“Beauty in this part of the world could come in countless forms”. Or so we have read and we have heard. As our plane began its descent and arched low beyond the gathering storm clouds, we felt like we were hugging the snow top glacial peaks. It was at this moment that I realized that there is truth in every word of the above statement. This was nature in all its fulsome splendor and beauty of which form we got to experience for the first time in our lives.
Welcome to Alaska! The last frontier in the American union.
Almost nine hours after the plane departed (yes, we were on time in spite of flying NWA), we arrived at 61 degrees North of Equator – Anchorage, Alaska. 300,000 people living in the largest city of a state and the city itself measuring only about 12 miles in diameter should tell you how much of the state is inhabited. Nevertheless, the quaintness of the city with all its shoreline and the mountain tops is something to be basked in to be appreciated. Even though we had gained four hours on our physical clock, it was not an easy night to get some rest what with all the excitement and anticipation.
Our first tourist day in Alaska was going to be an easy day as we wanted to give the 16 month guy traveling with us some respite from the cruel travel and associated sundries. So we decided to visit the Alaskan Native Heritage Center (set up for tourists like us) and soak our minds in the vestiges of the Alaskan heritage. We learned quite a bit about the lives of the natives of this Arctic state by walking around this nice village set up. The houses that reside in each village depict different cultures that once inhabited Alaska. What was quite characteristic of all the cultures was the fact that the people pretty much did just one thing for their living – hunting. The kind of hunting and the expanse varied but it all happened in summer. After three hours of cultural expedition, we drove back home already thinking of the food we need for the night. The hotel staff was exceptionally nice and they even recommended a great Thai restaurant.
Alaska is filled with wildlife – the kinds that we normally do not get to see everyday even in TV and magazines. And there are about 20 odd National and State parks & reserves. It is an outdoor lover’s paradise. I had to tie my itchy hiking heels with a “not-now” band before I left for Alaska as this was a family vacation for me. Denali National park was always in the top of my personal to-do list but due to the nature of this trip and the short duration we were spending there, I had to push it to Day 4. So after lot of research and compromises, we decided to take a marine wildlife cruise / glacier tour on Thursday. Kenai Fjords National Park is located approximately 120 miles to the south east of Anchorage and the small town of Seward is seated right in the heart of it. The scenic two-hour drive to Seward on Thursday morning was beyond any drop of wild imagination. After we parked our car, we just had a minute to embark on this cruise vessel called “Glacier Explorer”.
The brackish winds caressed our bodies as the jet propelled its way out of the Resurrection peninsula on its way to the Aialik glacier. Nakul was having a blissful time as the boat cruised past some exotic sea mammals that are very much native to the Gulf of Alaska. Harbor Seals, Sea Otters, Seal Lions, Puffins and even some Humpback whales. The most laborious part of this long cruise till we got to the glacier was waiting for the whales to flap and spin. The day was quite uncharacteristically warm, bright and sunny. We knew we were fortunate that day, as the captain acknowledged that they probably get 20 such days in a year. The approach to the Aialik glacier was filled with anticipation and icebergs. As the sun’s rays refracted through this huge glacier right in front of us, we saw blue streaks running all across the glacier. We even saw the glacier calve a few tons of ice into the ocean during our short 20 minute wait in front of the most beautiful natural sight. I think the following pictures do more justice to the cruise than my words above.
Day 3 (Friday) was again planned to be a slow day because of all the seasickness the previous day’s cruise brought to the family. Kameshwari is intolerant to jerky journeys and this was definitely one such that lasted for six hours. The best way we could fill our time that day was by driving to the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center located about 45 miles to the south east of Anchorage exactly off the same highway that led us to Seaward, the previous day. Moose, Musk ox, Elk, Caribou, Black Bear, Bald Eagle, Wood Bison and of course the All-Alaskan Grizzly bear were all within our hand’s reach and within a few hundred yards away from one another in this protected outdoor area. Again the partly gloomy morning which later broke its cloud to let some sun slide in, was a perfect setting for some relaxed stroll with my son and wife.
Here are some pictures:
Rust’s flying services is one of the many flying tour providers available in the area. Another visit to Alaska in the near future seemed near impossible and hence we decided that we should take one of the Denali tours offered by the flying services to savor as much as we can in one day. A very optimal yet an expensive choice. When we walked out to the hotel lobby to check for the Rust’s shuttle driver who was scheduled to pick us up, I saw wet pavements and dripping windows. It was not raining but it had and the conditions were highly overcast. After we reached Rust’s hangar, we were told (much to our disappointment) that the conditions near Mt. McKinley were not suitable for us to fly. When we were given a cheaper option of taking a 90 minute plane ride to the Knik glacier with a lakeside landing, we agreed to it, with some gloom. I don’t think I would regret that decision because the float-by plane experience has now become one of the most adventurous trips that I had ever taken. As we hopped on to the floating plane (the lake is basically the runway), I realized the interiors were more like an average Indian auto rickshaw. I was even sitting as close to the pilot as I would to the auto driver. The pilot control board was very simple and one quick look, I could make out what is what. The take-off was noisy and the rest of the plane ride was noisier. As the De Havilland aircraft found its way above the land and settled down, we were in for a great sight right below us. We flew over a forest and we spotted some mountain goats. Nakul was taking a long nap on my lap while Kameshwari’s focus was on how to avoid barfing in the plane. The aerial view of the glaciers we flew over was breathtaking and it was a totally different experience than having a frontal view of the same. We had a quick Lake George landing to get a frontal glimpse of the Knik glacier and soon we were on our noisy way back to the Rust’s hangar.
Alaskan State Fair was in the bottom of our list but we had to drop that idea and instead chose a wet evening stroll along the Saturday market area. It was more of a flea market set up but a little more tourist-centric. We found a few nice souvenirs to buy before it was time to drive back to the hotel for our last night there in this trip.
In four days and the eleven hours we spent in Anchorage, Alaska, I don’t recall a dull moment. The weather was relatively kinder to us and 60 degree days were more than we could ask for, even though our 4th day was a little damp. Except for the Denali disappointment, we indulged in all activities including certain “moosecellaneous” ones, in the most optimum way we could as a family – But I am sure my next trip to Alaska will include a backpacking trek in Denali, a trying-my-luck with gold panning and weather permitting, a fly-by tour over Mt. McKinley.
Alaska may have been the 49th state of the Union. But it was state no. 41 in my list – I have 9 more to go.