Sunday, June 29, 2008

moose-cellaneous details

So Sal and I are back home in Florida now…..I didn’t have access to WiFi during the last four days of our trip (not even while we waited for our flight out of Fairbanks airport…..what?!?!? an airport with no WiFi ???)… I thought I’d get everyone caught up on the details of our final adventures in Alaska. And I just wanted to say a BIG thanks to everyone for your enthusiasm! {smiles} It was my first time blogging from the road, and I loved having everyone come along with us on our journey. I’ve had so many great responses, everyone wanting to know what we did and what we were doing next. How fun!

Anyway, picking up from where I left off with my previous post……it’s difficult to find the words to describe our second day in Denali National Park, but “unforgettable” is the first one that comes to my mind. Lots of visitors to Alaska allocate only one day of their schedules for the park, and I’ve read that many of them regret it, wishing that they had another day to explore it. So, I made sure to schedule that into our itinerary. So on our second day in Denali, Sal and I set out hiking on a trail to Horseshoe Lake, and before we started out I mentioned to him that I hoped to see a moose (until then, we had seen only one, at a distance). They prefer to wade out into lakes and eat the water plants, so we figured that this particular trail would be ideal. As we arrived at the lake, we caught a fleeting glimpse of a female moose retreating into the woods on the opposite side of the lake. Bummer, we had just missed her! I suggested to Sal that we wait patiently, silently, that maybe she’d come back out, or perhaps other moose would arrive. Moose are very silent, and blend into their surroundings very well, so they’re often difficult to spot. But after about 30 minutes and as I was losing hope, she emerged again, this time with her adorable weeks-old calf! I will never forget that moment, seeing them step out of the treeline and into full view, then wading into the water to feed together. I was in disbelief! .....and it touched my heart.....

As I mentioned in a recent post, wildlife viewing is all about timing and luck, neither of which we have control over, and as a general rule, it’s my understanding that visitors typically see less wildlife than they hope to in Alaska. So this moment was beyond incredible! We stood still and silent, and were able to observe them for at least 15 minutes, until something even more amazing happened…..they decided to wade across the lake and came within only 100 feet of us!

(notice how the calf is trying to keep up with mom in water up to his shoulders! “mommy, wait up!”)

Here we were, watching these incredible creatures in their natural habitat, up-close. Not at a zoo, not at a theme park. It was almost unreal. And moose cows are ultra-protective of their calves, of course, so it was amazing that while aware of our presence, she didn’t seem disturbed by it. That evening I found a perfect moose T-shirt in the park's gift shop, and I wore it home on the plane. I have fallen in love with moose! And did you know that they’re vegetarian? (just like me!)

Our extended stay in Denali also gave us time to enjoy some of the park programs, including a Ranger presentation about wolves in Denali NP. Really interesting, except learning that wolves hunt moose {frown}. Then it was off to Fairbanks, again by train on the Alaska Railroad. And we were treated to lots of moose sightings during the ride!

In Fairbanks, we stayed at the Aurora Express B&B. It’s actually a set of restored Alaska Railroad cars, tracks and all, that have been converted into guestrooms…..a neat concept….and it’s perched on a hill overlooking Fairbanks, beautiful view. And we had breakfast in the “dining car”.

Frankly, I wasn’t wild about Fairbanks, it seemed a bit ordinary compared to other places in Alaska. Not everything has that “wow factor” in travel, and I’ve learned to be OK with that. But it gave us the chance to spend our final full day in Alaska on an Arctic Circle drive tour, which launched from Fairbanks, and it was thrilling! So Sal and I have crossed the Arctic Circle, and we have Official Certificates to prove it {wink}. The tour company had a fun welcoming “ceremony” when we arrived, rolling out a red carpet with a dashed line on it, and passing out pieces of cake to celebrate. Cute!

To get to the Circle on land, you have to drive on the rugged Dalton Highway. It’s a long ride from Fairbanks (15 hours round-trip!) through 200 miles of remote Alaska, and most of the road is unpaved gravel, but the journey sure was fun. The road parallels the alignment of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline, and we stopped to see it up-close and learn more about it. Here are some random pipeline specs:

it’s 800 miles long, traversing the entire state north-to-south from near the Arctic Ocean to Valdez in Prince William took 3 years in the 1970s, in harsh Arctic conditions (an engineering feat!).....oil travels through the pipeline at temps over 120 degrees F.....the pipe is 48-inches in diameter with 1/2-inch thick has transported 15 billion barrels of oil since its completion.....radiator fins on the vertical members help cool the permafrost supporting the pipeline, since the soil would otherwise melt due to heat conduction from the oil.....“bumpers” allow for lateral movement of the pipe due to vibrations from earthquakes, avalanches, etc......accounts for 25% of US annual oil production.....the pipeline is elevated to allow for migration of caribou herds.....

During the drive, we stopped for lunch along the Yukon River at a former camp used by pipeline construction crews back in the 70s. Another stop was to learn about the tundra landscape, and we used a shovel to dig into the permafrost to feel firsthand how the soil gets colder and colder with every inch of depth. Within the upper foot of tundra, ice crystals are visible within the soil. The earth is frozen below that, hard as a rock. The tundra is spongy and “springy” to walk on, reminding me of the peat bogs that we walked on in Ireland last summer. As a geotechnical engineer, I love soil stuff, so this part of the tour was very interesting to me.

Crossing the Arctic Circle was our final adventure in Alaska. But one other thing that I wanted to mention, something that we saw everywhere in Alaska…….the trees, the forests. Millions of them, and they’re gorgeous…..Sitka Spruce, Black Spruce, Aspen, Birch, Willow. Palm trees are (still) my favorite, but those majestic trees had me in awe.

We said good-bye to the Land of the Midnight Sun on Wednesday, and took a (long) overnight flight back to Florida. I’ll savor the experiences, sights, and memories from our Alaska visit forever. I will miss the moose, the trees, the 22 hours of daylight. This trip was how Sal and I decided to celebrate that we both turn 40 this year, and what a gift it was……happy birthday, sweetheart! So glad that we could discover Alaska together!

Now, we’re home, and it’s back to reality (and temps in the 90s). And as much as I love to travel, I’m so glad to be re-united with Buddy & Aruba, I missed them SO much! But I know that they had tons of fun with Grandma & Grandpa while we were gone.

Gotta get started sorting through (and scrapbooking!) the 1,100+ photos that we took in Alaska.

Have a great week.....

1 comment:

Claudia said...

Thanks for sharing your awesome experience through blogging! i can't say i'll NEVER see Alaska but the chances are slim...but it was nice to experience it a little through your travels there:) Looking forward to seeing you and Sal in August!