Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bird-Watchers Will Love Alaska's Birding Events

Does a quick call and flutter of wings have you looking for the culprit? Does the thought of flying aloft on high currents strike your romantic side? Do you own a birdbath or bird feeder? Hello there, birdwatcher! Welcome to the ranks of over 51 million people who claim to actively watch birds, and the millions more who enjoy seeing them from day-to-day who never even think of themselves as “birdwatchers” (or “birders“)!

Birds delight through their beautiful plumage, amusing songs, and their ability to fly. It’s no wonder man has such an interest! It can be argued that birding is the least expensive hobby a person can get into. Aside from your eyes and ears, you only REALLY need to bird watch paper and pencil to track your finds. From there, like many other hobbies and sports, it depends on what you want to make of it. Binoculars and field guides are the next logical step to help you see and identify bird species better. Some go as far as high-powered scopes and sound amplification devises to make sure they can catch sight of the birds they seek. Whether you are an active birdwatcher for sport, or simply love the sight and sounds of birds going about their daily routine, member inns of the Alaska Bed and Breakfast Association invite you to enjoy a bird watching vacation with us!

Here in Alaska, our wide-open spaces and expansive natural habitat provide the perfect setting for bird watching. And when you choose a bed and breakfast lodging option, the setting is even more perfect, as most are set away from the more populated areas. Really, are you more likely to spot birds in downtown Anchorage where the hotels are, or the outlying communities that are home to our bed and breakfasts, where the lakes and nature are only a short walk away? Do hotels provide porches and gardens from which to actively watch area birds? Isn’t the ability to step outside your cozy inn, straight into the natural surroundings more supportive of birding than stepping outside a hotel into the urban bustle?

Imagine waking to a delicious breakfast at your chosen bed and breakfast, stepping outside to observe the bird activities of the morning, attending the local birding festival, and then returning to your chosen inn to walk the grounds or the area to find even more species that are native to Alaska. No matter what time of day or year, a B and B lodging option is the perfect place from which to enjoy your bird-watching activities. And we welcome you to our homes!

Alaska is also home to some great Bird Festivals for all bird-watching interests. Whether you enjoy the sport in general, or have interest in a single species, we have a gathering for you. Each festival is located close to some of our member inns. Whether you come for the festival only, or extend your Alaskan vacation to view birds native to the area, a bed and breakfast is the ideal lodging option to support your bird watching fun!

We offer the following list of birding events to help you coordinate your Alaskan birding vacation. We invite you to click on the corresponding city links to see which of our member inns is the best pick for your lodging option!

April, 2013 (all month):  Alaska Hummingbird Festival - Ketchikan, AK
April heralds the return of Hummingbirds to Alaska. This celebration at the Southeast Alaska Discover Center includes kid’s activities, hikes, art, and more.

April 25-28, 2013:  Stikine River Birding Festival - Wrangell, AK
Celebrating the birds (including bald eagles) that come to the River each year to feed on the ‘hooligan’. Take part in seminars and activities for the whole family.

May, 2012 (date has not yet been announced as of this post):
Upper Tanana Migratory Bird Festival - Tok, AK
A single day of celebration at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge including activities, art competition, live bird presentation, and a morning bird tour.

May 2-5, 2013:  Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival - Cordova, AK
A week-long celebration during the migratory birds' stopover in Cordova.  Enjoy seeing the birds, hiking, talks, and more.

May 4, 2013:  Spring Migration Celebration - Fairbanks, AK
Another celebration of the spring migration at the Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.  A free event with games, crafts, birding, and more for the whole family, sponsored by five Alaskan and US birding and wildlife organizations.
May 9-12, 2013:  Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival - Homer, AK
Celebrating of the avian stopover to Kachemak Bay. See a wide variety of bird species including puffins, terns, curlew, stint, and more. Activities for the whole family will be available.

May 16-19, 2013:  Kenai Birding Festival - Kenai, AK
A family-friendly event to celebrate the migration. Kids’ activities, guided tours, and more.

May 30-June 2, 2013:  Yakutat Tern Festival - Yakutat, AK
See one of the most populous Aleutian Tern breeding colonies in the US and enjoy guided tours, cultural events, art, talks, and kids’ activities.

August 23-25, 2013:  Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival - Fairbanks, AK
Celebrating the fall migration of the Sandhill Crane. A family-friendly event featuring seminars, nature walks, photography workshops, banding demonstration, and more.

November 11-17, 2013:  Alaska Bald Eagle Festival - Haines, AK near Glacier Bay
This time of year sees thousands of Bald Eagles feeding on late-running salmon at the Alaska Bald Eagle Preserve.  Activities include photography workshops, cultural tours, demonstrations, speakers, entertainment, banquets, and more!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Alaska Bed and Breakfast Gift Certificates For Your Giving Needs

Put your last-minute shopping woes aside with a gift certificate to your favorite Alaska bed and breakfast!

Offering unparalleled lodging in gorgeous natural surroundings, our member inns offer a perfect vacation option here in the Last Frontier.  Unique ambiance, comfortable rooms, great amenities, and Alaskan hospitality await that special someone!

Gift certificates are commonly available in any and all dollar amounts, and we will be glad to help you create the perfect gift.  Whether you need a gift for the a holiday, birthday, or any other occasion, our member innkeepers can offer advice and ideas to help!  So contact your favorite Alaska inn and you'll have everyone crossed off your gift list in no time!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

More Than Just A Race: Alaska's Iditarod Dog Sled Event

Most of the world knows it as a March dog sled race from Anchorage in South Central Alaska to Nome on the west side of the Far North region.  However it is more than "just a race" to the locals:  this Last Great Race is THE sporting event of the year!  Your bed and breakfast innkeepers would like to provide some basic information about Iditarod and what is involved in this major Alaskan event, and we welcome you to come personally see what this event is all about!

The Iditarod Trail Committee
This group does so much more than host a "small" dog race each year.  This group works relentlessly to round up volunteers as a workforce, raise the $2 million it takes to put on the event, sets up communications and logistics for the race itself, keeps the trail marked and intact during the race, and even spreads education about the sport itself.  The team provides the means for both US and foreign students to watch and track the race, both through the website, and through the Teachers On The Trail program which uses the race itself to present real-world problem solving methods.  We can't say enough about this amazing group and all their efforts to keep this landmark event alive!

About Dog Sledding
Popular in most areas of the world with Arctic conditions, dog sledding is both a means of transportation and a recreational sport.  A team of sled dogs are outfitted with harnesses through which tuglines (or ropes that keep the dogs attached to both other team members and the sled) are attached.  These lines route back to the sled at the rear, which carries the musher (or human team captain) and any supplies required for travel.

Like many other instances, this form of transportation and sport has evolved into a series of competitive events, producing fame for the participants, and legions of followers of the spectators.  Much like NASCAR drivers in the lower 48, our mushers and their teams are practically celebrities, making mushing the official state sport.

At the start of any race, a dog sled team may include a large number of animals.  Members of the pack can be removed from the team for whatever reason (injury, exhaustion, etc.), but no new members may be added.  In the case of Iditarod, the teams are made up of 16 dogs at the start of the race.  Dogs may be removed from a team during a race if they encounter health problems, injuries, or exhaustion:  these animals are carried on the sled itself to prearranged "dog drop" locations, at which point the animal(s) are taken to care facilities until after the race (more on this below).  Of course, the goal is to keep the team strong and finish with as many members as possible!  In the case of Iditarod, a team MUST have at least six dogs actively pulling the sled at the race's end for a team to qualify for placement; other races may or may not have similar requirements for finishing.

Photo by Steve Jurveston from Menlo Park, USA through Creative Commons

Iditarod History

The Last Great Race on Earth runs along the trail used by the Athabaskan and Inupiaq peoples long before "foreigners" came to The New World.  This trail would eventually be named Iditarod after one of the towns on this path.  During the Alaskan Gold Rush, miners who arrived from the US mainland discovered the Iditarod trail and used it as their main thoroughfare into the upper reaches of the state. Dog sledding was widely used as the main form of transportation into the outlying regions of the state through the 1950's, the invention of the snowmobile in the 1960's the dog sledding tradition to be abandoned for this faster method of travel.

While there have been a number of other races run along this very trail in the past, the modern-day Iditarod race was begun in 1973 in support of designating the route of our earliest settlers into a National Historic Trail, and to preserve the tradition of mushing.

The popularity and recognition of the event grew after the first female (a long-shot, no less), Libby Riddles, won the race in 1985.  Today, upwards of 100 teams assemble for this popular event each year.  Most are still from the state of Alaska, although some notable teams are from mainland US, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and Austria.  In recent years, a Brazilian and a Jamaican trained to mush the dogs of famed mushers lance Mackey and Vern Halter.

The current record for finishing the race is 8:19:46:39 (Days:Hours:Minutes:Seconds).  This record was set during the 2011 event by the Native Alaskan John Baker.  The race has seen several multi-year winners including Rick Swenson who holds the record of most wins (five times over the course of 15 years), and Lance Mackey who won in four consecutive years from 2007-2010.  The youngest Musher to win the event is Dallas Seavy, a third-generation musher who won this year in 2012; in fact, his father and grandfather were also participating in the race!

The race traditionally starts on the first Saturday in March.  While the event starts earlier than the "start date" for those running (thanks to required classes, registration, and meetings), the dates that will be important for spectators this year are Saturday March 2, 2013 (the Start date) and Sunday March 3, 2013 (the Restart date).

Wait - start and restart?  Why yes.  The Start date is a ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage and follows a path through town.  You might actually call this part of the event a "Race Rehearsal," as the time spent running this 11-mile section through town to the foothills, and subsequent 29-mile highway section to the Eagle River in Willow, does not count towards the participants' actual race times.  This section of the race is more for show, and to let the public participate in the excitement of the event itself, as it is easiest for television crews and foreign visitors to be involved where there is ample lodging options and transportation.  It also gives the teams a chance to warm up and make sure everything is running smoothly for the actual race.

The Restart is the actual start of the timed race.  While the Iditarod Headquarters is located in Wasilla, complications in the form of private land ownership and required road crossings has made starting the race here both complicated in acquiring race right-of-ways, and dangerous for the teams.  Therefore the Restart point has been set to a town northwest of Wasilla:  Willow, AK is the last point on the highway where the race can proceed directly into the wilderness.  Teams are transported from Anchorage to Willow on Saturday in preparation for Sunday's Restart, and the race then commences.

When Does It End?
Basically, when the last active racer crosses the finish line, the race has finally ended.  Total finish times are usually within the 9- to 12-day range.  However, any race team finishing with a time longer than 14 days will miss the Awards Banquet on Sunday March 17 in Nome!

As stated at the start of this post, the route runs from Anchorage to Nome and passes through nearly thirty "checkpoint" locations (usually in towns or villages).  At the Start, Restart, and Finish line, thousands of fans and enthusiasts are known to gather to experience the excitement of the event, and activities are televised from these locations.  Some spectators can even fly in or take snowmobiles to the various checkpoint locations, cheering on the teams as they pass, or welcoming the teams when they stop.

The race is traditionally known to be 1,049 miles - honoring Alaska's status as the 49th state admitted to the US.  However distance variations occur depending on whether the northern or southern route is used, and potential weather adjustments.

Wait - northern or southern route?  Why yes.  Whether you see it as "minimizing impact" or "spreading the wealth," two different routes exist through the Alaskan Interior for the race.  The northern route is run on even-numbered years, and the southern route is run on odd-numbered years.  In 2013, the race will follow the southern route through the town of Ititarod itself (a sentimental bonus for those running), Shageluk, Anvik, Grayling, and Eagle Island.

What Will The Teams Face?
Mushing teams must be hearty, brave, and strong, as they may encounter sled breakage, injury to musher or dogs, illness, encounters with moose, and a variety of weather and natural conditions.

Alaskan weather in March means potential below-zero temperatures and strong, cold winds making it feel even colder!  The landscape here can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening with mountains, forests, passage over frozen rivers, and long lonely trail between far-reaching populations (often villages of relatively few residents) that can instantly turn from friendly to hazardous.
Luckily, 26-27 checkpoints along the way both help race officials keep track of the racers, and allow the mushers to stop to make sure that their animals are healthy, well-fed with a warm meal cooked over a fire, and tucked into warm straw (which is more insulating than blankets) in outdoor quarters for a few hours or a night to rest.  Oh, and the musher can try to find a warm spot to warm up and nap in the limited, cramped quarters that may be available inside as well (obviously, the dogs have it much better during these stops than the mushers)!  Dog food, people food, and straw for bedding, which the mushers send ahead to specific checkpoints, are waiting for the teams when they arrive and help them continue toward their goal of finishing.  The racers are required to take at least three required rests at checkpoints along the way, including an 8-hour break at a checkpoint along the Yukon River, another at White Mountain, and one 24-hour layover at the location of their choice.

So Why Do It?
Besides the local fame that accompanies the sport, most mushers see the race as a complete challenge: of their mental abilities, team-handling skills, and physical endurance.  Those in the lower 49 may equate Iditarod to a marathon or triathlon, or any other type of extreme race that exists (usually in much more agreeable conditions than sub-freezing weather).  Of course, the cash prizes for the top placers, and the brand new pickup truck that also awaits the winner, are good additional incentives!

What About The Dogs?
Dog sledding often stirs up animal rights groups who say that the racing aspect constitutes abuse to the animals.  However, dog sledding can be equated to horse racing, dressage, and even canine agility competitions.  Dogs are historically bred to work, and of dogs are not allowed to do what they are bred for, they are often unhappy, overweight, and even develop behavioral issues.  In the case of dog sled teams, the dogs are bred and raised as athletes who not only need the exercise, but
show their enthusiasm to race by leaping several feet in the air as soon as they hear their musher coming to the dog team with harnesses in hand!

Photo by Jeff Shcultz at
Mushers are careful to keep their team healthy - after all, their dogs are just as much a part of their family as human relatives!  The bond between musher and team is strong, and the welfare and health of each animal is even more important to a musher than his own.
Before the race, volunteer veterinarians examine each and every dog for general health and wellness, and to be sure that none of the female team members are pregnant.  During the race, dogs wear booties and coats to help keep them protected from the snow, wind, and cold.  As mentioned above, any animal that is injured or tires out rides in the musher's sled basket until the team reaches a "dog drop" location where the dog is transported by the all-volunteer "Iditarod Airline" to Anchorage for care at Eagle River Women's Correction Center, where a carefully-selected group of inmates care for the dogs until the mushers return to Anchorage to retrieve the animal(s).
There are many more traditions and details that we could cover about the race, but why completely ruin it for those of you who want to learn about, and experience, the race for yourselves?  Member inns of the Bed and Breakfast Association of Alaska welcome you to our B and Bs in Anchorage (the race Start), Willow (the race Restart), and in Nome (the race's Endpoint).  Those inns that are not on the direct route welcome you to experience the excitement that settles over the entire state during these dates, and offer you a chance to see the televised events from the warmth and comfort of your welcoming lodge or cabin.  So make plans now to visit as our state "awakes from winter slumber" for Iditarod!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Discover Award Winning Beers at Alaska Brewerys and Brewpubs

Microbreweries and brewpubs hold a unique place in beverage production.  These small, independent businesses can concentrate on specific  flavors particular to their area, and specialize their product to the tastes of their customers, and themselves.  In fact, many people believe that the distinct microbrew experience is better than any "large brewery" product out there.  We are proud to say that the state of Alaska has a very successful and distinctive microbrewery and brewpub presence, and we invite you to discover the great beer flavors of our state during your bed and breakfast getaway!

What is the difference between a microbrewery and a brewpub?  A microbrewery is known as a "craft brewery" that produces less than 15,000 barrels per year.  As the name implies, a brewpub is an establishment that brews and sells beer on the premises - most brewpubs are also restaurants.  A brewpub can also be known as a microbrewery if they have significant distribution outside their own establishments.

Alaska's rich brewing history has evolved into a successful and award-winning regional businesses: each either a microbrewery or brewpub.  Each business has overcome challenges in obtaining materials and equipment to create amazing brews, developed a market base, and won awards for their products.  That they area able to do this in the Last Frontier of the United States is a testament to Alaskan tenacity and spirit.  When you partake of the microbrews in our state, you help the local businesses, and therefore the local people, keeping this spirit alive.

Alaska currently has 20 microbreweries and brewpubs located in the southeast, south central, southwest, and the Alaskan Interior.  All are members of the Brewers Guild of Alaska.  This organization represents members and promotes the industry through legislative advocacy, consumer education, and community events that feature made-in-Alaska beers.

  • 49th State Brewing Company in Healey, and
  • Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling Company in Fairbanks.
South Central:
  • Anchorage Brewing Company,
  • Arkose Brewing in Palmer,
  • Bear Tooth Theatrepub in Anchorage,
  • Denali Brewing Company & Twister Creek Restaurant in Talkeetna,
  • Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage,
  • Homer Brewing in Homer,
  • Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop in Kenai,
  • Kenai River Brewing Company in Soldotna,
  • King Street Brewing Company in Anchorage,
  • Last Frontier Brewing Company in Wasilla,
  • Midnight Sun Brewing Company in Anchorage,
  • Moose's Tooth Pub and Pizzeria & Broken Tooth Brewing in Anchorage,
  • Snowgoose Restaurant & Pub & Sleeping Lady Brewing Company in Anchorage, and
  • Saint Elias Brewing Company in Soldotna.
  • Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau,
  • Haines Brewing Company in Haines, and
  • Skagway Brewing Company.
  • Kodiak Island Brewing Company.
The beer scene in our state is truly exciting.  But what are the best ways to experience all of Alaska's brews?  Area beers are featured at any number of eating and drinking establishments, and general events throughout the state, but there are three specific activities that beer-lovers will especially love:

Each January, the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Fest takes place in Anchorage.  Celebrating its 19th anniversary in 2013, the event will take place on January 18 and 19.  Featuring more than 200 beers and barley wines from 50 brewers the United States and abroad, this festival pays special attention to local brews and is the perfect place to try them all!  Funds raised at the Festival support children with diabetes through diabetes screenings, counseling, summer camp programs, and other advocacy programs.

May welcomes the Great Alaskan Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival, on May 24-25 in 2013 at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver.  Friday's event is the Gourmet Brewer's Dinner featuring a 5-course meal, with a specially paired craft beer featured during each course.  Saturday brings the Beerfest beer tasting opportunities with live music, food, and great beers!  Participants must be at least 21 years of age to participate in either event.  Tickets go on sale on February 1, 2013 - tickets always sell out before the event itself, so contact your favorite Alaska inn to reserve your room, and jump on the tickets once they go on sale!

In October, the Great Alaska Beer Train travels from Anchorage to Portage and back.  It features the amazing scenery of the Turnagain Arm, and a large assortment of local microbrews.  The $149 ticket buys you the trip, 6 half-pints of BrewHouse Beer, a large selection of finger-foods, and the opportunity to purchase several additional beers.

Member inns of the Bed and Breakfast Association of Alaska offer first-class amenities, hospitality, and accommodations for your Alaska beer discovery vacation.  No matter what time of year you visit, you can experience the amazing tastes of our state's brewing creations.  Your B and B innkeeper can direct you to the best nearby location to experience the brewed flavors of our state!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Take Advantage of Year-Round Fishing During Your Vacation in Alaska

Fish.  Alaska.  These two words immediately bring to mind some of the best fishing in the country.  With over 3 million lakes, 34,000 miles of coastline, 3,000 rivers, and countless fish-filled streams, Alaska boasts some of the best all-around fishing opportunities in the United States.  Whether you prefer fly-fishing, saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing, or even ice fishing, you can find it here.  When you stay at your favorite bed and breakfast inn, you are always close to Alaska's great angling options, no matter the time of year!

Fishing has been a major food source in the Alaskan culture since the first peoples arrived here.  Because of the short growing season, hunting and fishing have always been a food-source mainstay in the state.  Even today, our small communities' ways of life revolve around fishing, from Southeast where the coastal boats go out every day to ply the ocean, to villages on the Yukon (River) whose rhythms of life follow the salmon runs. The abundance of fish here, both in the oceans and in freshwater sources, makes it easy and economical to integrate fish as a major part of our diet.

There are so many options for fishing here.  It can be as easy as inexpensive and easy as pulling over at a stream and casting a line, as usual as taking a fishing tour, or as involved as chartering your own boat or plane to go to a remote camp or a fly-in lodge for the best angling locations. Some of our member inns area actually fly-in lodges offering great fishing and vacation experiences!

While it is said that the Alaskan waters are home to over 600 species of fish, you'll most likely be most interested in the 5 types of salmon, 5 types of trout, halibut, Dolly Varden, Grayling, Smelt, and Kokanee that inhabit our waters.  Many of these species can weigh up to hundreds of pounds!  While white King salmon are highly prized for their white flesh and mild flavor, halibut is actually the fish of choice for Alaskans for its buttery flaky taste and texture that just melts in your mouth.  If you happen to find some halibut at your area grocery store, why not try the recipe for Halibut Olympia presented after this post?

So what's biting when?  Prime fishing seasons are spring through fall.  However ice fishing is an option during the winter months.  Early summer is when King Salmon, Chinook Salmon, Saltwater Kings, and Halibut are plentiful.  Summer months are perfect for catching Sockeye Salmon, Pink Salmon (in even years only), and Rainbow Trout.  Fall is the best time to catch Silver Salmon.  Winter ice fishing may produce landlocked King and Silver Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Arctic char, and Dolly Varden.  Due to the hazards of ice fishing, we recommend a led trip with a guide who is familiar with the current ice thicknesses in the area.

If you aren't one to travel with your rod and reel in tow, there are plenty of places to purchase in almost every region.  Your BBAA innkeeper can direct you to the best nearby locations for casual fishing.  If you opt for a charter trip, most include all the equipment you'll need.  Even better, many charter trips offer filleting, freezing, and shipping so that you can enjoy your catch when you return home!  Another reason to take a guide, and it is THE reason we suggest it, is that state fishing regulations can be daunting.  Those guidelines listed above?  They are more than just suggestions.  In some cases, the state regulates catching certain fish to specific months, and our sport fishing guides are the best resource for this knowledge!  Also, emergency closures of tributaries or river systems to protect certain species can change with less than a day's notice, which is hard for anyone but those who are in the business to keep up on.

What do you need to fish in Alaska?  Besides the usual gear, all residents and nonresidents age 16+ must purchase a sport fishing license before dropping a line in the water.  If you are fishing for King Salmon, a stamp is also required.  Nonresident licenses cost $20 for a single day, $35 for a 3-day license, $55 for a week-long option, and $80 for a two-week license.  You can purchase your license online or visit area sporting goods stores or Fish and Game offices during your Alaska vacation.

There are also several large fishing derbies in the state that are important to their communities, and are popular activities for locals and visitors alike!  Many of these give out some large monetary prizes, prompting thousands of visitors to come participate.  Here is just a quick look at a couple of the more popular events.
  • Homer's Halibut Derby is an annual event lasting from mid-May through mid-Sepetmber, and offers prized ranging from $125 through $5,000.  Kids prizes are awarded, making this a great family activity!  This year a tagged fish was released with a $10,000 incentive for catching that one fish!  Sadly, this fish is still swimming in Alaskas waters today.
  • Valdez offers a number of Fishing Derbies offering prizes up to $15,000 throughout the summer months.  These include a Halibut Derby, Kids' Pink Salmon Derby, and two Silver Salmon derbies (one for women only).
  • While Pike are great for eating, they are predatory fish erroneously introduced into our state's lakes.  To help control their population, and hopefully someday eradicate this pest-fish, many communities offer Pike Derbies including Mat Su, Skwentna, Juneau, Houston, Soldotna, and more.  These derbies happen both in the spring and summer, AND during the winter as ice-fishing event.

Whether your interest lies in casual angling or competition fishing, we have it all!  Member inns of the Bed & Breakfast Association of Alaska look forward to hosting your fishing getaway!

Please note that during Salmon migration season, bear activity in rivers and streams increases.  Be on the lookout when fishing!

Halibut Olympia
While this dish seems very simple, it produces a luscious, creamy dish that Alaskans are crazy about!


2 lb filet of halibut
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 medium onion, sliced into rings
salt and pepper to taste

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray.  Place halibut in the baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Place rings of onion over the fish.
  • Mix mayonnaise and sour cream together and thickly spread over fish and onions, using all of the mixture.
  • Bake for 1 hour

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Winter Alaska Vacation? Why Not?

Summer is quickly coming to an end here in the Last Frontier.  In fact, the first kiss of real color is decorating the trees, turning the landscape into a beautiful kaleidoscope of red, orange, yellow, and green.  All too soon, the freezing will begin - we expect that to happen in just over a month in mid-October!

Have you ever thought about a great winter Alaskan bed and breakfast getaway?  What?  You say that you don't have the time? You say it's too cold?  You say there's just too much snow?  You say that it's dark 24 hours a day?  You say there's nothing to do?  Well the member inns of the Bed and Breakfast Association of Alaska would like to convince you to give us a try in the winter!


Photo from A Moose in the Garden B&B
An Alaskan vacation is an actual vacation!  When most people plan a vacation, they plan on several days away from home/work/their usual lives.  While we are a bit off the beaten path, making a quick 3-day weekend trip impractical, 5+ day vacations are the perfect option for an Alaskan getaway!  Direct flights to the state (usually to Anchorage or Fairbanks) are available from many U.S and Foreign cities.  So it really isn't a big deal to just come on up to Alaska from just about anywhere!  Flights to Anchorage take approximately 2.5 hours from Seattle, 5 hours from Denver, 5.5 hours from Phoenix, and 6 hours from Chicago.

The popular belief of many lower-48-staters, and even of those throughout the world, is that it never stops snowing here in the winter.  But believe it or not, many place in our great state actually get LESS snow than, say, Buffalo and some portions of upstate New York!  Even Minneapolis gets more snowfall than some areas in our state!  Let's compare NOAA's 1981-2010 total numbers (in inches):

        Yakutat, AK    143.4
        Rochester, NY    99.5
        Buffalo, NY    94.7
        Anchorage, AK    74.5
        Juneau, AK    69.8
        Kodiak, AK    68.9
        Cleveland, OH    68.1
        Fairbanks, AK    65.0
        Salt Lake City, UT    56.2
        Minneapolis, MN    54.0
        Denver, CO    53.8
        Homer, AK    47.4
        Pittsburgh, PA    39.6
        Barrow, AK    37.7

Granted, just like there are areas in the lower US that receive little to no snow each year, there ARE places in Alaska that receive an exorbitant amount of snow - (anyone interested in Valdez at 326.3 inches and Haines at 262.4 inches per year on average?).  However, this is the extreme end of Alaska's snowfall.  The general average for much of the state is between 40 and 75 inches per year!

Photo from Hatcher Pass B&B
We could go through the same comparisons in temperature, but we'll sum it up.  The average temperatures between November and March are between 20 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  Not bad, really!  Again, we have our extremes, but this is true anywhere!  And our dry air makes 25 degrees seem a lot warmer than it seems in much of the lower 48 states!

You think it's dark here all winter?  We beg to differ!  Some of the northernmost parts of the state DO have an extreme 2-month period during which the sun does not rise.  However, most of the state does have sunlight during at least part of the day:  between 5-7 hours of full daylight during our shortest daylight months of December and January.

Now we can talk about what there is to do in our great state during the winter months.  The question might be:  what ISN'T there to do, swimming and sunbathing aside?

Winter Activities
We've already talked about the Aurora Borealis.  Winter is certainly the time to catch this beautiful nighttime light show!  However, let us offer a few suggestions as to daytime activities:

Whale Watching
It doesn't have to be summer to catch a glimpse of our Beluga Whales!  Because these mammals live on the coast of Alaska year-round, you can watch them in action during the winter - most often in Kachemak Bay.

Whether you enjoy cross-country or downhill skiing, there are ample opportunities for both! 

World-class downhill skiing is available in Girdwood at the Alyeska Ski Resort, just 40 miles south of Anchorage.  Most major cities are also home to at least one smaller, local resort including Alpenglow and Hilltop areas in Anchorage, Egale Crest in Juneau, and Moose Mountain in Fairbanks.  Your bed and breakfast innkeepers can direct you to the local ski spots in their area.

Girdwood's Nordic Ski Club is committed to "developing and maintaining a sustainable Nordic/multi-use trail system in the Girdwood Valley," meaning that this is also a great place for cross-country skiing as well!  Other cross-country skiing areas can be found throughout the state.  Don't forget to check the reports on each area before you go!

Another quickly-growing ski pastime in Girdwood AND in places like Valdez is heli-skiing.  You've probably seen it on TV:  a helicoptor drops you off at the top of a mountain for an extreme downhill adventure.  However, the inherent dangers of becoming lost, getting hurt, and even avalanches mean this sport is only for the best-prepared skiiers!

Snowshoeing is basically a hike over the snow.  Most major trails in the state are perfect for showshoeing after it snows!  Of course, in the winter you can snowshoe OVER the lakes instead of around them... but do be careful if the area has not had a good freeze for several weeks before you go stepping out onto the water!

It's true that many Alaska residents use a snowmachine (a.k.a snowmobile) to get around once snow covers the ground.  It's only practical!  However snowmachine tours are readily available for everyone who wants to experience the thrill of zooming through the snowy land!

Ice Fishing
Interested in catching your dinner?  Or maybe you just want to do some catch-release fishing?  Available on most lakes, this sport is best done on lakes that are stocked for fishing and offer resources like equipment rental and warming huts.  Popular lakes for fishing are Quartz Lake (about 40 miles southeast of Fairbanks); Delong, Jewel, Sand and Campbell Lakes (in Anchorage); Lake Clunie (near Chugiak and Eagle River); and several lakes near Ketchikan in the extreme SE part of the state.  However, lakes dot our entire state, so as long as there has been a good freeze cycle and an outfitter for equipment, there is the chance to ice fish!

Dog Sledding
Whether you just want to visit the dogs themselves to see how they are trained, or if you want to experience a trip yourself, there are tours offered all over the state.  A dog sled is pulled by 12-16 dogs at speeds of 10-12 miles per hour.  Actual sledding tours can occur on trails nearby to where the dogs are raised, or opt for a thrilling adventure where you are dropped off via helicopter onto a glacier with dogs and sled waiting to take you around the glaciers!

Photo From Rose Ridge Vacation Chalets
Glacier Viewing
Speaking of glaciers, there is way more frozen water in the winter!  Some are actually visible by land:  car, snowmobile, skis, snowshoes, etc.  If you visit a coastal town, boat tours are popular ways to see these frozen behemoths.  Of course, the more thrilling way is to take an airplane or helicopter tour, sometimes even landing on a safe area of a large glacier for a closer look!

Ice Climbing
For the more adventurous, you can CLIMB a glacier!  Somewhat similar to rock climbing, but much easier to find your grip because you're using climbing pick hammers and boots outfitted with ice cleats, this sport can be just as easy as climbing a ladder.  No matter what your skill level, you will be taught the basics and techniques (which are much more important than strength, just like in rock climbing), and you will be top-roped on anything from a slope to a vertical surface.  Whether you're young or older, a beginner or experienced, anyone can ice climb!

Hot Springs
Okay, okay, we said you couldn't swim during the winter.  Well, that's only partially true!  There are over 100 known hot springs in the state, and several are near roads and highways!  Your innkeeper will probably know the closest warm water in the area!  Of course, there may be nudity issues if visitors want to actually "bathe," so please keep that in mind.

Other Activities
Of course, there's always the old-fashioned sled ride down an area hill for those who want to stick closer to the warmth of their chosen Alaska inn!  Your host(s) may have some available, or local stores will probably have a good supply throughout the winter!  You may also run into a snow or ice-sculpting competition being held in the area, or find any other number of other events throughout the winter months.

No matter what you choose to do here, your innkeepers can point you in the right direction for an area tour, a guide, or activity.  All you have to do is book your winter getaway to your favorite BBAA Inn to find out for yourself all we have to offer during those "cold months" of the year!

Photo From A Room With A View B&B
Warning:  Wildlife
If you encounter wildlife during the winter (moose, beaver, wolf, coyote, wolverine, or even polar bear, etc.), try your best to admire from afar.  And never, under any circumstances, come between a mother animal and her babies!  Ski poles can be used as a form of defense, but if it comes to you trying to outrun a wild dog or a bear, you can guess who will win.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Enjoy Unique Alaskan Flavors Through Our Unique Wines

Wine lovers, rejoice.  While there are no official vineyards in Alaska, we DO make wine in the Last Frontier!  While any grape-based wines produced in our state are made with imported grapes or contain a grape-concentrate base mixed with local berries, our state's wineries also feature wines based on rhubarb, dandelion, wildflowers, and other natural flavors of the area.  Three wineries in our state offer tastings, so plan your wine-tasting getaway to the northernmost state today!

Alaskan Wilderness Winery
498 Shearwater Way in Woodland Acres approximately 10 minutes from downtown Kodiak

Steve and Lisa Thomsen started this winery on a wing and a prayer, and are thrilled that their wines are so well received!  Back when he was a logger, work opportunities for Steve were seasonal, scarce, and demanded that he be away from home when they came.  The owners wanted to start a business that could keep their family together.  With no wine-making experience, the duo set off to Napa, CA for pointers and ideas.  Then they moved from Port Lions to Kodiak where wine-making is welcome.  The rest, as they say is history.  While Steve and Lisa both have "day jobs," their love of wine-making keeps them excited for the day that they can devote all of their time to it!

The Thomsen family proudly welcomes you to try their select wine offerings, each and every one a small-batch, award and medal winning vintages including:  Salmonberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Black Currant, Wild Rose Mead, and Fireweed Mead (all ingredients are hand-picked).  Complimentary wine tastings are available by appointment.

Alaska Denali Winery
1301 East Dowling Rd, Suite 107, Anchorage

Owners Mike and Cathy are new winery owners who are thoroughly enjoying this new endeavor.  Their love of creativity makes wine-making a perfect match for them!  Look for some of Mike's wood-turned wine stoppers when you visit!

The unique thing about this winery is that they don't make large batches of pre-determined wines.  While Mike and Cathy do offer a large selection of traditional, imported grape-based wines, along with agave-based margarita wine, a hard lemonade, sherrys, ports, and ice wine, things are done a little differently:  wines are 'micro-brewed' for each customer that orders.  When visitors attend a tasting, they select which wines they want, and then the creation process begins!  Once the wine is made, the customer is invited back to help with bottling, corking, and capping, if they wish, allowing for a very personal experience (if you can not attend this portion or pick up wines, shipping may be available to some states in the US).  Wines can be labeled specifically for an event, occasion, or even specifically for an establishment.

Denali Winery is open for tastings on Tuesday-Thursday, 12pm - 8pm, and Friday-Sunday, 12pm - 10pm.  A tasting flight of 10 wines (4 red, 4 white, and 2 dessert) is $20 per person.  Tasters are encouraged to bring food to enjoy with the tasting (cheese trays, pizza, fruit, meat, bread, crackers, whatever!), as the winery does not have a license to serve food.  Please note that no one under 21 is allowed in the winery after 3pm, and be sure to have your ID when you come to taste!

Bear Creek Winery
60203 Bear Creek Drive, Homer

Bear Creek is a B&B member of the BBAA, meaning that when you stay with them, you don't even need to drive to your wine-tasting destination!

What started as a hobby for co-owner Bill Fry has evolved into a living for both him and his wife Dorothy.  Bill began making wines after tasting a friend's homemade Rhubarb Wine, and quickly evolved out of the main house and into the garage, experimenting with fruits, flowers, and more.  Once his friends got a taste of his labors and raved, the hobby became a winery business, coupled with a B&B.  The wine awards came, and they quickly grew out of their residence, opting to build their current facility and romantic inn.  the Frys are also proud to hold Alaska's Green Star Award, showing commitment to their community and the environment by collecting used wine bottles to re-use, cleaning and sanitizing them to bottle their wines.

Bear Creek offers a wide variety of berry- and fruit-based wines (raspberry, black raspberry, strawberry, shirazzberry, gooseberry, blueberry, black currant, pomegranite, rhubarb), and a traditional Port wine.  Specialty and seasonal wines include Meads & Melomels, Kiwi-Pear, Peach-Apricot, Chocolate Raspberry Port, Holiday Spice, and Apple wine offerings.  Complimentary tastings are available from May through September from 10pm-6pm daily; and from October through April from 12pm-6pm Monday-Saturday and 12pm-4pm on Sunday.  The B&B is open for guests year-round.

With these three award-winning wineries, a wine-tasting holiday is a great reason to stay at a member BBAA inn.  Let us show you true hospitality and help you have a perfect visit!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Alaskan Adventure Awaits in Denali National Park

Denali National Park (DNP) lies in the very heart of Alaska:  Six million acres of beautiful Alaskan Interior wilderness accessed by a single road, and home to the tallest peak in North America.  Since 1917, park visitors have been enjoying amazing beauty, outdoor adventure, amazing wildlife encounters, and life-changing experiences.  Denali is a reasonable destination from almost every part of the state, making it possible for just about any visitors to our state to have their own Denali experience.  Member inns of the Bed and Breakfast Association of Alaska recommend a visit to the park during your getaway to our great land.

Getting to the Park -There are many options to choose from for accessing the park:
  • By Car - If you'd like to drive, the George Parks Highway (Route 3) between Fairbanks and Anchorage will get you to the one road that goes into Denali Park.  This road is only open through mile 14 to automobiles.  If you want to drive all the way through, you can have a chance to be one of the 400 cars allowed during each of just four days by entering into the yearly Denali Road Lottery for that chance.  Please note that there is a chance that the road could close for weather at any time - including on a day you've won a lottery spot!
  • By Train - Alaska Railroad provides service to the park during the summer from both Fairbanks and Anchorage.
  • By Bus - A number of tour operators provide summer service to the park.
  • By Helicopter/Bus - The option is available that you can take a helicopter into the park to Kantishna, and return by bus... or vice versa.  This is a unique travel option that is enjoyed by many.
What to do while you're here.
Denali IS a national park, offering many similar activities as National Parks in the lower 49 states.  But this is an ALASKA National Park, which means there are many considerations while you visit, and many unique activities you can try while you're here.

  • Wildlife - Do we even need to mention the bears?  Grizzlies consider Denali their home, and there is always the chance of encountering one.  You can't walk, run, or even cycle faster than a bear, so be outside at your own risk.  You may also encounter moose, elk, caribou, wolves and a number of small mammals.  The general guide is to get no closer than 25 yards from most wildlife (except for bears which you want to stay as far away from as humanly possible)!
  • Mosquitos - these annoyances can be extreme in DNP during the summer.  Woe to the visitors who forget the bug spray...
Offered onsite:
  • See the Sled Dogs - Denali is the only Park that have official dogs to help protect and navigate the park.
  • Day Hikes - Most Denali trails are within reach from the Denali Visitor Center.  Those that are not can be accessed by shuttle bus from the Visitor Center.  They are considered "easy to moderate" in difficulty, and there are ADA accessible options.
  • Cycling - The Denali Park Road is a perfect option for those who enjoy bicycling, and bikes are allowed on all 92 miles of the park road.  Bicycles are allowed on park roads, parking areas, campground loops, and the designated Bike Trail that starts at the Visitor Center.  Bikes may be transported via shuttle to a deeper part of the park, if you wish.
Offered offsite:
  • Helicoptor onto a Glacier - This tour offers a 75-minute experience.  Land on the glacier, enjoy spectacular views while flying, andsee ice falls, ice bridges, glacier streams, glacial ice pools, and wildlife while on the glacier! 
  • Whitewater Rafting - many outfitters outside the park offer trips into Denali.
  • Flightseeing - A chance to see the park by prop plane, small jet plane, or chopper.
  • Zipline Tours - Explore the park from the treetops!
  • Horseback Tours - See views of Denali by horseback.
  • ATV Tours - Just outside the park, these tours let you see more of the land within a few thousand feet of the actual park.
Other:  Many people want to see The Magic Bus, where Chris McCandless stayed in in the book Into the Wilderness.  This is on Stampede Road, just north of the DNP.  Please note that you can drive the first 12.5 miles to the bus, but you will be hiking the last 13 or so miles, which includes swamp and stream crossings, as well a crossing the Teklinika River.  Crossing the Tek can be very dangerous, so proceed at your own risk.  And of course, you'll also have to return to your vehicle!

Because DNP is such an amazing Alaska resource, we fully recommend a visit while you're here.  Your B&B innkeeper can give you more information, suggestions, and tips about DNP - just ask!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Search for Wild Berries: A Classic Alaskan Activity

Any food expert can tell you the health benefits of berries.  But in case you need a refresher, consider the low calories, high fiber content, they're a great source for vitamins and minerals, and in some cases berries provide antioxidants to help your body fight inflammation and free radicals.  Some experts recommend that you eat two to three types of berries each day for maximum health benefits.  Lucky for you, you're planning a trip to an Alaska bed and breakfast this August or September, when the berry season is at its height!

The great news is that wild berries grow abundantly in Alaska!  With over 50 species of wild berries, you can find them on almost any walk, hike, or even drive around the state when they're in season.  Each day of your stay, it might be possible to find your ideal daily berry-booty, and then some!

Where do you find berries?  Look for areas where the ground has been cleared for building, or where a fire has occurred recently, as berries are the first step in reforestation after a traumatic land-clearing event.  Look at edges of the road, bogs, and south-facing, sunny slopes.  Each berry has its own habitat, so if you look for specific types, of course you'll want to check in the appropriate place.  As a very loose guide, here are some of the more popular berries in the state, and where you can find them.
  • Blueberry:  Grow on bushes in woodland and traumatic clearings, and are even sweeter in the higher elevations.
  • Salmonberry:  Similar to the raspberry with colors ranging from red through yellow and grow on open slopes and roadsides.  Beware the prickers!
  • Nagoonberry:  (Also called dewberry and wineberry)  Grow in damp woodland and traumatic clearings - especially areas with recent fires.
  • Cloudberry:  Look for these peach-colored, lobed berries in boggy areas.
  • Northern Red Currant:  Look for these bushes near streams and thickets from low meadows to the woodline.
  • Crowberry:  Grow on evergreen shrubs (that look similar to rosemary) in bogs, alpine meadows, and even in the woods.
  • Cranberry:  Both high bush and low bush varieties of this tart berry grow around wooded areas.
  • Currants - Look for both red and black varieties in moist woodlands and clearings.
  • Raspberry - Grow in clearings, dry meadows, and on the edges of wooded areas.
  • Serviceberries - These 6-16' tall shrubs grow in dry exposed areas from sea level up to sub-alpine areas in thickets and borders of woods.
  • Wild strawberries - Look for in clearings and meadows.
Of course, with the good, comes the bad.  Wild berries are a staple diet supplement to the many bears and other wildlife that live here, so be very aware of your surroundings.. and don't be afraid to make some noise during your search to hopefully scare the wildlife away!  There are a few strains of berries that are very poisonous to humans and animals alike, and should be avoided at all costs:
  • Baneberry grows in woods and on hillsides, berries are red or white, opaque, with shiny surface and black dot.
  • Devil's Club - bright red berries.
  • Wild Calla - The plant's flower looks similar to the calla lilly.
  • ANY white berry in Alaska is poisonous!
Sure, most of us know the strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.  But what of the rest?  How do you tell a crowberry from a nagoonberry from a baneberry?  If you lack the confidence to identify some of the less-known varieties, you have a couple choices.  Most booksellers in the state have some type of berry identification guide available to the public.  Also, some guide services offer part-day hiking trips that go through prime berry-picking locations.  Your innkeeper can point you to businesses and individuals offering guide services in the area.

Member inns of the Bed and Breakfast Association of Alaska welcome you during berry season!  What better way to enjoy Alaska than to take a walk around the area after a great breakfast, gather up some berries of the season, and return to your inn accommodations to enjoy the fruits of your labor!


... So you've brought berries back with you.  Now what?

Berries are best when eaten the same day they are picked.  You can rinse the berries clean and eat right away, plain, or with some whipped cream or ice cream!  However, if you're feeling creative, you can ask your innkeeper for access to the kitchen - or build yourself a fire either outside or in the fireplace - and try a couple of these easy recipes:

Berry Smoothies/Shakes:  If your innkeeper has a blender, purchase some ice cream and milk, frozen yogurt, or Greek yogurt and blend in the berries.  This is, of course, the most classic use for berries in the United States!
Berry S'mores
There's nothing like tart/sweet berries with chocolate and sugar - why not add them to a camper's favorite?

Graham Crackers
Large Marshmallows, toasted over fire or in the broiler
Chocolate Bars
Fresh Berries
  • Build your s'more with a few berries between your marshmallows and chocolate bar!
Recipe inspiration from a Real Simple recipe.