Summer had arrived in Washington. In Summer everything’s brighter and colors stand out, people are more cheerful than usual, sometimes overwhelmingly so. There is usually two weeks in July when the heat goes up just a notch and people start scrambling for portable air-conditioners. Coming from Arizona, I can’t help but roll my eyes. That aside, July is when people get ready for fireworks, freedom, and the most anticipated long weekend. When the mainland was preparing for bright lights and drunken nights, I packed my bags and headed towards spotty mobile connectivity, no light pollution, and 23 hours of daylight.
You have to see it to believe that it is possible for a place to be as bright as day past 10 pm in the night. The picture above was taken just before I landed around 10 pm in the Anchorage airport. It is these little things that keep a sense of wonder in you alive. I would even go as far as to say, it is these little things that keep you alive. To bring us back to reality, we ended the night with surprisingly decent pizza from a place which doubled as both the living room of a house and a pizza kitchen.
It is easy to forget just how large Alaska is. There are two places where you can base your travels in — Anchorage, and Fairbanks. Unless you’re spending the better part of the week seeing places and taking in as much of the experience as possible, it is wise to decide on a handful of things to do. My top N favorite things about America are all National Parks. So, my first recommendation if you visit Alaska would be to go to Denali National Park. Your life is never the same after you watch a mama bear and her cubs cross the road as you wait inside a bus.
If you can’t drive up inside the park, the best option is to take the park tour in a bus. The roundtrip is close to 8 hours, you’re spent by the end of it, but the experience is like no other. I got to spot grizzlies (cubs!), a peregrine falcon, a bald eagle, moose, elk, and wild squirrels. I’d been to the zoo only a couple of times as a kid, and most of what I remember are all memories that are half made up in my mind. To see all these animals walk about and be themselves in their natural habitat was such a precious opportunity. 8 hours pass by without you really noticing as there’s fantastic narration, animal spotting, and the scenery makes up for it when you’re not spotting animals. The drive back to the hotel was a blur but I didn’t fail to notice (and continue to wonder) that the sunset close to midnight and in an hour it’s back up again!
After having read about glaciers and icebergs, it was time to actually see one of those things. Matanuska Glacier is one of the larger, accessible glaciers that’s a couple of hours drive away from Anchorage. At the time I hadn’t seen a glacier in my life yet. So, whenever someone mentioned glacier, I imagined a large block of ice and didn’t really give it a second thought. It was pretty fascinating when I realized I could walk on it, that it had small pockets of water within it which were like tiny lakes within the glacier, and that there are small mounds of ice on it which were little peaks that I could climb (albeit being woefully unprepared for walking on ice, let alone climbing).
The day after was one with more glaciers. There’s a cruise called the eleven glacier cruise, which is approximately a 4 hour round trip, that takes you up close to several glaciers in the Prince William Sound region. Seals, Otters, and if you’re lucky a bald eagle sighting, and an Orca jumping out to catch a breath are all bonus elements (No Orca pictures here as I was busy thanking my stars for being able to catch an Orca dive out of the water).
The cruise culminates with a waterfall showing the summer home of Kittiwakes — A point where over 5000 Kittiwakes congregate during the summer to lay eggs. The ridges are both deep enough and shallow enough and act as a naturally formed nest for these birds. The availability of plenty of salmon in the waters provides an added incentive.
Standing there, the farthest I’ve been from home, the sights in front of me didn’t give me a window to think about my life. I had more questions than answers, and in those three days, had lived a life so rich whose existence I was unaware of till then.