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Florida Keys September 2014

Friday, August 30, 2013

Denali Backcountry Lodge


Location: Denali National Park, Alaska

Dates: 8/29/2013 – 8/31/2013

Our 92 mile bus ride took us to the end of the Denali road and where we would be spending the next two nights. Thursday and Friday nights we had reservations at the Denali Backcountry Lodge which is one of the few private lodges licensed to operate within the park. I believe there are only two or three other places to stay this far into the park (unless you are camping).

Yep, this would be the entrance sign for the lodge.



The lodge was in a valley surrounded on two sides by mountains and had a nice river running through the property. They had fishing poles that you could use if you wanted to try and catch some fish from this river.

Every day the lodge would have a wide selection of activities that you could participate in. The evening before, at dinner, one of the guides would go over everything that they were offering. Most of the things were hikes, but there was also bike rides, gold panning, yoga, fishing, etc. They would rate each activity by difficulty and limit the number of people who could participate in each. Then after dinner you would sign up for what you wanted to do the next day.

This is a picture of the main lodge where pre-dinner appetizers were served upstairs and then you would move downstairs to the dining room for dinner. The small building to the right was the “spa” where they were offering massages (for a price!).

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When we arrived we walked around to check everything out and to get some pictures. This shows some of the cabins right on the river and the mountains in the background.



They have a foot bridge over the river and on the far side they have a screened room with a wood burning stove.

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Some of the trees were beginning to show some fall color, but we were probably about a week early. We heard that the period of fall color in Denali (and Alaska in general) is very short. So, timing it just right is not easy. 

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Just a short walk from our lodge was the Fannie Quigley cabin. She was a legendary miner who lived in this area of Denali back in the early 1900’s. I t sounds like she was a very colorful character who had no problem dealing with the rough living conditions. Here’s a link to a short biography about her and her life in Kantishna.



The first hike we signed up for was to Wilkersham Dome just a short drive from the lodge. This was not a very long hike, about two miles round trip, but was fairly strenuous in that it gained about 1100 feet over a very short distance.

Denali National Park - Wilkersham Dome Hike at EveryTrail


Today’s hike should have given us some great views of the surrounding mountains with their snowfields and glaciers, unfortunately this day’s weather was not great and we had clouds during the entire time. Our guide, Jill (shown below), was very knowledgeable about the  plants and animals found within the park. Here she is showing us some likens that looks just like the caribou antlers.



There were some monitoring stations on top of this mountain where they gather seismic data. We spent about a half hour exploring the top of this mountain, but as you can see the visibility was limited. 

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Although we could not see to far off in the distance, if you look down you could find some very interesting plants with some great colors.



When we were at the top of the mountain it started raining very hard. So, we made a beeline down the side of the mountain since some in the group weren’t dressed for the weather and were getting cold and wet. It was very slippery on the way down and we had to be careful we didn’t end up falling on the muddy trail.

A long wet hike leads us to this next picture. This was probably the most important room at the lodge!  You really can’t go hiking in Denali without getting wet and it doesn’t really matter if it’s raining or not. There’s just a lot of water in Alaska. There’s no electric lines that lead this far into the park, so all the lodges have to generate their own power using diesel generators. These generators produce a large amount of heat. So, they built a room attached to the power shed where you could place any wet items. This room was loud, dirty, dark and HOT. You could place anything in here and it would dry in a short amount of time. This drying room was really a great idea and we used it many times over the two days we were here.

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In the afternoon we signed up to do a hike at Blueberry Hill near Wonder Lake. We also choose the option to bike back from the lake. The lodge had a van deliver us to to Wonder Lake and drop us off with our bikes. We were then free to hike around as much as we wanted and then bike back to the lodge. Most of the way back was down hill, except for one long uphill haul.

Denali National Park - Blueberry Hill Hike at EveryTrail


Our afternoon hike started off with a little rain, but then it stopped and began to clear a little. Unfortunately. it did not clear enough for us to see mount Denali. We never did see the mountain the entire time we were in the Denali park area, but I guess less than 25% of the visitors get to see it, so we’re not alone.

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We started hiking on the Blueberry Hill trail which was a fairly easy hike starting at the park road. Again, the fall colors in this area were amazing as you can see in some of the pictures below.

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There were blueberry bushes everywhere and they were covered with fruit. Julie just had to try some everyone now and again.

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If it were clear, then this shot would give a great view of Denali, but with this cloudy weather it wasn’t going to happen. Maybe next time!

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Julie and I learned something on this hike. We had hiked to the top of a hill, which was a one way, out and back hike. We thought we saw another trail down below near the edge of Wonder lake. So, instead of doubling back, we decided to bushwhack it across the tundra to this other trail (which we found out later really did not exist). Anyway, the further we got away from the trail we were on, the harder it got to walk. The earth was so spongy and thick with undergrowth and it got to the point where it was about impossible to make any headway. We finally gave up and tried to get back to our original trail. We just about wore ourselves out getting back to firm land. So, we learned that walking across the open Alaska Tundra is NOT a good idea. The caribou and other animals sure  make it look easy, but it’s not!

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After our hikes, we biked back to the lodge. We wanted to make sure we made it back in time for happy hour and appetizers. We have our priorities!!

The bike ride back was very nice. We were alone on the road, out in the middle of nowhere with beautiful scenery all around. I now wish we had some more time to do more rides in the park.

Denali National Park - Biking from Wonderlake to Backcountry Lodge at EveryTrail



Here’s a link to all my pictures from the time we spent at the Denali Backcountry Lodge.

When our time was done at the Backcountry Lodge, we again took the Alaska Train down to the big town of Talkeetna were we had some outings planned. I’ll cover that part of the trip in the next blog post.


On 9/20/2013 added some YouTube Video



Thursday, August 29, 2013

Denali National Park – Riding the bus on the 92 mile park road


Locations: Denali National Park, Alaska

Date: 8/29/2013 & 8/31/2013

After our morning of hiking and wandering around the visitor center area, we boarded our bus for the 92 mile trip that would take us deep into the park. There is only one road into Denali National park. The first 15 miles are paved and open to all traffic. After that it turns into a dirt road and only park vehicles and tour buses are allowed on this section. Our bus was run by the same company who owns the Denali Backcountry Lodge. This is where would would be staying for the next several nights.

On our way into the park we didn’t have any rain, but it was overcast. So, we did not get a chance to see the mountain, but we did get to see a good bit of wild life. Our driver on the way in was adequate, but we felt that he was on too much of a timeline. He skipped several stops and didn’t give much commentary about the park and animals.

All the buses that travel into and out of Denali are old “Blue Bird” type school buses we used to ride as kids. Most had bench seats and the old windows that are difficult to get up and down. It was fairly cold, so you wanted to keep the windows up while driving, but get them down quickly to take pictures when you saw some animals.

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Within five minutes of starting our trip we spotted a bull moose on the side of the road. He was feeding on some of the trees and getting a good picture was challenging. This was the best picture I could get, which includes what looks to be like someone’s hat. This guy was fairly close to the road and so we were able to get a good feeling of his size. It was amazing how large he was.

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Soon after we came across several caribou running across the tundra. I’ll probably say this several times in this post, but the colors in Denali was amazing. I think we may have been a week or so early, but there was still plenty of color in the low plants that cover the ground. You can see some of the color here when I was able to get a picture of the caribou sprinting by the bus.

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We also encountered several grizzly bear and their cubs. I was able to get a few decent pictures. All the bear we saw were very focused on eating. Trying to fatten up for the winter.

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On the bus ride out of Denali (two days later), we had a much better bus driver. He had so many interesting stories of the park and the people who work and live in the area. Plus he was really good at finding the animals, definitely a bonus!! He told a long story about these two sets of moose antlers and how they are locked together. This happened when the two animals were sparring and trying to become the dominant male of the group. I won’t go into a lot of the details (as it’s somewhat gruesome) but it did cause the two animals to perish. This was all witnessed be a wildlife photographer who was in the park at the time. You can see a short video explaining these antlers here.

Also, you can see that we didn’t have the best weather on our bus ride out of the park. For most of the time when were at the higher elevations, we had snow. I would say we had about 1 – 2 inches which cut down on our visibility, but did make it a little easier locating animals since they stand out against the white.

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Here’s a momma grizzly with her two cubs scouring the the hillside for berries. When we hiked in Denali, most areas were covered with blueberry and other assorted berries. These bears were eating as much of them as they could as they prepared for winter.  

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As you can see from the picture below, the ride out of Denali was a muddy affair. Luckily Julie and I were able to get a front row seat in the bus, so we were able to see out the front window and search for animals. I’m sure many people in the back had a difficult time since the windows got muddied over very quickly. At every stop our bus driver would get out and clean every window to allow those on the bus to see better. He did his best to take care of everyone on the bus, but with the muddy roads the windows didn’t stay clean for long.

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We again found several caribou far off in the distance. They are hard to see in this picture, but there is a line of them in the center of this picture.

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Another pictures showing the beautiful colors of Denali. Some of the caribou had the velvet still on their antlers, but it looks like this guys had already shed the velvet.

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We spent two nights in the far reaches of the Denali road. Our lodge was within walking distance to where you can find this sign. With only a few lodges existing in the heart of the park, you were truly out in the middle of nowhere with only a small number of other people around. It was a very unique experience which I will blog about in my next post.


Here is the GPS track of the 90 mile bus ride on the Denali Park road.

Denali National Park - Park Road Bus Trip at EveryTrail


Once again, I took too many pictures to fit in one blog post. So, here is a link of all the pictures of this trip.


On 9/20/2013 added some YouTube Vidoes


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Denali National Park – Visitor Center Area


Location: Milepost 229 George Parks Highway, Denali National Park

Date: 8/28/2013

After our day in Seward we boarded the Costal Classic Alaska Train for our trip back to Anchorage. We’d be spending the night at the Clarion Suites just at the edge of the downtown area. The train left Seward at 6:00pm and didn’t get into Anchorage until 10:00. So, we decided to eat dinner in the trains’ dinning room which was on the bottom level of our train car. They didn’t have a large selection, but the food that we had was very good. Plus it was fun sitting there, eating our dinner and watching the scenery pass by.  We got into Anchorage late in the evening and called the hotel shuttle to come and pick us up.

Our train the next day (Wednesday) was an early 8:00am departure. Today’s trip would take about seven and a half hours and take us  to the main entrance to Denali National Park. The scenery from Anchorage to Denali was not as dramatic as the mountains and glaciers on the trip down to Seward, but it was still an interesting trip. There’s a few towns along the way and you realize how far removed some of these small towns are from any large populated areas. You really have to be self-sufficient to live and survive in some of these remote areas.

After arriving on the train at the Denali train station, we located our shuttle that would take us to the cabins we were going to stay for the evening. The Denali Cabins is owned by the same company that arranged our tour. These cabins were about 5 miles south of the entrance, but with a shuttle running every 30 minutes there was no problem getting around. The Denali Cabins were nothing special, but a comfortable place to spend the night. Plus they did have an onsite restaurant & bar, so a good place to eat dinner if you didn’t want to travel anywhere.

We asked our shuttle driver Mark for dinner recommendations and he gave us the name of two places, one being a pizza place and the other being a fish bake. Pizza sounded good to us, so we jumped on the shuttle and headed off. There’s a small commercial district right outside the main gate of Denali. I guess you could call it a tacky, tourist magnet with a collection of gift and souvenir shops.  And right across the street was the “grand” Princess Lodge where many of the cruise ship passengers spend some of the land part of their land/sea vacations. We walked over there to check it out, but it had a very Disney feel to it. And watching some of the Princess patrons strutting around in their high heels and tight dresses didn’t fit the National Park vibe. Somehow I didn’t get the feeling we would be seeing too many of them on the hiking trails of Denali!!

Anyways, the Pizza place were we decided to have dinner was called Prospectors  and it was packed. After a short wait we were able to grab a seat and place our order. I guess the good pizza and a selection of 49 beers on tap is a popular draw for people visiting this area. This was an interesting restaurant with the collection of animals and pelts covering the walls, plus a good selection of Denali climbing paraphernalia . We enjoyed our dinner here.

One of the only pics I took of Prospectors is below. Not a great picture, but gives you a feel of this place. 



The next day we had the morning to explore the Denali visitor center since our bus ride into the park didn’t leave until after lunch. Again our luggage was handled for us by the lodge and delivered to the park bus depot. So, we didn’t have to worry about it as we explored and did some easy hikes.

Our shuttle driver, Mark, made a stop by the park sign so everyone could get their picture taken. Mark was a very personable guy who was quite the character. He had his his selection of 70’s music on his Ipod and would pick a different artist for each trip we took with him. He says if there’s a lot of foreign tourists on the shuttle, sometimes he will put on a little AC/DC and crank it up. Then he enjoys watching their reaction!! Mark was an interesting and very funny guy.

Our obligatory picture by the park entrance sign.

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And of course I think Julie had a little “thing” for Mark, so we had to also get his picture. Maybe I should have put his picture up above mine! Smile

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We entered the park and walked around the visitor center. They have a 15 – 20 minute movie that introduces you to the park and it was very good. Definitely view the movie if you are visiting Denali.

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There is a good selection of hiking trails that begin at the visitors center and since we still had some time to kill, we did a few of the easier ones. Below is our GPS track of where we hiked and a few picture from these trails.

Denali Nation Park - Hiking around main Visitor Center at EveryTrail


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A large beaver pond. We spent a little time here trying to locate the beaver who made this pond but he/she was nowhere to be found.

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Since fall was arriving, we got to see some of the colors changing. In Denali they get as much color out of the ground cover and plants as they do in the trees. Here’s a picture showing some of the leaves ad berries with some fall color.

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At around 1:00pm we made our way to the Denali bus station where we would be boarding our bus for the 92 mile ride into the park. We had reservations deep in the park at the Denali Backcountry Lodge for two nights. Julie and I were looking forward to getting into the park and seeing what Denali had to offer. I’ll save the details of our bus trip for another post as this one is plenty long!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Our time in Seward Alaska


Location: Seward, Alaska

Dates: 8/26/2013 – 8/27/2013

After our nine hour boat tour of Kenai National park on Monday, we were ready for some time on land! Someone in our group (won’t say who) doesn’t do very well in rough seas and at the end of the trip fed the fish off the back of the boat (if you know what I mean!!). Even with that little uncomfortable event, it still was an awesome trip and would definitely do it again. After exiting the tour boat we located the bus stop near the boat harbor that would take us the lodge we were staying for the night. The Windsong Seward Lodge  is located about 3 miles north of Seward heading towards Exit Glacier.  We made our way to the Seward lodge and got checked in. This is a very nice, although a little older, lodge right on the river that flows out of Exit Glacier. We did get upgraded to a suite room, so that was nice.

After getting settled in our room, we rested for awhile. We were tired from our long day and didn’t feel like taking the hotel shuttle back to Seward for dinner. So, we decided to check out the restaurant associated with the lodge called the Resurrection Roadhouse. We didn’t eat in the dining room, but choose the pub side which pretty much has the same menu as the main dining room. We again tasted some of the local brews and split a pizza which was actually pretty good. This pub also had a nice combination of locals and tourists. We always like to find places that the local people frequent and this seemed to be one of those places. 

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The weather, especially in the morning, was a little chilly. So, Julie enjoyed warming up by the fireplace.

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On Tuesday morning the Windsong lodge offered a guided trip to Exit Glacier which is just up the road from the lodge. Exit Glacier is another of the many glacier that flow off the Harding Icefield.  This was a view of the glacier from a pullout along the road. There was only a few of us on this trip, so again it was a nice, un-crowded outing and we enjoyed talking with the young (college aged) guide who led the trip.

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Here is the visitor center for the Exit Glacier park.

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This park had several different choices for hikes to the Glacier and further on to the Harding Icefield. We did the more leisurely hike up to the glacier which was about two miles round trip.

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Exit Glacier, like almost all the glaciers in this area are shrinking and doing so very quickly. This sign was about a quarter mile from the toe of the glacier and was where the glacier was located back in 1961. There was also a series of signs long the road leading into the park with dates previous to this. It really gives you a good understanding of how fast these glaciers are receding.

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This is the GPS track of our hike at Exit Glacier

Seward Alaska - Exit Glacier Hike at EveryTrail


After our hike around Exit Glacier we headed back to the Windsong Lodge to catch the Shuttle down to Seward. We had several hours until we had to catch the Alaska Train back to Anchorage, so we decided to spend some time checking out the Seward area, plus we had tickets for the Sealife Center and a Back Stage tour. Again, the lodge took good care of us and took our luggage directly to the train depot for us. This was a common theme as we traveled on this trip. The hotels/lodges work very closely with the Alaskan Train and do all they can to make your travel pleasant.

We took the lodge shuttle to the boat harbor in Seward and did a long walk around this area. This is the small boat harbor looking south towards Resurrection Bay.

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Julie is ready for the Iditarod race which used to start in Seward, but has since moved to Anchorage.

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So, this was an interesting boat/ship we saw anchored in the Seward Harbor. It was the talk of the town when we were there and it turns out it is owned by Paul Allen who is the co-founder of Microsoft. This ship, the Octopus, is 414 ft long and looks like one of the cruise ships which frequent this area, Julie and I were going to make an attempt to get on-board and check it out. That was until we heard he employs about 10 Navy Seals to protect him and his ship. We actually saw some of what we assumed were the seals circling the ship in one of the security boats. So, we decided to keep our distance.

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From the boat harbor we walked down to the “business district” about a mile away, We were hungry for lunch and found a Greek Restaurant named the Apollo. We found this place served really good food. Who would have thought that there would be a good Greek restaurant in downtown Seward.

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This picture shows downtown Seward with Marathon Mountain in the background.

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All this walking made us a little thirsty. So, we just had to stop in to the Seward Brewing Company, which is a restaurant and pub, to try one of their home brewer beers. The owners of the business just totally rebuilt the building which houses the restaurant and brewing room (s). They did an amazing job or re-doing this historic building, The inside is somewhat rustic, but at the same time very classy with all the interesting art work on the walls. If you are ever in this area, be sure to check it out.

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Of course Seward is a major fishing port. This charter fishing boat just came into port and was showing off their catch.

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The last thing we did at Seward, before boarding the train back to Anchorage, was to visit the Sea Life Center. This was a good way to spend a few hours and we did the back stage tour. Although not great, it was kind of interesting. I’m not a big aquarium/museum fan but I can see where others would find it interesting. They actually do a lot of marine research and animal rehabilitation.

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Julie and I did a lot of walking around the downtown area of Seward. Here is our track from the Small Boat Harbor to the Sea Life Center.

Seward Alaska - Hike around town at EveryTrail


Here is a link of all the pictures we took while in Seward Alaska.

We were then onto the train back to Anchorage for a night stay before we headed north to Denali.


On 9/20/2013 added YouTube Video