Alaska – The Last Frontier

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

This year our vacation plans were to go to Alaska, a place where both my husband and I had been before.  He had been stationed there back in the ’70s as an infantry soldier, and I had been there on a cruise for my parent’s 50th anniversary in 2002.  We were both excited to re-visit this vast wilderness.

We rented an apartment in Wasilla through Home Away as we were staying for 15 days.  An old high school friend of mine, who had been up there since she graduated high school and had been trying to get me to come visit for 40 years, and her husband were our main focus for visiting.  As we get up in age, friends we’ve had for a lifetime are people we need to continue to have in our lives, mostly because we never know when we will get the opportunity to see them again or when our journey on this earth will end.  For me, the friends I have today are people who have been in my life for a very long time.

We flew up on United, which had one straight through flight.  We left Denver around 7:00 pm MDT and landed in Anchorage at 10:55 pm AKDT.  It was still daylight out (Land of the Midnight Sun), picked up our rental car, and headed to the hotel where we spent the night.  Never have I been so grateful for black out curtains than I was during this vacation.  In the morning, we contacted my friend, Pat, and headed out to meet them for breakfast in Eagle River (which happens to be the setting of the Women’s Fictional story I’m writing).

We then followed them to their house where we sat around drank a couple of beers and reminisced about our high school shenanigans. It was so good to connect with my friend as we had been pretty close in high school both having just moved to San Diego from different areas and having to ride a school bus until we got our driver’s licenses.   We did some crazy stuff and she had the pictures to prove it!  We did plenty of laughing during our trip that’s for sure.

People who have lived in Alaska for a long time, most have homesteaded the land they live on.  Tom’s mom was one of those who had been up there since the ’50s.  One of the pieces of property she and her husband had homesteaded was prone to avalanches in the winter months.  She had re-built her home three times because she ended up losing every one of them to an avalanche.  Tom drove us up to where his mom’s house was and all I can say is “wow!”.  The land was so steep but what a beautiful view.  No wonder she was so determined to re-build after each disaster.  Unfortunately, Tom’s mom died in an automobile accident on Thanksgiving Day driving over to their house for dinner.  Since it was winter and the sun doesn’t stay up longer than two hours each day and the roads were icy that day, they believe she either swerved to miss an animal or another driver ran her off the road.  Tom and Pat inherited her house and eventually sold it.  However, up at the property, you could still see remnants of an old foundation that had slid down the mountain and some of her plants that re-planted themselves on the hillside.  An old road that lead up to the house was also covered by dirt, trees and plants, and eventually a new road was put in only higher up.  Pretty amazing.

We drove 1500 miles and only saw a small portion of the Alaskan State but what we saw, we were in awe over.  Because of my geology background, I was able to point out extinct volcanoes, as well as land formations by glaciers.  We went to Portage Glacier and Matanuska Glacier, which is a valley glacier 27 miles long by 4 miles wide, it is the largest glacier accessible by car in the United States and we were able to walk on it.

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We drove by beautiful fast flowing rivers, waterfalls, wildlife (mostly Moose) went to an old Gold Mine, and we stopped into this little town, Sutton, that once was booming during the Coal Rush.  We were able to walk through some of the old buildings including the post office.  Inside the post office, which was extremely small, on the wall was a picture of a  young boy and his mother, who was the post master at the time.  As we were walking through the ruins of an old coal washing facility, Tom and Dana were talking to an old guy who was walking around the place too.  Come to find out, he was the little boy in the picture with his mother who was the post master.  He had come back to town for a high school reunion and wanted to make sure their picture was still up in the building.  Talk about a small world.  And then to top it off, a few nights later, the news station was doing a story on him.  Only in Alaska!

One day in Talkeenta:

Said to be the inspiration for the fictional community of Cicely in the popular TV show “Northern Exposure.”  A turn-of-the-20th-century gold-mining center, Talkeetna has retained much of its early Alaska flavor. Log cabins, a roadhouse and clapboard storefronts line the dirt streets. Main Street, the only paved road in town, greets visitors with a hand-hewn sign reading “Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Talkeetna.

Gold brought miners to the Susitna River in 1896, and by 1910, Talkeetna was a riverboat steamer station, supplying miners and trappers in the nearby mining districts. The town’s population peaked at more than 1,000 during World War I, declined after the Alaska Railroad was completed and has bounced back as the staging area for ascents of Denali, Mount Foraker, the Moose’s Tooth and scores of other high peaks.

We purchased a “tree face” here. It’s a face that is carved out of wood.  They are all hanging on a tent wall and you are supposed to check them all out,  which ever one speaks to you, that’s the one you purchase.  I have mine now hanging on our wall in our bar room. It said, “pick me” when I looked at its nose!

We ate and drank at many different places throughout.  Plenty of breweries to taste some of that fine Alaska beer, and of course, the fish was so fresh.  We did not go salmon fishing because there was a fishing ban.  Mostly due to the few salmon this year for some reason, so they closed the streams for any fishing to get the population back up.

The weather was chilly and rainy.  Where we stayed in Wasilla, it was windy too.  But that is to be expected when you are in Alaska.  If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes, and that was true.  We met so many of Pat and Tom’s friends which are some of the nicest people I have met to date.  One Saturday Pat invited all her girlfriends over to meet me and we had a blast.  Everyone brought a dish of food and we sat around the kitchen table drinking, laughing and telling stories.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  The guys were in Tom’s man cave (garage) and they seemed to have a good time as well.

Most evenings found us sitting around a bonfire.  Bonfires are a big thing in Alaska because it helps keep the mosquitoes away.  Now I know why they call the mosquito Alaska’s state bird.  It’s not about how big they are, it’s about how many there are.  The smoke from the bonfire keeps them away, well, mostly.  Since they love munching on my blood, I made sure I was protected.

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We drove up to see Denali and wouldn’t you know it, the first beautiful day since we had been there.  We rented very small cabins since the drive was about 4 hours up there.  Once in Denali, we took a bus tour which lasted 6 hours.  Denali was standing there in all her glory and we got some awesome pictures.  Even our bus tour driver said it was the first day of the season there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  We saw caribou, Dal Sheep, a rare falcon, an eagle, but no bears or moose.  At the gift store, I purchased two books on bear attacks, I mean, what else are you going to read when you’re in Alaska?  Plus it will fit nicely into my plot for my book.

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We went into Anchorage and went to a store that sold fresh smoked salmon and reindeer sausage.  Since it was so good, we purchased several packages of each and had it shipped home.  One of Pat’s friends sent us home with homemade smoked salmon, as well as some frozen fresh salmon which her hubby had caught the year before.  What a treat!  We also purchased sweatshirts, magnets, a moose head (carved out of wood for our bar), and some T-shirts.

We went to the Wild life Preserve where they take care of injured animals.  It’s the only place we saw a black bear and a grizzly bear.  Both were putting on shows for their audience.  Especially the grizzly bear who was lounging in a pond and doing back flips making everyone laugh.

In Wasilla they have the Iditarod museum along with some of the dog teams.  The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual long-distance sled dog race run in early March from Anchorage to Nome, entirely within the US state of Alaska. Mushers and a team of 16 dogs, of which at least 5 must be on the towline at the finish line, cover the distance in 8–15 days or more.  After visiting the museum we were allowed to go see the team of dogs on display along with 2 week old puppies, who were future Iditarod dogs.

These dogs are very well taken care of and they practice year round.  Most mushers have at least 30 dogs and they are required to wear booties on their feet especially when they are in the race.  I was surprised to learn many women mushers have won the race which is very harrowing.

Another fun fact I learned about Alaska is their beaches.  They have them but don’t dare take a stroll on one.  The sand is quick sand and it will suck you under in no time!  Best just to admire them from afar.

Our fifteen days went by quick but we had a blast every where we went.  The weather did not bother us as we came prepared with rain gear.  We went to a speedway, just drove around looking at stuff, everything is big there.  The various pictures below are from different places we went to.  A memorable trip, only one sad part of our trip.  Our fifteen year old golden retriever/chow mix decided he’d had enough of life while we were gone.  Sadly we had to put him down as he wasn’t walking or eating any longer.  I hope it wasn’t because he was homesick, but I did get to say goodbye to him over the phone.  RIP Harley boy.  We sure do miss you! These are the last pictures we have of him. 😦

Some more interesting facts I learned about Alaska, their population is about 700,000 but during the summer months it increases to 1 million!!  Respect the wildlife!  They are unpredictable.  While we were there, a man was out hiking and was mauled by a grizzly bear in Eagle River.  A search party went looking for him and found his remains however, the bear was still around and mauled one of the search and rescue people, lucky for him he survived.  The bear escaped and was still on the loose when we left.

The rivers up there are bitter cold.  You can survive in a river for probably 5 minutes if you fall in, you will die of hypothermia.  While we were there a young girl was hiking and fell into a river.  Lucky for her, there was a dog following her and the dog rescued her from the freezing water.  Found out this dog was a rescue and his owner lived at the base of the trail, every day, this dog would walk along the trails, and if someone was hiking alone, he would follow them to make sure they got where they were going safely.  This dog is a white Shepard mix and according to his owner, has saved several people from bear attacks, falling into the river, or helping lost hikers find their way out of the wilderness.  Amazing animal!

We had a great trip!  If you’ve never been, I suggest you go there at least once.  There is so much to see, I only covered half of what we did up there.  We did not go to the Earthquake Museum as the day we were going I got food poisoning.  We did however, go to Earthquake Park.  This 134-acre park is set in the woods where, in 1964, an entire neighborhood slid into the ocean during last century’s most powerful earthquake. The earthquake was measured at a 9.2 on the Richter scale and lasted 4 minutes.  Natives still talk about it today.  It’s like their 9/11.

Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn was another interesting place.  It’s between Denali and Fairbanks.  We purchased several souvenirs from him and as you can see from the pictures above, it’s an adult only place!

My old high school buddy showed us a great time and not only did we renew our friendship, we got to spend quality time with her and her husband.  It’s a different way of life up there, and I’m not sure I could live there.  The winters are brutal with only 2 hours of sunlight a day, probably why so many people are crafty up there.   And just like it would be a hard adjustment to move there, my friends feel the same way about the lower 48.  They aren’t sure where they would fit in down here because life is so very different.  We left with many good memories and hubby and I said, “It’s a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”  Alaska is definitely the Last Frontier!

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