Alaska: Drive to Anchorage & Denali Prep

We woke up this morning around 9:30, all toast warm in a dry tent.  We snuggled down in the sleeping bag for a bit longer before crawling out into the chilly morning air to take a look at our surroundings.  Since we’d come in after dark last night, we had no idea what was around us until we poked our heads out of the tent.  What we found certainly wasn’t disappointing.


We spent a bit taking in our surroundings, then packed up the car and got ready to head out toward Anchorage.  We got up too late to be able to visit the mines at Kennecott, but I still wanted to at least have breakfast and see McCarthy in the daylight.  So we drove down to the footbridge, only to find a completely full parking lot.  Plus, it cost $10 to park and was still 1/2 mile hike to get there.  So after some deliberation, we decided against it.  I was a little bummed, but knew how much crap we had to accomplish before leaving for Denali tomorrow, so I gave in pretty easily.  I also reminded myself that coming here in the first place wasn’t part of the planned itinerary, so it was a bonus.  At least we got to see quite a bit of the park on the drive in and out.  And of course, experienced open mic night at the saloon.


We left from the footbridge at 10:20.  The drive out wasn’t quite as awe-inspiring since we’d just done the whole thing yesterday, but we did still enjoy the views.  It was overcast today and we didn’t see any wildlife at all this time around – not even a bunny.
I stopped to take a couple of pictures of, and over the edge of, the big, tall wooden bridge.  K couldn’t believe I actually got out of the car in the middle of the bridge to lean over and take pictures, and neither could I.  As silly as it sounds, it isn’t the height of the bridge that terrifies me; it’s the water below it!  (I say this as if I would even survive a fall from 200+ feet to need to swim out anyway…)WrangellWoodenBridge1WrangellWoodenBridge2WrangellRRWrangellGlacierBedWe made it back to Chitina around 1:30 and were both starving, so we stopped back in the hotel/restaurant for lunch.  I had a grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup to warm my insides a little.  K had a club sandwich and chicken noodle soup.  (All for $20.)  The same girl from yesterday was our waitress again today.  She was surprised to see us still hanging around town and gave us a recommendation for a place to eat in Anchorage.  We finished lunch and headed toward Anchorage around 2:00.  When we started out, the scenery was very much the same ol’, same ol’ – thick brush and trees.  Once we got up to Hwy 1 and started across toward Anchorage, we began to see beautiful fall colors beginning to appear.  The trees were changing to light shades of yellow and orange, while the ground brush displayed a brilliant, vibrant red hue.  It was absolutely beautiful!AnchorageColors1AnchorageColors2As we continued driving, the dense forests along the road turned into large, sprawling open meadows with small ponds and fields sparsely populated with evergreens – all contrasted by the enormous mountains bursting through the skies behind them.  The road continued, twisting and curling its way around and in between the beautiful mountains – some snow-capped with rivers flowing at their feet and some rolling green and fall-colored ones with trees at their feet.  At one point, we were even driving right alongside a glacier.AnchorageDrive2AnchorageDrive3AnchorageDrive1As we came up on a flat, straight stretch of road, we saw a car pull a big u-turn in the middle of the road and then pull over on the side of the road ahead of us.  We pulled up to find a big female moose just hanging out, chowin’ down on some grass.  K rolled down the window as we pulled up, just as some Les Claypool came blasting on the iPod, and the moose lifted her head and just staaaaaaared at us.  We both fumbled trying to get it turned off before she got pissed and ran off, or worse, charged our car.  I thought for sure she’d run off, but she just sat there eating away, paying no attention at all to the cars sitting and watching.  MooseWe sat there long enough to take a few photos and then went on our way.  As cool as the experience was – up close and personal with a moose – I was still slightly unimpressed.  I wanted to see a huge bull with a big, impressive rack.  Nevertheless, we finally had our first Alaska moose sighting!As we continued on toward Anchorage, we came into the town of Palmer, where we saw our first stoplight since Whitehorse, Yukon!  PalmerWe stopped and filled up the gas tank – only $3.19/gal here, what a bargain!  Palmer must be a decent-sized suburb of Anchorage.  It was about 40 miles outside of Anchorage and large enough to finally have some fast food restaurants, gas stations and other businesses we recognized, even unlike Juneau.  And best of all, the Alaska State Fair was there!  We drove past and saw a few carnival ridges, but not much more.  Traffic was backed up quite a bit in both directions, though, so it must be a pretty big to-do for Alaskans.We continued through Palmer and the highway opened up from a little two-laned road into a divided interstate type road with exits.  As we spilled into the larger road, a sign warned us to be careful of moose – 332 have been killed on this road since July 1st!  So of course I had my hopes up that we’d see another moose, but no such luck.  We continued on the highway until it suddenly turned into a four-lane, divided, stoplighted road which led right into downtown Anchorage.

We decided to get a hotel tonight to make it easier on ourselves to dry our gear out completely, repack our packs, repackage food, pack up the bear canister, etc.  Our Alaskan Tour Saver had two Anchorage hotels in it – Inlet Tower Suites and Howard Johnson.  We decided to check out the Inlet Tower first since they have a shuttle to the railroad station.  No space for tonight, but we did manage to book a room there for our last two nights in Anchorage.  We found out that the HoJo is actually within walking distance of the railroad station and the rental car drop, so we called ahead and were able to reserve a room.  Not only did they have an available room, but they have coin-op laundry facilities as well – perfect!

Before checking into the hotel, we decided to 1) Get a car wash so that it was less obvious we’d had our car offroading on a gravel road and 2) Find a grocery store to load up on camping food for the Denali trip.  After a six-pass laser car wash with underbody wash, we pulled out with a nice, huge brown stripe down the passenger side of our white care.  We decided that could be attributed to driving on any Alaskan road and called it good.  We then found our way to the local Fred Meyer – the best I can tell this place is kind of like a Super WalMart with a grocery store on one end and general store-type of merchandise on the other.

We left Fred Meyer with:  a beef stick, some trail mix, banana chips, mac n’ cheese, dehydrated rice and beans, Lipton chicken flavored rice, chicken flavored noodles and a couple of dehydrated pasta and veggie packets.  We also grabbed some Ziploc bags to repackage everything.

We checked into the hotel and dropped all of our things before going to return the car – literally right behind the hotel.  The place was already closed, so we dropped the keys and crossed our fingers that we don’t get a call tomorrow wondering where we’ve taken the car.  We walked back to the hotel and it was time to get to work – so much to do before 6am tomorrow!

Howard Johnson:

This hotel kind of skeeved me out.  All I could smell as we walked into our non-smoking room was stale cigarette smoke and funk.  I think the couch in here used to be red, but is now all shades of black and brown – super dirty and covered in cigarette burns.  Ick!  I opened the windows for a bit to air it out, but since we’re on the ground level, it opened directly into the parking lot where other people were hanging out being loud.  I also didn’t like that they had a direct line of sight right into our room and not much to keep them from coming through the window if they wanted to.

The toilet didn’t look clean, though I’m pretty sure it was permanent stains, and the toilet seat would slide off to one side if you didn’t sit down just right.  The bathtub appeared to be clean, as did the towels.  We had basic toiletries provided, but no hair conditioner.  (Bummer for me and my long hair.)

It kind of made my skin crawl to spread all of our things around the room to dry.  All I wanted to do was pack everything up as small as possible and sit it on top of the wooden desk.  It also freaked me out a little to think of pulling back the sheets and getting into bed, but despite the looks of the rest of the room, the linens on the bed appeared to be clean and nice.

The first order of business was to spread everything out around the room to fully dry – the tent, the sleeping bag, the sleeping mats, rain gear – pretty much everything we had.  We also decided that we had too much work to do to try and make it out for dinner, so we ordered Domino’s delivery.  Chicken kickers and pepperoni pizza sure hit the spot!  While we waited for food, we both showered and changed into our rain pants and one clean shirt we each still had left so we could wash everything else.

Around 9:00 I finally got all the dirty clothes together and got down to the laundry room.  The front desk gave us change for the machines, though they weren’t particularly friendly about it.  I put the quarters into the detergent dispenser, pushed the slide in and…it got stuck.  I spent several minutes pushing and banging on the slide before it popped out without dispensing detergent.  So I started looking around for any other soap that I could use and noticed the sign warning not to start laundry after 8:30pm or it would be locked inside until 9am.  We have to leave by 7am tomorrow, so it looks like we’ll have to suck it up and wear dirty clothes for the next 5 days.  I guess at least we both still have clean socks and underwear.

As we ate, we watched Dateline and repackaged all of our food into Ziplocs so that it would fit better into the bear canister.  (I learned this trick a while ago.  Just be sure if you do it that you cut off the cooking instructions and put them in your Ziploc, too! )  We smashed everything as small as possible and packed the canister as tightly as we possibly could, but still had some food and toiletries left out.  We decided to put both in my daypack for now, hoping to eat the granola bars on the train tomorrow afternoon and then be able to fit the toiletries in after dinner tomorrow night.

It’s about 1am now.  I’ve been writing while K watches TV.  He passed out about 20 minutes ago.  It’s probably time for me to crash as well – 6am is going to come far too quickly!

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