After Banff the trip began to feel almost like going downhill. Anticlimactic. We spent a night in Billings again and then drove straight home. Montana and Wyoming are beautiful, but the landscape was almost prosaic after the astonishing scenery we had in our rear-view mirror.
It felt good to be back in Colorado and we had a lot to catch up on. Our new car wasn't so new any more. There was lots of dirt and gravel and mud and sand and tar to remove, but we smiled as we remembered where we picked it all up.
What a summer we had! The entire journey took just about 7 weeks from start to finish and covered about 9,500 miles. This was the longest road trip either of us had ever taken and the time just flew by. There are too many firsts and bests to try to list here. The trip just felt "once-in-a-lifetime" even though we've had other similarly epic "road trips" since then (like New Zealand) and we plan to have more.
|Alaska is Big! (image source: Wikipedia)|
One of the most interesting lessons learned was about mountains. We expected a lot of big mountain ranges and peaks, since we were traveling to and through the northern Canadian Rockies, and we knew that Denali, at 20,328 ft was the highest peak in North America. But we soon had our eyes opened to the mountains beyond the Colorado Rockies. Colorado is beautiful but the Canadian Rockies and the mountains of Alaska are gloriously, stupendously big and just never seem to end. By the end of the trip we were somewhat embarrassed to admit that we had become a little snobbish about our local mountains. Not any more!
|Denali (aka Mt McKinley), 20,328'|
We also now realize that even 7 weeks can't do Alaska (and Canada) justice. A full 2-3 weeks was just getting there and making transitions between places! There is so much to see, so much ground to cover, so many hikes to do. We went as far and as deep as we could, and it was very exciting and satisfying, but we still often felt we had only scratched the surface. During the trip we kept saying, "we've got to come back here!"
Some of our favorite places were the Al-Can Highway, Banff/Jasper, Yukon Territory, Fairbanks, Denali National Park and Preserve, Turnagain Arm, the Kenai Peninsula, Chitina/Wrangell-St Elias NP, Haines, Glacier Bay NP, Junuea, the Inside Passage -- uh, wait -- that's pretty much everything we did! :-)
One really enjoyable aspect of our journey was the people along the way. We found Canadians to be exceptionally friendly and efficient, with none of the "attitude" you sometimes see from demotivated employees and people when traveling in the U.S. Alaskans were also very helpful and friendly and seemed welcoming of us as tourists.
We have always been enthusiastic observers of nature and wildlife, and Alaska and Canada definitely did not disappoint! But we view our Alaskan adventure as the genesis of our interest in birdwatching, mostly because of Bald Eagles, Sandhill Cranes, puffins, and a handful of other interesting birds we saw.
This adventure also renewed our interest in photography and trying to capture those awe-inspiring views and moments not only for our memories, but to share our experience with family and friends. And of course, with more photography experience and better gear, we're already thinking of what we need to re-shoot.
What did we miss? Next time we'd place a high priority on Katmai, Kodiak Island, the road to Prudhoe Bay, and we'd love to return to Haines. We'd probably take another flight-seeing trip, perhaps to Nome or in conjunction with Prudhoe Bay and/or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. We're even considering a cruise ship experience in the Inside Passage. And on our next trip, bird-watching will undoubtedly be a major priority in planning.
And although this blog was reconstructed 2-3 years after the trip, much of the trip is surprisingly fresh in our minds. Thanks to Susan, we began blogging our New Zealand trip, and liked the result so much that we knew we had to put out the effort to document Alaska, too. And we're glad we did.
Where to next? :-)