Alaska

Our flight to Anchorage, Alaska from Seattle was pleasant. First thing we did was pick up our rental car, which was supposed to be economy class, but they ran out so we were “upgraded” to a Chevy Impala – we named her Rebecca. As we exited the rental car facility it started to rain. Welcome to Anchorage!

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Rather than check in to our hotel, we opted for food first as we were very hungry. We headed to the to the most popular place in Anchorage – Moose’s Tooth. The parking lot was full, so we had to park across the street and run to the entrance in the rain. The hostess that greeted us was friendly and even though the place was crowded, we only had to wait about 15 minutes to be seated. We wanted to have the most Alaskan pizza possible, so we ordered the Alaskan Salmon Pizza – which was excellent. Marlaina sampled some of their local beers and enjoyed all of them.

We then made a stop at good old Walmart to stock up on snacks. Next, we checked into our hotel and took a nap. When we woke up it was almost 10pm, but the sun was still shining bright, so we decided to do some sight seeing.  We visited the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and the Alaska Railroad.

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The sun finally set and we decided that it was time for some more Alaskan beer. We consulted with Yelp and went to Glacier Brewhouse. We sat at the bar and our bartender was very friendly and helped Marlaina pick out a beer. He also, gave us each a little glass of their cream soda on tap, which is made in their in-house brewery… that cream soda stole the show! Too bad we didn’t get a pic of it.

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When we saw that they were closing shop, we walked down the street and found ourselves at the Gaslight Bar, a large dive bar with an electric bull ride. After getting a couple $3 Blue Moons on tap and watching a couple fellows get tossed off the bull, we called in a night and went back to the hotel to catch some Zzzz.

 

The next morning we hit the road to the town of Whittier to go on a glacier cruise tour with Phillips Cruises. Thankfully, the route to the cruise ship took us along the famous Turnagain Arm which was full of incredible scenery. We even made a stop to see some salmon spawning.

In order to get to the port town of Whittier, one must go through the Anton Anderson Tunnel, which is a one-lane tunnel that goes through a mountain and is the only route for trains and automobiles. The openings of the tunnel are timed, so it was very important that we get there early to line up and ensure our place when traffic would be allowed. The tunnel is dark and long and you drive on top of train rails the entire time.

Once through the tunnel, we arrived at the cruise terminal just in time to get one of the last spots at the parking lot. With some time to spare before boarding the cruise, we decided to look around the town and managed to see most if it in just a short stroll.

Even though the parking lot was full, thankfully the cruise we were on was not. We were comfortably seated at a large table meant for 6 with just the two of us and 2 young girls across from us.

We really enjoyed the cruise! The views were so scenic and it was amazing to be so close to the glaciers! Nothing, and we mean nothing, compares to the sound of a glacier cracking and falling into the sea!

On our way back to port, we struck up a conversation with the girls across from us.  One of them was from Anchorage and we asked for a dinner recommendation. She recommended Simon and Seaforts. After checking them out on Yelp, we decided to head there after our cruise.

Our seafood dinner at Simon and Seaforts was excellent. Marlaina got an Alaskan Amber on tap. We started with the crab dip. The Alaskan scallop dinner was very flavorful and the scallops were large and tender. Everything was perfectly seasoned and the portions were fair for the price considering the quality and freshness of the ingredients. They even split our order and plated it nicely for us. After our meal, we hit the road for the city of Wasilla where our next hotel was located. As soon as we settled into our room we went to bed because we needed to wake up early the next day for our drive to the majestic Denali National Park.

We got an early start the next day to do some shopping for last minute supplies for our camping trip in Denali NP. We had to drive around to a few stores to find gas canisters compatible with our Jetfoil MiniMo.

Finally equipped with everything we needed, we hit the road. The drive to Denali was especially long because nearly half of the route was under construction. We lost count of the times we had to be stopped and lead by pilot car down an unpaved portion of highway. We got very hungry, so we pulled over and put our MiniMo to work and had some noodle soup with a side of amazing skies and pine trees.

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When we arrived at the park, we checked in to Riley Creek Campground about 5pm. We then rushed over to the kennels to visit the Denali National Park sled dogs.

We arrived at the kennels right in the middle of feeding time. Most of the dogs were very excited and were barking. Only a few dogs were chilling and receptive to visitors. Sylvie was the sweetest! When we were finished hanging out with the dogs, we drove to the Savage River and did the loop trail hike.

We then made it back to our campsite, set up camp, and ate our dinner, all with plenty of daylight to spare. Even though the sun was out, the cold was setting in as it got later. Marlaina was getting sleepy, so we settled into our tent, with the sun still peaking through. Thankfully, we took some advice from our friend Marc and got ourselves some eye masks at the dollar store before we left Seattle.

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We were ready to go offline and have some sweet dreams. It was time to put our tent and sleeping bags to the test, as the overnight temperature in the park on August 8th was 44 degrees Fahrenheit. We slept pretty well and were warm enough with our gear!

With the parks efforts to keep the park as wild as possible, no private cars are allowed past a certain point in the park. To visit the tundra and the majority of the park you must purchase a ticket for their bus which provides round trips to various points in the park. We reserved tickets for the Eielson Visitor’s center. The next day, we got on the bus at 10am and got back to the parking lot 5pm.

According to our bus driver, only 30% of the park’s visitors actually get to see Denali… thankfully, we are a part of the 30%! The mountain is so large, that it has its own weather and there is no way to predict cloud cover and visibility. We were both so very grateful that the great Denali decided to show herself while we were there, even if it was just a peek of her peaks.

The ride to the Eielson Visitor’s Center  was interesting thanks to our bus driver, Rex. Rex provided us with tour-like commentary, even though he was under no obligation to do so. He stopped in the middle of the road so we could get pictures of wildlife like these moose.

There were several scenic stops along the way and we were in awe of the tundra’s landscape!

We arrived at the visitor’s center at lunch time. Equipped with our Jetboil and cups of instant noodles, we made ourselves a warm lunch while onlookers watched us with cold sandwiches in their gloved hands.

After our lunch, we went into the visitor’s center and watched a video about scaling Denali. Not that we were considering climbing Denali, but watching that video made it abundantly clear that we would never, ever, ever be doing that! Then we checked out some of the specimen samples on display.

Outside of the center, we walked a bit of the surrounding trails hoping that Denali would show us more of herself. Instead we made a friend – an arctic ground squirrel that was showing us his push-up skills. We didn’t get to stay too long because we wanted to make sure we got ourselves on a bus to avoid the last minute crowds getting back to the park entrance.

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The drive back on the bus was very different from our drive there… our new bus driver did not talk or offer any commentary. Marlaina ended up napping most of the time. Meanwhile, Dawnabelle kept her eyes on the scenery searching for more wildlife.

When we made it to the parking lot, the both of us were famished. We ended up at a touristy place called Denali Park Salmon Bake. Much to our disappointment, they were not doing a salmon bake. Their menu had plenty of options, most of which were overpriced. We settled on the salmon crostini: Freshly smoked Alaskan salmon on crostini with herb cream cheese topped with fried capers. It was delicious , but rather small. For our main dish we shared a seafood grilled cheese sandwich with waffle fries and a side of their seafood chowder for dipping – that dish was only satisfactory in taste, but it was filling.

 

We then hit the road and made the long drive to our Airbnb in Anchorage. Our heads did not hit our pillows until after midnight.

While at Walmart when we first arrived, we saw a unicorn of a product that we had only seen on the internet – the Oreo churro. Back in 2015 we read an article on a buzzfeed type website and we were determined to try them. We went to 5 different grocery stores and called a couple others to no avail. Somehow, we find the elusive treat in Alaska of all places and Marlaina is determined to have some! She woke up early and went back to Walmart to buy a box so we could make them in the oven at the Airbnb. We carefully followed the directions on the box, brewed some coffee, covered the churros in the packet of sugar as instructed and it was just a giant disappointment. The little turd sized churro pieces lacked oreo flavor and were dry. We each ate two pieces and we threw the rest in the trash can.

After we left the Airbnb, we were hungry because of the lack of breakfast, we chose a popular local favorite for lunch called Arctic Roadrunner. It’s popularity for lunch was obvious when we arrived, yet we managed to find a table and we got our food in a reasonable amount of time. The sandwiches were tasty but a bit on the small side considering the price. Our order of their famous onion bits were nearly burnt and way too oily.

For our last bit of sightseeing we went back to downtown Anchorage and visited the Anchorage Museum. We really enjoyed the Smithsonian’s indigenous culture exhibit.

Before we walked back to the car we did a bit of window shopping and grabbed ourselves a sandwich for the airport.

Our flight back to Seattle was just fine. Once we landed and got out of baggage claim, we had to wait awhile for our parking lot shuttle. Most importantly, when we were finally united with Becky, she was safe and sound. We then drove to our next hotel only to be informed that they accidentally overbooked so we were given a full refund and a room at their other location about 5 miles away. The room we got was so gross – stained carpet, drawers full of trash, knobs falling off, etc! We would have raised a royal fit, but since the room was free and it was late we just decided to be thankful that the bed was clean and get some rest for our last day in Seattle before we head to Idaho.

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