Tag Archive for 'Alaska'

Mt. Denali

Mt. Denali (still officially Mt. McKinley because of a cranky old Ohio Senator) is the tallest mountain in North America and is stunning in its height compared to those mountains that surround it.  When you first catch a glimpse of it, coming up from anchorage on the Denali highway, you might not think it is very impressive.  The key is that you are still some sixty miles away from it.  Even when you are closer, it is hard to fathom that the mountain in front of you and Mt. Denali peeking over it are some thirty miles apart.

Since we were in Alaska in July it was highly unlikely we would see the mountain.  It is so tall that the warm air hits it and consistently shrouds it in snow storms.  We lucked out and took a couple hundred pictures to prove it ;)

We were about 25 miles away at this point.

The foreground mountain was about a mile away, Denali ~35.

Towering above the plains, it climbs ~18,000 feet from base to peak.

The mountain is really quite awesome, in the truest sense of the word, to behold.  It would be incredible to see it free of clouds as you can during the winter.

–Nat

Animals in Denali

Kristin and I spent two days in Denali National Park and together I think we took ~1,500 pictures there.  You can therefore appreciate that the following is a small subset of that :)

Also, these photos have already been cropped in some cases.  Because of how you view the wildlife in the park, the animals are usually hundreds to thousands of feet away.  Good thing I had a long lens!  Too bad it was soft at full zoom…

Any animals in particular you’d like to see more of?

–Nat

HHR – The Rental – Alaska

After leaving the rather hostile Hostel we went and picked up our rental car which was an interesting experience as always.

Enterprise Rent-a-car

We were picked up by Enterprise, which honestly was one of the big reasons we chose Enterprise as it saved a us a cab fare and some transit time.  When we dropped the car off it was handy to have transportation as well, they took me to the central bus station so I was able to get on the route that headed to the airport with a minimum of fuss.   The drivers were personable and professional each way.

The car we were picked up in, which was supposed to be our car for the trip, was a Dodge Avenger.  I am not a huge fan of Chrysler/Dodge so I wasn’t too excited about it in general but was willing to give it a shot.  Turns out that it was a moot point as its tires were worn to the tread indicators and so we refused to drive that out into the Alaskan countryside where travel books advise taking two full size spares.

Saturdays are a crazy day to rent cars in Anchorage in the summer, I had tried to rent a car in Fairbanks so that we could have flown into Fairbanks and out of Anchorage and in April they were all rented already.  Point being, there wasn’t anything really cleaned up and ready to go – but there was an  Chevrolet HHR that had just been returned.  Brad W. had told me to avoid this car at all costs, but hey, we wanted to get going and it had to be better than an Avenger, right?

Edmunds is OK on the HHR and we found it to be OK too.

Pros:

  • A ~20 Gallon tank and 30+ MPG was exactly what you would want in Alaska where you can see signs posted that say “no gas stations next 85 miles.”
  • Passing power was sufficient at 55-60 MPH.
  • It does look pretty nice.
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System independently displayed each tires pressure and this is all viewable.  Due to past experience we are paranoid about wheels and tires on rental cars and this provided some great piece of mind.
  • Visibility was great out of the windshield when navigating rough terrain, etc.

Cons:

  • Cup holders that managed to be as bad as what the old ’99 Mustang had.  They were hard to use, adequate to get to and there were only three.  We are used to the Honda CR-V or Passat where we have about 10+.  Having room for empties so they aren’t just rolling around in the car is something we are just used to.
  • Stock stereo was weak despite its plethora of input options.
  • More stiffness in corners would have been great.  Taking many long, blind sweeping curves on Alaskan ridge lines at ~70MPH was a little nerve racking.
  • Passing power with the small engine at 65-70 MPH took a little longer than was comfortable.
  • Abysmal storage space.  We had to keep putting things in the back seat as there weren’t good places for books, cameras etc in the front seat.  Again, our larger personal cars have likely spoiled us.
  • Use the side mirrors as the view out the back is constrained.
  • You have to look down at the center console shifter to see what gear you are in.  Since you are frequently using Low gear etc. when descending mountains, this was striking as pretty ridiculous.

Conclusion:

Everything you want in a rental car (thrifty, easy to drive) with some traits that might make it an excellent commuter/secondary vehicle.  The HHR SS might be an interesting little ride with improved handling, performance and interior features with barely reduced fuel efficiency.

–Nat

Alaska, Getting to Anchorage

Traveling days typically aren’t as fun as the rest of the trip and this one wasn’t an exception.   It is funny now but seemed like torture at the time.

The Flight

We left late in the day on Friday for a couple reasons.  Due to some work factors, I was only able to secure a week of vacation.  To fly on Saturday, however, would have cost a couple hundred extra dollars too purchase even more frequent flyer miles.  So I planned to work that day and we’d catch the five o’clock flight out.  Since it was April when we planned this, of course things at work cleared up and I took Friday off too.

As the goal was to use public transportation in Anchorage to avoid a ~$25+ cab fare to downtown, we needed to get there to make one of the last two buses, 9:15 or 10:15.  We were scheduled to land by 8:40 so it seemed like we might get lucky and be at the B&B and in bed by 10:30.  Take note that Alaska is three hours behind CST, so that would have been 1:30 am Minnesota time.

Turns out we boarded about half an hour late and then had to wait another twenty or so minutes to take off.  This put us squarely in line to maybe make the 10:15 bus.   The pilots must have burned some fuel because they managed to make a five hour or so flight half an hour shorter as we were on the ground by nine and to the luggage pickup area in time to see the 9:15 bus come and go.   No problem, right, we’d get our luggage shortly and then leave.

But not so fast!  Forty five minutes of trickling luggage later, we finally had our bags and made to the bus stop which was a great relief.

Bruce Lee

At the bus stop, we had the great fortune of meeting Bruce Lee’s son.  First he tried to sell us a gaudy leather and other thing necklace (real gold!) for $10.  The he asked us what time it was, and after Kristin told him “10:10″ he asked us whether it was am or pm.

They he explained to us how he loved Kung Fu and how he had seen all of Bruce Lees movies.   And then that Bruce Lee was his dad.  Next that Brandon Lee was his brother who had been killed making The Crow.  That’s why he (our new best friend)  had to step in and play the role of the Hero in The Crow: City of Angels which “Hollywood paid him good money for.”  Disappointed that we didn’t follow that movie genre very well, he proceeded to tell us all about how  he had been recruited by the government out of Chicago to fly F-14′s.  Upside down and supersonic of course, he assured us this was the best way to fly them.

He then inquired as to whether we were waiting for the bus.  After we said yes, he told us we could just take his Lamborghini.  Or his limo.  Or he would fly us in his plane (not clear on whether this was his personal F-14 or what) or his helicopter.  Because he was a pilot.  And a State Trooper of twenty years.  A lot of work being a state trooper, you know.  Oh yeah, and he got deployed to Iraq.  He got shot in the leg and in the belly, both shots went clean through the body armor both ways.  In Vietnam he got shot in the head.

Finally the bus came and about five of us got on.  Of course, our new buddy sat up front by us and kept interrupting the driver, asking him if this was the last bus downtown, slurring how he needed to get to “Brown Jugs” liquor store because his wife was home drunk with the kids, and reiterating that he had been a state trooper for twenty years.   He saw a liquor store about five minutes into our trip and jumped off the bus which was a relief.

It was mildly amusing at the time and kind of sad in retrospect.  Evidently alcholism is a major problem with the native folks there and we saw many on street corners; the lady from Enterprise that picked us up the next day indicated that was one of the reasons that she was excited about leaving Alaska for the lower 48.  She had a drunk guy come into their house while they were home completely out of his gourd and in Anchorage I guess this is typical.

Arctic B&B

Bed and breakfast was a bit of a misnomer for this place.  It was more like a Hostel with shared bathrooms, etc.  True to the websites claim, it was the cheapest rates in town. It also slammed a wall of smoking pollution in our faces when we stepped into our room that left the clothes we wore into there reeking and lacked blinds to block out the tremendous amount of light available all night long in Alaska.  We did find a nice pleasant place to eat in the Spenard Roadhouse, barely making it in before the kitchen closed at 11.  This was the first of many times we cut it close to (or missed) closing time at places because it was so light out.  How could they be closing when the sun was only just now setting?

Anyway, the fun continued the next morning when we grabbed some breakfast from the shared main room and retreated, not wanting to use the shower despite its apparent cleanliness.   We had to wait until ~10 am for our rental car  and we couldn’t sleep in the smoke choked room past seven we went for a walk.   An interesting site in Alaska are the little coffee huts on many corners.  We wimped out and went and sat at the nice starbucks in the local Barnes & Noble store.  Around nine we headed back to make sure we were packed and ready to go.  That’s when the domestic dispute started upstairs.  F-bombs and heavy thumping proceeded.  I called Enterprise to see if they would pick us up early, nope.  We endured this for a while and finally just stood outside in the rare sun and nice temps.  Finally we checked out and were picked up by a friendly Enterprise lady.

That was when the trip really got started :)

–Nat

Alaska, Primer

Interesting Alaska Information:

Population: ~626,000

Became a State: 1959

“Sewards Folly” – purchase of Alaska from Russia: March 30, 1867

Alaskan Flag

Area:

The coolest thing about Alaska (other than its wonderful ~60 degree noontime temperature during the summer?)

Kristin and I spent the last week there :D

Denali Park in the background.

Much more coverage to follow.

–Nat