The Last Frontier: Day 1, Anchorage
Updated: Aug 27
The name "Alaska" comes from the Aleut word "Alyeska," which means "The Great Land." This was my first trip to this great land, a place that has been on my bucket list since I can remember. I had built up Alaska so much in my mind, that I was afraid it would fall short of my dreamy suppositions. I was wrong. Alaska not only met, but exceeded all my hopes. Here are some things I learned about Alaska on this trip:
1) Of North America's 20 highest peaks, Alaska is home to 17.
2) Alaska has more coastline than all other U.S. states combined. Its coastlines lie along the Pacific Ocean, the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean.
3) Alaska is home to the two largest forests in the United States.
4) Alaska has the lowest population density in the U.S., and has a total population under 750,000, at last count.
5) Alaska has many nicknames including "The Great Land," which I mentioned earlier, "The Land of the Midnight Sun," which it shares with the country of Norway, and the most common, "The Last Frontier" referring to its abundance of unsettled land.
My first stop in Alaska was in Anchorage. Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska and the northernmost city in the entire United States. Like San Francisco, Anchorage sits on a peninsula. It has one of the highest tidal variations in the world, with water levels rising and falling more than 25 feet per day. And like Iceland, it is one of few places on earth with both volcanoes and glaciers.
One thing I learned about Anchorage that surprised me, is that it does not get nearly as cold as I imagined. During the winter months, temperatures range between 5 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that there are cities in North and South Dakota, Michigan and Minnesota that get much colder.
To learn more, and get the lay of the land, I took a trolley tour.
I am not sure if it was because I went so early in the morning, but I nearly had the entire vintage trolley to myself. (Not complaining)
The first thing I learned on the tour, was some history and background on the Alaskan Railroad which stretches almost 500 miles from Seward to Fairbanks. A private company started building the railroad in 1903. Six years and 50 miles of track later, they went bankrupt. In 1914, the United States government took over construction and in 1923, President Harding celebrated the railroad's completion by driving the final "golden" spike into the railway in Nenana, Alaska.
In 1984, a tourism company appropriately named "Tour Alaska," started running "superdome" train cars along the railroad, giving tourists the opportunity to take in unobstructed views of the beautiful scenery along the railroad. My itinerary for this trip didn't allow time to partake in this adventure, but it is most certainly on my list for a future trip.
Next, we visited Lake Hood.
Lake Hood is not only beautiful, it is also the largest and busiest seaplane base in the world, with over 200 flights taking off and landing daily, and another 1,000 seaplanes parked along the water's edge.
Captain Cook Monument
The Captain Cook Monument is located in Anchorage's Resolution Park. The life-size, bronze statue shows the explorer, Captain James Cook, looking out over Cook Inlet where he came in 1778. At the time, the region had been home to the Dena’ina Athabascan people for at least 1,000 years.
(I apologize for the reflection of the trolley windows in the picture)
The tour also took us through residential neighborhoods where we passed this underground house. You can see the roof of the home (the lawn), indicated by the skylight peeping through, to the right of the bush and in front of the greenhouse. The couple that owns this property, the Isaacs, bought it in 1970 and plan to retire here. The 2,800 square foot house is not only an architectural and engineering marvel, it also saves the family a lot of money on heating bills.
For lunch I went to Simon and Seafort's, opened since 1978 and known to have the best and freshest Alaskan seafood in Anchorage.
"Rose Colored Lenses"
Malfy Rosa Gin, Aperol, Passion Fruit Purée, Lime
The beverage I ordered was called "Rose Colored Lenses," but I wasn't looking through any. That view you see of the Cook Inlet, Mount Susitna (a.k.a the "Sleeping Lady") and the Alaska Range is not my optimistic interpretation. It is real, and even more gorgeous than my camera was able to capture.
Grilled Seafood Trio
Scallops, Shrimp, Salmon, Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes, Seasonal Vegetables, Beurre Blanc, Capers and Lemon
The entire dish was amazing because each individual component was first-rate.
The salmon in Alaska simply tasted better and not by a small margin. The color of the meat was more vibrant and the flavor, deeper.
The scallops were incredibly fresh and juicy. They were caught that very morning, like all of the seafood on the plate, and it came across in the flavor and texture.
The shrimp was plump and so very sweet.
After lunch, I boarded a bus to Seward. The route followed the water and the train tracks for many miles. It mattered not if the hills were a brilliant green ...
... or covered in snow. They were all equally breathtaking.
Kanpachi, Crab Yuzu, Truffle Oil, Green Soy Paper, Aonori Tempura Flakes
I arrived in Seward and boarded a ship for the rest of my Alaska tour. (More on why I chose to depart from my usual and preferred method of travel, and take a cruise, in my next post.) Still so excited about the Alaskan seafood, I opted to have sushi for dinner.
Dungeness Crab, Eel and Avocado
Five Spice Chocolate Cake with Ginger Sauce
After dinner, I walked out to the deck to enjoy the view as we set sail.
More to come on the rest of my time in "The Last Frontier."