Up until a few years ago, I pictured Alaska as a frigid country inhabited by Eskimos; a land only for the intrepid traveller with extreme or academic pursuits. That image changed the day I saw the lovely pictures from my aunt's Alaska trip. I've wanted to visit ever since....
After having been on my 'To-visit' list for 5 years or so, we finally decided to check it off by making the journey to the last frontier. As the largest state in the United States, Alaska is huge. We soon realized that it would be impossible (and unfair) to cover and truly enjoy the beauty of this land in a short visit. For our first visit, we decided to focus on South-Central Alaska. Here is our itinerary in brief -
Day 1 (June 29th) - Arrive in Anchorage (ANC), pick up rental car and drive to Denali National Park(DNP)
Day 2, 3, 4 - DNP
Day 5 - Drive to Seward
Day 6 - Kenai Fjords Cruise, Seward
Day 7 - Visit Exit Glacier. Drive to Homer
Day 8 - Katmai National Park - Bear Safari
Day 9 - Homer local stuff. Drive to Girdwood
Day 10 (July 8th) - Girdwood local stuff. Drive to ANC. Catch the red-eye home (SJC).
Day 1 - We boarded the early morning Alaska airlines flight from San Jose to Anchorage. As someone who dozes off minutes after take-off, I was surprised I barely caught a wink. I guess it was the excitement of our impending trip. I had spent months researching and carefully planning each detail of our trip and was glad that we were finally on our way.
|View from flight during descent to ANC|
The plan for the day was to drive North to Denali Princess Lodge (DPL) (about a mile from Denali National Park entrance). We were going to be travelling by road from here on. So first we needed to pick up our rental car from Avis's downtown location. Given the long days and the fact that the drive would take about 7 hours max., we figured we had plenty of time on hand. Always yearning for a local experience, we opted to take the People Mover bus downtown (Vs taking a cab). The bus dropped us a few blocks from Avis's office.
|Waiting for the bus outside ANC airport|
We love our food! Unsure of the food options at DNP, we had mentally prepared ourselves to be on a pizza diet during our days at DNP. We decided to take the time to savour a good meal before we departed for DNP. It was almost lunch time. Bangkok Cafe, the Thai restaurant in downtown ANC did not disappoint. We were hungry and the food was great; I think we over-ate! Avis was a short walk from the restaurant. A quick stop at Carrs for some groceries and we were on our way(~2:30 pm).
I am a terrible road trip companion - Sleep overcame me as soon as we started driving. Latte at a roadside coffee shack (these abound in Alaska and have the best coffee!) was my saving grace.
|Thank God! for these Coffee Shacks|
The scenery along the drive was beautiful. The sun was out for the most part but we also caught some showers and rainbows :) A big patch of white on the skyline caught our attention. Was it just the sky or was that the big one? We had indeed seen Denali (Mt. McKinley) during that brief moment. The big one eluded us for the rest of our stay.
We reached DPL around 8 pm, although the bright light made it seem like it was late in the afternoon. The area was a far cry from what I had imagined. Across the road from DPL were restaurants, gift shops and a few other convenience stores. The area was bustling with tourists. The scene reminded me of the mall roads that are typical of Indian hill stations but on a grande scale. The facilities and the number of tourists definitely took me by surprise.
We had a quick dinner at the Black Bear Coffeehouse just across the road from DPL. We had almost finished dinner when it started raining. We stopped for a while soaking in the scenery. Once back in the room, we prepped for the next day - made sandwiches for next day's lunch and packed for the excursion. It had been a long day and we had to make an early start tomorrow. We shut the curtains tight, trying to simulate night-time and forced ourselves to go to bed. Although tired, it felt weird going to bed when it was still bright outside.....