Monthly Archives: July 2016

HOMER’S WHERE THE HEART IS

July, 2016

I know, I know. ¬†I said we were leaving for Seward. ¬†But we love, love Homer – so we decided to stay three more days. ¬†After dinner yesterday, we went to the waterfront and watched the fishermen. ¬†While there, we saw four giant sea otters playing fairly close to shore – they’re so cute, and can usually be found floating on their backs – eating.

Sea Otter Eating a Crab While Swimming on Back AK/nRecovering From Oil Spill Seward Dungeness Crab

As we were driving home, there were a few cars parked in a unlikely place. ¬†Being the inquisitive types, we also stopped. ¬†Guess what we saw, right there before our eyes – A BALD EAGLE ¬†five actually – mom, dad, ¬†and their gigantic nest with three baby eaglets. ¬†We were spellbound for awhile, until the sun started to set (10pm). ¬†That’s when we signed up for three more days. ¬†Tomorrow, we plan on returning for a repeat performance.

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The bald eagle was chosen June 20, 1782 as the emblem of the United States of America, because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks. The eagle represents freedom. Living as he does on the tops of lofty mountains, the eagle has unlimited freedom. Their strong  wings can sweep into the valleys below, or soar upward into the boundless spaces beyond.

We had a number of chores to do, but at the end of the day we met up with new friends from Maryland at their campsite right on the water.  Shout out to Karen and Bob.

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These two are way cool. ¬†In fact, Bob’s latest profession is pinball machine repairman ¬†– a pinball wizard, if you will. ¬†You just don’t meet those guys everyday. ¬†Luckily, we did.

While on the beach, having a little refreshment on that very picnic table, we watched this go by.

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It’s a motored ¬†paraglider. ¬†Just soaring across Kachemak Bay. ¬†We saw one earlier in the year in the desert at Quartzsite, AZ. ¬†What a way to go…

Here’s a close-up. ¬†Thank you Google Images.

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I gotta’ get me one of those…

You know I love roadside oddities, so may I present, the Home Spit Fish Hook.

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The ‚ÄúCircle Hook Sculpture‚ÄĚ ¬†is the newest addition to the Spit, part of the City of Homer‚Äôs 1% for art program. ¬†This sculpture was installed April 2015. It stands 13 feet high and is purported to be the largest fishing hook sculpture in the galaxy. ¬†OK!

It was finally time to leave Homer, and we headed for Seward, Alaska. ¬†Actually, we hadn’t planned on going to Seward, but everyone we met said it was a “must”. ¬†Some people even claimed it was their favorite town of all. ¬†Well, not being on a schedule, far be it from us to miss “the best”.

On our way to Seward, we stopped in Anchor Point, the westernmost point in North American accessible by auto.

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Seward, Alaska, is an interesting little town. ¬†It is particularly famous because it is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, a true wilderness, mostly reachable by watercraft. ¬†Only Exit Glacier is accessible¬†by car and a short hike. The ship we took to see the park was called the Glacier Express. ¬†Here’s Tim just before boarding.

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it was a 7 1/2 hour tour, and they even served a prime rib/salmon dinner with all the complements. Delish.

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The glaciers we visited included Holgate and Aialik. ¬†But as important as the glaciers, we saw lots of wildlife, including Steller sea lions, sea otters, humpback whales, and lots of birds such as horned puffins, tufted puffins, Common Murres, and Black-legged Kittiwakes. ¬†There was a National Park ranger on board to assist with sightings, and answer any questions – thanks Ranger Colleen. ¬† I’m not going to use any adjectives to describe what we saw. ¬†I’ll let you choose the descriptors. So here we go…

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In the next picture, look at the rocks in the lower left corner.  Sitting there are Steller Sea Lions,  the largest of the eared seals.

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There were hundreds of Kittiwakes sitting on these rocks.

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Winding through these rocky coves often felt a little like the Caribbean.

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We only had time to take this shot of the fluke of a humpback.  If you want to see it a little closer, just click on the picture.

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The biggest “see” of the day was a fin whale. ¬†Apparently, it’s a rare sight. ¬†There was a mom with her baby – two fins and side-by-side spouts. ¬†Though we got to see her beautiful long body, gliding just below the surface, I’ll have to borrow a pic from Google Images for you. ¬†I don’t think they’ll mind.

The fin whale is the second-largest animal after the blue whale. ¬†Just imagine! The largest recorded is a maximum confirmed length of 85 ft, and ¬†a maximum recorded weight of 132.5 tons. American naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews called the fin whale “the greyhound of the sea… for its beautiful, slender body that is built like a racing yacht, and can surpass the speed of the fastest ocean steamship.”

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Another thing I loved was watching the puffins.  Now this is a cute, cute little bird!

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There are three species of Puffins, identified by their brightly colored beaks during the breeding season. They mainly live in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands. Two species, the tufted puffin and horned puffin, are found in the North Pacific Ocean – they’re the ones we saw. ¬†All puffin species have predominantly black or black and white feathers, a stocky build, and large beaks. They shed the colourful outer parts of their beaks after the breeding season, which leaves a smaller and duller beak. Their short wings are adapted for swimming with a flying technique under water. ¬†Not only are they cute, but they’re funny, too. ¬†They are small in stature, and kind of chubby. ¬†They kind of look like a sea plane taking off and landing.. ¬†Sometimes they don’t make it out of the water to continue the flight, but seem to stop, take a breath, and then try again. ¬†Once airborne, they spread their legs, and flap their wings, up to 400 times per minute. ¬†To locate them while they’re resting on the water, you kind of look for an orange rind that someone carelessly threw overboard, just floating along. ¬†Fabulous little guys.

After the cruise, we drove to Exit Glacier to complete the day. President Obama visited this very spot to highlight the effects of climate change.

Obama at Exit Glacier

The National Park Service has placed markers showing the year-by-year retreat of the glacier.  Here is a post for 2005.  Kind of sad, right?

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Lest we forget, I do have one more oddity to show you, Espresso Simpatico.

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This is a fully operational, ¬†drive-by coffee shop. ¬†It could use a little paint. ¬†But, hey – what’s not to like?

Our next stop is Valdez, pronounced ¬†val-deez (believe me, I checked and rechecked ). ¬†In order to get there, we have to back track a bit. ¬†So we’re once again in Big Bear Rv Park in Palmer for a few days. ¬†– maybe we’ll wait for the rain to slow down a little. ¬†Valdez is another place we really hadn’t planned on visiting. ¬†When I think of Valdez, Alaska, sadly, I think abut the Exxon Valdez oil spill. As with Seward, many people think this is the prettiest town in Alaska. Again, we’re not going to miss anything. ¬†I mean, when will we ever get back to Alaska? ¬†So, onward…see you in Valdez.

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOMER

July, 2016

On our way to Anchorage, we decided to stop off in Palmer, Alaska. It turned out to be a very good choice, mainly because we found a campsite we truly enjoyed. ¬†It’s called Big Bear RV Park. ¬†It is peaceful, pretty, quiet, and has a wonderful view of the mountains – and great WiFi. ¬†We were going to stay just two nights, but added two more because we liked it that much.

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Doesn’t the mountain look like it’s floating on a cloud?

Palmer is a small town, however, they have a big time, non-profit, tourist attraction – ¬†Musk Ox Farm. ¬†Isn’t it beautiful?

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It is quite a large place, and houses about 83 animals at this time.  They are beautifull and wondrous creatures, who roamed the Earth with Saber-Toothed Tigers.

A Musk Ox has an outer coat, but they also have an inner down coat called Qiviut ( kiv Рee Р ute), that gets shed each spring.  It is 8x warmer, by weight, than wool, and softer than cashmere.  The animals at this farm get combed everyday or two for the precious Qiviut.  After a process, it is given to native Alakans who knit sweaters, scarves, and other items.  They are paid for their handiwork immediately, and do not have to wait until the item is sold. This  assists them with the money they so desperately need.

Up close and personal…they love humans and to be petted.

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Yes, the tips of their horns are removed so they can’t hurt themselves, or others. ¬†Musk Ox can get pretty feisty.

This is Jade. ¬†As you can probably tell, she’s queen of her castle – ¬†and lets everyone know it.

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As an aside, we did some shopping in Wasilla, which is next to Palmer, ¬†and I got a much-needed hair trim. It is the very same salon Sarah Palin uses. ¬†Well, at least until ¬†she became ¬†famous. ¬†Now the manager goes to Sarah’s house to do her hair. ¬†So, I didn’t get to see her. ¬†Close – but no cigar.

We reluctantly left Palmer and headed south. ¬†Guess what? ¬†We breezed right through Anchorage, and didn’t stay. ¬†I’m sure it has its sights to see, but to us, it was just another sprawling city, complete with traffic snarls. ¬†Curiously, there are no ¬†skyscrapers ¬†in Alaska’s largest city. ¬†That’s because of ¬†earthquakes! ¬† So we moved on to the Kenai Peninsula. ¬†Homer is the southern most town on the peninsula, and that’s the final destination in these parts. ¬†Home base? ¬†Fred Meyer (the Walmart of the Northwest) in Soldotna, ¬†complete with a dump station and fresh water. ¬†The cost – $0.00. ¬†Tim has a saying, “if it’s free, it’s for me”. ¬†Actually, it was pretty good. ¬†Other RVers say if you can score a space at “Freddie’s”, you’ve hit the jackpot. ¬†We were surrounded by other RVs, mostly fishermen, ¬†all in good spirits. ¬†It was the perfect spot to explore Soldotna and Kenai City.

Kenai City is a teeny town. ¬†Turns out we visited the three most popular attractions, and didn’t even realize it. ¬†Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, The Chapel of St. Nicholas, and the Parish Rectory.

The Church.

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The Chapel.

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This is the Parish Rectory, which is the oldest building in Kenai City.

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We had lunch at Veronica’s.

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I asked the woman who seemed to be in charge if she was Veronica. ¬†“Nope”, she said. ¬†“Veronica is the former owner’s dead dog”. ¬†(oops!) ¬†I took to calling her “Not Veronica” – I think she liked it…

Veronica’s claims to have “life-altering desserts”. ¬†Gotta’ try one, right? ¬†It was such a charming spot, we had lunch – delicious! (see review in Food and Goodies ).

The Kenai River runs fast, and deep. ¬†It is open season for salmon. ¬†Seeing the men “combat fishing” is kind of crazy. ¬†They line ¬†the river banks and the water, ¬†shoulder-to-shoulder. ¬†It’s a wonder anyone catches anything. ¬†But they do – and lots of it. ¬†Here’s a picture of the people fishing.

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If you are an Alaskan resident, you can go “Netting”. ¬†Now I’ve seen people with nets for hauling in their rod and reel catch – but not like this. ¬†These monsters are huge – made for catching “Nessie”. They put those nets in the water and pull them along until they “net” something. ¬†I don’t think the fish stand a chance.

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In Soldotna, we  visited  Alaska Berries.

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This is a winery where no grapes are used – only berries. ¬†They also make jams, syrups and vinaigrettes. ¬†Of course, we bought a few items, including a dry strawberry wine, and haskap berry jam and syrup. ¬†I had never even heard of a haskap berry before. ¬†Now, I’m loving’ them.

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Aren’t they beautiful? ¬†We had pancakes with haskap syrup, and they were OMG good.

We left Soldotna and headed for Homer. ¬†But first, a stop in Ninilchik to visit new friends on their family homestead. ¬†Meet the Palmers – That’s Tresa, and her husband David in the middle, and David’s brothers , Earl and Jim. ¬†Wonderful folks.

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The Palmers suggested we visit the town church,¬†Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel. ¬†There’s a¬†cemetery adjacent to the church. ¬†Notice that the Russian Orthodox crosses have three horizontal crossbars, unlike the Latin church’s single crosspiece. ¬†The top is one is for inscription, the center and bottom brace the arms and feet of the crucified. ¬†The bottommost is ¬†slanted, representing the “balance of righteousness”, downward for the blaspheming thief crucified beside Christ, upward for the repentant thief crucified on his other side.

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Here’s a view inside. ¬†Did you know there are no pews, or seats of any kind, in a these Russian Orthodox Churches? ¬†I asked how long the service lasts, and the docent said about 1 1/4 hours. ¬†Whew! Thats a lot of standing in one spot.

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And this is the view from outside the church. ¬†Prime real estate I’d say.

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We also took a detour to a beach road. We found this house and with it,  an RV park with about 12 full hook-up sites for sale.

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It’s across the dirt road from this beach.

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Not too shabby! ¬†Anyone out there want to be part- owner in an income-producing place in Ninilchik , AK? ¬†You know how to reach us… ¬†By the way, the largest mountain above, and to the left , with the flat top, is a volcano, ¬†Mt. Redoubt – which last erupted in 2009.

On to Homer and the Homer Spit,  at the end of the Kenai Peninsula.

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OK everyone.  Get ready to buckle your seatbelts for mind-blowing gorgeousness.

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Hard to believe these are wild flowers, and that they grow everywhere, like weeds!

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You can easily see the glacier in the center of the mountain range.

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And the glacier from a different vantage point. We sometimes have to pinch ourselves to believe that we’re not dreaming these views, and that we are lucky enough to be witness to their grandeur. Our mantra over dinner is usually, OMG – we are in Homer, Alaska.

The Homer Spit is just an extension of Homer that juts out into Kachemak Bay. ¬†Called “The end of the road”, it is the southern terminus of highway AK1. ¬† It’s very touristy, with lots of shops, and a few restaurants. It also is the port of Homer, where freight is delivered, ferries depart, and lots of tour boats operate.

 

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The Spit also has it’s share of funkiness. ¬†This is a real-life, currently occupied houseboat.

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We leave this funky,  beautiful town tomorrow, and head for Seward Рhope to see you there.

I CAN SEE RUSSIA FROM MY HOUSE.

June, 2016

I almost can’t believe it, but, after miles and miles of trekking north, ¬†we are finally here —¬†Alaska! ¬†After purchasing the land from Russia in 1867 for 2 cents an acre (7.2 million US dollars), it became our 49th state in1959, not very long ago.

We left Dawson City, YT, this morning, and headed to the ferry which would carry us and our little Casita across the Yukon River. ¬†First stop?… ¬†Chicken, AK. ¬†Why? ¬†Why not! ¬†It has become a “thing”. ¬†Everyone on the road wants to know if you’re going to, or coming from “Chicken” – I say, “Hell yeah!” ¬†If for no other reason, we have to go for bragging rights. ¬†We and our little home boarded the George Black¬†Ferry to cross the Yukon River. ¬†It¬†is viewed as an extension of the Klondike Highway, ¬†making it a free service.

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Once on the other side, you are on the Top Of The World Highway. ¬†It is a long and often dangerous road, especially when it’s wet. ¬†It’s steep, mostly made of gravel, has soft shoulders, no guardrails, and often plunges 1,000 feet. ¬†After climbing for about an hour, you come to the lonely border crossing from Canada to the US. ¬†Isn’t it rustic? Check out the population. ¬†We were going to ask the Customs Agent what he did wrong to earn this assignment, but thought better of it (grumpy enough).

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Thankfully, we made it to Chicken — with the Casita and truck covered in mud. ¬†Strange name, right? ¬†Apparently, the people who lived there at the time wanted to name it Ptarmigan, after a kind of grouse they ate because it “tasted like chicken” (doesn’t everything?) ¬†They couldn’t agree on how to spell it, so they decided to call the town “Chicken”, instead. ¬†By the way, a ptarmigan is a northern grouse often found in Arctic regions, with feathered legs and feet and plumage that typically changes to all white in winter.

Chicken’s campgrounds don’t have water at the sites, because all water has to be hauled in. ¬†Residents have outhouses, as do most businesses. ¬†The one public outhouse “downtown” is called the “Chicken Poop”. ¬†In fact, one shop proudly boasts of having the only flushing toilet in the entire town!!! ¬†Consequently, this mud has to stay in place until we reach our next destination.

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Here s a picture of Downtown Chicken – all four stores, and a gas pump.

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They have an absolutely charming little post office.  The post mistress and her husband are two of the three to six,  year-round residents.  She also tends to the flowers you see.

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A large metal chicken sits atop a hill in the Chicken Gold Camp & Outpost.  This is where we stayed, with the statue as our next door neighbor.

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You can pan for gold here. ¬†It only costs $10 for 4 hours. ¬†I decided to watch people before I signed on. ¬†There were at least a dozen people panning, elbow-to-elbow. The biggest nuggets I saw weren’t nuggets at all, but gold dust — maybe another day…

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Oops ! ¬†I almost left out the main event. ¬†¬†In keeping with the quirky, fun-loving character of the town, the folks at Chicken Gold Camp put on a music festival every June, usually the 2nd weekend. In memory of the Woodstock gathering, it’s named the¬†Chickenstock Music Festival.¬†It started as a one night, one band local get-together in 2007, but now is one of Alaska’s better known summer weekend music gatherings with 15+ bands entertaining nearly 1000 guests. It continues to grow, drawing larger crowds each year. ¬†Here’s the stage ( with two cars parked in front of it, but the truck is part of the stage).

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From Chicken, we moved on to Tok – it rhymes with poke. ¬†It’s a very tiny town, but it has 3 campgrounds, a grocery, and a great little restaurant called “Fast Eddy’s” (see write-up in Food and Goodies Page). While at Fast Eddy’s, we met these four people from Minnesota, ¬†traveling by motorcycle. We met them while they were eye-balling ¬†my fried mushrooms. We shared – and that’s how you meet great people on the road.

Shout out to Diane, Christine, Ken and Kevin, and their sweet rides. I promised you’d find yourselves on my blog – and here you are.

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Look at this one…fantastic, right? It’s their Thoroughbred Motorsports Stallion Trike with a Little Guy MyPod trailer,

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and their more traditional bicycle built for two.

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We stayed at a park called Tok RV Village.  Most importantly for us, the park had a car/RV wash.  We were able to get all that horrible mud off of the vehicles.  Guess how much? Just you and a hose Р  $18.50 РYikes Рthat hurt.  But it was an absolute necessity.  And you should have seen the cars in line !!!  So if anyone feels the need to open/own a business РTok can sure use a car/RV wash.

Tok is a crossroads town. ¬†From here, travelers have to decide whether they want to go to Fairbanks or Anchorage. ¬†We opted for Fairbanks. ¬†It’s raining, and the forecast says rain for a few more days. ¬†Denali is on the way to Anchorage – and that’s our next stop. ¬†So here’s hoping that the rain eases up so we can enjoy the park.

On the way to Fairbanks, we took a side trip to¬†The North Pole. ¬†Which isn’t really at the North Pole. ¬†It’s a town about 16 miles south of Fairbanks. ¬†There were lots of visitors, but I thought it was a bit run-down. ¬†We did hop out of the car to take a picture of Santa Claus, a 42-foot-tall statue that is supposedly the world’s largest.

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¬†The town’s streets are lit with candy cane light poles. ¬†Most significantly, it has a lot of “kid cred”. ¬†North Pole receives tons of mail from children all over the world, answered by “Santa” (SASEs), postmarked from the North Pole. ¬†You may have gotten one yourself once upon a time…

Fairbanks is the second largest city in Alaska. It is 4th of July weekend, so, unfortunately, most things aren’t open. ¬†It also is raining, which makes for terrible visibility. But don’t worry, we’ll find something fun to do.

We spent the afternoon at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center. ¬†Their stated goal is to “educate residents and visitors about our natural and cultural history, and we hope it motivates you to go out and explore all that Fairbanks and the Interior has to offer.” ¬†The center contains beautiful exhibits of Native American life, past and present; and dioramas depicting the Alaska Interior in each of the four seasons. ¬† Next to lovely Griffin Park on the banks of the Chena River, the center¬†is a marvel of modern architecture and gorgeous landscaping.

Later, we stopped at Pioneer Park, and ate at the Alaska Salmon Bake, a true Alaskan feast (so they say).  It was a bit hokey, but we enjoyed it.  The next day, we took a 30-mile or so drive to Chena Hot Springs Resort.  It was a pretty amazing place.  An eco-sensitive resort with lots of amenities, including a walk-in hot spring.  The people soaking were oohing and aahing aloud.

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We visited their Ice Museum.  Every single item in the museum was, and continues to be, created by a husband-wife team, who are world glass ice carvers.  They even have 4 bedrooms, in the museum, which guests may sleep in for one night.  The cost?  Only $600 per night (gulp).  Our favorite part was the ice bar.  We purchased  Appletinis, served in ice martini glasses.  All I can say is Yum! Рand Рwhen we can, I intend to purchase ice molds and make my own ice glasses.

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On our way to Denali, we stopped into the 49th Street Brewing Company, a great restaurant and bar (see Food and Goodies), just south of Stampede Road.

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The attraction? ¬†If you read “Into The Wild”, by Jon Krakauer, or watched the movie, you too would want to stop. In their yard, they have the bus from the film on display.

Here’s Tim in front of the bus.

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You can even go inside the bus, where they have pictures of the real Chris McCandless, beginning his journey from nearby Stampede Road, and some of the notes and pictures he left behind before he perished.  The book was a a sad, but great read, and this stop brought it all to life.

From Fairbanks, we moved on to Denali National Park.

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It is a wondrous park, encompassing over 6 million acres.

Denali is a little bit different from other National Parks we’ve visited. ¬†In Denali, they stress the fact that Denali is for preserving the wilderness, not so much for tourists. There is only one road in the park, and it is only 92 miles long. ¬†It ends in the middle of the wilderness, so its also 92 miles back. ¬† In the summer, only park busses can traverse the road. ¬†While we were there, private vehicles could only drive to mile 11, where the road was closed to us. ¬†The ranger explained that in recent days¬†a grizzly bear approached a hiker who threw her snack-filled backpack at him, which he devoured. ¬†And yesterday that bear mauled another hiker for his backpack. ¬†The road and local trails were closed until they could track down the bear, and, sadly, put him down. ¬†There’s a saying in the parks – “A fed bear is a dead bear”. ¬†The reason is because that bear now will associate backpacks with food, and he or she will forever be a threat to humans. ¬†I really can’t blame the hiker. ¬†If a bear was coming at me, I’m pretty sure I’d throw whatever was handy to keep him from ending my life.

What we did see in Denali was a Cow Moose Рeating on the side of the road, and then walking down the road to the other side.  Cows are gigantic!  We are still waiting to see a Bull Moose.

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We also attended a Sled Dog Demonstration, which was very informative.   Plus, we got to pet the dogs. Yay!

For those of you following my blog Рyou know I am not a mosquito lover.  But I did have to take these pictures from the Denali Visitor Center to share with you.

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Female is on the left with her big blood sucker, and the male is on the right.  In my opinion, they are both very nasty creatures.

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And from town… no commentary necessary!

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We never got see Mt. Denali (formerly Mt McKinley) Р until today Р on our way to Talkeetna. We saw all 20,308 feet of it, clear as can be.

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We felt so happy because only 20 to 30 percent of visitors in the summer get to see it, due to cloud cover.  Mt. Denali, the highest mountain in North America , makes its own weather.  We feel very, very lucky.  It was a real OMG moment.

From Denali, we stopped in Talkeetna, a small, creative, fun town – great for shopping and gifts, including a shop called Aurora Dora.

Where’s Waldo?

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 We had breakfast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse (see Food and Goodies). Talkeetna is also a great place to view Mt. Denali from a different angle.

Outside of Talkeetna, we saw a sight you just don’t see everyday –a young man walking his reindeer on a leash.

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Of course I asked first if I could take his picture.  Then I wanted to pet him, naturally.

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If you’re wondering, his name is “Rowdy”, and he’s very gentle. ¬†I did learn something new. ¬†Reindeer antlers are completely covered in a soft fur called velvet. ¬†Who knew? ¬†If you want to know how they get rid of the velvet, you can look online. ¬†It was a bit too gross for this blog.

I’m leaving you today from a town called Palmer. ¬†We plan to stay here in Big Bear RV Park for a few days to do some chores and explore. ¬†Palmer is right next to Wasilla, AK, the home of the strange and elusive palin, as in Sarah Palin. ¬†Maybe we’ll go say hello before we leave – and then again, maybe not !!!

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See you in Anchorage…