October 25, 2015

Kayla’s Sept Visit – Homer and Seward Revisited

Filed under: Family,Travel,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 7:37 pm

In late August/early September, Steve’s daughter Kayla visited Alaska. This was her second trip – but her first trip was during the winter months, so we were able to do much more with her this time. Kayla opted to visit without the boys, as she had just started a new job, and needed a little R&R to recharge her batteries and relax. The boys were kept busy with their dad and grandparents, and we were all able to FaceTime with them on a daily basis while she was here.

As we did when Brandon and Becky visited, we had Kayla fly into Anchorage. Instead of camping on the military base, Steve and I decided to camp in Willow and enjoy a drive up to Hatcher Pass while we were in the area.

We were surprised at how much the colors were already changing, especially in the Broad Pass area south of Denali Park. It was misty and foggy, which really enhanced the colors, but we also knew that autumn was going to come early, and that was a little sad. Our summer is already so short!

These photos were taken near Broad Pass on the Parks Highway:

Fall Colors at Broad Pass, Parks Hwy Fall Colors at Broad Pass, Parks Hwy Fall Colors at Broad Pass, Parks Hwy

After setting up the camper and taking Raven for a walk, we drove up to Hatcher Pass, taking the back way up Willow Fishhook Road. The road on that side of the pass is very bumpy and washboard, so it took us a lot longer than we anticipated, but the views were beautiful. We stopped to stretch our legs at Summit Lake (there are quite a few Summit Lakes in Alaska), and I was thrilled to see a patch of fireweed still blooming, as the plants had gone to seed everywhere else.

Summit Lake, Hatcher Pass:
Summit Lake, Hatcher Pass

These photos were taken on the drive to the top of the pass. We came down the paved road into Wasilla, and drove back to Willow from there. It was a little further in miles, but faster than tackling the bumpy road again.

Hatcher Pass Road - Willow Side Hatcher Pass Road - Willow Side Summit Lake, Hatcher Pass
Hang Gliding over Hatcher Pass Hatcher Pass Cabins Hatcher Pass Cabins
View from Hatcher Pass Hatcher Pass View Pano Coming down from Hatcher Pass toward Wasilla


The next morning, Steve and I met a friend Doug and his wife for breakfast in Wasilla before heading to JBER (military base) and setting up camp there. Kayla’s flight came in around dinner time, and we stopped to grab a bite to eat after picking her up. She was jet-lagged as she had been traveling all day (and from the East Coast, which is 4 hours ahead of us), so we didn’t stay up too late once we got back to the camper.

The next morning, we had breakfast and then started the drive to Homer, stopping along the way to take photos and stretch our legs. It was a beautiful day for driving, and the mountains were gorgeous. Kayla and I even saw beluga whales in Turnagain Arm! We weren’t able to pull over for photos, but just seeing them was a thrill for both of us!

We stopped at the Bird Point rest stop to stretch our legs and grab a few photos. I love this photo of Steve and his daughter:

Kayla and Steve at Bird Point


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