Byers Lake

Byers Lake
Byers Lake, in Denali State Park, Alaska

Friday, August 26, 2016

Alaska, the last frontier

On July 26, me and Gina packed up our suitcases, hopped on the plane and flew into Anchorage, Alaska. Visiting Alaska has been a dream of mine for many years. My first visit was aboard a cruise ship through Glacier Bay, and it was beautiful, but all I wanted to do was jump ship and explore. This time, I jumped the airplane and hit the ground running.
For three weeks we camped in rain, wind and very little sunshine. Our first stop was Bird Creek, in Chugach State Park. The creek there runs into the ocean, and the salmon come up the creek from the salt water to spawn. People were catching fish all over the place. All I could think was I wish my son Isaac was there to land a beauty.
One day hiked up over the bridge, over the tracks and onto the beach. Such a romantic, emotional landscape. My senses were coming alive, more and more each day.

View from the bridge, where I saw fishermen lined up along the shore as far back as I could see. There is a certain etiquette in fishing up there. The Native Alaskans can fish anywhere and certain places are open just to them. They can use nets and fish wheels, which are all very interesting. All other fishermen have to use poles and follow all these complicated rules that I never did grasp.
In Kenai Fjords we camped at the coolest free campground near the Exit Glacier. Dozens of young people were there, some from Outward Bound, some tourists from Germany, others just tramping in Alaska. It was so alive with dreadlocks, body odor, ragged clothing, foreign languages, everybody cooking together in one place, and several families with lots of kids. 
Gina and I took the hike up to the Exit Glacier, a glacier that is rapidly melting! In the midst of the harsh elements this gorgeous purple flower was not afraid to bloom. 
The view up to the glacier was outstanding, wide open spaces, green mountains, tons of spruce trees, and the river that flowed from the glacier melt.
The Exit Glacier has such dense ice that in places it appears turquoise blue. Over time, snow falls upon the glacier and is compacted down, which forms these incredible ice crystals. The ice crystals absorb every color but blue, and that is the color what our eyes see. 
That is the boat that caused me so much stress. We signed up to take a 6 hour boat cruise through Kenai Fjords National Park, and at the time it seemed like a good idea. When the morning arrived to head down to the harbor, I got so nervous and sick that I barfed up my breakfast. I am terrified of certain things, but bullheaded enough to do them anyways. Both me and Gina were pretty sick on the boat, and very jealous of the people bouncing around having fun.
Even though I was sick, I had fun......always. On the trip we saw two powerful glaciers, the Holgate Glacier and the Aialik Glacier. At one I saw huge amounts of water gushing out from the glacier into the sea. It was intense.

Near the glacier, we found mama and baby mountain goat, grazing on the hillside. 
Our trip took us up and down Resurrection Bay, in and out of the fjords. Yes there was some rough know where that one goes, but in spite of the boat rocking, and my stomach rolling, I saw glaciers, see otters, puffins, whales, Bald Eagles, Bottlenose dolphins, seabirds, sea lions, and more. 
It was incredible. 
The highlight of my trip was seeing a humpback whale, swimming and eating and playing. The guide told us to watch for the birds gathering because thats where the whales would be feeding. Huge amounts of fish swim together in what they call a bait ball, and the whale swim till they encounter them. The whales feast, the birds feast and the fish swim for their lives. 
Another powerful glacier, so intense, so deep, so moody!
Last view of Ressurrection Bay, boats in the harbor and Seward's clouds.
In Seward, I found this old church, looking so quaint and pretty, a hotel built in 1916, and this funky little house surrounded by flowers. 

After Seward, we headed up to Anchorage, switched our tiny rental car for a big fat rental SUV, and headed up the George Parks Highway into Denali State Park. Moose signs were everywhere, but we only caught sight of two moose, throughout the entire trip. Enormous animals, even the females. 

It was at Denali State Park when I first started seeing mushrooms. I took a couple pictures for my sister Dorothy, as she is a mushroom freak, but then I turned into a mushroom freak and found dozens of unusual shrooms, and have yet to identify them!
This is one of the viewpoints for Denali Mountain. As you can see, Denali remains hidden behind a vast array of clouds. 
Much to Gina's delight, we stayed in a cabin for 3 nights up at Byers Lake, in Denali State Park. It was so crazy to see the lake in so many different lights. This one was my all time fave.
One day I took a walk around Byers Lake. At this point in the pic above, I was stopped dead in my tracks as the bridge over the creek that runs into the lake had been washed out. Refusing to be sidetracked, I bushwhacked through some very high grass, nearly over my head to try and find a place that was shallow enough to cross the creek. After finding a suitable place, I took off my shoes, flung them over my shoulders and walked into the creek. My shoes promptly fell into the water and my socks started drifting downstream. As I stooped to retrieve them, I looked up to see a giant black bear, which was actually cinnamon colored, running through the creek in the exact spot where the bridge had been washed out. Then he was gone. I started to freak, then just quietly turned back, put on my shoes and back tracked to the trail. Scary. Never saw the bear again.

This is my wonderful friend Gina, who made it every step of the way on our Alaska adventure.
The Ruth Glacier can be seen from a viewpoint along the George Parks Highway. The upper reaches of the glacier are three miles from Denali summit, which is again covered in clouds. The glacier formed a gorge that is nearly a mile wide and drops down 2000 feet. Most likely why they call it the Great Gorge!
At last we reach Denali National Park and set up camp in the rain, again. Only this time we stretched out a blue tarp over the table which kind of worked if you kept your head low.
Denali National Park has its own sled dogs that the rangers use to patrol the park in the winter time. We visited the kennels and petted the dogs, who then gave us a demonstration of how powerfully they run. It was awesome. 
Gina and I did some exploring on the Denali Park Road. For the first 18 miles or so, you can drive your car and stop and hike. After the Savage River, you have to turn back, or hop on the bus to the end of the park road. That would be me, in full hiking regalia, smiling for the camera. 
Along the road we spotted so many caribou, their antlers covered in velvet. Both species of the caribou have antlers, however the males are far bigger. Of course. 
To my delight, I found creeks, rivers, lakes and waterfalls in abundance during my visit to Alaska. Rain clouds ominously hand overhead, but the mood they create is so amazing. 
The next afternoon, we hiked up the Mountain Vista Trailhead off of the Denali Park Road. 
The green bus that took us 

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