Day 2 - McKinley's Shadow So we did not have a Welcome Dinner on Day 1. This particular ABD actually starts with a Welcome Breakfast the first morning (Day 2) at Sophie Station. A very nice, typical buffet breakfast. We introduced ourselves (although I missed some of the introductions when someone from the hotel came to tell me my breakfast for the previous morning had NOT been included, and she wanted payment. She could have waited. I was miffed, but I just paid. It wasn't worth fighting with her about. I was mostly mad she made me miss some of the intros). There were 15 of us on the tour. 4 couples: Dave & Mim, who I'd met in Chicago; Tony & Nancy, who I'd met on the shuttle; Matt & Mary and Tom & Patty, who've known each other since college. Then there was a group of 4: Krista, who was taking her parents, Paul & Betzy, on a 3-week tour of Alaska (including the ABD) for their 50th Anniversary. She also had a friend/coworker with her, Karen. Then there were 3 singles traveling alone: Sherry, Annie (who had just sent her son off to college) and I. A nice mix of folks. Plus guides Jesse & Rae, and Billy, our motorcoach driver. After breakfast, we headed out for our first stop: The Alaska pipeline. This was one of the few overlaps with my previous Alaska trip, but it's still fascinating, and I enjoyed it. It still amazes me how small the circumference of the pipes is. I envisioned something much vaster. Our next stop was at TrailBreaker Kennels, the Iditarod sled dog kennel founded by the late four-time Iditarod race winner, Susan Butcher. It's still run by her husband, Dave Monson. He was very personable, and funny, and told great stories. We had a picnic lunch there, and the weather was STILL GORGEOUS (detecting a pattern here???) They dressed one of us up, piece by piece, in all the warm gear an Iditarod racer would need to wear... Yep, it was me! :-D I *did* volunteer, and it was a lot of fun. I can't imagine actually being in a situation where I needed this much outerwear... So not happening! We then got to meet the dogs & the puppies, and the other people at the kennels, and take pictures. Jesse with a puppy Rae clowning around We then headed off down to Denali National Park, and our home for the next 2 nights: The Grande Denali Lodge. The Grande Denali is perched on a large hill (small mountain?) overlooking a gorgeous canyon and the Nenana River, just outside Denali National Park. Denali is one of those National Parks that strictly controls entry to the park. Private vehicles are only allowed 15 miles into the park, and the only "hotels" actually in the Park are some small places deep in the park that were there prior to the park grounds being expanded, and were allowed to remain. So there are several hotels just outside the park in this little area that will have, by now, shut down for the season. The view from the Lodge (and of the Lodge) is spectacular. The rooms themselves are clean & comfortable, but ordinary. But with views like this, the room itself is not really the focus! The view of the river & surrounds from the Lodge: From my room: The lodge from the road. Pretty spectacular, even shooting into the sun! After settling into our rooms, we hopped on our motorcoach & went to the Charles Sheldon Center for dinner. We were entertained by a talk by a local naturalist about the flora & fauna of Alaska, and how they have managed to adapt to survive the harsh environment here. It was a really interesting talk, and I learned A LOT! After dinner (simple but lovely foods, including salmon!) we all hiked down to the river behind the center, and took pictures & watched as the sun lowered. It was a beautiful hike and a beautiful area, and a really nice break after the lecture & meal. Then we stopped at the sign at the entrance to the Park for a group shot! And *THIS* would be the view from my hotel room window that I woke up to at around 4 in the morning. It was just so spectacularly beautiful that I actually threw on a jacket & went outside to take clearer pictures in my nightgown. You KNOW it has to be spectacular for me to do that at 4am!!! The same view the next morning. Day 3 - Denali Discovery This morning, we head to the Nenana River for our jet boat excursion. It was a bit nippy standing there, so, at first, we were all glad the boat was enclosed. As we jetted down the river, though, I *really* wish it had been open, with the wind whipping through my hair. It felt just a little *too* protected, and separated from the river. But it was still a beautiful ride! Continued in Part 3: Continuation of Day 3.