Wednesday, August 15, 2012

No Cruise?

I took our dry cleaning in about three weeks ago, and when the woman who runs the store asked me when I wanted it I said we were going on vacation and wouldn't be back for a couple of weeks.  She asked me where we were going and I said Alaska.  She looked excited and asked me if we were going on a cruise.  I said no, and her face just fell, she said, "No cruise?"  Like how could you go to Alaska without getting on a cruise ship?

Well, folks, it can be done.  Brian and I packed a lot into ten days in Alaska, and we had a great time.  We flew into Fairbanks, spent three days there, then got on the Alaska Railroad to Anchorage.  We got off at Denali and spent two nights there, taking a 13-hour round-trip bus ride deep into the park.  Then we got back on the train for three days in the Anchorage area, including the one-and-only 26 Glacier Cruise. So we did take a cruise, after all. 

Here's a selection of pics from our trip:

Downtown Fairbanks. Don't ask me why that particular building is looking for love. Downtown Fairbanks isn't all that, so I would think they all would be.

Vending machines in Alaska have yogurt pretzels, and two kinds of jerky!

We visited the Botanical Gardens on the UA Fairbanks campus... 

... and the Museum of Alaska, where we had a bite in the cafe with hungry bird sculptures begging over our heads. 

Good birding near the Fairbanks Airport, including here at the Float Plane Area. This photo was taken after 9PM, still plenty of light as sunset wouldn't be until after 11.

Chena Lakes Recreation Area, the last sunny day we saw for a while.  We saw Red-throated Loon here, and...

 ... had our biggest non-mediated (as in, not on a bus) large animal wildlife encounter.  We heard something in the water while we were hiking, and very quietly worked out way down to the stream, where we saw a moose was foraging.  When she saw us she moved away, and we got eaten live by mosquitoes, but it was totally worth it. 

This was our second-closest non-mediated large animal encounter: bear scat (in blueberry season).

On the hiking trail in birch forest bear the Chena River. 

After some sunny weather in Fairbanks, we had nothing but clouds and rain in Denali.Still an amazing place, though.

On the 13-hour bus trip to the end of Denali Park Road and back. I think the kid's name was J.J., she was extremely popular.

 Apparently, this is called a braided river and it's a whole glacier thing.

 We saw lots of Grizzly Bears, also Moose, Caribou, and Dall Sheep (plus Willow Ptarmigan, a lifer for us).

The wildlife photographing was very competitive on the bus. Fortunately, the wildlife was very cooperative. We saw all the Big Five of Denali (Moose, Caribou, Bears, Dall Sheep, Wolf) except the wolf.  By the end of the day, when people were still screaming "BEAR!!!" every time somebody saw one, the bus driver was totally fed up and saying, "Just what you guys need, another bear."

  Another cloudy day, shooting out the window of the train from Denali to Anchorage.

 We finally saw Mt. McKinley - from the train window.  Apparently, only 30% of visitors to the park actually see Mt. McKinley (AKA Denali).  Since we weren't in the park when we saw it, I don't know if we're in the 30%, or the 70%.

Potter's Marsh is a very birdy spot south of Anchorage. We picked up a lifer here when we saw four Wilson's Snipe foraging among the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.  Spent a long time looking at a really large, dark bird that we thought might have been a Golden Eagle until we realized it was two Ravens kind of bunched up together.

 Climbing on the rocks at Turnagain Arm, another cloudy Alaska day.

 Hiking on the Coastal Trail in Anchorage, looking towards downtown.

We loved our hotel, the Anchorage Grand Hotel. Right downtown, big room, friendly staff, and fresh-baked cookies every afternoon!

Two of the 26 glaciers on the 26 Glacier Cruise, with sea otters in the foreground. This is in Prince William Sound.

This is Surprise Glacier, and the lumps in the water in front of the Glacier are sea lions. We also saw Humpbacked Whales, porpoises, and lots of birds.

Netting ice from glaciers, which they then put in drinks and on display. 

A huge nesting colony of Black legged Kittiwakes is the last stop on the 26 Glacier tour, there must have been thousands of birds there.

Glacier close-up, shot through my binoculars.

In the car, on the road to Whittier and the fabulous 26 Glacier Cruise (yes, we're out of order now, but Blogger makes it a real pain to move photos around once you get them in).

Approaching the tunnel to Whittier, 2.5 miles straight through a mountain - the second longest highway tunnel and the longest combined auto/rail tunnel in North America, or something like that.

Inside the tunnel, which was pretty awesome.

Parting shot from the boat, what a great trip!

And, for anyone who's interested, here are the life birds we picked up in Alaska:

Red-necked Grebe
Red-throated Loon
Wilson's Snipe
Pelagic Cormorant
Northwestern Crow
Willow Ptarmigan
Black-legged Kittiwake
Glaucous-winged Gull
Mew Gull
Orange-crowned Warbler
Alder Flycatcher*
Pine Siskin*
Gray-cheeked Thrush*

(*-these last ones we may have seen before, but did not ID well enough to record.)