Alaska Part I: The Last Frontier


Alaska is a place of indescribable, audacious, raw beauty.

  • Towering mountains covered with snow extend one after the other as far as the eye can see.
  • Crystal clear lakes, rivers, creeks and streams.
  • Lush, green foliage in dense pine forests.
  • Moose, grizzly bears, black bears, foxes visible from the roads.
  • Dozens of bald eagles soaring together overhead and landing on mudflats as the tide recedes.
  • Voracious mosquitos leaving blood splatter on whatever surface you manage to kill them on.
  • Fiercely independent people, either born here or who fled the lower 48 states to somewhere they consider nearer to heaven.
Starting our journey on the famed Alaskan Highway.

Our first introduction to Alaska was the road in from Discovery Bay, Yukon Territory, Canada. They did not make a favorable first impression. After every winter, the roads fall prey to “frost heaves,” which is a catch-all term for car-swallowing potholes, cracks and fissures and undulating upheavals that make you feel as though you’re driving on roller coaster tracks. Beware of frost heaves. If you don’t take it slow, they can wreck your suspension. Once you get the hang of slowing and speeding up and slowing down again, the roads are manageable. And once you are inside the state, the roads are immeasurably better than those coming in/out. The roadways notwithstanding, our first views of the mountains had us gasping, oohing and ahing with delight. The dramatic, rugged mountains, visible glaciers and newly green mountainsides are breathtaking.

History is everywhere and unimaginably diverse. Although 65% of the population here is white, there are more than 200 federally recognized tribes in Alaska — some of which date back 10,000 years when the first Alaskans crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Russia. According to the exhibits in the Anchorage Museum, a must see, each had their own rich cultures and customs while sharing a general philosophy of taking only what they needed from the land/sea and using every bit of what they took for their survival. Yup’ik and Cup’ik people, for example, used mammal, fish and bird skins for clothing, while Inuit people made pretty sophisticated “dry suits” out of seal or walrus intestines. Examples in the Anchorage Museum look a lot like our “puffer” jackets. Wearing innards on their outters allowed them to set nets for fishing in the frigid waters. Grasses were used for sewing waterproof seams. The ingenuity of the early inhabitants who lived in extreme climates was remarkable.

Wild animals inhabit the same space as people. Throughout Yukon and Alaska, seeing wild animals is awesome and not uncommon. We started seeing black bears grazing on spring grasses at the sides of roads days before we reached Alaska. They’re easy to spot, being big, rollypolly black things that stand out among the grasses. They’re harder to spot in the forests but we saw a mother bear and three cubs feasting at the side of the gravel road through Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area. We spotted a fourth bear in the same refuge, located between Cooper Landing and Soldotna on the Sterling Highway. Between Soldotna and Homer, we saw five moose, including two calves and in Seward, while Moshe snagged for salmon, I watched dozens of Bald Eagles swoop, soar and land on the mudflats at low tide. In Homer, standing on the beach, we saw a Humback Whale breach, playing in the surf, and sea lions and otters frolicking.

Wild animals inhabit the same space as people. Throughout Yukon and Alaska, seeing wild animals is awesome. We started seeing black bears grazing on spring grasses at the sides of roads days before we reached Alaska. They’re easy to spot, being big, rollypolly black things that stand out among the grasses. They’re harder to spot in the forest but we saw a mother bear and three cubs feasting at the side of the gravel road through Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area and spotted a fourth bear in the refuge, located between Cooper Landing and Soldotna on the Sterling Highway. Moose are also visible this time of year. They are voracious vegetarians, eating 50 lbs. of food a day. We spotted five moose between Soldotna and Homer one afternoon. There are signs up and down the Kenai Peninsula telling drivers to watch for moose — 248 had been killed on the Sterling Highway in the past year. No mention, however, of how many people might have been killed in those accidental encounters. Just sayin’ folks…

Be Bear Aware signs are everywhere, but when we took a flight-seeing trip out of Soldotna to view bears and glaciers on the Kenai Peninsula, the pilot landed on a beach at low tide and we walked right out to the where a grizzly bear was digging for clams on the mud/lava flats. She was unfazed by seven people with cameras, and as we watched through our various camera/phone lenses, we hardly noticed her moving closer and closer to us. I don’t think any of us — two retirees from New York/Florida, a local school teacher and her visiting sister from Michigan and Moshe and I could tear ourselves away from the bear digging and snuffling in the mud for food. Our gal (our guide saw her pee-ing, which is how he determined it was a she bear, was young — maybe three or four years old.

Between Soldotna and Homer, we saw five moose, including two calves, and in Seward, while Moshe snagged for salmon, I watched dozens of Bald Eagles swoop, soar and land on the mudflats at low tide. In Homer, standing on the beach, we saw a Humback Whale breach, playing in the surf, and sea lions and otters frolicking not far from the shore. If you like spotting wildlife in its own environment, Alaska is definitely the place for you.

OK. The craziest thing we (and by that I mean Moshe) tried this trip was snagging salmon. Supposedly at type of fishing, we learned about it from our guide, Teke, who suggested after we finished panning for gold that we hop over to Seward and take up a new sport. We went into The Fish House, a fishing/hardware/hunting emporium, bought over $100 in fishing gear and set off toward Nash Road to find these crazy mudflats. A small parking area along Nash Road and the road’s shoulders were filled with cars — people coming and going in full fishing regalia. Waders, nets, stringers and these barbaric-looking weighted triple hooks. So the way it works is you walk across the mudflats to the water at low tide, you stand in a channel with a long, heavy rod with 20-30 lb. Fishing line and this awful looking hook. You throw your line into the water, let it bounce along the bottom until an unsuspecting salmon swims by and you literally snag it — by the gills, the eye socket, skin, fin, tail, wherever and reel it in. There were maybe 300 men and women out there on an overcast day throwing their lines into the water and snagging fish. Unbelievably, people were catching their daily limit of six salmon. It sounded so easy, but was harder than it looked. We ended up eating pasta for dinner that night. I stood on the shore watching the fisher people and the amazing flock of bald eagles.

Finally, the freakiest thing that has happened so far (besides sundown being 11:30 p.m.) is that while I was kayaking on a small, deserted lake outside of Anchorage, an airplane landed next to me IN THE LAKE. The owner apparently commutes to work in his/her float plane and docks it behind the house on the lake. Imagine kayaking alone on a small lake and suddenly hearing an airplane roaring up behind you. I wondered why all the docks were empty. They were there for people’s float planes. Small planes are as common as cars are in other places, so I made sure to get off the water before rush hour, when everyone would be flying home.

Stay tuned for more dispatches from Alaska!

June 14, 2022

Categories: Alaska, Outdoors, RVing, Sightseeing, Travel

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