Alaska was pretty high up on my dad’s wish list and I can now rest proud and easy for having fulfilled his desire.
We had a memorable week-long vacation in Alaska this August and found America’s final frontier to be beyond beautiful. While traveling with aged seniors limited my opportunities to rough it up with a few long hard hikes, we did get a good sampling of the immense landmass. Alaskan brewed beer colored our evenings while the famed salmon, although a savory, turned out pricey.
As I got started with the logistics of the trip, I briefly wrestled with whether to go on a multi-day Alaskan cruise or to make it a self-guided land excursion. I’ve gone on a cruise to Mexico before and the sensory overload was exhausting as well as revolting. The touristy Las Vegas-like atmosphere in cruises, the excesses of buffets and desserts, and the restrictive schedule that prohibits you from going where you want and being some place for as long as you want are reasons enough for me to not venture out on cruises again. That left us with booking our own flights, accommodation and rental car.
Here’s a quick lowdown on how our itinerary unfolded.
Flying from San Jose with a layover in Seattle, we touched down into Anchorage an hour past midnight. It was a little too late to pick up my rental car at the airport so I had arranged to pick up my car the next day in the city. We took an Uber to our AirBNB.
Our day began on a great note as we came across an adult moose that was ambling along a busy street without a care in the world. Cars slowed down to get a glimpse. We were rife with anticipation that this was only the beginning of a lot more wildlife sightings to come that Alaska is renowned for, although such occurrences came in few and far between over the next few days. With the moose disappearing behind the bushes, we headed downtown to the Alaska Public Lands Information Center to talk to the National Park Service rangers and run our itinerary by them. The rangers recommended a few hikes and informed us of a Blueberry festival going on down south in Girdwood. After lunch, we drove to the Earthquake park for a quick hike and then headed to Girdwood on the scenic Seward highway that runs along the ocean inlet named the Turnagain Arm. We pulled over at the many vista stops along the way and got some great shots.
Girdwood is a little mountain town south of Anchorage that houses the upscale Alyeska resort, where the Blueberry festival was underway. The Girdwood local band ‘Hope Social Club’ put on some really good live music. The resort also has a few Gondola rides going up the mountains, but after learning the ride fares, I backed off and settled for just enjoying the music with a beer.
With the event wrapping up, we drove back to Anchorage and had a late night dinner at the downtown Hard Rock cafe.
We went on the popular 26 Glaciers cruise with Phillips cruises on our second day. On the drive to the town of Whittier from Anchorage, we passed through the longest tunnel in North America – The Anton Anderson Memorial tunnel – which opens up for traffic at scheduled times.
The 26 glaciers cruise takes you deep into the glacier lined wilderness of Prince William Sound – an ocean inlet. Although the weather wasn’t on our side and I was soaked to the bone at the end of the trip, the up close encounter with the glaciers and to get to see them calving was indeed unique. We lost count of the number of waterfalls, big and small, that we sailed past. They were just about every which way you turned. Plenty of seals and sea otters went about their daily business of lounging, swimming and foraging in the icy waters. The captain of our ship helped us sight a pair of bald eagles perched in the distance.
Having had our fill of glaciers and marine wildlife, we drove further south from Whittier to the port city of Seward. After checking into our hotel, we headed out to the nearby bar and seafood grill for dinner. We still had enough daylight at 9 in the night to enjoy the views of moored sailboats from where we were seated. As we wondered if our day could get any better than this and smiled away over our beer, the universe counterbalanced this perfection by handing us a rude and hostile waiter who probably got all territorial over us foreigners lurking around in his habitat. The exorbitant prices of the Salmon and Calamari we ordered also put an unsavory dent in my pocket.
Our third day brought promises of sunshine and warmth. We started off with a stroll along the Resurrection Bay and called in a visit to the Kenai Fjords National Park visitor center. Having decided on making it to the afternoon ranger walk to the Exit Glacier, we ventured into the nearby Woody’s Thai Kitchen for lunch. This restaurant will go down as one of the best Thai restaurants I’ve ever been to. All the Thai restaurants in the San Francisco bay area will forever be a disappointment to me henceforth.
A short drive later, we were at the Kenai Fjords National Park where we undertook a hike with the park ranger to the Exit Glacier. This deep blue glacier is rapidly receding, with signboards with years put up at various places along the trail that tell us where the glacier was at that given year.
Later in the evening, my wife and family went over to check out the Alaska Sealife Center. Sightseeing fatigue got the best of me and I opted out of the plan, looking forward to a relaxing evening in the hotel with a book. It turned out to be a wise decision as my wife said the Sealife Center was a bit of a disappointment. We went over to Salmon Bake for dinner and enjoyed the evening at this charming restaurant that goes with the tagline – Cheap Beer and Lousy Food.
This was the day of driving. Denali National Park was next on our Agenda and it was a long but wildly scenic drive from Seward to Denali. While planning for the Alaska trip, I procrastinated a little too much with making arrangements for our accommodation near Denali. That made for some scary times when I found no vacancies in any of the hotels around Denali. I finally stumbled upon an AirBNB in the town of Cantwell south of Denali and snagged it up.
Packing up from our hotel, we made a brief stopover at Seward’s southern end terminating at the Resurrection Bay. Rich with Salmon that were jumping and thrashing about in the bay waters, Resurrection is a fishing haven. As we strolled along the shore, a bunch of kids that were fishing caught a Salmon and offered to give it to us. While we had no use for the fish, I held the creature in my hands for a while before returning it into the waters.
We stopped in Anchorage for lunch, stocked up on supplies at Walmart and got on the desolate George Parks Highway that runs right up to the park and beyond. During the shoulder seasons of travel, you might find yourself all alone for miles driving on this highway. Except for a couple of towns along the way such as Wasilla and Talkeetna, its only you, the road and the occasional RV that cruises by.
It was close to midnight when we made it to Cantwell. The log cabin styled cottage warmed us weary travelers with its cozy decor. We settled in for the night, a long day behind and ahead of us.
Continued in the next post…