Thursday, February 20, 2014

Anchorage- Home to the World's Most Spectacular Marathons & Other Smaller Races

Runners on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (photo credit- Roy Neese)
The Visit Anchorage site says it well when it notes… “With low humidity and summer temperatures that typically top out in the mid-70s, Anchorage is an excellent choice for avid runners who want to incorporate a race into their visit."

It goes on ... "Anchorage is at sea level, requiring no adjustment to a higher, heart-pumping elevation. There is no hustling through traffic or breathing in car exhaust - as most races take place on Anchorage’s award-winning trail system. Along the paved trails, runners enjoy wooded vistas that open up to expanses of the steely gray waters of Cook Inlet or the rugged peaks of the Chugach Mountain Range.”

2014 will see at a number of major and smaller runs hosted in Anchorage.  Running in general is a big sport here.  We’ve got so many great places to train, such as our trail system, including the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. (Other links to trail maps can be found at the end of this blog.) 

Running season begins in February.  Highlights for the year include the:
  • Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000 miler, an ultramarathon, which begins in Anchorage on 2/23/2014 and ends in Nome many days later. There is also the 350 mile option, ending in McGrath
  • Mayor’s Midnight Sun Five Miler / Half Marathon / Marathon, which happens in Anchorage on Solstice, June 21st
  • Her Tern Half Marathon, held in Anchorage on July 20th, and
  • Skinny Raven’s Half and Moose’s Tooth Marathon will be held August 12th

Other fun runs also happen each year.  Among others, we are really excited about the 
  • Frostbite Footrace, held on February 22, 2014 during Fur Rondy
  • Anchorage Salmon Run, held on May 3, 2014
  • Gold Nugget Triathalon, held on May 18th, 2014
  • Alaska Run for Women, held June 7, 2014
  • Mt. Marathon race, held on July 4, 2014, a long standing tradition held in Seward, Alaska
·   We've recently learned the  Color Run  is returning on June 28th.  Guests had so much fun last year at this- we’re really looking forward to a repeat experience!

For the trail system maps, check out the Trails of Anchorage map (which lists the trails individually by section) and the Muni of Anchorage Trail Mega Map (which shows the trails in one overall map.) 

For the most up to date race list click here. The Alaska Runners Calendar is another good source for races and race updates.

Anchorage's bed and breakfast inns are a great place stay while in town for the race. Why?  Because you will get a restful sleep the night before in a convenient, quiet location; a fortifying breakfast, lots of fluids, and plenty of encouragement!  If you have special needs, you'll find help  with those as well. 

So grab your running (or walking) shoes.  We'll see you on the trail!

This blog was written by Marilyn Kasmar, Owner/Innkeeper at the 11th Avenue Bed and Breakfast, Anchorage, and member of the Anchorage Bed and Breakfast Association. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Star the Reindeer- An Anchorage Celebrity of a Different Breed

Innkeepers Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association

Star and Albert, out for a walk 11/24/13  Photo by J. Polak

I was born and raised in Anchorage and as far back as I can remember, Star the Reindeer has lived downtown, in a large fenced area off the
west side of a house at 10th and I Streets. 

That’s just a few blocks from our B and B breakfast table, where Star is a frequent source of questions. ”Hey.  What about Star the Reindeer?  What’s her story?”   The questions have made me realize that Star has been an Anchorage icon all my life, but I don’t know much about why.  I did a little research to be able to

share her story with you.  

To start, a little background on reindeer. Unlike their cousin the caribou, reindeer are not native to Alaska. They closely resemble caribou but are shorter and stouter and don’t migrate over long distances like caribou. Reindeer -including Star’s ancestors - were first imported to the Seward Peninsula (537 air miles northwest of Anchorage and home to Nome, Alaska) from Siberia in 1892, as part of a federal program to provide sustainable food sources

to the Bering Strait Eskimos and other people of the area.

Star’s story begins with Mr. Ivan and Mrs. Oro Stewart opening Stewarts’s Photo Shop downtown on 4th Avenue in Anchorage’s oldest building in 1942. True Alaskan pioneers, they were known to be the type to accomplish their goals, no matter how unusual the goal might be. Mrs. Stewart wanted to adopt an Alaskan pet. There were no laws against adopting reindeer and the original Star came to Anchorage in 1962, selected for Mr. and Mrs. Stewart by reindeer herder Larry Davis of Nome.  She was named for the starburst of white fur between her eyes.  Star I lived to be 23 years old - roughly 15 years longer than the average reindeer.   Larry Davis selected every Star to follow (except the current one- who came from a

reindeer farm near Palmer) to look like the first Star. 

The Stewart’s were assisted in Star care over the years by Albert Whitehead. Whitehead came to Alaska in 1960 with the military. Shortly after his arrival, he met Ivan and Oro Stewart and began working for them part time. Over the years he evolved into their reindeer caregiver, moreso after Mr. Stewart died in 1986. On her death, Mrs. Stewart left Albert Whitehead a life estate to help take care of her 

Beautiful as she is, Star has not been without her controversies.  In October of 1973, she was ordered

evicted due to changing zoning laws.  The Stewarts appealed and won.

Including the current Star, there has been six.  Star II died in the mid-1980s when a newcomer to Alaska broke into her pen, killed and butchered her, and sold the meat. He spent a year in jail for his crime.  Star III died in 1986 when she ate plastic bags. Star IV enjoyed 14 years under Mrs. Stewart’s care.  She suffered from arthritis and could only tolerate weekly walks. She was assaulted in 1987 when a man climbed into her pen and broke off one antler. She survived that and died in May 2002. Star V was 2 months old when she came to Anchorage from Nome, arriving in July 2002. Sadly, she passed away 

unexpectedly of a bacterial infection, not long before Oro Stewart herself died that fall.

Star VI, the current Star, was born in April 2001 at the reindeer farm north of Anchorage. Originally named Noel, she was renamed Star by Albert Whitehead, who fell in love with her at first sight. Rejected by her mother, her growth had been stunted.   She is only four and a half feet tall, which makes her about six inches shorter than others her age.

In April 2006, Star VI was nearly kidnapped. Whitehead found a hole in the pen's fence with a trail of hay leading out to the sidewalk.  Star had stayed in her cage, however, and was not hurt.  

You can often find Star VI and Mr. Whitehead on walks around downtown Anchorage, and kids visiting Star at her home. She may be a symbol of Christmas, but she’s also a symbol of Anchorage, and as it turns
out, our founders and our rich history.  

The following sources were used in the writing of this article. Links to those and more about Star: 
·      A beautiful photo of Star and Albert can be found here…
·      Watch this fun video…  among other things; you’ll see Star visiting our friend Terry Potter in her downtown wine shop, where there’s a lot of expensive wine.  Now, Star in a wine shop-  that’s Alaskan bravery!
·      A great article about Star, and some old photos, can be found here.
·      This article contains information about Star’s attempted eviction.,941094
·      And totally off topic but fun- this article tells the story of the Stewarts, their amphibious car (which is still seen in Anchorage parades today) and a 1968 drive 165 miles down the Yukon River, from Eagle to Circle City.
·      Star also has her own Facebook page.  You can friend her at


Marilyn Kasmar, owner and innkeeper of the 11th Avenue Bed and Breakfast, is a member of the Anchorage, Alaska Bed and Breakfast Association. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Alaska Hospitality: How Inns & Partners Make it Special

Alaskan Frontier Gardens
Recently my bed and breakfast, Alaskan Frontier Gardens, B&B hosted guests from Mexico City.  They were here in Alaska on their honeymoon, staying for a week.  There were two things they wanted to see while they were here:  Mt. McKinley and the Northern Lights. 

The Northern Lights can appear in a variety of forms such as arcs or drapes of light.  Colors range from red to yellow to green to purple all of which can appear to dance across the sky.  Aurora Lights displays peak in the Spring and Fall, but are also seen on dark winter nights.  You just stand in wonder watching the show of lights...mostly seen in the wee hours of the night.

One of the Anchorage B&B Association Travel Partners , Salmon Berry Travel and Tours, was very helpful in trying to get my guests to Talkeetna to see Mt. McKinley.  They went over the top.  They even came by the B&B and explained why they were not going to see the mountain.  The weather was the problem in both the tours. 
Salmon Berry will help you with dog sledding, a trip down Turnagain via the Seward Highway, wildlife tours, and Northern Lights tour overnighting in Talkeetna.  They go over the top with true Alaskan hospitality which is a great way to welcome visitors.  Salmon Berry tours is fully customizable to make your Alaskan adventure dream come true.

My guests really enjoyed the beauty, peacefulness, color, and hospitality of Alaska.  They were disappointed in not seeing snow, but got to have a chance to see glaciers up close and personal. That's the true beauty of Alaska!

Rita Gittins, Innkeeper and owner of Alaskan Frontier Gardens, is a member of the Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association

Friday, November 1, 2013

AABBA Confers Awards on Travel/Associate Partners

What’s (Almost) Better than Staying in One of  Anchorage’s Great Bed and Breakfast Inns? 
Getting an Award from the Anchorage Alaska Bed and Breakfast Association!  

AABBA 2013 Award Winners Shine!
The Anchorage Alaska Bed and Breakfast Association (AABBA) recently hosted its fourth annual awards dinner in Anchorage,  to honor all its Associate / Travel partners and to confer awards in eight important areas. “Our Associate / Travel Partners depend on us to create a restful, restorative environment for their guests, and we count on them to provide a great Alaska experience for ours.” said Lori Roth, owner of Susitna Sunsets B and B - and AABBA President- at the dinner.  “It’s an essential and mutually rewarding affiliation, and we are so pleased to be able to thank them.” 
Founded in 1987, AABBA membership is comprised of Anchorage bed and breakfast inns committed to providing quality service for guests- member inns are peer inspected and approved and offer superior accommodations, outstanding breakfasts and award-winning service. 
AABBA’s associate / travel partners offer a variety of services and goods that provide and create a quality, enjoyable, memorable experience for leisure visitors and business travelers.   Partners hail from sectors including restaurants, museums, cultural centers, theaters,  land, sea and air tours, marketing, lodging, and other types of support services.  “We are truly blessed to have such strong relationships with so many wonderful entities that really care about creating a fabulous experience for our guests” said Caroline Valentine, a founding member of the AABBA, and also owner of Camai B and B. 
In all, eight  organizations were honored in the following categories for the 2013 season:
·       Best Alaska Experience - Alaska Native Heritage Center
·       Best Tour Experience - Phillips Cruises and Tours
·       Best Dining Experience - Spenard Roadhouse
·       Best Customer Service - Glacier Brewhouse
·       Innovative Approach to Making Guests Feel Special - Anchorage Trolley Tours
·       Best Business to Business Service in Support of Tourism – The Alaska App
·       Rookie of the Year, New Member - Sam Wasson Photography
·       Advocacy for B and Bs, in Tourism - Bed and Breakfast Association of Alaska
“Our guests rave about the services and goods they access through our  travel partners,” said Roth.  “The friendly service and the quality experience are second to none! What a great way to showcase what Alaska is really all about.” 
  And, judging by the reaction and comments from members in attendance, they couldn’t agree more.
Blog contributed by Marilyn Kasmar, AABBA Publicity Director, and Owner/Innkeeper,  11th Avenue Bed   and Breakfast.

Monday, October 21, 2013

An Adventure Through Turnagain Arm

Turnagain Arm - L Roth
As with everyday life, the summer season passed by too quickly. In south-central Alaska, summer was beautiful, fall was wet, and winter is around the corner. With the approach of darkness comes the Bed & Breakfast Association of Alaska (BBAA) Conference. What a great opportunity, B&B owners statewide get together to learn about new business practices, new technologies, and better ways to improve our guest experiences. This year it was held in Homer, Alaska. What a treat. As a B&B owner, we don't get out much over the summer! 

Dahl Sheep above Turnagain
Finally the day was here, time to drive to Homer. Time to jump in the car and drive south on the Seward Highway to Turnagain Arm. With every mile anticipating what we will see. Will the Dahl sheep be out? Will the tide be in or out? Is it too late for salmon? What about beluga whales? Have the birds started migrating? All these unknowns that will be answered as part of our driving adventure. We didn't even get to Potters Marsh and the adventure began..white geese with 5 gosling. They were so beautiful and graceful. We kept driving and next thing we see was a majestic bald eagle soaring over the water looking for breakfast. All this and we were not to Girdwood yet!

A beautiful ride into winter...

As we circled Turnagain Arm along the Seward Highway we and passed the sign, "Welcome to the Kenai Peninsula". What a sight. After a few miles going uphill we entered what locals call "the pass". It is famous for it's mountain peaks and extreme conditions. We looked up and there it was….termination dust. In other words, the snow was on the mountain tops. Winter has landed in "the pass". Get ready Anchorage, winter is on its way.

We kept heading south talking and enjoying the majestic views. The beautiful blue color of the Kenai River is always breath-taking. It was hard to believe how much water was there, we did get a lot of rain. The fisherman did not mind. They were in boats AND lined up along the banks. Loom out salmon, here they are.

After the adventures of the day we arrived at Timber Bay B&B. It is in a wonderful wooded neighborhood overlooking Kachemak Bay. It was a comfort to know after a long day of learning that we would return to a cozy lodge-like home, wonderful hosts, and breath-taking views of the moon overlooking glaciers.

Lori Roth of Susitna Sunsets B&B is one of the Innkeepers of  Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association and serves as President of the AABBA.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Alaska Miles: Road Trips North & South of Anchorage

Over the last two weekends, I  traveled north and south across Alaska.  The combined trip focused on four of Alaska's 12 numbered highways (yes, only 12 criss-cross this large state!)  The Parks, The Richardson, The Seward, and the Sterling Highways contributed the miles, and more: the experience of autumn in Alaska!.

Anchorage to Fairbanks - the morning and early afternoon hours offered sunlight dancing between the leaves, punctuated by short periods of rainfall. Rain made the vegetation sparkle and the colors became more vibrant as we headed north.  With a clear horizon, we could see Denali (Mt. McKinley) for most of the miles, and the clear blue of the sky accentuated the white of snow on its tip.

Far North Fiddle Fest in Fairbanks AK 2013But first, an evening in Fairbanks: as a fundraiser for Hospice, a local medical practice sponsored an evening at the UAF Museum with music by the fiddlers who would be performing the next night at the Far North Fiddle Fest. Ethereal - the sound of Celtic music in the high-ceiling entry-way where surrounding windows  encouraged enjoyment of Alaska mountain vistas!  

Fairbanks south to Anchorage - this is one trip that does not have to take place via the same highway. In fact, traveling back, down the Richardson Highway, provided a much different view of Alaska's scenery.  This trip through The Interior ended for the night in Glenallen for a stay at the Caribou Hotel during a night-long rain storm, followed by early-morning miles back to the MatSu Valley.  Stopping for lunch at The Vagabond Blues, we held large cups of fresh-made soup to warm our hands before our bellies. Alaska's dining experiences are outstanding!

Alaska SeaLife Center - by MM Rydesky
Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward - MM Rydesky
Then the trip south to Seward and on to Homer.  The first surprise was the view of swans on Potter Marsh, right outside Anchorage. Four pairs of swans in the rushes! Then down along the Turnagain Arm, we could see cars pulled to the side while people viewed beluga whales.  A few minutes of rain gave way to sun for the remainder of the way into Seward where the Sealife Center became our key stop. Displays and interactive learning - along with stretching the legs - satisfied our need for a counter-beat to the tempo of scenery.

Later, the drive to Homer offered another Autumn adventure. The road repair crews were out in number: the delays provided an excuse to stop and look closely at the fall foliage! Along the way, views of the mountains confirmed that Winter is on its way: 'termination dust' signals the completing of summer and fall with white snowfall on the peaks all around. At this time of year, seeing snow atop any mountain is a warning: Winter is coming...

Full moon in sky on Vernal Equinox seen from Timber Bay B&B by MM Rydesky
Full moon at the Vernal Equinoz in Homer as
seen from Timber Bay B&B - MM Rydesky
Staying at Timber Bay B&B added a dimension to the trip that must become a travel habit: the hospitality erased the exhaustion of busy days and conversation with hosts Sharon and Don (and the dogs) helped us feel like family.

The expanse of lawn and view of both mountains and water drew us outdoors. 
The lyrics of Van Morrison's MOONDANCE played through my thoughts as we took in the beauty. To see the moon rise over Kachemak Bay on the two nights prior to the Vernal Equinox can be described only as magical!  

Taste of Homer 2013
Taste of Homer 2013
On the final evening of this trip, the Taste of Homer event brought visitors and residents together to sample menu items presented by Homer's restaurants. Culinary delights consumed, we headed north to Anchorage to finish the North/South tour.  Now we know first hand what our B&B visitors reported all season long!  And like our guests, we look forward to the calm evenings by the B&B's fireplace followed by tasty Alaska breakfast treats.  

Mary M Rydesky of Jarvi Homestay B&B is one of the Innkeepers
of the  Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Gold in Those Hills: A Day Trip to Independence Mine

Independence Mine - L. Roth
Independence Mine: What a wonderful day trip from Anchorage, straight into Alaska's history. Drive about 2 hours north and get to walk through time by visiting the Independence Gold Mine located on the Palmer side of Hatcher Pass. It is so surreal, walking through the actual gold mine site and seeing what they built back in 1906. 

Learn about Robert Lee Hatcher and the fascinating mine he built using pulley wheels and a lot of hard work. The original structures are amazing, You can see where the men and families ate, slept, and lived. Stand there - in awe - trying to figure out how they took out over a million dollars in gold before the days of bulldozers and other heavy equipment. Walk along the trails and see the actual "parts" from the machinery, train tracks form the gold cars, battery cars, etc. You can even walk into the "cold room" (what a pleasure on a hot day!). The mine operated for nearly half a century and at a time when it was truly remote and treacherous to reach. 

Ruins of the Mine - L. Roth
Did you know the mine was closed in 1943 as part of the war effort? This activity was nonessential, and it required a lot of diesel fuel, which was deemed essential. In 1946, the mine reopened, but then, gold could only be sold to the US Government…and at a fixed price! The economics of this situation made goal mining unprofitable, and the mine closed forever.  Nearly 30 years later,  the site was added to the Register of Historic Places. Within ten more years, part of the acreage was donated to become a state park, and a great destination for a day trip came into being! 

What a worthwhile experience. Well worth the trip. And an added bonus, drive through Hatcher Pass on the way in or out. It is majestic! A blog written in 2009 offers even more of the history and experience -  read it for a comparison view!

If you have visited Independence Mine, share your experience by posting a response to this story. We hear B&B guests' stories frequently, and want to share yours, as well.

Lori Roth is Innkeeper of Susitna Sunsets B&B and a frequent day-tripper around Anchorage. She is a member of the "AABBA", now serving as President of Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association