There is something about Alaska that has always stirred the imagination. From the first migrants who crossed the Bering land bridge during the ice ages, to today’s travelers escaping the madness of city life, Alaska draws people from the world over to see its wonders: dramatic mountains and immense glaciers, rivers thick with brown bears, northern lights dancing across a velvety winter sky.
Alaska is a place apart — both physically and culturally — from the rest of the United States. In Alaska, the term wilderness does not refer to a small enclave of the natural world surrounded by shopping malls, traffic jams, and suburban sprawl. The Great Land is so huge, so wild, so underpopulated that it’s almost incomprehensible: it falls right off the edge of your imagination. Here, like nowhere else on earth, human developments will always be dwarfed by the vastness of the land.
One characteristic of Alaska that comes as a surprise to first-time visitors is its diversity. It isn’t just the high mountains and forested valleys of Interior Alaska, but also vast rain forests carpeting the islands of the Inside Passage, the wildlife-rich tundra stretching to the horizon on the Yukon Delta, the active volcanoes of the Aleutian Islands where earthquakes are an almost daily occurrence, and even a surfing beach that extends 70 miles along the Gulf of Alaska.
You could spend an evening in Anchorage dining on king crab and sampling French wines, and the next day take a one-hour floatplane ride to a cabin where the only sounds are singing loons and droning mosquitoes.
Alaska has not just the continent’s tallest mountain (20,320-foot Mt. McKinley) but entire ranges where unnamed peaks rim the valleys. One of the most spectacular areas — Wrangell–St. Elias National Park — covers an astounding 13 million acres, with three mountain ranges, many volcanoes, a glacier larger than Rhode Island, massive rivers, and nine of the 16 highest mountains in North America.
Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska has the highest brown bear density of any place on earth, with thick spruce forests, gorgeous alpine country, graceful bays, and one tiny Native Alaskan village on the southwestern shore. Located above the Arctic Circle, Kobuk Valley National Park has sand dunes topping 250 feet in height and covering 25 square miles.
If you haven’t been to Alaska before, you’re in for a treat. If you have, you will almost certainly want to return.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition