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Old 28th May 2017, 02:17   #1
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Default Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America

While returning from California last thanksgiving i had made up my mind to visit Alaska sooner and looking at the work schedule i decided to do this trip in the month of May. I had seen pictures in magazines and on travel blogs/websites and finally got 4 of us ready to make the trip. Alaska is not directly connected to America and is next to Canada, hence this was going to be a long trip. After looking at various itineraries and packages from tour operators, I decided to plan it myself. The total vacation would last 11 days including to and fro journey time and had to include the must see places yet be at a pace that allowed us to see Alaska. So after looking at various combinations across each day, below is what we planned to see (in order of listing) Home -> Anchorage -> Seward -> Juneau -> Barrow -> Bear watching -> Talkeetna -> Fairbanks -> Coldfoot (Wiseman) -> Denali -> Anchorage ->Home. While some things changed during the course of the journey we still managed to see all of it except the exclusive bear watching tour.

Alaska is a really beautiful place and in some ways it probably is similar to going to Leh/Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh in India (something i have been wanting to do for the last 3-4 years, but never been able to so far), but as a tourist this beauty is seen only during summer, as the environment really takes the toll out of you during winters. Life is not easy as it seems during summer and people there suffer from phobias/sickness with having 24 hr daylight or near 24 hr darkness. TV shows will tell how difficult the life is and after watching few of them on netflix my wife was asking whether it was the right choice . Nevertheless the pictures and travelogues we had seen made us stay on track. Cities are better off with the harshness of winters compared to hills or northern areas. Weather unlike other places in US, changes at every mile or minute as you go up north. We could see it rain on one side of the road and sunlight on other opposite and rainbows too.

We had planned to fly into Anchorage instead of taking a cruise (as that limited our time on ground) and rented a car on days we had things to do on our own. Going to coldfoot meant driving the Dalton, and that needed a separate rental as the regular ones did not allow drives on unpaved roads. Tickets were booked almost 2 months in advance and were not that expensive compared to other destinations in the lower 48 states and accommodation was mostly through airbnb as hotels were turning out to be very expensive. Car rentals were through enterprise and GoNorth in Fairbanks. We actually wanted to do a trip with one of the Indian travel companies who had planned a drive to Deadhorse in August but the cost was way more than what we had budgeted for (almost 8000$ per person, excluding flights i think), whereas we managed to fit 4 people in our plan, in less than the cost of 2 people on that tour with money to spare. Plus it's more adventurous to do it on your own (though we were not ready for the real adventure that happened).

Preparation
While we did not do any specific preparation for the trip, the main concern that we have in each trip is getting vegetarian food. So we ordered a big pack of home made thepla's through a friend in Edison and took a big bag full of MTR/Haldiram's ready to eat food. We did plan on eating something vegetarian in the local food but we wanted to have some backups just in case we reached late or didn't have time (this turned out to be a wise decision when we look back now). In addition we already had few pairs of thermal clothing, plus the regular winter jackets, gloves, head caps etc. Camera, tripod, memory cards, dashcams are pretty standard on all my trips. May is start of summer season, so weather would be similar to what it is on east coast, though not very hot but manageable with whatever we had.

Day 0 (or day of travel - 12th May)
I don't know why each time there is American airlines written in my travel plan something has to go wrong. Even in the California trip we got delayed and this time it was worse than few hours. Now to get started with the trip, here's how it began. Starting from Philadelphia early morning we realized there was some technical issue with the aircraft (as per the gate agent) and ended up leaving almost a hour and half late. We were hoping that the flight can cover up some of the time lost but as we reached Dallas, the connection was from another terminal which required taking the train. On reaching the departure gate we were told that the fight was pushing back and we would have to be re-routed. So after spending the next frustrating hour with customer service we ended up going to Phoenix. Our plan was to reach Anchorage by the afternoon of 12th, so that we would take the train to Seward the next morning to take the Kenai Fjord tour. At this point it was clear that we would miss that train and the tour. So we called both of them and finally managed to re-book after paying the penalties on Day 4(when we were supposed to go for bear watching tour). Accommodation and subsequent flights were already booked and now in jeopardy as we'll not only lose money but also vacation time. Anyway we reached Phoenix (in group of 2 as seats were not available) only to find out that it was not the right stop for travel to Anchorage). They had asked us to go to Portland -> Seattle -> Juneau ->Anchorage. We didn't see a point in going to Portland and then to Seattle, so after another hour with customer service they put us on the flight to Seattle. Surprisingly each customer service counter blamed the delay on weather, when none of the other flights from Philadelphia had any issues (as if the cloud was standing in front of the aircraft to delay us), but on probing them further they all ended up agreeing that it was aircraft maintenance issue. At Seattle, the same story repeated and after asking them to call Philadelphia they agreed and gave us rooms in Hilton with breakfast and lunch vouchers (the breakfast turned out to be a joke with Hilton as it costed us 100$ out of our pocket as Hilton does not have anything for 7$voucher). Next day(day 1), we had time till afternoon, so we went to see the Space Needle at Seattle rather than getting frustrated further, than we were already) and checked-in at the airport for the flight to Juneau. From Seattle it was an Alaska airlines flight and they didn't agree to give us accommodation as it was the fault of American airlines and American said we can only give hotel at places were have our counters, so go and ask Alaska folks. We booked a hotel sitting in SeaTac airport, which was near to Juneau airport and started for Juneau. Our bags incidentally were already in Anchorage as the flight had space for bags but not for people

This is where the real complication began. After the Seward tour on 13th, we had booked a flight from Anchorage to Juneau and return on 14th. But we already reached Juneau on 13th. So after some frustrating hours with both airlines, we decided to just get the boarding passes for our return flight from Juneau and travel the next evening. Our Juneau trip was to do Whale watching and see the Mendenhall Glacier. We had half a day to use, so we went to Mt Roberts Tramway, which provides a nice view of the town from the mountain. The views were really good and gave us some time to explore around the town. It was dinner time, so guess what, we found an Indian restaurant (3 of us are vegetarians, so Indian food is the best bet with less complication). In the last 24 hours we had not eaten properly as most of the time was spent in running around the flights. We had Chole Poori as well, apart from other things and came back filling up our stomachs. Our whale watching tour was to pick us up from the hotel, so we decided to go to sleep and get up on time for the next day's plan. And this is how the first 2 days went by.

Admins - i'm planning to post only a few days at a time, so please let me know if this is fine by you.

The dots/blue suitcase indicate the places we visited
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Seattle space needle
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A big raven in Juneau
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Cruise ship docked in Juneau
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Indian food is found even in unlikely parts of the world
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Nugget falls near the glacier
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Juneau from Mt Roberts Tramway
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View of the Mendenhall Glacier from the visitor center
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Last edited by aditya_rao : 1st June 2017 at 09:23. Reason: edits
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Old 29th May 2017, 09:48   #2
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Default re: Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America

Day 2 (Juneau)

As per our original plan we were supposed to fly from Anchorage to Juneau, do a private whale watching tour and return by the evening flight. There are few companies that provide shared or private whale watching experiences in Juneau and the odd thing that we found was the none of them had a regular tour on 14th. So we ended up booking a private tour just for four of us (the boat accommodates up to 6 people in the same cost). We spent almost 50% more than the regular price per person but had the boat to ourselves. The stress was less compared to the fiasco that had happened in the last 2 days (although this would change by evening). The tour lasts for 3-3.5 hrs and on route we saw some bald eagles, sea lions, and 3 different whales. The weather was not that great as it had been raining since morning and our captain hoped that it would reduce as we head out into the sea waters. We spotted the first spout within the first hour and that followed another one. Since no one else was operating on that day, there was only 1 other boat (probably doing another private tour from some cruise liner). Whales can stay within water for almost 6-10 mins and since they move fast there's no way of knowing where the next spout would come up. So each one of us took one of the four directions and kept following the two whales. During the whole trip we never saw the mouth but only the fin and tail. One of the whales was known to the captain as she said that this whale keeps coming every seasons and has a distinctive white pattern on her tail. Each whale will have some different from each other in terms of the tail structure and color pattern and that is how the scientists or boat captains try to find which one they are seeing. For the next 30 mins we did not find any other whale so we headed to see some more sea lions and couple of eagles sitting on their nests. At one place couple of sea lions were lying on the buoys with an eagle keeping a watch on the top of the buoy (probably for the sea lions ). We made a turn around the island at the 2 hour mark and started to make our return journey. This time we again spotted the same whale and it meant that the whale had covered a lot of distance in a short time across the island. Our Captain decided to call another boat that was training its staff to see if they had seen another whale on their route and that's when he exclaimed that he just saw one near his boat. So we headed towards that boat and started to look for the third one. The pattern followed by the previous two whales was going away from the dock, so this had to be a different one. Eventually we found this one and took some snaps before heading back. the tour ended after almost 3.5 hrs and we headed back to our hotel in the shuttle provided by the tour company.

Our return flight was after 8 PM, so we decided to visit the Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls (next to it). We had a quick bite at the Subway and then took a taxi (Alaska does not have Uber or Lyft ) After 30 mins we reached the visitor center. The driver mentioned to us that we need to pay 7$ per person as the entrance fees for coming on taxi. What he did not tell us was that if we had a national parks pass then it would come to only 2$ per person. Since we did not know about this discount we ended up paying 28$ per person in addition to the taxi fare and went hiking on the glacier trail. Both trails follow the same path except that the glacier view point is much before nugget falls. From the falls, viewing the glacier is difficult. We completed both the places in an hour and took lots of pictures, got some souvenirs and then called the taxi to head back to the Hotel where we had kept our luggage. Our hotel was best western and they have a good and free shuttle service to the airport, downtown. So we used the restrooms packed the unwanted stuff in our bags and asked them to drop us off at the airport. We already had the boarding passes, so we cleared security and then waited at the boarding gate. Just 30 mins before the departure, i noticed that my wife's seat number had come up in the upgrade list for the same flight, and this surprised me a bit. So we headed to the customer service counter and asked them to check this discrepancy. To our shock and surprise they said we don't have a valid ticket. So now the next 30 mins went in explaining the whole story that had unfolded in the last 2 days again. The staff was apologetic but said something had gone wrong in their system and they did not see our reservation. When we asked how we got boarding passes they had no clue. We were worried that if 4 seats are not available then this would mean either some would have to stay back and worse the next day's plan would be completely messed up. We were praying hard and asking them to check how we could go on the same flight. The announcement to close the gate was already made and they assured that without the clearance they would not allow the flight to leave. After 10 mins of calling multiple people, they managed to book us on the same flight and we somehow reached Anchorage that night. Once we reached we collected our bags from the baggage service area where they were stored for the last 2 days. having our bags gave a big relief as we did not have clothes and other necessary things beyond that day. We reached the accommodation that we had booked and went to sleep within 5 mins of reaching the place, as we had another hectic day ahead.


Day 3

This was the first day when we hoped there would be no trouble as we had nothing planned with american airlines ;-)

We were supposed to reach Barrow via Prudhoe bay. It was again an early morning flight but good thing was it was a day trip and we didn't have to carry any bags except the camera bags and jackets. The journey was smooth with a 30-40 mins stopover at Prudhoe Bay. When we touched down at Prudhoe Bay, the only distinctive colors were white or black (or blue black combinations). Most of the ground and sky was white and the only exception was the runway and few buildings owned by the oil corporations which were visible from the window. The flight to Barrow was also on time without any delays. Barrow is the northernmost point of Alaska and North America. The town is small and the only way to send supplies there is via flights or on barges that operate during the summer months (during winter the ocean freezes). Even the cars and heavy equipment has to be brought on barges (unless you are pretty rick to book it on the flights). There is no road connectivity. Most people there belong to the local tribes called Inupiat, although people from the lower 48 do spent a lot of time working in govt departments - TSA, police, hospitals, schools etc. The airport looks like a big shipping container and i read somewhere that it was built and then shipped. There are few chairs and 2 restrooms and some space for security screening and flight check-in. We had booked a day tour with the Top of the World Tundra Tours and luckily we found them waiting at the airport for picking up anyone staying with them (they didn't ask whether we were staying and we simply said we need to go to the hotel). Barrow is not a regular tourist destination, so seeing the town on your own can be challenging.

The hotel is quite big and has got a restaurant in it. We used the restroom to freshen up and then started for the tour around 12:00. The guide incidentally started his job with the tour company on the same day. When he told we looked at each other and smiled thinking whether this was going to be another adventure. But since he was a local native, he told many other things apart from the standard narrative. he took us around the town, showed us the school, hospital, water treatment center, cultural center, shops. Luckily we didn't find any Indian restaurant in Barrow, had we found one, that would have proved that there is no place where Indian's can't go (we still found one in Juneau, so that's good for now). We were done with the standard tour by 3, so were wondering what should be done for the next hours, so he asked if we wanted to go around then he would take us the road that reaches the sea (what is frozen for now). So we agreed and after 30 mins we reached a spot where he indicated that this is where the road ends and after it is the frozen water. We walked on it for few mins and then returned back as he said he was unarmed and didn't want to take any risk with anything unexpected.

On the return journey we stopped at an old mine like area and where all the construction equipment was kept for winters. Then we also stopped at a beach like area, where we would see water in the summers. All this took us to 5:00 PM and we headed back to the hotel. After eating a bean burger we were dropped by the hotel shuttle at the airport. Being a small flight they didn't started until it was 15 mins to departure. The captain announced that we would reach almost 20-30 mins before scheduled arrival and we were happy on hearing this until the plane started to go towards the runway and we heard a screaming sound. One of the passengers had developed seizure and he hit his head against the seat and blood started to come out. Soon the crew called the captain and asked him to stop and the plane took a u-turn and came back. Within 10 mins the paramedics had come along with the police. The passenger accompanying him told them that she was taking him to Anchorage for treatment itself. Eventually they deplaned him and took him to the hospital. All this took almost 30 mins and we were on the way back as per the original schedule. When we reached Anchorage it was still sunny after 10 PM and except for an hour or two when it was a little dark, it was bright all the time.

Frozen Ocean water
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An artist tried to create palm tree structures
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North Pole is not very far off
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School
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Local govt office
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Bowhead Whale bone structure
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Views of Ocean
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Heritage/Cultural Center
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Wiley Post Memorial
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Last edited by Rehaan : 1st June 2017 at 13:06. Reason: Adding some formatting
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Old 30th May 2017, 05:15   #3
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Day 4:

This was originally supposed to be our unplanned day and we were going to explore Anchorage and do some bear watching. But due to the first two days, we ended up booking the Seward/Kenai tour for this day. Our train was supposed to leave at 6:45 in the morning and while we had picked up a rental from the airport the previous night, we were not sure of the parking options, so we called a taxi and reached by 6:00 AM. The tickets mentioned that we would be undergoing an airport type of security screening even for the train journey but when we asked at the check-in counter, the staff told us that nothing like this happens. Had we known we would have got our own car with 10-15 mins to spare, but since we were already there we had some bagels and coffee/tea as nothing else was available so early. We didn't have hopes of getting something on the train as most of the menu was out of scope for us. So we ended up having some nuts and some snacks we had brought along with us. Total travel time was around 4+ hours and our arrival at Seaward was around 11:00 AM. The journey is quite scenic and the train guide kept describing the views on both sides all along the journey. We saw some moose and dall sheep and some bald eagles along the way. Our guide was very helpful in spotting them for us. The mountain and lake/river/sea views were very beautiful and we could have kept clicking pictures throughout the journey. Each second/minute we saw a different view and being a sunny day it was amazing to see the snow capped mountains throughout our journey. Our journey took us through some places where there were no roads running parallel to the tracks and we even saw a glacier from a distance. There were some tiny waterfalls and we kept moving throughout the train to keep clicking. The doors of the trains had an open window section for anyone to look out and take pictures and there is also a dome car on the second level where you can see a 360 degree view. Plus you can also go to the end of the train and stand at the back with an open view behind. After we reached Seward, there was a shuttle bus that took us to the docks and we took our tickets for the Major Marine Kenai Fjords national park tour. There is another tour company that does a similar tour at the same price as these folks but don't have a national park ranger onboard.

The cruise started at 11:30 and ended at 6:00 PM as the train would depart at 6:30 PM. The boat is quite big and can hold around 150 people and has 3 levels. The lower level opens up in the front whereas the top level was a lot open but windy too. The initial journey was quite fast and after 30 mins the captain slowed down to see some eagles and sea lions. So we went near them with as less engine noise as possible and then moved on further. The weather wasn't great as it was cloudy and misty all the time, but we still moved on hoping the weather would improve. After some time we went through some rocks which looked like towers near each other. We again moved on and the captain exclaimed that he saw a spout, so there must be a humpback around us. We kept looking and soon saw the tail slapping couple of times. After waiting for sometime and clicking pictures the captain announced that we must head to the tidal water glacier that was one of the attractions of the tour. So we headed quickly and then slowed down as we were near to it. Once the mist cleared it turned out to be one of the most amazing sights to see. Mendenhall glacier view point is quite far from the glacier, but this one was very close. Soon the captain asked us to be quite as we would get to hear the cracking of ice blocks from the glacier and soon we started hearing the cracking sounds clearly. Suddenly one of the tourist shouted that there was a big chunk of ice falling down and soon everyone had pointed their camera's in that direction. It was an amazing and unique experience as we never had seen such a thing before. Once everyone was done clicking pictures, we headed back as we were more than halfway into our tour. We had some macaroni and bean soup during this time and then heard that the captain had see some orca's (killer whales). In Juneau we had not see Orca's so we were excited and went out to find almost 15-20 orca's playing with each other and swimming around our boat. We saw them jump in and out of the water although none of them did a complete flip in the air. But what we saw was better than just seeing the humpback tails. Parts of the journey had lot of bumps in the water and many of the people had sea sickness (best to take medicine before starting off if you have sea sickness).

Eventually we reached the dock and the shuttle bus was ready to leave. We asked if we could get something from the Subway next door but were told that we would not have enough time. So we left in a hurry skipping most of the meals of the day towards the train and then started back to Anchorage. The train has a two classes - adventure and gold class (with the latter one being expensive). We had taken adventure class and we had the option of dining in the gold class car if we bought dinner from them. On enquiring if we could get an vegetarian options we were told that they have one option and could customize others. So after sometime the conductor took us to the dining car and we spent almost an hour having dinner, chatting and then returned out coach. Our coach was not entirely occupied and we had the option to moving into 3 other cars freely as they had lot of empty spaces. There was lot of daylight and while we clicked some pictures, towards the last hour we decided to take a break and sleep for sometime. Soon we reached Anchorage and were off to the place where we were staying as it was the last night in Anchorage.

View from the train
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Mountains enroute to Seward
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Few more mountains
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Spicy boat in Seward :P
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Train view from the open windows
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Burnt trees preserved by saltwater
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Sea lions lying around the rocks
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View from the back of the train
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Dall sheep ,expert rock climbers
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Spire like structures in the rocks
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Seagull in the water
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Flowing water turned into ice
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Bird on the rock in the Kenai Fjords
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Mountain views from the train
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Part of the humpback
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Fins of the orca's
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Glacier view from the train
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Another view of the glacier
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As we leave behind one of the 5 tunnels on the route
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Bald eagle trying to get some food
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Tidal water glacier
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Glacier view as we leave it behind
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Snow still present in the higher altitudes
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Engine view of our train. the photo has been taken from the rear coach of the train
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Another group of Orca's
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Some random waterfall turned into ice
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Window view in the evening while returning from Seward
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Last edited by Rehaan : 1st June 2017 at 13:09. Reason: Adding some formatting
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Old 30th May 2017, 08:09   #4
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Day 5:

This was when we were going to start our land journeys leaving behind the worries of plane travel. We already had our car picked up 2 nights before, so we loaded all our bags into the boot and started around 10:00 AM. We had got a Chevy Tahoe (7 seater) but since we were only 4 folded the rear seats and got some extra space for our 10 bags. The car came with a tank full of gas, so we didn't have to refill it till we reached our destination. Our first stop was going to be Talkeetna (around 120 miles from Anchorage). Google maps was showing the arrival time as 12:30, including our stop midway for coffee. Our Tahoe came with apple car play as well as navigation and as such the car was quite good. It was a 2017 model with < 5000 miles on it and with leather interiors. Tyres were new so we didn't have any trouble with the road bumps or potholes either. Our plan for the day was to take a flight tour of Denali with a glacier landing. The total tour time was around 2.5 hrs with 30 mins on the glacier. We called the tour company (k2 Aviation) and told them of our arrival time and reached 5 mins before time. On arrival we headed to check-in when we were told that the weather didn't look good for doing a landing on the glacier. Also they had cut down on the overall tour duration to only 1 hr. While we were not very happy they did say that the cost would be as per the tour conducted and not what was charged. They asked if we wanted to wait for the 3 PM tour to see if the weather clears. While we were skeptical, we still decided to wait for 2 hrs and thought of having lunch. So after grabbing a quick bite at the nearby pizza center, we headed back to check on the weather. Their office is close to the railroad boarding area and we saw about 5 buses from princess tours who had come to collect their passengers on the land tours as part of the cruise. When we checked-in the weather was still not good, so we had the option of coming back some other day (which we didn't have based on our plan) or cancel or do the 1 hr tour.

We decided that after coming so far if we don't do it, then the whole effort is wasted. So we boarded the small flight, which had around 9 people including the pilot. He explained the safety procedure and also told that he would not be doing any landing as the exit routes were not clear, in case a storm started up in the mountains. It had been snowing lightly since morning, so he did a customized route for 1 hr explaining the various features of the mountains, glaciers, rivers etc. He also showed us the landing site and how the construction workers had to mark their area for their supply planes/helicopters to land. 1 hr went by quickly and we were back in our cars heading towards Fairbanks, which was about 5 hrs from there (<300 miles). We had booked an apartment via airbnb, so once we reached we headed into it and thought of retiring for the day. We had also read about northern lights being visible clearly from Fairbanks, so when we checked the probability, it turned out that the chances of seeing it was very high. What we did not realize was that they would be visible only on dark nights and that since Fairbanks is up north it would be almost 24 hr daylight. So we slept till 12:30 and then started to head towards one of the viewing areas (a mobile tower location). After waiting for an hour we decided to go to another place and waited for another 2 hrs. All this took the clock to 3:30 and that's when we realized that it's not going to be dark before sunrise (at 3:30 AM it was looking like sunrise). So we decided to drop the plan and get some sleep as we had a long drive planned for the next day.

I have been experimenting with watermarks, so please bear with the unusual locations and size

Planes from window of our plane
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Another plane
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Another flight landing
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Mountains from 5000 ft
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Mountains as we near Denali ranges
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Glacier valley view
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The brown mud actually has glacier ice below it
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Everything below is ice
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The mud is actually covering the glacier ice
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The blue spots are melt water in the glacier
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Rock structures in the glacier valley
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Melting snow
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View during the return journey
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Forest near Talkeetna
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Highway to Fairbanks
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View from Denali south view
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This is mount denali from the south view
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_122118.jpg

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Old 31st May 2017, 09:45   #5
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Day 6:

We are halfway into our vacation and well past the initial adventure with American. Now its time for the adventure we had really planned for - driving on the Dalton highway. After seeing tv shows about this road, we had second thoughts (it has featured on Ice Road truckers). But nevertheless we decided to go for it. While it might look bad, but its still easier than driving on our roads in Himachal or near Ladakh. The conditions Indian drivers go through are far more tougher than what one can experience here. Even the IRTs had lot of trouble driving in their episodes in India. The Dalton highway is named after James Dalton, who served as a oil explorer and consultant and is around 415 miles long. It starts after sometime north of Fairbanks and goes till Prudhoe bay or Deadhorse (which is end of the road) and is the northernmost connected road in Alaska. All other regions are disconnected compared to this. It was constructed years back while the oil pipeline was being constructed. These days its primarily used to supply food and other essential supplies to Prudhoe bay and mostly has trucks as daily haulers apart from few tourists who think of driving so far.

While the roads stops in Deadhorse, it does not reach the Arctic ocean directly. Being a govt regulated area, if you want to see the ocean water, then you need to take a shuttle from Deadhorse by paying a fee and clearing security. This shuttle is however active only for few months in a year (starts end of May). The road goes through the mountain ranges of Brooks range and the highest point is Atigun pass. We had gone to Barrow earlier and the shuttle was not available, we planned going only till Atigun pass. We saw day tours organized by companies in Fairbanks, who would pick us up early in the morning and get back to Fairbanks by midnight, doing a tour of Arctic circle, stopping in Coldfoot. But this would mostly be inside a van full of people with no control over the journey. So we had decided to rent a car ourselves and drive till the pass and come back.

It is not advisable for anyone new to Dalton, do this trip in a single day. So we started looking for accommodation near Coldfoot. The Coldfoot camp has many simple rooms, converted from the erstwhile truck stop rooms into tourist accommodation. The cost is around 200$ plus maybe some tax. The pictures did not make it look interesting, so we started looking for lodges and full units on airbnb, but did not find any accomodation. In the end we found two lodges in Wiseman - Boreal Lodging and Arctic Getaway. Boreal lodge had a full wooden lodge available for the day we wanted while the other one did not have vacancy. So after looking at the pictures we decided to book it. We contacted the owner via email and booked with a 50% deposit. The owner was very informative and provided lot of information on the lodge and area. 50% done and that left the other 50% and the most important part - how we would travel. Hertz and Enterprise do not allow their cars to be taken on unpaved roads. The farthest we could go was Fairbanks. So we found two rental companies who had rentals for any unpaved roads - GoNorth and Arctic outfitters. The former had a wide selection of cars, while the latter had only shown ford escapes on their website. Cost wise they probably were a lot similar. But we had many bags which would not fit in a smaller SUV, and though we asked GoNorth for the Jeep Cherokee, on their advice we booked a 7 seater SUV (and we did not regret the decision).

Fast forward to the day of travel, we were supposed to pick up the car from the Fairbanks office after 10:00 AM (they work only mon-Fri 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM). The previous night had been stressful (in terms of searching an invisible aurora ), so we got up by 9 and rushed through the morning chores and reached the rental office around 10:30. The rental office was not far off and we saw that there were multiple large SUVs lined up in the parking slots in addition to some campers and trailers. Each car had some name written on the opened sun visor and we thought that they were names of customers (one of them had Arya and we thought that's an Indian name ). So while going inside we were looking for our names in each of the cars, but could not find it. Disappointed with not seeing our name, we asked for the staff inside and soon a person came out with some keys and said he'll get the documentation ready. I had paid a deposit while booking, so the remaining balance plus a 500$ initial damage coverage was due. The rental is split into multiple parts - car rental + charges for miles driven in multiples of 100 mies, damage waiver (for >2000$ of damage), VIP coverage (covers damage in excess of 500$ plus glass and tires), CB radio (if needed). We opted till the VIP coverage as we had seen videos of cars getting cracked windshields, dents from rocks flying off the trucks, tire damage etc. So that left a deposit of 500 + the rental balance (we prepaid 700 miles for the round trip). When we came out he pointed to a Nissan Armada which had Tethys written on it and he indicated that it was the name given to the car. So now we knew why our names were no on the car. He gave a quick walkthrough of the car noting dents, scratches, chips in the windshield etc. Gas was filled by them, so we signed the papers and were also told that the car had to be washed and cleaned before returning it. We thought this would be as easy as getting into an automated car wash and coming out clean in 3-4 mins. We had gone in our car, so we asked if we could park ours in their parking. He pointed to a free space at the corner. We parked our car and then left for home. It was almost 11:30 and it took another 30 mins to get everything packed up in the new car and drive off. We had basic breakfast in the morning, so thought of picking up some foot at the local store like bread, fruits etc. We also picked up coffee and started around 1 PM with the hope of reaching by 8 PM in Wiseman.

The first few miles were paved roads and we were eagerly looking for the Dalton highway signboard. Once you enter the highway, the first fuel stop is at Yukon river camp, next at Coldfoot and the last one at Prudhoe bay. So we fueled up at every chance we found on the highway as we were nearing the start of the Dalton highway. As the paved roads ended, we knew we were there and soon we saw ourselves standing in front of the signpost. We took some pictures and suddenly heard some noise and saw that a truck had passed at high speeds leaving a dust trail behind. So whatever we had heard was somewhat coming true. We started off and continue for few hours before reaching Yukon river camp. The road goes through the ups and downs of the mountains and has hardly a single lane in many places. We stopped each time we saw a truck approaching. It is not recommended that you cross a truck at high speeds even when there is enough space in your lane(there are no markings). The trucks come at almost 50-60 mph even on the slopes, so rocks and mud are bound to hit your car from all directions (they can overtake you as well if you are slow). On dry roads it would only be dust but there are many patches where they spray water to avoid the dust and this makes your car coated in mud. As per road rules the right of the way is with trucks and they respect this fact if you stop for them. Most of them wave their hands appreciating the fact that you stopped for them (a small portion don't care). The defined speed limit is 50 mph although is most sections you won't be able to go beyond 30 mph unless you want to experience a jumping road. At many places our SUV was in air for 1-2 seconds as there were too many continuous bumps and it was really difficult to control the speed even at 30 mph being downhill. We saw hardly 15-20 trucks towards coldfoot although this number increases during summer and probably winter (due to increased supply requirements). We didn't see any cops on the route although there were maintenance patrol cars going up and down the route (who would want a daily bumpy ride messing up with the trucks and with your car too).

So we continued on the highway stopping at Yukon river, filled up gas (which was really expensive), took some coffee and then headed to Coldfoot. On the way we saw the Arctic circle signboard and we were happy to know that we had finally crossed a big milestone. We stopped to take some pictures and looked around for the visitor center where we could get the certificates, but could not find anything. Still wanted to reach on time, we continued to Coldfoot and reached it around 8:30 PM. We again refuelled, took some snacks and then headed for Wiseman finally reaching around 9:30. The lodge was 3 miles off the highway along a river stream and eventually we found ourselves at their office. There are few small houses in Wiseman and few big ones. This property had rental cabins as well as lodges. We checked in with the owner and got the keys. After unpacking our bags we were having dinner and chit chatting. It was around 11:30 when we decided to go to bed and went out for a final walk around the lodge, only see the sky full of daylight. We clicked some pictures and turned down the curtains to create some darkness before retiring for the day.

Starting the dalton trip
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This is good portion of the unpaved road
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View at a photo stop
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Gas kiosk
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Old route map in the shop
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Condition of the Armada
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Condition after some more mud tasting
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There are some sections where the road has not broken down and still has some tar left on it. This is where you can make up time.
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-20170518_2035259.jpg

Post office in coldfoot camp
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Another photo stop
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View behind our cabin around 11:45 PM
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Our cabin from inside
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View from the next morning behind our cabin
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Tyres that will make your ride a safer one with so many potholes, mud and water
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_085115.jpg

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Old 1st June 2017, 09:13   #6
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Day 7:

We woke up comfortably in the morning around 8 AM to see a similar view as that of before going to sleep . We had time till around 11 AM in the morning to check-out but since we had to travel further north for 1-2 hrs, we decided to get out by 10:30, since we were going to travel back to Fairbanks as well (another 6-7 hrs in addition to the 4 hrs spent in going north and coming back. We had breakfast and were chatting for a sometime when we realized that 6-7 days had passed off in no time and we only had few things to be done before our vacation came to an end. The thought of ending the vacation was not great but all good things have limited time and unless we ended this one, another new adventure would not start off.So around 10:30 as per the plan, we packed up and met the owner to say goodbye. On the previous day we had not found the visitor center for BLM (Bureau of Land Management) which gave the arctic circle certificates, so we thought of asking her. To our surprise we found that she herself worked at the visitor center and that it was not near the arctic circle but in coldfoot camp. However it was closed and would re-open by end of the month. So we asked if we could contact them after May for getting the certificates. Instead she suggested that she could check as the center had opened for office staff who was travelling north for re-opening it to visitors and would help us in getting the certificates by post. We were more than happy to get them this way and thanked her for going out of the way to help us.

We stopped for couple of mins near the river in Wiseman for some photos and finally headed north on the Dalton highway. Atigun pass. The lodge told us that it was around 60 miles from Wiseman and around 20 miles of it has some paved roads and that it takes around 3-4 hrs for a round-trip. Traffic was minimal initially except for 2-3 truck and some maintenance vehicles. The initial 15-20 miles was covered quickly only to encounter the patchy roads again for the next 40 miles. The somewhat flat landscape was slowing turning into mountainous one as we moved further. The Atigun pass lies in the brooks range of Alaska and is probably the highest point of the dalton. After some time we came up to muddy patches on the highway and soon we were going to water, ice, mud mix. At one point we could see mountains approaching and something moving up high in the mountains, that eventually turned out to be a truck. We crossed Chandalar and the pass was around 6 miles from it. Around this time we started climbing the mountain range. I had initially put the car in Auto for 4WD, but since the slush was getting more and more troublesome, i stopped and engaged full time 4WD, just in case it started to slip. The only time i have engaged 4WD in the US so far was in Yosemite, when there was a snow blizzard and almost every vehicle was slipping, so didn't want to take any chances. We kept looking for a signpost that said Atigun pass and even checked the odometer to see how far we had come from Chandalar. We passed by 4-5 food trucks on the way, who happily waved us by as we stopped to give them the preference. Railings have been installed on the valley side of the highway as the road gains elevation. Though there was enough space for two vehicles to pass through at many points, its best to give them the way as you never know when the truck slips and comes down on your with full force.

In magazines and booklets about Dalton, there is a recommendation that you should check the CB Radio channel used by the trucks and see if anyone is coming down. The rental staff suggested that traffic had reduced over the years and this being not so peak season, the need for renting a CB radio was not there. We were not in a hurry so we continued for few minutes before stopping at a somewhat high point in the mountains where there was lot of space along the sizes of the road (it looked like a parking area but with no markers). We checked the GPS to see if we had reached the pass as there was no signpost. As per google maps we had crossed the so called point (technically we were well beyond the mileage from the last milepost sign). We took some pictures and thought of going further to see if there would be a signpost. After another mile we were going down the hills and then reached the conclusion that we had crossed the point of the pass and that we were going past it into the valley further. We stopped at another point where there was lot of space for parking, took some pictures and eventually started back.

Return journey again took around 1.5 hrs to Wiseman (another 60 miles). We passed Wiseman but did not stop as we wanted to refill in Coldfoot Camp. After refuelling we started back, saying goodbye to Coldfoot and Northern Alaska and started our journey back to Fairbanks. We had anticipated arrival by 10 PM. We stopped again at the Arctic Circle, took some photos and kept travelling stopping at Coldfoot Camp and Yukon River camp, just for coffee (we had enough gas to reach Fairbanks, so didn't need to get it at twice the cost). We had picked up a bean burger in coldfoot camp for lunch and at one point we were stopped by maintenance for some construction work. We used this opportunity to finish off our lunch. A maintenance patrol car came down and asked the people working there on what was holding us (ours was the only car for miles together except for theirs), and they instructed the workers to let us go slowly. Further towards the evening we reached the starting point of the Dalton highway where two truckers had stopped to check their tires and other equipment before starting their journey. We were taking parting pictures of the dalton when one of them approached and said he could take a picture of all of us. More than happy, we gave the camera to him and he clicked some pictures and while returning the camera he said not all truckers are idiots (he used a different word though), to which we laughed and then left thanking him. On the paved road it was a different story with no trucker caring about whether you stopped or gave them the right of way, which made us realize that difficlut situations introduce varied behaviours amonst us. We reached Fairbanks around the 10:20 PM, removed everything from the armada and had one of last few packs fom the ready to eat food that we had taken.

This leaves 3 more days of the trip (to be added in the 2-3 days)

Funny sign in wiseman (first two are actual locations, last one is not)
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Near Atigun pass
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Enroute to Atigun pass
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Another photo stop
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Near atigun pass
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Stopped at atigun pass
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Snow still present on the mountains
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Remaining snow patches in some areas
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View ahead of Atigun pass
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Mountain views
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Not sure what exactly was written on these pipes
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Another view after crossing the pass
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Paved section on the dalton
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Pipeline snakes through the mountains
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Give a clear car to the dalton and this is what you get in return :P
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Another view of the natural free paint
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_0862_li19.jpg

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Old 1st June 2017, 13:18   #7
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Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section). Thanks for sharing!
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Old 2nd June 2017, 05:46   #8
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Day 8:
This was more of a relaxed day, as our only goal was to reach Denali National Park. We had two cars, so the Gonorth car had to be washed and returned before getting our enterprise rental. The mud on the car had dried and looked like it was baked in the sun. It seemed that a trip to the car wash would resolve the problem. So we started looking for car washes and after going through reviews we decided to go the one nearest to us. We asked a neighbor in the apartment who had a big truck and he too pointed us in the same direction. When we reached there it turned out to be a self service car wash. We parked inside the washing bay and looked at the instructions. It looked easy (as i did lot of DIY car detailing on my car in India), but we started as per their instructions. The machine is operated on quarters and 12 quarters makes it run for 3 mins. You can keep changing settings in between as long as you keep adding quarters. The first 6 mins didn't help in anyway as the thick layer of mud was reluctant to come off. We tried high pressure to foam soaking. After those 6 mins we decided to wait to let the foam soak, and then used the pressure mode followed by foam brush. A local person came to us looking at our dissatisfaction and suggested that if we haven't use this one before its better to let it soak for longer, followed by brush and then high pressure. The next 2 hours went in doing this repeatedly and after spending almost 40+ dollars we managed to get it clean. But what we forgot was the floor mats which had a good amount of dried mud. So we had to go over a vacuum cleaner followed by high pressure wash, and then another high pressure wash in the bay. On a day with no work, this could mean fun, but we ended up spoiling our clothes and wasting time that we were supposed to spend in Fairbanks.

So around 1:30 we were back at our apartment after spending almost 50$. When you rent with Gonorth, there is a min 4 day rental requirement, and since we wanted the car only for 2 days ,we decided to pay for 4 days but return after 2 days of use. They are closed on weekends, so we dropped the car, took pictures for our satisfaction and dropped the keys in the drop box outside their office and got our car back. Loading everything took another 30 mins and since we not had any lunch so far, we decided to stop at a mall to get lunch. We found a pizza shop nearby and realized that it also had Indian food. So we gave the order and went for some mall hopping as the cook needed 35-40 mins to prepare the food. We went the mall and came back to get started with our lunch.

We had 2 hours on hand as Denali was around 2.5 hrs from Fairbanks. So we decided to go to the visitor center in Fairbanks. There was nothing much to do apart from watch a movie being played there, so we took a walk along the river behind it and then decided to start for Fairbanks.

Weather wasn't in our favour and it became a mix of sunshine with rain all along. Roads were mostly empty except for some vehicles. We reached Denali around 7 PM and our booking was at the Grand Denali lodge. It is located on a hill on the highway. As you enter their drive, you will see funky signs all along the way to the hotel area. We had a mountain view room, so we quickly checked-in and asked the hotel desk on what we could do till bedtime. They suggested that we should do self drive within Denali National Park as vehicles are allowed till mil 15. Till the day before we arrived cars were allowed till mile 30, but i guess since their own bus tour started on the day of our arrival, they would have limited personal vehicles.The park is open 24x7 and is manned by park rangers at the specific mileposts. It was nearing 8 PM, so we decided to have dinner in their restaurant and then head out in the park. We headed out around 9 PM into the park and saw some caribou and birds on the way to milepost 15. There is a round trip trail at milepost 15 and while we did go to some extent, there was lot of snow due to which they had cut off the trail. We had to come back from that point and we started our trip back to the hotel. The sun was above the mountains and this created reddish tinge in the snow on the mountain caps, creating an amazing sight. We again saw some caribou and birds on the way back and returned to the hotel as we had to get ready for the Tundra wilderness tour with the national park. We had enquired with the hotel reception and they put us on the bus pickup from the hotel itself. We decided to park the car in the hotel, so that we could come back on the shuttle and have lunch and then leave.

Baked in dirt
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Another view of what we had to clean
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After the wash
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visitor center
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river behind the visitor center
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Sunset around 10 PM in Denali
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_13948.jpg

Another sunset view
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_09017.jpg
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Old 2nd June 2017, 09:24   #9
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Day 9:

We had booked the 7:30 AM tundra wilderness tour in Denali, so we had to start getting up by 5:30, as the bus would come at the hotel around 7:15. We had packed up everything the previous night, so the only thing left to do was get ready and pack the remaining items. By the time we reached the hotel reception it was nearing 7 AM. We somehow loaded everything in the car, locked it up and then headed to the cafe to get some coffee and snacks before boarding the bus. We didn't have time to collect anything for lunch, but in the bus we found a box full of snacks for each passenger. The tour also provided water in eco friendly metal containers (to avoid using plastic bottles).

We departed the lodge by 7:20 and reached the wilderness activity center to pick up another group of people. Once everyone was onboard, we started heading into the national park. The driver mentioned that this was his second tour of the season and he would be the tour guide throughout the 6 hour park tour. He also mentioned that while animal sighting may not be guaranteed, he would do his best to give lot of time in case we saw any wild animals. The first 15 miles was similar to what we saw the previous night. We reached the first check post at Savage river stop. The national park ranger boarded the bus and gave a quick welcome into the park and then we were off to the actual tour. The total distance into the park is around 53 miles during the first few days of the tour, after which it extends to mile 62 and there is another tour that extends till mile 92 (during the peak season). We paid around 103$ per person for the tour. We already had the annual national park pass, so got a refund on the park entrance fees.

Once we started getting to the deeper areas of the park, our guide cum driver started explaining the park history, details of the park, type of animals, plus doing some q&a from the passengers. During the initial part of the tour we saw some caribou, moose and some birds (mostly ptarmigans). After some time we also saw some Dall sheep, then again some moose and caribou. Our next stop was Teklanika river stop for 15 mins. We stretched our legs, took a restroom break and then headed further. We went through the polychrome pass and also saw a lone wolf in front of the bus. The driver stopped the bus and he simply moved on without bothering about us. We then reached the final stop of our tour which was the Toklat river stop. There was a small gift stop and there were some moose horns kept outside on the benches, with which we took some funny pictures. Our bus had also stopped before this stop for view into the valley, where we had taken pictures before reaching Toklat.

So far we had not seen any grizzly bears (for which all of us were waiting eagerly). Our driver mentioned that being the early season, the chances of seeing a bear are quite low, but we should not lose hope till we are out of the park. The day before he had seen a bear just near the entrance, so we were hoping that our return journey would show us some bears. We started our journey back after purchasing some souvenirs and the next 1 hour was pretty boring (as we were losing hopes of seeing a bear). At this point most of the people had lost hopes that any bear would be seen when suddenly a passenger shouted that she had seen a bear. Excited our driver stopped and started moving back and forth and then we saw a big bear far away from us in the valley trying to dig for something and then moved near the river. The bus had a long zoom video camera which was connected to the screens within the bus and the driver said that he would try to get it on the camera and the screens for us to see easily. Within seconds we could see the bear on the tv screens and that it was digging for roots before it went near the river looking for food. We were happy that we had finally see a bear even though we were at the end of our tour.

We clicked pictures and then decided to move on as there was another bus waiting behind us to take some pictures. We reached the teklanika river stop and the driver told us that we could try to use zoom cameras to see if the bear was visible from the rest stop viewpoint. We managed to get it on the camera and could see that it had found a hare for food and was carrying it in its mouth and trying to cross the river. After 15 mins started back and we had hardly gone ahead for 10 mins when another passenger shouted that there was another bear near the river. This time the driver reversed the bus for about 2 mins into a position where we could see the bear. This bear was much closer that the previous one and while it was in the valley we could see it through the opening in the trees. This one too was digging for roots and the driver kept reversing back and forth till everyone on the bus could see it properly. After 10 mins we decided to move on as there were 2 buses waiting behind us and one training bus in the opposite direction. Happy and excited after seeing 2 bears, we started back and reached the Savage river stop and then continued towards the exit. We again saw some caribou towards the exit. We were supposed to go to the lodge from the park, but then decided to stay back at the visitor center to see if there were any ranger led programs. We had heard about a dog sledge ranger program, but when we reached the visitor center, it turned out that program had already started and we could not make it. We saw a movie at the visitor center and then decided to take a shuttle back to the lodge.

Once we reached the lodge, we had some snacks and then started our journey back to Anchorage around 5 PM. Anchorage is around 4-5 hrs from Denali this time too the weather was not that great, with a mix of rain and sunshine, but we didn't have anything else to see or do, so we continue at a good pace and finally reached anchorage by 9:30 PM just stopped once for filling up gas. The view got better as we were nearing Anchorage with snow capped mountains in the backdrop and lakes and river bodies on the sides. We had again booked an apartment through airbnb, so we checked into it, had dinner and decided to go to bed. This was our last night in Alaska and we were trying to recollect what all we had gone through. While the first 2 days had been a nightmare the days to follow somehow made up for those 2 days.

view from the hotel
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_097416.jpg

entrance to the lodge reception
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_100117.jpg

another tour bus (ours was a similar one)
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_14072.jpg

caribou
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mr. moose
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ptarmigan
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Dall sheep
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near the rest stop
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eagle looking for food
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_15278.jpg

caribou
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mr wolf
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bear #1
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another view of bear #1
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_164814.jpg

bear #2
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_166415.jpg

the lodge
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_100318.jpg

mountains in the park
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moose status in the visitor
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bear statue in the visitor center
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_0953-212.jpg
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Old 2nd June 2017, 11:33   #10
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Default Re: Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America

A truly beautiful travelogue for sure!

Was glued to it from start to end.

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Originally Posted by aditya_rao View Post
One of the passengers had developed seizure and he hit his head against the seat and blood started to come out. Soon the crew called the captain and asked him to stop and the plane took a u-turn and came back. Within 10 mins the paramedics had come along with the police
That's a scary incident. Hope he is fine though.

Quote:
In Juneau we had not see Orca's so we were excited and went out to find almost 15-20 orca's playing with each other and swimming around our boat. We saw them jump in and out of the water although none of them did a complete flip in the air.
Amazing creatures from what I've seen on Nat Geo and Discovery

Quote:
Our cabin from inside
Beautiful cabin among the woods keeping you close to nature.

The bear in the wild and the magnificent landscapes and the Alaskan mountains reminded me of 'The Revenant'.

Truly amazing photos and well written travelogue. Probably a perfect way to spend 9 days when you need a getaway.

That's a lot of trouble you went through with the flights. Though seems like it was a great trip overall, and something you guys weren't thinking about much during the trip.

Keep travelling. Keep posting.
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Old 2nd June 2017, 20:38   #11
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Arrow Re: Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America

Loved going through your travelogue!

I've never been to Alaska myself. Maybe sometime in the future, if only to drive on the Dalton Highway.
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Old 2nd June 2017, 23:41   #12
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Default Re: Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America

Thanks for sharing .

Few questions:

1. Can you kill a bear there for fun and get away with it ?

2. What is the economy of Alaska ? Always wondered how people there have any economic significance in the world map ? I think Bangalore in today's world is more relevant ?

3. Is Alaska and British Columbia equivalent in scenery ?
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Old 3rd June 2017, 04:52   #13
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Default Re: Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America

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Originally Posted by aah78 View Post
Loved going through your travelogue!

I've never been to Alaska myself. Maybe sometime in the future, if only to drive on the Dalton Highway.
Yes, it's a place worthwhile visiting at least once. I would love to the complete Dalton highway one more time
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Old 3rd June 2017, 05:26   #14
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Default Re: Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America

Quote:
Originally Posted by D33-PAC View Post
Thanks for sharing .

Few questions:

1. Can you kill a bear there for fun and get away with it ?

2. What is the economy of Alaska ? Always wondered how people there have any economic significance in the world map ? I think Bangalore in today's world is more relevant ?

3. Is Alaska and British Columbia equivalent in scenery ?
1. I think unless you have a hunting license, a bear may be killed only in self defence as long as you have taken all safety precautions. The federal websites would provide more detailed rules/regulations about hunting.

2. In terms of economy Alaska has lot of natural resources and Oil/natural gas and during summers it's popular as a Tourist destination. It may not come on the world map, but Bangalore's prominence is more in IT than other sectors.

3. British Columbia is next to Juneau and other southern Alaskan cities on the map, so the western landscapes would be similar to these cities, but in general Canada has lot of scenic beauty.
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Old 3rd June 2017, 06:54   #15
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Default Re: Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America

Day 10:

This was the last day of our trip and time to get back to our daily schedule. We did not plan but thought of going around 1 or 2 places around Anchorage. While returning from Denali we had seen sign boards to Mirror Lake, so a quick search let us know that it wasn't far off (around 40-50 mins from where were stayed). So after breakfast and packing up, we locked the apartment and started for Mirror lake. We had also read about Thunderbird falls, which was hardly 5 mins from mirror lake. After taking the wrong exit, we finally reached mirror lake. There was only one other family there and we hadn't planned on staying for long, so taking a few pictures we started for the falls which was very close. On reaching the parking area, we had to pay a parking fee of $5 through the envelope system (enclose cash in the envelope and deposit it in the box). There was a hike to be taken, so we started and after 25-30 mins we reached the view point. The photos of the falls were somewhat different from what we saw and we felt there was no thunder in it (similar to how other things are exaggerated here).

So disappointed we started back and decided to head for the airport instead of doing something else. Within the next hour we reached the airport stopped only for filling up gas and returned the vehicle. Return process hardly took 5 mins and we got the receipts emailed. We reached the check-in area and tried to use the self check-in option. However since we did not have the Alaska airline PNR (since it was an American ticket), we had to go to the check-in counter. What we had not thought was our day had reference to American airlines. At this point we were around 2.5 hrs from departure. When we showed the tickets to the agent, she kept checking something and then said that we supposed to fly from Seattle, so why were we at Anchorage. Startled we looked at each other that the nightmare was about to start again. We showed her the booking and the itinerary and for the next 10-15 mins we kept arguing on how our tickets were not valid. We asked her to call the reservation team. After being on the phone she said she had managed to located 2 tickets but for the other two we will have to call American helpdesk as they had wiped out our itinerary from Anchorage to Seattle. Within minutes she handed over the two boarding passes and said she can't help with the other two. We decided we would not move and called up the American helpdesk who said there was nothing wrong with the third ticket. We asked the Alaska agent to call her supervisor and ask him to check one more time. This time we made her explain the entire situation and suddenly she was able to find the third ticket. She also checked in the bags, (2 bags went free as they were on my frequent flier listing) and we had to pay for the third. All this took us to 1 hr before departure and the agent said even if we call the helpdesk for the third ticket we might miss the flight. We kept insisting and after calling few other people she was able to find the 4th ticket as well. She kept blaming american for the problem, so as soon as we got all boarding passes we had to rush for security and then to be boarding gate. As soon as we reached the gate, more than 50% of the passengers had already boarded and we just managed to grab something to eat and rushed to get in. The flight departed on time and we reached Seattle, got our boarding passes with lot of time for dinner. Seattle airport seemed quite big and we could see lot of Indians too (passengers and manning the shops too). So after having dinner we went back and took the non stop flight to Philadelphia thinking what would be our next destination. The flight landed on time and while we were happy to be back, but still not happy to end the vacation. This was the first time we had take a long vacation within US and i'll just summarize what we did:

Total duration - 11 days
Miles flown - 10000+
Total driving days - 5
Miles driven - 1600-1700 approx

I don't know if any other Indian folks have gone to Barrow before and walked on the frozen ocean, but if not then we would like to make that claim . I know that many people have travelled to Deadhorse, so that's become a very common destination, but Barrow is something i haven't heard from any Indian.

That's all from this adventure

Thank you for reading through this, keep travelling and posting!

Mirror lake
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-20170522_1258511.jpg

start of the trail at thunderbird falls
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-20170522_1334492.jpg

gorge view
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_17745.jpg

we didn't take the actual trail to the falls, but this is how it looked from top
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_17704.jpg

Silver knight
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-silver-knight7.jpg

View from the flight
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-img_10693.jpg

Mt Rainier at the time of landing in Seattle
Alaska: Exploring the last frontier of North America-20170522_1937396.jpg
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