Late summer of 2014 saw us in Alaska – The Last Frontier.
To truly experience Alaska, the land tour is more advisable. There are 12 scenic highways and numerous byways to explore (http://www.dot.state.ak.us/stwdplng/scenic/index.shtml). The state is different from what we know as the United States. It’s remote, that we know; it is also more natural and preserved with less human impact. And there lies its true uniqueness.
Drive the Seward Highway – We drove right after the tiring journey from Northeast US to AK. Even then, the route was breathtaking. With gray waters rolling into nothingness to even darker cliffs surrounding it on one side of the highway and green mountains on the other, the vista seemed like paintings of faraway places. The famous Alaskan Rail line, with its open dome carriages, runs parallel to the highway. Stop at one of the scenic points to take pictures and inhale the fresh, crisp air. Seward is literally the end of the road. With the bay at its end followed by the Pacific Ocean.
Take the Glacier Day Tour in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve – I never realized that there is music to be heard in tranquility. Once the boat leaves the mainland and the engine is silent, one can hear the sound of birds flying, be enticed by thousands of jelly fish in millions of colors, and can actually hear the breaking of chunks of glacier as it melts. Water can be choppy and motion sickness very much possible.
Tour or hike the Denali National Park – Hiking is strenuous and there are very few day trails. We rode the bus (small fee) to Eielson Visitor Center, where on clear days Mount McKinley can be viewed. It’s a place of reflection, to sit and absorb and think. The never ending majestic mountains is a realization of how inconsequential humans are and at the same time knowing that Athabaskans inhabited this place about 1500 years ago shows the resilience, the courage, the creativeness and the adaptability of the human species.
Onward to Fairbanks – The land at the edge of the Arctic Circle. We did not find Fairbanks to be very interesting but the Arctic Circle Tour was once in a lifetime event. There are many types of tours available. We booked the all land tour, which is the most basic one. Someone with more time can actually go to Barrow, AK and dip their fingers in the Arctic Ocean. The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline follows the Dalton Highway. It is an achievement unparalleled of its time; given the scale of the idea, the nature of the terrain, the weather in that region, the amount of planning and skills and dedication required, it can be nothing less. It stretches from the lonely and ice covered Prudhoe Bay in the northern regions of Alaska to the rugged and beautiful valley of Valdez in the South. It runs parallel to many scenic highways. And don’t forget to share some blueberries with the local bears.
Back to Anchorage through Western Alaska – And visit the unmapped, alluring, temperamental, hostile Wrangell-St. Elias National Park on the way. It is the largest National Park in the United States. Larger than Switzerland; just one of the mountain ranges in the park is slightly bigger than the state of Connecticut. The vastness can be best grasped by the fact that the park, with its unassuming entrance, is nine times the size of Yellowstone National Park. We only hiked the small but scenic “mushroom” trail. I have named it so because of the largest collection of different varieties of mushrooms growing along the trail.
The wildlife cannot be missed throughout the state. Families of grizzly and black bears, dolly goats that look like small white bushes on the slopes of the mountains, whales in the glacier bay, bald eagles, moose and reindeer. It’s a safari trip in North America.
What stunning ten days of our lives. We did four National Parks, walked inside the Arctic Circle, saw the tallest mountain peak in North America (Mt. McKinley), drove around the state in a big loop, completing 7 out of the 12 scenic highways listed in Alaska’s travel guide, ate out-of-this-world seafood, wondered at the trans Alaskan pipeline, which is nothing less than a feat in human achievement and engineering (a construction that will be go down in the history books like the pyramids), saw vistas that will stay in our minds for a lifetime, and simply wondered at the majesty, the vastness and the wilderness all around us.
Recommended places to eat.
- Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine (http://www.lemongrassalaska.com/)
- Pita Place (http://www.yelp.com/biz/pita-place-fairbanks?osq=vegetarian+food)
- Hot Licks Ice cream (http://www.hotlicks.net/)
- Chinooks Waterfront Restaurant (http://www.chinooksbar.com/)
Denali National Park:
- Black Bear Coffee House (http://www.blackbeardenali.com/)
- Denali Park Salmon Bake (http://www.denaliparksalmonbake.com/restaurant.html)
Recommended places to stay.
- Holiday Inn Express (http://www.ihg.com/holidayinnexpress/hotels/us/en/seward/swdak/hoteldetail)
Denali National Park:
- Grand Denali Lodge (http://www.denalialaska.com/grande-denali-lodge/)
For more information, please feel free to comment.