Monday, July 14, 2008

Alaska: Anchorage to Denali (July 11-13)

After a rather uneventful set of flights (Chicago, San Francisco, Anchorage) we finally made it! We checked into the Anchorage Days Inn around 1:30am and had a less than stellar experience... loud drunks clamoring about all night, toilets flushing, motorcycles noisily blasting through town... and our room faced the inside of the courtyard.

The next morning we set out in search of food and decided to walk down 5th street towards the taller buildings in town - surely we'd find something. Along the way, Tracy was quite impressed with the flowers everywhere… planters, hanging baskets – all in full bloom and quite colorful.

We stumbled across Midnight Sun cafe, a small locally owned place that served sausage and egg breakfast croissants. Our barista directed us to Anchorage’s weekend market where we were able to check out local arts, crafts, and some quite expensive produce. (Green Beans for $7.99/lb?!) At the market, we called The Car Whisperer’s parents who had graciously offered to show us around town and put us up for the evening – we coordinated to spend the remainder of the day with them.

After rendezvous with TCW’s parents, we explored the Port of Anchorage, the Ulu Knife Factory (Where we picked up a sweet Caribou bone knife) and headed north towards the Musk Ox Farm. Apparently these animals were native to Alaska at one point, but were hunted to the point of extinction. Thanks to some forward thinking conservationists, a herd was imported from Newfoundland and these animals are now present once again.

baby musk oxen at the oomingmak musk ox farm

The farm we visited harvests qiviut from the musk oxen and supplies this wool to a collective of native Alaskan women so they can knit the yarn into scarves, blankets, and other cold weather apparel. The material is incredibly soft, sustainably harvested without harm to the animal, and insulates 6x better than sheep wool by weight.

Next, we went up to Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine where we were able to learn about some of Alaska’s history during the gold rush of the early 20th century.

After exploring Independence Mine, we enjoyed a pot of fondue and some product of the 21st century’s “gold mine”, a California Chardonnay. After descending from Hatcher Pass, we went out to dinner with TCW’s parents and called it a night. The next morning we were up early so we could catch our 8am train up to Denali.

The Alaska Railroad is rich in history and there’s quite a bit written about it – I won’t attempt to recreate it here. Our train ride up to Denali was great, and I highly recommend that anyone going up to the park take the train. You won’t need a car when you get there as there are shuttles that run back and forth from the hotels to various restaurants and shops in “town”. In the eight hours you spend on the train, the staff will inform you as you pass historical sites, wildlife, and points of interest. There’s a lot of gorgeous countryside to see and taking the train is a wonderful, stress-free way to experience Alaska.

See all the pictures from the trip:

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