Alaska! Third time's the charm
(06/20/21 - 07/07/21)
Mind Your Own Business As with all our trips, we have some silly thing that keeps repeating during our trip. This time, it happens to not have anything to do with Dan, Assana, Alaska, etc.! It is the sound track from Apple’s latest privacy ad! “Can I lick the crumbs off your table? No! Mind your own business.” We are weirdos.
Repeat Thought we have both been to Alaska before, this is somewhat of a new experience: for Assana, a pleasant one since all her past memories are laced with fights with Randy… and for Dan… well, he has no recollection of his visit with his family. It is possible that they actually didn’t bring him along!
It is both interesting and sad to be in Alaska. Interesting because we are making more great memories. And sad because of all the changes to the environment. To visibly notice the glacier and ice recession from just 20 years ago is heartbreaking. Matanuska Glacier which used to be just off the Glenn Highway is now miles away. We do go hiking on it, but now we take a shuttle, through someone’s private property, to miles away.
Third Time This is our second pandemic trip. We are happy the trip is happening given that it was canceled twice before: once because of Assana’s mom, and second time covid. But we are shocked at how covid has hit the labor market: most restaurants are running at 25% capacity because of labor shortage; the same with hotels, national parks and basically any industry that requires an hourly labor. So our dining experience is sub-par, to say the least.
Service? No! Another thing that seems to have left Alaska is customer service! The rental car folks who — not having our car ready — gave us a whole cock-n-bull story about how we can only check in exactly at the time of our reservation, which was in 45 minutes. No sooner. Of course, we wait another two hours after the said time because, well, they didn’t have our car ready! Just say that to start with!
Or when we arrive to our hotel in Glennallen an hour ahead of official check-in time. The parking lot is empty. The room (which ended up being a 2 bedroom apartment) is available, but the gal only knows one line:
D&A: We have reservations…
Gal: Check-in is at 4:00.
D&A: Sorry… we are running a bit early!
Gal: Check-in is at 4:00.
D&A: Is our room ready though?
Gal: Check-in is at 4:00.
D&A: Can you check?
Gal: Check-in is at 4:00.
Again?? Alaska is a trailer park with great views! Everywhere you look there are amazing mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, and beautiful sky… and then you look close up, and she is not so pretty! But the drives are beautiful, and the drive along the Turn-Around-Again-Geez-Arm is no exception. The tide is high and there is still quite a bit of snow on the mountains, so they are super pretty. A 1.5 hour wait at The Double Musky introduces us to Alaska’s state flying object: the mosquito. Thank goodness for the wide arsenal of Deet we have hauled with us!
#32 - #39 We are hitting a whole bunch of National Parks during this trip, some with better luck than others. At Kenai Fjords NP — or as Dan calls is Knaaaaaaaai — our boat ride into the fjords is a dud — Assana’s fault — but we do see a pod of orcas who flirt with our boat, spouting at us within feet! Amazing footage caught by Dan. Exit Glacier is crowded, but beautiful. We are shocked at the amount of recession that is documented with year markers along the road to the entrance, with the first one being miles away!
🐻🐻🐻 At Katmai NP, the anchor for this whole trip, where we specifically hope to see the salmon jump into the bears’ mouths, we are a week early! No salmon to be seen… that is until an hour before our departure when we do see 2-3 attempts and wimpy jumps upstream (they all failed). But do see bears up close, including a mama bear and her two super adorable cubs!
Sparks The road to Wrangell St. Elias NP is beautiful… it is the stereotypical Alaskan road: mountains, rivers, glacier, clouds, etc. The heart of the park is a 6 hour of dirt road — each way — so we skip it. Might have been a mistake cause turns out it is really pretty. Oh well, perhaps we will return at some point. The nearest town, Glennallen, is remote, dry and an armpit. Honestly, if a town needs to not be dry, it would be Glennallen. There is a liquor store on the edge of town, run by a two-hundred year old lady. We pick a bottle of [California] wine, and she hands us the credit card machine to charge ourselves! Age. Next we pick up an amazing pizza from Sparks, this store that is part pizza shop, part Radio Shack, part Michaels, and part every-other-store-in-the-world! It is jam packed with everything you can think of. We eat our pizza and drink our wine on a plastic picnic table, in the hotel’s parking lot. Good times!
No! This is the same hotel that doesn’t let us check in early. We asked a different gal if there are trails nearby? Answer: “No, I know nothing about trails.” Turns out there is a network of trails — with great interpretive signs no less — literally across the road. As in, you have just cross the road, and you are there.
15% Our bestest luck is with Mount Denali, even before we get to the Park. We stay in Talkeetna for a couple of night of hiking and relaxation. (We won't mention the fact that the lodge doesn't allow anyone to leave the building because of bear sighting... which is the whole reason we are in Alaska!) As we are driving into town, all of a sudden, we have a glimpse of what we guess is Mount Denali. We turn around, go back to the same spot hoping to see it again, at no avail. Little do we know that our room will have an unobstructed view of Mount Denali! On our second night in Talkeetna, the clouds part, and there is the mountain… completely clear! Assana’s insomnia pays off and we shoot gorgeous photos of sunrise on the mountain, only to be out-gorgeoused by the shots from the drive up to the park, especially from the South Viewpoint. Turns out only 15% of visitors see the mountain! We are very happy!
69.8819° N And finally, the arctic! We fly on a private plane from Fairbanks to Bettles, a settlement of just an airport, a lodge, and the supporting ramshackle buildings. The host could not possibly be any more unfabulous! He greets us at the plane in dirty torn jeans, talks our ears off about how expensive his operation is, and tells us not to bother asking any questions about the two national parks — the whole reason we are there! — cause he knows nothing about them. Did I mention how much everything costs? A lot, turns out. We hear about the cost of plane insurance, propane prices, having to haul cans of tomato to the arctic… you name it, it costs a lot, and he told us about it. There are so many instances where Assana is tempted to ask, “Why are you here? Pack up and leave!”
Fortunately our day of traveling to the two national parks does not include the host! Whew!
All-day Sun The sun not ever setting is something we anticipated, but the area's landscape is a bit of surprise to us. Generally, the arctic is so much greener and wetter than we had imagined. Thousands of lakes and rivers — big rivers — crisscross the land. Then there are these weird ass sand dunes in Kobuk Valley National Park. We land on a river right in the middle of them for a bit of walking around. It is such an unexpected site! Next we go to Gates of the Arctic National Park. Weather is not cooperating so we miss seeing the peaks, but we do land on a beautiful lake for lunch and some more walking… and of course photos. Truly a treat. By the time we are back to Bettles from GotANP, Assana is ready to be done with the hoppity-hop puddle jumper planes!
Nerds It is always interesting to meet folks on trips, but when you meet people in the Arctic, you know they are serious tourists. We really enjoy hanging around with folks we meet on the flight over to Bettles. All national park nerds, and all ahead of us on how many they have visited. We plan on meeting them all in American Samoa NP in a few years! Should be fun.
Almost Done 18 days, 1360 miles of driving, 8 piddly floatplane legs, and 7 national parks. But not quite done with Alaska yet. We’ll be back to see Glacier Bay National Park. Hopefully soon before the glaciers all melt!
Mind Your Own Business
Can I have a taste of your ice cream?
Can I lick the crumbs off your table?
Can I interfere in your crisis?
Can you hear the people behind me?
No! Mind your own business…
Why don’t you mind your own business…