There is nothing worse than a man with compromised mobility. AK Dad, a mere five days out from a devastating elbow injury and subsequent surgery after falling into a pothole with his bicycle, is already chafing for new surroundings other than the basement family room. “Never mind the lovely view, darling, or the Direct TV; I want to see something else.” Yes, dear.
When a member of the family (or visitors, friends, or visiting friends, for that matter) face mobility issues, seeing Alaska might appear too challenging. Visitor center literature, ads on television and radio all point to active, arms-and-legs kinds of trips that just might not work for those, like AK Dad, who find moving about too painful or difficult. Got me thinking, it did, of where and how we could manage to get a change of scenery for our wonderful Dad and Husband and still stay within the boundaries of his comfort zone of pain management and ability/mobility. Here’s my answer: ROAD TRIP.
Yes, of course; Alaska’s two major highways offer stunning scenery, interesting sights, and the same chance for experiencing the 49th state’s wonder as anybody else. All one needs is suitable transportation, some snacks (and pain medication in our case), and a roadmap and it’s over the river and through the woods we go.
Highway 1, or the Seward Highway, winds 127 miles from Anchorage to (of course) Seward, and is a vital link between communities in between. The first 50 miles travel alongside Turnagain Arm, where Captain Cook so long ago said “Hmmm, men, I think we’re not where I thought we were,” and thus turned the boat around. Watch for beluga whales smiling their way in and out of the beautiful waters, and Dall sheep standing on the craggy cliffs above the highway (sometimes they are right next to the road). Plan to stop at the many turnouts along the way and read up on the history of the Arm, its wildlife, people, and current users.
If a break is needed (no pun intended, AK Dad, I assure you), swing into Girdwood for a coffee or pastry at the Bake Shop, or lunch at Chair 5, where the pizza and burgers will make anyone feel better. Back on the road again, heading south, is the fab Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where the whole family can visit up close with Last Frontier critters, including a pair of brown bear cubs from Kodiak.
Turn back here towards Anchorage, or continue on to Summit Lake and beautiful Turnagain Pass, where green hills and soaring mountain peaks make the soul (and body) feel better. Seward is another hour or so from here, so plan carefully if you’d like to make a day out of it. Check the Seward Chamber’s website HERE for lodging and restaurant info (Apollo’s is a fav).
Northbound, the Glenn Highway is a National Scenic Byway stretching 135 miles from Anchorage to the community of Eureka (which is what we’ll say after we’ve managed to go all that way!). Following the natural curve of mighty glaciers, a major draw for many folks, the Glenn takes one up, down, and around the ancient ice-riverbeds, and the trails they left behind.
Start a cultural tour by visiting the Eklutna Historical Park at Mile 26, not far from Anchorage. St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church and a Village Heritage House are wonderful examples of the Russian/Native influences so strongly intertwined, even today. Spirit houses adorn the cemetery, and AK Kid always looks a bit awed to be in the presence of such a place.
As you veer north and east towards Palmer, stop by the Museum of History and Art at Mile 40.5, where a fascinating glimpse into the 1930’s arrival of colonists as part of President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” can be found. Kids will enjoy the dog sleds, furs, and farming implements, too.
At Mile 55.9 sits the Alpine Historical Park, an interesting stop to show kids how coal mining really happened in Alaska in the midst of the mountainous community of Sutton. Big steam shovels like “Mike Mulligan’s Maryanne” (remember that book?) sit quietly among the park’s machinery, taking kids and parents back in time. Stop for a picnic and stay a while.
Most people, though, want to see the glaciers, and the Glenn Highway doesn’t disappoint, with the mighty Matanuska Glacier visible from the road. At 13,000 feet high and 27 miles long, Mat-glacier is incredibly popular among visitors, since one can walk right up to its frozen flanks. Don’t worry if someone in your party can’t, however, since the State Recreation Area offers stunning views and great interpretive information at Mile 101.
Continue on up the Glenn to Mile 113 and our favorite respite spot, Sheep Mountain Lodge, where the Steer family welcomes weary travelers with cozy lodging and yummy roadhouse grub. Ask Anjanette for some of her berry crumble, by the way, with ice cream on top. Nice. Sheep Mountain Lodge is perfect for sunning oneself on the porch while others take a short hike around the lovely trails nearby, courtesy of Anjanette, who worked hard for secure funding for interpretive signs and trail maintenance equipment. Winter or summer, this place is one of the most relaxing spots we’ve found in Alaska.
There are so many other stops along the Seward and Glenn Highways, so be sure to visit the Matanuska-Susitna and Anchorage Convention and Visitors’ Bureau websites. Trip planning, help with maps, it’s all found there. Do a search here at AKontheGO, too, under our “Categories” tab, and we can recommend some of our favorites.
AK Dad needs me to hand him the remote, now, so I’d better sign off. Wish us luck, and thanks for the good vibes. We’re feelin’ them for sure!