When you tell people that you’re heading to Alaska in the wintertime, you will probably be met with a long pause, a confused look, and then with “Alaska? In the winter?…Why?” At least that was the reaction that I got from most people when I announced where I was going. And I guess I can understand their confusion. After all, most visitors to the great state of Alaska either go in the summer time to see the wonderous beauty of the national parks or if they go during the winter it is with the goal of skiing or ice fishing. I neither ski or fish so those options were out and even though I’d love to see Alaska in the summer, this was when the opportunity to go presented itself. And so I packed extra warm clothes and headed to the great north of the United States.
I arrived in the Anchorage airport and was immediately greeted by a majestic moose standing guard in the terminal. The airport is full of these larger than life animals and each one has a case of information about the animal and the part of the state that they come from.
After picking up my rental car I drove up along the Seward Highway. This 127 mile road follows the beautiful coastline of the Kenai Peninsula and is considered one of the country’s best scenic drives. With plenty of places to stop and get out, visitors can marvel at the incredible scenery while they keep an eye out for any wildlife there in the cold waters.
I love winter and the many shades of cool that it gives. My drive up the peninsula offered me a lot of incredible views of snow covered mountains and trees suspended in an icy field. And the best part was how few people were on the road with me. I passed a number of lakes with the ghostly forms of icebergs floating across the water. They were so beautiful set against the water and the mountains beyond.
Because Alaska is so far north, the hours of daylight in the winter is much more limited than I was use to. I was up early and made it to the city of Seward in time to watch the sun rise over Resurrection Bay. The light breaking in through the clouds on that morning is by far one of the greatest sunrises I have ever experienced.
One of Seward’s claims to fame is being home to the creator of the state flag. In 1927 the Alaskan Department of the American Legion held a contest asking school children from all over the territory to design a flag. This was 32 years before Alaska became a state. There were over 700 submissions from every corner of the territory and of all of them it was the design of 13 year old Benny Benson who lived in the children’s home in Seward that was chosen. The flag shows 8 golden stars showing the constellation of the Big Dipper and Polaris that have been used to find true north throughout history. When Benny Benson was asked the inspiration for his design he said the blue field was for the Alaskan sky and the blue of a forget-me-not flower, the north star for the future of Alaska as the northern most part of the country, and the Big Dipper representing a great bear and great strength. Years later, the state motto fell in with this inspiration when the tagline became “North to the Future”.
Seward’s other main claim to fame is that of being the starting point of the Iditarod. The Iditarod is an epic dog sledding race that takes place every March. Each team is made up of 14 dogs and the driver, or musher as they are called. Sled teams begin here in Seward and over a couple week period will race over 950 miles of the frozen Alaskan terrain until they reach the end point in Nome. People crowd the path of the Iditarod watching the thrill of seeing the sled teams race by on their way to the finish line. But for those who can’t be there in person, you can still keep track of the teams and see the race online.
I was too early to be part of the Iditarod excitement with all the teams gearing up for the big race and the crowds of fans, but I still enjoyed being there at the starting point and thinking about what it must feel like when the signal sounds to begin such an incredible feat. I thought about all the dogs probably happy and playing around until it was time to run and then how fast they would focus as all their training kicking into high gear and they would begin to pull and run as a powerful team. What a rush to be the musher standing on the back of the sled with the mixture of training and preparation and the cold burst of starting out for such an adventure.
I wandered through the rest of Seward and marveled at the beautiful touches that homes and buildings had. The library especially was a surprise with its multicolored tiles surrounded it making it look like a fanciful part of a dream. And the house with the buoy tree was a startling and definitely unique take on adornment. The Marine Center where research and conservation education happens was sadly closed when I was there. But the whales painted on the side of it were a lovely tribute to what they aim to protect at the center.
I drove out of Seward, back through the beautiful canyons of snow and ice, towards Anchorage where I would spend the rest of the day. But to have spent the early morning in Seward was a perfect beginning to my trip. Alaska must be beautiful anytime of the year, but I was so glad that my first visit there was in the winter.