Cook Inlet, City of Anchorage, and the Chugach Mountains
Big Sky Anchorage City Profile over Cook Inlet
Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska
Accessed via Point Worzonof Drive and/or the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
If you can excuse the sensor gremlins in this one...this is the classic tourist shot of the Anchorage skyline from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail with Cook Inlet in the foreground and the Chugach Mountains at mid-frame. Just behind me is the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, the third busiest cargo hub in the world due to its location between East and West. Geographically, Anchorage is surrounded by mountains and water: the Chugach Mountains to the East, Turnagain Arm, a fjord, to the South and the Knik Arm, a tidal inlet, to the North and West. Anchorage is located in southcentral Alaska and contains some 300,000 folks--an astounding 40% of the population of Alaska (impressive when you think of the immensity of this state)! In comparison, Juneau, Alaska's Capital City, has a population of only thirty thousand. The climate is considered subarctic with heavy moderating maritime influences, keeping summer temperatures somewhat mild (55-78 degrees) and providing frequent rains.
There is a common joke in much of the literature that I've been reading that Anchorage is not Alaska, but it is a quick fifteen minute drive from it. And there was indeed a strange feeling about Anchorage when I arrived at first. You know there's epicness all around you, but somehow it is strangely tamed by the comforts of everyday life--Wal-Mart, Best Buy, strip malls, chain restaurants, industrial buildings. It is easy to forget exactly what surrounds you until it smacks you right in the face, like a moose beside the road or clearing clouds illuminating snow-capped mountains that often remained shrouded in obscurity! Most visitors to Alaska start from Anchorage for its proximity to attractions: the Kenai Peninsula and/or Denali being two of the most popular. Perhaps the most surprising thing for me was the relative proximity of things by car and the ease of the road network in general. I'm used to driving three or so hours in a day to reach destinations in the Carolinas, and I'm further used to a number of extremely curvy roads that climb and descend mountains. Alaska's highways are few and are located between the mountains, along rivers, and otherwise flat and straight runs. In many ways, it was the exact opposite of what I'm used to--instead of driving a road like the Blue Ridge Parkway that runs the mountain ridges and provides views down into the valleys below, Alaska's highways run between massive mountains along rivers and valleys with views above and around.
My brother-in-law was kind enough to let me ride his new Seven bicycle (a really sweet ride) and took me on a much more intensive look at the city from Anchorage's famed trail network. We rolled some forty-eight or so miles around and through the city on an interconnected trail network that passed through thick forest, along the coast, through neighborhoods big and small and rich and poor, alongside an active Salmon spawning river (Ship Creek), and back again. Alaska.org quotes the Anchorage Parks & Trails System as having "190 parks covering over 10,000 acres connected by 400 miles of trails." We (my brother-in-law and I) tackled some of the more notable trails, including the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and Kincaid Park.