From Anchorage Ferda and I flew to southern California and managed to fit in a short car camping trip with Megan while she still had a few days off. Growing up in southern California, both Megan and I have made many trips through the eastern Sierra, but there’s still a lot to see. The main goal of this trip was to visit the bristlecone pines in the White Mountains, but we also stopped at Fossil Falls, Alabama Hills, Manzanar, and Gardisky Lake — all places that none of us had been to before.
Fossil Falls was Chad’s recommendation and a place my grandma enjoyed visiting as well. It’s a short detour off 395 near Little Lake. An ancient river sculpted a small canyon through the basalt leaving interesting rock formations. Supposedly there are Native American grinding stones and petroglyphs around, but we didn’t have any luck finding these.
The short walk to the canyon reminded me of the area around Palm Springs.
The logistics of getting to Alaska’s McNeil River State Game Sanctuary at first seemed a bit daunting. The area’s remote — there are no roads, the nearest village is probably Kokhanok, ~30 miles NW. King Salmon is “only” about 75 miles WSW of McNeil, but what almost all visitors do is fly from Homer (100 miles ENE of McNeil River) with Northwind Aviation. Also, the weather’s crappy at McNeil so you need good rain gear, waders for crossing the tidal/mud flats, camping gear since there’s no accommodation, and food for quite a few days since there’s a good chance you’ll be staying longer (or shorter) than you planned because of bad weather.
Thankfully Kevin and Elise were able to loan us one of their cars for the week, and other friends in Anchorage — Peter, Galen, and Todd — got us set up with fancy rain gear, boots, and the requisite waders. Even with the car, getting to and from Homer turned out to be more of an adventure than we expected. We drove out of Anchorage in pouring rain, stopping a couple times to try and figure out why the car was making such strange noises. Our first real stop was at the Byron Glacier Trailhead at Todd’s recommendation. We didn’t get to the base of the glacier — like Mendenhall, it has retreated greatly — but we were able to test our rain gear!
After a brief stop in Kenai to see where I worked over 25 years ago, we visited the Russian Orthodox Church at Ninilchik and camped nearby with beautiful views of the Redoubt and Iliamna volcanoes.
Generally you have to be pretty lucky to get a bear viewing permit for McNeil River. We considered ourselves especially lucky last year since we had never even applied before. However, the late season permits, blocks S and T, are the easiest to get (because bear counts are the lowest), and the tides were such that last year’s T-Block permits looked to be three-day permits instead of the usual four-day permit. Even though we “won” the lottery, we gave serious thought about whether it’d really be worth it to visit McNeil River during T-Block last year. We’re glad we did it. Bear viewing at McNeil River was a fantastic experience, the most amazing wildlife viewing I’ve ever done (seeing the gorillas in Mgahinga NP in 1998 is now second…).
After the cruise, Kevin and Elise returned straight away to Anchorage to get back to work, leaving Jasper and Zoë in our care for a few days.
I figured there are some great education opportunities for kids in Juneau. You could learn about Native American Tlingit culture at the Sealaska Heritage Institute. The highlight is a beautiful, hand-carved full-size clan house completely inside the museum building. Here’s the front of the clan house — you’d typically expect to find this outside:
and check out this amber pillar in front of a stunning backlit glass and metal screen:
Five years ago my family got together to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in San Miguel de Allende. For 55 we met this year in Ketchikan for a cruise to Juneau. We spent a week on a 100-person ship, well-stocked with toys for outdoor activities. We went sea kayaking most days, and there were also options for forest walks, shore walks, zodiac tours, and stand up paddle boarding. I went to yoga every morning, and some of us even went snorkeling one day — in Alaska, yes!