Enigmatic, exhilarating, and optimistic; just a few words to describe what I feel for the year 2019.
And just like 2019, Alaska is filled with mysterious vista that is beyond explanation. It’s a vast piece of land that offers exciting recreation and a strong sense of culture from its indigenous groups. The state of Alaska is filled with bright promise, just like the new year ahead.
The 49th State
Located in the remote frozen corner of North America along the Canadian boundary, Alaska is known as the country’s 49th state, and is considered America’s largest territory and the 3rd least populated. History states that the region was once under Russian rule up until the year 1867 when Alaska was bought by the United States of America for $7.2 million, an event commonly known as the Alaska Purchase.
Divided into five large regions, the state’s capital city Juneau lies on the southeastern tip and is named after its founder Joseph Juneau, a Canadian miner and prospector, who first discovered the area’s gold resources with his colleague, Richard Harris.
Alaska’s sparse population and large amount of real estate serve as a great platform for a wide range of recreational activities perfect for the adventurous and thrill-seeking traveller. Accessible mostly by boat, the Alaska Marine Highway System offers daily transportation services from Alaska’s Southeast and South-central regions to as far as Bellingham, Washington in South America.
Alaskan harbors have always been a first stop for travelers, especially the port town of Seward located in the Kenai Peninsula. Named after William H. Seward, the area offers a huge range of activities like biking, kayaking, fishing, and sailing. Cruise lines like the Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Bliss, Holland America as well as local day tour lines like the Kenai Fjords Tour and Major Marine Tours offer luxury cruising experience throughout the region.
The town also offers fun indoor activities like the SeaLife Center, a rehabilitation facility that studies the northern marine ecosystem of Alaska; home to sablefish, sea urchins, sea lions, harbor seals, sea stars, pacific octopi, and various local seabirds, and the Turning Heads Kennel, where tourists can look through the history of Alaskan dogsledding and get to meet athlete dogs in training.
If mountaineering is the activity of your choice, take a hike through Mount Marathon, where the Mount Marathon Race is annually held on the 4th of July, or through the exceptional landscape of the Kenai Fjords National Park, where various wildlife can be found in their natural habitats in the Harding Icefield, also known as the home of the Bear Glacier, and the Exit Glacier, found at the end of the park’s only road.
From North to South
While Alaska takes pride in their nautical activities, the state is also notable for its significant structures; most notably the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and the Teslin Bridge, both of which connect the northern and southern region of Alaska.
Constructed as a solution to a forced embargo that caused an oil crisis, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was considered the world’s largest crude oil pipeline system and stretched to over 1,300 kilometres. It was estimated to have had 70,000 workers who tirelessly built the intricate structure consisting of over a thousand heat and feeder pipes as well as 12 pumping stations. The structure is also known as the Alyeska pipeline and is laid out in a straight line from the northern end of the Arctic Alaska region in Prudhoe Bay and ends in Valdez City in Southcentral Alaska.
Visitors would want to visit the observation deck at the Fairbanks borough to get a great view of the system. The area is free for entry with a 15-minute time limit and also houses exhibits concerning the history of the pipeline and its maintenance.
Another interconnected structure found in Alaska is the famous Alaska Highway. Completed in 1942 for the sole purpose of linking the United States to its Alaskan territory, the highway stretches to over 2,700 kilometres long by way of Canada. Also affectionately known as the Alaska-Canadian Highway, many of the structure’s intersections are worthy of a stopover. Visitors will take note of the Teslin Bridge, a steel-made cantilever bridge situated in Yukon, Canada crossing over the Teslin River.
The Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is not for the faint-hearted. Situated in the southeastern region of Alaska adjacent to Juneau City, the vast glacial area is considered both a national park and monument. The UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of seven tidewater glaciers, namely: Grand Pacific Glacier, LaPerouse Glacier, Gilman Glacier, Margerie Glacier, McBride Glacier, Johns Hopkins Glacier, and the Lamplugh Glacier; as well as a few high tidewater glaciers like the Lituya Glacier, Riggs Glacier, North Crillon Glacier, and Reid Glacier.
A trip to the park wouldn’t be complete without trying any of their recreational activities like bird-watching, fishing, cruising, mountaineering, and hiking on inland terrain. Adventurers and thrill-seekers can enjoy rafting on the Tatshenshini River and Alsek River. Companies like CRATE Alaska Rafting Expedition offer professional guided tours and provide all the rafting equipment you need. Kayaking is also a viable activity for tourists, and Alaska Discovery on Shuane Drive offers reasonably-priced kayaking gear with a basic lecture taught by professionals. The best places to go are Bartlett Cove, Muir Inlet, and the Beardslee Islands, where there is clear blue water and an abundance of marine creatures. The park’s preserve area also offers sport hunting and trapping live game as long as all the permits and licenses required are in place.
Accommodation, on the other hand, is available at the Glacier Bay Lodge which is complete with restaurants, souvenir shops, and camping supply stores. Visitors can choose to book rooms at Johnny’s East River Lodge at the Northern Lights Haven for an adventure-filled stay in the wilderness or step out of their comfort zone and camp at Bartlett Cove where finding yourself going face-to-face with a black bear is a common experience.
Alaska, much like New York, divides itself into small boroughs rather than cities; among them are Ninilchik, McCarthy, and Nikolaevsk. Ninilchik finds itself situated in the Kenai Peninsula and is a native village first settled by the indigenous group Dena’ina, who mainly fished and used the land as a hunting ground. The Russians soon came and colonized the borough. The word “Ninilchik” comes from the term Niqnilchint, which loosely translates to “lodge is built place”.
Recreation in the area consists of salmon and halibut fishing in the Ninilchik River and in the Deep Creek State Park, camping in the Ninilchik State Recreation Area where you can find an overlooking view of the river as well as a beach, and visiting the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel constructed in 1901 by Architect Alexi Andreev Oskolkoff. The Russian Orthodox church is been considered an Alaskan historical landmark since 1978.
Located within the Valdez-Cordova Census Area at the exact foot of the Wrangell Mountains, the McCarthy borough is a humble showcase of life in Alaska. The area houses the sole entrance to the Kennecott Mines and has been long-abandoned. The famous copper mine is a national historic landmark and offers visitors a guided tour through the camp which includes a look at the machine shop, various offices, a power plant, ammonia leaching factory, flotation plant, as well as the concentration mill. Other attractions in McCarthy include a visit to the Kennicott River, ice hiking in the Kennicott Glacier; as well as a guided tour in the abandoned mining camps of Jumbo, Erie, and Bonanza.
Lastly, the Nikolaevsk borough is a small and simple village that houses over 300 individuals adhering to the tradition of the Old Believers, Eastern Orthodox Christians who first settled in the area around the year 1968. Accessible via the North Fork Road, the area’s most prominent structure is a grand old Russian Church. Painted in colors of white and blue, the structure’s façade consists of an intricate mural of saints as well as a bell tower.
The New Year
The turning of the year does not always mean new beginnings. Sometimes it conveys a renewed sense of vigor to continue life and be a better person for yourself, for others, for the nation, and for the world. May your trip to Alaska and its glacial landscapes make you feel the adventure and thrill of the new year. Happy New Year!