Talking to the locals you might get the impression that moose are as thick on the ground in Alaska as rats in Rome.
They aren’t. Not that I can see.
Alaska has lived up to most of the superlatives. But it has been something of a let down in the charismatic mega-fauna sighting department.
Three eagles, some white dots in the distance that seemed to be dall sheep, a couple of swans, otters – plenty of otters, both ocean going and river otters (you can tell the difference because the ocean going ones prefer the backstroke and the riverine ones the breast stroke), a red-tailed fox that emitted a truly horrible screech late at night in a parking lot, a lot of crows – or are those ravens?, drunken teenagers in the bar at the Alaskan Hotel in Cordova – but the word “charismatic” doesn’t apply, one bear, and maybe, just maybe one moose – or was it a log – way off in the distance below us from Haystack Overlook off the Copper River Highway. That’s it so far for the animal viewing.
We’ve been told to expect moose along the Coastal Trail in Anchorage. Urban moose, I guess. They also, apparently, like to walk along railroad tracks in winter – so as to avoid slogging through high snow. A lot of them get turned into rail kill that way, and end up being fed to sled dogs.
We had dinner at The Pipeline Club in Valdez. It was where Captain Hazelwood got tanked up before that fateful night when he piloted the Exxon Valdez onto Bligh Shoal (named after the Captain Bligh.) Dinner was good. They pretty much left the salmon alone after a little bit over-grilling it. That’s not so easy to find around here. Like many places with unsophisticated palates, they wreck a lot of their food through ill-conceived attempts at sophistication. Cream sauces, and such like. This would be a great place to buy fresh seafood – well, limited sorts: salmon, halibut, crab, scallops, maybe a little shrimp, a few clams, I guess they’ve got some oysters sometimes, but that’s about it – and cook it yourself. So long as you didn’t want to accompany it with any fresh vegetables. Those, so far, are about as thin on the ground as the moose.
Last night, the place we wanted to go for Copper River salmon in Cordova being closed for the annual Ducks Unlimited dinner; and our second choice being closed for a private wedding party; we ended up at the OK Restaurant, which was okay. It is run by a Korean couple and serves Chinese, Korean and American food. It’s the first time I’ve eaten anywhere like it in many years, and it was surprisingly tasty. They made an honest effort at accomodating both the local tastes, and their own – and ours. A little innovation would have been nice though. If I ever go back to Cordova I’m going to make it my mission to show them that it might well be possible to cook salmon or halibut steamed with ginger and scallions, even in a small Alaskan fishing town.
Reindeer sausage is pretty good eating though.
During the day we had rented a big, powerful, high off the ground Dodge V-8 pickup to drive the 50 miles out to the Million Dollar Bridge and Childs Glacier. It was well worth it. The bridge spans a river with views of the enormous – but receding – Miles Glacier to one side, and the smaller, but up close and personal Childs glacier on the other. One can stand or sit around across the river from the Childs glacier and watch, and listen, to it calve. I have yet to get a chance to look up the derivation of the word “calving” to describe huge hunks of ice falling off the face of a glacier, but it’s pretty impressive. While we were waiting to watch the glacier fall apart, a grizzly bear trundled by, no more than about 150 or so feet away. He seemed a small, adolescent bear and paused only briefly to peer up at the six humans at the viewing area, before continuing to pick his way upriver through the rocks, no doubt in search of a simpler meal than we would have made.
As I write this we are on the good ship Chenega, a high-speed, catamaran ferry in the service of the Alaska Marine Highway System, on our way to Whittier. The entire population of Whittier apparently lives in one high-rise, hideous building. Which might be interesting but isn’t why we’re going there. We’re going there to drive through the three mile long, one way at a time, tunnel that will take us onto the Kenai Peninsula. Then it’s down to Seward, passing more glaciers and some Russian villages and varoius other Alaskan things to see and do. The highway guide cautions us to watch out for moose at several points along the road.
Here’s some pictures. They can speak for themselves.