My boyfriend and I love summer. Every (sunny) weekend, we’re outside hiking, running, finding bodies of water, road tripping, just generally enjoying the long days of sun. Washington is beautiful but, as with anything, gets kind of the same after a while, so we decided to do a weekend trip to a new place… the last frontier… Alaska!
After our first night, we set off to explore. The August weather was cloudy and off and on rainy, so visibility was low, but from what we COULD see… it was gorgeous! The mountains and even foothills are so rugged and sharp. Totally different from any mountain range I’ve seen before.
We didn’t reaaally plan out the day… We stopped for espresso at a cute coffee shop off the freeway, saw a magazine that talked about gold panning locations, and decided to leisurely drive to a far off one. It turned out AK-1 had so many random stops along the way- perfect for those who love scenery and car rides.
Like this coal mining town started by some of the earlier settlers, preserved as a free outdoor museum called Alpine Historical Park. It was totally empty so we were could roam around and read about what the different buildings were used for and the town’s lifestyle and people.
And this freaking glacier! On a pit stop a random guy told us we absolutely could not miss Matanuska Glacier, which happened to be the next exit down. Matanuska is the largest glacier accessible by car (and is shrinking- thanks climate change). Walking on top of it was like being on a totally different planet. The cloudy day actually worked out because it gave the glacier these beautiful blue hues. Luckily I brought my Merrels or else this would be slippery/sketchy af.
Finally, we made it to the random gold panning spot. This place was surreal. Being nature is always humbling- but even the secret spots I go to in other places have at least 5 other groups exploring, and many are just downright crowded. But being in nature by yourselves, with bear tracks, moose tracks, and bald eagles flying overhead, is humbling on steroids (after you freak out for a bit about bears). Taking a deep breath in this space, stretching a long stretch, then looking around at the untouched outdoors melted any troubles I had away. By the way, it is possible to gold pan with a wok. And no, we didn’t find any gold (which is why I still have my day job).
The next day, we wanted to go to Denali State Park. The drive from Anchorage is long (probably better to do as a Fairbanks thing), and the weather was BAD. I mean legit storming by the time we were an hour from the park with little visibility, so we did the responsible thing and turned back around.
On the way back we stopped at Talkeetna. It’s one of those themed touristy towns with local markets and homemade wares for sale. We did a step by step gold panning here and got actual gold! The owner was super sweet and friendly and started it because she loved to pan for gold. We also took a break at Denali Brewing Company’s tasting room to do some flights. I love craft beer. IDC! This place was so good, and relaxing on the patio after a day of stressful driving was perfect.
Our next/final day, we wanted to explore AK-1 S. Again beautiful scenery (despite the intermittent rain and clouds) and cool exits for those who don’t plan things. One favorite was Potter Marsh- it’s like a wildlife viewing area and you can walk around bridges to see many of Alaska’s animals in one place. We saw an eagle rip apart a salmon… crazy!
And the most favorite was a 2 hour hike we did and I don’t actually know what the area was called. According to my phone pictures the coordinates were around 61.016, -149.723. This was another area where looking over the steep and sketchy ledges you just scaled and seeing the Turnagain Arm and the foothills in the background just makes you feel calm. Part of the mountain was also burned down, which made some areas slippery but also beautiful in a different way.
Also everyone was super friendly. Sometimes you think that these remote red states will have angry racist people everywhere, but my (short) interactions with everyone- rural mountain people, saloon owners, baristas, etc, were warm and positive. Random, but it was the first place where everyone addressed little old me first (usually they ignore me and talk to the white male) and made sure I was happy.
And that was Alaska! One thing I would have done differently is car camp and not stay in a sketchy hostel with mattress from the 70s. Anyway. Driving through the freeways makes you feel free, the rugged mountains and wild animals everywhere make you feel connected (and sometimes scared because bears), the night sky makes your problems feel insignificant.