August is a time of change in Alaska, apparently, and all of a sudden Alaskans go from enjoying summer to full-on prepping for winter. It’s kinda weird.
The warmth continues…
The month started out just like July had ended – warm with blue skies and hardly any rain.
I was super stoked to get out on my shiny new bike and explore trail after trail.
One of the ones I’d been really wanting to do was Powerline Pass. It’s so close to the house and provides views like this the whole way up the valley.
The fireweed were in full bloom and I couldn’t help but stop and take a photo of them every 50 feet (or so it seemed :). Though we hadn’t had a lot of rain, it was still so green and vibrant. Nature at its best, in my opinion. The green and pink just pops.
And then, about mid-month, it began to change…
The temperatures had slowly been on the decline and the clouds were gathering more frequently. Sunny days were fewer than overcast and soon the rain began to fall. The short-lived summer was about to end.
It’s totally normal for these Alaskans, this shift in weather, but I’ll admit that I begrudgingly went to my closet to pull out my rain coat (insert sad face here). You see, it’s still in the 80s and 90s in Denver, where I’m from. It’s still actually summer. I like summer, as it turns out, and no, I’m not ready for winter, I’m not ready for rain (it never really rains in Denver, either) and I’m not ready for the cold. But Alaska’s not listening. It has other plans.
And so it goes. This is what I signed up for and why we moved here in the first place; for a new adventure. And that’s exactly what it is. So I learned to adapt and instead of staying inside and pouting, we decided to get out and go…
I actually like to camp, but it’s one of those things I don’t do very often. It’s kind of a lot of work, especially for just one or two nights (which is about my maximum).
So this time we decided to try out car camping. It would be our first attempt and something we’d been wanting to try out since getting our station wagon. (Funny how even mentioning the words “station wagon” to me brings up images of wood-paneled behemoths like the ones used in the Vacation movies – oh, how different today’s wagons look!).
Our mini-road trip would take us up to Denali and Fairbanks and then the long way home via the Denali Highway.
As it turns out, the car was pretty comfortable. After a rough first night, the second went quite well. I took a picture of our view when I woke up.
It’s definitely not quite the same as real camping, but I gotta tell ya, setting up camp and cleaning up the next day couldn’tve been any easier. Especially when we had to get up early to explore the Park.
Denali National Park
This park is amazing. It’s the third largest National Park in the US (after Wrangell-St. Elias & Gates of the Arctic) and most of us will probably never explore the entire thing in a lifetime.
Because they want to preserve the park, cars are only allowed to drive about 15 miles into the park most of the year (though they have lotteries where you can drive in farther). Most of the time, though, you’ll need to take a shuttle bus to access the park. These buses are like old school buses, so not terribly comfortable, but they do the job. And if you’re lucky enough to have a lot of wildlife around, you’ll be so busy watching them that the time will go by quickly.
We were lucky enough to see 10 grizzly bears, or brown bears. Two sets of them had cubs, one set was probably a few months old while the other was probably 2 or 3 years old. It’s always so incredible seeing brown bears in the wild.
We took the bus to Eielson Visitor center, an 8-hour roundtrip ride. When you purchase a shuttle-bus ticket, you’ll also be buying your park pass. Our tickets were about $44 each. Not bad for an entire day’s entertainment.
Here’s one of my favorite spots along the road: Polychrome Pass. So named because of the amazing array of colors.
I’d highly recommend a visit to the park if you visit Alaska. It’s about a 4-hour drive up to Denali from Anchorage and well worth the trip.
Fairbanks & Visiting the “North Pole”
After our trip to Denali, we drove north by northeast to get to Fairbanks. Wish I had pleasant things to say about this place but in all honesty, it’s quite possibly one of my least favorite towns of all time. It has extreme weather, terrible air quality and only rolling hills nearby. One good thing, though, is the Thai food we had was quite tasty.
Not far from Fairbanks to the south is a little town called the North Pole. I was a wee bit curious since this is the town where you can get postmarks on your letters with the “North Pole”. Yes, it really is true. The town itself is rather like any other tiny town and the Santa Claus house is super hokey. Not really a sight to see, but it was on our way so we did it anyway.
Kayaking Eklutna Lake
One thing we’d been wanting to do is get out on the water and do some kayaking. We finally got a nice-ish day to do it so out we went.
Eklutna Lake is just north of Anchorage and has the beautiful glacial coloring. The mountains surround you on every side and it truly is a gorgeous place to kayak. But the winds were crazy strong when we went so it was anything but leisurely. At least it was a good upper-body workout with hard-to-beat views!
Hiking Bodenburg Butte
Traveling a little farther north still you’ll come to Bodenburg Butte, a cute little insignificant mound surrounded by flat areas of land used for farming. And then, of course, the farming ends and the mountains begin.
Below is a view from the top looking at the Chugach Mountain range to the south. On the north side are the Talkeetnas. I was pleasantly surprised at how rewarding the hike was and how great the view ended up being for such a short trek (about 3 miles roundtrip).
More info here: http://aktrailhead.com/bodenburg/bodenburg.shtml
Raspberries from our Yard
There’s nothing quite like berry picking. My grandpa used to have a garden and I’ve picked some of his raspberries before, so it wasn’t a totally new experience. But this time I was able to just walk outside and pick them off the bushes in the back without having to do any work at all (I’m not much of a gardener, in case you can’t tell.) How fun is that?
The Alaska State Fair
And finally, to round out the month, there was the Alaska State Fair.
I’ve been told it’s the thing to do in Alaska this time of year. Not sure why, exactly, now that I’ve been, but it’s the thing nonetheless. I suppose it’s just like any other fair – they have some food booths, livestock, carnival games & amusement park rides, and entertainment. But there just didn’t seem to be a whole lot to it, in my opinion.
The best part for me was seeing King BMX put on a little show. It’s pretty impressive what these guys do.
And Into September We Roll…
Now that September is here I’m wondering what this month has in store. Do you think snow will be here or will it hold off for one more month…?