Saturday, July 28, 2007

Home from Alaska

Our two weeks of travel in Alaska is over, and we're back home in Ohio. It's a shame that wonderful vacations like this start and end with the aggravation which is air travel today, but soon the memories of the crowds and inconsiderate fellow passengers fade and the good times are what sticks.

It was a blessing to be able to take this trip with friends from our church: Steve and Lynne Krzykowski, George and Cindy Hinkle, Bill and Linda Cleverley, Barb Hix and Jim Murdoch. We participated in many activities together, yet went on our own at times to pursue our own interests. This is a great way to travel, and I hope we have other opportunities like this in the future.

One goal of mine was achieved on this trip: after visiting Alaska, I have now been in all fifty states of our union, and Terry is missing only a handful. While each one has something special to offer, I am partial to open country, away from crowds and development. West Virginia will always be our homeland, and the southeastern part of the state my favorite part of it. But for sheer beauty, Colorado has been number one on my list -- that is until this trip.

Alaska has it all: the highest mountains, the ocean, unspoiled rivers and glaciers, and miles of vistas with no evidence of human impact. At Denali National Park, the rangers make a point of telling folks that there are no trails because they want to maintain this aspect. They tell you to make a new trail, and there is a chance you will walk where no human has walked before. Awesome.

One term we heard frequently is that there are many people in Alaska who live 'off the grid.' This means they have no public utilities; no water, sewer, electricity, gas, telephone or cable TV. There were folks who live this way within the city limits of Fairbanks. They get their water from creeks or water stations, use outhouses, and heat and cook with wood. We saw homesteads where the only means of supply was the Alaska Railroad, as there are neither roads nor navigable streams. And we heard stories from young Native Alaskans who came from villages north of the Arctic Circle where the hunting of whales and seals are key to survival.

We also saw what I call the Disney World version of Alaska. In Fairbanks we toured the El Dorado Gold Mine, and got to pan for gold. We took a ride on the Riverboat Discovery, and visited a staged Indian Village. All while be herded around with a couple thousand fellow tourists. It was the last day of our two weeks, and the complete antithesis to the days we spent in Denali. I guess it was a good preparation for the gauntlet of airports and airplanes the next day, but I would have preferred to spend the time just gazing into one of those endless Alaska vistas.

We took nearly 600 pictures and video clips during the trip. The cool thing about digital photography is that you can just snap away and never worry about wasting film or developing costs. I shoot at the highest possible resolution, yielding 2MB image files. In total we have 3GB of images. We'll post a few here, and a few on the family website, but to see them all, you'll just have to come visit us.

Paul & Terry

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