Where would be better to study sociology than on the Denali National Park bus? You could write an entire PhD dissertation by observing interactions among bus passengers and perhaps get a masters degree in family counseling while you’re at it. Each of our buses appeared to have at least 5 countries represented and lots of large multi-generational family groups. After a few hours of listening to Grandma, Mother, and Grandson, you sure know a lot about how that family works. There was the Dad in the big camouflage jacket who kept clapping his son on the back and saying “ya know, if we’re gonna start hunting, we gotta get you some better gear.” Though the son smiled back there was nothing in any of his body language or replies that suggested he had even the slightest interest in getting a Read more
Zoey is right about the wildlife in Alaska, it’s right there for the viewing. One day we’re on a tour boat out of Seward and through the fjords to the glaciers, and two days later we’re jumping off a bus in the middle of Denali National Park and climbing through the tundra. And between them it might be easier to list the wildlife that we didn’t see. Read more
We arrived at Denali National Park after a 6hr drive from Seward. We then had the choice of booking a 6-hr bus-ride, an 8-hr bus-ride, or an 11-hr bus-ride. They all sounded dreadful. A scan of the 3-D map and the available start times (for example, booking a bus ride for 6am was out of the question) left us with only one serious option … an 8-hr bus ride leaving at 9am the next day. Still sounds miserable and, note, the day after the bus ride we have a 4.5 hr drive and a 3.5 hr plane ride. Who planned this trip?
The bus driver introduced himself as Scott Richardson. You should write that down because if you ever go to Denali, it would be worth the trouble to try to get on Scott’s bus. He loves that park and he is everything you might want in a bus driver (almost – it would have been swell if he could have fixed the leaky coolant) and more. He talked about the plants, ecology, history, the moose by the side of the road (cool!). He’s not an official guide; he’s “just” a bus driver so he can only answer questions but he encourages so many questions and he answers them so well that you might be confused about whether or not you are on a guided bus ride. Eventually, we also rode with Barr, Cindy, and Kat. They all loved the park and provided information, helped us spot wildlife, etc. But I guess you never get over your first bus driver.
You can hop on and off the bus anywhere in Denali National Park (except where it is Read more
Mendenhall Glacier Camp
- Dalls porpoise (pod)
- Humpback whales (x3)
- Sea Otters (x3)
- Stellar Sea Lions (whole herd)
- Tufted Puffin
- Horned Puffin
- Bald Eagle
- Coastal Black Bear
- Harbor Seals (x2)
Denali National Park
- Moose (x4)
- Moose Calfs (x2)
- Dalls Sheep (3 separate herds)
- Golden Eagle
- Arctic Ground Squirrels (x5)
- Grizzly Bear (x2)
- Caribou (x2)
- Red Fox (x3)
- Mew gull (x2)
Not your kids alone, of course. They shouldn’t talk to strangers. But, you or the whole family, you should talk to lots of strangers. In Seward AK, I met a grandma from Anchorage on the bench at the playground who was in town to see her daughter perform in the July 4th street circus after graduating from circus school in Vermont. I told her of my interest in visiting Wasilla. She sort of laughed and then politely said “there are nicer places to visit.” Now, I know my friends (some of whom might even be reading this) have told me the same thing but it doesn’t quite have the same impact from a friend. When a stranger nearly chokes trying to hold back the giggles, it makes an impact. We did have to drive through Wasilla and, ah, well, let’s just say, I was glad to have chatted with that Grandma on that bench.
Later that same night in Seward, Bill and I wandered up to A Swan Nest Inn (which is really nice by the way) and started chatting with Heather, born and raised in Seward. She was happy to hear that we were enjoying Alaska (“all native Alaskans just want you to love Alaska”) and then surprised to learn that we were enjoying our hotel, the Van Gilder. “Did they tell you about ghost?” We heard a nice story about a love affair, a jealous husband, and a murder. And then we narrowed it down. “Don’t worry, she only roams the second floor.” (We’re staying on the second floor.) “The murder happened down the hall to the left of the stairs.” (Yeah, that’s the way to our room). “In one of the rooms that looks to the street.” (Un-hun) “The room that looks out to the left, toward the water.” (Yup, Read more
Though she’s denied it ever happened, Ashley spent several weeks talking about her concerns about Alaskan bears during our upcoming hike with the kids into Eagle Glacier Cabin north of Juneau. Enough so that I was starting to get paranoid too. It was similar to the time when my mother sent me a book about bear attacks when I was living in a tent in northern B.C. for a few summer seasons back in the late 80’s. I spent the next month jumping at every snapped twig. Ashley’s fears were not allayed when she found out that most of the bears around Juneau are the smaller black bear, or when a friend brought a rifle along on a day hike into the muskeg around Bessie Lake a couple of days before our cabin hike. Nor was she comforted much by the statistic that bears typically don’t bother groups of four or more, and we were going to be nine people and two dogs (one a talkative beagle). We borrowed bear spray from the B&B. Read more
On longer trips, we usually make a pilgrimage to a locally-owned, independent bookstore to buy paperbacks. The books are a great souvenir and they also enrich the whole experience. We went a little crazy in Juneau at Hearthside Books: Pacific Northwest Legends, Facts about the Iditarod, an Alaskan adventure by local author Will Hobbs, a book of mammals and facts about them, and a beautiful story of a girl and a sled dog.Reading local books on the road is fun (and sometimes I read them too). It gives the kids motivation and context for what they’re visiting as well as motivation and context for what they’re reading.
There are so many cool camps for kids and only a small fraction are commuting distance from your home. Why not enroll your kids in a camp while on vacation? In Seattle there are unique opportunities for sailing and boat-building at the Center for Wooden Boats or rock music at the Experience Music Project. Boston has a sports broadcasters camp and there are plans for a history camp at the newly re-opened Philadelphia History Museum. Where is there a better place to study US history? Chicago International Children’s Film Festival has a film-making summer camp. Of course, some camps are full day but many camps are half-day or even just a few hours per day. Find cool camps wherever you’re going by searching the Internet for your destination or directly visiting the well known museums and attractions at your destination. Note that camps are popular for spring break too. Kids can learn about something they would never be able to learn about at your own home and parents can be tourists at their own pace, take a course themselves, work, exercise, or maybe just relax and read a book.
We signed our girls up for camp at the Mendenhall Glacier this week. They learned Wilderness Survival Skills including map and compass, shelter-building, making a fire, and using a knife. They met local kids from Juneau and learned all sorts of new camp songs. And, ah, the glacier! Pretty cool.