June 8- Train to Talkeetna and Mt. McKinley Wilderness Lodge

Today we boarded the train for Talkeetna, AK.  These observation cars gave us a great view of the surrounding mountains and, at one point, another chance to view Denali.  Unfortunately, the mountain was shrouded in snow clouds as we passed the viewing point.

Observation Car

Tour Director Kathleen Fil

Train to Talkeetna

We saw several nesting trumpeter swans on protected island areas near the tracks.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

The scenery we passed on this trip was as gorgeous as any we had seen and it seemed to change constantly as we moved south.  Unfortunately we were not able to see Denali because it was covered by snow clouds.

Our destination was the village of Talkeetna, often referred to as the model for the TV program “Northern Exposure.”  This is rustic “splendor” at the extreme.

Welcome to Talkeetna, the model village for Northern Exposure

Downtown Talkeetna


Our final destination for the night was the Mt. McKinley Wilderness Lodge which offered our last chance to view Denali, a comfortable bed, some good food, and an opportunity to send dirty clothes home via USPS Priority mail at a good price.

Denali from Mount McKinley Wilderness Lodge

Billie at Mount McKinley Wilderness Lodge


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June 7 – Denali National Park

This day we boarded a modified school bus to travel about 60 miles into Denali National Park.  The road extends only 92 miles into the park (it doesn’t go all the way to Denali), but we were able to go about 2/3 of this distance in the time available to us.  The weather was good to us, and the wildlife was active.  We were lucky enough to see all the “big stuff” except for wolves, and lots of “small stuff” in addition.  Here are some examples:

The state bird of Alaska.

Willow Ptarmigan

This nest of ravens was in a sheltered location under a bridge.






and this gyrfalcon nest was on a sheer cliff beyond reach of all predators.

Gyrfalcon on Nest









Caribou were very plentiful throughout the park.



and the only known wild white sheep, Dall sheep, were plentiful.

Dall Sheep

Dall Sheep

We were excited to find plenty of grizzlies around.








and we were very lucky with moose, finding a number of them grazing along the park road.



Our big lucky break came with a close encounter with a female and her twin calves grazing on willows just by the roadway.










The scenery was magnificent even when it was overshadowed by the wildlife.



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June 6 – Fairbanks

Our first day in Alaska began with a three-hour river cruise on the Chena River into the heart of Alaska where we were introduced to the world of bush pilots, sled dogs, and the Athabascan heritage.



The bush plane was the commuter vehicle for most of the year, covering the huge distances of the Alaskan wilderness in much shorter times than any other means.  Depending of the time of year and the weather, the planes were outfitted with wheels, floats, or even skis.


The sled dog is a universal symbol for Alaskan transportation and it represents the only true Alaskan sport: mushing.  The Iditarod race represents the ultimate challenge of this sport, and dogs are trained for this race throughout the year.


The Athabascan heritage was demonstrated during our visit to the village alongside the river.  The fish wheel was used to lay in a supply of salmon during the spawning run each year and the fish were prepared and arranged in the smoking and/or drying shed to preserve them.


We were lucky to have wonderful weather on the cruise on this beautiful river (and almost every other day of our trip).


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Twelfth Tour with Collette–North to Alaska

Billie and I have just completed our twelfth tour with Collette Vacations—the Alaska Discovery Tour, Including a 7-Day Princess Cruise.

Trips with Collette Vacations

  1. June, 2006          National Parks Tour
  2. January, 2008    Panama Canal
  3. October, 2008    Exploring Greece and Its Islands
  4. August, 2009      Trains of the Colorado Rockies
  5. March, 2010        Italian Vistas
  6. August, 2010       Hidden Treasures of the Maritimes
  7. July, 2011             Exploring Britain and Ireland
  8. October, 2012      Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
  9. August, 2014        Resorts of the Canadian Rockies
  10. June, 2016            Spotlight on New York City
  11. September, 2016 Treasures of Northern California
  12. June, 2018            Alaska Discovery Tour, Including Princess Cruise

Vantage River Cruises

  1. May, 2013             Vantage River Cruise—Amsterdam to Budapest
  2. April, 2015            Vantage River Cruise—Paris to Normandy and Back

Trips on our Own

  1. January 2007 Spain
  2. April 2011 Kentucky Bourbon Trail
  3. January, 2017 Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island

We have traveled with approximately a dozen Collette tour managers, and Kathleen Fil certainly sits at the top of our list for service and efficiency.  Kathleen handled the Alaska Discovery tour to perfection, juggling what seemed like endless detail and information on multiple excursions offered by multiple tour companies, all without a single misstep.  She met us at the airport as expected even though it was midnight, and she was there at 4:00 am when we departed for our flight home.  Her informational meetings throughout the tour kept us up to speed with tour events and coming excursion opportunities, and her evening “love letters” slipped under our door kept us prepared for the events of the following day.

Thank you Collette for providing excellent Tour Managers like Kathleen Fil to make our travel experiences truly “experiences of a lifetime.”

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Church of the Cross

This week we visited with friends from Boone, Asheville, and Durham, NC at the Colleton River Plantation home of mutual friends from Boone.  This annual retreat has become a regular event in our lives since we moved to Sun City-Hilton Head, and this year’s edition was another satisfying hit.

We chose a book to discuss during our retreat, “A Religion of One’s Own” by Thomas Moore.  We read the book before gathering in Colleton Plantation and Billie and I led the discussion during two morning sessions.  We think the experience was appreciated by all, and the discussion seemed to focus our thoughts on trying to identify spiritual persons (not necessarily religious persons) in our lives.  Give that a try–it’s not so straight-forward as it seems!

We went on a field trip to Old-Town Bluffton where we toured the Church of the Cross with the assistance of Allan Strange, a docent on duty there.  This church is an historic Episcopal Church on Calhoun Street in Bluffton, SC.  It was built in 1857 and added to the National Register in 1975.

Church of the Cross, Bluffton, SC

Our friends Ralph McCoy, Nancy Spann, Billie Rhyne, Emily McCoy and Bunk Spann listen attentively to our docent Allan Strange as we hear the story of this historical treasure.


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The Goldfinches are back!

A couple of days ago we saw a pair of goldfinches flitting about our birch tree beside the lagoon, and we immediately put out our feeders filled with niger seed.  They took no heed that afternoon, but by the next day they settled in and fed happily in spite of the construction noise next door.

Hopefully these are advanced “scouts” returning from their winter havens and if so we expect many more of these beautiful birds in the coming weeks.

Expect more photos…


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Cedar Waxwings on the move…

What do you call a gathering of cedar waxwings?  A flock?  A flight? A pod? The Oxford English Dictionary lists these three options for birds in general but no term specific for cedar waxwings.  Today we were visited by a “tree full” of these beautiful birds, so I have invented my own collective noun to pay tribute to them before they leave for wherever their migration takes them.

The cypress tree out back on our lagoon was heavy with them today just as the rain began, and it must have seemed like a good location to weather the storm because they didn’t move until after we left for our yoga class.

  They are such beautiful birds that I always thrill to see one, let alone a tree full of them.



Update:  They are still here the next morning, and the early sun shows off their colors well.  Note the spots of red “wax” on the wing tips…



I wish them well in their migration travels.



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New Leaves

It’s almost spring here in the Lowcountry, and one of my favorite sights is the developing new leaf display which comes out just after budbreak.  Today I photographed a few clusters of new leaves on our Sunday morning walk here in Sun City-Hilton Head.

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Honeyhorn Camellias

I dropped by Honeyhorn Plantation on Hilton Head Island last week to check out the camellia garden.  I had thought I might have missed these beauties this year, but I was pleased to see they were still blooming.  Although I didn’t have time to linger, I took a few photos for later enjoyment and posted one to Instagram right away.  Here are a few more:

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Family Portrait

Billie and I often walk through the Hidden Cypress wetland boardwalk, especially at this time of year when the baby alligators have just hatched.  This week we took this route again and found to our delight a host of new babies posing with what we assumed to be their mother.

We counted five babies clustered around the mother in this family portrait, some posed in a jumble in front of her, one peeking over her nose, and one perched on her back.  Not far away we found three more babies soaking up some sun in another pile, so this hatch had at least eight new gators.

We understand that young gators have a perilous existence and are in danger of being eaten by male alligators, so the female provides some security in the early part of the babies’ lives.  Most, however, apparently do not survive to adulthood.  And maybe that’s OK, since with litters this large we would soon be deep in alligators!


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