This was a spur-of-the-moment quick trip in August of 2007. Many months earlier, we had offered to take our nephew on a trip anywhere that Alaska Airlines flies. Nothing more was said until he mentioned that he had been trying to get his buddies to make a road trip with him up to Seattle before college started once again. When that met with no success, we reminded him of our offer and asked how he would like to see a bit of Alaska. Three days later, he was in Seattle ready for an adventure. I had always talked about exploring Alaska with our pass privileges through Larry's previous employment, so we decided to introduce Greg to the world of stand-by travel by flying to Anchorage and then traveling down to Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. We had previously cruised to Alaska, but this would be a different viewpoint.
Flying into Anchorage was the start of many breathtaking views. The expanse of glaciers that extend for miles and miles nestled amongst majestic mountains is quite a sight from the airplane window.
After leaving the airport, we drove next door to Lake Hood, which acts as the airstrip for all the float planes that serve as such a vital transportation link for Alaskans. Alaska has 16 times as many aircraft per capita as the rest of our nation, and this lake has many more airplane takeoffs than the airport that we flew into. With only one mile of roadway for every 42 square mile of land area (compared to the U.S. average of one to one), floatplanes are a way of life up there. It was great fun to see so many come and go within minutes and amazing to see the large number of planes parked all around the lake.
Anchorage, with nearly half of Alaska's total population, is a lovely city. Flowers abound in the summertime, clearly seen at the charming Anchorage Visitors' Center, located right downtown under its sod roof. The long days of summer sun increase the bounty of flowers as well as giant vegetables.
Anchorage has a number of attractions to keep tourists occupied, but we opted to merely explore a couple of their parks. Earthquake Park commemorates the 1964 earthquake that rocked the area, destroying 75 homes, sweeping tons of land into the sea and measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale. Signs placed along pleasant trails on the bluff relate many of the facts. Another walk that reveals beautiful vistas is the Coastal Trail, perfect for biking or just strolling along 11 miles of flat pavement near the water's edge. Before we knew it, it was almost 10:00 p.m. but still sunny enough for sunglasses. We figured that we needed to document this, so Larry stuck his arm out while we waited for the sun to set.
We took a whole day, stopping many places along the way, to drive the 2 1/2 hour Old Seward Highway. Gorgeous views cried out for photo stops. The reddish-purple fireweed, probably the best known Alaskan wildflower, was a beautiful accent for the mountains and water. The 127 mile highway from Anchorage to Seward is a designated National Forest Scenic Byway. This is a popular railroad route also, but I'm glad that Larry decided to rent a car instead.
We stopped for a picnic lunch beside one of many lakes and, 3 miles from Seward, we took a leisurely climb right up to Exit Glacier. This is the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park which is accessible by road. Our plan was to take a cruise from Seward to see a glacier up close. We had not expected to be able to walk right up to one. This was an added delight of using the car rather than the train.
Arriving at Seward, we found a large but charming marina, some quaint shops, lots of fishermen and a sign marking the start of the original Iditarod Trail that had led gold rush prospectors inland. Getting our fill of seafood and really good microbrew beer was not difficult at all and we even managed to see a true Alaskan Husky.
The 6 1/2 hour cruise through a small portion of the Kenai Fjords National Park was a delight. We saw all the things that tourists want to see - glaciers, fjords, mountains, icebergs, birds (including those adorable Puffins), whales, sea lions and otters. We even got to see the glacier calving as sections of the ice fell into the sea. But just sitting back and enjoying the scenery was a joy in itself. And, even though this boat ride had been the primary objective of the trip, we had already seen enough on our drive to the destination to make the visit to Alaska fully worthwhile.
We got back to Anchorage soon enough to take another day to venture northward toward Denali National Park and Mt. McKinley, the tallest peak in North America. Talkeetna, with its resident population of 800, is the closest town to the mountain. It prides itself on maintaining some of its original log cabins as well as an outstanding topographical model of the mountain range. It also provides the easiest way for us lazy tourists to get a closer view of the peak on a clear day. We were lucky to have such a day and it made a fitting end for a very nice short trip to Alaska.