We Are Back!

Washington-15Yes, we are back! Back in the lower 48 and back to blogging. I must admit that we needed a break after our Alaskan adventure. Time to rest, a break from driving and visiting places, and a break from blogging. In fact, this is the longest gap we have had from blogging since we began doing it three years ago.

We also needed some time to reflect.  In September we marked our three-year anniversary of being “on walkabout”. What an amazing adventure we are having. This was to be the end of the journey as we had planned it but we are extending for a year. So this will be a transition year as we decide on the place to begin our next chapter, and yes, there is another sticks and bricks home in our future. And there will be more adventures as well.

Washington 5Washington 3Washington-2Washington 9Washington 4Upon reaching the lower 48 there was lots to do. Every inch of Island Girl was dirty inside and out, and she had a couple of service issues. The Coquí was also filthy, as were our bikes and kayaks and there was the matter of our broken windshield and sunroof.

We have now made it to Portland and taken care of most of Island Girl and the Coqui’s issues, rested, and (loosely) planned our drive south for the winter. We also flew across the country to visit family and friends in Miami, while Island Girl and Angel remained with friends in Portland. Not exactly restful but it was wonderful. But more on all that later.

So where have we been since leaving Canada? We crossed the border from Osoyoos, British Columbia, to Oroville, Washington. Our plan was to drive the Cascades Loop and visit the North Cascades National Park on route to Seattle.

We scouted several National Forest sites searching for a campsite. And saw firsthand the after effect of the Okanogan fire, the largest in Washington state’s history. One campground had lots of trees down, some on the campsites. At times we could still smell the fire in the air. But now that and the other wildfires have been eradicated, thanks to those who risked their lives (and some who lost their lives) to contain the wildfires.

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Our Last Day in Denali

Denali Day Seven 7It was hard to believe that a week had gone by, and this was our last day in Denali National Park with Hector’s “golden pass”. We were out for 13 hours the day before, and Angel and I were pretty tired, but Hector was on a photographers’ adrenaline high.

Denali Day Seven 20It was very cloudy so we left just after 6 a.m. Hector really wanted to make the most of this day, and his plan was to “get down low”, closer to the earth as much as possible.

Denali Day Seven 3Denali Day Seven 2Denali Day Seven 8We tried to take all of the scenery in as if we would never be back again. The beautiful fireweed with the mountains as backdrop, the braided rivers, the meadows, the glittering ponds.
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Puffy Clouds

puffy 2 The forecast for this morning was for partly sunny weather. Sunny meant that it would be brighter earlier so we set out at 5 a.m., although we wondered if the smoke/haze would still be around. It was not very sunny, but also not hazy, and there were puffy clouds in the sky.

puffy 1The mountains on Polychrome Pass had some very interesting clouds around them. And the sunrise over the pass was quite pretty. Hector was really pleased with this morning light, and with the variety of days that we had in the park so far.

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A Strange Haze

Smoky 1With the mudslide delay, our previous day was over 14 hours again. We were sleep deprived, but somehow still had lots of energy. So we headed out shortly after 6 a.m. The morning was cloudy, which was forecast, but there was also a strange haze in the air, making it tougher for photography. So this day was presenting Hector with a different type of challenge.

Smoky 2The Teklanika River was still lovely, though, and we got a glimpse of a soft, pretty, smoky sunrise.

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Denali, the High One

Denali the high one 1There are several opportunities to see Denali, the high one, from the road that runs across Denali National Park and Preserve. As the road rises from forest and woodland habitat in the lowlands to the subalpine meadow and open woodland, the mountain can sometimes be seen just peeking behind a closer mountain range.

Then, as the first two of four passes rise up to and down from the alpine area of low tundra, there are two places that offer a full view of the mountain (when she wants to be seen): Stony Creek and the Eilson Visitor Center.

Denali the high one 3We set out at 5:00 A.M. in order to catch the beautiful morning light and also to be ahead of the first morning buses. Since we began our drive at mile 29 by the Teklanika River where our campground was located, we had a large head start on the park buses that leave from the visitor center at mile 1.  We saw almost no-one early in the mornings, only the very occasional other car (park employees and service vehicles). It was truly special to be the only ones out on the road.  Absolute solitude.

Denali the high one 4We took Angel with us on all of the morning drives, as we never knew how long we were going to be out. National Parks do not allow dogs outside of the roads, visitor centers, turnoffs and other developed areas so it was a bit restrictive but we made it work.

Denali the high one 5Our second day driving in Denali was full of promise. The forecast was for a clear, sunny day, and we were excited about seeing the mountain for the first time.

That morning we encountered a dense fog as we went over the first pass, Sable Pass. Weather changes quickly in this area so we were a bit concerned about whether Denali was going to be visible.

Denali the high one 6But fog has a unique beauty. We came across a caribou feeding, silhouetted against the fog. It was a quiet and serene scene and a sweet encounter.

The fog continued as we drove on, covering the landscape. Usually when the “mountain is out” as they say around here, she is first visible up close from the Stony Point overlook.

Denali the high one 2And there is a dramatic moment when you come over the pass and the giant mountain appears.  But alas, when we got to Stony Point all was still white with fog.  Rats.

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Returning to Denali

Denali 2Eight years ago, when we made an all too brief stop at Denali National Park and Preserve, Denali, the mountain never revealed herself to us. That was a sign that we would have to return someday. Returning to Denali was one of the first things we planned for our trip to Alaska this summer. And our experience in the park has been much richer than we ever imagined possible.

Denali 7To preserve the wilderness in 1972, the 92 mile park road was closed to automobile traffic at mile 15 and a bus shuttle system was instituted. There was much controversy around this but the restriction has remained with some very limited exceptions.

Denali 13Denali 5Earlier this year when we planned our stay in Denali, I discovered that professional photographers have an opportunity to enter a lottery for a one-week permit to drive into the restricted area of the park.

Hector entered the photographers’ lottery, and about a month later found out that he won one of the permits. This type of access to the park is extremely rare, and we were flabbergasted and ecstatic.

Denali and the surrounding area were inhabited by Athabascans more than 11,000 years ago. Because of its remoteness, only a few Europeans came to the area; a few prospectors around 1898, climbers who began attempts to climb the mountain in 1903, then game hunters.

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On to Denali

to denali 3to denali 4Our excitement was building as we headed on to Denali. On our drive here we drove through some funky places – classic Alaska. One was an old hotel that was built in the shape of an Igloo, Igloo City, that has now been abandoned. Its parking lot seems to have been taking over by RVers.

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Alaska Day driving day 8 recap:

Road Name: Denali Highway

Road Type: 2-lane

Road Conditions: Generally excellent but with some construction just south of the national park, we lucked out as we did not have to wait long for the pilot cars, but there can be some longer delays

Miles Today: 144

Driving Time: 3:00

Total Miles in Alaska: 1727

Total Miles since entering Canada: 3721

A little hitchhiker also tried to come on board.

Our initial stay in Denali National Park & Preserve was at the campground nearest the entrance – Riley Campground.

to denali 10It has been pretty rainy these first few days which we are hoping means that the weather will clear and we will have some sunny days as we enter deeper into the park. We have not yet seen the mountain.

to denali 14But we have had some great omens: we saw our first caribou since we entered Alaska, and also saw our first bull moose.

to denali 12And the rain also gave us a gift: a bright, beautiful double rainbow. We stood in awe in the middle of the road for a long time staring at (and photographing) the rainbows, which seemed to last an eternity. Breathtaking.

to denali 13There is more to come, but we are headed to a campground 29 miles inside the park where there is no cell signal whatsoever. We will be there for seven days and are super excited!

Stay tuned for more!

~ Brenda

More of Kenai Fjords National Park

Viewfinder 5The rain that began on the afternoon of our last cruise intensified and continued for two more days. During those days, we moved from our inland campground to the water. The ocean is my favorite place in the whole world and with a view framed by snow-capped mountains, it is beautiful rain or shine. And we extended our stay in Seward so we could see more of Kenai Fjords National Park.Viewfinder 7

We stayed in the Resurrection South RV Parking section of the Waterfront Campground (City of Seward). Read my review of the campground here.Viewfinder 4Viewfinder 6

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In Search of Wildlife

NW Fjord 98One of the reasons we are here in Alaska is because we love animals, and we especially love seeing them in the wild. We feel a special connection to and are often in search of wildlife.  And our second cruise to the Kenai Fjords was an extra special one.NW Fjord 83

There is something about the whales that especially captivates us, perhaps their intelligence, the way they form social structures, the sounds they make to communicate, or maybe all of those things and others that we just cannot put into words.NW Fjord 78

So each summer when we have been by the northern seas on our walkabout, we have devoted quality time to whale watching. Going out looking for the whales in kayaks, zodiacs, and small to large motorboats. And we have seen lots of whales; blue, fin, humpback, minke, beluga, gray, pilot and orcas (although technically pilot whales and orcas are part of the dolphin family).

NW Fjord 109Our goal in Seward was to go on several wildlife cruises. We were interested in some of the longer cruises, but not sure we would be able to go because of Angel. But we found a pet-sitter to walk Angel during the day. So after our six-hour cruise earlier in the week, we booked two other full day wildlife/glacier cruises, one with each of the two major companies in town.

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Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords NP 5Just over three weeks after entering Alaska, we headed to the town of Seward in the Kenai Peninsula with our friend, Joyce. Seward was one of the places we were most looking forward to visiting, as we are avid fans of boating and whale watching. We spent a fabulous day at the Kenai Fjords National Park when we were here on a cruise years ago and saw lots of wildlife and were excited to do it again.seward 2

Alaska Day driving day 4 recap:

Road Name: Seward Highway

Road Type: 2-lane

Kenai Fjords NP 1Road Conditions: Excellent, however this much traveled highway is known for its number of accidents. Apparently sometimes people who are in a rush will pass in areas that are not really safe to pass, thus causing accidents.

Miles Today: 146

Driving Time: 3:15

Total Miles in Alaska: 622

Total Miles since entering Canada: 2616

It was a beautiful drive back through the Turnagain Arm, where we stopped to look for beluga whales once again. No luck.

Kenai Fjords NP 2We did spot not one but two moose on the drive, one swimming in a pond full of pond lilies. It was quite the sight, but we had no place to stop to photograph her.

We camped at the Stoney Creek RV Park one of the few parks with full hookups in the area. Read my review here. Our plan for was to go out on one cruise with Joyce, who was with us for four days, and do it again later in the week.

After checking out the boats at the dock and checking on weather, we opted for Saturday’s six-hour cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours.Kenai Fjords NP 3

The night before the cruise we were treated to a stunning midnight sunset.  It reminded us of the old saying, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight”  We hoped that it would bode well for our day at sea.
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