When one sets out to explore Alaska, there is a palpable anticipation of crisp natural beauty, dramatic fjords, fresh bear tracks, congregations of whales, and indigenous communities pulsing to the sounds of their ancestors. During spring and summer, Alaska is bathed in more than 19 hours of daylight, doling out endless hours for hikes in ancient forests; shoreline Alaska cruises in search of bears feeding on salmon; kayak ventures looking for whales, otters, and icebergs; and the simple pleasure of being immersed in nature.
British Columbia, Alaska’s neighbor, is Canada’s westernmost province and houses seven national parks, making it an expansive region of pristine natural beauty and cultural interest. Travelers to Alaska and British Columbia are connected to nature in profound ways. There’s the grandeur of walking forest trails amid ancient spruce trees. There’s the misty spray dispersed from a group of bubblenet feeding humpback whales surfacing next to your ship. There’s the magical light that dances on the water during days that linger endlessly in spring and summer. There’s the racing of your heart as you watch a bear and her cub.
If you’re adventurous, a journey to this region offers endless possibilities—from kayaking to biking; from cruising along the coast to exploring the forest; from strenuous hikes to listening to songs from indigenous people content to share their heritage; from taking photos to savoring the flavors of the region.
One of the Alaska exploration “must-sees” as you travel is Glacier Bay National Park. Sailing near immense glaciers, you will be mesmerized by the dizzying shades of blue. With luck you will witness a glacier “calving,” as the face of the glacier breaks off and crashes to the sea—creating a thunderous sound to add to the drama. Contrast this with the gentle experience of watching puffins delicately bobbing on the surface of the water. It’s also fun to see Stellar sea lions hauled-out on ice floes.
You cannot experience Alaska and British Columbia adventure travel without learning about the history of the intrepid Native Americans who first inhabited the region. The Tlingit lived along the southeastern coast and islands of Alaska. The Tlingit and Haida tribes are both governed by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA). Living off the land by fishing, hunting, and gathering, the Tlingit Indians developed superior survival skills. Traditionally their community was divided in three groups—the raven, wolf, and eagle. Each group was made up of clans who lived in villages that were divided into house groups for families. Rank among family groups was determined by wealth, character, and ancestry. Renowned for their ceremonies, the Tlingit Indians perform their notable potlatch ceremony to honor the dead. Dancing, singing, performing, and a special feast are presented during the potlatch.
Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, is an archipelago with over 100 islands on British Columbia’s north coast. Among the abundant wildlife that dwells here is the largest subspecies of black bear. The rich habitat of the temperate rain forest provides haven for innumerable animals. Deserted beaches adorned with agates are a welcoming sight for adventure travelers. Intricately carved totems are part of the artistic heritage of the Haida. Learn about the legends of the eagle and the raven and how the Haida work to maintain their connection to their ancestors through song and dance.
Totem poles are the iconic symbols of coastal First Nations. Even the selection process for a totem pole is quite elaborate. Many communities hold a ceremony of gratitude and respect in honor of the tree that has been selected. Totem poles are erected as monuments to commemorate history, events, ancestors, and people. They are often carved of red cedar because of its malleability, resistance to rotting, and straight grain. Placement of the totem pole is determined by where it will have visibility within a community. The carvings are of crest animals or beings, denoting a family’s lineage and acknowledging the family rank. They are designed to serve as documentation of stories and history. The Haida Gwaii have carved soaring totem poles in excess of 100 feet.
Exploring Alaska, British Columbia, and Haida Gwaii firsthand is an excellent way to experience the natural wonders of the region and to see what life has been like for the indigenous people who’ve made their homes along these shores. Our Pacific Northwest cruises give you the freedom to see a vast amount of terrain and to observe the abundant marine and birdlife. You will leave inspired by majestic natural beauty, welcoming peoples, and memories that will last a lifetime.
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