We bit the bullet and finally took the Alaskan trip we talked about for years.
The trip started with a ride on the Alaskan Railroad dome train from Fairbanks to Denali National Park. The service was first class and the food perhaps the best on the trip. (While at the station in Fairbanks, check out the model train display.) Of course what I really wanted to see was the wilderness and the wild animals. From the dome car you really got a good sense of the expanse and wonder of the country. Fairbanks was mostly flat. Somehow or another I had envisioned all of Alaska as big mountains. As we drew closer to Denali, the mountains grew. The train meandered along Glacier Rivers and through mountain canyons. It was a relaxing way to see the awesome beauty of the Alaskan countryside. I highly recommend paying the little extra and taking the dome train.
From the train station at the entrance to Denali we boarded a grey bus, resembling an old school bus, for our trip into the National Park. No first class frills here. After a couple of miles the road went from paved to dirt. Now was the time to look for animals. You never know what you will see. We saw reindeer, bears, eagles, Dall Sheep, wolves, Arctic Hare, moose and more. Some we saw up close. Others were microdots on the mountains. With every sighting the bus would stop, windows quickly opened and the cameras began clicking madly. I took hundreds of pictures; sure each was as good as any in National Geographic. Not just pictures of animals, but the landscape also. However, for the true photographers, getting a really great shot would have been difficult. You were not allowed off the bus, except at a few rest areas, so you have to deal with whatever angle and lighting you had. Still, I’ll never forget the experience of seeing wild animals in their natural habitat and the grandeur of the mountains.
We were one of the fortunate ones and got to spend a couple of nights in a cabin at the Backcounty Lodge. From there we had guides that took us hiking. The sun barely sets in June, so it never gets really dark. You have to remind yourself to go to bed so you don’t get exhausted. The day was broken up into a morning hike and an afternoon hike. Several were offered and you signed up for the hike that appealed to you. If you wanted to take your time and take more/better pictures you have to hike on your own. Me, I liked having a guide who knew the area, the plants and the animals. Pack your rain rear for the trip, as it rained every day we were there.
I enjoyed the hike at Wonder Lake. I had hoped to get pictures of Mt. McKinley, but it stubbornly stayed in the clouds. We saw 4 moose from the hilltop and a beaver in the pond. Mike took the time to fish and caught 4 good size lake trout. They had the equipment at the lodge. If you decide to try it, take the waders and fish opposite the dock. No one fishing around the dock caught anything.
Hiking to the McKinley River sandbar was my favorite. You really felt the vastness of the land. The hike was mostly flat, winding though the crooked forest, dwarfed trees, low land bogs and tundra. Many different colored flowers bloomed along the way. Then you suddenly popped out on the banks of the river. It was cold and dark with the distinctive green-grey color of a glacier river. The river was more than 2 miles wide with Mt. McKinley across the way. Of course, it was still hiding in the clouds, but you could see the lower mountains. (Which looked big to me.)
Before we were ready, it was time to leave Denali National Park. Lucky for us the day dawned clear with not a cloud in the sky. We were blessed with magnificent views of Mt. McKinley on our drive out before the clouds came in again. From there we traveled south to Anchorage and Prince William Sound. But that is for another article.
Vacation can be a treat when visiting the “Queen of American Lakes”, Lake George, located in the Adirondack Park of upstate New York. It is a picturesque 32 miles long, with crystal clear waters highlighted by numerous islands.
Several boat companies offer tours of the lake. A ride on the steamboat Minne-Ha-Ha will remind you of life on Lake George in the late 1800’s. Longer rides will take you through the Narrows, truly a breathtaking experience. Bring a camera; you’ll want a photo album of this vacation. If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, you can rent a powerboat and take a private tour. Make sure you have a map of the lake. Start early as most boats must be returned by 4:00pm. The truly adventurous can rent kayaks. I recommended leaving from Bolton Landing so the Narrows and Tongue Mountain will be in paddling distance.
Many of the islands on Lake George are managed by the New York State Park Service. They have day use and camping sites on many of them. Camping here is for the stout as the only bathroom facilities are outhouses. The camping sites can be rented online at Reserve America.
If you’re vacationing in the area, day-using on an island is a special treat, but you must have a boat to get there. Go diving off the dock into clear blue green water. Barbeque, sunbath and relax in the shade. What more could you ask for on a hot afternoon? The day use sites can be rented at the Ranger Stations located on Long Island, Narrow Island and Glen Island. Get there early, if you want a site on a weekend or holiday.
There are many ways to enjoy a day off the lake. There are specialty shops, arcades, mini golf courses and museums in the Village of Lake George. For history buffs, there is Fort William Henry and Fort Ticonderoga. (If you’re on the lake visit the memorial on Diamond Island.) The Great Escape theme park is just minutes away. During July and early August, the Lake George Youtheater is a must for theater buffs. Performances are during the day on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
There are many privately owned vacation rental cabins and cottages located on Lake George. Private rentals offer a more comfortable atmosphere especially for families with children. You can relax and enjoy the surrounding beauty while the kids are napping or watching a video. No need for everyone to hike back to the hotel. Most vacation rentals have their own dock, swimming area and yard. Some are located in associations with community areas. Cabins with accommodations for 2 to 20 can be found online thru vacation rental sites. Remember, the rental cabins are privately owned, so you must contact the owner for information concerning their rental property.
Once you’ve vacationed on Lake George, you’ll agree, there’s a lot to love about Lake George