Day 6: Thursday
We got up a little on the early side and started driving back north toward Anchorage. Of course, we checked for the Bore Tide on the way up--the tide tables said it wasn’t for another six hours, but we thought we saw a small, two-foot-tall wall of water (a mini version of it?) coming toward us as we drove back in on Turnagain Arm (named by Captain Cook. Perhaps next year we’ll follow in even more of Cook’s travel footsteps, going to Tahiti).
Our first real stop was at the wildlife rescue and preservation center formerly known as Big Game Alaska (a far catchier name). At left, elk and deer; at right, a dozing moose. It was inexpensive enough, and acted as a kind of zoo where every animal was rescued from an injured or orphaned state; that is, every animal in the zoo is there because they’re genuinely happier there than in the wild. We saw a cute brown bear who was found as a cub, with its mother dead, with hundreds of porcupine quills in its paws. Unable to live on its own, the bear seems happy in captivity. We saw a porcupine who was found orphaned as a tiny baby, and who spent all but the first few weeks of its life here; it’s now extremely lazy, though the staff tries to encourage it to take walks, and it basically just sleeps happily and refuses to move very much (but again, in a contented, housecat-like way). We also saw a bald eagle who was accidentally shot in the wing by a hunter, and who consequently has only one wing; it still looked very proud and haughty, but it seemed not unhappy in a small cage since it clearly can’t really fly. Of course, there were also musk ox, caribou, bison, other bears, and a few other birds. It’s a great place--you can drive from enclosure to enclosure, at which point you can get out and see the animals through a very wide-link fence (great for pictures--we saw many professional photographers there) in a large enclosure very similar to their natural habitat, and very un-cage-like. We really feel, unlike other tourists who go around trying to spot moose and bears, that this is as close to those animals as we care to be.
Next, we stopped for a halibut burger (late breakfast) at a taco truck and free coffee in the little tourist information shack nearby. While driving up, we went to Bird Creek again, but there were far fewer fishermen there today (a weekday), and the atmosphere was’nt quite the same. I just kept longing for fishing gear and a license of my own, so we had to leave fairly quickly. We stopped at Potter Marsh, which we really enjoyed--probably more so because this was a weekday and was less crowded as a result. We loved the walk out on the boardwalk, and we spent a long time watching salmon and water birds from the railing.
We drove into Anchorage proper and stopped at New Sagoya Market just to window-shop, admiring their seafood selection and Asian food section. We then had a reasonable sushi lunch (with a fabulous ikura onigiri--I could really live on onigiri, and we regretted not having a rice cooker with us to make rice to eat with our ikura down in Seward) at Yamoto Ya next door to the market.
After lunch, we kept going to the north side of the city, to a salmon hatchery right next to the air force base, where we could see real spawning silver salmon (they change color, so that they’re now quite red). We walked down to the rocks, under the rails, to spot them: Robert has excellent salmon-spotting eyes.
At left, Robert gazes into the salmon stream at Potter Marsh; at right, spawning salmon, bright red, at the hatchery near the base.
Leaving town, we took a small detour to Eagle River Valley, where we walked a light hike/nature walk that took us past a beaver dam (unfortunately, no visible beaver; we’d far rather see a beaver than a bear, though) and over to a salmon spawning area. Here we saw more of the reddish salmon, two of whom, while we watched, jumped up into their very final pool of clear water. Robert said the others were “loser salmon” who got close, but not quite there, but they may have gone all the way after we left. Though these were also silver salmon, the difference in color from these spawning salmon to the ones we caught in the ocean was amazing--supposedly there’s also a big difference in texture, because the spawning ones are going to be much softer-fleshed and not as perfect.
Next, we tried to go to the native village and Athabascan/Russian Orthodox historical site in Eklutna, but it was closed for the day, even though the books say it closed at 6:00 and it was only 5:40. It looked very interesting, though.
On impulse we stopped at iCafe, a Mac store and internet cafe in Wasilla, right on the main road. Ben, who was both Mac fix-it staff and coffee-maker, was very friendly, and he let us check our email for free while we talked to him and had nice espresso drinks.
My cold was virtually gone at this point, with only a slight lingering cough, but Robert seemed to have caught my cold in the form only of a sore throat--no obvious congestion or coughing. His throat hurting, though, Robert appeared to be on the brink of dehydration: “What is poison to my throat!” he exclaimed dramatically, despite Alaska’s uniformly excellent water (with Anchorage’s a cut above the norm, even). He switched to flavored steamed milk as his drink of choice (sometimes up to three a day) for the next week or so.
We drove north and stopped in Houston, a small town which like just a couple others in Alaska voted to make it legal to sell fireworks (and, seemingly, attract business and position themselves in a niche). We admired the Gorilla place in particular, both their huge selection of fireworks and of decorations, but really all of the places in a quarter-mile stretch had quite the Las Vegas-thing going as far as banners, signs, and lights. Without buying any fireworks, much to Robert's dismay, we kept driving, however.
Above: four views along the Seward and Parks highways.
We headed north to Talkeetna, which is supposed to be a nice little town used as a jump-off for flight-seeing of Mount McKinley, but the town wasn’t quite what we expected. It’s very touristy, an odd combination of Steamboat Springs with an even smaller town with fewer options, and I didn’t really see the charm the guidebooks kept advertising. We ended up staying at a random bed and breakfast (only no one seemed to get breakfast) right on the main street, and I couldn’t deal with the shared bathroom or the busybody old lady-host. The laundromat next door, which we chose the B&B in large part for its proximity to (and, to be honest, because everything else was booked up or over $80 more expensive) had its last load of laundry go on at 7:30 (it was then 9:00), so the old lady grudgingly let us use her machines for an extra $3.
While the laundry was going, we had a very good garlicky white pizza with gyro meat at the Mountain High Pizza Pie just three doors down the street from the B&B (Seven Trees. Avoid it), and after watching a movie and collecting all of our laundry, we finally went to sleep around 11:30 in the strange house.