Alaska in Photographs

Daniel A. Leifheit / Getty Images

In late August, I headed to my 50th state for my 50th birthday: Alaska. It was a gorgeous, amazing trip exploring via train from Anchorage up to Denali National Park; then a week on a small boat with UnCruise Adventures, exploring John Muir’s Wilderness and Glacier Bay National Park. There was stunning natural beauty at every turn, and the best way to share this with you is through photographs.From the Denali Star train up to the park from Anchorage, this was the view we had of Mount Denali. The weather was so good we even saw the mountain from Anchorage – a rarity.

Denali National Park – at 6 million square acres it is the 3rd largest national park in the U.S.; and the first two are also in Alaska.

Enn Li Photography / Getty Images

From Juneau we boarded the Safari Endeavor, an Un-Cruise Adventures ship carrying about 100 passengers to explore the glaciers, islands and forests of Alaska’s Inside Passage.

On our first morning of the small ship cruise, we headed by skiff to check out Dawes Glacier. Getting that up close and personal with a constantly calving, ice blue glacier was incredible.

Dawes Glacier is in the Endicott Arm; and one of the many benefits of being on a small ship instead of the gigantic cruises is that you can get places, like this, which big ships can’t.

Paul Souders / Getty Images

We were extremely luck to have good weather and favorable tides to venture into Fords Terror; the Un-Cruise crew said it was the first time all season they had been able to do so. Fords Terror is named after a naval crewman in 1899 that rowed his dinghy into the narrow fjord at slack tide and then got stuck in terrible (and terrifying) currents.

Michael Nolan / Getty Images

There was plenty of time for reflection and taking in the unique natural beauty that few people get to see – such as this moment of solitude I had in the forest of Kuiu Island, which is part of Chatham Strait that stretches for 150 miles within the Tongass National Forest.

Of course, besides the natural scenery we also saw plenty of wildlife. One morning, as we anchored in Thomas Bay, several pods of humpback whales were feeding all around the boat. This went on all day, well into the evening – there were dozens and dozens of humpbacks swimming, breaching, and flipping their flukes into the air as they dove down. Quite a spectacular experience.

We also saw dozens of sea lions, seals, puffins and so many Bald Eagles that I lost count. This wilderness that is one of the last places virtually untouched by human development is a haven for this wildlife.

BirdImages / Getty Images

We also saw several bears! This brown bear was right in the path between our group and the skiffs, after we had spent the morning bushwhacking through the forest. We waited for about 15 minutes to see it it would move out of our way. Finally he ambled off, and we made our way through to our ride….making plenty of noise along the way!

Experiences on land were almost as magical as those from the boat; we were able to hike and bushwhack, such as on this visit to Kuiu Island; and also to kayak and take skiff tours.

One thing I had truly hoped to see, and was rewarded with, was the Northern Lights. Alaska is one of the best places on earth to witness the spectacular lights of the Aurora Borealis; we also got a glimpse of them in a fainter glow on the last night of the cruise.

Noppawat Tom Charoensinphon / Getty Images

And here was our goodbye from Alaska – the last full day of our Un-Cruise Adventure, we were rewarded with this glorious double rainbow.

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