The last frontier
For the last two years I have been on an official quest (as defined by Chris Guillebeau in Happiness of Pursuit) to visit every state in the United States. I was over halfway to 50 and I just wanted to give myself a goal to get to them all. I figure if I can visit 40 countries in just over 10 years I can surely visit 21 states in just over a year including the last frontier. Once I had tipped over that halfway mark it seemed way more doable than when I was at 10 states.
At the end of 2015 I went on an anniversary road trip to see some national parks in the wild west. Then I planned a detour across the rest of the northern states (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois) on the way to see family in Michigan. All that was left was a road trip across the middle, south and east. After that I’d only have the last frontier. I thought that seemed fitting for the last state even though it was higher on my list to visit than most of the other states.
I planned my trip to Alaska for fall because I heard it was really beautiful. It wouldn’t be as cold as the winter and I thought it would be ok for seeing the northern lights, at least, according to some articles I read. Not to self: Not everything you read is true.
We booked our flight using Chase points that we transferred to British Airways because we had found some saver flights on Alaska Airlines. BA does a distance based schedule so you can get close-in flights for cheaper than if you were to use your points to go across the entire US. It’s not one set price since price is based on distance. If you want to learn more about maximizing your award tickets I write a lot about that in my book or over in this post.
We flew in and out of Anchorage. We knew that it was going to be too cold for camping so we upgraded our rental car to a minivan so we could “camp” out in it to watch the northern lights. I never thought I would rent a minivan but it actually worked out really well except for falling down on one of the bolts in the back. Oops! I’m such a klutz sometimes.
We flew on a short red eye flight, slept for a few hours in the airport then went to pick up our rental car just after sunrise. That was one of the prettiest sunrises I have ever seen. It looked like it was painted in the sky. The colors went from pastel to incredibly vibrant. There was even a lake that we walked by and the reflection made it even better.
Once we picked up our rental car and picked up some food and water we headed straight up to Denali. We were only able to go into the park 15 miles before we had to turn around but we did see several moose. That was a bucket item I could check off. Super fun to see wildlife in their natural environment.
We stayed the night close to the Denali entrance and tried to see the northern lights because it was supposed to be a good night for it. The clouds came in and you couldn’t see much of anything. It was such a bummer. The next day was rainy so we decided to skip Denali and drive up to Fairbanks and the Chena hot springs. It was a long but beautiful drive with all the bright yellow trees. The hot springs were awesome as well. It wasn’t the small pools that you see at a lot of other places. This pool was a regular sized pool that had a fountain in it. It was warm, warmer and hot throughout the pool. Perfect for a cool Alaska day. We drove back to Denali but again, no northern lights.
The next day was the first day that you could drive 30 miles into Denali without being on a bus. We almost had the park to ourselves that morning. There were barely any other cars. After our drive in and out we meandered back down the road toward Wasilla where we were visiting a friend of a friend for the night. We ended up at a delightful local pub for warm soup and great stories. (another women with wanderlust story coming up soon!)
After Wasilla we started a waterfall tour. We ended up seeing at least five impressive waterfalls north and southeast of Anchorage plus several other smaller flows that came from the melting snow and glaciers off the giant mountains. They may have been smaller in the flow but they were tall. It’s crazy the amount of water that flows off the Alaska mountains. Plus the colors of the mountains were unlike anything I had ever seen. They were golden and green, yet they were purple and blue. It depended on the time of day and the plants/trees in the area. It was a rainbow of colors that we experienced in those valleys. An incredible background for the waterfalls.
The rest of our trip included driving all the way down to the Homer spit, experiencing some more local pubs, amazing halibut and chips as well as the tunnel to Whittier. We even saw some beautiful glacier lakes. It’s not just Banff that has the corner on that market. In fact, it’s kind of fun to see one that you haven’t seen a million times on Instagram. But now that I tell you that the secret might get out. Eek! I would hate to spoil that beauty with crowds of people and trash. So remember, to always be respectful of nature wherever you go. It’s all connected, be gentle.
It was a great trip despite the rain and not seeing the northern lights. I highly recommend a visit to the last frontier. It might not be your last frontier but it is called the last frontier for it’s own reasons. See some waterfalls, get some fish and chips at F Street Station in Anchorage and visit the parks. It’s well worth the drive or flight!
P.S. Check before you go to Anchorage if the pirate pub crawl will be happening. Pack accordingly.