Alaska tours present a national treasure of wilderness, wildlife and culture. You’ll forget you’re in the United States when you gaze upon the blue icebergs, calving glaciers, deep fjords and thick rainforests of Alaska’s Inside Passage, Tongass National Forest and Misty Fjords National Monument.
Among the wonders of your Alaska tour are the preserved lands of Alaska’s national parks. Denali National Park is home to the highest mountain in North America—Mount McKinley, or Denali as it’s known to the area’s natives. In this park you’ll also find hundreds of flowering plants, fascinating mammals, like caribou, Dall’s sheep, moose, wolves and grizzly bear, and 167 species of birds, like the ptarmigan and gyrfalcon. Alaska cruises are a great way to explore these unique North American landscapes and wildlife.
Glacier Bay National Park showcases glaciers, snowcapped mountains, spectacular fjords and freshwater rivers and lakes teeming with life. The park is a living laboratory for researchers of many disciplines—from geology to marine biology. Wildlife includes humpback, minke and orca whales along with harbor and Dall’s porpoises, sea otters and thousands of harbor seals. Moose and bear are often seen swimming across the bay. Thousands of sea birds and nesting songbirds will delight your eyes and ears throughout the park.
Alaska’s ABC Islands—that’s Admirality, Baranof and Chichagof—are home to marvelous fjords, native Alaskans and the largest concentration of brown bear in North America. Fish for king salmon in Chatham strait, or marvel at the awe-inspiring world of waterfalls, blue icebergs, humpbacks and orcas in Tracy Arm Fjord.
Alaska small ship cruises offer up-close encounters with spectacular scenery and wildlife—whether you’re whale watching in Frederick Sound or exploring a secluded fjord from a kayak. Activities like hiking, fishing, and caving give you hands-on experiences of this rugged natural world.
You’ll also meet descendents of the first North Americans on your Alaska tour. Alaska’s native peoples are eager to share their rich cultural heritage and traditions with visitors. Learn about the kayak, totem pole, ivory carving and more. You’ll feel at home in Petersburg, a quaint fishing town known as Alaska’s Little Norway. Visit the Tlingit Indians in Sitka, or explore Juneau, the only capital city in the U.S. not accessible by road.
Your Alaska cruise—and all the adventure you can image—awaits you!
The earliest North Americans were nomadic people who crossed from Asia to Alaska over an exposed land bridge in what is now the Bering Sea. These people were hunter-gathers who followed their food supply—mastodon, mammoth and caribou herds. For many years, scientists believed that this migration happened about 14,000 years ago. Recent studies using DNA evidence suggest it happened much earlier—perhaps 28,000 years ago. Carbon dating on an unearthed caribou bone with a saw-toothed edge places human presence there at least 27,000 years ago.
Alaska’s first inhabitants included four ethnic groups. The Aleuts in western Alaska were skilled mariners who hunted seal, otter and sea lion. Their economy also relied on fishing and basketry. The Inuit lived in the coastal area from Bristol Bay to Point Demarcation. They used kayaks to fish and to hunt whale, seal and walrus. They also used dogsleds on land and are known for ivory carving. The Tlingit Indians of Alaska’s southeast carved totem poles, built canoes and made baskets. They were shrewd traders who lived off the sea. The Athabasca lived in the interior where they survived on salmon fishing and hunting land animals. They made knives from stone and copper. Descendents of these early North Americans remain in their respective homelands today in significant numbers—about 15% of Alaska’s population is native.
The first Europeans to venture to Alaska were part of a Russian expedition led by Vitus Bering of Denmark, who arrived in 1741. Although Bering and most of his crew died on the return voyage, a few crew members made it back to Russia with otter skins in tow. This lead to a swarm of voyages to the area and the beginning of Alaska’s fur trade boom. Russia controlled Alaska—and much of the fur trade—until 1867 when the land was purchased by the United States. (Alaska didn’t become a state, however, until 1959.)
In the late 1800s, thousands of Americans flocked to Alaska in search of gold. More than 140,000 prospectors came from the United States and around the world with dreams of striking it rich, first in Alaska’s Klondike region and later in Nome and Fairbanks. The work was hard. Many never found gold, and few truly made their fortunes from it. Alaska’s Gold Rush had peaked by about 1906, but the “gold fever” of previous years lead to a huge spike in population and the establishment of many of Alaska’s cities and businesses.
The next major boom in Alaska was oil. In 1968, vast oil deposits were discovered on the Alaska North Slope. By 1977, the first oil arrived from Prudhoe Bay to the port of Valdez via the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The state prospered. Today residents enjoy annual cash dividends and no personal income tax thanks to oil revenues. How to reconcile the U.S. demand for oil with the need to protect Alaska’s natural wonders remains an intense debate statewide and on a national level.
Today, much of Alaska is still inaccessible by road. Many people travel by plane or boat. Alaska’s capital city of Juneau is the only capital city in the United States that cannot be reached by road. Areas that are not sustained by oil rely on fishing. People in the more remote regions rely on each other to get through the long, dark Alaska winters.
Photos: © WOLFGANG KAEHLER