Cory and I spent our 10-day honeymoon in Alaska! Here’s the breakdown of our trip… (I’ve included lots of informational links and links to all the places we stayed as well as to the vendors our excursions were booked thru).
Sunday, July 22
We arrived in Anchorage around noon and picked up the rental car from Enterprise. We hit up Walmart for road snacks and a sports store for emergency rain gear (which we returned on our last day bc… it never rained!!!) before checking into The Millennium Hotel. The Millennium is used as headquarters for the Iditarod and has a great eclectic old feel to it.
For dinner, we went downtown for fish at Orso – which was FANTASTIC! Even though the place was swanky, everyone was wearing sweatshirts, jeans and boots (note: you never need a “dressy outfit” in Alaska). We walked around downtown a while before ending the night with a couple scoops of ice cream from a nearby creamery.
I was so exhausted from all the excitement of the wedding and family and travel and … I don’t remember exactly what time it was when I fell asleep, but I shut my eyes and slept soundly for the first time in days.
Monday, July 23
Our first full day! We drove south on the Seward Highway, along the shores of Turnagain Arm, heading into the mountains toward Homer. The views were simply spectacular and they just got better and better with every curve of the road.
Followed by …
Once in Homer, our route took us up a steep winding road overlooking the Spit that narrowed and turned rather rocky and muddy til we came to The Majestic View B&B. Maria, our hostess showed us to our room, the Rose Room, which was decorated with rose lace curtains, rose pillows, paintings of roses … even a rose formed into the first few sheets of the roll of toilet paper.
We set down our bags and drove back down to share a big bowl of clam chowder before heading to the Homer town theater to watch The Dark Knight Rises.
Tuesday, July 24
After a few hours on the road to Seward, we stopped at a campground in Chugach (chew-gatch) State Park for lunch. As we were digging out supplies from the car, I looked up and said “bear!” A black bear was peeking his head out of the trees to get a better look at us – maybe 50 feet away from where we stood. He walked onto the road for a moment, then went back into the trees.
Cory and I looked nervously at each other before heading to the water to take in some more scenery. When we sat down under a picnic shelter and started assembling our PB & honey sandwiches, our bear friend made another appearance. This time, he seemed to consider coming in closer but he eventually wandered up the road and out of sight.
We drove to the entrance of Skilak Lookout Trail, a 4 mi. roundtrip hike that led to an amazing panoramic view of the lake and its surrounding mountains. We made sure to make lots of noise and talk the whole way up and back – to avoid surprising any critters that may be roaming in the area (ahem, bears).
We stayed at The Inn at Tern Lake in Moose’s Pass, 15 minutes from Seward. This was one of our favorite spots as we had mountains ascending all around us with, supposedly, goats on one side and sheep on the other. We never saw either. But we made good use of the hot tub, sipping wine as the 5-hour dusk settled over the mountains.
Wednesday, July 25
After a breakfast of eggs and sausage, we drove to the Seward Marina for a wildlife cruise thru Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park thru Major Marine Tours. The weather was perfect for spotting humpback whales, sea otters and dall porpoise (we saw plenty of each!) as we cruised along, enjoying a lunch of salmon and ((gasp)) Nebraska prime rib.
After the tour, we found another trail near the Inn thru an old forest full of squishy moss and crooked trees. We followed it for a while til we reached a point overlooking a rushing stream below.
The evening ended with dinner at King Fisher before happily crawling into bed for our second night at the Inn.
Thursday, July 26
We drove north to Whittier to catch the ferry to Valdez (val-deez). There’s a one-lane tunnel to Whittier that follows a strict hourly schedule that gets thrown off when a train decides to pass thru. Luckily, we arrived 15 minutes before it was our turn to drive thru the dimly lit, damp passage.
We spent the next 8 hours waiting for and riding the ferry. I caught sight of a few humpback whales as we traveled. The upper deck of the ferry was full of beach type chairs for reclining and sea-gazing. These filled up pretty fast but emptied just a quickly as we made our way farther from the coast and the temperatures dropped.
In Valdez, we restocked car snacks, did some desperately needed laundry and checked into the Brookside Inn B&B. Our hostess, Sue, told us there was some excitement at the local salmon hatchery, what with the salmon spawning, but MORE so with the nightly appearance of a grizzly bear and her four little cubs…
The crowd was pretty large and there were a number of telephoto lenses in attendance. I made Cory wait about an hour and a half with me for her to come down and fish but by 9:30, people were starting to disperse and Cory had reached the level of “too hungry to care about bears”.
Just as we were beginning to drive away, I saw flashes going off and I almost jumped out of the car right there. We pulled over in time to see the mamma grizzly and her cubs cross the road between a line of RVs. We turned around and got a better spot. Cory told me he thought I should stay in the car but I hopped out and joined the rest of the remaining bystanders to watch her snatch salmon and feed them to her cubs. We were close, really close, maybe 20 feet away from her. She didn’t seem to notice the cameras clicking away.
Friday, July 27
We woke up late and had to rush to make our 9:00am check-in for sea kayaking with Anadyr Adventures. It was another gorgeous day. We took an hour boat ride out to the glacier bay before settling into our kayaks. We paddled among huge bright blue icebergs, that would occasionally break off (calve), and create a sound like thunder as they splashed and rolled in the water.
Back on shore, we ate in the Best Western pub, placing our order right before the town’s power went out. People seemed oblivious and ordered another round for themselves and their buddies.
We spent a second night at the Brookside Inn B&B.
Saturday, July 28
The drive to McCarthy was definitely a chance to see some back-country Alaska. The 50 miles of gravel road seemed to go on forever – with the occasional railroad iron peeking thru. The path used to be the route the train took, carrying copper from the mines in Kennecott to Cordova.
When the gravel finally did end, we had to park our car and pile into a van that dropped us at a footbridge. We called our hotel from a payphone on side A, crossed to side B and waited 20 minutes for the shuttle to arrive.
Our hotel, Ma Johnson’s, was a hotel from the 1900s that had burnt down and been rebuilt.
Original furnishings and artwork still decorated the entry and rooms. Our room, barely large enough for the bed, overlooked the town street and saloon – something we would later become painfully aware of. The 10 or so upstairs bedrooms shared three bathrooms. It was like being at a family reunion with a bunch of foreigners.
We ate where you eat when you’re in McCarthy, the saloon, and had a couple of beers. The whole town (if you can call it that) is incredibly rustic. Most of the locals get their water straight from nearby streams and from the smell of them, rarely bathed.
That night, a live band played and the party was still rocking at 4am.
Sunday, July 29
After breakfast, our shuttle bus was waiting outside to drive us to Kennecott. No one is allowed to have cars past the footbridge unless they are residents and pay the $400 seasonal fee, so getting from place to place is somewhat difficult and very … nature-y.
Our guide, Guy, from St. Elias Alpine Guides, took us to Root Glacier where we strapped Crampons to our boots. We learned the awkward technique of very purposefully driving the spikes into the ice as we walked up or down hill. I felt like a very not-scary monster, stomping around. We explored moulins – pools / crevasses created by melting debris and water that travels hundreds of feet down into the glacier – by dropping rocks and watching them disappear into the darkness. We drank fresh glacier water and ate lunch atop a peak overlooking one of the glacier’s waterfalls.
We were exhausted from the hike, but decided we would try to reach one of the abandoned copper mines above Kennecott the next morning. Luckily, we got a good night’s sleep as the saloon had a pretty uneventful evening.
Monday, July 30
We woke up early, packed our bags and bought shuttle tickets to take us to Kennecott (shuttle tickets are $5/person, one-way). It was 8:30am when we started our ascent to Jumbo mine, which began as wide roadways that turned into small trails, then to overgrown foot paths and finally to narrow rocky ridges. I pleaded a few times to turn back, frustrated by the loose rocky slopes we were forced to climb – always seemingly taking one step forward before sliding two steps back. But Cory was insistent and I was terrified to let him go alone and, more so, to be left alone, so after gaining 3,400 feet in elevation, we reached the top.
An abandoned bunkhouse lay partially on its side. Dishes and tools were everywhere – items from the early 1900s that had all been left when the mine abruptly closed in 1938. It was eerie. Quiet, except for the pika chirps echoing off the mountain sides. Cory climbed clear to one of the mine openings and hopped up to peer inside to where the tunnel had been barred off – perhaps one of the only safety precautions we encountered. Signs warned us of dynamite and the sounds of rushing water beneath our feet made us cautious of where we stepped. Overall a creepy and cool trek.
We reached Kennecott around 4:30, got back on the shuttle, crossed the footbridge and piled into our car for the drive to Gakona. We stayed the night at Riverview B&B where we were once again treated to the luxury of ((yay!!)) a private bath. As always, the scenery was top-notch.
Tuesday, July 31
Our hostess and her son made us an amazing breakfast of (locally grown) blueberry pancakes and deer sausage as they shared tales of hunting trips where they had gathered the trophies that were mounted around the room: bear, wolves and even a walrus – all meat the family had lived on during the harsh winters.
We drove north to Paxson then west along the Denali highway. I was hoping to see entire herds of Alaskan animals on this drive and though the view was, again, amazing, it was critter-less … til we were back on paved road and a lone moose crossed the road in front of us. Our only moose (in the wild) sighting.
The Traleika Mountaintop Cabins were right outside of Talkeetna, so we dropped off our bags then went into town for a meal. Our normal expressions must look somewhat irritated because we were given a complimentary dessert for having to wait so long for food that really didn’t take that long at all. Nothing wrong with free apple crisp a la mode!
Again, the view. Another favorite place to stay.
Wednesday, August 1
Our last day. We woke up and got breakfast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, a family-style seating joint where you pick a place at any long table next to, most times, complete strangers. The coffee was great.
When we headed to check in for the air taxi that would fly us around McKinley, I realized we were 30 minutes late! I raced back to the car and grabbed my phone (which got better reception everywhere in Alaska than I do anywhere in Nebraska) and called Talkeetna Air Taxi. Luckily, we hadn’t missed it. Sadly, the weather (our ONLY bad weather the entire trip) wasn’t going to allow for the flight.
With half a day left before our plane back to the lower 48, we drove to Anchorage, stopping in Wasilla to try and catch a glimpse of the Palin residence (we only saw the gate marked “private property”) before continuing south (about 45 minutes) to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where we wandered thru mud and rain to get up close with moose, bison and bears. It was cold and I got soaked soaked, but I also got some good shots of the animals I had wanted most to see on our trip.
Our plane left at 9:00pm. By 11:00am, August 2, we were home. Cory picked me up and carried me inside where I crawled into bed and stayed for the next few hours, trying to recover from such a fantastic vacation.
Here’s the map of our driving route (1700 mi).
If you think this might be your kind of vacation, don’t hesitate to contact Wigi (wee-gee) at Alaska Vacation Store – he’ll hook you up!