Last year we were able to go to Tok, Valdez, Palmer, Anchorage, Whittier, Homer, Wasilla, Denali, Fairbanks, North Pole, and Chicken, Alaska. This year, when Cris and Mitch went off for their honeymoon, we took the opportunity to go to Soldotna/Kenai, Seward, and Mt. McKinley.
Soldotna and Kenai are on the mouth of the famous Kenai River on the Kenai Peninsula, just slightly off the same road we took to Homer last year. So we got to revisit the usual spectacular scenes of glaciated mountains glistening above the waters. Together with Homer and Cooper’s Landing (where we stopped for the best smoked salmon chowder I ever tasted), they are well-known fishing towns. But this year, the summer is colder, wetter, and darker. It was so windy I became paranoid that my brand new alpaca winter hat would be blown away.
Even the snow-capped mountains seemed farther away and hidden by haze that the pictures were not as bright. The saving grace was the quaint little Russian Orthodox Church in the Old Town of Kenai, built at the turn of the nineteenth century. We even found a set of wedding crowns we could wear! Bill also felt so good to find that, in Soldotna, an organization is doing better than Walmart at catering to the needs of the RV industry enthusiasts! Fred Meyer, besides being a place to dry camp for the night, had complimentary dump and potable water stations!
Bill was very sensitive to my frustration that, instead of going back to Anchorage the next morning, he headed off to the other side of the peninsula, to the town of Seward, at the mouth of the Kenai Fjords National Park. I felt that Whittier (from where we took the Glacier Bay cruise last year) is prettier (it rhymes!) though smaller. It was already off-season so there was hardly any soul on the waterfront. But the boats are all still moored on the marina and the shops were still open. A long pipe coming down from a strange huge equipment on the bay was still a mystery to us as we left.
8 ½ miles west of the town lies the famous Exit Glacier (part of the huge Harding Ice Fields of 500 square miles), so named because it has been receding slowly since the earliest recorded terminus in 1815 (the recordings are so marked along the way), about 2 miles from the current one. One can imagine the size of the glacier from the marshland it is creating at its foot. I welcomed the chance to finally walk on the glacial ridge just as Bill did at the Worthington Glacier in Valdez last year. But it was so cold, like I was inside the freezer. Quickly, I turned back after the photo op.
Then the soggy weather changed and we got the chance to go for a view of Mt. McKinley which, at over 20,000 feet, is the highest peak in North America. It is useful to point out that, although there are 650 higher peaks in the Himalayas and 44 in South America, you look at McKinley rising from a base of sea level and thus looks so ‘gi-normous’, as Bill’s granddaughter Cassie would say! Last year, the mountain was totally covered with clouds even as we took the Denali National Park bus to the best viewpoint inside.
They say only 30% of those who go to see it, get to. I am so proud to say that, this year, we finally did!
It was an increasing spectacle as it loomed larger and larger from Anchorage to Talkeetna, a drive of about 134 miles. There are three great viewing points: Denali South (Mile 135) and Talkeetna hill in the south and Denali North (Mile 163) and Wonder Lake (inside Denali National Park) in the north. The headline photo is from Denali South and the photo here is from the Mt. McKinley View Lodge half a mile before Denali South which we accidentally found as we looked for food when I got hungry!
One last note The US Open was on while we were in Anchorage and I got to see enough of it except for those times we were out sightseeing which we, of course, timed during those matches when Nadal , my favorite, was not playing. The men’s final was supposed to be on the day we left, at 12 noon (our flight was at 5:30 PM). So with our bags packed and safe in the Cristine’s car, we holed up in the TGIF Sports Bar! Unluckily, the match was postponed to the following day because of rain. But we got to watch it in Monroe and Nadal is now the US Open Champ!
Next Stop: Monroe, Washington