Today was kind of a free day and we didn’t have any plan as to what to do. We ended up deciding to go to Seward. After showering and dressing, we headed out around noonish and got into town around an hour later. We were starved and stopped at Roy’s Waterfront for lunch. Holy WOW, y’all, if you’re ever in Seward you have to eat at this place. I had the seafood chowder and about fell over, it was so good. Next were fresh local clams steamed with white wine and garlic and served with sourdough bread that our waiter gave us free (it was supposed to be $2), then fresh salmon lightly breaded with dijon and panko crumbs and baked. Absolutely the best meal I’ve had in Alaska so far. The waiter was really friendly and gave us some tips on how to cook the cheek meat from the halibut I got (saute, don’t grill, since it will fall apart if grilled).
Then we wandered around town for a couple of hours doing some souvenir shopping. I got a halibut charm for my bracelet, plus some neato bubble wands for the kids, some t-shirts, and other sundries. There really wasn’t much to Seward, home of Jewel Kilchner, and after stopping into the hardware store to get some zip-ties to repair the flapping pieces of the rental cal (we sounded like a train as we went down the highway) we headed out. I thought the Ididaride thing might be fun – it’s a tour run by a family who has competed and won the Iditarod for several years – but once there realized that it sounded pretty boring, like a lame cruise ship tour for less adventurous people. We passed on the $44/person 90 minute tour and headed over to Exit Glacier instead.
As we got there we pulled over to the ranger station tollbooth to pay our entry fee but realized it wasn’t staffed yet. I think they open on June 1. There were lots of people in the parking lot though, so we headed in and then spent around 15 minutes getting partially down the trail then having to head back to the car for things we forgot. After trips 1) to get the camera batteries, 2) no not those batteries, that’s an old one, get the other ones, 3) oops, let’s mark the glacier on the GPS and while you’re at it, can you please get the binoculars?, we headed down the 0.6 mile trail to the glacier. Around 75% of the trail was about 4 inches deep in snow and around 90% of the trail was about 2 inches deep in moose poop. I was impressed with the first couple of mounds of moose poop and took a picture, then realized that the moose poop was everywhere and pervasive and pretty icky. Where it landed in the snow it melted big holes, and people had walked in it and spread it all through the snow which was then a light brown poop shade.
The loop trail for the overlook and the 7.7 mile roundtrip trail to the Harding Icefield were both blocked off with tapes so we went to the only open one to the huge moraine plain beneath the glacier. Moraine is basically glacier poop. For some reason I have poop on the brain today. Anyway, moraine is the gravel that the glacier picks up as it forms and leaves behind as it recedes. The land slowly reclaims area to grow plants from this gravel – first with moss, then flowers, then grasses, shrubs, and eventually trees. They can date when a glacier receded from a particular point by the surrounding vegetation. Something else that’s interesting is that glaciers look blue, even though they aren’t. Most of the spectrum is reflected from the glacier, but blue is too short to get through the ice.
On the way back up to the car, we saw that the trail to the overlook loop wasn’t roped off at the far end, so we headed up to look around. Later we discovered that it’s a one way trail and we really weren’t supposed to be up there, but the rangers weren’t around to holler at us. We had seen a guy who looked remarkably like Jon Cryer who came from that direction and he told us we should do it while we could. Climbing about 550 feet in .7 miles, we got to the top and were treated to an incredible view of the vast glacier, moraine plain, and surrounding mountains.
After taking a bajillion pictures, we headed through the rest of the loop while hub worried about bears. The reason the trail was closed was because it hadn’t been cleared and repaired for the summer season yet, which we discovered when we came across a washed out wooden bridge. Since my knee is giving me fits still, I wasn’t exactly able to cross the stream in any sort of dry manner, and plopped into water that was about 10 inches deep. Unfortunately my boots are only 8 inches tall. Glacier runoff is cold, FYI. My nose was running like a firehose and my main objective was Kleenex.
We left and headed up to an outfit called IRBI Knives to check out their custom-made knives and Ulus (a sort of Eskimo mezzaluna). The sign said they closed at 5 usually, but the open sign was still lit at 6 so we walked in. Indeed they were open and we spent a long time looking at the knives and speaking with one of the owners, a fifth generation (at least) Alaskan. They had handles made from everything from wood to antler to Alaskan coral to fossilized walrus penis (oosick, like “oooh, sick”). I ended up buying an Ulu which had a reddish cast on the handle, since it was made from an antler of an elk (I think) which was in velvet. They made the blades from chainsaw guides and leaf springs, and Damascus steel from a variety of interesting material like steel cables. They will custom make a blade for you if you sketch it out, and will make the handle out of just about anything except caribou, which is apparently not sturdy enough. If anything ever goes wrong with the blade or handle they will fix it as long as any member of the family is still making knives. A custom knife around the size that hub’s looking for is around $200. We’re thinking about collecting some mesquite from the ranch and sending it up for a handle. I gave the owner my Visa to pay for my Ulu and she undercharged me for it because she said we were nice. I had thought the friendliest people on earth were in Costa Rica, but they have some real competition in Alaska.
Eventually we headed down the road and back to Sackett’s for dinner. My prime rib sandwich was quite tasty and I enjoyed the live band. It beats the Kenai Princess hands-down for food… the Princess has overpriced, underflavored crap. We discussed our game plan for the rest of the visit – we want to see the Trans-Alaskan pipeline, flight-see in Denali, and I’ve yet to see a bear. We’re pondering going down the Denali highway which just recently re-opened for the season and is unpaved. Technically we are not supposed to do that in our rental car, but after the excursion we made in Hawaii to the green sand beach that one time, a little gravel road should be a piece of cake.
Tomorrow we’re off to Talkeetna for the next three nights. The rain is supposed to start this evening, so flight-seeing is iffy. We may stop in Anchorage to get an FM transmitter for the iPod, since there are just about no radio stations outside of Anchorage. The ones in town are pretty good though, but if we’re going to spend all day tooling around in the car, we need something, and hub doesn’t want me to sing for 10 hours straight for some reason.
Hopefully the phone lines are a little better in Talkeetna. Since there’s no GSM cell service where we are, we can’t do a net connection with the mobile phones and have to dial in to an 800 number for access (at $6/hour!). We’re lucky to get a 19.2 connection (which we share between our two laptops) and it’s frozen about 75% of the time we’re connected.