September 11, 2022

Our Vacation to Seward, Alaska


Our Vacation to Seward, Alaska

Todd Swank's Diary Entry for September 11, 2022

We flew into Anchorage, Alaska to begin our 8 day vacation to the nation's largest state.  Our first hotel was across the street from Lake Hood which is the world's busiest seaplane base, handling an average of 190 flights per day.  We enjoyed watching planes land and take off into the lake from every direction.

The next morning we hopped on a bus to spend a couple of nights in Seward, Alaska.  Our hotel was right next to Mount Marathon which is the home of one of the oldest foot races in America.  According to Wikipedia, "Legend says that it all started out as a bar bet between two "sourdoughs" (slang for gold miners), with one betting a man could race to the top of the mountain and back in less than an hour, and the other saying that wasn't possible."  Now it's an annual race with hundreds of competitors who run every 4th of July to see who can run to the top and back the fastest.

A block away from our hotel was the Seward Boat Harbor.  We loved exploring it to see the various vessels who ventured out into the Alaska Gulf for fishing and other excursions.  I think I'd watch a show featuring the Alaska State Troopers and their various adventures on this boat.

We spent our first afternoon visiting the Alaska Sea Life Center which featured various local critters.  It was fine, but we certainly prefer to see the critters up close in their natural habitats which we were set to do the next morning.

I always need to have a little anxiety when visiting a new place and Seward made it easy on me.  I learned that this location was the spot of the infamous 1964 Great Alaskan Earthquake.  It was 9.2 magnitude,  lasted 4 minutes and 38 seconds, and is the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North American history and the second most powerful ever recorded anywhere.  We were told a 40 foot tsunami wave entered the area and pretty much wiped out everything.  That was a pleasant thought to try falling asleep to each night while we were there.

One of my favorite things to do when I'm in a coastal town is to visit the docks and watch the local fisherman bring in their catch.  There were plenty of opportunities to do so here.  In hind sight, we really should have scheduled a fishing excursion for the family but we'll have to add that to the checklist for the next time.

We watched these guys unload their halibut haul.  One of the fish exceeded 100 pounds in weight.  It was huge!  I learned that Alaska recorded about 95% of the Pacific halibut harvest in 2019 which totaled more than 24 million pounds of fish and was valued at more than $97 million dollars.  That's a lotta fish.

Alaska is a fascinating place.  It really feels like you've entered the wild frontier.  I had no idea that only 730,000 people live in the whole state of Alaska which is less than the population of Minneapolis.  However the entire state if placed over the continental United States would exceed approximately one-fifth of the area.  It is also rich in natural resources containing more than 12% of the world's coal, 3% of the world's zinc, and almost 4% of the world's gold.  Considering the US paid only $7.2 million for the entire state back in 1867, it seems like we got a pretty good deal.

On our 3rd day of vacation, we woke up early to go on an excursion to see a glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park.  We were so excited to get out into the wild and see nature up close.

Even though we see bald eagles at home in Minnesota pretty regularly, we were still excited to them here.

While planning our Alaska vacation, we had a checklist of things we wanted to see.  We knocked off the first two on this trip when we saw killer whales and a massive glacier.  The crew on the boat told us we were quite lucky to see as many Orcas as we did on our trip.  Apparently it was mating season and we had the opportunity to see various pods come together in what I'm sure were very romantic sessions.

The first group we saw was when we first entered the main part of the Gulf of Alaska.  The captain took us off course and had us follow these beautiful creatures for about 30 minutes into the rough waters.  They were so majestic to watch as they bobbed up and down out of the water while traveling at pretty high speeds.  We took more than 2000 pictures and videos during our vacation, so it was really tough to choose which photos to share, but these are some of my favorites.

Eventually the captain had to move us away from the whales so we could get back to our destination which was this incredible glacier.  This is called a tidewater glacier and is constantly shedding huge chunks of ice into the ocean.  This is called calving and we were able to sit here for 45 minutes or so and witness this miracle of nature.  

Some of the crew were able to reach into the water and pull up chunks of ice for us to hold.  They even made frozen drinks for us on the cruise which used some of the ice which was a neat experience.  A young man who sat by us told us that there are studies being done to test if the microbials found in glacier ice can be harmful to humans, but honestly he just seemed kind of like a party pooper.  I had fun holding up my drink to him and saying cheers as I'm sure these ancient organisms were burrowing their way into my most vulnerable innards. 

I so loved seeing all the various islands untouched by man and hosts to considerable amounts of wildlife.  Nature is breathtaking.

One island hosted a bunch of these beautiful aquatic birds called Puffins.  These critters are known to spend months of their lives out in the deep sea with no land around them to rest.  They also stay with the same mate for as long as 20 years which can be most of their lifespan.  Loyal little puffins.

It was awesome to see this island which was loaded with sea lions.  They're fat and cranky and like to bark at each other.  I think I'd fit in pretty good with them if I had the chance to join their clan.

This guy looked like a happy little puppy who wanted to come join us on the boat.  I tried to convince the captain to let us take him home with us, but my negotiation skills must be slipping or something.

On our way back home, we were delighted to hear the captain say we had stumbled on another group of killer whales.  This group was even bigger than the last one.  We tried so hard to capture as many as we could in a single photo.  This was our best shot where I count at least 12 different Orcas breaching at once.  The captain estimated there were at least 30 in the group and it was so mesmerizing watching them all swimming around together.

The captain announced there were some Dall Sheep high up in the mountains, but they were really hard to see with the naked eye.  This is zoomed way in with our 40x optical.  Neat to see but wish we could have been closer to them.

 All in all, we loved our two nights spent in Seward.  We had to get up early the next morning to get on the bus to Talkeetna, Alaska which will be the subject of my next blog post.

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