ALASKA: Tribal Dancing,
Paragliding, Helicopter flying
By Vicky Gorin

In Sitka, Alaska , lights of the Tribal Community Meeting House dimmed. Costumed drummers pounded out an ancient Native American rhythm. And as the announcer requested audience participation, my husband John and I joined twenty others to the center of the firepit to dance while our 15-year-old daughter Sarah looked on aghast. Fortunately, we had the sense not to persuade her to join in on the "fun."

AT THE BEGINNING

This will be remembered as one of the highlights of our excursion during our 8-day Alaska roadtrip packed with excitement, education, and awe. To prepare for our journey, we read the book "Alaska for Dummies" and used it during our travels as well. After researching flights on the Internet, we wound up booking all the legs of our trip with Alaska Airlines for $850 per person.

We selected non-optimal travel times to save money such as returning home at the wee hour of 1:30 in the morning. Every flight was pretty full which surprised me – we were not the only ones to be discovering such a magnificent place!

We flew from San Jose, California, to Sitka (via Ketchikan) where we initially visited relatives. Even though it’s a small island with just a few miles of road, there are many lovely hikes and magnificent vistas to be accessed. Sitka is a popular cruise ship destination, and the little town is bustling when the ships dock. Otherwise, it’s very quiet and charming.

In Sitka, we stayed in the Shee-Atica Hotel for $145 per night. I highly recommend this inn for its comfort, ocean views, and amenities including a good restaurant serving reindeer sausages. The marvelous Sheldon Jackson Historical Museum at the Presbyterian Seminary is within walking distance of downtown, and there is also the first Bishop of Alaska’s house and Totem Pole Park which are also worth a visit.

It was here where we watched and danced with local tribal dancers at the Tribal Community House . They were clad colorful custumes, capes, cloaks and amazing headdresses. As we danced, shuffling and rotating about the firepit, we often jumped with our arms outstretched.

ANCHORAGE

Our next destination was flying to Anchorage via Juneau. Car rental was easy, roads were in good condition, and we were on our way to the Alyeska Prince Hotel at Girdwood, 30 minutes southeast of Anchorage. The scenery is almost immediately spectacular, with panoramic views of the snowy mountains so close at sea level. The Alyeska is a beautiful resort and fairly pricey at $300 per night in summer and in winter where it boasts first class skiing.
In Anchorage, we all tried new things. We sampled a moose dish at the resort, our daughter went para-gliding, and we all indulged in a 30-minute helicopter ride which left us all queasy.

We stayed 3 days here, and took the "26 Glacier" day trip from Whittier, where we saw, you guessed it, 26 glaciers and more. For more information, on the 26 glaciers, you can email the company at: info@26glaciers.com . It was well worth the effort to take in such spectacular glaciers and wildlife.

In a small town called Soldotna , we spent one night at the Sprucewood Lodge Bed and Breakfast for $130 right on the banks of the Kenai River. A great restaurant recommended by the locals was Buckets which offered probably the biggest portions in Alaska.

Almost everyone we met on the peninsula came to fish for salmon, but we hadn’t set aside time for that. The new Alaska Christian College is also in Soldotna, and they obliged us with a tour, fleece vests and dinner with the students!

BACK IN ANCHORAGE

Our flight home was not slated for departure until 1.30 a.m., so we made one last trek to Anchorage for the evening and ate at The Moose’s Tooth – a large, busy pizzeria with excellent food. It is also very convenient for those with flights, due to its close proximity to the airport. With more time to kill, we headed to the local theater to catch a movie. When we came out, the blue gray sky glowed like twilight, and in Alaska in June, that’s about as dark as it gets!

In all, our 8-day trip which was short but very satisfying. Alaska sparkles with the beauty of creation, and we felt we had just begun to see "the tip of the iceberg" of this awe-inspiring state.

****

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES:

www.sitka.com  - all about this seaside community.
www.alaska.com   - visitor's guide to the great state.
www.soldotna   - all about this small town on the Kenai Peninsula.

Vicky Gorin and her family live in Mountain View. This is her first article for BAFT.

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