Published: June 10th 2012June 8th 2012
Alaska has been a wild wonderful ride. The license plates up here say "The Last Frontier". I don't think it is the last one, but it is definitely a frontier. It feels like it has just been settled a few years ago. The people are an eclectic mix of rugged outdoorsmen, adventurers and escapists from the lower forty eight. I also love how integrated the native people are in Alaska. In the lower 48 Native Americans were moved onto reservations and seem completely isolated from mainstream society. They have their casinos, but for the most part they have very little interaction with the general public and seem disinfranchised. It is different in Alaska. The native people and tribes are a vital part of the communities and are very involved in the operation of the local businesses. They live among the general population and seem much better integrated in society. Now, there are a few "native" villages, of course, but for the most part they are not shut away on reservations.
The wide open spaces and abundance of wild life has been wonderful to experience. Only 2% of the land is privately owned, the rest is owned by the
government. Vast tracts have been set aside as wildlife preserves, national parks, state parks and refuges. What is also surprising are how few roads there are. The only way to access many places is by boat or float plane. It is very easy to get a feeling of complete wilderness here. But, with that feeling of wilderness comes a sense of isolation and loneliness. It is not an easy life up here and the people who stay all year are a very rugged and somewhat ragged lot. Many of the tourist industry workers we have been interacting with are seasonal employees. They come up for the six month tourist season and then flee back down to warmer climes before the winter chill. Everything must be maintained and built during the short summer. In Ketchikan we saw where they use the drastic tide to clean and repaint the bottom with special racks built along the docks to hold the boat during low tide.
It is the animals and the land itself that are the most striking, picturesque and alluring. We have never tired of seeing a whale spout in the distance or the swoop down of an eagle
catching a fish in mid-flight. The images of the abundance of animals and native species are what will linger in our memory of this beautiful place.
The cruise itself has been lovely, although it has taken some adjustment to get comfortable on a big ship. Most of our cruising time has been spent on the small ships of the Princess fleet and that is definitely what we prefer. There is more space, more restaurants, bars and activities on the big ships. But, we prefer the more intimate and relaxed atmosphere of small ship cruising.
Now, it is time to get back in the car and head east across the top of the continental US. It will be nice to be completely on our own schedule and get on the backroads again.