Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Denali and Fairbanks

Leaving Anchorage for Denali was by the McKinley Explorer - a double-decker glass domed train which took eight hours for the trip. We had breakfast and lunch on board and a very entertaining 'host' kept us
entertained along the way. We were impressed that this man was 78yo and he said he just enjoyed working - and as a train host he felt it was a party each trip. The scenery was spectacular along the way and remained so for the three days we were in the Denali Park. The NP strictly controlled development within their area, but just across the road it was designated 'Preserved Park' and commercial shops and businesses abound.

The Park with its lodges was beautifully designed and laid out. Everything - tours, etc - operated from the central Chalet and shuttle buses ran every 10 minutes or so around the many accommodation blocks. Our first excursion was an 8 hour afternoon Tundra Wilderness coach trip up into the mountains and on through the tundra. Again the scenery was just wonderful and we wondered if we might be among the 30% of visitors who get to see Mt McKinley (aka Denali). Usually as it is so huge it creates its own climate and so mostly it is covered with mist and impossible to see. When we finally got close enough, there it was! She kindly lifted her misty skirt for us but modestly kept her peak under wraps. My photo really doesn't do it justice.

Along the way we kept a look out for the animals of the park - caribou, reindeer, dall sheep, moose, ground squirrel, ptarmigan and bear. Apparently bears are the most elusive and halfway through the trip, Peter spotted one. Everyone was thrilled, but we were in luck and spotted another four. So very lucky to see such a good lot of animals in the wild. We arrived back at 9.30pm very satisfied. It rarely gets dark here at this time of the year with sunset around midnight then a twilight until sunrise a few hours later.

Next day, I decided I needed to see a doctor for this rotten head cold that has once more descended on me. The NP clinic were very efficient and warned us that the consultation could cost about $300. Gulping (through my very sore throat) I agreed and soon a doctor was there assessing my condition and prescribing some medication to help. The bill eventually came to a whopping $377 - which we'll claim back from our travel insurance later on.

Our last excursion was the Husky Homestead tour which was a visit to the home of Iditarod champion, Jeff King and hearing all about that incredible race of around 998 miles held each year and of the many dogs and puppies that he breeds and trains. In summer, the dogs 'rest' and the females breed and look after their pups, but even so all dogs were eager to be hooked up for a trial run. The very young puppies were very cute and there were no shortage of visitors eager for a cuddle.

We sadly left Denali and travelled about four hours by coach to Fairbanks. Our excursion here was to the old gold diggings (Fairbanks' gold rush began in 1901). It was very well presented but began first of all with an explanation of the massive Alaska PipeLine under which we walked to get to the small train taking us through to the diggings with an entertaining commentary and a little music from an old time conductor. We had a gold panning demonstration and were then let loose with a pan and a bag of gravel to try for ourselves. Peter and I didn't do too badly and had our panning skills complimented. The gold we found sadly will not pay for the trip but was weighed up and valued at $49US.

We planned a further look around Fairbanks next morning as we were due to fly by charter plane to Dawson City in Canada in the early afternoon. However this wasn't to be as later that night we were advised that the chartered plane had developed engine trouble and so we would be flying in much smaller turbo prop Hawkers - and leaving early morning. All went smoothly, though, and the flight - although noisy - brought us safely to Dawson City and the easiest Immigration/Customs which we've ever experienced.

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