Infamous Alaskans: The Witch of Kantishna

Fanny Quigley Cabin

Alaska’s history is full of characters whose stories are as wild and fascinating as the land in which they lived. Fannie Quigley, a wilderness woman whose colorful reputation earned her the “Witch of Kantishna” nickname, is one of them.

Fannie came to Alaska in the late 1800s. She was an expert drinker and cusser whose famed foul language she picked up while working more than 15 years in railroad camps and lawless mining towns. She was also industrious, funding her way along the gold rush trails by making and selling meals out of a canvas tent she hauled on a sled. Fannie eventually made her way to Kantishna on the northern side of Denali. It was in this remote wilderness that she made her home.

Having quite the green thumb, Fannie proved that with a little care and effort you could grow bountiful produce even in Alaska. She built her gardens on top of the tundra, hewing planks and digging stones to form terraced beds she later filled with soil up hauled up from the valley floor. A cold frame extended the scant 10-week growing season. In these beds she cultivated rhubarb, cabbage, onions, rutabagas, cauliflower, potatoes, lettuce, and even warm weather crops like corn, tomato, and cucumber.

Fanny Quigley CabinHer gardens weren’t all for sustenance. In a show of whimsy for an otherwise pragmatic woman, Fannie also grew flowers, propagating poppies, pansies, and wildflowers that she’d later press and dry. In the winter she worked on a fine embroidered tablecloth, recreating those pretty flowers in thread. (more…)

Seeking Seward’s Magical Temperate Rainforest

Seward Alaska Temperate Rainforest

Seward‘s waters have a way of drawing attention — and rightfully so. The deep blue-green hue, the reflection of snow-tipped mountains, and the potential for spotting some of Alaska’s iconic marine wildlife all draw our state’s many summertime visitors into Resurrection Bay for day tours and cruises alike. But bordering that waterway lies yet another remarkable ecosystem: The temperate rainforest. (more…)

Trip Report: Kayaking Bear Glacier Lagoon

The team at Alaska Tour & Travel is an adventurous bunch, and we don’t take recommending day-trip tours and excursions lightly. That’s why, when we’re not manning the phones at our office in Anchorage, we like to go out and experience what our guests will. Next stop? Paddling among blue giants in Kenai Fjords National Park’s Bear Glacier Lagoon.

Bear Glacier Lagoon Kayak

Paddling in the Lagoon, Bear Glacier capped in clouds in the background

Our trip began on a typical Seward morning: Drizzly, with clouds in shades of grey skimming the green mountains around Resurrection Bay. We met Libby, our Liquid Adventures guide, at their office at the north end of the small boat harbor. With our standard waivers signed, Libby cheerfully got down to the business of briefing and outfitting. We were each issued a dry suit, rubber clogs, dry bag, and waterproof case for our phones. Thus equipped, our group of six paddlers shuffled down the boardwalk and into the harbor to meet the boat. (more…)

Anchorage’s Fur Rendezvous Festival

fur-rendezvous-downtownLets Rondy! In 1935 Anchorage had less than 3000 residents, three friends got together and decided Anchorage needed a festival to coincide with the customary time that miners and trappers came into town with their goods to sell or trade. They recognized that winters were difficult on fellow Alaskans. After-all, the cold winters and significantly more difficult traveling conditions resulted in residents suffering from cabin-fever, a common syndrome for Alaskans who tended to stay indoors and didn’t have the opportunity to socialize or exercise as much during the long, dark winter months.  They named the event, Fur Rendezvous or Rondy for short! Early events included hockey, skiing, basketball, boxing and a children’s dog sled race. Many residents also showed up for the parade and city bonfire. Through the years after the initial Fur Rendezvous new events arose and the event became more and more popular. Since then the Fur Rendezvous has earned a national and international reputation for being one of the best winter events in the world. (more…)

Alaska Tour & Travel Staff Runs with the Reindeer

reindeer-runningThe Running of the Reindeer is one of Fur Rondy‘s newer events – having been part of the Fur Rondy for six years and has become one of the Festivals most popular events. An Alaskan twist to Spain’s “Running with the Bulls” event, over 2000 Alaskans dress up in furs, crazy homemade costumes and antlers. The reindeer come from a farm located just off the Glenn Highway in Butte, Alaska. Before the first year, questions arose as to how the reindeer would react in the big crowds and how are they going to get the reindeer to run the few blocks down Anchorage’s 4th Avenue. Fur Rondy organizers decided to use thirteen reindeer. After much thought the farm decided that if they put one female at the end of the race in a pen that naturally the twelve males they were using would run towards her. It worked! (more…)

Alaska’s Iron Dog Race

iron-dogOne event that my family and I look forward to each year is the Iron Dog sled race. The Iron Dog race is the world’s longest snowmobile race. This is a uniquely Alaskan event that takes place each year just before the Iditarod race. It is 2000 miles and the most difficult and challenging off road snow machine race in the world. It starts at Big Lake just north of Anchorage off the George Parks highway. This year we saw just about 40 teams depart for Nome. The trail follows the coast up to Nome, Alaska and then they turn around and head back to the finish along the Tanana/Chena Rivers into Fairbanks, Alaska. The current record for the race is 37 hours and 19 minutes in 2009.

Drivers compete in two man teams and are required to take three six hour breaks on their way from Big Lake to Fairbanks with a mandatory 48 hour rest in Nome as well. Racers endure temperatures as cold as -57 below zero and that’s not with the wind chill factored in. It’s so cold that the racers will put duct tape around their eyes to prevent frostbite as they are going at rather high speeds. Past racers have described the race and trails as a grueling bone-numbing, face freezing charge North. (more…)

Alaska Cheechako Defined

My wife is turning 50 today, and as often happens with milestones such as these, family and friends have been busy digging out old photos to share. As I rummaged through my closet this morning lo and behold I found the first photos I ever took of her, from June of 1988. She had just arrived in Alaska for the first time a month earlier, and clearly… she was a Cheechako.

Cheechako is a term Alaskan’s often use to refer to folks who are visiting or have recently arrived in Alaska, usually “from the lower 48”. If you come and visit our great state and someone calls you a Cheechako, not to fear, it is a term generally used in good fun. Sure, you may not know what “bunny boots” are or 101 uses for duct tape, but you are welcome just the same.

Back to those pictures. They were taken at the original Birdhouse Bar, a true Alaskan bar that was located in the little town of Bird Creek, on the highway between Anchorage and Girdwood. The bar was situated in an authentic circa 1903 miner’s cabin, which over time had sunk haphazardly into the surrounding terrain. This all had left the floor quite slanted and difficult to navigate, especially after a few beers. It had a number of interesting traditions, such as encouraging patrons to leave a dollar bill, driver’s license or article of their underwear stapled to the ceiling. The one Bird House tradition reserved just for Cheechakos was the “calling of the Ptarmigan” which, by the way, is the official Alaska state bird. (more…)

Our Own Alaska Pilot

Karen Hessert, has worked for Alaska Tour & Travel for over 10 years, and has lived in Alaska for over 20 years.  Last summer Karen decided it was time to fulfill her dream of becoming an Alaskan pilot and late in the year she received her private pilot license.  Karen recently said “as I reached another milestone in my journey I looked back and am amazed at all the skills I have acquired as well as the spectacular adventures I have experienced.  Whether I am at Merrill Air Field doing touch and go’s around Anchorage, going out to the practice fields near Big Lake or going on another cross country trip to Fairbanks, Seward, Soldotna, Gulkana or other areas within South central and Interior parts of Alaska I am reminded each time of the precious scenery Alaska has to offer.  Absolutely stunning views and I have the best seat to witness it all.” (more…)

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