Exploring Alaska

Trip report by Edward Earl

Alaska has been at the very top of my travel wish-list for many years. I am not sure when I first dreamed of visiting this vast and wild land, but as early as 1984 I was envious of friends in college who had the opportunity to travel there. When I was in graduate school, my Ph.D. research supervisor, Jack Simons, travelled there at least twice. At this time I formally declared visiting Alaska to be one of my lifetime goals. I knew then, however, that a single visit of typical vacation duration would not be sufficient to pursue all of the goals I wanted to pursue there. But there had to be a start.

The reason why I have so fervently dreamed about Alaska is very simple: it is nature at its finest. It is wild and unspoiled, scenic vistas abound, the mountains are huge beyond comparison, and it teems with glaciers, lakes, forests, tundra, and wildlife. It is any outdoor enthusiast's paradise. A special touch is added because I am a pilot. Because Alaska is a vast and remote area noted for its paucity of highways, railways, and other transportation infrastucture, many parts of Alaska are accessible only by air. For this reason, flying has become a part of Alaskan culture. Alaska has more aviation per capita than any other state. One out of 40 Alaskans is a certificated pilot, and one out of 54 is an aircraft owner. To put this in perspective, one out of 400 Americans is a pilot. After becoming a pilot in 1993, I decided that being my own pilot in Alaska is as important as visiting the state itself. Because flying enhances the authenticity of an Alaskan experience, it would be a crime for a pilot to travel to the state and not exercise that privilege.

After several years of postponement, the dream finally came true in the summer of 1997. And what a ride it was! Being a first visit, I wanted to sample many different parts of the state. As a result, I didn't spend more than a few days in any one location. All of the moving around was quite a challenge to plan and involved many modes of transportation: taxi, rental car, van, bus, train, and no fewer than seven kinds of airplanes. That's not seven individual airplanes, but seven makes and models: Boeing 737, MD-80, Cessna 172, Cessna 185, Cessna 170, Cessna 207, and DeHavilland Otter. The last two of these were seaplanes.

In its final form, the trip extended from June 28 to July 13, 1997 (two weeks and three weekends). The dark green line on the map above shows my travels in the state; click anywhere on my route or on the itinerary below to see a narrative of that portion of the trip. A few words in the narrative, usually aviation terms or geographic names, are clickable. When this is the case, the link leads to a full explanation for the benefit of readers not familiar with the subject or who would like to learn more background information.

Part 1: Fairbanks & the North
The Quest for Barrow
The Brooks Range
Part 2: Denali (Mount McKinley)
The Park
Part 3: Anchorage & the Kenai Peninsula
The Chugach Range
Kenai Fjords & Seward
Part 4: Katmai
Brooks Camp
The Valley of the Ten Thousand Smokes

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