Alaska Tourism

Seward, tourist hub of southcentral Alaska

Seward, Alaska, the small port city on the Kenai Peninsula, remains one of the most visited Alaska tourist communities. Nestled along the scenic Resurrection Bay and sitting next to scenic mountains and nearby fjords, it offers fabulous views and access to Alaska’s abundant wildlife, as well as fishing. The foreign-run cruise-ship industry also docks in Seward and unloads literally hundreds of thousands of visitors every tourist season—an estimated 1.3 million people will visit Alaska by these floating behemoths of the sea in 2019.

I frequently drove to Seward when I worked and lived in Anchorage from 2004 to 2010. The drive offered spectacular views, and each trip was rewarded by equally great vistas and experiences in Seward. I loved late spring and early summer the most. Here are a few of the scenes from trips I made in 2009 and 2010. I miss it and remember the landscape fondly.

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Iditarod Memories

(Click on each image to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

There is nothing more true to the spirit of Alaska than the “last great race on Earth.” That race is none other than the Iditarod.

This world-famous and celebrated dogsled race, from the interior Alaskan community of Willow to the coastal community of Nome, covers more than 900 miles of Alaska’s backcountry in the freezing winter. Mushers, leading teams from 12 to 16 dogs, compete for mostly glory and cash prizes for the lucky top finishers. That glory is often international media coverage. Japanese and German media frequently make the visit, to name a few.

The race is followed live by dog lovers the world over. Those with deep pockets and plenty of free time fly to Alaska in winter to catch a glimpse of the annual ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage the first Saturday of March, followed by the official start on a frozen lake in Willow. A few of the rich visitors will pay a handsome fee to ride in a dogsled on the ceremonial 11-mile run that starts the race in Anchorage.

Race Origins and this Year’s Contest

The race’s origins are tied to the famous public health emergency in 1925. A diphtheria outbreak in Nome, Alaska, required that emergency medical supplies be delivered, and dogsledders made the journey. A statue in downtown Anchorage commemorates that famous event, honoring the lead sled dog, Balto.

Today’s modern Iditarod roughly celebrates that legacy and mostly follows the same difficult route, over mountain ranges, frozen berms, and through Native villages. Joe Redington Sr., an Alaskan musher whose family legacy remains well-known in the Great Land, worked with Dorothy Page to launch the modern race in 1967.

That first race had 57 mushers. This year there will only be 53, down from more than 80 when I saw the race start in person in between 2005 and 2010. The race has come on hard times in recent years due to dog deaths, drug tests, and feuds. Sponsorships likely have dried up to support a profession/passion that is like none other in the world. No musher can afford this sport without sponsors and/or corporate backers. Each musher is an entrepreneur, as well a master of a team of world-class athlete dogs.

The 47th annual running of the race begins at the ceremonial start on March 2, several blocks from where I used to work for six years. I could walk here from my house.

How I Enjoyed the Ceremonial Start Day

While living in Anchorage, I would always catch the race at two places. I would arrive early at downtown, before the dawn broke, to watch the racers and their support crew unload their sleds and dogs early in usually freezing cold conditions in downtown Anchorage. The night before crews of municipal workers would work til the early morning hours hauling in snow from streets normally plowed clear. At this staging area, dogs were kings and queens and mushers were royalty. Everyone, like me, was taking pictures.

I then would head to midtown Anchorage, where a family I knew hosted an annual Knapp’s Crossing Iditarod Party, just outside of the University of Anchorage. The dog teams would run by, the Knapps serenaded them with trumpet songs, and everyone cheered.

The pictures here date from 2007, the year cancer survivor and famous musher Lance Mackey won the race after competing and winning in the earlier Yukon Quest dog race between Fairbanks and Dawson City.

[Ed. note: I updated this post on March 3, 2019, to correct the number of mushers who competed between 1005 and 2010. The correct and revised number, “more than 80,” is listed above.]

Leaving Alaska, My Heart Hung Low

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

It has been seven years and 11 months since I boarded a ferry in Haines, Alaska, and bid farewell to the Great Land. I had spent six years there and knew I had to move on to another stage of my life, back in the Lower 48. That was a very difficult decision. Upon leaving, on the ferry, I wrote this poem. I hope you enjoy it and these photos of Haines and stunningly beautiful Lynn Canal.

Missing Alaska
(August 23, 2010)

Waves of sadness, tears of sorrow
Emotions tapped, I fear tomorrow
Leaving Alaska, heart hangs low
A land of rawness, joy, and woe
Mountains strong and beauty sweeping
Oceans teaming, rivers streaming
The bears and wolves I loved the most
Cruelly hunted, I heard their ghosts
Ketchikan, Kodiak, Kaktovik
Kotzebue, Barrow, Anchorage
Skiing trails pure perfection
Running Arctic, path to heaven
Moose abounding, daily sitings
Ravens, eagles, seagulls fighting
Running races, feet alighting
Found my stride, crashed, time abiding
Then life aquatic, laps and polo
Westchester walks, though mostly solo
Missing dearly Chugach mountains
Always lovely, next to heaven
Sharp memories that still cut deep
I’ll guard them close, forever keep

Bears, Bikes, and Denali

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

In May 2010, I took one of the funnest trips I logged during my six-year stay living and working in Alaska. I joined a group of some adventurous and fun outdoor-loving Alaskans for a mountain-bike day trip into Denali National Park.

Before the National Park Service opens the main park road to tourist buses, it allows cyclists to pedal up this mostly dirt road. On that trip, I went with a group of four other mountain bikers, getting as far as the Polychrome Overlook. I didn’t see Denali. Clouds will cover the majestic peak more than half the tourist season, so I didn’t expect to see it. I did expect wildlife, maybe some waking grizzly bears, other wild animals, and beautiful terrain. On that front, the trip was a stunning success.

Denali by Mountain Bike, the Only Way to Travel in Mid-May

The adventure began, as you can expect, around a campfire after all of us had driven up from Anchorage (amazing drive, by the way). We secured a camping spot at the Riley Creek Campground, near the main entrance. This is still a surprisingly wild and beautiful area. Staying up late in the arctic night, we talked story around a fire and planned for an early start on a Friday morning in mid-May.

The next morning, we drove as far as the park service allows, not far from the Savage River Campground. From here, you bike in,

A group of five of us cycled ahead of most of the other mountain bikers that day and reached the overlook, 31 miles from the Savage River parking area. It’s a beautiful stretch of road that climbs up 1,500 feet vertically, with a few long up and down hills. The terrain is mostly brown and still snow-covered that time of year. Along the way, we had to stop because of traffic, namely, a grizzly mother and her two cubs. We laughed a lot as she and her young one slowly walked down the hill, calmly crossed the road, and then ambled down the hillside. We saw another pair close to this group, of a mother and just one cub, on a ridge, framed against a mastic mountain backdrop. That’s five bears in less than one hour!

Respecting, Not Fearing, the Bears

For people who don’t live in Alaska or those who pack guns to kill wild critters, this would appear to be a terrifying moment. It was not, and is not.

Bears are relatively predictable, but still lethal. If you respect their space, don’t threaten their food source or young, and don’t startle them, they mostly will leave you alone. Mostly, respect them and their home. And I can say that having travelled hundreds of hours and many more miles in Alaska’s wild bear country, by bike and foot, not once having been threatened.

I have not published these shots on my websites before and forgot until I saw them again how amazingly breathtaking the “Great Land” (that’s what Alaskans call their state) is. I miss it, particularly this time of year, when the snow begins to melt and the big critters begin to explore, eat, hunt, fish, and be wild–the way they were meant to be.

Here’s the video I published almost exactly eight years ago today from that great trip.