Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Day 3 - The day started with some showers but the weather cleared towards noon. We were rethinking our decision of spending 2 more days in DNP and debated if we should cut down a day in the park and instead add a railway trip from Fairbanks and back to our itinerary. Research revealed that, that leg of the railroad trip wasn't very highly rated, besides it wouldn't have worked out timing wise. Also, V was feeling sick from the night before and wasn't feeling any better in the morning. So the railroad idea fizzled away and we decided to stick with our original plan.

Rain clouds gather
I spent the day writing and talking walks while V rested. I had a chance to speak with the owner of our lodge (DK) and hear his story. A native of Dallas, TX, DK came to Denali about 30 years ago as a tourist and never left. He found himself a job and continued to work in the area. Eventually, he saved enough to open the lodge and has been running it successfully for the last 15 years. I was fascinated by his story but learnt over the course of my trip that this was a common story of many Alaskans. Such is the lure of this beautiful land!

Day 4 - V was feeling slightly better and agreed to venture outside the room (yay!) We decided to head to the park and spend the day in the park, V's health co-operating. 

We started our park visit by looking at the exhibits in the main Visitor Center. Post lunch at the Morino grill (the only restaurant inside the park) we took the nearby trail and hiked up to HorseShoe Lake. V was still feeling weak so we decided to take it slow. Later in the afternoon, we spent some time at the Murie Learning and Science Center. V was beginning to feel low on energy, but I kept pushing him gently and encouraging him. After all, this was going to be our last day in the park. 

As a last thing for the day, we decided to drive up to the Savage river milepost (mi 15). This would allow us to spend some more time in the park without exhausting V. I hiked up to Savage Rock and came down via the River Trail while V rested in the car.

The view from the Savage River Trail was breathtaking! - majestic mountain ranges in the distance with snow running down their slopes...the river flowing through the verdant valley....the wildflowers...the imposing Savage Rock...the bridge over the river. It was truly a sight to behold!

Every so often a shuttle bus would go across the bridge and from my vantage point this big bus looked like a toy against the panaromic backdrop. I was so glad that we made it here and were able to spend time just taking in the view.

We ended the day with dinner at Lynx Creek Pizza before heading to our lodge in Healy.

Savage River Trail

Panaromic view from Savage River Trail

A bird and a marmot seen along the Savage River Trail

Thursday, September 20, 2012


We had set aside three full days to explore Denali National Park (DNP). We thought a good way to begin our park exploration would be by seeing the park on the shuttle bus. DNP is huge and a paradise for backcountry explorers. The park has only one motorable road, 92 miles long. Private vehicles are not allowed beyond mile 15 but shuttle buses ferry visitors to the interior areas of the park.

Day 2 - We had booked tickets in advance for the 6:45 am shuttle bus to Wonder Lake. The journey to and back from Wonder Lake is estimated to take about 11 hours, restroom, wildlife and wilderness viewing stops included. It was going to be another long day!

We had a quick but hearty breakfast at the Subway across our hotel and headed to the park's Wilderness Access Center (WAC) to catch the shuttle bus. Our bus arrived on time and boarding began promptly. We grabbed seats on the driver's side (left hand side) of the bus for better views (a neat tip gleaned from Alaska travel forums). Once boarded, our driver - Ned, introduced himself and gave us an idea about the trip, what to expect, and do's and don'ts. The park shuttle buses reminded me of the no-frills state transport (ST) buses in India. 

At the WAC waiting  for our shuttle bus

Like most bus drivers on national park shuttle buses, Ned was extremely knowledgeable and well versed with the history, geography, flora and fauna of the park. He provided us with informational titbits throughout the trip. 

Not long after the bus started moving that sleep overcame us. It must have been a combination of the cool weather, change in schedule and being in a moving vehicle. As much as we tried, we drifted in and out off sleep, perking up every time the bus slowed or stopped for wildlife viewing. Snacking seemed to help in staying awake and warm. So we kept our mouths busy. A thermos of hot chai would have been the perfect accompaniment on this trip. Note to self for next time.

Bus drivers going in the opposite direction often paused briefly and exchanged notes on wildlife sighting info. Sometimes somebody on the bus would spot something. Our first wildlife sighting was of Dall Sheep. A group of females were high up on the cliff. Good thing we had our binoculars with us. Later we also spotted a pair of female caribou. 

Dall Sheep (male)

Inside the park - View from the bus

The scenery along the route was grand - imposing mountains and valleys, vast meadows and rivers gushing with glacial water. The park road runs parallel to the Alaska range and so these mountains were our constant companions. The one view that everybody was waiting for was that of Mt. McKinley. 'The high one' is visible from several locations on the Park Road on a clear day. Ned informed that  'a clear day' was an extremely rare occurrence. Today certainly wasn't going to be one. So when we saw only the tip of 'the high one' from one vista point, Ned asked us to take it in/capture it in as many frames as we wanted. This perhaps would be all that we saw of the mountain. We continued to see the tip of the mountain for a little bit. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it disappeared behind a shroud of clouds, never to come into view for the rest of our stay.

Partial view of Mt. McKinley
Famous Mt. McKinley vista point (alas the mountain was now completely behind clouds)

We reached Wonder Lake in the afternoon and were swarmed by mosquitoes as soon as we got off the bus. We could hardly enjoy the view as our primary focus was to fend off the mosquitoes. On the return journey, we bid Ned goodbye and decided to spend some time at the Eielson Visitor Center. We did a small hike along the trail going down from the visitor center. The weather was cold and not very conducive to hiking. We also had to plan for getting a ride on an alternate bus. The on-site bus co-ordinator put our names on the bus wait-list and we waited to be put up on a bus. On our journey back we spotted a mama bear with her two cubs. They were far away but we were excited for our first real bear sighting! :) We also spotted caribou again; a male this time, right behind our bus on the park road. We were back at the WAC by about 7:30 pm.

Male caribou on the Park Road

Although long, the bus trip was worthwhile for the wildlife sightings and the views. We learned a lot about the park just by being on the bus. I was also impressed with how well run the trips were. However, in hindsight, I think going up to Eielson Visitor Center (mile 65) would have been good enough, Vs going up to Wonder Lake. (mile 85). This would have allowed us to do some reasonable hikes near Eielson without compromising on sightseeing on the bus.

For the next three days we had reservations at the White Moose Lodge in Healy. Before heading to Healy we decided to have dinner near the DPL area due to the multitude of restaurant options. We ordered dinner at the Thai food truck opposite DPL. Yess! imagine a food truck in interior Alaska! The food was spicier than what we were used to. We also had the same experience at the restaurant in Anchorage. We made a note to ourselves to ask for the spice level to be reduced a notch if we ever ate again in an Alaskan Thai restaurant.

Post dinner, we drove to Healy and checked into our hotel. The woods surrounding the property and the lovely flowers all around the property made a good first impression on us. Our room was simple but well appointed. Once settled into our room, we decided to call it a day and slept with no plans of waking up early in the am.


Up until a few years ago, I pictured Alaska as a frigid country inhabited by Eskimos; a land only for the intrepid traveller with extreme or academic pursuits. That image changed the day I saw the lovely pictures from my aunt's Alaska trip. I've wanted to visit ever since....

After having been on my 'To-visit' list for 5 years or so, we finally decided to check it off by making the journey to the last frontier. As the largest state in the United States, Alaska is huge. We soon realized that it would be impossible (and unfair) to cover and truly enjoy the beauty of this land in a short visit. For our first visit, we decided to focus on South-Central Alaska. Here is our itinerary in brief -

Day 1 (June 29th) - Arrive in Anchorage (ANC), pick up rental car and drive to Denali National Park(DNP)
Day 2, 3, 4 - DNP
Day 5 - Drive to Seward
Day 6 - Kenai Fjords Cruise, Seward
Day 7 - Visit Exit Glacier. Drive to Homer
Day 8 - Katmai National Park - Bear Safari
Day 9 - Homer local stuff. Drive to Girdwood
Day 10 (July 8th) - Girdwood local stuff. Drive to ANC. Catch the red-eye home (SJC).

Day 1 - We boarded the early morning Alaska airlines flight from San Jose to Anchorage. As someone who dozes off minutes after take-off, I was surprised I barely caught a wink. I guess it was the excitement of our impending trip. I had spent months researching and carefully planning each detail of our trip and was glad that we were finally on our way.

View from flight during descent to ANC

The plan for the day was to drive North to Denali Princess Lodge (DPL) (about a mile from Denali National Park entrance). We were going to be travelling by road from here on. So first we needed to pick up our rental car from Avis's downtown location. Given the long days and the fact that the drive would take about 7 hours max., we figured we had plenty of time on hand. Always yearning for a local experience, we opted to take the People Mover bus downtown (Vs taking a cab). The bus dropped us a few blocks from Avis's office. 

Waiting for the bus outside ANC airport
We love our food! Unsure of the food options at DNP, we had mentally prepared ourselves to be on a pizza diet during our days at DNP. We decided to take the time to savour a good meal before we departed for DNP. It was almost lunch time. Bangkok Cafe, the Thai restaurant in downtown ANC did not disappoint. We were hungry and the food was great; I think we over-ate! Avis was a short walk from the restaurant. A quick stop at Carrs for some groceries and we were on our way(~2:30 pm).

I am a terrible road trip companion - Sleep overcame me as soon as we started driving. Latte at a roadside coffee shack (these abound in Alaska and have the best coffee!) was my saving grace.

Thank God! for these Coffee Shacks
The scenery along the drive was beautiful. The sun was out for the most part but we also caught some showers and rainbows :) A big patch of white on the skyline caught our attention. Was it just the sky or was that the big one? We had indeed seen Denali (Mt. McKinley) during that brief moment. The big one eluded us for the rest of our stay. 

Chasing rainbows
We reached DPL around 8 pm, although the bright light made it seem like it was late in the afternoon. The area was a far cry from what I had imagined. Across the road from DPL were restaurants, gift shops and a few other convenience stores. The area was bustling with tourists. The scene reminded me of the mall roads that are typical of Indian hill stations but on a grande scale. The facilities and the number of tourists definitely took me by surprise.

We had a quick dinner at the Black Bear Coffeehouse just across the road from DPL. We had almost finished dinner when it started raining. We stopped for a while soaking in the scenery. Once back in the room, we prepped for the next day - made sandwiches for next day's lunch and packed for the excursion. It had been a long day and we had to make an early start tomorrow. We shut the curtains tight, trying to simulate night-time and forced ourselves to go to bed. Although tired, it felt weird going to bed when it was still bright outside.....

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Below are some tips for a successful trip to Alaska. Although a few pointers are specific to Alaska, you can apply the rest for a trip to any other place.

  1. Do your research and make a realistic itinerary - There is a lot of good information available on the internet today. Use that. Talk to people who have made the trip to learn from their experiences. Ask them about do's and don'ts. If possible, talk to locals (for .e. your BnB owners) as they can point you to hidden gems besides being an excellent source of information. Study the geography and then make a realistic itinerary.   I mainly used Frommer's and this blog for planning our trip. Alaska is huge. Realize that you cannot cover it all in one trip (unless you are taking an extended break to go there). Give each place its own time, instead of rushing from one place to another. 
  2. Take it slow - Factor photo, restroom, food breaks and side detours into driving time. You will take at least 1.5 to 2 times more time than GPS/google maps estimates depending on how often and how long you stop. It is more about the journey than the destination and this rings especially true for Alaska.
  3. Research and book activities in advance - I refrained from booking our bear safari until the day before for various reasons. When I was ready and called the company for reservations, they were sold out for the next 10 days. Luckily, I found another excellent company that had spots for the day I wanted and offered a similar tour. In hindsight, I feel its risky booking last minute unless there are several operators offering the same tour. Look at the TourSaver, Northern Lights coupon book when you plan and get one if it makes sense. Many activities offer discounts when paying by cash/check. Ask about these discounts when booking.
  4. Car Rental - Generally speaking, airport rentals are significantly expensive  than renting from a  downtown location. Since we were arriving around noon and not in a rush to get anywhere, we thought we could rent from some place downtown and save some money there. We rented from a Avis's downtown location. We took the People Mover bus ($1.75 pp only) from the airport to get to downtown. We learned that we could drop-off the car at the airport for some small fee ($25 approximately the cost of cabbing). We had a red-eye to catch and the buses stop running after 7ish. So we decided to drop-off the car at the airport on our way back.
  5. Carry cash
  6. Portion sizes are 'Alaska big'. Order with caution :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


"The greatest joy there is in life is creating. Splurge on it!" says L. Ron Hubbard in one of his poems. I completely agree. The process of creating something is mentally stimulating, fun, and in the end, immensely satisfying. And therefore, I create.

Each one of us is creative. However, as we grow older, many of us start telling ourselves that we are not creative. This is probably because we associate creativity with some form of artistic creation only. Creativity according to me, is the use of ideas, imagination and work to create something useful and functional or artistic.

When I create, I try to reuse and re-purpose as much as I can and do my small bit towards reducing waste and being green. Going forward, on this blog, you will also find accounts of my experiments in the kitchen and in and around home.