Till not too long ago, my favourite stretch of American street was in Utah, a state I’ve usually forgotten whereas attempting to call the total 50. I-80’s abrupt 2,500-foot descent from the border of Wyoming to Salt Lake Metropolis has lengthy been a favourite of mine. The sheer number of the surroundings—from striated purple rock to the sterile Bonneville salt flats—is mesmerizing. Alaska’s Seward Freeway makes that poor little bit of asphalt appear like a superfund web site.
I’ve liked different stretches of gravel alongside the way in which. Lake Tahoe’s Route 89, with spectacular views of Emerald Bay, New Hampshire’s Route 302 by means of Crawford Notch, Florida’s Abroad Freeway right down to the Keys, Interstate 90’s crawl by means of the alienly lovely Badlands, and Skyline Drive by means of the Blue Ridge Mountains all maintain a particular place in my coronary heart. B
ut there’s something to be stated a couple of street the place you possibly can, and can, see such an all encompassing stage of wilderness that two of the (few) cities alongside the way in which are referred to as Moose Cross and Bear Creek.
My first view of the Seward Freeway was from the summit of Flattop mountain. I’d been hoping for a glimpse of the majestic 127-mile stretch of street from the air, however August in Alaska is notoriously grey, and my Saturday night flight touched down amidst a persistent drizzle.
Throughout a short break within the cloud cowl the next morning, I tackled the favored hike simply outdoors of downtown Anchorage, and located myself breathless on the high—from each the final quarter-mile vertical scramble over unfastened rock, and the panoramic view of the valley and sea earlier than me. Greater than three,000 toes under me, a silver seam ran by means of the quiet suburbs of Anchorage then merged with the shoreline of the Turnagain Arm, one in all two slender branches of Prepare dinner’s Inlet off the Alaskan Gulf.
The Turnagain Arm is a particular physique of water. Housed between the Chugach Mountains and the Kenai Mountains, the inlet is house to the uncommon and ill-named bore tide. This fascinating phenomenon, the place the incoming seawater kinds a six to 10 foot wall because it returns at excessive tide, solely happens earlier than and after the intense tidal circumstances of the brand new or full moon. I used to be fortunate sufficient to witness the incoming wall of water on my return journey, however a useless iPhone prevented me from recording it. Right here’s a video of some courageous surfers driving the bore tide on the Turnagain Arm in 2015:
Within the wake of the bore tide, the inlet is flooded with marine life. Beluga whales usually seem inside half an hour of the incoming tide, whereas fisherman within the flooded creeks and rivers could be seen utilizing dipnets or angling to catch the plentiful array of hooligans, salmon, trout, and sea-char.
For the primary 5o miles south of Anchorage, I pulled over at each vista level, of which there are lots of, as a result of the completely awe-inspiring views of the Kenai Mountains are value each cease you can also make. In accordance with a pleasant park ranger I spoke with, Lynn, the resemblance between the Lord of the Rings wide-angle pictures and the Kenai vary should not simply my creativeness—the mountains traversed by Frodo and Sam and the Kenai fjords have been shaped by the identical course of.
On the flip of the arm, a number of the ice fields answerable for the area’s many glaciers begin to develop into seen. The street resulting in Portage Glacier is accessible immediately from the Freeway, though because of the glacier’s recession, it’s not seen from the street. Ranger Lynn, my useful albeit miserable nature pal, claimed that in her 20 years of service, she had seen the pace of the receding glaciers enhance exponentially.
Her declare is supported by a Guardian article that quotes the Journal of Glaciology as saying the accelerating price of ice loss is “traditionally unprecedented.” That article got here out in 2015. In the present day, some scientists declare, “Alaska is shedding glacial ice on the price of 75 billion metric tons yearly.”
I’m not one to fawn (sorry not sorry) over nature, having been raised within the comforting folds of Vermont’s Inexperienced Mountains, however there have been a number of factors throughout this journey the place I pulled over and cried glad tears that I might bear witness to the majesty of Alaska’s wilderness earlier than all of it will get fucking ruined or destroyed quickly.
On the bend of the arm, the freeway leaves the Chugach vary and begins to wind by means of the Kenai mountains beforehand seen from the other shore of the Turnagain. Each ranges are protected underneath their designations as a nationwide forest and a nationwide park, respectively. Ostensibly, this explains why there’s little or no noticeable trash alongside the freeway—indicators warning of excessive littering fines are all over the place.
The Kenai vary is inexperienced in August, however largely tree-less on the high because of the alpine line. The street’s initially vast passage begins to slender because the climb turns into extra arduous, and the towering peaks achieve altitude and significance because the street cuts by means of the valleys of a largely uninhabited area.
Wildflowers crowd the shoulder in a riot of colours, though in August the vegetation is overpowered by purple fireweed and the harmful, blister-inducing cow parsnip plant, which resembles a Hulk model of Queen Anne’s Lace. (Alaska doesn’t have poison ivy or oak, however I personally skilled the ache of sun-activated cow parsnip burn whereas mountain climbing Mount Marathon, and that shit SUCKS.)
This space is ripe with natural world. Whereas meandering by means of the Kenais, I noticed:
The street splits 9o miles south of Anchorage, and the Seward Freeway continues on Alaska Route 9, whereas Alaska Route 1 continues west to Homer. Shortly after the break up, the street passes by means of Moose Cross, and views of Kenai Lake start to filter by means of the dense tree cover.
The chalky turquoise of the lake’s floor appears extra suited to the Caribbean, however these waters are a number of the finest pacific salmon fishing on the planet.
The final 30 miles of the journey are as pretty as the beginning, however barely much less intimidating. Bogs, lakes, and outdated progress timber lend a deep quiet to the journey, whereas the remaining sound is muffled by the encircling mountains. Yellow armies of water lilies guard sport trails and nests alongside the roadside.
The freeway concludes in Seward, positioned on Resurrection Bay, which serves because the aquatic entrance to Kenai Fjord Nationwide Park. Whales, sea lions, seals, otters, jellyfish, halibut, puffins, and bears name the glacier-dominated park house. I climbed Mount Marathon the day I arrived for a greater view, however was solely capable of take 43 selfies midway up the path earlier than my telephone died:
The city serves because the summer time house for a lot of RV lovers, and the municipal lot was filled with license plates from locations so far as Nova Scotia, Florida, and Mexico Metropolis. Folks from everywhere in the world cross by means of Alaska’s most distant reaches with a view to be immersed within the absolute wilderness of those pure monuments.
Anyway, go see Alaska and the Seward Freeway earlier than we’re blown to smithereens by North Korea or overrun by Nazis. I’ll go away you with one of many final images I took on my return journey, could it offer you hope.
Sultana Khan is a author, activist, and artist residing in Portland, Maine. Observe her on Twitter and Instagram @yesasingenghis for extra unapologetic selfies and dangerous opinions.