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.

Birdseye View of Wrangell-St. Elias

In our last post we reported on our hike on the Root Glacier. It was incredible to say the least. However, we seem to have topped it with a flightseeing excursion with Wrangell Mountain Air. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is a completely different world from the air.

We joined our pilot Oren in the little three seater plane for a fifty minute flight over the snow covered peaks surrounding McCarthy.

We flew over braided rivers like the Nizina and glaciers including the Regal, Kennicott, and Nizina. There are an estimated 150 glaciers throughout the Wrangells. One of them, Malaspina, is larger than Rhode Island.

With the massive Root Glacier’s Stairway Icefall as our finale, we were blown away by the vastness, the ruggedness, and the absolute beauty all around us. The photos don’t even come close to describing the incredible Wrangell Mountains.

The perspective you get from the air illustrates just how small we really are in a  landscape like this. Just Wow!

We were sad to leave the Wrangells, especially after a tour like this. However, there’s much more to Alaska and we plan to see as much as possible. Stay tuned for more adventures soon!

The Journey to Wrangell St. Elias National Park

Most people don’t know much about North America’s largest national park. Wrangell St. Elias. Encompassing 20,000 square miles, it’s larger than some states and includes nine of the sixteen highest peaks in the United States. It has the largest concentration of mountains over 14,000 feet, and there are only two roads that allow access to the park. We did them both!

After leaving our friends Russ and Susan, who headed north to Fairbanks, we headed south towards Wrangell St. Elias. Our first peek was via the Nebesna Road. The road leads to an abandoned mine, but the road was closed for flooding after about 20 miles. We opted to use one of the many roadside turnouts as a campsite and enjoyed the view of the Wrangell Mountains across the valley. 

While on Nebesna Road we tackled the Caribou Crossing trail but found the creek crossing was still covered in ice. Still, our very remote three mile hike gave us a good look at the landscape. 

Even though we’ve encountered ice and snow so far, it is beginning to look like spring up here. And to prove it, Steve has been capturing the flowers as they unfold before us. 

From the Nebesna Road we traveled south towards the other park entrance. Because we had some time to kill before our next reservation, we boondocked a few nights along the way in the Copper River Valley. Known for the famous Copper River salmon, the area is filled with fast running creeks, streams, and rivers, and the water levels have been high due to late snows and now warm days.

We stayed one night at the Tonzina River Wayside, a paved parking area along the Tonzina River. Unlike most other places we’ve travelled, in Alaska you can pull over and spend the night anywhere along the way, as long as there’s not a sign that says, “no overnight stays.” This spot gave us great access to our first look at the Alaska Pipeline. We’ll surely see more of this as the summer rolls along.

The next night we headed to Squirrel Creek State Park and camped at a great site with a view of a lake and a great path to the confluence of the creek and the Tonsina River. Here’s where we spent my birthday, and it was glorious! I spent most of the day in the screen room, enjoying the views, reading a good book, and just relaxing.

Steve even got in some fishing with his new waders at this stop. He didn’t catch anything but at least he knows they don’t leak!

That evening we headed to the nearby Tonsina River Lodge and enjoyed our first exposure to Russian food. It was fabulous!

A few nights hanging out in the Kenny Lake area, we were able to get in a great hike near Liberty Falls that gave us awesome views of the Copper River and surrounding mountains. 

Finally we began the epic journey down the McCarthy Road, the second road into Wrangell St. Elias National Park. The road was created on the old railroad bed that linked the Kennecott Copper mine to the coast at Cordova. It’s a 60 miles journey down a rough, unpaved, and remote road that was originally developed in the early 1900s. Signs along the way warned us to be careful!

Along the way we stopped to check out the old trestle bridges and one lane creek crossings. We even had a bear cross in front of us. Just getting to McCarthy is an adventure!

Once we arrived at Currant Ridge Cabins, our home for the next three nights, we ventured into “town.” McCarthy was the social center of the area in the early 1900s when hundreds of miners worked at the nearby Kennecott mine.

If it sounds familiar, it might be because the town is featured in the Discover Channel series, “Edge of Alaska.” Ripe with intrigue, conflict, and a saucy history, this old town is filled with characters, rugged individualists, and now, some tourists. 

To get to McCarthy you park on one side of a roaring river and take the footbridge to the other side. From there you can take a shuttle or walk the half mile into “town.” Only locals have vehicles on the town side of the river and they access town via a bridge they pay to use. 

Four and a half miles up the old road from McCarthy sits Kennecott, the old mining town and the site of the National Park Visitor Center. Both towns sit at the toe of the Kennecott and Root Glaciers, and doing a glacier hike is a must when visiting this area of the park. Because we have SO MANY PHOTOS, we’ll do a separate blog post on the glacier hike and on the other high-flying adventure we had while in this area. Here’s a preview:

Our time in McCarthy was complete after we spent an evening in town with the locals. We had a wonderful dinner at the Salmon and Bear featuring Copper River Salmon. From there we sat at the bar in the saloon and chatted with locals who have lived in this remote paradise for decades. Boy, do they have stories to tell!

And, yes, there’s way more to share about this part of our Alaska adventure. Stay tuned for more posts coming soon!