Want to see the reason we hustled back to Anchorage on Friday?
So Saturday morning we drove 1 1/2 hours south along Turnagain Arm - I saw beluga whales as we were driving!! - through some of the most beautiful wetlands and forests on earth.
Then into the one-way, only open 15 minutes every hour, don't be late, Anton Anderson Tunnel, 2.6 miles through solid rock, and out into the brilliant sunlight in Whittier.
Did you notice it's not raining? The wind was blowing so hard I could barely walk into it, but I'll take that over rain any day.
Hubby and I spent most of our time on the open top deck, with a 360 view.
And what a view.
We saw waterfalls,
Gorgeous water colors,
A waterfall and a glacier!
A glacier that looks like a blue horse,
Our only disappointment was the lack of wildlife on view. Other than the eagle, all we saw was the fin of a salmon shark (?? I didn't know there even was such a thing), and a seabird rookery.
But with all that blue ice around? I can live with that.
Hubby made the mistake of letting me set the itinerary for our Alaska trip, which is why we ended up at Large Animal Research Station in Fairbanks, in addition to the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer. More musk ox! With bonus caribou and baby reindeer!
It was pouring rain - again - so we hung out in the gift shop waiting for the tour to start. Big mistake. I might have gone a little overboard, with gifts for me (quiviet!), and Leanne, and me (more quiviet), and friends, and um, me again (sweatshirt! mug! keychain!!)
Hubby had to make two separate trips to the car, hauling all my treasures. But hey, somebody has to keep the farm in grass, right? Pretty sure I made their profit margin for the day, all by myself.
Our guide was great, introducing us to Scarlett
and Iris, the "geriatric" girls. (it's breeding season and all the younger ladies were occupied elsewhere.)
Musk ox were extinct in Alaska until they were reintroduced in 1935, with 34 animals transported from their native Greenland via boat and train to Norway, New York, Seattle, and finally Alaska. About 4300 musk oxen now live in Alaska.
Fun fact: at LARS, rather than wait for their musk oxen to shed quiviet naturally (and messily), each animal is combed with an 'afro pick' and the 3-4 pounds of quiviet comes off in one big sheet.
We also met Guepe, the alpha caribou, with his amazing antlers. Each side weighs about 30 pounds; can you imagine carrying that around for months at a time? Headache! As caribou age, their antlers get bigger each year and they always grow back in the same pattern.
Fun fact: boys lose their antlers after mating season, but girls keep their antlers until after they give birth - and use them to push the males around, especially when it involves food during the winter. Sounds fair to me!
What's the difference between caribou and reindeer? One book I read said reindeer were "domesticated, lazy-ass caribou." Not quite true, said our guide. Reindeer are caribou that have been bred to have shorter legs and rounder bodies; the easier to catch (they're slower) and the better to eat (more meat). And I can testify that reindeer is delicious.
The tour was great and I'm really glad we went, even though it meant not getting into Anchorage - 360+ miles and 8+ hours of driving in pouring rain - until 9:30 that night. We got a bit of encouragement just north of Wasilla though, with about 2 hours left to go.
Today (Thursday) was gorgeous; sunny and warm with just a few high clouds to keep us company.
We made several sightseeing stops along the way from Healy to Fairbanks, including the train museum in Nenana where we found some must-have treasures to bring home.
The sales clerk recommended a good burger place "just up the road", which in Alaska can mean anything up to about 20 miles.
Fortunately, this one was closer and we sat on their flowery deck, enjoying a leisurely lunch of pretty darn good burgers and lemon meringue pie.
Back on the road, we finally spotted 'cotton grass', which the guide book had mentioned as growing closer to Talkeetna. Looks like cotton fluff, doesn't it? The plant itself can be used for basket-weaving.
And guess who found one more thing she's allergic too? Thank goodness for hay-fever medication.
In Fairbanks, the Museum of the North was on our 'must see' list, and it didn't disappoint.
I especially liked the woven baskets; such thin materials and so intricate - function and beauty.
I had to get a picture of the polar bear for Leia, who is still asking that we bring her a "real" cub from our trip.
Think these claws can convince her that's not such a great idea?
We also discovered the Fountainhead Auto Museum, which hubby loved.
Fortunately for me, they had an exhibit of women's dress styles for the same eras as the cars. Gorgeous displays, with lots of hand- and machine-made lace; I had my nose almost pressed against the display cases trying to see what technique was used. And then there was this -
Wearing live beetles pinned to their clothes?? That's just plain creepy. And I bet the beetles didn't like it either.
Dinner was at the Pump House, where we splurged on fresh salmon (for hubby) and reindeer (for me). I almost felt guilty, like I was munching on Rudolph. But for the record? Reindeer is delicious.
Tomorrow, back toward Anchorage . . . I think.
The rain stopped! It was overcast, and a bit drizzly, but overall our day in Denali National Park was the driest we'd had so far in Alaska. Our 8-hour tour departed at 1:55 pm, so we spent the morning exploring the area,
And animal spotting on the tour was great. We saw a juvenile grizzly romping from berry patch to berry patch high up on a hill;
a mama grizzly with her 2 cubs less than 50 yards from our bus;
Dall sheep that were too far away for my camera to pick up, but the bus driver's camera got them just fine on the ceiling-mounted TV monitors.
We saw moose,
and moose (this cow walked across a field toward us, then crossed the road right in front of the bus)
and more moose, along with caribou and magpies that were too far away to photograph.
We saw mountains,
but only about a third of the main attraction, since Mt. McKinley clung stubbornly to its cloud cover the entire day.
Hubby tried lifting a shed moose antler - it's a lot heavier than it looks -
and we laughed at the nail-studded sign that the bears haven't eaten. Yet.
Our bus driver/guide was great, with lots of stories about Denali and living in Alaska, but 8 hours is a looooong time to spend cooped up on a bus, even with potty breaks every 90 minutes or so. Just seeing the mama bear with her cubs made it worthwhile though. And everything else? Bonus!