We've only been in Alaska a few days and nothing too eventful has happened, but I want to write before the initial culture shock wears off. Despite being a part of the U.S., Alaska is different enough that it's a little like visiting another country for the first time. Here are some things we've noticed:
1) If you ever fly to Alaska, reserve a window seat. The plane took off from Chicago around sunset and chased the sun through and over pink clouds the entire six-hour flight to Anchorage where it finally got dark shortly after arrival. Much of the trip I looked down on clouds and the snowy peaks poking through them. Sometimes it was hard to tell what was a cloud and what was a mountain. Huge gorges full of ice and snow between mountains looked like rivers but ran to nowhere. I found out later some of these gorges run deeper than the grand canyon and many of these mountains are taller than any we'd seen in Colorado or California.
2) Anchorage is in the middle of nowhere. That nowhere is beautiful mountains and wilderness but it's so sparsely populated here that it's unnerving. Alaska makes up almost 18% of the U.S. land mass and hardly anyone lives on most of it. Anchorage contains 41% of the state's population (second in single city concentration to only NY) and even in Anchorage, it feels sparse!Alaska's 2nd and 3rd biggest cities, Fairbanks and Juneau, are over 6 and 21 hours away, respectively. The fourth biggest city in Alaska has only around 9,000 people. To put this in continental U.S. terms, imagine that you live in New York City and have to drive to Pittsburg PA or Savannah, GA through mountain and wilderness to get to the nearest decent sized cities and these cities are
only 1/27 the size of Jacksonville, FL.
3) Anchorage looks like hell on the exterior. I'm being honest, not complaining. While run-down exteriors and rugged constructions are often a sign of poverty and even crime in the U.S., it seems to mean something different here. Because the winters are so rough and the snow so blanketing, there isn't much focus on outside appearance. Just do a google street view of any place in Anchorage and you'll see what I'm talking about. This says nothing about the quality of food or the environment inside. A windowless run-down exterior might be home to a fancy and warm interior. Because of the way I'm conditioned, it feels unsafe. But it's a perfect example of "it's what's on the inside that counts".
The people seem similar. I brought all my old worn out clothes so that I could leave them here when we leave and I feel over-dressed. People are philly-level casual. I'll wait to write more about it until we've been here longer.
4) Food is reasonably priced. We heard all sorts of horror stories about how expensive produce and other necessities would be because of shipping costs. We heard it would be awful for vegans. Not true! It's definitely more expensive than many places we've lived, but we've lived in Chicago. We occasionally shop at Whole Foods ($$$). The prices at the local grocery store here, half a mile away, don't compare to what we've paid elsewhere. So far we've seen plenty of food options and haven't had any trouble finding the ingredients we need. Plus, if we run into trouble Amazon still ships to Alaska for free just like it ships anywhere else.
5) The whole daylight thing is awesome. We had reservations about how 22 hours of daylight might impact our sleep, but so far it has been great. Blackout blinds fix everything.
There have been a number of times in other cities that an excursion was ruined because I didn't get up and around in time. Back in CO, it's often necessary to get up at 5am to make it to a trailhead in time to hike a fourteener. In Anchorage, you can sleep in until 9:30, have breakfast, and still have 12 hours for hiking. Our dog, Bailey, has been extremely confused. Her biological clock is set for dark, dinner, and bed around 3:30 AK time but she'll get used to it.
6) Coffee Huts! That is all on that.
7) We're starting to build our "to do" list.
So far, it looks like this:
Visit Denali and Mount McKinley
Go on a glacier sightseeing roadtrip
Bike the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
Attend Summer Solstice Festival (22 hours of daylight)
Visit Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Eat Himalayan Food at the Yak and Yeti
Eat Asian Mexican fusion at CASA
Drive through Whittier Tunnel (longest one-way tunnel highway shared with trains and cleared by jet engines)
We're still looking into options on glacier cruises, train trips, kayaking, and some off-roading along with a number of local concert venues, museums, theaters and breweries.
8) Finally, a few pictures of our place for anyone that's interested. It's definitely different than many of the other places we've stayed. But, it fits nicely with the surroundings. It has a wood-burning fireplace, a heated garage, and a rooftop deck. It's only a mile from the center of downtown with its ugly but delicious restaurants, stores, and coffee huts. Should be perfect for three months!
|Guest room for visitors!|
|View northwest towards downtown|
|View east towards the mountains|