Alaska, a Summer Resort

Alaska, a Summer Resort

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Great places were discovered, unusual people were met, and adventures were had this summer. All of this was accomplished in America's last frontier, outside of the lower 48 states, in the wilderness of Alaska. I had no specific reason for venturing to the vastness of Alaska, I did not know anyone, and had never before been there. As a child, I remember pondering that Alaska was a place for pioneers, and brave hearted adventurers. After almost two decades of living on this overcrowded island, I set my mind's eye on this grand excursion away from home, family and friends. It was a time to be boldly self-sufficient, and to discover new ways lives are lived. After securing a job and boarding in Denali National Park, off to Alaska I went without expectation, and unsure of the undertaking that lie before me.

Denali National Park, which used to be called Mount McKinley National Park prior to 1980, is six million acres of Alaskan tundra and mountains. Despite the common belief that Alaska is nothing more than a dark, cold wasteland, most days in the summer months are full of sun and warmth. My summer adventure was filled with wildlife viewing, fishing, and backcountry camping. This all seemed so alluring to me, an opportunity to fulfill fantasies of the great outdoors. Upon arriving in Denali National Park, a required wildlife and wilderness course offered through the park was mandatory. Park rangers discussed the abundance of large animals, like bears, moose, caribou, and wolves which walk the park. It was explained to let us know that here .".. we are just visitors among animals, and to understand this for our own safety." I did get a chance to see all of these animals and many more on multiple occasions, all from safe distances. One of the most memorable experiences was the Kenai Fjords Wildlife and Glacier Park. The wildlife viewing included sea otters, sea lions, humpbacks, grays, and orca whales. Dressed in their summer colors of black, orange, and yellow, puffins flew through the waters. Bald eagles that nest and feed along the coastline are also themes of many Alaskan myths and legends. Asthabaskan and Sitka folklore told of a large bird that would bring food in times of scarceness. Also, this was an opportunity for glacier viewing. The glaciers on the Prince William Sound are spectacular sights known as "rivers of ice." Some of the enormous glaciers hang from cliffs, like waterfalls suspended and frozen in time.

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Others are formed in crevasses and maintain the deep blue color of what looks like a once racing river. It must be said that glaciers are certainly the most glorious ice forms I have ever taken notice of.

Fishing Alaska is an angler's dream, unlike anywhere else in the world. Here, different species of salmon teem the running rivers. There are five types of salmon, halibut weighing up to 75 pounds, and artic grayling all running north to spawn. The limit for salmon was six a day, which my brother and I could hit in an hour on the river. To fish the river it was necessary to have at least two people; the fisher would be reeling in the catch and needed someone to net the fish onto land. This feisty fish will run after being snagged, the fight between man and fish can last some time if snagged well, tiring out both parties. Never before have I caught and released so many fish after already reaching the daily limit. The 35 pounds of salmon sent home to New York was greatly appreciated by friends and family. Steve, who is my younger brother, and my dad, came to visit me in Alaska for a vacation. It was with them one evening, when we stood fishing the Soldotna River, that we spotted a moose and calf crossing the river only thirty yards from where we stood. A moose is an animal weighing about 1600 pounds, and an antler span of up to 60 inches. This majestic creature, which is also very protective of its calves, is known to run up to 30 miles per hour, and will kick instinctively if it feels threatened. Here we were three New Yorkers, following this moose through the woods careful not to startle the male and calf, but trying to get as close as possible. We only spent a couple of days on the Soldotna River, but agreed by us all, it was notable event we shared together as a family. From my perspective, those two weeks while the family visited were the highlight of the summer.

My boyfriend Steve and I would camp once a week in different towns along the Alaskan Highway. The Alaskan Highway is only two lanes wide running north and south to towns such as Healy, Cantwell, Trapper Creek, Brushkana, and Talkeetna spaced about 50 miles apart from each other. Driving to our campsites was an adventure that we enjoyed every week during the summer. Even the cars in Alaska are equipped differently than most cars. For example, they have battery line cables to be plugged in during harsh winter months, wire mesh screens in the headlights to protect against stray rocks, and a first aid kit. Towns usually consist only of a solitary gas station, which is also the grocery store, and sometimes lodging for the less adventurous spirits. No matter how small a town it was never without a bar, which should say something of its population. I learned many of the liquor laws, having bartended to tourists on resort property. The laws are that there aren't any, except that bars must close for only two hours daily, and the choice of hours is at the discretion of the bar owner. Liquor included, things were much more expensive in Alaska than the lower 48; a short list of groceries for camping could cost up to fifty dollars. At these prices I can't say we ate well when off of the resort property. The local people of Alaska should also be addressed; it is said the population is made up of many people who come there escaping the law and warrants from the lower 48 states. Proven true in our experiences, many people we met were unbalanced to say the least. I consider myself a bold girl from New York, and still I found that Alaska was not a place to be found alone. Soon enough though, we were among a vast amount of wilderness, relaxing on the river, and enjoying "The Midnight Sun." In August, sightings of the aurora borealis were another first for me. It is said that these lights are active all year but can only be seen when the Alaskan sky is dark enough. Glistening bands of blue and green hues screen the night sky as if being dragged slowly by the winds. And although I had taken pictures, there is no comparison to camping at an altitude of 8,000 ft, the only human people for miles, lying awe-struck to this beautiful sight.

Summers here on Long Island, NY usually consist of beaches, bars, and trying to stay cool in the humid, hot days. This four month excursion and journey was unlike any experience I have ever had before. I realize the conveniences of New York life in contrast to living in a place where a two hour drive is certain for buying basic essential toiletries. There is life beyond shopping centers, fast food, and the rushed stampede of a daily commute along highways and expressways. I have encountered the unknown Alaskan frontier; it is now part of my heart, soul and mind's eye. This is not a trip suited for the meek, or timid, but is for spirited, high-minded individuals with a zest for life and nature in its most basic form. Not knowing what to expect, Alaska did not have much to offer upon arrival, but I came home fulfilled and stimulated from my experience.

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