Currently 57 degrees, cloudy skies and rain, Seattle, WA. Waiting for plane home to Philadelphia.
What’d We Do?
Yesterday we woke up in our cozy little “hobbit cabin” near Talkeetna. The cabin sat out front of a lake used by a float plane service that carries passengers in and around Denali, so our room was decked out in pilot themed knick-knacks. It was charming, but obviously new construction and had one of those electric fireplaces with the fake flames which proved harder than you’d think to program to actually produce heat. A very dark walk down a boardwalk led to a separate private bathroom with a sign that read “No trespooping,” in case anyone was thinking of taking the opportunity.
We woke up, packed our bags for the last time and headed towards Anchorage. It was about a two-hour drive, but we broke it with a quick puppy stop along the way. I think more highways should include the chance to stop to pet puppies. Since we were passing back through Wasilla we decided to stop back at the Iditarod museum and sure enough, a sled team was there to demonstrate and brought their puppies along for some socialization. Kir has become a total puppy-lover on this trip and was delighted to meet some new puppies.
We got back on the road and headed right for the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage. We had an awesome time learning about the pueblos and native culture at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque a few years ago, so we planned to spend a day learning about Alaska’s natives on this trip.
The cultural center features a building with exhibits, a demonstration stage and a sprawling outdoor complex of recreated traditional living structures. We grabbed lunch at their cafe and sat down to eat it while watching the tail end of a demonstration of native Alaskan games.
Next up on stage was a demonstration of traditional native dances presented by members of a Yupik dance group, originally from Bethel in southwestern Alaska. A few men chanted songs and beat drums while women demonstrated and explained dances that honored the land, sea, animals and the creator. They also explained the meaning behind the dance fans they held in their hands as they danced with 5 feathers: one in the center represented the creator while the four flanking feathers honored animals of the land, sea and sky and the fruits of the land. They explained the decorative pieces were made from various tail feathers and the underarm tufts of a swan. The base of the fans were often carved of driftwood although carving would’ve been a man’s job, so others were weaved from beachgrasses which could be done by a woman.
The dancers also explained that the word “Eskimo” comes from an Algonquin word that means those who eat raw meat, while Yupik literally translates to “real people.” They obviously prefer to be referred to as real people. They also explained that “Alaska” comes from a native language word that sounds like “Alas-kahh” and means “where the sea breaks it’s back.”
Many native Alaskans speak languages that are similar and overlap with distinct differences happening depending on the features of the geography of their area. For example, natives on St. Lawrence Island in the upper western Bering Sea had 90 words for snow in their language, while natives on the more temperate Kodiak Island south of the Kenai Peninsula had 66 words for rain. Why so many? Because they needed to describe exactly what the weather conditions were.
We ended up watching another demonstration of the native games as we had originally missed the beginning of the presentation. Two teenagers explained and demonstrated the games which are played competitively at the Native Youth Olympics and World Eskimo-Indian Olympics. The games featured feats of strength, agility and balance. Many games centered around either kicking or touching a ball made of tanned leather and seal skin that hung from a string at ever-increasing heights.
Afterwards we toured the exhibits learning about the similarities differences in native cultures in Alaska. All share a love for the land and it’s resources and respecting their elders. They focused a lot of attention on the westernification of their societies and the positive and negative impacts it has brought. While many agreed that learning english and being able to work in western society was an important skill in today’s world, they also agreed that it was a mistake to force the abandonment of their native languages which have been all but lost over the past few generations.
After touring the native center, we headed across town to Kincaid Park where we…napped. Alaska has exhausted us, whether that’s from the hiking, or the constant packing up and driving to the next attraction or chasing northern lights until late at night…we’re tired. We napped for an hour and a half in the parking lot before venturing out for a few miles of the Tony Knowles Trail that follows the coast of the Cook Inlet around Anchorage. Along the way we saw several moose resting and grazing in the weeds next to the trail. It’s amazing how such a large animal can appear so invisible when sitting amongst the foliage on the ground.
Our finale to the trip was dinner at the Bear’s Tooth Grill. Several people mentioned Bear’s Tooth as a go-to restaurant, so we made it the last meal of our trip. Feeling full of burger and southwestern chicken fettucine, we headed for the airport, fueling the car on the way. After a through check of the car, noting how dirty it was, we headed into the airport for the final conclusion of our trip.
It was sad to leave Alaska, but after two-weeks of non-stop hiking, train-riding, road-tripping, bus-riding, northern-lights spotting, polar-bear photographing and occasionally hitch-hiking (just that one time I swear!) we feel like we accomplished everything on our itinerary and left satisfied.
I’ll post a recap when we get home and pick out some of our favorite photos from the trip to write more about. Thanks for checking in!
What We Ate
Dinner at the Bear’s Tooth Grill in Anchorage, Kir said the Southwestern Chicken Fettucine was fantastic.
What We Learned
Many Alaskan native groups share similar traditions and languages from years of trading together. Although they’ve lost some of their culture through westernization, there’s a strong push to instill cultural values and native languages in each new generation.
Wildlife We Saw
Two very lazy moose.