Anchorage

The next afternoon we boarded busses again, this time to Anchorage. Since we knew it was going to be a 6-7 hour ride, through what promised to be pretty unspectacular country-side, I decided to pack my camera with my suitcase going on the baggage truck. That way, I had one less thing to worry about losing. Big mistake. It was another spectacularly clear and sunny day. We stopped four times for Mt. McKinley photo-ops, each one prettier than the last.

We made one unscheduled non-McKinley stop. The driver stopped by a hunter who’d just shot a moose. He had a 4-wheel ATV with a trailer attached. This is apparently the way to go moose hunting here. He’d already quartered the moose and removed the head when we arrived. Moose hunting is very big in Alaska. For that matter accidental moose hunting is very big too. On one 50 mile stretch of road about 300 moose get killed by cars every year. Pretty hard on the cars too. A typical moose is around 1600 pounds.

One of the stops was at an Alaska state park. Posted on the walls were "bear-sighting" lists with hand-written notes from hikers who’d seen them. We also heard about the park ranger who was giving a lecture on bears in the woods. He said that in grizzly bear territory you should wear small bells on your clothes so a bear could hear you coming. And just in case, you should also carry a can of pepper spray. Later on in his talk he explained how to distinguish grizzly bear droppings from brown bear droppings. The grizzly bear ones have little bells in them and smell of pepper spray.

Eventually we got to Anchorage and our hotel. Next day we got the city tour. Learned that Anchorage is the float plane capital of the world. Half the world’s float plane pilots live in Alaska, and half of them in Anchorage.

The owner of this plane had just finished refueling it, getting ready to fly 400 miles north-east to hunt moose. He said that he’d been successful the last five years in a row.

Next stop was a state fish hatchery (a fishery maybe?) They have lots of these in the state, for continually re-stocking the sports fishing sites. While we were there, three guys in hipboots and carrying big nets stood downstream from the hatchery. They told us they were trying to catch fish that had escaped. (Now wouldn’t that be a great children’s story? Tommy Trout and Sammy Salmon plot their escape from the hatchery prison and get away into the wild streams.)

Having seen enough fish, we went to the ulu factory. What’s an ulu? The native knife of Alaska. It’s a thin, curved-edge knife. Like a small version of the head of a single-bit axe, with a wooden hand grip at the blunt end. (Forgot to take a picture of one) We hadn’t seen any ulus in Fairbanks or Denali, but from Anchorage on, they were everywhere, in all kinds of price ranges. Later on, we wandered the streets in downtown Anchorage. Full of tourist shops and little restaurants. Over-full. Hardly anything else. Couldn’t find a drugstore anywhere.

We saw a memorial to the servicemen who fought the Japanese invasion of Alaska in WWII. Yup, that’s right, Japan captured two of the Aleutian Islands, Attu and Kiska, in 1942. They weren’t re-taken till over a year later. If this forgotten war piques your interest, get The Thousand Mile War, an excellent book by Brian Garfield, the same guy who’s written a number of good spy thrillers. Later we went past a small park where they were having a remembrance ceremony. (This was 9/11), then wandered into a hobby shop and overheard this conversation.

Customer: "How do you think we ought to remember 9/11?"

Store Owner. "Every year we oughtta nuke one of them rag-head countries."

Not very PC, but very heart-felt.

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