Category Archives: wildlife

Costa Rica Rainforest

Location: Limon, Costa Rica

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Today we made port in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. This was another port that we were really looking forward to visiting, because today we were going to explore a real tropical rain forest. No, Tijuca didn’t really count. This was a full day tour, we were one of the first people to leave the ship and one of the last to get back on board.

Our excursion started off with a river cruise through the Tortuguero Canals. We were told beforehand that this would be our best opportunity to see wildlife that day, due in part to it being early in the day, near water, and relatively out in the open. We spent about an hour cruising through the canals. During this time we were able to see…

…howler monkeys…

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…a two toed sloth…

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…an active three toed sloth…

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…cayman…

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…crocodiles…

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…various birds…

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Kingfisher
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Green-backed Heron
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Cormorant

… and more!

Green Basilisk
Green Basilisk
Bats (very small bats)
Bats (very small bats)

Following the river cruise we drove about 2 hours inland toward the mountains. It was here that we spent time at a private reserve near a national park. We started our tour there on a nature hike where we saw carpenter ants, bullet ants and:

toucans

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and an anteater.

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We had an authentic Costa Rican lunch with lots of yummy foods. It poured during lunch time. But luckily it cleared up in time for our tree top gondola ride.

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A naturalist guide joined us in the gondola as we cruised through the rain forest both near the forest floor and a hundred feet up at the tree tops.

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We returned to the ship just before last call. In the evening we saw Mark Preston of The Lettermen.

Tomorrow is our third day at sea. We plan to accomplish nothing.

Number of primates: 2, howler monkey and human

Number of pilose: 3 (anteater, two toed and three toed sloths)

Free purell squirts: 9

Total steps: 8,299

 

Klondike Countdown

As always, we prepared a summary post for our mega trip, and we meant to post it several months ago in June, but we forgot.

So in anticipation of our next trip (a few days from now), here are some of the highlights from our 17 day-5 night Alaska/Northwest Trip.


W5260129_editedTop Five

  1. Kenai Fjords Cruise
  2. Seattle
  3. Calving of the Hubbard Glacier
  4. Barrow, Alaska
  5. BEARS! and BEARS!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADistances

  • By water: 1,770 nmi
  • By air: 8,279 mi
  • By rental car: 850 mi
  • By tour bus: ~300mi
  • Total steps (via fitbit): 130,276
  • By walking: 53.5 mi
  • Total distance traveled: approx 20,420 miles

For reference the circumference of the Earth is 24,901 mi

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Calving of the Hubbard Glacier

Travel

  • Total watercraft: 4
  • Total aircraft: 6 (on 7 flights)
  • Total hotels: 4
  • Total buses/vans: 15
  • Total lightrail: 2
  • Total Monorail: 1

Geography

  • Total Countries: 2 (US, Canada)
  • Total States and Equivalent 6 (Maryland, Washington, Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Texas)
  • Total Continents: 1 (North America)
  • Total Oceans: 2 (North Pacific, Arctic)
  • Total Hemispheres: 1 (NW)
  • Total Timezones: 5 (EDT, PDT, AKDT, CDT)
  • Highest Elevation: ~3700 ft (in Denali National Park)
  • Lowest Elevation: Sea level
  • Farthest point west: near Barrow, AK (156°49′ W)
  • Farthest point north: below Point Barrow (71°21′26″ N)
Whale bone arch
Whale bone arch in Barrow, AK

Wildlife

  • Bears: 2 (Grizzly, Black)
  • Pinnepeds: 3 (stellar sea lion, river otter, sea otter, harbor seal)
  • Puffins: 2 (horned, tufted)
  • Whales: 3 (humpback, beluga,
  • Dolphins (Dall’s porpoise, orca, harbor porpoise)
  • Eagles, 2 (bald, golden)
  • Miscellaneous: goats, reindeer, moose, cormorant, murre, snow owl

 

W5300331_editedPhotography

  • Total pictures taken: 3,658
  • Total selfies: 41
  • Total video taken: 44
  • Total souvenir photos received: 2

Miscellaneous

  • Total national park passport cancellations stamps: 13
  • Total Starbucks white chocolate mocha frappuccinos: 4
  • Total frosty fruity beverages purchased: 0
  • Maximum kp: 1.33
  • Maximum kp during the “nighttime” : 0.67
  • Total days: 17
  • Total nights: 5
  • Total Aquaria: 3

Join us again next week when we go on another Caribbean cruise, this time taking us to South and Central America, exploring rainforests and ruins, and a transit through the Panama Canal.

Last Day in Vancouver

Today was our last day in Vancouver and the last day of our Pacific Northwest/Alaska mega trip. Unlike previous mega trips, we didn’t wait until the morning of the last day to pack and balance weights in our bags. We mostly accomplished that last night. But that didn’t stop Ryan from neurotically waking us up early to finish the task.

Afterwards we went to the meet friends at the Vancouver Aquarium. Holly and family have frequented the aquarium often and guided us through the exhibits in the right order to get the most out of our visit.

We started at the manta ray touch pool. Some of the rays were comfortable getting near human hands, some were more skittish and would flap away. And sometimes, an over-excited ray would flap away near/at the surface of the water and splash people nearby. Rachel was one of those lucky people… and she got soaked!

Next we saw a short show featuring a rescued pacific white sided dolphin and false killer whale.

False killer whale
False killer whale
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An energetic pacific white sided dolphin

No aquarium visit would be complete without Rachel trying to photograph jellyfish. She got a few great images including:

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Ryan got to see his favorite aquarium staple: penguins. The Vancouver Aquarium featured several endangered african penguins.

Next we stopped for lunch and got good seats for the beluga whale show. We got to see a pair of these last week in the Turnagain Arm, but we were going to fast to get decent pictures. We had much better luck today.

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Belugas are very bulbous whales, so they didn’t perform the usual tricks one might expect from their more lithe dolphin cousins. But they did like to spit water (not hitting Rachel), and do a tail splash (which did splash Rachel) 🙂

Other highlights from the aquarium include sea otters and lots of local fish that go great with bagels and cream cheese.

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Very cute

After the aquarium we walked around Stanley Park. This large urban park has wooded areas that feature how the landscape looked prior to European settlement.  Some of the highlights here include a totem pole garden.

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And great views of the city and ocean.

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If you look closely, you can see the Infinity docked.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the park and city centre. Presently we are at the Vancouver airport, about to begin our journey home.

Today’s weather: High 77, Low 61, Sunny

Sunrise: 5:09am, Sunset: We’re watching ‘breathtaking’ one right now

Total steps (as of typing): 12,607

Up Above Vancouver

The weather was absolutely beautiful today, so we decided to go up into the mountains to get a great view of the city and surrounding area.

We decided to go to Grouse Mountain, largely because we don’t have a rental car, and they offered a free shuttle to get to the mountain and there was enough to do there that it worth the travel time. On our way to the shuttle we stopped by the harbour again to see the Eight Bit Orca.

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and the 2010 Olympic cauldron.

One can have the flame tuned on for special events for the low price of Ca$5,000/4 hr
One can have the flame tuned on for special events for the low price of Ca$5,000/4 hr

There are two ways to get to the top of the mountain. The first is the Grouse Grind, (1.8 mi and 2,800′ vertical) climb over 2830 stairs. The record time to the top is 25’01”. The other option is the aerial tram. We took the tram and made it up in less than 25 min.

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At the top we were treated to great views of the Vancouver area.

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Mt Baker (Washington, USA) in the distance reaching a modest 10,781 ft.
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Greater Vancouver, from 10 miles away and ~3500′ up

There were many shows and exhibitions up at the top of the mountain. Including a large bear habitat.

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And a raptor show

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Rachel loves her good zoom lens!

Tomorrow we meet some friends at the Vancouver Aquarium and explore some of Stanley Park. Tomorrow is also the last day of the trip. We begin flying back late tomorrow night.

Today’s weather: High 75, Low 55, Sunny

Sunrise: 5:09am Sunset 9:12pm

Total Steps: 13,148

Totem Poles of Ketchikan

Location: Ketchikan, Alaska

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Today we we made port in Ketchikan, Alaska’s first city. We didn’t have an excursions booked so we took it easy again today and did a self guided city tour.

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Ketchikan has more totem poles than anywhere else in the world. The city has erected new totems in its many small parks and relocated older totems from abandoned towns into the area. There are convenient walking trails that one can follow to see the newer totems.

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We followed one of those trails to the Totem Heritage Center, because Ryan. There we saw exhibits on Tlingit culture and older totems poles kept indoors to prolong their lives.

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We actually didn’t see any an eagles during our walk through the city, which was a little disappointing. If we were here next month we would have plenty along the creeks during the salmon runs. We did however get to see a few later in the day as the ship was leaving port.

Eagles along the shoreline
Eagles along the shoreline
Golden eagle in flight
Golden eagle in flight

In the evening we saw the second production show, “The Piano Man”. It featured music from Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and others. Rachel enjoyed it.

Tomorrow is an “at sea day” with no scenic cruising on the agenda. We plan to take it easy tomorrow doing relaxing cruise ship stuff.

Today’s weather: High 53, Low 45, Rain

Sunrise: 4:26am, Sunset 9:33pm

Total Totem Poles seen: 33

Total Steps: 8,220

Icy Strait Point

Location: Icy Strait Point (Hoonah, Alaska)

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Today we made port in Icy Strait Point near Hoonah, Alaska. Much like Labadee, Haiti or Cococay, Bahamas, this is an artificial cruise ship stop complete with a “world’s largest zip line” adjacent to the pier. But unlike the other two, it is not exclusive to Royal Caribbean and is owned by Huna Totem Corp, the local native Alaskan corporation. All of the excursions were through that company, and most were (expensive) repeats of similar excursions we’ve seen or done earlier in the trip. As a result, we took the “day off”, by sleeping in and exploring the local area at our own leisure.

We explored the cruise stop a little bit during midday. They had a pretty decent museum nearby which discussed the history of SE Alaska fishing, canning, gold rushes, and general information on Alaskan flora and fauna. There was a lot of good stuff there and it would have been quite useful to known earlier in the trip, rather than coming near the very end.

After the museum, we went out on the nearby nature trail. It was about a half mile loop that went through a evergreen rainforest and along the shoreline. The trees in the forest were very tall and dense that it was quite dark walking the path.

Have we entered the Mirkwood?
Have we entered the Mirkwood?

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There were lots of bald eagles in the trees along the coastline. We finally got some decent eagle shots. But still not the desired cluster of eagles pictures, we’ll try again tomorrow.

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We think this is a juvenile bald eagle. If you know better, please let us know.

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Fly Eagle! Fly!
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The eagle has landed!

On the way back to the ship we got to see a sea lion stalk and ultimately eat a salmon. The newly build pier made taking this and some eagle shots much easier.

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Tonight was the second formal night of the cruise. We each had two lobsters.

Tomorrow we make port in Ketchikan. We don’t have any tours booked yet. Most of what was being offered was a more expensive version of things we’ve already done this trip. We’ll get off the boat early tomorrow and try to book something locally that looks interesting.

Today’s weather: High 57, Low 43, Cloudy

Sunrise: 4:09am, Sunset 9:52pm

Total pinnipeds seen: 2

Total eagles seen: 7

Total Steps 8,738 (Rachel)

 

 

Yukon Do It

“But under it all they were men, penetrating the land of desolation and mockery and silence, puny adventurers bent on colossal adventure, pitting themselves against the might of a world as remote and alien and pulseless as the abysses of space. ”
― Jack London, The Call of the Wild

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Location: Skagway, Alaska and Carcross, Yukon Territory

We made port this morning in the historic Alaskan port town of Skagway. This was one of the major ports of entry into Alaska (and the nearby Yukon Territory) during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s. Would be miners would make port here, expecting that gold was nearby, only to discover that they had to go another 150 miles north to Dawson City, Yukon. But first they’d have to get themselves, and 2,000 pounds of Canadian required gear over the nearby mountains. On foot! Some people overused animal labor to aid the passage. They had two paths, the longer White Pass, and the Chilkoot Trail. These long hard journey’s became the basis for a couple Jack London novels.

Today we explored the White Pass, because it’s where the road (and railway) is located. Unlike the rest of the Alaskan Inner Passage, Skagway is connected to the rest of North America via roads. Our guide today was James of Chilkoot Charters, someone who comes in from Arizona for the tourist season.  He provided excellent background and narration during the tour.

We started the tour by going up the White Pass, stopping occasionally for pictures of waterfalls and other scenic shots. Initially, conditions were foggy and rainy/snowy which made for bad pictures.

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But sure enough, as soon as we crossed the border in British Columbia, Canada, the sun came out, and the rain and wind stopped. This made for much better pictures. No one lived on the road we traveled upon and we rarely saw other vehicles. So we stopped at many of the scenic overlooks along the way, being treated to raw natural beauty.

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We weren’t in British Columbia for long. We soon entered the Yukon Territory.

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It was also a beautiful day for seeing wildlife. Apparently, black bears love to eat dandelions. So we were on the lookout for bears along the drive. Luckily we encountered a mother and two young cubs. She was mostly focused on eating flowers.

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While the cubs we focused on rolling down hills, climbing trees, generally being cute to humans and annoyance to mommy.

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We soon made it to the small Canadian town of Carcross. This was another major stop for gold rushers back in the day. After making it over the mountains, the miners would construct boats nearby  to transport their gear and paddle along the many lakes and rivers until they made it to Dawson.

Carcross
Carcross

Today, its a tourist stop. Our major stop here was the Caribou Crossing Trading Post. We had lunch there, explored the Mountie and Taxidermy Museum, and got to play with huskie puppies!

Puppies!

Puppies!

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We also stopped by to visit the Carcross Desert, the smallest desert in the world, only 1 sq mi in size. It’s not a true desert because it’s too humid. The sand dunes were deposited by glaciers during the last glacial period.

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We also stopped by to view the nearby Emerald Lake.

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On our way back to the ship, we were treated with seeing a different black bear and cubs eating along the side of the road.

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In the evening we attended the premier showing of “City of Dreams” put on by the ship’s singers and dancers. It was an entertaining production show, with amazing choreography and great singing. It included a lot of music, from pop to broadway. And Ryan was surprised and delighted to hear the Diva Plavalaguna live.

Tomorrow we make port in Icy Strait, Alaska. We don’t have any excursions booked here, so we’ll just walk the nature trail on our own.

Today’s weather High 58, Low 43, Partly Sunny

Sunrise: 4:48am, Sunset 11:05pm

Total Countries: 2, US and Canada

Total States equivalent: 3, Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon Terrirorty

Total Steps: 9,209

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Fluke’ing up Juneau

Location: Juneau, Alaska

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Today we made port in Juneau, the capitol of Alaska. Since we are uninterested in Alaskan politics we did the usual tourist things: whale watching and visiting Mendenhall Glacier. We booked an excursion which allowed us to do both.

The first thing we did on the excursion was to go up the coast a little bit, board a boat and go searching for whales. During this season, humpbacks were the most plentiful. We spent about 2 hours on a jet boat looking at about 7-8 different humpbacks. We saw lots of stellar sea lions as well, but the tour was mostly focused on the humpbacks.

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We weren’t allowed to approach within 100 yards of a whale. But they are allowed to approach us. And one large whale came right at our boat! He swam under and joined another whale feeding near a salmon hatchery.

We're gonna need a bigger boat!
We’re gonna need a bigger boat!

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There were 2-3 whales in the area trying to corral the fish up against the rocks to make feeding easier. At the end of our tour, they even began bubble netting, but we couldn’t get any good pictures.

The second part of the excursion took us to Mendenhall Glacier. This is one of the more famous and accessible glaciers in the inner passage. But it is retreating quickly. It may not be around in 30-40 years. Not too long ago, the glacier extended past Nugget Falls (see below), today it’s more than a mile behind. We’ve seen a rapidly retreating glacier before in Iceland.

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We only had an hour here. To make the most of our time, we took different trails to get pictures. Rachel went down the Photo Point Trail because: Rachel.

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Ryan went out on the longer Nugget Falls Trails to get closer pictures of the glacier.

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A view of Mendenhall Glacier from a third of the way up Nugget Falls.

On our way back to the ship we passed by a creek with many bald and golden eagles. Yet again, we weren’t able to get any good pictures.

In the evening we saw a comedy juggling act of Wilde and James. We saw them last December on the Freedom of the Seas. It was the same enjoyable shtick as before. See our previous review here.

Tomorrow we make port in Skagway, Alaska. We won’t spend much time here though, because we will be going on a full day excursion up the White Pass and into the Yukon Territory.

Today’s Weather: High 64, Low 46, Mostly Cloudy

Sunrise: 4:05am Sunset: 9:47pm

Total Steps: 11,203 (Rachel)

 

The Orca Super Pod at Kenai Fjord

Location: Seward, Alaska

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Today we drove from Anchorage down to Seward. It was a relatively quick and scenic drive compared with our drives of the previous two days, aided by the sunny skies. We saw a lot of bald eagles during our drive, but we didn’t stop to get any picture because we had a tight schedule to keep to go on a cruise tour of the Kenai Fjords.

We should mention that the weather was perfect today. Upper sixties, mostly sunny, very calm seas, and little wind. What a contrast from yesterday!

We boarded the Callisto Voyager around 11 and made our way out of the Resurrection Bay. As we waited for the ship to leave, we got to watch a sea otter playing around by the docks. He even escorted the ship through part of the harbor.

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Our first stop on the cruise was to look at a puffins on Hive and Rugged Islands. This was our first time seeing puffins in the wild. We were in Iceland during the wrong season to see them last year.

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Next we ventured out into the Gulf of Alaska to attempt some whale watching. It’s usually hit or miss with whale watching in this part of Alaska during this time of year. But apparently we timed it perfectly. Not only did we spot a pod of orcas coming in, we spotted several pods of orcas arriving from a far. This was the first day of orca mating season, and both local and transient pods were joining together in the Kenai Fjords to engage in reproductive activities. Some of which we actually witnessed. By the end of the day, the dozens upon dozens of orcas began swimming together as a super pod. This kind of congregation is seen only 2-3 days a year!

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We took a break from watching the orcas, and made way towards Chat Island where a colony of sea lions spend the day sunning themselves.

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The ship then proceeded to the Holgate Glacier. We spent over 20 minutes here observing the glacier. The crew even took a few small icebergs out the arm (water) so that we could feel the glacial ice and pose with pictures of it.

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Holding glacial ice

We didn’t actually get that close to the glacier, so our sense of scale was off. We would see the glacier calve, then hear the loud crack 2.5 seconds later. It wasn’t until we left the glacier and saw another similar sized ship approach later that we could get a great sense for how huge it truly is!

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Notice the ship near the base of the glacier.

Along with the glacier, there were numerous other scenic vistas and wild animals.

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Mountain goats
Mountain goats

Including our first good bald eagle picture

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On our way back to Seward we encountered a lone humpback whale tail slapping the water in the distance. We’re not sure if he was trying to attract the attention of other whales, or the tour boats. It certainly got our attention!

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When we got close, he stopped slapping his tail, and started doing pectoral slaps.

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By this point another two tour boats arrived. He kept up with the pectoral slaps for a while and then switched over to breeching! Amazing!

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After leaving the humpback whale, we encountered another large pod of orcas. This time, there was also a group of sea lions nearby. They were not happy to see the orcas (since orcas sometimes eat them), and were very vocal about it.

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Angry sea lions 'barking' at the orcas.

Angry sea lions ‘barking’ at the orcas.

We were told that on most days, the tour would be lucky to see any whales. Today we had the problem of seeing so many, so close, on opposite sides of the ship, that we had trouble keeping up with the photo taking opportunities.

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It was a fantastic tour!

On the drive back to Anchorage, we stopped to see the portage glacier.

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Tomorrow we visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center on our way back down to Seward. We’ll also visit the Alaska Sealife Center in town. Lastly, we kickoff the second half of our Alaska trip by boarding the Radiance of the Seas for a one week cruise.

Today’s Weather: High 69, Low 47, Mostly Sunny

Sunrise: 4:46am, Sunset: 11:09pm

Total sea mammals observed: Humpback whale, orca, sea otter, sea lion

Total puffins species observed: 2, horned and tufted

Total watercraft: 1

Total bald eagles observed: dozens

Total orcas: too numerous to count

Total steps: 5,117

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Denali National Park and Preserve

Location: Denali National Park

Ryan woke up at 2:00 AM last night to be on the lookout for the Northern Lights. This would have been the middle of the “night”, but with extreme latitude it never actually gets dark this time of year. So with the twilight, the mostly cloudy skies and the inferior Kp<.33, Ryan didn’t bother to leave the hotel room to look for the aurora, and instead went back to asleep.

A few hours later we both woke up, packed up the car and left for Denali National Park. We arrived about 15 min later and waited for the Wilderness Access Center to open. Afterwards, we retrieved our tickets for the Toklat shuttle, got stamps for our national park passport book, and watched a short movie on the history of the park.

At 7:15 we boarded the shuttle (converted school bus) and made our way into the park. Our driver and defacto guide was Wendy, who has been driving this route for years. While the shuttle drivers are under no obligation to narrate or stop for wildlife, most do. We were fortunate that Wendy loved to look at the wildlife and provide great information to everyone on the shuttle.

Our ride took us about 60 miles deep into the park, to the Toklat stop. Along the way we saw four of the Denali Big Five (bear, sheep, moose, caribou, and wolves). We didn’t see the wolves, whose numbers are in great decline in the park.

We did see plenty of moose though. About 8-9 over the course of the day. These are somewhat rare to see, with only about 25% getting a chance to see them.

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A baby moose
A baby moose

We got to see three grizzly bears, only one of which was in a good position to get great pictures.

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We also saw plenty of sheep

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…and caribou.

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We also saw the state bird of Alaska, the Willow Ptarmigan.

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The weather was rainy, snowy, and overcast for most of the day, so we didn’t take many landscape photos.

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After the tour we drove back to Anchorage. We stopped at the northern Denali overlook again. We were clouded out of seeing any of Denali.  So instead we took this photo of a bear safety poster presented at the site.

Tomorrow we go down to Seward and take a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park.

Today’s weather: High 50, Low 30, rain/snow

Sunrise: 4:09am, Sunset 11:34pm

Total steps: 4,819