Exploring Southeast AlaskaPosted: May 28, 2012
Last week Lucas and I went on a nine day adventure to Southeast Alaska. It is a place of extremes: overwhelming mountain and ocean views coupled with intense weather and an abundance of wildlife. In moments of sun or clear skies, it was beautiful, like seeing a cloud of sparklers at night, almost magical. But other days, it was wet and foggy, which was sometimes eerily striking in its own right, and sometimes equally frustrating. I have never been so glad to own a good rain coat.
*Map courtesy of http://montessoriborealis.wordpress.com/about/
It was a traveling trip. We flew into Ketchikan, AK, a small town of around 14,000 people, and the southern most city on our trip. We spent two nights camping and touring this area before hopping on the Marine Highway, the state ferry system that connects this roadless corner of Alaska. Our ferry, the Columbia, passed through the even smaller towns of Wrangell and Petersburg, before we reached our next destination, Juneau. The state capital, and home to around 31,000 people, Juneau is nestled in a narrow straight with mountains on all sides. Here we explored and camped for three nights before getting on a new ferry, the Fairweather, for our final boat ride to Sitka. It is a small town, around 8,000 people, on the outer edge of the southeast, surrounded by little islands that dot the ocean like gum drops. We spent three nights here, staying with a family friend. I loved the sinking immersion of being in one region for so long and seeing how the little communities that stretch out across this part of the Alaskan coast are so similar and yet so different.
One of my favorite unifying factors was the Tongass National Forest, part of the largest temperate rainforest in the world that stretches 1,000 miles along the coastline of the Pacific. All the places we visited were dripping in green for this exact reason. On several of our hikes in the southeast, moss and lichen were so invasive it covered every inch of the forest floor, wrapped up around the trunks of trees, and hung like gnarled green hair from the limps above. A snow globe of green. After months of white on white, it felt almost like falling into another world.
In addition to the forests, and the snow capped mountains towering over them, the ocean and the culture it creates seem to tie this part of Alaska together in a way roads never could. Fishing is life here, whether as a profession, for food, or for fun, boats and harbors are more plentiful than parking lots. Access to the water expands the reach and scope of life in the southeast making the small stretches of land populated with people feel much bigger than they look. And of course, I never get tired of seeing all the marine life that thrive in this isolated place.
I can’t possible write about our whole trip in one blog, so this is the introduction. Welcome to the southeast. More to come in the next few days.