2008 Sept – Alaska Trip

We flew from Houston into Anchorage which is one of the larger cities in Alaska. (It is not the capital though – that honor goes to Juneau). Even though it was early September, it hadn’t gotten too cold there yet – contrary to what we had been warned about. This worked out just fine for us because all we needed was a light jacket and we could go pretty much anywhere within freezing to death.

For the most part, we made Anchorage as our base … we stayed in a hotel there drove up and down the area. Next time we visit, we will cover Juneau and surroundings. Unfortunately, there is no “road” between the two cities – you either have to fly into Juneau or take the boat from the Anchorage coast.

Day 1 – Drive to Seward:

You don’t really have to plan your trip in Alaska. Anywhere you drive, there is bound to be eye-catching scenery. We drove from Anchorage to Seward, the southernmost tip of Alaska. The driving time is 2.5 hours but it took us more because we soaked in the scenery on the way. We stopped at Girdwood – took the cable car not the top of the mountains and did some hiking up there. One thing to watch out for is that gas is very expensive in the area – try to fill up your tank in the bigger cities like Anchorage before you set off.

The drive is extremely pleasant with several areas where you can stop by and enjoy the mountains/sea/snow…. This was also the weekend when the whales begin their migration to the warmer areas of the world so we did not catch too many of them but there are several areas where we saw them swimming away … or so we thought! Seward is a nice coastal town with a beautiful harbor and some cool eating joints. Nothing spectacular compared to the rest of Alaska but not ugly by any standards.

Day 2 – Calving of the Glaciers:

We covered pretty much the same route as the day before – except this time we took the train from Anchorage to Whittier, about halfway to Seward. The company that we worked with was “26 Glaciers Cruise” – we hopped aboard their Luxury Catamaran, the M/V Glacier Quest for a trip to Alaska’s glaciers – the journey took just under 4 hours, and we were able to view the largest concentration of tidewater glaciers in Alaska. The 26 Glacier Cruise traveled over 135 miles into Prince William Sound (in the Kenai Fjord National Forest area) where we saw 26 “named” glaciers – Barnard Glacier, Surprise Glacier et. al. Most of them put up a show for us as they “calved” with a large boom sound into the ocean. Getting face to face with these towering masses of ice was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip, so close we could “hear” the glaciers move and gaze at their brilliant blues hues. Not only do you see the awesome calving, but also all kinds of wildlife – floating otters and seals on icebergs. A MUST DO!!!

Day 3 – Denali National Park:

Left Anchorage, and drove North towards Denali National Park. A 3 hour drive from Anchorage, we could get there just in time to enter the park and drive around. However, because it was past 3 PM, we missed the free park-bus service that could have taken us to several scenic spots within the park that are not accessible (not allowed) by personal cars to preserve the natural surroundings. There are only certain areas that are open to personal cars but it was still worth it. There is abundance of wildlife there as we ran into several moose families, elks and what not.

Day 4 – Mt McKinley/Fairbanks:

We kept our base as the Mt McKinley Princess Lodge just at the foothills of Denali and drove further North to Fairbanks. This is the gateway to the Northern Lights but it was not the time of the year for that. Again – the scenery here was spectacular with the snow capped peaks surrounding the various gorges created by the fast moving rivers there.

Mt McKinley is the highest mountain peak in North America and what an awesome view from the lodge that we stayed in. We were blessed with some very clear days during our trip and this happened to be one of them.

Day 5 – Talkeetna River Cruise:

As we started our drive back to Anchorage from Denali, we decided to take another stop on the way. This was the Talkeetna River Cruise – a lazy 4 hour cruise on the rover where we could see so many things that are typical to Alaska – the salmon spawning areas, the wildlife – including black bear families, the bald eagle, and the very knowledgeable guide who took us to several remote spots along the river so we could catch the best sceneries.

5 days is not enough by any standards in Alaska – but we made the best of our trip by covering a plethora of places/activities – the glaciers, the ocean, the fjords, the wildlife. Next time we would like to go either to Juneau or further up North past Fairbanks to catch the Northern Lights.

5 Favorite things about Alaska:

  1. Calving of the Glaciers – WOW!!
  2. Any random drive to any place
  3. Denali National Park
  4. View of Mt McKinley from the foothills of Denali
  5. he Northern Lights – unfortunately had to make-do with watching them on a DVD that we bought because it was not the time of the year for them (November and March are the best months)

Some Don’ts or recommendations:

  1. Get to Denali National Park in time so you don’t miss the free park-bus service that could take you to the untouched interiors where personal vehicles are prohibited
  2. Even though summer is probably the best season to visit Alaska, we had an equally good time in fall. There were lovely fall colors, we enjoyed the off-season rates at hotels, we could still catch the whales as they migrated south, there were warm days and we could still run into snow every now and then. A perfect combo!

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