We really didn’t want to leave Denali National Park or the immediate area. However, we have a schedule of sorts to keep. We had not had the best of weather while around the park, so a few more days would have been nice to give us more opportunities to see the mountains without clouds and see the valleys with sunshine.
As we were taking off shore services and getting ready to get underway I noticed one of our neighbors going through the same routine. We struck up a conversation and we learned that we were heading in opposite directions. He and his wife were doing the reverse of our course meaning that they had already been to Anchorage. His advice to me was to keep on driving. “Don’t even stop there” he said. His assessment was that Anchorage is too much like any large city in the lower 48 and therefore not worthy of a visit.
We had plans for Anchorage and didn’t want this fellow to dampen our enthusiasm, so I just thanked him and told him to drive safely and have a safe day.
Our drive between Denali and Anchorage was event free. We stopped at a number of places where views of Mt. McKinley were possible. However, the self made clouds had the big mountain completely under wraps. One such view point is a rest stop that doubles as a State Recreation Area where camping is permitted without services for the price of $15 per night. That seemed a little steep to me, but there was a camp host at the site who provides a bit of security, I guess.
Anyway we drove in improving weather and on pretty good roads for most of the way. Our destination was the family camp at Ft. Richardson just a few miles outside Anchorage. The park is one of the most accommodating places we have been in awhile. I forget how many spaces they have, but that number is just the starting point for any discussion about availability of space. The camp hosts are all well versed in the doubling up of sites and they know where they can dry camp folks regardless of the length of the rig. When we arrived late in the afternoon there were no standard sites left, so Chuck, the on duty camp host, took me around in a golf cart and showed me the shared spaces he had available and the dry spaces. We selected a shared space and Chuck produced a Y connection for the potable water connection and a super long extension cord so we could have 20 amp electric. He also put us on the list for a full service site. We were golden.
We had several must do’s to take care of early in our stay. We needed to do laundry and as luck would have it the laundry at the RV Park was free. Connie was much further behind in e-mail than was I, so while I did laundry she went to the Base Exchange at the neighboring Elmendorf Air Force Base where she could get connected to the internet. When I got done with the laundry I took care of some much needed cleaning of the coach. I have to admit I concentrated my efforts on the buggy front end, but I was able to sparkle at least the street side pretty well before I ran out of steam. The curb side wasn’t as bad and over the next few days I worked on it while grilling dinner.
We also had a date with our good friends the Hendren’s in Wasilla, just up the road 30 miles or so. Rich and I had served together on two different occasions. Our first tour together was aboard the Submarine Tender, USS Hunley. The next time we saw one another was nearly a decade later when Rich joined the crew of USS Simon Lake in Italy. I was getting close to the completion of my tour when Rich and his bride of just a few years arrived. In fact we have since decided that we met Annie, Rich’s wife, at our farewell party just a few weeks before we left the ship. At any rate, there was a lot of catching up to do and since our mail was at their house we happily made the trip to Wasilla to pick it up and spend an evening with the family. Lest I forget, Rich is an excellent cook and even though we offered to treat them to dinner for safeguarding our mail for us he insisted that his cooking was better than any of the restaurants in the area. Well, we didn’t sample any of the Wasilla restaurants while we were in the area, but I doubt any of them could top the dinner that the Hendren’s prepared for us. It was a family affair at that. Rich planned the menu and Annie did some of the prep work. Her twin sister Amie was visiting and she got pulled into the action as well. The two boys helped serve the dinner while Rich supervised the crew and cooked the main dish, fresh caught salmon. The entire dinner was just wonderful as was all the great conversation and reliving a few days of our respective navy careers.
There were a number of reportedly great birding places in the Anchorage area, so we tried a few of them out. We were able to get some exercise trying to find birds and we saw some great sites, but very few birds. Again, this part of the world is just too vast for birds to have to congregate in small places where it is easy to see them. We are beginning to feel that you have to spend a lot of time in a lot of specific areas to have any great success finding the local specialties. Our travel plans just have not afforded us that time luxury. So, we will have to come back. That is all there is to it.
One day we spent at a great nature center outside the small town of Eagle River, just a few miles outside Anchorage. The center has a great loop trail that traverses several habitats. We saw some pretty good birds in small numbers there, but we worked hard for them all. What we didn’t have to work hard for was the cow moose we encountered. We were crossing a beaver pond on a boardwalk and this old gal was standing in knee deep water eating grass off the bottom of the pond. She noticed us, but paid little attention to us as we were about 100 yards away. We spent a good bit of time watching her and taking a few photos that were not going to be too great because of the great distance between us and her. We were distracted by some birds working their way past on the other side of the boardwalk and failed to notice that the moose was moving in the same general direction as were we. She suddenly stopped and stared off over her right shoulder. She was looking at something with great intensity and appeared frozen in time for several seconds. Then she calmly went back to munching on pond grass. However, she was munching on the move and as we approached the end of the boardwalk it became apparent that our paths were going to cross at some point. Now, I was pretty sure this was not a mother moose with a calf nearby as she was far too casual and the distance between her and anywhere she may have stashed a little guy was too great for her relative calm appearance. Therefore, I was fairly certain we were not going to get between her and a calf, a mistake you only get to make once in your life. However, that assumed knowledge didn’t give me a great deal of peace as it is never a really good idea to get into touching distance of any wild animal, especially the really big ones like moose. So, Connie and I gave her a few shouts and hand waves to dissuade her from crossing in front of us as we didn’t really want to get trapped on the boardwalk with the possibility of her coming along with us. We preferred an escape route that was both short and dry. Well, to make this already too long a tale a little shorter, I did stop in my attempt to move her along in another direction to get a really close-up photo of her. I got the classic head and shoulder shot with not much else in the frame. I actually snapped two of them in the wee time I dared to take. I am sharing the better of the two in my web album.
We hastily moved up the trail putting a good bit of distance between us and the moose as quickly as possible. It was a great encounter.
We also were able to meet up with our new friends from New Zealand, Clive and Gilly. They had been to the Kenai Peninsula and were on their way back through Anchorage on the Fourth of July. We met them at the RV Park they were staying in for the night and went to dinner at a place called the Peanut Factory which as it turns out is a huge sports bar with the absolutely largest TV screens I have ever seen. We ate out on the deck and therefore were not distracted by the televisions. Instead we enjoyed one another’s company and some pretty darned good food. Connie and I shared a pizza, something we rarely do. Our waitress promised it would be good and she was right. We also sampled many beers on one of those sample boards where you get six different beers in small glasses, the total equaling about what fits into a pint glass. It was a great evening. When we returned Gilly and Clive to their motorhome we were presented a large piece of one of the halibut Clive had caught off of Homer just a few days before. We hope to be able to meet up with these fine folks somewhere in the future. While it is unlikely we will get together again on this trip, they intend to do the east coast next year and we will be in Southeast Georgia and Florida during most of the winter when they are likely to be touring that part of the world. And of course we have talked about us going to New Zealand sometime in the future and we would for sure meet up with them then.
On our last full day in Anchorage we went on a Port of Anchorage Tour. The port is expanding and apparently the authority felt it necessary to keep the tax payers in the loop of knowing how the money is being spent and how the progress is going. Every Sunday during the summer months they have these bus tours around the port with a stop at the main office where everyone is sent to the roof to watch ships being loaded and off loaded, both processes happening at the same time on the same ship. Additionally the authority feeds anyone on the tour who wants one a hot dog with chips and soda. If my memory is correct these tours start at something like 9:30 and go until 3:30 with one leaving every hour on the half hour. So, on a given Sunday a lot of hotdogs are given away along with a status report on the improvements to the port. We have some pretty neat photos that Connie took. She also took a video clip showing how the containers are off loaded. I am including the video clip in the web album. It is really neat.
As we left Anchorage we stopped at a truck tire facility to have the front wheels on the motorhome balanced. It seemed that I was fighting to steer the coach for several hundred miles. After the wheels on the car went out of balance I was able to figure out that what I was experiencing with the coach was very similar. I could only hope I was right and it wasn’t something much more expensive and dangerous. Well, my assumption was correct. The technician said both were way out of balance. When we got back on the road I was absolutely shocked at the difference. I could control the wheel with one finger, not that I drive that way, but now the steering wheel is absolutely rock steady. The drive to Seward was an absolute delight.
To learn about Seward and Homer, you will have to come back for the next submission. I will tease you with a few words: Boats, Glaciers, and Birds.
Meantime, enjoy the web album linked below. Remember just click on the photo that follows and you will be taken to the web album associated with this article.