Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Back in the lower 48
The words that come to mind when I think of Alaska now all seem to begin with 'w'. Weird. Wet. Western. Wilderness. It seems like there's another obvious one I'm missing, too...
Our trip broke down like this: a day in Anchorage, a day on the road between Anchorage and Fairbanks, two days in the Fairbanks area, and three days back in the Anchorage area. (We killed the last few hours of Monday evening before the late flights seeing Step Brothers at the Fireweed Theater. Good lord it was dumb. But that doesn't mean I wasn't laughing. Nice music, too.)
Every day we were in the city of Anchorage itself, it was either raining or about to rain. This probably colored my perspective of Anchorage at least somewhat, which is kind of unfair, but I can't help it. That's why I hate it when friends visit on crappy weather days. Maybe Anchorage was also sad not to make its best impression.
The trip was great, and so much fun, but the cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks weren't major highlights for me. They have their nice points, definitely. And our B&B overlooking Fairbanks was fantastic. But if I were recommending an Alaska trip itinerary, my advice would be to get out of the cities. (And not to look for ice cream in Anchorage.) Anchorage and Fairbanks are nice as bases, but my favorite aspects of the trip were easily the city escapes.
We visited tiny towns between Fairbanks and Anchorage like Talkeetna, where a cafe piano player treated patrons to a spirited song about mustache rides. And Nenana, where every winter they bet on when the ice will break on the Tanana River. Nenana is also where "Mama" served us wayward travelers a midnight meal at her tiny bar. Not because the grill was still open, really, but because we were hungry and she had some food. We really wanted to visit the town of Chicken, too, but it was too far away. Maybe next time.
There was Denali (state and national parks), where the clouds didn't stop us from seeing "Mount McKinley" twenty or thirty times in various places. Chena Hot Springs, which felt a little like camp for grownups. The hot water was surprisingly exhausting (but the cool fountain in the middle of the outdoor spring was a nice touch). Portage Glacier, where we got to witness (or at least hear) a calving, touch glacier ice, and see an ice worm up close. Thank goodness they didn't have any sawyer beetles. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where we cultivated an impressive disdain for people driving around instead of walking, and got really close to moose, bears, muskoxen, and a climbing porcupine named Snickers.
Of course, if you take your trip to Alaska with a bunch of adventurous friends, you're already ahead of the game. And if you have the chance to squeeze in a couple of concerts while you're in Alaska - say, at the Moose's Tooth and the Blue Loon - well, then, by all means, do so. You'll have a great time, even if it rains all day. And all night.
(And really, I guess it's the lower 49 states. Hawaii isn't exactly north of Alaska, right? Why do we say that?)