Alaska. Girdwood/Seward/Denali National Park/Talkeetna. June 2017

National Park Counter: 5

SUPER AWESOME TRIP. This was my first “major” trip: furthest I have ever been away from home base, longest ever flight, probably the most different spot I have been to, and the place with the most “things” I have ever done on a vacation. This is a lengthy post, and I apologize for those reading it, but there were lots of things on this trip to document!

Firstly, it was myself, my best, Nicki, another great friend, Katie, and two other pals, Bob and Lori. Nicki, Katie, and I flew together and arrived in Anchorage in the evening, maybe 8 or 9ish. Nicki mistakenly thought I would be blitzed from the travel day. That’s not how I work! I figure when traveling do as much as possible and recover when back home! So we landed, got the rental pickup, checked into the hotel and went for downtown. We found a cool spot called Humpy’s. I had a great Rudolph Burger and my first (of many) Alaskan beer. It was June 17th, and wouldn’t you know it, we found a damn SOLSTICE Party and partied until 1 or 2! And guess what!? STILL LIGHT OUTSIDE. I can see why alcohol is a problem in Alaska (it is, especially in the villages) – it’s either depressingly dark for long swathes of time, or the nighttime drive to go to bed doesn’t exist because it’s so light out the rest of the time!

Anchorage…not a great shot, but on a 2015 model phone! Photo by the Adventurer

The next morning the 3 of us met up with the other 2 and made our way to Girdwood, a bit southeast of Anchorage, along the Seward Highway. The highway itself is quite scenic and parallels a river/glacier spillway/inlet. Girdwood is gorgeous! There is a ski resort there on Mt. Aleyeska. From there one can take a tram up a couple thousand feet to a delicious restaurant called Seven Glaciers. Super tasty food but its expensive, but oh soooo good!! I also found a trail at the end of a road in the town called Virgin Creek Falls. This is a pretty simple trail, short, but has a neat waterfall with both a pool at the bottom and higher vantage point above. Neat little rainforest trail! We also encountered a black bear that had broken into the local bar. But the highlight of Girdwood was the adventure that Katie found for her, Nicki, and I with an Iditarod dog musher. We got to have an adventure just the three of us with dog musher Nick Petit. This was SUPER FUN and probably one of the coolest things I have ever done! The drive up to his spot was neat enough, going through the Alaska rainforest into the area between all these mountains where he and his dogs were. There was no snow but he had them pull us on a sleigh with wheels through and abandoned gold mine. How cool!

The Adventurer, himself, in the Seven Glaciers Restaurant. In case the snow deceives, it is, indeed, June. Taken by the Sidekick.
Dog Sledding in Girdwood. Gopro still by the Adventurer

The next day the entire crew went further down the road to Seward to catch a whale watching cruise. That was a pretty neat experience as well! Seward seems like a pretty cool place to return to! There is a national park there as well, Kenai Fjords, which I was unaware of at the time. Oops. I will be back. Anyway, the cruise was definitely neat. There was a lunch stopover on an island, lots of golden seal viewing, and then, after a bit, THAR BE WHALES HERE!

Golden Seals Lounging about. Taken by the Adventurer.

After a quick return to Anchorage to swap out the truck for a proper RV, it was off to Denali National Park. The drive up took a few hours and was very scenic. We had reserved a campground spot in Riley Campground and basically did some glamping for several days. We did some hiking around the campground, The McKinley Station Trail, around a lake called Horseshoe Lake, took the tour bus over Polychrome Pass and the 60 miles to Eielson Center to get a good view of Denali…if it weren’t hidden in the clouds! We did get a quick peek at some point, but the mountain was mainly shrouded in clouds. Additionally I went on my first ever white water rafting trip! Not too bad for the first trip, on the Nenana River in Alaska! We also saw some kitschy dinner theatre shows at the Alaska Cabin Nite and also the Music of Denali. My friend Nicki used to actually work there back in the day! A couple other noteworthy spots: The Salmon Bake, which is a must visit for food, drinks, and some late night partying, Lynx Creek Pizza for some great pies and another great pizza place but has the pizza bar tap I think I had ever seen, of all Alaskan beer is Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse.

Polychrome Pass in Denali NP, taken by teh Sidekick.
A local staple in Denali Park. Good food, good beer! Taken by the Adventurer.
White water rafting the Nenana River north from Denali Park to Healy. Photo from Rafting company.
So this picture was taken by the Adventurer at 1:30 AM on June 21, summer solstice.

When we finally departed Denali we were not actually done with Denali! We saddled that big ole RV into a spot in Talkeetna for a couple nights. When we got there Katie, Nicki, and I headed to the airport and got on a bush plane through K2 Aviation to fly and land on a glacier right below Denali. That was super cool, too!

The peak of Denali! Pic taken from flightseeing plane by the Adventurer.

At long last we headed back to Anchorage and ate at a local mainstay, the Moosestooth (great pizza and beer!) and the next morning back to Florida!

Overall impressionsPros include stunning scenery, great views, many things to do, wide open spaces, a different take on life (it really seems different up there) . Cons: pretty much the only con to this is the distance to travel the dollars to spend!

The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars, everything. It was all great and worth doing more than once!

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ. March 2015

National Park Counter: 4

Ok! Here we go! So, firstly, this was not my trip and was not planned by me. I was accompanying my best friend on a personal journey. This was her trip. That being said it was an EYE OPENING experience for many reasons.

This was my first journey west. We flew into Phoenix and landed while it was still light out, but by the time we got the rental car and began the trek to Flagstaff en route to the Canyon, it was totally dark. There was nothing to see, and was BLACK. We rolled into the national park late in the evening as we were lodging in the park. The only thing along the journey that was noteworthy to me were the occasional elevation signs, which were different, yet totally insignificant….but growing up in Indiana and then living in Florida, one changes elevation by about 15 feet maximum, ever, so those elevation signs don’t really exist. The last sign was 7000 feet!

The first morning was the walk up to the rim of the Canyon. A friend of mine (who I have previously mentioned, and will mention again in the blog) once told me it was a big hole in the ground and not much else. My experience was wholly different! First, it was hard to breath. At this point I was pushing 300 pounds and had never been anywhere near this elevation my entire life! But, I digress. The most noticeable thing was that as you approach you are walking uphill and you actually start seeing the FAR side of the canyon rising up over the horizon … and it is IMPRESSIVE. Also, there are trees. I kinda thought the canyon was in the middle of the desert, but there is a national forest there called Kaibab. Who knew!? So, after getting to some various lookout points and exploring the views and some harrowing climbs off the trail, we had lunch at a pretty neat restaurant that looks out into the canyon.

Taken by the Adventurer.
The Adventurer and Sidekick, on a biking excursion. Taken by a passerby.
The rare guardrail! Taken by the Sidekick,
This is called the Battleship. Taken by the Adventurer.
A little off trail hiking in the canyon! This was taken on a phone in 2015…so not the best quality.

After those initial hours we did some of the bus tour to see some other view points. We did a super fun and awesome bike excursion. I cannot recommend this enough, super awesome way to see the canyon! We had a fancy dinner, met a Shoshone couple (more on this in a minute), saw some mule deer, did some minor hiking, found a thing called the Desert View Watchtower, and I did some mid night sky watching when the moon went down (awesome!).

Desert View Watchtower from below, taken by the Adventurer.
Hiking down and off the path from Desert View Tower, again, taken from phone.

A really neat part of the trip was meeting that Shoshone couple. My friend and I had reservations at a nice restaurant and we got there a bit early. As we are prone to do, we found the bar to have a couple drinks. We were looking for a nice quiet secluded spot for her journey but were having trouble navigating the crowds. That couple at the bar next to us overheard us and pointed us to this spot called Shoshone Point. It’s off of a trail outside of the the main tourist area and was unmarked with a small, very easy to miss parking spot. They told us one of their myth stories and that this was a very special spiritual place to their people. SUPER COOL!

Shoshone Point. Photo (not a great one) by the Adventurer

Overall impressions: Pros include stunning scenery, great views, many things to do, wide open spaces, great weather in the Spring, important cultural heritage. Cons include it’s a bit far off of a convenient lodging path, and lodging there is expensive, it’s pretty touristy, and with that comes crowds.

The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars, an absolute must see.

The Barren Years 2006-2014

Ok, so they were not totally barren but you remember that part on the frontpage about not doing too much exploring? Well, this is the decade. To be fair, between 2006 and spring 2015 I did managed the following (I think): A really short weekend trip to NYC, a weekish in Boston, a weekend in Rochester, NY (and Niagara Falls), a weekend in Savannah, GA/Hilton Head, SC, a week in the Lake Norman, NC area, a weekend in Knoxville (most of those were for weddings). I also did do some exploring of this nut case state of Florida: couple trips to the panhandle, Orlando area, and St. Augustine. In any event, I have pictures and memories of these but nothing really substantive stuff to blog about!

A quick note!

*Edit May 3* Hey there fellow adventurers! First, thanks for reading! Secondly, I am totally caught up on trips going into the blog, and even just took my first one since starting it! The page is very much still a work in progress, but here is what works and what is coming soon. The photo album tab is nothing for now, if you want to see pictures from my national parks visits click on that Facebook button to go to the Parks Adventurer Facebook page and hit like! Then you can peruse. For the immediate future that page is only national parks and I am not entirely sure I am going to deviate from that at this point! Also please click on the YouTube link up there as well and subscribe! I am in progress of uploading and organizing but I think there is some decent stuff there, they are currently all raw and unedited, but I am looking at doing some work on them in the future. And last if you have an insta account and want to follow that would be terrific! At the bottom of the front page is a link to each individual blog entry which is super convenient! If you want to quickly see where I have been and my thoughts on those spots, that is the place to go to! And lastly, that “Trips” tab up top, doesn’t do anything except allow you to see my posts by category! Thanks for reading and following my fellow Adventurers!

It is 2021 and I have decided to try my hand at my own travel blog! This is intended primarily for me, more of a record of travel experiences. That being said everyone is welcome to enjoy and comment! I intend to make an entry for most of my travels that are noteworthy to me. I will try to either keep them lumped together in some order. I would like to say that order might be by date but who knows! I have categories and tags that you can search if anyone is all that interested!

Dry Tortugas National Park, FL, Dec. 2005

National Park Counter: 3

Ok! This was the first National Park I visited that was an official “national park,” though I still did not really know exactly what a “national park” really was! My old high school pal (who had also accompanied me to Indiana Dunes and the Gateway Arch at least once) took a road trip straight from the hometown in Indiana to New Port Richey, FL, where I was living at the time. We slept a few hours, then got up and drove down to Key West. That’s an unhappy amount of driving! The intention was just to check out Key West. While down there, though, we saw this ferry out to the Dry Tortugas and thought “Hey, that looks cool, let’s do that!” It was late December, just before New Years but we were able to get a walkup ticket for the ferry. I understand that is not really possible anymore.

So the trip was fun! This was the first time I had actually ever seen the blue waters of the Caribbean and how awesome! Key West was different for sure, but Fort Jefferson and the Tortugas was a really cool part of the trip. If you don’t know much, there is a very large brick fort out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico called Ft. Jefferson. It is one of the largest of these old forts in America and I believe it was left unfinished as well. Of note, a few men convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of Lincoln ended up spending some time detained here.

Inside of the Fort, taken by the Adventurer.
The area surrounded by the fort. Some parts are in ruin but most of the fort is still in good shape! Taken by the Adventurer.
A verrrrry long passageway inside the fort. Taken by the Adventurer.
The fort is partially in the water as you can see here. Taken by the Adventurer.

The Tortugas have some very good snorkeling and water activities as well, but I was not into that or interested. It’s definitely a neat and different spot. It is also one of the harder to get to national parks in the nation as A) Key West is still like 4 hours south of Miami through the keys and then B) a ferry or seaplane is required to get the 70 or so miles offshore of Key West, and neither are particularly cheap!

Overall impressions
Pros include stunning water views, great snorkeling and a cool camping experience (at least that’s what I hear – I did neither of these!), not terribly crowded, neat American history, and great winter weather!
Cons: The biggest drawback by far is accessibility. You have to first get to Key West, which is a pain in itself. Then there is the pricey trip to the island and, unless you get one of the few campsites, you only have that day to visit. But that’s probably enough because there really isn’t a ton to see or do.

The Adventurer Final Word:
3 Stars. If you are in Key West and want an interesting day trip off the island this might be a good option!

Indiana Dunes National Park, IN August 2004

National Park Counter: 2

So, here we have another one that I visited long ago! I was near the Dunes for a wedding in 2004 with a buddy who made the drive with me. Note: This was a National Seashore at the time I was there. I remember that it was simple to get to from the road, it was windy AF, and for August, it was pretty DAMN CHILLY. That being said, there is absolutely no place in Indiana anything like this at all. The dunes themselves were quite the anomaly; one does not really associate Indiana with sand, or really beaches at all! Also, the area outside of the Dunes themselves, but still part of the park is quite different from the rest of the state as well. Neat place. Bonus: pretty killer views of the Chicago skyline across the lake! I do not anticipate a return visit there, but who knows! I would guess it’s an hour train ride from the city. The headline picture is not mine. If I took pictures while I was there, who knows!

Indiana Dunes Becomes Indiana's First National Park | Midwest Living
Some of the non dunes part of the park. Again, photo is not mine.
A view of Chicago From the Treetops a Indiana Dunes | Flickr - Photo  Sharing! | Indiana dunes national lakeshore, Skyline silhouette, Indiana  dunes
Chicago skyline from the Dunes. Not my photo.

Overall impressions
Pros: A great view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, a surprisingly non Mid-West and definitely non-Indiana looking environment, great bird watching, and easily is accessible from Chicago (there is a stop on the train there). 
Cons: It is still in Indiana. It was actually pretty chilly even in August. It’s not terribly scenic as there is a lot of industrial areas surrounding this very small park. There is not a lot to do unless you want a day at the beach, and a cold one at that!

The Adventurer Final Word:
Two Stars. This one is good if you are in Chicago or the barren wasteland that is northeastern Indiana and need a quick escape to some nature.

Gateway Arch National Park, MO

National Park Counter: 1

Ok, post number 1! So, I have not been to the Arch since it became a National Park, but I have been there at least 3 or 4 times. It’s an arch. It’s tall. It’s in St. Louis. It used to be called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. I think the designation as a national park is lame. It’s a modern man-made thing, and a memorial would suffice. Picture…in case you …haven’t…seen the arch before?

Arch, stock photo.

Overall impressionsPros: Easily accessible from I-70 if you are driving cross country and need a place to stop for a pee, or a sandwich. Cons include the white elephant in the room of why this is even a National Park. I get there is some historical importance to this monument. A national monument maybe, but not a a full fledged national park, and even that is pushing it for monument a mere 60 years old.

The Adventurer Final Word:
One Star. It’s not terrible as a tourist attraction, but you aren’t going to St. Louis specifically to see it unless you live near by. Cahokia Mounds is actually nearby and a trip there with a side excursion to arch might be warranted.