Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thoughts, Opinions, and Reflections on Alaska

We are now in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in yet another Wal-Mart.  We got an earlier start this morning, but stopped just 2 miles into our trip at the Saskatchewan Welcome Center.  While there, we learned they had free WiFi and were able to log on from inside our rig out in the parking lot.  I took the time to post the blog, but that’s all.

Since before we arrived in Edmonton the terrain has been pretty flat and the scenery huge fields of crops--wheat or canola or whatever.  We’ve seen the farmers out cutting, raking, and baling hay.  All across Alberta and Saskatchewan we’ve seen lots of small ponds.  It’s really quite pretty.  Except for the ponds, it reminds me of driving across Kansas.  I guess Alberta and Saskatchewan are Canada’s breadbasket.

We don’t have much hope of seeing any more bear of moose, but we have been on the lookout for deer and antelope.  So far we haven’t had any luck sighting either of those critters.  Too many fences, I guess.

Today was truly a travel day and there isn’t much else to report.  This seems like as good a time as any to impart a few thoughts about our Alaska Trip.  It was our topic of discussion over many miles both yesterday and today.

Our first thought when thinking of this trip is how long it is.  Tomorrow morning we’ll be rolling over the 9,000 mile mark.  Unless you’re starting from somewhere in the Northwest, you’ve gotta be prepared for a long drive.  Perhaps it seems longer for us because we started out so early.  We left Nashville in March headed west and it seems like forever ago.

I guess there are a couple options for a trip like this.  We started early and did short mile days and a non-travel day about every third or fourth day.  Some might prefer to start later and do big mile days and travel many days in a row.  I think for us, we did what suits our travel style best.  We all get too grumpy (Peanut included) when we’ve spent too many hours of the day driving.  Nor do we like to travel too many days in a row.

We also had a very long list of things we wanted to see and do as we “passed by”.  We visited several National Parks, state capitols, and high points before we ever crossed the border into Canada.  For our return trip we wanted to take the time and opportunity to drive across Canada.  We’re glad we made those choices, but it has made the trip to Alaska much longer than necessary.

When we went to Alaska in 2004, we were in awe of the grandeur, vastness, wildness, and magnificent beauty of both Western Canada and Alaska.  It was our first time to see a grizzly bear, to see a glacier calve, to see whales, to see Mt McKinley.  We’ve dreamed of seeing all those things again and when we did they were great, but you can only have the “first time” once.  We were thrilled with seeing these things again, but they just weren’t as special as that first time.

Our favorite parts of Alaska--Denali National Park and Resurrection Bay in Seward.  We really enjoyed Homer and being parked on the Spit, but the beauty of the high mountains on Resurrection Bay and the feeling of being enveloped in this magnificent place was more pronounced in Seward.  Homer was the place for fishing, drinking beer, and browsing through the shops admiring the fine workmanship of the local artists.  The wildlife of Denali is its appeal for us.  Even though we saw bear, even grizzlies, and moose more often in other places, at Denali we felt like we were visiting their space rather than the other way around.  We are also very fond of Talkeetna.  I’m not really sure why.  Talkeetna is a stop for the tour buses and trains, but somehow, if the tourists weren’t there, this village seems to fit my vision of what Alaska is like in the off season with its dirt roads and wooden sidewalks.  I also have a vague connection to the climbing mentality.  We may have to return to these places some day.  Basically, the best of Alaska for us is its abundant wildlife and natural beauty.

Much of the interior of Alaska--Anchorage, Fairbanks, Tok--we don’t care to ever go back to.  There are some nice things to see and some fun stuff to do, but to make a trip to Alaska for these cities is not for us.  There are many cities in the lower 48 that have more appeal than these.

A trip like this has a price tag, of course.  We knew it would be expensive, especially the gasoline.  We’ve tried hard to stay within the budget and have succeeded in some areas, but not all.  We won’t have the final budget figures until the end of the month, so will wait until then to discuss specifics.  For now, I’ll just say that we found everything more expensive in British Columbia than anywhere else.  We tried to camp for free as often as possible and we’ve discovered we rather like boondocking although Wal-Mart parking lots are not my favorite places.  When planning the trip, we chose a couple “megabuck” items to include.  One was the trip to the Inuvik and the other was a trip to Katmai National Park.  As it turned out, we drove ourselves to the Arctic Circle instead of taking the tour.  It was a little more stressful, well, a whole lot more stressful, and we didn’t get all the way to Inuvik, but we saved hundreds of bucks and Peanut didn’t have to stay in a kennel.  And what an adventure it was.  We ditched the Katmai thing because it turned out to be way more expensive than we thought and picked up the glacier dinner cruise out of Whitier instead which was a wonderful experience. We chose to eat in rather than out to save a few extra dollars, but we generally do that anyway.  It was very expensive to get to Alaska, it was expensive to be there, and it is expensive to get home.  But over all, I think we both feel it was worth the cost.

Weather can make or break a trip.  Alaska has a wet climate and we had a few days of rain, but for the most part our weather was very good.  We were ten days in Denali and had rain only the last couple days.  We were about ten days on the Homer Spit and I don’t think it rained much there.  We were in Seward for several days with beautiful blue skies every day.  Sure, we had some rainy days, sometimes several days in a row, but we really can’t complain about the little rain we had in a place that is known for its wet climate.

There are many other things I want to mention--the Dempster and Top of the World highways, whether to take a car or not, what went wrong, and where to find the best views, but this has gone on long enough for now.  We’ll get to those other things in a day or two.

WED AUG 17:  Posting this blog from our campground near Winnipeg.  We’ll be here for several days so I’ll have a chance to catch up.

Thanks for tagging along.

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