Saturday, July 19, 2008

Our Safari Park Adventure

Today we took a family road trip. The weather has been HOT, so we decided to head for the cooler air of the Blue Ridge mountains, a mere 3 hour drive from our home. I found out about the Safari Park on the blog of my friend, Kim, who has since taken her blog private. She and her family live MUCH closer to the park, but I would never had known it existed if not for Kim.

I'm not much for road trips... I'm a nervous passenger ("backseat driver", if you insist on being technical!). James usually grabs the kids and goes - leaving me behind in blissful silence. But, I had a stern talking with myself and decided to tough it out. I'm so glad I did!

We had a ball! The drive through the safari park is slow and very entertaining. We took Josie out of her car seat so she could easily feed the animals. She was very excited by the prospect of being up close and personal with the animals, but the reality was quite different! She would scream, "I want to feed the zebra!" So, we would stop and Maddie would help her put her feed bucket out the window to attract the animals. Once an animal approached the car, Josie would squeal with delight and get as far AWAY from the window as possible! "You do it, Maddie!" All the while, she was laughing and literally jumping for joy on the backseat!

Josie was really great at finding the animals we saw in the guide handed out by the park. I was amazed that she was able to find them so quickly and accurately!!

Here are a few of the animals we saw on the safari drive:

After we finished driving through the safari, we headed to the petting zoo and giraffe feeding station which was included in the $12.00 adult admission price. Here, we saw much more exotic animals...just not as close as the ones on the drive.

When we finally decided to head home, the girls were just great at keeping themselves occupied and entertained. They had a few Hershey kisses and used the wrappers to give themselves some 'grillz'. The girls say, "Peace out, Dog!"

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Seems like it took me forever to get back to blogging... Our trip to Alaska was fantastic! Maddie and I created such wonderful memories of our time there thanks to my dear childhood friend, Susan. We flew into Anchorage on June 24th, arriving earlier than we anticipated. (We flew standby from Minneapolis to Anchorage so we were able to catch an earlier flight). Sue was there to greet us. Although it had been close to 15 years since we had seen each other, the years melted away with one hug. Though both of us are older, I was still looking into the eyes of a friend I had know my entire life - looking at the kid I had grown up with.

We hit the ground running - taking in the sites of Anchorage until dinner time. We shared a lovely dinner at a waterfront restaurant, where Maddie tried the Caribou burger! We checked into our hotel and stayed up talking late into the evening. The next morning, after a breakfast of sourdough pancakes, we headed out on the open road for Seward.

Once we located our hotel in Seward, we visited Exit Glacier. We took a short hike up to the glacier itself. Don't let anyone tell you that global warming isn't real... we saw photos of the glacier in 1996 when you could literally touch the glacier. Not anymore. It had receded quite a bit in just the past 12 years... we were standing on ground that was part of the ice wall back then.

Maddie & Me - Exit Glacier

Maddie goofing around at the Exit Glacier Visitor Center!

In Seward, we also visited the Marine Life Center which was a really great introduction to the sea life of Alaska in general and the Resurrection Bay habitat, in particular. It got us very excited for the Wildlife Cruise Sue had booked for us the following day. (Thursday).

Me & Maddie at the Seward Wildlife Center

Thursday dawned (figuratively, of course, since right now Alaska gets about 22 hours of sunlight!) with rainy weather. We were determined to get on the boat, even though the Captain doubted we would make it out to the glacier we were scheduled to visit. The seas were rough on Resurrection Bay and we all came away bruised and battered from holding on to the ship's rails to get our photos of the wildlife we passed along the way.

Along the way we made a stop on Fox Island for a Salmon Bake. It was supposed to be a dinner, but with the rough seas the Captain decided to make it a lunch and cut our cruise short by about 4 hours. The lunch was held in a lodge operated by the National Park Service and a slide presentation was given by the resident ranger.

Sue & Maddie enjoy lunch at the Lodge

On Friday, we packed up and left Seward behind, heading for Denali National Park. We were stopping for the night in Wasilla, which is a half-way point and also the closest to Hatcher's Pass. Hatcher's Pass was a gold mining town that was in operation until the 1950's. Now, it's a well preserved ghost town with stunning views... we tried to imagine what it would have been like to wake each morning to the splendor that surrounds the area. Breathtaking.

Saturday, we wasted no time in hitting the road to Denali. We wanted to catch the 2PM Dog Sled presentation given at the park. Boy, was it worth it. I learned so much about sled dogs - how they are bred, how they help humans and their incredible capabilities. The dogs were just beautiful and we loved seeing them up close!

Maddie & 'Blue'

Sunday the three of us headed back to the park for the highlight of our trip - the 8 hour ride through Denali National Park. There are no words to describe the beauty. Each turn in the road brought another breathtaking vista and incredible wildlife sightings. Here are a few that I managed to get:

After the ride through the park, we headed up to Fairbanks. Upon arrival at Susan's home, her husband, Steve, had a delicious meal of burgers and brats waiting for us. Yummy. It was great to finally meet Steve and to find out that he is just as wonderful as Sue describes him.

Sue and Steve's home was warm and welcoming, decorated with her spectacular photography. Really lovely. We said goodnight and prepared for our departure the following day. (Monday).

Our flight left out of Fairbanks at 10 on Monday evening, so that gave us the day on Monday to tour around Fairbanks. We rode the Riverboat Discovery and panned for gold at the El Dorado Mine. Both outings were very informative and gave us real insight into the history of Alaska. We also ran into our friends, Ed & Marty who were with a group of their friends on a cruisetour before hopping a Princess cruise ship later in the week.

As the time for our departure drew near I took a bit of time to remember all the things we had seen and done. I am so thankful to my dear friend for taking a week of her time to show us the beauty of her adopted home. I am thankful to have had the time with my daughter before she heads off to high school - such a milestone in her life. I was so proud when Sue told me what a nice kid Maddie is. Also, I'm so very thankful to live in such a wonderful country.

Finally, I am truly thankful to my husband for giving us the time and resources ($$$) to take this trip . And, for my parents and sister-in-law, Kim who spent the week entertaining and spoiling my other precious girl, Josie.

Just as an aside, on Tuesday - our first night back home in Virginia - I let the dogs out before heading up to bed. Carson took off to the woods on the side of the house and returned rubbing his face on the ground and stinking to high heaven...Turned out our boy got SKUNKED!! I got James out of bed and he and Maddie gave Carson a V8 bath (we didn't have tomato juice!) in the driveway and then another bath once we got him inside. Poor Bubba - he's always getting into something. This time the 'something' fought back!!!