Anchorage, Alaska: Urban and Wild

posted in: Alaska | 4

May 11

Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, larger than the smallest state, Rhode Island, with a population of of 288,189 which is 40% of Alaska’s total population. The phrase “urban and wild” is used to describe Anchorage because it is a city set in the midst of incredible natural beauty and wildlife.

The Nieuw Amsterdam spent the previous day and night safely tucked into Kachemak Bay at the lower end of Cook Inlet and arrived in Anchorage late morning on the 11th.

We had stunning views of the mountains as the ship approached the Anchorage shipping terminal.

Only two cruise ships will be stopping in Anchorage this season and the Nieuw Amsterdam is one of them. Most ships dock in Whittier (60 miles from Anchorage) or Seward (126 miles over land.) Although Anchorage is an industrial port I was glad that we were right there instead of having to ride busses and trains to get to Anchorage.

Anchorage is definitely an industrial shipping port, but the mountains added to that “wild” flavor.
We watched the ship’s docking process. The sun was shining, the air temperature was very comfortable, and all was well with the world once again.
Al is supervising the docking from above. The fenders are seriously large!

Choosing an excursion was a what-if/maybe maybe not exercise in decision-making. You want to do everything but with only 6-8 hours in a port, a decision had to be made. We had selected “Biking the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail” instead of museums or the zoo. It was a good decision because we really wanted to be outdoors and the weather was the best yet.

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is one of four greenbelt trails located in Anchorage and is named for former Alaska governor Tony Knowles, who served from 1994 to 2002.  Kincaid Park, the largest in Anchorage, is home to snowshoe hare, bald eagles, black bear and moose and has 40 miles of walking trails and 20 miles of single-track bike runs. We would be riding over the 11-mile paved trail that looked easy enough for us to do. A van carried the 10 of us, the bikes and our guide, Ellie, out to Kincaid Park.

The van brought us to Kincaid Park to begin our ride back into Anchorage.
Our guide Ellie giving us instructions. She was really great – fun and knowledgeable.
A note about the rental bikes. WOW! These $1200 bikes are really much nicer to ride than my Craig’s List second-hand folding Dahon. Sorry, Dahon, it’s just the truth.

The bike ride was so much fun. Wonderful views of mountains, marsh regions, mudflats, stands of birches, and patches of snow. The very best part was seeing two moose and so close to the bike path!

The first moose we saw was quite uncooperative and wouldn’t turn around. Ellie said this is the most common moose shot that people take.
But the next moose liked having her photo taken and gave us a chance to get very nice photos.
Soooo cool!
Across Cook Inlet to the north was a view of Sleeping Lady. More about her later.
Ellie pointed out this pile of moose poop or scat along the side of the trail. Moose means “eater of twigs” in Algonquin language which makes sense based on their diet which consists twigs, leaves, pine cones, and tree barks.
I also learned that there is an entire craft industry surrounding moose poop. People make jewelry by drying it and then coating it with many layers of urethane. There is also moose poop candy which I am 100% certain is not made from the scat. In case anyone is curious, we resisted the urge to bring any of this home.

Back to the scenery!

Ellie told us that only one week ago the biking path was still covered in snow! There was still snow here and there.

The coastal biking path follows Turnagain Arm, the inlet off of Cook Inlet. Turnagain Arm is narrower and has a huge tidal range of 25-30 feet, the second highest tides in North America after the Bay of Fundy.

At low tide the shoreline becomes mud flats. Sometimes the tide goes out so far that it is all land between the coastal trail and the land across the water. Ellie said it is really too dangerous to walk on because it can be like quicksand.
Sandhill cranes, among the oldest living birds in the world and are one of the largest birds in Alaska.

Mount Susitna, a 4,396-foot mountain, lies 33 miles northwest of Anchorage and is visible from most of Anchorage. The native Dena’ina name is Dghelishla meaning “Little Mountain,” in contrast to Dghelay Ka’a “Big Mountain” which is Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America. Mount Susitna is often called “The Sleeping Lady.”

“Sleeping Lady” – see the woman lying at rest across the inlet.

Native stories say that the lady was engaged to a man who left off to protect their village before they wed. On the day her fiancé left, she promised to wait in the exact spot where he bade farewell. After many nights, she fell into a deep sleep waiting for him. Word came back to the village that the men had been killed. Seeing how peacefully she was sleeping, the villagers couldn’t bare to wake her up so she lay there, asleep and waiting for her love to return.

What a beautiful day!

Our path took us up to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, also known as the “Crossroads of the World.” It’s location in Alaska is equidistant between Asia and New York. Approximately 80 percent of all cargo flights operating across the Pacific make a stop at Anchorage to refuel, change crews, and sometimes to transfer cargo.

Planes on the field.
Coming in for a landing.
Right over our heads!
From this higher point at the airport we could see across to Anchorage. All the way to the left is the Nieuw Amsterdam at the shipping port.
The mountains are so dramatic behind the cityscape.

The next stop on the trail was Earthquake Park. On Good Friday, March 27, 1964 the largest and most powerful earthquake in United States. The quake measured 9.2 on the Richter Scale and lasted just under 5 minutes. Massive ground fissures caused landslides in Anchorage (at Earthquake Park) and in Valdez, 300 miles away. Kodiak, Valdez and Seward were most heavily hit by the resulting tsunami. The quake was responsible for 131 deaths.

The memorial sculpture at Earthquake Park commemorates the site of the landslide that destroyed the homes here at Turnagain Heights.
The final stop on our biking tour was at West Chester Lagoon, a combination of two artificial lakes which form a coastal lagoon and waterfowl sanctuary near downtown Anchorage. Seeing those mountains never gets old.

The van would have taken us back to the cruise ship, but we decided to walk around Anchorage a little bit first. I was determined to find the Ulu Factory

After a mile walk we found the factory on the other side of the railroad tracks.

What is an ulu? The ulu knife was the Indigenous People’s main cutting tool. It was originally made from flat, thin, rocks, slate, or even jade. Handles were fashioned out of wood, ivory, or bone and often decorated with distinctive markings of the craftsman.

We saw how the ulu knife and the round bowl shaped cutting board was made, and how it is packaged. Evan demonstrated how to use, sharpen and care for an ULU knife and cutting bowl.
I purchased an ulu knife and cutting bowl for each my sons and their wives. One with a bear and one with a moose. Seemed like a very Alaskan gift and good for people who like to cook.
There were still significant snow piles in the city of Anchorage and it was MAY 11th! The city drains actually say “snow melt.”
We had a terrific day in Anchorage! The biking tour was a perfect choice for us.
The ship left Anchorage in the evening hours. We could see Mount Susitna again under the setting sun.
The sun doesn’t set until well after 10:00 pm here. It was so easy to lose track of the time.
The sun set on a fabulous day.

4 Responses

  1. Ellen Margel Seltzer

    I bought several ulu knives and bowls when we were there too! Your pics are wonderful. Made me remember our trip. So glad you had fun.

  2. Gwynn Sterken

    I love reading your blog and traveling along with you. Alaska is the last state for us to visit. We were going to go on a cruise for our 50th anniversary, but Covid got in the way. Thanks for sharing your trip.

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