Do’s and Don’ts of An Amazing Alaska Adventure

I’ll admit upfront that this post is going to be mostly about the do’s of an Amazing Alaska Adventure. (And yes, I know that apostrophe is completely unnecessary and ungrammatical, but you try writing that phrase without it.)

As I was saying, we didn’t really find many don’ts on this trip. It was amazing. Beautiful. Breathtaking. And, likely, once in a lifetime. So, let’s start with the most important.

DO..

go.

Really, I can’t say it much more simply than that. Get off the couch. Do whatever you have to do to earn a few extra dollars (stick to the legal stuff, please) and plan an amazing Alaskan adventure of your own.  You won’t be sorry.

You’ll get to see things like this:

The many colors of Polychrome Pass in Denali National Park.

The many colors of Polychrome Pass in Denali National Park.

And do things like this:

That's my daddy...on a glacier.  Yes, we all hiked on a glacier.  Try doing that in Massachusetts!

That’s my daddy…on a glacier. Yes, we all hiked on a glacier. Try doing that in Massachusetts!

And eat things like this:

Yes, you can still get bad seafood in Alaska...but not at 229 Parks near Denali. There, it's all incredible.

Yes, you can still get bad seafood in Alaska…but not at 229 Parks near Denali. There, it’s all incredible.

DO…

rent a house.

Hotels in Alaska can be expensive. They can be boring. They can be disappointing. We rented the Eagles Nest at the Canoe Lake Chalet in Palmer, Alaska.  It was perfect.

Beautiful views at our quiet getaway.  I only wish we'd had more time to spend there!

Beautiful views at our quiet getaway. I only wish we’d had more time to spend there!

We wanted a place that could fit the six of us (me and my guy, my sis and her family) and that had room to park my parents RV. We wanted a place where we could fix meals in a real kitchen, and eat together around a table or two. We wanted a place where we could sit outside.

We got all that…plus the great travel advice of the owner, Geri.

Speaking of which.

DO…

walk on a glacier.

Geri suggested that we drive east from Palmer to hike the Matanuska Glacier. My parents had spotted it on their way out to meet us in Anchorage, but my dad really wasn’t convinced it was worth paying $20 just to walk on some ice.

See…according to that link above, the Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier in Alaska that can be reached by car. The glacier itself is on public land, but the only road leading up to the glacier is private. And the super-smart people who own and (barely) maintain that road know how to make a buck.

Let me tell you, that was the best $20 (per person, less for seniors and kids) we’ve ever spent!

Why?

Look at those smiles!

Look at those smiles!

Kids dig glaciers. Really. Tell a couple of kids from Southern California that they get to spend the afternoon walking around on ice and they’ll immediately stop complaining that their legs are sore from yesterday’s hike. Give them each a ski pole to help keep them from slipping…and, yes, you might want to grab one for yourself as well.

Mmm...glacier water.

Mmm…glacier water.

Glaciers provide their own hydration. No need to carry heavy bottled water! Just bring an empty bottle and fill it up. There’s nothing like drinking the water from a glacier…while walking on the very same glacier. (Just don’t try to drink it a few days later. It’s just not the same.)

Ahhh...yeah. We did not pay attention to this sign, but ignore it at your own risk.

Ahhh…yeah. We did not pay attention to this sign, but ignore it at your own risk.

Glacier = Adventure. Yes, you can pay a guide to take you in. But, just take it easy. Remember ice is more slippery on the way down, so don’t climb up anything you can’t slide down, if necessary. Remember that any stream you cross is likely to get bigger as the day goes on (the glacier is melting in those long Alaskan summer days). And remember not to go anywhere near overhangs, because the ice can give away at any moment.

No, I’m not a glacier climbing expert. These are just the little things we learned in one afternoon on the ice.

DO…

check out the breweries.

No, I’m not a beer expert either. In fact, I really kinda hate beer. But, Alaska has a lot of really cool breweries. We checked out as many as we could. They all had really nice (but different) vibes, awesome food, and wine for me to drink.

Yay for wine!

Yay for wine!

Where did we go?

Glacier Brewhouse

Lunch, Day 1.  Might as well get started right away!

Lunch, Day 1. Might as well get started right away!

This one’s in downtown Anchorage, and it’s definitely the most commercial of the breweries we visited. My dad was worried about finding parking, so we went into the garage at JC Penney’s a few blocks over.  Boy was that an adventure!

My meal was good, but Jerry's was better. You're going to have to read the Boston Globe to hear about that one!

My meal was good, but Jerry’s was better. Stay tuned to the Boston Globe to hear about that one!

The menu was big and the food was great, if a bit expensive, which is pretty standard for Alaska. There was wine on tap…which I always love. As long as I’m going to be paying a crazy markup for wine in a restaurant, I might as well not be paying for the pretty glass bottles as well.

As usual, Jerry got the stout…and I loved it!

He loved it to, but that’s not unusual. Let me restate the crazy bit.

I loved this beer. Like, I wished I hadn’t ordered the wine, so I could drink a whole glass.  That never happens.

Denali Brewing Co.

This one’s in Talkeetna, a crazy little tourist trap of a town on the way to Denali National Park.

This is the scene...everywhere you look.

This is the scene…everywhere you look.

When we arrived, we thought they were holding a street fair. It was difficult to find parking in the little dirt lot and the streets were filled with people. I asked the hostess at Denali Brewing Company’s restaurant, Twister Creek, and she told me that this was pretty normal for the summertime. Nothing happens here during the winter, apparently.

What a beautiful spot!

What a beautiful spot!

We found a seat on their outdoor patio, under the most beautiful streaky-clouded sky I’ve ever seen. The beer drinkers were happy with their beer. I was happy with my wine. (No Karen-approved beers here!)

But, really, for me, it was all about the food.

Whoa. Now that's a burger!

Whoa. Now that’s a burger!

I chose the “I can see Russia burger.” I’m a sucker for a good name.

It had two chili peppers next to the description, so I knew it was going to have a good kick.  In this case, the kick came from horseradish.

Basically, it’s a burger topped with coleslaw and Russian dressing spiked with horseradish on a sourdough bun. That combo is amazing.

The beef and the bun are where it’s at.  First, the beef. Alaska isn’t known for having great beef. It’s not surprising. I didn’t see one cow during my entire visit. So, Twister Creek takes what may well be less-than-fabulous beef and seasons it up really well. It’s bursting with flavor.

Then, the bun.  Alaska IS known for great sourdough. Just think…those miners had to make bread somehow, and live yeast wasn’t gonna be available in cute, little packet form. I could eat those sourdough buns by the dozen. (But then I wouldn’t fit in my airline seat and I’d never be able to come back.  Alaska is awesome in the summer, but I wouldn’t want to go there in the winter!)

49th State Brewing Co.

49th State is one of those super friendly places where you know you could hang out for hours and no one would ever get itchy for you to leave. There’s lots of cozy seating inside and big picnic benches outside. There’s an indoor fireplace for those cool evenings. And a big board of beers on tap over the bar.

Sadly, our bartender called that board the “Board of Broken Dreams” because it so often doesn’t actually reflect the beers on tap.  Our bartender was cool.

What a friendly smile!

What a friendly smile!

We didn’t eat, and I don’t drink beer. So, my sister Darla is going to have to do the bulk of the reviewing on this one.

Darla got the sampler. It came in a cool, Alaska shaped tray.

This is the tray after she was done, just so you can tell she did a thorough job!

This is the tray after she was done, just so you can tell she did a thorough job!

Now, you don’t get to choose the beers in your sampler. You get what they give you. I was not on top of things enough to keep track of which beers Darla sampled or even what order she sampled them in. But, here are her thoughts.

I think Darla's got a future in this reviewing business, don't you?

I think Darla’s got a future in this reviewing business, don’t you?

The coolest part of 49th State (at least for a no-beer girl like me!) is the bus.

9340146388_9b66ee206f_z

If that bus looks familiar to you, you’ve probably read the book (or seen the movie) Into the Wild. I haven’t done either, so I’ll do my very best to sum up from what I learned on the internet.

Christopher McCandless gave up everything to live in the wilderness. He abandoned his legal name and started calling himself Alexander Supertramp, which should have been the first clue that this was all going to end tragically.

Chris/Alex hitchhiked to Alaska, where he headed off into the wild with completely inadequate supplies. Luckily, he stumbled upon an abandoned bus, which had been outfitted (by hunters, I believe) with a wood stove. He lived inside the bus until he died, approximately 119 days after leaving civilization.

Oh yeah, this looks like a comfy place to spend the summer!

Oh yeah, this looks like a comfy place to spend the summer!

According to a plaque on site, the bus we saw was from the movie. Recently, a hiker died trying to visit the original bus, and so it was deemed advisable to put the movie bus somewhere accessible.

Either that, or it just looks really cool to have a big green bus on your brewery’s t-shirt.  Believe me, I bought one.

Do…

take a boat ride.

Darla was the brains behind this part of the adventure. She wanted to see the glaciers and the wildlife in Prince William Sound. There are plenty of 150+ passenger cruise ships that do this, but we’re not really a cruise ship sort of family.

We haven't even left the harbor yet, and it's already breathtaking!

We haven’t even left the harbor yet, and it’s already breathtaking!

Darla found Epic Charters, a small company that does a whole lot of water taxi service for kayakers. Their boats are built to drive right up to the beach, so we were assured we could get out and walk around on some of the Sound’s most beautiful beaches (and we did!)  Without those cruise ship passengers in the way, we were assured of a clear view.

Surprise! It's another glacier!

Surprise! It’s another glacier!

The highlight of our day was definitely the Surprise glacier, set back in a bag clogged with chunks of ice. Our guide, Ben, drove the boat as close as was safely allowed and we spent the longest time in awe of the beauty in front of us. We listened as the glacier split apart and chunks fell into the ocean, and then we fished some of those smaller chunks back out again.

Pressure...the same force that makes glacier ice appear blue also turns it crystal clear.

Pressure…the same force that makes glacier ice appear blue also turns it crystal clear.

DON’T…

be afraid to try new things.

On our last night in Anchorage, we wanted to go to Yamaya, a sushi restaurant “Alaska Bob” had told Jerry about.  “Alaska Bob” used to work and live in Alaska, so he knows what he’s talking about.

He said that the restaurant wouldn’t look like much from the outside, and he was right.  From the front, I was pretty sure it was abandoned!

Does this look like the best sushi restaurant in Alaska to you?

Does this look like the best sushi restaurant in Alaska to you?

Inside, the restaurant is small and humble, with just three long, family-style tables. A sign on the wall warns parties of 3 or more to be patient. That’s because everything is cooked by the owner, and he looks to be about 75 years old.

Jerry and I were psyched. Darla was game. But her hubby and kids weren’t so sure they’d find anything on the menu that they liked. Joe settled on a stir fry, which looked pretty tasty. The kids were told that the’d be eating ramen. The were warned that it wouldn’t look a whole lot like the ramen they eat at home.

What they got looked like this:

To me, this is a beautiful bowl of noodle soup. To an 8 and 10 year old, it might as well have been made by aliens!

To me, this is a beautiful bowl of noodle soup. To an 8 and 10 year old, it might as well have been made by aliens!

I was worried the kids wouldn’t eat, but soon the chef’s wife stopped by our table. The waitress (her granddaughter) had told us that she had made the gyoza by hand, so we complimented her on a job very well done. She joked that those dumplings were the cause of the pains in her shoulder…and her back…and her hip. Soon, we were all laughing.

An even bigger miracle? The kids ate those noodles. They even agreed to take a before and after shot for me.

BEFORE
scared

AFTER
happy

I think these kids have the same reviewer talents as their mom!

DON’T…

bother with Wonder Lake.

Let’s start with the good. I loved Denali National Park. The scenery is breathtaking. The wildlife is abundant. And the crowds are minimal. There’s only really one way in and one way out and that’s on a bus. It keeps the number of visitors inside the park to a reasonable number, and the bus driver is always willing to stop so you can take magnificent photos like this.

Don't you love how I just snuck that in there?

Don’t you love how I just snuck that in there?

Yep. We got engaged in Denali National Park. How could I not think it’s the most beautiful place on the planet?

But, here’s the thing. There’s a whole lot to SEE in Denali National Park, but there’s not much to DO. (Besides get engaged, if you’re super, super lucky.) Our plan had been to ride the bus all the way to Wonder Lake and then get out to hike around for an hour or two.

After 5 1/2 hours on the bus, we finally made it to Wonder Lake.

Proof.

Proof.

And immediately got back onto the bus because we were being attacked by more mosquitos than I’ve ever seen in my life! Our awesome bus driver, Ned, had everyone close up the windows. Then, as we were driving away and leaving the nasty bugs behind he said…

“Wonder Lake. Once you’ve gone, you wonder why you went.”

Did I mention Ned was awesome?

4 Comments to “Do’s and Don’ts of An Amazing Alaska Adventure”

  1. Great story and illustrated well with your photos. Bob Robertson, Cobourg, ON, who wishes he’d been on that trip.

  2. that was wonderful. I am glad you had such a great time there. I went back in 2005 and was in Talkeetna and Denali also. Congratulations to you and Jerry!

  3. Thanks Carol. We had a really fantastic time!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: