The Great Land That is Alaska

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“Alyeska” to the Aleut people means the great land and those who have visited would likely agree.  It is a vacation paradise, America’s last frontier, if you will.   Raw with a touch of exotic, Alaska is magnificent sceneries one after the other.  Our trip was rugged yet luxurious – thanks to our cruise ship extravagance, which balanced everything out.  Although more than half of the tourists came through a cruise ship, if I were to do it again, I would explore traveling by land to allow for longer stays in each town.  But if you are pressed for time and have constraints in budget, contrary to popular belief, taking a cruise is an economical way to cover Alaska.  Consider this:  you hit 3 birds in one stone, your means of transport, your accommodation and let’s not forget the overflowing sustenance offered on board.

My allure with Alaska started with the TV series, Northern Exposure.  Shown in the early to mid 90’s, it actually aroused my fascination to charming quaint towns such as Sagada and Banaue – closer to home rugged towns that I frequent.  Alaska was a far-fetched dream that came true.

Wildlife.  Humpback whales and bald eagles to be more specific thrive in Alaska.  This is an area full of wildlife as evidence in the wildlife and whale watching tours available in many towns.  Alaska is a perfect archetype of the great outdoors.  And if you are no stranger to this blog, you already know that I love the great outdoors, and the great wildlife.  Charming towns + great outdoors + wildlife galore = money and time well spent.

Feast to My Senses

Winding through stretches of wilderness, passing through primeval forests of Sitka spruce and aqua colored river and lakes surrounded by towering mountains in slow-mo with Ennio Morricone scoring in the background is a scene that still plays in my mind 8 months after.  Yes, the stunning and equally dramatic scenery deserves no less than an Ennio Morricone score.

Here’s one of my favorite Morricone score:  Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso

From the moment our journey started in Seward, it quickly began its climb through stunning forests, a string of massive glacier to lakes and river sceneries that only seem to escalate as the sun gets more golden on our approach to Anchorage.  Hands down, one of the finest voyages I’ve ever taken, a real feast to my senses.  The late Alaskan sunset (luckily) also meant good light for most of the trip, which resulted to this.

At some point, the tracks made a perfect U, which allowed for these shots:

Yeah, it rained at one point too.

And last but not the least!  Some shots taken as we approached Anchorage at 10pm!

If you ever find yourself in Seward, Alaska, don’t think twice… book yourself a ticket at Alaska Railroad Corporation for the best scenic ride of your life.

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Scenic Sunday

Alaska Sealife Center

Credits:  JSprague Cre8 kit template; JCrowley Beautiful Evidence papers; JSprague Kraft paper; KPertiet Botanist No. 4

We decided to explore Seward and have breakfast in town.  Instead, we stumbled upon this 2 story high building situated on the shores of Resurrection Bay.

Apparently, besides the gorgeous Resurrection Bay and the spectacular Kenai Fjord National Park, The Alaska Sealife Center is another well-known attraction.

Resurrection Bay

Built in 1977 mainly by funds from Exxon Valdez oil spill fines, this center is a non-profit organization dedicated to understanding and preserving the integrity of Alaska’s rich seas and diverse sealife and was in fact designed to combine research with public education.

Alaska’s only aquarium and ocean wildlife research center houses live animals in a

naturalistic habitat and allows visitors close encounters with

Sea Otters

Puffins

Stellar Sea Lions

Harbor Seals

and others.

The interactive exhibits help visitors understand and appreciate the essence, operations and findings of current and ongoing projects.

It was truly an enjoyable and informative visit.  When in Seward, don’t skip this very impressive center or miss out.

Scenic Sunday

The Kenai Fjord Surprise

Alaska was a surprise.  Didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I enjoyed it.  It was a great choice of a destination for my “big trip” that I aim to do every couple of years.  What an experience. We would like to think that we did pretty well even though we didn’t achieve all that we’ve set out to see and do.  There were lakes, wildlife and activities that will have to wait till next time but I’m happy and whatever we saw beyond this point would be a real bonus.  Guess what, we got that bonus.

Orcas.  Yes the killer whale.  As suggested by the lady from our hostel, we had a great chance of seeing orcas in Kenai Fjord.

So soon after we got ourselves settled, we were on a boat headed towards Kenai Fjord just 15 minutes from town.

Not only does it have some of the most beautiful fjords and glaciers in Alaska, it also offers one of the best wildlife spectacles. Humpbacks and killer whales, sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions and puffins flock the park’s waters.

As promised, that boat ride never lacked wildlife sightings.  It was a thrill to see tons of sea lions basking in the sun,

birds flying all around and of course,

breaching humpbacks that never cease to amaze.

What capped it all however, were the orcas.  It was “goosebump” awesome.

A perfect way to end an awesome trip.  Well… ok, technically, we still had 2 more days in Alaska and a few more sights that are worth posting, but our Kenai Fjord experience has, without a doubt, left indelible memories.

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Scenic Sunday

Hubbard Glacier

The largest non-polar tidewater glacier in the world was one of the major highlights of our cruise adventure.  How could I have forgotten something that has made it to my “Top Picks” list?  Can I blame it on exhaustion from the holiday stress??

Now really… how could I have forgotten the day our ship approached Disenchantment Bay at the head of Yakutat Bay?  We were all bundled up on the gelid deck when the ship slowed down and the glacier came more into a breathtaking view.  As Hubbard advances, it moans and groans as huge chunks of ice moves and eventually crashes into the bay creating a sound the Tlinglits call “White Thunder”.  It does sound like thunder and it took me a while to realize that it was from the falling icebergs.   😛

Yes my friends, Hubbard is one of the eight glaciers that is currently advancing instead of retreating, thickening instead of thinning.  First mapped in 1895, the Hubbard’s huge open face is more than 5 miles wide and actively calves icebergs as large as 10-story buildings.  Once in 1986 and then again in 2002, it has twice blocked the mouth of Russell Fjord making it a lake as high as 90 ft above sea level.

Hubbard Glacier was a sight to remember and it indubitably deserves a post in this blog.   🙂

More interesting mosaics here.

Seward

Scenic Sunday

Happy and pleased, we bid goodbye to the Ryndam recognizing the tail end of a wonderful adventure.  We took a cab to Moby Dick Hostel, our home for a night and there we slept once again on dry land.

Seward is a picturesque town sandwiched between the Kenai Mountains and the water of Kenai Fjord National Park.  It is one of Alaska’s oldest and most scenic communities.

A little bit of history

It was named after the US Secretary of State, William Seward, who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia.

In the 1903, John and Frank Ballaine and a group of settlers arrived to begin construction of a railroad.  The Alaska Railroad was constructed between 1915-1925 and Seward was developed as the ocean terminus and supply center.

And what do you know?  Just in front of our humble hostel is the Ballaine House, one of the oldest home in Seward.  It was built by Frank Ballaine, the brother of Seward’s founder.

By 1960, Seward was the largest community on the Peninsula.  Tsunamis generated after the 1964 earthquake, also known as “The Great Alaska Earthquake”, destroyed the railroad terminal and killed several residents.   Fast forward to present day, tsunami warning signs are seen in most street corners.

We spent 2 days in Seward, more than enough time to explore the town fully.  Here’s what we saw on our walks through town.

A Best Western

Van Gilder, one of the oldest hotel in town

Overlooking the harbor

Quaint little shops

King Crab for $8!… obviously where we dined!  Who could ask for more?

Downtown Seward

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