Pack Your Lunch (and Dinner) for Alaska – Day 96

Pack Your Lunch (and Dinner) for Alaska

Day 96 – July 5, 2003 – Saturday

If you come to Alaska, pack your own lunches and dinners. We’re not hard to please. In 96 days of travel, we have been critical about less than five places we’ve eaten. But in Alaska, we have struck out. Each meal has been worse than the one before.

On a more positive note, what we had seen of Alaska is incredibly beautiful and I ‘m sure that we had not even seen the “tip of the iceberg” or glacier.

We started our day with a drive to Earthquake Park, a memorial to the 1964 quake that nearly destroyed Anchorage. Measuring 9.2 on the Richter Scale, this earthquake is still considered the largest and strongest in the history of North America. The trail led to a viewpoint where countless homes and land “fell” into the sea on a Good Friday morning decades ago. It’s always amazing to think that nature mends itself throughout the ages. To look at the beautiful forest, you’d never know that anything so violent took place 40 years ago

Anchorage is the float plane capital of the world.

We drove past downtown Anchorage and across the bridge to see where folks try their skill at catching the huge salmon as they pass under a rapids area at a bridge and make their way through a thin stream to the river beyond. It’s called “combat fishing” because there are times when the anglers are literally shoulder to shoulder in their quest to snag a big one!

A nice man named Joe explained to us that the limit is usually one fish per person, but this season the abundance of salmon has increased the bounty to two. It’s also a rule that the fish have to be caught in the mouth. We witnessed a man release his catch when it wasn’t according to the rules. I asked Joe how anyone would ever know. He said that standing amongst us was most certainly a plain-clothes game warden who was keeping an eye out for the opportunity to slap big fines on fishermen who might break those rules.

Watching the men silently and methodically cast their lines in the water was almost hypnotic?never taking their eyes off the stream or noticing that tourists like ourselves were watching and waiting along with them. We were thrilled to see the fisherman at the end of the line catch a huge salmon, but it wasn’t an easy job. He raced along down the river in his thigh-high waders, allowing the fish to dart and swim, only to reel it in a little closer with each episode. The fish finally tired of this dance and allowed itself to be pulled up onto an island of sorts where the man promptly pulled out his tape measure to record his accomplishment (probably 24″ long).

Boz naturally felt sorry for the poor fish and turned her attention to figuring out which one of the men standing on the bank might be from the game warden’s office. We started to interrogate one man who looked suspicious because he was wearing a T-shirt with the misspelled word “Sammon” plastered across the front. We decided not to bother him. Who knows, there may be a fine for being an annoying tourist! After all, the maps here clearly indicate that wildlife have the right of way.

Our day included a visit to the Statehood Memorial (Alaska is state #49 for the USA — state #26 for the Windsors’ trip Round America). There’s a bust of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Alaska became a state in 1959. Alaska is the largest state in terms of size, but the smallest in terms of people — just 626,932. Anchorage is home to about 250,000 of those folks.

We spent some time at the Saturday Market in downtown Anchorage. It’s a park on the edge of downtown. There were primarily food and souvenir vendors, a few musical groups, and a couple of street performers. Bozzie Jane had an apple covered with caramel sauce ($4.50) and some peanut brittle ($6.00). Everything is really expensive in Alaska! Our hotel is running double what a comparable hotel would be most places in the lower 48. I had a delicious cherry pie from a stand in the market. We met a photographer who specializes in photos of the Aurora Borealis — the “Northern Lights.”

Anchorage is very proud of the hanging baskets that line the streets of downtown. Beautiful baskets and flowers. Next was a scenic drive to Seward and the Gulf of Alaska — about 125 miles. There was certainly some beautiful scenery, though most of the trip was under heavy gray skies. We saw mountains that descend right down to the water, snowcapped peaks, and beautiful green valleys. We detoured off the road a few miles to see the Exit Glacier and Resurrection River. Exit Glacier is the only area of Kenai Fjords National Park that is accessible by car. It is one of 35 glaciers that flow off the vast Harding Icefield. The Icefield is the largest in North America, and it remains as a 300 square mile vestige of the last ice age.

There wasn’t much to see in Seward other than the Gulf of Alaska. We saw what may be the World’s Largest Knife near Seward.

Tonight, we drove around downtown Anchorage until we spotted the largest crowd. Phyllis’ Cafe and Salmon Bake. The service was almost nonexistent. I was served salmon that was burned and full of bones, Uncle Ben’s white rice that was overcooked, canned corn served in a plastic bowl that was sitting in the middle of my plate on top of the salmon and rice, and a hamburger bun as “bread.” Oh, I forgot to mention that the starter salad had a plastic container of salad dressing nestled nicely on top of the greens, right in the middle of the plate! Boz settled for a Caesar Salad that was served after I had my main course. It was lettuce and big giant hunks of bacon, served with the same hamburger bun. $40. Really bad. Even the water tasted bad. And our table was filthy — wiped with a horribly dirty rag that was used to wipe every other table. But the place was packed. The best meal in Alaska will be the one we had in-flight on Alaska Airlines. I didn’t eat, and Bozzie reports that her meal was far better than at any of the places we had eaten in Anchorage. Anchorage seems like a very nice, quiet place, but they just seem to have a problem with food. We saw one closed restaurant after another as we drove around here. We wondered why. Now we know.

I’m afraid Phyllis Cafe and Salmon Bake will just edge out Gwennie’s (also in Anchorage) for the Worst Dinner Award. We figured the only reason lunch wasn’t bad is because we skipped lunch.

The lesson we learned for about the fifth time today is to never assume a restaurant will be good based on the number of cars in the parking lot.

The Daily Journal of Round America:

Each day, we collect our thoughts on a web page just like this. We drop in some of the photos from the day. Our goal with the Daily Journal is to write about the towns we visit, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat. We write about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, but we also make observations about what we’ve seen and done as well as about life in general.

You can follow our travels from the Daily Journal section of this website. Other pages of interest include the running report of “vital statistics” on the Trip Scorecard, our nominations for the Best & Worst of the trip, as well as a rating of the pie we eat. If you’d like to see information for a specific state or town, click here, and then click on the state of interest, and the full itinerary is shown.

More Information on the Sights Visited Today:
Anchorage Alaska — Earthquake Park — Combat Fishing — Alaska Statehood Memorial — Saturday Market in Anchorage — Seward Alaska — Exit Glacier — Phyllis Cafe and Salmon Bake