July 23, 2015

Anchorage, AK

By: Rob Lowe

Featured Picture

This week we travelled from Denali to Anchorage, AK. The highway was excellent with occasional wildlife sightings along the way. We came upon a male moose with large antlers munching away on some greenery some 15m (50 feet) from the edge of the highway. As often happens in those situations, by the time we saw him, we were past and unable to take a photo.

Anchorage is a City of contrasts. It is the economic center of Alaska, with a population exceeding 300,000, a container port city with large industrial and office/retail complexes and mountain views everywhere. The Legislature is located in Anchorage even though the State Capital is in Juneau, (the only State Capital that cannot be accessed by road). The opulence of some of the housing and the numerous European and Japanese imported luxury cars is contrasted with a large, poor native population waiting outside gathering centers. Anchorage’s original housing, at the beginning of the 1900’s, consisted of tents and the first permanent structures lining older streets are simple 150-250 square meters (500-800 square foot), wood sided homes. Newer areas have custom built, one of a kind, single family and condominium homes that rival any you would find in modern North American cities with the bonus of mountain or sea views.   The first two photos show some of these unique condos that use lots of glass both in their walls but also in their roof structures. Look carefully and you can see through the roof windows which are far larger than what we usually see. Siding is frequently wood, however stainless steel, stucco and decorative block is also prevalent. You would wonder how the owners heat their homes in the winter given the large expanses of glass and the extreme cold. They must be triple pane, energy efficient panels. Office buildings also are large users of glass panels and Photos 3 and 4 show them as well.  The climate in the summer is cool, ranging in the 15-25C (60 to the mid-70s F) and is not humid. It cools off quickly and there always seems to be a mountain breeze. Air conditioning is not a required amenity although many stores have it. The mountains are visible everywhere, rising up from the coastal plain, many with glaciers on them.

Bike paths are everywhere and well used. We tried to walk our dog on one last Sunday and found it too difficult because of the number of bikes and skateboarders that quickly approached and passed by, very close to you. We had to hold the dog close by our side and we never knew where the next bikes were coming from. These paths were very well utilized!

One economic driver in this City is the Joint Base Elmendorf – Richardson military base. There are two locations and one has a large military airport with various fighter planes taking off and landing each day. You certainly know when one of those planes is flying over! There is also a large international airport and a number of local airports and heliports with conventional runways and water areas for seaplanes.   We heard that one in six Alaskans has a pilot’s license. That seems high however the hundreds of small private planes surrounding the runways and lakes in Anchorage and flying overhead certainly adds credence to that statistic.

We toured the state of the art Ship Creek Fish Hatchery where thousands of salmon, and trout are hatched and reintroduced back to their native waters each year. I’ve included photos (5 to 8) of the salmon in the river near the hatchery. You will notice their bright red bodies in the water and numerous fins breaking the surface. We were told that they had to increase the size of the nearby waterfalls to prevent the salmon from jumping up them in an area adjacent to the military base since the bears were continually coming onto the base to catch the salmon on this river flowing through it. Our friends stayed on the base and they say bears are often seen on base. The 9th photo shows the truck (aka school busJ) that they use to relocate the salmon nurtured in the hatchery back to their native water to which they will return to spawn as they reach maturity. 

One obvious distinction in this city is the hundreds of floral arrangements that line city streets, hang from retail and industrial complexes and grace city parks and open spaces. They provide great contrast to the architecture, which is often very distinctive, modern and colorful. I’ve included some photos of both the structures and the flowers. The 10th photo shows our campground office, the 11th is an industrial building nearby, the 12th is the local electricity utility’s customer service area. I guess you’ll feel better driving up to pay your bill with all the floral arrangements surrounding it. Downtown there are baskets hanging from the utility poles and in front of retail stores as #13 shows. The last picture is a picture of the floral arrangements around the FBI building in Anchorage. Looks like everyone gets in the act!

We also visited the Alaska Transportation Museum which has a great display of bush planes and sea planes together with various military aircraft. Many of the displays and presentations helped us to understand that the bush plane was (and is still) the way goods were transported to rural Alaska, the emergency transportation to medical centers and often the only way into and out of numerous Alaskan communities. If you look at a map of Alaska, you will see that there are few roads. We learned that Alaska has over 3,000,000 lakes in excess of 20 acres in size. Many lakes support a population that live off and around those lakes and seaplanes operated by bush pilots are the connection with the ‘outside’. The first four planes photos show styles of planes used to connect people over the years. The 5th & 7th photos shows a couple of the military aircraft that were based at the nearby air base. The 6th photo shows Jane sitting in an Alaskan Airlines 727 that you can tour and see up close. This aircraft was one of the first to be approved to land on non-paved runways formerly found throughout Alaska. Given the permafrost and tundra, those takeoffs and landings must have been frightening at times. Of course, helicopters also play a role in the north (Photo 8) and this military version had some pretty simple seating. It was full of very tight, primitive seats as you can see in photo 9. In photo 10 and 11 you see a sampling of the seaplanes that are scattered along the shorelines of lakes around Anchorage.   

We also toured the restoration hangar where volunteers spend countless hours dismantling, remaking, repairing and re-assembling planes that often are a mere shell when they arrive. The cold weather preserved and prevented recovery of these planes and many are quite old having been abandoned once crashed. Volunteers work at the restoration of them as if it was their plane and they were happy to share their stories of the restoration with a few pilots that were in the museum with us and had flown similar planes in their pre-retirement days. You could see and feel the joy as they shared their side of the story.

All in all another great place to visit in Anchorage. Hopefully you find the enclosed interesting.



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