All posts by Mandy and John

Denali National Park – Caribou, mountains and bears, oh my!

We had been planning on visiting Denali National Park once we made it to Anchorage, since it was an hour closer than Fairbanks. But, the dismal weather in Fairbanks had us itching for a change of scenery. On a whim, we decided to drive out and see what sort of magic Alaska had in store for us.

It turns out, it had a lot.

On our first visit to Denali, we took a hike on a couple of the trails near the Wilderness Access Center and the Visitor’s Center, and we scheduled a bus tour for the next day.

Before we left the park for the day, we heard there was going to be a demonstration of the Denali sled dogs given by the rangers, so we visited the kennels. There were husky puppies and we got to see the dogs pull a sled around in front of us! Such cute! Wow.

The next day, we got up around 3am to get to Denali National Park for our 6:15am, 11 hour bus tour. We managed to catch some aurora displays on the way (sorry for the crappy iPhone pics of it, but we didn’t have time to stop for pictures).

Needless to say, the views in the park were breathtaking. We highly recommend taking a tour farther into the park than you’re allowed to drive yourself because the mountain ranges become more spectacular with each mile. We saw tons of wildlife and had a great time!

Off to Fairbanks, Alaska

With minimal planning — as we now like to do because we’ve realized jam-packed weeks of vacationing are tiring — we attempted to leave Denver for Fairbanks, Alaska two weeks ago. After a delayed flight, we managed to make it to Fairbanks a day later than expected.

Just a traveling tip here, if you call your hotel to let them know you won’t be able to make it for the first night of many nights of your reservation, be sure you are positive they understand you still want to stay the subsequent nights of your stay! We got to our hotel to find out that they had sold our room even though we had called them. We holed up in a Motel 8 instead and fell promptly asleep, hoping to make up our lost time in the coming days.

Fairbanks is a big place to navigate, but a small place to live and hang out. Maybe there’s not much to do in the summer, or maybe we just didn’t plan enough. Most of the roads are filled with construction crews trying to finish their work before winter sets in. There’s plenty of hiking to do, but the summer days seem to be typically overcast and rainy, making pretty miserable hiking weather.

Where We Stayed in Fairbanks, AK

Chena Hot Springs Resort (Website)

We spent the next couple of days at Chena Hot Springs Resort, hoping to catch some sights of the aurora and to bask in the hot springs located on sight. The resort was…pretty alright. The room we stayed was sparse, and the cabin itself was being painted and renovated, which led to much noise and cigarette smoke through most of the day and night. The weather was not very cooperative, resulting in a nonstop overcast sky and rain throughout most of our stay, which was not conducive to viewing the aurora, so we missed out there. But, the hot springs, pool, and jacuzzi, as well a pretty great restaurant made up for some of the trouble.

Arctic Roots Farm (Book on Airbnb)

We left Chena feeling indifferent about Fairbanks, moving on to our next base of operations for the rest of our trip, a small farm cabin on a sheep farm via Airbnb. The cabin at Arctic Roots Farm was clean and comfortable, surrounded by tons of flowers, with a great view of the pasture and mountains from the living room and porch. Unexpectedly, the couple that runs the farm also provided homemade continental breakfast each morning — scones, banana bread, homemade yogurt and strata. Needless to say, our stay in the cabin on the farm really perked up our moods after becoming a bit jaded while staying at the ‘resort’.

Sightseeing in Fairbanks, AK

Morris Thompson Cultural Center (Information)

This is one of the first places we visited and the museum inside is definitely worth a visit. It’s free and a bit interactive, full of information about Fairbanks culture and wildlife. The first thing we realized about Fairbanks while viewing the exhibits is that it seemed like most of the action seems to occur during the snowy winters.

Large Animal Research Station (Website)

Musk Oxen are the providers of one of the softest, warmest fibers available on earth, so they were the reason we went to visit the Large Animal Research Station (LARS for short). At the station, you can get fairly close to musk oxen and caribou/reindeer. Take the $10 tour to learn a lot of interesting facts about the animals and the research that the University of Alaska Fairbanks does regarding these animals.

Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum (Website)

The Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum was one of the places we’d actually planned on going before heading out to Alaska, we weren’t expecting too much but were pleasantly surprised at the size and quality of this museum. We’re not huge car enthusiasts, but really loved walking through the museum and seeing all of the antique cars. Antique dresses and fashion accessories were displayed alongside the cars, which gave you a feel for what women were wearing while riding around in these cars.

Pioneer Park (Website)

I’m not sure if we just weren’t looking at Pioneer Park the right way, but we found this (luckily free) park to be a bit depressing. It’s full of historic cabins that have been converted into shops and cafes, playgrounds and museums. It seemed like a place that used to be exciting and fun but lost the excitement along the way. But hey, it was free.

 Steese Highway Scenic Byway

Perhaps if the weather was clearer, this drive would have been better but it just felt boring. We turned around after a couple of hours, having gone that long hoping the next turn would reward us with amazing views of… anything. The only interesting thing we saw on half of this byway was part of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline.

After making it to the farm, the weather began clearing a little and we decided to make our trips to Denali Nat’l Park, which we’ll save for its own blog post, but suffice to say, it was absolutely incredible. After multiple trips out to the park, across mountains and massive straights of amazing scenery and roads, finally catching the aurora, and seeing the highest mountain peak in North America, we had had our fill of Fairbanks, and knew that Anchorage was calling for us.

A little bit of Colorado, lots of hiking

It’s been a couple of months since our last travels. John is getting ready to start school in September, so when my sister Jessy asked if we wanted to join her on a trip to Colorado, we jumped on it. One last hurrah!

There’s not much you have to say about Colorado, pictures are enough, so here goes:

A small trail next to Sabrina’s house

Going hiking!
Sabrina, as we set out on the trail near her house

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A wooden chair
A little old chair <3
Flowers near the trail
Lots of flowers in August
Buddha statue surrounded by trees
A little zen in the forest
Panorama of Diamond Lake
Panorama of Diamond Lake
Jessy taking a picture with her cell phone on a hike
Jessy, taking a picture of Mandy on a short hike just steps away from Sabrina’s house

Red Rocks Amphitheater (Visit Red Rocks)

We visited Red Rocks twice during this trip, once for a Walk the Moon concert and again for Yoga on the Rocks. Looking up from a concert or while in a warrior pose to see that breathtaking view was amazing.

Red Rocks concert
Watching the sun set before the concert starts
Yoga on the Rocks
After Yoga on the Rocks
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Driving away from Red Rocks

4th of July Trail up to Diamond Lake (Trail information / Directions)

This Colorado hike is absolutely beautiful. It was a little rough for some of us Floridians, as we still weren’t used to the altitude, but totally worth it. It took us about 5 hours round trip, we saw 3 or 4 waterfalls and the top of the trail takes you to Diamond Lake near the top of the mountains.

Sabrina hiking
Sabrina on the 4th of July Trail
Walking on a trail
A little mud never hurt anyone
Group of hikers on the trail
One of many waterfalls on the trail
Hikers
Pointing out another waterfall
Jessy on some rocks by a waterfall
Oh, what’s that? Another waterfall?
Strong woman near a waterfall
Jessy, triumphing over the rocks!
Hikers near a waterfall
John and Paul getting adventurous
Hikers on the 4th of July Trail
More trail shots!
Diamond Lake hikers
Having some lunch by Diamond Lake – we made it to the top!
Diamond Lake
Jessy, taking pictures of the lake
Hikers at Diamond Lake
Our group, happy to have made it to the top!
4th of July Trail view of the mountains
One of the many gorgeous views on the way up (or down)
Rushing waters
Rushing waters

Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park
A little shot of Estes Park – we didn’t take many pictures while we were here, just did a lot of shopping and walking

Colorado is beautiful in August and the weather is amazing, especially in the mountains where it gets a bit cooler  (a wonderful contrast to Orlando).  We highly recommend the 4th of July trail and, of course, a visit to Red Rocks Amphitheater for the sunrise or sunset!

Visiting Eugene, Oregon

Once upon a time, John and Mandy filled out the 20 minute quiz on Find Your Spot. The website asks tons of questions to give you a list of cities in the US that match your weather, political, financial, and cultural preferences. One of twenty-four results on our list was Eugene, Oregon.

After spending a couple of days in Portland, then Seattle, we headed down to Eugene to visit for the first time. There is a big difference between those two large cities and Eugene, for sure. Even after spending 4 days there, we can’t say we could point out the city center of Eugene on a map. There aren’t many towering buildings and there isn’t much traffic to speak of. The traffic is especially unnoticeable after dealing with Portland for a few days.

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