Off the Grid: Alaska

Alaska is in the news today, part of a climate change report by 13 federal agencies, which found abundant evidence of human-caused climate warming in the U.S. and determined that “surface, air and ground temperatures in Alaska and the Arctic are rising at a frighteningly fast rate — twice as fast as the global average,” according to the New York Times.

We just came back from the 49th state, so here are a few photos of the gorgeous terrain and wildlife at risk. It is an amazing place to visit if you ever get the chance. Three generations of my family packed into – depending on the terrain – a modified school bus, a train, a minibus, and a sightseeing boat to traverse the vast interior of Alaska, which is as big as a sixth of the continental U.S. We started in Fairbanks, then headed up to Denali National Park, then back down through Talkeetna, Seward, and the gorgeous Kenai Fjords National Park. 

The first stop was at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge, which used to be a stopping point on the Iditarod, but in recent years it has acted as the starting gate, because there wasn’t enough snow further south to run the race’s normal course. Whatever the season, it is a good place to stay in Fairbanks, but ask for a room with a view. If you’re feeling rustic, it’s even possible to stay in your own log cabin.

Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks, a gathering spot for sand cranes.

A riverboat on the Chena river.

King crab legs are obviously a local specialty. A half pound of them at the Pump House restaurant in Fairbanks.

In Fairbanks, we met up with Elise Lockton from Alaska Wildland Adventures, who would be our expert guide throughout the trip. We headed into Denali National Park first by the historic railroad then by retrofitted school bus. Park rules allow only Denali’s limited number of buses, no other vehicles, to take tourists on the single road through the 1.3M acre wildlife preserve.

If you’re lucky, you’ll see some of the “big five” – caribou, wolves, moose, Dall sheep, and grizzly bears.

This guy came particularly close.

The view on the way to Denali Backcountry Lodge, one of the few lodges located within the park. As a bonus, it has bathrooms, not outhouses – a relative luxury here in the middle of the wilderness. The lodge organizes fabulous hiking through the sub arctic tundra, where wildflowers bloom everywhere in July.

Back to the beginnings of civilization in Talkeetna, the town that is supposedly the basis for Northern Exposure. It is also a launching point for hikers who attempt to climb Denali, the highest peak in North America. Alaska has a surprising amount of good local beer, and in Talkeetna, many bars where you can sample it.

Boats in the harbor in Seward, the start point for the journey through another vast national park, Kenai Fjords, a series of inlets carved out by glaciers.

But first a stop at the aquarium to see seals, puffins, sea otters and even a baby walrus.

The rugged coastline of the fjords.

Sea lions warming up on the rocks.

Tourist trap? An orca swims by a sightseeing boat.

We reached the sole lodge permitted in the Kenai Fjords preserve, the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge. This was your average breakfast table view at the lodge, which is perfectly situated on a pristine lake.

Rocking chairs on the front porch.

A favorite activity at Kenai is to kayak for the best view of wildlife and glaciers.

In summer, the massive glaciers calve off and release chunks of ice into the sea with a thundering boom. Then later, your bartender at Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge uses them to make glacieritas!

Seals really do float on ice floes.

A black bear roamed the grounds of the lodge.

After several days here it was time to begin the journey back to civilization. Let’s hope Americans in the lower 48 can do their part to keep Alaska beautiful.

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