Did you know that Russia sold Alaska to USA for $7.2 million in 1867 because it was difficult to manage and defend the unexplored land from Great Britain?Russians thought the land was useless until gold mines and oil fields were discovered by Americans.
Did you know that 20% of the oil supply in US comes from Trans Alaska pipeline?
Did you know that 17 of 20 highest peaks in North America reside in Alaska?
People who inhabited Alaska migrated from Siberia with herds of animals through a land bridge which connected Siberia and eastern Alaska.
There is only 1 main highway in the entire state and most of the remote villages do not have any roads.Even the state capital Juneau is inaccessible by road.
There are many other interesting facts which makes United States 49th State so unique and unusual.
During this trip, we tried not to visit all the marked tourist locations, instead, we took few detours into interior Alaskan roads.
As John Muir rightly said “To the lover of Wilderness,Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”
Here are the few highlights from the trip.
Seward Highway (AK- 1S)
The moment you leave Anchorage,the 125 miles dramatic drive passes through soaring mountain peaks,ocean fjords, blue glaciers across Kenai peninsula and ends in the town of Seward on Resurrection Bay.
Things to look out for –
- Turnagain Arm
- Chugach State Park
- Beluga Point
- Portage Valley
- Resurrection Bay
The sweet town of Seward with population of just 3500 has its own way of luring visitors.Whether you are a nature lover on a quiet vacation or you are the adventurous one looking for unique experiences, the town has it all.
It is said that visit to Alaska is incomplete without stepping on the glacier.Therefore, we decided to take a guided glacier hike with Exit Glacier Guides and it was the most rewarding experience we ever had.They drove us to Kenai Fjord National Park and we started our hike.The company had special permission to access the Exit glacier from Harding Ice Field trail.The hike up the trail was quite steep.When we reached the foot of the glacier, we geared up for ice hiking.Guides taught us all the techniques to walk on the ice with crampons on.Glaciers have their own ecosystem and it is quite fragile and ever changing.The source of the glacier is the Harding Ice field which is a big field of ice comparable to the size of Rhode Island.
Girdwood and Portage Valley
After spending 2 days in and around Seward,we started our onward journey to Anchorage through Girdwood. The drive was mesmerizing with ice capped mountains all around us.At the head of Portage Valley and at the end of Turnagain Arm, lies Portage glacier and Portage lake.The views are spectacular from Begich Boggs visitor center.
We stayed in Anchorage for a night and started the onward journey to Denali National Park.The AK-1N drive is not as scenic as AK-1S unless you leave the main highway and take interior roads.Our Glacier guide suggested us to go through Hatcher Pass instead of taking main highway to Denali.Hatcher Pass is a local favorite for recreation and scenic drive.This scenic detour adds about 2 hours to your drive time up Denali.Its a long stretch of gravel road but the views up the pass are not to be missed.We are very glad that we took a detour and did the drive.
Denali National Park – Wilderness at heart
I have been to various National parks but Denali is the one which is truly wild. Home to varied wildlife like grizzly bear,caribou,wolf, dall sheep and moose, the central attraction of the park is North America’s highest mountain peak aka Mt Mckinley and acres and acres of interior wilderness.Driving inside the park is prohibited.You need to take authorized tour or camper bus to explore the park.The bus stops at various visitor centers and scenic points.The round trip from one end to another takes 12 hours to complete but most of the people go up to Eielson visitor center to get great views of Denali.We took 5 am bus in the morning and went up to Wonder Lake.On a fine sunny day, you get to see reflection of Mt Mckinley in Wonder Lake but the weather is pretty much unpredictable in the park.Mt Mckinley is always surrounded by clouds and mountain designs its own weather pattern.We stopped at Wonder Lake for about 45 minutes and then headed back to Eielson Visitor Center.The drive between Eielson and Wonder lake is not very scenic and Wonder lake has killer mosquitoes.
The views around Eielson Visitor center are magical and you can spend hours just looking at it.The visitor center plays an informational video on Mt Mckinley which is a interesting watch.
The park organizes various ranger talks and we attended one of them.The talk was dedicated to Alaskan huskies and their importance in harsh arctic climate.Rangers and dogs worked together to demonstrate a traditional mode of travel in Alaska which is dog sledding.There are no motor vehicles used in the park during winter months to preserve the wilderness in park.The only mode of travel is dog sled.The huskies are strong enough to withstand the cold winter and intelligent enough to work as a team.During winter, dogs help rangers to maintain the park area safe and during summer they are used for dog sled demonstrations.They love snow and they are amazingly energetic.
On our way back to Anchorage,we had some time to spare before taking flight back home and so we took detour from the main highway and visited the most accessible glacier in Alaska which is Matanuska Glacier.The drive to the glacier was quite scenic.
Being a traveler, I always want to experience things which is unique to a place and Alaska is unique in so many ways.You can access glaciers from road,ocean and sky.You can experience Northern Lights if you go further up north.There are places where sun is not set for 84 days,therefore,it is also called “Land Of Midnight Sun”.You can experience Arctic life at its best.It all depends how wild you want to be.It might not be the most beautiful place on earth but certainly it is a unique one.
We took off from Anchorage at 12 am in the night and it was still very bright.Our pilot said “I don’t know how to greet you people.Shall I say good morning or good evening because the sun has still not set”.
You might have seen the most beautiful sunset but have you ever seen sun not setting at all? No sunset might not be a very beautiful thing but it is certainly unique one that’s why I call Alaska not the most beautiful place on earth but very unique one.