22 September, 2012

Hello friends!  Sorry it's been so long since I posted last!  I've been pretty busy...

My family and I went on a two-week vacation in Alaska!  We flew into Anchorage and rented an SUV so we could drive around the state for a week.  Our first stop was Denali Park.  We got there in the evening, drove a few miles into the park, and hiked around a beautiful river.  The next day, we embarked on an eight-hour bus ride into the park (four hours there and four back).  We saw a ton of caribou, a dall sheep, three bears, and we were lucky enough to see Mt. Denali (the highest mountain in North America, and the tallest mountain in the world from base to peak).  Only 30% of people who visit the park get a glimpse of the mountain, and we just happened to make it into the 30% Club!

Kevin, Denali, and Me

Beautiful Denali
We then headed to Fairbanks, with the hopes of seeing the aurora borealis.  While there, we went hiking, explored the Museum of the North, saw the Alaskan Pipeline, and saw two moose.  The second night we were there, we all went to bed and then got up a few hours later to check if the northern lights were out.  To our surprise, they were stretched across the entire sky!  It was one of the most beautiful and amazing things I have ever seen, and was definitely the highlight of our trip!

Aurora Borealis
After Fairbanks, we spent a few days in Talkeetna.  While there, we took a flightseeing trip in which we flew around Denali and landed on a glacier.  It was absolutely beautiful to see the mountain from the air, and a crazy experience to land in the middle of a snow-covered glacier, surrounded by giant peaks.  After our plane ride, we decided to take a train ride on the Alaskan Railway.  The train we took is the last operating flag-stop train in the world.  For several families, the only way to get home is to hike or take the train.  When they decide they want to get on the train for a ride into town, they put up their flag and the train stops to let them on.  It was a completely unique experience that gave us a peek into a lifestyle completely different from our own.  And the trip was made memorable by our quirky conductor, Warren, who made the journey complete by talking up a storm, making us laugh, teaching us all about life in Alaska, and even handing out prizes at the end of the trip.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime train ride that I will never forget.

Denali from the air
Our plane on the glacier
The teeny tiny plane in the middle of the
photo puts the size of Denali into perspective

Warren's Train

The next day, we drove back to Anchorage, turned in the rental car, and embarked on our cruise ship. We spent the first few days at sea, eating at the numerous restaurants, enjoying the various activities, and simply relaxing.  I decided to take part in a week-long scavenger hunt in which I had to answer trivia questions about the ship, collect random items (such as a red sock and en empty root beer can), and get the signatures of different people aboard the ship.  There were about ninety tasks in all, which gave me something to do while aboard.  As part of our journey, we sailed through Glacier Bay, which was incredible!  We saw several instances of calving, where large parts of the glacier would fall off and crash into the water below.  The most amazing part was the sounds it made, like thunder, a crash of drums, and sometimes even like a creaky wooden door.
Kevin and I in Glacier Bay

Our first port was Skagway, where we rented a little green jeep and drove into Canada.  We drove into a little town called Carcross (short for Caribou Crossing), which is located in the Yukon Territory.  It was originally established as a gold mining town during the gold rush.  So of course, my dad and brother decided it would be a good idea to try panning for gold.  Unfortunately, they didn't find anything, but it made for a fun experience anyways.

Kevin panning for gold

The next day we docked in Alaska's capital city, Juneau.  Kevin and I took a little shuttle to the Mendenhall Glacier which, like everything else we had seen on the trip, was beautiful.  We hiked out to a waterfall and threw rocks at some icebergs.  Then we decided that we wanted to stand on an iceberg.  Unfortunately, none were close enough, so Kevin rolled up his pants, went into the lake, and wrangled one to the shore.  I can now officially say I've stood on an iceberg.  While we were waiting for the shuttle to pick us up and bring us back to town, we saw a mama bear cross the street about twenty feet away from us.  She had a huge salmon in her mouth that she had just caught in the nearby stream.  About a minute after she crossed, her two little cubs scurried across the street to join her on the other side.

Our third port was Ketchikan.  Jealous that Kevin and I had seen bears so close up, my dad decided that we should go searching for bears.  We took off in a tiny plane with just our family and the pilot.  We flew for about a half-hour into the wilderness and finally landed on a small lake.  The pilot rowed us to shore with an oar and let us out right next to a river that was full of salmon, making their journey back to the place of their birth.  We waited for about an hour and saw three different bears fishing for salmon.  It was little frightening to be so close to these huge wild animals, but that just made it even more amazing.

Our last day on the ship, I turned in the findings from my scavenger hunt.  I am proud to tell you that I won, and my prize was a bottle of champagne!  We disembarked the ship in Vancouver, BC, where we rented bikes and rode around Stanley Park.  It was a great ending to a great vacation.

Fun sculptures in Stanley Park
The trip really gave me some closure to the previous season in my life, and now that I'm back home, I feel that my life can really get back to normal.  I started a new job this week!  I'm working for a company that runs the fundraisers at middle and high schools.  My job is to go around to different schools, collect the orders and money from the students, give out prizes, and do some accounting to make sure all the orders are correct.  It's been good so far, and it's great to have something to occupy my time!  I've also started studying to take the GRE again, which I'm hoping will help me get into the graduate program I want.  Anyways, all that is to say: life is good!  I hope all is well with you too!


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