Kicking off day three of our vacation today. Regrettably, our “flightseeing” tour over Mt. McKinley was canceled due to crummy weather. But that gives me some time to write up a few highlights, observations, and random notes from the first couple days:
- On the flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage, I sat next to a rugged-looking guy. We got to chatting, and I explained I was on vacation, and was looking forward to visiting the art galleries and bohemian shops of Homer, the Kennai Fjords tour, etc. I then asked why he was headed to Alaska. He answered that he would be riding a motorcycle from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay (a 1,000 mile trip), where he’d go out on a boat with his brother to remote islands to hunt caribou a bow and arrow. At which point I thought, “I am not a man.”
- I liked Anchorage. The guide books were a little down on the town, but there’s definitely some charm to it. We had dinner at a place called Sacks, which would hold its own in a trendy neighborhood in just about any other city in the country. I had salmon tempura rolls for an appetizer, which were crispy, salmony, and delicious. The Agitatrix was quite fond of her tomato-gorgonzola soup. My main dish was a duck breast salad, hers was a grilled calamari salad. Both were terrific. We had breakfast at a pretty good greasy spoon called the Snow Goose Cafe. Reindeer sausage is tasty. We had drinks and dinner with the head of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, and Restaurant Association and his wife, whom I met when I spoke in Kodiak a few years ago.
- The afternoon of our first day, we went to a sled dog demonstration. Highlight of the day. I didn’t realize that sled dogs are mutts. I always assumed they were Alaskan Huskies. One dog can pull about 1,000 pounds. Plucky little pooches. Pictures forthcoming. Depending on my Internet access, I may try to do some “Sunday Evening Sled Dog Blogging.”
- Sadly, Anchorage is still serviced by “Ted Stevens International Airport.” And judging by the letters to the editor in the newspapers up here, Alaska is still quite fond of ol’ “Uncle Ted.” I guess if he were constantly sending me expensive gifts at taxpayer expense, I’d be pretty fond my uncle, too. Also, on the subject of Alaskan politics, the state’s MILF-tastic governor is now in some trouble, too. Seems she or someone on her staff intervened to fire a state trooper who was in the midst of a custody battle with the governor’s sister. Thing is, the guy also deserved to be fired. He’d apparently made some death threats, tazed his 11-year-old son, and driven his squad car drunk. Seems like a non-scandal to me. But I’m not all that read up on it.
- The Alaska Railroad is a lot of fun. We took one of the glass-domed cars from Anchorage to Talkeetna yesterday. Didn’t see much wildlife, but the scenery was spectacular. We’ll be taking it again this afternoon from Talkeetna to Denali National Park.
- Talkeetna is quaint and touristy, but in a good way. It’s a town of 700 people, inspiration for the TV series Northern Exposure, and consists of three blocks of art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, and adventure outfitters. This is also the best place to book a flight to see Mt. McKinley, so there are about a half-dozen companies that will take you up in a little bi-plane for a couple of hours. Our flight was supposed to include a landing on a glacier, but as I mentioned, the damned weather got in the way. We’re hoping to reschedule one from Denali National Park. The best thing I’ve eaten so far in Alaska is a grilled salmon taco at a little trailer stand just off of Main Street, here. Also, the Roadhouse restaurant serves sourdough pancakes that are bigger than your face. Even if you have a huge face.
- Yesterday’s activity was a jet-boat tour of the Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna rivers, all three of which converge near here. It’s kinda’ cool because they’re three very distinct rivers. One is packed with sand bars, one with downed trees and large logs, and the other is bright green with glacial silt. All three are hopping with spawning silver salmon. The boat glides over them like an oversized waverunner. We saw about a dozen bald eagles, but not much else in the way of wildlife. But still lots of fun.
- Rental cars in Alaska are ridiculously expensive. I’m told this is because of one particularly ornery legislator who owns several Avis franchises in Alaska. The guy apparently pissed off enough of his colleagues that they hit rental cars with a eight percent sales tax, an additional 11 percent tax for renting at the airport, and a $5 per day rental fee. There’s also an additional 10 percent tax if you rent the car in Anchorage. Not the most tourist-friendly policy.
I’ll have some photos next week. Earlier if we have the Intertubes in Denali.