The disembarkation from the Sun was super easy, and after a few moments of my freaking out about a missing bag because the port’s yellow lights turned our seriously tomato red suitcase orange (my bad), we were on our bus to Anchorage and zipping through another full sun, blue sky, gorgeous scenery day.
I think I’ve mentioned before how wonderfully welcoming and friendly Alaskans have been this whole trip. What I might not have mentioned is how they all clearly love living in Alaska. Some have made a definite life choice to live in the state: they mention a love of the outdoors and the sense of community that is engendered because of the juxtaposition of small population and distance. Others are native Alaskans and simply cannot imagine living anywhere else. Our bus driver fell into this camp. Highly social, filled with information on geography, geology, nature and history, and another storyteller.
As non-native Rochesterians, we often encounter native Rochesterians who simply cannot believe that we want to live in Upstate New York. It’s amazing to us how they will dog their own community and state–weather, taxes, roads, etc. Not once did we encounter an Alaskan who said anything bad about the state. When I asked one if he liked living there, his answer: “Haven’t found the exit yet. Change the season, change my toys.”
That being said, it’s clear that Alaskans are not fans of the government–federal or state–even though over 40% of them work for the government (it’s the state’s largest employer). When asked why the state capital is in Juneau and not Anchorage (a bigger and logistically more sensible city–and, as a side note, the first Alaskan city where we saw real diversity), the answer was that everyone was happy for government to stay out of the way in Juneau: Anchorage has repeatedly voted down the move. In Anchorage, the Federal Building is on the main drag and serves as an office building, courthouse, museum, gift shop, movie theater, and–most importantly–public restroom. It is, in the words of the marshals, “the most heavily guarded bathroom in the US.” These same marshals repeatedly apologized for making everyone go through security, apologized for scanning anyone who set it off, apologized for making people take off their shoes, … you get it. They were unlike any marshals I’ve seen in any federal building. Anywhere.
Yet, Alaska, which doesn’t like government, mandates a portion of government funds be set aside for planting flowers to promote beautification (it works!). Alaska is where your super friendly Lyft driver picks you up in a old Jeep with a completely cracked windshield yet is completely not sketchy: she’s a real estate agent who has traveled the world and would never live anywhere but … Alaska. Alaska is where the ULU Knife Factory Outlet–that does nothing but sell knives, very, very sharp knives–runs a free Anchorage shuttle as a community service. Alaska is just a different place–part of the US yet not. And, we loved it!
Just to give you a sense of the yin and yang of our relationship: I bought my office compatriots coffee roasted in Alaska; Ned bought his ULU knives. Six. ULU. Knives. Plus, a fossilized whale bone ULU for himself. I say, tomato; you say, curved, perpetual motion, unstoppable cutting machine.
On the way to Anchorage, we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. It’s where hurt wildlife goes to heal; abandoned baby wildlife goes to grow up; all with a goal of release into the wild unless that wildlife is a bear. We learned that bears are just like cats: they will return to familiar food sources. And, they’re unlike cats in that they are bears and they will travel hundreds of miles to get back. So, once a bear is at the AWCC, they stay. So, we saw the aforementioned bears, moose, foxes, wolves, porcupines, reindeer, muskox, and more all in gorgeous natural settings.
We are kept together because family.
Here’s a cool AWCC story: in partnership with Alaska Fish and Game, it brought back from extinction (yes, extinction) in America the wood bison and released 130 into the wild with plans to release even more. Oh, Alaska! Oh, and AWCC also sold some awesomely horrible Alaska joggers that you will likely see on Harper in later photos. Full service.
Once in Anchorage, we checked into our hotel–which was not as centrally located as advertised but was filled with dead animals and was right next door to the aforementioned ULU knife factory and thus the free shuttle.
So, we took the free shuttle to the town center and hoofed it to the Snow City Café, which we picked because of the large gf/df menu but also turned out to be an Anchorage hip hot spot. And, the food was delicious, too.
After lunch, with no real plans for the day, we decided to wander the compact town center.
Ned thought it was pretty awesome that Alaska would name its administrative office building after Edward Snowden. In reality, like almost every office building we saw in Anchorage, this one had a mid-century modern design vibe–and I would hang this sign in my house in a second. On it.
Mid-century turned solar.
Some of the previously mentioned flowers–we learned that what we saw as purple and yellow hanging baskets on every single light pole were really blue and yellow: the state colors!
More cool Anchorage signage:
I found a great quilt shop, and Ned and the kids went in search of more typical souvenirs. On their route, they ran into a ranger giving a real-artifact info talk outside the Federal Building. Check out those nails. He also dispensed advice about the bears–in short, if you run, you’ll only die tired. Carry bear spray.
(Yep, it’s the same shirt.)
Here are the Alaska-perfect joggers.
We caught a town trolley tour at the log cabin information center (check out those flowers!) that was led by an Anchorage native medical school student (studying in Utah) who just might be the most earnest and enthusiastic person on the face of the earth. We learned about the 1964 Anchorage Good Friday Earthquake, which had been mentioned by our bus driver, too. But, our tour guide’s father had been a boy scout called into action to rappel into the chasms ripped open by the quake to rescue people. Yes, boy scout. A BOY SCOUT. Alaskans are not like you and me. The 9.2 magnitude earthquake is the largest recorded in North America, and it shifted the earth by 30 feet, swallowing whole subdivisions. We had never heard of the quake before. Amazing.
We really loved Anchorage. It’s a quirky town filled with personalities, flowers, and art.
Spot the fish on the cow.
We spent two days in Anchorage. On one day, we were supposed to take a flight around Denali, but after driving all the way out to the float plane, the tour operator canceled the flight because of poor weather at the mountain top.
It was a big disappointment but we trusted their judgment–people start learning how to fly in Alaska as teens. There are really only two good ways to travel: boat or plane (which often lands on water, too, so it’s like a boatplus). It can take 45 minutes to sail between two cities that it would otherwise take over ten hours to drive between. Float plane slips are so valuable that they’re handed down through wills. So, while we had imagined leaving Anchorage having experienced Denali, we instead left having seen Spider-Man: Homecoming and a very nice, relaxing, homegrown movie about the Northern Lights. Not quite the same but whatevs. We could handle the chang.
We also ate some great food: reindeer sausage and brats at the recently opened International House of Hot Dogs truck, whose owner’s grandmother is from Rochester!
Those are cilantro fries. Oh, Alaska.
A quick breakfast at a place that’s menu echoed Ned’s hair:
Delicious birch-glazed donuts at a place selling Alaska-themed needlepoints to support Planned Parenthood (bought both):
GF Asian and award-winning banana-eggplant soup:
In short, we made the most of Anchorage!
We left for the airport at 11 pm. This is Anchorage at 11. At night.
Because it’s light about 19 hours a day at this time of year, the airport is on it 19 hours a day. The Ted Stevens International Airport–which our Seward to Anchorage driver pointed out is named after a 40 year Alaska Senator who died in a plane crash–is as busy at midnight as a typical airport would be a noon.
Want a pulled pork sandwich at midnight. Okay.
See a whale. Okay.
Eat a Denali Mac, whatever that is. Okay.
Get a new hairstyle. Okay.
Goodbye, Anchorage. Goodbye, Alaska. Next stop: Vancouver!