Alaska Road Trip: Driving from Denali to Anchorage (Part 4)

Days 4 and 5 – Heading Home

One Last Look for Denali

Saturday = drive back to Anchorage day!  We’re usually pretty excited to head back home, and this trip’s no exception.

But before driving down to Anchorage, we first went north a bit and back to the Denali 15-mile long Park Road one last time in hopes of seeing the Denali itself, as we’ve still yet to see the park’s namesake mountain.  We were in luck! The clouds parted and holy wow that’s a huge mountain! 

Denali from Denali National Park paved road

We drove to the end of the Park Road and climbed this giant heap of rocks for a better view (there’s a path, don’t worry :P).

hiking at the end of the paved Denali National Park road

We were all like:

Happy in Denali Alaska

And Denali was all like:

Driving from Denali to Anchorage one last view of Denali

It was spectacular, but clouds soon rolled in as if to say “there, you saw it, now get going on that five hour drive back to Anchorage!”

Denali Park Tidbits

On our way out of the park we stopped at one of the hiking spots.  Both of us were too chicken to actually go hiking (for numerous reasons, but mostly out of fear of bears) so we walked for ten minutes on one of the easy trails near the parking lot. We found this pile of poop on our walk, which Jim declared bear poop.  I thought it was moose poop, but without access to Google we’re both pretty useless when it comes to this nature stuff.

Denali animal poop

The scenery, however, was still spectacular.


Back at the parking lot, we marveled at the reinforced bear-proof Denali bathrooms.

Denali restrooms

Denali reinforced bathroom door

Before we left, Denali had one more treat for us.  When we returned to the parking lot, parked next to our rental was its younger sibling.  Check out the plates: GQA 556 and GQA 555.  Both are from the same Hertz fleet. What are the odds!?!

Anchorage Hertz fleet Fiesta

The couple driving the blue Fiesta casually left car and walked away to explore the park, not realizing the awesomeness of this coincidence.  Don’t worry, I enjoyed it enough for them.

The 6-Hour Drive to Anchorage

When we arrived on Wednesday, we banged out a 3-hour flight and a 5-hour drive like it weren’t no thang.  So we figured driving from Denali to Anchorage on Saturday wouldn’t be so bad – after all, there was no 3-hour flight beforehand.   We were wrong: the drive back felt like eternity.  We must have been pretty worn out by this point in the trip.

But we saw some cool things along the way, such as:

Driving from Denali to Anchorage moose sighting

Roadside moose

Driving from Denali to Anchorage scenery

Huge mountains, muddy rivers, and thick clouds are my favorite parts of Alaska scenery.

Driving from Denali to Anchorage creepy building

Come inside, children…

Denali State Park bullet sign

Discharge of weapons rule barely readable due to bullet holes

Approaching Anchorage from the north

Almost back to Anchorage

We arrived in Anchorage around 6:30pm blind with hunger and desperate for comfort.

Dinner in Anchorage

We went directly to our favorite place from our last visit to Anchorage, the Glacier Brewhouse, only to find every table was booked for the next three hours.  We were about to leave when a couple in the bar seating waved us over, said we could have their table, and we just about fainted in gratitude.

Thirty minutes later, we feasted on a half roasted chicken and the best prime rib either of us has ever tasted:

Glacier Brewhouse chicken

Glacier Brewhouse Anchorage dinner

Glacier Brewhouse Anchorage dinner

Thank you, anonymous couple, for the incredible dinner and a great end to our Denali-Anchorage drive.  Word to the wise: make reservations if you’re gonna eat at the Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage.

After our meal, we paid it forward by flagging down another disappointed couple on their way out and offering them our table.

Leaving Anchorage

Our flight was early Sunday morning, so we overnighted at the Millennium Alaskan Hotel in Anchorage, which was near the airport but absolutely terrible for the $200 we paid for the night. At least we weren’t there long.

fish pillows

The Millennium Hotel in Anchorage got one thing right: FISH PILLOWS

Instead, we went straight downstairs for breakfast at the attached restaurant, The Flying Machine. We immediately regretted not eating out of a dumpster for breakfast instead.  I think Alaska was telling us to go home.  Fortunately, we were just a couple hours from saying our goodbyes.


One three-hour flight later we were coming in for landing over Seattle.

Landing plane over Seattle

Coming home is the best feeling on earth!

Alaska Road Trip: North Pole, Alaska (Part 3)

Day 3 – North Pole and a Giant Tube of Oil

Jim’s North Pole, Alaska Christmas Birthday

After the previous day’s flight-seeing induced puke-fest we were in dire need of comfort, so we spent the day indulging in one of our favorite travel hobbies: weird small towns!

We drove some 200 miles north through Fairbanks and straight into North Pole, Alaska where we were promptly eaten by a gigantic Santa.

north pole, alaska gigantic santa

Santa feeds on milk, cookies, and overgrown children.

Here’s a funny story: My birthday is December 14th, so Christmas and my birthday are almost a package deal.  Jim’s birthday is July 5th, he doesn’t associate his birthday Christmas.  Well, we fixed that.  Behold, CHRISTMAS ON JULY 5th!

north pole, alaska in july

We loved North Pole’s reindeer pen.   The reindeer walk up close to the fence, giving everyone a great view of their fuzzy antlers and patchy fur.  (Plz no one tell them how much I love eating reindeer sausage :P)

north pole, alaska reindeer pen

We also loved the hand-painted tiles all over the Santa Claus house (and tried our best to replicate the slightly awkward kissing Clauses).

North Pole, Alaska tile mural

One more thing before we depart North Pole.  Here’s our obligatory photo of our well-traveled Wy at the furthest north he’s ever been:

North Pole, Alaska Wy Goes With

Thanks, North Pole, Alaska – you were a riot!  (For anyone wondering, we spent about 2 hours here total, and that was plenty of time to see everything.)

Trans-Alaska Pipeline

On the way back we stopped at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline near Fairbanks, which is all exposed and stuff so you can just walk right up to it and pretend to hug it, which is exactly what we did.

Trans Alaska Pipeline hug

Mandi: hugger of fish, whales, and oil pipelines.

Trans Alaska Pipeline touch

Reach out and touch pipe!

We geeked out about the pipeline for nearly an hour, which is about 50 minutes longer than other visitors hung out.  If you like massive engineering projects, you’d love this thing.  It’s built to withstand buckling and earthquakes, and it has shipped nearly 16 billion barrels of oil in its 33-some years.  Oh, look at me science-ing while there’s talking to do…

Trans Alaska Pipeline pig

Hey, pig. Yeah, you.

Trans Alaska pipeline near Fairbanks

The Drive Back

… was uneventful, except for when we stopped at Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn. We had high expectations after seeing their humping bears sign (Alaska is full of weird shit), but it’s just a bar with some barely R-rated sex toys and crude T-shirts for sale.

Alaska Skinny Dick's Halfway Inn


The drive back was also insanely scenic (Alaska is insanely scenic).

Alaska scenery between Fairbanks and Denali

 Sadly, our brief time in Alaska is almost over.  Tomorrow (here in Part 4) we’ll drive back to Anchorage for an overnight stay before flying back to Seattle on Sunday morning.

Our Alaska Adventure: Anchorage, Whittier, & Alaskan Cruise

Home renovations were put on hold for a while as Jim and I took a vacation in September!

We went up to Anchorage, Alaska (via plane) and sailed south along the coast to Vancouver (via a Princess cruise ship). We were there for a week and a half and had a (mostly) wonderful time.

Downtown Anchorage:

Where I ate reindeer every time I got hungry (SO GOOD!!!!):

The weather was nice during our one full day in Anchorage, so we rented bikes and biked the trail along the coastline:

Here’s a dorky victory dance I did after I was the first (between Jim and I) to successfully throw a pebble through the ring in the tree leaves:

Alaska is pretty much mind-blowingly gorgeous everywhere you turn.

Our cruise boarded in Whittier, where we stayed for a day prior to boarding. Whittier itself could be its own post, that town is AWESOME. This one pic will have to suffice for now:

The cruise itself was… an experience. We’d never cruised before, and we weren’t really ready for how much they try to annoy pamper you. The excessive attention from waitstaff and room stewards trying to get in to “straighten up” all the time was too much for us. Seriously, I can tidy my own room, I’m an adult… thanks guys. I guess we are DIYers to the bone!

The cruise took us to the glaciers, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Juneau.

Glaciers are awesome:

Cruising was a great way to see these otherwise inaccessible cities, but I didn’t like how crowded the cruise was.

I was all expecting a week of this:

But it was more like this:

The cruise lines will never show you photos like these, with ass-tons of people crowding everything and walking at a turtle’s pace. But I will! Here’s me and like, a hundred people:

And then when the cruise ship (plus three of four others) come into port, this is what they do to the tiny town waiting to receive them:

I’m a crowd-hater, totally miserable at places like IKEA and Disney World, so being surrounded by so many people drove me nuts. We ate at odd times (dinner at 9:00!) and did everything we could to minimize exposure to massive loads of people, but they were truly everywhere.

The excursions, while pricey, were the highlights of the cruise. We did a terrifying high speed tear down a mountain on a bicycle while I struggle to maintain control of my bowels in the torrential rain scenic bike tour in Skagway, whale watching in Juneau, and ziplines in Ketchikan. I highly recommend the whale watching and the ziplines. Here’s Jim incoming via zipline:

And that’s when I started coming down with something bad. By the time we arrived in Vancouver on Saturday, I was feverish and nearly bedridden with plague. We cut our trip a day short once we arrived in Vancouver, BC, skipping our plans for seeing the city. We rented a truck and road tripped it back to Seattle. My bed never felt so good. (And after that, well… I was ill with bronchitis and missed a week of work, about 5 weeks of the gym, and am STILL – in December – trying to shake a lingering cough despite a hearty regiment of inhalers and rest.)

All in all, I can’t WAIT to go back to Alaska! I loved the scenery, meeting the people, and the way they put fish graphics on EVERYTHING. (If you know me, and you probably do if you’re reading this blog, I’m totally batshit for FISH!!!). I don’t want this post to end on a downer about how sick I got, so here’s some pics of how much fun we had:





Jim made a point of eating pizza every single day:

And I ate ice cream every day (sometimes twice a day):

Okay, one more whale:

We must go back!

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