miles driven
strong drinks drank

Currently: 42 degrees, fair weather, Fairbanks, AK. Watching a VHS of “The Mask of Zorro.”

I’m writing yesterday’s blog post today, that would be yesterday’s tomorrow…or let’s just say Wednesday. Yesterday (Tuesday) I opted to skip writing a full post in favor of getting some sleep. So, today I’m writing what I would have wrote yesterday for posterity’s sake.

What’d We Do?

Yesterday we woke up in our awesome room in Healy, Alaska and enjoyed a quick breakfast while looking out over Otto Lake. The mountains were just starting to come into sun and the lake was serene.

I decided to shoot a couple quick timelapses of the mountains from our room’s balcony, and our room’s neighbor just happened to be a fellow camera-geek and we struck up a conversation about the blackmagic cinema camera I’d been using. Turns out he was in Alaska to shoot an episode of an outdoors TV show called “The High Road” which airs on the Pursuit Channel. A quick google search makes me think it’s hunting focused, so I might rather not know exactly what they were up to yesterday. As we packed up, the host of the show was hanging out with the staff of the hotel in the communal sitting room and it seemed that he knew the area well and had probably shot there before.

We were sad to leave our room as it was the first time of the trip we had spent three nights in one place, and the setting was pretty amazing. However, it was on to better things and we checked out and headed back into Denali National Park for a morning of touring.

Kirsten is obsessed with collecting stamps for her national parks passport, so we visited the Visitor’s Center once again to make sure we got our official stamps. Afterwards, we headed to the learning center where we read about research and wolf populations in Denali. There are plenty of active research projects happening around Denali including water tests, permafrost and climate monitoring. The wolves are quite a story themselves: there’s currently only around 50 wolves known to be living in Denali National Park, and that’s down from previous years. It’s unknown why there was a drop in population, but the park is monitoring. The boundaries of the park don’t include a fence so the animals are free to come and go as they wish, and that opens them to hunting once outside of federal protected lands.

The learning center also had a ridiculously detailed quilt hanging on the wall that took three years for a local quilting group to put together. It painstakingly detailed the topographic and fauna details of the park in a map that spanned the entire park boundary.

We had originally planned to do a short hike in the morning, but looking at the beautiful weather and clear skies, we decided to once again drive the first 15 miles of the park road that is allowable to cars. The fall colors were really starting to hit peak and we agreed it was best to see the park in it’s full splendor. The drive didn’t disappoint, we spent a few hours gazing and photographing the mountains along both sides of the road, taking in the beautiful golden color of the leaves and searching for wildlife where we had previously seen bears and moose. No luck on the wildlife minus an arctic ground squirrel. Kirsten did stake out a train coming across the trestle surrounded by fall colors. She’s a true railfan at heart.

After exhausting the park drive, we wrapped up our trip to Denali and headed outside of the park for lunch. Along the way we stopped at a store to find a shot glass for Kirsten’s travel collection and decided we needed to purchase Alaska-themed socks to keep our feet warm while in the arctic. Kir’s have sled dogs and mine have an eagle, they’re stylish…

We revisited the Prospector’s Pizza restaurant that we dined at a few nights ago for lunch and split a pizza before hitting the road to Fairbanks. While filling up with gas, I asked a guy at the pump next to me how much it cost to fill up an RV. He didn’t have an answer yet (this was his first fill-up), but we talked about traveling Alaska by RV. In my extensive research for this trip I briefly considered renting an RV to save on hotels and rental car costs. Ultimately we decided we weren’t experienced with RV’s so we stuck with what we know, however, there’s a great company that rents RV’s out of Anchorage and they are everywhere in Alaska. This guy gave them a glowing review and said he’s used them before and that Alaska by RV is a great way to see the state.

We then drove the 2 hours along the Parks Highway up to Fairbanks and checked in with our Airbnb host at a great house overlooking the Alaska Range in the hills above the city. After settling in we drove the route to the airport we’d need this morning and chatted with the airline/tour group staff to make sure we knew what we’d be getting into with our trip to the arctic. Afterwards we headed to a few stores in search of cold-weather clothing because the temperatures had dropped further than we were expecting and we’d be spending all of today on a boat.

Afterwards we found dinner nearby at what was supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Fairbanks, but ultimately was a bit frustrating. We were told the wait for two would be about 30 minutes so we asked to dine at the bar instead. The bartender said that would be fine but then acted like it would be a hassle after getting busy with drink orders. At this time, we had already released our table and people who had arrived after us had already been seated. Eventually we were allowed to order but the kitchen had run out of most of the options we wanted. Dinner ended on an odd note when a regular came in and sat at the bar. He seemed disheveled and the bartender chatted with a waitress about how this guy dines for free. For whatever reason Kir engaged in a conversation with him that involved a meth-addicted mother who had abandoned her kids and how he’s got the best legal team fighting for his grandkids that aren’t related by blood. I’m not sure how the story got so far, but he said some weird stuff…so all in all, it was pretty entertaining.

After dinner we headed back to the house we’re staying at and tried to pair down our camera bags to only equipment we deemed necessary for today’s arctic trip. We had a 10 lb limit and it was really hard to limit what we wanted to bring. After that we got to sleep early and dreamed about polar bears.

What We Ate

Split a pizza near Denali, and tried to dine on meatloaf and beef stroganoff, but ultimately ended up with a burger and brown butter mushroom ravioli. The restaurant made up for their lack of options with really strong drinks.

What We Learned

Denali National Park and the National Parks Service has lobbied the state of Alaska to protect the wolves in areas outside of the park boundary in the name of conservation. However, the state turned down their request and in 2010 voted to shelf the issue from discussion for six years. This year the wolf population was lower than ever before.

Wildlife We Saw

3 moose crossing the street about 1/2 mile from the house we’re staying at in the hills above Fairbanks.

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