“It’s the journey, not the destination”
This quote was a perfect reminder that my second trip to Alaska had to be about its people, so I decided to strike up conversations with strangers with hopes to have their pictures taken. Here are the places I visited and the people I met along the way.
A scenic 49-mile rugged mountain pass in the Mat-Su Valley named after Robert Hatcher, who was a miner and prospector. This area was a major hub during the Alaska Gold Rush of the 1930s/40s.
Currently it is a recreational playground which also includes the Independence Mine State Historic Park. You can stay at one of these red cabins as well for a more authentic experience.
I found Frank on my way out of Hatcher Pass at one of those roadside gas station-convenience store combos. He’s been working the cash register there for the past 15 years. Originally from Arizona, Frank took a two week vacation back in 1984 and ‘forgot’ to go back. (According to Frank, he got lost. Haha!) Frank was quiet and reserved at first but he turned out to be a real jokester once we started talking. I appreciated him for allowing me into his world… even if only for a few minutes.
At 27 miles long by 4 miles wide, Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier accessible by car in the United States. After paying the entrance fee, travelers can drive up and park next to the glacier.
Those seeking adventure can walk right up to and touch the 15,000 year old glacier. Matanuska Glacier is so massive that the water flowing out of its terminus forms the roaring Matanuska River.
I met Debbie at the privately owned Matanuska Glacier Park, which is the glacier’s only access point. Debbie’s brother leases the place and she helps him run it. She’s been doing it for almost twenty years now and has a profound appreciation for this amazing place. As soon as I paid the entry fee I started to ask questions and we had a great conversation about Alaska, nature and my road trip. Eventually, she let me take her picture and even though Debbie is a tough woman she began to blush as soon as we stepped outside. She really wanted to help me out with my portrait project, which I really loved about her and will never forget.
Exploring along the Glenn you can learn a lot about Alaska’s rich history, from the excitement of the gold rush days all the way back to the Native heritage of the first Alaskans.
Roadhouses were originally built to provide amenities to traders and gold miners and there are still quite a few to be found along the Glenn Highway.
Ross and his wife own the Mendeltna Creek Lodge, built in 1930, and they also have one of the oldest gas pumps around. My tank was almost completely empty when I rolled in, so their overpriced fuel was a life saver for me. Ross was kind enough to pump while I snapped away, then we went inside the lodge. There was so much to see, smell and touch, it was ridiculous. For example… Sights: wooden everything, folk art, taxidermy, an old liquor bar and a rustic dining room. Smell: a cozy fireplace, coffee and bacon and eggs. Touch: taxidermy and furs. My favorite was the silky fur of a lynx which he wrapped around my neck (head included). I had so much fun and I thanked Ross for showing me around. I bought some coffee and cut out but the memory of this cozy place will stay with me for a long time.
The Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary is a rest area for migratory birds and also a good place to watch for beavers, moose and bald eagles.
A 1550-foot boardwalk with interpretive signs and spotting scopes takes you into the marsh and up close to the wildlife.
I was out on the deck when I heard a unique sound from a distance. I followed the sound and found Lori practicing on a twisted horn. I asked her if it was a “duck call”, which made her laugh. I learned that the horn was gifted to her and that it was the first time she was able to make a sound with it. She was stoked. The birds? Not so much. I also learned about Lori’s past and struggles. She had multiple sclerosis, an illness that had almost destroyed her and ended up costing her job, friends and even her family. She was in constant pain and bedridden for years until she decided to take charge of her own life (she said it happened when she accepted God into her life). She moved to Anchorage and studied to be a minister at her new church, a roll she’s been fulfilling for five years now. Today, Lori has a new family of friends and she’s happy, loving life and feeling great!
Located in the Chugach Mountains, Crow Pass follows a portion of the original Iditarod Trail. It’s a 21-mile trail but the first few miles will lead you past some breathtaking scenery.
Along the way you’ll find glaciers, waterfalls, mine ruins, alpine lakes, ponds, wildlife and wild berries.
I met Steve and his dog, Tundra, about 5 miles up in the mountains. It was his day off so he took the long hike… mostly for his dog. (Steve constantly needs to come up with new ways to exercise his energetic husky.) We shared some water as we took in the sights. I found out that Steve moved to Alaska from Arizona almost twenty years ago. He fell in love with the land and its people, something I can definitely relate to. His respect for Alaskans came through when, at one point in our conversation, he told me that “Alaskans are resilient and very deliberate people”. Those must be essential qualities on a land where conditions are harsh and the concept of time is diluted between the winter and summer months… but I’m sure there is much more to it.
The Knik Glacier is one of the largest glaciers in south-central Alaska. It feeds the 25-mile long Knik River, which empties into the Knik Arm section of Cook Inlet. I didn’t now that the glacier was a visitor attraction with several tour companies operating in the area.
Visitors can view the glacier by air, all-terrain vehicle tour, by boat, or on a guided packrafting tour.
So far, this has been the flight of my life and I have two friends and a bit of luck to thank for it. I was 180 miles away when my buddy Dmitry messaged me that I should text Jerome, who flies a small plane. The weather was iffy for flying but I texted Jerome and I immediately headed back to Anchorage with hopes for the best outcome. Halfway there I heard back from Jerome. His text said that the weather looked promising for flying but he was running late for a sunset fly. At the end, it all worked out and we were up in the air for over an hour. I had an unforgettable time and was able to capture a ton of beautiful shots. It was very late and dark once we landed as we rushed to grab some dinner and I completely missed taking a portrait of my new friend. It won’t happen next time around…
Photography © 2019 Attila Adam