By Adam Hlasny
Alaska is a place whose name alone evokes unbound splendor. A place where the rugged scale of nature is apt to humble any human fortunate enough to be its guest.
Nothing can prepare the visitor for a journey down the Kenai Peninsula on the Seward Highway. I was fortunate enough to visit Alaska for the first time in September. During the journey, my own concerns, worries, my very person – seemed so insignificant. This grand, otherworldly landscape tested the limits of my comprehension constantly. I’ve seen countless places of magnificence in my life, but somehow this topped them all.
I stare out the windows from within my Lilliputian being, surrounded by fantasy. Jagged peaks, some snow-dusted like craggy pastries, rise sharply, 5,000+ feet from water’s edge. This primeval tableau goes on for the duration of the drive from Anchorage to Seward – well over an hour.
To top it off is the celestial drama of the lighting. One second an apex is shrouded in cloud, the next it pierces the blue beyond. The peaks’ bases are a lush green before fading to brown and then glowing white. Ordinarily, I try to temper my bluster and awe, but this is, unequivocally, the most heart-stopping brilliant drive I’ve ever done.
Of course, there are activities along the way, such as the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC). This expansive haven for animals and animal-lovers both is situated dramatically at the southeast tip of Turnagain Arm, at the gateway to the Peninsula.
The AWCC visitor becomes one with moose, caribou, and other Alaskan wildlife, their “enclosures” some of the most generous you’ll ever see. The highlight though, for me, was the bears. In a zoo, you often see bears, 100 yards from the viewing area and/or asleep in a ball. Here, they are both active and mere feet from where you stand. Larger than life, just like the entire state.
Proceeding south, one arrives in the blink-and-you-miss-it town of Moose Pass. The Trail Lake Lodge’s small restaurant serves up a salmon chowder that’s among my best meals in recent memory. A floatplane is parked nonchalantly on the nearby pond, backed by another of Alaska’s countless summits.
The ultimate prize of this wonderful road trip is the lovely seaside town of Seward. What makes it more than just another tourist haven is its stop-in-your-tracks magnificent setting: a stunning harbor surrounded by the apexes of children’s paintings – pointy, snow-covered, and oh so dramatic.
A sunny day in Seward is pure enchantment – the stuff of daydreams. The crag-ensconced bay ripples gently, cloaked in reflections of sultan-esque gold. Occasionally kittiwake or bald eagle cleaves the brilliantly crisp air. These precipices have protected the harbor since time immemorial. From here, one can visit Kenai Fjords National Park by boat or plane, or simply stroll about, absorbing the Alaskan coastal vibe.
The Seward Highway is an experience unlike any in the Lower 48. I challenge anyone to drive it – or any byway in Alaska, for that matter – and return home without a greater appreciation for nature and our tiny but important place in it.