Subscribe for a FREE Daily Dose of greer's OC
FacebookTwitterRSSYouTubeFollow Me on Pinterest

Travel

Exploring Anchorage and Its Environs

If there’s one thing you can say about traveling to Alaska, it’s that you will have so many great options if you love the outdoors—you’ll want to come back to see more someday. I just took my mom and my boys to Anchorage with the intent of seeing and doing as many things as possible— with three generations to keep in mind. To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of time to plan my trip and although I read some blogs, the best info I found was on Alaska.org and Reddit, a great resource for up-to-date honest reviews.

We stayed at The Lakefront Alaska since it’s in a great location, not far from the airport and I thought my boys would find it fun to watch the float planes take off and land on the lake. The hotel was perfect, not fancy, but Anchorage isn’t a place for luxury hotels. It’s a great place to stay since there are so many nearby sites to see. Everyone who worked there couldn’t have been nicer and even the people who were originally from California never once said they missed it. As it appears from talking to locals, Alaska is the best place to live if you want a simple and happy life— plus you’re surrounded by the beauty of nature.

When we travel we like to have our own car and the freedom to do what we want to; we’re not big fans of group tours. Our first stop was the Anchorage Museum and we love it. We highly recommend going if you’re ever lucky enough to go. You’ll want to carve out about two hours to see as much as you can. We concentrated on the exhibit that focused on Alaska history, Art of the North and Ethnography. It’s an impressive museum and we appreciate so much the Alaska Native artifacts, historical and contemporary artwork.

We also attempted to climb Flattop Mountain at Glen Alps, a great day hike in Anchorage and reported one of the most climbed mountains in Alaska. We now know we really needed crampons to climb to the top— we did not have proper hiking shoes. The summit is rocky and steep, not to mention slippery from ice and snow. We were so impressed by the mountain vistas and the views of the city from the trail. It’s a must if you love hiking.

We love riding bikes and were lucky enough to find Downtown Bicycle Rental on Fourth Street. We can’t say enough great things about this shop and the owner, Pete is so helpful and knows everything about the trail and bikes. He’ll go out of his way to accomodate what you need including staying at the shop after hours.

We read about the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail considered one of the most beautiful coastal trails in the nation says USA Today. It winds along the coast eleven miles and includes the fault line of the '64 quake, scented forests, if you’re lucky you’ll see moose and bald eagles, and you can take in vistas where you can spot beluga whales offshore in Knik Arm and take in Denali, North America's highest peak.

For casual dining, in Anchorage we loved the friendly people and great food and drinks at Slippery Salmon Bar & Grill, the fast-casual Taco King; and for a little more upscale we loved Pangea Restaurant and Lounge, for global fusion cuisine and for fine dining, we loved Crow’s Nest at the top of Hotel Captain Cook with 360-degree views of the city.

It has 360 degree view of the city If you love wild berry jams and jellies and chocolates, you’ll want to stop by Alaska Wild Berry Products since 1946 in Anchorage that boasts the world’s largest chocolate falls. You can take a tour of the candy kitchens and shop from nineteen jams and jellies, syrups and sauces, dozens of chocolates and fudges, and other candies as well.

Top of our list of day trips was to go to Girdwood, a resort town about an hour drive south of Anchorage. It’s one of the most beautiful drives you will ever take, the Seward Highway is right on the shorelines of four-mile-wide mud flats of Turnagain Arm, a   waterway into the northwestern part of the Gulf of Alaska. It’s is known for its tides of up to 40 feet--the largest tides in the United States.

The mud flats almost stretch like a plain to the opposite shores of Cook Inlet, where they meet mammoth sloping mountains. On the left of the highway are Chugach State Park's 3,000-foot mountains.

There are so many things to do at Girdwood including flightseeing over glaciers, kayaking skiing, snowboarding, summiting Mt. Alyeska for great views or take a rainforest hike. Since it was so early in the season, we could only hike in the rainforest just behind the Hotel Alyeska, a luxury resort at the base of the Mount Alyeska. We also wanted to see wildlife up close, so we went to the 140-acre Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Girdwood. The center provides refuge for orphaned, injured, and ill animals— those that can't survive in the wild.

You can see moose, wood bison, reindeer, wolves, deer, muskox, and foxes, depending on when you go, the black and brown bears can be hibernating.

On our last day, we drove two hours north east of Anchorage to see the famous Matanuska Glacier, chosen by Alaska Magazine as #2 of “49 Places To Go In The 49th State.” It’s the largest glacier that’s accessible by car in the U.S. It’s massive at 27 miles long by four miles wide. We were able to explore the 600 ft. high glacier by foot without a guide, but thankfully a volunteer guide noticed we were solo and offered to show us what is dangerous and what was safe. She warned us of snow bridges and crevasses that we could unexpectedly fall into at 200 ft. deep! To a novice (us) they are not visible because they are covered by surface snow. In no way, did we want to fall into one, so were so thankful she found us. If we had more time and depending on the time of year, we would go on one of the guided climbs, or a guided glacier cave tours. We definitely need to go back.

We also stopped at Reflection Lake in the Matanuska Valley. It’s a beautiful picturesque lake and also a great place to relax or go on a hike.

After all of the talk of running into a bear (we stopped at REI to buy bear mace), or a moose, wolf, etc. we didn’t see any wild life, save for bald eagles on our bike ride, but on my last morning run in Anchorage, I saw a moose happily grazing on a tree in someone’s backyard. He took no notice of me, but he made my trip.   

Luxury, History and Charm in Southern Arizona

By Carolyn Burns Bass

Erase all assumptions about Southern Arizona before reading on. Aside from the rugged mountains and saguaro cactus so iconic to the desert south of Interstate 10, the only clichés you’ll encounter are the ones you can’t let go of.

Just hours away from Southern California by air or auto, Southern Arizona offers unexpected luxury, fascinating culture, spectacular scenery and diverse activities. A long weekend spent here can include a visit to legendary Tombstone, home of the O.K. Corral; a hike from the desert floor to mountain forest at Ramsey Canyon; and surprisingly good wine tasting.

Stay A While

Tucson is a familiar gateway town, but why not go deeper? Begin your stay at Tubac Golf Resort and Spa just 45 minutes south of Tucson. This luxury resort sits in the shadows of the majestic Santa Rita Mountains, with towering cottonwood and palm trees scattered across the lush grounds. Once the site of the 500-acre Otero Ranch, the resort now features a 27-hole championship golf course, a world-class spa, fine dining in the Stables Ranch Grill, and 98 lavish suites and guest rooms.

People come from miles around to dine at the resort’s Stables Ranch Grill. In addition to Arizona-raised beef, house specialties include such international offerings as pork schnitzel, vegetarian green curry, several Mexican dishes, and a dramatic tomahawk pork chop. Sunset views of the mountains from the restaurant’s patio adjacent to the greens make for a perfect ending to a full day.

If you can pull yourself away from the resort, take a drive to Tubac, a small town with a big arts culture. Established in 1752 as a Spanish Presidio, the former army grounds now feature more than 100 galleries and art studios. Southwest style art is prominent, with everything from ceramics, to painting, textiles, sculpture, and photography. Tubac is home to the longest-running arts festival in the country, held each February, drawing art lovers from around the globe.

A few miles from Tubac you’ll find the Tumacacori National Historical Park and the remains of the Spanish mission church of San Jose de Tumacacori. Not as elaborate as its sister, San Xavier de Bac which you could stop by on the way down from Tucson, San Jose de Tumacacori offers a peek into the history of the Native American peoples of Arizona before and after the Spanish expansion of the Southwest.

Meander Arizona Highways

Don’t expect a straight line driving through Southern Arizona. You’ll need a full tank of gas and drinking water in the car when heading toward a new destination in this desert. An hour or so east of Tubac you’ll roll into Sonoita, home of the first vineyard in Arizona. The Sonoita and nearby Elgin areas have exploded with vineyards and wineries, many of them producing award-winning wines of exceptional quality. More than a dozen wineries and tasting rooms dot the region’s wine map, providing a full-range of wine tasting experience.

 

If you have time for only one winery stop, make it Kief-Joshua Vineyard in Elgin. Kief-Joshua offers a wide range of whites and reds, with consistent quality. Winemaker Kief Joshua Manning studied winemaking in Australia, having taken his undergraduate and graduate degrees in winemaking studies at the University of Melbourne, then came home to Arizona to plant grape vines and make wine. In respect to a holistic farming approach, Kief-Joshua vines are maintained pesticide and herbicide free using sustainable practices. In addition to several wine-tasting experiences offered at the vineyard, if you contact them ahead, the proprietors will provide wine-paired meals inside or outside the winery, as well as host overnight guests through Airbnb.

Round about now you’re ready for some dinner and another sleep. Head down to Sierra Vista for a stay at Sierra Suites, a boutique hotel with all the comforts of the road and a free, hot breakfast in the morning.

Sierra Vista is the largest town south of Tucson, and its proximity to Ft. Huachuca army base ensures a variety of dining options. If you’re craving sushi or Japanese food, don’t miss Tanuki Sushi Bar and Garden. Just like the best sushi houses in Japan, Tanuki is cozy and filled with smiling cats, dogs, geisha, and other knack-knacks. The array of sushi selections, as well as traditional noodle soups and tempura, is exceptional. So is the taste.

For another unexpected delight, try Pizzeria Mimosa in the nearby town of Hereford. The name doesn’t do any favors for the food and the experience at Pizzeria Mimosa. Here you walk into the smell of garlic and freshly baked bread ravishing your senses. Pizzeria Mimosa is a full-service restaurant specializing in Neapolitan dishes, not only pizza. Appetizers, antipasti, entrees, and of course, pizza are creative, generous and delicious. 

History and Legends Come Alive

Old West history buffs will find plenty to see and do throughout Southwest Arizona, including a visit to a Western film set called Gammons Gulch, where proprietor Jay Gammons provides tours while sharing personal stories from his days as a movie extra on Western film sets. Gammons Gulch is quaint with movie mementos, but down the road in Tombstone is where real history happened.

Time seems trapped in the imagination of Tombstone residents and visitors, with everything about the O.K. Corral and the gunfight that made the place famous commemorated from sundown to sunup seven days a week, including a live-action shoot-out, staged for your amusement at a recreated O.K. Corral outdoor theater. A fun way to learn about other history and aspects of the town and some of its charming and or notorious residents is from a narrated ride on one of the red stagecoaches from Old Tombstone Tours.

More sleuthing through history, both ancient and recent, lie just miles from Tombstone. The Amerind Museum sits at the base of a mountain among massive boulders strewn about like marbles. Founded in 1937, to research and educate visitors about the ancient peoples of the Americas, the museum is the public face of a research foundation that has excavated hundreds of native American artifacts through the years, many of which are displayed in the museum.

The Titan Missile Museum is an educational memorial to the Cold War’s reliance on nuclear missile technology to avoid mutual assured destruction. Visitors here can don hardhats and descend 35 feet into an underground missile silo, then visit the launch control center and set off a simulated missile launch of the missile.

Get Above and Below Arizona’s Natural Beauty

Those seeking an active getaway might consider a stay at Tombstone Monument Ranch, just a few miles outside Tombstone. Rather than a working dude ranch, Tombsone Monument Ranch has recreated the experience in an all-inclusive property with 18 charming theme rooms, a saloon, a dining hall, stables with horseback riding activities for all riding levels, shooting range for guns and archery, and hiking trails. Did I mention this is all-inclusive?

Southern Arizona is a hiker’s dream. The mountains that make such a dramatic landscape are criss-crossed with trails for off-roading, motorcycling, mountain biking, and hiking. Over at Ramsey Canyon Preserve you can take a hike from desert to mountain forest in about an hour. Renowned as the only place on earth where as many as 15 species of hummingbirds can be found, hikers can also spot dozens of rare birds and other animals. The views along the hike and from the peak are spectacular.

After hiking to the top of a mountain, consider going deep into the earth at nearby Karchner Caverns. Truly a miracle of modern exploration, Karchner Caverns weren’t discovered until 1974 and were kept secret until 1978 in order to maintain the security of the living structures within the caves. The state of Arizona purchased the caves from the property owners in 1988, but the caverns weren’t opened to the public until state-of-the-art preservation materials could be installed to ensure the preservation of the living cave formations. Karchner Caverns opened as an Arizona State Park in 1999 and now offers guided tours into two main caverns.

Carolyn Burns Bass is a California native who moved to Hillsborough, North Carolina to experience the seasons. She writes for a variety of travel publications. Follow her on Twitter at @CarolyBurnsBass or visit her website at www.carolynburnsbass.com to read more of her work.

 1 2 3 >  Last ›

Follow Greer on Pinterest

Subscribe to Greer's OC

from the blog

More Daily Doses