Denali Highway and Valdez with Mitch

We love it when we have visitors on the road, and in this post, we’re excited to share our adventures with my cousin Mitch. He flew into Fairbanks just a day before Sam left us. Together we shared a great dinner and show at the Salmon Bake at Pioneer Park. We were sad to see Sam head south but so grateful for our time with him.

Dinner at the Pioneer Park Salmon Bake

With Mitch our first stop was the North Pole! It’s actually a big gift shop in a suburb of Fairbanks, and it was a great place to stock up on gifts and put in a few requests with Santa.

Catching up with Santa

After our visit with Santa and time to restock our provisions, we set out back towards Denali with a quick stop at the Magic Bus at the Denali Brewing Company and the National Park visitors center.

From there we began our trek across the Denali Highway, the 135-mile, mostly gravel route that was the original path to the park. Along the way we camped at two primitive campgrounds, took in the amazing views, and got in a little fishing. Mitch even caught his first fish with his new fly rod!

Our next stop was back to one of our favorite places from our time here in June. We stayed at the Salmon Grove Fish Camp, along the banks of the Klutina River. From here the guys went on a rafting trip down the river to catch the big ones: King Salmon. It was a long day but both were successful, and we’ve enjoyed some incredible dinners since! This was the first time for both guys to catch Kings so it was pretty exciting!

Copper Center is quiet little town, which we explored on foot in about 30 minutes!

Valdez was our next stop and the drive itself was spectacular! The road winds through Keystone Canyon, with waterfalls on both sides.

We were lucky to arrive in Valdez on a sunny day so that we could take in the snow-capped peaks.  We had just enough time to fit in a quick bike ride and check out the town. 

The next day Steve and Mitch went on another fishing charter, this time for Silver Salmon. They had sunny skies most of the day and each caught their limits.  What a haul! For those who are keeping track, we’ve now sent nearly 50 pounds of fish home, some of which has been shared with Mitch and Sam. 

After the successful fishing venture, the skies turned dark and the town was socked in with clouds for the remainder of our stay. They say it rains a lot in Valdez, and they aren’t kidding. But it wasn’t too cold and we were prepared, so the weather didn’t slow us down much. We unknowingly timed our visit to Valdez to coincide with the annual Gold Rush Days, a four day celebration of Valdez’s history. As part of the celebration, we participated in the Wine (and more) Walk through town, which gave us an opportunity to mingle with the locals, support local charities, and sample Valdez-brewed beer. Even in the rain it was fun!

A highlight of any trip to Valdez is going on one of the local tour boats to see wildlife and the nearby glaciers. We opted to go on the Lulubelle, and we weren’t disappointed. Granted, it was a L O N G day on a boat…almost 11 hours with a captain that did not stop talking the entire time!

However, we saw things we couldn’t have seen on other tours. The highlights of our day included humpback whales, orcas, sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, and puffin.

The most unique part of the excursion was slowly plowing through the thick ice field at the Columbia Glacier. Along the way we met nice people and enjoyed unbelievable views.

Valdez is a beautiful place. We were lucky to snag a campsite at the Bear Paw II RV Park, right alongside the boat harbor. We spent hours just watching boats of all sizes come in and out of the port. Surrounded by at least five glaciers, the port area is where the action is at in Valdez.

Across the harbor we visited the Solomon Gulch fish hatchery. Here, hundreds of thousands of silver salmon return to the hatchery each year. The mass of fish attract all kinds of other creatures including sea lions and bears. Watching this fat sea lion chow down on salmon was a highlight of our visit there.

Sea lion gorging on salmon

Mitch returned home safely, after a cancelled fight and quick change of travel plans. We loved having him with us and hope he has memories to last a lifetime. 

We’re now beginning our very slow trek south but still have some fun stops ahead. 

Going to the Dogs in Anchorage

We just spent a week in and around the Anchorage area as part of our Alaska summer fun. There’s a lot to do here! Besides haircuts for all of us, several trips to Costco, and some down time, we had some big fun.

We spent one weekend camping at the Alaska Raceway Park in Palmer. The racetrack is part of the Harvest Host program which allowed us to camp right in the pits so we could enjoy a full weekend of racing.

With our trackside campsite we were able to watch the cars line up to enter the oval, freely walk through the pits, and make friends along the way. On Sunday we watched the drag races from all angles. This was a unique experience — another great Harvest Host stay in a beautiful setting.

Nearby is a MuskOx Farm, a non-profit that is dedicated to the domestication of these arctic creatures and the production of qiviut, the extra warm, luxury wool that comes from the muskox. We enjoyed our tour where we met the muskox and learned about their lives. They’re cute, huh?

In Anchorage we biked the coastal trail, took in the scenery, and picked up our dear friend Sam up at the airport. Sam will be with us for the next six weeks as we explore Alaska’s coastal and mountain areas. 

The big excursion this week, however, was our glacier dog-sledding adventure outside of Girdwood. We boarded a four-seat helicopter and took a short but scenic flight to the Punchbowl Glacier.

Once we landed, we were introduced to Mitch Seavey’s kennel of champion sled dogs. The Seavey name is synonymous with the Iditarod, having won the legendary race numerous times. 

We learned about the race and the grueling conditions dogs and drivers endure to reach the finish line. In fact, one of the guides at Dog Camp raced this year but broke his ankle with just three days to go. He had some great stories about life on the trail!

Once our team of eight dogs were hooked up to the sled, we were off! The dogs were smaller than we expected at about 40-50 pounds each. It was incredible how much power these small but mighty animals could generate. We traveled at about eight miles per hour, which is about how fast the racers go as well. 

Sledding around on a massive glacier, well removed from civilization, with only dogs and their handlers to guide us, was a surreal experience. Occasionally we’d stop along the way and take in the views. We had a beautifully warm day with crystal clear skies, which just made the day even more special.

We finished our time at Dog Camp with the puppies! Three future sled dogs enthusiastically greeted us and were ready to play (and chew on whatever they could find!) We wondered if a puppy was included in our fare, but unfortunately they had to stay atop the glacier.

Before we knew it the helicopter returned, and it was time to fly back down the glacier to the Girdwood airport. Again, the scenic beauty was overwhelming. Needless to say we’d highly recommend this unique adventure.

Steve continues to snap shots of the beautiful flowers that have sprouted up everywhere in the past few weeks. Summer is certainly here, as evidenced by the very long daylight hours. With over 19 hours of light, and unseasonable warm days, everything is growing like crazy.

Another reason we were in Anchorage at this time was for Steve to rack up another marathon in another state. He completed the Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon in just over four hours and placed second in his age group. This race in Alaska is his 26th state in his quest to hit all 50. 

We finished our time in Anchorage with a wonderful dinner at the home of our friends TJ and Jon. It had been a few years since I’d seen them, and it was great to catch up! Thanks TJ and Jon (and Jon’s Mom Peggy) for an incredible evening!

As always, we are grateful for the opportunity to travel to these special places with special people and we love sharing it with you! Your comments are much appreciated.

Moving Northward in Florida State Parks ++

Since finishing our time in the Ft Lauderdale area we’ve been slowly working our way northward and beginning to think about the final portion of this six-month journey.

We left Ft Lauderdale and traveled to the northern part of Florida over two days. Overnight we stopped at a very cool Harvest Host, Organicaworld, where they are growing hemp that is being converted to “hempcrete” to build houses. They also had a cool farm store, a mean brisket, and some very friendly donkeys.

Our next stop was a visit to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, a unique property just south of Gainesville. Paynes Prairie is the only place in Florida where wild-roaming horses and bison can be found. We didn’t find them, but we enjoyed the paved 16-mile Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, which runs through the park. 

Florida is so different from our home in Arizona. You can see from the photos that the Spanish Moss is prevalent and the forest is thick. Yes, we’ve run into bugs once in awhile but nothing a little bug spray won’t take care of.

From there we headed to the coast and to one of our favorite Florida cities: St Augustine. We stayed in this area for about 10 days last year and were lucky enough to score a seven day reservation this year at Anastasia State Park, which is located in the middle of the action. We were even warmly greeted by a local critter when we pulled in.

From our heavily wooded, secluded site, we could easily bike into town, kayak the nearby waterways, and walk to the Saturday Farmers Market.

We toured the famous lighthouse and took in the sweeping views. Overall though, we weren’t very touristy…just enjoyed the nice weather and beautiful area.

We continued the laid back vibe during our four days at the Jekyll Island Campground. We visited here last year as well and wanted to explore a little more. We rode our bikes around the island and visited the local museum to learn about the impact of the Rockefellers, Morgans, and Vanderbilts on the island in the early 1900s.

One day we took in the local art festival. I even had a chance to learn to weave.

Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate during our final days there but we kept busy in the trailer with reading, taking in a night of Bingo, and news-watching. The inclement weather also made for some spectacular sunsets.

We’re now in Savannah for a few days to take in the country’s second largest St Patrick’s Day festivities. We will actually be on our way west on the big day, but the fountains are dyed green and the party has started. 

Over the past few weeks, we’ve kind of shifted into traveler mode, rather than tourist mode. It just means we aren’t trying to see everything and do everything possible. Traveling in the RV gives us the option to slow down, soak in the places, and go at our own pace. That’s the mode we’ve been in recently…and it’s kind of nice!