Visiting Alaska is like being in a National Geographic special.
There wasn’t a day during my trip that I didn’t find myself repeatedly saying, if not overusing the exclamation, “wow” in response to what I saw.
Alaska is crazy beautiful, and sometimes even crazy sounding with its animal life.
I say crazy because there were times when I thought the majestic, and seemingly endless scenery couldn’t be entirely real. That I must have been daydreaming at least some of the time.
But I can attest that my time up north was not embellished by figments of my imagination.
Many people who visit Alaska do so by cruise ship. In fact, some of my friends asked me if I was going on a cruise when I told them I was going to vacation in America’s 49th state.
My trip involved flying into Anchorage, the state’s largest city, and driving hundreds of miles to places like Seward and Denali National Park.
Ordinarily, spending hours and hours driving in a car wouldn’t be much of a vacation.
But when you’re logging serious mileage in Alaska, the long drives don’t seem that long at all because your eyes are constantly transfixed by the landscape.
Take my first day, for example.
Flying into Anchorage can be something of a crapshoot when it comes to weather and visibility. Overcast skies, I’m told, aren’t uncommon, and can impair the vantage of your window seat while your plane makes its descent towards Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
I was lucky. It was partly sunny that day as we came out of the clouds. The first thing I saw were towering cinnamon-colored mountains just on the outskirts of Anchorage.
A few moments later, we were banking over an immense bay that borders the other end of this deep-water port city.
After landing and getting into the rental car, we drove south toward Seward on a highway that goes through an immense valley.
That’s when I saw the first, second, and third glacier of my life.
Glaciers aren’t exactly a common sight in Alaska, but it sure seemed that way.
You can drive less than an hour outside Anchorage and spy from your car seat one frozen river of ice after another, each hovering between snow-capped peaks.
These were the first of many “wow” moments I had — on a trip that was only hours old.
The opening of my vacation also involved seeing grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolves, porcupines and bald eagles from a distance of only a few feet away.
All of these animals can be seen in the wild of Alaska, if not just off the road in many cases.
The ones I witnessed on my first day were living at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which rescues and cares for creatures large and small that can no longer survive on their own.
Moose are a common sight in Alaska. There are road signs everywhere, including on the streets of Anchorage — a city of 300,000 residents — warning of moose crossings.
A couple days later, while on our way to Denali National Park, we came around a long bend in the highway and abruptly pulled the car over.
Three moose — including a bull sporting an impressive set of antlers — were standing just off the shoulder, grazing away. I later learned they love munching on the wild blueberries that grow in Alaska.
It’s one thing to see deer just off the road in Napa. It’s quite another to see an animal that can stand 7 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh 1,500 pounds hanging out near the interstate.
But that’s Alaska.
No matter how many “Nature” programs on PBS or NatGeo series you watch, the terrain and species of Alaska are something to behold with your very own eye.
Alaska’s state bird is the willow ptarmigan, which locals refer to as snow chickens. Their feathers change from brown in the summer to white in winter.
But the really distinguishable thing about the ptarmigan is their call. They produce a guttural sound that is almost cartoonish. You can find examples on YouTube.
Or better yet, book a trip to Alaska and hear it for yourself in person, along with the many other wonderful natural sights the state has to offer.