Sunday, October 11, 2015

Northern Sights

Eli and I recently made off for Alaska, to visit old friends, put on some hiking miles and generally enjoy the one of our favorite parts of the planet. It was an utterly fabulous trip and our impeccable timing made for the most spectacular show of fall color I've ever witnessed (actually a totally unplanned but wonderful stroke of luck).

Fall color snapshot (one of many)

Even still in flight, we caught a sneak peek show of color: as we flew over Alaska, just after midnight, we were treated to a dazzling display of northern lights. Streaks of blue and green were etched across the sky. As Eli put it (quite loudly and to the charm and amusement of fellow passengers): "Wow, not something you see everyday; I think we might be the luckiest airline passengers of all time!" By the time we landed, we already felt like we could turn around to fly home right then; the trip had already been worth it.

Glad we stuck around though: good times were definitely still in store. :) Our first on-the-ground foray was to Denali National Park. We headed in that direction with our favorite crew of Alaskans, the Hanna family. They had only visited Denali once before, so it was a bit of a novelty for them too, even as locals who live day-to-day surrounded by majestic peaks. The drive was spectacular, with the scenery becoming increasingly dramatic-- the peaks higher and fall colors more pronounced -- as we neared the park entrance. In and around the park was simply stunning, easily the most beautiful scenery of my life. We spent our time there exploring the park by car and on foot. A highlight for the kids was an afternoon river stroll turned rock-leaping mission (in an attempt to cross the river). It was glorious and resulted in wet socks and happy kids all around. Despite the gorgeous scenery all around, we didn't catch an actual glimpse of Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley) until our last morning there, the first day clear enough for the view. And, wow, what a view it was!

Post-Denali, we swung by the Alaska state fair which was more fun than seems entirely reasonable. I'd like to say that the kids had an absolute blast (and they did!) but the truth is, us parents had a rootin'-tootin' heck of a good time, too. We enjoyed delicious food, beautiful art (no pics sadly) and discovered that cabbage grow very large in Alaska (note the specimen pictured below, easily 3 times the size of Eli's head). Eli also enjoyed his first ever Reindeer sandwich. Because Alaska.

Another highlight was the trip up to Hatchers Pass, a favorite hiking spot of the Hannas'. On the way, we pulled over for a second river rock leaping session.

The hike itself up at Hatchers Pass was breathtaking and surreal. Eli was recently reminiscing about Alaska and counted it among his favorite bits. "That time we hiked up into the clouds," he said, "yeah, *that* was fun!"

Next up was a road trip for Eli and I to the Seward area. Along the way, we stopped for a short cruise out to see Portage glacier.

Portage Glacier, glorious as it was, turned out to be only one of several glaciers we visited over the next few days. It's just a glacier-y part of the world and, well, how often do we get to spend a couple of days hiking to giants slabs of ice? Eli had seen glaciers before (in the Canadian Rockies) but this was certainly his first chance to get up close and personal with one. He was smitten.

Other road trip odds and ends: the salmon in Seward we busily making their way upstream (video evidence here) and the people of Seward are incredibly friendly and really really like to bbq. We found ourselves the last minute guests at several such occasions.

A major highlight for Eli was the hostel/inn where we stayed. It featured a full communal kitchen, stocked with favorite breakfast fixings (waffles, pancakes, sugary cereals galore!) and also encouraged the guests to dress up in costumes, provided.

All dressed up and ready to sample an assortment of delicious breakfast items
After a couple of days, we'd our fill of Seward and headed back to stay with the Hannas until time to head home. We joined them for 2 more hikes: one at Eklutna lake, and one on a beautiful trail system in Eagle River. In both cases the fall colors were just, well, wow...

Overall trip highlights for Eli included: "playing with friends, hiking with friends, minecraft xboxing with friends, going to the fair with friends and the jellyfish with the alien face." My trip highlights: hikes galore, fall foliage galore, harvesting homegrown Alaskan rhubarb with friend, Felicia, and turning it into jam (so good that I even smuggled home several pounds of rhubarb for more jam making) and generally hanging out with our dear friends, the Hanna family. We really could not have asked for a kinder, sweeter, more awesome host family. They put us up in their beautiful new home (despite having just moved!), put up with our sleeping in and were just a total blast to hang out with.  It's good to know people in high latitude places!