ALASKA - The Coolest Place On Earth!
Posted March 21, 2012, 3:09 p.m.
ALASKA – The Coolest Place On Earth!
By Rex A. Westergard
An iceberg bobs along with the tide, its gorgeous striations of blues and hints of purple, pink and white pick up the light of the morning sun. A mother seal struggles to give birth to a seal pup on a level outcropping just a few feet from the waters edge. A roar breaks the silence of the bay as huge chunks of ice and rock calve from the Sawyer Glacier into the icy waters of Tracy Arm. Southeast Alaska, also known as the Panhandle, or simply "Southeast", encompasses the Inside Passage—more than a century ago the traditional route to the Klondike goldfields and the crystal clear streams teeming with salmon. Today it is the centre piece for vessels cruising in Alaska.
Shaped by the staggering force of massive glaciers millions of years ago, Alaska’s Inside Passage boasts wildlife-filled fjords and lush island scenery — habitat for bald eagles, bears, sea lions, porpoises and whale. Its mountains are carpeted with the variegated hues of majestic forests.
The Inside Passage of Alaska is home to Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indians whose history is reflected in towering totem poles. Totem poles tell the story of their culture and their way of life. Native art is a fascinating study. Their colourful beaded regalia, woven cedar bark baskets and carved artwork is extraordinary. Their carving mediums range from soapstone, baleen and ivory to red and yellow cedar. Russian settlers left a legacy of onion-domed churches gleaming with icons. The fur trade brought Russia’s prominent presence to Sitka, Alaska’s capital for many years before Juneau. The Raptor Centre in Sitka is a must see if you visit “Sitka by the Sea”. Raptors from all over the world can be seen in natural settings. Some say it is the best Raptor Centre in the world.
You will be amazed at the towering sheer rock cliffs rising out of the fjords. In Rudyard Bay in the Misty Fjords National Monument you can nose your yacht right up to a waterfall as it tumbles down the mountainside a couple of thousand feet to the sea. Anywhere a large stream runs into the sea will be a wetlands area with mud flats where the big brown and black bears root around and fish for salmon. Trout of all species inhabit Alaska’s rivers and streams. One of the most unique species of fish is the grayling which can be found in some of the lakes and streams in Alaska. This game fish is a fresh water fish with an elegantly large dorsal fin similar in size to a trout.
Glacier Bay National Park is a stunning place to spend a day or two. Sixteen spectacular glaciers flow from surrounding mountains into the waters of the bay. Glacier Bay requires a permit to cruise within its confines. Tracy Arm is equally as beautiful having no permit requirements. As you kayak in and around the icebergs in Tracy Arm you will enjoy the seals and sea lions basking on the ice and rocks. You can easily use up a whole memory card in your digital camera on the multitude of shorebirds, ravens, eagles, ducks and geese soaring and flitting about in the rich environment of the Arm. Vibrantly coloured Puffins perch above in the nooks and crannies of the rocky shoreline. Just outside of Tracy Arm is great place for whale watching as many species of whales spend their summers feeding and frolicking in the rich waters of Southeast Alaska.
Some of the bays and fjords of Alaska are too deep to safely anchor. Further, in the case of Tracy Arm, anchoring overnight is not recommended due to the dangers posed by icebergs typically exiting the Arm. Your agent can suggest bays or inlets which are shallow enough for anchoring. Keep in mind you are in remote locales so berthing is typically not an option unless you are in one of the South-eastern communities that have berths for larger vessels. Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau and Sitka all have berthing for yachts.
If you are a spielunker Prince of Wales Island has world class Karst caves to investigate. Geothermal hot springs can be found in many places along the “Inside Passage”. Lounge in a pond in a wilderness setting with soothing natural hot water as it bubbles up from the stream.
Tides in Alaska are diurnal with two high tides and two low tides a day. The highest tides of the year in Southeast Alaska can be as much a 20 feet and the lowest tides are 4-5 feet. A good set of tide and current tables are always recommended when cruising in Alaska. Waters in Cook Inlet can rise and fall as much as 28 feet in six hours. Tides recede to expose lush intertidal zones - estuaries, mudflats, gravel beaches, salt marshes, lagoons, and rocky tide pools. Clams, Crabs, scallops, abalone, sea cucumbers and sea urchins flourish in the tides and tide pools. Our cold water shrimp are the very best in the world. Yachtsmen can drop a shrimp or crab pot to the briny depths of the bays or inlets and afterwards enjoy a meal fit for a King, seafood arrives no fresher.
There are plenty of opportunities to go for a hike with an abundance of trails all over Alaska. Naturalists can provide excellent local knowledge when hiking in the rain forests. Rubber boots or what we call “Ketchikan sneakers” are a must for rain forest hikes.
Visualise flying full speed in a floatplane off the outfall of a high mountain lake and breathlessly witness close up the spectacular waterfall that exits the lake and plunges to the river below as your plane gains 2500 feet of altitude immediately on take off. It is an exhilarating experience.
A cruise through the "Inside Passage" will be remembered for a lifetime. The Alexander Archipelago of Southeast Alaska is best seen between April 1st and October 15th. Weather is best from May through mid September. Bring your rain gear and wear layered clothing; it is a rain forest!
The remaining coastline of Alaska is so vast and picturesque that one could cruise for months and see only a fraction of the calving glaciers, ruggedly beautiful bays, and estuaries teeming with fish.
To anchor in Icy Bay, Alaska at the foot of Mt. St. Elias is a religious experience if the weather is clear, you can see the mountain rising straight out of the sea above you. It humbles a person and gives a true sense of vulnerability.
Prince William Sound is one place of particular interest with over 30 glaciers, numerous sea lion haul outs and majestic mountainous scenery.
Resurrection Bay at the South end of the Kenai Peninsula has a mystical quality on those mornings when it is shrouded in fog.
Homer is one of the most beautiful towns in Alaska. The sparkling waters reflect the surrounding mountains and the waters are teaming with fish. Halibut fishing near Homer is awesome. 200 pound halibut are common. The view on a sunny day from Homer across the inlet is truly dazzling. Words cannot describe this seascape.
Moving westward, Kodiak Island can give yachtsmen a chance to witness with their own eyes the largest bears on earth. Kodiak City is a bustling fishing community with ample harbours and many rugged Islands dot the coastline.
The Aleutian Islands string their way to the Southwest from Kodiak and it is worth noting that the 180th meridian passes through this long chain of Islands. It is halfway around the world from the prime meridian at Greenwich, England and serves as the dividing line between east and west.
The Aleutian's are unique in their own right; convergent weather can be a factor as the Islands are the only thing standing between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean. For those adventurous superyachts the Pribilof Islands can provide bird lovers and bird watchers with an unforgettable experience... if the weather cooperates. The best time of the year to travel in the Aleutians is in July and August.
Finally, the Northwest Passage is a wildly unique experience and not for the "feint of heart". Cruise along the ice flows and see arctic scenery very few in the world have ever witnessed. This type of cruise takes a couple of years of planning and requires the right electronics. An ice navigator is recommended as well. At least four yachts navigated the Northwest Passage in 2009.
During the summer months, Alaska enjoys extended daylight hours throughout the state. The further north you travel, the more pronounced the difference. In Anchorage, for example, the sun rises at 4:30 a.m. and sets as late as 11:42 p.m on the longest day. And in Barrow, the northernmost town in Alaska, the sun doesn't set for 84 days! This phenomenon is aptly called the "Midnight Sun."
The Aurora Borealis, also called the Northern Lights, is a natural phenomenon caused by electrically charged ions in our atmosphere. Seen frequently in the Northern skies, waves of blues and greens dance the night away. Streams of reds make the mountain tops look like they are on fire with reflective light. If you’re lucky you too can enjoy the Aurora Borealis with your after dinner drink on the back deck. The Northern lights are a marvellous aerial display, an undeniable wonder of our world.
Museums and art galleries are abundant in Alaska. Rie Munoz a famous Alaskan artist with a unique eye has a gallery in Juneau. Scanlons Gallery in Ketchikan is first class as it relates Alaskan Art. Crazy Wolf Studios also in Ketchikan has a wide range of native art and artefacts to gaze upon. Sitka, Alaska has many art galleries in its downtown area. The National Historic Park in Sitka is outstanding as a native cultural site. The Russian Orthodox church and the Baranof Castle give the visitor a sense of the Russian influence to this area. The Klondike gold rush can be relived in the museum in Skagway. Native carvers from all over Alaska sell their ivory and scrimshaw pieces in many of the Skagway shops.
Follow the North Star and the Big Dipper to the Last Frontier. Alaska is the “Great Land”. Come and visit us at least once in your lifetime, you will never forget!
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