The rest of the gang arrived late Friday night. By that time, Connie, Di, Barbara and I already had our 8 passenger van plus some groceries, sodas (and beer) ready to go. We picked them up at 8 AM on Saturday morning and headed out on our adventure! The plan was to be as adventurous as possible without overdoing it. We failed from the very first day. Mandy told us about a glacier that we could stop by to see on our way to our first destination so we stopped. The Matanuska Glacier is accessible as a short hike. The catch is that in order to get to the glacier, you have to drive through private property. The land owners have cashed in by charging $25 per person to drive up to the glacier terminus.
The owners have makeshift boardwalks to help the tourists get out to the glacier face.
As you can see, the weather was miserable which made the glacier trip a nice diversion. We learned that the ice was still below our path and visible where the rocks and dirt were worn off. You can see it here - the light blue bits showing through.
You can see the size of just one piece of the glacier in this photo. That's me standing on million year old ice!
More about glaciers later.
We were headed east from Anchorage out to Copper Center which was our planned starting point for the next day's birding trip across the Denali highway. We knew we were out of civilization when we saw this sign in the hotel restaurant.
Copper Center is very close to America's largest national park. No, not Canada. Wrangell-Elias National Park which is 7 times larger than Yellowstone. More proof that #1 is deceiving - Alaska is really big. We didn't explore the park at all. It is so big that the Visitor Center doesn't even have little hiking trails. You have to travel hours to get to any of the attractions. We stopped long enough to buy a T-shirt and snap a group photo.
The Denali highway stretches from Paxson, just north of Copper Center in the east to Cantwell, the gateway to Denali park in the west. The road is dotted with birding hotspots which is why we decided to take this route rather than a more direct route straight north from Anchorage.