Tag: travel

Snowmaggedon 2019: Adventures in driving

We spent the holidays in mostly sunny Northern California, but we knew our drive back to the Midwest could be … unpredictable? Fraught? All of the above? Our drive out was blissfully weather-free, but that’s just a gift. We’ve done the December/January drive a few times over the last few years, and our experiences have ranged from one kind of memorable (discovering the best Hatch chile-infused enchiladas in New Mexico) to other kinds of memorable (needing six hours to drive 80 miles down the western slope of the Sierra and scoring a Motel 6 room in Auburn only because we were at the beginning of the convoy). The blizzard in Wyoming that closed I-80 behind us as we drove may not even make the Top 2.

But anyway, let me tell you about this year! Grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable, because this is going to be LONG.

TheHusband always pays attention to the weather forecasts so that we can leave earlier or later based on what we’re likely to face. On Monday we started hearing about an impending Weather Event at the end of the week, in which St. Louis was prominently featured. It was supposed to peak Friday night, which was awkward because we planned to arrive early afternoon Saturday, and we know how St. Louis snow clearance (doesn’t) work. But, as the weather people are quick to remind us, early models have a lot of uncertainty, which may be worse right now because of the shutdown and the lack of support at NOAA.

We decided our best response was to assume there would be Weather, but not change too much since we didn’t know what would happen. It would be be difficult to leave Tuesday, but we would leave early Wednesday morning for sure, so that we could compress the travel frame a bit and get in on Friday night if we had to. We had already decided to take the southern route (I-40 to I-44) because the conditions in the Sierra and the Rockies were too unpredictable.

We set off right after rush hour on Wednesday and made excellent time. That evening we heard that the snow would start falling heavily Friday evening, around rush hour. So we drove 750 miles on Thursday and arrived in Amarillo, TX that night. It still sounded like the storm would arrive late afternoon Friday in St. Louis, and the snow line was pretty far up our route, so with luck we would have rain until the last couple of hours.

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Moose sightings

Moose are of course not exclusive to Alaska, but they are a well known part of the landscape and somehow a visit doesn’t seem complete without a few moose sightings. Although I missed photographing the mama moose and her calves in Anchorage, I had a few more chances in the following days.

Entering Denali Park the afternoon before our bus trip we encountered two calves grazing at the intersection. 

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We hope the mom was around somewhere. The calves seemed pretty calm so she may have been in the bushes.

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Denali National Park

No first trip to Alaska is complete without a visit to Denali. Seeing the mountain (if it lets you and doesn’t shroud itself in clouds) and visiting the park are both unforgettable experiences. On my first trip well over a decade ago the day was misty and rainy so I don’t remember all the topography but I definitely remember the bears. We saw two and they were huge.

For the most part private cars aren’t allowed beyond the first fifteen miles, so the most common way to travel inside the park is on the buses. You can take a bus about 70 miles in, which takes eight hours round trip. And did I mention these are school buses? Made by Blue Bird and everything. You will feel 12 again.

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But it’s well worth the time and discomfort. We saw amazing scenery, including Mt. Denali itself, taiga and tundra landscapes, glacial rivers, and boreal forests. And of course animals. We started small, with a Ptarmigan. This is a mama giving us the evil eye. She had just hustled her chicks into the brush.

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Moderately tiny house

The tiny house boom has made it to Alaska. Not that they weren’t there before; there are a lot of small one-room fishing and hunting cabins, and RVS are ubiquitous. But now people build houses with the tiny house designation in mind.

All of us on this trip have watched some of the tiny house shows, so when we got to our Talkeetn lodging, which was called “Little Cabin in the Woods,” we all exclaimed upon seeing it, “tiny house!”

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We even went to the trouble of measuring it. At 750 square feet or so it wasn’t really a tiny house, but with 6 people it felt quite tiny at times. But it was very nicely designed, with a full bath and kitchen as well as a sleeping loft.

TheHusband and I sometimes talk about having a cabin and Alaska is a great place to get a sense of the range.

Talkeetna Day 2

Day 2 involved a float trip on the Talkeetna River, paddling about 6 miles before we ended up where it joins the larger Susitna (at the point where I took the picture in the previous post). We saw lots of nature!

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This is a beaver dam. There are lots of beavers and lots of trees, so the former have their pick of the latter. You’ll see trees on the banks where beavers have chewed halfway through the trunks and then abandoned them. They prefer the cottonwoods.

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A merganser duck, sitting on a log in the river until we came too close. Then it gave us a dirty look and paddled away.

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A bald eagle visible in the distance. They nest here, presumably for the fishing opportunities the confluence provides (the Chulitna joins the Susitna as well, just above where we were floating).

No bears. They don’t show up in force until the salmon run really gets going next month.

Settling in

SF bay, southern section, looking east

We have arrived at our Left Coast location for the summer. The dogs are recovering. As usual, when we got within sight and smell of the San Francisco Bay, the two Olds perked up and started paying attention. JimiArthur in particular stuck his head out the window in the stop-and-go traffic through Berkeley. JA hates, hates, hates being in the car, so when he gets close to home he wants to jump out. This year he climbed onto the console between the front seats, shaking and panting, and he wouldn’t go back. So I dragged him onto my lap, all 40+ pounds and 2 1/2 feet of him, and let him pant on me for the last 40 miles.

Once we pulled up in our driveway he hopped out, waited for us to open the front door, and recovered his equilibrium. The other two dogs followed suit more calmly, reconnoitering the house and making sure there was nothing lurking in the corners.

As you can see from the photo, we’re in that lovely weather pattern where we have morning fog/clouds followed by afternoon sun with a breeze. It’s the best.

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