Friday, March 16, 2007

More Must See Sights

Glacier Bay
Glaciers are one of the reasons tourists flock to Alaska. Glaciers are constantly on the move, shaping the landscape.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Photo Image © Karen Toh

The Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve provides you with a glimpse of its sixteen tidewater glaciers. Glacier Bay was discovered by John Muir in 1879 which a century before was nothing by a wall of ice which is today a fjord 65 miles long. The glacier is fast receding, and is one of the places where visitors can see glacier ice calve from its 150 feet walls. Ice calving occurs when pieces or even sections of ice break away and fall into the water. If you hear the crack and roar, this means you have missed the event, since sound travels slower.

Prince William Sound and College Fjord
The Prince William sound is a helicopter ride or a ferry ride away from Whittier, which is easily reached from Anchorage through the tunnels in the Chugach Mountains.

Prince William Sound & College Fjord, Alaska
Photo Image © Karen Toh

College Fjord is a fjord located in the northern sector of Prince William Sound in the U.S. state of Alaska. The fjord contains five tidewater glaciers (glaciers that terminate in water), five large valley glaciers, and dozens of smaller glaciers, most named after renowned East Coast colleges, like Columbia Glacier, Dartmouth Glacier, Harvard Glacier, Wellesley Glacier, Williams Glacier, Yale Glacier and more..

The waters of the sound are uniquely protected and diverse, and are a rich nursery to all kinds of wild life – otters, harbour seals, whales, bears, goats and gulls and other migrating birds.

The Columbia Glacier is the largest among many that drop down from the Chugach Mountains into the northerly fjords of Prince William Sound.
Valdez is another port of call near Anchorage. The original town was wiped off by a tsunami on Good Friday, March 27, 1964 after an earthquake – 9.2 on the Richter scale, set off an underwater landslide causing the huge wave that swept over the waterfront killing 32 people, sinking and destroying the town. The new town has since been relocated and today.

With the trans-Alaska pipeline ending in Valdez, which brought many tankers to its port, the town began to boom once more.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Valdez, Alaska
Photo Image courtesy of

However on Good Friday, March 24, 1989 almost 25 years since the earthquake, the tanker Exxon Valdez, on its way south, hit the Bligh Reef, causing the largest and most environmental costly oil spill ever in North America. The spill cleanup added another economic boom to Valdez.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill was one of the largest manmade environmental disasters ever to occur at sea, seriously affecting plants and wildlife. Its remote location (accessible only by helicopter and boat) made government and industry response efforts difficult, and severely taxed existing plans for response.
It is the largest city in the state of Alaska, and while there’s a lot of information about what to do in this city, it is the one place where you can get to any other destination in Alaska – whether it’s by plane, sea, train, bus or by car.

Anchorage, Alaska
Photo Image courtesy of

Anchorage itself is a very nice city, it has great views as it stands between the Chugach Mountains, which are protected by the Chugach State Park, and the waters of upper Cook Inlet. Less than 15 miles from downtown Anchorage stands Chugach’s most popular mountain – Flattop Mountain, which is visible from the city. City roads approach to within a mile from its base and it is apparently an easy climb, taking hikers two to three hours to reach its summit.

Anchorage is the hub for many who want to tour the interior of Alaska, or who may not want to take a 7 night cruise. Should you wish to see College Fjord and the Prince William Sound, you can take a bus or train to Whittier and join a day tour.

No Roads Lead to Nome
Dog Sledding remains a practical means of transport in winter, but once a year comes the last great race on earth – the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The race starts from Anchorage on the first Saturday of March each year. The finish line is in Nome, some 1,770 km away, and while all roads lead to Rome, no roads lead to Nome!

March is probably the coldest time in winter, and this annual race began in 1973 to commemorate the 1925 “race for life” when 20 mushers relayed life-saving serum to Nome, which was then fighting a diphtheria epidemic. The trail crosses two mountain ranges, runs along the Yukon River and crosses the pack ice of Norton sound.

The dogs are the true heroes in this race – they have been bred for endurance, speed and stamina.

At Jeff King’s Iditarod Champion’s Homestead & Dog Kennel, near Denali National Park, Alaska
Photo Image © Karen Toh
Dog mushers have to take care of their dogs on the trail. They feed and water the dogs, check their physical condition to ensure that the dog can make the rest of the journey.

There are usually a team of up to 16 dogs. The lead dog is the smartest of the lot, and must be born a leader.

The Northern Lights
While many visitors to Alaska may not be able to see the northern lights, if you’re lucky, you can catch a “show” in the local cultural center. The northern lights occur most intensely within an oval band that stretches across Alaska (as well as Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Siberia.), which is known as the “auroral zone”. One of the best views to be had is in Fairbanks in Alaska. The aurora occurs throughout the year, but can only be seen on clear nights when the sky has darkened, and is thought to be caused by particles in the upper atmosphere being charged by the gas molecules caused by solar flares from the sun. The result are a show of lights with colors varying from pale yellowish green to red, blue and purplish red.
Aurora Borealis
Photo Image courtesy of

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