Oct 1, 2009

autumn awesomeness

I think we picked the best week of the year for a road trip through Alaska. We'd been trying to decide what to do with our whole week off this summer (OK, i had more than a week off, but Mike only had one), and we decided on a sight-seeing trip south. I had only been to Seward for about an hour before - as part of a field trip for a tectonics conference in Girdwood - and Mike still likes to show me around the state... So we headed south the first week of September, which I'm telling you is the best time to travel. Most tourists and mosquitoes have cleared out, and the fall colors are just incredible. We also lucked out with great weather almost all 10 days.
Our first stop was Talkeetna (another place I'd never been). We checked out the Denali Brewing Company which had good beer but so-so ambience, so we opted for the more fun and established West Rib Cafe across the street for dinner. We stayed at our friends' son's new place up the hill and woke up to this amazing view of the Alaska Range:Heading south, we drove through Hatcher Pass (another first for me), which was overrun with hunters, trucks, ATVs at that time of year. We decided moose season must have just opened. The road to Hatcher pass is slow going, but offers amazing views and hikes the whole way.

We spent a fun night in Anchorage visiting old Fairbanks friends and eating delicious Indian food (there is not a single Indian restaurant in Fairbanks!), then headed toward Whittier the next day. Our hike up to the Byron Glacier was an unexpected surprise. The trail ends about 1 mile in, but we kept going until we were stopped by steeper ice (when we wished we had brought crampons).
We camped on Portage road. Clear, calm water in the morning......and drove down to Seward. The weather in Seward was glorious when we arrived! We camped two nights at Miller's Landing, just south of Seward.
It clouded over for the next couple of days, so our kayak trip was cool and a bit rainy, but much calmer seas than Valdez earlier this year. Lots of seals and otters. There was one otter floating on his back that we thought was dead. In fact, we couldn't tell if it was driftwood or an otter until we got close. We paddled right past him and he never moved, but then we didn't see him on our way back.
At the Alaska SeaLife Center the next day, we learned that otters will sleep wrapped in kelp so they don't drift. Smart little critters.

Spent two rainy nights at the Exit Glacier Lodge (great little hotel!) and ate at the delicious Salmon Bake next door. A very cold, wet hike up to the Harding Ice Field was a little disappointing because it was socked in at the top, so we couldn't see much besides grey. And we were freezing, so we hightailed it back down the trail. Mike's been there on a clearer day and says there's nothing like it!

With fantastic weather the following day, we left Seward and stopped to hike up the new North Face trail in Girdwood. It was super muddy in sections, but super awesome nonetheless. It takes you up to where the tram ends at the Alyeska upper mountain lodge. We heard hushed exclamations of tourists "they just walked up here!" as we watched a few paragliders take off from the top. BEAUTIFUL!
The weather was just so incredible that we spent another night camping along the Portage Glacier road, and the following day hiked up the Bird Ridge trail along the Turnagain Arm. Mike was pretty stoked about the view from the top:
We drove back along the Glenn Highway (yep, another Lena first), which Mike declared "officially the most beautiful place in Alaska". As usual, photos don't do the colors justice, but it gives you an idea.Stopped to camp at the Matanuska Glacier - wow!!!
I'll end with one of my experimental long-exposure night shots. Mike and I had a lot of fun coming up with new headlamp-on-the-bridge designs. This is my favorite: