Posts Tagged ‘alaska’

Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Exploring Tracy Arm by Zodiac. Photo: Michael S. Nolan, Lindblad Expeditions

Tracy Arm in Southeast Alaska is a 22-mile-long fjord with waterfalls cascading from its high, glacially-carved walls. Black bears feed along the shoreline and mountain goats scale the steep granite cliffs. Twin glaciers are located at the end of the fjordSawyer and South Sawyer—and sculpted icebergs are commonplace sights. The fjord was named after Civil War General Benjamin Franklin Tracy, who served as a Union brigadier general for the 109th New York Infantry Regiment. It was designated as a wilderness area in 1980 by the U.S. Congress.

Want to see more? Join us May 22 – 29, 2011 for our Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness Cruise.

Have you been to Alaska? How was it? Please share.

Denali, Alaska’s Big Five

Thursday, July 1st, 2010
A hungry grizzley bear having a snack. Photograph by Roman Kruywczak

A hungry grizzly bear having a snack. Photograph by Roman Kruywczak

The Athabaskan people recognized Mount Denali, the massive  peak looming over a 600 mile long mountain range, as the “High One.” But it’s the animals surrounding the mountain that many people travel from all over the world to see. There are 39 known mammals that live in the park, but many come to see what are known as the Big 5 – moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, and the grizzly bear.

For those of us who love cuddly teddy bears there’s the question, “Are real grizzly bears the same way in real life?”

Definitely not.

The grizzly bear is actually one of the most solitary and aggressive of all the bears. Due to their large size, they are unable to climb trees like the smaller black bear, and instead must stand their ground. A small grizzly may weigh about 300 pounds, while bears living in coastal areas can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds. When bears are competing for food, they may become even more irritable.

But who is the most dangerous of all? The Mama Bear. 70% of human fatalities when encountering a grizzly are by a female grizzly protecting her young. Should you ever meet a grizzly bear, it would be best to respectfully keep your distance.

What wild animal sighting will you always remember? Tell us your story.

There’s still room on our Alaska’s Best: Denali and Kenai Fjords tour leaving this August. Maybe you’ll see all of the Big Five.

New Year’s Travel Resolutions

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Vietnam’s Evocative Ha Long Bay – a great place to go in 2010

Where do you want to go in 2010? Here are some of our top 2010 picks…

Relaxing in Japan – with tranquil gardens, quiet temples, and the enlightening possibilities of tea.

Tackling the Amazon – for river dolphins, scarlet macaws, and really poisonous frogs.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda and Rwanda -  one of life’s incomprable adventures.

Cruising in Alaska – for kayaking around icebergs, checking out the humpback whales, and sailing Glacier Bay.

Stargazing in Hawaii - for a possible glimpse of the newly discovered super-Earth, and for the search for the real Pandora.

Wherever the new year may take you, we wish you all the best in 2010. Thanks for reading our blog, and for sharing your stories with us!

Video: Iditarod – Where the Dogs are Braver than the People

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

The Iditarod is considered to be “The Last Great Race on Earth”, but the rock stars of the event aren’t the people, they are the dogs. The most well-known breeds are the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute, but during the Gold Rush era, there were teams of Foxhounds and Staghounds. Most recently, the Alaskan Husky breed has been the most popular to be used competitively. Smithsonian Journeys Program Manager Alyssa Bobst had the opportunity to see the best of the best up close and personal while volunteering as a dog handler. You can read about her experience here.

How amazing are these dogs? Sled dogs have been known to travel more than 90 miles in a 24 hour period while pulling 85 pounds each. They can burn as much as 14,000 calories per day during the race. Mushers must put their total trust and faith in the world-class athletes of the dog world. But are their mushers a little nervous as they face 1049 miles in the freezing Alaskan weather? According to this well seasoned expert, they shouldn’t be nervous – they should be scared.

Would you compete in the Iditarod?

Sing The Iditarod Trail Song with Hobo Jim while getting up close and personal as a volunteer dog handler on our tour: The Iditarod: Alaska’s Race Extraordinaire

Iditarod: Q&A with Rich Montagna

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Rich Montagna is a professional photographer and tour guide with more than 30 years experience exploring and photographing the Alaskan frontier. He founded one of the first companies to offer tours of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Here, we sit down with him to talk about what brings him back to the race year after year.

Iditarod Racers. Photo: Rich Montagna


Smithsonian Journeys: What is unique about the Iditarod race and what does it mean to Alaskans?

Rich Montagna: There really isn’t another event in North America that pits man and dog together against such harsh conditions as a dog sled race across the Alaskan wilderness. The Iditarod  was the first race to do this and was started by a small group of mushing enthusiasts who wanted to bring mushing back into the villages. From that start it has grown into the world famous event it is now. Alaskans consider it to be the greatest adventure sporting event in the world and it is their own.

SJ: The first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was run in 1973. How did the Iditarod Race become the “The Last Great Race on Earth”?

RM: In 1978 a British reporter named Ian Woolridge, wrote an article about the race. In the article he used the words, “The Last Great Race on Earth” to explain his thoughts and observations about the race. Later the Iditarod committee got permission from Ian to trademark the term.

SJ: Thousands of fans and volunteers from all over the world return each year for the Race. Why does the Iditarod continue to draw an international audience?

RM: People love dogs, and the excitement of the thousand or so frenzied sled dogs at the start is quite the experience. People also love adventure and I think many vicariously experience the challenges and rewards of traveling through wilderness areas of Alaska on a dog sled by following the race and getting to know the mushers and what they endure along the trail. It has to be one of the greatest adventures in North America.

SJ: What kind of dogs race the Iditarod?

RM: Most Iditarod sled dogs are Alaskan Huskies, a mix of different breeds that have been selected to optimize their ability to pull a sled over a long distance at a fast trot. At the core of mix is the Siberian Husky, a working dog who was born to run and pull and is well suited to the arctic climate. Other breeds that have been mixed in include hounds, greyhounds, whippets, labs and others. These mixed breed dogs have now developed into lines of dogs that have their own pedigree.

SJ: How are the dogs cared for along the race route?

RM: First off each dog has a computer chip inserted under its skin that is scanned at the checkpoints for identification. At the checkpoint veterinarians will check each dog for general health, sore feet, injuries and dehydration. The vet has the authority to pull a dog from the team if they feel it is unfit to continue. Along the trail the mushers rest and snack their dogs usually every few hours or so, check feet, change booties if they need to and make sure the dogs get enough calories and water to keep them going. At the checkpoints the dogs have straw to lay on and are always watered fed and looked after before the mushers takes care of themselves.

SJ: What happens to a dog if it gets hurt while on the trail?

RM: The musher will put the injured dog into the sled bag that is on the sled and carry it to the next checkpoint where the vet will examine and treat the dog. If the dog has to be dropped from the team it will be flown back into Anchorage and taken to an animal hospital if needed or to the dropped dog lot at the Eagle Correctional Institute where the inmates care for them until they are picked up.

SJ: All of the dogs are extreme athletes. How many calories does a dog typically consume per day?

RM: During the race their average consumption is about 10,000 per day.

SJ: What got you into leading groups to the Iditarod Race and why do you continue year after year?

RM: I had lived for a number of years in the McGrath checkpoint on the Kuskokwim River and saw how much friends of mine who came to watch the race enjoyed mingling with the mushers, being volunteers and feeling like they were a part of the event. So I started a tour company that gave the clients as much of the Iditarod race experience as I could. Some of my clients tell me their Iditarod tour has been one of the best experiences they have ever had and I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with my clients making sure they get the most from their Iditarod adventure.

SJ: The Iditarod Race is almost fully run by volunteers. What volunteer opportunities are there for Smithsonian Journeys travelers?

RM: The Smithsonian Journeys travelers will be able to go through the Iditarod dog handler certification training if they choose and then be able to help bring the dog teams up to the starting line at the restart in Willow. They can also choose to work security at the race starts.

SJ: You’re also a photographer. Do you have any tips of advice on shooting the dogs during the race?

RM: I have a series of shots that I tend to do each race. In the early morning I wander the through the starting area photographing the dog teams in their boxes or being pulled out and hooked up. This is also a great time to get close-up photos of the mushers. I use a wide angle (12-24mm) telephoto lens and a mid length (28-105mm) telephoto lens. I also bring a flash unit. After the race starts I go to the end of the road at the 1st turn and use a long lens (200mm or longer ) to photograph the teams coming at me and taking the corner. On Sunday I do the same thing at the restart in Willow.

Click for your chance to travel to the Iditarod with Smithsonian Journeys.

What’s your favorite snowy pasttime? Share below.