Tag Archives: alaska

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Alaska Ferries Eliminate Famous And Beloved Bars

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Spending four days on a choppy boat with no Internet sounds daunting, especially when it’s spent on a deck chair and not in a cabin. But Alaska’s ferries offer an odd but charming mix of local culture, scenic views, and until recently, cheap drinks.

The Alaska Department of Transportation recently announced that they will be eliminating the famous and beloved bars on the ferries operated by the Alaska Marine Highway system. According to the Department, the bars have been losing $100,000 annually, and the estimated $750,000 that will be saved by closing them will contribute to alleviating a $3.5 million deficit. Gift shops on the ferries will also be eliminated, but it has been stressed that there will be no layoffs because of the cuts. Bartenders and gift shops workers will be assigned to other duties onboard the ships.

Many worry that the budget deficit will eventually lead to reduced service as well, despite the reassurances of the Department of Transportation. Alaskan residents who live in remote towns and islands such as those of the Inside Passage and the Aleutian chain rely on the ferries for transportation.

Out of town travelers may be affected as well — they usually pack the ferries in the summer months and provide much-needed tourism dollars to Alaskan businesses. The lack of bars may prove a disincentive for travelers to use the ferry system at all.

In the end, it’s not so much the booze as the bar culture that ferry riders will miss. Ferry routes can last as long as four days, and the bars allowed people from all occupations and walks of life to mix and converse in a relaxed atmosphere on extended trips. The bars were also famous in their own right. The tiny Pitch and Roll Bar lives aboard the Tustumena, which serves a notoriously choppy route from Homer to Kodiak Island. The 1970s decor scheme, which includes red carpet on the walls, also features barf bags and convenient railings. Its charm and distinctive qualities led Esquire to name it one of the 10 best bars in the world in 2007.

Wine and beer will continue to be served during meal hours in single-serving sizes, but it won’t be quite the same. Tony Tengs, the Alaska Marine Highways’ senior bartender, sums up the ineffable quality of the onboard bars: “There are things that have value that just can’t be equated and which people will never forget. Like the folks who got married in the bar on the Taku and the many who have gathered there on their way to and from funerals.”

Although the bars will be closed, the six ferries that once possessed them (Kennicott, Matanuska, Columbia, Tustumena, Malaspina, Taku) will remain in service. On a positive note, the news of the bar closings can also serve as a reminder to travelers contemplating Alaskan trips to take advantage of what is perhaps the world’s most beautiful and unique transportation system.

Man Vs Nature

Off the Beaten Path: North American Adventures

Craving a grand adventure, one that won’t make you pay $100 + just to get in, only to be surrounded by thousands of other sweaty people, all spending half of the day waiting in long lines (I’m talking about you, Disneyland)? That doesn’t seem like much of an escape, or any adventure I’d want to partake in. So why not take the road less frequented, head outside of town, and immerse yourself in an unfamiliar wilderness. The western United States is wild and full of rare beauty that should be witnessed. Below are a few of my top destinations for that adventurous spirit of yours.

Man Vs Nature

California: Lost Coast

Black beaches, spectacular ocean vistas, alpine forests, redwoods, and sweeping grasslands make up this rich 80 mile stretch of coastal wilderness. The Lost Coast is tucked away in an unusually quiet, undeveloped corner of California. Highway 1 had to be constructed around this area because it was too rough, leaving this area peaceful, pristine, and secluded. There are only four roads that will lead to this coastline, two of them being one-lane dirt roads; all of them are steep and winding. But it is certainly well worth the tough trek out there.

Arizona: Painted Desert

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On the outskirts of the Grand Canyon and just north of the Petrified Forest is the colorful mingling of badlands, buttes, and plateaus that seemingly extend forever – the Painted Desert. It is aptly named after the richly colored land of lavender, pink, white, gray, yellow, orange, and red and stunningly set against the blue sky backdrop. Travel a bit further from the peripheral to bask in the solitude and remarkable beauty. The vibrant color and otherworldly features must be seen and if you stay up late it is one of the finest places to stargaze in the country.

South Dakota: Wind Cave

Underneath South Dakota is one of the world’s longest caves with more than 130 miles of passageways home to many unusual and stunning mineral formations. And as you may have guessed by its name… it is windy down there. Don’t take forget to take in the scenery on your way to the caves – the above ground ecosystem is just as remarkable. The park is host to a myriad of species, miles of grassland surrounded by dense forest. I recommend going late spring when the wildflowers are in bloom and plentiful and the summer vacation season hasn’t yet begun.

Washington: North Cascades Backcountry

gates of the arcticJust three hours from Seattle is an intricate mix of rugged glacier topped peaks, countless streaming waterfalls, deep and densely forested valleys, and richly populated meadows. The two sides of the mountain couldn’t be different – dry on the east, damp on the west – making the Cascades a uniquely complex and varied ecosystem. Its home to a number of different habitats and hosts more plant species than any other park. Make a trip late summer, the snow on the higher trails is still quite ample at the start of summer.

Alaska: Gates of the Arctic

Most people fly in… the only other option is to walk. And that isn’t really recommended. You can, but it is a tough route to the interior. Bush pilots say the real Alaska begins where the road ends. The land is harsh, the wilderness is vast, and the weather is unpredictable. Definitely go in the summer, you don’t want to be stuck up there in the winter – it is entirely north of the Arctic Circle after all. Even in the summer, with its never-ending days and relatively mild temperature, rain and snow are not uncommon. They see few people up there (it’s for the truly adventurous), but visitor numbers have been increasing.

Alan Carr

Alan Carr is an avid aviation and travel aficionado learning about the aspects of the flying world from the business to the technical, while also frequently writing on what he finds. He currently works with globalair.com to provide resources on aircraft related information.

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