Alaska--the last wilderness
27 Oct 2008
Leaving Vancouver's unique ship terminal, we felt a sense of adventure lying before us. The harbor was a bustle of activity with seaplanes and other seacraft plying its waters. Exiting under one of Vancouver's famous bridges felt as though we were exiting through a gateway to a great unknown wilderness.
Juneau was our first stop, where we had made arrangements to take a helicopter to land on one of Juneau's glaciers. Our whirly bird was an adventure unto itself. As I shot through the window every chance I could get, I was amazed at the great rivers of ice which comprise Alaska's many glaciers (the most anywhere on the planet). I felt all the more determined to become politically active in encouraging my legislators to recognize global warming and take action. What a terrible injustice it would be if these beautiful features of nature were allowed to disappear because of our own refusal to see what's happening right before our eyes. When we landed on a glacier field, we were able to walk around with the spiked boots, which had been provided to us. Sometimes fissures in the ice revealed great, icy depth. So you can be sure that we were careful to avoid those. What an experience!
Back on the ship, we sailed to Tracey Arm to view Sawyer glacier. As we ate our lunch at the ship's dining room window, many beautiful icebergs of varying size and color floated by. Some of the chunks were the deepest blue imaginable. They attain this depth of blue from many years of compression in the ice fields. Sea birds were perching on many of them. Sawyer glacier was awesome. A smaller ship, closer to its terminus, looked like a child's toy boat afloat in a bathtub of soap bubbles (except that any encounter with these "bubbles" would have done considerable damage).
We disembarked in Skagway, a historical town with gold mining history. The next leg of our adventure was the White Pass Yukon rail to Fraser. This train ride provided many outstanding views of the Alaskan mountain range and took us by Dead Horse Pass, where so many horses (and gold seekers) sadly died in the pursuit of gold. My sympathy is always with the horses. They had no choice, while the miners made their own choices.
After alighting from the train in Fraser, we boarded a coach, where we were to eventually end up in Dawson City. Enroute, we were able to see many beautiful sights. Dawson City, another goldmining town was great to walk through. One of the buildings had been a brothel, and a female dummy model in fancy dress was posed enticingly at one of the windows to lend the building authenticity. The Yukon Queen was docked right across the downtown street.
A float trip down the Fraser River was our next adventure. We were picked up in vans and taken to a site where two or three rubber rafts were to be our means of transportation down the river. Our trip down the river allowed us views of eagles and riverside sights. Just about an hour before we were to leave the rafts, a sudden storm, which had been brewing all day, hit us in all its fury. Making a practical decision, our river guide quickly radioed the van crew to pick us up just outside of Dawson. As others tried to hold the raft against the riverbank, while heavy, pelting rain beat upon our drenched bodies, we managed to get off. As anyone knows, if you push against a boat, it's going to push away. Let's just say that I was lucky to get off without going for a very cold swim. In spite of all this, I wouldn't have given it up for the world!
The next day, we embarked on a small ship enroute to Eagle, Alaska. Eagle has got to be one of the smallest towns I've ever seen. Talk about being out in the boonies! I wondered how isolated it was in the winter. Another bus took us many miles on a gravel road, stopping in "Chicken". If I thought that Eagle was small, this little pit stop made Eagle look like NYC. It was a fun stop with a couple of shops (one gift shop, one clothing store, and a place to get drinks). Mall America it was NOT!
Once again, boarding a train (picture below), we headed to Denali National Park. Just before we approached the park, one could see white water rafters on the river below. The next day was to be our trip into Denali. Refurbished school buses brought us into the park, as cars are allowed for only a certain distance and not beyond a certain point. The narrow dirt road climbs up from the river delta and into the mountains. At certain times I felt that our driver had to have nerves of steel. Passing another park bus put us so close to the edge, that I felt like we were about to plunge to the river below. (Kept my eyes closed.)
As a caribou approached us, the bus came to a stop. They are not allowed to pass or spook wildlife. That's one place where wildlife has the right of way. We saw a number of moose, a mother bear with her cub at a distance by the river, dall sheep, and of course the caribou (photo below). We traveled into the park about six hours, our destination a roadside overlook where we could see Mt. McKinley. At 23,000 ft., the mountain is famous for making its own weather system and is clouded over most of the time. But we were very, very lucky! The "Great One" allowed us to view her in all her great majestic splendor. Climbing Denali is difficult, dangerous, and has been compared to scaling Mt. Everest. A considerable number of lives have been lost in this pursuit. I decided that the next time I go to Alaska, I'm going to take a relatively safe flight to view her from above.
Heading back, a collared wolf exited the shrubbery by the side of the road and proceeded to jaunt lazily in front of us. This continued for quite a few miles. As we were not allowed to pass it, I was able to get a good view from my front seat. Unfortunately, because the bus rattled and shook so much, I was unable to get more than mediocre shots. It seemed completely nonplussed and kept us waiting for some time before leaving the road in search of prey.
Another train ride the next day brought us to Anchorage. Though I've forgotten many details of my Alaska trip, reminiscing through my album of photos brings back so many irreplaceable memories. Today, Alaska remains my favorite state.