Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Alaska: Day 4 (Denali to Seward)

On our fourth day in Alaska, our only real agenda was to drive from Denali National Park to Seward, which is two hours south of Anchorage. We'd estimated it as a six-hour drive, but planned to take our time and do some sightseeing along the way, since we'd heard that the Anchorage-to-Seward stretch along Turnagain Arm was famous for beautiful scenery.

The first four hours were uneventful. We stopped once around Mile 153 to try to snap a photo of Denali, but again we were mostly unsuccessful. We originally planned to stop for lunch in Wasilla (aka Sarah Palin-land) but after extensive smartphone research we decided to drive the extra 40-45 minutes so we could eat in Anchorage.

It was a good decision, as we all enjoyed our meal at the Glacier Brewhouse. They had a very interesting beer called the "Imperial Blonde" (aka "Ice Axe Ale") which is sweet and light despite containing 9% alcohol. According to the description on the menu, it's made with half a pound of honey per gallon. Yum. Their seafood chowder was also very tasty.

After lunch, we proceeded down the Seward Highway. Luckily we had done some research so we knew where to stop and look at things. Our first stop was Beluga Point at Mile 110. We stood around for awhile looking for beluga whales, but after not seeing any for several minutes, we got bored and left.

We were luckier at Mile 106, where my friend (the driver) saw two photographers with giant lenses and promptly pulled over at the side of the highway. There, we saw a Dall sheep and her lamb. This is the mother:

From there we drove all the way to Mile 78.9 where we took the Portage turnoff. Here's a random shot of the view along the way. It reminded me a little bit of the Sea-to-Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler:

The Portage Glacier used to be visible from the visitor center at the end of Portage Lake, but it has receded significantly and now can only be seen by boat. There are a few other smaller glaciers which are visible from the lake, though:

Nearby there were some vista points from which we could see the Byron Glacier (meh), the Middle Glacier (even more meh), and the Explorer Glacier (better, see below):

As a bonus, there was a bridge from which we could see salmon swimming upstream to spawn. They were silver (coho) salmon, as it was too late in the season to see either the King or sockeye salmon runs. Several of the silver salmon were actually red from lack of oxygen:

Finally, just a few miles outside of Seward, we turned off on a side road to check out the Exit Glacier. We saw that there was a hike that went to the edge of the glacier, but it was a few miles long, so we decided to save that for another day and settled for a short walk that gave us this view:

Back at the Exit Glacier turnoff, we stopped at yet another restaurant called "Salmon Bake". We ordered snow crab, baby back ribs, fried calamari, and of course, the salmon bake:

I liked this Salmon Bake restaurant better than the one in Denali; I felt like the food was less greasy and it was certainly more reasonably priced. Interestingly, we got carded there for the second time that day. In retrospect, I realize we were carded every single time we ordered alcohol during the entire trip (probably five or six times). I wonder if Alaskans are just very strict and card everyone, or if they don't know how to judge the ages of Asian people? I mean, of the four of us, the youngest is twenty-nine...

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