Summer Vacation to Alaska

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North America » United States » Alaska
July 1st 2002
Published: September 24th 2011
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Since we knew where we wanted to go (with Alaska we would have been to all 50 states), I started planning this vacation in November 2001. As we would be using frequent flyer miles it was important that we book the flight as soon as possible. Even booking early we were stuck with a Monday flight instead of the previous Saturday. So we booked the flight and reserved hotel rooms. Now to see if Plan A would work.

1 July 2002 Monday. We had the whole weekend to prepare for the trip and even that wasn’t long enough for Linda. Given that much time to prepare, the kids kept messing up what Linda had just cleaned and organized. Nevertheless, we caught a taxi to Dulles airport at noon and our flight to Chicago at 2:45 pm. We had almost a four hour layover. The girls played cards while Will and I explorered every concourse. I bought Rosanna her favorite drink…Starbuck’s Caramel Macchiato, but she didn’t want it…you never can figure out kids.

We didn’t buy the overly expensive airport food because our itinerary said that dinner and a snack would be served during the seven hour flight to Anchorage. We took off at 7:30 pm and soon learned we would only get a snack…a soggy sandwich…a new low for airline food…yuck! I showed the stewardess our itinerary with the promised dinner, but all she could do was apologize.

We followed the sun to Anchorage and passsing through several time zones, we landed about 10:30 pm with the sun still in the sky. At that latitude the sun sets at 11:20 pm and rises at 3 am. We took a taxi to our suite hotel arriving at midnight and went straight to bed.

2 July 2002 Tuesday. Due to jet lag we woke up early. We took a taxi into Anchorage. Our first stop of the day was to the log cabin information center and a walking tour of the downtown area. The weather was overcast, but cleared by noon, with temperatures in the 60’s. The town wasn’t very interesting; mostly tourist shops. We went to the Fifth Avenue Mall for lunch and to buy the girls jeans. We visited the Museum of History and Art…small, but interesting.

We returned to our hotel by mid afternoon so the girls could watch their favorite soap opera, Passions. After dinner the kids swam while I went to the library across the street from our hotel to read my email.

3 July 2002 Wednesday. The weather was great with temperatures in the 70’s. After breakfast we took a taxi to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and witnessed the culture of the five tribal groups in their homes and in their stories, dances and music. Will learned how to make a slingshot and we saw other crafts being made by native artisans. After lunch of native cooking we caught a bus back to our hotel. While the girls watched Passions, Will and I went to the library.

Then we took a taxi to the airport where we picked up our Ford Explorer rental car for the next week. We returned to the hotel and Linda and the girls were ready for a road trip. We drove to Eagle River and Anugiak and drove around some residential areas to see how people lived in Alaska. Linda thought this would be a wonderful place to retire. I agrred except for the fact that Alaska is so far away from our families in the lower 48. We ate dinner at the Snow Goose and then returned to the hotel to swim, watch some TV and go to bed.

4 July 2002 Thursday. We ate breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and loaded up the SUV. The weather was beautiful as we headed south from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula.

Our first stop was Crow Creek Mines where Linda and Will panned for gold in the rushing glacier fed mountain stream. The water was freezing. They only found gold from the “salted” area, and none from the steam.

We had lunch in Soldotna, and arrived in Homer at the far west end of the Kenai Peninsula by mid-afternoon. We drove around town and checked into the Lands End Resort at the end of the spit that protrudes over a mile into Kachemak Bay. Our room had a bay window that we could sit in to look out at the bay with the white capped mountains and glaciers in the far distance. Fishing boats were coming and going followed by seals hoping for some scraps of fish. We also spotted otters and a bald eagle. We had dinner at the hotel and then took a walk along the beach collecting stones, shells, and driftwood (small pieces that would fit in our bags). We watched a little TV and then turned in as Homer didn’t have fireworks on the 4th of July since it never got dark enough to see them.

I couldn’t sleep. There wasn’t any ventilation unless we opened the window, and if we did that, the wind would blow open the shades and let the light in along with fishing boat engine noises. And the comforter was too heavy. I just have difficulty adjusting to conditions other than complete darkness and silence when I try to sleep.

5 July 2002 Friday. We backtracked to Soldatna where we stopped to visit the Russian Orthodox church…part of the Russian heritage of Alaska. Then we drove to the Kenai National Park and Linda, Will, and I hiked the 1 kilometer to the face of the Exit Glacier (the girls stayed in the car…not another boring glacier). The face was over 100 feet high and the crevices glowed blue. The stream that ran out of it was icy cold including chunks of ice.

We had lunch at a Greek-Italian (I had never heard of that combination before) restaurant in Steward, and everyone found something on the menu they liked…a rare occasion. After lunch we walked around Seward before proceeding to our log cabin just north of town for dinner and an early night.

6 July 2002 Saturday. The day was overcast, but no rain. We started by taking two German couples to a gas station where they could get a tire fixed. They were happy to meet an American family that could speak German.

We timed our arrival at the train tunnel to Whittier for 10:30 when car traffic in the direction of Whittier was let through. When we got there we found out that our information was incorrect and we could have arrived earlier as they alternated directions every half hour. But that didn’t matter because our Alaskan Maritime Highway ferry didn’t depart for Valdez until 2:45 pm.

So we had four hours in Whittier, which is way too much time. The town is strange. Everyone lives in one multistory concrete block building…something right out of a Soviet architect’s book. All the other structures are temporary, waiting to be swept away by the next tsunami.

We finally caught the ferry for the 7 hour crossing. We saw bird rookeries, killer whales, and sea lions. We passed close to many glaciers that tumbled into Prince William Sound. The most impressive was the Columbia Glacier which spawned icebergs that filled the bay. The ship took a detour through the bay so that we were surrounded by icebergs. We also saw where the Exxon Valdez hit a reef and released 11 million gallons of oil into the sound causing massive environmental damage. Everything seemed clean now. We got to our hotel in Valdez about 10 pm and went right to bed.

7 July 2002 Sunday. We drove north parallel to the Alaska Pipeline for two hours and by the Wrangell-St Elias National Park. At Glennallen we ate lunch, and then had a long drive west to Palmer and Wasilla, hometown of Sarah Palin, but no one knew who she was then.

From there we drove north to Talkeetna, the quintessential bush town and a National Historic Site which serves as the base for those attempting to climb Mt McKinley, the highest mountain in North America. Many mountain climbers were staying at our inn. We did our laundry at the laundromat, which is always a good place to meet interesting people. We ate at a rustic restaurant and then turned in for the night.

8 July 2002 Monday. Just north of Talkeetna we got our first look at Mt McKinley. The scenery on this stretch of highway was unbelievable. We had lunch in Denali and then checked into the Denali River Cabins, just feet from the Nanina River. At night the rushing water lulled us to sleep. We checked out the gift shop and restaurant.

After lunch, we drove into Denali National Park, as far as Savage River, which is as far as normal traffic can go. Only park buses can pass beyond this point. We hiked the river for about a mile. We saw Dahl sheep on the distant hills. We grew concerned that we might encounter a grizzly bear, so returned to the car and our cabin in time to see a sled dog demonstration and ranger lecture.

9 July 2002 Tuesday. At 6:15 am we received a call from Kantishna Air Taxi saying the weather was good, and that our flight over Mt McKinley would take off at 7 am. We dressed in a hurry and made it to the airstrip in time. We took off in a six passenger Cessna, and gradually climbed to over 15,000 feet. We crossed over the Brooks Range with glaciers flowing down each valley, and flew around the peak where we could spot some mountain climbers far below.

We landed at the far end of the park at Kantishna Lodge. The mosquitoes were huge and swarming all over us. We looked around the lodge, which seemed to be a nice, if remote, place to stay. But we caught the park bus for the 80 mile drive back to the park entrance, near the airstrip where we parked our car. Along the way we saw many animals…Dahl sheep, caribou, and four grizzlies, including a mother and cub not far from the road.

I talked to the driver about how it was to live in Alaska. She said that most are seasonal workers who go to Hawaii or somewhere similarly warm from September to May. They just lock up their unheated cabins. The only thing that doesn’t survive the freezing winters is toothpaste, which turns chalky. We also heard about a girl who had run away from home at 16 and lived near a remote Indian village. They taught her how to survive. After five years she had enough and came back to civilization. Alaskans certainly are a different breed. Most seem to be running from something.

We returned to the town of Denali about 2:30 pm and had pizza for lupper (food was very expensive so we would combine meals...lunch and supper is lupper). We returned to our cabins and I talked to a retired principal who ran the gold mining concession while Will panned for gold. Will struck gold and excitedly took the pan to show his mother. I’m sure it was fool’s gold. We attended another ranger lecture that evening and then watched TV before going to bed.

10 July 2002 Wednesday. We had planned to go horseback riding or white water rafting that day, but horseback riding was too expensive ($80/hr/person) and the kids were too young for white water rafting, so we decided to let them do what they wanted. Linda, Will and I decided to drive north to Fairbanks for the day. Tamara and Rosanna stayed back at the cabins. They didn’t want to miss “Passions.”

We told them to let the housekeeping people enter to make up the beds and change towels. When the door knocked, a family was there believing this was their cabin. It turned out they had the same last name as us, so the front desk made an innocent mistake in giving them our room. It was good the girls were there, or we would have found another family in our room when we got back.

The drive to Fairbanks was not very scenic, mostly empty, but we saw moose and bears along the way. We stopped at the visitor center in Fairbanks and walked around town checking out the souvenir stores. We ate lunch at Alaskaland, an open air museum of old homes and businesses. We then drove to the University of Alaska which sits on a hill overlooking the town. We then drove back to our cabin and had supper at the lodge. I talked to the retired principal again while Will checked out his rifles, and Linda bought a pan for gold mining.

11 July 2002 Thursday. We drove back to Anchorage and took a final look at the downtown. I dropped off the rental car after 3 pm, and then took a taxi to the same hotel we had stayed at earlier. I went to the library to check my email. We had dinner at Outback, and then swam in the hotel pool and watched TV.

12 July 2002 Friday. Our 4 ½ hour flight to San Francisco took off after lunch. It seemed that everyone else on the flight, mostly groups of guys, had 50 pound salmon packed in dry ice. We ate chowder in hollowed out sour dough buns at the San Francisco airport. Tamara and Rosanna bought Stanford sweat pants and jackets. Our red eye flight to Dulles departed at 11 pm.

13 July 2002 Saturday. …Arriving at Dulles about 7 am. It was great to be back home! We had visited all 50 states. Now for the territories.

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