A modest, sprawling city, Anchorage is surprisingly close to the “wilderness.” It is surrounded by mountains and the Cook Inlet and has great recreational areas and wildlife viewing right nearby.
The slider below offers a few glimpses of this area:
1) Our first lodging, The Coastal Trail Inn, a comfortable suburban home complete with expertly-trained bird dogs, elaborate perennial gardens, and its own dovecote. The lovely Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, an eleven-mile paved biking/walking trail, is right across the street
2) The view from The Snow Goose, a downtown brewpub, where caribou burgers are served and the brewing tanks are on display. The delightful roof patio offsets the lackluster cuisine.
3) A historic marker about Hatcher Pass, a mountain pass through the Talkeetna Mountains (not far from Palmer and Wasilla) where prospector, Robert Hatcher, found gold in 1906. In Willow Creek Valley below, visitors can tour the camp at Independence Mine State Historical Park.
4) A grand view of the Matanuska, a 75-mile long river that flows through the Mat-Su Valley between the Talkeetna and Chugach Mountains. It roughly parallels the Glenn Highway, flowing southwest towards the Cook Inlet.
The Anchorage area provided several fine experiences with Native Alaskan culture. The first was our visit to the Alaskan Native Heritage Center where we toured the art and cultural exhibits, attended a lecture on medicinal plants, visited a village of historically-accurate dwellings, and talked with artists who were selling their work. The museum interpreters and artists were glad to share their history, art and perspectives. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting them.
We also visited the Dena’ina Athabascan village of Eklutna which is about 30 minutes from downtown Anchorage. The cemetery at this historic site reflects the meeting of Native Alaskan and Russian Orthodox beliefs; it is a place where colorful spirit houses stand next to Christian Orthodox crosses. Although we arrived late in the day, we were graciously given a brief tour of the newer chapel at the site, the one shown in the image below. The Old St Nicholas Church, a log structure with an unusual “steeple,” is the oldest standing building in the Anchorage area.
The drive from Anchorage along the Glenn Highway offered great views of the Chugach Mountains, a peek at Mat-Su’s agricultural area, an encounter with geologists, and some closeup views of cliff-dwelling ravens. Yet the most exciting feature of this leg of trip (at least to first-time Alaskan tourists) was the Matanuska Glacier. Perhaps we were partial because it was our first glacier, but I suspect it would be impressive and beautiful even to the initiated. One can reach the glacier quite easily by taking a side road off the Glenn Highway to Matanuska Glacier Park, where, for a reasonable fee, one can drive to the beginning of a marked trail. It was fascinating to see the size of the glacier, its blue-hued ice formations, and the pools and silt at its terminus. We were now at the headwaters of the impressive river that we’d viewed along the Glenn.