Following our two-week expedition on Denali, Sarah and I spent just over a week exploring the area around Anchorage. We started with a scenic drive through the Chugach to the town of Seward.
We first headed south, driving the Seward Highway along the coast of the Turnagain Arm.
endless views along the highway
scenic trestle in the Chugach
Seward is a small fishing town on Resurrection Bay off the Gulf of Alaska
snow-capped peaks guarding all sides of Resurrection Bay
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Alaska SeaLife Center.
puffin in the bird sanctuary at the museum
sunset in Seward
Dinner time! When in Alaska, there are some things that one simply must do.
The following morning, Aaron, Jason, and Josh joined us for an all-day boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park. Our destination was the Northwestern Glacier and included lots of stops along the way for wildlife sightings.
glaciated peaks of Kenai Fjords National Park
playful porpoise riding the boat's wake
the rapidly receding Bear Glacier
Tree line is quite low around here.
pair of humpback whales
namesake of the humpback whale
bumpy tail of a humpback whale
two orcas (killer whales)
Male orcas have much taller dorsal fins than female orcas.
surfacing juvenile orca
pod of orcas, including a juvenile
angry sea lions
These guys were incredibly loud.
reflections in the still waters of Harris Bay as we headed inland toward the Northwester Glacier
first glimpse of the Northwestern Glacier
steep waterfall plunging into the icy waters of Harris Bay
terminus of the Northwestern Glacier
chunk of ice calving from the glacier
the ice chunks were littered with harbor seals
harbor seal mother and pup
These rocks and cliffs were extremely popular with the sea gulls.
The sea gulls were extremely popular with the bald eagles.
On our return to Resurrection Bay, we caught a quick glimpse of a fin whale, the second largest whale species (second to the blue whale).
After another night in Seward, we drove back to Anchorage. Along the way, we stopped for a hike to Gull Point. From the trail, we could see the Seward Highway on the other side of the Turnagain Arm.
Just three days after getting the nail removed, Sarah's big toe was feeling much better. It had healed so quickly, in fact, that we ditched our pack, SLR, and wallets behind a log. We then jogged to Gull Point and back, which was almost ten miles round trip.
Alaska's epic winter snowfall and recent heavy rains resulted in some serious mud along the trail.
Sarah putting her nail-less toe to the test
Gull Point offered great views of Turnagain Arm and the surrounding peaks.
Sarah crossing through a rare clearing in the dense forest on our way back to the car
After our run, we finished the drive back to Anchorage.
looking across Turnagain Arm from the Seward Highway at the Gull Point trail (just above the water on the distant beach)
After a night in Anchorage, we headed back to Denali National Park. This time, we intended to do some camping and sightseeing in the park. We were hoping to have better luck with the weather this time.
portrait of Sarah along the Parks Highway
a moose crossing a stream along the Parks Highway
rapidly growing clouds closing in on the park entrance
We camped at a walk-in site at the Riley Creek Campground within the park.
The campground host warned us about recent grizzly bear activity not far from our site. The grizzly had killed two moose calves the previous day. Just a few hundred feet from our tent, we saw evidence of an enormous struggle.
grizzly's front paw print
We made sure to keep a clean camp site and utilize the park's luxurious bear boxes.
Much to our dismay, the weather was just as bad now as when we left the mountain a week earlier. We decided to start with a hike of the Triple Lakes Trail.
tracks of the famous Alaska Railroad
The soggy tundra required some creative trail making techniques.
At least the wildflowers were enjoying the wet weather.
first of the three lakes
second and third lake
Within a mile of Riley Creek (and the site of the grizzly attack), we saw fresh grizzly scat which was loaded with moose hair.
impressive suspension bridge spanning Riley Creek
train trestle spanning high above Riley Creek
After a second night of camping in the rain, we took a bus tour of the park. Beyond the Visitor Center area, access to the park is restricted to park operated buses. We were disappointed that the weather had not improved, but we tried to make the most of the tour.
Denali National Park was originally founded in an effort to protect the large population of dall sheep. Here, a ram is seen grazing high on a rocky slope.
Grizzly bear mother with two cubs
mother leading the two cubs across the rugged land
Though our luck with the weather wasn't so good, we were super fortunate to get a close-up encounter with one of the parks elusive wolves.
Even the wolf was fed up with all this rain.
The dark, overcast skies made it difficult to capture a decent photo. This is the sharpest image I managed to capture. The look in its eyes was incredible.
Kathrin Gruber, who was on the tour bus with us, graciously shared this image with me. (© Kathrin Gruber)
Our stop at the Eielson Visitor Center was prolonged by a visit from one of the park residents. Apparently the view of Denali from this visitor center is stunning. Unfortunately, the majority of park visitors never get to see a clear view of the peak. We were definitely part of this majority.
After an 85-mile ride over dirt roads in a tour bus, we finally arrived at Wonder Lake.
a gyrfalcon, the largest of the falcon species, perched on a rock high above the road
On this particular day, the park received a record amount of rainfall. The Toklat River was raging. A section of the park road was washed away by a landslide, and we had to wait for construction crews to repair the road.
moose crossing a stream in the haze
Before leaving the following morning, we stopped by the dog kennels to see a short demonstration of the sled dogs. During the winter, the dogs are used to carry supplies within the park and to patrol for poachers.
tired mom with a litter of puppies
mom and two of the puppies
sea gull staring me down from the roof of our car
On our way back to Anchorage, we stopped along the Parks Highway to enjoy a brief break in the clouds.
making the most of a rare glimpse of the blue sky
On our final full day in Alaska, we decided to hike Bird Ridge. Aaron, Jason, and Josh had done this hike earlier in the week and recommended it. Sarah and I weren't able to join them at the time because Sarah's toe was still healing.
The trail climbs steeply up the hillside above the Seward Highway and the Turnagain Arm.
looking out the Turnagain Arm as the tide comes in
The steady breeze above tree line kept the temps pretty cool.
Huge cornices guarded the summit of Bird Ridge.
Soon, we had several bald eagles soaring overhead. The name Bird Ridge made immediate sense.
After several hours of watching the eagles, we realized that they were starting all the way down by the beach and riding the thermals which lifted them rapidly up the ridge.
an eagle starting its climb by circling down by the beach
Within seconds, it had climbed over a thousand feet and was at our eye level.
Then it quickly passed overhead and continued high into the sky.
another one following the same trajectory
This was a great spot to watch them. We spent several hours here observing them.
This fella had a fish in his talons!
soaking in the views of our last day in Alaska
The juvenile bald eagles lack the white head and tail and have mottled wings.
For our last night of the trip, we treated ourselves to one last salmon dinner. We then walked the streets of Anchorage well into the night. For the first time, we were treated to clear skies, and we caught this amazing glimpse of the mountains in the distance.
Mt. Foraker, Mt. Hunter, and Denali (L to R), as seen from 130-miles away in Anchorage
I was surprised to spy an Audi R8 parked on the street in downtown Anchorage. I was even more surprised to see that it had Washington plates. The body showed signs of abuse from the ALCAN highway. Impressive.
downtown Anchorage under late night sun
We decided to catch the sunset from the top of this public parking structure. The views of the city were quite nice.
This is Anchorage at 11:30 P.M.
setting sun and Denali (far right) just before midnight
The sun finally disappeared at 11:48 P.M.
midnight light with Denali on the horizon (far right)
parting shot of Sarah in front of the midnight sun and the silhouette of Denali
Leaving was super difficult. This was such an amazing trip, and we didn't want it to end. We were super grateful to finally be treated to this beautiful view of Denali.
The next morning, we entertained ourselves with getting all of our gear back into duffel bags, ready for the plane. We had to dispose of the remaining fuel from our camping stoves.
Back home after our redeye flight, we had quite the gear explosion on the living room floor.