August 30, 2015

Busy End of Summer

Filed under: Everyday Life — Susan Stevenson @ 9:02 pm

Just a short blog entry to apologize for my absence.

We’re on our last trip of the summer (Homer and Seward) with Steve’s daughter Kayla, who is visiting from North Carolina. We are desperately trying to make the summer season last as long as possible!

On the way to Anchorage, we drove through snow flurries near Denali and saw FALL colors in the Broad Pass area. And so passes another summer.

I will have quite a bit of “catching up” to do when we get home. In addition to blogging and photos, I have senior portraits to shoot and edit. Add in getting the house, camper and yard ready for another winter AND the start of another aurora season, and I need about 12 hours added to each day.


Thanks for reading! I appreciate it. :)

August 15, 2015

Denali Park Shuttle Trip

Filed under: Heartache, Travel, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 5:58 pm

When planning Brandon and Becky’s itinerary, Steve had a few extra days off from work, so we decided to include a shuttle bus ride into Denali National Park on our return trip to Fairbanks. I don’t get to do the shuttle very often, as I tend to visit the park in the shoulder season. But the bus is a fantastic way to see more of the park, and I like to take at least one shuttle trip each summer.

The drive from Anchorage to Denali was slow going at times, due to the road construction and pilot cars. Fortunately, it wasn’t as awful as our trip down. We stopped at Denali Viewpoint South (mp 135) so Steve could dump some fuel cans in the truck. We carry fuel with us to avoid the high price of gas along the highway - which can be as much as 50 cents higher per gallon than in Anchorage or Fairbanks.

Denali vs McKinley signThis sign is located there - and explains the Denali vs. Mt McKinley naming debate. Most of the people I know here in AK prefer the name Denali (given by the Koyukon Athabaskan, and meaning “The High One”), and use it when referring to our tallest peak. Soon after arriving in Alaska, I was corrected by a local resident when I referred to the mountain as Mt McKinley. While both names are used interchangeably, if I hear it called McKinley, I usually assume that person is new to or just visiting the state. (However, I do know some locals who call it McKinley too). I resized the enlarged image so that you can read the words more easily (1400 pixels wide) when you click it. What are your thoughts?

I took the next three photos on the Parks Hwy just outside of Denali, near Cantwell. We do a lot of distance driving here in Alaska - especially in summer - but with vistas like this, they are never boring.

Broad Pass


August 14, 2015

Family Visit - Seward and Homer

Filed under: Family, Travel, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 12:50 pm

My youngest son Brandon, and my daughter-in-love Becky, visited Alaska several weeks ago (July 11-18). It was so nice to have them both here again, as they haven’t visited since 2007.

They flew in and out of Anchorage, so we could spend our time on the Kenai Peninsula. This was new territory for them, as they visited Valdez on their last visit. We spent several days in Seward, and several days in Homer. Then, after putting Brandon and Becky on a plane home, Steve and I spent a couple of days in Denali Park. Of course many many photos were taken - too much to include in one blog entry - so I decided to split the trip into two blog entries. This first entry is about our time spent with the kids. The second entry will be about Steve’s and my visit to Denali Park.

There has been quite a bit of road construction (as there always is during the summer months), and we knew it was going to be slow-going to Anchorage. We weren’t looking forward to that drive at all, as the news reports and travel reports from friends were not sounding good. Delays of an hour were reported near Denali Park. I was glad to be towing a camper just in case nature called during one of those delays.

One of our regular stops on the long trip to Anchorage is at the Alaska Veterans Memorial. The memorial consists of five 20-foot tall concrete panels, one each to represent the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, arranged in a semi-circle. There are also several statues and informational panels on site, as well as a Visitor Center which is open during the summer.

Alaska Veterans Memorial Park also has picnic tables, restrooms, beautiful wildflowers, and access to the Byers Lake Loop Trail (4.8 miles, designated easy). This is a great place to stop and stretch your legs on the long drive between Fairbanks and Anchorage. Denali View South is 12 miles south of the Veterans Memorial, and is also a great place to stop and stretch. And when the mountain is *out*, what a view! (It wasn’t out for us, unfortunately)

It was sad to drive through the areas that were destroyed by fire at the beginning of the summer. At the same time, it was touching to see several signs along the way, thanking the firefighters who worked so hard to put the fire out. It’s going to take a while for the land to recover, unfortunately.


Road Construction
Road Construction on the Parks Hwy
Broad Pass Mountains
Broad Pass Scenery, Parks Hwy
Veterans Memorial
Alaska Veterans Memorial
Veterans Memorial
Alaska Veterans Memorial
Raindrops on Leaves
Fire Damage along the Parks Hwy
Fire Damage

Steve and I arrived in Anchorage around dinner time. We set up camp on JBER (Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson). If you’re military, the Black Spruce campground on base has full hookups and is $33/night. It’s also convenient to the PX and Commissary, which was our first stop after getting set up.

Brandon and Becky landed in Anchorage at 3:30am the next morning. I didn’t even know planes landed at that hour! At first I wanted to stay up all night and go to bed after we picked them up and brought them back to the camper. I’m glad Steve convinced me to lay down for a few hours instead.

They were both exhausted - as were we - so we all lay down for a few hours. With checkout at 1pm (thank goodness for late checkouts!), we were able to sleep late and get some much needed rest.


Seward is only 135 miles from Anchorage, so we had a short day of travel. With blazing sunshine and temps in the 60s, the drive around Turnagain Arm was beautiful. Our first stop was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This is a must-see stop if your travels bring you to the area. The AWCC does wonderful things for injured and orphaned wildlife, while also being educational. They recently released a herd of Wood Bison into the Alaska wild, and they are not only doing well, but calves have been born too. Here is an excerpt from their recent blog entry about the release of the Wood Bison. Such fantastic news!:

Wood bison inhabited Alaska and northwestern Canada for thousands of years. Skeletal remains of wood bison and oral histories from Alaska Natives show that wood bison disappeared from the state within the past 200 years, likely from a change in habitat distribution and effects of unregulated hunting. Wood bison were last sighted in Eastern Alaska in the 1920s. They were declared extinct in 1941 but a small herd was discovered in Canada in 1957. From that herd, conservation efforts have resulted in about 5,000 disease-free wood bison in seven wild herds in Canada.

The Alaskan wood bison have been maintained and grown under the supervison of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center staff since they were brought to Alaska from Canada in 2003 and 2008. A small herd of wood bison remains at AWCC, where people can see and learn about these majestic animals.

I love to visit all the animals at the AWCC, but the bears and lynx are favorites of mine. The kids loved them all, as they don’t get to see wildlife like this in Madison, Wisconsin. We happened to be there as they were feeding the bears, which was definitely something to see. The bears know when it’s feeding time, and they gathered below the observation decks, which gave us all a nice close-up view of them.  I don’t know the bears well enough to identify them from photos, and I may have miss-labeled some of the photos below. At AWCC, there are two brown bears, and one grizzly. They all look the same to me at a distance, except for the hump on Hugo (grizzly).  I think the best part of the feeding process was watching one of the bears stand up to look over the fence and crowd of onlookers for the staff. Obviously food was the focus!

There have been many improvements to the AWCC over the last couple of years. There’s a beautiful boardwalk that takes you out to the end of Turnagain Arm, with a lovely gazebo for shade. I decided to put my camera on a tripod and take our family photo there. (Steve almost fell backwards into the grass, which is why he looks like he’s trying to squat!). We spent a wonderful couple of hours there and will be returning in a couple of weeks when Steve’s daughter Kayla comes to visit.

All of us at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center:
Me, Steve, Becky and Brandon at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

I love these two to pieces!
Becky and Brandon at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Bull Moose
Bull Moose AWCC
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Musk Ox
Musk Ox at AWCC
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Brown Bear
Bathing Brown Bear - AWCC
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Black Bear
Black Bear - AWCC
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Grizzly Bear
Wet Grizzly Bear - AWCC
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Brown Bear
Brown Bear - AWCC
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Grizzly Bear
Peeking Bear - AWCC
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear - AWCC
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear - AWCC
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Elk
Elk - AWCC
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Sleeping Lynx
Sleeping Lynx - AWCC
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle - AWCC