Saturday We attended Julie’s wedding in Syracuse. The weather cooperated nicely providing a perfect backdrop to a lovely ceremony. At the reception, we had visiting time with cousins and a tasty dinner. We decided to deposit one car (we came to Syracuse in two) at Eric’s for the duration and ferried to whole lot back to the hotel in the Hyundai with Evan in the cargo area. Sunday We left for the airport in plenty of time for departure, in two trips. Due to prior commitments, we traveled in two groups: Laurie, Clara, Corinne, Evan and I went together through Atlanta (don’t ask) while Cecilia went by herself through Chicago to Seattle to Anchorage. At least that was the plan. We arrived in Atlanta in time for our connection, although the weather proved uncooperative. However, during our slack time we got a message from Cecilia that her flight to Seattle had been delayed several times. I encouraged her to speak to a gate agent to protect her connection. When we arrived in Anchorage we got a message saying that she had been rerouted on a direct flight to Anchorage leaving Chicago still later in the evening. However, she did not say what time she would be arriving. So we went on to our hotel not knowing when we would see Cecilia that night, now morning. About 2:30 a.m., we got a call from her saying that she was on the way to our hotel but without her suitcase. We welcomed her anyway and finally all retired for what was left of our first night in Alaska. Monday We awoke still groggy from our abbreviated evening. Laurie and I breakfasted early and went to the airport (not far away) to check on Cecilia’s bag. Sure enough it was waiting right there for us. Returning to the hotel, we found the kids up and getting ready for the day’s events. Perversely, we made a local mall our first visit. Our activities that morning had convinced us we did not plan for the right wardrobe for Alaska, the hot local summer in upstate New York engendering a false sense of confidence. After rebalancing our selections, getting backup batteries for various appliances, and so on, we left Anchorage about noon. We drove along Prince William Sound for about an hour marveling at the grand shoreline. We stopped at a local restaurant for lunch, “The Indian House”, which seems somewhat politically incorrect. In any case several of us had buffalo burgers or reindeer sausage which really hit the spot after a day of airline food. The balance of the afternoon took us to our first stop, the “Princess Kenai Lodge” overlooking the Kenai River. Since our rooms were still being prepared, we decided to hike down to the river and look for salmon. No luck with the fish but the views were spectacular. Following drinks and dinner on the deck, we retired for games of shuffleboard, horseshoes (Laurie beat me) and to top it off a round of “Cranium” in the room with Laurie and me besting the younger set. Tuesday We got up early and headed for Seward. At 10:00 we departed on a cruise of Kenai Fjords National Park. Though the day started foggy we hit pay dirt soon after launching when we encountered a few sea otters loafing about in the bay. They are much larger than the river otters that one thinks of and look kind of like Yoda. After that we didn’t see much for an hour or so as we left the bay for the park. While the day was foggy, at least the water was calm. Next on the agenda was a visit to the head of the Akima Glacier. I don’t know what to say about the experience except that I had not anticipated anything about the glacier properly. Even though this sample was one of the smaller examples of a tidewater glacier, it dwarfed my expectations. The face seemed at least 5 to 9 stories tall. When a portion of the glacial face split off the sound reminded me of canon fire. Moreover, the glacier emitted continuous loud noises. Just being around it created a feeling of dread anticipation; the next shoe to fall, so to speak. I had to remind myself that what we were seeing was only calving off relatively small chunks. I could only imagine what a true iceberg launch must sound like. The rest of the cruise concentrated on the usual suspects of puffins, kikes, bald eagles, a young whale, seals, cormorants, common murre and other assorted critters. We topped the cruise off with a cooked salmon dinner on an island in Resurrection Bay. That night we returned to the hotel pretty tired and all were bedded down before 10:00, or just about sunset. Wednesday Today we had one of our transit days. We left the hotel at about 8:00 a.m., destined for Homer, where we arrived about noon. Homer is a village of about 1,000 inhabitants pasted on the end of a point of land at the entrance to Kachmek Bay. I gather that it has long been a locale favored by artists and recluses. Largely treeless, the landscape hints of strong winds later in the season. Nevertheless, there is much to do. The prime feature of Homer is the Spit, a long and large gravel bar that extends 4 miles out into the bay. After lunch at one of the tourist eateries, we decided to hike the shoreline while the tide was out. The beach was unremarkable except for the fact that there were whales and otters swimming just off the shore. It was really too cool. Our hotel sat right at the end of the Spit. Indeed, when we opened the door to the room, through the main window we could see otters in the surf. That night we had dinner on the Spit at “Captain Patty’s.” We all had seafood of some description and were not disappointed. Thursday We launched the kids on a sea kayak trip for the day. They reported later that they had a grand time, in the sea with sea otters, puffins, sea anemones, and the like. Luckily, they had a knowledgeable guide who gave them many interesting tidbits about the bay. Laurie and I browsed the town. While Laurie flipped pictures at a gallery or two, I went to an electronics store to try to find a charger for the battery of Cecilia’s camera. Then together we visited a used book store built in an old cabin (in Alaska “old” means circa 1940 or so); kind of quaint. We had lunch at a sandwich shop. That afternoon, we visited what must be the only winery in Alaska. The owner rightly realizes that the season is too short for good grapes so he specializes in fruit wines. He has assembled an interesting palate of wines from dry to sweet which mimics the classic selections of a fine wine list. While I would never mistake Rhubarb for Riesling, each of the wines has some charm. Some I could imagine actually drinking with meals. I spoke to the owner, an ebullient man called Bill, who told me that he had not expected that there would be such a demand for this kind of product. He claims to be sold out just meeting the demand from the Homer area. And based on the traffic at his store while we were there, I could believe it. That night we decided to take a break from seafood and had pizza at a local “wood oven” pizza parlor. The food was really good. Friday This was another transit day. We left the southernmost point on the Sterling Highway, Homer, and arrived at Talkeetna which is about half way to Fairbanks, a 7.5 hour drive. The morning passed quickly, starting with the renowned cinnamon buns of the “Two Sisters” bakery. We arrived in Anchorage about 1:30 p.m., still looking for a charger for Cecilia’s camera. Anchorage is inflicted with the usual shopping centers and in “Best Buy” we found what we needed. However, the price was beyond Cecilia’s spending threshold. I learned that Anchorage had one camera store downtown, to which we repaired. At the store, we found a second charger but it cost even more than the one at Best Buy. While we debated options, the clerk suggested that for $5.00, we could simply charge her battery on one of their chargers. What a deal! Since the charge process required 100 minutes, more or less, we decided to do our knick knack shopping then instead of at the end of the trip. Downtown Anchorage is about the same size as Elmira, NY, but with real stores. We split up by interest and killed the time successfully. I spent part of it at the local visitors’ center looking at a large relief map of Alaska. I really did not understand the topology of Alaska until seeing this display. Unhappily, we had to leave Anchorage during rush hour and experienced our first heavy traffic in a week. I guess everyone leaves town for the country on the weekend, not that you could blame them. We arrived in Talkeetna without incident about 7:30 p.m., went straight to dinner and bed after a beautiful sunset over the mountains. Saturday The next morning dawned clear. We drove into Talkeetna which is historically home to the bush pilots flying in the Denali area. We breakfasted in an historic roadhouse, there since the gold rush days and walked about the town for a bit. Then we chartered a plane to take us over the glaciers and approaches to Mt. McKinley. We spent an hour marveling at the views. I had no idea that glaciers were so big. I failed to get an appreciation for them reading books. Following the flight we went back into Talkeetna for more looking around. The kids and I visited the riverbank and marveled at the “braid” river fed by the glaciers. It flowed full of silt, called “rock flour” by the natives. The fine particles of crushed rock remained in suspension virtually to the Bering Sea, we were told. Later than afternoon we drove a couple of hours to Denali National Park, staying near the park entrance. An early dinner and we rested. Sunday The day started at 5:45 a.m. when we ate breakfast so that we could meet the tour bus at 6:30 a.m. We spent the day driving the only road in the park, 90 miles of dirt trail carved on the sides of hills and mountains going deep into the wilderness. We had lunch at a lodge in the park, and then spend the early evening returning. Thirteen and a half hours on a school bus on dusty winding roads. But we scarcely noticed the conditions, captivated as we were by the many critters we saw. Grizzly bears and cubs, golden eagles, harriers, ptarmigan, caribou, moose cows and calves (no bull), beaver, gyrfalcon, Dahl sheep, owls, and spruce grouse to name a few. And the scenery just took your breath away. Since the air was clear in the morning, we could see Mt. McKinley from the park, which only 25% of the tours get to do. After lunch at the lodge, the staff gave us a dog team demonstration and Evan and I played horseshoes. He won. We returned tired and sore from the hours on the bus but pleased with everything that we saw. We had dinner in the form of two mountainous nacho platters at a local pizza house. This proved to be the cheapest meal that we had in Alaska. Even after the six of us worked at it, we left a lot on the table, literally speaking. Monday We had breakfast of sorts at the Visitor’s Center in the park and looked over a large scale 3D map of where we had been. After browsing for a while we climbed in the car. Fairbanks was our next stop. During the morning, someone noticed that Evan’s right eye seemed bloodshot. Concerned, we decided to visit a doctor. When we arrived in Fairbanks and checked into our hotel, one of the desk staff suggested that a friend of hers could get us into an ophthalmologist. As our PPO had no Alaskan network, we decided to go. We learned that Evan had, in effect, an allergy to his own eye tissue. This is apparently a well-known affliction, not dangerous in any way but one that does benefit from treatment. That done, we headed back to the hotel. We spent the afternoon looking around Fairbanks. Smoke from the local tundra fires hampered our vision and indeed our whole experience. It obscured our vision so badly that by the time we drove home visibility was only one block. A good dinner at an Italian restaurant compensated somewhat for the dour atmosphere but only just. Tuesday The next morning we rode the “Discovery 3” riverboat down the Tanana River. This is one of three such boats owned by the same family. They have put together an itinerary along the river highlighting many aspects of life in Alaska in the north. While it was interesting and even enlightening in parts, they clearly planned on audiences of older first time visitors and families with young children. The patter (and to some extent the content) really did not speak to our young adults and teens. Following the tour Evan, Corinne, Cecelia and I drove an hour east to Fairbanks to the end of the road at Chena Hot Springs. We all went swimming in the natural hot springs then later dipped in the hot tub and pool. The damp, sulfurous-smelling, hot air was a nice change from the dry, acrid smoke. On the way home we saw two more moose. While we were out on the expedition, Laurie went shopping and took a bus back to the hotel. That night the kids offered to sacrifice their dinner by offering to have pizza in the hotel while Laurie and I went out to eat Thai by ourselves. Wednesday We decided to use up the morning in Anchorage shopping for knick knacks. The girls found a small craft shop with many ancient T-shirts. Evan and I located a very nicely organized computer store and browsed. After lunch we drove to Copper River, about 5 hours from Anchorage. There we stayed in a fancy lodge with a great view but nothing else to offer for the overnight visitor. We ate dinner, and then played cards in the lobby. Then to bed. Thursday Up early, we decided to head for Anchorage. We drove the beautiful Glenngallen highway through the forest. Paralleling long stretches of the Alaskan Pipeline, we enjoyed breathtaking views from every turn. We arrived in Anchorage just after lunch. After a short rest, we decided to eat dinner early at one of the popular eateries downtown, the Glacier Brewhouse. We enjoyed the menu and decor. That night we returned to the hotel, getting tired of the traveling mode. Friday We had a day to kill in Anchorage before our flight. We started out wrapping up our browsing. Then we somehow got fixated on a search for cheap knitting needles. We must have spent 2 hours going around from place to place in search of the perfect needle. We finally landed the right pair about 2:00 pm. Then we decided to try to see the daily tidal bore current in Cook Inlet. We drove to a point about 40 minutes from downtown and settled into wait for the tides. At the appropriate hour, a strong wind arose from behind the incoming tide, which seemed to diminish the force of the bore flow. The force of the flowing tide seemed quite dramatic and vigorous, but we did not see the typical bore, “wall of water.” We returned to the airport in time for the flight, which actually departed early. On the climb out, we got fabulous views of the southern glaciers. But we also had a short night on the flight east. Saturday We arrived in Atlanta a bit early, then on to Syracuse. Eric and Susan ferried our car from his house. We boarded and headed for home, except for Clara who flew on to Pittsburgh. She spent the evening moving 4 loads of stuff into her new apartment in Pittsburgh. Cecilia went straight to work at her job at McGregor Wineries. Laurie and I slept.