Yesterday, on our first day in this state, we had taken a short drive along the Seward Highway. While watching the tide rush back in to the inlet was interesting, it was the wildlife that really excited us.
Our trip took us no more than 15 to 20 miles away from our hotel in Anchorage. We really didn’t have specific expectations. We certainly got treated to more than we anticipated!
We had not even traveled 10 miles when a bald eagle flew into the trees that crowned the cliffs (some as high as 3000 feet high!) that lined the roadway on our left. It was beautiful! We’ve seen eagles before in our travels but they never cease to impress. Our Lakota friends tell us that their culture sees eagles as the ones who take prayers to the Creator. They are always amazed when we tell them that, whenever we are in a place where eagles are supposed to dwell, we almost immediately have one that swoops down in front of us from our right to our left before landing and watching us. I guess we’ll have one more tale to relate to them!
As we drove along further, I spotted an odd shape at the top of the cliffs. This was in a very rocky section of the cliffs and I couldn’t imagine what would have a shape like that. I asked my husband to pull over and got out the binoculars. It was a mountain goat! I got a couple of photos, then watched. We brought 2 pair of binoculars, so we both trained them on the cliff. Suddenly there was a second goat with the first. They clambered over the rocks at the top of the cliff as if it were level ground. Amazing!
We drove a bit further, passing humans trying to emulate the mountain goats by climbing the rocks. They are but poor imitations! We saw a couple of small waterfalls cascading down the rocks. Since it was getting a bit late, even though the sun seemed to say it was early afternoon, we decided to turn around and head back to the hotel.
On the drive back, my passenger side was now along the cliff walls. I spotted a group of perhaps 8 mountains goats gathered in a cleft perhaps a quarter down the cliff. We were not able to stop in that location because the road was narrow there. It was still exciting. Then, further along, we spotted something familiar. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen many times, especially in Yellowstone National Park. There were about 6 cars pulled out. All the occupants were standing outside the cars and all were looking in the same direction; some were pointing for the benefits of others. Of course we stopped too! There atop the cliff were three more mountain goats! More photos. More watching through the binoculars. More amazement – especially for me. I am prone to vertigo at heights and can’t even imagine being up as high as the goats were, let alone walking around on the rocky sides of the cliff!
This morning I had a slow start due to the fibromyalgia. As is typical with fibromyalgia, the activities of the day (including sitting in a plane for so many hours) caught up to me the following day. When you add to that only about 5 hours of sleep and a slightly soft mattress, it brings a morning that starts with pain. So the day started with Thermacare and pain meds.
But as those of us with chronic pain learn, the mind can be an amazing pain reliever too. We started out with a drive to Kincaid Park. Along the way, we watched for moose. We were not disappointed. We spotted a female perhaps 100 feet off the road, eating her breakfast of leaves fresh off a tree. We pulled over to watch her. Within a few minutes I thought I saw another moose in the trees. As we watched, the second moose did materialize – a calf! The female’s baby from this season. The calf wanted breakfast too and began to nurse from it’s mother. I can’t tell you how long we spent watching them.
We had not driven another mile when I spotted another female moose. The one was on the other side of a chain link fence (likely designed to keep her and others off the road) perhaps 25 feet from the road. WOW! We pulled over and I decided to try climbing the small hill to be at eye level with her. She did not move. I was so surprised, because moose can be wary and easily spooked – or so we’d been told about them. Not this girl. As I took the first picture, her calf came out of the woods and started eating leaves right next to her. I almost dropped my camera! But the best was yet to come . . .
After I had taken a few shots, I whispered to her that they were beautiful . . . and repeated it a few times, very quietly. Then I started to move away along my side of the fence. And she and the baby followed me!! I stopped and took another photo – they were now no more 5 feet away from me. This wasn’t a zoo. But I was as close as I would be able to be if it were. I wondered if she would try to “come after me” to protect her baby. But there was no aggression. I slowly moved further down the fence. They continued to follow me! I told her again how beautiful they were, then made my way down the embankment and back to the car, where my husband sat open-mouthed. He couldn’t believe what he had just seen me do. Heck, I couldn’t believe it either.
After such an awesome start, it was a bit disappointing that the park gate was not open yet when we arrived. We decided to take a walk while we waited and set off down what turned out to be a (snowless) cross country ski trail. We enjoyed the sounds of the forest and the sights and smells. You could see the paths made through the tall grasses by unknown wild animals. When the park opened, we entered and checked it out. They have what they call a “Disc Golf Course.” What? Disc and Golf Course don’t seem compatible. It turned out to be a course set up like a golf course, but the goal is to get the discs (AKA Frisbees to some of us) into a trap made of metal chains. Very interesting. Great for kids and I suspect there would be less chance of injury and liability than, say, a skateboard park.
Our next destination was the Matanuska Valley outside of Anchorage. On the way we spotted another member of the local wildlife community – a beautiful hawk. I pulled out the bird book, but my husband, who was the only one with binoculars, didn’t get a sufficiently long view to positively identify it. Ah well, it was still beautiful.
The Matanuska Valley is home to the Matanuska Glacier – or what’s left of it. We spotted it from the roadway when we were still miles away. It looked different than the patched of snow and ice on the mountainsides. It appeared thicker and denser. We drove in the packed dirt road to the admission building. I don’t know how you come to own a glacier but this one appeared to be privately owned. We paid the fee and signed the liability waiver then headed in. When we reached the parking area and saw the circuitous path that would be required to get to the glacier itself, I opted to look from the distance. I may have been walking on the treadmill for two months, but I didn’t like the look of the terrain along the way. From where I stood, the glacier was perhaps a quarter mile away as the crow flies. Had I been able to fly, I would have been there in a second. My husband decided to walk to the glacier. It took him at least 20 minutes to get there and the route was not as good as it initially looked. It turned rocky and uneven as it rounded the bend. But between the photos I took and his descriptions, we have a great idea of what it was like. I found the blue glow from the cracks and crevices particularly interesting.
We decided to take an alternate route back, rather than return the same way. Mistake! I can’t tell you if the road was being paved because it’s Sarah Palin’s home town or because it needed it, but the section of the Palmer-Wasilla Highway that we traveled had more new pavement than I’ve seen anywhere in New England in a long time. What’s up with that? Anyway, we were stopped in the traffic for at least 15 minutes and had plenty of time to “admire” the governor’s hometown. It impressed me about as much as she does – that is to say, not much.
The rest of the trip back was uneventful and I’m hoping to get a much better night’s sleep. We already have the drapes drawn and I’ve taken my sleeping medication. As soon as I finish here, I’m going to brush my teeth, put some quiet music on here and play more games – slow, quiet, brainless ones.
After all, Alaska is the only state we have visited (and it’s number 45!) that has delivered on it’s promises right off the bat. No playing around or teasing. No false advertising. It is beautiful and it has wildlife easily viewable. I can’t wait to see what else Alaska has in store for us — and for that I need sleep!