Shake, rattle, and roll

Welcome to Anchorage.

I was going to write about normal Anchorage facts (found at this website) like:

  • By area, Anchorage encompasses 1,961 square miles – nearly the size of the state of Delaware
  • With a population around 300,000, 41% of Alaskans live in Anchorage
  • The city of Anchorage sits on a triangular peninsula surrounded by the Cook Inlet, which is the northernmost reach of the Pacific Ocean
  • Anchorage is as far west as Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Approximately 250 black bears and 60 grizzly bears live within and around the city
  • There is a summer population of 250 moose, increasing to more than 1,500 during the winter
  • Anchorage, like all of Alaska, has no native snake population

But, I decided instead to talk about earthquakes. Most people have heard of the Good Friday Earthquake, that struck Anchorage on March 27, 1964, and killed 115 people. At 9.2, it is the strongest earthquake recorded in North America.

That one was big but not unusual. Alaska has 11% of the world’s earthquakes. In 2018, it had almost 55,000 earthquakes. The largest was 7.9, and the 23 largest quakes in the United States happened in Alaska. The second-largest was a 7.0 in Anchorage.

I’m going to be very disappointed if I don’t feel an earthquake while I’m here. It doesn’t have to be big. I’d be happy with a 4 or 5. It doesn’t even have to be in Anchorage, but they do seem to get a lot of them.

Thanks to its location on the Cook Inlet, there is little chance of a tsunami, which is good, because to me tsunamis are way scarier than earthquakes. Of course, I don’t think earthquakes are scary at all. But still, I’d prefer to never be near a giant town-eating wave.

Oh, and one more thing. I’d rather not have an earthquake happen during my half marathon tomorrow. Running is hard enough without the ground shaking beneath me. Plus, they might cancel the race, and I’d have to come back and run a different race in Alaska. Maybe I can find an earthquake-themed one the next time.


It all started with a magpie

We’re going to the Alaska Zoo.

We like zoos but had no intention of visiting one in Alaska. Then I saw a video of George (click here to watch this adorable one minute clip.) George is a talkative magpie who lives at the Alaska Zoo. After seeing this video a thousand times, I decided to find out where the Alaska Zoo was located. Hey, it’s in Anchorage. We’re going to Anchorage. It’s fate.

I’m not expecting to meet George, but there are many other animals there, and I’ll love seeing them all. We will not see any elephants, which is curious because the zoo started because of an elephant.

In 1966, Jack Snyder won a contest. The prize was $3,000 or a baby elephant. He took the baby elephant. The female Asian elephant was named Annabelle, and she lived in a heated stall at a nearby ranch.

Eventually, more animals joined Annabelle. The Alaska Children’s Zoo was founded in 1969 and became the Alaska Zoo in 1980. As of 2007, there were no more elephants, which is fine, since as Hannibal learned all those years ago, elephants don’t do well in the cold.

The small zoo has about fifty animals, most of which are native to Alaska. I look forward to learning about the local wildlife, and if I should meet a magpie named George, I will be sure to ask her what does a duck say.

The last fight of the Civil War

The Civil War is taught in high school.

I learned the basics in school and visited several National Park Battlefields up and down the east coast. It seemed like the Civil War basically took place in the eastern United States and on the Atlantic Ocean. There were some skirmishes further west, but I wasn’t taught about them in school.

So, imagine my surprise when I was researching for my trip to Alaska, and I learned about a Confederate ship raiding in the Bering Sea. I was intrigued.

The ship was the CSS Shenandoah commanded by Captain James Wadell. This commerce raider attacked Union ships, trying to break the chain of supplies. By 1865, there were very few Union ships to raid, so the Shanandoah followed the Yankee whaling fleet into the Pacific. They successfully burned several ships and learned of the much larger whaling fleet in the Bering Sea. The Shenandoah was in Micronesia at this point and unaware that the war had ended on April 9.

In June 1865, they hit the jackpot near Alaska, seizing or burning twenty-three whaling ships, and taking over 1,000 prisoners and tons of goods. They continued pillaging until August when they came upon a ship with a fairly recent newspaper. That is how Captain Wadell learned that the war had ended. Some historians think the captain had heard rumors before August, but he probably ignored them considering the source.

I just covered the basics here. For a more detailed story, go to Alaska Public Media. This epilogue to the Civil War deserves to be taught, even if no guns were ever fired and no men were killed. It’s a fascinating ending in the far west of the country, even more so since the United States didn’t even buy Alaska until 1867.


Show me the bears

I really want to see a grizzly bear.

We’re taking an eight-hour, wildlife tour in Denali National Park. Of course, I’ll be thrilled to see any animal, large or small, but I really want to see a grizzly bear. I’d like to see moose and wolves, too, but I really want to see a grizzly bear. Do you get the feeling that I really want to see a grizzly bear?

There are approximately 54,000 grizzly bears in Alaska. Most of them are probably in the wilderness where I’m not going, but I hope I get to see one. I don’t expect a confrontation (we’re buying bear spray, just in case), but I want to be somewhat near the bear I finally see. 

If I haven’t seen a grizzly bear before we reach Yakutat, the guys at the lodge see bears all the time, so I’ll probably see one while fishing or hiking. I do hope so. They’re so cute.


I hope we see it (stay away, clouds)

I’ve wanted to visit Denali all my life.

We’re spending a couple days at Denali National Park. We’ll be taking a wilderness tour one day and exploring on our own the other. Most of the park roads are unpaved, so the only way to get around is by bus (and they are not cheap.)

Denali is remarkable in many ways. Let’s learn the numbers, understanding that facts are never as impressive seeing it for real. I hope we get clear skies.

Denali National Park facts from the National Park Service

Quick history

  • February 26, 1917 – Established (as “Mount McKinley National Park”). Park was around 2,146,000 acres at that time.
  • 1976 – Designated an International Biosphere Reserve
  • December 2, 1980 – Renamed Denali National Park and Preserve, park roughly tripled in size.


  • Park: 4,740,091 acres (including 2,146,270 acres of Federally-designated Wilderness)
  • Preserve: 1,334,118 acres
  • Total area: 6,075,030 acres (9,492 square miles)
  • Perimeter: 606 miles
  • Comparison: New Hampshire is 9,351 square miles in area, Massachusetts is 10,555 square miles.

Landmarks and Elevation

  • Mount Denali (highest point in North America): 20,310 feet asl
  • Yentna River, at the Denali boundary (lowest point in the park): 223 feet asl
  • Approximately 12,206 lakes and ponds in the park and preserve; 18,679 miles of streams

Animals and Trees

  • Amphibians – 1 species
  • Mammals – 38 species
  • Birds – 172 recorded species
  • Fish – 14 species
  • Reptiles – none!
  • Trees – 8 species


  • 15% of the park’s land area is covered with glaciers (approx. 1,422 sq. miles).
  • Loss of 8% from 1950 – 2010.
  • Largest glacier: Kahiltna Glacier on the south side of Alaska Range (45 miles long)
  • Largest glacier on the north side of Alaska Range: Muldrow Glacier (34 miles long)
  • Deepest measured glacier: Ruth Glacier, 3805 feet or 1160 meters

Denali Mountaineering

  • Notable Ascents First summit of South Peak (true summit): June 7, 1913; W. Harper, H. Karstens, H. Stuck, R. Tatum
  • First summit of North Peak: April 3, 1910; Pete Anderson, Billy Taylor
  • First woman to summit: June 6, 1947; Barbara Polk Washburn
  • First solo ascent: August 26, 1970; Naomi Uemura
  • First winter ascent: February 28, 1967; Dave Johnston, Art Davidson, Ray Genet
  • First solo winter ascent: February 12, 1984; Naomi Uemura (died on descent)
  • First successful winter solo ascent completed: March 7, 1988; Vern Tejas
  • Oldest person to summit: June 28, 2013; Tom Choate, 78 years old
  • Youngest person to summit: June 17, 2001; Galen Johnston, 11 years old

The latitude, not the shake shack

We’re going to the Arctic Circle.

We weren’t planning to drive north of Fairbanks, but then I found out we get a certificate if we reach the Arctic Circle, so we changed our plans. It’s four hours one way on a road not recommended for rental cars (good thing we’re driving the Deathmobile), but we can’t go to Alaska and not visit the Arctic Circle.

What exactly is the Arctic Circle? It is a parallel of latitude 66° 33’ 50.170” north of the equator. (This number changes over time but this exact for the week we will be there.)

What makes this latitude special is that it is the southernmost point where the sun is out for 24 hours on the summer solstice and dark for 24 hours on the winter solstice. North of this line there are days or weeks of only day or only night, and south of this line, there is a little night with the day or a little day with the night. (The vampire movie 30 Days of Night works in Barrow (now called Utqiaġvik) but not Fairbanks because one is north of the Arctic Circle and one is south.

We’re not going any farther north than we need to since it’s a long drive, but it will be fun to see an area of Alaska very different from the southern part where we are spending most of our trip. Too bad there isn’t an Arctic Circle at the Arctic Circle. I’d love to get a soft-serve ice cream cone along with my certificate.



The real bloodsuckers in Alaska aren’t vampires

The mosquitoes in Alaska are famous.

Some say they’re the unofficial state bird and others say they’re so plentiful that when you slap your arm, you kill them thirty at a time. We’re bringing netting both for the Deathmobile and ourselves, but we might get lucky and not need it.

There are 35 types of mosquitoes in Alaska, and most of them want your blood, or the caribou’s, or the moose’s or the bear’s. The problem is so bad that the weather report has a mosquito activity forecast, and the epicenter is right where we’re traveling. DEET will be our friend.

They also recommend wearing long sleeve shirts, long pants, and shoes. That’s exactly how I want to dress on my summer vacation. Stupid mosquitoes.

As I said before, though, we might get lucky. The height of the mosquito season is June and July. By August, they have lived their life cycle, and the plague is mostly gone. I hope this is true. We will be prepared, but if we get mosquitoes inside our truck, we’ll never get them all out. We’ll just have to sell it (oh wait, we are.)

Visiting family

I have family in Alaska.

Up until now, our schedule has been fluid. If we found something new to see, we could change our plan. But no matter what, we had to be in Fairbanks today. It’s Saturday, and we’re visiting my aunt this weekend.

Aunt Susan is my mom’s older sister. She moved to Alaska in the 1960s and married my Uncle Pat, who was born and raised in Alaska. The last time I saw them, I was around ten. Since we were going to Alaska, we couldn’t pass up a chance to see them.

I have no idea what we’re going to do in Fairbanks because I want to spend as much time as possible with my family. Also, I want to do what they recommend so I can see the city as a local does. Instead of planning my stay, I just researched the facts and history of this well-known Alaska city.

Fun Fairbanks Facts (from

  • Fairbanks, with a population of 32,469, is the state of Alaska’s second-largest city.
  • The founding of Fairbanks can be traced to August 26, 1901, when E.T. Barnette created a temporary trading post on the banks of the Chena River. Barnette was headed elsewhere when the steamship he was traveling on ran aground in shallow water.
  • In November 1903, the area’s residents voted to incorporate the city of Fairbanks. Barnette became the city’s first mayor.
  • The city was named in honor of Sen. Charles W. Fairbanks of Indiana, who would become the 26th Vice President of the United States from 1905 to 1909 under President Theodore Roosevelt.
  • Due to Fairbanks’ location halfway between New York City and Tokyo, the city became a popular stop on the first around-the-world flights such as Wiley Post’s 1933 solo circumnavigation, and Howard Hughes’ 1938 effort.
  • During the summer of 1939, just as Germany invaded Poland to start World War II, construction began on a new military airbase near Fairbanks. The first runway at Ladd Army Airfield was finished in September 1940, and soldiers practiced flying and servicing aircraft in subzero weather conditions.
  • Today, nearly half of Fairbank’s population is made up of military personnel.
  • In summer, temperatures typically range between 70 and 50 °F with the highest recorded temperature in Fairbanks of 99 °F on July 28, 1919.
  • Average low winter temperatures in Fairbanks range from between negative 15 to negative 25°F. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Fairbanks was 66 degrees below zero on January 14, 1934.
  • Parking lots in Fairbanks offer electric outlets for plugging in vehicles’ engine block heaters so they will start in cold weather.
  • The aurora borealis (northern lights) can be seen in Fairbanks for approximately 200 days a year between mid-September to April, with the best viewing usually between December and March.
  • On December 21st, the shortest day of the year, Fairbanks has 3 hours, 43 minutes of daylight.
  • By the summer solstice on June 21st, there are 21 hours and 49 minutes of daylight in Fairbanks.


But it isn’t a chicken

The end is near (well, one end.)

Tonight, we’ll stay in Delta Junction, the end of the Alaska Highway. After visiting Eagle, we meet up with the Alaska Highway at Tok. But to get to Tok, we have to go through Chicken.

Chicken has a population between seven and seventeen people, but it must have a robust Chamber of Commerce because I heard about Chicken on many different websites. It seemed like such a fun place, I wanted to visit. Luckily, Chicken is on the way to Tok, so we don’t have to detour like we did with Eagle.

Chicken is famous because of its name. It was settled by gold miners in the 1800s. In 1902, it needed a post office. Town names were suggested, and a popular one was Ptarmigan because the bird was prolific and delicious. The only problem was that no one knew how to spell ptarmigan, so they decided to name the town Chicken. Funny!

According to the Chicken website, two of the seven residents are Sue and Robin. It would be fun to meet them. I printed out a coupon for a free mystery gift from the Chicken Merchantile Emporium. This place reminds me of Wall Drug (in Wall, South Dakota) done Alaska style.



Our first stop in Alaska

Eagle, Alaska has a population of 86.

The highway that deadends in Eagle is a slow dirt road. Initially, we didn’t think we were visiting Eagle because it’s three hours one-way and it’s not on the way to anywhere we wanted to go. But we then decided to visit as many National Parks as we could without getting on an airplane, so we’re going to Eagle.

John McPhee discussed Eagle in great detail in Coming into the Country. In the 1970s, it was mostly populated by prospectors and people who wanted to escape civilization. Today it’s the entrance to the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.

People who visit this remote national park site are kayakers and backpackers who enjoy solitude. We don’t plan to navigate the river, but I do want to get a stamp in my National Park Passport book. That is reason enough to drive an incredibly long, bumpy dirt road.