Good morning and welcome to Day 2 of my fabulous vacation. As some of you may know, book 3 of the Harvester series will be set partially in Alaska, so I was interested in absolutely everything on this vacation. As I mentioned yesterday, we went to bed early and had absolutely no problem sleeping, but by 6 a.m., we were wide awake, bright-eyes and bushy tailed as they say, eager to get going.
Normally, I’m not one for large stuffed animals, but I think it’s considered an essential element of decor in Alaska. Here in the Millennium Hotel, they had several rather large and impressive specimen’s under glass. This handsome creature is a musk-ox, about the size of a small bison! I had no idea they were so large! They had other impressive animals in the foyer including, a rather impressive polar bear, a brown bear, and a grizzly who stood well over nine feet tall! Throughout many of the tours we took, we heard that bears that size are fairly common up here.
John and I had the first of many memorable encounters with strangers in the restaurant at breakfast. We sat beside an elderly couple and the gentlemen asked if we were going to McKinley. We said that sadly a trip to Denali wasn’t on our agenda. We kept talking and discovered that the couple had been married 70 years, living 69 of them in Alaska on the mountain, and had recently left their home on Mount McKinley and moved into Anchorage. John and I noticed how deferential the staff was. It seemed the gentleman, who never named himself or his wife, were daily visitors to the hotel where they had breakfast–oatmeal and berries for him, toast and cereal with fruit for her while she completed the crossword puzzle and he read the paper. It seems the home they left was one of the main guest lodges on McKinley which they still owned but was managed by others. As if that wasn’t interesting enough, the gentlemen mentioned he’d be 96 in September and his wife was 89. They’d both recently re-qualified for their float plane licenses–that’s right. They were both active bush pilots! It seems that roughly 1 in 16 people in Alaska own float planes the way we own cars! We said our goodbyes wishing we could stay and talk longer, but I wanted to get a few more pictures of the lake and the planes before we boarded the bus for our tour of Anchorage. I guess coming from around here, seeing planes docked like boats was an amazing, and rather unbelievable sight. John desperately wanted to go up in a float plane as they call them, but there wasn’t time here–he’d get his chance later in the trip.
By 9:00 a.m., we were all aboard the bus. One couple had their suitcase badly damaged by the plane, but for the rest of us, things were fine. A little duck tape fixed things up nicely for them.
The next part of the day involved seeing the sights of Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. Anchorage owes its growth to the railroad. It’s a city whose main part of town is along the edge of a river on a ridge with mountains around it. Pictures don’t do it justice, but I’ve chosen a few to share. Our first stop was a lookout. From there we could see not only the city center, but if you enlarge the picture on the right and look hard enough, you can actually see Mount McKinley in the far distance.
The map here can help you identify the faint mountains in the distance. It was at a time like this that I wished, not for the first time that I had a fancier camera. From the lookout we drove downtown, a busy place on July 12, since the annual salmon fishing derby was taking place. Our first stop was the Ulu Museum and store. An ulu is an Inuit knife with a curved blade. I watched the demonstration and figured I was more than likely to chop off my fingers, so I bought a magnet rather than a knife and a handmade necklace of deer antler for Tonio. From the Ulu museum, our driver drove downtown to a parking area and let us out for a couple of hours. Some people shopped. Others, like John and I, walked around and eventually found one of the pubs our driver had recommended. Humpy’s named after the pink salmon by the same name, sold Alaskan crafted beer and food including an excellent salmon chowder that was filling and delicious. What I will always remember about the place was its unique decor and friendly people.
I suppose like many others, I didn’t really know what to expect from a city that far up north, and what I did find was a wonderful surprise. Anchorage is clean and beautifully flowered, with gorgeous murals. The second wall is referred to as the Whaling wall. Interestingly enough, although Alaska is rich in oil, it doesn’t have any refineries. Oil has to be shipped south and then returned to the state, so gas prices are reasonably high. On the plus side, money from the oil wealth was invested by the state and each October, every Alaskan resident gets a cheque for anywhere from $1,00 to $1800 dollars–that’s every man, woman and child.Many use the money to fund a trip down south to avoid the long, dark, cold, winters.
As we left Anchorage, we saw all kinds of interesting sights including moose gates along the highway–one way gates to let the moose in if they crossed from the other side, but wouldn’t let them back out again–an interesting way to ensure fewer animals get killed by vehicles each winter.
From Anchorage we took the bus south to Seward, following the rail line that clung to the shore in places far too narrow for my comfort. But the views were unbelievable. I got my first glimpse of a glacier formed lake, the water and incredible shade. One of my heroes or heroines will definitely have glacier blue eyes! So many wonderful things to see and although I took dozens of pictures, none can fully describe the incredible beauty of what we saw on our way to Seward.
Among the places we passed was a carver’s shop. Man, can that man carve! As the time passed, I became more and more anxious to arrive in Seward to board the ship.
One of the interesting things we saw along the way were petrified trees. in the late 1960’s, there was a serious earthquake and tsunamis flooded much of the coastal area, obliterating villages forests alike. Some of the trees stayed standing, but the salt water killed them, and while they died, the wood became like rock and the trees can’t be cut down. These ghost trees were in evidence in a number of places, amidst the new growth.