Alaska is amazing. Millions of people vacation there every summer, and I was one of the lucky ones. In July 2016, I traveled there from my home in Everett, Wash., north of Seattle, along with my Aunt Sheila and Uncle Don and another family with a teen-ager named Colin and his younger brother Derrick. But we didn’t fly up there — we took the Columbia Ferry from Bellingham in northwest Washington through what’s known as the Inland Passage, a network of channels weaving through hundreds of islands off the Pacific Coast of Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.
It took two days reach the small town of Ketchikan, but unlike a cruise ship, we camped out each night right on the deck of the ferry. It was fascinating to see Humpback whales, Dall’s porpoises, and Harbor seals out in the water. There weren’t many “fun” things to do on the ferry, but the real fun started once we landed.
After a few days of exploring the historic town of Ketchikan, we took another ferry to our first campsite 120 miles north at Wrangell City Park and pitched three large tents; plenty of room for all seven of us. For four days, we went on different hikes, either into the mountains or to view cascading waterfalls. We saw moose, elk, bald eagles and lots of smaller animals, such as mice, voles, and chipmunks. But the day we were packing up to get on the next ferry, a black bear walked straight through our campsite! Luckily, I was in the tent when that happened.
We next went by ferry to the Mendenhall Campground, adjacent to the famous Mendenhall Glacier. But instead of taking a guided tour, my Uncle Don, a dedicated mountaineer who summited Mt. Everest in 1998, led us out onto the glacier, and we walked around without any gear or special ice shoes — scary and fun at the same time!
The next event on the itinerary was a bus trip and ferry ride to Glacier Bay on Alaska’s southern peninsula. We camped at Bartlett’s Cove campground on a large inlet, and that turned out to be the highlight of my trip. We rode on a ferry that circled the bay and provided some spectacular views of whales, sea otters, and seals. We saw glacier-melt waterfalls 100 feet high, thousands of seals sunning themselves on rocks near the shore, and endless flocks of seabirds.
After that magical experience, we hiked onto a nearby glacier, one that was totally cool, including an ice cave that was bathed in translucent blue light! The surface was partially covered in silt and rock, but it was amazing to see cascades of meltwater flowing down the massive sheet of ice.
But Alaska isn’t only about stunning views and incredible wildlife, it’s about the effect people have on Nature. As I traveled there, I saw what’s happening to the environment, even in such a wild and distant place. Climate change is melting the glaciers and threatening the survival of animals like polar bears. At the Mendenhall Glacier Park Center, I saw photos of the glacier over time. It’s shrunk by almost 70% in size from just 10 years ago!
I also got a firsthand look at how the changing climate was affecting the Native people. Alaska turned out to be the greatest vacation ever, but also the most eye-opening. My journey there has changed me for the rest of my life. I brought back some wonderful memories, but also a deeper knowledge and appreciation of how precious and how fragile the natural world really is.
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