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Mountains, glaciers and animals aplenty are a few of the wonders Alaska has to offer

by Linda and Don Overend

You may have traveled to Mexico, or the Caribbean or Europe, but have you experienced the magnificence of Alaska?

Often, when we mention world travels, we forget to consider that our northernmost state has a grandeur like no other spot in our world.

Many have images of Alaska as only mountains and Eskimos. But there is much more to Alaska than this. Alaska has a fascinating history, spectacular scenery and a wealth of wildlife experiences for the traveler. Taken together, all of these attributes create Alaska's image as our "last frontier."

There are two histories in Alaska, that of the Tlingit Indians and that of the Klondike Gold Rush. The Tlingit were the original inhabitants and were the totem-pole makers. The traveler will find some of their culture, lodges and art have been maintained for the benefit of visitors.

In Fairbanks you are in Gold Rush country. Panning for gold here is still a vocation for a few old-timers, and the tourist is welcome to try and will usually pan a few tiny flakes of gold natural, not "salted."

Juneau and Ketchikan still show remnants of these pioneer days with Victorian houses, stores and saloons in sight and still in use. A short trip up a Yukon river finds the banks littered with Gold Rush gold dredges, ghostly cabins and foundered sternwheelers, all reminders of the lusty days of early Alaska.

Alaska's scenery defies description, The Inside Passage is a series of forested islands, smooth and protected from the open ocean. Sailing through it gives visitors views of soaring eagles and an occasional bear at the water's edge, fishing for lunch.

In Glacier Bay and dozens of other bays, ships sail up to the foot of vast glaciers, amid the constant crackle of the ice, and watch the frequent "calving" of enormous blocks of ice into the bay, where they become icebergs.

Denali Park, about the size of Massachusetts, is home to Mt. McKinley, with twin summits rising massively above the tundra. Wildlife, including foxes, caribou, moose, mountain goats and grizzlies, are there for the sighting. And the small and colorful coastal towns are themselves part of the memory-making scenery.

Besides the wildlife in the Inside Passage and Denali, there are the denizens of the water. In the bays, Orca are often seen and sometimes escort the ships in and out of the bay. Whales are seen offshore in the right seasons. Shores abound with seals and sea-otters, and in the rivers, salmon are fighting upstream to breed.

The best and most comfortable way to see Alaska is by cruise ship. Many major cruise lines sail in the summer months, and they offer the traveler rapid transport up and down the coast in great style and comfort.

Cruise-tours also include expeditions into Denali on deluxe motorcoaches, trains and with accommodations at very comfortable hotels. Holland America Lines, for example, operates huge, jointed motorcoaches with picture windows, lounges and a bar. Side trips may be on bush planes over the glaciers, sternwheelers up the rivers and whitewater rafts, if you're daring.

No destination shatters expectations quite like Alaska. One simply can't prepare for the immensity, the giant glaciers, the appearance of huge untamed animals, the towering mountains. And beyond that, endless vistas of trackless wilderness.

Truly it is our last, best frontier. Best because it is amazingly accessible with an efficient and sometimes luxurious infrastructure of transportation, accommodations and cuisine.

Who should visit Alaska? Couples, families, kids, grandparents. It fits all kinds of people. And now is the time to plan this adventure for next year. The 1998 season is almost over and has been a record season, indeed.

So, when you start thinking about your travel plans for next summer, don't overlook Alaska. Call your travel agent and tell him or her that you want to visit America's last frontier.

(Linda and Don Overend are co-owners of Ozark World Travel, a full-service travel agency in Springfield.)


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