There are 300,00 people living in Anchorage which is about 40% of the state’s population. All up Alaska has 365 million acres and if the population were spread out evenly over the entire state that would be about the same as having three people living on Manhattan Island.
The worlds longest multi-use tunnel at 2.8 miles long was built through the mountains near Whittier around the time of WWII when much of Alaska was being used as part of the DEWS (Defence Early Warning System) to detect potential attacks from Russian or Japanese military. The tunnel was carved out by hand using dynamite and pick axes and is only about 10 feet (one lane) wide. It is currently tidal, and goes from Whittier to Anchorage at the top of the hour, on the hour… and then all traffic stops and goes back the other way at the bottom of the hour (pretty sure ‘the bottom of the hour’ is every half past whatever). Inside the tunnel are little safe houses with medical supplies and food and water in case you get stuck in the tunnel, as well as little escape tunnels in case of emergency. So glad we didn’t need to find out what those looked like!
The Cruise ships used to port in Anchorage but the Turnagin Arm is a big fast running tidal bay that literally has a tide that rises and drops about 34′ feet. The tide comes in as a 5-6′ waves that locals like to try and surf up the Arm (which has a big bend known as the Elbow).
The name ‘Turnagin’ comes from the early explorations of Captain James Cook… yep same one from back home, who was attempting to find a north west passage through to the east coast, he really thought he was onto something with this one as the tide was coming out and he thought it was flowing water, however, he eventually reached the end of the long bay and had to ‘turn again’ to get out.
There had been several attempts to build a bridge across the Turnagin Arm to the township of Hope, which would save about two hours travel time for each side, but every attempt fell through due to the unstable mudflats in the tidal baby/arm area. In the late 90s drilling equipment was bought in to drill down for stable rock to put the footings of a proper bridge onto, but they got 900′ down and still nothing stable, so they gave up.
The mudflats are are rather precarious in parts and actually act like quicksand. People have been stuck in the mudflats and end up being literally sucked into the ground. The only way to rescue people from the mudflats is to bring in big blower equipment and pump air into the ground around the person to release the suction of the mudflats.
The area was rocked by a 9.2 magnitude earthquake in 1964 which killed 1500 locals, largely thanks to the horrific tsunami that followed and wiped out business, ripped buildings and streets apart with a 10′ high rift. The tsunami was so bad warnings were issued up and down the west coast of the US. People in California had apparently heard the warnings and many headed to the beach to see the giant wave; six people from California were swept out to sea and drowned by the tsunami from the Anchorage earthquake.
After the tsunami, much of the forest was swamped with salt water which sort of quick-petrified a lot of forest, leaving these large areas of ‘sticks’ that were once tress… fifty years later and the vegetation has not recovered from the rapid salination.
The Portage Lakes Glacier Park was surveyed and named by the same Mendenhall dude that never went to Juneau and the glaciers are mostly named after English authors – Shakespeare Glacier. Burns Glacier. Byron Glacier. Middle Glacier etc. You used to be able to canoe and boat in the Portage Lake which is at the base of these valley and tidewater glaciers, but it was made illegal due to the danger of calving and icebergs flipping.
Anchorage is home to about 8,000 moose. In the summer, moose diet consists largely of willow shrubbery and other green leafy vegetation. In the winter, moose subsist mostly on bark and wood, which means their droppings become very compressed and are much like sawdust pellets which make effective fuel for household fires. Just north of Anchorage is a town called Talkeetna which has an annual Moose Dropping Festival to raise money etc. People can buy a moose dropping pellet for $2.50 each and put their name on it. The moose shit all get put in an aircraft and dropped over a target zone. The winner is the one whose pellet lands closest to the target and he scoops the $300,000 pot. The furtherest pellet away from the target gets their $2.50 back. (No weirder than racing rubber ducks on the Brisbane River right?)
In June, many fisherman come out for the Hooligan fish run. Hooligan fish were also known as Candlefish and it was burnt for its oil. Apparently in June you can get enough fish to feed a family for an entire week in an afternoons fishing. There are so many Hooligan fish that they attract many bald eagles from down south, just for those few weeks and also the beluga whales (‘beluga’ is Russian meaning ‘the white one’).
Anchorage was a town of approximately 30,000 people prior to the late 1800s gold rush. At that time, the ratio of men to women meant that the women could literally have their pick as there were not a lot of women migrating to Alaska, and they have a saying up here about the matrimonial situation – ‘the odds are good, but the goods are odd’.
During the gold rush, not many workers actually struck it rich, and many of the barely ended up working for a wage. Many of the miners would drink and whore their gold findings away and the people who did best out of the gold rush were people who ‘mined the miners’, bar men and prostitutes and outfitters etc. Women of negotiable affections often ended up making more money than the gold rushers did, so the township of Anchorage had some very wealthy prostitutes/town matriarchs.
Most of the Turnagin Arm areas is part of Alaska’s largest bird sanctuary. They have an Arctic Tern up here that literally migrates all the way to Antarctica every year. The terns leave here at the beginning of winter and fly nonstop all the way to New Zealand in seven days.
There is a park in the centre of town that used to be a large flat green area but people kept landing their planes on it, so they had to develop out the town centre park and add hillocks, gardens, benches and recreational spaces to keep the bush planes out of town.
Anchorage groceries have fallen in price by about half in the last six years, since the arrival of a Costco. They also have more take out (what is it with these Alaskans and their need to advertise how much junk food they have available? why do they think the tourists will be impressed?) than other Alaskan cities… apparently Pizza Hut even delivers to remote communities via little bush float planes. It will take four days to get your pizza and, of course, it is very expensive.
Anchorage has a rather impressive national history museum which contains many eskimo (can’t figure out if the word ‘eskimo’ is all that politically correct of not, the guides and things say, don’t use it, but the museum uses the term everywhere in their informational placards?) artefacts from totem pole and timber products, to moose mukluks and seal parkas, and whale rib bones and walrus ivory cribbage boards! Well worth a visit if you are ever up this way. Big displays on the gold rush, the salmon industry as well as the famous Alaskan oil pipeline that runs to Prudhoe Bay.
One of the weirdest thing I noticed wandering around Anchorage is that everyone here seems to own a dirty big monster pick-up truck just like in Canada… OR they own a Mini Cooper S! I have never seen so many Minis in one town, they are as common as hens teeth.
Anchorage’s most interesting weirdness, has to be our host at the B&B, Jeff.. he actually believes that compulsory voting is a good thing, that people should take part in democracy and the political process and does NOT think that this concept infringes on your inalienable rights as an American citizen to be as apathetic as you want. Only American I have ever met who seems to passionately believe that compulsory voting would be a good thing in American. Jeff, you are very odd indeed.