Antics in Anchorage

Well, I have finally made it up here to the Great White North & the Land of the Midnight Sun! I must say it is another one of those places where the pictures don’t do it justice. There is no way to convey the vast sweeping scale of the place from pictures or video alone. The mountains are higher and more rugged than any I’ve ever seen. The land itself is dotted with thousands of lakes and mud bogs are everywhere. Looks like some prime off road country for sure! I’m sure me and The Beast would have a good time up here.

Anyways, after a long arduous day of travel (made better by having a window seat next to an empty center seat on an almost full flight) I arrived in Anchorage. Bethan picked me up and we drove around town a bit running some errands. After making a few stops we went back to her place and met up with her mom who cooked up some salmon for dinner with some delicious blueberry crisp for dessert. (Later on in the week she made some rhubarb crisp & cake that was incredible! Props to ya Miss Carol!)

After we ate Bethan suggested we go for a hike. I was pretty tired from my trip but I really wanted to get started on checking out some scenery, so the 3 of us went out to this nearby trail for an evening stroll. It was about 8:30 when we set out and the sun was still way up in the sky. It’s crazy to see how the high latitudes impact the length of the day! The sun just hangs out in the sky forever in the evening. The winds were whipping pretty hard (which was out of character evidently) so it was a bit nippy. Still, it wasn’t a whole lot colder than Santa Cruz, and the low hanging sun had a suprising amount of warmth to it.

We hiked about an hour and a half up this trail where you could get great views of Flattop Mountain to the east and Anchorage far off to the west. All along the way Bethan showed me a lot of the native flora and told me what is edible and what you have to watch out for. There’s this stuff called ‘devil’s club’ that looks particulary gnarly. I guess it’s the closest thing Alaska has to a cactus, I don’t want to get into a thicket of that stuff!

On our hike we didn’t see any animal life until we were in the car on our way out. It was then when we rolled up on a moose. It was grazing contentedly on what looked to be moss or something similar. We got to within 15 feet or so and it didn’t pay us any mind. It was on the smaller size for a moose, I’d say it was the size of a big cow. Still, I bet that it is one thing coming up to one of these animals in a car and quite another to come across one on foot. I hear that they can be mean if they want to be!

On the second day, Bethan suggested that we go up to this place called Girdwood. It’s a little ski community about a half hour north of Anchorage. There was still plenty of snow on the mountains up there, I think Bethan told me that they ski pretty much year-round. We had lunch at this nice little restaurant and hiked some of the nearby trails after we ate. The woods were lush and primeval, I guess you could call it a sub-arctic rainforest.

For the third day, we decided to go north and check out the Matanuska Valley. There was a spot up there where there was an old coal mine that left behind a large amount of fossils in the tailings. You can go and just pick them up off of the ground. They are all plant fossils, although Bethan said that she once found one of a fish that got in there somehow.

The road was pretty good until the last half mile or so. We had to hike in the last little bit due to the road being washed out. When we got to the site we ran across some locals who drove all the way in with a big lifted off-road truck with big mud tires. It was a pretty bad-ass truck, I guess that’s what you need to get around in the valley! Wish I had thought to get a picture of it. 

After our fossil diggings, we headed up the valley a ways to go check out the Matanuska glacier. The scenery on the drive up was absolutely breathtaking. The weather was overcast and foggy so I couldn’t see all of the mountains, but it lent an air of mystery to the surroundings. After a long drive, the glacier came into sight. It was the first glacier I have ever seen and it was an incredible sight to behold.

Of course I wanted to climb up on the glacier, so we found the road down to it and drove on down. Now, I expected to be able to just go to it and explore without any complications. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The road was pretty rough and we had to cross this really sketchy bridge. The road ended at a gate and it became clear that you had to pay to see it! I think it was something like 80 bucks for the both of us, you have to pay for a guide. I had the money and really wanted to see the glacier up close but I was kinda upset with the whole scenario. I declined to pay on principle and we drove away. Later on Bethan showed me some pictures from a blog showing the glacier and I had some regrets about not shelling out the funds to go see it. Oh well, we’ll have to check it out on my next visit.

It was sunset by the time we got back into Anchorage (around 11:20 PM), so we drove up to this overlook right below Flattop Mountain to take it in. One thing about sunset here is how long the ‘golden hour’ lasts. It lasts at least twice as long up in the north, and it is such a rich glowing light. It was like having on yellow tinted sunglasses. It’s so good for photography!

For the fourth day’s activities we decided to go check out the zoo. They had pretty much all the main fauna found in Alaska. They had moose, reindeer, brown bears, musk ox, polar bear (which didn’t make an appearance) snow leopards, seals, bald & golden eagles, and probably our favorite, wolverines. The wolverines reminded me of a bunch of different animals, like a cross between weasels, skunks and bears! They put on a show for us. We had a good time checking out the animals, I haven’t been to a zoo in years so it was fun. This zoo specializes in rescuing and rehabilitating animals so that’s cool.

After we checked out the zoo, we decided to go down to the closest thing Anchorage has to a beach. Kincade Park has a trail about a mile long that goes down to a mostly rocky beach, but it does have some sand. We picked up Bethan’s mom and some Thai food to have a picnic down at the beach. One of Bethan’s friends met us down at the park and we walked on down to the beach. As we walked down the trail people warned us that there was a momma moose down there with a baby so we needed to watch out. Those moose are everywhere! You’ll never know when you’ll run into one.

We did eventually come across the moose, but it was off the trail a little ways up in a thicket so we were able to pass safely. After about a half hour walk we made it down to the beach and found a place to sit down. The cliff overlooking the beach seemed to be unstable for some reason, and small rocks constantly cascaded down the slope. There was a sizable earthquake in the Anchorage area a couple of days before I arrived so that was possibly the culprit. After a grapefruit-sized rock nearly hit our group we decided to move over to some nearby sand dunes where we were out of harm’s way.

We stayed at the beach until around 11, and on our way out we found that the park rangers had locked up the gate, trapping us inside! Fortunately someone showed up and let us out without having to wait for the police to come over and do it. On the way out we saw a moose mother and calf grazing on the side of the road. Maybe they were the ones we had been warned about before? Who knows, I was glad I was in a car and not on foot though!

On day five we headed off to the south to visit the town of Seward. This is the part of the trip I was looking forward to the most. I’ve heard that the drive down there is one of the most scenic in the nation, up there with Highway 1 going through Big Sur. I love a good scenic drive, so I was stoked to be taking the road trip down there. We headed out and it was the most perfect, beautiful day one can ask for in Alaska. The skies were almost free from clouds and the temps were in the mid-60’s. They don’t get many days like that down in the Kenai Peninsula!

There was a place on the way to Seward called Portage that Bethan recommended we stop and check out. Back when she was little there was a glacier feeding into the bay there and there were hundreds of calving icebergs always floating around. These days the glacier has retreated back quite a ways from where it used to be and the icebergs are almost a distant memory. When we stopped to check it out the rangers told us there was an iceberg there! To me it was a big deal as I’ve never seen an iceberg before. We walked over and checked it out, and sure enough, there it was all floating by its lonesome.

There were a bunch of kids skipping stones so Bethan and I had to get our skip on as well! After doing this for a while the kids started chunking rocks at the iceberg out in the water so I had to do that too. It was just within stone-throwing range, I nailed that sucker a few times. It was so satisfying to do this, I don’t know why but it was!

We continued on down the road and eventually rolled into the town of Seward. First we checked into our Airb&b. It was a really nice place except for one thing…there appeared to be no bathroom! In the utility room there was a toilet wedged in between the washer and dryer but that was it. Feeling a little ripped off, I called the owner and asked where we were supposed to take a shower. She burst out laughing and told us that the bathroom was behind the bedroom door! We looked, and sure enough, there it was! It was a nice bathroom at that! Man, did we feel like a couple of dumbasses. I bet she had a great story to tell her friends though!

After we rested a bit we headed into Seward. We were pretty hungry, but we rolled into town around 8:00 so places were starting to close up. I was all stoked on getting some fried halibut and chips so I placed a to-go order at a local spot while Bethan hit up the taqueria in town. She got her food relatively quickly where as mine took 40 freakin’ minutes to cook! When my order was finally ready we went and ate down by the water and enjoyed the evening bayside. When we were done there was still plenty of light left so we walked around the marina until midnight. The marina was a hive of activity as red salmon were running and people were snagging them all over the place. The fish cleaning stations were covered in beautiful red fillets, it was a sight to see.

The next day we headed back into Seward and checked out the SeaLife aquarium which was the main attraction I wanted to see. I so much wanted to go on a glacier tour but by this point my funds were pretty depleted and I just couldn’t fit it into my budget. Well, that’s another thing that’ll have to wait until next time! The aquarium was pretty cool, the main critters that I liked were the 2500 lb Stellar sea lion (biggest sea lion I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a lot of them) and the puffins. They had this two-story tank you could watch the puffins dive from the surface all the way to the bottom. It’s neat to see how they swim around under water as if they were flying through the air. Of course there were a lot of cool fish there as well, most of which I was familiar with from Santa Cruz waters.

As I was flying out the next morning I was on somewhat of a tight time table so we had to leave earlier than I would have liked. There’s a lot to see down there in and around Seward. Bethan suggested we drive out to Exit Glacier on our way out, so we went to go see it. It’s pretty cool, there are signs going back to the early 1900’s on the road going up to it to show where the glacier had been in that year. It was shocking to see how far it had retreated during the past 100 years or so. It won’t be long until there’s no glacier there at all. When we got there there was a short hike to get to a place where you could actually see it and I took the opportunity to take some photos. At least we got to see one glacier while we were down there!

After this, we headed back to Anchorage. I was bummed to be saying goodbye to Bethan, but it was time for me to get ready to go to work. It was a nice little break after months of inaction & anticipation for this experience. I really enjoyed my Anchorage interlude. There’s nothing better than having a great time with great company! Alaska has just blown my mind so far. The land is just so vast, wild and epic, it exceeded my wildest expectations. Alaska in the summertime has to be the most magical, beautiful landscape I’ve ever seen in my life. It feels like a great fit for me so far. Now on to Ketchikan and my summer sojurn at the lodge. I’m really nervous about what the future holds, but hey, if you ain’t getting out of your comfort zone you ain’t really living I say!