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USA: Alaska: Anchorage, Fairbanks
Anchorage, Alaska, USA: City of lights & flowers
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Come summer and like whole of Alaska, Anchorage blooms. Colourful flowers everywhere. And when winters arrive, the land lights up with décor… well before Christmas and well after Christmas.
I was in Anchorage in February to attend a trade conference. Rooftops were covered in snow, the rivers and lakes were frozen and trees in yards were all lit up… as if it was Christmas Day!
To me, and I am sure to many others from this part of the world, Alaska is synonymous with just snow and cruises. Only when I had the opportunity to travel around Anchorage and Fairbanks did I realise that there’s life beyond the inlets! If winter was so beautiful, I am sure summers would be dramatic… the making of picture postcards… green meadows, colourful flowers, snow-capped mountain tops and grazing animals of the wild.
Anchorage is the largest city of Alaska. Off the State’s population of 780,000 about 40% live in Anchorage area. That makes the city USA’s second most densely-populated only after New York City! And contrary to popular belief, the Capital of Alaska is not Anchorage; it’s Juneau – the only Capital City of the world which has no road access. You need a plane or a boat to reach there!
Alaska has some interesting facts. It has 3 million lakes and is home to many seaplanes as that’s a convenient way to move around. 20% of Alaskans have a pilot’s license. The State that we know of today was actually sold by Russians.
On March 30, 1867, the United States reached an agreement to purchase Alaska from Russia for a price of $7.2 million. The Treaty with Russia was negotiated and signed by Secretary of State William Seward and Russian Minister to the United States Edouard de Stoeckl.
Russia wanted to sell its Alaskan territory, fearing that it might be seized if war broke out with Britain. Russia's primary activities in the territory had been fur trade and missionary work among the Native Alaskans. The land added 586,412 square miles of new territory to the United States.
Reactions to the purchase in the United States were mostly positive, with some opponents calling it "Seward's Folly", while many others praised the move for weakening both Britain and Russia as rivals to American commercial expansion in the Pacific region. Discovery of oil, gold and minerals indeed made for a large 'return on investment'.
I was to be in Anchorage for 5 days. Whilst the days were busy with business meetings, the evening receptions, gave us the opportunity to explore two famous museums.
The first evening we were hosted by Anchorage Museum in downtown Anchorage. The state's largest museum includes the Alaska History Gallery, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, science exhibits, shop and full-service restaurant. One of the top 10 most visited attractions in Alaska, the Anchorage Museum is a world-class art, history and science museum. Its collections offer an overview of the Alaska’s rich history and an introduction to its varied culture. Displays in the Alaska History Gallery delve into Russian era, the gold rush, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and more. The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center gives visitors a glimpse of the diverse culture of the Alaska Native peoples, while the Imaginarium Discovery Center will ignite the child in everyone with hands-on science exhibits.
The next evening we were guests of The Alaska Native Heritage Center. It’s an educational and cultural institution for all Alaskans and visitors alike. The center opened in 1999. It shares the heritage of Alaska's 11 major cultural groups, namely the Athabaskan people, Eyak people, Tlingit people, Haida people, Tsimshian people, Unangax people, Alutiiq people, Yupik, Cupik, Siberian Yupik, and Inupiaq. The Heritage Center, located ten miles from downtown Anchorage, is situated on 26 wooded acres. Inside – the Hall of Cultures, theatre and gathering place are home to activities and demonstrations. Outside are six life-sized Native dwellings surrounding Lake Tiulana.
The final evening we were hosted by Alaska Railroad. Officially, the trains were not in operation at this time of the year, but the railroad corporation made it a point to pull out the train especially for us – people from the travel industry from all around the world.
The train’s main line stretches 470 miles from Seward to Fairbanks, connecting communities all along Southcentral and Interior Alaska. The main line was completed in 1923 after 9 years of construction; President Warren G. Harding traveled to Alaska for the occasion and personally drove in the Golden Spike to finish the job. In 1943, the Railroad completed a 12-mile spur to the tiny port town of Whittier. In total, the Alaska Railroad provides regularly scheduled passenger service along 482 miles of track. The Alaska Railroad operates year round, with scheduled services varying seasonally: the busy summer season stretches from mid-May to mid-September, while the quieter winter schedule spans mid-September to mid-May.
As luck would have it, the famous Iron Dog race was to happen that weekend. The starting point was Anchorage. Few roads were being blocked and preparations were in full swing. Locals were excited! The Iron Dog course is now over 2,000 miles, from Big Lake to Nome and finishing in Fairbanks, making it the World’s longest snowmobile race. Participants must traverse in some of Alaska’s the most remote and rugged terrain while confronting some the harshest winter conditions. Survival skills are essential, making it the World’s toughest snowmobile race. All teams in race classes are a team of two persons and two snowmobiles for safety. The 2016 race was 2031 miles long beginning from Anchorage and ending at Fairbanks.
The final day of our conference was to explore Anchorage and around. I opted for a day tour that would take me to Cook’s inlet, Turnagain Arm, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre, Aleyska Arial Tram to the mountain top and the Lake Hood seaplane base. We were 8 of us and shared a van with a guide. We began our trip at 7:30 AM and returned that evening at 5.
Turnagain Arm is a waterway into the northwestern part of the Gulf of Alaska. It is one of two narrow branches at the north end of Cook Inlet, the other being Knik Arm. Turnagain is subject to climate extremes and large tide ranges. Turnagain extends in an east-west direction, and is between 40–45 miles long. It forms part of the northern boundary of Kenai Peninsula, and reaches on the east to within 12 miles of Portage Bay, a western branch of Prince William Sound.
Turnagain is characterized by remarkably large tides which are the largest tides in the United States. The flood tide often begins with a Tidal Bore especially on large tides with a strong east wind, which has a height of 6 feet at times, and runs in from the west at a speed of 5–6 miles an hour. At low tide, the arm becomes a broad mud flat, cut by the stream channels.
Set on the shores of Turnagain Arm, surrounded by mountains and hanging glaciers, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre is the perfect setting to learn about Alaskan wildlife. The animals are located in different areas grouped around several road loops. At the 200-acre premises, jaws drop in awe-even those of longtime Alaskans who've studied grizzlies and other animals up close. The mission is to provide refuge for orphaned, injured, and ill animals - those that can't survive in the wild. The center, which opened to the public in 1993, also educates visitors about Alaska's wildlife. Coyotes peer out from behind the brush while a bald eagle swoops in on the salmon remains left by a grizzly bear. Wood Bison plod through 65 acres of tidal flat terrain, as part of a program that will one day restore the species to the Alaskan wilderness.
The Alyeska Aerial Tram is a three-to-seven minute scenic ride from The Hotel Alyeska to 2,300 ft in elevation at the top of Mt. Alyeska. From the Tram, you can see miles in all directions – including views of the Turnagain Arm, up to seven “hanging” glaciers and endless peaks deep into the Chugach Mountain range. In the summer months, moose and bear sightings are common on the aerial tram rides.
At the Upper Tram Terminal, there is an observation deck providing even more breath-taking panoramic views of majestic mountains, hanging glaciers, sparkling streams, towering spruce, and an array of wildlife. Conde Nast Traveler rated Alyeska - "Best view of any U.S. ski resort." The observation deck is a perfect place to enjoy a relaxed lunch or beautiful evening sunset.
Lake Hood Seaplane Base is a state-owned seaplane base located three nautical miles southwest of the central business district of Anchorage. The Lake Hood Strip is a gravel runway located adjacent to the seaplane base. Operating continuously and open to the public, Lake Hood is the world's busiest seaplane base, handling an average of 190 flights per day. It is located on Lakes Hood and Spenard, next to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. The base has an operating control tower and during the winter months the frozen lake surface is maintained for ski-equipped airplanes.
The next morning, I would leave for a 4 day trip to Fairbanks.
Anchorage Image Gallery Photo viewer
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