Day 2: Sunday
In the morning, Mr. Hart made us breakfast: pancakes and scrambled eggs. Only one pancake fell on the floor--the two family dogs scrambled to eat it, not believing their luck. A whole pancake! On the floor?! They were as thorough as, yet faster than, a Roomba when they scurried to eat up all the crumbs. We talked, visited, and compared notes on sights and routes around Alaska until midday, when Robert and I took off for a quick tour of downtown Anchorage, arranging to meet the Harts at Snow City Cafe for lunch in an hour.
We drove downtown, promptly forgetting the (again, we’re assuming very accurate) directions given to us, and immediately getting quite lost. We parked, wandered around, ogled reindeer sausages being sold on the street but didn’t get any, looked at some of the salmon statues lining the streets for the summer, and then went to the cafe and put our names in. The cafe was a cute place, but quite busy, so they gave us a beeper with a “few block” range and we wandered outside while we waited.
We walked a few blocks away to Elderberry Park, and then down toward the water. It was misty and cloudy, but very pretty with the water and the coast and the fog. We took a quick jaunt through a used bookstore on our way back, and arrived back at the cafe just as the Harts did. I had an excellent salmon cake sandwich, and a nice espresso-caramel-steamed milk drink, before we waved goodbye and left Anchorage, heading south down the Seward highway around 4:00 in the afternoon.
Our first stop was just on the outskirts of Anchorage, at the Alaska Zoo. It’s a small zoo, and the day was brisk and very nice for walking around in jeans and a sweatshirt, but many of the habitats were closed for repairs and reconstruction (in fact, their seal is down in Seward at the Sea Life Center there for the summer, while they’re building a new seal habitat). We found the porcupines adorable, and we stood in front of their area watching them waddle up and backwards down little logs on their way to their houses. The eagles and hawks and owls were very good too. At left, see the musk ox, native to Alaska but extinct in the nineteenth century, then reintroduced in the early twentieth, and now abundant. At right, see Dall sheep, common on the hillsides and mountains as tiny white dots in the distance.
Our next stop was at Beluga point on Turnagain Arm, and then Bird Point, at both of which we looked around, and investigated tides, but found that we were too early for that day’s Bore tide--a special kind of roaring incoming tide that is said to look like a wall of water, because of the huge differential between high and low tides (as in Fundy Bay). At right, you can't see the Bore tide, but you can see the railroad tracks, the scrubrush, and the sky along the extremely dangerous mudflats of Turnagain Arm.
Far more exciting to me than any tide could be, though, was the scene at Bird Creek, where we walked all the way down (avoiding the mud flats on the arm side, and sticking to the muddy, gravelly riverbed on the shore side) and picked our way out to some rocks to sit and watch the fishermen (and women) going after silver salmon. I could have sat there, watched, smelled, learned, and drunk it in all day: the banks were crowded with people, and the catch seemed to be good--mostly silvers, but a few pinks mixed in. If I lived in Anchorage (which I think I could definitely do, actually), I’d be down here every chance I’d get, wading in in my boots and rubber pants, and catching all the fish I could eat. Eventually Robert and his sneakers (he wanted to save suitcase space, so he didn’t bring his hiking boots or even a change of shoes, and his feet were unhappy in the mud) pushed for us to go back to the car, so we did, and headed back along our way.
At left, fishermen and women in Bird Creek.
We stopped at Portage Glacier, and even though the visitors’ center was closed, we took the mild hike all the way to the end of the trail to see (and touch) Byron glacier up close. At right, you see the braided riverbed (wide, glacier-formed, with water changing course often and braiding in and out of mud, silt, and gravel) that the trail to the glacier paralleled. It was amazing to really see the blue ice right there in front of you. Last year volcanoes and lava, this year glaciers--we like our geological vacations, so what can I say?
We kept driving, and at some point we deliberated going through the country’s longest tunnel to Whittier, but the tunnel (only one direction at a time) wasn’t open and it would be tricky timing everything correctly.
Finally, we stopped at Summit Lake Lodge, right on the highway, at 10:00 pm, where we got the last available room and managed to have dinner. Dinner involved a long conversation with the chef at the restaurant, after which we ordered the poached salmon w/a citrus salsa and the halibut tacos. Both were very good.
At left, two views heading south along the Seward highway--we loved the cloud patterns throughout Alaska, and we kept taking mountain/sky pictures as we drove along.
Though the motel room was tiny, just big enough for a double bed, with no TV or phone (Robert seemed surprised they even had electricity), it was very clean, nicely kept--Alaskan-themed linens, quilt, and shower curtain--and the help was friendly and not at all West-Virginia-creepy. We didn’t realize at the time, though, how rare this entire combination would be while driving around Alaska.