Sunday, March 3, 2013

Arrival in Anchorage

Flying into Anchorage is like landing on the moon, except it's completely covered in Cool Whip. You're in and out of clouds when from beneath them erupt several sets of coastal ranges that appear like giant's feet, toes extended outward into the sea. Long valleys between these behemoth ranges are filled up with what looks to be mile-high ice and you recognize instantly that these are the glaciers you've seen in the pictures, the disappearing ice masses of “An Inconvenient Truth” and advertisements for Alaskan cruises where chunks as big as Rhode Island slip off into the surf as lucky onlookers stand in awe from the deck. This is the country of snow and ice, forbidding as the face of Mars itself. My first thought was: how does anyone live here? Where are the roads? Yet humanity has found its way into nearly every corner of this state, and this terrain - the most rugged I've seen on this earth - is dotted below with villages and even cities: Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, and two national parks: Glacier Bay, and the nation's largest, Wrangell-St. Elias, which is bigger than Switzerland and twice as rugged. There had to be gold up in these hills, because if gold is the resource we hold most precious, it's only fit it hide itself in what must be some of the least hospitable land on earth.

Just as soon as you're convinced this ripped and ragged landscape will continue on into infinity, the mountains only gaining in altitude until they'll undoubtedly reach up to scrape the belly of the plane, they stop dead, giving way in a soldier's line, as if God himself had ordered the mountains stand guard over the city, to a long plain that sits beside a large inlet of iceberg-riddled water.  And as the plane loops around over Cook Inlet, the great and broad Alaska Range shows in the distance like a picture postcard, gaining from the east and west into the glorious paramount of Denali, North America's tallest mountain, extending over 20,000 feet into the sky.

I snap photos furiously throughout. And it's finally, in a landscape like this, that you realize the limits of a snapshot. I have never seen such awe-inspiring topography in my entire life. And this from the air; imagine what the people thought who came into this land on wagons, on horseback, or on foot. The prospect of gold must've literally corrupted the good sense of a million minds to bring people out here in search of it. But I think back even farther, way back into the last ice age when a frozen finger of land bridged the continent of Asia to ours, back to the few hundred people who ventured over the ice into the New World. If what DNA-tracing scientists say is correct, that this was where humanity entered into North America, then not only is this seemingly forbidding terrain inhabitable, it's been the longest continuously-inhabited place in the Western Hemisphere.

I am impressed.

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