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TRAVEL JOURNAL INDEX > Where the Fun Shines

Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, AK  09/15-21/06 (Day 143-149)
Where the Fun Shines

We arrive in Anchorage, Alaska just in time to rendezvous with our friend Laura from New York City who’s in town to visit her very cool aunt, a charming, full-of-life Irish woman (just like Laura) who has tons of outdoor gear in her garage (none of it collecting dust) and even has a very mellow and instantly loveable dog.

We somehow manage to lure Laura away from her aunt and clear the junk off the backseat of our Silverado (no easy feat) so she can join us for a jaunt south of Anchorage down the Kenai Peninsula and through some of the Kenai Fjords National Park.  

Sadly, it’s not prime time for bore tides but we stop at the turnouts along Turn again Arm just outside Anchorage and stare at the water just in case. A bore tide is a rare and fascinating natural phenomenon that moves tremendous amounts of water tremendously quickly. Despite the name, they’re not boring at all so click here to see and learn more about bore tides.

To say that the weather is not good is an understatement, but the rain breaks for a bit as we reach the visitor center at Portage Glacier so we hop into the Silverado and drive  through the tunnel to nearby Whittier ($12!), where locals hilariously refer to themselves as Whittiots.

Until remarkably recently, the place was a secret military operation only accessible by water or air, then the tunnel was built. Now it’s a fishing and cruise ship port, but it’s deep cover past shows in the town layout which includes a huge housing complex that appears to have been built by the Russians, even though that’s probably who the military was spying on from Whittier.

Just outside town we find the trailhead for Portage Pass for a quick stretch of the legs that gives us a great view of the glacier in the distance. By now we are starving so we flee Whittier and its Whittiots and head further south to Seward, the Kenai’s main town. We’ve been to Seward before and learned the hard way that despite the fact that enormous quantities of fish are caught here, almost all of it is immediately sent to the lower 48. So why, you ask, did we not stock up on fish before we left Anchorage? Just call us Whittiots.

What Seward does have are interesting places to drink and our poor fishless selves cannot resist the allure of the lady-in-a-martini-glass neon sign for a bar called The Pit. Yes, the stage is set. As we walk in two guys, who look like they haven’t spoken to anyone other than each other for way too long, openly ogle Laura then start talking about her like we’re not standing right there three feet away from them. One of them may have even been drooling.

But, collectively, we have way too much New York pluck to let this get to us so we order beers and sit at a table where we can keep an eye on Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. A local kid starts telling us about the crack problem in Seward and we take that as our cue to leave.

A few miles down the road we pull into the Primrose Campground which is beautiful, empty and free now that the season is over and the campground is not being manned or maintained—they’ve even taken the handles off the water pumps, but we always travel with a huge jug of water and the outhouse is still open so we’re in business.

We’re also armed with the makings for S’mores thanks to Laura’s sweet tooth and foresight. She may be new at this camping thing but she shows real promise.

The next day we check out the big Alaska Sea Life Center Aquarium that Exxon was forced to pay to build in Seward after the Exxon Valdez spill. It’s one of the very, very few acts of repatriation that Exxon has actually fulfilled and the place was interesting enough for an hour or so.

Of vastly more interest, however, is Thorn’s Showcase Lounge just a few blocks away. The place boasts the slogan “Where the fun shines!” and has a world-class collection of thousands of specialty Jim Beam bottles. Displayed around the circa 1950s bar (they’ve even got love seat style banquettes and duo chairs that wrap around to allow you to sit face to face) are a mind-boggling array of bottle shapes—race cars, grazing cattle, space ships, each of the 50 states. You name it and Jim Bean issued a limited edition bottle in the shape of it. The owner of the Showcase seems to have them all including unopened cases of some of them squirreled away in the basement.

Yes, the collection (if not the bar, which is for sale) must be worth hundreds and hundreds of thousands. Someone get the Jim Beam folks on the line. We do not order Jim Beam (it’s only lunch time), but we do have a few Alaskan Ambers and some tremendous halibut and chips. Finally, some fish!

Fully fueled, we begin the drive back to Anchorage with a pit stop at Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park so we can walk the ¾ of a mile trail to the foot of the glacier itself. Then, sadly, Laura has to make her own exit and return to New York City.


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