Photo Essay: 88 Images from Alaska

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Even after a dozen posts recapping my Alaska adventure, I have a couple thousand unpublished photos left from the journey. So it’s imperative to stuff the best ones inside a photo essay.

First, here’s a recap of everything I’ve written about Alaska over the past few weeks. If you’ve missed anything, take some time to get caught up. Each post opens in a new window.

12 things you didn’t know about Alaska
Lost luggage and frozen tents: Lessons in perseverance
Welcome to Talkeetna, the kooky Alaskan town with a feline mayor
Wildlife sightings in Denali National Park
Denali backcountry camping wrap-up, featuring bear scat and educational videos
The unforgettable experience of flightseeing and landing on a glacier
Celebrating America’s birthday with inflatable blue monsters in Anchorage
The Ice Museum and midnight sun in Fairbanks
Strap on those crampons and hike inside Alaska’s Matanuska Glacier
Rental car mishaps and a gun-wielding, duck-loving cab driver in Seward
Seeing killer whales in the wild? Check.

It wasn’t all glaciers and bears in Alaska. This roadside fireworks stand was impossible to miss. Groovy!

groovy-fireworks

This van was a permanent part of the fireworks parking lot. I would kill to own it.

love-van

You know you’re in a rural community when your mailbox is one of a dozen at the end of a long street. Imagine living there. “Hey honey, I’m gonna drive over and check the mail…”

mailbox-row

You’ve probably seen those toy log cabin houses. Have you ever seen one next to a real log cabin house? My mind was blown.

real log cabin + toy log cabin house

Moose droppings are typically perfectly round and solid, which makes them perfect to turn into souvenirs available for purchase at the local Walmart. There’s moose dropping earrings, Christmas tree ornaments, potpourri, and swizzle sticks.

moose-nugget-swizzles

There’s never any doubt about what to wear in Alaska. It’s all hiking pants, all the time!

hiking pants

Seward is a huge fishing town. Let’s play the Sesame Street game. Which one of these things is not like the others?

seward-hanging-fish

“There are two seasons in Alaska. Winter and construction.”

construction-lady

Sea planes. They can land planes on anything in Alaska.

sea-planes

We passed this Senor Taco in Wasilla several times. I wanted to check it out because of its stupidly simple name.

senor-taco

I heard Sarah Palin’s name only a couple of times during the entire week, mostly from tourists who wanted their Sarah merch. She’s not a big seller anymore, apparently, but this gift shop had “PALIN” and “ICRUSSIA” among its vanity license plates.

alaska-license-plates

My first sighting ever of a plate from the Yukon province in Canada.

yukon-license-plate

Everything was so pretty flying into Anchorage.

alaska-land-from-air

The main theme in the airport was “geese.”

airport-geese

ATVs and snow machines are among the popular ways to travel in Alaska. I spotted this line of ATVs in Talkeetna.

atvs

Evidently Talkeetna isn’t serious about enforcing its no camping policy.

overnight camping talkeetna

Everyone loves to visit the North Pole post office, home of Santa Claus!

north-pole-post-office

Everything in the town of North Pole has a Christmas theme. The McDonald’s and Wendy’s use candy canes in their design. Even a welding company gets into the spirit.

Universal Welding, North Pole, Alaska

You knew there had to be a giant Santa in North Pole, right?

giant santa north pole

A bear sculpture carving at the Ice Museum in Fairbanks.

bear-ice-sculpture

Plane lands on glacier. And everything is right with the world.

plane-snow

There’s not much of a runway on the glacier.

plane-on-glacier

I’m very lucky to be in a place like this.

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Another shot of Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America.

mckinley-views

A closer shot of the beautiful aqua ponds from the bush plane.

aqua-ponds

Even the small mountains look majestic from an airplane.

mountains-from-plane

Glaciers beneath the wing of the plane.

glaciers-from-air

You can almost see this glacier moving as it falls over the side of a mountain.

glacier-moving

The end of a glacier as it melts into a pool.

glacier-lake

Thank goodness I saw Mt. McKinley from the air, because I had no luck seeing it from land. Roadside pullouts taunted me by showing what the mountain would look like if it weren’t so cloudy.

mckinley-viewpoint

Driving in Alaska can offer some amazing mountain views. But it also offers huge stretches where the land looks like this for miles and miles at a time. Nothing but a two-lane road, some trees and some monotony.

open-road-alaska

Often it was several hours’ drive to get from one city to the next. Alaska has fortunately set up roadside restrooms all throughout the state for those times when nature calls.

alaska-bathrooms

Extreme close-ups of a black bear at an animal sanctuary south of Anchorage.

black-bear-sanctuary

Bald eagles are no big deal here. They sit in trees on the side of the road.

bald-eagle-close

Yep, just a common everyday sight.

bald-eagle-close

I like the idea that trees are still standing 50 years after they died.

trees-killed-sign

Do not trespass on the Alaska Railroad!

alaska railroad trespassing

Playing on the tracks isn’t trespassing, is it?

play railroad tracks

Stores in small towns have to be everything to everyone. So they serve up liquor, tshirts, and panties.

liquor store

Even in Anchorage, businesses seemed to be into diversifying their inventory. Pablo’s bicycle rental shop inexplicably also offered gourmet sausages. You go, Pablo.

pablos bicycle rentals anchorage

The blinding white of Matanuska Glacier as seen from the road.

matanuska glacier

Matanuska is a lot more fun up close, as a lot of folks found out by hiking on it.

hiking-group-glacier

Sometimes I can be found in corridors inside glaciers.

glacier corridor

Passengers look out the window during the whale-watching cruise.

cruise ship from inside

A different look at a killer whale from a distance. The dorsal fin looks pretty damn cool sticking up out of the water.

orca-from-distance

I mentioned that the common murres often stuff themselves and are unable to fly back to their homes in the cracks of the mountains. Here’s a shot of two murres skipping along the water having trouble attaining lift off.

murres-trying-to-fly

One of the cruise staffers used a net to snatch up a piece of glacial ice and bring it onboard for the guests to touch.

grabbing ice

Check it out – one of these sea lions is inked! He seems to have letters written on his body. I wonder if he was marked by scientists for research purposes.

sea-lions

When I put together the whale-watching post, I totally forgot we saw otters too. Here they are.

otters

The mountains dwarf this cruise ship in the distance.

mountains-dwarf-ship

Looking out the back of the cruise ship.

behind-the-ship

Back in Anchorage, I found a vendor selling adorable Eskimo ornaments.

eskimo-ornaments

A live display of traditional games at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

native-games

An Eskimo statue in downtown Anchorage.

eskimo-statue

Totem poles in downtown Anchorage.

anchorage-totem-poles

This was one of the more moving sights in Alaska. An older gentleman, possibly homeless, got emotional as he paid homage to this military statue on the 4th of July.

military-statue

Kids race cars during the 4th of July celebration.

kids race cars

They wanted to win those inflatable Spiderman figurines bad!

spiderman balloons

This kid seemed less than enthused about being dangled in the air via bungee harness. “Get me out of here!”

bungee kid

Learn your Native American history at Wrangell-St. Elias, the largest national park in America.

native american language groups

Welcome to Denali National Park. Now pay up.

denali-fee-sign

Another look at the thirsty moose that welcomed me to the park.

moose-denali

The only wolf I saw was the fake one on display.

wolf-display

Arriving to Savage River Campground.

savage-river-campground

The moose droppings were all over the campground. I could have made my own swizzle sticks.

moose-droppings

On top of the world on some rocks above the Savage River.

top-of-rocks-denali

A view of the Savage River at mile 14, the farthest you’re allowed to drive into the park.

savage-river-hike

To go beyond that, you need to catch a seat on one of the shuttle buses.

denali-bus

Some of my fellow tourists/campers took photos when the bus stopped for a break.

viewing-mountains

Never stop at the end of the maintained trail. That’s a great life lesson.

end-of-maintained-trail

This is what I imagined backcountry camping in Denali would look like! Look at that wide open landscape.

denali-wide-open-landscape

Instead, we ended up pitching our tent in a high-elevation location up on a hillside. I mentioned in an earlier post that it got so cold overnight that our tent zipper froze and the rain actually turned to ice. Here’s evidence.

ice on tent

At least all the precipitation ultimately resulted in a rainbow.

denali-rainbow

The water rushes past as we hike to our camping spot.

riverbed

The same riverbed as seen from way above on the hill.

riverbed-from-above

The view from our tent. Not bad.

tent-crop

Alaskan plants have to be tough to grow in these conditions.

plant-denali

Shrooms.

alaska-mushrooms

The squirrel surrounded by happy flowers.

squirrel-flowers

You may have seen bears in the wild. You may have seen bear tracks. But have you ever seen the feet that make those tracks? A sleepy grizzly bear gave us a chance to see its feet as it settled in to catch some ZZZs.

Grizzly bear feet

Another shot of the dall sheep that came over to greet our bus.

dall-sheep-denali

Our friend the marmot peeking out of his hole.

marmot-hole

The road in Denali is extremely narrow in places, and going around some of the bends in the mountains was kinda scary, because these bus drivers did not slow down.

denali-winding-road

Even after leaving Denali, the moose and caribou crossing signs were everywhere.

moose-crossing-sign

This moose decided to chill by the side of the road for a while.

moose alaska

A portion of the Alaska pipeline cutting through the mountains. Built in the 1970s, the pipeline is a staggering 800 miles long.

alaska-pipeline

A tank at Fort Greely, a missile-launching site 100 miles south of Fairbanks.

fort-greely-tank

Woohoo, Alaska was awesome!

yay plane

Thinking about going to Alaska yourself? Coming Wednesday: The definitive guide to budgeting for a trip to Alaska. Stay tuned.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

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