6.16.2012

Alaska Road Trip: Day 7

We packed a lot into our first full day in Anchorage. After breakfast, of course.


Our first stop was in Girdwood at Alyeska, Alaska's largest and best ski resort. The twenty-minute drive from Jake and Amy's house was pretty enough that we had to stop a few times to take pictures.



We bought tickets to ride the aerial tram to the top of the mountain, where we saw skiers and snowboarders enjoying the last day of the ski season. The tram ride was short (3869-feet), steep (2025-foot vertical rise) and fast (just three minutes). The variable speed was still set to "winter season" to accommodate skier and snowboarder traffic; the tram ride is slowed to seven minutes for scenic rides during the "summer season".


To be honest, I think I enjoy the leisurely pace of the eight-person gondola at Snowbasin that takes you up to Needles Lodge (8100-foot elevation). But the spectacular views of the Turnagin Arm of the Cook Inlet that we saw from the Alyeska tram were unparalleled. 

I tried to get a shot of everyone, but they said it was too bright. (And Lucy couldn't stop being a goofball.) 


So I made them pose again: 


We had incredible views in every direction from the observation deck. And despite what it might look like in these photos, we didn't even lose Adam! 


Then we were off to Portage Glacier. We started at the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center, which was built in 1986. We didn't ever actually see Portage Glacier because it is no longer visible from the center (a boat ride across the lake offers great views), but we did see Burns Glacier, a hanging glacier that is just across Portage Lake. A 2007 study showed that glaciers were receding more than 30 feet per year, enough to make you think twice where you build your visitor centers. Global warming at its finest. . .


The highlight of the visitor center for Adam was the purchase of the newest member of his stuffed animal entourage, Batman the Bald Eagle:


Adam was very quietly, and very gently, prancing Batman around one of the 3-D elevation maps and some old guy came up to him and said, "This is not a play area." Since I was standing just four feet away and closely monitoring Adam, I was bothered and wanted to leave. So we went outside and threw rocks into the water.

That turned out to be pretty cool because the water was partially frozen. When the rocks hit the thin ice, it sounded like shattering glass.


Icebergs were melting and breaking away into Portage Lake, which has that beautiful light blue-green color, caused by the billions of tiny, suspended particles created by glacial erosion.


Unfortunately, we were not yet accustomed to the Alaska weather. So when it started to rain, we thought that meant it was time to get in the car.

So then we were off to Whittier.

Whittier is a crazy town. Our guidebook told us, "Other than access to Prince William Sound, Whittier's primary attraction is its oddness. If it looks like a military outpost, that's because it once was. During World War II, Whittier's ice-free port, at the head of the Passage Canal fjord, became a critical route for bringing defense materials into Alaska. The military built both a tunnel through the mountain to make getting here easier and a 14-story concrete building to house personnel. The military is long gone, but the townspeople still live in that one big building. Whittier has more railroad yard and port than road, and people get around more through lengthy pedestrian tunnels than on sidewalks."

The Whittier Tunnel passes under Maynard Mountain and is used by both automobile traffic and rail traffic from the Alaska Railroad. Measuring just under three miles, it is the second longest highway tunnel in North America. The tunnel is just one lane and is shared by both eastbound traffic and westbound traffic.

We paid our toll ($12, I think) and waited in the staging area for our turn to go through the tunnel. After about twenty minutes, Steve jumped out of his seat, went to the back of the Pilot, and put my new camera in my lap. "Open it and use it!" he ordered. You see. . .  I bought this camera as a Mother's Day present to myself with a bunch of MaxPerks Rewards I had saved up from Office Max. But sometimes I have a hard time committing to purchases, especially big purchases, like cameras. I brought the camera on our trip, but it was new in its box, and I still hadn't made a decision about it.

The other reason I had such indecisiveness about a new camera is that I didn't want to go through the "getting to know your new camera" stage. I just didn't want to mess up any pictures.

But I'm glad my husband forced me to do it. Whittier was the perfect place to experiment with my new camera.

Going into the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel:


I actually took a short, 12-second video that shows part of our drive through the tunnel: 

video

Rachel said, "Isn't a 5K three miles? Wouldn't it be cool if they had a race through the tunnel? I told her I thought that was probably a bad idea. . . but then we saw a sign advertising a "walk" through the tunnel on Father's Day. As long as they feel safe hosting a walk in that tunnel, they might as well do a run. I bet people would be so claustrophobic that they would run super fast.

Coming out of the tunnel: 


Getting a hotdog for Lucy:


Sometimes they are hungry; sometimes they just need some special attention. 


The harbor: 


Using the timer for a family picture: 


Everyone was suddenly very willing to pose for pictures taken by the fancy new camera:


Even Batman: 


Rachel wanted to try out the camera, so Steve and I posed for a shot: 


We saw signs like these all over Alaska. I kind of wanted to steal one to post in our front yard. 


We went to drive back to Anchorage, but found out that we had quite a long wait before the tunnel was going to be open for westbound traffic. Steve had looked around the harbor for fresh seafood, but most of the restaurants were still closed, not yet opened for the tourist season. So he ran inside the Inn at Whittier, which was located right close to the tunnel, to check out the restaurant. 

He hurried back out to the car with a big grin across his face, "I think it's going to be good!"

We hustled all of the kids inside, sat down, and placed our order within three minutes flat. 


I was just sure that we were going to miss our time for the tunnel, but the food came out quickly, as promised. 

The Fish & Chips were just mediocre:


P.S. That is not guacamole on the right side of the plate, it's mashed peas. And I vote they take it off their menu; mashed peas should not be served to anyone over the age of two. 

Crab Cakes: 


I love a good crab cake and had high hopes for these. . . but they weren't anything special. 

And the dish that stole the show. . . the Halibut Sandwich: 


Unbelievably good. I wish I had an audio recording of Steve eating it. And I wish I could eat another one right now.

We rushed out of the restaurant to get to the tunnel, which is unfortunate. If we would have been using our heads, we would have ordered another Halibut Sandwich and then gone back into Whittier to explore the 14-story concrete building. It is called Begich Towers and also houses the city offices, the police department, a grocery store, the Post Office, and a medical clinic. We spent most of our time near the harbor, and I regret that we didn't explore the pedestrian tunnels and check out the towers.

These kite surfers put on a good show for all of the people driving back to Anchorage.


The End. 

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