The Great Land – Day 1

The days were cloudy throughout except the last day of our 5 day trip and a pocket of 1/2 hour when we saw Mt. McKinley
The days were cloudy throughout except the last day of our 5 day trip and a pocket of 1/2 hour when we saw Mt. McKinley23-Aug-2012 15:18, Canon Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XS, 8.0, 23.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 100
Sewart highway or Alaska Rt. 1 – Most scenic by far!

Alaska – derived from Aleyska – means the Great Land. It is the largest state by size in the United States. Many people don’t think of Alaska on a day-to-day basis. We think California or New Jersey or some other state when discussing politics. The media also doesn’t cover much on Alaska on a day-to-day basis. The state of Washington at least comes up on the East coast due to the Sea Hawks at least. Alaska has no basketball or baseball team. We do think of Alaska for a cruise or a vacation though. And that is exactly what we did. We wanted to spend some time with our son together as he was going to college before Labor day. Our trip was to be for seven days, with two days entirely covered by journey. Alaska is a long way off from the east coast. We had a stop over at Phoenix, and the two legged journey each lasting about 5 1/2 hours each.

23-Aug-2012 16:47, Canon Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XS, 8.0, 17.0mm, 0.05 sec, ISO 100
We arrived at Anchorage the very early morning of Thursday, August 23rd. BTW, we had decided not to take one of the popular cruises due to many reasons. One, we felt claustrophobic on the ship when we did our only cruise last year and after a day or so, it tended to get repetitive. A cruise is a great option if you have small children. Two, we weren’t comfortable with the water below us all the time and the recent news of the Concordia – a ship so large – sinking and the chaos that resulted. Third, I wanted to drive in Alaska. That was what I truly wanted – to drive and stop where I wanted and check out the natural beauty. Fourth, many cruises don’t include the Denali National Park which IMO is the prime jewel of Alaska.

We checked into the Anchorage Marriott and tried to get some sleep which wasn’t a success. 1 AM Alaska time is 4 AM EST. We managed to get ready by 10:30 AM. Our plan was to spend the first day in Anchorage – possibly do a day cruise to cover the glaciers, then drive to Denali the next day and do the Kantishna bus tour of the park on Day three. Day four would be driving back to Anchorage with Day five pretty wide open for anything. We had a early morning flight back to Philly on Tuesday.

23-Aug-2012 19:50, Canon Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XS, 2.8, 23.0mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 100
The Concierge suggested we drive outside of Anchorage on Rt. 1 or Seward highway for some scenic views. The route is truly scenic with waters bordering on one side and the Chugach mountains on the other side. The day was cloudy and raining constantly, though lightly. But that meant, the photos wouldn’t turn out great. There were many stops on the trip. We saw the rail tracks bordering the water for the Alaskan railroad. They truly have a great ride being extremely close to the water. Our one hour journey ended at the Aleyskan resort. This resort-hotel is located at the foot of some spectacular scenery and has a tram ride to the top of the mountain. There are para gliding options as well. The weather kept us from trying any of these. The journey the day before was tiring and travel food had left us hungry and tired, so we wanted to get back to some good hot food before it closed. After some strolling around and photographs, we started driving back. On the way, we stopped at Birdwood – a crystal bluish-green stream where we saw many fishing.  It was a 0.3 mile hike down from parking. There weren’t many people around, but that is true anyplace in Alaska. The state population is about 770k, with half the population living in and around Anchorage.

We drove to Bombay Deluxe and the buffet there was pretty good. Any hot food would have been great for us anyway. The hotel is located on the Northern Lights boulevard which is a prime street for shopping and food. I was surprised to see a couple of health food stores on the way.

23-Aug-2012 22:43, Canon Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XS, 3.5, 37.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 100
The evening, we were to take the tour from ‘Alaska’s finest tours and cruises’. This is a one man company. Ben arrived at our hotel at 2:45 PM and we drove back on Seward highway. Our stop was to be an hour later at Portage, where a Glacier boat tour  was on cards. Ben was very knowledgeable and informative. On the way to Portage, we stopped at this log home whose owner’s son is a famous wood sculptor and we got to see his works on display. Incredible work!

Portage is at the foot of the valley and it is not uncommon to see 100+ mph winds. This summer there was a 200mph day. At these speeds, car doors that are open start to bend. We got on the boat and within five minutes the crew couldn’t get the power steering to function. We got to see the tip of an iceberg floating and headed back to port. The tour company said they will refund the price of the ticket. All tickets in Alaska are pretty heavy – you got to remember that. This boat tour was about $35 per head plus taxes for a one-hour ride. Ben said we will get a credit for $27 per person later on in the tour – not sure why it wasn’t a full refund. We stopped the Portage Visitor center for the last screening of a movie on Alaskan glaciers. While informative, the movie wasn’t very well shot with a lot of out-of-focus scenes. I was expecting some stupendous photography given the place, but that wasn’t the case. What was interesting was there was a lot of police activity around the center. We were told that an old lady’s car had somehow got swept into the cold waters and as we stepped out, we saw just the antenna sticking out of the waters. Maybe she didn’t have the car in parking. Portage is the site of the great 1964 earthquake measuring 9.2 – the highest recorded earthquake in the US and the second highest anywhere. There was significant damage caused and a village entirely wiped out by a Tsunami. Part of the Seward highway had to be reconstructed to have it stand above the new high tide water line; one area was permanently raised by 200 feet by the earthquake.

Classic Moose pose except for the barbed wires
Classic Moose pose except for the barbed wires23-Aug-2012 22:54, Canon Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XS, 8.0, 35.0mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 100

We headed back to towards Anchorage stopping on the way at a wildlife sanctuary. We saw some huge grizzly bears, moose and other native wild life. By this time, it was getting darker and still incessantly raining. What could have turned out as a day for great photographs, didn’t happen. That was the case to be for the next few days as well. But, photos or not, wasn’t going to be a criteria to enjoy the incredible surroundings.

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