An Alaska I Never Knew

Alaska is not much for words.

It is entirely about the experience. We have all grown up with the iconic byline of Alaska rendered on a US map in a tiny square smaller in scale than the state of California, almost as if an afterthought. But the state is much bigger than you think.

Wildflowers with Denali in the background

For years, the image of Alaska simply conjured up for me an unknown territory of unforgiving cold. But for many others, Alaska is imagined with much more complexity and considered the last American frontier.
The Alaska I finally experienced last weekend awed me with its tensions between immaculate natural beauty, deeply rooted Native culture, and sense of respite from the urban experience. But it also divulges a potential for peril for those not careful. Respect for nature in Alaska is simply not an option. And I learned quickly that for those who live, earn, and thrive in Alaska; they have discovered and adapted to the ways of the natural world that yield endlessly satisfying benefits.
Mark, a friend of many years and native of my hometown in California, generously shared a slice of his adopted state with me last weekend. It was a quick yet carefully planned trip that allowed me to sample a variety of opportunities to experience what this great state holds in abundance. We saw plenty of wildlife, hiked among ancient glaciers, and fished for Alaska’s iconic salmon and halibut.
Arriving in the evening, we drove to the cozy resort of Alyeska where we would stay the first night. It is located just off the scenic Seward Highway in the town of Girdwood, part of the Municipality of Anchorage. It is the premier destination in Alaska for visitors and locals alike. Nestled against the awe-inspiring Chugach Mountains, in view of many glaciers, the resort offers year-round adventures and activities.

We dined our first evening at the Double Musky Inn down the road that had a down-home Cajun theme. Yet we decided on two local specialties: a delicately flavored white salmon and a pork loin with rhubarb sauce. Each were butter-knife tender and delicious.
The next morning, we ventured to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, an organization that provides land and refuge for orphaned, injured, and ill animals that cannot survive on their own in the wild, and educates visitors about Alaska’s wildlife. In the mile-long path through the refuge, we saw bears, elk, moose, reindeer, porcupines, protected birds and wild felines. There, I felt fortunate to safely observe and capture in photos some of  these important native species:

 A Moose and a Brown Bear

After a morning of viewing inspiring wildlife, we meandered by car southwest several scenic miles between mountains and mineral dense turquoise lakes toward the town of Seward to explore Kenai Fjords National Park’s Exit Glacier at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

Next Up: Our Hike among the Ice Age