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Old 08-20-2008, 09:41 AM   #21
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Twolost - thanks for sharing your pictures and for the great posts so far. I'm already looking forward to the upcoming ones. Alaska is an amazing place, I can't wait to get back there again.
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Old 08-20-2008, 08:56 PM   #22
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Thanks for the comments.

This thread is just now starting to get to some of my most favorite pics taken on our whole trip. Enjoy!

Thanks,
---TWOLOST---

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Old 08-20-2008, 08:59 PM   #23
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Date (day): July, 11 (Day 14)

Source: Valdez, Alaska (Best Western, Valdez Harbor Inn)

Destination: Valdez, Alaska (Best Western, Valdez Harbor Inn)

Travel Miles: 0

Bug Activity: None.

Deviation from plan: None.

Moment(s): Floating right up to the deep blue ice of Columbia Glacier, watching the active calving of Meares Glacier, seeing the variety of ocean going wildlife just doing their thing, watching the Valdez fishing fleet hard at work, and getting a front row panoramic view of the size and scope of the Valdez Oil Terminal. A wide variety perhaps, but each was fascinating in its own right.

Takeaway(s): In planning our trip, I purposely did not accommodate for any 'tour' style activities. Part of this was the added costs, part of this was for my own selfish comfort (I do better alone), and part of this was me not really seeing the point. After all, we had our own custom build tour machine right here, right? Well, my wife snuck one in on me - and she gets all of the credit for this amazing ocean going adventure. An adventure so amazing, that the experience has profoundly changed my concept of what 'truly' amazing really is. None of the images below do any justice to what being there was really like. To get the kind of impact that you will take with you forever, you just have to go there.

Sportsmobile Note(s): Our van was left to fend for itself today... as we were out on this spectacular nine hour ocean going glacier tour.



This was our tour boat for the day... via Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises. We stayed up on-top of the rear deck the whole time... there was just too much to miss inside.



Valdez Oil Terminal, end of the Alyeska Pipeline (mile 800).



Prince William Sound (wildlife).






Prince William Sound (commercial fishing).












Moving onto Columbia Glacier





This ice can be 2,000 ft thick.







Moving on to Meares Glacier












On the return back to Valdez, bordering open water.







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Old 08-20-2008, 10:12 PM   #24
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Date (day): July, 12 (Day 15)

Source: Valdez, Alaska (Best Western, Valdez Harbor Inn)

Destination: Glennallen, Tolsona Wilderness Campground

Travel Miles: 120

Bug Activity: Moderate+ at Tolsona.

Deviation from plan: None.

Moment(s): As we had a short drive and we were up and out of our hotel early, I decided to find some random dirt roads we could explore on the way to our next destination. Of the roads I ended up on, one of them was a road that was directly over the pipeline. This road crossed over a glacier drainage and that drainage had a reasonably small amount of water flowing through it. On the other side of the drainage was a really steep gravel hill that was about a quarter of a mile high. We did not use 4x4 on the way through the drainage the first time, but we used all of the ground clearance. Next, the van made short work of the gravel hill. There was too much snow on top of the hill to continue on, so I put the van in 4x4 low and we just idled right back down the same way we came up. Next, we went back over the water crossing. As I was slowly feeling my way over the deepest spot, the rocks below the rear tires shifted slightly to the side and the rear of the van dropped about another four inches. I was still moving forward when this suddenly happened. As the front of the van crawled its way up and out of the drainage, my undercarriage generator in the rear cased a rock before the rest of the van was back up on dry flat ground. After a quick inspection, I found that the generator had two deep gouges in the bottom protective cover as well as the rear radiator cover. I was very fortunate not to have damaged the radiator, missed it by inches. After letting the van drip dry for a few minutes, we fired up the generator just to make certain nothing was leaking. A little more inspection showed that the generator ran fine and was dry all around. Phew.

Takeaway(s): Our van is only as tall as its lowest point.

Sportsmobile Note(s): There were a number of occasions on this trip where we used 4x4 low to go 'down' hills (smooth gravel all of the way). The low gear is so low, that I even found myself using the gas pedal rather than using the brakes in some cases. Don't think the 4x4 is only needed to climb over rocks or downed trees. 4x4 can be a great tool to aide in slowing the van down on perfectly smooth (and very steep) gravel roads as well.




My wife's favorite Alaskan store - Valdez, Alaska.



Varying degrees of Bear crossing signs...





Seagulls, hovering over a sea-lion that is toying with a salmon.




Leaving Valdez, back over Thompson Pass








Thompson Pass, glacier drainage side excursion.



Farewell Thompson Pass (thanks for all of the great memories)


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Old 08-21-2008, 12:16 AM   #25
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Date (day): July, 13 (Day 16)

Source: Glennallen, Tolsona Wilderness Campground

Destination: Nabesna Road (boonedocking)

Travel Miles: 118

Bug Activity: Extreme.

Deviation from plan: Stopped at the Slana Ranger Station before going out the 42 mile unpaved Nabesna Road in order to check on the current road conditions. Of particular interest to us was the two known water crossings out past mile 29. The ranger we spoke with said that the road was closed at MP 29 due to a washout. He said that road crews may have the road open later in the week if the water level drops. We decided to drive out to the first water crossing and survey the situation. Road was posted closed except for local traffic. We proceeded to cross the first obstacle (which was really no obstacle at all). Up the road a few more miles, we came to the second obstacle. The water was much deeper in one area and was running pretty fast. However, the place where we would have had to cross was less wide than the overall length of the van. I am certain we could have made it with no problem... but at the same time I did not want something to happen way out here. We turned around and went back to a primitive campsite located at MP 27.8 at Twin Lakes. There were a handful of campsites right off of the main road and then a few others much further back in the trees... but right on the lake. The lake campsites were much more challenging to get to due to the rutted and muddy entrance road that wound back there. We locked the hubs and crawled our way back to the most remote camp site. We had the whole place to ourselves... except for the starving masses of mosquitoes that is.

Moment(s): There was a species of bird I am not familiar with (small in size, grey back, white breast, long straight beak)... that got very agitated when I was outside and moving around the van. It would fly around deliberately close and make a high pitched squeaking noise (presumably to divert me). Turns out that this bird was an excellent early warning system... kind of like having Mother Nature's own alarm system monitoring traffic outside of the van. On one occasion while my wife and I were inside reading, this bird went nuts. I looked out the window... but did not see anything. I know that this bird did not get all riled up for no reason, so I threw on my boots and went outside. I walked down the entry road a little ways and then came across a pair of fresh bicycle tracks - which were on top of the tracks we made with the van on the way in. Score one for the bird. Next morning the bird went nuts again. Again, not immediately spotting anything, I went outside to see what the bird was having a fit about. This time the intruder turned out to be a large tan Labrador retriever. The lab was obviously a 'local' dog, it was extremely friendly, and it needed a job. This dog's self appointed job was to replace the bird as our alarm and defense system. As I was up and outside already, me and the dog went for a walk. The dog was all over the place... in the bushes, down by the lake, having the time of his life. However, at one point he went into total defense mode. He ran in front of me with his nose in the air and was getting very, very, agitated. The brush was pretty think and I could not see anything out past where the dog directing his attention. I took this as a hint and made a b-line back to the van. The dog followed, but he made his presence known to whatever was behind us and he was none too happy about it. The dog protected the van for a couple of hours before we were all packed up and ready to go. I never did see or hear what the dog was so sure was out there... but I gave the benefit of the doubt to the dog.

Takeaway(s): There were a fair amount of mosquitoes at and around our campsite on the lake. Having mosquito netting built into my hat which could be deployed at a moments notice to cover my face and neck was a huge win. A pair of lightweight gloves also proved to be very useful.

Sportsmobile Note(s): The mosquito netting that was integrated into our SMB's pop-top kept the vast majority of bugs out. Those bugs that did get in (mostly due to me moving in and out of the van doors) were swiftly dealt with by my wife and her bug swatter.




Tolsona Wilderness Campground



My wife, trying out macro photography with her pocket camera.






Heading toward Wrangel- St. Alias National Park (Glenn Hwy)



Nabesna Road




Twin Lakes (primitive camping)








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Old 08-21-2008, 12:50 AM   #26
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Date (day): July, 14 (Day 17)

Source: Nabesna Road (boonedocking)

Destination: Delta Junction (Delta BLM camping)

Travel Miles: 196

Bug Activity: Moderate.

Deviation from plan: We were supposed to have stayed in Nabesna for one more night but we chose to move on due to an impending rain storm as well as only having access out to Nabesna MP 29. We decided to drive up the Richardson Hwy to Delta Junction (which parallels the Alyeska Pipeline north). This was one of the few major highway segments that we had not included in our original travel plans so it was mostly new terrain. Once we started heading north on the Richardson Hwy, we really had no idea what to expect. Aided by the constantly fluctuating weather... our off-the-cuff trip north was truly spectacular. We chased the leading edge of a heavy rain storm the whole way (patches of blue sky just in front of us and deep dark grey clouds just above us). If we stopped for too long, the rains would soak us. Once back on the road, we could outrun the storm and enjoy periodic sunshine. Stop too long... and the race would start all over again.

Moment(s): At the end of our day, we pulled into a BLM campground in Delta Junction. The campground was heavily treed, it was very quiet, and there were very few other vehicles there besides us. We had setup our self-contained camp and had prepared and finished dinner before the real action started. I remember being outside and talking to my brother on my cell phone when volley after volley of semi-automatic gun fire suddenly cracked through the air. Apparently, we were pretty close to some kind of firing/shooting range. By the sounds of the repeated bursts... I don't think Canada would be likely to invade anytime soon. My wife poked here head out the door and started busting up laughing. Are we under attack?

Takeaway(s): There were a number of state parks along this route and most were totally empty. We drove into a number of these parks looking for potential places to stay the night. We found most of these parks to be very well kept, clean, and quiet. Mosquito activity was moderate.

Sportsmobile Note(s): By this time in our journey, my wife and I had started to get much better at packing, setup, and teardown. It used to take us a full hour to break camp (from the time we first woke up to the time we started the engine and left the site). We now had that same routine down to about 35 well coordinated minutes.



Richardson Hwy (heading north)











BLM Campground for the evening (Delta Junction).



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Old 08-21-2008, 10:31 PM   #27
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Date (day): July, 15 (Day 18)

Source: Delta Junction (Delta BLM camping)

Destination: Denali Highway (Tangle River Inn)

Travel Miles: 105

Bug Activity: Moderate

Deviation from plan: Staying at Tangle Lakes would put us back on plan.

Moment(s): While driving back to our cabin at Tangle Lakes for the evening, we encountered a caribou in the center of the road (Denali Hwy). By this time I had been getting much better at quickly shutting off that loud diesel and coasting up closer to whatever it was we wanted to get a better look at (with the diesel running, everything scatters... no matter how far away we were). Well, we pulled up to within 20 feet or so of this fellow. He then started to trot away from us (heading directly down the center of the road). I started the van and we followed him, keeping a distance of maybe 60 feet. I figured he would veer off to the side of the road at any time and just disappear out into the brush. Not this guy. He was not exactly running... but he was not walking either. At one point he stopped, scratched his chin with his rear hoof, and then stared right up jogging again. We must have followed him for a half mile before he had finally had enough and made his way out into the chest high brush.

Takeaway(s): The Denali highway was just rough enough that it was somewhat difficult to drive (we chose between 20mph and 35mph) and keep an eye out for wildlife at the same time. It is hard enough to spot movement off in the distance while you are moving at the same time. Overall, there were no 4x4 axle swallowing holes in the road and just about any automobile would make it with no problem... but the endless fields of chuckholes and stutter bumps will rattle your teeth out by day's end.

Sportsmobile Note(s): With a diesel engine, we found it next to impossible to approach any size game (from porcupine, to eagle, to bull-moose). My newly developed tactic once I had spotted something was to reach down, turn the key off, immediately kick the transmission into neutral, and coast (out of sight if necessary). Then we could climb out of the van and get a visual bead on our target using whatever was near as cover. This seemed to work ok as the animals (even knowing we were there) were not as likely to turn and walk off. With the van running (even if we drove passed the animal some distance and then stopped) would be long gone before we walked back to a good vantage point.



Great boonedocking spot just south of Delta Junction (up a non-obvious, seldom used, spur road, off of the main highway, that leads to the top of a rise, with this view). We just stumbled upon it because we were out exploring and were in no real rush. The day before when we were in and out of rain squalls... this view was not visible as it was socked-in by heavy clouds. Amazing what a difference one day would make.



Here is another road that lead to a glacier drainage and then up the glacier drainage (presumably, all of the way up to the glacier). Road started out pretty wide and defined and then degraded into nothing more than a rock field about five miles later.



Along the Richardson Hwy.



Right outside of Paxson on the Denali Hwy (off of another non-obvious spur road).



Random macro of unknown flower.



Along the Denali Hwy.





Old cabin located on Valdez Road (on the way out to the mining camp of Denali).



Backtracked to Tangle River Inn (our home for the evening).



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Old 08-21-2008, 10:36 PM   #28
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Date (day): July, 16 (Day 19)

Source: Denali Highway (Tangle River Inn)

Destination: Cantwell (RV Park)

Travel Miles: 113

Bug Activity: High

Deviation from plan: We had initially planned on boonedocking somewhere along the Denali Hwy, but we could not agree on a spot. Soon we were at the end of the road and very near the town of Cantwell. Rather than backtrack, we decided to pull into the Cantwell RV Park for the night instead. The bonus was that we could get a shower here and clean up from a pretty dusty day.

Moment(s): Photographers. While driving west on the Denali Hwy early in the morning I spotted a bald eagle perched on a rock overlooking a small lake. I killed the engine, coasted to a stop behind an embankment, and I setup shop right across the lake behind some brush. I had hopes of getting a sequence of photos of this eagle fishing in the lake. The eagle knew full well I was there an while he did not fly off, it took him a little while to stop paying attention to me and to start paying attention to all of the fish that were boiling right in front of him. Myself, I was pretty visible from the road. As the seldom car would approach they could see me standing waist-up in camo, with a big lens, peering through the vegetation. Most cars would just slow way down, stretch their necks to see what was going on, and then drive right by. On occasion some would stop, get out, thrash around, tell stories, get board, and drive off. As they left, me and the eagle would start from scratch all over again. Well, this one fellow/photographer in a motor-home stops next. He can see the eagle from his vehicle and also wants the same picture I am after. He sets up shop in the passenger seat (tripod, big lens, the works). We wait and wait and wait. An hour goes by... and no action. This photographer decides that he has had enough and decides to pack it in. While he was in the process of storing his gear, he somehow managed to fall against the vehicles horn (which could be heard for the better part of a mile). I could see him through the windscreen trying to regain his balance and get up and off of the horn and the steering wheel. The eagle never flew off... but the photographer sure did. He was so embarrassed, I don't even think he put his seat belt on. Just as the photographer was leaving, a Princess Cruise Lines tour bus showed up and wanted in on the action. At this point, both the eagle and I had enough and the eagle flew off in search of more peaceful hunting grounds. I never did get the shot I wanted (which really did not matter as I was just playing anyway), but the roadside entertainment was priceless.

Takeaway(s): Next time I will hide the camera and then just pretend like 'I really had to go'. This would have attracted far less attention.

Sportsmobile Note(s): While looking for boonedocking locations, our van got us up and out to some pretty remote locations. Our turn around point was when we got into situations where the path narrowed so much in deep brush that we were beginning to drag branches down both side of the van. That was when enough was enough.




Here is some of the wildlife we did find on the Denali Hwy







Home Made (sitting out front of the Gracious House Lodge)




Looking for a suitable place to boonedock for the night (Denali Hwy).





Cantwell, RV Park.


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Old 08-21-2008, 10:50 PM   #29
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Date (day): July, 17 (Day 20)

Source: Cantwell (RV Park)

Destination: Denali National Park (Teklanika River Campground)

Travel Miles: 65

Bug Activity: Moderate (Denali National Park)

Deviation from plan: None.

Moment(s): Our big moment was just arriving at the park itself. We were finally on the doorstep of actually getting to experience all of the things we had read about... such as the parks surrounding geology, the parks wild roaming animals, and the initial intimidation of trying to figure out the parks bus system. All we really knew was that we were about to embark on an adventure that had the most press of any place we were scheduled to visit on this trip.

Takeaway(s): Take the number of minutes it takes to drive the 30 miles from the park entrance to Teklanika Campground, multiply this number by 2 and that will be less than or equal to the number of snowshoe hares seen along the way.

Sportsmobile Note(s): Not much to report. It was an easy low mile day for the van today and it would get a well deserved rest over the next two days.


Mt. McKinley would hide from us every chance it could.



Denali National Park & Teklanika Campground





Campsite wildlife



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Old 08-22-2008, 10:08 PM   #30
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Date (day): July, 18 (Day 21)

Source: Denali National Park (Teklanika River Campground)

Destination: Denali National Park (Teklanika River Campground)

Travel Miles: 0

Bug Activity: Moderate.

Deviation from plan: None.

Moment(s): Encountering the Grizzly Bear. It was snowing like crazy and our bus had just topped the crest of a hill when someone yells, STOP... BEAR! The bus came to an immediate stop. The windows on the left side of the bus drop and the cameras immediately start recording the scene. Everyone on the right hand side of the bus was out of luck because the bear was on the left side (and every seat was already filled). My wife and I were about half way back on the right hand side of the bus. The one shot of the bear that I was able to get was when a lady about three seats back from the front was having a problem with getting her window down. She had to first put her camera down on the seat in order to use both hands to work the window latches. As the window went down, she then bent over to reach for her camera. This two second moment in time allowed me aim, focus, and click off one picture (up through the center of the bus and out her window) before she returned to her formerly standing position (picture #2 below). The bear walked right up to the bus, wandered down its full length, and then walked off down the road behind us. My wife was able to use her pocket camera to sneak a shot between a few people (#3 below). Blurry maybe, but the bear was little more than striking distance away at the time this shot was recorded.

Takeaway(s): Traveling on a park bus during inclement (cold and wet) weather. 1) Don't bother bringing a big lens (big in physical size). A big lens is too cumbersome to use within the confines of the bus. 2) Keep your camera/lens warm. The temp of the bus on the inside will be significantly warmer than the temp outside. The interior of the bus is warmed by body heat... not because the bus has a heater. Wet, warm people equal a significant moisture problem inside of the bus. Cold camera gear will immediately fog up and be useless. Warm, well ventilated camera gear at least stands a chance. 4) Take you lens cap off and leave it off. The lens can't breathe with the cap on and it will be useless (all fogged up) when the time comes to use it. 5) There are paper towels provided in the overhead racks to wipe down the moisture cascading down the inside of the bus windows. No amount of wiping will help as the interior of the bus resembles a tropical rain forest - but try it anyway. 6) During some stops, buckets of water and squeegees are provided to those who want to wipe down the outside of their windows. This is useful because the bus tires will spray the entire outside of the bus with mud. Wipe down your neighbors windows too (you both can see better that way). 7) If the lady in the back of the bus yells at the bus driver to STOP because she sees something... and then it turns out to be a false alarm - just laugh it off and spend the time cleaning your window. If the lady in the back of the bus yells at the bus driver to STOP... and this is the third false alarm in as many miles - tie her to the font of the bus using nothing more than beef jerky... and get your camera ready.

Sportsmobile Note(s): Nothing to report today. Our van was back at base camp, sleeping.




Due to the heavy clouds, rain, and even snow... this would be the only view of Mt. McKinley we would get the entire trip (the plastic terrain model inside the Eielson Visitor Center).



Grizzly Bear in snow storm. Taken from inside of the park bus.




Park bus.



Bull Moose. Taken from the park bus.


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