USA - ALASKA
-june 2012-

ALL PHOTOS © RUUD & ADA LEEUW

 

 

In June we flew with Alaska Airlines from Seattle's Sea-Tac Airport to Anchorage's Ted Stevens Int'l Airport.
This was going to be our 4th visit to Alaska, the previous ones having been in 1995, 2003 and 2006.
See my TRAVEL Index for reports of those trip, link at bottom page.
Much of this visit would be dedicated to attempts to make two flights which on previous trips were prevented by weather circumstances. The weather on this stay was remarkably sunny.

 

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Flying from Seattle to Anchorage I had for the first time to go online during flight; thing of the future.

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Approaching Ted Stevens Int'l Airport gave us a good view on the sprawling city limits of Anchorage.

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After our Alaska Airlines flight had landed, we were soon reunited with our bags and collecting our rental car from Alamo was equally quick and efficient. Outside the Title Wave bookstore we arranged to meet Stephen Nigl, an avid and talented photographer I've kept in touch with over the years; he takes the most amazing street portraits, check out his website http://adriftphotography.com/

 


 

 

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Avoiding the exorbitant hotel prices in Anchorage we continued to Palmer and checked into the authentic Valley Inn. The room is quite bare to what we'd experienced in Oregon the past week, but it would do.
Cost of travelling through 'Alaska, The Last Frontier Resort'..

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And this was our view from The Valley Inn, no complains here!

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You won't find 'prettiness' in abundance...

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Trying to photograph airplanes at Wasilla Airport. The solution was of course to climb on those rocks!

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A visit to Wasilla's Transportation Museum, chock a block with cars, trains and even a few planes.

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A quick visit to the seaplane base of Willow Air (in Willow) and very much taken by their office lobby!

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The road goes on forever…
In the distance the mountain range of Denali.

 

 

 

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So many more places of Alaska beg for a visit..
For a future visit I should try to get off the road, visit some of those communities in the interior.
If I can afford the air fares, that is..

 

 

 

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Arriving in Talkeetna we quickly informed about the possibilities of a glacier flight. The first stop, with K2 Aviation, was a success and we booked a flight later that afternoon. In previous years, the weather (rain and low hanging clouds), prevented such a flight, but this time we were on!

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Strange footwear! Perhaps the Yeti really does exist..

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Talkeetna is a really small place, but gets crowded on days like these when people from all nationalities visit here
for flightseeing. We were constantly surprised by the extremely good weather, warm and sunny. This meant the mosquitos were out and about too. But they did not prevent me from enjoying a wonderful, cold Moose Point Porter!

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K2 Aviation provided footwear to walk on the glacier: its top layer was expected to be soft ice and wet.
Ready to walk a glacier!

 


The options laid out for us. We took the McKinley Experience, based on seats available (I hate to make advanced bookings), price and going in the footsteps of famous Alaska aviation pioneer Don Sheldon.
We were about to have a most brilliant trip!

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Ada is approaching the deHavilland DHC-3T Turbo Otter; note the ski-equipped wheels, so it can land both on
an airport as well as on snow. This would extend my Alaska experience to have landed on airports, gravel strips, planes equipped with wheels, floats and now skis. Later we'd undertake a flight which would include a landing on a beach..

 


 

 

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The vast woods of the area; Mother Nature is larger than life here in Alaska.
The brochure mentioned 'Denali's six million acre wilderness': that's a lot of trees!

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Do you see the small dot in the left top corner? That is another 'bushplane' heading for the glacier.
One has to keep the eyes peeled here for other 'traffic'.

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This is probably the Tokositna glacier, mentioned in the brochure; but I think I saw more than one glacier
so I can't be sure. But even without a name to it, it is equally impressive!

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The X marks another plane, leaving the Ruth Glacier we were going to land on. The wind was calm, the pilot (Chris) reported to home base he was going to land and began his approach.
The weather can be quite different here and can quickly change into less glorious circumstances.

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Landed. And we were all taken aback at first, by the sheer vastness and quiet of the place.
For me, as an aviation enthusiast, there was the added fact of aviation history laid down by Don Sheldon here.

 

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Two very happy people, big smiles all around!

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Chris, the pilot didn't rush us getting back in the air, he did a great job both as a pilot as well as a host. But evidently the time of departure did arrive and soon we were climbing to 7.000+ feet among the majestic, towering mountain peaks. One can still make out the landing spot in the center of the photo.

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A shadow leaves no traces..

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Chris eagle-eyed for close proximity of mountains, the feel of down draughts and for other planes in the area. Meanwhile, he also provided information to us, pointing out Mt. McKinley ('Denali') and Mt. Hunter while
answering questions (we'd all been issued headsets with microphones).

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Mt. McKinley, or Denali as its original name is, shows its peak. Truly awe inspiring.

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Returning back to base: Talkeetna airport.
The green roof at the righthand edge of the photo was our stay for the night: Latitude 62 Motel.

www.flyk2.com

 


 

 


 

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It had been a long day, with half of it used to visit Wasilla and drive up here; the 17:00 flight meant that I
had to find a place to stay before I could confirm the flight, as there aren't too many motels between
Talkeetna and Fairbanks. But it all worked fine, we found one room left at the Latitude 62 Motel and consider
it to have been one of the nicest of the entire trip (rather more in terms of atmosphere than luxury, though).

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The restaurant and bar, an easy and relaxed place to spent the evening.

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A basic room, but all we needed; even though the airport is near as well as the train tracks,
we had an undisturbed nightrest.


 


The Milepost: don't leave home without it! It is part of 'travelling Alaska' culture..
Legendary Alaska trip planner and Alaska travel guide to the highways, roads, ferries, lodgings, recreation, sightseeing attractions and services along the Alaska Highway to and within Alaska, including Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories and the Yukon.
http://milepost.com/

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Wildlife..

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Always nice to stop a Wal*Mike's for a quick browse and a few pictures.
Most people do that probably, browse without buying, hence a tipping jar for photographer's!

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The shop has the most amazing artifacts, but not exactly cheap and most stuff I wouldn't
be able to take with me home on a plane!

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I've been here before and each time the cars here are covered more and more by grass and weeds..

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Back on the Parks Highway, heading north.

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That igloo was for sale in 2003 too..

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The beautiful area near Summit Lake. Truly Big Sky country.

 


 

 

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Fairbanks. Hotel accommodation is expensive here too, but we found affordable digs at the Ranch Motel.
The town is very 'unassuming', proclaiming 'a frontier character' but for some reason it got on my nerves. As on a previous visit I was annoyed by how much trouble one has to go to get an alcoholic beverage with dinner: a pizza place with beer advertisements in its windows could not serve us a beer..
It is a small step down from being basic to being crap.
Next door to our motel was a ghastly building without windows, but it housed a restaurant which provided a very nice breakfast.
Further down the road 'the Roundup Steakhouse' had a bar and did pretty good meals.

 

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Very few motels feature an airco in the room, for obvious reasons. But we had arrived in a heatwave going full blast here and so we made full use of the fan in the room, to move the air around during the suffocating nights. The weather was unlike anything we ever experienced here in Alaska.
We had a good value stay here at the Ranch Motel.

 

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Breakfast at the place I mentioned earlier: French Toast is hardly wholesome & filling, but
as a side I like it very much.

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Main reason for me to revisit Fairbanks was to check up on the vintage 'skytrucks' here, such
as these Douglas DC-6s of Everts Air Cargo.

 


 

 

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Something we'd done on a previous visit but decided to do again, because it was such a good fun. But the operation had grown due to growing popularity and we entered through an enormous souvenir shop, which also featured a photo opportunity with a dog trainer / racer of the famous Iditarod dog races. We didn't go for it, it was a bit 'too Disney' for us!
The puppy digs are cute though.


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All aboard the Discovery III for a sail on the Chena River and take in some original Alaskan folklore and lifestyle.

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A speaker on board provided a running commentary on the things we could see, expanded on many Alaskan subjects and in between he made the required advertisements for sponsors and other parties of interest.
He certainly had a silver tongue!

 

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The first demonstration was a take off and landing of a bushplane right next to the boat.
One has seldom the opportunity to look down on a plane!

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The next demonstration was a training facility for sleddogs, all for the famous Iditarod race of course. The dogs running, but also those left in the yard, were yelping and barking: running is what they like to do best!

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Students of the UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) acted as guides, explained their studies, background, Alaskan (Athapascan) traditions and their expectations of the future. They did a great job.

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The interior has many still living aspects of the traditional life, but most have seen it enriched with modern
amenities for their comfort and pleasure. Such as the Skidoo, clothing which doesn't take months to make,
building materials, tv, cellular phones, etc.

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That Piper Cub is still the most common plane on most airfields and airports here in Alaska. The ideal bushplane.

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This dog trainer is a young woman, though I expect her owning some 125 dogs must be a handicap in
choosing a partner! I guess the dogs don't all want to sleep on her bed at the same time..

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Many Athapascan Indians still go to a fishcamp for the summer, to stock up on fish, particularly for
feeding their dogs during the winter; the dogs love these dried and smoked salmon.

 


 

 

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The Milepost mentioned a historic gold camp, Ester, a short distance outside Fairbanks on the Parks Highway.
Someone tried to bring in tourists and put some life back in this town, but it seems that initiative has died down too.
Still a very nice place to make a brief visit.
The mosquitos were out in abundance too.

 

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Only in Alaska..

 


 

 

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At the small town of Nenana, at the Tanana River crossing, they have put some historic & educational buildings
to draw tourists into the souvenir shops. A nice stop all the same

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We drove the same way as we'd travelled before, as the Richardson Hwy via Delta Junction would take more time.

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A nice stop en route: Mary Carey's McKinley View Lodge.
Quite an unlikely place to hear music by Robert Johnson coming from the speakers, but I wasn't complaining!

 


 

 

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While Wasilla is a most unassuming place, the prices of motels were extravagant. No doubt the influence of nearby Anchorage..
We stayed the night at the Alaska View Motel, not bad at all, but they didn't even feature a cold soda vending machine!

For dinner we went next door, to Evangelino's, a fine dining sort of place; far too expensive, but they served the best ravioli I ever had.

When we checked out the next morning we got to talk to Dwayne Dejong, of Dutch ancestry but he lost his roots. I asked him for his portrait and he somewhat reluctantly agreed. Very nice guy.

 

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Purpose of the stay at Wasilla was a visit to Lars Opland. We've been corresponding on the subject of Alaska's aviation history over the years and it was high time we'd met. Turned out to be a great visit, he's a very
talented artist and also produces plastic aircraft kits (his website).

 


 

 


Back to the Anchorage area.

 

 

 

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Applebee's was our preferred choice for dinner: good food, cold drinks and friendly service in a nice ambience. Anchorage was no exception.

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Even if you have no interest in planes or aviation, a visit to Lake Hood, watching the seaplanes land and
take off, is fascinating and good fun for most people. The nearby Alaska Aviation Museum is also worth a visit.

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A nice place for coffee or lunch: the City Diner!

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No rest for the wicked and on we go, along Turnagain Arm, on Seward Highway south; with a
splendid view of the surrounding mountains.

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More miles, more pictures..

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A brief stop at Girdwood, in a nice restaurant.

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The ceiling of the men's room was quite a piece of work!

 


 

 

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We left the Seward Highway, for the Sterling Highway, entering the Kenai Peninsula.

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The Soldotna Inn, our place of stay for our visit to the Kenai Peninsula. Not exacty cheap, but one of the few
motels which included a complementary breakfast. The restaurant next door was overpriced, but had a nice bar.

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A good way to cut costs is to dine in for once; buy some food at Safeways and take it to your room.
Unfortunately, the cleaning service did not take the rubbish out the next morning and it left a very bad smell
when we returned late afternoon; a complaint to the frontdesk did not make much of an impression.

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Life music at the bar, playing music I liked: e.g. Willy Nelson, Johnny Cash and even some Gordon Lightfoot.
Those women kept talking and even raised their voices over the music now and then. How inconsiderate can you be..

 


 

 

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That is Mt Redoubt in the distance, see map further below. Soon we'd be flying towards it.

This was the day of our bearviewing flight!

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Kenai has a Russian Orthodox Church, but it is in need of funds for repairs. That cabin is beyond salvation I think.

 


 

 

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Tom, our pilot and guide, is fuelling the Found Bush Hawk at Kenai airport.

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Tom at the controls
We had booked this flight with Alaska Air West and beside us there was a German couple with us on board.

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The gps showed the way, presently indicating Cook Inlet.

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'Out among the big things-
The mountains and the plains-
An hour ain't important,
Nor are the hour's gains;
The feller in the city
Is hurried night and day,
But out among the big things
He learns the calmer way.
'

www.rangewriter.org/arthurchapmanoutamongthebigthings.htm

 

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Again we were treated on the most unbelievable vistas.

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Our pilot pointed out that those people down there were taking a risk: blocking a bear its way back to land.

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On the lefthand corner, below, is our destination: Chinitna Bay, part of the huge Lake Park Nat'l Park.

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Cruising at an altitude of 300 feet, looking our for bears..

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And there they are!

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Tom spotted 107 bears during the entire day, a record.

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We landed on a gravel beach, no problem for this bushplane.

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After a short walk we suddenly came up to a mother bear and a cub, surprise and shock: so close!

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Sniffing the air..
Bears like to eat the nutritious grass to start up their digestive system after their hybernation.

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In other directions, at a considerable distance, were saw other bears. They keep their distance from each other.
Mother bears with cubs are particularly looking out for male bears, they want to breed but also devour the cubs..

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The 'bush walk' was over and the gun was be put away again.
Tom was careful not to come into a situation where he would need to use it.

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Satisfied explorers!

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Departure was over snow-covered Mt Iliamna.

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Like chocolate-layered ice cream…

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This fuel terminal was almost wiped aout when a volcanic eruption caused a mudflow a few years ago; it was
a close call to an environmental catastrophy of immense proportions. Since then they've emptied those 'things'.

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Debriefing on the route flown to Chinitna Bay. It had definitely been worth it.
One invariably sees photos of bears catching salom from the rivers, these photos are often taken at
the Katmai NP - but the salmon don't start their run until late july, so it would have been too early to go there.

www.alaskawestair.com

 


 

 

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Over night the weather turned! But now it was of no consequence, it hardly mattered. Infact, it was only natural.

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Hope is an end of the road sort of place, quite literally.
You have to drive back the same road to get to Sterling Hwy again.
Campers were recovering from a cold night.

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Americas Best Value In is a good place to stay, we found. Not cheap, but it does feature a complementary hot breakfast. This room offered views on planes from both windows, ideal for me! One window offered a view from the couch of seaplanes, turning overhead to land on nearby Lake Hood, the other window showed (from the bed) planes departing from the international airport.Visit ALASKA 2012
As a change we had dinner with TGI Friday, very nice too. It gave me an idea what to do with my old LP's..

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Another stop at Title Wave bookstore, for some last moment book shopping.

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Again we came away with a good selection.

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A selection of the books bought on this trip; unable to carry more, it was time to go home.

What a truly great trip this has been!

 

 

 

US PACIFIC NORTHWEST 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Created: 27aug12 - Updated: 19 Januari, 2013