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To and from Alaska is (at least) half the fun

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BY JOE BYERS
Alaska is by far the largest state, yet has the smallest paved road system. Even so, a person can drive from Fairbanks, in the interior, through Anchorage, all the way to Homer, on the coast, in about 10 hours. The point being: drive a little, see a lot. You can’t just fly to Fairbanks and then back home. Plan a pre- or post-conference trip, or both.
In 1985, I delivered a Chevy Suburban press car from Seattle, Wa., to Anchorage and chose the coastal Cassiar route for a taste of the traditional, all-gravel Alaska Highway. The highlight of the Cassiar was visiting Hyder, a small Alaska town that’s more of a secret than a California governor’s love child. Hyder is about 900 miles north of the Canadian border, so you can visit Alaska before you get there, so to speak. It’s a quaint town of about 100 people, yet has great views of the Tongass National Forest, plus salmon fishing, bears, eagles, glaciers and more. The Cassiar is a windy, gravel mountain road that eventually links up with the Alaska Highway at Watson Lake.
Flying to Fairbanks and renting a car is also a good road trip strategy. In addition, visitors routinely travel to one part of Alaska and depart from another. Why not fly to Fairbanks, take the train to Anchorage, rent a car, and fly home from there?
ALASKA IN A WEEK
I promised my grandson an Alaskan adventure when he turned 16 years old and pondered at length what to do: a wilderness lodge, a fly-in camp or a road trip. Thankfully, I chose the latter and we spent seven days exploring the Kenai Peninsula, experiencing many of the state’s iconic animals, landforms and recreation.
We rented a Ford Explorer in Anchorage, thinking we needed four-wheel drive. But we didn’t. A midsize car will meet your needs and save gas. Here’s our story in a nutshell:
Day one: Drove to Seward, saw Dall sheep along the highway, hiked to Portage Glacier, took great wildlife photos at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and onto Seward.
Day two: Chartered for silver salmon and halibut in Resurrection Bay, saw the Alaska SeaLife Center and gorged on beer-battered halibut.
Day three: Float-fished the Upper Kenai River with Alaska River Adventures and reached our limit of sockeye.
Day four: Stopped at the Alaska Horsemen, rode into the mountains, panned for gold, fished on our own, and ate 100-year-old pancakes at Alaska Sourdough B&B.
Day five: Stayed at the Diamond M Ranch in Soldotna where we watched a black bear stalk caribou from the deck of our $100 per night cabin. Walked to the Russian River and caught and released salmon galore; fished with Hardy’s Alaskan Adventures.
Day six: Drove to Homer, played golf, kayaked, hiked, and stayed overnight at the upscale Tutka Bay Wilderness Lodge.
Day seven: Chartered from Captain Bob’s in Homer and caught a boat load of fish, literally. Had them filleted and frozen for our return trip the next day.
Regrettably, bad weather prevented a flight to Katmai National Park and a brown bear viewing trip. One participant termed it a “life-altering experience.”
When a 60-year-old and a 16-year-old set off on a road trip, a lot can go wrong.
Fortunately, the Kenai offered so much adventure, we didn’t have time to disagree. I even tied his golf score! ♦
Author’s Note: The Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council was very helpful with making reservations and suggesting activities. For assistance, contact the director at shanon@kenaiPeninsula.org or 907-262-5229.
-A member since 1986, Hagerstown, Md., resident Joe Byers is a still photographer with credits appearing in numerous publications. Byers has been to Alaska a dozen times since 1963. Contact him at joebyers@erols.com.
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