Our cruise ship docked at Seward where we boarded a motor coach to begin the land portion of our Alaskan adventure. The 364 mile bus trip to Denali took all day but the scenery and the narration by our driver made the trip most enjoyable. If you read my previous posts about Alaska, you may think this day was less impressive than previous days. Not so, and you’ll soon see why.
We began our road trip on the Seward Highway, a 125 mile scenic byway which crosses the Kenai Peninsula from Seward to Anchorage.
While it was great to leave the driving to someone else and concentrate on capturing the beautiful scenery by photo, one of the distinct disadvantages was not being able to stop when we wanted. I usually take a picture of a nearby sign to tell me where my photos were taken which wasn’t possible from a moving vehicle. Consequently, I can’t tell exactly where many of my photos were taken and I can’t label each mountain and lake.
We did hear the story of Moose Pass, however, and I snapped a photo from the bus. The sign on the side of the road next to the waterwheel and grindstone announces, “Moose Pass is a peaceful little town. If you have an axe to grind, do it here.”
We took a break at a rest area with picnic tables and hiking trails that was especially photogenic.
Near the end of the Seward Highway, we drove along Turnagain Arm. In 1778, when Captain James Cook sought a northwest passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans, he named the estuary he found Turnagain River because he was forced to turn around there. Captain Vancouver called it Turnagain Arm in 1794 when he explored the area.
There are two fascinating features of Turnagain Arm. First, one of the largest bore tides in the world occurs here. So what is a bore tide? Dictionary.com defines a tidal bore as, “an abrupt rise of tidal water moving rapidly inland from the mouth of an estuary.” Translated, that means while the water in the Turnagain Arm is flowing out to sea, the tide rushes into the estuary from the ocean. The resulting waves are high enough that surfers actually ride them. For more information and to see a video, check out Alaska Public Lands Information Centers.
The other feature is the mudflats which are composed of glacial silt that act like quicksand. The suction created when the mud is displaced is virtually impossible to break without help. Warnings advise hikers to steer clear because getting stuck in the mudflats with the tide coming in is a recipe for disaster.
After a quick stop for lunch at a restaurant at the edge of Wasilla, we continued toward the town of Willow on Parks Highway where we saw two more amazing sights. First, we got our first glimpse of Mt. Denali, then called Mt. McKinley. Second, we saw smoke. These two sights would dominate the rest of our Alaskan adventure.
Let me tell you first about Mt. Denali. We knew we would be very lucky to see the elusive highest mountain peak in North America. It’s more often obscured by clouds than not which is why people lucky enough to see it are called the 30% club. When we got our first glimpse, I started taking photos and didn’t stop. I have pictures taken from far enough away that you wouldn’t know it was Mt. Denali; I have photos of Mt. Denali barely visible behind other mountains; I have pictures taken through the bug-covered windshield of the bus. When I experience a rare event, I capture every minute with great enthusiasm before it disappears. Little did we know we would see Mt. Denali four days in a row. I wonder if there’s a club for that?
Here are a few more views from day one of Mt. Denali.
The other sight was the fire. We would see and hear more about this event, called the Sockeye Fire, throughout our stay. The blaze was reported at 1:15 p.m. on Sunday, June 14, 2015. The seven photos I took as we drove through the area were taken at 1:16 and 1:17 p.m. By early the next morning, the blaze was out of control, Willow was under an evacuation order, and the road we had traveled was closed. We heard the fire was the result of fireworks but the cause was later determined to be an unattended illegal burn pile. In the end, 55 homes were destroyed, 7220 acres were burned, and the cost to fight the fire was $8 million. We would see more results from the Sockeye Fire when we left Denali.
We arrived at the McKinley Chalet Resort late in the afternoon and found our assigned room in the Cottonwoods Building.
After exploring the grounds and grabbing some dinner, we were ready to call it a night and prepare for our tour of Denali National Park the following day. Thankfully, we had room darkening draperies because it never really got dark at all.
Based on events in June 2015.