Jean and I arrived back in Dallas last Saturday. After leaving South Dakota and Mt. Rushmore we worked our way across the state to Sioux Falls and then headed south on I-29. A week or so earlier, I’d made plans to stop in Kansas City and have lunch with an old friend I used to work with in television. In the process of setting the day and time, he alerted me to the fact that there may still be an issue with flooding along that Interstate.
Sure enough, large portions of I-29 between Sioux City, Iowa and northwestern Missouri are still underwater from flooding in late June. Jean and I saw considerable flooding between Sioux Falls and into Sioux City. There was numerous places were water was at the edge of the highway and sandbags were stacked at low spots and on some low bridges.
We crossed into Nebraska north of Omaha and worked our way south to Nebraska City before stopping for the night on Tuesday. I had stopped at an Iowa Tourist Information spot and talked with a representative there about the detours. I was going to go south down US 75 in Nebraska and wanted to make sure it was open all the way into NE Kansas. As we headed south on US 75, there were signs indicating that various cross highways back into Iowa and Missouri were closed at I-29. We headed back east into St. Joseph, MO and picked up I-29 there.
After lunch in KC, we continued south to Jean’s parents and our hometown of Girard, KS. We visited friends and family for a couple of days and headed home Saturday morning. I was back in Dallas after 53 days on the road.
I was ready to come home but it was a fantastic trip. I realize that none of you will undertake this kind of trip and that’s fine. I wouldn’t have done it this way if I wasn’t traveling alone.
I’d like to offer some unsolicited advice if you were intrigued by what I told and showed you about Alaska and are thinking about going there.
Probably the majority of people who visit Alaska go on an Alaskan cruise. I love cruising and I think it’s a great way to travel. But a cruise to Alaska doesn’t show you much of Alaska. You have to get off the ship more than a visit to the ports along the way. So take the cruise if you wish but either add a land portion or travel independently after the cruise.
When planning your trip, determine what you goals are. Taking an Alaskan cruise shows you the west coast of the state with stops in several ports. You’ll eat well, sleep in a comfortable bed and make some new friends but that’s a small part of what Alaska is.
Last summer, one of Jean’s brothers and his wife did an Alaskan cruise that was three or four days on the ship and ten days on a motorcoach, train and plane tour. They saw a lot of Alaska. While that kind of tour still limits you because you have a schedule and you have to be somewhere at a specific time and can only spend so much time in a location or looking for wildlife along the road, it is an opportunity to see a lot of Alaska. The cruise lines have a pretty good idea of what most people want to see and offer a variety of entertainment and experiences that make it an easy choice.
But you can see Alaska and do it independently. It all depends on how much time you want to spend doing the research. I met a lot of people who had flown to Alaska, rented a car or camper, and were doing their own thing. On a cruise ship, you can tour Tracy Arm fiord and look at glaciers but not as close as on a small tour boat out of Juneau. You can see whales on a cruise ship but not as close as on a whale watching boat. And, on a cruise ship, you may see a bear or two on the shore but not as close as you will inland….even from a tour bus, if you’re lucky.
If you rent a camper for a couple of weeks in Alaska, you can live fairly comfortably and you don’t have to be in a campground every night. In fact, you could spend two weeks driving around Alaska and NEVER have to spend a night in a campground if you chose. Campgrounds do make it easier to do laundry and have electricity but in Alaska you don’t need air conditioning and most camper’s have propane for cooking and heat.
Over the 53 days I was gone, I spent ten nights in a hotel or hostel (including four after Jean joined me)….two nights in a private home (my sister’s in Kansas, the Interstate distributors in Anchorage)…twelve in a campground I paid a small fee for ($8-$20) and twenty-nine that were free (pullouts, public camping, rest stops, Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer parking lots). I wasn’t alone at many of those free spots. At one Fred Meyer store (basically they are unscale Wal-Marts in Alaska) there was probably 50-60 campers of all sizes and types from large motorcoaches to small pull-behind campers to my cargo van.
If you want to bring home pictures that you can put on the wall of wildlife, you need a long lens…at least 200mm to get some decent shots of wildlife along the road to 400-500mm for some of the animals in Denali National Park. But if you just want to see them up close and don’t care about close-up pictures, then a good set of binoculars will work perfectly.
I had estimated that I would drive 10,500-11,000 miles. I went over that and turned 12,350 miles. Despite the extra miles, I came in about 5% under the budget I had estimated for the trip not including my truck repairs. That wasn’t in the budget and it was significant.
I met a lot of wonderful people along the way. I held what I consider meaningful conversations with folks from Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Peru, England, Australia, Romania, all over Canada, and many of the lower 48 states. I was tipped to some places to go and things to photograph by talking to people I met everywhere. The photograph of Mt. McKinley reflected in Reflection Pond was from a conversation with a photographer I met waiting to board a plane in Anchorage to Brooks Camp. The elk I photographed in Wyoming I learned about from the garage owner who replaced my transmission. He loaned me the car to go hunt for them. And I’ve told you about my new friend, Mike, the teacher from North Pole, Alaska who I met in a campground in Skagway and who ended up giving me a ride around Sitka and Juneau when we met up again on the ferry to Sitka. I even met a family of seven from near my hometown in Kansas. (I had volunteered to take their family picture at a visitor center in Denali National Park and we got to talking.)
All in all, I had a fantastic time. I got a lot of great images. You may not see them in National Geographic but some of them will make it to a wall near me.
If anyone has any questions about anything related to this trip or about planning your own trip, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll give you whatever information I can or direct you to resources I found useful.
Thanks for following my trip. I’ve appreciated the many good comments and suggestions you’ve made. You all helped me enjoy this trip more than I would have otherwise.