‘Then my heart turns to Alaska, and freedom on the run. I can hear her spirit calling me…”
My mom had always promised my sister and I that one day she would bring us to Alaska. At the time I didn’t get what it meant to her and that she really would fulfil this promise one day.
However, when the time came for us to go, our family had grown from four to seven of us including my boyfriend, my sister’s husband and their beautiful daughter. So we all set out from various parts of the world to meet in Anchorage. My boyfriend and I made the haul from Italy (Milano-Frankfurt-Seattle-Anchorage) with excitement, only imagining what the trip would have in store. We had so many plans: Denali National Park, seeing sled-dogs, Glacier Bay National Park, whale watching in Juneau and so much more. My mother put so many hours into planning this trip with the hopes of making it a trip of a lifetime. She exceeded every possible expectation because every time I think of Alaska, tears come to my eyes thinking of the wonderful moments spent with family in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
THE MAGIC & MIGHT OF DENALI
This mountain which dominates the sky at 20,310 feet (6,190 meters) is by far the most mighty thing I have ever seen. The three towering peaks (Denali, Mt. Foraker and Mt. Hunter) were all visible from Anchorage, 300 kilometers away, and that is when I realized just how big we were talking. After a day spent exploring the coastline in Anchorage and keeping our eyes open for wildlife, we took a much needed rest to recharge for the ride that would take us further into the wild country.
The next day we took the George Parks Highway by motorcoach up to Talkeetna, where we were much closer to “The Great One” and as we approached the lodge we could see that she was completely visible and glorious. We couldn’t get off the motorcoach fast enough. After frantically taking pictures, I was finally able to put my phone down and just take it in (seeing Denali like this is a gift that apparently only 10% or so of tourists get– everyone kept telling us how LUCKY we were). In fact, about 20 minutes later she was gone- disappeared into the clouds completely. It was crazy to think that a mountain of this magnitude could be hidden so easily.
One of the highlights of the trip was when we actually made our way into Denali National Park and Preserve. There is one road in and one road out. You can’t enter by car, but only by an 8 or 12 hour loop by school bus. Six million acres of rugged wilderness surrounds you, and if you’re lucky Denali will grace you with her presence once you arrive to the Eielson Visitor Center.
Well, we were lucky all right. Looking out onto the horizon and seeing Denali truly granted a surreal breathtaking sight. Somedays our troubles seem so big and petty things always find a way to interfere in our lives, but in that moment nothing else existed. We had no cell service and couldn’t be distracted by facebook, posting to instagram or whatsapping our friends about how amazing it was. That moment would be eternal without all of that.
That mountain had a gravitational pull on my heart and on the drive out of the park and in the next days as we headed back to the coastline, I continued to turn my head just to catch one more glimpse.
Having seen Denali in plain view for 5 days straight we all had felt like we would be content with whatever else the trip had to offer but little did we know that we were going to be just as fortunate when it came to seeing wildlife. We saw 4 of Alaska’s Big 5 (grizzlies, moose, caribou, dahl sheep and wolves).
- Grizzly Bears: On the drive in we saw a male crossing the river. We also saw a mamma and not one, not two, but THREE cubs! We sat in awe watching the little fur balls roll around care-free eating berries. The best was saved for last as we were coming back closer to the exit when we spotted a large male grizzly that was chasing birds away from a caribou carcass. He was defending his meal and at one point he stood up on his back two legs and began to drag the carcass into the brush. I kid you not. That brought our grizzly count to nine!
- Caribou: not only the bear’s meal. We saw many groups of caribou out in the distance and a few from closer up as we drove through PolyChrome Pass.
- Ptarmigan: these birds which are the state bird of Alaska were easily spottable along road.
- Black Bears: In Ketchikan, we took a special tour to see the black bears. It was an amazing and sort of unsettling experience at first. (The guide prepared us for the fact that a black bear might be right behind us at any moment) We were on a raised plank path and it was not very long until the first bear appeared. We even got to see one bear chase down and catch a salmon.
- Bald Eagles: We got my little niece really excited about eagles and when she would see one she would yell “Bald Eagle!” It was so wonderful to see the excitement in her eyes .
- Humpback Whales: In Juneau we took a whale watching tour and the whales were everywhere. The guide told us that we had seen at least 6 different whales. We strained our eyes scanning the water to see their spouts and follow them as they went flukes up.
- Moose: We only had one moose sighting from the scenic train ride we took from Denali back to the coast, but we counted it!
- Dahl Sheep: Again inside Denali, some very young boys were on the look out for all wildlife, equipped with their binoculars they spotted a group of Dahl sheep moving on the mountain side. We watched as the little ones happily hopped along side their mothers.
- River Otters, Puffins and Sea Lions were also seen from Glacier Bay National Park during a day of cruising. The beauty of the glaciers was also worth it’s weight in gold. When the ice ‘calved’ it was like a thunderbolt making your jaw drop.
THE ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME
The time we spent in Alaska was a dream. The ultimate family vacation. We left so much richer in soul. It was an escape from the city and the troubles of the world. It was a journey that will remain special forever and carries a different meaning and significance for each of us. For me it was a way to really think about nature and all the beautiful things that the world has to offer. I so often find myself sitting here in Milano daydreaming about Alaska and the wilderness. While I am stressing about the little things in life (residency cards, work or what country I am going to live in), Denali is strong, tall and resilient. I would love to go back and if some day I am lucky enough I would love to make the same promise to my children. To enrich their souls and pass on the love for this place that was so generously passed on to me.
“To the mountains, I can rest there
To the rivers, I will be strong
To the forest, I’ll find peace there
To the wild country, where I belong.”
Author: Ali @ Sustainable Psyche
My name is Ali. I am an American living in Italy. I am passionate about delicious food that is also ethical, healthy and sustainable. I love pasta and pizza, traveling, horseback riding and exploring the vibrant city of Milan that I call home.