The mainstream mental picture of our most northern state as a deserted frozen tundra is not entirely accurate. Sure there’s ice, but as summer blankets the land and the blooming season erupts, there are gorgeous scenic views and waterfalls everywhere you go. The colors of blossoming plumage are at their most vibrant. The air is the freshest and most pure you’ll ever breathe. The sun never goes down in June and July and nature is simply at its best. To me, Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
I flew into Anchorage and stayed one night at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel. But Anchorage is not all that Alaska has to offer. As a person who loves the outdoors, I wanted to be in the more rural areas. However, it is definitely worth a short stay in the city if only to visit the Alaska Heritage Museum at Wells Fargo. Exhibiting artifacts native to Alaskan cultures, this is by far one of the best museums in the region.
On our first night, my boyfriend Casey and I checked out a couple of the gay bars in town. Places like Raven and Mad Myrna’s were fun, but much more low key and less flashy than the bars you’ll find in mainland major cities. The people there are amazing. They’re always eager to meet new gay people and have a few drinks; start up a conversation and you’ll find them to be the most open and affording people you may ever meet.
On a clear day in Anchorage you can see Mount McKinley just north of the city. You can get an even better view on an aerial tour, which I recommend.
We drove our rental car south and began our tour of the Kenai Peninsula. In between the little towns, we had to stop along the road to soak in the spectacular views. The serene settings of the mountains, ocean and wildlife pulsate with pure vibrancy and natural wonder. They were so inspiring, I paused to sketch and paint the majestic sights.
With its frequent snowfall and high mountaintops, Girdwood is home to some of the best skiing in the country and KEUL FM, the “legal private radio station" founded by an openly gay local in 1997. On your way to town, you should definitely stop off at the animal refuge and see the large roaming bison in their natural habitat.
Gliding at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood
Easily accessible to the Alyeska Resort, other outdoor activities include mountain top gliding (I can’t believe I did it!), white water rafting and hiking. While in Girdwood, we rode the tram to the top of a mountain and took up with local openly gay and well-known stained glass artist Jim Kaizer. We enjoyed lunch at The Bake Shop, where Jim’s work is on display. His studio and exhibit space is next door and showcases some of the best stained glass I’ve ever seen. Be sure to look him up when you’re in town – he was so hospitable that he invited us to tour his home.
The Portage Glacier is a popular site 10 minutes outside of town by car. It’s worth a stop if only to take a deep breath and be intrigued by the beauty of the rock formations and the reflecting spectrum of color off the glacial ice.
The only place to see the massive Harding Ice Field is at Exit Glacier just outside of Seward. There, you can choose one of the trails that takes you right up to glacier’s edge or the more wooded route showing the temperate rainforest that emerges when the ice recedes.
At Seward we stayed at the Adams Street Bed and Breakfast. I’d highly recommend taking a private room with a bathroom. It costs a little more but as a gay couple wanting the extra privacy, it’s worth it. Don’t miss the Seward Aquarium and Wildlife Research Center, where you can take a behind the scenes wildlife tour of the habitats and the research. You’ll get the chance to touch baby seals, starfish and other marine creatures.
Flightseeing with Scenic Mountain Air
To learn how spectacular Alaska really is, you have to go “flightseeing." Casey and I flew over the Bear Glacier with Scenic Mountain Air in a small Piper PA-18 propeller plane and watched bears fishing in the river. The view is unlike anything you’ll ever experience. It’s like being on the Discovery Channel. You really get a sense for how awesome and enormous the ice-aged ice fields actually are.
Then it was time to fish! Alaska’s got the best fishing opportunities for halibut, silver fish and salmon. You’ll need a license to go on any charted fishing tour. These are available at any bait and tackle shop. And once you get your license, there’s no better charter to take than the Puffin Fishing Charter.
I didn’t have any expectations when the Seward Chamber of Commerce set this up for me. However, I soon found out that Puffin Fishing is the only gay-owned charter in town and Captain and First Mate Leslie and Denni are amazing!
Puffin Fishing Charter
As two gay women, the other fisherman didn’t take them seriously when they first started out. Yet they have proven themselves to be the best in Seward. They will go out of their way to accommodate you (especially if they know you’re gay).
The charter starts around 6 a.m. Leslie, Denni and their beautiful assistant Melissa will provide you with everything you need, even filet your catch, freeze it, store it or vacuum seal and ship it for you. Keep in mind it is best to wear sturdy, slip-resistant shoes and multiple layers of clothing, as the temperature varies dramatically during the course of a long day.
Even carrying up to 16 people, the boat is very comfortable. The feeling of intimacy on board is second only to the warm and inviting ambience Leslie and Denni create. They made me feel free to be myself with my boyfriend, unlike the atmosphere on all the “straight" fishing boats I have been on in the past. Wanting us to get a better catch, they took us further out to sea where we spotted playful whales flipping their fins on the water’s surface.
This was the best time I’d ever had on a fishing boat. I was so grateful I invited them all out to dinner afterwards.
On the boat I met Jessey, Denni and Leslie’s best lesbian friend. What an amazing woman! If I were a lesbian, I would snatch her up right away. I am in love with her. It didn’t take much for her to invite Casey and I to spend some time with her at her log cabin on the river in Soldotna – that she built herself! Spending time with her there, watching her dogs run free on her land and going river fishing for the best king salmon in the region was unforgettable (we caught one that was about six-feet long). We stayed out fishing until 11 or 12 at night and prepared dinner at 1a.m. Jessey was right there with us, helping with the meal and making us feel right at home. I had another chance to do some painting there, and being grateful for all her hospitality, I gave Jessey one of my original pieces.
Catch of the Day from Puffin Fishing Charter
On the way to visit Jessey, we stayed at the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing. Though this town offers amazing mountain views of the Kenai River, famous for its dazzling blue-green hues, fishing, white water rafting and kayaking, here we choose to just take it easy. The lodge has a great restaurant and spa. Casey and I and took the opportunity to share a few romantic moments and took solace on the balcony overlooking the gorgeous scenes. There, I did a lot of watercolors and took tons of pictures.
The final stop was for Alaskan halibut in the native fisherman village of Homer. It’s a very open place with huge horizons over the land and water that seems to go on forever. The pier is lined with small bars and pubs and the town itself is reminiscent of the one portrayed in the George Clooney film The Perfect Storm. Though locals limit the amount of fish you can catch in one day, there’s no limit on the weight. Being that these halibut are some of the biggest in the country, running around 60 to 70 pounds each, you can still walk off with close to 350 pounds of fish at the end of the day.
Tears were in my eyes as I made my way back to the airport. I didn’t want to leave! I wanted to stay so badly. I had never known such a friendly and accepting gay community in Alaska, and I might have missed it had it not been for Jim, Denni, Leslie, Jessey and all the others. It was one of the best experiences I ever had in my life.
I was so enamored by the scenery of the Kenai Peninsula and hospitality of its locals that I’ve been inspired to start hosting organized trips for LGBT travelers.