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As its nickname indicates Alaska is an enigmatic place of beauty and wonder. Seeing as it’s teeming with untouched wilderness and wildlife, visiting Alaska is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a landscape that offers its travellers an insight into nature in its rawest form.
Here are some of the incredible features and creatures that define this land.
Welcome to Bear Country.
We’re not sure what the story is here either and Attenborough might want to cast an eye at this unlikely alliance. Either way, aside from the odd Wolf compatriot, the usually solitary Bear is right at home in Alaska. On the mainland Black Bears are known to casually stroll through your back garden and on the coast you can find the iconic Polar Bear, but it’s the Brown Bear that’s actually in charge. Roughly 98% (equating to 70% of North America as a whole!) of the US’s Brown Bear population lives in Alaska and in some cases their density is as high as 1 bear per square mile, making running into one uncomfortably likely. Places like Brooks Lodge Bear Viewing let you view the bears in comfort, however, giving you a real opportunity to view them in the wild.
Denali – The Definition of “Wilderness”.
Speaking of National Parks, when it comes to Alaska, it won’t be long before you hear about Denali. As one of Alaska’s 23 National Parks, Denali was founded in 1917 and has become synonymous with scientific research and natural preservation. It’s also not a bad place for a 10 minute sit-down, as you can see from the above image. Denali’s six million acres of wilderness parallel the Alaska Range, which runs along its South-Eastern side, and is home to Mount McKinley, the highest mountain peak in North America. The Denali Park Road runs along the Alaska Range and is probably the easiest way to explore the park, although private vehicles are only allowed on the road between late May and September. There are, however, tours available that try their best to drive the Park Road given the adverse conditions.
Ruling The Roost in North America.
The Bald Eagle is the US’s national bird, it’s unique to North America, and I think you’ll agree that it’s a fairly formidable looking creature. But let’s get the obvious issue out of the way first: they’re not actually bald. The name stems from the archaic meaning of “bald” as “white-headed”. Much like the Brown Bear population, Alaska boasts a very high concentration of these impressive birds, containing roughly half of the world’s estimated 70,000 Bald Eagles. As Sea Eagles they subside primarily on a diet of fish and are known for their impressive nests, which are the largest of any North American bird, reaching as much as 8ft wide! Alaska is also home to the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, which is open to visitors and perfect for getting a real up-close view of these birds in the wild.
Alaska’s Most Cunning Inhabitant.
Granted, the Red Fox might not have the same sort of fear factor as the Bear and Eagle, but what he lacks in teeth and talons, he more than makes up for with good looks and cunning. The Red Fox is an introduced animal to Alaska, though they are native to Kodiak Island, and are now a common resident of the mainland due to fox farming in the 1900s. Fox farming has ceased now, having seen a post-World War I boom as fur prices jumped, and the Red Fox has an intimidating list of predators, which includes Coyotes, Wolverines and Wolves. The Red Fox has adapted to its adversaries, however, learning to live in broken country and marshlands to avoid becoming prey.
Ephemeral Glacier Caves & Ancient Forests.
Ever fancied having a wander through the bowels of a glacier? Who wouldn’t want an opportunity to do that? Unless you’re claustrophobic…then it’s understandably frightening. If you can brave a tight squeeze, however, then the caves under Mendenhall Glacier are definitely something worth seeing. Unfortunately there’s a grim reality to their beauty, which is that their formation is due to climate change and the glacier itself beginning to melt. This means these mercurial caves, like the glacier itself, may not last forever. There have been some benefits though, including the gradual revealing of an ancient forest that was preserved within the glacier, and the formation of Mendenhall Lake, which was formed by run-off from the glacier and has even generated its own ecosystem.
Breath taking Lakes, Mirroring The Stunning Landscape.
When it comes to Alaskan lakes though, Mendenhall really is just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended…). Alaska boasts a fairly impressive collection of lakes, having a total of 3,197 named lakes and a further 3,000,000 unnamed natural lakes, which constitutes 40% of the US’s total surface water stock. So take your pick! Whilst they vary in size, shape and altitude, the lakes do share one defining feature; they all offer consistently stunning spots in which to pause and take in the incredible essence of what defines the Alaskan wilderness.
The Extraordinary Beauty of the Aurora Borealis.
The Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, are potentially the defining feature of the Northern Hemisphere. Meaning “sunrise” in Latin, the Aurora’s enigmatic appearances and supernatural colours capture the imagination and provide an extraordinary visual experience. The Northern Lights are caused by charged particles colliding with atoms high in the atmosphere, which accounts for some of the difficulties in tracking the Aurora down. Other factors contribute, however, but you can increase your chances of success by heading to locations like Fairbanks and Anchorage, trying between the months of September to late April and looking around an hour and a half after sunset.
How Does 365 Days of Skiing Sound?
Alaska is something of a skiing paradise, given that the Alyeska Resort runs all year round. If you’re not a regular on the slopes then that might not mean much to you, but imagine if the Premiership ran 365 days a year or if you didn’t have to wait 10 months for the next season of Mad Men. That’s the world we would like to live in and, if you’re a skier, it’s within your grasp in Alaska. As well as catering to beginners and intermediates, Alyeska also features the infamous North Face slope, which is America’s longest continuous double black run. Not your average day in Val Thorens by any stretch of the imagination! For accommodation there’s the 304-room Hotel Alyeska, and the resort is located 40 miles from Anchorage, accessible via the extremely beautiful Seward Highway.
You Haven’t Seen a Sunrise Like This.
It’s not often you’re afforded the opportunity to wake up to a sunrise like that, unless of course you actually live in Alaska. Then it’s probably fairly normal to you. For the rest of us, however, that would definitely be classed as a morning to remember! There’s also the classic misconception that Alaska becomes a bleak place of unending darkness in the winter and is then subsequently hit with relentless daylight in the summer, which isn’t strictly true. Granted, the days and nights are much longer in summer and winter, respectively, but instances of complete darkness or daylight are still rare, with most places getting some form of transition.
Katmai Crater – Alaska’s Otherworldly Wonder.
If Mount Katmai isn’t cause for awe and wonder then we’re not sure what is. Mount Katmai is a stratovolcano, located within Katmai National Park and, while it may look it may look like some ancient geographic anomaly, the volcano’s iconic lake (or caldera if you’re one for showing off) is actually only 100 years old. It was formed between the 6th and 9th of June 1912 in a record-breaking eruption, known as the Novarupta, that was both the most visually impressive eruption Alaska has seen and the largest to take place within the 20th century. Covering 4 million acres, there’s a lot to do and see in the Katmai National Park, including hiking/camping, MORE bears and a whole host of lakes and streams for boating.
Take to The Skies For An Otherworldly View.
As you may have picked up by now, Alaska is awash with vistas and one of the best ways to experience them might well be from the air. Commonly known as “Flightseeing”, Alaska has built up a host of flightseeing services, featuring year-round tours and pilots that are more than capable of providing an in depth narrative of your flight. These services essentially allow you to access parts of the Alaskan wilderness that are otherwise inaccessible without flight, like mountain lakes, and the pilots will even circle around any wildlife you happen to see during your flight, allowing you a unique opportunity to observe them in completely natural circumstances.
Colossal Kings of The Ocean.
Whales are big, really big, and a bit scary. You don’t have to have read Moby Dick to know that, but there is plenty of evidence out there that these gentle giants are actually quite friendly guys. A large variation of whale species visit Alaskan waters at different times of the year, offering a unique whale-watching opportunity depending on when you’re there and has transformed Alaska into something of a marine life mecca. The whales are often glimpsed by passengers on our Alaskan Cruises as they approach the mainland, though this does depend on the time of year as whales have migratory patterns. The most common residents of these waters are Humpbacks and Orcas (or Killer Whales), as well as the Beluga Whale. When it comes to whale-watching boat tours, there’s a fair amount of difference in boat/party size, so it really is up to you. There are boats that can hold 100-odd people and others that are just 4-6 man ships. It’s basically a question of how comfortable would you be meeting a Humpback Whale in a boat that’s half his size? There’s a question to mull over while you drink your morning coffee.
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