we saw a Mamma grizzly and her two cubs. Michel was hitting me so hard that I had to refocus my camera. Then they were gone…
We saw another grizzly and another caribou and a couple moose as well. On a cliff near the road was a pack of Dall Sheep. Gnarly fellows.
We are camping in Savage River campground tonight. It’s about 15 miles into the park. We chose Savage River over Teklanika because we wanted to be able to leave the park if necessary.
And. We ended the day in the really cute town of Denali at our favorite spot, Salmon Bake. We got halibut fish and chips – and one piece of the three was literally the best, buttery, flaky, tender pieces of fish I’ve ever tasted.