Thursday, June 26, 2014

Anchorage -- Wasilla

After a wonderful week in the Denali area we moved south to Wasilla.  We wanted to get together with Class of 07 mates and former Alaska residents John and Lora Newby to explore the area.  It is close enough to Anchorage for a day trip. We also needed to have Opus checked at Cummins in Anchorage as we have picked up a noise in the engine, not good.  John and Lora are here to help move her parents back to the lower 48 and they had some family obligations so we explored on our own for a couple of days.
Our plans to go to Anchorage for the summer solstice celebration were changed when the longest day of the year was accompanied by the longest day of rain we have had here to date.  On Sunday the skies were clear and a there were still a few summer weekend activities going on, so we headed to the city.  Anchorage sits between the snow covered Chugach Mountains and Cook Inlet.
We explored Potter's Marsh, a birding area near Anchorage, but only found a few birds.  I did find this swallow who was willing to pose.
There was also a family of geese.
The Eisenhower statue celebrated Alaska becoming a state in 1959 under Ike's administration.
The bear and raven are both important symbols in Alaskan culture.  So of course they are used in many commercial endeavours. 
Maybe from some places in the state but not from Wasilla, the home of Alaska's half term governor.
On Monday we did a nice day hike with John and Lora in Hatcher Pass.  It was a beautiful day.  It is great having locals to show you around and we thank them for a great day of hiking and exploring the area.
Even though the calendar says summer the spring flowers were just coming out in the mountains along the trail.
After our hike we drove higher into the mountains to explore the old Independence Mine that is now a state park.  The hard rock gold mine operated from the late 1800's until the mid twentieth century.  More than 34,000 ounces of gold came out of this mountain.  
Most of the old buildings have been maintained and restored while the mine tipple has fallen into disrepair.
There are trails throughout the ruins so you can get a close up look at the old operation.  There is an old water tunnel that was used to carry the ore out of the mine to the processing plant.
Even near town you will see wildlife.
We visited the headquarters for the Iditarod in Wasilla.  They have a movie telling the story of the "last great race" that is run every spring 1,100 miles to Nome.  There is a ceremonial start of the race in Anchorage that runs for eleven miles before the official start that used to be here.  A few years ago the start was moved to the wilderness near Willow because Wasilla has become to crowded for a wilderness race.
You can ride a wagon pulled by a dog team.  Check out the tree that is decorated with dog booties.  The Iditarod headquarters is a neat stop to learn all about the history of the race.

After four days in Wasilla we had an appointment with Cummins in Anchorage on Tuesday morning.  Our suspicion that something was not right were confirmed.  They had to replace the head gasket.  They did the repair that afternoon and we got a night of "free" industrial camping.  Repairs are part of the lifestyle and we sure are lucky that this happen when we were near a big city and not when we were in the wilderness miles from the closest repair shop.  On our trips into Anchorage we checked out a couple more breweries.  The downtown Glacier Brewing Company has a big and expensive restaurant that is geared to visiting tourists was just okay.  Midnight Sun Brewing is located in a hard to find industrial park.  It has a small restaurant and overall is much better and definitely a place where the locals hang out.  This is the kind of place we like to find.  While they were working on Opus we went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
While there Nanc was attacked by three big bears.  She seems to be enjoying it:)
The center is dedicated not only to sharing the culture of the five native groups in Alaska with visitors but also in renewing native pride through their educational programs held throughout the winter months for young native students.  The five native groups are; the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimahian of the Southeast;  the Athabascan of the interior;  the Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yubik of the far North;  the Yup'ik and Cup'ik of the Southwest; and the Unangax and Alutiiq of the Aleutian Islands.  It was interesting to see the different kinds of houses they had, especially the groups that lived on the treeless tundra whose homes were dug into the permafrost and covered with sod.  
The raven sculpture at the entrance tells a creation story.  A skin covered canoe and whale jaw bones that were used to show the entrance to a home.  Our guide Michelle, who was a mix of a couple different native groups, credits the center with sparking her interest in her culture.  Most of her family is not interested and her mother and grandmother were punished when they used the native language in school.  She was an excellent representative for her culture. 
These four totem poles represent respect for self, culture, environment and family.  Totem poles were part of the Southeast culture where tall cedars grew.
There were also live performances of native songs and dances as well as their athletic skills that evolved from their hunting strategies. In addition to the outdoor display they also have a wonderful museum with artifacts from the different native cultures. The Alaska Native Heritage Center is a great place to learn about Alaska's first people and shows the pride these young people have in their heritage.

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