Alaska: The Last Frontier
State Nickname: The Last Frontier
State Motto: “North to the Future”
Origin of the Name Alaska: The word Alaska is from the Aleut Indian word “alaxsxaq” or “agunalaksh,” meaning “the mainland” or “shore”.
As you might have guessed, I’ve recently returned from my first trip to The Last Frontier.
My best friend, Shane, moved to Anchorage, Alaska four years ago. Each winter, I would swear up and down that I would go visit her the following summer, and by the time that summer rolled around, I was in the process of moving or changing jobs or both, and couldn’t afford the time or the money to make the trip (especially from the East Coast).
Then, last summer, I moved to Oregon. Let me tell you, it is much cheaper to fly from the West Coast up to Alaska than it is from Massachusetts! So, with some frequent flyer miles and a drive up to Seattle, I flew to Anchorage round-trip for a $40 flight, and FINALLY got to make good on my promise: 12 days spent with my BFF in her (not-so-new-anymore) home.
The first thing I noticed about Alaska is that everything there is huge. The mountains are taller, grander, and more numerous than anywhere else I’ve seen. The lakes are wider and deeper, the forests vaster, and the moose (probably) bigger.
The second thing I noticed about Alaska is that Anchorage is the ugliest city I’ve ever seen. I am not a city person, I’ll be upfront about that, but even that said, everyone agrees that no one lives in Anchorage for its charming appeal. Built by a combination of the military industrial complex and engineers, this city has some of the ugliest, squarest, flattest architecture I’ve ever seen. Why live there, then, you might ask? The general consensus seemed to be that people lived in Anchorage for two reasons: 1) that’s where the jobs were, and 2) its proximity to everything else outdoorsy. Basically, you work at whatever job you’ve got and then leave town as often as possible.
This works well for Shane, who currently is a buyer for Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking (AMH), a locally-owned Patagonia type of place that is THE stop for anyone planning to do any outdoor adventuring in the general area (the “general area” meaning within a 2-4 hour driving distance), especially for all those people looking to climb Denali. Full-time access to a gear shop and the understanding that you’re going to take off to go adventuring now and then? Deal!
Shane was, as explained, able to take some time off, and so the first weekend I got there, we took off for Homer, Alaska, with Shane’s friend Lucy, Lucy’s next door neighbors, and their nephew-in-law. Our final destination? Halibut Cove, an island community accessible only by boat, float plane, or helicopter.
We stayed in a park service cabin in Halibut Cove Lagoon, bringing two dogs, four kayaks, and enough food and gear for three days of camping and hiking. On the second night we were there, we kayaked about two hours over the Halibut Cove itself, where we had dinner at The Saltry Restaurant, the only restaurant there, and only open in the summer season. The service was a bit snooty, but the food was excellent, and the views were spectacular. There’s something vaguely death-defying about kayaking over a lagoon that’s fed with water from the Pacific Ocean, and it made me want to do more sea kayaking in the future. The one major thing to learn from my experience – make sure to check the tides! We got caught at low tide after dinner, and ended up having to portage our kayaks across a muddy, marshy strip of land in order to get out of the cove.
Our next big adventure was spending the following weekend in Talkeetna, Alaska, right at the foot of Denali. As the weather prohibited climbing/mountaineering, there was no room at the Talkeetna Roadhouse. We ended up doing an Airbnb rental for the night, and stayed in this amazing house a couple of miles outside of town. The owners had designed and built their own house, so wood was everywhere, including stair railings made of actual tree branches and left as their natural shape. Gorgeous! We wandered around the shops selling beautiful art made my local artists, ate delicious local food, and hung out with the other locals/tourists. My favorite restaurants were definitely the food truck we stopped at for a snack and the cafe where we read books for a while on the couches outside on the porch.
It hasn’t escaped my notice that those are things I can also do in the Portland-area, but there was something extra magical about doing them in Alaska. On the way back from Talkeetna, we tried to drive through Hatcher Pass, which we knew was supposed to be closed, but we thought we’d risk it. It was closed. But we did drive almost all the way up to the top, where it was snowing, and saw a couple of juvenile bull moose playing tag on the road, so it was all worth it.
Our last adventure was a drive out to Girdwood, Alaska, where Alyeska Resort, the big ski resort, is located. We ate dinner at the incomparable Jack Sprat restaurant. Everything was absolutely perfect: the atrium was sunny and filled with plans, the food was delicious and delightfully plated, and even the music was the right tone – jazzy and smooth and made you feel like dancing without being rowdy. Afterward, we took a little drive into the nearby forest and hiked to a small waterfall. I should say, we strolled about 5-10 minutes through the woods until we came upon the waterfall, pouring prettily not one mile from the road. It was the best way to spend my last night in Alaska. Almost two weeks feels like no time at all in a place where there’s so much to see and do. I’m already looking forward to going back.
I did learn, however, that there’s a difference between an adventure and a vacation. Alaska was most definitely an adventure. I think the next time I’m looking for a vacation, I’ll try someplace a little bit more tropical.
For more Alaska pictures, check out the gallery below.