When Clay returned from his second deployment, we didn’t have time to squeeze in a trip before PCSing to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Well – I take that back. Him and I were able to take a four-day house-hunting trip to Lawton while the little guy stayed with my parents. The Caribbean has nothing on Lawton, Oklahoma when it comes to a romantic post-deployment vacation. So we pushed our big trip back to the summer. And by Memorial Day, we had plans to take our summer family vacation to Anchorage, Alaska and the surrounding areas. Our friends, Jackie and Aaron, from Fort Drum were stationed there at the time so we stayed with them in Eagle River. Unfortunately, Aaron ended up having a JRTC rotation during our visit so we didn’t get to see him. Such is the Army life.
Traveling 4000 miles with Weston went as smooth as buttah. We couldn’t be more thrilled with our little travel buddy. There was a meltdown here and there, but that is to be expected with an almost-two-year-old. We woke up at 5am on a Saturday morning to drive down to Dallas/Ft. Worth so we could fly to Chicago and then to Anchorage, with us finally arriving in Alaska at 10pm (1am Central Time). Despite that first day being a long day for the little guy (and us!), we were so excited to set foot in the only non-contiguous US state on the North America continent and couldn’t wait to soak it all in. Being in 55-60 degree temperatures didn’t hurt either.
The Seward Highway has to offer one of the most breathtaking views in the world, running through the Kenai Peninsula and Turnagain Arm. We didn’t get to complete all 127 miles of the drive but we were able to see incredible scenery (mountains, water, and glaciers – oh my) on our drive from Anchorage to Girdwood.
We pulled off the highway at Beluga Point, named after the Beluga Whales that apparently frequent the Turnagain Arm. Sadly, we didn’t see any Belugas this trip. The weather was overcast and drizzly that day so the mountains weren’t as pronounced as they would be in bright sunshine but we didn’t care. In fact, I loved the cozy feeling that enveloped me during our time in Alaska so I welcomed the clouds with open arms. Literally.
I think I could stare at a glacier all day. There is something about the aqua color and tranquil nature that hypnotizes me. The clouds made it difficult to capture just how majestic Portage Glacier truly is but I managed to get a little somethin’ somethin’through the haze.
Girdwood is nestled among seven permanent glaciers, which is why it was originally called Glacier City. We went to the Alyeska Resort, a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders. Seeing as how we were visiting in the summer, the winter sports weren’t calling our name, but we didn’t let that stop us.
We took this tram up to the top of Mount Alyeska (2,300 ft).
Weston loved it.
Upon getting off the tram, we were treated with fantastic views of the Chugach Mountain Range. The Turnagain Arm is in the background and the lodge on top of the mountain to the right. Interestingly, the Turnagain Arm has one of the largest tidal ranges in the world and an abundance of silt, which makes walking on the ‘sand’ during low-tide near impossible, due to quicksand-like characteristics.
After our hike we went to the lookout at the lodge on top of Mount Alyeska.
After our time at Girdwood, we drove back to Anchorage, being sure to stop and take more pictures along the Seward Highway. Seriously, the pictures do not do the scenery justice. Aren’t those clouds gorgeous? The mountains aren’t half bad either.
The next day, we ventured into Talkeetna, Alaska, which is nestled at the base of Denali National Park. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Kinley in all it’s glory on the drive up to Talkeetna but sadly, that was not the case for us. Jackie has heard that McKinley/Denali (I will refer to the mountain as Denali from here on out) is only visible 20% of the time and we fell into the 80% that did not see Denali on our journey to Talkeetna. We specifically chose that day to go to Talkeetna because the weather was forecasted to cooperate between the hours of 12pm to 2pm. Jackie took up to the top of the mountain by her house to see if we could see Denali but the clouds were just too dense. Denali should be to our right in the picture above.
This picture was taken just outside of Talkeetna, about two hours up the road from Anchorage. Again, Denali should be visible but the clouds were just too much. I thought I could make out a peak, but it was probably just more clouds.
Talkeetna is a quaint little town that caters to tourist wishing to fish, raft, and flightsee around Denali. According to Wikipedia, the population is 772 and the town is thought to be the inspiration for Cicely, Alaska, the fictional town in Northern Exposure.
One example of the quirkiness of Talkeetna – a shop owner told us all about the controversy surrounding The Moose Dropping Festival, an event that involves betting on varnished pieces of moose poop that are then dropped from a helicopter onto a target. It seems like PETA took the name Moose Dropping too literal and wanted to start a campaign to cancel the festival due to the misconception that the residents of Talkeetna were dropping moose from a helicopter. The shop owner said it took hours upon hours of phone conversation to clear up the matter. Sadly, the festival was cancelled in 2009 but there is hope to resurrect it in the future.
We ate lunch at The Roadhouse, a charming restaurant and lodge.The Roadhouse is one of the oldest buildings on Main Street and President Harding is said to have stopped by in 1923, when Alaska was still a territory. The tables are long and you eat surrounded by strangers who will become friends by the end of the meal.
We ate lunch with a lovely couple who are from Alaska and were just visiting Talkeetna for the day. They were both children of military fathers who were stationed in Alaska during the 60s and decided to stay because Alaska is just that special. The couple enjoyed hearing about how Jackie and I became friends at Ft. Drum and appreciated how close friendships become with the military lifestyle.
During our visit, Jackie took us to The Reindeer Farm in Palmer on what turned out to be a particularly blustery day. The workers informed us it was due to the glacial wind – the temperature was a good 20 degrees cooler at the farm. Crazy!
At the farm, we were able to pet and feed reindeer, visit a moose, and see a buffalo up close and personal. When I was a little girl, I used to think that reindeer were fictional beings created for the purpose of Christmas stories. I can’t help it, I grew up in Phoenix, AZ so my exposure to cold inhabiting animals was limited. While up in Alaska, we learned that reindeer are what most people call domesticated caribou. Learn something new each trip!
The reindeer were such gentle creatures and Weston couldn’t stop squealing with joy at the opportunity to feed them. They were docile around the little guy and followed him around because he was an easy target to get food from.
.The antlers of reindeer are covered in a velvet that sheds before they fall off each summer/fall. Reindeer antlers are the largest of all relative-sized deer species and have two separate groups of points.
We couldn’t stop staring at the mountain set against the backdrop of the farm. It was gorgeous. The glacier causing the wind/cold was off to the left but due to clouds, I was unable to get a good shot.
Sadly, we didn’t get to see a wild moose this trip, but we did get to meet Denali, a bull moose at the farm. Moose are also members of the deer family and the Alaskan Bull Moose is the largest species in the world. Weston thought the moose was quite friendly.
If you really want to get a feel for a state, attend the State Fair. As luck would have it, the Alaska State Fair started during our trip and we’ve never been known to turn down elephant ears. I have been to a fair amount of state fairs but I have never been to one with such scenery in the background. Seriously, it looks like we were attending a fair in a painting by Bob Ross.
It was your typical fair, just set against beautiful mountains.
I thought this was funny – a wine bar at the fair in a church. Can I get an Amen?
We also spent some time in Wasilla (yes, the home of Sarah Palin). Wasilla is a great little town and with a population of just under 8,000, it has a lot of amenities. Like a Target!
On our last full day in Alaska, we were finally able to see Denali in the distance. I don’t have a telephoto lens on my camera so these pictures don’t do it justice. We were on top of a mountain in Eagle River, which is approximately 200 miles from Denali. The peak is at 20,320 feet in elevation, making it the tallest mountain in North America and one of the Seven Summits. You can also see Mt. Hunter (13,965 feet) in the center and Mt. Foraker (17,400 feet) on the left.
Little guy was quite cranky during this excursion so getting a family shot with Denali was quite difficult. This one was the best of the bunch, which isn’t saying much. That being said, we couldn’t have asked for a better family vacation. Clay deployed shortly after Weston was born so we haven’t had many opportunities to travel. We went to Okracoke Island over R&R when Weston was a year old but other than that, our options have been limited. This Alaska trip was the first of many spectacular ones we have planned as a family.
Let’s move on to what we ate and drank in Alaska. In full disclosure, I gained about four pounds this trip but it was worth every calorie consumed. I had a mango pineapple cupcake in downtown Anchorage at the Market & Festival by the water.
We had bear breakfast sausage. Verdict? Not a fan.
I made sure to consume an adequate amount of beer from the Alaskan Brewing Company. You know, to support the local economy. It’s my civic duty, ahem.
I even cooked! This is fresh halibut (caught by Aaron) that I made with a garlic butter sauce. Yes, it was delicious.
Clay and I ordered pasties at The Roadhouse in Talkeetna. I had mine with a salad and Clay chose the Hungarian mushroom soup. However, I didn’t know they were filled with reindeer meat. Once I learned this fact, I couldn’t eat the rest of it. Sorry, Rudolph.
An elephant ear with cinnamon and sugar at the Alaska State Fair.
Smoked salmon spread from The Moose’s Tooth.
Margherita pizza from The Moose’s Tooth. It was seriously one of the best pizza’s I’ve ever had. And this is coming from a girl who prefers NY style, extra greasy, with cheese sliding down my arm after doing the fold over.
Halibut fish & chips at Humpy’s Alehouse.
And finally, the best thing I ate in Alaska was Copper River Salmon that Aaron caught himself. I prepared it simply, pairing it with garlic rice and roasted tomatoes. I forget to take a picture! Such a beautiful aquatic creature. And quite delicious too. Here is the funny thing – I hated salmon up until this trip. It turns out, I had just never had good salmon before. Funny how life is sometimes.