Day 3: Monday
We got up late and checked out around 10:00 am; Robert breakfasted on dried papaya and granola bars in the car, and we started the rest of the drive to Seward. Taking every scenic turn-out we saw, we stopped at one that had a long boardwalk into a marshy lake, and we spent awhile watching the mist rise as we looked at lillypads and ducks and listened to the sounds of various birds.
Around midday we arrived at Exit glacier, so named because it was a convenient spot for early explorers to exit the Harding Ice Field; we walked through the visitors’ center, then walked out beyond it on the first flat trail that takes you over to the foot of the glacier, walking on all of the mud, gravel, silt, etc. that the glacier has deposited in the river (resulting in a broad braided riverbed where the river changes course often). Robert disregarded the “Danger!” signs (of course) and walked right up to touch the glacier. Then we rejoined the steeper trail midway, looping back, to go up and look down at some of the glacier, and we walked back to the parking lot. Below, top row, you see Robert at the glacier, first from far away at left (he's the tiny speck near the middle) to get a sense of scale, and then closer at right.
Above (bottom row) you see Exit Glacier from further back on the trail; center is the view from the top of the glacier trail down onto the broad braided riverbed, with more glaciers in the distance; at right, I sit near the top trail and the glacier.
Driving into the town of Seward, we stopped briefly and ate lunch standing in a parking lot at a truck called Taco Dan’s, eating a halibut taco and a halibut quesadilla. Interestingly, Taco Dan later showed up at the Alaska State Fair north of Anchorage. The tacos were indeed good and fishy.
Next we wandered into the local Safeway, buying lots of tissues (I still had a cold and cough, which Robert was sure he was going to catch), and chatting with the guy making sushi rolls behind the counter. There were raw tuna nigiri, but only smoked salmon maki, and though the maki were really good--free samples showed us very high-quality smoked salmon, obviously, in huge, generous chunks--we were surprised that there wasn’t any raw salmon. The guy, a burly sushi-lover, said he’d love to make some, but that he had to go with what Safeway allowed and approved of, and raw salmon wasn’t on the list. Sad, which so much of it quite so close.
We went straight into the harbor and walked into lots of little boat places asking about a fishing charter. Excited, we booked ourselves on a half-day salmon expedition with Aurora Charters tomorrow afternoon on a “six-pack” (a small boat with the captain and up to six passengers).
Our next step was to call around to lots of different places trying to get a room for the night. This was tough because of the Derby, and we ended up at the Third Avenue Lodging (“for the independent traveler”) for a studio apartment with our own entrance, a full kitchen and bath, and double bed plus living area (futon, TV/VCR) for two nights--albeit in the basement with essentially no windows. Rather grandly called the Hobbit Suite, it was also, in retrospect, a very good place to stay relative to other accommodations in Alaska.
With tonight and tomorrow all arranged, we went to the Alaska Sealife Center, a wonderful aquarium/research facility, for the regular exhibits plus the behind-the scenes tour. At left, you see a huge male stellar sea lion; at right you see horned and tufted puffins, those amazing divers and undersea "fliers." We loved the touch tank for Alaskan waters (cold-water sea stars were particularly soft and nice to touch) and the seabird area (covered with a netting not so the birds don’t fly away, but more so they don’t get worried when a raptor flies overhead). We learned lots about the kinds of research being done there, including trying to accommodate salmon to the colder ocean waters faster, trying to understand the population shifts in marine animals, and trying to show that an octopus is as smart as a dog (basically, it learns--from direct instruction, repeated trials, and from indirect observation of other octopi).
After we put our stuff down in our apartment and relaxed a little, we went out to dinner at Terry’s fish and chips back in the harbor, where we peppered our waiter with many questions, as usual, and then diversified to the extreme, ordering a cup of salmon chowder and a combination fried plate (two fried shrimp, two fried scallops, one fried salmon, one fried halibut, and two fried rockfish--black seabass). Everything was delicious, and after our tasty seafood dinner we wandered through little touristy and fishing stores, then came back to the apartment to watch some DVDs on our laptop before bed, around 9:30, after a busy day.