Day 1: After a pretty easy flight we landed in anchorage to pick up our swagger wagon. Literally, the best car ever. It was a sign it was going to be a good trip when we turned on the car, realized it was brand new and only had 1,200 miles on it and also Lil Jon "Get Low" started playing on the radio. It was a true swagger wagon. Our first stop was to Kincaid Park which is known for having a lot of Moose around. Before we went last time, my sister-in-law did a great job of instilling fear of the wildlife in me. This time around, I think we forgot to do that with our travel companions. We didn't really think we'd have as much luck as we did last time with spotting wildlife, but we were wrong - this trip was better than ever. Within the first five minutes of being there we heard news a moose was right around the corner on the path.
We walked down the main path for about a mile and headed out onto the beach. There was a small little gap in the trees that looked out onto the beach and you could see a muddy path leading out to the water. From there, we could see the "Sleeping Lady" mountain and Fire Island across the water. The tide here is so large that when the tide goes out the water to the island completely disappears. The water then comes back in at about 6 inches per minute, and gets about 30 feet deep. The scary thing is the mud between the beach and the island. People have been known to die getting trapped in the mud while attempting to cross it and my husband told all of us several stories. Sadly enough, one of the last days of our trip we saw a new story about someone who died attempting to cross over to that very island. I've heard about quick sand from, well, I guess really only in the Disney movie Aladdin, but it was really weird to see it in real life.
Afterwards, we went over to Potter's Marsh, which always has beautiful views. It was still gorgeous this time, but the water was rushing through the marsh and was really muddy due to a block-up of ice up in the mountains that had just broken right before we arrived. You can see how high up and how fast the water was moving in this picture:
Regardless, there were still beautiful views and way too many baby ducks to count.
As you can see, we were off to a running start. We hadn't even dropped off our luggage or checked into our rental house yet. Right around now I received an email from the woman who rented us her house. She told us to be careful because she had just left the property and a black bear was messing with the BBQ grill. I briefly thought that we needed to hurry and get there before it got dark, but then I remembered that during this trip - the sun would probably only set for a few minutes the entire trip, so we pushed on! We got dinner downtown at the Snow Goose Cafe, which is a rooftop restaurant with great views and really good food. Afterwards we stopped down at Ship Creek to see the fisherman trying to snag King Salmon, we were standing at a really good distance and we could still see how large the fish were and how much of a fight they put up. We also, unfortunately, could see the fisherman bash the heads of the salmon with rocks, that was fun. Finally we drove about 45 minutes to Girdwood to check into our house. We decided to stay a little farther out of downtown Anchorage because we really liked visiting Girdwood last time we were around and figured it would be a good home base. Here's our swagger wagon and the view from our house of Mt. Aleyska:
Day 2: Today we all woke up at a surprisingly normal hour and set out to hike the Winner Creek Trail, less than a mile away from where we were staying at the ski resort. After our eventful moose viewing yesterday, we weren't really expecting to see much more wildlife. As soon as we pulled up to the parking lot of the resort we saw a small crowd gathered and noticed a black bear a few yards away. Notice the tram in the pictures below, we take that the next morning up to the top of the mountain!!
After watching him chomp away on dandelions for a little while we found some bug spray, because mosquitos in Alaska are literally the worst moquitos I have ever met in my entire life, and then set off on the trail. Right behind Mr. Bear. We were told that as long as we keep in a group and talk while we are hiking we'll be safe. Here are some pictures from along the way, I thought the tree on the right was pretty funny.
The hike is relatively easy and along the way you come across two bridges which offer amazing views of the bright blue water below.
The hike ends up at a hand-tram over the water, but it wasn't up and running. Overall the hike took about three hours and was 3.5 miles one way. After the hike we drove out to the water (about 2 miles away) to watch the tide come in. We talked about the tide for a good majority of the hike and were excited to see a big rushing wave bring in all of the water. I should have remembered that it really isn't a colossal tidal wave, and also that with all of the wind that day it probably wasn't going to be a huge spectacle, but I did remember Beluga Whales coming in with the tide and the thought of seeing a Beluga whale totally overcame all of my senses and I just had to go. So, we went out to the water, sat there freezing cold for about an hour and looked at the mud. No Belugas. But there was plenty of recollections about watching Raffi and his song "Baby Beluga." The closest we came to Belugas this trip were the cement ones at the highway pull off.
From there we decided to drive about 30 minutes down the road to Portage to see Byron Glacier. We hadn't done this before and weren't sure what to expect. We started walking down the gravel path and realized that this was actually a really amazing walk and view. The snow had recently melted so the path allowed us to get very close to the glacier. It was a really easy walk and we even witnessed a pretty big chunk of the glacier falling off.
Day 3: The next day was supposed to be a "quiet" day since I had class online that I needed to attend from 1pm-4pm. Well, even with that 3 hour break it was still a crazy busy day, like the previous 2 days! We woke up in the morning and took the tram up Mt. Aleyska. (The one in the picture with the black bear!) We were debating doing this since it was our first activity that was going to actually cost $. It was $20 a person and totally worth it! The tram ride is only a few minutes up to the top. It has amazing views, but then you can get off at the top and walk around the ski area. We saw a service road going off the back of the mountain and the worker on the tram with us told us it was only a brief walk up and the views were even more spectacular at the top. Well, a "brief" walk - it was not, but it was totally worth it.
As we walked up the steep road, there was a crazy amount of snow on the sides. This picture looks like one of those cheesy backgrounds you can select for an extra fee for your yearbook picture in elementary school, but it is real!
At the top we looked out onto Turnigan Arm, where we had "watched" the tide and looked for Belugas the day before, the Ski Resort, and the trail where we had seen the bear.
The picture above is a t-shirt from my brother-in-law's start up outdoors company, Father Nature Outdoors. We made a point to take pictures at the coolest locations with his t-shirt so he could use them on his site. The pictures are up here. Anyway, after staring out at the views for a good while we headed back down and the road was really quite steep.
Regardless, this was totally worth it and we met so many friendly tourists who gave us ideas of more hikes and activities for the rest of the trip.
For the second half of the day we drove back to Anchorage to hike Flat Top Mountain. I had done this before and my husband and I told the group it really wasn't that bad. Well, I must have blocked out my memories of this hike because they were so painful or something, because this was quite tough!! Here is the mountain, doesn't look that bad, kind of like a small hill, but flat on the top....false. This is a mountain, a real, tall, steep, mountain (at least to a native Marylander.)
First there were the dreaded steps, then came the rocks.
But it was a completely clear day, unlike the last time we hiked this years before, and the views were worth it.
And then there was the trek down...
After the hike we were covered in dirt, and in the DC Metro Area you could not possibly walk into a nice restaurant like we did, but it was awesome to eat a gourmet halibut dish, covered in dirt and smelling like success at Bear's Tooth Restaurant.
Day 4: Today we drove to a small town not often visited, Hope. This was a special little town for my husband and his family. The first time I visited AK they brought me to Hope and we stayed the night in the old church where my husband's grandfather used to preach. This town is seriously only about one square block and looks like it is straight out of a story book. We stopped for coffee, visited the book store where everything was either $1 or $2, ate at the Sea View Cafe which only had 5 tables and amazing food and walked around the one block.
And this last one is fitting as I'm writing this on the Fourth of July.
Afterwards we drove about 2 hours to Cooper's Landing to hike Russian River Falls. When we were on top of Mt. Alyeska we met a nice couple from Florida who told us this was a great hike which ended up at a overlook with a view of the salmon swimming and jumping up the rapids. We also knew this was bear territory but figured we would be safe in a group and it should be crowded with fisherman this time of year. Well, first of all we should have been more concerned about the mosquitos than the bears. Those things are literally killer, they are like mafia mosquitos, or zombie mosquitos or something just not normal. We hiked along for about a mile and a half and ran into some travelers coming the opposite way warning us that a bear was up ahead right off of the path. So, we strategically placed ourselves in between a group of military guys and other guys with some amped up ammunition strapped across their chest and continued on. We ended up at the overlook and the view of the salmon was awesome. The camera couldn't capture them jumping up the stream, but that was almost a good thing because it forced me to put my camera down and take in the scene instead of capturing every waking moment ;). A few minutes later one of our group mates came jumping up the rocks to re-join us and pointed to a grizzly bear about 20 feet away. There was a large group of tourists on the overlook and we all grouped together to get a look at the bear, who turned towards us, looked annoyed and then walked away. That guy must have been three times the size of the black bear we had seen before and we saw the pile of salmon he had been eating down below. I did not get any pictures in that moment as I was a little preoccupied with surviving. But now, within 4 days we had seen moose, black bear, and brown bear all in very close proximity! Below is the only brown bear I have a picture of!
Day 5: Saturday was the long awaited Saturday Market full of crafts, reindeer hot-dogs, fish-n-chips and souvenirs. We spent almost the entire day shopping and looking around at everything. We found this sign about the size of a post-card up in one of the stores which we thought was a little humorous, but we did see the pipe sticking out of the mountain on our way home!
After a long day of shopping, we grabbed some pizza and went to Point Woronzoff to check out the view of the city and look for some heart-shaped rocks for our mom (she collects them.) I thought this picture was cool even though I'm sure if you look close enough at the grafetti it probably says terrible things...
The picture below is one of my favorite spots and we took a similar one when we last visited in 2010. You can see the entire city of Anchorage in the distance. The weather is definitely different but I love them both!
Day 6: We woke up early for a day adventure on Matanuska Glacier which was about 3 hours away. We had scheduled a guided hike with MICA guides. The glacier trek was insane, the glacier is about 27 miles long and we used crampons to walk right out onto it.
We also came across this weird mud formation which we stayed at for quite awhile and made a bit of a mess.
The second part of the day was a zip-line.
Day 7: Today was our last day staying in Girdwood and we didn't have any plans, which was nice as we had been running non-stop since we arrived. The guys decided they wanted to try fishing at Ship Creek, which is where we stopped on our first day to see the fisherman reeling in the Salmon. They borrowed fishing gear from our friend and headed out. We shopped for a tiny bit, but eventually ended up back watching them and also watching the tide roll in pretty quickly. Several people around caught salmon, but we weren't lucky enough to find any. My sister was kind enough to point out that any salmon that were caught up the river from us did have to make it past us. I also went and bought some lures to replace the many that were donated to the river as they snagged and were stuck under rocks.
We ate some great seafood at Humpy's and then headed back to pack up.
Day 8: We packed up and left our home base in Girdwood to spend the last 3 days of the trip in Homer. Homer was about 4.5 hours away and with construction and one lane roads it took all of 4.5 hours to get there. When we arrived we went straight to the house to get keys and we were up on the mountain overlooking the water and the spit. We then drove down to the town, ate some fish-n-chips, and walked through all of the small shops.
Here's the view from our house around midnight, it was incredible.
Day 9: Today was our sea-kayaking adventure day! We reserved this trip prior with St. Augustines, and I'm not going to lie, I was a little anxious to go kayaking in the open sea that is full of whales and is very cold. We took a boat out to the kayak dock and got paired up with the coolest tour guide of them all. Her name was Kim and she loved creatures. We kayaked for about a mile and then pulled up on shore to go tide-pooling. Apparently it was the lowest tide the area had seen in three years so there were some cool creatures to be found.
And then, the magic happened. Kim spotted a big rock and a very small part of an octopus tentacle underneath it. We found a crab and lured him out from the rock. See the video below, it's insane.
Day 10: We drove back to Anchorage from Homer, met up with some family and finished the trip with an amazing dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse. Our flight left at 2am so we saw World War Z, which I didn't realize was about zombies but after a little while I decided I liked it. Our flight home was delayed due to storms in DC but we made it home and saw darkness for the first time in 10 days, which was really quite weird.
Overall it was an amazing trip full of wildlife, great weather, great food and great friends!