Monday, August 15, 2016

Scenic Alaska by Bus...

Parks Highway...

The things we have seen thus far and just being in Alaska have been incredible! The Parks Highway crosses several ecosystems found in Alaska. Up north in the Interior, near Fairbanks, we saw large spruce and big rivers. Now we are in a high tundra area near Cantwell including the Denali highway. Next as we travel the Parks Highway south, we will see thick forests and birch trees in the Susitna River Valley. The state’s two largest cities, Anchorage and Fairbanks, are connected by the Parks Highway, with historic towns along the way.

Alaska Range and Talkeetna Mountains...

The Parks Highway as we go south travels between two mountain ranges. The Alaska Range, also seen in Denali National Park, continues along the highway to our right. With the rain coming down, which required using the wipers, and reflections through the bus windows I did not get any photos of the Talkeetna Mountains to our left.

Alaska Range to our right

Alaska Range to our right

Alaska Range to our right
Historic Towns on our way to Anchorage

While we were in Fairbanks, I remember commenting about the television program “Northern Exposure” and how I could see it being filmed here. It was then that I learned that Talkeetna was the inspiration for “Northern Exposure”. As we continued south on the Parks Highway, we passed by or through a number of small towns.

Trapper Creek was a mining town in the 1930’s. We stopped at a gift shop as we were passing.

Talkeetna celebrates its centennial in 2016. There is always something fun happening and beyond its laid-back personality, it sounds like there is old Alaska tradition and extraordinary things to do. Talkeetna is a railroad and river town located at Mile 14 of the Talkeetna Spur Road. It is best seen on a “walking tour”. The historical society has bolted information to the outside of historic buildings. You can read about who owned the buildings and how they were used to tell the story of Talkeetna in unique and personal ways. During parades, it is so small that floats march down the street; then they turn around and come back. So now when I think of Talkeetna, I also think of the TV program “Northern Exposure”. We did not stop here as it was off of the highway.

Then there are communities that grew up every ten miles or so… Wasilla (mile 42), Big Lake (mile 52), Houston (mile 57), Nancy Lake (mile 67), Willow (mile 70), Sheep Creek (mile 88), and Montana Creek (mile 97). These modern communities are about the same distance apart that an early miner during the Gold Rush could travel in a day. Thirty years ago the stretch of highway now known as Wasilla was only a blinking yellow light, but its appeal increased when the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was being constructed.

The town of Palmer is only about ten miles from Wasilla, but Palmer and Wasilla are both about 42 miles from Anchorage. Palmer is a farm town that was made famous when 203 families, mainly from the Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan) were sent north by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression of 1935 to start a farming colony. The Alaska State Fair is held in Palmer. People who live in Anchorage are fans of the produce from the Palmer farms. An “Alaska Grown” logo promotes local foods.

Welcome to Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city...

Anchorage is located on Turnagain Arm and surrounded by the Chugach Mountains.

Downtown Anchorage in the rain
We came in on 5th Avenue. Our tour guide was telling us about a variety of places to eat as we turned and went up 6th Avenue, and then turned and went down 4th Avenue, where the bus stopped to let us off to explore Anchorage and have lunch.

I wrote down some of the places he mentioned and any specific foods they served, but I know I did not get them all. He was trying to tell us about them as we drove by them so we could find our way back to them after we got off of the bus, in the rain.

Sacks Café had salmon.
Snow City Café had breakfast, chicken salad with tomato basil, and Kodiak eggs benedict, but many locals eat there, so it may be busy.
Tia’s with the yellow awning had Reindeer Dog (hot dog) and Reindeer Gyro and tea sauce.
Uncle Joe’s had fat ptarmigan wood-fired pizza.
Brown Bag had soup, salad, sandwiches, and chips.
The Salad Box was recommended by our bus driver, John.
Humpy’s had burgers, fish tacos, and reindeer chili.
The mall had a food court on the 3rd floor.
There was also a place that had peanut butter pie, which someone came back with as a carry-out.
There were other restaurants, but I think our guide wanted us to know about these places as well.

So where did we eat?

If it weren’t for the fact that anywhere we went, we had to walk in the rain, we might have picked something different. We thought we were going to the closest place, but when we figured out that the Brown Bag was four or five blocks away, much further than we initially thought, we stopped in at a shoppe to look at something that caught our eye.

Shoppe diagonally across street from Hard Rock Cafe
When I looked up and saw a Hard Rock Cafe diagonally across the street, I suggested we head there and get out of the rain. We were able to sit down and had a very delicious salad served to us. When we were done, we still had time to explore the shop across the street and more on our way back to the bus.

Midnight Baseball Game...

Mulcahy Stadium near downtown Anchorage is where the Alaska Baseball League has their fun summer series. After the late game ends at midnight, they have a big annual fireworks show.  Keep in mind that it is still daylight when they hold the midnight baseball game.  Imagine going to a baseball game while it is still light that ends at midnight!

Seward Highway...

Turnagain Arm, along the Seward Highway south of Anchorage, offers breathtaking views of mountains, wildlife, and the ocean. It is the recreation center of Anchorage where locals and visitors go to experience nature. Anchorage is only three hours away from Seward, a distance of 126 miles.

Seward Highway after leaving Anchorage

More rain as we continued on Seward Highway

Still traveling on Seward Highway

Rainy day on Seward Highway

Beautiful scenery while traveling Seward Highway

Beautiful mountains traveling Seward Highway
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Only 45 minutes south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway, we stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. It was still pouring down rain when we stopped here and after looking at the walking area in the next two photos, I thought it best to stay on the bus rather than walk around to view the animals in various fenced locations. If they had a shelter, most were in/under it, due to the rain, and not close to the walking area where they could easily be photographed.

Gift shop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
This non-profit wildlife refuge is dedicated to wildlife conservation and education. Some of the animals here are bears, moose, caribou, bison, musk ox and others. It is located on a scenic 200-acre preserve.

Building and fenced areas at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Kenai Peninsula

Fifty-two miles after we leave Anchorage we enter the Kenai Peninsula. We are now 70-some miles from Seward. We will be driving through Chugach National Forest. Two major highways cross the Kenai Peninsula. One is the Seward Highway we are on. The other is the Sterling Highway which branches off of the Seward Highway at Tern Lake Junction and goes west and then south to Homer. Homer is 136 miles from Tern Lake Junction.

Seward Highway

Seward Highway -- Kenai Peninsula

Seward Highway -- Kenai Peninsula

Beautiful snow-capped mountains on Seward Highway -- Kenai Peninsula

Founded in 1903, the city of Seward was named after William Seward, who purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for America. This is where we bid Bob, our bus driver, and Jared, our tour guide farewell. We’ve seen and experienced incredible things, and made fantastic memories on this leg of our journey!

Seward

We’re here! This is where we board our cruise ship. As we arrive via the Seward Highway, the Alaska railroad tracks are on our left. We cross over them to reach the dock for the cruise ship, proceed to gather our luggage, paperwork, and passports to go through the boarding process.

The next two photos are taken from our balcony deck after we board the ship. Behind me and my sister respectively is our view left to right as the ship continues to board passengers.

Me on our balcony on board ship with ship docks and mountains
in the background to our left.

My sister on our balcony on board ship with the beautiful mountains
in the background to our right.
We left the dock at 9 PM.

Thank you everyone for visiting and following my adventure. Feel free to make comments. As we embark on our cruise, we will see more beautiful Alaska scenery as we cruise, stop at ports where we will have more beautiful sights and shore excursions from which to choose, and more life experiences to share.

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