Let me start with a simple, definitive statement: The drive down Turnagain Arm on the Seward Highway south of Anchorage is the most beautiful drive I have ever been on. Now before some of you start listing off some places where you took a really nice drive somewhere let me reiterate … Turnagain Arm is the Most Beautiful Drive.
I’m not some rookie driver here that has had his head stuck in the sand in one location. Few things strike me than a beautiful drive along somewhere. Now, I am very partial to hills and mountains, very partial to coastal drives, and like a good forest as long as it doesn’t draw out into a ‘one trick pony’ for fifty miles. Before you start challenging my statement with your own, know that I have seen some pretty nice places for a drive in my years. Keep in mind that I have been to all 50 states (at least twice – not counting for Geocaching). I’ve owned four different cars that I put more than 100,000 miles on. I’ve driven in five countries outside of the US. I’ve even considered that a night spent sleeping in the car at a wayside in the middle of summer to be one of the pure pleasures in life. In all my days, I have a short list of truly beautiful drives:
– Autobahn & Hauptstrasse #9 in Switzerland between Sion & Zurich
– Flint Hills North of El Dorado, KS on I-35
– I-40 North of Waynesville, NC on the way to Gatlinberg, TN
– Mississippi River Valley just north of my hometown of Prairie du Chien, WI
– PCH South of Monterrey, CA
Turnagain Arm has them all beat.
You may have heard me mentioned, faithful Bearfeeders (both of you) that Anchorage looks much like a triangle. It points westward to Cook Inlet and is bordered on the north and south by “arms”, or smaller inlets heading into rivers. To the North is the Knik Arm which is a beautiful drive in it’s own way; but to the south is Turnagain. The name, by the way, was created during the 1778 expidition by Captain Cook (thus ‘Cook Inlet’) who’s sailing master William Bligh (of HMS Bounty Fame) was sent into each arm to see if there was a Northwest passage – but after failing in Knik Arm having to turn around, they were very angry that in the second arm they had to ‘turn again’ to find their way out of the Inlet.
So what makes Turnagain so special? Well, it was hinted in my notes before. I like drives along the coast, and the arm itself is a coast … so there’s one plus. I am partial to Mountains – and it has MOUNTAINS. To the north of the drive the Chugach mountains raise as high as 6,000 feet. The south of the Arm is the Kenai Mountains that are just as high in the part of the range. Then of course there is a high treeline heading up the sides of the mountains. The arm was created by a glacier during the last ice age, and remnants are visible deeper into the arm, even at the end where Portage glacier still grinds away at the mountains. Turnagain is also home to the second largest tide in North America (30 feet) & the fourth largest in the world, where you can see tidal bores (waves created by the incoming tides fighting against the outward current). Much of the drive runs hard up against the hillside, and only a few craggy rocks to the water below. Along the route, the road turns over and over again as the jutting mountains provide the only land to keep four wheels on. While the road is well maintained, it is far from safe – between a constant summer threat of rockslides, a constant winter threat of avalanches, and a constant year round threat of wildlife that could end up out there. When you drive on the road, you are officially in bear country, but also goat country, moose country, and (while not specifically on the road) buliga whale country.
I can keep going too. There are human features, like the infamous Arm Pit BBQ. Alyeska Ski Resort is tucked into Girdwood halfway down the arm. The Alaskan Railroad has the arm on it’s main route, and seeing the tourists go by is always fun. Not to mention the rivers you can pull off and watch fly fishing, net fishing, salmon fishing, and bears fishing. The arm is perfect for bikers, hikers, campers, and bird watchers. It rolls along for a good 40 miles until it reaches the end of the arm and starts up the mountains south to Seward, Homer, and Soldotina. I have driven the road at different times of the year, and each time it gives me something else pretty to look at. I watched the sun go down at 11PM last summer from over the mountain peaks. I was guided through soft snow by the lights of the Alyeska Ski Resort. Sometimes the fog kisses the mountain tops, sometimes the snow melt washes silty blue along the road. Yet that drive never, ever, gets old.
So yes, it is the most beautiful drive I have ever been on. I dare you to talk me out of it.
((Bear Feed Shout Out to Mr. Joe Courtney. Always good to get a note from him. I can send the note to you directly, Joe, but I just want anyone who knows you know that I am so awesome that I get a legend of the Drum Corps world to read my blog. So it’s all about me. 😀 ))