Even after a dozen posts recapping my Alaska adventure, I have a couple thousand unpublished photos left from the journey.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!
This van was a permanent part of the fireworks parking lot. I would kill to own it.
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…”
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.
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.
There’s never any doubt about what to wear in Alaska. It’s all hiking pants, all the time!
Seward is a huge fishing town. Let’s play the Sesame Street game. Which one of these things is not like the others?
“There are two seasons in Alaska. Winter and construction.”
Sea planes. They can land planes on anything in Alaska.
We passed this Senor Taco in Wasilla several times. I wanted to check it out because of its stupidly simple name.
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.
My first sighting ever of a plate from the Yukon province in Canada.
Everything was so pretty flying into Anchorage.
The main theme in the airport was “geese.”
ATVs and snow machines are among the popular ways to travel in Alaska. I spotted this line of ATVs in Talkeetna.
Evidently Talkeetna isn’t serious about enforcing its no camping policy.
Everyone loves to visit the North Pole post office, home of Santa Claus!
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.
You knew there had to be a giant Santa in North Pole, right?
A bear sculpture carving at the Ice Museum in Fairbanks.
Plane lands on glacier. And everything is right with the world.
There’s not much of a runway on the glacier.
I’m very lucky to be in a place like this.
Another shot of Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America.
A closer shot of the beautiful aqua ponds from the bush plane.
Even the small mountains look majestic from an airplane.
Glaciers beneath the wing of the plane.
You can almost see this glacier moving as it falls over the side of a mountain.
The end of a glacier as it melts into a pool.
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.
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.
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.
Extreme close-ups of a black bear at an animal sanctuary south of Anchorage.
Bald eagles are no big deal here. They sit in trees on the side of the road.
Yep, just a common everyday sight.
I like the idea that trees are still standing 50 years after they died.
Do not trespass on the Alaska Railroad!
Playing on the tracks isn’t trespassing, is it?
Stores in small towns have to be everything to everyone. So they serve up liquor, tshirts, and panties.
Even in Anchorage, businesses seemed to be into diversifying their inventory. Pablo’s bicycle rental shop inexplicably also offered gourmet sausages. You go, Pablo.
The blinding white of Matanuska Glacier as seen from the road.
Matanuska is a lot more fun up close, as a lot of folks found out by hiking on it.
Sometimes I can be found in corridors inside glaciers.
Passengers look out the window during the whale-watching cruise.
A different look at a killer whale from a distance. The dorsal fin looks pretty damn cool sticking up out of the water.
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.
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.
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.
When I put together the whale-watching post, I totally forgot we saw otters too. Here they are.
The mountains dwarf this cruise ship in the distance.
Looking out the back of the cruise ship.
Back in Anchorage, I found a vendor selling adorable Eskimo ornaments.
A live display of traditional games at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
An Eskimo statue in downtown Anchorage.
Totem poles in downtown Anchorage.
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.
Kids race cars during the 4th of July celebration.
They wanted to win those inflatable Spiderman figurines bad!
This kid seemed less than enthused about being dangled in the air via bungee harness. “Get me out of here!”
Learn your Native American history at Wrangell-St. Elias, the largest national park in America.
Welcome to Denali National Park. Now pay up.
Another look at the thirsty moose that welcomed me to the park.
The only wolf I saw was the fake one on display.
Arriving to Savage River Campground.
The moose droppings were all over the campground. I could have made my own swizzle sticks.
On top of the world on some rocks above the Savage River.
A view of the Savage River at mile 14, the farthest you’re allowed to drive into the park.
To go beyond that, you need to catch a seat on one of the shuttle buses.
Some of my fellow tourists/campers took photos when the bus stopped for a break.
Never stop at the end of the maintained trail. That’s a great life lesson.
This is what I imagined backcountry camping in Denali would look like! Look at that 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.
At least all the precipitation ultimately resulted in a rainbow.
The water rushes past as we hike to our camping spot.
The same riverbed as seen from way above on the hill.
The view from our tent. Not bad.
Alaskan plants have to be tough to grow in these conditions.
The squirrel surrounded by happy 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.
Another shot of the dall sheep that came over to greet our bus.
Our friend the marmot peeking out of his 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.
Even after leaving Denali, the moose and caribou crossing signs were everywhere.
This moose decided to chill by the side of the road for a while.
A portion of the Alaska pipeline cutting through the mountains. Built in the 1970s, the pipeline is a staggering 800 miles long.
A tank at Fort Greely, a missile-launching site 100 miles south of Fairbanks.
Woohoo, Alaska was awesome!
Thinking about going to Alaska yourself? Coming Wednesday: The definitive guide to budgeting for a trip to Alaska. Stay tuned.