The Journey Home

    When I last updated I was waiting for my husband Ethan to make his way to Fairbanks for some Alaskan adventures! Here's some of the fun we had...

    Denali Star

    Lauren at the train
    We took the Alaska Railroad from Fairbanks to Anchorage. This was a really fun way to travel across the massive expanse that is Alaska!

    We had some amazingly clear weather and were able to clearly see Denali, aka Mt. McKinley. It is often cloaked in clouds so we were fortunate to get to see so much of it and the rest of the Alaska Range.

    Denali from the train
    Denali from the train

    Talkeetna sign
    Talkeetna, AK

    We spent the night of July 4th in Talkeetna! Talkeetna is a small quirky little town that serves as a base for most climbing expeditions before they fly to try and attempt climbing Denali. We enjoyed spending the 4th in Talkeetna, because even though it never got dark enough to see fireworks the town (pop. 800) still put on quite a party! Everyone was out and about in the streets camping anywhere there was space, there was live music playing in the park and people still shot out off fireworks for the noise.

    Denali from our flightseeing trip

    The next morning the weather was crystal clear, so we decided it would be a great opportunity to take a small plane and do some flight seeing to get up close and personal with Denali! The cliffs, glaciers, and route the climbers take were all awe inspiring. We landed on an upper arm of the Ruth GlacierA mass of ice that persists for many years and notably deforms and flows under the influence of gravity. (our plane actually had skis!) and standing on the glacier you truly felt how massive this landscape was. It also gave us quite the appreciation for the feats of the mountaineers that have scaled many of these pinacles.

    Lauren and Ethan on Ruth Glacier
    Lauren and Ethan Watel on Ruth Glacier.


    Beloit glacier
    Beloit glacier in Prince William Sound

    We drove from Anchorage to Whittier bringing us into Prince William Sound along the southern coast of Alaska. Whittier is an interesting town because the only way into or out of town via land is to drive through a one-lane tunnel that is 2.5 miles long. It is only open in each direction once per hour, and it is shared with the railroad.

    Whittier was constructed as a military port during World War II. It's current population is under 200 and there are two large apartment buildings that house nearly all of the residents.

    Blackstone glacier
    Blackstone glacier calving

    We went to Whittier to go on a glacier cruise to see the Blackstone, Beloit and Northland Glaciers. We watched the ice calving (breaking off and making a big splash) into the Sound. We also we able to view some various wildlife, otters, birds, and seals.


    Kenai Fjords
    A taste of some of the stunning scenery in Kenai Fjords National Park.

    Our next and final stop was in Seward. We were able to do a bit of hiking and the highlight was sea kayaking in Kenai Fjords National Park. We again lucked out and got a perfectly clear and calm day for kayaking. We saw lots of wildlife along the way to kayak. There were otters, dall porpoises, puffins, bald eagles, sea lions, seals, and humpback whales!

    Lauren and Ethan sea kayaking
    Lauren and Ethan Watel sea kayaking in front of Aialik glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park

    Kayaking was also quite an adventure. We kayaked over to Aialik glacier and watched (from a safe distance!) calving. You could hear the glacier creak and groan as it was moving down the mountain and being pushed under immense pressure. This pressure comes out as either a release of ice, a noise, or turning the ice blue- that's really how it looks! You can also hear the snap, crackle and pop of the bubbles in the ice chunks as the ice melts in the water. It sounds like you're sitting in a giant bowl of Rice Crispies as the ancient air is released from the ice.

    Glaciers on the Retreat

    Something that I heard about quite a bit was how much the glacial landscape is changing in Alaska (and around the world) as the climate changes. This ice has been around since the last Ice Age! Across the globe the overall trend for glaciers has been that they are shrinking and retreating. This is problematic because they contain a huge amount of fresh water that is being added to the world's oceans. This causes sea level to rise, and change how salty it is, as well as could change weather patterns. Largely we're not sure of the extent of the effects that will be felt as glaciers continue to melt.

    Back in Colorado

    Lauren relaxing
    Relaxing to soak in the last moments in Alaska. It's been a wonderful journey, but it's time to head back home.

    We made it back home and now the process of unpacking, reflecting and enjoying the rest of the Colorado summer begins! I'll certainly be checking in with PolarTREC again, so keep your eyes open.

    Species Journal

    As promised here are the remaining species journals from my students- some of these, like the otters I did see, but I never saw a grizzly bear, or some of these others.


    Sea otter
    Sea otter

    Horned Lark Species Journal
    Species Journal by Rachel Henderson

    Sea otter species journal
    Species Journal by Marla Loya

    Grizzly bear species journal
    Species Journal by Anna Stenson

    porcupine species journal
    Species Journal by Hannah Taylor