Over the last few months (well, maybe more like a year ;)) I have been feeling the itch to travel. Every place I hear of, or see on Pinterest, or watch my friends travel to, I get this overwhelming desire to run to the airport as fast as I can and get my butt on the first plane to a new place I can find! Unfortunately for me (fortunately for Ella and Max’s family and my photography clients), I am far to responsible to be quite so spontaneous. BUT! This year Ella is in real school so she had a real spring break and they decided to go to Mexico so there I was with a WHOLE WEEK OFF and not a thing to do…
And instantly my brain was reeling. Should I go to Ireland and Scotland? Should I convince my mom to take off work and meet me in Greece like we’ve always wanted to do? Should I drive the Pacific coast? And then it hit me OH DUH my good friend from my college rugby team, the one and only Hilary Pletta (aka Pletta), recently moved to Alaska and I bet she’d like a visitor and I’d like a tour guide and who doesn’t like a week in Alaska?! So I called her up and we made plans for me to fly into Anchorage where she would fly down and meet me so we could adventure down there a bit before flying together back to Fairbanks, where she lives, and adventure more there!
The one thing that made me nervous going into this trip is that April is NOT the peak Alaska tourism time because it’s still cold and snowy/rainy and nearly all of the major tourism-y things to do aren’t open. But it honestly ended up being so gorgeous anyway and we just kind of made our own adventures! It was freaking cold though. Pletta says it’s just that I’ve gone soft living through the relatively mild Colorado winters. But it was cold.
So. Day one. I woke up eeearrrlllly to catch a flight from Denver to Seattle where I had a quick layover before hoping a plane to Anchorage. Both times I had a window seat and I’m so glad I did because the sunrise mountain views on the way to Seattle were insane and then flying into Anchorage I got a glimpse of the totally different kind of mountains that are distinctly Alaska.
Pletta didn’t land until later that evening so I had some time to kill before I could check into our hotel and then pick her up so I got my rental car and headed straight to get food. A little google/trip advisor search for “best burger in Anchorage” led me straight to Tommy’s Burger Stop. What can I say… I’m a simple girl who just loves a good burger. Though let me say, I arrived in the parking lot and was a little nervous since it seemed like a super sketchy spot and it was TINY. And I couldn’t find the door. #embarrassing. But HOLY MOLY it was SO WORTH IT! I know it doesn’t look like much but that burger was sooooo good and the fries were exactly what I would describe as a perfect fry. So anyway, if you’re ever in Anchorage (alone or otherwise) – Tommy’s Burger Stop is highly recommended. With a full belly I decided to hit the road and just explore!
Almost drove to Wasilla to see Sarah Palin and check out the view of Russia… ;)
I honestly don’t know how to put into words why I find the Alaskan mountains so different than what I’m used to in Colorado but they just were SO different. And it was about here that I fell in love with them.
After driving around and seeing what I could see I headed to our hotel – the Puffin Inn (yes, that’s the best hotel name ever. and fyi they have really good waffles in the mornings) – to check in and then went to get PLETTA PANTS from the airport! We had probably the most ridiculous reunion the tiny Anchorage airport has ever seen (I may have driven in blasting the car horn … haha), but I wouldn’t have it any other way because that’s how us ruggers do. Crazy. Always. And we promptly made plans to get ourselves some food and some beer – like good little rugby players. Pletta recommended The Rustic Goat so off we went to what ended up being the coolest place we went to eat on my trip. The Rustic Goat is equal parts mountain lodge and industrial factory all while serving killer food and yummmmmmy Alaskan beers. And ciders. Which Pletta and I both had and loved! And after like 30 minutes of deliberating we decided to split the pulled pork nachos (that had these insanely goo candied jalepanos on them) and FRIED OLIVES. You guys, fried olive = heaven. And they also had really good looking pretzel buns so I made Pletta ask if I could get one to go. :) So again, if you’re ever in Anchorage, I highly recommend the Rustic Goat.
After dinner we decided we wanted one more drink so we headed to the Captain Cook Hotel’s top-of-the-tower bar, The Crows Nest, to take in their panoramic views of the Cook Inlet, downtown Anchorage and the Chugach Mountains. At sunset no less. It’s basically a dream place for me as a photographer haha. Although their old fashioneds leave something to be desired for this Wisconsinite. But they were forgiven when I realized that sunset lasts FOREVER in Alaska and I got to watch the gorgeous glowing scenery for like 45 minutes!
Downton Anchorage. And those dreamy snow-capped mountains.
The next morning we got up early for Puffin Inn waffles (insert heart-eyes emoji here.) and headed off on a coastal Alaskan adventure to Whittier. And let me just tell you something. I didn’t even need to have a destination (even though we had a few) because just driving the Seward Highway was insanely gorgeous. Every way you looked. Although when we started out it was very foggy and dreary, but it still made for amazing photos. Thank you sweet baby Jesus for pull-offs made specifically for people like me who need to take 130985 pictures!
I don’t think Pletta knew exactly what she was getting herself into on this trip, but about 10 miles into the drive when we had already stopped 4 times for me to take pictures I think she started to understand hahaha. Oh and there she is! Taking pictures of me taking pictures!
The more it started to clear up the more excited and antsy and crazy-for-pictures I got!
Thanks for this sweet picture Plett! Ps. See how the water is churning/moving? That’s the tide going out so fast it’s almost moving like a river. Blew my mind.
This is just the first of so many selfies.
Guys. I can’t even explain to you the way my heart swelled and my brian exploded when we pulled up to this spot. SO DAMN GORGEOUS! Photographer’s heaven for. sure.
How is this even real?!
And then we had to drive through a one-way, 2-mile tunnel. One way as in … they open it on one side for 30 minutes and let all the cars drive slowly through the mountain until they come out in Whittier, then after 30 minutes they stop all that traffic and open it for 30 minutes the other way for anyone leaving Whittier. It was pretty crazy!
But so worth the drive because Whittier is SO GORGEOUS! It’s definitely on my list of things to come back and do during summer tourism season because we were basically the only people there this time and none of the little shops or restaurants were open. And none of the boats were running. So next time I will come back and take a boat tour out to the glaciers since that’s the one thing I really wanted to do and didn’t get to.
Seriously, story book picture perfect.
Just taking in the views haha.
Thankful for self timers!
Literally too gorgeous for words that mirrored lake.
I had to take a panoramic picture because I just couldn’t get all I wanted in the picture. It still doesn’t do it justice.
Ps this place is rock skipper’s heaven. Ask Pletta… I spent like 30 minutes just skipping rocks. So yeah, basically traveling with me is like traveling with a child who has a really nice camera. :)
Oh weird, I’m taking more pictures.
Nailing the self-timer. hahaha
We decided to take a little side trip to see if we could hike in to see this Glacier and you can kinnnnnd of see the bright blue of it way back, but it started to DUMP snow and was freezing so this was as far as we made it…
Biggest snowflakes I have ever seen on that hike.
Then we took another side trip to get lunch (super good GIANT taco salads at Chair 5 in Girdwood) and to go up the Alyeska tram (aka the tram to the top of the world!)
So Alyeska is a ski resort and the tram mostly services skiers and boarders during the winter months so we were the only tourists that day and we DEFINITELY acted like we were tourists. But whatever, there were only 6 people on the tram anyway. They were entertained by us. You’re welcome!
Being very afraid of heights I was just a tad nervous on this bad boy convinced we would plummet to our death at any moment.
THAT VIEW THOUGH! And I was a tiny bit sad I couldn’t grab a pair of skis and do some AK skiing (not sure who I have become?!)
Of course reppin’ the best team in all of sports :)
What Alaska ski areas look like… I honestly can’t describe it, but it was deficiently different than CO.
As we headed back to Anchorage the clouds all looked different and the tide was way out and everything seemed totally new to me even though I had obviously seen it all that morning. SO. I did what any good photographer does and made us stop 15 more times for more pictures!
Okay switching gears here. We made it back to Fairbanks (and by “made it” I mean we hopped on a plane for all of 40 minutes) and I got to see Pletta’s fun little house and meet her awesome human roommates and her 4-legged, furry roommate who was SO CUTE
The first day in Fairbanks Pletta had to work and I spent the day in bed reading, which I know she felt bad about, but I LOVED because I never have the free time like that to just sit and read for hours. It was the perfect way to break up a pretty go-go-go vacation! Plus she met me for lunch at this awesome soup and sandwich place where I had this insanely good bowl of salmon chowder! Then the next day we got up early to head out Denali National Park for the day before meeting up with her boyfriend Phil – who works in Healy, AK right near Denali – for dinner! And you cannnnn’t really see but that selfie of us is in front of a place called “Skinny Dicks Halfway Inn” which I, being the child that I am – HAD to stop to take a picture at once Pletta pointed it out to me.
We also made a little pit stop in Nenana, AK – home of the Ice Classic. What is the Ice Classic you ask? Well. The good folks of Nenana decided to spice up their winters by rigging up that little black and white apparatus you see out on the ice in the river so that the moment the ice finally breaks (signaling “break up” aka the end of winter and start of spring!) it is recorded exactly. And anyone can buy a ticket for the ice classic where the guess exactly when this will happen and then the person who gets it right wins ALLLLL the money from everyone who bought tickets. And it’s a crazy lot of money! So we bought tickets. And forgot to ever fill them out. OOPS!
Then it was off to Denali! Which was stubbornly cloudy.
Oh hey! GO PACK GO!
Doin a little hiking. Plett can’t even open her dang eyes.
Starting to clear up!!
Too gorgeous for words that Denali.
Last shot of the park. My only disappointments were that it was so cloudy and that I didn’t see any moose or bears. Pletta claims the bears were still hibernating, but whatever. They could have at least popped out to SAY HELLO!
Due to how crappy the weather was we ended up spending less time in Denali than we had thought we would do we did the only logical thing we could think of and that was to head to the restaurant/bar we were meeting Phil at … only 2 hour early. Where we (…I) promptly got a few too many beers and started playing the Wii and basically put on a show for the 4 locals in the bar who had never seen two more rowdy ladies on a thursday afternoon. Phil, whom I had never met before, showed up. took one look at us. and got him self a beer. And that’s how I knew I would love him forever, just like Pletta does. We decided to not hold ourselves back from having a good time and got a hotel room for the night so we didn’t have to drive 2 hours back home and basically showed Healy, AK how to have fun! Annnnnd I made Phil and Plett run out with me at 10pm to take a selfie in the DAY LIGHT because it was still light out and I was still in awe. Clearly my selfie skills were not so great this time, but go with it.
check out that sunset. from a bar parking lot no less.
The next day we were back in Fairbanks and ready to hit up the North Pole. Yeah, where Santa lives! And we got the BEST SWIRL CONES EVER on the way. Which I’m sure Santa does on the reg. Also I loved Santa’s “out of office” note.
Oh hey Santas house!
I can’t remember what else we did that day? OH YEAH! We went to see Cinderella which was SO GOOD! I think thats what we did. Then the next day. My last day. I was so sad but oh boy did we make the best of it! We hit up Fairbanks HooDoo brewery where I got a super yummy beer (or 2) for myself and an awesome growler to go!
Reppin’ Wisconsin for their big game against Kentucky that night! Got in a fight (not really, just a chat :)) with the Taco Man who was a Kentucky fan. Pretty par for the course.
That night Phil’s parents hosted us for a delicious dinner of fish they had personally caught which is MY FAVORITE. And I took a picture of these two cuties out on Phil’s parents deck with a view!
And thennnnn we headed out to the Bonspiel. A Bonspiel friends is a curling tournament. With a bar. And a band playing. Okay I don’t know if all Bonspeils are like that, but this one was and it was a BLASTY BLAST! Plett and I know how to tear up a dance floor, let me tell you.
These are the last pictures I took since I had to be up at 4 am for my flight home and we didn’t go to bed until 3pm. Oops! But oh man… if you can’t tell from these pictures. This trip was the BEST fun with a BEST friend.
LOVE YOU PLETT! Thanks for having me to the great last frontier! -Katie