When most people are thinking about a vacation in Alaska, the first cruise is in mind. And that's all right; Sailing is a fantastic way to see some amazing scenery inaccessible by car. But in 2006 I designed my own vacation, which I would spend exploring the 49th state by car.
My means of transport and the size of places to see in Alaska have limited geography to the southern part of the state. I flew from home in Atlanta to Anchorage, where I rented a car and spent the night. The next day I was on my way to Denali National Park. That bright sunny morning I saw a beautiful snow-capped McKinley in the distance, towering above the vista for most of the remaining ride to Denali. Later I learned that Alaska refers to McKinley Mountain itself as Denali.
I spent the evening in Healy, next to Denali National Park, at the Nord Haven Motel. As I planned the trip, I called Mrs. Nordmark, who owned the motel with her husband, for advice on how to see Denali. She always answered the motel's phone and was very helpful. I was looking forward to meeting her, but she was nowhere anywhere during my stay.
There were several things about Denali that hit me. First, virtually no radio stations could be picked up on an AM or FM dial. Secondly, my trip was in the "land of the midnight sun" during the peak daylight season in June. He never disappeared completely; at 3 am the scene was comparable to twilight.
I decided, on Mrs Nordmark's advice, to go through Denali's shuttle bus, which could be more appropriately called a school bus. The bus was not completely immersed in luxury, but that didn't change it. What you see on the ride is the star of the show. Before I headed for Toklat to get on the bus, I had breakfast in a local cottage where I enjoyed a deer sausage.
The bus tour was worth every $ 24 I spent on it. Our group had an extraordinary guide who was well informed and obviously loved his job. As passengers we were obliged to scream when we saw wild animals, and we saw lots of grizzly bears, dall sheep, caribou and elk; cameras flashed everywhere. Not every bus group sees Mount McKinley on tour; the weather often gets in the way. We were lucky to see McKinley Mountain several times, and finally we saw the huge peak, the highest in North America at 20,320 feet, from a stunning observation point in the park.
The next part of the trip was a trip to Fairbanks, where I spent a few smoke days. South of Denali, a forest fire struck, and smoke blasted into Fairbanks. Important sights included the Museum of the North at Alaskan University, which specializes in Alaskan art, culture and history; and Pioneer Park with the restored town of Gold Rush, the village of Eskimo and a small railway that carries passengers around the house. At Fairbanks, I ate great meals at The Turtle Club and The Pump House.
From Fairbanks, I headed southeast to Glennallen, a small town that is the shopping center of Copper County Country, home to the famous salmon. I stayed at the New Caribou Hotel, which looked like the only place in town but was decent.
The last leg of my Alaskan loop was a relatively short trip from Glennallen back to Anchorage, where I had a few hours before the flight. I took the city, including the Captain Cook Hotel, the largest Anchorage, 5th Avenue Mall and the Alaskan Performing Arts Center, where I saw Aurora – Rivers of Light. I ended the day with an afternoon Copper River Salmon dinner in Simon and Seafort.