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The Top Alaskan Wilderness Sights

Updated on February 26, 2010

Alaska really is the Last Frontier, just as the license plates say, full of places where you can stand on your toes and howl at the northern lights, and nobody will be around to look at you funny. Alone at the top of the world, Alaska remains a powerful magnet for seekers of purity, beauty, and solitude. Alaska does not belong to Alaskans alone, although it is easy for us to think so. Rather it is America's last wild place, the treasure of a nation, and the retreat of a society that's weary of hurtling through life by the appointment book. The Alaskan wilderness inspires running wild - and poetry, art, curiosity, and dreams of beginning again, as many of its people know firsthand.

Copper River

The western sandpiper is a small, unassuming bird. Until, that is, it takes flight with 10,000 other western sandpipers. The entire flock darts this way and that, snapping in the air like a sheet in the wind until - whoosh - they all alight at once to feed on a tidal flat. Then suddenly they're up again, airborne, moving to choreography only they can understand. Their presence along the Copper River Delta lasts only a few days each spring (usually in early May), but for those who have seen the spectacle of their flight, the memory can last a lifetime.

An annual shorebird festival in nearby Cordova celebrates the arrival of the sandpipers, and it grows in popularity each year, offering some of the best birding in Alaska. Having left winter homes in California only a few days earlier, the sandpipers fly to the Copper River Delta and Hartney Bay to rest and feed before continuing north to breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra.

A few days after they depart, a second wave arrives, this one composed of ducks, geese, and swans that descend on the vast constellations of lakes and ponds that are scattered throughout the delta. They, too, are on their way north. By the thousands they arrive, rest, and depart, eager to begin mating and raising a family.

Dozens of species pass through the region. They come from every state in the Union, plus Central and South America, yet recognize no political boundaries, only the etchings of rivers, the sweep of shores, the refrain of mountain passes, and other geographic features that lead them from one home to another. Many of the same species pass through on their return journey in fall but aren't quite as colorful, having exchanged their bright breeding plumage for less brilliant winter feathers.

Seward's Alaska Sealife Center

Seward has seen its share of hard times. First there was the disastrous earthquake and tidal wave on Good Friday in March 1964 that obliterated the harbor and downtown area. Next was the Exxon Valdez oil spill on Good Friday in March 1989 that nearly destroyed the region's fishing industry and depressed tourism. After each calamity, the local people pulled together and rebuilt their community. With financial assistance from the Exxon Valdez Restoration Settlement funds, Seward built the Alaska SeaLife Center.

Continued In The Top Alaskan Wilderness Sights Part 2

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