Friday, June 3, 2011

Alaska Part I: Awe, splendor and a little booze

If I glance to my left, the sky is a silky blue, spilling about a distant mountain covered in snow. No, I'm not dreaming.

The lovely Miss Wendy and I, along with our daughter Lauren and son-in-law Josh are working our way through the Inside Passage of Alaska, aboard the NCL Pearl.

Today we spent the day with Mother Nature in Skagway. It's from here a century ago that a legion of prospectors, lusting for gold, began their arduous journey into the Yukon Territory and the Klondike gold fields. It was a difficult time in a rugged world. Some men made a fortune, others died in the effort. Much has changed.

The gold fields played out quickly, but riches of a different sort remain. Alaska is a vast place filled with soaring mountains and virgin forests; valleys teaming with wildlife; crystal clear lakes and rivers. Instead of the strip shopping centers that fill my little corner of the world, a row of snow-capped peaks loom in the distance, majestic sentinels for a land of aching beauty.

The Pearl offers other distractions, all those things you'd expect aboard a luxury cruise ship -- expansive public spaces and intimate cabins, nightly entertainment and tons of food. Did I mention there's booze? Ultimately, it's the spectaculor show outside that calls most loudly.

This is the sort of place where you find yourself pointing, grabbing a camera, then standing about in stunned awe as a Bald Eagle gently sweeps across a mighty vista filled with the stuff of nature. Only a moment later and you're staring into a pristine valley filled with thousands of trees, lush vegetation and a distant waterfall fed by the runoff of snow still clinging to peaks soaring high above.

Yet again you point, then stand about holding onto the moment till another image fills your mind and heart and soul. Juneau and Skagway have offered up their treasures, the natural wonders of life here easily pushing aside the drama we
tourists bring along with our stacks of suitcases and expectations.

As I write, the Pearl is steaming south along the Lynn Canal. We'll be hanging a right at Point Couverden in a few hours, then heading north into Glacier Bay. It's midnight and I just stepped outside onto my balcony. The temperature has dropped at least 25 degrees into the low 50s and the last rays of the sun remain in the western sky, a gentle streak of orange outlining a range of mountains that stretch across the horizon.

I reach out and grab for my camera, struck dumb once again by Mother Nature and the beauty of this place. The wonder of it all is knowing that greater wonders are just around the bend. Stay tuned!

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