The Last Frontier

14 Jul

Jim and I left Alaska last Monday, but my head is still a little bit in the clouds with thoughts of our wonderful visit to the “last frontier.”

Here are a few fun facts about the state:

  • Of the 722,000-ish residents of Alaska, Iowa State graduates currently account for 322 of them.
  • More than 40 percent of Alaska’s population resides in Anchorage, the largest city in the state.
  • Alaska is the largest state by far (about 2.4 times the size of Texas, 4 times the size of California, and about a fifth the size of the entire “lower 48” combined) – but it’s the fourth-least populated and least densely populated of all 50 states.
  • The capital of Alaska is Juneau, an area larger than both Rhode Island and Delaware – and almost as large as the two combined. Juneau is the only U.S. capital that cannot be accessed by road.
  • In fact, much of Alaska cannot be accessed by the road system.

So, in other words, Alaska is big. Vast, really. And huge chunks of it cannot be reached by car.

This is my third visit to Alaska, and each time I go I am more certain that I’ve only just scratched the surface of this huge, wild, magnificent state.

Jim and I headed north on the Fourth of July. We spent the next day in and around Anchorage scouting locations for our photo shoot – and, in the process, encountering two large moose, some truly spectacular scenery, and ever-changing weather (the forecast said “sunny, with rain.”)

The next day we visited Darrell Holmstrom (’74 aerospace engineering), a commercial pilot and longtime Alaskan. He was nice enough to invite us for a spin in his float plane – but I’ll tell you more about that later. Let me just say that we saw Alaska from a completely different angle.

All our scouting led us to the Turnagain Arm, promoted as one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in America. Driving down this ever-curving roadway, you have the 3,000-foot mountains of Chugach State Park jutting straight up on your left and spectacular views of the fjord-like Turnagain Arm and more distant, snow-covered mountains on your right.

This is where we photographed alumna Laura Tauke (’05 graphic design), a graphic designer who lives and works in Anchorage. We’ll be featuring Laura in our special VISIONS Across America issue in spring 2014.

After our work was finished we managed to squeeze in a bit more sightseeing – we spotted eagles and sea lions and pink salmon (but no bears). We viewed fishing boats and mountain ranges and glaciers. We saw another moose and a wolf and mosquitoes the size of my fist.

It never got completely dark the whole time we were there. In the evening, we just basked in the alpenglow.

We’re now back in Iowa and the sky seems small.

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