Porcupyn's Blog

July 14, 2017

Alaska Trip – Day 11

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 10:32 pm

Today, the plan was to leave my mother in the Airbnb and go early in the morning to Seward to view the Exit Glacier. We planned to return at about noon or slight after that, with lunch from Seward. After having lunch, we would then head down Sterling Highway all the way down the other end of the Kenai Peninsula to Homer.

It was a bleak day when we set out, after having some bread sandwiches for breakfast, with bluebuerries and coffee. Forecasts called for light rain as well. We were glad that we had not encountered this weather yesterday, when we had our cruise out of Seward in “brochure” weather, as the crew had put it.

As was the case yesterday, we did not encounter too much traffic or delays related to traffic and were at the Exit Glacier visitor center by about 9:30 am. We waited around for the hike group to form, when we learned that there had been an earlier ranger-led hike that had gone further up the trail. Had we known about it, we would have definitely made an effort to be there earlier; however, it was now too late to catch up to that one. Oh well!

Our hike was quite easy. It was quite enlightening to see how far the glacier had retreated in the last century, based on the markers built along the hike trail. But what was really surprising was how much vegetation had built up in the last three-four decades where there used to be just glacier back then! The ranger explained to us the symbiotic relationship between the Alder trees and the Cottonwood trees that dominated the vegetation.

Tongue of Exit Glacier

Tongue of Exit Glacier

After about an hour, we got to the end point of the trail from where we could see the lip (though if you ask me, I would term it to be the ‘tongue’) of the glacier.

At the Exit Glacier, sections are roped off but the ranger was kinda iffy whether or not folks go past those to get closer to the glacier, At least, while we were there, everyone heeded the signs and no one went past the ropes. He told us that should we want to get closer, we could stay on the trail that led up to Harding Icefield, but being wary of bears as well as being short on time, we decided to head back.

On the way back, we first went to Seward and got some sandwiches from Subway as well as some other grocery items such as bread and snacks. Driving back, we saw that the lake (later I found out that it was Kenai Lake) looked really beautiful nestled between the mountains. I stopped the car and tried to see if there was a path to go all the way down to the lake to get a clearer and closer photo; however, there was no clear path and any way to get to the lake was pretty steep. So, I abandoned that thought and got a few photos from the roadside instead.

Kenai Lake

Kenai Lake

Even with an automatic camera, it is possible to bring out the contrasts in the scenery based on the exposure!

These two photos are from the same spot ...

These two photos are from the same spot …

... taken one after the other!

… taken one after the other!

After coming back to our lodge, we had a quick lunch and left for Homer. During my initial research, I had remembered reading about a volcanic mountain that would be visible from here, as well as glaciers across the bay. There were also ferries, I had learned, that would take you to a carless location (Soldovia) where you could go on short treks up to glaciers. Of course, though we did not have time to spare to do any of those activities, I wanted to go all the way to Homer, come hell or high water! Thankfully, we encountered neither, though it was drizzling for most of our drive there.

On the way, we passed through Sterling (reputed to be a great spot for fishing, an activity that didn’t really excite us … and bears, which definitely did not excite us either!), Soldotna (this is where I had originally reserved accommodations before realizing that we needed to be at Seward, not Kenai, for our cruise), Kenai River, and many other picturesque locations. Soldotna surprised us – I had not realized that the town would be as big as it was, especially after having encountered communities such as Whittier, Seward, Moose Pass, etc. Had I researched this area more and had we had more time to spare, we might have had a separate vacation trip to Soldotna as well, just to laze around and enjoy the sights! However, as it was, we went straight to Homer.

Into the haze

Into the haze


By the time we reached Homer however, the fog and drizzle had set in. It was difficult to see too far into the Bay. In fact, after we returned and even now, I am unsure whether we were looking towards the volcanic peaks or across the Bay into Kenai Peninsula itself. I would say this was the second worst weather day of our trip (the worst being the day we drove from Palmer to Denali in steady rain all day long), but given that we had already done whatever we wanted to do on the trip, I was not too miffed.

Though we could not see past the water very well, I could get a good enough close up of this boat on the water

Though we could not see past the water very well, I could get a good enough close up of this boat on the water

Raindrops on some plants at a rest area/welcome center at the outskirts of Homer

Raindrops on some plants at a rest area/welcome center at the outskirts of Homer

On the way back, I could not help myself taking this photo

On the way back, I could not help myself taking this photo


Though we never could really see Russia from anywhere on Alaska however much we craned our necks ;-), we did pass by this community that apparently still follows Russian traditions and some of them even speak Russian!

Traffic was pretty heavy that evening as the weekend was just getting underway (it was a Friday). We saw a lots of platoons of cars headed towards Homer. We were glad that we didn’t have a lot of traffic in our direction and reached the lodge after an uneventful drive.

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July 13, 2017

Alaska Trip – Day 10

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 11:22 pm

The two day cruises we had taken from Whittier had both departed right after noon; the reporting time had been after 11 am. However, the cruise that we were signed up for out of Seward was leaving at 10 am and the reporting time was just after 9 am, so we had to hurry up to get there in time. If we left at about 7:30 am, we thought it would be sufficient for us to get there in time.

The day before though, we ran into our elderly neighbour at the Airbnb, who said that it would take about two hours and likely even more if there were to be traffic and/or accidents. We would also need to wait for a tunnel. He kindly offered to give us a newspaper that had detailed information. Listening to him, I was confused. I didn’t recall reading anything about a tunnel to Seward – but as he obviously had visited in the recent past, I thought maybe I had missed something.

To be on the safe side, I decided to talk about it with our host. He confirmed that there was no tunnel and that if we left at 7:30 am, it should not be an issue, unless there was an accident somewhere! I decided that the neighbour must have – for whatever reason – mixed up Seward and Whittier!

Because we had to wake up really early, though the accommodation was comfortable, we had a fitful sleep. Besides, I was hoping for good weather and smooth seas. As it turned out, our day couldn’t have been much better. We woke up at about 6 am to a sunny day, quickly got ready with butter and jam sandwiches for lunch and left on time. The route to Seward is quite scenic with mountains on both sides and for the most part of the route, we had Kenai Lake to our right (though I didn’t realize it was one lake until I looked closely at the map upon returning!). We passed through the little town of Moose Pass along the way – this had been one of the places to stay that I had researched, but hadn’t found anything decent that fit our budget. Though it is much closer to Seward, I was thankful we didn’t pick it as it didn’t appear that there was much to the town (I am sure folks who have stayed there might have better information of things to do!).

As we started to see the outskirts of Seward, I realized that we were well ahead of schedule. It was about 8:15 am, so when I saw the road sign to Exit Glacier, I decided to take that fork. I thought that if we went about 15 minutes and didn’t get to the end of the road, we would turn right around. It was less than 15 minutes when we could see the glacier from the road itself. So, we decided to go all the way and take a couple of photos. But once we got closer and parked at the entrance parking lot, we found that we could no longer see the glacier among the mountain and the trees. So, we made the best of the visit by checking out the visitor center and using the restrooms.

We then retraced our path back into Seward, which was impressively bigger than Whittier (and we never did go all the way to the end of Seward). We were impressed, too, that it had a Subway, a Safeway and many restaurants as well, should we need food later in the evening.

The Major Marine Tours office in Seward

The Major Marine Tours office in Seward

Without much ado, I was able to get our boarding passes at Major Marine Tours’ office. We were unsure where to park, though I recalled reading that MMT would refund the parking fee for the day. At this point, we had parked at a nearby two hour parking zone. The agent informed me that we needed to turn onto the main road, and make a left to park at the paid parking lot. They would reimburse us for the parking fee in the evening after the cruise.

Shortly, it was time for us all to board. And here is my biggest peeve with MMT: on our first cruise from Whittier, we got the front seating in the boat (not that we stayed on the seat for the whole duration of the cruise). On the second cruise also, we got seats that were by the window though not in front. I didn’t ask, but I assumed that we got our seat assignment based on when we had purchased the tickets.

But on the cruise out of Seward, we got assigned a bench in the middle of the boat … on the UPPER deck! This would not have been an issue if we were travelling without my mother; and even that would not have been a problem had the restrooms and the coffee/tea been available on both decks. But no, for that one needed to come down then go back up. So, I asked the crew (Sean) if he could accommodate us on the lower deck, as my mother would’ve difficulty going up and down (one thing I had realized from the previous two days was that my mother would need to get tea – she preferred to get it herself to mix in the right amount of sugar and half-and-half – and use the restroom multiple times during the cruise).

When Sean expressed his inability as the boat was full, we had no other option but to proceed up the stairs. As the passengers were not being informed which seat was reserved for them, I thought that he could’ve rearranged it such that we were on the lower deck and some other – fitter – party could’ve been moved to the upper deck.

Be that as it may, I decided to hang around on the lower deck in case someone didn’t make it. As the boat almost filled up, I grabbed a spot on one of the cushioned seats by the windows that was still vacant. When I noticed that there were no more passengers waiting in line to be checked in by Sean, I approached him and asked him if we could have the seats I was sitting at. He said that we could (I was so glad!). I immediately rushed up the stairs and got everyone downstairs. That worked out perfectly.

I thought that as I had bought our tickets so far in advance (March), we should have gotten the lower deck or at least, we should’ve been asked if we have a preference. Since returning home, though, I have realized that probably even purchasing in March might not have been sufficiently enough in advance to get prime seating locations (though I never got a firm answer as to how they determine their seat allotments).

Soon, we were underway and immediately, I realized that the sea was much calmer than how it had been when we were at the Great Barrier Reef last year. This time, though, I was well prepared and had downed an anti-nausea pill. Soon, we were past the end of Seward town and in sight of our first glacier of the day.

The mighty Bear Glacier

The mighty Bear Glacier

A sea otter doing the backstroke (this was the favourite position of most of these creatures)

A sea otter doing the backstroke (this was the favourite position of most of these creatures)

We then got in position for some humpback whale action. Our boat had been trailing the Kenai Fjord Cruise’s boat, which had already gotten closer to the animals. But we came on the scene shortly as well, and were able to see the whales in action with their blow spouts. Needless to say, I cannot tell one kind of whale/shark apart from the other – and depended on the ranger on board, who was doing a great job sharing information with all of the passengers.

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Humpback whales

Humpback whales

Rounding Aialik cape, we came across more humpbacks as well as a school (or is it a pod) of Orcas. Living in the Orlando area, I have been to Sea World and seen “Shamu” in action. However, we never managed to take the kids there – partly because we never thought about it, partly because I felt that the swimming pool was too restrictive for the giants and partly also because we had been busy. Anyway, since the drowning of a trainer a couple of years back, Sea World has stopped the Orca performance (I believe), so it felt nice to see Orcas in their natural habitat. This was a group of four, so I named them Shama, Shami, Shamo and Shamu 😉

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I was not the only photographer around :-)

I was not the only photographer around 🙂

The Orcas I can identify and tell apart from the other - related or unrelated - species!

The Orcas I can identify and tell apart from the other – related or unrelated – species!

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In addition to informing us of the sealife around us, our ranger did an excellent job of notating our trip on a map, which I took a photo of for posterity

For the concluding part of the day, all I can say was that it was really nice to go so close to these two glaciers – Holgate and Aialik – and though neither of them calved significantly, just standing on the boat and staring at them at that distance was something! One cannot get a sense of how monstrous these glaciers are when you are on the boat heading toward them – or after the boat has made its closest approach and is in a holding/circling pattern so everybody can get their photos. Unless I’m on one – that did not happen on this trip – I don’t think I can comprehend the size of one of those.

There were many micro icebergs floating all around is as we went close to the glaciers. Just like on the previous two cruises, crew members harnessed a chunk of ice and made drinks out of them for the passengers.

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Holgate Glacier

Holgate Glacier

Aialik Glacier from a distance

Aialik Glacier from a distance

This was the only grizzly we got to see for the duration of our Alaska trip

This was the only grizzly we got to see for the duration of our Alaska trip


As we approached Aialik Glacier, we saw many kayaks on the water right below the sleeping grizzly. Oblivious of the action around him, he continued snoozing. On our way back from the glacier though, he had decided that enough was enough, woken up and wandered off back into the woods by the glacier.

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Aialik Glacier close up (see how puny our competitor boat - Kenai Fjord Tours - looks in comparison to the glacier)

Aialik Glacier close up (see how puny our competitor boat – Kenai Fjord Tours – looks in comparison to the glacier)

However, one thing that was really surprising and which stood out to us was that on the approach to each of these glaciers, we felt a draft of warm air. Where I thought we would be feeling the coldest, it turned out that it was the warmest feeling we had on the boat. I didn’t get a satisfactory explanation from the crew or from the ranger. Anyone here?

Bear Glacier on our way back

Bear Glacier on our way back

On the way back, once again we passed Bear Glacier with its huge moraines where three (or more) glaciers joined together to form it. Once we were back on land at about 5:30 pm, Baab and I noticed that some folks were being rushed off for their train journey. Upon enquiring, we were informed that the train to Seward comes in in the morning and stays there the whole day, returning only at about 6:00 pm. So, some of the folks on the boat needed to get to the train quickly.

Train getting ready to depart

Train getting ready to depart

We were glad that we didn’t have to leave just yet; besides, Baab and I thought that it would be nice to take some photos of the train departed Seward. So, we quickly hurried over – which, in retrospect, we didn’t have to because the railway station was not too far away – and found an ideal location to take photos and video.

Train departs to not much fanfare, and immediately afterwards, the employees closed up the station building for the night

Train departs to not much fanfare, and immediately afterwards, the employees closed up the station building for the night

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After the train had left, we wandered back into town and spent some time at the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor center where we got some souvenirs; Mrs. Porcupyn and Katya went over to a couple of other shops for more curios.

At this point, we had ticked off everything that I had planned to do. I had wanted to go to the Exit Glacier for a hike, but was not interested in paying $100 (or thereabouts) per person to get a guided experience up to the Harding Icefield. At the place where we got souvenirs, the staff informed us that there was a ranger-led hike that departs the Exit Glacier visitor center at (IIRC) 10 am and goes up quite close to the glacier though you still cannot walk up and touch it. As this was something that would not be too strenuous and would only take about 90 minutes round-trip, we decided that all of us would go on it tomorrow, except my mother who we would leave in Cooper Landing until we returned right around lunch time.

July 12, 2017

Alaska Trip – Day 9

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 11:07 pm

Today was a travel day – I did not have anything major planned, other than to get to Cooper Landing that evening. A few months ago, when researching Alaska, I had seen photos of Byers lake and wanted to see the views as well. However, as a hike was needed to get to it, I had put it on the backburner. Yesterday, I had had half a mind to stop by the Byers Lake to enjoy the scenery, but had not done so as we were in a hurry to get back. Now, that we would have time to spare, I thought that maybe we could drive up to this point and check out the lake as well as the South view point of Denali on the Parks Highway.

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However, we got up late and also had to clean up from last night’s dinner and this morning’s breakfast as we were to check out of the place first. By the time we were done with all that, it was already past 10 am. We had planned to go have lunch at an Indian buffet place in Anchorage. Now, it was looking tough unless we pared our plans. So, we decided to drop Byers Lake altogether and just go up to the South viewpoint.

Though Denali had decided to stay hidden today as well, we walked up the trail a little bit up to a higher spot where there were some infoboards and we could see Ruth glacier.

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Ruth glacier

Ruth glacier

It was touch and go after that, and we were debating whether to go for the buffet or order a la carte. But we were able to get there just before the deadline. The buffet was closing at 3 pm, and we presented ourselves at 2:45! The buffet was quite filling, though the quality was good but not exceptional. Given that we had not had home food for more than a week, we went hog wild 🙂

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For what it is worth, the decor was pretty good compared to most places we frequent here close to home

For what it is worth, the decor was pretty good compared to most places we frequent here close to home

After a good lunch, we were back on our way to Cooper Landing. The tide was out, and at Beluga Point, the ground was quite boggy.

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Baab literally got bogged down for a minute before he was able to extricate himself

Baab literally got bogged down for a minute before he was able to extricate himself

His shoes were a sight to see though!

His shoes were a sight to see though!

Once we passed our last familiar landmarks (the Portage Glacier Road turnoff) on the Seward Highway, the road takes a dramatic U-turn around Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet. After another turn, we leave the water behind and climb a bit along one hillside. The road is the direct access to Seward, but we turned off about 30-45 minutes north of Seward to go toward our Airbnb in Cooper Landing, which we reached after an uneventful journey.

A rant about some Airbnbs (such as this one): to me, a good and proper Airbnb is a house that belongs to the host, which the host either stays in as well and rents out a bedroom or two, or the host rents out the entire unit but stays close by. In addition, the host provides a decent breakfast as well, lacking which facilities are available for the visitors to make their own breakfast (at least bread toast and/or bake pizza for later). One other thing that really is a good feature is privacy from neighbouring homeowners – this is good not only for the guests but also to maintain good relations between the hosts and neighbours. We had really lucked out with the Palmer accommodation. Cooper Landing? Not so!

This is where the host actually runs a motel which does not even have the basic amenities that one would expect in a motel.Yes, I realize that at our price point, maybe that is all that was available. But then, I feel that it should be listed on an Airbnb – maybe only on hotels.com or booking.com – if the only kitchen-related amenity is coffee, and that too only when the host opens the office at 8 am. I could not even get ESPN – to watch some Wimbledon tennis – on the satellite TV which had tens of other channels. Thankfully, we at least had internet.

I am not blaming the host or Airbnb – I could have asked specific questions such as whether the room had an oven or not (it didn’t), a microwave (none available), etc. But for sure, it was more than sufficient if you needed to spend a night there – but we were there for three nights and were decidedly underwhelmed at the facility! But I didn’t complain on Airbnb or to the host, and won’t name the facility here either. After all, I should have done better homework (and maybe that was all that we could’ve had under the budget accommodation category).

July 11, 2017

Alaska Trip – Day 8

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 11:06 pm

The plan for today was for DD and my mother to stay at the Talkeetna cabin and relax for the day. The Wifi and smartphone combination was enough for DD and my mother was OK to sit and read whatever info material we had collected around Alaska thus far. As for Mrs. Porcupyn, Baab and me, we planned to go upto Eielson and check out the visitor information movies and also hoped to spot some wildlife as well.

When I went up to the office clubhouse to get some coffee, I learned from the staff that the office would have a bonfire going at seven pm that would last through ten pm if guests were interested in hanging out. The impression I got was that if guests were not out there, it might die down quicker than that. So, I thought that it might be a good idea for us to return by about eight pm so we could take Katya and my mother to the bonfire.

But as we really did not have a set plan (the Eielson visit was still a bit loosy goosy), we all lazed about more than we should have. The result of that was that we were a bit later there than our scheduled time. Now, per the website, it is difficult to accommodate you once you miss your scheduled; however, our actual experience was that they try their best to accommodate you. In our case, we were able to get into the next available shuttle to Eielson. The problem now was that it was right after noon. A quick calculation showed that if we were to go all the way, the earliest we could expect to be back here was 8:30 pm, which would put in Talkeetna at 10:30 pm!

Needless to say, we revised our plan for the day (so, what’s new?!). Now, we would just go up to Teklanika and return, hoping that we would be able to a) see some wildlife by then and b) catch a quick return shuttle. To be honest, I was also a bit intimidated by the slopes of the mountainside where the park road is cut into, and I felt that the bus drivers (especially on the return trip) hug the edge too closely. So, I was not too miffed at missing out on Eielson (though we could’ve stuck to the itinerary and informed Katya and my mother that we would be late returning to the cabin, and gone all the way there).

Also, the quick return would give us a chance to watch the entire dog sled presentation too. Moreover, we would be able to visit the post office and mail ourselves some souvenir cards stamped at Denali!

Like yesterday, the day was not too bright and we did not expect to be seeing Denali. When we got onto the shuttle, we informed our driver that we would like to be dropped off at Teklanika and we would catch the first available shuttle that was returning. In about an ninety minutes, we were at Teklanika. By now, I had remembered that I had left my sweater in the car, as this was the coldest of the three days we were at Denali! Hello Murphy!!

The Alaskan state bird is all the wildlife we saw today

The Alaskan state bird is all the wildlife we saw today

Back I went to talk to the driver, asking him if we could stay in the bus and he could ask the nest returning bus driver – as we were about to cross – if there was space for us. He didn’t have an issue with that, though he said that we might not be able to return on the first bus we encountered. We were OK with that, because the situation would’ve been the same even if he were to leave us at Teklanika.

In any event, as we were about to get to the bridge at Teklanika, we saw a bus coming in the other direction who had space for us. The minute we climbed on, the other passengers said, “So, you didn’t want to see the bears, eh?” It was just our luck on that day – those folks had seen a sow and her kiddos not five minutes past that point. Had we stayed on our shuttle, we might have right now been seeing them! Bah, humbug, we said, and took our seats.

I forgot to say one thing – our bus drivers for the day were the least vocal of the ones we encountered. In fact, the bus drivers’ communication about the parks kept going down on each bus – Courteous Ken from Kentucky was the best, then it was T.P., followed by the two drivers of today. They had not received the gift of the gab!

We were near the dog kennels and it was not yet even three pm. The driver asked if anyone would like to be dropped off here. I said sure, we would. But just as we were about to get down, I remembered my missing sweater. So, I asked Baab and Mrs. Porcupyn to get down but I would stay on the bus, so I could go and get the car and return here with it.

And so it was that we got to watch the dog show. When we told her about it a couple of weeks after we returned, Katya was not too happy to know about that. The dog show was underwhelming, though Mrs. Porcupyn said that she did not expect to have seen much more than she did. But it was a fun experience nevertheless.

Once we were done with the dog show, we drove to the Visitor Center as we had not been inside even once (we had stopped by the first evening when it was pouring, but the Center had closed for the day by then). Soon, we heard the whistle of a train. Baab and I came out and realized that the train station was just a short walk away. Mrs. Porcupyn not being interested, Baab and I walked over for some more railfanning.

The five pm departure for Fairbanks had just arrived ...

The five pm departure for Fairbanks had just arrived …

... and it soon departed

… and it soon departed

Later, we visited the Post Office and mailed our souvenirs, and posed for some photos by the park entrance

Later, we visited the Post Office and mailed our souvenirs, and posed for some photos by the park entrance

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Alaskan summer sun at ten pm!!

Alaskan summer sun at ten pm!!

By the time we then returned to the cabin, it was past eight pm, and we then visited the office to check out the books they had (there were a lot of Alaska related books that I had never seen in the libraries or bookstores here). The bonfire was a bit of a letdown, and – hindsight being 20/20 – we probably would have been better off going to Eielson and returning later than ten pm. Oh well!

So ends our visit to the Denali area. Tomorrow, we head for our final (and longest) base in Alaska at Cooper Landing!

Alaska Trip – Day 7

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 4:24 am

Like I’ve written previously, we had shuttle bus tickets for three consecutive days; however, I never wrote how we were a bit fortunate to even have those tickets. Long story follows (for those not interested in the long story, please go to location marked “—– end of long story ——“)

Not to belabor the point of the three-for-two tickets, but I had to call the Aramark Denali (the concessionaires who handle all the transportation inside the park on behalf of the National Park Service) phone number to purchase them as there was not enough information available online to do it by myself through the online reservation screen. And remember, I didn’t really understand how the shuttle system works, as there were some gaps in the information available online (or at least, in the places I looked while researching the trip), so I had a few questions as well.

I called the phone number for Aramark late in the month of May for travel in the first half of July. At this time, there was a lot of availability that I could tell, based on the website. And I was on hold … and I was on hold … for over an hour! I had the phone next to me in the bed as I could not handle holding it with a bent neck. In that timeframe, I dozed off – but was suddenly woken up by a human on the other end of the line. I asked my questions one after another. Dude was a bit brusque and, it appeared, put off by all the questions I had to ask. However, he did answer them, even though it was somewhat impatiently.

Finally, we got to the point where I gave him the three dates in July I needed the ticket for. Remember, at this point in time, I am in the bed, staring at the ceiling and still only three-quarters awake. He replied back – so it is Thursday, Friday and Saturday (I believe those were the days he said – could’ve been others). I said, yes, and repeated the dates back to him. He then asked for the times, and I gave him the one early timing, followed by the one later timing and another early timing. He repeated back to me Thursday x am, Friday y am and Saturday z am. And I gave him my credit card information.

Fast forward to end of June. I am getting all my ducks in a row. I have printed twenty different pieces of the puzzle, labelled them 1 through 26, starting with the parking ticket for two weeks near the Airport, the MCO-SEA tickets … ending with SEA-MCO tickets. I am looking through each of them to check the timings when I suddenly come across the Denali shuttle bus reservation. I see June. I rub my eyes, look again. They are the same dates that we need, but they are for … JUNE!!! I’m more wide awake now than I’ve ever been in the last few years for sure! Not only are the tickets for June, but they are for two weeks ago. In other words, the tickets are invalid. I log in to the website, enter the ticket code and get confirmation – the tickets were valid in the past!

In a panic, I called the credit card company to see if there was anything they could do about it (I had given up on calling Aramark because their policy clearly states that changes are permitted only before the actual ticket date, and I was S.O.L.!). They asked if I had spoken to the merchant. I said not really. They said that they could try to see what they could do, but I needed to first see if the merchant could resolve the issue.

So, I call Aramark. An hour later – and this hour I had tea, coffee, donuts, milkshakes, etc stacked up to keep me awake (but did not need any of them) – I get through and spoke to a reservation agent, who was really nice about the whole story. He managed to rebook us back to July. Which is why I was not too worried about not getting a refund for the unused tickets for today and tomorrow.

—————- end of long story ————-

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So, we woke up bright but not too early on our second day in the cabins near Denali. We had to check out before 11 am, but we were planning to check out as soon as the front desk opened at 8 am. Now, I am re-reading the instructions for our Talkeetna reservation and notice that the latest someone will be available to meet us would be 10 pm. As today was our Yukon plan, that would not work. And we didn’t have a working cell phone. So, I asked if the folks at the front desk would help me reach Talkeetna folks. And they said I could use their office phone, which is what I did and was able to finalize plans on how we could get the keys to our accommodation that night, as we would be reaching really late. I am really grateful to the folks there for having let us use their phone.

Reaching the WAC before ten am, we went over to one of the ticket agents and informed her of our decision to relinquish our tickets for today and that my mother and Katya would also not need their tickets for tomorrow. She was nice enough to offer us some refund back for the tickets, though I hadn’t hoped to get any money back!

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO


With that settled, we went to the kennels to see the dog-and-sled show. As it was about 10:15 am, I knew that we would probably miss the first part of it, but would be able to watch the latter part of it – besides, we would be able to watch the noon show and leave right after that. When we got there, we saw folks leaving – and learned that the show is more like 30 minutes not 45 minutes. And that the next show is not at noon (as I had remembered) but at 2 pm. As that would be too late, we decided to just visit the dogs for some time and then leave. Katya was a bit unhappy but not too much 🙂 It was almost noon by the time we left the kennels and headed back towards the park entrance.

On the way, we saw the Riley Creek bridge and decided to stop by the side of the road take a photo

On the way, we saw the Riley Creek bridge and decided to stop by the side of the road take a photo

Because I am a big train fan, I decided – on the spur of the moment – to check out the train station at Denali as it was quite near the visitor center. At this time, we were sure that the 12:30 pm southbound train had departed from Denali. However, when we reached the station, we learned that the train was running late and should be there in a few minutes. So, I decided to hang around, making sure the others did not have an objection. Everyone was OK!

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO


Shortly, the train made an appearance and there was no shortage of cameramen to record the event! Now that it was finally here, I thought that if we left rightaway and headed back up the Park Road, we might be able to catch the train on the bridge. I had to ask a couple of folks in the station before I could get a reasonably definitive reply that the bridge is south of the station (which it is!). So, back we went – away from the park entrance – to find a spot to park and take photos from. Fortunately, we were able to spot a location pretty soon (the other photo – previous post – having been taken from within the car). Folks driving by (we were there a good ten minutes) might have wondered what we were up to looking out into the open, cameras in hand, me and Baab.

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO


Soon, we heard the loud whistle of the train and, within a minute, out it came and went over the bridge. This is the best photo I have as I was busy recording its video 🙂

Railfanning done, we zoomed out of there as quick as we could. It was 1:05 pm when we left the park northbound to Yukon (we hoped)!

2.5 hours to Fairbanks, 2.5 hours to Yukon R., five more to get back up to Denali (in the other direction), and two more to Talkeetna. Starting at one pm, some quick back-of-the-envelope estimates (stop laughing, you Alaskans!) informed me that if we were to touch Yukon R. (even figuratively if not literally), it would put us back at Talkeetna at one am. As the host had informed us that our keys would be in a place where we could pick them up even if no one representing them was around, I was still thinking that we could do it. By the time we headed north from Fairbanks at about five pm, I had revised the itinerary. But first things first.

Immediately after turning left onto the Parks Highway and crossing the first bridge over the Nenana River, we passed the grocery stores and adventure/excursion companies – and absolutely loved the scenery in front of us once we went past the Denali park-related traffic. Though there was construction crew slowing traffic from both direction, there was not much traffic to impede our progress. The river was to our left, and a horizontal cut along the slope of the hills to the left (west) of the river indicated the railroad track of the Alaskan railroad.

Soon thereafter, we crossed the river once more and now we were to the left (west) of it and climbing. The land started to fall away to our right. We were then in an area where the hill was to the left of the road, and past some vegetation to the right, we could see the sprawling landscape with greenery – as we didn’t have any human perspective from this area, it is difficult to judge the density and height of the vegetation though there are definitely a few trees mixed in with the shrubs and the grasses. Throughout this timeframe, it was still drizzling and cloudy. Not as much as when we had traveled from Palmer to Denali, but still a bit nevertheless.

After about an hour, we crossed a bridge over the Tenana River – the Nenana is a tributary to this river. When I had originally scoped out Alaska, I had thought of driving up here to take a photo of the train on its river bridge. However, that was before I had gotten ambitious and decided to take us all upto the Yukon! So, we didn’t stay to take in the sights or get down the car. I figured that – based on our itinerary – we would still be back here by about 7:30 ish and could take a photo of the train and the bridge at that time.

Not too late after this, we started seeing more continuous signs of human habitation and were in the outskirts of Fairbanks. At this point, I needed to get directions from Baab as I didn’t have the exact highway information in my mind. We had two options to get to the highway that goes towards the Dalton Highway – one involving cutting through town, and the other was to stay on the freeway. We decided to pick the latter option. As I was driving, we suddenly were on a bridge/overpass and I looked over to the right and saw what looked like a beautiful little lake and a paddleboat anchored by the shoreline. I decided to take a short detour to check out the area and take a couple of photos.

Turns out the boat - the Tanana Chief - is among the attractions of the area and offers cruises on the Tanana River

Turns out the boat – the Tanana Chief – is among the attractions of the area and offers cruises on the Tanana River

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO

And we also came across the site where the Iditarod race started twice since the turn of the century as you can see from the infoboard

And we also came across the site where the Iditarod race started twice since the turn of the century as you can see from the infoboard

Spotting a Walmart, we then decided to use the restroom and purchase some groceries. As we were about to turn into Walmart, we also spied a Papa John’s. So, we went online and placed an order for pizzas which we could pick up on the way out of Walmart. And so it was that by the time we were back on the Highway – I recall the names Steese, Elliott and Richardson. However, checking on google now, I am thoroughly confused which ones we were on and which we were not. For example, this site talks about Alaskan interstates but apparently they are unsigned! Also, sample this – I was quite sure we were on Steese, but the website informs us that Steese is an unpaved road (maybe for a portion of its duration). Similarly, the road numbers appear to span multiple road names and vice versa! Anyway, as we were following the road numbers and the destination signs (to Livengood), we didn’t have any navigational issues.

Right outside of Fairbanks, we came upon a sign that pointed to an oil pipeline. Though I vaguely remembered a reference to it from my friend, I had not researched the pipeline at all. So, it was fun reading about it and taking photos of ourselves by it.

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO


Apparently people do climb up the pipeline (and post their exploits online), but we didn’t come across miscreants like that. In fact, we met a nice family who had traveled from North Pole (Alaska), Anchorage and Phoenix, and were returning back to Anchorage that day!

The Trans Alaskan pipeline climbs a hill and disappears into the earth

The Trans Alaskan pipeline climbs a hill and disappears into the earth

Continuing on the road, we lost track of when we passed the final traces of human civilization and were all by ourselves in the vast Alaskan landscape. In my tunnel vision of the Dalton, I had not really read up on how empty and desolate the area would be – however, one thing I had made sure of was to fill up the gas tank after leaving Papa John’s 🙂

There were quite a few sections of the road with pronounced frost heave

There were quite a few sections of the road with pronounced frost heave


Though for the most part, I could see the change in the pavement texture (such as in this photo) and slow down in advance …

... in some other places, we had what felt like a roller coaster ride (sorry, rental car agency!)

… in some other places, we had what felt like a roller coaster ride (sorry, rental car agency!)

By about 6:45 pm, we reached what we unanimously agreed would be the turning point - the point where the Dalton Highway begins

By about 6:45 pm, we reached what we unanimously agreed would be the turning point – the point where the Dalton Highway begins

As we stood there taking photos, a truck roared by and disappeared into the expanse of unpaved road. He was definitely not going 50 mph!!

As we stood there taking photos, a truck roared by and disappeared into the expanse of unpaved road. He was definitely not going 50 mph!!

We left at about 7:15 pm on our return trip. Mrs. Porcupyn drove back to Fairbanks and I caught a bit of shut eye. We took one more restroom break at the Walmart after which I got back in the driver’s seat. We stopped near the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus to look at Caribou in a ranch-type (?) setting. The trip was uneventful for the most part and we passed the Denali park area at about 11:15 pm. I took a couple more photos to wonder at how bright it still was so close to midnight.

Then Mrs. Porcupyn took over driving as I was feeling really sleepy. I had just about nodded off when she said “Moose!!”

“What?! Huh? Where?! Stop!!!”

I was wide awake now and camera in hand.

Mrs. Porcupyn: “There, right behind us!”

And sure enough, there was madam Moose and her little one. I immediately got out of the car and watched their indecision. At that moment, an eighteen-wheeler rumbled up and, being more experienced, he stopped well short of the pair as well.

At that point, mom and calf crossed the road and bounded off into the woods

At that point, mom and calf crossed the road and bounded off into the woods


We continued along – stopping at both the North and South vistas to see if we could catch a glimpse of Denali again (we barely saw the outlines of the mountains but not really the peaks) – and reached our destination in Talkeetna at about 1:30 am. Not too shabby, I would say!

July 9, 2017

Alaska Trip – Day 6 (concluded)

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 11:46 pm

As I wrote earlier, we were lined up for a shuttle that would take us up to Eielson Visitor Center. After a stop of about 30 minutes, the bus would return to the WAC. Visitors were free to a) stay at Eielson for 30 minutes, then return on the same bus, b) hang around at Eielson longer and take a later bus back, or c) should availability permit, take a different bus all the way up to the final stop – Kantishna. Kantishna is a location that has lodging facilities as well, though obviously, you would need to have reserved that way way in advance! Needless to say, it is pretty expensive as well.

Because it was a relatively cloud free day, we thought we had a good chance of seeing the mountain, though I knew that if the clouds had settled in that direction, our chances would go down very quickly. High mountain peaks typically generate their own weather system, as we had learned to our detriment in Jungfrau, Switzerland, where we didn’t see the peak even once during our three days in the Lauterbrunnen valley.

For our journey to Eielson, we had an absolutely great shuttle driver – Ken. Here is how Ken introduced himself, true 007 style. “I am Ken. I am from Kentucky, so I am Ken from Kentucky! I am very courteous. At each stop, I like to get down from the bus first to lend a hand to the ladies (and men) getting down from the bus. I have probably held the hand of thousands of pretty ladies – my wife does not mind that at all. So, I am Courteous Ken from Kentucky!” *now say all that with the southern drawl of Kentucky*

I had read elsewhere that though the shuttle bus drivers are not paid to provide any commentary beyond succinct Yes/No/ThankYou kinda comments, quite a few of them try to engage the visitors and keep them entertained. So, when Ken got started, he said that though we were in a shuttle and his job was to only take us to our destination, he would share his experience with us to make it a pleasant journey for all of us.

Ken looked to me as being almost as old as my mother. And his commentary ratified my guess. Right at the beginning of the trip, Ken said that his bride and he had recently celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary and that though he had been here a few years, he now planned to retire at the end of this season. He also added that he had been married when he was 22, and we could use our math skills to determine his age. His dream was to take his wife to Ireland for a few months, sometime in the future. An amusing take to Ken’s announcing his 52nd wedding anniversary: my mother who is not used to the American accent turned to me and said, he sure looks older than 52!

We went by the official Visitor Center and the nearby dog kennels where the rangers raised dogs for use during the winter months. These dog sleds are one of the few means of transportation across the national park in the winter months. The huskies are raised as puppies and kept there in Denali until they are about nine years old, after which they were retired and released to folks who wish to adopt them. However, because of their body chemistry, these dogs are not given to folks in the lower part of the Lower 48. In other words, if you are from, say, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, etc, you would not be able to adopt these dogs as pets. Needless to say, he also added, not all puppies last the nine years. To be part of the sled team, the dogs need to have the right attitude and be willing to be team players. For more information, he said, the dog kennels are open throughout the day (in the summer months) and they even have demonstrations of the dog sleds three times a day – at 10 am, 2 pm (this I misremembered as 12 noon – *spoiler alert* this was a significant miss … for tomorrow) and 4 pm.

Shortly after that, we were on the Park Road that leads directly all the way into Kantishna. At this point, visitors are permitted to drive in their cars – all the way up to Savage River, which is about 15 miles into the park. We thought that we might do just that tomorrow. One of the visitors coming in an RV in the other direction was straying across the median and so Ken had to take slight evasive action. Soon, he got on his walkie talkie and radioed his base reporting that driver (note to folks driving inside the park: be careful, you might get reported – though I don’t know what could happen if reported – for bad driving. Note that the speed limit is IIRC 25 mph)

Oh, I forgot a small but important detail! When I had started my research, I recall reading about which side of the bus to be seated on, in order to get the best views. As it happened, we were among the middle of the group – but though most of the first few seats had been taken, a few entire rows in the back were still available. By then, I had – of course – forgotten which side was the “right” side to sit on (I believe it is the left)! When I asked Ken as we were boarding, he said “whichever side the wildlife will show up at” 😉

Regardless, as I was climbing up with my mother, I noticed that the first row right behind – and to the right of – Ken was available and took it without a second thought. That turned out to be a good decision as my mother didn’t have to navigate through the bus to get down and get back in. And as she was always the first getting out, it didn’t really hinder the others (though maybe they were delayed by a few seconds). Of course, it was a great move from the view standpoint as well – in addition to the window to our right, we got both the front windows to look out form! The rest of the family took one of the rows toward the back of the bus.

Presently, Ken slowed down the bus and said, “What you are going to see now is going to cost you! You are going to be part of the 30% Club. What is that? Well, look to the left – Denali has decided to reveal himself to you. Only about 30% of our visitors are able to see the mountain without clouds. You will now need to go back to the visitor center concession booth where my wife works, and purchase the souvenirs which state that you are part of this exclusive club.” Forty necks swivelled left and sure enough, there was the Great One!

Denali, the Great One

Denali, the Great One

Moods uplifted, we then stopped to take photos of the sight

Moods uplifted, we then stopped to take photos of the sight


Hopefully, he would still be revealed when we got to Eielson, but there were no guarantees. So, we might as well take as many photos as we wanted!

Though folks talk about Denali dominating the landscape, I didn’t get that impression – maybe I had overestimated the term “dominating!” Sure, he still towered above the closer mountains, but because of the distance – we were still about 60-70 miles away, it was difficult to grasp the true difference in height.

The bridge over the Savage River

The bridge over the Savage River


IIRC, this is the bridge over the Savage River – and tourist traffic cannot go past this point as there is a ranger station right by the bridge. The hut to the bottom left of this photo is one of the earlier huts in the park and is even to this day used by the rangers in the winter months.

Ken explains

Ken explains

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Ken gave a good humorous explanation of these areas of the roadway where there is a steep drop to one side. He talked about how he had come once with his entire clan – wife, kids, grandkids and great grandkids and how a couple of them were a bit scared on the way back.

And we see someone working on the road as we were about to take a turn on it

And we see someone working on the road as we were about to take a turn on it

[img][/img]

So, we waited for him to backtrack a bit ...

So, we waited for him to backtrack a bit …

... and find a point where he could turn off the road

… and find a point where he could turn off the road

Crossing a Tour Bus

Crossing a Tour Bus


Here we cross one of the Tour buses – these are the ones that are customized air-conditioned (not sure) buses with narration. These do not pick up folks who are using only the shuttle bus system.

At the Polychrome Overlook

At the Polychrome Overlook


Our bus and co-passengers at one of the stops along the route – this is Polychrome overlook where you get to a lot of little hills that change color depending on how sunny, cloudy or rainy it is and the time of day as well. We didn’t notice a lot of variation in the colors during our travel, but if you google, you will notice a lot off color variation.

Notice too, how the clouds are all ranging in that one direction. Had Denali been in that direction, he would’ve been hidden from us.

Vegetation on the hills

Vegetation on the hills


This photo indicates how the vegetation stops growing past a certain height on the mountain – because of the weather as well as because of the lack of water which probably drains right into the hill or off of it, I would assume

We've still got some distance to go before we get to our closest from Denali

We’ve still got some distance to go before we get to our closest from Denali

Zooming in on Denali

Zooming in on Denali


Zoomed in, I just about got around all of the tourists! I got the feeling that Denali was sweating – as I recently learned, it is actually the snow blowing off the face of the mountain (so, I guess I am justified in making the statement that the mountain is sweating).

Ground squirrel near Eielson Visitor Center

Ground squirrel near Eielson Visitor Center


At Eielson Center, a ground squirrel at a Ranger-led walk that we went on. Some of the other tourists had gone hiking up the hill on one side of the visitor center – the other side led down. We were not too keen on hiking, so went with the ranger. That took a good hour.

By this time, clouds had started forming and only the summit of Denali was clearly visible. So, we knew that even if we were to go all the way to Wonder Lake, our opportunities of further sighting for that day was going to be severely limited. However, we decided that we might as well take advantage of the weather and travel further into the park. For tomorrow, we had a 11 am ticket and though we had an earlier ticket for the day after, we were not sure if we would be motivated enough (having already seen Denali) to wake up early and drive in from Talkeetna. And neither of those possibilities would permit us to venture deeper into the park than Eielson.

Therefore, we informed the local dispatcher that we would want to go all the way to Wonder Lake, and he said that the next bus would have space in it, but we would have to turn around back in it, as the bus after that might not have space to bring us back to the WAC.

 A hearty Wimbledon breakfast ... in Alaska

A hearty Wimbledon breakfast … in Alaska

[img]https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4340/35637965763_dbd308bd9b_c.jpg[/img]
At Wonder Lake, there was the option to walk a mile or so each way to Reflection Pond and take a photo of Denali with a reflection. If we hurried, there would be sufficient time to do so and catch the same bus on its way back from Wonder Lake. However, clouds had taken over and – you guessed it, we had bears at the back of our minds, though we had not encountered a single one from the bus – so we decided against trying that hike.

Wonder Lake had clouds around it and the water was also choppy, which is what the drivere had said would be the case at Reflection Pond as well, so in hindsight, not hiking to Reflection Pond was a good decision.

 A hearty Wimbledon breakfast ... in Alaska

A hearty Wimbledon breakfast … in Alaska

[img]https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4377/36400141386_108ef4bca3_c.jpg[/img]
And here are the solitary wildlife figures we came across during today’s trip (other than the countless hares and ground squirrels, and a few Dall sheep way up the hills): a moose (check out those antlers), and …

 A hearty Wimbledon breakfast ... in Alaska

A hearty Wimbledon breakfast … in Alaska

[img]https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4439/35610760294_16d85cf947_c.jpg[/img]
… a caribou (see how these antlers are different from those of a moose)

Our second driver of the day (T.P.) was not as much fun as Ken. I cannot put my finger on one thing that I had a complaint about, well maybe it was that she was not as effusive in giving a commentary (but that could also have been because we were on our way back now and a) everyone was tired, and b) most probably had heard it on the way in). Be that as it may, she did stop at Eielsen where we got out to fill water and admire the scenery (at this point, Denali was no longer visible and we were even wondering if it would rain on us).

We stopped at the Polychrome Overlook for photos, but the grizzly bear eluded us yet again. The folks on the bus – inbound – had apparently spotted a mom and calf but it had been very far away. We – well, to be precise, the other passengers who had industrial strength binoculars – tried to spot them to no avail. We even had a couple of false alarms, but nothind doing – we did see some owls right by the roadside.

Nearing the WAC, it was past eight pm, and our driver slowed down to point out the Riley Creek trestle (railroad) bridge. Many of our co-passengers took photos; Courteous Ken From Kentucky had not pointed this out to us (probably because it was behind us on our way out). I made a note to check it out further tomorrow or the day after, should we get a chance.

Given that it was really late now (past nine pm) when we finally got back – tired – to our cabins, that we had already seen Denali and that the weather was not expected to be as good the next two days, we revised our plans for the next two days.

First thing tomorrow, we would have to check out from our cabins. Then, we would see the folks at WAC to see whether they would offer any refund for the unused tickets. If they did, we would request a refund for my mother’s ticket for the day after tomorrow. Besides, we would relinquish our tickets for tomorrow (which was a free set of tickets anyway, as we had purchased the three-for-two offer). With that in mind, the plan was for us to attend the 10 am presentation of the dogs and their sled, then leave before noon for the Yukon River tomorrow, driving all the way back to Talkeetna. The day after, Mrs. Porcupyn, Baab and I would drive up from Talkeetna, take the bus up to Eielson then return. But you know what happens to the best-laid plans, don’t you? 🙂

Alaska Trip – Day 6

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 8:24 pm

Before I get started, a little perspective on the accommodations. As we were five of us, when I first started looking for accommodation, Carlo Creek Cabins came up as a good fit both for location and price. However, the bigger cabins that could accommodate a group of five were unavailable. As a result, I got two cabins – one for three and the other for two of us. When we reached at night, we were surprised to be greeted by a person who was from just up the road (OK, not literally) from us – in Tallahassee, FL. It was a common theme – most folks in the hospitality industry that we met were there just for the summer – except for our Airbnb hosts in Palmer who moved there from Idaho a while back. When we looked at the cabins in the evening when we landed there, in the rain, we were a bit pessimistic about liking the place – especially with common bathrooms situated outside! I was, as always, apprehensive about the presence (though uncommon) of bears in the area! But it turned out to be just fine. I, for one, loved the area. It is close enough to Denali and the rates are decent for the area for sure. I wish we had stayed there all through our Denali visit. To be honest, the common bathrooms that I had been worried about were actually a boon as all of us could use them at the same time – everyone else had either already left by the time we were ready to use the bathrooms, or they were all yet to wake up!

Next, about the transportation within Denali. Private cars were not allowed past a certain point in the National Park, and we were to be in the area for the most part of three full days. We were not planning to get the Tour bus tickets as I had researched that the shuttle buses can get us all the way into the park and the tour bus tickets were a) more expensive and b) liable to be sold out way in advance. When I then learned that there is an option to three shuttle bus tickets for the price of two, I decided that that would be the way to go. We would just get three days of tickets to an area reasonably within the park, and on the day that we had good visibility and weather, we would purchase the add-on option to go all in.

Now, some of this information is not really spelled out in either the Denali National Park website nor in the websites you get redirected to (or it is, I missed it entirely!!): when you purchase your shuttle bus ticket, you are coupled to a specific shuttle bus that goes to a specific point in the park. You could buy a ticket up to the Toklat River on, say, the 8:30 am shuttle bus that goes to Eielson Visitor Center. That means that you cannot take a shuttle bus that departs at any other time, unless of course, that bus has availability. If you decide to get down at an intermediate stop, say, Teklanika Campground, your further journey to Toklat can continue only if and when a bus comes from the Wilderness Access Center (the WAC, or the main visitor area to board the bus) that is going further into the park. We were advised to stay in the shuttle until our destination – it would be easier to find a bus returning to the WAC that had extra space than it would be to find out going into the park. That said, you are free to get down at any of the intermediate stops and spend as much time as you feel like doing – as long as you are aware that there was a chance that you might not get all the way to your original destination.

I decided to get the three-for-two tickets upto the Eielson Visitor Center, as there was the option of purchasing a ticket from there all the way into the park. Besides, at this location, there is enough space to sit, eat, drink water, use the restroom etc. So, I thought that should we need to split up for whatever reason, those of us who are tired or otherwise don’t want to go further could wait for the others to go (either further on the bus or on a hike) and return. When purchasing the tickets, you need to specify the timings as well. I used 8:30 am for the first day, 10:30 am for the second day and 9:00 am for the third day (of course, later on I realized that it would be a haul to make it to the 9:00 am departure if coming from Talkeetna!!). That way, I hoped that either on the first or the third day, we could venture further than Eielson – it was out of the question for the second day unless we were prepared to return late in the night (and remember, this is the day we were moving our base from Denali to Talkeetna). There is still more to come on this point, but that will come later 🙂

Eielson Visitor Center is located about 60 miles from the WAC, and is one of two places in the park where you can get water to drink IIRC. The shuttle bus takes about four hours one way to get to this point. Intermediate halts occur every 90 minutes, give or take a few minutes, for folks to get out and use the restrooms and take photos. I had been very antsy about this as well, for fear of wildlife, but was assured that if wildlife was spotted close to the road, the bus drivers are instructed not to let people out of the bus at the stop.

Be that as it may, we were up early in the morning and quickly got ready by about 7:15 am. By now, the sky was much clearer than it was last night. Looking up – in certain directions, one could see blue sky with not many clouds while in other directions, there were clouds. But it was much better than last night. Here is a comparison:

Last night as we were driving to the cabins

Last night as we were driving to the cabins

This morning while driving to Denali from the cabins

This morning while driving to Denali from the cabins

We got to the WAC by about 7:45 and got our tickets ratified and got in line for the bus.

While waiting in line, we had our first view of the local wildlife

While waiting in line, we had our first view of the local wildlife

As Hindus, per our religion, one of our gods is Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. His vehicle of choice is the puny mouse. Looking at the animal in front of us on the deck of the WAC, I commented that if the mount is here, surely the god must be around the corner, removing our obstacles? 🙂

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