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Highlights of My 2007 16,000-Mile Sabbatical

North to Alaska

North to Alaska!

Driving from our home in Massachusetts to Alaska had been a dream for my husband and me since our last long road trip in 2003.  We headed north to the border, then west on the Trans-Canada Highway.  When we reached the sign on the left, where we turned north onto the Cassiar Highway in British Columbia, I was jumping with excitement.

Hyder is a hamlet unconnected to the rest of Alaska, whose main delight was a U.S. Forest Service wild bear observatory.  From an elevated walkway, we watched a family of grizzlies and several lone black bears show up to catch and eat the salmon swimming up the creek.  Even without the bears, the salmon were amazing to watch.  See how thick they are in the photo to the right?  (Look closely...)

Alaskan salmon swimming upstream

Restored shops in Dawson City, Yukon

Jack London's Yukon cabin

In Yukon, I was charmed by historic Dawson City, settled during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-98 and restored with dozens of Wild West shops and restaurants, such as those on the left above.  On the top right is the cabin built by author/adventurer Jack London south of Dawson City just prior to the Gold Rush. Yes, that's grass growing on the roof to help hold the heat in!

Me at the Arctic Circle

An unplanned detour turned into one of the highlights of the whole trip.  From Dawson City, we drove across more than 400 miles of tundra on the unpaved Dempster Highway to an Inuit town above the Arctic Circle.  When we reached Inuvik, Northwest Territories, it had not yet gotten dark at 11 p.m. - which turned out to be midnight local time.  We celebrated having reached the land of the midnight sun.  

Below left is Inuvik's inukshuk, an assemblage of stones used in the Arctic to point the way and demonstrate that others have come through.  I'd been captivated by this symbol since seeing hundreds of smaller ones built by travelers along the highways bordering Lake Ontario and Lake Huron in Ontario.  Like most homes in Inuvik, the building behind the inukshuk is built on legs, about six inches off the ground, because heated rooms directly on the ground would melt the permafrost and topple the building.  On the right, you see our normally shiny black car caked with Arctic mud at the only gas station on the way back from Inuvik.  It cost $76 (Canadian) to fill up.

Inukshuk sculpture in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada

Our SUV encrusted with Arctic mud

Within Alaska, the most exhilarating thing we did was take a 90-mile flight around Denali (Mt. McKinley), North America's highest peak.  Flying at 12,000 feet just before sunset, the 7-passenger plane took us above glaciers and right alongside Denali's massive snow-covered crags.  At right is how Denali looks from a distance.

Sparkling, majestic and fiercely inhuman, the vistas on this flight were beyond spectacular.  The double rainbow we saw just before boarding the plane served as an appropriate omen.  Even with three bouts of air sickness, I felt I'd seen the utmost beauty of our planet and had the experience of a lifetime.

View a slide show of the flight around Denali in a pop-up window.

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Sea lions on rocks in Prince William Sound

Our second most exciting experience in Alaska was a day-long boat ride from Valdez around Prince William Sound.  We saw whiskered sea otters lolling on their backs in the water, sea lions (at left), seals, puffins perched in a rocky cove and bald eagles.  Equally impressive were ship-sized icebergs choking the passageway to a tidewater glacier.

From Juneau, a boat ride to Tracy Arm Fjord treated us to both humpback and orca whales as well as an up-close view of where Sawyer Glacier meets the sea.  All 30 people on the boat commanded the glacier to calve, so that icebergs would crack off and tumble into the sea while we were watching, but alas, the glacier did not cooperate.

Sawyer Glacier, at its terminus on Tracy Arm Fjord
Alaskan architectural style

On land, we found Alaska refreshingly funky, as in the log-cabin-and-antlers style of the Talkeetna shop to the left.  The legacy of early Russian settlement, along with the Native American influence, caught our attention, but overall, Alaska's stunning natural environment was the star of our trip.

We also had a super time in Utah on the way home.  See highlights of that portion of our trip.

Read about the business aspects of the sabbatical. 

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