Ask for Alaska (Part II): True North

Alaska: It’s the butt of jokes, the mis-understood state, the “final frontier,” the upper one to the lower 48, and one of the single most stunning terrains you will ever experience. There is a near mysticism-feel to the place as the moody grey clouds hover and envelope the pine trees which blanket the mountains. There is something visceral about the experiences here, the look and the feel of this state. Yes, there are over 100,000 glaciers (you read that right), rugged tree studded ridges, countless islands, and vast stretches of land uninhabited only by nature and her precious animals. And it is apparent that once you visit you will want to come back – I know I do. The problem is, far too many of us don’t visit to begin with, or if we do we merely limit ourselves to the shops which line the safe tiny towns. So get out, break a sweat and see the inherent beauty of Alaska.

I was completely surprised by my visit, an amazing experience within the pensive darkness and cool temperatures of a July visit. The vibrant, verdant greens of the moss covered trees come at a price, and that price is the ubiquitous rain. To believe you can visit Alaska and have continual clear blue skies as a backdrop - some sort of disingenuous Photoshopped thing – is in stark contrast to the reality of the staggering beauty of the oceans and mountains – this ain’t the sunshine state. But embrace the rain; it is part of the experience and the deciding factor of why this state is so beautiful. I used a cruise ship to navigate the area, limited, yes, but a great vehicle for exploring Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan. Regardless of how you get here, there are some cool things to think about once you arrive.

Bear Creek
You can do zip lines through the jaw-dropping rain forest, zipping from tree to tree over Bear Creek in Ketchikan all the while being immersed in the verdant greens of the area. It was steadily raining when I was there which made the experience even more cool. Alaska Canopy offers a great zip line from tree to tree, ending with a 20 foot rappel from a tree only to get you to a 240 slide to end the whole experience.

At the Alaska Raptor Center...so cool!

If you are in Sitka make certain to visit the Alaska Raptor Center where you can see bald eagles and other birds of prey up close and personal as they are being rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. To view these incredible birds nearly nose to beak is tremendous, and though it’s a blast to spot them in the wild (like I did in Nova Scotia on the Schubenacadie River, and at Cachuma Lake in Santa Barbara) they are too far away, too elusive in the wild (as they should be). The Center also has peregrine falcons, owls, hawks, all working on getting better, which gives you an unparalleled opportunity to see them, study them, and be amazed. As part of the tour they bring out a bald eagle right in front of you and you cannot believe how massive, yet agile and light they truly are.
Otters in the waters.
And you can cruise the open seas of Sitka in search of otters, bald eagles, whales and other animals who call these climates home using a variety of touring boats specifically designed to get you in touch with the impressive natural surroundings.
My lovely wife in front of Mendenhall & Nugget

In Juneau you can visit the Mendenhall Glacier, a stunning display of ice. Yes, it’s clearly visible from the visitor’s center, but an easy 20 minute walk will get you closer to the mammoth ice sheet and right near Nugget Creek waterfall. Why stay a safe distance away ensconced in a bus or behind the nicely cleaned glass windows at the visitor’s center? Get out there and feel the spray of the falls, get as close as you can to the glacier, smell the deep pure waters, and see the devious blue ice. Also in Juneau is the Mount Adams Tramway ($29 per adult) which gets you 1,800 feet above the ground for stunning views. There’s a small museum and gift shop there, hiking paths even a bar and grill.

The views from Mount Roberts
It’s a little pricy, but worth a few hours to experience the place. The vistas are awesome and the trail on the backside of the mountain gives you views to deep forested valleys and even more pine studded mountains. Located just up from downtown Juneau, the Mesa Grill cooks up reindeer sausage (mixed with a little pork) and is open year round, mainly serving the locals, not tourists. Go visit Trish, the owner, and try the very tasty sausage.
Trish at the Mesa Grill cooks my reindeer sausage.
Alaska is not nearly the sum of these few parts, but you have to start somewhere. A cruise ship gets you in touch, albeit briefly, with a few towns listed here. From there, the adventure is what you make of it. Don’t waste it, explore, educate yourself, and evolve in the process. This is the point of traveling.

Zip Lines/Ketchikan: http://www.alaskacanopy.com/
Alaska Raptor Center/Sitka: http://www.alaskaraptor.org/
Mount Adams Tramway/ Juneau: http://www.goldbelttours.com/

Watch my 2 Minute Travel video shot in Alaska here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8impbtvspCM&feature=plcp 

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