Author: Edna Jaques
“Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming … WOW! What a ride!”
Indeed a spectacular marine ride it was on board Major Marine Prince Williams Sound cruise. The adventure began from Seaward through a one lane narrow and dim combined rail/road tunnel (the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel) to Whittier which opens every hour. The tunnel is opened for traffic in each direction alternatively and the Alaskan Railroad also uses same tunnel to go to Whittier.
We reached the tunnel at around 9:30 am and so could avoid the rush and was at the harbor much earlier than we thought. As we had ample time, we decided to explore the area but found nothing much of interest except for the ships and boats. We had packed some breakfast which we ate sitting at the staircase of a gift shop (closed). We felt we were out on a picnic. Though sunny, the weather seemed to be pretty cold with the wind blowing and so I got some heavy socks and scarfs and two jackets on. Surprisingly, once we boarded the ship, I had to remove all of them and was just in my tanks.
The Captain of the ship was a young lady and full of jest and energy. Her hearty welcome pulled up the spirits for the adventure. We had also had a lady forest ranger on board as our narrator, who pinpointed to us all points of interest of the journey.
Once Major Marine started, the scenes surrounding us began to change.We were lucky to have a sunny day as the water sparkled in the bright sunlight. Amidst the smooth sailing in the calm water, we came upon a number of stunningly beautiful glaciers in the mountains around us and through the beautiful Esther Passage.
We also saw some wild animals like the bald eagle, sea otters, sea lions, and salmon fish but no whales though. Dozens of sea lions were resting on small rocky islands in the middle of the sea. We saw plenty of sea otters, floating around in their flotillas. It was interesting to watch them laying on their backs basking in the sunlight, cleaning their fur or eating off their bellies. The forest ranger had brought an adult male sea otter pelt to show us. It was incredible, the fur was so densely packed (highest hair concentration of any animal) and it was large and heavy.
The main attraction of the trip was of course was The Surprise Glacier, a massive piece of evolving ice, 300 feet above and below. The captain stopped for about 30 minutes at this location so we could take photos and enjoy the breaking ice.
While returning through Port Wells, we also halted at a bird rookery – home to thousands of Kittiwakes, a member of the gull family. Over 10,000 Kittiwakes nest on these cliffs each summer to lay eggs, raise their young, and bulk up for their long trip south for the winter. The place was pretty noisy as one can imagine.
The innumerable tall waterfalls streaming down the slopes of the mountains gave an incredible view to the whole scene.
As we were ready to return, the captain announced that we could buy Glacier Margarita made from a chunk of Glacier ice from the sea and combined with other ingredients.We also had lunch overboard as well. Since there wasn’t much of vegetarian options, the cook made us a special soup made of tomato and beans which he called as chilly soup.
It was indeed an incredible experience to witness nature in its most pristine setting and realize that our world is so temporary. This natural phenomena has been around since thousands and thousands of years before us and hopefully will continue undisturbed for a million more.In the words of John Muir,”after witnessing the unveiling of the majestic peaks and glaciers and their baptism in the down-pouring sunbeams, it seemed inconceivable that nature could have anything finer to show us.”
Life is God’s gift to you.The way you live your life is your gift to God.
It wasn’t just another trip this time. I would rather call it a very unique adventure of a lifetime. For our July 4th long weekend we had planned our trip to Alaska long long ago in November 2012 but was uncertain if we ever would be able to make it.. me being 6 months pregnant. But having got the green signal from my Ob/Gyn we decided to go ahead as planned but Barrow was a long shot. I had no knowledge about the place but hubby dear had done some research and was very enthusiastic about it. However he had left it entirely upon me to decide whether to go ahead or not.After a hectic bus ride at Denali National park, we headed to our Mckinley creek cabin to rest for the next day’s flight. I was all wobbly and dizzy the next morning and was distressed that we wouldn’t be able to make it. However, after a little rest I managed to convince myself that all was well and am glad we could make it.
Our flight from Fairbanks took a break at Prudhoe Bay airport.It was an extraordinary sight to view the 800 mile pipeline from the air,a true testimony to engineering feats, that allows contraction and expansion of the 48″ pipe on the tundra. We also got a glimpse of the famous Dalton Highway, one of the most isolated roads in the United States. My hubby has the greatest desire to drive through this road someday specially during winter when the road is frozen.The view of the permafrost terrain (permanently frozen ground) from the air was exhilarating.
As soon as we landed in Barrow, the whole scenario changed. It was a totally different world from the rest of Alaska or US. The airport was pretty small with just one room used both for departure and arrival as well as check-ins etc. Once we stepped out of it everything seemed to be isolated and rustic. I felt at a loss at first as the streets seemed to be desolate and not many people or vehicles were around. Following hubby out of the airport, we at first thought of picking up our rented car but didn’t know which direction to go. The google map too wasn’t working and it was pretty cold outside after having come from 70/80 degrees F at Fairbanks. Fortunately we sighted our hotel(Airport Inn) and decided to check in first. The hotel wasn’t that fanciful but had a warm welcome atmosphere with all the modern amenities except for the outdated TV set and two small twin beds.
After resting for awhile we walked through the town in search of our car rental agency. I was desperate and irritated as the place was all empty and desolate and the cold wind added to my vexed feelings. I was wondering if the trip was worth it. To make matters worse, when we reached the agency, (a worn out unpolished house rather just a room in some small building) not far from the airport, no one responded to our calls and the door was locked too. I was in no mood to keep walking and was literally angry with hubby. Just then as if god saw our desperation, a car stopped by and inquired if we were looking for rental cars. He was the owner of the car rental agency. I was so relieved that I immediately jumped into his car and we headed to his office.
Barrow isn’t a big place and one can see around mostly on foot too if you are good at it. It is located 300 miles (480 km) north of the Arctic Circle on the Arctic Ocean. The tiny village holds the distinction of being the northernmost settlement in the United States, and the northernmost settlement on the North American mainland. The residents are primarily of Inupiat (“Eskimo”) descent.(courtesy wiki travel).
Because of its extreme location Barrow receives 24-hours daylight from May 10 to August 2 as well as 24 hours darkness from November 18 to August 22.
Barrow wasn’t a very welcome sight at first with the unpaved roads and the desolate looks of dark and gray with no greenery around except for the small grasses. after picking up our rented car, we headed towards the Tundra Top of the world hotel where we were to join the tour group. We boarded a small bus with 15 other tourists. The driver took us along the beach road to as far north towards Point Barrow as you can go without a permit. We were about 4 miles away from point Barrow, the northern most point of the American continent.We learnt that the hunters dump all their whale bones at Point Barrow in order to keep the Polar Bears out of downtown Barrow but they still come into town during the winter months. One need to pay extra to go to point Barrow as well as hire a private ATV or car to get there along the rugged unpaved road.
To be able to make to the top of the world is a thrill unexplainable in words.It was pretty exciting to be so close to the arctic ocean.It was a sunny afternoon and the water was gentle. There were several icebergs floating around though most of it had melted away by now. We also saw some pretty big colorful jelly fish. Amidst the excitement, one tourist suddenly stripped naked and dived into the icy cold ocean water while we all stood on shore not daring to even dip a finger.Everyone started laughing and clapping. Definitely, he made to the polar bear club membership, a tradition of some people to swim in the icy waters. We were a little disappointed to have missed seeing a polar bear though.
We continued our journey as the driver narrated stories and showed us almost every part of the town of Barrow,including the one and only gas station and grocery store, the lagoons and fresh water lakes,the hospital, the two local cemeteries, the elementary school, middle school, and high school, the Barrow High School football field on the road towards Point Barrow, the local government buildings, the Will Rodgers/Wiley Post Memorial and the airport named after them and the Inupiat Heritage Center, which provides information on the history of the Inupiat people as well as displays of artifacts and cultural events. We also got to see “Satellite City”, an area outside the town where all of the satellite dishes are located. Interestingly the dishes point at the horizon, instead of up in the sky. In order for them to work properly, there can’t be anything in front of them. Luckily finding empty space isn’t much of an issue.
Because of the permafrost, no vegetation could thrive in the region. The houses too were built raised from the ground to prevent from melting the permafrost.There were junk piles and old boats and broken down snow mobiles everywhere. We also saw a water truck that constantly splashed water on the road to keep away the dust during the dry season.
After the tour, we picked up lunch from Pepe’s Restaurant, took our car and headed back to our hotel. We rested for a few hours and then decided to tour around on our own. It was quite astonishing to see the sun quite above us even after 9 pm.We went back to the Bowhead Whale jaw bone Arc point and Welcome to Alaska, top of the world sign and took several more pictures. The ride was even more bumpier in the car than was in the bus. The weather was cool and sunny but thanks to the chilly wind from the Arctic ocean,that made it impossible to stay out of the car for long.
We also went to the grocery store mostly to check the prices and also get some water and snack bars. I can understand why the prices were so high there as definitely it wasn’t that easy to get all items to such a remote area. The price of things up here in Barrow were way higher than anywhere in the world, since everything had to be flown in or brought in by boat.
We ordered a medium size pizza for dinner from Arctic Pizza restaurant, which we found bigger than our normal large size pizza. It was quite tasty and sumptuous for dinner. Exhausted from the day’s rides, we soon fell asleep even when the sun outside was high above us. We woke up next morning and got ready to catch the flight back to Fairbanks. We left the place with a sense of achievement of seeing a unique and historic destination and being above the Arctic Circle.
” I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you… to make each day count.” ― Jack Dawson