Alaska Travel Diary: A Once-In-A-Lifetime Winter Wonderland Vacation

Greetings to all my fellow adventure lovers and fans of The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground. My name is Jillian Hyland and I am an Oregon resident, hospitality professional and traveling addict with an undying wanderlust for life. I’m taking over the blog for the week to share with you my personal experiences traveling to Alaska, on the tailwind of the notoriously-snowy winter season. Before we go any further you should know one thing; it’s not as hard or overwhelming as you might think! Traveling to Alaska, at any time of the year, is absolutely spectacular and easily accessible via major airline. Once you arrive, the welcoming hospitality and over-the-top adventures will fill your heart with more joy than you’ve ever dreamed imaginable. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience!

I recently had the opportunity to take a few days off from my busy city job to enjoy a little vacation time, and as I sat down to plan my trip I couldn’t stop thinking about Alaska. I wanted to visit someplace new that I’ve never been to before, and the wildly rugged yet miraculously scenic Last Frontier was calling my name.

With a goal to unplug and get off-grid, my heart was leading me to a place that would later help me not only decompress, but also totally and completely help me reset my mind and refresh my soul. The unreal scenery, picturesque views, endless outdoor activities to partake in and the ability to observe magnificent wildlife in their natural environment – that’s what I was looking forward to.

So I did it. I took the (metaphorical) polar plunge. I booked my plane ticket and packed my bags. I set out on a solo mission to experience the majestic beauty of the 49th state, all by my lonesome. Just me, myself and the Last Frontier.

Although I was planning the trip of a lifetime without bringing anyone else along to experience the magic with me, something inside me felt brave and untamed. I was ready for this. As the saying goes, “Alaska or bust!”

From the moment I landed at the airport, I was in awe of the state’s beauty, culture and charm. I arrived in Anchorage, Alaska and made my way down to Alyeska Resort. From the moment I arrived, I was wowed by the stunning facilities.

But once I went to the front desk to check in to my hotel room, the warm and friendly service nearly made my heart explode with happiness. Throughout my stay I received perfect turndown service with yummy chocolates and bottled water each day.

Of course, in true Alaskan fashion, the magic kept on pouring in when I actually entered my hotel room and found this perfect little note. Thank you to Amy for speaking right to me with this sweet caption. Coming to Alaska was me, following my star.

For the next five days, I would turn off my cell phone and focus on being present in the moment. Each morning I would wake up and enjoy a good book and a cup o’ joe while looking out the window at one of the most spectacular winter-wonderland views of my life. I had to *pinch* myself a few times to remind me that this was all real… and not just a dream!

During my stay at the resort I utilized several amenities.  I used the pool/hot tub area, onsite grab & go café and the complimentary shuttle that the staff informed me about at check in. All of these amenities were very useful during my stay. Plus, I felt very fancy in my soft, customized Alyeska Resort robe. What a neat touch!

One of the first restaurants I tried was Seven Glaciers at Alyeska Resort. I took the tram up the mountain and almost lost my mind when I experienced pristine panoramic views that (quite literally) looked like something out of my wildest dream.

Once I got to the top of the mountain, I kicked off my dining experience with a photo-op overlooking the Chugach range. This is what winter wonderland looks like in the movies, but who would have ever thought that I’d experience it in person? Absolutely incredible!

I took a brief tour of the restaurant, posing next to all the coolest attractions (of course). Now this is what I call a wine cellar! Wow!

I tried the famous ‘fizz’ drink before ordering some food. It was a very delicious concoction and the service was top-notch. The million dollar views were effortlessly brag-worthy as well.

Alaska came with a lot of firsts for me. For one, I tried sushi for the first time ever! For some reason, I’ve never taken a keen interest in sushi – but Alaska brought out something brave and ambitious inside of me. The end result? Pretty darn delicious if I do say so myself!

One of my nights in Alaska led me to a concert at The Sitzmark Bar & Grill. I loved this place! It was laid back yet super lively and it had that quintessential locals vibe, with friendly people to spark conversations with all through the evening. I had their famous nachos during the concert, which were fantastic! I loved the intimate feel of the bar and the outdoor patio area as well.

I also attended an outdoor snowboard/ski competition one evening at the base of the mountain. This was so cool because I got to watch a phenomenal event where young kids competed in performing tricks. This was hands-down one of the most memorable evenings during my time in Alaska!

One day I went out with Glacier City Snowmobile Tours for an excursion called the Real Deal Tour. Overall, what I enjoyed most about this trip was the friendliness of the staff and the knowledge that they had about the area. It was truly such a learning experience from start to finish, which was an unexpected yet highly welcomed surprise. I also learned that locals call snowmobiling “snowmachining” – just a little insider scoop for anyone who doesn’t already know this top secret intel. 😉

We rode outside of Girdwood through Portage Valley to a place that is actually a historical part of the Iditarod trail. This was another one of those *pinch me* I can’t believe it’s real type of moments.

The tour company had a small cabin in the woods where we stopped and they served the group hot cocoa, cider and fireside reindeer dogs. Eating the reindeer dogs felt so “Alaskan!” This was definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had!

I had never been snow-shoeing before, but was determined to give it a shot. So that’s what I did; I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and I rented snow-shoes for one day from the lodge. They provided me with great information to nearby trails close to the resort. So just like that, I bundled up in my warm Alaskan attire and I set out into the wilderness all on my own.

At the end of the day, I realized that I covered a whopping 8 miles in total. And you know what? I loved every single second of it!  I think my favorite part of this athletic adventure was enjoying the sheer beauty of the trail, listening to nature and taking in the quietness around me. I stopped along the way for several breathtaking photo ops and truly took the time to stop and absorb the scenic wilderness that I was nestled in.

One day I even rented a fat-tire bike to further investigate all of the intriguing trails that run for miles upon miles nearby to the resort.

I used Alpine Air Alaska, Inc. for the glacier landing helicopter tour that I booked one day. I cannot say enough how incredible this experience was! Mind-blowing would probably definitely be an understatement. The pilot made me feel safe and comfortable, and provided me with an immense about of knowledge. My mind was eased knowing that I was in such good hands, and I can’t say enough about how much I appreciated the top-notch hospitality and friendly service. Hands down, I would recommend this glacier landing tour and this reputable company to anyone interested in a once-in-a-lifetime Alaskan experience.

The aerial perspectives from the helicopter provided awe-inspiring beauty that looked like something straight out of a National Geographic magazine. Towering snow-capped mountains mixed with piercing blue glaciers was enough eye-candy to last me a lifetime. The pilot even pointed out some moose down below (which was the first time I’ve ever laid eyes on a real live moose!!!) – simply amazing.

My favorite part of this journey was landing on the glacier. While educating the group with an immense amount of knowledge on our surroundings, the pilot let us walk around and explore the glacial land on an up-close-and-personal level.

The photo-ops that followed were (again) like something from my wildest dreams. This was truly a spiritual, out-of-this-world experience that I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to partake in.

On one of my final days in town, I reconnected with an old college girlfriend and we explored with Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This place absolutely exceeded my expectations!

We cruised around and checked out moose, bears, musk ox, deer, caribou and so much more.

The picturesque mountains surrounded us were so captivating! It was almost as if every photo we snapped deserved to be on the cover of a postcard.

We watched as kiddos screamed in delight and ran alongside the local wolf pack.

At one point in time, I’m pretty sure that this adorable moose tried to give me a smooch. SWOON! All of my dreams have now officially come true. This was way too precious. Moose are my favorite wild animals and this rehabilitation facility provides such a great way for visitors to Alaska (such as myself) to experience the fascinating amounts of local wildlife.

Although I dined at a few restaurants during my time in Alaska, the place that stood out the most was Jack Sprat. The chalet style building located near the base of the mountain had a unique, creative menu that made me want to sample everything in sight.

The food was fresh, local and tasted absolutely delicious. Plus the portion sizes were HUGE, which was nice so that I had a little something extra to take back to the hotel to enjoy later in the evening if I got hungry. The service was very lively and accommodating, while the ambiance was idyllic and inviting.

Before I wrapped up my vacation to head back to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, I had to pose for the obligatory photo with the big stuffed bear in front of the gift shop at Alyeska. Because… when in Alaska! 😉 After such a magical winter experience, I am definitely planning on returning to Alaska in the summer! At the top of my bucket list, I am interested in doing some warm weather hiking, whale watching and biking on The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground. If I was able to fall in love with Alaska during the winter, I can only imagine how my adoration of this beautiful state will vastly flourish during the raved-about summer season.

Need travel trips, customized seasonal itineraries or ideas for how to make your trip to The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground positively memorable? Reach out below or feel free to send us a direct message on our website or our Facebook page. Be safe out there adventure hounds, and remember that “it’s not the life in your years – it’s the years in your life.”  Travel, explore, LIVE!

Disclosure: All photos above are copyright of Jillian Hyland with sole usage rights granted to the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. For photo usage inquiries or content material, please feel free to reach out to Jillian directly by clicking HERE.

25 Surefire Ways To Have A Holly, Jolly Christmas On The Kenai

PC: hoomrun.com

PC: hoomrun.com

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas on The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground! If the chilly days and heavy snowfall has you itching to get out of the house, don’t fret – we’ve got you covered! This epic list will keep you covered from outdoor adventures, to sweet indulgences, to scrumptious local restaurants, to fun community events and just about everything in between. No you won’t have a single excuse not to have a holly, jolly Christmas on The Kenai!

PC: Sebastian Saarloos

PC: Sebastian Saarloos

1 – Surround yourself with those that you love the most.

PC: Christopher Porter - Flickr

PC: Christopher Porter – Flickr

2 – Give to those in need and make your heart smile a little extra.

PC: Wonderlane - Flickr

PC: Wonderlane – Flickr

3 – Drive through some new neighborhoods and soak in all the sparkling Christmas lights.

PC: Joey Tripp - Flickr

PC: Joey Tripp – Flickr

4 – But first, stop by a local coffee shop for a caffeine and hot chocolate fix. Peppermint mochas anyone?

PC: Veronica's Café - Facebook

PC: Veronica’s Café – Facebook

5 – Grab your special someone and enjoy a walk by the river while soaking in a magical winter, wonderland view.

PC: Visit Soldotna - Facebook

PC: Visit Soldotna – Facebook

6 – Find a sledding hill and let the kiddo’s burn off all that sugar from the candy, cookie and fudge overload.

PC: OakleyOriginals - Flickr

PC: OakleyOriginals – Flickr

7 – Go wildlife viewing and show your visitors just how epic your backyard truly is.

PC: NorthernLights Designs - Facebook

PC: NorthernLights Designs – Facebook

8 – Rent a hotel room for the night and enjoy some quiet time away from all the stresses of everyday life.

PC: Land's End Resort - Facebook

PC: Land’s End Resort – Facebook

9 – Or take a weekend trip to a cozy B&B and enjoy a splendid change of scenery, without having to travel far.

PC: Escape For Two - Facebook

PC: Escape For Two – Facebook

10 – Take a snowy walk on the beach with your four legged companions.

PC: songwoman - Facebook

PC: songwoman – Facebook

11 – Get involved with festive community events and enjoy fun for the whole family.

PC: Soldotna Creek Park - Facebook

PC: Soldotna Creek Park – Facebook

12 – Cheat on your diet before the New Year rolls around! Visit some of The Kenai’s best bakeries and candy shops and indulge a little, won’tcha. Apple fritter anyone? We’ll take two!

PC: The Moose Is Loose - Facebook

PC: The Moose Is Loose – Facebook

13 – Got Christmas shopping to do? Shop local! Visit some of The Kenai’s most creative boutiques, seafood processors, automotive outfits and more. Support local businesses because it just feels good!

PC: KenaiPeninsula.org

PC: KenaiPeninsula.org

14 – Bundle up and enjoy a snowshoeing adventure into the peaceful backcountry.

PC: Outpost USA

PC: Outpost USA

15 – Or fuel your need for speed with a downhill skiing or snowboarding excursion at Alyeska Resort.

PC: Alyeska Resort - Facebook

PC: Alyeska Resort – Facebook

16 – Take a mini road trip and enjoy some of The Kenai’s most charming mountain towns that are straight out of a storybook.

PC: Mapio.net

PC: Mapio.net

17 – Go horseback riding, bring the kids to pet the horses or enjoy a one horse open sleigh ride that’ll transport you straight into winter wonderland.

PC: Alaska C & C Horse Adventures - Facebook

PC: Alaska C & C Horse Adventures – Facebook

18 – Or load up the sled and take the dogs for a long run on the snowy trails.

PC: Marc Lester AP

PC: Marc Lester AP

19 – It’s not Christmas on The Kenai until you’ve sat on Santa’s lap and met some of his elves!

PC: Scene of the Crash - Facebook

PC: Scene of the Crash – Facebook

20 – A white Christmas and a Northern Lights show? We should be so lucky! This is one that is definitely worth losing some sleep over!

21 – Head up to the Caribou Hills and enjoy a snow machining adventure with epic panoramic views.

PC: Swanson Snapshot

PC: Swanson Snapshot

22 – Visit your favorite local restaurants and ask for the ‘seasonal specialty’. Your taste buds just might get a major dose of flavorful nostalgia!

PC: Yelp - Billy A.

PC: Yelp – Billy A.

23 – Unplugging is good for the soul! Rent a public use cabin in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and enjoy a night in the woods without any distractions. A hot fire and a yummy s’mores tastes better in the wintertime, we promise!

24 – Throw the drift boat in the water and enjoy wetting some frosty lines without all the summertime congestion.

PC: YouTube

PC: YouTube

25 – Or find a local lake, load up with Christmas yummies, pop the ice shanty up and enjoy a day of festive ice fishing.

PC: Alaska's Angling Addiction, Peninsula Clarion

PC: Alaska’s Angling Addiction, Peninsula Clarion

Wishing all of our friends, family and fans of The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground a safe and joyous holiday season!

Celebrate Love on Alaska’s Playground

The three day weekend is right around the corner, and in addition to President’s Day on Monday… don’t forget that it’s Valentines Day on Sunday, February 14, 2016! Which means you have the perfect excuse to spend the whole day celebrating life, love and happiness with your special sweetheart or with those friends and family members that are near and dear to your heart.

Photo shared from encircleworldphotos.photoshelter.com.

Photo shared from encircleworldphotos.photoshelter.com.

Maybe you aren’t someone who necessarily cares for the Valentines Day holiday? We get it. The infamous flowers, chocolates and life-sized stuffed animal “hoopla” that surrounds us all for weeks leading up to the holiday can be a bit too much to handle.

Photo from theplanetd.com.

Photo from theplanetd.com.

Fear not… you’re in luck! We have some great alternative options for those of you wanting to celebrate LOVE this Sunday while still enjoying The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground and supporting local businesses.

First things first; seize every moment of this long weekend. You know you’ll regret it if you don’t. So get up early and chase a sunrise. Your eyes will thank you, we promise.

Sunrise over Beluga Lake, in Homer, Alaska. Photo from Laura Maciariello.‎

Sunrise over Beluga Lake, in Homer, Alaska. Photo from Laura Maciariello.

If you’re like us, and you want to start the weekend off on Friday or Saturday with a yummy breakfast treat, it is always a satisfying experience when stopping into Veronicas Coffee House in Kenai, Alaska. Serving delicious baked goods, fresh coffee and an assortment of menu options, Veronicas Coffee House offers the perfect Alaskan charm and warm hospitality to get your love-filled weekend started off right. Its also a great place to bring the whole family or to meet up with old friends.

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If you want to get out of town and into the backcountry, snowshoeing is always a great way to spend quality time with the one or one(s) you love. And on Alaska’s Playground, we truly do have an unlimited amount of backcountry to explore.

Cross country skiing is another great way to get a great workout together while also enjoying the fresh air and natural beauty that Alaska’s Playground has to offer.

Photo from edbookphoto.photoshelter.com.

Photo from edbookphoto.photoshelter.com.

Horseback riding is always a fun activity to get you out of town and exploring nature with your sweetheart, the kiddos or a group of your closest friends. Alaskan Horseman Trail Adventures and Guest Ranch in Cooper Landing, Alaska is a great option for anyone wanting a true taste of fresh winter air and views that are bound to take your breath away.

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If you have a need for speed and enjoy a good adrenaline rush, maybe snow-machining is the perfect activity for you and your special somebody to celebrate Valentines Day this Sunday. On The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground, you are always guaranteed incredible vistas no matter which direction you head.

Photo from flipboard.com.

Photo from flipboard.com.

And if snow-machining is what you choose and you happen to head south, our friends at Freddie’s Roadhouse located in the Caribou Hills in Ninilchik, Alaska offer excellent backcountry accommodations for all outdoorsy enthusiasts. If rustic lodging and a true Alaskan experience is what you are after this weekend, this is a great option for you!

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Another way to enjoy an adrenaline-packed weekend together is by heading to Girdwood, Alaska to visit the infamous Alyeska Resort. Great for snowboarding, downhill skiing, dining, live music and loads of fun for all ages. Oh, and the sunsets and sunrises seem to be notoriously amazing at Alyeska Resort as well. You really can’t go wrong when heading to this magical place for a weekend.

Photo from last Valentines Day 2015 at Alyeska Resort.

Photo from last Valentines Day 2015 at Alyeska Resort.

Chasing a sunset via ATV ride is a great way to spend quality time together this Valentines Day. The photo below was taken in Homer, Alaska off East End Road. God’s country at it’s finest!

Photo from Loomis Sage Marketing.

Photo from Loomis Sage Marketing.

If you are in the market for a romantic getaway this weekend, head to the lovely town of Seward, Alaska and check out the spectacular A Cabin on the Cliff. This is a rustic trappers cabin that has been refurbished to offer romantic elegance. Here you can enjoy spectacular views of Ressurection Bay and the Chugach Mountains from a private hot tub located on a large, spacious deck.

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Another place to enjoy a quite, secluded romantic getaway is the beautiful Escape for Two B&B Cabin Rentals in Soldotna, Alaska. Have a fire, relax in the hot tub or just get cozy indoors and enjoy a glass of wine. You will feel utterly relaxed from the moment you check in.

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Enjoying a glass of wine together and some local Alaskan chocolates is a cliché Valentines Day option, but hey… you have to admit that it sounds like a pretty incredible idea. And when you visit Bear Creek Winery & Lodging in Homer, Alaska- you will feel anything but cliché. This place is miraculous! Bear Creek is a country winery. They make fruit wines and fruit grape wine blends. They grow, pick, and process some of the best berries in the world and it shows in their hand crafted, award winning wines. Guests are invited to visit the wine tasting room, tour the facility, walk the gardens and take in the breathtaking views of Kachemak Bay. The winery also offers high-end lodging for those visitors looking for a relaxing and romantic getaway.

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If fine dining is what you are after, Hotel Seward in Seward, Alaska is proven to be an excellent option. Offering steak, fresh Alaskan seafood and a plethora of other options. Check the Hotel Seward menu out HERE and prepare to have your mouth start watering.

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Mykel’s Restaurant in Soldotna, Alaska is another great option if you are after a delicious meal this Valentines Day weekend. We’ve heard through the grapevine that they’ve whipped up a special heart-melting menu for this weekend, so don’t miss out. Check their menu out HERE and be sure to call and make your reservations now. Remember, the way to anyone’s heart is through their stomach.

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And if you’re spending time with the kiddos this Valentines Day weekend, we have a couple great ideas that sure to bring a plethora of smiles. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near the town of Girdwood, Alaska is dedicated to conservation, education, and quality animal care of Alaska’s wildlife. Open currently on weekends only, come view Alaskan wildlife in large natural enclosures, which allow the wildlife the ability to display their natural behaviors.

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The Alaska Sealife Center in Seward, Alaska is always fun for kids and adults of all ages. Spend the day viewing beautiful marine life with the indoor comfort of being nice and cozy.

Photo shared from mishlerphotos.photoshelter.com.

Photo shared from mishlerphotos.photoshelter.com.

Or if you want to bundle the kiddos up and take them outside for a fun, winter-wonderland adventure, sledding is always a great idea that will bring adorable pink cheeks and smiles from ear to ear. You can even bring your beloved four-legged family members to join in on a day of fun in the great outdoors.

Photo shared from www.shutterstock.com.

Photo shared from http://www.shutterstock.com.

Need more ideas for how to make your Valentines Day weekend memorable? Submit a response or question below. Remember that you can always call us at (907) 262-5229 or visit us online at http://www.kenaipeninsula.org. Wishing you all a wonderful, love-filled weekend on The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground!

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Snowshoeing on The Kenai

Photo from Rbulson PhotoShelter

Photo from Rbulson PhotoShelter

If solitude is what you’re looking for on these chilly winter days in Alaska, we can’t think of a more serene activity to recommend than snowshoeing.

Photo from the Peninsula Clarion

Photo from the Peninsula Clarion

Snowshoeing is a great sport in that just about anyone and everyone can do it. Whether you are a beginner, a moderate hiker or a backcountry expert, there is a path for you.

Photo from Ron Niebrugge, Wild Nature Images

Photo from Ron Niebrugge, Wild Nature Images

One of the most exhilarating aspects of snowshoeing is that it allows you “escape it all” while often times not having to venture too far out of civilization.

Photo from Ron Niebrugge, Wild Nature Images

Photo from Ron Niebrugge, Wild Nature Images

And there truly is nothing quite like the smell of fresh power in the middle of nowhere. It just feels like the way Alaska should. Peaceful, serene and good for the soul.

Photo from Alaska-In-Pictures.com

Photo from Alaska-In-Pictures.com

And if taking a breather and taking in some amazing wintertime views is what you’re looking to do, snowshoeing is definitely the sport for you.

Photo from Ron Niebrugge, Wild Nature Images

Photo from Ron Niebrugge, Wild Nature Images

If you’re looking for the perfect date-day-out, we couldn’t recommend snowshoeing more.

Photo from Alaska Adventure Company

Photo from Alaska Adventure Company

Or if you’re looking for a great activity to get the kiddos out of the house (and smiling from ear to ear) on a snow-day. Snowshoeing it is!

Photo from AlaskaPublic.org

Photo from AlaskaPublic.org

And if you just want to hang out with some of your friends, quality time spend outdoors is way cooler than any amount of time around the television.

Photo from Travoom

Photo from Travoom

Or if you’re feeling extra outdoorsy and want to test out the “winter camping” waters, snowshoeing is a great way to get to where you’re going.

Photo from Alaska-In-Pictures.com

Photo from Alaska-In-Pictures.com

If you’re extra-lucky, you might end up catching the Aurora Borealis while out on a snowshoeing excursion. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Photo from Crescent Moon Snowshoes

Photo from Crescent Moon Snowshoes

If you prefer to spend your days off enjoying the great outdoors with your four-legged best friend, it’s been tested and proved that dogs love snowshoeing adventures just as much as us humans (or probably even more). 😉

Photo from Road Trip America

Photo from Road Trip America

And we will also testify to the fact that nothing will prepare you better for a Monday than a Sunday spent out enjoying nature, away from the hustle and bustle.

Photo from the Redoubt Reporter

Photo from the Redoubt Reporter

One thing is for sure, you will not regret the feeling that you get when you are submerged in nature with utter peace and quiet. After all, that is what makes Alaska so special.

Photo from Expeditions Alaska

Photo from Expeditions Alaska

For trail ideas you can always check out the local Fish & Game offices, Chamber of Commerce or feel free to send us an email and we will happily help you plan an epic day of back-country snowshoeing fun.

Photo from RMI Guides

Photo from RMI Guides