Sunday, July 31, 2011

Alaska Overwhelms

Other visitors to Alaska had told me about the breadth of space I would find here, but I was not prepared for the vast magnitude of the mountains, the greenery, the glaciers, and the over-arching sky.  We based ourselves in Girdwood, AK, about 40 miles southeast of Anchorage, for our introduction to Alaska and it served us quite nicely.  We saw animals we planned to see and animals we did not plan to see, and even experienced a 5.3 magnitude earthquake!

The Winner Creek hike begins right off the Alyeska Resort property where we were staying.  It is a 5-mile hike through the woods surrounded by mountain walls, fairly frequent waterfalls, and skies punctuated by pointed glaciers.  Easy to navigate and negotiate, the hike's only challenge was the hand tram across a gorge.  It's called a hand tram because that's how you power yourself across -- hand over hand on a basic rope.  Take a look - it was tons of fun.
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Gilly, the moose calf
Back on the ground, we visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a non-profit center dedicated tot he rescue and preservation of wild animals.  We took a "behind the scenes" tour which allowed us to feed moose calves, and pet Snickers, the porcupine, Hershey, the reindeer, and Julie, the Sitka deer. There were huge deer and elk to see, including Roosevelt Elk, named for T.R.'s preferred prey!  Best of all, though, was observing black, brown, and Kodiak bears in a natural, albeit safely confined area.  The Kodiak bears were being trained while we were there, and the trainer was sitting as close to them as I sit with our doggy, and the whole routine did not actually look so different!

The following day began with a bear spotting right on the road.  On our way to Crow Pass Trail, we came around the corner (in our car, thankfully!) to what we thought was a puppy off its leash with a red collar.  But this was no puppy, and there was no leash; it was a brown bear cub evidently tagged with a red marker.  He heard our car as we saw him and scurried away as quickly as he appeared.  We drove ahead only half hoping to see mother and siblings!  No more bears on that day!
The Crow Pass hike, itself, was thrilling and quite challenging.  It was majestic in its scope, uphill all the way, and went into a remote valley with spectacular waterfalls as our reward. We didn't quite make it to the Pass but stopped after 2 steep miles to make a much easier and quicker trek down!

I would like to write about accommodations and dining, both spectacular in Girdwood, but time is limited and wi-fi is weak.  We are now in Homer, about to embark on our overnight kayaking trip in Kachemak Bay. A bright, clear, sunny day greets us. We are in a whole different environment and climate that welcomes quite a different population from Girdwood, and I look forward to sharing about that in another post.  I will leave you with a most exciting sight from our drive along the Kenai River en route to Homer.  As Clay said, this is the way we like our bear sightings -- from the other side of the river.

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