As our plane crossed through the Canadian Rockies and into Alaskan airspace, my eyes were glued out the small porthole window to my right. The raw, snow covered mountains below me absorbed all my attention as I sat awestruck at the beauty the lie before me.
I was in Alaska for the first time.
In summer 2017, my family achieved one of our long-time travel goals—we visited Alaska. My dad was largely the architect of this vacation and wanted to experience different parts of Alaskan travel so our 9-day trip consisted three different locations including Anchorage, Tutka Bay Lodge near Homer on Kachemak Bay and Winterlake Lodge in the shadow Denali National Park. We would see city life, coastal life and wilderness mountain life over the course of our nine days in Alaska, which truly open my eyes to the stunning natural beauty of this US state.
There are many things about Alaska that made it my favorite US state that I’ve visited it so far but I think what stands out to me most is how awesome it is. Not awesome in the sense of how the word is so frequently used in the casual, colloquial sense of “Wow, that’s awesome” but in the sense of the true definition of the word:
extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.
Just breaking down this definition, I came to understand that Alaska embodies the word awesome. By any standards, Alaska is an extremely impressive state. It is the largest state in the US by far, and one of the most sparsely populated with some of the last untamed wilderness in the country. Prior to my trip there, I definitely felt a bit of apprehension and certainly a great amount of admiration for the photos and experiences I had seen online.
Alaska is a state that opens your eyes to untainted natural scenery; to the frontier; to the diversity of life as an American. It made me feel small yet powerful. It made me feel comfortable yet foreign. It is a place that you leave and say “Alaska is truly an awesome place”.
Prior to this trip, the vastness of Alaska was comprehensible to me in a logical way; in the way a person who spends hours looking at maps can picture the exact shape and size of Alaska. But upon seeing Alaska and the unforgivable landscapes around me, I understood immediately that my understanding of vastness completely misunderstood the feeling of vastness. There is a power, an awesomeness, in the vast and unincorporated land that defines a majority of Alaska.
Take for example our experience glacier trekking in Alaska. I have hiked on glaciers before during my travels, in places like Nepal and Chile, but I have never before hiked on a glacier that could only be accessed by helicopter and where you were, quite literally, the only humans for miles. As in the closest humans to you were the ones back at the helicopter launch pad that you just left. If that isn’t an example of the awesome vastness that defines Alaska, I’m not sure what is.
Being in Alaska also made me understand, in many ways, what the word Frontier actually means. I don’t think I ever really considered what Alaska’s nickname of the “Last Frontier” meant prior to going there; but once I was in Alaska, I got it.
Frontier is not just a word or a saying to Alaskans. It is an ever present part of their life.
Nature dominates life in Alaska. As my husband so eloquently said to me “Alaskans understand that you can’t fuck around with the frontier. You need to be gritty and resilient because the nature around you, the Frontier around you, will quite literally kill you if you don’t know what you’re doing.” There are parts of the state are only accessible in winter or only accessible in summer. Like our second lodge near Denali—guests could access the lodge via float plane or helicopter. A FLOAT PLANE!?!? This was not a form of transportation that I understand to be used for daily transportation but in Alaska, it is.
Upon arriving in Alaska, I was also fascinated by how foreign I felt. Even though technically we come from the same country, I felt out of place. I felt ill-equipped. I felt like a city girl through and through.
What made Alaskan people feel so different to me was the level of which nature and the “frontier” played into their daily decision making. A majority of people’s livelihood in the state is somehow tied to natural industries, whether it be fishing, logging, or tourism. Several of the people we met for tourist activities, such as our bear viewing guide or our salmon fishing guide, also performed other work just as delivering mail via float plane or training fishermen or doing aerial photography of Alaska.
Never before in my travels of the US have I had such a strong reaction to a place as I did when I traveled in Alaska. Perhaps that, more than anything, is what made it awesome for me. It stopped me in my tracks. It made me reflect. It made me feel. In a country that feels so familiar yet confusing, Alaska forced me to take a step back, forced me to think for a minute. That spark of curiosity and reflection is why Alaska, in all its awesomeness, became my favorite US state.