A trip to Alaska has been on my bucket list for a long time. I have finally done it. It was worth the wait.
Breathtaking is not an adequate word to describe the scenery. At one point a fellow traveler said, “God really got it right,” as he stared at the awesome panorama.
Mt. McKinley (native name, Denali) is the highest peak in North America at 20,237 feet.
It was a clear morning as we drove north from Anchorage and we were able to see the mountain from the base to the peak. It was amazingly beautiful. Our guide told us that weather conditions allow only 30% of people who visit Alaska to get even a glimpse of this majestic peak.
A visit to the Mendenhall Glacier just a few miles outside Juneau was an incredible experience. We also got a close up view of the Hubbard Glacier. It is 76 miles long, 7 miles wide, and 600 feet tall at its terminal face. 350 feet is exposed above the waterline. As we viewed this magnificent site you could hear repeated “thunder” as parts of the glacier broke off (calved) and fell into the water of the Russell Fjord.
We got a little taste of Alaska’s state sport as we took a sled ride pulled by a team of Alaskan Huskies at one of the dog sledding summer training camps near Skagway. Our musher, Wade Mars, finished 16th in the 1100 mile Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race this past spring. After the ride he took time to introduce us to each of his 16 dog team and told us about the personality and strengths of each dog.
It is hard to describe the rugged beauty of the 6 million acre Denali National Park. Its landscape is a mix of forest at the lowest elevations. It also is home to tundra at middle elevations, and glaciers, rock, snow at the highest elevations, and wide variety of wildlife. Add in the quaint town of Talkeetna, the ski resort of Alyeska, and the glass domed train ride back to Anchorage for an unforgettable experience. But to say I have been to Alaska is like saying I have been to the Atlantic Ocean. You can see and touch only tiny fraction of its vastness and beauty.
In addition to enjoying the scenery I learned a lot about the 49th state. Anchorage is the largest city with just under 300,000 people. Fairbanks and Juneau are about the same with a population of slightly more than 30,000 each. And something interesting about the state capitol- you cannot drive to Juneau. There are no roads into the city. It is accessible only by air and water. Or by foot I guess if you could make it over the rugged mountains and ice field.
One interesting story was about the state flag. In 1927 a contest was conducted for children in grades seven through twelve to design a flag for the territory. Benny Benson, a 13 year-old boy won the competition. With his entry he submitted this description of his simple design: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaskan flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, the most northerly in the union. The Dipper is for the Great Bear—symbolizing strength.” The flag was later adopted as the State Flag.
Alaska is big- more than 1/5 the size of the “lower 48.” You could fit Georgia into Alaska 11 times. It is 4 times larger than California and twice as big as Texas. More than 50% of the coastline of the United States is in Alaska. Although its land mass is huge the state is very sparsely populated. Georgia has 148 times more people per square mile. If Georgia’s population density were the same as Alaska’s, only 58,752 people would live in Georgia rather than the approximately 10 million current residents. Put another way- if Manhattan had the same population density as Alaska, there would be only 14 people in Manhattan.
Alaska really does have the feel of the last frontier. Rugged terrain, vast distances between cities and towns, limited connections between communities, cold and long winters. It is a great place to visit but I don’t want to live there.
As the plane touched down at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, in my head I could hear Ray Charles singing: “Other arms reach out to me. Other eyes smile tenderly. Still in peaceful dreams I see the roads lead back to you, Georgia!”