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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Alaska: Our visit during July, 2013

I love travelling and visiting places. To visit Alaska was one of my lifetime dreams. I dream a lot and aspire a lot. Obviously, I still have many more dreams to be realized. I am a regular visitor to U.S. during the last little more than a decade and for one reason or other, a trip to Alaska was eluding me every time. Finally, it materialized this year during July. We discussed a number of destinations in Alaska, debated between the sea route by a cruise from Seattle and the air route by a flight, the number of days required and the places to be visited etc. We decided upon Anchorage as our destination. We started planning for the trip since March/April. We had most of the arrangements done over the Internet before leaving for Alaska.   

On 12th July afternoon, while Lakshmi, my wife and I left from Chicago for Alska, Balaji, my son-in-law and Viji along with their children, Sanjay and Sahana, left from Phoenix around the same time the same day. We changed flight at Seattle, Washington after a four-hour wait while they changed flight at Portland, Oregon. We all reached Anchorage almost around the same time at 9.30 in the night. When we came out of the airport, we were pleasantly surprised that it was bright and sunny and looked like broad daylight. Sun doesn’t really seem to set during peak summer in Alaska. In Alaska, they usually have long days lasting almost 20 hours during summer and in winter, it is the reverse – just a couple of hours. It took long for me to understand that for earth, with its spheroid shape and axial tilt, its northern hemisphere is exposed to Sun for most part of the day and night and thus the days are very long during summer and the reverse during winter.

Alaska is situated in northwest extreme corner of North American continent sharing its international boundary with Russia to the West, only separated by the Arctic and Pacific Ocean, and Canada to the east. It is the largest state in United States by area, but the 4th least densely populated of all the States. I understand that nearly half of Alaska’s residents live around Anchorage region. Oil and Natural Gas exploration and Fishing are the major industries, supporting the economy of Alaska. Alaska originally belonged to Russia and was purchased over from them on March 30, 1867 for $7.2 M. It became the 49th state of the U.S. on January 3, 1959. In their native language, it is known as Alyeska, “the great land.”
 Saturday, the 13th July:

Marriot Residence Inn, where we stayed, was an excellent place and offered fabulous breakfast in the morning. We had hired a mini-van. Viji and Balaji had brought their two car seats from Phoenix for the children. Carrying the car seats everywhere, when one travels with the kids within U.S is one of the annoying factors, but something that one will have to live with. They also brought a frying pan and rice-cooker. We made some grocery purchases locally and cooked our own food in the hotel room. That was our routine on almost all days during our stay in Alaska. Getting decent vegetarian food could be very difficult in Alaska. So, cooking our own South Indian food, kept all of us free from any possible stomach trouble.
This day, we had planned to explore scenic places around Anchorage. Our first destination was to be Alyeska Mountain resort. Balaji took the steering with Viji sitting by his side in the front, for helping with directions. They had their GPS in place, but as we had seen in a few other places too, the printed maps provided by the local Tourist Information Centers were very much helpful in some interior places.

Cook Inlet stretches 180 miles from Gulf of Alaska up to Anchorage which looks surrounded by the two arms of Cook Inlet – Knik Arm on northern side and Turnagain Arm on the southern side. Just south of Anchorage, the Seward Highway hugs the dramatic shorelines of Turnagain Arm, arguably one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in America. Chugach State Park's 3000-feet mountains jut up on our left. Alyeska Mountain was 2500 feet high. We drove through this 41 miles long, scenic, four-lane Seward highway along the Turnagain Arm.
At night, I am told, the sprawling, sometimes four-mile-wide flats of Turnagain Arm seem to stretch like a plain to the opposite shores of Cook Inlet, where mammoth sloping mountains abruptly stop their flat expanse. Each turn during this drive revealed another scenic wonder.

Turnagain Arm is one of only about 60 bodies of water worldwide to exhibit a tidal bore, a tidal phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave or waves of water that travels up a river or a narrow bay against the directions of the river or the bay’s current. Turnagain Arm sees the largest tidal range in U.S. with a mean of 30 feet, and the fourth highest in the world. The ocean’s natural 12-hour 25-minute tidal cycle is close to Turnagain Arm’s natural resonance frequency, which then reinforces the tide similar to water sloshing in a bathtub. That day, if we had waited till 10.30 PM in the night, we could have seen this very unique tidal bore phenomenon. Because of the children, we couldn’t afford to come back to Turnagain Arm to witness this.
We then reached the base station for going up the 2750 feet high Alyeska Mountain to reach the ski resort through a closed rope car. Mount Alyeska was part of the larger Chugach mountain range and the Alyeska resort is the largest ski area in the region. When we reached the base station, the first to welcome us was a swamp of mosquitoes. Yes, mosquitoes in America. Travel advisory strongly recommended carrying mosquito repellants while one travels to Alaska. We bought our tickets, got into the rope car and reached the ski station at the top, viewing on the way the scenic beauty around the hills and the valley down below. There we met a just-married couple – An African-American and a White lady at the Ski Station and took pictures with them.

The areas around the entrance to the ski resort were flat closer to the station, sloping up and down in different directions. They offered excellent opportunities to hike. Patches of snow were scattered here and there. The view was very good. We walked around, took lot of pictures, and played in the slippery snow.

We returned back to the base station and drove to Anchorage stopping over at several scenic places to take pictures of the Turnagain Arm Inlet.

We prepared dinner at the hotel room and went to sleep.

                                                                                                                        ……. To be continued in PART II

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