Tag Archives: Anchorage

Experiencing Moose Country

Throughout my time in Alaska, I was on the lookout for my favorite animal, the moose. It is an awkward yet majestic creature, so I find it to be quite endearing. Alaska is the land of moose, so it seemed like I had a good chance to see one during my trip.

I knew it was unlikely that I would find one in Bethel because it’s on the treeless tundra, but it just so happened that early on in our trip, four girls in our group going on a walk saw a mama moose and two young calves emerge from the bushes across the Kuskokwim River. I was very sad that I wasn’t with them but still held onto hope that I had many more days of the trip left to find one.

By our last day in Alaska, I still hadn’t seen one. I had looked longingly through the trees as we drove from Anchorage to Seward. We took a spectacular boat ride on the ocean and visited the gorgeous Kenai Fjords National Park, but there weren’t any moose to be found during either experience. We spent time in the town of Moose Pass to experience its Summer Solstice Festival. There I took my picture by a cute sign of a moose, but no moose were passing through at the time.

moosepass
Photo credit: Claudia Brock

During my quest for a moose, many of my fellow Backpackers wondered why I love moose so much. In eighth grade I visited Grand Teton National Park with my family during summer vacation. As we were driving through the park, I was sitting in the backseat looking out the car window and spotted a brown animal in the thick of the trees. I called out “Moose!” and my dad stopped the vehicle. I jumped out of the car and hurried a few feet back to where I had seen the animal. Sure enough, about a hundred yards in front of me was a female moose just standing there looking at me. My family and I watched it for a while, and soon it turned around and disappeared into the trees. This is where my love for moose began.

I still wonder how I spotted the beautiful moose at the Grand Tetons. If I had blinked or looked away at that moment, I would have missed it. A few summers later, my family and I saw six bull moose all at once in a grassy meadow at the Snowy Mountain Range near Laramie, Wyoming, which was an absolutely remarkable experience. Both moose sightings are two of my favorite memories, so I have a fondness for the animal that made them possible.

As I stared out the car window on our way back to Anchorage on Sunday, I hoped that my history of spotting moose would come to benefit me, but as the day wore on I came to accept the fact that I wouldn’t see one, knowing that I had witnessed lots of wonderful new wildlife like orca whales and otters.

otter
Saw this adorable lounging otter during our boat ride on the ocean

After leaving Moose Pass, we began our journey through the mountains to our final destination, the Anchorage airport. Then our fantastic tour guide Todd, who knew of my love for moose, said that we had one last stop. Ahead I saw a sign for the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, and Todd surprised me by saying I would have a chance to see a moose.

Once we entered the park, I quickly hopped out of the van and spotted a moose right away about one hundred feet away. I hustled over to find not only one but two young bull moose with small antlers. They were in a fenced-in area chomping on the grass. One was sitting just a couple feet away from the fence. Words can’t really describe the moment, but maybe a picture can.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams
Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams

I was absolutely overjoyed to see my favorite animal up close. I ended up sitting alone with the moose for a couple minutes just looking him. Then I decided to check out some of the other animals in the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. It is an incredible place. Orphaned and injured animals are brought there to be nursed to health and taught how to survive in the wild on their own. Black and grizzly bears, bald eagles, deer, caribou and bison were some of the other species there.

Before our group left the center, I went back over to the moose, who were now standing and enjoying their dinner of willow branches. As I was taking one last look, the moose turned his head to me, stopped eating and slowly walked over to the fence where I was standing. We just looked at each other for a few moments, and then he went on his way eating his dinner. It was an unbelievable moment I will never forget.

I have an even greater appreciation for moose after spending two weeks in Alaska. Because moose is a subsistence species, the Yup’ik people rely on the animal to survive during the fall and winter. Not only is there a respect for landscape in this culture but also for animals. We heard a story during one of our interviews about how a group of subsistence hunters said a prayer of thanksgiving after hunting a moose. Every part of the animal is used and never wasted. The meat is lean and good for children to eat.

At the church potluck, I debated eating the moose stew someone brought because of how much I love the animal, but because moose are such an important part of the Alaskan culture, I decided that it would be disrespectful not to try it (and thought is was delicious).

Even though it wasn’t in the Alaskan wilderness, seeing a moose up close was a special opportunity and the best way I could have imagined to end my two week Backpack Journalism trip. I will always be able to say I saw a moose in Alaska and also learned about how important and special the animal is to this place.

Isn't he adorable?
Isn’t he adorable?

Touring while self-reflecting

Omaha, I’m home.

I’m still incredibly exhausted, but delighted that I’m slowly re-entering into my normal routine (like sleeping in my own bed and showering every day).

As usual after every trip, photos start to appear on Facebook. My friend Morgan has  an album on Facebook with the caption, “When in Alaska, you take selfies.”

That’s so true, especially with our group, who was surrounded by gorgeous scenery over the weekend.

Starting Friday morning, we became tourists. The trip shifted focus from learning about others to learning about the nature and landscape of Alaska while snapping a few selfies here and there.  We ended our vacation with a “real” vacation.

We traveled to Seward, which meant we flew to Anchorage and were picked up by our tour guides. We then drove for four hours in two big vans to Seward. It’s usually a two to three- hour drive, but we made several stops along the way.

We stopped at an airfield, watching planes take off and land in the water. We stopped at several places with great views of the mountains. We stopped at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, where we got to see seals and sea lions swim and interact with each other.

I liked seeing all of that, but it was a joy to get back in the van to move on. I loved sitting by the window and watching mountain after mountain and river after river pass us by. I still can’t get over how magnificent those mountains are.

Yet another view of those mountains.
Yet another view of those mountains.

Saturday by far was one of my favorite moments of the trip. We spent all day on a boat, touring the Kenai Fjords Natural Park. The boat had a seating area to warm up but both standing and sitting room towards the back, outside. Saturday was one of the rainiest days of our trip, but it was worth it to stand out in the rain.

We saw sea lions, sea otters, porpoise (which are like dolphins), humpback whales, orca whales, tufted puffins, horned puffins, as well as a bald eagle during our six hour tour.

We then floated past the Aialik Glacier and watched parts of it crumble and fall into the water. If you need proof that global warming really does exist, you don’t need much more proof than that.

Standing in front of the Aialik Glacier, holding a chunk of it that has melted off.
Standing in front of the Aialik Glacier, holding a chunk of it that has melted off.

The next day, we climbed to the edge of Exit Glacier, also in Seward, before visiting a little town called Moose Pass, the Wildlife Conservation Center and returning to the airport.

It’s incredible to see the Exit Glacier up close, but it’s even more remarkable to think about how much of it has melted. Along the trail up to the edge of the glacier, there were signs marking where the edge of the glacier was in past years, for example in 1964 and even in the 1800s. It’s nothing now compared to it was back then.

Exit Glacier today
Exit Glacier today

In the past, I have had my doubts about global warming. The issue surrounds politics and so many politicians are involved; it’s hard to know who to listen to. I guess it took a trip to Alaska and to this glacier to truly confirm that global warming is real.

We took selfies by this glacier and now that I look at it, it was almost too appropriate for me to do so. It helped me take a look at myself and what I believe, while letting that glacier appear in the back of my mind, like it did in the back of our pictures, forming my opinion to match what I see.

Leah, Hayley and I near Exit Glacier.
Leah, Hayley and I near Exit Glacier.

 

 

 

 

For the First Time

The last couple of days have marked many of my “firsts.” The first time sleeping in an airport. The first time sitting next to an obnoxious stranger on a plane. The first time realizing the beauty of Alaska that I’ve heard so much about. The first time seeing Bethel, a town I’ve been thinking about for numerous months. The first time I was the interviewer for a “real,” filmed interview.

On our flights to Alaska, our travel agent assigned us seats alphabetically, and since I’m the end (lucky me) I usually sat by one of my classmates also at the end of the alphabet or by strangers. On our five hour flight into Anchorage, I was in a row with one middle-aged guy. I had the aisle seat, and he had the middle seat, but since no one was assigned the window seat, he decided to sit there.

Our flight left the Minneapolis airport at 10 p.m. and arrived in Anchorage 3 a.m. Central time, or midnight Alaska time. So naturally, most people slept on the plane. This stranger decided to take up both seats while sleeping (so I was just as squished as I would have been if both seats were assigned to people) and completely hogged the window during our descent into Anchorage. I heard it was a really awesome sight, so check out my peer’s blogs for pictures of that.

After getting maybe 2 hours of sleep in the Anchorage airport, I woke up, looked out the window and noticed the mountains first. Holy man, they are some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen! I’ve seen the Western mountains only once before, but these seemed even better. You could even see snow on the top of some of them if you looked close enough.

I couldn't get around the parking structure, but those mountains in the background were breathtaking.
I couldn’t get around the parking structure, but those mountains in the background were breathtaking.

On the flight to Bethel, I was assigned a window seat. As we were taking off, I was able to look out the window and watch the mountains disappear in a cloak of clouds. It was one of those moments when you wonder how anyone could deny the existence of God. Who else could create something so breathtakingly beautiful?

When we arrived at the “airport” in Bethel (it’s not even an airport, it’s a baggage check area, a baggage claim area and one gate squeezed into one space), two people from the city that knew our faculty advisors came to pick us up. We packed our luggage into the back of their pick-up trucks and drove to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, the one and only Catholic Church in Bethel and the place we’ll be staying for the next two weeks.

Along the way, we had numerous buildings pointed out to us. I remember the post office and the high school being 10 -20 times bigger than the average house. The population of Bethel is around 6,000, but the city seems bigger. There are numerous sub divisions that are separated by large areas of tundra. They call the tundra “the sponge.” When you walk on it, it’s like walking on a mattress. Looking at the sub divisions from afar is pretty awesome; many of the houses are very colorful.

The real experience started Tuesday, when we started gathering material for the documentary. We listened and taped three interviews; each of them lasted around an hour. I was able to interview our second interviewee. His name was Pat Tam and he works in the Diocese of Fairbanks. He flew all the way to Bethel just to talk to us.

His plan was to talk to the group as a whole for 15, 20 minutes. However, about 5 to 10 minutes into his talk, one of our faculty advisors told us to get set up for an interview immediately. The stories he was telling about the Yup’ik culture were too good not to get on tape. As if I wasn’t nervous enough about interviewing him already, I knew this interview would be crucial for the film. I had to ask all the right questions well.

The team getting set up for the second interview while I nervously await.
The team getting set up for the second interview while I nervously await.

Here are some things I learned from my first “official” interview:

  • Listening to someone while making eye contact for an hour is hard. The fact that my attention span isn’t long probably doesn’t help.
  • Because we are filming the interview, the interviewer has to be quiet for editing purposes. There were so many times I wanted to say “uh huh” or interject but couldn’t.
  • If a person is not the interviewer and is not controlling the video cameras, he or she listens to the interview anyway and takes notes. Taking notes means writing down quotes or ideas that are interesting or were striking. I kind of wished I was able to take notes during that interview. A lot of what Pat said was insightful, but went in one ear, stayed there for a few minutes and went out the other.
  • I didn’t feel 100% focused on what Pat was saying, and I could of been way more focused. I let my fear of my less-than-adequate interviewing technique cloud my thoughts instead of blocking that out and focusing completely on Pat’s stories and insights.

You live and you learn. Sometimes you have to experience things for the first time order to do so.