The Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce returned on July 20 from our most recent trip to the great state of Alaska. Everyone again reported a grand time!
Our adventure began on July 12, a Wednesday afternoon, where we all gathered at the chamber office for our coach ride (thanks H & R Tours!) to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Check in with Alaska Airlines was quick, and our flights to Anchorage via Seattle were uneventful.
We were met in Anchorage by a representative of Visit Alaska, who directed us to baggage claim. There, we were met by our tour guide from Premier Alaska for the week, Jesse Holt. After loading up luggage, we met our coach driver for the week, Jon Norman, and had a short ride over to our hotel, The Anchorage Marriott Downtown.
We arrived just at midnight Anchorage time — which was almost 4 a.m. in Yadkinville — so we were ready to turn in. In the morning, the Marriott had a great breakfast buffet set up just for our group. This was nice because it allowed everyone a chance to get to know everybody else on the trip, and have a leisurely breakfast.
The morning was free to rest or explore. Some visited the “Aurora — Alaska’s Great Northern Lights” show at the Sydney Laurence Theater, while others walked around Anchorage and enjoyed the sights. We stopped by the visitor’s center where we were warmly greeted and picked up some information. For lunch, we discovered F Street Station, which had fantastic service and a wonderful grilled halibut salad!
After lunch we boarded our coach for a tour of Anchorage including downtown, Earthquake Park, Cook Inlet, and a stop at Lake Hood. Lake Hood is the world’s largest and busiest float — plane base, handling an average of 190 flights a day! We were able to watch several planes make their approaches and land in the lake.
We also stopped at the Ulu Factory, where the traditional Alaskan Ulu knife is manufactured. We saw a demonstration of how the Ulu is used, learned the history of the knife, and watched the manufacturing process. Behind the factory is Ship Creek, with a salmon viewing area just upstream from the Alaskan Railroad headquarters. The Alaskan Railroad has a rich history, from its beginnings back in the early 1900s, and was responsible for the growth of Anchorage. We returned to our hotel for dinner on our own and a good night’s rest.
Breakfast the next morning, and we boarded our coach for the drive south on the Seward Highway down to Whitter. We were treated to views of the Chugach Mountains and the Turnagain Arm, a waterway leading to the Gulf of Alaska. The Turnagain Arm is known for having tides that can reach 40 feet and come in so fast they produce a wave known as a bore tide. The mudflats that remain during low tide are quicksand like and are dangerous — several people each year have to be rescued before the tide comes back in.
We could see across the water to the old gold mining town of Hope, formed by gold prospectors in the late 1880s. Now home to less than 200 residents, many structures remain from the early gold rush days. We also drove through Portage, a town destroyed during the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake when the ground sank about six feet, putting almost the entire town below the high tide level. Ruins of a few buildings and a forest of dead trees killed by the rising salt water is all that remains.
We passed through the second longest tunnel in North America, the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. The one-way tunnel passes directly over the railroad track for 2.5 miles, and was built for the military buildup just prior to WWII. Due to harsh weather conditions, the tunnel was designed to withstand winds of 150 mph and -40F temperatures.
Whitter is an unusual town, almost every one of the 200-plus year-round residents live under the same roof! Upon arrival in Whitter, we boarded the M/V Klondike Express for our journey into Prince William Sound for the 26 Glacier Cruise. The fastest catamaran in Alaska, it travels at over 40 mph while feeling like you are not moving at all! We were served lunch on the trip, and our group was all seated in the same area.
Great views from inside the ship, and the upper deck was open for those willing to brave the cooler temperatures. We saw bald eagles, bears, otters, and other wildlife in addition to many glaciers. The boat got very close to one of the glaciers, and we could hear and see the “calves” breaking away. The crew recovered and brought aboard a piece of glacial ice that we were able to enjoy. Some of our group was able to visit the Captain on the bridge, and enjoyed spending time with the crew. We then traveled back through the tunnel, where we had the evening to enjoy our last night in Anchorage.
Next time: Talkeetna and Denali National Park!
Bobby Todd is the executive director of the Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce.