Continuing with the story I began last month on Anchorage and the surrounding area, guess who was the first European to eye the inlet and claim the land for England in 1778? We RVers may think we get around, but if it was surrounded by water, Captain James Cook was there first.
While the Alaska Zoo has bald eagles, moose, musk oxen, wolves, grizzlies, caribou and polar bears, another good place to view waterfowl, beavers and eagles is Potter Marsh, just south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway. Moose favor Potter Marsh as well, and Dall sheep and eagles are often on the cliffs above the waysides. Seeing Turnagain Arm at full or low tide is exciting, and you might just see a beluga whale. If you continue for 43 miles on the Seward Highway, you arrive at the 200-acre Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where fenced habitat is provided for ill, orphaned or injured Alaskan critters.
A word of warning, as amusing as something as big as a moose or as exciting as a bear can be, they are wild creatures. Keep your distance, use a zoom lens for photos, and do not, DO NOT, get between a mother and its baby of any species. While I’m giving warnings, DO NOT wander onto or into Turnagain Arm. It is like a huge bathtub of quicksand and if the tide comes in while you are stuck, you likely won’t make it home for dinner.
One of my favorite stops on the Seward Highway is Crow Creek Mine. Many places provide you a table to pan for salted gold flakes, but at Crow Creek they give you a pan, show you how to pan, and then you actually go into or along a swift-running, freezing cold stream and get the real experience. With a little luck, you’ll find a big nugget to finance your next RV (Don’t hold your breath!).
Short on Snow
Wintertime provides plenty of possibilities too, not only downhill and cross-country skiing in places like beautiful Alyeska, south of Anchorage, but snowshoeing, dog mushing and what you are more likely to hear about, “The Last Great Race on Earth.” The 1,049-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race begins in Anchorage, winds its way across the Arctic tundra, and finishes in Nome, lasting roughly ten days. Because of an unseasonably warm winter, the 2015 starting line for the Iditarod was 225 miles north in Fairbanks, the second time in the race’s 43-year history that a change was made. While Boston broke an all-time record with 108.6 inches of snow this year, Anchorage had only 20 inches, compared with the usual 60-inch average.
In 1925, President Coolidge awarded gold medals to twenty mushers who carried serum to Nome, saving people threatened by a diphtheria epidemic. (Planes were grounded because of the weather.) The trail has a history with the U.S. Army, U.S. Mail, the Natives, miners, freight service, explorers, prospectors and anyone wanting to travel into the Alaskan wilderness. With the advent of roads and planes, the trail was all but forgotten until dog musher Joe Redington Sr. literally saved dog sledding from extinction.
But back to the city, if all else fails to amuse you, bigger venues await you at the Anchorage Center for the Performing Arts, the George M. Sullivan Arena and the William A. Egan Convention and Civic Center. This summer will bring an abundance of celebrations for the Anchorage Centennial. Other fun activities can be found at the First Friday Art Walk, the Anchorage Market and Festival, and Music in the Park. I was there at the right time for one of these free noon-hour concerts and they are delightful. You sit on the grass and listen to marvelous music while you look around at the most amazing scenery and rub shoulders with visitors from all over the world.
All Shook Up
It is not unusual for Alaska to have an earthquake, but on Good Friday of 1964, the four minutes of shaking seemed to last for an eternity. Measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, it shook all of Southcentral Alaska and was the strongest ever recorded in North America. For comparison, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was 7.8.
Countless buildings in downtown Anchorage were devastated and there were damaging landslides. Even more shocking were the enormous tsunamis created by shifts in the ocean floor, resulting in not only great property damage but sadly, many deaths. It greatly affected the Gulf of Alaska, the west coast of British Columbia and the lower 48 and Hawaii. Twenty countries, as far away as New Zealand and Antarctica, experienced tsunami waves, but the largest wave was recorded in Shoup Bay, Alaska, at 220 feet. Aftershocks by the hundreds were experienced in the weeks following the main earthquake, some greater than 6.0. Smaller aftershocks continued for more than a year.
Remnants of the village of Portage can still be seen as you travel the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm southwest of Anchorage. The area sank six to eight feet, causing the salt water to kill the roots of the trees.
Although California’s quakes are more damaging due to a larger population and more structures, Alaska has the most quakes per year. The 1964 quake played a role in instituting the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center at Palmer, Alaska. This is a most interesting stop for tourists and I highly recommend it. The only other warning center is in Ewa Beach, Hawaii.
In 1992, I took a catamaran tour of the fjords to see the many magnificent glaciers out of the fishing community of Whittier, a great jumping-off place for experiencing Prince William Sound. We saw sea otters, American bald eagles, and a very noisy, smelly, kittiwake rookery. When a tidewater glacier sheds icebergs off its face into the sea, it is called “calving.” To actually hear the loud boom of a glacier calving is amazing. The ice crashes into the water, leaving behind pristine ice so blue you won’t believe your eyes, and then you realize you are likely the first human to ever see it. It is mind-boggling.
The captain told us, “If you could see 40 miles down Wells Passage at four minutes past midnight on Good Friday, March 24, 1989, the tanker, Exxon Valdez, slammed into Bligh Reef, spilling over 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the Sound.”
Anchorage served as the command post for cleanup efforts costing more than $2.5 billion. The captain and brochures assured us that the seals, whales and bald eagles are returning to the region. In 1994, an Anchorage jury ordered Exxon Corporation to pay more than $5 billion to those who had been financially hurt by the oil spill.
According to that catamaran captain, Alaskans now think twice before getting up on a Good Friday!
Of course no one should plan a trip to visit only one city; include all of Alaska in your itinerary. It is an incredible experience and you won’t regret it, I promise. God Bless.
Winter in the Wilderness, the first e-book novel published by Minshall, is offered at most Internet book sites. A print edition may be obtained from Amazon, or you can order an autographed copy from the author at Box 1040, Congress, AZ for $7.95 plus $3.50 for postage and handling.
The fourth edition of RVing Alaska and Canada is available through Amazon.com.