A two day trip to Anchorage Alaska

snow on the mountains

I really wanted to go to Dublin for Memorial Day weekend this year, but the price was really depressing. So there I sat in January, money was tight, and I struggled to find a cool trip for the long weekend…I knew that I wanted to go really far away (outside the continental US), but most everything was way too expensive. But not Alaska – as a matter of fact, it was quite cheap. And better yet, it fulfilled my distance requirements!! So, in a blink of an eye, I booked it. Nearly five months in advance…not normally like me, but it was nice knowing that I had some travel coming up.

The five months came and went in a flash, and ‘zero hour’ came at a weird time…right in the middle of the disintegration of the company I was working for. I had so much crap on my mind that I really didn’t find myself getting excited about this trip until just a few days before I was to leave. My roommate moved out the night before I left, so at least I had that to look forward to (yeah, I prefer living alone).

route map san diego to anchorage
Route map showing my trip from SAN to ANC via SLC

Anyway, it was going to be a quick trip (not quite a bonsai run, because I had three days), and it all started at 4:20am on Saturday morning (May 27th). My flight left SAN at 6:15am, and I got into SLC with about two and a half hours to spare before catching the 757 to ANC. I passed the time taking pictures, and just walking around people watching. Airports are the best places in the world to people watch!

delta airlines aircraft at SLC
An assortment of Delta Airlines aircraft from Salt Lake City airport

Anyway, the flight (a 757 in the NEW DL colors) boarded on time, and I found myself sitting next to a very talkative guy who just would not shut up. Oh well…he was friendly, and besides…there was an empty seat between us. All in all, it was a decent flight – good conversation, and good food by airline standards. Total flying time from SLC to ANC was four and a half hours, and combined with a little bit of sleep, that time seemed to fly by (no pun intended).

The decent into ANC was spectacular, just as I had imagined it would be. Snowcapped mountains and water for as far as the eye could see, and it was neat to get a sneak preview of the drive I was planning on taking the next day. I got a play-by-play of our approach by my seatmate, and I had to admit that it was neat having a local right there to tell me what I was looking at. We glided into the airport, and the first thing I noticed was all the cargo planes parked on the ramp. Lots of Asian companies, with a few American Airlines like Gemini and Atlas Air…all in all, it was pretty interesting to see all the foreign aircraft sitting around. I was surprised at the small terminals though. For as much air traffic that looked to be coming through there, I actually expected a bit more size. Oh well…the scenery rocked my world, and it sure was nice to get off that airplane and walk around for a bit. I was planning to stick around and take pictures of the DL 757 as it was leaving, but geez…I was in Alaska for crying out loud. I wanted to walk around instead of sitting and waiting for the flight to leave, so I decided that it wasn’t worth it to wait.

I went over to the domestic terminal to get my rental car, but quickly found myself frustrated with all the construction around the airport (couldn’t find my rental car). After a bit of internal cursing, I finally found it: a brand new Kia Sportage gleaming in the Alaskan sun. Cool. It was a neat little thing, that’s for sure. Easy to drive, simple controls, etc. Nice car.

Anyway, the first item on my agenda was to go back inside the domestic terminal for some food and photography. Didn’t find much of each, but I didn’t let myself get all stressed out over it – I was on vacation afterall!! After paying way too much for a couple hot dogs and a bottle of water, I decided that it was time to go driving around a bit and find my hotel. I always hate this part of the trip – I’m in a strange place and in a strange car, and I tend to lose my sense of direction rather quickly. As much as I wasn’t looking forward to it, it all ended rather quickly and simply…I wasn’t two minutes out of the airport (totally guessing which way to go), and I found the Courtyard by Marriott. Very cool. I quickly checked in, and took a little breather before heading back out again to find some places to take pictures of incoming aircraft.

One thing I quickly noticed about Alaska was how dry everything was. I had been drinking my fair share of water all day, but I was still parched. Everywhere I went, I made sure to bring a fresh bottle. The best part? Clean water everywhere you go, so I never had to spend an exorbitant amount on something as plain and simple as drinking water. Way cool. Anyway, knowing that it wouldn’t get dark until really late, I took my time driving around the perimeter of ANC. The scenery was absolutely incredible, and I really took note of all the biking and hiking paths nearby. I found a few places that got me close to the airport property, but they were all WAY out of range for the 85mm lens on my camera. Bummer. I drove around for about an hour or so, and eventually found myself along the backside of the airport. Jackpot! I did find one spot which had a crystal clear view of the runway, though it was too far away to take any really good pictures. Anyway, I did snap a few considering that it was a view with a killer back-drop (snow-capped mountains). I then drove down the length of the runway to try and see the planes as they took off…I had my camera ready just in case, and I nearly pooped my pants as the first plane took off (a FedEx MD-11). It was close enough to grab it full frame at 85mm, so naturally I stayed there for a few hours to grab a few shots.

FedEx MD-11
The very first photo I took at ANC: a FedEx MD-11 rockets off of runway 32

There wasn’t much activity, but it was a beautiful evening…clear skies, cool crisp air, and a beautiful view of mountains in the distance. I was very content to just sit and wait. I stayed there until about 8pm, and then decided to check out downtown Anchorage before heading back to the hotel. As expected, the downtown area was exactly like I expected it to be: not very congested, and pretty spread out. Still, with the mountains in the background, it was kinda neat. Of course without the mountains, the place would be rather dull I think. Back in my hotel before 9pm, I splurged a little on room service before going to bed just after 10pm. The weird part? It was still really bright outside. As tired as I was, it was a little difficult at first to fall asleep. But once I did, I was really gone.

I was up by a little after 7am the next morning, I debated whether or not to spend the day around the airport pictures, or doing a little exploratory drive. I really wanted to get some monster aviation shots, but I figured that it would be so lame for me to come all this way and not get away from Anchorage for a bit. So I decided on doing both! I decided to just spend the first few hours of the morning driving around without a plan – just checking things out. So off I went, headed directly for the mountains. Unfortunately, I didn’t get too far. Once I got to the foothills, there seemed to be no way in. Bummer. But then, on my way back, I found the entrance to Hwy 1 (the Seward Highway). It was still only around 9am, so I decided to jump on and head south for a few miles to see where it was heading. 75 miles later, I found myself in some of the most beautiful country I have ever been in. Mammoth mountains, a twisty two lane road along the water, and lots of snow…wow.

stopped along side the road south of anchorage
Spectacular scenery just south of Anchorage
snow on the mountains
There was still a lot of snow on the mountains even though it was late May
taking a break during the drive to portage
There were plenty of places along the highway to stop and get some great pictures

It was beautiful. I got out of the truck just south of Portage for a potty break, and I ended up walking around a little in the snow. Yeah, the air was cool (but not cold), but there was snow everywhere. THIS was how I imagined Alaska to be.

seward highway in alaska
Taking a break along the Seward Highway near Portage

Anyway, I decided to head back, so I took my time along the same road back into Anchorage.

I headed straight back to the same place I was the night before (behind the airport) for some photography, and I was happy to see that there was a bit more activity than before. Long story short, I met a really nice local guy taking pictures with a Sony digital camera. At first I thought he was little of a loony, but turns out he just suffered a massive stroke and was recovering. Anyway, he was good company, and I ended up staying there until almost 4:30 in the afternoon. I Got some killer pics.

ANC aviation photography
Some of the the photos I took at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC)

By the time I left, I was dead tired. And really hungry!! I caved a bit and decided to do hot-dogs again in the airport terminal. Expensive, yes, but still not as bad as $25 for room service. I slept hard that night, and I was a little disappointed that I had to leave the next morning. I could have really used one more day!

All in all, I was really impressed with Anchorage. I was really impressed with how international the place is. Its truly a stepping-stone to Asia. Just a look up into the sky, and all sorts of 747s were ripping across. And 24 hours a day, there were 747s coming and going for fuel stops. There was something really cool about it all. Anyway, I think Alaska is a place that I can see myself visiting quite frequently…though next time, I’d like to take a bit more time exploring!

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