So my last few days in Alaska are done and over with, back home in the good old Lower 48 where we have good WiFi haha, but really it’s an amazing place and I’m glad that I finally got to experience it and I think in the best way, actually going around the state, going to local joints, and not just sitting on a cruise for a week. I know people swear by them, and I’m sure they’re great, I just can’t imagine seeing Alaska that way. Like Juneau, totally different experience in the middle of the day with the cruise ships in town from at night when the town goes back to being mostly locals. FYI in Juneau a lot of places will give you a discount for being a Juneau resident and not a cruise shipper, and if you’re at a restaurant after everyone had gone back on their boats, they might just make you an honorary resident.
Now you definitely do want to get out on the water, and you can’t really see much of the coast other than on a boat, most of the coast isn’t accessible by car, but do a day trip. There are sailings out on Prince William Sound or our of Juneau, or if you have the time take the Alaska State Ferries, same views as the cruise ships, way cheaper, and you travel like people who live there actually do. But anyway I did a 5 hour cruise out of Whittier in the Sound, totally worth it, though that was just about as much time as I want to spend on a boat.
Drove up to Denali, The Great One, Mt McKinley, Palin Mountain, whatever you prefer to call it. First of all it’s fucking huge, and depending the weather conditions you can sometimes see it 130 miles away in Anchorage. But as you drive closer and closer you’ll get a couple of clear views of it towering up ahead. At 135 miles you’ll enter Denali State Park and there’s a great viewing station to get out and see Denali and the surrounding range…assuming its not shrouded in clouds, which it is 80% of the time, and which it was pretty much by the time I got there, now if you drive another 27 miles or so north you’ll actually pass the mountain and there’s a northern viewing spot, again assuming it’s not shrouded in clouds. Now the thing to know about Denali, is what I just described is basically an awesome day trip from Anchorage. The National Park itself is due west of the state park, but the one and only road entrance to the National Park is another 80 miles from that northern viewing spot and then there’s a 90 mile road through the park to the mountain, which you either have to take an organized tour to go down or ride a shuttle bus, which I’m sure is amazing, but that’s not a day trip from Anchorage, and I didn’t really want to change lodging, plus 35 miles south of that southern viewing point is the turn off to Talkeetna, an old mining town turned yes tourist trap, but in a still kind of charming way, and they happen to have a great brewery there, Denali Brewing, and for me beer is just a step above riding some converted school bus through Denali.
Next stop was Juneau, the blocks around the cruise ship docks, pretty much the poor man’s Lahaina in Maui, lots of tourist bars, shops selling crappy t-shirts, and for some reason jewelry….I’m not sure why people on a cruise need to buy jewelry in Alaska, but anyway, and it’s completely swamped during the day with up to 6,000 cruise ship passengers, now in the evening as the tourists leave, the character changes…for the better. Now it might sound like I’m knocking Juneau, but I’m not, it actually reminds me a lot of a very small Seattle, it’s a quirky town with a lot of interesting architecture like the oldest still standing Russian Orthodox church in the state, or this insanely beautiful catholic shrine on an island north of downtown that basically no tourists go to. Mendanhall Glacier, the biggest tourist destination in town, gets totally swamped with tour buses later in the day….go in the morning, get there 8:30, 9, and it’s just you and a handful of people in the whole park.
Finally just a few random shout outs, Bangkok Café in Anchorage, I really was not expecting such excellent and I do mean excellent Thai food in Alaska, let along in a parking lot. Ginger in downtown Anchorage, yes it’s expensive, but the scallops mac n cheese was great, and the two tequila drinks that knocked me off my ass. V’s in Juneau, great staff and interesting Mexican-Korean fusion, and of course the breweries, I gotta say the best were Midnight Sun, Denali and King Street, so please hit them up, or if perhaps they sell down in your neck of the woods on the West Coast.
And one last thing, a lot of this stuff, the glaciers, it’s disappearing, and going pretty fast, so see it before it’s gone. But climate change is most definitely not real