The fall here lasted about 3 – 4 weeks. Towards the end of August, the temperatures started dropping and the leaves began to change. Leigh and I began wearing our “Austin-winter” jackets in the evenings and there was a feeling that everyone was starting to prepare for winter. But before winter arrived, there was a month of fall to enjoy.
The first thing on our to-do list was to visit Denali. It may come as a bit of surprise that it took us over 2 months to get down there, but in the summer Denali receives a lot of rain, which commonly obscures visitors from seeing the peak. This is the reason that the 30% club exists, i.e., only 30% of the visitors who come to Denali each year see the summit. Hence, when the weather for the weekend showed clear skies, we packed up our hiking gear and made the 2-hour drive.
Denali is the third largest national park in the US trailing behind Wrangell-St. Elias and Gates of the Arctic National Parks. There is only one main entrance for visitors and only the first 15 miles are accessible via your own car. The easiest way to travel the remaining 77 miles of Denali’s single road, which takes you into the heart of the park, is by bus. The full out-and-back takes around 8 hours, so we opted to drive in on our own and hike one of the trails closer to the park entrance.
The trail we chose was the Savage Alpine Trail, which is one of the few maintained trails in the park. The start of the trail was nearly straight uphill for the first mile before following a ridgeline for the next couple. As we neared top of the ridge, we got our first glimpse of Denali! It was exciting to see the tallest mountain in North America. It’s hard to believe that we live just 2 hours away from it.
That said, arguably more spectacular than the summit was the fall foliage. I kept saying to Leigh that it felt like my eyes were saturated with color – the mix of greens, reds, oranges, and yellows was simply spectacular. The other major highlight of the hike was spotting a couple moose only 100 m off the trail. We’ve seen a few moose while driving, but seeing them without the safety of the car was a bit exhilarating. The average moose stands about 6 ft tall and weighs around 1,000 lbs and while they aren’t known for being too aggressive, we were glad that these two were simply resting.
Speaking of moose, another experience I’ll forever associate with fall in Fairbanks was helping my friend Andy after he shot a moose with a bow-and-arrow. I had mentioned many times that I would gladly help if he got one, so when I got the text at 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday that he had, I raced over to help. It took the four of us the entire morning to skin and quarter the moose, which was followed up by a celebratory beer at Hoodoo (our favorite local brewery), and a moose dinner that night. Andy and our other friend, Marc, cooked up an incredible moose meal that included the liver, bone marrow, and the back strap. It was a little gamey, but absolutely delicious.
Food and the fall seem to go hand-in-hand here in Fairbanks. It’s the start of hunting season, time to harvest the gardens before the cold, and time to stock up on fruits. While nothing can compete with our fondness for blueberry picking, cranberry picking was a treat as well! The key to picking cranberries is to wait until the first frost, since the frost makes the cranberries sweeter. It’s been wonderful to have a stash of cranberries and blueberries all winter. Our main use for them has been for making shrubs, a vinegar-based cocktail mixer, and a variety of desserts – both of which help make the winter a bit brighter.
The last and arguably biggest highlight of fall was we got our first visitors! Our good friends James and Taylor from Austin flew up here for the last week of September. It was a week packed with activities and adventures. We went berry picking, visited a glacier, visited all the breweries and distilleries in town, had some delicious smoked salmon at a friend’s bbq, went to Chena Hot Springs, saw many moose, and best of all saw our first aurora. They must have been good luck charms because friends who have been living here for years said it was one of the best auroras they’d ever seen. It’s hard to describe, but it started out looking like a small green cloud in the sky. Over the course of a couple hours, the glimmers of green light grew until it spanned from horizon to horizon. At one point, there were two streaks across the sky that were weaving and dancing with one another, but the grand finale came right as we were heading home for the night – the sky erupted in dazzling streaks of blues and purples.
As the activity-filled fall came to an end, Leigh and I gladly welcomed the slower pace of winter with open arms. Unfortunately, it seems like we enjoyed our “hibernation” from the blog a bit too much – we’ll write all about winter soon.
Leigh joins me in writing about our adventures living in Alaska.