Friday, May 30, 2008

North To The Future!

Our Alaska trip was fantastic. The cruise was fabulous and the land portion was great - especially Denali National Park, which was incredible and inspiring. I wish I could sit with you and tell you every little detail. I hope someday each of you reading this can get there.

In the morning we put on jeans and boots and had one or another fabulous adventure - in Juneau we went whale watching and a baby humpback whale came and played with the boat. While mama was below feeding, the baby rolled over and waved its pectoral fins at us. We could see the pleats on its throat, and it would roll over again and show us its flukes. This went on for like fifteen minutes. Amazing! Even the naturalist was almost speechless. I want to be a whale in my next life. A gang of Stellar sea lions came to investigate the boat, and one of the bald eagles we saw was flying with nest materials in its claws.

In Skagway, we went to a dog mushing camp which was soooo much fun being around hundreds of totally excited dogs. They jump in the traces and bark their heads off, they are so excited to run. As soon as they hear "Go!" they put their heads down and take off. Alaska huskies are really mutts, skinny, sprinting dogs that don't look much like the Siberians and malamutes you see in Disney films. We also saw puppies, and one was really active and chewed on my ear. We went to a glass blowing shop and made our own glass balls, shipped to Mom's so we haven't seen them since they cooled. Zirpu did blue with gold flakes, I did red and dark yellow in twists and I hope it looks like Saturn; the red is black until it cools down. The gal who was our tour guide was so enthusiastic about glass blowing that I sucked up some of her energy too.

Then, in the evening, we changed into nice clothes and ate marvelous food on a white tablecloth. Two nights were formal, and when Zirpu realized he'd forgotten his tuxedo parts at home, the DJ, a real sweetie, loaned his shirt studs and cuff links to him. We had good tablemates, a newlywed couple from Pensacola who were cute as buttons and a knowledgeable Canadian couple on their second cruise. After dinner, we went dancing in the Crow's Nest, the bar at the top of the ship. There were not a lot of dancers on the cruise, but we did get in one totally dance-geek conversation with a British couple about International vs. American styles.

In Fairbanks, we went to the Museum of the North and lo and behold, Mt. McKinley was clear as a bell from 160 miles away. Like Mt. Rainer, it is often hidden in clouds about 70% of the time. I'm used to looking at tall mountains because of Rainer and the Rockies, but McKinley is really really tall.

The museum is a must-see, with everything from fine art to natural history to Gold Rush history, all in one place. We could have spent five hours there. The museums in Alaska (we went to like five) are careful to include women in their exhibits, probably because there were so few of them their individual contributions were that much more significant.

I really learned a lot about Alaska and just when I was a little frustrated that there was so little Native history, we went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage and learned so much. For example: I'd heard (as have many others) that "Eskimo" is seen as pejorative as it means "raw fish eater." We were told that Inupiaq, Yupik, Aleut, and Alitiiq, who are raw fish eaters, aren't offended by that word, though Athabascans, Tlingit, Eyak, Haida, and Tsimshian, who have always had access to wood, do. I didn't even know there were different groups of Native Alaskans, though in retrospect it seems obvious. The young people at the ANHC emphatically agreed that walrus is the best seafood of all.

Now, I've been lucky to see great, beautiful things like the Rockies, Death Valley, and the "bathtub rings" that mark the prehistoric shores of the Great Salt Lake; Denali took my breath away, repeatedly. We were also lucky in Denali National Park to go on a natural history tour with a guide whose passion for the park was palpable and inspiring. He's a former truck driver, not a ranger, and knew everything about everything. We went to Primrose Point, the usual Mt. McKinley viewing spot, where we talked to an Athabascan person about the subsistence life his people led and still lead. We could not see the mountain because it was snowing!

Animal sightings: Dall porpoises, sea otters, bald eagles, Stellar sea lions, little black and white birds with bright feet whose names I can't remember now, seals, orcas, humpback whales, moose, porcupines, caribou, snow shoe hares, ptarmigan, Dall sheep, mountain goats. We may have seen a bear in the suburbs of Anchorage, but it was pretty far away. We did not take pictures most of the time because our little Canon Powershot has a small lens, and it was more important to me to experience it than record it.

Alaska is gorgeous! It's like the best of the northwest, with the mountains coming right down to the water. It's a little disorienting, because mountains that look like they ought to be 10,000+ feet high are like 6,000 feet high, and they're right next to the water. The light is also disorienting... You look outside and it looks like mid-afternoon, only it's like 8:00 - or even 11:00 - at night. This photo of the foothills outside Anchorage was taken around 11:30 pm.

Travel is supposed to expand your horizons and make you curious about the world. This trip has really inspired me to, among other things, go the museums and aquariums here at home. There were so many great things about our trip, we are already talking about going back!

1 comment:

Noemi said...

Thanks for writing this up. I can't wait to get there myself!