Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Alaska trip report

So my family just came back from Alaska. I know it's a little weird to go on another trip so soon, but Dad had some miles that were about to expire. Although we just went to the Pacific Northwest last month, I still had an awesome time.

Day 1

It was a somber morning as we had to bury my grandmother Pi-Tan first. The service was about an hour long and ended around 11 a.m. The three of us had lunch with two family friends before heading home to pack up.

The flight to Anchorage was fairly late. Upon checking into our hotel, Mom noticed our room smelled like cigarettes. How unpleasant. Finding the right person took a while, but they allowed us to change to another room. It was almost midnight when we were ready for bed.

Day 2

The morning began with a visit to Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The route took us through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. Because it has only one lane, traffic is limited to one direction and alternates at regular intervals. That was a cool experience.

At over 13 million acres, Wrangell–St. Elias is the largest national park in the United States. The view of the wilderness was spectacular. The downside is that mosquitoes were everywhere. I was bitten several times during our short stay here. Blah.

The journey brought us to Valdez (our destination for the next two nights) in the evening. This was a quiet little place; my parents and I checked into our hotel and had dinner at a Mexican restaurant. The food was delicious!

Day 3

Valdez marks the southern end of the Alaska pipeline, one of the most famous landmarks in the state. The 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline System is an impressive feat of engineering. The pipeline runs along the Dalton Highway and was a cool sight.

Dad took us to Worthington Glacier in the late afternoon. The glacier looked small from a distance, but we were surprised by its size when we got close. Upon returning to the parking lot, I noticed one of the car doors was open. Oops. To our relief, everything was accounted for. That was a close call.

Day 4

Our next destination was Fairbanks. Due to the distance, most of the day was spent driving. On the other hand, the scenery along the route was amazing and made the drive very worthwhile.

About 15 miles south of Fairbanks was North Pole. The town isn't related to the real North Pole but has a strong Christmas theme. The whimsical street names like Santa Claus Lane and Kris Kringle Drive made for some memorable photos. The funny thing is that we came across this place by chance. Sometimes the best things are unplanned.

Day 5

One thing I was looking forward to was crossing the Arctic Circle. Because most rental agencies don't allow their vehicles on unpaved roads - such as the Dalton Highway - we decided to book a tour. Our guide Tank (a cool guy with a cool name) was an outdoor enthusiast who knew everything about Alaska. Of note is that we were the only ones who signed up. That meant we got to take all of the extra food. Talk about VIP treatment!

The four of us arrived at the Arctic Circle after a four-hour drive. The only feature was a large wooden sign, but stopping here was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This was followed by another long drive back to Fairbanks. On the whole, the tour was my favorite part of the trip.

We said goodbye to Tank before heading to downtown Fairbanks for groceries. Speaking of which, I picked up a box of chocolates from Alaska Wild Berry Products at Fred Meyer. They caught my eye because of the unusual flavors. I can't wait to try them.

The fun ended when Dad got pulled over for speeding. It just happened that he was going very fast because of the downhill slope. This was rather unexpected, especially considering that we rarely saw police. The fine wasn't too steep but still put a damper on our mood. :-(

Our lodging for the night was a cabin in Cantwell. With a population of about 200 people, Cantwell was a desolate place. Despite the remoteness, the cabin wasn't too bad.

Day 6

I'm glad we bought our groceries the day before because the food was insanely expensive. For example, the full breakfast was around $16 according to the menu. Yikes!

After checking out of the cabin, my parents and I headed to Denali National Park and Preserve for another tour. We got to see all kinds of animals, such as bears, elk and moose. Denali was definitely another highlight of the trip. Like the Arctic Circle tour, this one was also around eight hours long. All of us completely exhausted by the day's end. Back in Anchorage, my family had a nice dinner at a Japanese restaurant before returning to the hotel for some well-deserved rest.

Day 7

Our flight home was in the afternoon. There was some spare time, during which we explored the downtown. I wanted to visit the Alaska Wild Berry Products store, but our time ran out. This was unfortunate because the factory tour and free samples sounded interesting. Oh well. :-(

The flight to San Francisco was uneventful. Our family friend Karen picked us up and gave us a ride home. I was totally exhausted at this point and went to bed shortly after unpacking.

Conclusions

Though we just came back from another trip, this one was no less exciting. The Arctic Circle tour was my favorite part by far. While the scenery was average, not many people can say they've crossed the Arctic Circle. Denali was also fun as we saw all kinds of wildlife. The memories from this trip will last years.

Alaska is one of the most unspoiled places in the world. Of course, the downside is that it gets extremely cold in the winter. It's certainly not a place I'd want to live for the rest of my life. That said, I wouldn't mind a vacation there every so often. :-)

Currently playing: Field & Stream: Trophy Bass 4

Historical note: Pictures from the trip are available here.

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