I had some money left in my Alaska Airlines account due to a cancelled flight, and I had to use the money by the end of August or lose it. Since next year’s motorsports schedules hadn’t come out yet, I had to think of someplace to go besides Formula D or Rally America. Well, I didn’t have to think too hard. Where better to go on Alaska Airlines than Alaska? I picked a date at the end of December since I’d be in Washington already anyway so the flight would be shorter.
I left Seattle the night after Christmas, and three hours later I was looking out the window at Anchorage.
I landed at midnight, picked up my rental car, and headed south on Highway 1 up the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet. I was hoping to be able to get some shots of the Aurora Borealis, but the weather was not on my side that night. Still, there was plenty to see, like the Alyeska ski resort shrouded in fog. I’d never seen a ski resort with a base at sea level before.
I spent the night in my rental Jetta on the side of the road. I don’t know if that was illegal or not, but the cops and wolves left me alone. It was -21˚C but the Jetta had a good heater and good fuel economy. It barely burned any gas while I slept.
I woke up around 7:30 and it was getting light already. The Internet had told me sunrise would be at 10:15 but due to the shallow angle of the sun that far north I knew it would be getting light much earlier than that. The plan would be to drive back and forth on the Arm all day, shooting different scenes as the light changed.
The moon had come out while I was sleeping too.
It was clear now to the north, but still no Aurora. I’ll have to make another trip in the future.
The town of Girdwood had Pop Tarts and Red Bull. I’d need some of both.
After a few Red Bulls I was feeling pretty good. I was ready to tackle the Turnagain Arm.
As it got lighter, I could see what was in the Arm. At night I thought it was just water. It was actually frozen, snow-covered mud as far as I could see. It looked more like another planet.
Some of the fog cleared, and I could see across to the other side, and I could see some actual water. Cool! It was starting to actually look like Alaska.
I found a lookout at the closed park at Bird Point. I didn’t mind walking.
The view was definitely worth it. The pastel colors made it seem more like a painting.
Only the tops of the peaks on the north side of the Arm got direct sunlight. The sun was too low to be seen from the highway.
The sun rose and set behind these mountains on the south side of the Arm and never rose above them. That’s crazy to a person from the Lower 48 but it’s perfectly normal to the locals.
All along the highway there are designated avalanche areas where they don’t want you to stop. Fine with me. I don’t want to get avalanched.
I thought about how climbable the peaks on the north side were. If only I’d had more time…
At the end of the Arm I saw some glaciers. I’ve seen glaciers before, just not that close to sea level.
This is the closest I got to seeing the sun all day. You know it’s cold when salt water is making mist in the middle of the day.
I also spotted a creek in the frozen mud, meandering its way to the ocean.
A few snowflakes came to hang out with me too.
The tree line is very low here. Are you beginning to sense a theme? Ski areas, glaciers, and the tree line, three things usually associated with high elevations, are basically at sea level in this part of Alaska. The highest peaks on the Arm are only about 1200 meters.
Twentymile Valley holds Twentymile River and thousands of unused Christmas trees.
The Alaska Railroad and Highway 1 follow roughly the same route so I was never too far from the tracks. I even saw a few trains throughout the day.
The highway itself was fairly busy so that made maintenance important. There were sand-and-sweep trucks going back and forth all day keeping the ice at bay.
Around noon I decided to head back toward Anchorage. I had seen sunrise and all the colors and now clouds were moving in, making the scenes more dull.
But of course I still had to stop here and there. An ice forest is a good place to stop.
The Alyeska Highway sounds like it would lead far inland, but it doesn’t. It just goes to the ski resort.
I made it back to Anchorage and I was starving. but first I had to find a high view of the city. Luckily there was a convenient 8-story parking garage close to some good eats.
After lunch I headed over to Earthquake Park and then Airport Park to take a look back at downtown. It would be cooler if the mountains and sky weren’t the same color, but I’ll take it.
Then I turned around and saw a moose. After all the time I’d spent at the edge of the wilderness on this day, who could have guessed I’d see the moose at a park right next to the airport?
And with that, I was done for the day. I returned my Jetta, got myself through security, and hopped on another Alaska Airlines flight back to Seattle.
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