My phone has just reminded me it was four years ago this August that we went on the Alaskan honeymoon.
Do you get that thing on your phone? When it shows you what you were doing this time last year, or 2 years ago? I quite like it, sometimes it brings up forgotten memories, though I’ll not forget much about this particular holiday.
An Anxious Start
Aside from only applying for our ESTA online only hours before our flight, once we finally arrived in Anchorage we were allowed to spend the night in our campervan. It was perfectly comfortable, but I hardly slept a wink, thinking that the next day I was going to have to drive this behemoth.
I’m not great with imperial measurements, so 33 feet long didn’t mean a lot to me, but it was huge. Then the next day, the instruction video we had to watch didn’t make me feel much better. You had to drive over gutters at an angle so you didn’t grind the bottom against the ground. You had to empty the waste. Three point turns involved a lot more than three points!
The next day we headed off to Talkeetna, a small town – barely a hamlet – that is the local airfield for flights to Denali. Once out of the city, the road was wide and smooth, and soon we were parked up. Parking up involved checking you were level before you used the oven. There was a wee spirit level on the counter to check!
Everywhere You Go…
We had a flight booked up to Denali mountain itself, but the weather didn’t play ball. It was something that I came to learn about Alaska – the weather is pretty British at times! You never know what you’re going to get. The tourist brochures and websites were full of pics of the tiny planes buzzing around the great peak in deep blue skies, but we had low cloud on our flight day.
It was still absolutely stunning! We banked and swooped over enormous glaciers, and as we rose up the valley, snow began to fall.
After landing, we dropped into a souvenir shop on the way back to the campervan. It was full of fridge magnets that pointed out that the mountain is shrouded in cloud around 70% of the time! I didn’t feel so bad after that. Clearly not the only tourists to have missed the view!
Long Drive Through Nowhere
Onwards we went, first to the National Park Visitor Centre, and then along the unpaved 135-mile Denali Highway. This had been the original route to the National Park before the paved roads were built – what an adventure it must have been back in those days.
We settled down for a night halfway along. The sound of howling wolves the only noise audible as we watched the sunset fall over the hills.
I’m still in awe of the scale of the State – we must’ve passed less than a dozen vehicles on this enormous road. And the towns at either end were barely villages, compared to back home.
We made our way to Chitina, the access point for Wrangell-St Elias National Park. It was a 60-mile drive in on an old railway track to the one place there was to stay – the villages of McCarthy and Kennecott. As far as I’m aware, this and the hostel in McCarthy – just a mile or two apart – were the only accommodation in the park. Which is astonishing, bearing in mind – as the website says: the park is the same size as Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland combined!
Here we explored the glacier, visited the abandoned mine, and spent a lot of time just taking it all in. We made friends with one of the cooks from the hotel. He lived a few doors down, and we often spotted him picking wild fruit. Everything he found, he cooked into mini-muffins for the next day’s breakfast at the hotel. They were absolutely remarkable – and too easy to eat!
One day we went down river on a raft, and saw our only trace of a bear on the whole trip. It was a big paw print in the sand. They also laid on a picnic for us, which was my first taste of American powdered lemonade. Powerful stuff!
And The Weather Worsened
You’d think the end of August would be a good time to travel. As it turned out, that’s getting well into the Alaskan autumn, so the weather does get very changeable. The trees were browning, and as we travelled on to Valdez and Seward, the cloud dropped and the rain began.
We were happy just to take in the atmospheric scenery. But it would’ve been lovely to see a bit more of Prince William Sound. And our final big event – a kayaking trip to a glacier – had to be cancelled due to 17-foot swell in the bay!
Settling in to the RV, we just amused ourselves by watching all the sea otters and eagles off the coast of Seward. From here, it was back to Anchorage and the flight home.
It’s lovely to remember it again, thanks to my phone reminding me. It was a place like no other I’ve been, where more people fly than they do drive, and people cycle around with bear spray strapped to their bikes.
I can’t recommend it enough, but if anyone ever asked me, I would say bear the weather in mind! Give yourself time for a few unpredictable days, it usually clears at some point, if you can afford to wait for it. And when it clears up, it’ll have been worth the wait…