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Alaska adventure: Rowan Travelers enjoy tour of picturesque state

After a year’s delay in travel, the Rowan Travelers were finally able to return to their travel adventures and tour Alaska. Alaska had been on the group’s bucket list for quite some time and the group was itching to finally travel. Fifteen Rowan Travelers embarked on a long flight joining 27 others on a guided tour.

Alaska is a state actually closer to Japan than it is to North Carolina. There are few regular flights to this state, so flights times were unusual, especially on our flight back. It’s about a 9-hour flight, to Alaska arriving at a rather busy airport.

The weather was one of the most interesting aspects as we had to pack as thought it was late fall. With temperatures in the 40s at night and 60s during the day, it was somewhat of a temperature shock. The weather during our visit seemed to be constantly cloudy with rainfall almost every day. However, the soft rainfall never impeded our travels as it was always clear and sunny by 2 p.m. The clouds were light but low — very low. At one point, our hotel in Anchorage was blocked by low-lying clouds. The constant sunlight and cool, wet weather are perfect for flower plantings throughout the city and their plantings were spectacular. The city of Anchorage spends $45,000 each summer on hanging baskets and annual flowers, and it shows.

Our travel was a blend of land, train and boat tours. We were only privileged to small portion of Alaska as it is the largest state in the United States, bigger than Texas, California and Montana combined, or as one native Alaskan told me: “It would take 11 North Carolinas to make Alaska.” A short drive for Alaskans is 3-4 hours. The mountains were breathtaking, as you would expect with plenty of snow and ice. Unfortunately, clouds blocked our view of Denali, the third highest mountain in the world, but the mountain views were beautiful and exciting. Our bus tour covered miles and miles of mountains and valleys dotted with small, skinny pine trees. Most of the landscapes reminded me of vast, dwarf Christmas tree plantations. The tall, skinny pines are dwarfed due to the permafrost, ground actually frozen a few feet under the top layer of soil. Along our travels, we always were within a few miles of a lake, stream, graceful waterfalls and the famed Alaska Pipeline. Alaska has over three million lakes so our views were water fed with beautiful forests and wildlife. Lake Hood in Anchorage is the largest float plane lake-airport in the world with over 750 resident aircraft. There are nearly 8,000 private pilots in Alaska. Small aircraft were constantly flying over Anchorage — roughly 200 flights per day.

Each tour had daily highlights from panning for gold nuggets, observing whales on a boat cruise, to visiting an authentic native Alaskan village. We had a chance to view the famous Alaskan Pipeline as well as experience glaciers on our boat rides which also included discovering seals, sea lions, whales, puffins and bald eagles. On one outing we learned about sled dogs watching them mush a “pretend” snow sled. The tour of Denali National Park gave us scenic views of lofty, snowy peaks with grizzly bears, caribou and moose along the way. Some group travelers chose side excursions with planes and helicopter rides, exploring frozen glaciers. There are 616 named glaciers in Alaska as well as 100,000 unnamed. My wife, Gerrie and I participated in a frigid river float trip on with icy 34-degree water and chunks of ice splashing around us.

This scenic tour of Alaska was as wonderful as our pervious adventures. Our travel confidant, Debbie Faggart, was instrumental in providing spotless logistics and pertinent detailed information. Special thanks for her tireless efforts along with Salisbury Motor Company for providing our airport shuttle service. As always, the Rowan Travelers were simply a pleasure as travel adventure companions.

Darrell Blackwelder is the retired horticulture agent and director with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Contact him at deblackw@ncsu.edu .

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