Snowy peaks and valleys as seen from an airplane window.
First peek at the Alaska Range before landing in Anchorage.

My family usually travels a lot, but the pandemic postponed a trip to Alaska with my in-laws by a couple of years. At the end of May, we finally made it! After a long flight (after an even longer layover at Chicago O’Hare), we got our first glimpse of the Alaska Range from the plane.

One (very short!)  night in Anchorage, then we headed east to Girdwood, where we saw our first wildlife–a black bear trudging along right outside our house. We were so excited, no one thought to get a picture, so you’ll have to take my word for it. It stopped, looked at us, then went on its way.

 

 

 

There were quite a few birds in the area, including a varied thrush. I would have loved to have seen one of these. We never did, but wow, did we hear them! Their call sounds like a referee blowing a whistle, so it sounded like there was a football game going on in the forest. And since it never got completely dark at night, it went on and on and on.

Bird with Gray cap and back, orange throat, breast, and belly, and black stripes around neck and across the eyes standing in the snow.
Varied thrush. Photo by VJAnderson/Wikimedia.

 

We took a day trip to Prince William Sound, which requires a drive through a tunnel. It’s a single lane, so traffic has specific times when it travels in each direction. But that’s not all: The tunnel is also used by a passenger train! Here’s what it looks like inside. Those are train tracks in the middle of the road.

Tunnel with string of lights above and train tracks in the road heading off into the distance.
Close quarters inside the mountain!

 

And here’s what it looks like when you’re waiting to drive through and a train arrives.

People and cars waiting to enter tunnel as yellow and black train exits tunnel.
We weren’t the only ones taking photos–it was quite a sight!

 

A raft of sea otters drifting on the calm waters of Prince William Sound.
A raft of sea otters! Photo by Jeff Stevens.

The highlight of the day was a six-hour glacier cruise. We saw dozens of glaciers, watched some calve (break apart), and saw lots of wildlife: seals, hundreds of sea otters, half a million (really!) kittiwakes and other sea birds.

The only thing we didn’t get to see was a whale. We had high hopes. Apparently some had been in the area recently, but they must have moved on by the time we got there.

 

 

Waterfall pours from green forest down rocky cliff face dotted with thousands of white birds.
Kittiwake nesting colony. Each of those white dots is a bird sitting on its nest (along with streaks of bird droppings on the rock).

 

Glaciers and otters and trains, oh my!
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