LOCATION: Anchorage, Girdwood, Seward, MatanuskaValley, Denali, Alaska
This post is part of my Alaska Trip Series. This is the beginning of the series.
May 25, 2013: After 11 hours flying, I had finally arrived. The flight into Anchorage was probably the most gorgeous view I’ve had while on a commercial jet. It was exactly how I’ve pictured Alaska to be; mountains and snow everywhere.
The view was incredible and vast amounts of uninhabited land with snow that didn’t contain one foot print. I could also see glaciers pushing through where deep blues cut through the snow. I couldn’t wait to see them up close and in person soon.
I got my rental car and decided to make the trek to my hostel to check in. Alaska is a very expensive place (hence using a hostel). Gas here is about $4-$4.75 a gallon! Food is also much more expensive. The downtown area surprised me as well too. I imagined a nice area but it was pretty ghetto and sparse. Not a big high rise city at all.
The hostel I’m at is the Alaska Backpackers Inn. It’s, well…a hostel. You can’t expect much luxury for $20 a day when a low-end hotel in Anchorage is about $200 a day. The halls were filled with drawings and writings on the wall.
It’s encouraged that travelers leave their mark here. I’ll have to find a sharpie so I can do the same. The art in my room is inspirational with phrases like “True love never dies” and also scary with art of a pregnant woman with a see through belly. Makes me wonder who all has stayed here.
With it only being 6pm and very sunny out I decided to venture to Earthquake Park.
The park is supposed to have some amazing mountain views. EarthquakePark is what remains as the most powerful recorded earthquake in U.S. history. It was in 1964 and registered at a 9.4 on the Richter scale. The aftermath slid a whole section of the state into the inlet. I walked to the overlook, which wasn’t really overlooking anything but marsh. I’m guessing I would need to take one of the bike trails to see any impressive views. But, no bike here for me, so I passed on that.
Now I sit in my room at 9pm (1am Virginia time and I woke at 3am for my flight). I would love to sleep, but it’s still very sunny and afternoonish here and will stay that way till about midnight. Sigh, let me sleep Alaska!
May 26, 2013: With the sun setting around midnight and rising at 4am, the room never got dark, but I managed to sleep. However, my morning woke to horrific conditions. I had officially experienced my first bout of bed bugs.
One tiny one on my jacket, a big one in my jacket, a tiny one on the bed and then a very large one on the bed. I managed to catch the large one and put it in a sealed bag. Luckily, the hostel upgraded me to a private room which looked bug free.
However, my upgrade wasn’t without severe consequences. I had bite marks on my hands and wrists and would need to quarantine my clothes and luggage upon getting home. Extreme heat on laundry and rubbing alcohol is in my near future. Hoping this is the only issues I have on this trip.
My day did prove to be better. On my way to go dog sledding, which you can read about that experience HERE, I was able to drive some of the scenic byway of the Seward Highway on my way to Girdwood off the Turnagain Arm. The road was along the coast and snowy mountains were everywhere. I found myself taking the scenic overlooks every chance I had just to get a better picture each time. I even saw a big black bear close to the road. There were also the typical tourists getting too close to take the bear’s picture. These bears are just waking up from hibernation, and hungry…dumb people. The scenery reminded me a lot like the Swiss Alps and driving through Europe; simply gorgeous. After the dog sledding, I decided to go panning for gold since the place was on the way back to Anchorage. You can read about my gold panning experience HERE. While gold panning, some locals recommended that I try the Moose Tooth Pub for pizza and beer.
Never one to turn down a good recommendation or pizza, I decided to try it. It was, in fact, blissful! The pizza was spicy and the restaurant brewed its own beer. I tried the Chugach Session. It is a lighter cream ale beer and had a great taste. Afraid to go back to another bed bug episode, I decided to stay longer and try another beer, the Wild Country Raspberry Wheat beer.
I must say, WOW! I’ll move to Alaska for that beer! For a day that started so crappy with bed bugs, it sure did end great. My wrist is staring to itch though.
May 27, 2013: Today my day was spent driving to the small port town of Seward, which is located along the Kenai Peninsula. The drive was about 2.5 hours and very scenic through the mountains. Seward is a small town with a cozy feel (and very expensive shops). I started my morning at Resurrection Coffee. It was a small coffee shop that was once a church.
The coffee was ok, but the ambiance was great! Definitely a must if you want the small town vibe.
Next up was my wildlife and glacier tour in KenaiFjordsNational Park. It is pronounced Key-nie Fee-yords, I say this because clearly I was saying it wrong in the start. Sadly, the sunny weather on the drive in turned to a messy fog, which left less to be desired about the “scenic” boat tour. Four out of five hours of the tour was in the fog, making it very boring.
We did see wildlife though. Four humpback whales, a large group of sea lions and an otter just chilling in the bay. Towards the end of the trip, we finally came upon Bear Glacier. However, we were still much farther than I had hoped. Glaciers were what I wanted to see after all! Finally on the last hour, the skies opened up and officially showed its scenic glory and it was gorgeous!
I guess I can deal with an hour of beauty instead of none. I was disappointed with the cruise overall since I didn’t get to see many glaciers like I had wanted, but I would see more glaciers soon for the rest of my trip.
After the cruise, I ate dinner at Railway Cantina, an over the counter burrito and taco bar.
They had reindeer tacos on the menu and I really wanted to try it. However, at $10 for two tacos and with a long drive ahead of me, I passed and stuck with chicken instead. The tacos were great and they had really delicious homemade spicy sauces. I definitely recommend this place for Seward food.
Also located in Seward, is Exit Glacier. It is one of the most visited in Alaska due to it easy accessibility. However, upon arrival, they had recently been pounded with lots of snow.
I accidentally took the longer route which was deep in snow and did not make for an easy hike. Luckily there were footprints to mark the trail; otherwise I was just wandering in the snowy woods. I was the only one trekking too, which seemed slightly scary when alone, especially when something would run off into the woods as I got close. Clearly, Big Foot was somewhere out here! Along the way was great scenery and nestled at the bottom of some mountains, a stream and lots and lots of moose poop. I will never look at whoopers candy the same again!
After a steep incline, half in snow, I made it to the glacier. It didn’t look like the picture online with its blue hues, but this was probably due to all the snow layered on top of it. Another disappointment with glaciers in Seward. Luckily my glacier hike is tomorrow, but first my 2.5 hour drive back to Anchorage.
May 28, 2013: My adventure today was mostly driving. I had to drive to the Matanuska Glacier about 2 hours away from Anchorage. I was there to do my glacier hike, which you can read about that amazing experience HERE. The ride there comprised of a lot of mountain switchbacks in the middle of nowhere. I went about 50 miles before I even saw civilization. Along the way, I was able to see my first Alaskan moose.
Two actually, one especially well since I almost hit it coming around the corner. After my hike, I then made the 4.5 hour drive to Denali where I would be the next two nights. The drive was insanely boring until the last 50 miles or so. The sun was shinning so bright and the sky was so clear that all of Denali’s mountain ranges were in crisp view. The main focus; Mt McKinley (Denali). Known as the highest mountain peak in the US and North America. It is thought of to be very rare to have a full glimpse of the entire mountain. Most times, only the base is visible, however today was my lucky day!
It was stunning. Just when I think I’ve seen the most beautiful thing here, Alaska shows me even more surprises. Also along the drive I saw another moose and was able to take a photo of it.
I stayed in my car like a good tourist though. Finally I made it to my hostel. I was nervous about what I was walking into after the last ordeal, but was quite surprised at how great it was. The Denali Mountain Morning hostel is located around mile 224 and at the base of some mountains. It consisted of a bunch of log cabin like dorms.
I was in a six bed bunk women’s room attached to the common area. The place was cute and extremely clean. It was also how I imagined hostels to be; young people, all in the common area, cooking and playing games. This was what I wanted the entire time. I did talk to one guy who stayed at a hostel in Anchorage. He said his hostel was half hostel and half halfway house for criminals. His roommate had been shot in the hand and it went through to his face. He said he didn’t sleep the two nights he was there, so I guess my experience could have been worse! Also, a side note for Alaska and Denali in particular, when did mosquitoes go on steroids? They are as big as my thumb nail and everywhere here. I’m loosing track of where the bed bug bites ended and where the mosquito bites being. It sucks…pun intended.
May 29, 2013: Today, my journey comprised mostly of Denali National Park. You can read about that adventure HERE. After spending the day at the park I decided to go to the 49th State Brewery down the road.
At 4pm daily, they have a brewery tour and a seemingly worthy menu. Another draw point to the restaurant was the fact that they had the “magic bus” used in the film “Into the Wild”.
A movie that I like, but is also iconic to the area and my adventurous spirit as well, I had to see this bus. “Into the Wild” is based on the book about the true story of Christopher “Supertramp” McCandless and the writer, Jon Krakauer retracing his steps. A wander in search of real life without necessities, Christopher found an abandon bus near Denali National Park. He lived off the land with a 10lb bag of rice, a rifle, bullets, camping gear and a book about local plants. He was later found dead in the bus from starvation. The real “magic bus” is still located in its original spot 20 miles away through tundra and across the Teklanika River. The movie prop is located outside the 49th State Brewery.
I climbed inside and immediately recalled scenes from the movie. The bus represented adventure and freedom. I was on that trail. I can’t wait to go home and watch the film again.
The brewery was very cool looking with its traditional Alaskan décor.
The tour consisted of showing its brew vats and discussing how beer is made. For starting in 2010, and only open seasonally, they were making a name for themselves! I tried their White Peach Wheat beer which was very tasty. In fact, I had two! I also decided to try their Yak burger since it seemed like an Alaskan thing to do. I’m not fond of halibut or salmon so yak it was.
The burger was incredible and much juicer than bison meat. I made a great choice with that one. So far, I’ve experienced great food and beer here in this state. Let’s keep up the streak!
May 30, 2013: Today was mostly spent making the drive back to Anchorage. After all the activities and driving, it was nice to not have a real agenda for the day. Upon arriving, I decided to check on my hostel. I was scared since I was going to be back in the bug infested building. However, after telling the girl what precautions I would have to do at home due to their problem, she upgraded me to a full apartment with bathroom and kitchen. YES! Could have done without the bugs in the first place though. My wrists are still very much in pain and bitten up.
It was only 1pm, so I decided to walk downtown to the mall. It was huge! They had 5 stories to it. I guess when there is nothing to do outside in the cold winter, you just have to go to a good mall. There were also lots of touristy shops downtown to find gifts and Alaskan gear in.
After walking around a few, I decided to get dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse. A guy in Denali recommended it and so far I haven’t been steered wrong. It was super pricey, but I’m only splurging for dinners so why not!
At 5pm, they already had an hour wait. Alaskan’s sure do enjoy their food! Lucky for me, I was a single and could hit the bar without a wait. Being another local brewery, I picked their Blonde Ale. It was good, but not great. I also had a half glass of their Amber and Raspberry Wheat. Both were fantastic.
The Brewhouse was known for being the only wood fired rotisserie in Alaska and their menu looked amazing. For my meal, I had the flat iron steak. It was an alder-wood grilled steak with a root beer birch syrup and demi glaze. Seriously was the best steak of my life. I’ll definitely miss this place!
May 31, 2013: Today is the grand finale for adventure. My day was spent driving back to the Matanuska Glacier, ice climbing and then driving back to Anchorage. You can read about my ice climbing adventure HERE.
June 1, 2013: Today is leaving day. Big sad face. However, I woke to really dismal, rainy weather, a first for my stay here. Maybe Alaska is giving me the easy boot out. I decided to end my stay by eating brunch at a place locals rave about, the Snow City Café.
With an hour wait at 9:30am, it seemed worthy. I’ve been craving waffles all week but decided I should end with a true Alaskan dish. I opted for the Kodiak Breakfast. This was poached eggs and Alaskan king crab cakes on a toasted English muffin with hollandaise sauce. I also decided to try Reindeer sausage. The dish looked fantastic but was only meager tasting at best. The crab cakes were a little too rich for me and the reindeer sausage was not good at all. I’m glad I never got them in the tacos in Seward like I had wanted. Guess I should have ended with waffles like I wanted.
As I sit here on my plane waiting to take off, I feel truly grateful for all my experiences out here. The weather was unbelievably great, which even surprised the locals. I also had an incredible time with my adventures, which sometimes can be a let down.
I’m leaving with unforgettable moments and a true appreciation for how great this place is. People kept asking me along the journey, “what made you decide to come to Alaska?” My answer was always, “why not?” But now, I’d like to say “because everyone needs to experience this.”
Goodbye Alaska. 1300 miles driven on a journey alone over the course of 8 days. Worth every penny…minus the bed bugs of course.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? Of course! Everyone needs to experience this! There is so much more to explore as well.
HOW TO DO THIS:
Alaskan Backpackers Inn and Hostel: DO NOT GO HERE
Moose Tooth Pub and Brewery: Great pizza and beers, long long waits. www.moosetooth.net
Resurrection Coffee: Local coffee in an old church in Seward. www.resurrectart.com
Major Marine Wildlife tours of KenaiFjordsNational Park: $88.03. www.majormarine.com
Railway Cantina: Good burritos and tacos in Seward. www.railwaycantina.com
Exit Glacier: located in Seward about 2 miles before reaching the town
Matanuska Glacier: Located on HWY 1 North towards Glennallen, mile post 102.
DenaliMountain Morning Hostel: Great rooms and super clean for $35 it is well worth it. www.denalihostel.com
49th State Brewery: Great food and beer. www49thstatebrewing.com
Glacier Brewhouse: Incredible steak and raspberry beer. www.glacierbrewhouse.com
SnowCity Café: Local’s breakfast choice. www.snowcitycafe.com