McCarthy and Valdez, Alaska

The end of September (back in 2014) seemed like a good time to leave Anchorage behind and head on a road trip to McCarthy. The drive took about 7 hours in total, and was, as most drives in Alaska, a beautiful, scenic one. We made it in two days, with an overnight stop at Copper Center, (at the confluence of the Klutina and Copper rivers).

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The final portion of the drive was the 60-mile McCarthy Road, a pretty rough unpaved road. It’s one of those places in Alaska were you are truly on your own, and you better be prepared because there are no services or fuel, and cell phone coverage is pretty much nonexistent. After what seemed like a long time on this gravel road, we made a stop to stretch our legs and take a closer look at the impressive Gilahina Trestle.

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When we finally got to the end of McCarthy road, we parked and got ready to walk, as the only way to get into town is by crossing a footbridge (built in the 1990s).

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There’s a good reason why McCarthy is called “Alaska’s most famous ghost town.” While we were there we only saw one guy crossing the bridge on an old motorcycle, and a couple of other guys doing some construction work on a house in town. Other than that, we were the only other humans there during our visit, probably because the peak of tourism season was behind us.

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We went ahead and crossed the footbridge into McCarthy (population 28 as of 2010).

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And walked into town.

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Once in town, we walked along deserted streets with old, dilapidated buildings in eerie silence… definitely transported to a different era.

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Some building were in much better shape, like Ma Johnson’s Hotel, reminders of the fact that there are still some people hanging out in this old village, and that there are visitors coming in the summer as well.

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After exploring for a while, it was time to get back in the car and take McCarthy Road all the way back (this part I wasn’t particularly looking forward to), since we still had a bit of a drive to our next destination: Valdez. These sights along the way made it totally worth it.

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Valdez is a beautiful little port town, and it felt so refreshing to see the ocean and these majestic mountains.

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Looking back on this trip, I’m so glad my husband’s adventurous spirit led us to see such unique places. We hope to go back and visit when our son is older and can really appreciate this magnificent land.

 

 

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Denali National Park and Preserve

In the almost 3 years we lived in Anchorage, we had the opportunity of visiting Denali twice. The drive there was around four hours, with great views along the way, but specially as we got closer to Denali.

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We never took a bus tour or camped right in the park, mostly because we had a tiny human. For our first visit we decided to stay in a cabin at Carlo Creek Lodge, which was recommended to us by a friend from Fairbanks.

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We greatly enjoyed hiking and admiring the beautiful natural surroundings that make this such a wonderful park.

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We had the opportunity of seeing caribou, brown (grizzly) bears, ptarmigans (this one was roaming right outside our cabin one day), and arctic ground squirrels.

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Our second visit to Denali was part of a longer camping trip with friends. We drove our truck camper and our friends rented an RV. They didn’t get to see much of the wild life that time, except for this couple on the road:

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Another wonderful set of memories from our time in Alaska. We look forward to going back when our little guy is older to show him around!

Anchorage in the winter

There were several fun activities, festivals and events in Anchorage during the winter that motivated us to get outside and enjoy the uniqueness of this town.

During our first winter in Anchorage we got to see the incredible Snow Sculpture Championships held every year at Ship Creek.

 

 

We also had some laughs cheering on the Outhouse Races that year. My favorite team was definitely the “Poo Pushers”, with Winnie the Pooh sitting in the outhouse pulled by Piglet and Tigger and pushed by Eyore (not pictured here).

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The Running of the Reindeer was another funny event, where people in crazy costumes race along the streets of Anchorage trying to outrun reindeer.

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It was also very neat to see the beginning of the Iditarod Race, The Last Great Race. It’s a true Alaskan tradition with an incredible history; locals are passionate about it and proud to be a part of it.

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One more winter Anchorage tradition we enjoyed was visiting the Gingerbread Village created by pastry chef Joe Hickel at the Captain Cook Hotel. The mere size of the display  and the attention to detail were mesmerizing.

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These skaters actually moved!

So it’s not all ice and snow in Anchorage in the winter, although there is a lot of that, but there are also many opportunities to celebrate all that makes Anchorage unique, and I’m glad we got to experience some of it while we lived there.

Living in Anchorage, AK

“We lived in Alaska.”

Here, in the lower 48, many times it blows people’s minds when we say we moved here from Alaska. Our son proudly says to anyone who will ask: “I was born in Alaska”. We still have our front Alaskan license plate on our car, because it’s a good reminder of what a great adventure that was, and also a good conversation starter. And yet, during the three years we lived there, I basically didn’t post anything about our time in the ‘last frontier’, with the exception of our very first trip on our very first week in Alaska, to the spectacular Lake Clark.

I feel like I need to fix that. It’s been a little over three years since we left Anchorage, and it’s time for a few posts to reminisce on our time there, from simple, daily life in Anchorage, to visiting Denali National Park, driving the Old Alaska Highway and visiting Fairbanks in the middle of winter.

First stop: Anchorage, a.k.a. not “the real Alaska”, and yet, where moose literally roam the streets.

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We lived in a small apartment on O Place, walking distance from great trails and the best view in town of Knik Arm, Mount Susitna (also called The Sleeping Lady), and, on clear days, even Denali!

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For a little boy, there was no better form of entertainment than watching trains and planes (from three different airports -Anchorage International, Merrill Field and Elmendorf Air Force Base) go by all day right in front of our living room window.

 

 

We were a short walk from downtown and our favorite breakfast place, Snow City Cafe. We were also very close to our favorite restaurant, Glacier Brewhouse. The best pizza place in town, Moose’s Tooth, was a bit further, but definitely worth the drive. And there was no shortage of great coffee shops in town, such as Steam Dot and Kaladi Brothers. Just thought I’d mention these, in case you ever happen to be in Anchorage and are looking for good food or coffee. And if you’re looking for a good Happy Hour with great views, then there’s Simon and Seafort’s.

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Yes, it was really cold and really dark in the winter, and yet there was all this spectacular natural beauty right outside our doorstep that made up for it, like when we spotted a pod of beluga whales right from our living room window, or when we saw the Northern Lights one late night as we were up with our little baby son. We also encountered wonderful people there, who were kind, good friends to us. It was a wonderful opportunity and a great experience for our family, so I’m grateful we can say, “we lived in Alaska.”

 

Disney California Adventure

Saying that we thoroughly enjoyed the Disney California Adventure Park would be a bit of an understatement. We absolutely loved the convenience of getting to the park from the hotel (just a short bus or cab drive away), found the size of the park to be perfect for a full day of frolicking without being overly tired, and liked that it never seemed to be terribly crowded, even when it was (which was evident by the long wait times for certain popular rides). We took advantage of all the ease that Disney offers by purchasing the tickets online ahead of time and adding the MaxPass option, which proved to be well worth the cost, as it allowed us to plan for FastPasses to rides that were important to us and also gave us access to some fun photos taken by Disney employees throughout the day.

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The highlight for us, specially with a four year-old son, was without a doubt Cars Land. I knew our little guy would be super excited to see it, but I was surprised at how excited I was when we got there!

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We enjoyed all the attractions we were able to experience throughout the day, but our favorite was definitely the Radiator Springs Racers. Thankfully we got a FastPass for it, because the wait lines otherwise were insane.

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Another important highlight for our little guy was getting to meet Spiderman, who was wonderfully gracious with every little kid he met, making it a truly magical experience for each one of them.

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“I’m four years old”

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My husband and I even got to experience a little bit of the park on our own while the other parent stayed with our little guy. He chose to ride the California Screamin’ rollercoaster, and also took a 20 minute nap in the middle of the day in a quiet part of the park by A Bug’s Land (yes, it was QUIET, unbelievable, I know!), which made him a much happier camper for the rest of the day. I decided to experience the Animation Academy, which I absolutely loved!

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Visiting in October allowed us to see the park’s Halloween theme, which was fun and never too scary for our son.

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Before ending our visit watching the World of Color water and light show, we spent a good chunk of time in Cars Land, which at night was even more magical.

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What a wonderful way to end our first California adventure trip as a family!

The end of our RVing adventure in California: Refugio State Beach, Santa Barbara and Balboa RV Park

We left Plaskett Creek Campground thankful to have made it there to enjoy the beautiful Sand Dollar Beach, and at the same time not looking forward to the long, winding road back. After that interesting drive, we continued our way south. With a couple more days to go before our final stop in Anaheim, we decided to spend that night at Refugio State Beach for some additional beach time, which we always love.

The next day was our last driving the RV. We made a quick stop in Santa Barbara to see the Old Mission, then continued on our way to Los Angeles.

We had to return the RV very early the following morning, so our best option to camp for the night was the Balboa RV Park in L.A., which allowed us to experience some true city RV camping; not our favorite kind of camping, but certainly interesting to see.

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The next morning we were up early to pick up our car rental and return the RV, then it was off to Anaheim.

After we checked into our hotel in Anaheim we went in search of dumplings (a common theme with us), and enjoyed some delicious ones at Din Tai Fung. Always interesting to see how they are made!

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Then it was off to the hotel for a good rest before our visit to Disney California Adventure the next day.

Sand Dollar Beach

After our day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium we headed to Plaskett Creek Campground for some California Coast time. Unfortunately, due to a winter-storm landslide earlier in the year, most of Highway 1 was closed, so what originally was meant to be a 30 minute drive along the coast turned into a 2.5 hour drive on a very narrow, very winding road. We finally made it to our campsite that night, tired and ready for bed. The next morning we woke up ready to head to the beach!

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A very short walk took us to Sand Dollar Beach and its stunning vistas, cold water, big waves and soft sand.

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Only a few steps separated us from the beach, so down we went…

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We had fun playing with the sand and running from the waves.

We took a break after our 4 year-old got taken down by a wave when he was looking at other kids playing. He’s a pro at falling in the water at this point, it seems, as he kept his sunglasses on and his head above the water, but the ocean was cold and the experience was jolting, so he was ready to leave the beach for a bit, with crazy amounts of sand in his vest’s pockets, by the way!

After lunch and an afternoon nap, we were ready to head back to Sand Dollar Beach. We walked along the beach and enjoyed watching the birds and sea life.

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The sunset was breathtaking…

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We watched the end of it from the trail, a wonderful farewell to this beautiful coast.

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