Long before taking our epic trip north, Linda and I zealously read all the blogs we could find about the Alaskan experiences of our fellow fulltimers. One common reaction, in particular, was the wow factor. What I mean by that is you actually can't stop saying "wow" as you travel through this magnificent state.
British Columbia got us excited with its wildlife and lush vistas, Yukon had us looking upwards and ogling at the immense snow-capped mountains but Alaska...that's just a different story. The landscape has a personality all its own. It has a majesty that is at once quiet and bombastic and it places us squarely where we belong - as insignificant dots in the midst of nature's wilderness.
My first encounter with Alaska was back in 2002 when we spent Christmas in Juneau. Linda and I are an adventurous pair and like to explore at our own pace when we visit somewhere new. We rented a car and found a host of amazing places off the beaten track that allowed for some memorable views of humpback whales and countless sea lions. The snow fell slowly in big chunks on Christmas Day for the first time in seven years. We spent time at Mendenhall Glacier, alone amongst the bald eagles and ravens. It was an experience that set the bar as high as the sky itself.
Years later, we returned to Juneau on a cruise and the magic eluded us. Mendenhall Glacier, as vast as it is, was swallowed up by thousands of tourists buzzing around with iPads, iPhones and cameras of all shapes and sizes.
Back during our original Alaska visit in 2002, we had planned a trip to Haines to see the bald eagles. We were excited sitting in the little airport in Juneau waiting out a winter storm. Alas, it was not meant to be. Our flight was canceled and we headed back home to Seattle promising ourselves we would return some day.
Fast forward to 2016. We were traveling with our friends Bill and Kelly to Tok when they suggested a 5-day detour to Haines. Of course we jumped at the chance of coming full circle on our promise so it was settled.
The road from Whitehorse to Haines was the first where I truly felt like I was in a different world. Gone were the rolling green hills and colorful wildflowers. Gone was the abundant wildlife found in British Columbia. Instead, we drove through a stark world of snowy mountains and ice-covered lakes. The road was surprisingly good and the scenery had us making multiple photo stops.
When we arrived in Haines it was full of the colors of spring. Ironically, some of the worst road conditions of the day were encountered right before we reached town. We settled down at Oceanside RV Campground with a beautiful view of the little harbor framed by a backdrop of white-topped mountains. From our window, we could see bald eagles riding the thermals or hanging out by the water waiting for meal opportunities.
After our long journey, the four of us set up our tables and chairs and enjoyed sipping our adult beverages. Can life get better than this? I seriously doubt it and, even if we had to come off the road tomorrow, I would still have memories that would fuel the rest of my life.
Despite the fact that we arrived outside the salmon run season, we saw lots of eagles, a harbor seal and some otters. I found the interaction between the ravens and crows to be particularly entertaining. They have a wide vocabulary and are quite animated. One crow's squeal, in particular, reminded Linda of Cam from the show Modern Family. Naturally, the bird was given a name: Cameron Crow :)
It would be easy to just list all the things we did one by one but it was the atmosphere of being in Haines that was most memorable. The little town is quaint and the pace is slow. We met some really interesting locals while we were there and five days just whizzed by. Before we knew it, we were having our last happy hour at our favorite spot by the water.
Bill and Kelly are planning a return trip when the salmon are running and the bears and eagles will be out in abundance. As for Linda and me, I'm confident we'll be back again. As has been the case with all things Alaska during this trip, my high expectations have been exceeded again and again.