We spent our final day in Anchorage during our vacation to Alaska last summer doing the hike to Eagle & Symphony Lakes. One of the great things about Anchorage is that there are several great hikes that begin very close to the city, some from literally within the city limits. This was a flat, easy hike (relative to the other hikes we had done during our vacation) through a valley which ended at the above mentioned lakes. While the lakes were a bit of a disappointment, the hike itself was very nice, though the trail was a little rustic in spots, like in the photo below.
Southeast Alaska is amazing. Correction, Alaska is amazing. We have been fortunate to spend two vacations in Alaska and I imagine we will be back. Our most recent vacation was an Alaskan cruise. One of the stops was in Juneau, from which we did a tour to Tracy Arm, a beautiful fjord with an amazing glacier at the end. As we approached the entrance to the fjord, there were scattered icebergs floating in the water. Their intense blue color was in sharp contrast to the rather dull colors of everything else around on this cloudy day.
Skagway is a small, touristy town in southeastern Alaska. It is a popular port for cruises to Alaska and can get a little overrun with tourists during the summer. While the most popular excursion visitors to Skagway take is a trip on the White Pass Scenic Railway, Skagway is also home to Klondike Gold Rush National Park and has hiking trails that start from the edge of town. One of those hikes is up to Devil’s Punchbowl, an 8.5 mile hike that involves an elevation gain of 3,700 feet. The middle third of the hike in particular is incredibly steep, perhaps the steepest extended stretch of trail I have hiked on. But the view from the top is well worth the effort. The trail follows a creek during the steep portion of the hike and the terrain is so steep that the creek is essentially one waterfall after another. This photo is of one of those waterfalls.
Independence Mine State Historical Park is located in Hatcher Pass, a beautiful region located in Alaska, north of Anchorage. What would become the mine was discovered by Robert Hatcher in 1906 and by the early 1940s the mine employed over 200 men, who lived at the mine complex with their families, producing over $1 million a year in gold. But as a result of World War II, a ban on gold mining was enacted and when mining was allowed to resume after the war, the price of gold was so low that the mine was forced to close permanently shortly thereafter. Today, what remains of the mine is part of a state park, with a self-guided tour of the rusted machinery and slowly decaying buildings of the mine nestled in a valley with mountain peaks dominating three of the four directions. The old mine and stunning scenery are in stark contrast to each other but somehow they fit together wonderfully. Despite the fact that we visited in August, the mountain peaks were already topped with snow.
Denali National Park has relatively few developed trails. That isn’t to say that there is a lack of hiking opportunities in the park, but that most of the hiking involves forging your own path through undeveloped wilderness. This photo was taken from near the top of the Mount Healy Overlook Trail, a relatively steep trail with rewards those who put in the effort to reach the top with panoramic views in every direction, if the weather cooperates. The trail begins near the Visitor’s Center, making it a perfect hike for a part day in the park. In late August color was starting to appear at higher elevations, giving this photo a wonderful mix of reds, oranges, yellows, and greens.
As I mentioned in a previous post, only 30% of visitors to Denali National Park get to see the mountain for which the park is named. We were lucky to see the mountain all 3 days we were there. Knowing how unpredictable the weather can be in Alaska and how uncommon it is for Denali to be visible, I took every opportunity to capture moments when Denali was in sight, not knowing if the clouds would roll in at any moment. This started in the morning from the deck of the B&B in Talkeetna where we had stayed the night before to break up the drive from Seward to Denali National Park. And continued when we arrived at the scenic overlook along the highway where this photo was taken from. And continued some more when we arrived at the park. My wife thought I was crazy, not believing Denali that being visible was that uncommon. It wasn’t until we were in one of the souvenir shops and she saw one of the “I was among the 30%” t-shirts that she actually believed me.
Trips to Alaska can be a bit of a roll of the dice when it comes to the weather. During our two visits the the largest state in the union we have been fairly lucky, with only two days of hard, cold rain, a couple days with some showers mixed in, and the other days nice and sunny. Not everyone is so fortunate. This photo was taken in Seward just before beginning an evening kayak trip in Resurrection Bay. The sun was shining, the sky was for the most part cloud free, and the mountain peaks across the bay had just a touch of snow on their peaks, even in mid-August. Being our first full day in Alaska, it seemed so normal, the scenery so beautiful that it should always look like this. Except it doesn’t. Not at all. On the kayak tour with us was a couple who had moved to Seward two weeks earlier. This was their first day in Seward that it didn’t rain. The first time they had seen the sun the entire time they had been there. The first time the mountains across the bay weren’t hidden in the fog. As the old saying goes, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. When it comes to weather, this is certainly the case.
This photo was taken up in Alaska on a boat tour into Kenai Fjords National Park. We saw lots of animals during the tour including seals, sea otters, puffins, bald eagles, and porpoises. We also saw these sea lions napping on the rocks of one of the islands we passed by. Sea lions seem to have a pretty good life and these ones seemed quite comfortable as we passed by them. While I could definitely handle having afternoon naps like these guys, I’m not sure I could get used to sleeping on a rock…
Wild animals in Alaska
Alaska is a pretty wild place. With so much untouched nature and seemingly endless forests, tundra, and mountains, it is no surprised that there are many bears, moose, goats, caribou, foxes, etc. This is great in that it means that there are opportunities for visitors to see these animals in their natural habitat. It also means that for some animals (like bears and moose), you need to be smart while you’re in the outdoors to avoid putting yourself in a dangerous situation. Mostly, this means keeping a fair distance between you and the animals and making noise so that you don’t surprise them in areas with enough foliage that they cannot see you coming. There is a sign at Kenai Fjords National Park giving advice on what to do if you encounter animals in the wild. The last on the list is “If the bear is eating you, fight back.” I hope to never need to put this knowledge into practice, but I’ll trust that it is sound advice.
Moose in the middle of the trail
Large animals like bears and moose aren’t found only in the wild in Alaska. They are also often found in within the city limits of larger cities like Anchorage. One morning during our vacation in Alaska, my wife wanted to go for a run before starting our day. So, we went to Kincaid Park and jogged along the trails. I was in front of her and came around a bend in the trail to find this moose laying in the middle of the trail. She suggested going around him (a word of advice: bad idea, give moose plenty of space) but I insisted that we turn around and go back the other way. Before doing so, she insisted on getting a photo with her new friend.
The drive from Anchorage, Alaska down to Seward, Alaska is a beautiful drive with views of water, mountains, and glaciers and regular sightings of whales and goats along the way. While the drive can be done in under two hours, we took the better part of a day, making several stops along the way. One of those stops was to hike the Bird Ridge Trail. The trail is a challenging, steep climb but the views are well worth it. Our timing was fortunate in that we got nice views from the top before the clouds rolled in. As we hiked down, I was busy taking photos and my wife was leading the way. I did not notice when we accidentally veered off the trail and started following a trail frequented more often by mountain goats than hikers, as it was quite steep and narrow. However, we eventually found our way back to the main trail and it made for an interesting adventure.