Summer has been great as my family just came back from Alaska. I know it seems crazy 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, this trip was pretty fun.
It was a somber morning as we had to bury my grandmother Pi-Tan at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Los Altos. The service began at 10 a.m. and lasted around an hour. Following the service, the three of us had lunch with our family friends before heading home to pack up.
The first leg of the trip was an afternoon flight to Anchorage. There was a problem as we checked into the hotel: our room smelled like cigarettes despite being a non-smoking room. How unpleasant. Finding the right person took a while, but management got another room for us. It was almost midnight when we were ready for bed.
Our first real stop was 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. This was a nice place, although there wasn't much to do besides enjoy the views. The other downside is that mosquitoes were everywhere. I was bitten several times after just a few minutes. Blah.
We arrived in Valdez a few hours later. One of the most important ports in Alaska, Valdez was our destination for the next two nights. There weren't many attractions, although we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant after checking into the hotel. The food was delicious!
Valdez marks the southern end of the Alaska pipeline, one of the most recognizable landmarks in the state. Part of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, the 800-mile pipeline carries oil from Prudhoe Bay to the Valdez Marine Terminal. This engineering marvel made for some neat pictures.
Dad took us to Worthington Glacier in the late afternoon. The glacier looked small from a distance, but we were surprised by its size as we approached. The nice thing is that it wasn't too cold here. On the way back to the car, I noticed one of the doors was open. Oh crap. To our relief, everything was accounted for. That was a close call.
Our next destination was Fairbanks. Due to the distance, most of the day was spent on the road. 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 memorable photos. The funny thing is that we came across this place by chance. Sometimes the best things are unplanned.
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 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 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 unique experience. Tank took some pictures with us before driving us back to Fairbanks. On the whole, the tour was my favorite part of the trip.
We said goodbye to Tank and headed to downtown Fairbanks for groceries. I took the opportunity to buy a box of chocolates from Alaska Wild Berry Products at Fred Meyer. The unusual flavors like fireweed and gooseberry had caught my eye. I can't wait to try them as they sound really good.
The fun ended when Dad got pulled over for speeding - in Alaska of all places. 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. According to the sign, Cantwell has a population of only about 200 people. It was one of the most desolate places I've ever been. Despite the remoteness, the cabin wasn't too bad.
I'm glad we bought our groceries the day before because room service was insanely expensive. For example, the full breakfast was around $16 according to the menu. Yikes!
After checking out of the cabin, my family headed to Denali National Park and Preserve for another tour. We saw 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 also lasted about eight hours. All of us were completely exhausted when the tour ended.
Back in Anchorage, the three of us had dinner at a Japanese restaurant before returning to the hotel. It was nice to finally get some well-deserved rest.
Our flight home was in the afternoon. We spent the morning exploring the downtown and browsing the shops. I wanted to visit the Alaska Wild Berry Products store, but there wasn't enough time. This was unfortunate because I wanted to check out the factory tour and free samples. 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 afterwards.
This was easily one of our best vacations ever. I enjoyed every moment of the trip, but the Arctic Circle tour was my favorite part by far. 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 few 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. 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.