After months of planning, I’m finally headed for Alaska! I started thinking about this trip last Fall and began making firm plans in December. I’ve loaded up on camera gear and have tried to cover all the bases….a 150-500mm telephoto zoom, macro lens, 18-270mm zoom, a doubler to make the 150-500mm zoom at 300-1000mm zoom and a variety of other items.
Originally Jean’s sister-in-law and I were considering an Alaskan cruise for Jean and I and Jean’s brother, Larry, but when we started looking at it seriously we found that all of the space was already booked. We decided to wait until this year. Then I decided I wanted to see more of Alaska than I would see from a seven day cruise and land tour. I wanted to be where I wanted to be and do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I wanted the opportunity to take all the pictures I wanted to and get pictures of wildlife I probably wouldn’t be able to get from a tour bus and cruise ship. So I started making plans to head to Alaska on my own.
The first thing I reserved was a trip to Brooks Lodge in the Katmai National Park. This is a well known (among photographers) location to shoot bear catching salmon jumping up a small waterfall. The only way in is by an Alaska Airways flight from Anchorage to King Salmon, AK and then a bush plan to Brooks Lodge. There are only 16 rooms in the lodge and the round trip including airfare and one night in the lodge was $1250 (meals NOT included). When I called to inquire about a spot at this location they were already booked up but had had a recent cancellation and July 27 was the only open date until September. I took it while starting to figure out if I was actually going to go through with it. I had ten days to get my deposit in while making my decision. Basically, my entire trip was scheduled around this one date.
Over the next six months, I’ve laid out my itinerary, booked my ferry trips, my day and half-day cruises, and my campground reservations at Denali National Park, etc.
Jean has decided she doesn’t want to be cold or wet and while it won’t be unbearably cold it will probably be in the 40’s at nights in some places and rainy in the southeast corner of the state around Juneau and Sitka. She’ll spend the time sitting by the pool in our backyard instead.
I will be leaving July 5 from Dallas and returning home about August 27. I anticipate driving about 10,000 miles. Originally, I had planned to tow a 25’ travel trailer but when I estimated my gas expenses at 8 mpg….that’s 1250 gallons…I decided to leave the trailer at home and drive my 2006 Chevy 1500 cargo van and make it my camper.
Since starting this project I’ve been doing my research using about a half dozen books including Milepost (tells you what’s along every mile of all highways in Alaska), Alaskan Camping, Frommer’s Alaska 2010, wildlife guides for the Yukon, the Kenai Peninsula and Denali National Park, and my favorite, Bear Attacks, their causes and avoidance. I really paid attention to that one. I’ve become a regular visitor to REI. I’ve taken several basic courses on compass and map reading, backpacking and ultralight backpacking, camp cooking (actually it’s primarily boiling water and pouring it into a pouch of dehydrated food) and basic bicycle maintenance.
I’ll be heading north from Dallas to Hutchinson, Kansas for the first leg to visit some family then it’s west to Colorado and north through Wyoming and Montana into Canada. I’ll go through Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise then west through Prince George, British Columbia and make my first entry into Alaska at a small town called Hyder.
From there it’s north through Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to Skagway, Alaska then by ferry to Haines, continuing to Juneau, then a one day flight to Gustavus at the southern end of Glacier Bay back to Juneau and on to Sitka. From Sitka I take the ferry back to Juneau and a trip to Mendenhall Glacier before heading back to Haines to pick up my truck. Then it’s north to Anchorage, five days touring the Kenai Peninsula and lunch with a fellow graduate of my Kansas high school.
From the Kenai Peninsula it back through Anchorage to Denali National Park. I have five nights reserved there at three different campgrounds. There is only one road into the park. It’s 90 miles long and only available on converted schoolbuses on a 11-13 hour round trip. You can drive in 12 miles and go 29 miles in if you have a camping permit at Teklinka Campground. You are required to stay three nights to help minimize traffic on the park road.
From Denali it’s a roundabout route to Fairbanks and then north to the Arctic Circle. The road north, the Dalton Highway, is really a gravel haul road for supplies to the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. Right now, I only plan to drive halfway to Coldfoot just north of the Arctic Circle but will decide after I get there if I’m going further up the road. It’s 450 miles one way to Prudhoe Bay from Fairbanks.
After returning to Fairbanks, then it’s a different route back through the Northwest Territory, Yukon Territory, Alberta and then into Montana for the trip home.
I hope you decide to follow my dream trip. If you have any questions, please send an email and I’ll try to get the answer.
Until next time….