Lighthouses to log cabins

Offbeat accommodations in Southeast go far beyond the typical rustic shack

Posted: Sunday, May 04, 2003

Had it ever opened, the Igloo City Resort at Mile 188.5 Parks Highway surely would have attracted travelers interested in an offbeat place to stay between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Imagine the appeal: Tourists could have returned home and bragged to friends that they had slept in a real Alaska igloo.

Sadly, the faux-ice igloo's owners ran out of money before the hotel was complete. Today the half-built white hulk sits abandoned next to the rest of the "resort" - two small cabins, a wash house, a gas station and a convenience store.

"It's just a landmark, aging not very gracefully," said Machel Hill, the resort's manager.

But while the Igloo failed, other funky lodgings have thrived in Alaska. Though many travelers want a comfortable bed, access to a bathroom and a good cup of coffee in the morning, adventure also rates high on many people's list, particularly in Alaska.

Some of Alaska's funky lodgings were built specifically to appeal to those who like comfort and adventure, like the wooden boat and train car Bryan and Karen Zak renovated into posh cabins overlooking the Kenai Peninsula's Kachemak Bay.

Their places, called Alaska Adventure Cabins, are as comfortable as any hotel or cottage, with full kitchens, commanding views and often more bathrooms than you have at home.

The 75-foot Double Eagle, an old Gulf Coast shrimper from Florida used as lodging during the Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup, was renovated last year into a three-story cabin with two bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a living room, kitchen and three decks. It rents for $255 for four people and $25 for each additional person.

This summer, the Zaks will add a renovated Alaska Railroad Pullman Troop car to their inventory. Inside the car is a bedroom, a bathroom, kitchen and living room. Downstairs, the Zaks have added on a cabin with another bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living space.

The top of the car rents for $215 a night, but if you use both floors, the whole place rents for $265. Both are about two miles outside of Homer. Contact them at (907) 223-6681 or the Web site www.AlaskaAdventureCabins.com.

More options for adventurous lodging exist in just about every corner of the state:

Lighthouses

Several lighthouses in Alaska have been leased or built by individuals and are rented to the public. Here are two:

On Rockwell Island, a tiny spot of land about five minutes across the water from downtown Sitka, sits the Rockwell Lighthouse, built by local veterinarian Burgess Bauder. Bauder rents the lighthouse at the winter rate of $125 per night for two people, $150 for four, $175 for six and $200 for eight. Each level of the lighthouse sleeps at least two people, and eight is as large a group as Bauder rents to. Summer rates are $150 for two, $200 for four and $35 for each additional person.

This private lighthouse is equipped like a comfortable house, with a kitchen, two bathrooms, a phone and a deck. During the summer, a skiff comes with the rental so you can come and go as you please. Views from the lighthouse are of picturesque Sitka or out to the ocean and other islands, which are often shrouded in mist. To rent the lighthouse, call Bauder at (907) 747-3056.

Only about four people a year visit the Cape St. Elias Lighthouse on the southern tip of Kayak Island, which juts out into the Gulf of Alaska in front of Prince William Sound. The lighthouse belongs to the U.S. Coast Guard but was leased about four years ago by Steve Ranney, owner of Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova.

Ranney will fly a minimum of two people out there for $275 per person round trip. His Cessna 185 lands on the beach. The accommodations are primitive, similar to a public-use cabin, with bunks and mats, an outhouse and a propane cook stove but no running water.

Activities in the area include beachcombing, bird watching and walking on the beach.

There is no set rate for the accommodations. Guests are asked to donate what they can to help with restoration of the historic structure.

Contact Ranney at (866) 424-6722.

Kenai campouts

Mary Jane and Tony Lastufka have been operating the Across the Bay Tent & Breakfast for 11 years. Guests sleep in their own private canvas-walled tent nestled in the trees above Kasitsna Bay near Seldovia and have access to the Lastufkas' house, where they can hang out in the comfortable living room or eat meals.

Cost is $95 per person per night with all meals provided or $63 a night if you just eat breakfast. Tents are of various sizes, and the sauna is open to guests at no extra charge. The Lastufkas rent bikes and offer guided sea kayak tours.

A day tour that includes lunch and a tour of nearby Seldovia also is available this summer, as well as a sunset fishing package that includes a night in a tent and breakfast. For information and rates, call the Lastufkas from September to May in Anchorage at (907) 345-2571 or at (907) 235-3633 during the summer. The Web site is www.tentandbreakfastalaska.com.

Debbie and Gary Seims offer a lodge and tent cabins at their working oyster farm in Peterson Bay near Halibut Cove, across the bay from Homer. Options range from day trips to overnight packages and range in cost from $65 for a half-day oyster cruise to $945 for four nights' accommodation and three full days of fishing for halibut and salmon.

A tour of the farm and oyster sampling are always included. Activities include fishing, kayaking, digging for clams, cruising by boat, wildlife viewing and hiking. Contact the Seimses at (907) 235-7156 or check out the Peterson Bay Lodge and Oyster Camp on the Web at www.petersonbaylodge.com.

Haunted hotel

Seward's Van Gilder Hotel is rumored to be haunted. But even if it's not, the Van Gilder is an unusual historic structure that still looks much as it did in the old days. Built as a meeting house and apartments in 1916, it was renovated into a hotel five years later.

According to local legend, the ghost is a young woman who was killed in the 1950s by her abusive husband. According to manager Connie Spencer, hotel employees have reported seeing a young woman wearing a white dress out of the corner of their eye or sitting in a rocking chair that isn't actually there. Other people have seen a man in a bowler hat - perhaps another ghost. Call (800) 204-6835 or check the Web site at www.VanGilderHotel.com. (Ask to stay in Room 202 for the best chance to see a ghost.)

Mountain cabin

If you really want to get into the mountains and have good backcountry skills, a high-altitude option is Don Sheldon's Mountain House. It affords a room with a view like nowhere else, built by the pilot at the 6,000-foot level of Mount McKinley on a rock and ice outcrop of the Ruth Glacier. Sitting on a 5-acre inholding inside Denali National Park and Preserve, it is primitive but offers bunks and a wood stove. Cost is $85 a night for groups of five or less plus about $300 per person to get there aboard a ski plane. The rate for groups of six or more is $100 per day. The cabin comfortably sleeps about five or six. Larger groups usually use the cabin as a base and sleep outside in tents.

Because the season is so short (March through mid-July), visitors book a year in advance. Potential guests are screened to make sure they are comfortable in the backcountry.

Those interested in renting the mountain house should write Roberta Sheldon at P.O. Box 292, Talkeetna 99676.



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