Because we flew out of Seattle super early (5:30 am) we landed before lunchtime, one time zone later. We heard that Anchorage was "not really Alaska", and that it was so modernized and even dirty that it was forgettable. I hate to buy into such a dreary report, but we didn't spend any time there really to confirm or deny. We picked up a car at the airport, and headed south to the Alyeska Lodge. This is a luxury resort for summer and winter skiers, but we hit it off-season and could therefore afford it! Nothing was missing except lots of other people... YES.
We spent 3 nights here and used it as a base of operations for some of our best adventures! Our servers in the "fancy" restaurant were down to earth and exceptionally gracious and helpful. Our suite was uber comfortable and we slept well for the first time in several nights. If you take a look at the link below, you will see how amazing the entire resort is! Skiiers should try it out. Unfortunately, we were too early for any of the snow activities, and so the next day we headed south again to the very odd town of Whittier.
Whittier has been little more than a stopping place for various folks for decades. Its largest cement structure housed a complete community before shutting down and eventually closing. Today, it is off limits and condemned. The more charming sections of the watertown include a few seafood joints and gift shops. I even found a fiber arts/fabric store on Main Street, but most of the other shops were already shut down for the season. In fact, the town itself was due to "close" shortly as the tunnel schedule changes and tourists and ships avoid such a remote location. Our main reason for being there was the last week of the season boat tour to see Blackstone Glacier with Lazy Otter Charters. Of special note was the Whittier Tunnel and its bizarre schedule.
From the Alyeska Hotel, again super early, we scooted back to the airport, turned in the car, and took an Uber to the central train station. This is not a big deal, but it was cute and decorated for Halloween. We boarded the special Winter Train at about 8:00 am and spent the next 12 hours with a funny cast of train-riding characters. Many of the tourists were Asian teens who, turns out, are just as irritating as American teens. Cell phones and chatter no know borders. Along the way, however, we picked up a mix-matched group of outlanders as they raised old-time signal flags along the tracks. We were on one of the last trains in the world that still allows folks to whistle stop their way up and down the countryside. Each little "stop" we saw had a set of waiting chairs (homemade) and/or a flat space in a trail. Since the train goes north and south only once a week in the winter, it was important to be on time.
Well, this place was a mixed bag, but it tilted toward the positive. We had purchased a 4-day Alaska Tour package which included bookend nights at the Marriott in Fairbanks, and 2 nights at this extraordinary "base camp". The idea was to spend the nights in your own private yurt/igloo, and witness the beauty of the Aurora Borealis through your huge plexiglass windows. We knew there was no guarantee since they are often showing in another part of the hemisphere or covered by clouds. We struck out, but tried out a few other tourist activities. Ken wasn't up for a dogsled anything, but I tried riding in an ATV at 13.5 mph behind a full 8-dog team! Part of the package included this opportunity, but it was too early for enough snow for the sled. I was amazed at how energetic they were and how we didn't run them over! Ken and I did take a 2-hour hike to the top of a secluded hill (but next to part of the Alaska pipeline), and enjoyed hot coffee and fabulous dinners in the communal yurt. The manager, Mary Lou, and others, made the visit exceptional. We did talk to the owner on our way back to Fairbanks, however, and discussed the benefits of consistent heat and thicker towels. The B.B. has a few growing pains, but we would love to go back!
We spent our last 3 days in this fascinating state in Fairbanks proper. The best moments, hands down, were at the Museum of the North at University of Alaska. We saw amazing exhibits of dinosaur and mammoth remains, indigenous people's arts and survival techniques, an story board display of what happened to the native Alaskans during the first years of WWII, and so much more. My favorite display of all was "The Place Where You Go To Listen". This is a small room with a small bench, but filled with breathtaking musical "earth compositions". Hard to explain, but basically a few computer and geology geniuses got together so that during every natural "shift" around the world, the listener could experience the event through auditory and visual data. For instance, movement underground generated deep, bass rumblings which were ongoing. If the auroras were present, one could hear the "tinkling bells" above. Alas, we did not hear any, but see below for a better description. The movie about the auroras was vital to really understanding and appreciating this phenomena.
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Becky and Ken Decker