Category Archives: travel

When in Seward…

The Flamingo Lounge

Resurrection Bay


The Tourist Season has begun

With the warmer weather and midnight sun comes the arrival of another summer anomaly: The Tourist. In March and April, we shared the roads with new tour bus drivers, who were learning how to drive while sharing Alaska tidbits over the bus loudspeaker.

Last week, I spotted the first full tour bus in Fairbanks. The bus had traveled the Parks Highway from Denali National Park. The swans, geese and cranes have been here for a few weeks, and now the tourists join the gaggle.

To add insult to injury, for those of us who are accustomed to seeing moose along the roadside, Sunday was National Tourist Day. Where did that celebration come from? Or, is that day, considered a warning? Time to prepare for the inevitable sudden stops for wildlife viewing.

As much as I love having them around, they are still just a moose! Alaska Tip: Pull off the roadway completely before stopping to gawk. The resident behind you will appreciate the effort.


Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

It’s National Parks Week!

My visit to the Gila Wilderness and its cliff dwellings happened early on in the Original Beetle Roadtrip. In many ways it was in the Gila, that a 24 year old Aldo Leopold found his footing. As someone who really enjoyed Leopold’s writing, it was only a matter of time for me to visit the wilderness he proposed and the very first Federally recognized wilderness in the United States.

I found a nice place to camp in the national forest, driving the Beetle across a stream to limit my neighbors, and from that campsite, I explored the Gila.

The Catwalk

Theodore Roosevelt designated the cliff dwellings a national monument in 1907. The monument is 533 acres, and had just over 41,000 visitors in 2016. To me, there seemed to be almost that many people there when I visited. It became a challenge to get a picture taken without a person in the frame, but I worked at it.

The dwellings are located in an absolutely beautiful part of New Mexico. It was easy for me to see why the Mogollon people settled here, and I wondered why they abandoned it years later.

Hiking the trail early in the morning, I was lucky enough to come across a black bear on its morning excursion. Later in the day, I met up with a couple who had seen a mountain lion. I was not at all surprised by either in this beautiful, rugged terrain.


Chaco Culture National Historic Park

It’s National Parks Week!

The above is one of the earliest known published images of the Chaco Canyon area. The artwork is by Richard Kern from his exploration of the area with the military’s reconnaissance of the Four Corners country, led by J.H. Simpson, in 1849. The account of the expedition was published in 1851.

I first visited Chaco Canyon during The Beetle Roadtrip. I spent an entire month exploring New Mexico, and Chaco was among the favorites. The southwest, in general, is so vastly different than the Far North, and I find the country fascinating.

Chaco is an International Dark Sky Park, and the sky was truly brilliant at night. It was here and in the Grand Canyon that I spent the most time looking up at the Milky Way. It is highly unusual for me to be able to sit outside and watch the stars move across the sky, while in shorts and a t-shirt.

Starting around 900 AD, Chaco Canyon became a major culture center for Ancestral Puebloans, and a hub for ceremony and trade. Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the “Great Houses”, had at least 650 rooms. Its massive walls were 3 feet thick.

The petroglyphs throughout the area are absolutely astounding. I could have spent the entire month exploring Chaco Canyon alone, if left to my own devices.

Photo credit: NPS

The park itself is just over 33,000 areas, and it saw 39,000 visitors in 2011.


Lake Clark National Park & Preserve

It’s National Park Week!

Lake Clark National Park & Preserve is located approximately 100 miles southwest of Anchorage. Originally designated a National Monument in 1978, the area was named a national park by Congress in 1980 via the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Photo credit: NPS

The park itself is roughly 2.6 million acres, with an additional 1.4 million set aside as preserve, putting the total size at just over 4 million acres. In 2018, the park saw 14,000 visitors.

The Lake Clark area gained some degree of fame through the adventures of Dick Proenneke, who documented his homestead life at Twin Lakes before the area became a park. Proenneke not only kept detailed journals, but filmed his world in a documentary style. Alone in the Wilderness, the book about his life at Twin Lakes, and the PBS documentary of the same name were extremely well received by Alaskans and non-Alaskans alike. Not an easy thing to accomplish!

Lake Clark is a vital salmon hatchery for Bristol Bay, and is Alaska’s sixth largest lake at 42 miles long and a maximum depth of just over 1000 feet.

Lake Clark NP&P is also home to two active volcanoes. The ever rumbling Mount Redoubt and Iliamna volcano, which has been quiet of late.

Lake Clark NP&P is not road accessible. One can get to the park via floatplane or via boat from Cook Inlet.


Lake Kissimmee State Park

A trail through Kissimmee

This is the Florida I really like. On my only off day in Orlando, not counting the day I flew in, I went out to Lake Kissimmee State Park in search of their 13 miles of trails. Luckily, not one of them had a TRAIL CLOSED sign at the trailhead.

Kissimmee is a 5900+ acre park with an incredible variety of terrain: From forest to floodplain and flatwoods to hammock, Kissimmee had it all.

One of several deer I saw while hiking. There were actually three here, with two hiding behind the ferns.

At the trailhead was a fishing hole that had a lot of attention. Mostly parents with kids were fishing from raised platforms. It wasn’t hard to see why they were fishing from above the shoreline: I immediately spotted two alligators floating offshore, with only the top of their heads out of the water. I could see fish everywhere, practically begging just below the water’s surface. I was told they were Florida Largemouth Bass, although they looked like a bunch of pet carp.

I didn’t hang out long enough to see one caught. I had just spent the past several days immersed in a sea of humanity, with a second round coming the next day, so I was looking for solitude on the trails. I found it too. The only company I had once I left the trailhead was several deer that I hiked past.

On the edge of a controlled burn

It was an absolutely beautiful day, with temps in the low 70’s F, not a cloud in the sky, and I had those 13 miles of trail to hike.

This remnant of Florida fascinates me. I honestly love hiking through the flatwoods and hammocks. It’s so different from what is in Alaska. It’s also kind of enjoyable to be hiking in a t-shirt in March and without mukluks.

They very recently had a controlled burn in the park, and one of the trails went right through one of the burns. The scent of burnt vegetation hung in the air. The burn was so recent, that I would occasionally walk through a pocket of air where I could smell the heat itself. I’m not sure if it was a hot pocket or just an area where the sun beat down in such a way as to amplify the scent, but it was intense.

A perfect way to close out my time in Orlando.


Orlando Nightlife

I had never been to Orlando, which shocked the hotel manager. In fact, I even received a head shake when I confessed that this was my first visit to the city. I did not add that I would not have visited at all if it wasn’t a business trip.

It’s an interesting town, and I enjoyed the 80F degrees, but I’d prefer the Everglades or Dry Tortugas. I’m more of an orca in the wild than an orca in a pool, kind of guy.

Still, I did enjoy the trip, and the food was decent, although prices easily surpassed Fairbanks, which took me by surprise. Car rental prices were relatively inexpensive, but gas prices varied wider than I have ever seen. They were all over the map, with a difference of 60 cents a gallon around the city. The cheaper ones are not around the airport, by the way.


Orlando

Last week, I had a 10 day business trip down under, as in the Lower 48. Orlando was Part One of the excursion. I landed at their airport at 5:30 am. Since I was not going to be allowed to check into the hotel until 3pm, I had some time to kill. After breakfast, I picked up a few things that I forgot to bring and then searched for a park with a trail to hike.

I picked one out and headed down the highway. This was my first time to Orlando, and after spending the past 12 hours traveling, I just wasn’t in the mood for the intense traffic. It’s pretty nasty in Orlando. Shout out to I-4!

After arriving at the park, I walked about a bit then came across the trailhead:

There were three trails, and a TRAIL CLOSED sign at the start of each trail. An hour fighting traffic to go twenty miles, and the trails are closed. I was not impressed. There was no explanation. I’m not overly familiar with trails being closed. In Fairbanks, it’s usually because the trail is going through an active wildfire zone, and in Anchorage I remember warning signs highly discouraging of the use of a trail due to a grizzly killed moose carcass just down wind a bit, and one never knows when that grizzly will return to chow down some more. I was hoping to at least find a sign saying “Trail Closed due to Alligator Eating Wayward Tourist”, but there was no such sign, and I started to assume it was probably due to the trail getting a bit muddy, or something equally hazardous.

In the end, I found what I thought was a small hardly used trail along a creek, but eventually I was told off by a woman in a canoe who said that I was not on an official trail and I needed to go back.

I almost told her to go soak herself, but in the end, I just pointed to the opposite shore, and asked, “Is that an alligator?” Then I walked back to the car.


The end of “Salmon-Thirty-Salmon”

Alaska Airlines’ Flying King Salmon

Alaska Airlines has announced the end of an era. Their 737 with the king salmon painted on its fuselage will be repainted. Dubbed the Salmon-thirty-Salmon by an admiring public (mainly Alaskans), the repaint is facing a recall effort on change.org, but it seems the lure has been cast.

The paint job made its debut in 2005, and the plane has been a favorite up here ever since. That first painting of the 129 foot long king salmon was paid for by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, but subsequent repaints have been done by Alaska Air itself, as it continued to help promote wild, Alaskan seafood.

A spokesman for the airline stated that “a wonderful new design will be introduced in the coming months”. Alaskans seem skeptical however, thus the change.org petition.

Salmon-thirty-Salmon’s final flight will be April 17, when it flies the Southeast Alaska “milk-run”: Seattle to Anchorage, with stops in Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell and Juneau.