Friday, May 31st

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Half Alaska in one city

I’m wide-awake.  Turning around in my bed doesn’t help to drop off to sleep again.  So, I decide to get up and to leaf through our documentation about Anchorage. Actually, it’s a rest day to recover from the jet-lag, but I want to do something useful today.  After all, exploring The land of the midnight sun in three weeks time is no excess.
The weather is beautiful today.  Only a light breeze reminds me that we find ourselves above the 60th latitude.

After a continental breakfast we go into town, downtown with our Chevy.  I have to get used to the traffic signs : one-way streets, parking zones, the right of way, traffic lights.  Compared to our regulations, it is somewhat confusing.  Policemen, apparently,  are aware of this situation because they drive around diligently in shorts on mountain bikes to fine every violation.
Souvenir shops like the Polar Bear Gift Shop and Once in a Blue Moose try to seduce us.  But we can’t buy a souvenir from something that we haven’t seen yet, can we ?  We stand firm with the idea that we will find better things on our journey.

Air Crossroads of the WorldAnchorage is not the capital of Alaska, but it surely is the biggest city.  About half the population of Alaska resides here.  You can find everything from gift shops up to fur stores, from cozy restaurants up to a Hilton, everything except wilderness.  Apart from the typical signboards with grizzlies and moose, this city could by anywhere on earth.  To see the real Alaska, we have to go further on.

The Lonely Planet guide of Alaska gives a quite strange description about it : “The beautiful thing about getting around Anchorage is the simplicity of the street lay-out, especially in the city center”.   To call this layout with parallel streets ‘beautiful’, seems weird to me.  European esthetics are definitely different.  Maybe we get back to this matter later on …

We visit two visitor centers. For convenience, they are both located on the crossing of 4th Avenue and F Street.  Street names in the city center are, like in most American cities, achieved with little inspiration.  The De Log Cabin Visitors Center, a cozy hut with flowers and grass on the roof,  provides with commercial touristic information, while the Alaska Public Lands Information Center gives more official information like maps, nature guidebooks and folders about National Parks.  The latter is more helpful to us.
We also pass by the travel agency that reserved our lodgings.  We still have one day, the last one, on which nothing is planned yet.  A trip to Kodiak is not feasible for that short period of time, so we decide to book a “flight-seeing tour with bear-watching”, just in case we might not have seen a bear before we return home.  Meanwhile, we take along a bush plane experience !  The destination is not precisely defined, so that remains a surprise !
Al, the guy from the travel agency, has understood that we’ve come to Alaska to see wildlife, real wild animals !  He tells us that he regularly sees a moose, not too far away from his house, near Eagle River.  Every evening, between 7 and 8 o’clock, she comes drinking at an open place near the river at the Eagle River Visitor Center in the Chugach State Forest, north of Anchorage. We can still do an outing in that direction today …

Walking around in a city makes us thirsty.  A simple train of thought with a simple solution : a Coke on the terrace  of the 5th Avenue Mall, a large shopping center.  Protected from the wind, it becomes pretty warm.  Above our heads, bush planes fly in almost every direction.  An activity that is only possible in Alaska, the state with the most planes per inhabitant, namely 1 per 60.

We decide to search our first moose with the indications that Al gave us : driving north on the Glenn Highway until the exit Eagle River Rd, then following the river upstream.
We pass a lot of open places near the river, but no moose to perceive.  Maybe we are too early.  Let’s drive on to the Visitor Center.
Sunset at Knik Arm
We are in the middle of the Chugach State Park with peaks above 2000 meters, decorated with snow and ice, glittering in the sun.
A map outside the cabin indicates a walk of half an hour along the river.  A good idea, sniffing the fresh air for a while.
But at the beginning of the trail, we get a warning :
“Black bear spotted at 3:30 PM.”
“Take your precautions when walking the trail.”
After a glance at our watch, we look each other into the eyes and decide that we really don’t “need” to see a bear today.  We would also like to accomplish the rest of our trip, so we turn back to our car.  Besides, we’ve heard a lot of different stories about those “precautions” and I really don’t know anymore what tactic I should use first.
On the road back, I try to discover a glimmer of a drinking moose but the gravel at the other side of the river is still deserted.

The day is brought to an end with a sunset at Knik Arm, the mouth of the river with the same name at the Cook Inlet.  Some jetskis skim over the water, while a lonesome bush plane is hunting for his home base. 
It’s 23h19 as the sun disappears behind the spruce trees at the horizon.

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