Day 13: Anchorage
Note: The blog is almost caught up — Days 12 and 13 posted today…
After another delicious breakfast at the Parkside Guest House, we decided to drive north to the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Valley and visit the cities of Wasilla and Palmer.
An hour drive north of Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley gets its name from its two largest rivers and is bisected by the Parks and Glenn highways.
On the way, we stopped at Eklutna Historical Park — in the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” native village of Eklutna — to visit a cemetery in which each grave is enclosed by a highly decorated “spirit house” the size of a large dollhouse. This unique practice evolved from the melding of Athabascan and Russian Orthodox beliefs.
Our stop in Wasilla (home of Sarah Palin, for you non-politicos) was mostly just to say we were there; at a local park we posed for pictures in front of the city sign and noted the Iditarod Trail Headquarters.
Forty miles northeast of Anchorage lies Palmer, a charming city that is one of Alaska’s major agricultural regions, thanks to its rich soil and long hours of summer sunlight. Looking for 100-pound cabbages? This is your place. Home to the Alaska State Fair, a musk ox farm, and an old gold mine, Palmer is lined on both sides by the Chugach mountain range. We drove up winding Hatcher Pass Road to Independence Mine State Historical Park, home to a long-dormant hard-rock gold mine that operated from 1938-51. Set in a “bowl” of rock and arctic tundra, the mine is built up into the hillside in a rather picturesque manner; we didn’t take the self-guided tour, but did stop to get some pictures.
Our next stop was the Palmer Visitor Center, where we talked to local guides about the city’s history and I browsed through a local cookbook offering recipes for moose, walrus, and salmonberry preparations, as well as the ubiquitous recipe for tater-tot casserole that seems to make an appearance in every one of these kind of cookbooks no matter where they’re from.
Lunch was at the In and Out Deli, a deli/grocery store recommended by one of the visitor center employees. Once fed, we drove back to Anchorage, bypassing Palmer’s animal refuge center even though I was running out of time to see a bear and could have done so here. (Would have felt like cheating anyways)
Matt had seen a disc-golf course in the park on our first night in Anchorage, and he convinced the rest of us to go buy discs and try it out. After deeming the discs at REI too expensive, we ended up at Play It Again Sports, where we learned that serious disc-golf players have separate discs for short/mid/long distances. We decided to start small and settled on one disc for each of us, choosing two short and two mid-distance ones.
At Westchester Lagoon Park, there is a nine-hole disc golf course that is free to all. There are four courses found throughout Anchorage. Disc golf is incredibly popular here; it is played by hurling a smaller-than-a-Frisbee disc toward a basket, aiming for the fewest possible throws to get it in. Each hole averaged 250-300 feet, with tree and water hazards. After a few practice throws, we got down to business; it was harder than it looked, and it was fun to watch the other, more experienced players show off their skills.
Reading the guidebooks, I learned that Anchorage had two summer collegiate baseball teams; after a quick Google search we discovered that the Anchorage Bucs were playing an evening game and decided to check it out. Matt’s parents dropped us off at Mulcahy Stadium, where we paid $5/ticket and took our seats directly behind home plate.
The crowd was small but pretty invested in the game, and we enjoyed the sunshine while rooting for the home team. Some well-known major leaguers have played for Anchorage’s two summer teams in the past: Mark McGwire, Dave Winfield, Randy Johnson, and Reggie Jackson, to name a few. The Bucs won handily, and we walked back to the guesthouse around 10 PM.