We aren’t on deadline to make Seward, but even so it seems we have made a 2-1/2 hour drive south from Anchorage much longer by stopping to drink in view after view of glacial mountains. The road into town slows just past Bear Creek and Moose Pass, with houses on small tracts behind screens of trees starting to show. We continue to the edge of Resurrection Bay where Seward’s port, marina and business district begins.
In the late 18th century, Resurrection Bay was sighted and named by a Russian explorer, although Native communities had been present in the area for thousands of years. Later, shipbuilders settled in the area, followed by Gold Rush miners and settlers. Seward was laid out in 1903 by railroad men. The Alaska Central Railway envisioned Seward as the ocean-side embarkation point for its planned route to the Interior. Then, as now, Resurrection Bay offered safe harbor for passenger vessels. During World War II, Seward was the United States’ most northerly ice-free port, which made it an important staging point. The Alaska Railroad continued the line of supply to troops and installations. The Hunt for Red October’s opening scene was filmed in Resurrection Bay to mimic the fjords and mountains of Murmansk, Russia‘s submarine base.
In 1964, multiple tsunamis wreaked havoc on Seward and other Alaskan communities as a result of the Good Friday earthquake. A first rogue wave 30 feet high slammed into town, and the entire waterfront slid into the sea, destroying a fuel tank farm in the process. Flaming oil covered the water surface, so that when the second tectonic tsunami arrived, a 40 foot wall of fire and water engulfed the town. Now, Seward has a comprehensive evacuation plan in place, which assumes limited or no access to and from Anchorage in the aftermath. In 1964, bridges linking Seward to the highway system were destroyed. More recently, avalanches have been responsible for isolating Seward for lengthy periods of time. Self-reliance is a community attribute in Seward, as we will come to see in different context during our visit.
But we’re hungry first. We park in the municipal lot adjacent to the small boat marina and head straight for Chinook’s Waterfront Restaurant. Enormous windows bathe the tasteful interior with light, and the boat slips are right outside. The atmosphere is modern and earthy, and we enjoy eating at the bar overlooking “the best view in town.” Afterward, we amble next door to book our fishing charter for the next day. The J-Dock Seafood Company takes good care of us at virtually the last minute. They arrange for the proper licenses and book us on a smaller boat with two other anglers for the next day. It is then that we realize we would likely have a better catch if we could book a full day charter. But, since we’ll be coming down again from Anchorage in the morning, we settle for a half day on the water and hope for good weather.
Our business completed, we set off for the older district and downtown area.. Buildings and sites on the historic walking tour range from Millionaire’s Row — a street of Victorian-style cottages which housed the wealthier citizens of the day — to turn of the century businesses and hotels still in operation. Our walk is enlivened by the many murals depicting life in Seward and its colorful history. We stop inside the restored Van Gilder Hotel, which is furnished with brass beds and period antiques, yet offers high speed internet and a community kitchen. At 4th and Washington, we duck into the Yukon Bar, billing itself since 1942 as ‘typical Alaska.’ There’s an old yellow hound dog of the four-legged variety on the premises, and he hops up on the bar stool to sing on command.
The mist outside has intensified, so we hop in the car and drive along the shoreline toward Lowell Point. The road ends without warning in this tiny suburb at the water’s edge. We head the three miles back into town and stop into Ray’s Waterfront on the Small Boat Harbor. We’re seated at the bar next to another couple and before we know it, regaled by the wife’s recounting of all the snoring remedies her husband has undertaken on her behalf. Too soon we have to take our leave. The late sunsets make us lose track of time, and we need to be back in the early morning to catch our boat. And some fish.