Thursday, July 30, 2009

Playing Tour Guide

Rebekah's mom and sister were in town this week - so we decided to show them as much of Alaska as possible during their visit. This meant two day trips each longer than 10 hours, but it was worth it. Here comes a long post...
On Saturday we drove up to Hatcher Pass (#65) which was FINALLY open. After the mine the road becomes all dirt and gravel for about the next 20 miles. You make your way up from the mine and at the top you reach Summit Lake. As you can see, the lake is gorgeous...
and the view down into the valley below is also spectacular.

Hatcher Pass was definitely worth the wait.

Rebekah and I hiked up the side of one of the mountains for a better view (#67).
And Sarah and Hildy played in the snow.
On the way down from Hatcher Pass to Willow, we pulled off the side of the road to stop at Albino Hare Gallery - Garden and Gifts. They sell some lotion that is supposedly very good for dry skin and mosquito bites - but it is around $20 for a small jar. I opened one of the jars to take a peek and accidentally spilled about $4 worth on the floor. The lady working at the counter was thrilled, but was nice about it and helped me clean it up.
The gardens out back had many different types of flowers and we explored it for a little while. They were having a flower sale...but we don't want or need any right now.
After we got back on the main road we headed north to Denali to see if the mountain was out today. Unfortunately, as you can see from all the clouds around the mountain - it was not. This is what the vast majority of people who travel to Denali see. After this brief disappointment we turned around and drove the 3 hours home for dinner. We ate at Simon's and Seafort's, which is one of our favorite places in Anchorage and one of the best for seafood in the city. I even got Sarah to try Halibut! We finally got back to the apartment around 10 and went to bed to get ready for another long day...
We woke up pretty late in the morning and headed south to the Kenai Peninsula ...
and the town of Seward (#49).

We started by visiting the Alaska SeaLife Center (new entry #91). The center has lots of information, diagrams, and videos on the sea animals in the area...and of course many of the animals themselves.
Sea Lions...
and Sea Otters. Getting to see the animals up close was really cool. They have behind the scenes tours that you can go on to get an even closer look. And once you pay to enter you can leave and reenter on the same day for free! This is really useful when it is raining outside - like it was on this day. Not much else to do around the small town of Seward (or Alaska for that matter) when it is raining out.
Afterwards we drove around the town and found the historic start of the Iditarod! It now has two starts: a ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage and the real start north of the city. One of the can't miss things to do in Anchorage during the winter is catch the start of this race - and one that we will definitely attend!
Next we drove over to Exit Glacier (new entry #92), which so far has been one of our favorite glaciers. It is very easy to get to and view - and you can hike right up to it.
The hike to the glacier is one of two you can do in Kenai Fjords National Park (#40). Hint - you may see details about the other hike in a not too distant post. Any other part of the over 700 square mile park has to be accessed by boat or air. The easiest way to do this is to take a glacier and wildlife cruise, which gives you access to more of the park and some wonderful sights. We plan on doing that sometime fairly soon as well.
Sarah and Hildy enjoyed seeing their first Alaskan glacier! The weekend went really well and we got to see a lot of Alaska - including a lot that Rebekah and I hadn't seen before. We enjoyed having Sarah and Hildy visit for a week and hope they come back and see us again soon!


Monday, July 20, 2009

4th of July in the 49th State

This year was our first year celebrating the Fourth of July in Alaska. It was different than we are used to in Georgia, but fun just the same. We started our day by driving south to Girdwood (where the ski resort is in the winter). They were having the Girdwood Forest Fair, which occurs most every year during the Fourth of July weekend. There was music, lots of food, crafts to buy and a beer garden. Some people even camped out near the fair. We felt a little out of place because we were not wearing tie-dye shirts and walking around barefoot. The food was really good. Steven and I shared a buffalo burger and some homemade kettle corn. There was also a parade which consisted of all of the Girdwood fire engines (about 6 trucks), the Girl Scout troop, and some mountain guiding companies. The highlight of the parade was when one of the trucks in the parade threw out snow instead of candy. They had went up high on the mountain earlier in the day and brought it down in coolers! Definitely a change from parades on the Fourth in Georgia!

After the parade, we met up with our friends, Brittany and Jason, who have also just moved here from Georgia. We all decided to go to Whittier, only about 40 more miles from Girdwood. Whittier is the town where lots of cruise ships dock. To get there we had to go through the tunnel. While driving through, you have to drive right over the railroad tracks. Once in Whittier, they were having their Fourth of July celebrations. They had one activity for the kids where spare change was dumped on the ground and all of the kids had smaller buckets to collect the change in. It was hilarious because all of the parents were coaching their children to only pick up change and not gravel!

After Whittier, we headed back to Anchorage. On the way, we stopped at Potters Marsh so that we could capture some pictures of the birds that live there (#18). As you can see, Steven got a lot of great ones! He is such a great photographer! We have decorated our apartment with lots of his pictures!

We were planning to go to see the fireworks, but they weren't happening until about 12:00 midnight (because it is semi-dark by that time). We had had such a long day, so we decided to skip the fireworks.

On Sunday we went for a bike ride on our NEW mountain bikes. We had bought them a few days earlier. We biked from the downtown start of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail about 4.5 away to the sewage treatment plant and back (half of #16 on our list). So, a total of 9 miles. Steven and I both enjoyed the ride, although I was tired after the long ride!

Sorry for the lack of frequent updates...I am trying to get better about posting!!!


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Mining and Fishing - Real Alaskan Pastimes

Last weekend we visited Hatcher Pass Lodge and Independence Mine Historical Site (#64 on our list), both located up towards Hatcher Pass from Palmer. For those that remember, we tried visiting these earlier but were told they did not open until June 20th so we came back. Hatcher Pass Lodge is a nice little lodge, situated up in the Talkeetna mountains. There are rooms where you can stay and there is a quiet restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We did not eat there but the food smelled delicious. As we were pulling out of the lodge, a marmot ran across the road in front of us and posed for some pictures (part of #86)
Then we drove a little ways farther up the road to Independence Mine. It was the biggest hard rock gold mining location in all of Alaska. The buildings were all still standing, but some of the other structures (stairways, railways, etc.) have begun falling apart. We gave a $5 per person donation to have a guided tour from one of the volunteers there. The tour lasted about an hour and was very informational.

From there we tried to drive through Hatcher Pass towards Willow, but discovered the road doesn't open until sometime later in July (it had still been snowing in the pass). So, we are going to have to travel up there a 3rd time later in the summer. As proof that the weather was still a little bit of a question mark we got caught in a hail storm as we were leaving the mine.

On Monday we both took the day off from work and went King salmon fishing up on the Little Su (new entry #90). We woke up at around 3am, just as the sun was beginning to rise (strangely from the North), and headed up through Wasilla down to the landing where we were meeting our guides for the day. Just as we pulled into the area of the landing a mother moose and a baby moose ran across the road in front of our car, and Rebekah made sure to get a picture.
We pushed off and headed South from the landing as the guide began introducing himself and telling us how the fishing had been going lately. It was not a promising conversation as nobody from his boat had pulled in a fish all weekend. However, as we rounded one of the first corners a Bald Eagle (the first we have seen) was resting on the banks and took off flying right in front of our boat (I wasn't able to get my camera out of my pocket fast enough). We headed down and through the first few holes of the day it appeared it would be more of the same as nobody got any hits or movement at all. We were back trolling with spinning rods and were beginning to give up hope when one of the other people we were with got a huge hit. She fought the fish and fought the fish and finally pulled in the 30 pound King salmon. From there, the day got better. Two holes later Rebekah brought in a small 3 pound King salmon. It was less than 20 inches, technically considered a Jack instead of a King, so Rebekah was able to keep fishing (there is a one King salmon limit on the river, once you keep one you can't even drop another line in).

Two holes after that I nailed a 10 pound King Salmon. It was by far the biggest fish I have caught, and I thought it was huge until I put in the cooler next to the 30 pounder. Everyone caught a salmon except for the guy who organized the trip. But in the end he was glad he didn't, because his girlfriend's 30 pounder will be enough salmon to last them all winter.
We were very lucky to catch three fish. It was a down year since salmon run on a 5 year cycle and 5 years ago the Little Su had major flooding which killed many salmon. And it is said that it takes around 40 fishing hours to pull in your first King salmon, as they are the biggest and most particular salmon. Other salmon, such as the Silvers only get up to about 15 pounds but will bite at just about anything and you can keep up to 2 Silvers. That would be a different type of salmon fishing, but would also be fun and we will probably try that at some point.

Our guide at the Alaska Salmon Fishing Guides was excellent. And while we caught 3 fish, all of them were small by Alaska standards. On the Little Su, 30 pounds is the average King salmon brought in with the top end being around 50 pounds. And on other rivers the average King salmon pulled in is 50 pounds with the top end reaching over 100 pounds.

The fishing was excellent and we will definitely be doing more of that. Even Rebekah enjoyed it! And we had the river to ourselves that day (highly unusual) and only saw one other boat the entire time we were fishing.

Anyone who wants to come up and go fishing is more than welcome!