Part 3: The Odyssey of Unexpected Delays
As the saying goes, "But wait, there's more!" We packed our bags and jetted off to Gustavus, our portal to Glacier Bay National Park.
This remote realm left us with two options: fly or float, as there are no roads to this aquatic paradise. In the process, we racked up frequent flyer miles like explorers of the sky. The vistas from above were nothing short of breathtaking, so stunning I swear a glacier even winked at me. Picture three glaciers converging, like a frosty traffic jam – but this, my friends, is Alaska.
Upon our return to Fairbanks, we welcomed a well-deserved day of respite. Our morning began with an Uber adventure, followed by a Walmart spree that made us feel like doomsday preppers. But the true highlight?
A flight to the minuscule hamlet of Bettles, perched just 35 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Imagine living in a town where you can count the residents on one hand, with fingers to spare. It's the epitome of a close-knit community.
Bettles served as our gateway to the rarely-visited Kobuk Valley and Gates of the Arctic National Parks. Originally, I believed that Kobuk Valley could only be accessed in July, but thanks to the insights of a Facebook group, we stumbled upon Bettles Lodge and their enticing "2 National Park Tour." We secured the last available Jacuzzi room, akin to winning a lottery in the Arctic tundra.
But as our journey across Alaska unfolded, the weather decided to play its part. Reports of flooding in Fairbanks inundated my social media feeds, prompting me to track hashtags like a teenage fangirl stalking her favorite celebrity. Alas, swollen rivers led to canceled boat tours faster than a melting ice cube in a steaming cup of cocoa.
The fine print on Bettles Lodge's excursions warned of weather-related cancellations without refunds. It was then that I decided to shave a day off our Bettles adventure, preserving our coveted 2 Park Tour.
Our hopes were high, but our luck was down in the dumps. While others soared through the Arctic skies to complete the 2 Park Flight Tour, we remained earthbound. Our ingenious backup plan? At least we could snap a photo with the Kobuk Valley National Park & Gates of the Arctic National Park signs. We might not have set foot in the parks, but we got as close as a squirrel to its stash of nuts.
And speaking of nuts, our newfound friends, Carol and Rick, blessed us with pictures of the colossal sand dunes at Kobuk Valley, towering 100 feet into the wild blue yonder. Our heartfelt thanks to them for providing a glimpse of the wonders we missed.
We also paid a visit to the quaint Gates of the Arctic National Park Visitor's Center in Bettles, only to discover they no longer stationed a ranger there.
After all, who would volunteer to live in a town of 7 (now 8) residents? It's a brave new world indeed!
In the end, while we didn't conquer the skies, our time in Bettles offered a unique and rejuvenating experience. We reveled in saunas and kindred spirits, proving that detours often lead to unexpected treasures.
Now, as we're two-thirds of the way through our epic expedition, with a week remaining and two parks left to explore, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park beckons.
Despite our grounded plane due to adverse weather, we eagerly embraced the mystic beauty of Alaska's foggy landscapes. Foggy Alaska may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's unquestionably my cup of hot cocoa.
Our grand finale in Alaska's national parks led us to Katmai, home to Brooks Lodge and the legendary Brooks Falls, where bears take center stage. We arrived via floatplane, accompanied by just two fellow adventurers.
After a swift orientation, we were off to the bear-viewing bonanza!
Being a seasoned outdoors enthusiast, I'd prepped for the Alaskan mosquito mafia by donning my trusty bug net.
The moment we touched down, it became clear that these tiny terrors were out for blood, but my bug armor held up like a champ. Those nets are surprisingly wearable, believe it or not.
Now, back to the park – it was an absolute bear paradise! Observing these majestic creatures in action felt like watching a live-action teddy bear picnic, except the guests of honor were salmon enthusiasts.
My heart ached a bit, thinking of how much my grandmother would have loved this place. I like to think she had a front-row seat to our adventure from the great beyond.
As we strolled along the creaky boardwalk, every twist and turn felt like an episode of a survival reality show. Grizzlies could have surprised us at any moment, but thanks to our orientation, we knew what to do if things got too close for comfort.
In total, we encountered a dozen different grizzly bears in various poses – strolling along the shoreline, posing in the falls, lounging in the water, and feasting on salmon, whether in the water or onshore. We even witnessed a few daring swimmers among them, brushing shoulders (and fins) with unsuspecting fishermen. It was a truly wild experience!
In closing, Alaska is a treasure trove of natural wonders, and I'm profoundly grateful for this incredible journey. I hope that anyone who dreams of exploring Alaska gets the opportunity to do so. And remember, it's entirely possible to conquer all 8 of Alaska's National Parks in 3 weeks with some strategic planning and bookings. I can hardly wait to share more stories about each park, breaking them all down into more manageable bite-sized ice-bergs starting with our unforgettable day-boat trip in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Thank you for joining us on this thrilling expedition, and if you're contemplating your own national park escapade, don't hesitate to send me a message!