Southeast Alaska as Mood Tonic
By Jenna Schnuer
A mood rescue was required. A week ago Wednesday, I moved to Alaska for the summer. On Thursday, a driver pulled a hit and run on my rental car. (It was parked. I wasn’t in it.) And, on Friday, I had some quality time with an Alaska State Trooper. Here’s how part of that went:
Trooper: “So, ma’am, what do you do for a living?”
Me: “I’m a writer, a travel writer.”
Him: “You going to write about me?”
Me: “We’ll see.”
And then he went back to writing my speeding ticket. (So, sir, the answer is yes, I am going to write about you. And, yes, I promise to keep the cruise control on for the rest of the summer.)
But, anyway, you see why some mood rescue was in order, right? The trooper talk was near the beginning of one of my favorite drives: Anchorage to Fairbanks, through Denali State Park and Denali National Park, but even the mountains and a marriage proposal from a man selling venison jerky and an endless loop of Steve Martin’s latest banjo album didn’t ease my speeding ticket angst. So, as a tonic for the evil my lead foot had wrought, I started thinking about last summer’s trip to Southeast again. After a while, my eye twitch eased up. That made the driving much easier. Here, two more paths to pure joy in Southeast Alaska. (More?, you ask. Yes, this is part two. Here’s part one.)
On watch off Petersburg
One small boat, four people (including the captain), and the Frederick Sound, where 500 humpback whales hang out for the summer. Good day guaranteed, right? As expected, the day was filled with over theres and did you see that? (And we saw a lot.) But, as Captain Ron let the boat idle in front of a sea lion rookery to give us all a good gander, it became clear that we weren’t the only curious creatures on the water that day. The bellowing barkers gave up their prized spots on the rocks to give us all a once over.
Go: Make your way to Petersburg by Alaska Airlines, a charter flight, or, best of all, the Alaska Marine Highway System (aka the ferry).
Trying times at Anan Wildlife Observatory
- Nat Geo Expeditions
If there’d been a place to hide where the Forest Service staffers and bears wouldn’t have found me, I don’t think I would have left Anan willingly. Brown bears and black bears wander through constantly, their eyes and stomachs trained on the salmon-filled Anan Creek. One young black bear climbed a tree just 20 or so feet from my spot on the viewing platform. Others walked under my feet, below the decking. I could hear them breathing. And then there were the triplets. They watched their mom fish. Then she wandered off. Toddlers, they decided to put their temporary freedom to good use and go off on an adventure. But best laid plans and all, there were challenges…
Go: Unless you have a powerful boat and serious Stikine River navigation skills, hire a guide to take you from Wrangell to Anan. Guides secure the necessary permits for your visit and—and this is a big and—escort you on the short, beautiful, and intense hike through a bear-filled old growth forest to the viewing platform.
Coming up: In the final installment of what’s been, I’m sure, a fairly painful series for the perpetually cranky, we’ll go for a dive in Ketchikan, play name that iceberg in Juneau, and, on Prince of Wales Island, spelunk for a spell.
Jenna Schnuer is a freelance writer and editor. Her essays appeared in the magazine’s April 2011 feature, “New Yorkers’ New York.” Read more of her work here and see her photos here.