Beth, Clark and Taylor tackle the Gulkana River...kinda.
After spending far too much time in the smoke and ash in North Pole, we pulled up the jacks and headed down the road toward Valdez. Our original plan was to go the opposite direction and hit up Denali National Park but the prospect of more smoke made the decision all too clear (unlike the air). Plus, the Wynn's had invited us to go rafting on the Gulkana River. We couldn't pass up the opportunity to get to know them better or to raft a spectacular section of the wilderness.
Camping for free again...in the background the road goes further and is excellent for hiking.
After an overnight at Milepost V 214.3 (Red Canyon) we headed to Gakona for a rendezvous with the Wynn's and Banks and the inflatable rafts that would float us down the Gulkana River. Well, float wasn't exactly how I would describe this adventure. It was more like engaging in an intense arm workout while buckets of ice cold water are being poured down your pants as you attempt to dodge or duck under tree branches. In other words, it was a lot of fun!
Hey, there go our rafts!
Nikki's making it look easy!
The rafting company provided us with two rafts, a couple of sets of oars and life jackets that may or may not have have possessed floating ability. We were dropped off at the put-in point, shown a 26 second lesson on rowing, told to look for a bridge to exit at (and NOT to go past, or else) and then left to our own devises. I road with Jason and Nikki while Clark hoped in the Bank's boat. Excitement ensued.
They're planning their route but seconds later they'd be stuck in the trees taking on water.
We pushed off and watched as within seconds, the Bank's boat got trapped in some tree branches and was taking on water. There was nothing we could do (except laugh) but they were soon freed. It was hard work and we all took turns rowing so we could rest our jello arms long enough to hold our cameras up and snap a few photos. The scenery was magnificent and the number of Bald Eagles we spotted was astounding. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard or gasped in awe as much as I did on that excursion. The rafting company gave us plenty of time to get to the take-out point so we stopped a few times to change rowers and to enjoy our picnic lunch.
Their nests are Uuuuuuuge!
And they were quite curious about us...
But still so majestic.
We came back to our campground, Gakona RV Park, and were treated to a Salmon Bake. The owners kindly took all of us on a tour and showed us their fish wheel and we stopped at a neighbor's place where they were processing the salmon from their fish wheel.
Catching the Wynn's magic in action. Here's our hostess serving up a variety of salmon freshly caught and baked for us.
We obviously classed up the joint with our box-o-wine offerings.
Our next stop was Copper Center. Jason and Nikki had the scoop on where to go to catch the highly sought Copper River Salmon. We stayed at King For a Day Campground where we spent pretty much every minute on the banks of the river. Unfortunately, the salmon weren't running well but it was still a good time.
Inside these two canisters are the carcasses of mosquitoes...perhaps millions of them. (Wrangell-St. Elias Visitors Center)
Through the looking glass at the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge.
The view from the Copper River Princess Wilderness lodge.
Nearby is the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge. Since it's owned and operated by the Princess Cruise Lines it has an over-the-top kind of feel but the setting is magnificent. Perched on top of a hill, it offers a stunning view of the Wrangell-St. Elias mountains. And, due to it's proximity to the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Visitor Center they offer docent talks about the park and history of the area. They also offer a full bar and nice menu for those who need a break from cooking and/or fishing.
If you want a good laugh be sure to check out Gone With the Wynn's YouTube Video of our rafting trip...