The 21st was another "you had to be there" experience. The morning was totally clear (very rare) so we hitched a ride on the 0600 departing bus and got off at Wonder Lake. The mountain was "Out". McKinley is spectacular since the vertical rise from the surrounding foothills is 18,000 feet (Everest is only 6,000 feet) and when it's clear you can see it all. We took a major number of pictures, then hiked 5 miles back to the lodge for breakfast. After packing, we got reay for our trip out of the park.
Instead of the bus, we booked a flight tour on a small Cessna back to the train station. What an Experience!! Crystal clear sky and the tallest mountain in North America. At 12,000 feet we made several passes across the north face of the mountain. On the last pass a giant avalanche came rushing down the Wickersham Wall. The pilot commented that he hadn't seen that happen for several years. Timing is everything. We spent nearly an hour flying between peaks and ridges before landing near the train station.
The train ride from Denali to Anchorage on the ARR Gold Star train topped off our adventure. It felt good to settle into our seats in the luxury domed observation car, enjoy dinner in the private dining car, and watch the scenery go by.
On the 23rd we took the Prince William Sound excursion, but I think we could have skipped that trip since it just couldn't compare to the last week. On the 24th we toured more in Anchorage, then flew back to the boat in Juneau.
I've added a new gallery of pictures for our inland excursion, but still haven't mastered the process of arranging the pictures in order. I apologize for the duplicates.
The bus picked us up early 6/17 for the ride from Anchorage to Denali. Not much to see along the way since it was overcast and rainy. We had the afternoon at the park visitor center and the commercial area outside the park, which was over run with cruise liner tourists. Both Princess Cruises and Holland America own giant lodges for their customers. We were really looking forward to some quiet time in the back country.
Denali Park and wildlife refuge is the third largest national park - over 5 times the size of Yellowstone. The wildlife has been left untouched for nearly 100 years, so the animals tend to just ignore people. The bus ride into the park on the 18th was a great way to start a truly once in a lifetime experience. Carribou, grizzly bears, moose, eagles, Dall sheep, all roaming free - very different than your average zoo.
The lodge was truly outstanding: great food, our own private cabin, comfortable lounge and bar, and excellent staff. The first full day we hiked to the McKinley River bar, guided by a naturalist who provided a running commentary. We decided to extend our stay an extra day, so we had the entire day of the 20th. We took an unguided extended hike on a loop through the ridges and tundra above the lodge. Things were pretty wet and soggy since this area is permafrost - the ground a foot or two down never thaws, so surface water cannot soak in. Tundra covers the permafrost with a thick layer of moss and lichen, making it like walking on a deep soft mattress. A cold beer in the lodge bar topped off a great day.
We are actually back in Juneau and I'm writing this on the 28th. I've back dated things to make more chronological sense
On June 14 we flew the "local" Alaska Air connection from Juneau to Anchorage. The plane was a 737, but the forward 60% was cargo, the aft 40% was for passengers. The plane set down in Yakutat and Cordova to let off cargo and take on large amounts of frozen fish. That's where your salmon comes from.
On the 15th we picked up a rental car and drove from Anchorage to Seward. Along the way we visited a wildlife center (bears, bison, carribou, yak, moose) and in Seward toured the Alaska Sealife Center. The day was rainy so the scenery was partly obsured, but what we saw was spectacular. I didn't realize that the tides in the Cook Inlet are second only to the Bay of Fundy - up to 35 feet or more.
On the 16th we took the all day boat trip from Seward through the Kenai Fjords National Park. The Harding glacier was spectacular, but a little tame after our experience in Petersburg. Lots of wildlife to see: humpback whales, orca, stellar sea lions, otter, and a wide variety of birds. We drove back to Anchorage that evening and got a good rest for the next six days of adventure