Wondrous places, people Thomas H...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

March 11, 2001

A MEMORABLE PLACE

Wondrous places, people

Thomas H. Bauer

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's a gray, drizzly morning driving south down the George Parks Highway toward Anchorage in the wondrous state of Alaska. Quite a difference from two mornings before, when my wife, Jean, and I were heading to Denali National Park under a pure blue August sky. It was so clear that we were two of the lucky few able to view the namesake mountain from overlooks along the way. Those tantalizing glimpses two days ago are in our minds now as we wait for the shuttle bus into the park's interior.

As we travel on the unpaved road toward Wonder Lake, the land undergoes a magical transformation. We get off the bus at the Eielson Visitor Center and hike away from the road.

On a small rock outcrop, we are barely sheltered from the chill wind gusting up the hill. Sprawled in front of us is a vast, deep valley. The rocky, glacial-blue Toklat River threads its way into the distance surrounded by craggy mountains ringed with ancient snow and ice. Across the valley to our left, the receding glaciers have carved a miniature Grand Canyon into the cliff side. The peak of Denali eludes our view this day -- it's obscured by mist.

Later, as we make our way back to Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, we are still excited by the experience of Denali. But three long Alaskan days and the dreary weather force us to seek out a hot cup of coffee. We pull into the lot of a small diner and my wife goes in to order while I get something from the trunk. The key is barely in the lock when I hear roars of laughter coming from inside. As I walk in, Jean has forgotten the coffee and is talking with the owner and two customers as if they were long-lost friends.

What started as a quick pit stop turned into a delightful hour with the young, single mom who ran the place, a local woman and a long-haired bush pilot grounded by the weather. Conversation ranged from where everyone was from (almost nobody who lives in Alaska is from there) to the family that allowed their Husky dog to breed with wolves.

Our entire trip to Alaska mirrored this morning. Outrageous beauty and awesome wildlife combined with incredibly friendly people. From Denali to the little seaside town of Homer, everyone has the time to answer a quick question or visit for an hour. This combination makes Alaska one of the most rewarding places we have ever explored.

Thomas H. Bauer lives in Glen Arm.

MY BEST SHOT

Bonjour, Fifi

By Heather Bloch, Berkeley, Calif.

While on a walking trip through France on the Dordogne trail, dogs occasionally joined us for a stretch or two. Because of the fence, this one outside Sarlat could only wave.

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