Sunday, September 25, 2016

Delicious Orchard

Some rides are scenic rides others are destination rides. My ride this week was a destination ride to Delicious Orchards. Delicious Orchards is one of the best farm market/baked goods place in NJ so if  you want to indulge in fried apple fritters or some large danishes this is the place to go. There is nothing particularly bad about the roads getting there or back its just that they are not especially scenic.  Riding out this way means you have to deal with some traffic in spots and some days are worst than others. I try to keep to quiet back roads but as this area has continued to be built up that is getting a little harder.

Jim and Laura joined me at my house and we road into Etra Park where we picked up John and Peter. I would of had more people except for the fact that is was misting out. The forecast had called for cloudy with zero chance of rain so I thought that it would clear up as we rode east. We did this route which has parts of our normal Belmar and Sandy Hook rides. The rain persisted and we went in and out of heavy misting rain. It wasn't cold but it wasn't really warm either so I'm glad I decided to put the arm warmers on.

By the time we got to Delicious Orchards the rain had stopped but still no sun. The problem with stopping here is that there are so many good things to eat here it is hard to choose. I grabbed an large apple cinnamon danish which I didn't think I 'd finish but as soon as I tasted it I could stop eating it. (Peter actually bought and ate 2 of them). Jim had the fried apple fritters. Luckily nobody had panniers so we could not bring more junk food home.

The ride back home was dry but still cool and cloudy. We made our way through Freehold then back to Etra Park where we finally saw some blue sky and the sun. I got this picture of Laura taking a picture of the clouds. If you check out Jim's blog you will see a picture of me taking a picture. This is just part of the stupid stuff we do on our rides.

By the time I got back to my house I had 62 miles. Even though we got a little wet it still was an enjoyable ride. Now that it is autumn and the weather is turning colder it is important to get long rides like this in when you can.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Inside Passage

The south east coast of Alaska is series of bays, islands, straits and channels all surrounded by high mountains. Its a beautiful area to cruise around no matter what the weather is. The last stop for our cruise was in the town of Ketchikan. This is one of the wettest places on earth and gets over 150 inches a rain a year on average. We had been really luck with the weather for our trip. Although we had some clouds in Skagway and Hoonah with a brief light shower we really had not seen any rain for the entire trip which is very unusual for this part of Alaska since it is a temperate rain forest. In Ketchikan we finally got some real rain for most of the day which seemed appropriate. They call it liquid sunshine here as a way to rationalize the fact that it rains 80% of the time.

The rain really didn't stop us from exploring the town as we had brought rain gear with us for just this occasion. We spend some time checking out the stores here as we had done in some of the other ports. Since it was the end of the season everything was half off or more so I picked up some nice T-shirts and sweatshirts.

Since we had been to Ketchikan before we had done most of the activities we wanted to do last time and didn't have any concrete plans for the day. We ended up checking out the lumber jack show in town as a fun way to waste a hour.

It was actually very entertaining as the people in the show were professional lumberjacks and showed us why this is an actual sport. It was really pouring rain during the show but it didn't seem to matter to lumberjacks. Luckily we were in the stands under a roof.

The last day of the cruise was spent coming down the inside passage. This is a channel along the Canadian coast that gets you into Vancouver. Its is very scenic and was a good way to finally relax and wind down after 2 weeks of active vacationing. It felt strange to have a day with almost nothing to do. I did actually walked around the ship and tryed out the rock wall. I always wanted to climb one and it ended up being easier than I thought.

Besides packing for the trip home we mostly sat on our balcony and watched the world go by. The scenery was as good as it had been for most of our trip. We even had some sun glinting off the water at strange angles that made it seem like there were thousands of flashbulbs going off under the waves. I took a video of it but really didn't capture what it really felt like.

It was a quiet day just watching the mountains and other ships go by. After 2 weeks with out any real internet or phone access it was easy to relax and not get distracted by anything. The day cruising gave me time to process all we had done and seen. I don't think I have even see and experience so many amazing things in such short a period of time. When we started planing this vacation 10 months ago we hoped it would be as good as our last vacation in Alaska. Now that the vacation is over I can say this vacation exceeded our expectations and confirmed our belief that Alaska is one of the most beautiful and unique places you can visit. I can't quite explain to people why it is so special. Yes it has some amazing scenery and wildlife and yes it has a certain appeal because it is a somewhat untamed and uncivilized place but there is something more to it than that. There is a certain energy and openness to this land that seems to pull you in makes you want to explore it all.

I don't know if or when we will be back to Alaska but there are 4 or 5 more things we want to see and do, so I expect another trip here is in our distance future. Alaska is not the easiest place to vacation and it lacks some of the basic luxuries of normal society but if you have an adventurous spirit and enjoy the great outdoors this is one place you have to visit at least once in your life.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bruce the Moose Gave Lorrie a Smooch

If you are even near Skagway Alaska you need to go to the Kroschel Wildlife Center. Its more an interactive animal experience than a zoo and the owner Steve Kroschel is an entertaining and eccentric guide to this unique animal habitat. There are a couple of unique animals here that you probably can't see any where else. Alaska is more lax with laws protecting you from animals so you will be able to get closer to these animals than you could anywhere else.

Steve Kroschel is well regarded wildlife film maker and has created some award winning films for PBS. He is also one of the main sources of snow and avalanche scenes in movies. He has been on a number of talk shows with his animals and was a favorite of Johnny Carson. His wildlife rescue center in Haines Alaska is clearly his passion and the orphan animals he recuses he treats as his family.

After a ferry ride from Skagway to Haines followed by a bus ride we arrived at a remove driveway in the middle of nowhere. A women meet us at the bus and told us about the refuge as we walked up the hill. In the background we saw a man running through the woods making some crazing chirping sounds. When we arrived at pen in enclosure there was Steve standing next to a wolf who was nipping at him like a friendly dog.

He told us a lot of interesting information about the wolf and made it pose for some photos. He then had us howl at the wolf until it howled back then ran off to the woods again as his assistant took us to the main compound.

The main compound has a series of pens and what can be best described as outdoor stages that are used to show the animals. Each pen and stage is made in such a way that if you take photos from a certain point it looks like the animals are in the wild in their natural environment. This is one reason Steve gets a lot of visits from film makers looking to get shots of animals. Instead of spending days in the wild hoping to get the shot they need they can just come to the wildlife refuge.

In the main compound we got to see and pet a fox and arctic fox. He also when into a pen and picked up a sleeping Lynx. He must have a good relation with it to wake it up and give it a stretch.

Steve also brought out a wolverine on a lease. If you ever see a wolverine in the wild you are probably seconds from dying as these small animals are know for their ferocity and strength. Wolverines can easily kill a full size moose. They are very intelligent and are one of the few animals that can kill a porcupine without getting stung by its needles (it does this by quickly biting its face off).  

Speaking of porcupines he brought one out for us to see and pet. It was pretty dam cute until he explained that if you get a needle in you it can't just be pulled out but will burrow into your skin until it comes out some where else or kills you. There have been cases where people died from a needle that pierced their skin and then months later pierced one of their vital organs.

We keep walking uphill until be got to one of the larger areas that contained a couple of caribou. The assistant brought out one of the baby caribou that we could pet and feed. Caribou's have really soft fur.

Then we got to kiss the moose.

Steve brought out a bucket of large carrots and feed them to a moose in a pen through an open door. Then he asked people to put the carrot in their mouth and let the moose take it from them. It was a little scary to be that close to a moose because in the wild they are very mean and will charge and kick people to death with out any warning. They are actually more dangerous to encounter in the wild than grizzly bears.

This one however was will trained. After we saw how easy it was everybody wanted to do it. My wife was real excited about doing it and I got a great shot of it. I did it too because how many times are you going to be able to kiss a moose. In case you are curious I will say the moose was gentle and had really soft lips so I won't mind a second date.

After the moose encounter we headed back down hill. We hear the wolf howling call us, he new pack, so we all howled back at him. Steve asked us to say "he kitty, kitty, kitty" and we did expecting some type of cat but instead a grizzly bear ran out from the woods. It was behind a wire fence so we were not in any danger but it is still scary to see a grizzly bear running towards you. It was feeding time so they feed the bear, who's name is kitty, some blueberry pie and salmon. Bears it turns out are picky eaters. They love salmon of course but only like the good salmon like king and sockeye and won't eat the chum salmon which is the worst tasting of the salmon.

During the entire visit Steve was constantly making chirping, moaning or other weird sounds as he handled the animals. He even kissed the wolverine. He is a strange man with some eccentric new age ideas but he was also very charming and you can't visit this place and not want to help him preserve these animals and the wilderness they live in. It was a really fun experience.

After our visit ended we got back on the bus to the ferry and then back to the cruise ship. Although it was an hour and a half ride to get to the wildlife refuge and back the bus driver and ferry operator kept us entertained with stories about the area and a description of the land around us.This was true of all our transportation for all our tours. The rides never seemed long because of the scenery and the skill in all our tour guides in sharing their knowledge and experience of Alaska.

The day after Skagway we were in Hoonah Alaska which is a town owned by one of the native Tlingit tribes. Originally this town was a fishing village that was used by the tribe to gather the many salmon in the area. I was hoping for some interesting history of the native culture here but what we found was more a shopping village with some outdoor amusements like a zip line. It was about as authentic as the Indian casino in Connecticut. It was still a cool place to walk around.

We also ended up doing another whale watching trip and saw more orcas. This time I tried to get a video of them to try and capture more of what it feels like to be so close to them.

I also learned there are two types of orcas resident and transient. The resident ones live in the same are and don't migrate. They eat only fish, mostly salmon. The transient orcas migrate to find food and only eat other mammals like seals and humpback whales. This is where the term killer whale comes from. They also travel in large packs that hunt together.  The ones we saw today were transient ones as there were a lot of them and the guide says that they don't see them that often in this area. This is one of the reasons we did see any humpback whales since they were hiding.

Seeing whales no matter what type they are is a surreal experience and makes you appreciate these great animals a lot more than seeing them in an aquarium. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Glacier Explorations

If you go to Alaska you will see a lot of glaciers. You almost can't look at a mountain in any part of the state and not see two or three of them. They are all slightly different and unique in their own way so even though you may think you would get glacier fatigue after seeing 20 or 30 of them the truth is seeing the 30th one is almost as cool as seeing the first one.

After spending seven days exploring the interior of Alaska we flew from Fairbanks to Anchorage to get on a cruise ship and explore the southeast part of the state. Most of the cities in this part of the state are not accessible by road so the only way to get to them is by sea or air so cruising is the best way to get to tour these cities and see the natural wonders along the coast.

The first day on the cruise ship was a leisurely cruise into Disenchantment Bay which is home to the Hubbard glacier. It was good to have a quiet easy day like this after our first hectic 7 days. The Hubbard glacier is 6 miles wide and over 700 feet high. The mountains behind it are 8,000 to 10,000 feet high so it is really hard to appreciate the true size of this thing unless you are there. The ice that forms the glacier start as snow on the mountain tops 122 miles away and takes about 450 years to move down the slopes to the bay. This is one of the few glaciers that is growing and as the ship got closer you could hear it move. It sounded like small claps of thunder. The last time where were here is was pouring rain and cold. Today was yet another perfect sunny day so we stood up on deck as the ship hovered need the glacier.

Today there was a lot of calving and we saw a lot of big chunks of the glacier fall off and splash in the water. The sound of the tons of ice hitting the water sounded Thor's hammer as it had a loud thunderous sound.

We spend about an hour an a half at the glacier then cruised out of the bay towards Juneau. 

The next day Juneau we had scheduled two tours. The first one was a hovercraft ride to a glacier. This was a lot of fun. We took a high speed ferry from Juneau to Taku bay then got on to hovercrafts to go to the Taku glacier. The weather was sunny and calm so the water of the bay was glass smooth which was perfect for the 6 person hovercrafts.

The reason they use hovercrafts to get to this glacier is because this particular glacier is slowly growing and mowing down a forest and wet land. In the process it is pushing a lot of silt that is coming out of the glaciers into mud banks and sand piles. The hovercrafts can go over the water and mud banks and get you right to the base of the glacier.

Taku glacier is 5 miles wide and about 200 feet high. This glacier is also growing but unlike the Hubbard glacier this one is pushing dirt, sand and rock ahead of it and not just falling into the bay. This means that in front of the glacier there is a little island and sand pile to view the glacier from.

After parking the hovercrafts on the mud bank we climbed one of the large sand piles to get a closer look at the glacier.

This gave us an up close look at the glacier and we even got to walk on part of it. This glacier is very dirty since it is pushing down trees and rocks as it comes down the slopes from the Juneau ice fields. It also had some cool cracks in it that let you look deep into it so you could see some really deep blue ice.

As the snow gets compressed to ice as it travels down the mountain over 400 years, more and more of the air gets compressed out of the ice and it goes from white to clear to blue.

We spend an hour exploring the glacier. While we were doing this one of the drivers of the hovercraft was panning for gold in the run off from the glacier and actually found a few flakes.

It turns out one of the more popular hobbies in Alaska is panning for gold. The average pannier make about $3200 a year. It does take a lot of knowledge and patience to find gold but I guess it can be a hobby that actually makes money.

After the Taku glacier trip we decided to do a evening whale watching cruise. The last time we were in Juneau we saw a lot of different whales which was really awe inspiring. We also saw some whales this time mostly Orcas.

But it was hard to anticipate where the would surface it was not easy to get a good picture. It was still a cool experience. The scenery was also amazing especially towards sunset.

So although it was another long day we were glad we took advantage of the many things to do in Juneau.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Life Above the Arctic Circle


Less than 1/10 of 1% of people who travel to Alaska go above the arctic circle. There are a lot of good reasons for this. First its very hard to get above the arctic circle. There is a road that will take you there but is a dangerous gravel packed road meant for trucks. Car rental companies will not let you drive their cars on this road so you have to rent special SUVs at high prices. The other option is flying but that is expensive too. There are also not many services like food and hotels above the arctic circle so getting basic food and shelter is a major hassle. Lastly there are no real tourist attractions to visit or things to do so there is no real reason to go north of the 66.33 latitude that marks the arctic circle. However if you are not deterred by the hassle and rustic conditions and have an adventurous spirit traveling above the arctic circle can be a transformational experience. 

As part of exploring Alaska we wanted to go to the northern most point because we had met people who had done it and that couldn't stop talking about how cool it was. This is not something that is easy to arrange on your own so we found a tour from the Northern Alaska Tour company that would take us on a 3 day tour above the arctic circle. The first day we would fly from Fairbanks to Barrow Alaska, the northern most town in the US. We would then fly to Prudhoe Bay for an overnight stay in an oil workers camp. Days 2 and 3 would be spent driving down the 520 mile Dalton Highway back to Fairbanks with a lot of interesting stops along the way.

Weather as warm and sunny which was good since bad weather may have cancel the trip. It also gave us some great views of the mountains and terrain as we headed north.It was an early 7am start as we took a small 9 passenger Piper Navajo up to Barrow. Because of the distance, the plane had to make a pit stop in Coldfoot to refuel and to let us off for a bathroom break.  Coldfoot is in a valley in the Brooks range of mountains and is very scenic.

It clouded up as we got near Barrow so the pilot had to make and instrument approach to the runway. It had been about 60 degrees as we left Coldfoot but was 35 when we landed in Barrow so I put on the extra sweatshirt and a jacket as we waited for a van to arrive to take us on a tour of Barrow.

Barrow was a lot bigger than I expected it to be. I thought it would be a small native fishing village but it is a town of over 4000 people with a hotel, supermarket, 2 year college, and museum. Its still a desolate place as all the roads are dirt and gravel because you can't build on the permafrost since it is constantly heaving and shifting.

New structures are built on pilings that are sunk deep into the permafrost but the older homes lie on blocks or skids on the ground and occasionally need to be re-leveled. The people of Barrow don't care about how the outside of there house looks and are proud of that fact so things are strewn around the yards. Its not a very pretty place at all. Even the beach is more gravel than sand.

If you come to Barrow one of the things people must do is to stick there hand or foot in the Arctic Ocean. Some people go so far as to strip to a bathing suite and jump in. At 33 degrees I was content just to stick my hand in.

Because there are no roads leading to Barrow even thing that comes here has to come by air or by barge in the summer. So everything is 2 to 3 times more expensive hear. Some prices are even worst than that. For example a half of water melon was 42 dollars.

So for most of the people of Barrow they still lead a subsistence life style. They still hunt whales here and the town has a quota that is used by the people to feed themselves. That is one of the reasons that the beaches contain some of whale bones.

In fact one of the most famous pictures from Barrow is an arch of whale bones with examples of some boats they use to use for the hunt.

After a 3 hour tour of Barrow we left by our little plane again for an hour flight to Prudhoe Bay and the town of Deadhorse.

Prudhoe Bay is the where the northern Alaska oil fields are and one of the chief sources of income for the state. The place is an apocalyptic industrial hellscape of warehouses, gravel roads, oil ridge, and thousand upon thousands pieces of heavy equipment surrounded by pristine arctic tundra.

There is no way to image what this place is like unless you have been here. The actual town is called Deadhorse and there are various stories about how it got its name. We did take a brief tour of the oil facilities and stopped at the general store which has everything from a Deadhorse coffee mugs to a hydraulic pump for a 100 ton crane used to move the oil derricks around.

We stayed for the night in a large double wide trailer that is used to house the oil workers. Each room has two twin beds with communal bathroom down the hall.

It felt like a juvenile detention facility. But the buffet dinner and breakfast in the trailer next store was surprisingly good.

 The next morning the nine of us that booked this tour got in a van and headed down the Dalton highway for our 2 day 520 mile ride back to Fairbanks. The highway is more of a wide gravel road and less of a real highway. The road is built on permafrost which is frozen wet dirt that is somewhere between 400 and 1500 feet deep so there is no way to get down to a solid surface to build a road. They actually put down 6 inch foam board then pile gravel on top of that to keep the heat of the road from melting the permafrost. Of course this doesn't work 100% so the road sinks into the permafrost and then just add more foam and gravel. The line of heavy trucks rolling over it doesn't help either. Then there is the fact that snow during the winter piles up against the road only to melt and wash out parts of it every spring.

It was a bumpy ride in the van but we had some Aussies with us that made the ride fun. I have yet to meet people from Australia who weren't friendly and knew how to have a good time no matter where they were.

It was a little cloudy and misting at the start of the ride and got a little foggy as we left the tundra and drove up into the Brooks mountain range.

 One we got over the Atigun pass however things started to clear up and the views really improved.

Then the sun came out and we could really see how beautiful this area really was.

After 10 or so hours we arrived at the only truck stop on the entire highway. We arrived back in Coldfoot for our second nights stay. Coldfoot is no more than a gas station, a couple of buildings a gravel airstrip and a couple double wide trails that they call a hotel. Our rooms were similar to the ones in Prudhoe bay except for the fact that we had a 3/4 bathroom in our room.

Dinner was again a buffet and very good. It was warm enough to eat on the porch and we were treated with a view of a full rainbow that was actual a double rainbow for a few minutes.

Despite the rustic conditions Coldfoot was one of the most scenic places I have ever been. It was just so quiet and peaceful that I could sit there for hours and stare at the mountains.

The next day we made a stop in the town of Wiseman which is just north of Coldfoot. Wiseman is an old gold mining camp that consist of a few dozen log cabins spread out across about 10 acres by a river. There is no more gold to be mined so the people that live here because they want living off the grid in a subsistence life style. There are a lot of those type of people in Alaska. The main person we talked to was Jack Reakoff who was born in Wiseman and chose to stay here. He is not your typical recluse who just wants to get away from society but a person who wants to live close to the land. You can tell he has a real respect for the animals he hunts and the forest he lives in. He is on the advisory board for Denali national park and helps them monitor the local wildlife and come up with ways to preserve it. He was really sharp and smarted than most professors that I have met. He even taught me a few things about the aurora and I'm and astronomy geek.

It must be an interesting life living in Wiseman but I can't image the winters here where temps get to 30 or 40 below and the sun doesn't shine for a couple of months. There is so much vacuum pressure from the heat rising in his cabin on a 40 degree below day that it sucks cold air though the walls even though the are sealed. To solve this Jack said that he piles snow up the sides of his log to insulate it. 

Wiseman is not totally off the grid they actually have a microwave tower that provides hard line phone and a slow internet connection. They use solar panels to generate electricity for lights during the summer and generators during the winter when there is no sun. Electricity is used mostly for LED lighting and to charge their computers and cameras. The internet connection also allows then an easy way for people to contact them about tours and aurora viewing. There is no indoor plumbing though so some things about life here are stuck in the last century.

Besides living off the land Wiseman is famous for two things. First, part of the show Life Below Zero is shot here although it shows a very distorted view the actual lifestyle. On the show it implies that the person is hundreds of miles from civilization where as he is really only a half mile from the Dalton highway and 15 miles from Coldfoot. The second thing Wiseman is famous for is view the aurora. There is actual a hotel(i.e a nicer log cabin) where people stay during fall and spring to view the aurora. A few people like Jack act as there guides and earn a little extra money to help them buy the things they can't make.

After our tour of Wiseman is was back in the van for another 270 miles. The road was a little better and was actually paved in a few places which made the drive faster. At lunch time we stopped at an overlooked that actually marked the edge of the arctic circle as we crossed it going south. Besides having lunch we also all got our pictures taken in front of the sign.

Even though it was late August it was really fall up here so the leaves and tundra were changing colors and made the scenery more interesting.  The last main stop was at the Yukon river. Here I got a few close up pictures of the Trans Alaska Pipeline. This is the pipeline that carries oil from Prudhoe bay all that way to Valdez. This was the main reason the Dalton highway was built so it would be easier to get people and equipment to build the pipeline.

The pipeline is an eyesore on an otherwise pristine wilderness. The engineer in me marvels at the technical challenges that were required to build this pipeline and all the safety features they have built in. However the environmentalist in me hopes that the predictions that this pipeline will no longer be needed in 15 years comes true. You can read more details on the pipeline here

By the time we got back to Fairbanks we were really beat as we had been on the road for 12 hours. Our tour guide in the van and the people we were traveling with made the trip enjoyable. My wife really bonded with the Australian couple and their 30 year old daughter who were on a 9 week vacation. For some reason they had a constant stream of cross the road jokes going

Why did the caribou cross the road.....
   because he was afraid to go under the pipeline.

This joke is neither funny or good unless you were there but little things like this and the many interesting things we learned and saw made this grueling trip one of the coolest things I have ever done.

And it didn't really end there. All we wanted to do when we got back to the hotel was eat and go to bed but it turned out that the aurora was going to be strong tonight which is unusual this early in the year. So I got up a 1:30 am after a few hours of sleep and saw this.

It was just another amazing day in Alaska.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Most people that vacation in Alaska usually choose to take a cruise along the south east coast but if you really want to see the unspoiled wilderness of Alaska you need to visit the interior. If you have time to do only one thing in the interior of the state you should visit Denali. Denali is both a national park and the name of tallest mountain in North America. It was formally known a Mt McKinley but the Alaska people never like that name so it has been officially change back to the original name of given to it by the Koyukon who lived in this area.

Denali national park is both a park and wilderness area. This means that the 6 million arches of the park that are a wilderness is to be preserved in its natural state. There are no hiking trails, campgrounds, roads or buildings allowed in this area. People are allowed in the wilderness area but must be know how to survive in this harsh tundra. Most of the less adventurous people, like us, stick near to the 92 mile road which runs through the middle of the park and is used by the park buses to provide tours.

Denali national park is a mix of low-elevation taiga forest, high alpine tundra and the snowy Alaska range which run through south central Alaska. After an overnight stay in Anchorage we started the 270 drive to Denali. Along the way we stopped in the town of Talketna (think Woodstock for outdoors men)  for our first look at the mountains and a peak at Denali. The Alaska range has its own weather system that causes it to be in clouds most of the time. Only 30% of the people who come to Denali get to actually see the mountains. We were fortunate and got a to see views of the mountains for most of our drive.

We did encounter a brief rain storm preceded by a rainbow right before getting to our hotel in McKinley village. Our hotel was actually a group of real log cabins nestled on a hill about a mile from the entrance to Denali national park. The gravel road up to the hotel was gravel and very steep We had a hard time getting up there in the car. Getting to the cabin also required going up a 3 flights of stairs up a series of decks. Luckily they have a van service to get our luggage up to the cabin.

The next day we had booked a tour of Denali. Last time we were here we did one of the shorter tours and only got 20 miles into the park. This time we took the Kantishna tour which went all the way to the end of the 92 mile road. This would give us the best chance to see wildlife and see all the different terrain the park had to offer. It was a long 12 hour tour but were told by people who had done it that it was worth the time.

We had another beautifully sunny day for our tour and were told by our bus driver and tour guide that this was one of the best days this season for weather. Even he was amazed at some of the views and he does this tour every day.

We saw some caribou and moose as we drove along the mostly gravel road in a modified school bus. Our first stop was at Savage River were I got this picture.

The views only got better from there  as the mountains of the Alaska range and Denali came into view. I took a lot of pictures of Denali.from a number of different points trying to capture it true beauty and size. Most of these pictures the mountain is still 50 to 70 miles away and it feels like you can reach out and touch it.

We also had a close encounter with a bear who walked next to our bus on the way to get a drink from the river.

The park rangers and most of the park workers go out of their way to make sure there is no interactions between humans and animals. There are steep fines and rules for anyone caught feeding or interacting with any animal in the park and most people who come here seem to understand and respect that. The bus driver made sure we did not make any sounds as the bear walked by so that he would no get use to any human sounds. The animals seem to treat the buses that drive along the road as non threatening animals.

Besides the bear, moose and caribou we also saw a lot of dall sheep which roam around the steep mountains.

After 6 hours we reached the end of the road. This is by wonder lake which is where Ansel Adams took one of his most popular photographs of Denali reflecting in pond by Wonder Lake. Because of wind and lighting I could not reproduce the shot but it is easy to imagine what is must have looked like in person

At the end of the road we also got a tour of an old gold mining camp. During the tour they described the life of Fanny Quilegy who was one of the pioneers who seem to thrive in this harsh land. Even after she and her husband Joe got rich from their gold mining she decided to stay. Even though I understood how amazing it would be to live here and spend days staring out the scenery I don't think I could take the 40 below weather in the winter.

On the way back the driver kept us entertained with other stories of the people who lived here and explained the ecology and geology of the park. It was really interesting and it was clear that he had a passion and love for the wilderness.

We got some more views of Denali which had started to cloud over a little.

However the clouds and change in lighting made the polychrome area look spectacular. The picture doesn't full show the varieties of colors glistening in the sun but its desert like appearance is a interesting contrast to the other snow covered mountains.

As we got to back to the beginning of the road we caught some more moose who seem to be howling.

12 hours in a bus riding a gravel road may sound grueling but it really did not seem long or uncomfortable at all because of all the things we were able to see.