Alaska – Part 1 of 2

This week I had the privilege of being able to travel to the wonderful state of Alaska. It’s currently off-season so prices were fairly reasonable. Before I dive into my trip lets explore a brief history of Alaska.

Alaska was occupied by various indigenous people for thousands of years before the Russians arrived in the 18th century, eventually establishing the Russian America. In 1867 the United States purchased the land for $7.2 million. It was officially admitted as the 49th U.S. State in 1959. Over two dozen native languages are spoken in Alaska. Another fun fact is that Alaska’s per capita income is one of the highest in the entirety of the United States, due to its diversified economy, which includes fishing, natural gas, oil, and tourism.

Tuesday September 28th 2021

My trip started out in Calgary on Tuesday September 28th 2021 at 2pm. I flew with Delta Airlines on an Airbus A319 to Minneapolis, had a 40 minute layover, and then flew on a Boeing 757-200 to Anchorage.

After arriving at Anchorage airport I went and picked up my rental vehicle from Budget Rental Cars. I was given a 2021 Dodge Ram Bighorn. When I was exiting the parking lot I noticed a sign that said “No Liability for Damage Incurred Beyond This Point”, which I have not noticed before at a rental car facilities, although I may just not have been that observant in the past. Within 10 seconds I realized why that sign was there, as the exit was 3 floors below a very tight curved ramp, that I had to make multiple 3 point turns on just to get around the bend due to the long turning radius of the truck. You could see scrapes all up and down the walls of the ramp from others; hence the need for the sign.

The drive to my hotel, the Best Western Lake Lucille Inn, was about an hours drive away. On my way I stopped at Walmart to try to find Bear Spray, however they were out. While I was at the Walmart I picked up some cheese, pepperoni, and crackers for lunch for the following day.

Upon arriving at the hotel there was nobody there to give me a keycard. I searched all around the hotel, however couldn’t find a staff member. About 15 minutes later she emerged from a hotel room, all hot and bothered, so god knows what was going on in there. She gave me the keys to my room, and I went and quickly showered before heading to bed, as it was quite late.

Wednesday September 29th 2021

The next day I woke up around 7am, got dressed, and went downstairs for a hot complimentary breakfast, which included sausages, potatoe wedges, and an omelet. It was acceptable for a hotel breakfast.

After having breakfast I had an hour phone call with a customer before checking out. After checking out I walked out on the dock and took a view across the lake. The lake was very calm, and the sky was beautiful. You could see the mountains in the background. What a peaceful place to stay; it’s too bad I didn’t have more time to enjoy it.

I hopped in the truck and headed towards my first stop; Hatcher Pass. It’s a long windy steep road to the top. At the top it was blocked off for the season already, as it had already snowed a fair amount just a few miles ahead. I stopped the truck and took a few photos. What a neat area!

Next stop was Matanuska Glacier View, although I made a few stops along the way to take pictures of the scenery along the Matanuska River.

Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier in the United States that is accessible by car; spanning 27 miles (43 kilometres) long and 4 miles (6.4 kilometres) wide. The glacier moves over 1 foot per day, and feeds the Matanuska River.

I continued to drive east towards Glennallen, where I filled up with fuel, and purchased a coffee, before turning North towards Castner Glacier Ice Cave. On the drive North I took a couple of really pretty shots of the Wrangell Mountains to the east.

After a couple hours driving North I arrived at the Castner Glacier Ice Cave trailhead. The last 10 minutes of the drive was quite slippery, so I had to slow my pace a fair amount.

The hike to the cave was about 25 minutes. The trail had about 4 inchs of snow off to the side, but the trail itself was quick packed. It was mostly flat, with a few hills, one which I accidentally slipped and fell on my back, which caused me to wind myself for a bit. I heard a crack when I feel, but I felt okay besides being winded.

The cave was certainly stunning. I would say the cave is atleast 200 metres deep. Inside you’re surrounded by 360 degree views of turquoise blue ice with rocks and air bubbles embedded inside.

After enjoying some time at the cave taking pictures I head back towards the truck, and was much more careful on the hilly sections, as I didn’t want to fall again.

Next stop was my cabin located near Cantwell, about a 3 hour drive away. This involved a very unique journey along the Old Denali Highway (Highway 8). The highway was first opened in 1957, and was teh first road to offer access to Denali National Park. The Denali Highway is 135 miles (217 kilometres) in length, and is mostly unpaved, and has a lot of washboarded. The recommended speed limit is only 30 mph (48 km/h), however I was honestly able to do about 45 mph (72 kp/h) because a foot of snow had recently fell along the majority of the highway, which helped fill in the washboarding. The first 21 miles (34km) are paved, and I was able to maintain 65 mph (105 kph), however when I started running into the snow I slowed down to 45 mph (72 kp/h). The views along the road were simply stunning, and I had it all to myself. There was only one other person I ran into along the highway. I’m extremely glad that I had my truck for this trip, as I don’t even think an SUV would have been able to make it through with the wintery conditions. During the summer I think a mid-size SUV could make it, however I would be hesitant to take a car on it, although I know of someone with a 1967 Mustang who completed the journey, albeit at less than 20 mph (30 kp/h). Winter travel is severly discouraged, and many people have lost their lives on this road in winter.

Before checking into my cabin I stopped at a nearby truck stop to fuel up, and have a quick shower. I was quite impressed with the quality of the facilities, and the shower was only $5!

My cabin was a cozy 8 foot by 10 foot wood structure that featured a small kitchen, propane stove, wood stove, and a shower. There was an outhouse outside. I should have had access to the shower and electricity, however the previous tenant made a mistake and had left early, as well as shut off the propane stove, so the water pipes burst, which also took out the power supply. It was okay, as my host offered me a 10% refund of what I paid, and I survived just fine. While at the cabin I had quite a bit of work to catch up on, so I tethered my phone to my laptop and worked for a few hours, before calling it a night.

Thursday September 30th 2021

I slept very well, and found the bed quite comfortable. Today I had a lazy start to my day, as it was a much more relaxed day, with less driving. I woke up around 830am, made some coffee and oatmeal, which were both provided at the cabin. I left the cabin at around 9am.

First stop was Hurricane Gulch Bridge, a steel arch bridge spanning nearly 500 feet long, and 254 feet anove Hurricane Creek. There’s also an identically named railroad bridge that is more than 900 feet long, and 296 feet above Hurricane Creek. That particular bridge is the longest and tallest on the entire Alaska Railroad, and for 8 years was the largest bridge in the United States, before being surpassed.

Next stop was the North Denali Overlook, where I took a few pictures, and had a 1 hour work meeting over MS Teams.

After my meeting I drove to South Denali Overlook. All I can say is WOW! This spot offers spectacular views of the three tallest peaks in Denali, and today was such a stunningly clear day.

After taking in the views of South Denali Overlook I drove to West Rib Pub & Grill in Talkeetna. I had a delicious caribou burger and battered fried, as well as a few beers. During my lunch I chatted with a young couple named Kim and Sean, both of whom are pilots and had just moved here from Maine. They were a really kind couple and we chatted for probably over an hour.

Next up was the primary reason why i came to Alaska; a flight over Denali National Park. I chose to fly with K2 Aviation on a DHC-3T Turbo Otter, that was retrofitted with a PT6 gas-turbine. Our plane was built in 1961 and had 18913 flight hours. These planes are the workhorses of the North!

The flight lasted 2 hours, flying over the Talkeetna River, around the Denali’s, and featured a landing on Ruth Glacier.

Following the amazing scenic flight I grabbed a bite to eat from Denali Brewpub. My server Matty recommended that i have a pretzel ribeye sandwich with provelone. Oh my gosh was it amazing. I chased it with a really nice sour beer, which I’m becoming more of a fan of these days.

Following dinner it was time to start the 2.5 hour trip back to the cabin. During my drive I chatted on the phone with a few people, which helped make the trip go by faster. I arrived back at the cabin around 830pm.

Tonight was forecasted to have an Aurora, and Lady Aurora certainly didn’t disappoint. She showed herself in her full glory, peaking at a KP5. I watched her for a few hours before heading to bed at around midnight.

Be sure to check soon, as part 2 of this series will release soon!

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August 25th 2016 – New Zealand Day 5

Today I woke up at 7:30am. It was pouring rain so I decided that I would drive to the Museum of Transportation and Technology (MOTAT) instead of walking there. It was supposed to be an hours walk away, but the drive is only supposed to take about twenty minutes. I wondered why traffic in Auckland was so horrific for its size, and I eventually found out why, but more on that later. I prepared an egg skillet for breakfast. The drive to MOTAT took nearly 40 minutes, which is pretty bad considering it is only 5.5km away from where I was staying.

MOTAT is comprised of two spots; the World War 2 aviation museum, and then the technology and transportation museum is a short tram ride away. The tram is one of only a few remaining tram systems in New Zealand; more on this later.
The aviation museum was quite large and went into New Zealand’s history and involvement in the war. Their aviation fleet was composed of mainly DeHavilland aircraft, most of which were manufactured right in Wellington, New Zealand. The plant actually had a lot of difficulties ranging from finding enough employees (women were eventually hired, uncommon in that era, because the men were at war), numerous floods, high winds, and golf balls because airplane production started before the factory could even be finished or had windows. I also learned about the bouncing bombs that were used in World War 2 to blow up and break down dams.
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It was 12:15pm when I left the aviation museum. I went back into my camper to make myself a quick lunch before hoping on tram number 893, a 1944 SW6 tram on lease from Melbourne, to go down to the second MOTAT area. A few trams are on a long term lease from Melbourne, which is one of only a few places in the world that still has a successful wide scale tram system.
Upon arriving at the second MOTAT location i was overwhelmed by the amount of school children on a field trip, so I did my best to avoid them. The second MOTAT location has over a half dozen buildings with different displays in them ranging from technology, trains, steam pumps, arctic displays, and my personal favorite was the tram display.
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Once upon a time Auckland actually had one of the most successful tram networks, at its time, in the world. It would be equivalent to what we now realize Melbourne for. The system was over 70km in length at its height in the 1930s and 1940s. The electric tramway in Auckland was initially a public/private venture by the British Electric Traction Company in London and the Auckland Borough Councils, eventually taken over by the Auckland City Corporation in 1919 and operated until 1956 when the Master Transportation Plan emphasizing motorways was favoured. The tram network was quickly ripped up and replaced by diesel and trolleybuses as part of a “modernization” program.
Ridership fell from a 1954 average level of 290 public transport trips per person per year, to only 41 trips per person per year in 1999. In 1954 58 percent of people used public transport, now that number is around 15 percent. Auckland has a similar population as my home town, Calgary, at around 1.4 million people. Calgarian’s love to drive and don’t really favour public transport, but it’s not that bad in comparison to Auckland. The entire city is gridlocked and the reverse thinking of its municipal government in the 1950’s has absolutely crippled the city in gridlock. They had a great system and removed it, whereas Calgary never really planned properly for public transport until now, but is seeing light at the end of the tunnel. To this day I would say Melbourne easily has one of the most successful transit systems I’ve seen for its size. It’s clean and supports 5 million people quite well.
After I was done at the second MOTAT area I took the same tram number back to my camper at the first MOTAT location.
It was time to get some more groceries, so I drove to a nearby grocery store to stock up. It was now time to meet Anne to go up the Sky Tower. I parked my camper at the same spot as the night before, and did the half hour walk to her hostel in the pouring rain. The weather conditions didn’t look good for the Sky Tower, but we both were leaving Auckland tomorrow so we decided to go up anyways. The view was absolutely white out conditions, but we made the most of it by having some ice cream! I had vanilla bean and Anne had raspberry orange sherbet. Mine was better, but she’s convinced I’m boring and that hers was better…
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After the Sky Tower we went in search of food because we were both hungry. She had never had Vietnamese food before, and I was craving it again, so I suggested we go to a place just around the corner. She ordered a spicy chicken curry soup, which was actually pretty good, and I ordered my regular sate beef pho, which wasn’t the best I’ve had. We said our goodbye’s and j went back to my camper and tried to get some sleep. On my way back to my camper I saw an amusing marvel comics creation made from sticky notes in office windows. Someone’s getting paid to have fun…
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I went to bed at about 9:30pm, and was woken up at midnight with a terrible howling wind like something you would have heard out of a horror movie. It really gave me the chills. I checked the weather report and the wind gusts were around 100 kilometres per hour. I put up with it for a bit, but decided that it was time to move. I found a free place to park about an hour inland in Mercer. I eventually got to sleep at about 2:00am and slept through the rest of the night.

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