An Alaska Adventure!

School is out and summer always brings an opportunity for experiential learning and adventures.  Even teachers appreciate this time to rejuvenate their brains and body and hangout with family!!  Therefore, I always take opportunities to share new learning and adventures with my readers!!  

This summer is certainly one that everyone will remember.  My family and I had plans to start the summer off with a visit  to Ohio, but due to the COVID-19 issues, those plans were changed.  We would feel devastated if we accidentally brought the virus to our 75+ year parents while passing through the airports.  So . . . phone calls will have to do this time.  If our environment changes, we can try to get a trip in before school starts in the fall.  We’ll see what the situation brings us.

So, when COVID-19 changes our plans, what new plans do you make for a “Summertime Staycation”?  Fortunately, living in Alaska, we have a HUGE backyard playground that we can explore.  So . . . sit back and enjoy a journey into Alaska!

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Getting out and about is always a fun and exciting event!!  This weekend, not only did we celebrate Father’s Day, but we also celebrate the Summer Solstice. In Alaska this is a BIG deal!!  Living in the “Land of the Midnight Sun” has its benefits!!  

Recently, Patrick and I purchased an all-terrain Argo machine.  We’ve had the four-wheeler, six-wheeler, and side-by-side, but we’re hoping the Argo will allow us more opporutnities to go where we would like to travel and not worry about getting stuck, especially as we are not getting younger. 

We started our journey heading up to Alaska’s interior off of the Denali Highway.  Our plan was to take the Argo out, see how it works on the terrain, get stuck – intentionally, so we can figure out how to get out, and enjoy the outdoors on this special weekend.  Since we live in Alaska, we always have our hunting permits and gear ready to go.  Although moose and caribou season are not in for another two months, we can take a bear.  IF we come across any bear(s), that would be the “extra fun” on this weekend trip. 

While this is not a bear, check out these Trumpeter Swans!  There are a lot of lakes throughout Alaska, and these swans return to the same lake every year.  At home, we have a pair of swans that come to stay on our lake.  I love listening to their call announcing their arrival.  Last summer we had babies to watch, too! 

This reminds me of the book, The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White.  Have you read this?  This is one of my favorite read alouds during the school year.  It’s a great read and the kids love the storyline!!

Can you find the Trumpeter Swans in the picture below? 

See if this next picture helps you out. 

Traveling north along the Parks Highway there are always opportunities to take in the beautiful mountain views, animals, and experience the greatness of this beautiful state, Alaska.  Even though we have cloudy skies today, this trip did not deny any opportunity to appreciate living in Alaska!

Because we were traveling heavy, with an Argo in the camper garage, we didn’t want to haul any water.  Therefore, we were looking for a campground near our Denali Highway turn off to get some water now and dump our waste later.  

This Cantwell campground, literally right across the road from the Denali Highway, was able to hook us up with our water requirements. We were very thankful for their service. Driving through this campground, I noticed the pop of yellow and orange colors throughout the sites.  The poppies added a nice touch to brighten up the space.  We haven’t stayed at the campground before, but the people were very friendly, provided lots of information, and seem to have a great set up for travelers.  

Click on any of the Cantwell pictures to go straight to their website.  I do not receive any compensation for this advertisement.  I’m just a fellow Alaskan supporting another Alaska small business.  

On a typical summer afternoon, this place would be at least half full with tourists and statewide visitors enjoying Alaska. However, due to the virus and statewide travel mandates, the tourism industry is taking a huge hit this summer.  

The drive down the Denali Highway was paved for about 10 miles in and then turned to a maintained (summer only) gravel road.  The views along the road were absolutely beautiful.  I LOVE having the opportunity to “escape” day-to-day life when we can “get out” of town for a few days.

There were several campers and tents along the road, but we decided to stop at mile 95 and set up camp.  We had an amazing view of the valley and two glaciers. 

Our first night there focused on getting set up and just enjoing a campfire.  After a five hour ride, it was nice to get comfy, sit, and chat with the family.  Most of the family was able to attend, but we were missing a couple for this outing.  Work, work, work –  sometimes it does get in the way of some rest and relaxation.

After an evening campfire, we always make some time for a family favorite game, Farkle!  We play this often and have learned to have “camping rules” to abide by.  Last year these “rules” came about after an intensive round and keeping the dice on the table.  When the die or dice rolled off the table, we would reroll that dice.  Two times, that dice on the floor made a huge difference in points; therefore, we decided that if any die rolls to the floor, it counts; hence, “camper rules”.  

The next day, we were able to get up early and start our adventure.  With two Argos and one 4-wheeler ready to go, we set off to play in the Alaskan wilderness.  We had the GPS set and were ready to go.  As we began our journey, our son decided to try “off roading” quickly.  The drive was quite bumpy as there was NO trail at all.  Patrick, my hubby, was trying to learn how to drive the Argo while navigating the terrain.  So it was quite an interesting two hour trip out to Butte Lake. 

Check out these smiles from three of our children.  They are ready for an adventure!

Along the trail (or self-made trail) there were a few opportunities to see some other campers, animals, and lots of beautiful vegetation. It’s hard to believe how high we were up in the mountains, as there were still patches of snow.  We knew we were high due (3,100 feet elevation) to the lack of trees, known as the treeline.  The higher up a mountain you travel, the more sparse the trees are to be seen.  There were several lakes and streams along the way.  It was fun traveling through some of those lakes on the Argo, something that we could not do on the wheelers or side-by-side.  The Argo began floating a few times on the water.  This was interesting as you can’t guide the Argo to your landing place.  However, because the Argo can go through anything, it didn’t really matter where the shore access was located. 

Once we reached Butte Lake we were able to take a riding break, eat lunch, and do some glassing – looking through binoculars – at the surrounding area. I caught this sweet picture of four of our children glassing the mountain side looking for animals. 

Nick drove the 4-wheeler on this trip.  He was certainly dressed warm with his waterproof, camoflague gear.  He was quite the pro going through the swampy areas.  I tried to get a picture of him driving in these areas, but Patrick and I had to get out of the way in order for Nick to get completely through the water.  Nathan, Tessla, and Lindsay got stuck once, and Nick was able to winch them out with the 4-wheeler. I totally missed the photo opportunity!  UGH!

Lindsay used the binos to check out the Mamma moose and her two calves.  Mamma moose was very good at protecting her babies.  The twins looked to be very young as their fur was a very light brown.  She kept the babies nearby in the alder vegetation and would bed down to keep the babies safe.  We watched them off and on for about an hour during this “peek-a-boo” show. 

When you go hiking or traveling in the backcountry, always be prepared with resources to keep you safe!

The weather was partly cloudy, not too chilly, and the view was absolutely spectactular!!  We were able to spot a Mamma Moose and her two calves, a caribou, an eagle circling, and a cute little marmot that came by to check out what we were doing. No bears. 

Of course, we always take few pictures for our memory scrapbook, as we were on top of a mountain, and want to remember to this fun adventure!  I will share that post later.

Patrick, Nathan, and Nick
Annette (me), Tessla, and Lindsay

We took some time to enjoy the area before we headed back along the five mile ride to our campsite. 

Nathan and Tessla take some time to glass and reflect on their trip.

Nick spends some time looking off in the distance at the mountains and Butte Lake.  This is such a quiet, peaceful place to visit.

Of course, along the way, there were a few spots that required us to help each other get “unstuck” from some of the swampy muck, but overall, the trip back was not a problem.

The one time we got stuck!!  Patrick has told me that this machine will not (most likely) roll over (my scare with the wheelers and side-by-side).  So I just looked at the muddy water, took a drink of my clean water, and waited for our boys to pull us out.  A simple winch with Nathan’s Argo, and we were free!

Once we made it through “the swamp”, we were coasting right along.  We stopped to take a picture of our campsite. Can you see the camper to the left of the middle where the green colors change? After our photo-op, we decided to “off road” again through the vegetation – straight down the mountain!  A bouncy ride and a few dips for sure, but we made it! 

When we arrived back at the campsite, we off loaded our items as the sun was fading and the clouds were getting quite heavy.  Just in time, everything was cleaned up and the clouds let loose.  We had a steady drizzle of rain all evening, which made a nice lullaby when we went to bed.  BUT what do you do when it’s raining outside and you can’t have a campfire?  Well . . . we were in for another game of Farkle!  

Although we were not able to enjoy viewing the “Midnight Sun” on this Solstice evening, we had another fabulous evening being together as a family (minus a few).

The next day we packed up and headed back home.  This was such a fabulous family trip and Father’s Day celebraion, and we are certainly looking forward to our next family trip in July – Fish Camp!  

What are you doing for your Family Staycation? How are you rejuvenating yourself over the summer, so you are prepared to head back to school in the fall.  I’d love to hear about your adventures this summer.  Share your fun in the comments!

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Annette Durbin

Annette has been an educator for 27 years working in the elementary classroom, district leadership, university professor, as well as a mentor for teachers nationwide. A National Board Certificated Teacher, Annette focuses her research on accelerating learning and advancing achievement, personalizing instruction, technology, and leadership in the education field.

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Tricia

    What a great start to the summer! I would love to be able to camp in Alaska as well. And it looks like it is still cold!

    1. Annette Durbin

      It can certainly be chilly when it is cloudy. The sun really warms this place up.

  2. Holly

    It looks like you have an amazing time when you go out! We love Farkle too.. it is s great game!

  3. Douglas

    Thank you for sharing all the photos. They are awesome!

  4. Kendra

    Alaska is so beautiful and definitely would be my choice over going to a beach somewhere. Thanks for sharing! Looks like so much fun and adventure!

  5. Beth

    I am impressed with how absolutely gorgeous this state is. I must admit, having watched some of the “won’t name them Alaskan shows” I am continually impressed with how absolutely breathtaking and edgy this state is. It looks like a lot of fun and beauty. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Annette Durbin

      Yes!! I totally agree!!! I remember traveling to Alaska in 1993 and was just in “awe” at the majestic mountains, nature, and wildlife – huge. I grew up in Ohio, so this was certainly not what I have ever experienced. I still LOVE the overall beauty here.

  6. Sarah Camp

    Haha the photo of being stuck in the mud gives me anxiety add is something that would probably happen to me too. I’d love to get to Alaska one day!

    1. Annette Durbin

      LOL If we were in anything else, yep, I’d be nervous, too.

  7. Laura Lee

    I had to laugh when you said seeing some bears would be extra fun. I think I’d have to be in a covered vehicle to see wild animals and not freak out. I love the idea of going on a safari, but I think I’d pass out if I saw a lion. 🙂

    1. Annette Durbin

      Oh, we wouldn’t go out there without protection. Ummm . . . a lion, yes, as I don’t know the hunting specifics.

  8. Suz

    Alaska is one place in the US that I haven’t visited – some day!

  9. Kristin

    The one and only time I have visited Alaska was over the summer solstice. It was an amazing trip–Homer, Anchorage, Denali…loved every minute of it. It would be a wonderful place to take a staycation, at least in the summer!

    1. Annette Durbin

      Yes, we always say, “Alaska is the place to be in the summer, especially”.

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