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What Visitors Want, Alaska Provides


By Victor Block

When I began planning to visit Alaska, three words came to mind: "big," which describes many things in the 49th state; scenery, some of the most magnificent anywhere; and "wildlife," which is there in abundance.

It didn't take long to experience all of those observations. Alaska is big. It's twice as large as Texas, with a coastline longer than those of all of the other states combined.

Mount Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley) is the tallest peak in North America, the park where it is located is larger than Massachusetts and the state contains more than two-thirds of the country's total national-park acreage.

It was the breathtaking scenery that first caught my eye. Snow-covered mountain peaks that stretch to the horizon include 17 of the 20 highest in the country. Rivers meander through valleys that were gouged out eons ago by advancing glaciers.

Opportunities to observe wildlife are everywhere. My itinerary included Denali National Park and Preserve, a world of Arctic tundra and soaring mountains. In addition to the "Big Five" Alaska mammals -- grizzly bear, caribou, moose, wolves and Dall sheep -- this wilderness is home to a menagerie of other creatures.


Towns in Alaska are never far from the wilderness, and in many places they overlap. Parks often begin within city limits and extend to nearby backcountry landscapes. Moose, bears and other critters sometimes wander into urban settings, eliciting little surprise from residents who are used to such intrusions.

One Anchorage park provides inviting habitats for bears and moose. People gather to watch the spring-to-summer spawning run of salmon. As the fish battle their way up the rushing water, hungry bears congregate to gorge on their favorite food.

A stop at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage provided an immersion in life of another kind, the Indigenous cultures that comprise an important part of the state's culture. The customs and traditions of the 11 major Native groups are presented there through dance, music, art and storytelling.

Outside stand authentic Native dwellings that are staffed by people from villages around Alaska. They discuss their history, fables and other interesting information. The center will reopen in May after undergoing renovations.


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