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Denali National Park

One of the highlights of my Alaska experience so far has been Denali National Park. This multi-million acre wildlife preserve sits north of and including part of the Alaska Range; its entrance is about two hours south of Fairbanks on the Parks Highway. There’s a 90-mile road through the park, but only the first 17 are freely accessible to the general public. To see the rest, you have to have a special permit, or take one of the bus rides. On June 9, my partner and I took the shuttle bus option. It’s an 11-hour ride from the visitor center to Wonder Lake, and back. The bus makes planned stops for restroom breaks, and as-needed stops for wildlife photography. We had to pack in our own food and water. The idea for this trip came from a co-worker of mine, who not only suggested it, but gave us tips on how to to get the best seats on the bus (leave Fairbanks at 2 am). He also lent us binoculars.

The trip was very interesting, and worth doing once. But 11 hours on a bus with the same people gets tiresome no matter how much fun you’re having. Up near the front where we were, one man was in an annoyingly excited state for the entire trip. He never stopped glancing around, switching seats, and passing the camera back and forth between him and his wife. At every wildlife stop, he would repeatedly declare how awesome it was. Another old man began asking people to close the bus windows, because the draft made him cold. I was about to suggest that he’d be better off experiencing Alaska on a Princess cruise, but I never said it. The only way to take good photos was through open windows; the glass was mud-spattered less than halfway through the trip.

Throughout the park, we saw wildlife, scenescapes, and, unfortunately, fog. The cloud deck was low enough that we never saw the park’s namesake, Denali (Mt. McKinley). Firsts for me include seeing various species of wildlife, and being in tundra for the first time in my life.

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A month in Fairbanks

It’s now been just over a month since I arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska.

After a few days in a super-expensive hotel, I spent the next few days hosted by the family of a co-worker, who graciously put me up in a spare room in their house. After that, I moved into a reasonably inexpensive apartment near work that another co-worker was renting out. The people at the office are the most helpful and friendly I have ever seen.

For the next couple of weeks I lived on the floor of my new apartment, and drove a rental car. Finally, just in the last two weeks, I got my own car and household goods. It’s been busy, but I’m finally settling in. I’ve had time to visit some places in and around Fairbanks, which is the source of the photos below. The capstone of this last month was when I went to Denali National Park with my significant other, who came up from the lower 48 for a few days. But that’s important enough to get its own post later on.

Being Alaska’s second-largest city, Fairbanks has pretty much everything one would want. There’s at least one of many of the big-box stores. Prices are reasonable compared with the rest of Alaska outside of Anchorage. The University of Alaska Fairbanks adds a college-town flavor, while Fort Wainwright and Eielson AFB add military town flavor. Fairbanks North Star Borough has about 100,000 people, of which 40,000 live in Fairbanks itself. I’m told that Fairbanks is a more authentically “Alaskan” experience (whatever that means) vs. Anchorage.

Work itself is a fun challenge, which is exactly what I expected it to be. Right now I’m training to man the public service unit, which answers phones, watches the Fairbanks weather for developing conditions, delivers some routine products, and other duties as needed. There’s alot of training to be done before I can start to do actual forecasting, but I’ve already begun that process. Work is also worth its own future blog post.