Sunday, September 20, 2009

Denali National Park

The first big adventure of our trip was Denali National Park. We were so excited about this part of our trip that we gave it almost 5 full days and did not disappoint in the least. It seems like most people who travel to Alaska just take a cruise, but I can't tell you enough how amazing the rest of the state is. Denali is only a few hours from Anchorage and truly a must-see to get a real sense of the Alaskan wilderness.
Denali National Park is named for Mt McKinley, which is called 'Denali', meaning 'the great one' in the native language. The park covers over 6 million acres, but there is only ONE road to the interior. Did you hear that, just one 90-mile road. In 6 million acres. Can you imagine that? Literally, as far as the eye can see, there is no one, save the chance backpacker. The road is like this tiny slit cut into the vast land to give us a peak, but just a peak, at the secrets it holds. (OK, this is getting a little too deep for even me. But I loved it, ok? Moving on...)

The system they have for park visitors is really ingenious. Generally speaking, you can't drive your own car into the park. Instead, they have a system of shuttle buses. Picture below - pretty sweet, eh? Well, they'll do. But it's so nice not having the roads clogged up with everyone's cars. The buses will stop for any wildlife you spot, so there's plenty of picture taking opportunities. You can also get off anywhere you want, and then just hop on any other bus that comes by later. Really, any random spot along the road you'd like to get off is fair game. There are almost no hiking trails in the park, they encourage people to spread out and hike whereever you'd like with the goal of not creating trails. Amazing.

We camped the first night at the park entrance, and then the next 3 nights at Wonder Lake, which is around mile 85 of the 90 mile road. During those days we'd catch the bus early in the morning and ride towards the entrance. Then at some random awesome looking spot we'd get off, get ourselves lost, and hopefully find our way back to the road before the last bus heading into the park drove past. It was a little annoying making sure we were at the road at the right time, since the later buses were a little sparser (since the majority of the people are headed the opposite direction by that time of day), but other than that it was a really great system.

The picture below is Wonder Lake. On a clear day, you'd be able to see Denali (Mt. McKinley) in the distance, reflected in the lake. I do have some "clear day" pictures of the mountain, but I'll save that for another post. Don't want to spoil the surprise!

The next picture is the view from our campsite. I think we were making dinner when we spotted this rainbow off in the distance. It was a little weird how it stayed light for some many hours of the day. There were only something like 4 hours of darkness every night, and I know I slept through them every night we were camping! I was so exhausted after the days' activities.

Just so gorgeous.... You don't get this kind of view from a cruise ship.

Friday, September 18, 2009


I wanted to blog a little more in depth about our trip to Alaska, so it seems like the best place to start would be our physical starting place - Anchorage. Granted, we were only there for about 18 hours total. And I have almost no pictures. But I'll give you what I got, practical, fun, or otherwise.

First, renting a car in Alaska. This was a huge expense. Not only did we want a minivan for 10 days, but we also wanted it to be a oneway rental. You can imagine how not cheap that was. The oneway rental was because our cruise was leaving from Seward, so we wanted to drop the car off there. There are several train or bus options between Anchorage and Seward, but in the end that wasn't practical for us.

There are 2 main things we did to save money on the car. One, I joined AAA for their 15% discount at Hertz. Yes this rental was expensive enough that the money saved more than covered the cost of membership. Two, we didn't rent from the airport in Anchorage (see you knew I had to tie this in to Anchorage eventually). Here's the secret - Hertz has another rental office a mere 10 minutes away from the airport. They close at 5pm, but as long as your plane arrives before then, just hop in a quick cab and go pick up your car there. We saved over $600 from this alone. Not bad for a $20 cab ride.

Here's where we stayed - the Arctic Adventure Hostel. At less then $50 a night for a room for two, this was a great deal compared to other options in Anchorage. True, the bathroom was shared, but I'll tell you I've stayed at a lot of hostels and I had absolutely no complaints about this one. The people who ran it were super friendly, and even offered us some bear spray and fuel for our camp stove that other guests had left behind.

Meet Dave. Dave is a buddy who travelled with us on this trip. (There were 5 total, plus my family joined us later for the cruise.) You see that shirt Dave is wearing? Can you make out what it says? Let me tell you - Snow City Cafe. Seriously, best. breakfast. ever. If you are ever in Anchorage, please please go there for breakfast. Then take pictures so I can drool all over my keyboard in envy. Or maybe not.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Alaska has always held a special appeal for me. When I was younger it seemed to be a land of mystery, a land of adventure. Anything could happen there; it was so far away, you could be anyone you wanted. My best friend and I even made up secret identities who were always getting into mischief together in Alaska. Maybe it something about the fact that it's not connected to the rest of the United States. Or maybe it's all that snow that fascinated a Florida girl, born and raised.
To say that it was breathtaking, is in a word, cliche. But also so true. It was just so... vast. Denali National Park was incredible. Wildlife (bears, eek!) spotting was fun, though the numbers certainly didn't compare to Yellowstone. But the expanse, the emptiness... the land was untouched, the way you imagine this world was supposed to be.

We had the chance to go flightseeing, to see areas of this earth that no man has walked on. to see paths carved out by glaciers that were so perfect, so pristine. Glaciers that may not even exist 30 years from now.
And the other adventures - hiking, kayaking, fishing, glacier trekking... There was so much to do. We were completely exhausted by the end of the trip but it was worth it!
Then of course, we took a cruise. It was nice to have a little bit of relaxing at the end. To be a little pampered with the fancy dinners and room stewards who cleaned your room not once but twice a day!
We loved it all. We already have a list of things we want to see and do the next time we get a chance to go. I do believe our next trip won't include a cruise though. There is just too much to see in Alaska to spend so much time sitting around a pool on a boat. Alaska is about being outdoors. It's about pushing yourself to try things you couldn't at home, about enjoying the undending beauty. It's a land of mystery and adventure.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles


whew. I have been a travelling fool for the past month. First, we took a trip to Alaska for a glorious 18 days, which was awesome by the way, and I will hopefully be blogging quite a bit about it soon. Next, I went to Denver for work 2 weeks in a row. This is the first week that I will actually be at home all week in over a month. Man, I'm exhausted just thinking about it again. I mean, I love Denver and all, but 2 quick work trips with barely any breathing time in between? It's not all that.

But, a few good things did come out of these couple work trips. First, for the first time in my life, I am now actually a Premier flyer on United. What does that mean, exactly? Well for one, I can sit in the "Economy Plus" section of the plane - basically in the front, with a few more inches of leg room. So for someone short like me, it doesn't really make a big difference, except that I feel so much more special sitting there hehe. I can also check a bag for free, although when travelling for work that fee would get reimbursed anyway. So really, there's not much change, but somehow I feel like my life is more complete now. Or something like that. Maybe I have a problem...

Second, this last trip earned me enough miles to get a free ticket. That is a pretty self explanatory yay! Our goal is to use that to fly Darren out to CA in December when I am out there for (you guessed it) work. Unfortunately it is so hard to plan ahead because the launch could get delayed by a few days, or even months, you just never know. But still, free flights always make me happy :)


Yeah I don't really have anything to say about trains. My husband has an unhealthy obsession with them. That's about it.


My car was acting up recently. I don't know how to say it other than while driving, I would randomly loose the power to accelerate. The engine would still be on, but it was like the car was in idle, and would just coast along, no matter how hard I pushed on the gas pedal. So I'd pull over, turn the car off, turn it back on, and everything was fine in the world again, until of course it decided to do a repeat performance every few miles down the road.

But this was my 2006 Toyota! not my cringe-inducing Saturn (*worst car ever*). I was distraught, to say the least. But what I discovered is that having car problems is not nearly as bad when you are married. Especially when your husband works at the same place as you. There's no more worrying about getting rides everywhere. No more worrying about how long it will be in the shop. I was fully prepared to drop it off for a week or more, cause you know, I kinda like having Darren drive me around everywhere. :)

So I dropped it off at the dealership Sunday afternoon, a little nervous about the cost. I got a call about an hour later saying they had found the problem, and I could come pick it up. errm, what? What about fixing it, how much is this going to cost me? Do I need to put back all these nice plants I have in my cart because I'm now broke due to car repairs? No! apparently it was just a computer problem that is covered under my warranty! What, I have a warranty? Um, I mean of course I do. (I had no idea, really. I bought the car used, after all.)

So now my car is fixed and my bank account is completely unaffected! Except, of course, for all the lovely plants we bought for the front yard. once we get the mulch in i'll take some pictures!

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