Sunday, June 9, 2013

Home again, home again, jiggety jig.

We have a bit of old business to discuss before I get to the travelogue.  Congrats to Rich Meyer, who won the Navajo dreamcatcher and the Amazon gift card!  Rich, I've e-mailed you -- check your spam folder if you don't see it.

Everybody, thanks for participating, and thanks for helping to make the launch of Annealed a big success!  I'm on virtual tour right now, courtesy of the Finishing Faeries, who have set up an amazing bunch of stops.  Check the "Tour Dates" tab for the schedule, and to catch up on any posts you missed.  (If y'all want to see my Bumble, say so in the comments and I'll post a picture of him next week.  And if you're wondering what I'm talking about, go read my guest post at today's stop.)

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One of the joys of going on vacation is inflicting your photos on your friends when you get home, right?  And we're all friends here, right?  So allow me to bore you with some scenes from my trip to Alaska last week.   

Just don't expect to see a bunch of shots of wildlife.  I am not a wildlife photographer by any stretch of the imagination.  While I saw many tourists with fancy DSLRs with lenses the length of a fencepost, and a tripod or two, the only camera I had was the one in my iPhone.  So because you'd have to take it on faith anyway that that dot of color waaaaay off in the distance is the animal that I say it is, I won't insist that you suffer through any of my wildlife photos.

I'll start off with a picture of my dinner table in the bistro car on the Alaska Railroad, coming back to Anchorage from Seward after the wildlife-watching catamaran cruise.  I saw plenty of wildlife -- a sea otter, puffins, sea lions on rocks, whales, and so on -- but my pictures suck (see above).  And anyway, I spent a good chunk of the cruise hung over the rail at the stern, parting with my lunch.  So let's settle for this shot of my turkey sandwich with a view.
From Anchorage, I drove north to Denali National Park.  On the way, I had to stop and get a picture of the post office in Cantwell, Alaska.  Yes, it's a real town, about 30 miles south of Denali on the Parks Highway.  I've known of its existence since I was a kid; Dad would pull out the atlas every now and then and fantasize, I suppose, of driving to Alaska, and he would always mention Cantwell.  So of course, I had to stop and get a picture.  Dad would've been so proud....

I stayed at a hostel about 14 miles south of Denali.  I had a cabin to myself beside a rushing stream.  The kitchen was in a separate building, and the bathrooms and showers were in another.  Having to walk to the shower house is a little inconvenient first thing in the morning -- or in the middle of the night -- but no worse than the campgrounds I've stayed at.  And the middle-of-the-night thing wasn't as bad as it sounds; it was close enough to the summer solstice that it never really got dark.  And hey, the bathrooms were heated, and they had real plumbing.  And it was worth it for this view out my cabin door -- the creek, the snow-capped mountains, the cobblestone path, the scavenged antler bolted to the door as a handle, the mosquitoes as big as a quarter....
Anyway.  I need to brag a bit here.  The peak of Mt. McKinley -- which the Alaskan Natives call Denali, or "the big one" -- is 20,320 feet above sea level.  It's the highest mountain in North America.  So it has a few quirks, one of which is its micro-climate.  In other words, it makes its own weather systems, and it's often hidden behind clouds.  Only 30% of visitors to Denali National Park actually get to see the peak (or peaks -- Mt. McKinley has two). But somehow, I got lucky and picked the right day to visit.  That's Denali in the distance, snow-covered and framed between two closer mountains, and already starting to build the cloud cover that enshrouded it not long afterward.

The sign says, "Imagine this at 40 below!"
Next,I drove north from Denali to Fairbanks.  From there, I endured a seventeen-hour round trip on a bus to get to the Arctic Circle, thereby joining the 4% of Alaska visitors who have gotten to the Arctic.  Well, "endured" is perhaps too strong a word; the bus was perfectly comfortable and I brought my knitting.  But our route followed the Dalton Highway. The word "highway" in relation to the Dalton is, I think, a little Alaskan joke -- it's a two-lane dirt road for much of the distance.  And the rest stops (here's an example) were, um, somewhat primitive.  But we got there! Our driver rolled out a little red carpet, bisected with a dotted white line, for us, so we could say we crossed the circle.  And then we had tundra cake (chocolate chocolate chip Bundt cake) with "perma-frosting" (whipped cream).  The real permafrost is a big concern when building anything in Alaska, and a great deal of precise engineering was required for the construction of the Trans Alaskan Pipeline, which parallels the Dalton.

I also got to hang out for a day with Cabin Goddess Kriss Morton, who took great pride in showing me the real Fairbanks -- including where to get a bacon Bloody Mary, and where the yarn shops are.  No more needs to be said about that.

So I've been to the wilds of Alaska and lived to tell about it.  And I get one more claim to fame out of this trip -- go me!
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