Alaska 2022 – Ground Tours

We worked with the wonderful people at Salmon Berry Tours to coordinate the ground portion of our Alaskan Adventure!

Monday July 18, 2022

Our flight from Juneau to Anchorage was uneventful. With nearly 300,000 people, Anchorage is far and away the largest city in Alaska. 40% of the people in the state live in Anchorage. Nice newer airport. Our Lyft driver was excellent, friendly and informative. Her stories confirmed that Anchorage is a big city.

Our hotel, the Copper Whale Inn is a quaint small place with excellent customer service. Our room had a beautiful view of Cook Inlet at low tide.

We walked to the 49th State Brewery for dinner and to sample some good beer. Busy place! We were hoping to sit outside on the deck to enjoy a mostly sunny and 66 degree day, but instead of an hour wait, we found a couple seats at the bar. Their Spruce Tip Ale is almost as good as Haines and Linda enjoyed their award winning Golden Eagle with a twist of lime and sea salt.

Tried a couple of their specialty dinners, beer battered haddock and a Yak burger. Both were excellent.

Nice to wash clothes at the hotel for the first time in a week. Great to take a shower in a full sized bath tub. Slept well.

Tuesday July 19, 2022

Nice breakfast at the Copper Whale Inn. Talked to a family from New Jersey. They had just come back from Denali, cloudy and rain.

Our travel agency, Salmon Berry Tours, coordinated a van that picked us up right on schedule and picked up just a small group from other hotels. Our tour guide Patty was energetic, knowledgeable and engaging. She took us along the Seward Highway to an old gold rush town home to the Girdwood Brewing Company. It made use of lots of old skiing things (skis, lift chairs, etc. ) Linda enjoyed the Kölsch and I thought their Amber was excellent.

The food truck made fresh crepes, Linda had a breakfast crepe and I enjoyed a pizza crepe.

After lunch, we took the tram up Mount Alyeska ski resort. An impressive view to go from basically sea level to 3,000 feet. They typically get 60 feet of snow each year, last year they got over 100 feet!

Next we went to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to see rescued wildlife in a close to natural environment.

For the second time during our trip, we convinced the bus driver to drop us off at a brewery. It was raining hard when we reached the Broken Tooth brewery at the famous Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria in Anchorage. Huge crowd on a rainy Tuesday night. Linda grabbed two open seats at the bar which saved us 55 minutes. Excellent beer selection, Linda enjoyed the raspberry wheat beer and good pizza.

Took a Lyft back to the Copper Whale Inn.

Wednesday July 20, 2022

After a comfortable night’s sleep and a light breakfast at the Copper Whale Inn, Joan, our Salmon Berry Tour van driver was waiting for us. We headed north to the little town of Willow. We had planned to fish the river, but the recent heavy rain has flooded the river, so we fished a local lake. Can’t control the weather.

We met Mason, our fishing guide from Fishhound Expeditions. He took us to a small lake called South Rolly in the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area. Motors are prohibited, so it was a quiet area. We are now used to getting in and out of rubber rafts.

Caught and released four rainbow trout on our fly rods on a wholly bugger and some top water flies. As always, Linda caught the first fish. Mason would see schools of rainbows or an occasional northern pike in the crystal clear water and we would try to cast to the spot. We missed several other bites. Nice shore lunch of reindeer brats.

Mason paddled close to two adult Loons with two baby chicks.

Nice weather until the wind and rain pushed us off the lake. Joan met us at the landing and drove us to the Talkeetna Cabins. A very nice Log Cabin just off of Main Street. Nice to be greeted by name!

On a clear day, you can see Denali from Talkeetna. We walked around town in the rain. Nagley’s Store is a classic general store with a little bit of everything.

We found Denali Brewing Company. Outstanding beer, the Single Engine Red was excellent and good BBQ.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

After steady rain all night, the rain stopped as we checked out of our cabin and Bill, the owner of the cabins took us to the Talkeetna train station. For many years, the Alaskan Railroad was the only means of transportation to get from Seward to Anchorage to Fairbanks and past Denali National Park. The train is very clean, comfortable and roomy way to travel. We enjoyed to the Gold Star train with the large windows, perfect for viewing wildlife and the beautiful scenery. The map below shows the full route.

With the thick cloud cover, we could not see Denali, but there was lots of beautiful scenery to enjoy.

Linda thought the train was right out of the movie, The Polar Express so after lunch, she ordered a hot chocolate.

We made a steady climb through Summit Pass, the highest point along the Alaskan Railroad and also the continental divide, where water starts flowing north to the Bering Sea instead of to the Pacific Ocean.

We arrived at Denali Station at the entrance to the National Park. the hotel shuttle took us to the Denali Buffs Hotel. A beautiful view from almost every room.

The clouds lifted and we saw some sunshine for the first time in 3 days. Dinner at the Mountaineer Grill. Great view, outstanding service, good food and I was pleasantly surprised that they had Single Engine Red from Denali Brewery on tap.

Friday July 22, 2022

Up early to board the Fly Denali shuttle bus to the Healy River Airport. With the poor weather conditions, we toured the Alaskan Range instead of Denali. Disappointing, but we can’t control the weather. With the bad ice conditions on the glacier, we were not able to land on a glacier. Several other people canceled, so they took us and two other guys up in a very small plane, very uncomfortable for Linda in the back. To balance the weight, I rode in the co-pilot seat of this Cessna 185.

We followed the Nenana River into the Alaskan Range. The higher peaks were covered by clouds, but we flew over several pretty valleys and two glaciers.

We flew through some light snow and turned around before the heavy snow hit. The rising sun glistened in the snow over a glacier. Snow in late July!

The light snow and rain created a beautiful rainbow.

We flew over our Denali Bluffs hotel on the way back to the airport. One of several independent buildings on the side of the canyon.

Our pilot Michael executed a smooth landing. Felt good to stretch our legs again.

The huge rock slide has blocked much of the bus tours inside Denali National Park. Steady rain kept us inside our hotel room until the Mountaineer Grill and Bar opened at 4:00. Enjoyed local favorites, Salmon Burger and Reindeer Philly Cheese Steak.

Rain stopped, so we walked down to the Denali Highway Jeep Excursions office in Denali Canyon. Met our energetic Jeep tour guides Noah and Joe. Took a shuttle bus to the Jeep lot. We were assigned a Red 4-door Jeep Wrangler. We followed the Park Highway south to the start of the Denali Highway, which is a rough gravel road with beautiful views of the Alaskan Range.

The trees get more stunted as we drive higher in elevation and the permafrost restricts their root system. Makes for easier viewing of distant mountains as well as lakes and rivers. Fireweed was blooming all along the road.

The rough road reminds me of the Graham Road in Ontario Canada. The potholes were full of water, making for a muddy mess at times.

We made a few stops to take pictures and scan the area for wildlife. One stop was at a pretty late with two white swans.

Linda has always had a thing for Jeeps since driving her Dad’s Jeep in high school and more recently, owning two Jeeps. She took over the driving (it was a lot easier for me to get in and out of the passenger side).

After a bathroom break, the sun started to break through the clouds. We started to see the snow covered peaks of Deborah and Hess Mountains. Deborah is nearly 14.000 feet, very impressive!

With the recent rain melting the glaciers, the rivers were high and running fast.

Rain started again at twilight, making viewing scenery more muted. Linda drove us back to the Jeep lot and we took the shuttle back to hotel.

Saturday July 23
Woke up to a beautiful sunny sky, a welcomed sight after several overcast and rainy days. We had picked up luggage tags for the Alaskan Railroad at the lobby. We packed our suitcases and set them outside at 9:00. The hotel staff used small electric vehicles to shuttle the bags to the parking lot. We enjoyed a relaxed and wonderful morning before checking out of the hotel to wait for the bus to take us to the us to the railroad station.

We were very impressed with the friendly staff and beautiful accommodations at Denali Bluffs.

Our luggage was waiting for us at the Denali Park Depot.

We upgraded our seats on the train to Gold Star and got seats on the upper level on the west side of train, which would give us the best chance to see Denali.

Clouds blocked our view of Denali, but we enjoyed the spectacular scenery in the mix of sunshine and clouds.

The Hurricane Gulch Bridge is a 918 ft long steel arch railroad bridge that crosses Hurricane Gulch. At 296 ft above the Hurricane creek, it is both the longest and tallest bridge on the entire Alaska Railroad.

With just a single set of tracks, our train often moved off to the side of the tracks to allow north bound trains to pass. Arrived in Anchorage over an hour late, but it was not a problem.

Called a Lyft for the short ride to the Copper Whale Inn. The friendly manager stayed up for us.

We walked a few blocks to the Glacier Brewhouse. Nice beer selection. Nice pretzel fondue.

Walked back to the hotel at 11:00pm, still daylight.

Sunday July 24
Up early – 5:30am or 2:30am CT. I had scheduled a Lyft for 6:00am and he was on time. 54 degrees and overcast. Modest line at TSA. At the gate in plenty of time. Newer Alaskan Airlines plane with enough leg room for me. Anchorage is surrounded by mountains and the Cook Inlet. They call it the Anchorage Bowl.

Clouds opened up over the mountains in British Columbia. Clear skies coming into Seattle-Tacoma airport. Nice view of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier.

Arrived in Minneapolis a little early. Kara and Jim picked us up and we enjoyed a nice dinner at Pier 500 on the banks of the St. Croix River in Hudson WI. A wonderful way to end a spectacular Alaskan Adventure!

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