Time to leave the Great North wilderness and the closest I’m ever likely to come to the Arctic Circle, and head onto the next stage of our trip. I have had such an awesome time in Alaska. I still can’t believe the places we went, and the things we saw, and the experiences we had. Alaska has been on my list for ever so long and I can’t believe I have now actually been here. So many wonderful memories and so amazing I have gotten to do all these national parks with Aunty Mary – the one person I know who really loves nothing more than getting in amongst all the nature. 🙂
So, packed and ready to go. Only one problem. I had arranged some week and a half ago for a parcel to be sent from amazon.com to myself care of the McKinley Creekside Cabins due to the fact that these Amazon sellers didn’t ship the items I wanted to Australia. And I had been keeping an eye out all week on the post to see when the parcel would turn up… on our last day and nothin had turned up and I was flailing about arranging with the reception staff to forward the item on to Sedona if it turned up after we left. I left the girls at reception – Kayla and Denise – a bottle of Australian Shiraz to thank them for all their help with the stupid parcel. Just on spec, we thought we would pop into the Denali post office before high tailing it out of town. We waited until the post office was open and I walked in with my handy 24 digit parcel post tracker item number and crossed my fingers. Quite unexpectedly, the girls behind the counter went on a hunt and eventually came out of the back room victorious – my parcel had been located and we weren’t going to have to forward things onto an address I’m not even going to be at. Stupid thing was, that, according to the tracker, the parcel had left Anchorage on the 2 July and here was me at the post office asking after it on the 6 July, so I have a feeling it was there all week, it’s just that Mountain Time is a bit like Fiji Time… we’ll get to it when we get to it.
But, all was good. Got to head off to Anchorage for our five hour drive knowing I wasn’t going to have to chase and hunt that parcel anymore. The drive was good, no nasty monster trucks (well, no more than usual) and no roadworks, even better! We decided to spent the afternoon at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage to see some of the animals we saw in the wild but missed out on seeing them up close, like the wolves, the snow leopard, the red foxes, the Dall sheep and tigers… yeah, okay I made that one up, but the tigers at the zoo were still pretty cool.
Not at all surprisingly, I spent most of my visit at the zoo loitering around the river otter enclosure. Nearly every animal I encountered I took a couple of token photos of, but the otters of course, well there are a couple of hundred of otter pics from our short visit to the zoo! With a bit of luck, some of them might even be decent. After the stop by the zoo, we went to the local Wendy’s and had something for dinner. I even picked up a job application for Mr K, just for the sake of nostalgia, he used to work here back in his college days. 😉
After that it was off to the airport to get ready for the transit from hell… who planned these flights? Oh yeah, that would be me. :/
Our flight from Anchorage to Seattle was at 0035 and arrived at 0445am… we got to watch the sun rising at the same time it was setting which was quite surreal. We had been told that we would be on a flight leaving for Las Vegas at 0830 which meant a bit of a shitty boring lay over at Seattle with very little to do at that early hour of the morning. Fortunately for us however, we ended up on a flight that was leaving at 0600 and we pretty much landed and walked from one terminal to another, waited about ten minutes and found ourselves boarding for Las Vegas – no lines, no waiting, no problems. Awesome bonus there! Midnight flights are bad enough without finding yourself stuck in the airport doing nothing for hours on end. I did however get some amazing photos of the last vestiges of the evenings sunset out of the plane as we took off north out of Anchorage…
We arrived in Las Vegas and, oh my God, the heat just slapped us upside the head and unfortunately not with a wet haddock which might actually have been more pleasant. Being from the subtropics, we are used to the heat, and we are mostly fine with it… but going from a month of tops in the 14C – 16C range one day and o’night temps that make you grab the thermals, to maximum temps of 41C+, well that is quite another story. It was draining.
We went straight from the airport, to picking up our hire car, to hitting a Walmart for some groceries, to heading out to the Grand Canyon! Another huge tick off the Bucket List coming up right there. We didn’t realize it until we were already doing it, but going out to the quieter and less touristy North Rim meant that we drove through Nevada, Utah and Arizona to get here today… so including Alaska and Washington state, that made five states in one day. Crazy.
Got out to the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim here and got my first look at this Wonder of the Natural World and found myself at a rare loss for words, staring in silence at the amazing vista of the Grand Canyon. Words are unable to capture the scale, and beauty of this place. Even the drive out here was incredible, towering mountains of striated rock in a plethora of colours, through Ponderosa pine forests and open grasslands. Little tufted eared squirrels and a herd of bison on the plains, it all felt very much like stepping into a nature documentary. Just stunning.
So five hours drive to Anchorage (237 miles of bad road over five hours), a stop at the zoo, flight to Seattle (1800 miles and three and a half hours), flight to Las Vegas (867 miles and two hours twenty minutes) and the drive to the Grand Canyon (265 miles and five and a half hours with a few quick stops), and all up it took us over 30 hours to get here and on no sleep!
Anyway, we are safely here now for the next few days, and I am looking forward to exploring this incredible area. I was out on the terrace earlier and a guy saw my t-shirt and say ‘Oh wow, you’ve been to Denali… when were you there?’. ‘Yesterday.’ came my exhausted yet exhilarated reply, which started a conversation about how he thought he had come a long way from Denver, but then again he said, perhaps not. 🙂
- Most unbelievably gorgeous scenery I have ever seen in my life.
- Glacier Bay is remarkable… watching the massive chunks of ice fall off the face of the glacier into the water was simply amazing – and made me worry about global warming at the same time.
- The state has a rich and vivid history from their ownership by Russia and acquisition by the US, through to their Gold Rush days.
- The crazy flora and fauna are really interesting (says the girl from the country known for having the most bizarre flora and fauna in the world!).
- Most people were really nice and friendly and helpful (which the exception of some people in Anchorage, where there seems to be a large white trash population and an unusual number of people talking to themselves while sitting in a puddle of urine… so obviously some social problems going on there).
- Licences must be produced to buy alcohol and people with DUIs convictions, which are subsequently recorded on their driver’s licenses, may be refused alcohol at the point of sale.
- No sales tax! On anything! Yay! We love this. Mining royalties being ploughed back into the pockets of the state instead of into the pockets of big oil.
- Outside the main tourist drags, everything looks kinda run down and like it needs a lick of paint and some TLC… and by everything I mean most houses, most places of commerce, even most people’s cars.
- I swear Princess owns the entire state. Well, the Denali interior at any rate. They cruise in the customers, put them on Princess trains, put them up in Princess Hotels, send them shopping on the main drag, most of which is owned by Princess and set the up on Princess tours. Can we spell ‘monopoly’ much?
- No one drives at the speed limit. Ever.
- Even the best highway going north in Alaska is completely shit, full of potholes and not even remotely flat. They have really aggressive rumble strips and the line markings are so bad that if you overtake when the lines tell you that you are safe, you pull out and find out you can’t see for shit.
- The US Postal Service sucks arse up here… 4 days for a parcel to get from Anchroage to four hours down the road? I don’t think so.
- Pennies… (that’s really a US thing) don’t need ’em don’t want ’em, fuck ’em off. Come to think of it $1 bills are a pain in the butt too.
- Tipping. Fucking hate it. Make the price the price, and be done with it.
Other than that, I totally love Alaska though and would love to come back, maybe in March to see the Iditarod mushing dog race 🙂 Now THAT would be really something to see.
So this afternoon I’m driving to a little town called Healy to visit the post office. I’m not sure you could really call Healy a ‘town’, because all there appears to be here, is a bus depot, a petrol station, a dinky grocery/liquor store and (oddly enough) a quilting shop in someone’s house. But seeing that Alaskans seem to classify Juneau as a ‘city’, with its 30,000 odd (very odd) people, and no telecommunications stores whatsoever, then I guess Healy can be a ‘town’. *shrug*
Either way, I was headed to this small village(?) because the Denali Post Office was unable to mail my parcel to Australia, due to the fact that they don’t have customs forms in their post office – fuck knows why they can give you an International Flat Rate mailing box, and they can send it for you, but they don’t have the customs forms that need to accompany it. Oh well, ours is not to wonder why! Anyway, I was driving along the Parks Highway around Mile 238 (yeah, another Alaskan weirdness, nothing on this highway has a street number, just a mile marker and the place you’re looking for could be anywhere within the mile on either side of the mile marker) when this big blue pick up truck starts tailgating me.
Now this is pretty much situation normal over here, from what I can gather… no one ever seems to be just doing the speed limit anywhere so far. In Canada there’s no speed cameras so it’s go for broke. And in Alaska, everyone seems to be in such a hurry even though their ‘good’ roads are positively shot to shit from the harsh winter weather. So this guy is following right up my butt and I’m trying to keep up the speed so as not to piss him off too badly while looking for somewhere to pull over and let him go past, because there’s no where for him to safely overtake.
Of course, when you’re doing near 70mph in a 55mph zone with a speed racer of a monster truck driver behind you – THAT’S when you’re going to go flying past the first Alaskan State Trooper you’ve seen since you got here. So me and the guy behind me found ourselves both getting pulled over by two State Troopers in two separate cruisers and I got that horrid backwards or ‘bad’ adrenaline rush go over me and thought, ‘Fark… This is so not going to be fun.’ :S
The Trooper gets our of his cruiser and heads towards me and could not have been more stereotypical if he tried. He swaggered over my car, and didn’t take off his highly reflective TopGun style RayBans, hitched up his belt about just under his too many donuts belly and said ‘Afternoon Ma’am, did y’all know you was jus’ speedin’ in a 55 zone back there?’ They have a strange way up here of addressing you in the singular and the plural in the same sentence that makes no sense at all! He had his book out and I had a really crappy sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I replied –
‘G’day. No, I wasn’t aware it was a 55 zone, sir. I thought it was 65 through here, as I hadn’t seen any signs for a while. To be honest I was trying to stay away from that drongo who was tailgating me, while looking for somewhere to get out out of his way!’ Oh yep. Totally trying to play the cute dumb blonde Aussie tourist on this one. He asked me what a ‘drongo’ was as I handed over my license. Hoping for the best, I quickly explained that a ‘drongo’ was someone of limited intellectual capacities and prone to doing foolish things, which gave him a bit of a chuckle. He took my license and went back to his cruiser and then I saw him radio his buddy who had pulled up the monster truck dude behind me.
I swear I must have Mr K’s Parking Fairy with me today because he came back, returned my license, and told me he was ‘lettin’ me off with a warnin’, and that I ‘shud pullova an’ let the drowngoes go on an’ pass me next time, cuz welcum to ‘Merrica ma’am, where no ones got no patience!’ No shit.
So yay. Thank you, Mr State Trooper for letting me off with a warning, and Thank you handy Aussie accent and strange slang for breaking the ice! 😛