Renting shovels and buckets from a shack doing business as Angie's Clam Cleaning, we join the ant line down the bluff to the mudflats. On the beach, we surreptitiously follow a group of veteran diggers in hip boots as they scour the soupy sand for the pocks that mark a clam's tiny exhale. Following their lead, we dig furiously under those bubbles, dropping to our knees and scooping with our hands to catch the fragile, darting shellfish before they burrow out of reach. We're black with mud, our sandals are routinely sucked from our feet, and we let a disgraceful number of clams escape. But our bucket fills and the girls are in filthy ecstasy. Later, as we pull the Tioga onto the highway toward Seward, the air is rich with the scent of sautéing clams and the precious shower is layered with silt.

The RV has become my friend. I fill its tanks with water and dump its waste with the confidence of an AARP road warrior. At night, I line the windows with foil to thwart the midnight sun and we sleep in dark comfort. We've perfected the art of washing up in the small sink and of stowing the reliable goods before we move. It feels like home. But we love it all the more for having the chance to lock it up for two days, climb aboard a launch, and head out to Fox Island for a night of being pampered in semi-luxury at a wilderness lodge.

Fox Island sits like a plug in the skinny neck of Resurrection Bay.The wildlife boats that shepherd amazed tourists along waters and cliffs filled with puffins, eagles, and whales regularly stop at Fox for the obligatory salmon bake. But after the last boat leaves, a few visitors each night pay to stay, to walk the deserted beach, kayak around the hidden coves, and relax in fire-heated log cabanas. The meal humbles our own camper cooking, and it is an extra delight to leave the dishes on the table for a change.

But it is even more fun - after a chilly day on the boat - to get back to our cozy RV, to an evening drive north on the road to Anchorage made pleasant by hot chocolate and cheese under the kitchen light. The others fall asleep as I drive through the endless twilight toward the close of my first visit to Alaska. To be sure, it wasn't the one I'd fantasized over so often, the one with tents and cook stoves and deserted backcountry. That will be my second Alaskan adventure.

No, this one was different. This one, I suddenly realize, looking in the rearview mirror at the sleeping faces of my happily exhausted family, this one was better.

Lynda Richardson is a Richmond, Virginia-based wildlife and environmental photographer whose work can be seen in magazines such as Smithsonian, International Wildlife, and the nature conservancy.