Jul 15, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Bird
It is hard to imagine a setting more stereotypically Alaskan than this small town of 2,300 on the edge of the Chilkoot Inlet in the upper reaches of Lynn Canal. Sometime around 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, the first people arrived here, possibly by the Bering Land Bridge to the north or by sea from the south—maybe even from as far away as the Polynesian Islands.
They made their home in the Chilkat Valley, an area so abundant in fish, game, edible plants, and wild berries, that they were able to develop a rich culture and establish an empire that extended by land and sea from the interior of Alaska and Canada, to as far south as California. They called themselves the Tlingit and still live here today, practicing their traditions, and teaching others about their ancient ways at the Klukwan Cultural Center about 20 miles north of Haines, along the Chilkat River.
The Tlingit were not the only ones to recognize the abundance of the region. In 1741, the Russians arrived, beginning a wave of trading. The Russians were followed by the Spanish in 1774, and 20 years later, the English, under the command of Captain George Vancouver, who named Lynn Canal after his hometown of King’s Lynn. In 1867, the first land survey team arrived in the Chilkat Peninsula. Ten years later, John Muir visited and returned to San Francisco to write about the area, which encouraged the first wave of tourists, traveling by steamship. Today, visitors by the thousands continue to arrive by cruise ships, seeing for themselves the beauty and majesty of the mountains, fjords, and glaciers that paint the landscape here in magical ways.
Our small ship was the only one visiting today, in this windswept, white-capped canal. Dressed in rubber boots and raingear, we were able to explore much of what the area has to offer: flying over the surrounding, massive mountains and glaciers; cycling along the Lutak Inlet, where the Chilkoot River flows out of Chilkoot Lake and bears come to feed on salmon; hiking up 1,800 ft. Mt. Riley for panoramic views between the moisture-laden clouds; and floating down the muddy, braided channels of the Chilkat River. It was an adventurous day in what has become known as the Adventure Capital of Alaska.
We capped it off with a delicious buffet of Dungeness crab and barbecued ribs while guests and guides swapped stories and shared laughs about their memorable day in this magical land.
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