Monday, July 6, 2015

Impressions from Alaska

I just got back from a trip to Alaska and as I was preparing today to write a new physics post I got roped into a swim team B-meet timing activity which killed my free time. Since I don't want to delay my weekly post any longer and my remaining time will not do justice to the physics topic I want to write about, I will present my vacation impressions instead. I will return to physics topics at the end of this week.

Alaska is a beautiful and expensive place. The price of much anything is doubled because it has to be shipped in. The local economy is based mostly on oil and government employment. The tourist industry is big business too in the summer. The summers in Alaska are very rainy and cold. A temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit is considered a "heat wave" by the natives. The timing of the trip was rather poor as the annual salmon runs did not yet start. And without salmons, the wildlife was hard to be seen. In fact I see more wildlife in my backyard every day than I saw in one week in Alaska if I am not counting mosquitoes and bald eagles

which were very common.

There was one thing I did not know: upon entering freshwater to spawn, salmons undergo chemical transformations and their meat turns green inside making it unusable for human consumption. However grizzly bears do not mind that. The salmons in grocery stores are all caught in saltwater. 

Back to the trip, I sailed there on a southbound Princess cruise and I visited Anchorage, Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan

In Skagway I hiked on the Chilkoot pass and I also panned for gold in frigid water. It turned out that the gold flakes (about 1 millimeter square) were bought from New York at the price of $2 each and mixed with the river mud for gullible tourists to have an "authentic gold rush" experience at the excursion price of $125 per person :) 

The Klondike gold rush brought at the time an influx of 100,000 people out of which only about 500 became rich. The people who were able to suffer two or more consecutive winters in Alaska were called "sourdoughs" because the experience turned them bitter and angry (hey I know a sourdough blogger- wink wink Lubos).  

In Juneau I visited the Mendenhall glacier

Glaciers are rivers of of blue ice which flow at a rate of about 5 feet per day. In the process they make a lot of noise like thunder and small chunks of ice break up into the sea about every 5 minutes. It is extremely rare to have large icebergs formed this way.

The cruise boats go very close to the glaciers, but I don't have pictures to show as I lost my phone with all the good pictures in Skagway (but I'll get it back in a week). The up-close glacier view is truly majestic and awe inspiring. 

All in all the trip was outstanding and worth the money but I should have probably postponed it for about a month to experience the salmon runs. I did not mind seeing only two grizzly bears about a mile away, but besides the bald eagles, three birds and a squirrel was a bit too little in terms of wildlife for a week.  

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