Despite traveling to Alaska nine months ago I have been remiss in completing posts about our adventures there. Now that it looks like we won’t be traveling anywhere for the foreseeable future, I am savoring recalling the many activities that made this trip epic.
We had a couple of days to start exploring Alaska before we ran the Skinny Raven Half Marathon. So a few hours after we had stumbled into our Airbnb in the middle of the night, we were up, still slightly dazed and in search of our first Alaskan meal. With no specific restaurant in mind, we fortuitously arrived at Snow City Cafe just across from the waterfront in Anchorage. It could not have been a more perfect introduction to Alaskan cuisine. The atmosphere was eclectic and humming with activity.
I ordered the Kodiak Benedict which is Eggs Benedict with Alaskan king crab cakes. Absolutely scrumptious!
Mike ordered a dish that included reindeer sausage-something we soon learned was apparently a requisite breakfast menu item.
After being fortified with caffeine and a hearty Alaskan breakfast we prepared to explore Anchorage. The city was quiet this early and it gave us an opportunity to walk the streets before they became packed with the streams of bus and cruise ship tourists who flooded the streets later in the day. As we strolled along the mostly empty sidewalks we marveled at the colossal potted flower baskets hanging from light poles throughout the city. The long Alaskan summer days result in gigantic vegetables and flowers.
We stopped in at the Anchorage Visitor Center and were provided with a plethora of information about the city as well as tons of tidbits about things to do outside of the city limits. We initially didn’t think we’d need any of these other ideas but in fact, they ended up directing us to several adventures that were highlights of the trip.
The Alaska Public Lands Information Center is across the street from the Visitor Center. We found their movie about the 1964 Good Friday earthquake riveting. This magnitude 9.2 earthquake, the strongest recorded quake to hit the United States, resulted in monumental damage and killed more than 125 people. On a much more positive note, their display about the northern lights was immensely informative.
We enjoyed lunch at Crush, a cozy wine bistro just off the main thoroughfare.
A stroll along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, which would be the route of our half marathon, was next on our agenda.
It was pretty warm so pretty much all we could do after the trail walk was find an ice cream spot. Wild Scoops was perfect!
After a break and a nap at our Airbnb we were happy to just stroll around the corner to The Rustic Goat for dinner.
Turnagain Arm and Girdwood
When we originally received tips on places to venture to outside of Anchorage from the knowledgeable guide at the Visitor Center we mentally brushed them aside, assuming exploring Anchorage would keep us busy. However, after a full day in the city we were yearning to experience more of what we imagined Alaska to be. So the next morning we were ready to expand our Alaskan horizons.
Shortly after leaving the city limits we were rewarded with the dramatic scenery along the Seward Highway which gave us our first taste of Alaskan scenery.
A left hand turn off the Seward Highway brought us onto a scenic wooded road leading to the picturesque ski town of Girdwood.
We had learned that the Alyeska Resort offers an Aerial Tram ride up the mountain. Choosing the ticket option that included lunch and a beverage at one of the restaurants at the top ended up being a perfect choice.
When dreaming of our Alaskan vacation, visions of bears and moose roaming the landscape had starring roles. But two days after arriving in the state we had barely seen a chipmunk. We constantly peered into roadside forests and scanned fields as we drove the rural highways, figuring that surely one of Alaska’s famous beasts would stroll by. Finally, our wait was over.
Granted, we had to pull into the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center before we came face to face with any wildlife. And although I felt like we were cheating a bit, we did learn a lot about many of these native animals and enjoyed watching them in very spacious outdoor enclosures. We consoled ourselves that we would certainly see more wildlife when we went to Denali in a couple of days.
The weather was uncharacteristically toasty and we were feeling wilted by the end of our walking tour through the Center. A quick drive down the Seward Highway brought us to the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center which is on the shore of Portage Lake with a close-up view of Portage Glacier.
I marveled at the good-hearted rangers at the Visitor Center who cheerfully answered my query about a suggestion for a hiking trail to a nearby glacier as if they hadn’t just answered the same question 70 bazillion times already that day. Besides being cordial, their recommendation to hike the nearby and easily accessible Byron Glacier Trail was spot on. Since our Skinny Raven Half Marathon was the next day we were not up for a strenuous hike and the virtually flat trail to the glacier was a breeze. Our reward (not that we had actually earned it) was direct access to Byron Glacier along the Byron Creek.
We had driven by numerous snowy glacier swaths on distant mountains but standing just yards from an actual glacier was mesmerizing. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even sure what a glacier actually was. Spending time in Alaska helped me to understand what a glacier is.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center provides a wonderfully clear and succinct definition:
Glaciers are made up of fallen snow that, over many years, compresses into large, thickened ice masses. Glaciers form when snow remains in one location long enough to transform into ice. What makes glaciers unique is their ability to flow. Due to sheer mass, glaciers flow like very slow rivers. Some glaciers are as small as football fields, while others grow to be dozens or even hundreds of kilometers long.https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/glaciers/questions/what.html
Our first two days in Alaska had been filled with a myriad of activities. We had lots of plans for the remainder of our trip. Little did we know those plans would soon change dramatically.