Monday, June 23, 2008

Our Alaskan Cruise

I really wanted to do a series of posts on all the different places and experiences we had in Alaska, but I'm just not going to have the time to do it. I'll post some of my favorite pictures as well as links to Erin's pictures on Facebook and her blog entries a bit later.
Here's a highlight list of my thoughts and experiences:

  • Alaska is an extreme place. As they say, "EVERYTHING is bigger in Alaska; mosquitos and bears." One tour guide told stories of a 2 ton bear attacking a lady's trailer. The weather, the mountain peaks, the avalanches, the poisonous herbs, the size of the glaciers, the wildlife and especially the scenery. Alaska is over twice the size of Texas and would touch all four corners of a map of the 48 states.
  • We toured the Alaska capital, which was small (things to do with people are the only small things in Alaska). Juneau is the third largest city in the world, in regards to square mileage, but there are only 30,000 residents.
  • Whale watching was an amazing experience. We went on a boat out into a harbor off Juneau. At one point, there were three whales swimming around our boat! And at the very end of the excursion, a young humpback came by our boat and was jumping out of the water, which rarely happens. That was awesome. To see a video of one humpback surfacing, click here.
  • Glaciers are an amazing creation! It's crazy to think of how much of our nation's geography was formed by glaciers. When we saw the boulders and rocks being moved along with the glacier, my dad finally understood why there are big rocks out in the middle of Iowa cornfields. Glaciers cover 10% of the world's surface, which is the same amount of the earth that is farmed.
    There were mountains in Glacier Bay National Park that show how life returns to land after a glacier has moved through. Right after a glacier moves across land, it's just bare rock. Then moss comes to the rock and then eventually bushes and trees, and then animals return. Glaciers slowly and painfully remove what is there and then new life eventually returns. I thought it was a good picture of how the Holy Spirit works in our lives.
    At College Fjord National Park, we were able to see 5 glaciers at one time from where our cruise ship was sitting, it was INCREDIBLE. I was listening to the icebergs pop in the water. But since I'd already seen so many glaciers, I quickly got bored and went back inside to watch the NBA finals on a big screen in a theatre.
    We saw a football field sized piece of ice fall off (called "calving") the St. John's Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. The park ranger on our boat said it's rare to see such a big piece fall into the ocean. To watch it, click here.
  • My dad about slid into a 100 foot crevasse as we were hiking on one of the glaciers. He tripped on the ice spikes on our boots, fell over and started to slide toward the crevasse. He stopped at least 8 feet from serious danger, but it was enough to seriously freak out my mom. Our guide said, "I'm glad you stopped because I didn't want to go in there after you.
  • My mom and I went snorkeling off the coast at Ketchikan in 45 degree water. We were wearing a wetsuit, but the water has to enter the suit before it gets warmed by your body heat. Those were some seriously cold few minutes. Snorkeling isn't as cool as scuba diving and I wasn't able to get too deep because I couldn't get my ears to pressurize, but we still saw some cool stuff.
  • Everyone knows about the beauty of the Swiss Alps, but I think Alaska is prettier. The Alps are more in our public conscious because people actually live there and you've got stories like "the sound of music". Since hardly anyone lives in Alaska, you don't hear about it as much. But it's the most breathtaking place I've ever been, nothing comes close.
  • Going through the museum at Skagway and learning about the Klondike gold rush at the turn of the last century was really interesting. Those guys were tougher than I could imagine. This was the experience that made Jack London famous. And being in Alaska's wilderness helped me understand why in his man vs nature stories, nature always won!
  • Hiking on the Mendenhall Glacier is something I'll remember for the rest of my life. I've never had an experience that even comes close to what that was like. That's what I love about traveling; having experiences you'll never forget.
  • We took two breathtaking helicopter rides. One took us to the Mendenhall Glacier and another took us to the middle of the rain forest. As we were flying to the glacier, the mountains below suddenly changed from the green of trees and bushes to the white of snow and glaciers, it was amazing. We also flew over a herd of mountain goats. Our second helicopter ride took us deep into the coastal rain forest of the Klondike territory. We flew over valleys and lakes and even hovered right alongside a glacier; flying to the glacier leaving the glacier
  • The hike through the coastal rain forest is also something I'll never forget. We were dropped off in the middle of a valley and then took a fairly easy 4 mile trail through the rain forest. Our guide was great, she explained all kinds of stuff to us. We hiked alongside a river that was flowing directly out of the mountain. Since the water comes directly from the glaciers, nothing lives in it and it's perfectly clean. It's also too cold for animals. At one point, we stood on some massive boulders in the middle of the river. We were surrounded by small peaks and trees on our right and left and huge snow covered peaks at the end of the valley both behind and in front of us. I took a video, but don't know if it does the sight much justice. link We then hiked to a point just above the tree line. My mom thought the $10,000 outhouse at that point on the trail was really interesting!
  • We've survived as a human race without mining or even developing Alaska, I hope that can continue. Just about the whole state is a national or state park; all protected land.
  • I learned that receding icebergs is because of global warming, but it's hard to know how much of that is caused by humans. We've had a 250 year warming period that has melted the glaciers. With that said, though, the park rangers said there is no debate at all as to whether our planet is warming and as to whether humans are contributing to it. They aren't sure the extent of human involvement (although it's thought to be large) but any debate about whether humans are causing global climate change is found only in political arenas. Scientists are all in complete agreement.
  • Finally, cruising is the perfect way for Erin and me to vacation, it's a good balance between recreation and relaxation. Our 3 days at sea were very relaxing. Our 3 days in a port were amazing but exhausting. Well, the downside was that I gained a few pounds from all the rich food, of which I ate a LOT!

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