Tuesday, August 16, 2016
The name Alaska comes from an Aleut word meaning Great Land or Object to Which the Action of the Sea is Directed. The largest state geographically, it consists of over 663,000 square miles, almost as many square miles as there are residents – just over 738,000 according to the 2015 census.
The Russians claimed Alaska in the mid-1750’s and they offered it for sale to the United States a century later. After some negotiation, the US purchased the territory for $7.2 million, or about 2 cents per acre. It became our 49th state in 1959, just a year ahead of Hawaii. For a year, we had a 49 Star US Flag.
Alaska’s primary industries are, in order, oil, fishing and tourism. Minnesota has nothing on Alaska when it comes to lakes – over three million compared to our 11,842.
We pulled into Seward on this beautiful sunny morning. It was such a treat to feel the sun’s warmth again.
We boarded a bus to our next destination in Denali National Park. The next phase of our trip is being coordinated by Escorted Tour Operations, which is connected to Princess and Holland America Cruise Lines. Our tour guide, Carlos Gomez, is working with sixteen passengers from Crystal, making sure we get where we need to be and our rooms are ready when we get there, and arranging tours as requested by each couple.
After boarding our bus, we drove a few hundred miles along Seward Highway, via Anchorage, through beautiful countryside. Why didn’t we drop anchor in Anchorage? It is possible to stop there, but scheduling issues can make this difficult.
On the way we stopped at Portage Glacier and Lake. There was a small town here before a catastrophic earthquake in 1964 caused the shoreline of the lake to drop and flood the town.
We drove past the stunning Cook Inlet, which experiences the third largest tidal fluctuation in the world. When the seawater rushes into the inlet, it creates a bore tide, at times large enough to surf on. The waves don’t get dramatically high (6 to 10 feet) but they can reach speeds of 10 to 15 miles per hour and last a mile in duration, providing a good ride for surfers. They can go on line to find the best times to ride the Alaska Bore Tide.
Our next stop was in Anchorage for lunch at Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse, where we enjoyed some local beer and reindeer. Mark had a reindeer burger and I had hunter’s pie, like shepherd’s pie but made with reindeer meat. Like most venison, reindeer is very lean and tasty.
Humpy’s promotes their own version of “Pay it Forward.” Any customer can purchase a drink, select a recipient, then post the drink receipt on the “Pay it Forward” board until that person comes in to claim it. Sadly, I didn’t see one for me.
After lunch, we continued on to Denali. We had one more stop near Wasilla, at the Iditarod Headquarters where we saw some 6 month old pups as well as some more mature dogs. The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, held in February and March, commemorates a valiant effort to help the residents of Nome during a deadly outbreak of diphtheria in the winter of 1925. The city did not have enough serum to inoculate everyone and was not accessible by road or water. Twenty mushers and their sled dog teams relayed the serum 674 miles from Nenana to Nome in less than six days.
The Iditarod Trails runs about 2,300 miles between Seward and Nome. It had lay unused for almost 50 years but was reopened in the early 70’s and named a National Historic Trail in 1978. Most of the trail is located on public lands managed by the State of Alaska or federal agencies.
We arrived at Denali National Park in late afternoon. Couldn’t see the mountain, which is only visible about 30% of the time. We had a pretty nice sunset though.