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"More mountains than buildings, more wildlife than people, more glaciers than stoplights.
Alaska -- it's amazingly different, with the tallest mountains, the largest area of national 
parklands, the highest concentration of glaciers, and the longest stretch of coastline 
in the United States. Alaska is a place of magnificence, but it's not beyond your reach."
ADDENDUM NOV. 3, 2013 (yes, 2013!):

When I originally uploaded this four-page entry it had been two and a half months since I last uploaded an entry from our Alaskan adventure. It was a summary of our Alaska trip from the day we entered the state (June 13) till September 1.

I apologized and encouraged readers to look at the topics page periodically to at least see where we were.

Now I've finally caught up to this page and I will keep it mostly intact. It's a handy summary of our Alaska adventure up to this point with just six more days until we left the state. I have just a few more Alaska entries to write (more than a year later -- sorry) and that part of our Alaska journal will be complete.

Then I'll post entries about our return trip through Canada and what we did in the Lower 48 before returning to our house in Virginia.


What I wanted to see more than anything else in Alaska -- 20,320-foot Denali AKA Mt. McKinley, the
highest peak in North America. We had opportunities to see it on several days from several locations.
I took this photo a few days ago from 35 miles away at Eielson Visitor Center in Denali NP.  (8-29-12)

This week we've had more rain than sun, giving me the perfect excuse to go back through thousands of photos we've taken since we arrived in the Frontier State in mid-June.

This series of entries is a collection of some of my favorite photos from Alaska. They represent a variety of places we've visited on our Virgin Tour of the state -- Anchorage and its surrounding mountains and coast, the Mat-Su Valley, Valdez, the Kenai Peninsula (Turnagain Arm, Portage Valley, Seward, Russian River, Soldotna, Homer, etc.), and Denali state and national parks.

Small blue icebergs from nearby Portage Glacier float on the lake next to the Begich-Boggs
Visitor Center in the Portage Valley at the eastern end of Turnagain Arm.  (6-27-12)
Some of Alaska's thousands of glaciers are accessible by vehicle or foot, others by plane or boat.

These photos are a small sample of the scenic views, wildlife, and historical/cultural sites we've been enjoying. Some are just reminders of memorable experiences. I've taken thousands of pictures this summer and have barely begun to edit them (mostly downsizing from 12- and 16-megapixel size).

I'm happy that Jim has also been taking some photos, mostly on his solo cycling treks. Some of his pictures are included in the approximately 100 photos showcased here and in the next three pages.

For example, Jim took the next two photos of a mama grizzly (brown) bear and her two cubs while riding his bike on the road inside Denali NP on August 11. One of the park's shuttle buses was angled to protect the bears and give passengers a better view:

The bears moved into the willows and low bushes to the right while Jim continued snapping pictures. This one shows the cubs close up:

Aren't they adorable? They were born this spring. If they survive, they will live with their mother for 2 years before she kicks them out and has more cubs. According to park researchers, they have only a 35% chance of survival their first year and 59% the second year. That's pretty low, considering this is a preserve where they are protected. Someday I'll write a "Bears Rule at Denali" entry illustrating ways humans must adapt to the bears.

We've got numerous photos of bears (brown and black), moose, caribou, musk ox, Dall sheep, wolves, sea otters, humpback whales, a fox, a lynx, bald eagles, grouse, puffins, several other kinds of birds, Arctic ground squirrels, snowshoe hares, and marmots to show you eventually.

We've seen about as many bears in campgrounds and along the Coastal Trail, a paved bike-hike path in Anchorage, as we have seen in the wild:

Curious black bear at our campsite in Valdez (6-15-12).  Black bears come in brown, too.
What Alaskans call brown bears are also known as grizzly bears. They look different.

Curious young black bear at our campsite at JBER (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson)
in Anchorage. (6-26-12) Both of these bears appear to be fairly young but out on their own now.

I'll include some more wildlife pictures in this series of several pages.


Since most people have pretty fast computers and internet connections these days, I'm going to start uploading larger picture files into my Alaska entries on this website.

These don't have links to make the photos larger; someday I'll put bigger pictures on our Picasa site and/or learn out how to write the proper code on this site so you can just click the ones you want to see in a larger format.

Even though these pictures are a little larger than the ones I've usually included on this website, the   photos simply don't do justice to the grandeur of Alaska. I hope they at least give you an idea why I ran out of superlatives soon after we arrived here!

The small boat harbor in Valdez, where snow still blanketed the mountains at sea level in mid-June.
Valdez, Anchorage, and other areas of Alaska got record-breaking snow levels last winter.  (6-16-12)

Colorful kayaks in the harbor at Valdez  (6-15-12)

Most of these photos were taken with a new 16-megapixel Sony DSC-H90 Cyber-shot digital camera we bought when we were in Anchorage at the end of June. The 12-megapixel, 28mm Canon PowerShot A1200 with 4x optical zoom I'd been using for over a year started making weird noises and I thought it was about to die.

It didn't and Jim now uses it instead of an old 5-megapixel Nikon Coolpix.

Jim tried to persuade me to buy a larger, more expensive digital camera with interchangeable lenses but I thought the16-megapixel, 24mm Sony with 16x optical zoom would be an adequate upgrade for us for less than $200.

View from the Coastal Trail toward downtown Anchorage, looking across a bay
in Cook Inlet; the mud flats are very dangerous when the tide is low like this.  (8-24-12)

I was wrong.

The Sony is an improvement and it's fine for landscapes but nowhere near adequate to get wildlife close-ups. Next time we go to the time and expense to visit Alaska we'll be bringing a much better camera with a long zoom lens like so many other tourists have.

Frugality isn't always wise.

Dall sheep  (8-15-12)

However, most of the time I really haven't needed expensive equipment to get decent shots.

For example, I was so close to the laid-back female Dall sheep above -- about 20 feet away -- on Mt. Margaret high above the Savage River in Denali NP that a large zoom lens would have been a detriment. She was fully aware of me when I sat down to eat a snack nearby but made no attempt to escape my presence or one-sided conversation with her. Female Dall sheep have small horns like these. The males' horns are longer and more curved, similar to Bighorn sheep.

That's just one of several critters I was able to photograph at fairly close range during one amazing hike. I'll show a few more later.


Alaska is a magnificent place. It's also huge and many places aren't accessible by paved roads. Kenai Fjords National Park is one such place. All but Exit Glacier is accessible only by boat or plane:

Holgate Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park; you need to take a boat or plane ride to see it.  (7-9-12)

So far we've visited only the South Central region of the state and the southern part of the Interior at Denali National Park. We'll see a little more before we head for the Lower 48, but not much.

On this trip we haven't gone out into the "bush," as communities off the road grid are called. Those are accessible by air, water, ATVs, and dog sleds. Float planes are nearly as common up here as cars and trucks. There are more small-plane pilots per capita in Alaska than anywhere else.

Part of the impressive Native Alaskan exhibit on one floor of the Anchorage Museum. About a
dozen different Native tribes have inhabited what is now Alaska for about 14,000 years. (7-23-12)

It's beyond my comprehension how anyone can spend only one or two weeks on vacation in Alaska and see very much of it. After three months of wandering around we will have barely scratched the surface of all there is that we are interested in seeing and doing here.

No wonder visitors keep coming back! We've heard that most people who are adventurous enough to visit Alaska once either come back repeatedly or move here.

Now we know why.


Jim and I spent eleven days in early August at Denali National Park and had such a fantastic time that we are back again for another eight days at the end of August/beginning of September.

We aren't as lucky with the weather this time, however.

Even on overcast days we get out to ride and hike -- we just get prettier pictures when it's sunny!
That's Jim on his bike along the park road near Teklanika Campground. Personal vehicles aren't
allowed very far into the park but bikes and shuttle buses can go all 92 miles to Kantishna.  (8-10-12)

In early to mid-August we had mostly sunny days and were able to see The High One (that's what "Denali" means in the Native Athabascan language) on several different days in several different locations, which was a real stroke of luck because 20,320-foot Denali is hidden by clouds about 70% of the time in the summer.

The campground hosts, bus drivers, and folks who work in or near the park all summer kept reiterating how lucky we were to have such great weather. We enjoyed it, not realizing then how different it is when it's rainy.

A well-fed male caribou strips leaves off a willow bush on the Savage River gravel bar.
In the winter he'll mostly subsist on lichen plants he can find under the snow.
Thankfully, he'll shed those heavy antlers after rutting season is over in a few weeks. (8-14-12)

On our first visit to Denali we found many interesting places to hike and cycle within the park. Some were in the "front country" (near the entrance), some in the back country.

We drove our truck 15 miles out to Savage River several times.

We rode shuttle buses into the interior of the park twice, going as far as Wonder Lake at 85 miles.

The high, skinny park road at Polychrome Pass  (8-9-12)

During all those excursions we saw lots of wildlife, including a mama wolf playing with her cub and a lynx prowling the gravel Savage River bed. There are only about 70 adult wolves spread out over 6.6 million acres of protected land at Denali so visitors rarely see any wolves (or lynx); we lucked out in that regard, too.

We also took a flight-seeing tour of Denali, getting very close to the summit of that behemoth:

Trent (L), our pilot with Fly Denali, poses with us after our flight in a sleek Piper Navajo Chieftain
low-wing plane that carries a pilot and nine passengers. Jim got to sit in the co-pilot's seat. (8-7-12)

Denali's south (L) and north (R) peaks; although we look very close -- the camera was not
zoomed in -- the pilot said we were about a mile away.  Jim took this and the next photo. (8-7-12)

We attended interesting ranger talks, visited the park's large kennel of working sled dogs, watched videos of stunning park scenery at the visitor centers, and browsed interpretive nature and historic exhibits throughout the park.

We didn't want to leave Denali but we drove back down to Anchorage when the weather forecast several days of rain. There are more inside activities in the city when it's wet and full hook-ups are better than "dry camping" (ha!) when it's raining.

We really like Anchorage, its coast, and its surrounding mountains -- but it isn't the same as hanging out at Denali when the weather is great.

One of the "rivers of ice" flowing from Denali; clouds quickly move in and out of the Alaska Range (8-7-12)

We were set to head to the Canadian border last Sunday, beginning a slow journey through the Yukon Territory, British Columbia, and Alberta on our way back to the Lower 48.

Then we decided we weren't ready to leave Alaska just yet. It has a grip on us.

So where should we spend some more time? Back in Valdez? Seward? Other places on the Kenai Peninsula that were wet when we were there -- and are still wet?? (Rain forests are like that.) Or just stay longer in Anchorage and do some day trips from there?

Gold and orange aspen leaves among the evergreens on the
Rock Creek Trail at Denali; autumn came quickly!  (8-28-12)

A couple days before our planned departure from Alaska we altered our already-fluid plans yet again and decided to come back to Denali NP because we had such a great time here earlier in the month and we heard that the fall colors are now quite vivid.

Vivid, indeed. It's amazing how much change in leaf color there has been in just a couple weeks. In fact, "terminal dust" (the first dusting of snow in autumn) fell in the park several days ago, down to about 3,200 feet elevation. Our campground is about 1,680 feet; we didn't get snow here but temperatures were near freezing that night.

The snow was beautiful as we drove out to Savage River the next morning:

Fresh snow on low peaks in the Alaska Range in Denali NP  (8-28-12)

Most of the new snow melted in a couple days. We know more will come before long, however. Autumn is an extremely short season in Alaska and northern Canada. So is spring. What I'd call summer is about two months long (mid-June to mid-August). Winter lasts forever.

One joke up here is that there are two seasons -- winter and road construction. I believe it!

Our current plans are to remain in the park until Labor Day, then spend some time in Fairbanks, Delta Junction, and Tok as we make our way toward Canada and the Lower 48 during September.

Of course, our itinerary could change many times again depending on the weather and our whims. As my brother noted recently, "You can do that." We prefer to avoid driving with a camper in snow or ice, and freezing temperatures overnight are a challenge with the water pipes.

It looks Christmas-y with all the red and green in the taiga (sub-alpine terrain).  (8-30-12)

This has been a very chilly summer where we've been in Alaska, with most nights in the low to mid-50s F. and temperatures no warmer than the 60s during the day -- even on sunny days. I can count the number of days we've had over 70 F. on one hand.

The cool, rain forest summer weather in Anchorage and on the Kenai Peninsula is very similar to that in coastal cities like San Francisco and Portland that are much farther south.

"Summer" just doesn't last nearly as long up here.

Colorful view from an overlook in Denali NP while Jim was riding his bike recently (8-29-12)

Meanwhile, much of the Lower 48 continues to swelter in the heat. Even as far north as Rapid City, SD, which we'll visit in late September, high temps reached 100 F. several days in late August. We hope the northern U.S. states cool off in the next month.

We aren't acclimated to that much heat after being in Alaska for three months -- the coldest summer in our lives.

Or to rephrase a saying about San Francisco, the coldest winter we ever experienced was a summer in Alaska!

Maybe that's because we've been around a lot of glaciers . . . This is the
Matanuska Glacier, accessible by foot from the Glenn Highway near Palmer.  (6-17-12)

OK, here and on the next three pages are more photos from this sampling. I'm spreading them out so they'll load faster. You'll have to wait until I get around to writing the individual entries to see a bunch more. Hopefully, that will be sometime during this lifetime!

Photos continued on next page . . .

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil