Alaska: Full Circle!

June 06, 2014

I have always been fascinated by Alaska.  When I was a kid my next door neighbor’s cousins would come visit ever summer from Alaska.  They would tell tales of walking to and from school in the winter with flashlights because it was so dark out, black out curtains for the summer because it was always daylight, and running into moose!  I was hooked.  I carried around a little puzzle piece of the 49th state as a reminder of my goal to go there.  Thanks to a willing travel partner with plenty of frequent flier miles my dream came true!

Not only did I want to experience 24 hours of daylight, I wanted to see glaciers, and mountains and wildlife.  I wanted to experience first hand the effects of global warming on the environment to gain inspiration for my art work.

 

Sunset in Anchorage

We landed in Anchorage at 11:00pm to a sunset blazing red through the haze of smoke from a near by wild fire due to an unusually warm dry spring.

 

Cool Inlet

The next day we drove to Homer.  The air was thick with smoke creating interesting colors reflecting off the water in Cook Inlet.

 

Glaciers!

Here I am with my amazing travel companion in Homer.  You can see the Portlock and Grewingk Glaciers spilling out of the Kanai Mountains across the Kachemak Bay.    Luckily the winds were blowing in our favor and much of the smoke filled air cleared out of the souther part of the Kanai Peninsula.  We spent two days exploring Homer.  It has a cute little downtown with a great book store, Captain’s Coffee Roasters, and the Pratt Musuem.

 

Sand CranesOur first wildlife sighting:  Sand Cranes!

We were off to Seward and Girdwood to see some glaciers and  hike in the northernmost rain forest in the world.

 

glacial retreat

Here at Exit Glacier, just outside of Seward, you can really see evidence of global warming.  The drive into the valley carved out by the retreating glacier has date markers documenting it’s retreat since 1815.

 

Exit Glacier

A glacier that once filled a whole valley seems unimpressive as it now only peaks out from the Harding Ice Field above the mountains.

Our last stop in Alaska was to see the impressive 6 million acre Denali National Park.

 

Denali David!

We stayed in a sweet little cabin at the Perch Resort owned and operated by two brothers.  My favorite part of the whole trip was eating fresh baked blueberry muffing for breakfast at their restaurant.

 

Inside Denali

We never got to see Mt. McKinley due to cloud coverage (it’s usually cloudy 2 out of 3 days in the summer) but the park was still beautiful and impressive.

 

Baby Moose

You don’t have to look far in Alaska to see wildlife.  I was very excited driving into the park and spotting my first mamma moose with it’s little baby!  They are very cute from the safety of your car, but they can be mean so don’t get too close!

 

Carabou

Reindeer alert!  Some Caribou stumbled across us as we were on a hike.  They didn’t seem to bothered by humans.

 

Caribou

We patiently waited at a safe distance while they foraged along the trail.

Denali was probably our favorite place and two days there wasn’t nearly enough time. When we go back to Alaska we plan on spending more time there and taking advantage of some of the great tours and activities inside the park. I would love to stay at the Perch again and go back tot he 49th state brewery for some great beer and the biggest portion of mac & cheese ever!

We headed back to Anchorage and spent our last day of vacation in the city.  It was cold and rainy so we didn’t mind spending all day in the Anchorage Museum.  It was an amazing museum with a mix of contemporary and traditional art by native and non-native artists.  It also doubled as a science center with cool exhibits for children of all ages.  The museum is a great place to learn the history of Alaska and of it’s native inhabitants.  One exhibit in the musum’s Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska, shared how how each Alaska Native nation is unique–and how all are connected.  One of my favorite quotes from the exhibit is from the Haida people: “…after the arrival of the Europeans in the late eighteenth century, we suffered great losses in population, cultural knowledge, and most of all self-esteem, self-worth and identity…It has been the art that has brought us back to our roots.”

There were so many great exhibits in this gem of a museum, but one exhibit really turned me on:

IMG_0574

Gyre:  The Plastic Ocean.  I this it was a great coincidence that this exhibit happened to be showing and luckily I got to see it.  I’ve been fascinated with the ocean gyres since I first heard about them.  Also, David and I happened to be celebrating our one year anniversary in Alaska and our first date was at a science pub lecture on the Pacific Gyre.  We had come full circle!

 

gyre

So, what happens is all the plastic that gets into the ocean, and doesn’t get washed up back on shore eventually breaks down into little pieces and gets stuck in these circular currents called gyres.  Gross.  The plastic that does wash back up onto the beaches gets eaten by birds and other marine life.  And guess what?  Plastic isn’t digestible.

Gyre-Jordan

“Midway”  by Chris Jordan, digital photograph

 

jars

There were so many great pieces of work in this exhibit, but this piece by  Karen Larsen was my favorite.  “Preservation” relates to Karen’s childhood memories of farm life and about the connection we loose to the land, water and our sense of place when we opt for convenience.

 

anchorage

Well folks, I leave you with the last image of Anchorage from my amazing trip! Alaska was amazing. Thanks for reading!

 

 

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