A Week in Alaska

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Mountains and glaciers, Prince William Sound, Alaska

We spent Memorial Day week in the 49th state. I'm not sure why everyone in the Northeast seems to treat it like a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It's not that far, people. It's big. It's beautiful. I'd go again.

A layover in Minneapolis is highly recommended, as is lunch at Masu in the Mall of America, where I sketched these lovely ladies. M. noticed that there were multiple outlets of many stores at the MoA. "There's two of everything," he said. "It's the Noah's ark of malls."

Lunch at Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota

We landed in Anchorage, Alaska's biggest city, and got our bearings. Anchorage isn't the most inspiring of cities to sketch. It looks perpetually stuck in the '70s -- because that's when the city's architecture dates from, due to the massive earthquake in 1964. With today's taste for retro chic, though, it's somewhat hard to tell what's actually from that era and what's just been built to look like a rec room on purpose.

Thankfully, the food scene is much more modern. Breakfast at Snow City Cafe was so good we went twice during our stay. Tip: They take reservations.

Snow City Cafe, Anchorage, Alaska

What Anchorage also has, randomly, is a fabulous art supply store.

The breadth of merchandise at Blaines is impressive. They even have a whole rack of the multicolored-lead pencils we urban sketchers like so much.

And next door was this little vignette, just begging to be photographed.

Still marveling at the fact that we'd never see nightfall for an entire week (the sun would set well after we'd gone to bed and rise before we woke up), we decamped to the lovely, slightly Grand-Budapest-Hotel-ish Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. We planned to go south into the Kenai peninsula; however, the air was thick with smoke from the wildfires so we decided to head to Whittier for a boat tour of the glaciers in Prince William Sound instead.

I sketched the surrounding landscape while we waited for the Whittier Tunnel to open for cars (the train line shares it, and you actually drive on the tracks). It's apparently the longest highway tunnel in North America.

Waiting for tunnel en route to Whittier, Alaska

The town of Whittier is tiny. Just about all of its residents live in one condo building. Then there's a marina for the glacier tours, and there are fishing boats during the season. That's all.

Boats in marina, Whittier, Alaska

While on the glacier tour, I took out my watercolor kit and did a quick sketch of the landscape. This is what I'd always imagined Alaska to look like, and it didn't disappoint. (The finished work is at the top of this blog post.)

Next we headed north. We discovered that Wasilla -- yes, the town Sarah Palin put on the map -- has really good restaurants (mmm, Grape Tap) among its maze of strip malls. No, we didn't run into its most famous resident.

As we made our way to Denali National Park we made the obligatory detour to Talkeetna -- it's a quirky little town whose honorary mayor is this cat, Stubbs:

We reached Denali around dinnertime, and while M. hiked up a mountain, I tried to paint the view from our hotel and made a mess of it on account of the chilly, biting wind. My fingers were freezing by the time I called it quits.

View from Grande Denali Lodge, Alaska

The next day we boarded the shuttle bus, which took us 50 miles into the park. We checked off everything on my to-see list: moose, Dall sheep, bears, caribou. Oh, and the elusive Mt. McKinley graced us with its presence too. On the ride back to the park entrance, I sketched the typical tundra scene.

View from bus, Denali National Park, Alaska

Lots more to see on a future trip someday: Alaska is over twice the size of Texas! I leave you with that.

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  1. No wonder we haven't seen you in a while. Great sketches of the Alaskan landscape and the indoor sketches. Is the painting at the top the same one you are working on in the photo? It is always fun to find a good art supply store too. Looks like a great trip!