I heave my bags onto my shoulder and I'm out the door at 4:00 for a 6:00am flight out of Philadelphia.
PHL to ATL...       ATL to SEA...       SEA to ANC.
After 15 hours of travel time I finally see the rugged mountain peaks surrounding Anchorage out the plane window.
I grab my rental SUV and I'm heading north on the Parks Hwy by 6:15pm, Alaska time.  238 miles north is where I'm headed. Plenty of daylight, right?

9:00pm and it's still light out. 10:00pm - it's starting to get dim, and I haven't seen the entrance to Denali yet.
At 11:00pm my headlights finally light up the lonely sign for the Stampede Rd. just north of Healy.
5 miles back, off the highway and above treeline it is now completely dark.
I turn into the quiet driveway of the Earthsong Lodge, hop out of the car and find the key to my cabin in an envelope just as the lodge had promised.
Before I get back in the car, I take a deep breath and look up. I see a night sky like I've never seen before in all my life.

Hot damn, I'm in Alaska!

My ALASKA itinerary:

People ask me all the time, "what cruise did you take?"  No cruises for me, this trip was boots on the ground!  And, yep, I did the trip solo.

I flew into Anchorage from Seattle and rented an SUV.  My trip was in early September, so all services were preparing to shut down for the winter.

I drove the Parks Hwy up to Denali National Park.  I stayed in a little cabin at Earthsong Lodge, just north of Healy and west on the Stampede Rd (the rugged road where, further out, the 'Into the Wild' bus used to be.)
I spent four days exploring Denali, including getting on the last Discovery Hike of the season, which drove me and 8 others three hours into the wilderness of Denali and dropped us off with a Park Ranger for the day.

Yes, I did see the northern lights, and yes, they are breathtaking!

Yep, I saw moose everywhere - it was their rutting season.

Before leaving Earthsong, I spent a morning with the lodge owner and his sled dogs.

I drove back down to Anchorage for one night.  Early the next morning I had a reservation time to drive through the Anton Anderson Railroad Tunnel to get to Whittier.  I left myself enough time to check out tiny little Whittier.

I caught the Alaska Marine Highway ferry, crossing Prince William Sound to Valdez, where I spent one night.  I tell everyone, if you ever want to just disappear off the face of the earth, Valdez would be a great place to do it.

I left misty and damp Valdez at first light to drive north on the Richardson Hwy.  I was headed to Tonsina and then Chitina.

Here's where the real adventure begins!
In Chitina is where you get on the McCarthy Road by passing through a narrow dynamited slot in a mountain.  The McCarthy Road is a gravel road that follows the railbed of the 1930's-era Copper River and Northwestern Railway, which was built to haul a massively profitable copper lode from Kennecott.  McCarthy and Kennecott lay 3-4 hours away at the other end of the lonely, rutted, railroad spike booby-trapped McCarthy Road, nestled just inside the 13 million acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.  At the end of the McCarthy Road, you park your vehicle in a desolate dirt lot, put your bags on a little dolly cart and lug them across a narrow footbridge over a glacial river.  A van will meet you and drive you into either McCarthy or Kennecott.  My van took me directly up to Kennecott, an abandoned copper mining town that was built in the 1930's after discovering a massive amount of almost pure copper in the mountains above the encampment.  When the purest copper dwindled in 1938, the mines and entire mining town were abruptly abandoned. (click here for an awesome intro to Kennecott)

I got the opportunity to explore Kennecott, and to get a hardhat tour (the last one of the season) of the towering main processing building by hiking up to the top of the building, where the tramways would deliver copper ore down from the mountain mines, and then being led down through the maze of floors inside the cavernous mill.  Yep, there were rocks laced with veins of copper everywhere!

I stayed down in McCarthy at Ma Johnson's Hotel, which was just across the rutted, muddy street from the Golden Saloon, where peakbaggers, scree scramblers, and glacier explorers would come in the evening to get food, a beer and swap the day's stories.  Both towns were other-worldly and fascinating, but I won't lie, it was creepy up on that mountain!

When I left McCarthy, I trundled back out the McCarthy Road to Chitina, and headed north to Glennallen, where there was fuel and a little food store.  It was going to be a long ride on the Glenn Hwy back to Anchorage.

Once back in Anchorage, I stayed at the Lake Hood Inn, the owner of which I can only describe as an Alaskan Jimmy Buffet.  I had a full day in Anchorage before my flights home, so I explored downtown Anchorage, I went to the Alaska zoo, I watched float planes come and go on Lake Spenard, I even caught an evening movie in the Anchorage Cinemark (Anchorage is quite modern.)

So...  Alaska???  I'd go back and do it all again in a second!  I have a better lens for photographing moose now.  I have a wider lens for photographing the northern lights now.  I'd love to stay up IN Kennecott, looking out over the glacial valley at night from up there.  I'd love to photograph the grizzlies at Kodiak.  I'd love to spend time in Utqiagvik (I looked into that when I was there.)
So, yeah, I'd go back in a second.

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