It has been a long time since I have posted here. Not quite as long as previous disappearances, though long enough. You should be excited to know that married life is wonderful and ya’ll should take part in it. Also, New Zealand is an amazing country, and despite loosing our luggage, our honeymoon was fantastic!
Below I’m going to give you some first hand photos of this trip, but you can find all of them and more at the New Zealand trip page. Though if all you’re interested in is photos, then you probably will be fine checking out the New Zealand Collection.
What’s this? Another vacation for the great webmaster? That is correct, I am on a road trip to Niagara Falls. It’s on the way to Chicago, where I will be spending Thanksgiving this year. Yes, it is on the way, believe me.
Alaska has 8 National Parks, I’ve profiled 4 so far. Of these, they have all been within a few hundred miles of the city of Anchorage. That makes them all pretty popular, and easy to get to for the average tourist. Now though, we will travel north, far north, about 475 miles North of Anchorage, 260 miles North West of Fairbanks, and about 85 miles North of the Arctic Circle. We are entering Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve.
The entirety of this park, all 8 million acres, lies above the Arctic Circle. This is the second largest National Park in the country, after Wrangell-St. Elias, it is also one of the least visited parks in the National Parks in the system, even less than Lake Clark. Last year, only 12,000 people managed to make it up to Gates of the Arctic. That itself actually seems like quite alot considering there are no roads into the park, no established trails, no entrance, and no civilization for miles.
Yes, the entirety of the park (except for Native lands), is back-country. Camping is allowed anywhere (except for Native lands), provided you can actually get yourself there. The most popular way in is via air taxi, which isn’t exactly cheap, especially this far north. One could enter the park via walking, but there’s no close village. The Dalton Highway runs roughly parallel to the park’s eastern border, coming within 5 miles of it in places, but one would have to cross a river to actually enter the park. That being said, you shouldn’t be squeamish about crossing a river if you’re serious about visiting Gates of the Arctic.
The defining characteristic of the park is The Brooks Range. This 700 mile long mountain range is estimated to be 126 million years old and has seen glaciers come and go over it’s lifetime. The Brooks Range is part of the northern Continental Divide, with water from the north emptying into the Arctic Ocean, and water on the south side draining into the Pacific. It’s also a divider for trees, and vegetation, southern areas have trees, in the north it gets too cold, and too dark to support all but the most hardy.
Speaking of water, there are countless rivers running through the park, 6 of which are considered Wild & Scenic, and rafting or canoeing down these rivers is one of the more popular ways people experience the park. However, if you plan on going there you must be prepared. Being above the Arctic Circle means the days are long, for a certain period of time in the summer, the sun has never set, so this takes some getting used to.
Caribou are the most populous animal in the park, but bears, both brown & black, Dall sheep and wolves are common. The density of the bear population is not as much as the lower parks, nor are the bears as large since salmon don’t make it up this far north. That doesn’t make them any less dangerous though. Humans have lived in the area for thousands of years, mainly living off the Caribou. Hunting is allowed in the Preserve, provided you have the correct permits, but off limits inside the park except for the Native peoples who still reside there.
Being in Alaska means that help isn’t a phone call away, it means you’re entirely on your own, and it can be daunting. The best times to visit the park are in the short summer, July through September. Come October it starts to get too cold, and the days start to get shorter and shorter. None of this stops people from visiting here though, (well, only 12,000 people that is). The city of Bettles Alaska, population 12, is the closest point to the park. Tourists can take flight seeing tours over the park, and even land and have lunch there if they so feel like it. However, Bettles is still above the Arctic Circle, so it has the same limitations. Plus there’s only 12 people living there, so there’s that.
Kenai Fjords National Park marks the 2nd Alaskan National Park Profile I will do for my Alaska Trip. In terms of raw statistics, Kenai Fjords is the closest park to Anchorage, yet only the 5th most visited park in the state. It’s comparable in size to Yosemite National Park, and was initially protected by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, but upgraded to a National Park in 1980.
Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the most rapidly changing landscapes there is. The ice fields and glaciers are in a state of recession (and have been for over 100 years, so don’t blame “Global Warming”), McCarthy Glacier, and Northwestern Glacier have seen massive retreats since the turn of the century, just look at the map, those dotted lines are the locations of the glacier in those years. This rapidly changing landscape opens up a whole new world that has never been seen by man (or at least not in thousands of years). And before you get all concerned, 60 feet or more of snow falls on average each year over the Harding Ice field. Within as little as 4 years, that snow gets compacted and turned into new layers on the Glaciers.
The retreating glaciers open up the namesake of the park, numerous Fjords – long, narrow inlets with steep sides that form due to erosion caused by glaciers. These fjords provide ripe habitat for all sorts of wildlife in the:
Alaskan brown bears
Depending on what you want to do you can see any or all of them, but, the most common way to see the park is via boat cruises around the various bays and fjords. This can be via large commercial Cruise ships, which many arrive, and leave out of Seward, or via smaller boats that fit a few dozen people, or all the way down to single person kayaks. There’s a couple of miles of established trails around Exit Glacier, which is the only road accessible glacier, other than that it’s all back country. However, the steep sided cliffs, and young, raw land make hiking difficult to do anyway. Many of the small coves, and islands have designated campgrounds, and there’s even 2 public use cabins located in the park. The cabins need to be reserved in advance, and you have to find your own way there, but they offer you a roof over your head in case you don’t want to sleep outside.
I am looking to do a multi-day kayaking trip into Kenai. I’ll probably end up spending 4 days total in the area, 1 day to explore the Exit Glacier area, 2 days to kayak, and a last day to acclimate myself. I’m currently planning on making Kenai my first stop in this grand expedition of mine.
Denali National Park & Preserve (the preserve is a separate unit in the NPS), covers over 6 million acres of land, (almost the size of the state of Massachusetts), including the tallest peak in North America, Denali, (more commonly known as Mt. McKinley). The park was initially protected in 1917, 42 years before the territory of Alaska became a state. Over the years, the park boundaries have been expanded, but people have been kept out. Unlike the early parks in the lower 48, Denali only has one partially paved road, the high elevation, and weather make paving the entire length unsustainable. Private vehicles are only allowed on the first 15 miles of this 91 mile road, from then on it’s park run tour buses, or hiking. Travel anywhere else in the park is achieved via hiking, bush plane, helicopter, or dog sled. In fact, all 4 of those activities are popular throughout the year.
Glaciers, tall peaks, tundra, and forests make up the majority of the park, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a truly beautiful place. Geographically, Denali National Park is located 170 miles due north from Anchorage, but naturally, that’s not a straight drive up. Luckily, there is a highway you can take, or the Alaska Railroad, or you can fly into the park on a bush plane. How you get into the park doesn’t matter as much as what you plan on doing when you get there. If you only have a day, then there are guided tours up the 90 mile road, on the way you can see caribou, bears, wolves, and dall sheep, if you’re lucky that is, wildlife is always tough to spot close to the road where humans are.
There are a couple of miles of established trails in the park, they are clustered around the visitor center, but also, unlike the more popular parks of the lower 48, off-trail hiking is allowed throughout Denali National Park. Experienced hikers, or those going on tours are able to see parts of the park that very few of the 400,000 annual visitors ever see. In fact, very few people of the world venture into the remote places of the park. Most tours and outfitters go to a handful of spots that they have scouted out before, that makes things easier. However, if you do choose to venture into the great unknown uncharted land of Denali, please be prepared, plenty of people have died thinking they could make it.
The above photo is a still from Denali Visitor Center webcam. There are a 7 more web cams you can look over, some aren’t operational as of this writing, it’s still pretty snow covered up there in April. I know I’ve only scratched the surface, but I don’t know what else to write. What do you want to know about these parks? There’s too much out there, and I don’t want to just regurgitate wikipedia. Let me know in the comments below and I’ll take it into account for the next park, unfortunately, I haven’t decided which one it will be just yet.
I am off for a truly Epic (and you know me, I do not use that word lightly), trip to Yellowstone. The last of what I call The Big 3 National Parks, (the others being The Grand Canyon, and Yosemite). This is possibly the most exciting vacation I am going on. I’ll be gone for a total of 10 days, over which I hope to see some wildlife, and gysers, and take amazing photos. Gotta go see this before the volcano erupts under it.
Chris will have to take over posting duties for the next 10 days or so (probably more since I’ll have a few thousand photos to go through when I get back). Hopefully he won’t drop the ball, like he did last year.
Anyway, that is where I will be for awhile, don’t worry though, everything should be good. And for alittle fun, let’s see if you all can guess the total number of photos I’ll take. Last year when I went to Yosemite, I took around 2,000. I say around because I was in San Francisco for a day and a half, and took between 200 and 300 photos there, so let’s just go with 2,000 photos over 6 days. Yellowstone will be 10 days, of all Yellowstone* So what’s it gonna be? The winner will get a prize**
I made it back from South Dakota, and just in time too. Had I decided to plan my trip for the next week, I’d have been out of luck due to the government shutdown. Well, not totally out of luck, but just mostly. I wouldn’t have gotten my stamps, or any post cards, and probably wouldn’t have been as good as a trip. Actually, I probably would have canceled it. Anyway. I’m back, I took pictures, and Chris didn’t post anything, oh well.
Turns out I went to a good amount of parks, 9 different things in the National Parks system in total!
I am off to San Francisco, and more importantly, Yosemite National Park this morning. I will be there for the rest of the week, returning on the Red Eye flight Friday night. So expect little to no updates from me for this week.
Or will you??!?!?!?!
Chris could post something, but he won’t, cause he sucks. Yea, that’s right, prove me wrong.
Anyway, take a look at some of the photos I have from last year’s trip to Zion, Bryce, & The Grand Canyon. They’re pretty damn spectacular if I do say so myself.
The Windy City. That’s where I’ve been, and why there’s been no posts recently. Anyway, I’m back, and as soon as I go through my 1400 unread feeds, I’ll start with some more crazyness to post about. But for now, here are some pretty pictures from my adventure.
A little kid walked in frame carrying a light up stick and made that really cool squiggle.
We saw a Cubs game, they lost.
The reason I went, to see The Blue Angels at the 52nd Annual Chicago Air & Water Show.