If you ever want to experience just how vast, wild and beautiful our country is, then spend some time in Alaska. Anywhere there are mountains, wildlife and water, I'm a happy camper.
Two summers ago, we flew into Ancorage where we rented an RV for two weeks and traveled the interior. The RV was completely self-contained, except for food. My first suggestion is to order/purchase a Milepost guidebook. It was a life-saver chocked full of roadway, camping, lodging, dining and sight-seeing information. In my opinion, it is the best way to experience this raw and gorgeous territory where one can take plenty of time to take it all in.
The day trip into Denali was well-worth the bus ride. We saw lots of caribou and bears. From there we visited a gold mine north of Fairbanks, toured an ulu knife factory and then enjoyed a night at Chena Hot Springs. There we watched a dog sled team pulling a 4-wheeler, training for the Ididerod. We lost count of the moose grazing in ponds along the highway. We also sent post-cards from Santa Land at North Pole.
From there we camped on the Klutina River where we signed up for a guided rafting trip to fish for king salmon. My husband, teenage son and myself were allotted one each, although the odds of getting one did not damper our enthusiasm. Gear and waders were provided and the glacier-fed river was very fast and cold. During the trip we marveled at the bears, moose and eagles along the riverbanks, but the thrill of actually landing a king salmon will be etched in my bragging banks forever. I hooked the first one and largest one of the three!. Afterall, my boys were experienced fishermen. All three of us were able to hook a 50 lb king! Luckily, we had an excellent guide.
I particularly enjoyed camping on shore near Valdez and watching the oil tankers. This is a quaint village that had been completely wiped out during the 60's earthquake and was re-built nearby. Here, we chartered a day cruise to see calving glaciers, whales, seals, otters. I'm a sucker for waterfalls so there was much to see on this trip. Coming from the sunshine state of Florida, just the floating icebergs were a sight to behold!
I will also never forget the fields and roadways lined with fireweed. This beautiful wildflower also makes tasty fireweed honey and jelly, too. There were other inland and coastal cities we visited, each with their own charm like Whittier and other seaport towns. I also enjoyed the old Russian architecture and visiting the churches and surrounding cemetaries with their brightly-colored headstones/markers. Along the way, we visited a musk-ox farm which was informative and also worth the stop.
After we returned the RV, we rented a vehicle that took us to stay in a little cabin on a lake near Soldotna. This trip also included three fabulous and successful guided fishing trips. We fished for silver koho on the Kenai. One trip included a trip across Cook Inlet by sea-plane into a remote area where we literally fished with the bears. We saw several sets of grizzly and black bear cubs also playing in the water. A deep-sea fishing trip to Homer to fish for halibut is also a must-do. My favorite is Alaskan king crab and I never really ate fish before this trip; however, while we were there, I soon learned to prepare, cook and enjoy eating the bounty. Of course there are numerous places that will process your fish to ship home. We were allowed to carry ours home on the plane as checked baggage. And it was still frozen solid when we landed in Florida.
All the rivers, streams, and various waterways were full of salmon trying to return to their breeding grounds. As seen on TV, I had always been amazed at their natural drive and determination, even fighting their way up waterfalls. I could not leave Alaska until I saw this for myself. It was well-worth a 3-mile hike to witness this phenomena first-hand. What glorious pictures we were able to capture on this trip of a life-time, which far surpassed my idea of a perfect three-week vacation!
I'm so thankful we took this journey before my husband passed away. My wonderful memories and photos will only sustain me for a short while...at least until I can and will return to Alaska... hopefully, someday soon. Perhaps I will cruise the next trip, but I am eager to see the Auroras in winter. I wonder if they also occur during spring or fall? I don't think a trip to Alaska could have been planned any better, but I'm open to other suggestions.