Saturday, September 8, 2012

Scenic Overload

As a gift for our travels, my sister generously provided us with a National Geographic publication of “The World’s Most Scenic Drives: 101 Spectacular Trips.” As we travel, we have been pulling this out to see if there are any scenic routes we should be taking. It has suggested To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park and Icefields Parkway, both of which were on our itinerary originally. But in Alaska, it recommended Seward Highway, which was new to us. It boasted “visual overload” and “a sampler of Alaska.” It was true to the boast. Truly beautiful scenery that can be appreciated all year round.

Favorite view/drive in Alaska for any time of the year except fall. Number 3 in the fall.

An added bonus to this drive was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which takes in sick, injured, or orphaned animals. It also is the center for reintroducing wood bison, a species once thought to be extinct, back into Alaska. They had several adorable animals there, including animals that I hadn’t seen in the wild yet, including bears. Marking our territory around the van (discreetly, of course, none of that running around backwards that my coworkers tried to convince I should have Jonathan do :P) must be working. Some of the most notable creatures were the muskoxen and the lynx. The muskoxen were intriguing; not near as big as I thought they would be. The lynx were adorable; they were sisters orphaned in a fire in 2004, I think. I want one… Also apparently reindeer are domesticated caribou. Who knew?

Muskoxen grazing while sitting/baby muskox

The lynx sisters.

A reindeer.

Originally, I had planned to do a big loop around Alaska, taking the northern highway to get to Denali National Park then driving south through Anchorage to pick up the Seward Highway and the Alaska State Fair. After the Seward Highway drive, though, we decided against spending tons of money at a fair that is probably much like other fairs and decided to head north again. We were to try and catch a glimpse of Mt. McKinley since the clouds were still not cooperating with our stop at Earthquake Park in Anchorage [though the information about the devastating Good Friday earthquake was interesting: not only did a 30-foot tsunami hit Seward as a result of the quake, but it was covered in fire from an oil spill; terrifying, no?]. With a refill of water and a stop at Taco Bell [note: the Taco Bell there had free Wi-Fi, is this a common occurrence and just not advertised?], we directed ourselves northerly with hopes that clouds might clear for a final view of Mt. McKinley.  By the time we found our camping spot for the night, we had had no success in spotting the peak. But, oh! The morning broke bright and clear! There were only a few clouds on the horizon. As we approached the first viewing spot, we could spot mountains over the trees. Sadly, the clouds were obscuring the peaks of the largest chunk of mountain, which we assumed must contain Mt. McKinley. Then, we saw that there was the smallest part in the clouds that just allowed the peak of Mt. McKinley to be seen! We had done it! We had seen the highest (12/2011) and the lowest (9/8/2012) points in the USA in less than a year! Others may say it was just coincidence that the clouds parted that way, but I will claim it as a gift from God! Praises!

Interestingly, as we traveled north, we began to smell what at first seemed like animal doo. But the smell wouldn’t go away and it seemed maybe a bit earthy and sickly sweet. When we walked down the trail to view Mt. McKinley, we realized that we were smelling the decaying of fallen leaves and not poo.

We decided to take the Denali Highway (a lightly traveled unpaved road that used to be the only road to Denali National Park) to start heading back. On the way there, we passed again what is my current favorite part of Alaska, at least in fall. In this high elevation pass of the Parks Highway, there is a valley were the ground is covered with red-leaved bushes as far as you can see until the mountains which completely ring the valley. It is gorgeous.

Denali Highway is my next favorite view of Alaska in the fall for the same reasons. I just have to ignore the fact that the road is rough. The speed limit is 50mph, but we are doing good to do 35 mph; most of the time is less than that even. Although the 114 miles of Denali Highway are supposed to be a “lightly traveled”, today it was not. Today was the start of moose hunting season, and it sure felt like every Alaskan was out to catch their moose. Every single pull-off or side road was swamped with people’s base camp for moose hunting. It was pretty much a miracle that we finally found a spot secluded from the road that didn’t have at least 2-3 other vehicles parked in it.

Jonathan made us some delicious lentil soup for dinner so I had clean up duty. Since some of the lentils had made it to the floor in various stages of the cooking process, I decided I had better clean up the floor as well. In the mood, I continued cleaning and rearranging to see if I couldn’t get some more things off the floor. After finding new homes for a few things, I was able to actually get the add-a-room off the floor and into a permanent home. This makes me extremely excited. Jonathan was laughing at me for my excitement, but you see, I hate tripping over things. If there are things on the floor, then I am likely to trip over it. Or, it may make it difficult to do other tasks, for example, opening a cabinet door. So, finding more efficient places for things makes me excited and sustains a happy Jen.

After all this work, my body decided it needed to relieve itself. Seeing as we had an isolated and deserted spot along the road, I decided to situate my toilet in my usual spot between the van and the trailer. This worked great until about the time I was going to wipe. I heard a vehicle from the road slowing down and knew they were going to try to come in here. I yelled at Jonathan that we had visitors. Fortunately, I was wearing my long coat and had my pants pulled up as far as they could go (it was cold and windy), so they didn’t see anything super awkward. They pulled in and seemed like they were going to continue to park with us despite seeing we had already occupied the area. Then they saw me and braked. They just continued to sit there, unsure of what to do. I was unsure as well, so I just waved hello to them and continued to sit. I figured I would wait until they pulled in and weren’t looking at me or left. They decided to leave and backed out, impressively if I may so, as they had a trailer behind them as well. So, for better or worse, I scared off our would-be neighbors with my bathroom antics. :/

Oh, what a day!

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