As many of you know, I love to talk travel. So when my good friend Ranger Gary returned from his epic adventure of the National Parks in Alaska, I couldn't resist asking him if he'd write about his travels. Not only are the Alaska parks high on many people's bucket list, but they can be hard to plan for, and having a Park Ranger perspective can provide a valuable insight.
So without further ado, here's the first part in the new series, The Traveling Ranger. Hope you enjoy!
Part One: The Decision
When my mom died last July, and I got a few thousand dollars in life insurance money, I thought about paying off some credit card debt or putting the money into savings for something unexpected. Those thoughts were brief though, because what I really wanted to do was use the money to get to someplace really special in my goal to visit all 417 national parks.
Two places immediately came to mind, both really remote and expensive. First up: go to the South Pacific to see War in the Pacific National Historic Park in Guam and the National Park of American Samoa. I looked into it, and quickly learned those places are not really anywhere near each other, and you cannot really get from one to the other directly. Thanks Rome2Rio.com! Options included flying to one via Hawai'i, then flying back to Hawai'i to fly to the other one. From my home in South Florida, that would be a minimum of 8 airplane flights, and probably more given that I wanted to use frequent flyer miles to trim costs. Eight flights! That's just crazy talk!
Next up: the place I've said was my most desired park that I have not already been to (and I'd been to about 230 at that point): Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
Many people do not recognize that name, but show them a picture, and nearly everyone recognizes its iconic image. Oddly, that iconic image is not of a desolated valley of ash and pumice created in 1912 by the eruption of the Novarupta volcano, the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. If Novarupta had exploded in Manhattan, Philadelphia would be under an estimated two feet of ash! It is a strange and beautiful place. Look left and you see spruce trees, moss and fireweed...clearly Alaska. But look right in that same spot, and you see what looks like the deserts of the Southwest...stark and rocky. Such contrast, such beauty, such a sweet spot to tell the story of volcanic power. That's why the park was designated in 1918, but that is not the part of the park most people know, and it is far from the iconic image you get when you do an image search on Google. Go ahead. Look it up. I'll wait...
Yeah buddy! Da Bears! That's what I wanted to see! That incredible place where bears stand on the lip of Brooks Falls during the July salmon run as the fish literally jump into their gaping maws. Other bears, like #480 (Otis), just sit in the water grabbing their fill by "snorkeling" (putting their face under water as salmon swim by).
I'd wanted to see this for a long time, but knew I would not be one of "those people" who only go for the bears. I had to go to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes as well, and that requires a nearly 60 mile round-trip bus tour. It was very cool driving IN a river to cross it...in a SCHOOL BUS! It was impressive hiking down to Ukak Falls and the sheer cliffs over 70 feet high...and all carved in the past 100 years due to the force of the water on the easily-eroded pumice. It was great seeing the wildflowers along the way, and watching rocks literally float by in the river. And if this had been any other park, I would have been thrilled with just that. But this...this was KATMAI!
Talking bears is gonna take a while, and my first blog post here shouldn't take that long, so, until next time...
About The Traveling Ranger
Gary Bremen decided to become a ranger when he was just 7 years old, after his parents took him on a 6-week road trip to places like Yellowstone, Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon. Thirty years into that career, he still finds enormous satisfaction in discovering new places, people, and things in the world around him...especially in national parks....with his husband and best friend, Roger.
His blog posts represent his views, and not those of any other person, agency or organization.
You can follow his adventures on IG: @thetravelingranger or reach him at email@example.com.