Traveling Within Alaska

‘To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonder countries in the world.’ ~ John Muir

Wow, that last one was a doozy!  It was fun to go back down memory lane and share my vacation with you. Thank you for the comments and feedback-I’m glad you enjoyed reading it.

As many of you know, I was born and raised in Alaska.  I left Alaska in 1995 but it will ALWAYS be home to me. And it’s still my backyard.

Alaska is a big tourist destination, with many people coming in by plane or ship.  According to the Tourism Resource Development Council, an estimated 2.26 million people visited Alaska in 2019. That is as many as everyone living in New Mexico and almost everyone living in Wyoming combined. Each year that number grows, as more people are interested in Alaska and cruising to ports in Alaska that are not accessible by road.

It would take half of this post to list every city that I have been to in Alaska, so I will name only a few of my favorite places to visit in Anchorage and around the state.  Around Anchorage, there is Point Woronzof, Potter Marsh, Portage Glacier, Alyeska (even though I don’t ski) and Beluga Point. Whenever I go home to visit, I try to go to each of these places.  

Point Woronzof has beautiful views of Cook Inlet and The Sleeping Lady (Mt. Susitna to non-Alaskans).  You can walk along the inlet on the Coastal Trail.  The amazing views of The Sleeping Lady and Anchorage are breathtaking and a photographer’s dream.  But my favorite part of Point Woronzof is watching the planes land and take off from the airport.  To get so close to a plane that is taking off or landing is AMAZING.  It almost feels like you can reach up and touch the planes.  

Portage Glacier is a place I have been too many times to count.  When I was a child, we took many family drives to Portage Glacier. All of us in the car waiting, anticipating seeing the icebergs that broke off the glacier.  I remember how big and blue the icebergs were and it never got old seeing it. Change is inevitable though, and that includes Portage Glacier.  A visitor center was built, the road leading up the lake was paved, as well as the parking lot. It became more of a tourist attraction than an Alaskan attraction.  But that was not the only change. In 2013, I was home for my 30th high school reunion. A few of my friends and I decided to go to Portage Glacier after we had lunch in Alyeska.  We were not only excited about seeing each other but also about seeing the icebergs we had seen hundreds of times as children. I was the driver as usual. (I really don’t mind). We laughed about high school and other crazy things. By the time we drove those few miles down the highway a light drizzle began, but we were determined.  We turned off the Seward Highway to the road that takes you back to the glacier.  I was in awe of how much it had changed, but nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see.  The rain started coming down faster and the wind was blowing hard, but I drove on.  I pulled into the parking lot and parked the car.  I looked out over the lake and it was empty!  The icebergs that I had seen almost on a yearly basis were gone, not even the smallest trace of ice was there.  I was so disappointed I didn’t even get out of the car.  I just couldn’t believe the icebergs were gone.  The glacier itself was there, but the icebergs that had broken off, that were so big, blue and beautiful were gone.  We only stayed for a few minutes because of the wind and the rain.  But the trip was still worth it.  As we were turning onto the Seward Highway to go back to Anchorage, a bald eagle flew by us with a  wingspan of forever.  We didn’t get to see any icebergs, but we saw a bald eagle and that was cool!

Outside of Anchorage, there are some amazing places.  When I was a child, my parents would often take us to Fairbanks for a weekend.  We would always stay at the same hotel located along the Chena River. Along the way my dad would stop in Talkeetna to get gas and we would get ice cream.  My mom never understood why he stopped there, since Talkeetna is only about 100 miles north of Anchorage. I didn’t mind stopping – because of the ice cream!  As I got older, I appreciated the charm of the city.  After Talkeetna, the next stop that I can remember would be the parking lot of Mt. McKinley (Denali).  We never went into the park, but we would all get out to stretch our legs. I liked walking around the parking lot and  looking at the different out of state license plates.  Finally, we would arrive at the hotel in Fairbanks. Depending on the time we arrived, and after the station wagon was unloaded of our things, we kids would go play along the river. We never went in the river but we always found  things to do, collect rocks, wood, and make s’mores.  At some point during every visit we went to Alaskaland.  

Alaskaland is nothing like Disneyland. It’s a park that has a lot of museums, shops, restaurants, craft shows and more.   Alaskaland tells the history of Fairbanks.  We would walk through the different museums and stores, admiring the merchandise in the stores. It was a lot of  fun. The best part for me was riding the carousel.  After the debacle of that roller coaster ride in St. Louis, the carousel was the best ride to ride!  I would stay on that ride for a long time. But as we all know, things change.  In October of 2001, the Borough Assembly voted to return Alaskaland to its original name, Pioneer Park.  In July 2002, Alaskaland was officially renamed Pioneer Park.  This was done to remove the façade of a Disneyland type park.

Another vacation my family took was in 1994, when we had a big family reunion.  I created a list of different activities and places to visit. We went to Portage Glacier, of course.  We took the train to Whittier. That was fun.  Whittier is a small town a little over 50 miles from Anchorage. At times it was only accessible by train, plane or boat.  After Whittier, we drove to the Alaska Wildlife Sanctuary. I remember that well because of all the Alaskan wildlife. 

This time it was more than just my dad, mom and six kids.  There were parents, grandkids, and cousins.   I don’t remember how many cars were driven, but there were at least 20 of us.  Once again, we loaded up the cars, made sure the children had things to entertain them, and we were off.  No cell phones and not even a map.  We had been to Chena Hot Springs so many times we knew how to get there.  We stopped at the usual places, Talkeetna, and the parking lot of Mt. McKinley to rest.  We stopped in Fairbanks for about 30 minutes.  When you are driving with small children, they get restless.  The drive from Fairbanks to Chena Hot Springs is a little over an hour, so we were almost there.  

The first thing that hits you when you arrive at Chena Hot Springs is the sulfur smell.  And it does smell bad! As time passes, you get used to the smell and it disappears, at least for me it does. We rented two cabins and some rooms in the resort. I stayed in a cabin with the girls, my parents and a few others stayed in the resort. My sister, Sunshine, slept in a cabin with her husband and the boys.  After getting settled in and used to the sulfur smell, we walked around the camp and played volleyball. After volleyball we prepared the food for our barbeque.

The best thing about family reunions is reminiscing, and this time was no different.  Over dinner we talked about the past and laughed so hard. After dinner, my parents went to bed and the rest of us stayed up laughing and talking.  We made s’mores and sang songs we sang as children. We lost track of the time because the sun was out and it was July.  Alaska gets a lot of daylight during the summer.  We must have been too loud for the hour because someone in the resort asked us to keep it down. At that request, we cleaned up and went to bed.

The next day we all picked different things we wanted to do in and around Fairbanks. My group went to Santa Claus House, in North Pole.  We took the Riverboat Discovery tour.  This is a tour you have to experience for yourself, because no words can describe all the things you see! The tour includes a Chena Indian Village Walking Tour. I clearly remember a young lady who demonstrated the parkas that are worn during the winter.  And when she zipped up the coat it was so beautiful.  This tour is well worth it.  After the boat tour, we drove to Fox, another little town outside of Fairbanks.  We went there to see the Alyeska Pipeline. In Fox the pipeline goes underground, and right before it goes into the ground, you can actually touch it.  I’m not sure if you can still touch the pipeline today, but it’s an interesting place to visit and learn about the pipeline. 

When we got back to Chena Hot Springs, the kids were bored so we decided to go walking through the woods.  To get the kids excited about the walk, Miss Stice told the kids they were going on a scavenger hunt.  I don’t remember the list of things the kids had to find, but it kept them busy and they enjoyed the adventure.  The second night was much the same as the night before.  With that many people together there are a lot of wonderful stories to reminisce about.

The next morning, we loaded up the cars and headed back to Anchorage.

I wish I could go over every single trip I have taken in Alaska, but that would take an entire book. I only highlight these trips because they are so memorable.  I was in the Symphonic Band when I was in high school. In the spring we would tour towns around southcentral Alaska and other regions.  We went to Seldovia, Kodiak, Tok Junction, Soldotna, Kenai, Seward, Homer, and more. The residents in these towns would come out to our concerts and packed the auditoriums. The trip everyone remembers the most is the ferry ride from Seldovia to Kodiak. The water was rough, and people were getting sick.  The ferry was rocking back and forth, my best friend fell down the steps, and people were throwing up.  We slept on the floor of the ferry in sleeping bags and during the night, as the ferry rocked every which way, the sleeping bags were sliding all over the floor. Halfway through the night, we had to get up and reposition the sleeping bags because we were all one side of the deck. When we finally arrived in Kodiak, we couldn’t get off the boat fast enough. 

Another place I like to visit is Seward.  I would go here almost every summer when I lived in Alaska, usually as a spontaneous trip, but two summers my friends and I planned trips to Seward.  As we were driving to Seward, we would stop at the Virgin Creek road sign and take pictures. Once we arrived in Seward it was all about fun. I was in my 20’s, so I really don’t have to go into the details, you get the picture!  We arrived on Friday and the fun began. On Saturday we would walk around Seward wearing the same sweatshirt and jeans.  We also drove around the town, taking pictures at different places.  We enjoyed the beauty of the town and surrounding areas.  My favorite place was the waterfalls,  I always had to have my picture taken in front of the waterfalls. One of my friends describes Seward as a great escape from Anchorage, it’s peaceful, the serenity of the town is calming and she loves being close to the water. And the drive is beautiful.

As you can tell, my backyard goes beyond the one in the back of the house.  Some of the best memories you can have are traveling in your back yard. What are some places that you like to travel to in your backyard and why?  Please let me know, I do read your stories and I love reading about your journeys.

Next month:  Traveling in my other backyard.

Published by nolimittravel2020

I love to write and travel, now I have put the two together. I am very excited about what the future holds and more excited to help you with your travel needs.

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