Monday, June 25, 2012

Denali: The Journey

Good thing Melayna came to see us. We needed a reason to take an explore-the-Last-Frontier vacation. Our first destination was Denali National Park. We decided to take "the scenic route" (as if every route in Alaska isn't scenic) along the Denali highway, 130ish miles of mostly dirt and gravel. The whole region is gorgeous, so we stopped plenty along the way to enjoy the journey. Aaron wanted to show us Rainbow Mountain where he had enjoyed a campout and hike with the scouts. Unfortunately, the hike was a bit longer than we'd bargained for on a pitstop, so we didn't actually make it to rainbow mountain.
But we had a great time finding cool rocks, some small enough to collect and others big enough to lounge on.
Just at the end of the pavement on the Denali Highway are The Tangled Lakes. Again, we barely dipped our toes into that vicinity and we're excited to come back and explore it more thoroughly someday.
Wanna come visit next summer so we'll have a good reason to do the Tangle Lakes justice? Don't forget your mud boots. They are a must around here. I was wishing I had a pair. (Now I do!)
The views from the highway were breathtaking and impossible to capture in a snapshot.
We stopped to whip out the trusty camp stove and cook up some Bou Stew when a little rain came our way. Good thing Max is a real Alaskan. Arguably the only true Alaskan among us.
Xander, Melayna, and Elodie enjoyed skipping rocks on the raging Clearwater River. And I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that no one fell in! Whew!
Back in the car, we wre entertained by cute faces in the back seats. He was smiling when Melayna took this picture; oh, the camera delay. She swears she never saw him make this face, but I'm glad she caught it. It's a real winner.
Whoops, it looks like she also caught a certain young man bopping his dear sister on the head. Good thing she's being a good sport about it! Really, they are best friends and I am so glad they have each other.
Look, Hazel can do it, too!
Then, we camped at this gorgeous place called Brushkana Campground near another raging river and had delicious food and excellent company plus THOUSANDS, possibly MILLIONS of mosquitos which apparently prevented all picture taking. None of us had ever seen such SWARMS of mosquitos in our whole lives, and most in our company decided to lock themselves in their tents for the duration. But we learned from our experience and Aaron went wild the next day buying mosquito tennis racket zappers, more deep woods bug spray, repellant candles, and (eventually) a mosquito net for his head. Here's a view of Denali National Park right by the entrance.
My favorite part was hiking together as a family. It was so funny to be hiking there after living in the interior. A lot of our hike through the subarctic taiga looked like hiking at home, except with real, labeled, well-maintained trails and lots of people from lots of different countries. And we crossed train tracks and heard trains--come on, that's pretty civilized, right?
I found it kind of odd that Denali National Park, which has the reputation for being such a remote wilderness, felt so much more civilized than hiking back home in Delta. Aaron wasn't nearly as worried about "bear protection" because there were people everywhere! Of course we were on the family friendly hikes right at the entrance to the park, not backpacking deep into the unknown. Speaking of family-friendly, check out this real man. What a dad! One of the best parts of vacation was getting to all that time with this guy, relaxed and in his element.

I am so impressed with these hikers. Yeah, they occasionally need a dum-dum (lovingly selected at the store by Hazel who managed to open the bag and eat one while I was distracted) to find their happy hiker selves again, but overall, when the terrain is interesting and tough, they are go-go-go way ahead of the "grown-ups," as Elodie was wont to call us. "OK, grown-ups, watch out, the path is kind of steep right here." The hardest part was often getting them to wait for us!
Oh yeah, just check out The Denali Dahle's. We are at least as tough as we look.
The hike down to horseshoe lake was great. Then at the bottom, we get an added bonus: there was a really cool beaver dam to explore. We didn't see any beavers though, so Xander filled in for us. Although as we were walking back up the trail away from the lake, we thought we saw a beaaver way down below in the water, but it turned out to be a moose's head.
Such a fun group!
I'm pretty sure hiking is my favorite form of exercise.
That night, we opted for more sleep by renting two of these cute little cabins.

This moose mama and her baby were kind enough to pose for a photo shoot. We were kinda hoping to see a bear, while we were in the car, but I'm glad we never did because then maybe we would have felt more hesitant about getting out of the car.

Max was such a trooper, just hanging out on another hike.
The kids love hikes that end in water. Elodie loved searching for skipping rocks and Xander and Aaron loved throwing them. I was pretty impressed with their skipping skills, sometimes even skipping over a gravel bar into the next channel of the Savage River.
Melayna got a little taste of mushing. Hazel LOVED the dogs. Hands down her favorite part of Denali. "Ma doddies, ma doddies!" (Translation: more doggies!)
Lava was not a nice dog. After fighting with his partner when he was teamed up, I was trying to catch a picture of his evil stare, but he whipped out with this rude little stunt. Yikes, don't cross him!
We felt like we did everything we wanted to in Denali, except see Denali! Blasted localized cloud cover. Denali is the "real" name of Mt. McKinley. You'd think it's be easy to see a mountain that big, like you couldn't miss it. Oh, we missed it, and we tried diligently. Well, we didn't take the 12 hour bus ride to Wonder Lake down the 90 mile road that requires all children and infants remain in carseats the whole time. There is no look apologetic enough to give all the retired couples trying to enjoy the journey of a lifetime as you traipse onto the bus with four wee ones in tow. We're going to enter the lottery some year for the privilege of driving our own vehicle all the way down the park road. Oh yeah, you know you wanna come visit that fall!
I'd like to give a final thanks to The Beast for making this trip possible! We love our Alaskan Adventure Mobile!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Summer, anyone?

I’ve noticed a weather pattern and I’m hoping it continues. November was really cold. December was somewhat warmer. January was truly Arctic. Locals said it was one of the coldest on memory. February, by comparison, was quite pleasant. March seemed chillier than February. Besides a little dusting of snow on Easter morning, April felt nice, sunny, and warm. Locals reported it much warmer than average, melting all the snow sooner than usual; they said snow patches often remain throughout May and into June, but not this year. May seemed chillier than April because there were so many chilly, rainy days. Cold, warmer, colder, warmer, colder, warmer, colder, … So if my pattern continues, June will be warmer than May was! And I am ready for some warm! But I do hope the pattern stops there because I’d love a nice warm July, too.

I’m sure hoping that the weather on June 1st did not set a precedent for the month. I woke up to the sound of rain on our tin roof. After a cup of cocoa and oatmeal for breakfast, we still weren’t feeling warmed up so I broke down and turned up the heat. For dinner, I made us a nice warm pot of chicken noodle soup. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Yeah, maybe in NOVEMBER, but it’s JUNE! I’m ready to sit in the shade and sip lemonade and watch as the clouds roll by. Is that what YOU do? Not me, I sip hot cocoa and snuggle in a blanket. I brought popsicles when it was our turn to bring a snack for Xander’s baseball team last week and the assistant coach politely declined and said she’d rather have a cup of cocoa. I had to agree with her, but Xander convinced me to pretend it was summer. I thought that we were done freezing on the sidelines when hockey season was over, but Elodie was so chilly at practice yesterday, even though she came prepared with her blanket and sweater, that she sat it out in the car.