Alaska — Land of surprises

Beautiful. Vast. Harsh.

One. The sun doesn’t rise until after 9:00am and when it does it is intense and blinding white light. Even sun glasses don’t stop the glare. No wonder northern explorers wear goggles.

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Two. Whittier, Alaska, on Prince William Sound, doesn’t have much going for it in November. Whittier is the fishing and glacier touring capital of Alaska, but only through September. Come November, the few tourist shops there are shuttered and closed. I’m a Minnesota girl and the fierce wind was piercing my coat and long underwear. It was brutally cold. We had an interesting conversation the harbor master. She said that until the 1970s Whitter was a secret military base because the water in the bay doesn’t freeze. After they left the military barracks slowly decayed away. Sad. This big rotting building adds to Whittier’s forlorn ambiance. At the harbor we met two guys who had just came in from scuba diving. SCUBA DIVING, in Prince William Sound, in November, in freezing weather. I asked them if there wasn’t a better place to go scuba diving. They said it’s great scuba diving because the water is so rich with nutrients there is abundant plant life and fish life — it’s very colorful underwater. I just couldn’t get my head around donning scuba gear in that weather and going into the water. But after we left I thought, dang it, I should have asked them to take me out diving. Hmmm . . . maybe we’ll have to take another trip to Whittier. Who else could say they’ve been scuba diving in Alaska in November?

The harbor in Whittier. Sailboats in November.

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The commercial harbor and shipping containers.

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Commercial harbor master building?

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Abandoned military barracks.

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Downtown Whittier.

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Three. Anchorage has 32 foot tides. Which makes the though of scuba diving, or sailing, or boating a treacherous endeavor. I’ve heard sailors talk about confused waters. Alaska has confused waters. The wind was howling from one direction and the tides were moving the other direction. I sat next to an air force colonel on the flight up to Alaska and he told me not to go out on the mud flat during low tide. He said every year people drown because they get stuck in the mud and the tide comes in and they can’t get off the mud flats. What a horrible way to die: stuck in the mud as you watch the tide come in that you know is going to drown you. We’ll take his advice and enjoy the mud flats from a distance. Alaska is beautiful — but harsh.

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Four. The mountains are gigantic and steep. We marveled that trees could even grow on them. They are big, steep, rugged, and everywhere. There are areas of the mountains that are almost vertical with no trees, but where there are trees it’s amazing they can cling to the mountain.

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Five. Glaciers are blue. The harbor master explained as the snow accumulates the pressure squeezes the air out of the snow and that’s what makes the blue color. It’s not ice: it’s compressed snow.

See the blue?

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Six. The $12.00 tunnel to Whittier. It costs $12.00 round trip to go through a four-mile, one-lane tunnel that is shared by 2-way vehicle traffic and trains. After exploring Whittier we laughed about who would ever buy a ONE WAY ticket to Whitter.

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Seven. The food is good. Anchorage has a great restaurant scene. It’s not hicksville.

Eight. Girdwood is gorgeous. And the Hotel Aleyska is gorgeous. It’s ski resort hotel nestled in the mountains; one of only two in the Anchorage area. No wonder — it’s hard to find mountains that can be skied because the vast majority are waaaaay to steep. Even the mountains in Girdwood are steep; definitely not a ski resort for beginners.

The road to Girdwood.

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Hotel Aleyska, Girdwood, Alaska.

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Sunset.

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