Some of my most vivid childhood memories are from frolicking across Alaska's national parks to collect junior ranger badges. It was our first trip to Alaska and we took a long bus ride across the state, stopping at the different national parks along our journey to get down and explore. One of my favorite times on the bus was looking out the window and seeing a black bear walking alongside the road just a few feet away from me.
The second time we visited Alaska, we took a one-week cruise with my little cousins. We took off from Seattle, where the rare sunny day allowed us to watch as the entire Seattle skyline came into view. We traveled through Alaska's Inside Passage, which is a scenic route through seemingly untouched land. It was particularly special because we were the only boat there, giving us a sense of isolation. The captain even turned off the motor for a while, so we could experience the quiet and stillness of Mother Nature.
Our first port stop was Juneau. Though we had little planned when we arrived, we found a lot to do within the city. After exploring some shops and cafes, we visited Mendenhall Glacier. It's just a huge slab of snow and ice, but incredibly beautiful. Yet the lasting impact from leaving wasn't its beauty, but the impact of global warming. The center emphasized how the glacier has receded by more than half over the past few years. I had left wishing that I was able to visit a few years prior to see it in its full glory — something that won't be able to be experienced again.
Next, we stopped in Skagway, a small town nestled in the natural beauty of Alaska. We explored different parts of the cozy town, and in the afternoon we watched a live lumberjack competition. This consisted of a bunch of challenges that involved chopping wood at an alarming rate. It was great but scary to watch.
Ketchikan was our last stop, where we took a train ride through the mountains. We looped along steep mountainsides and through tunnels that seemed to last forever. It was the best train ride I've ever taken.
On the way back, our cruise ship went into a small passage to see another glacier at the crack of dawn. We got super close to it, and were able to enjoy the view from our cabin. The light was still soft, and it made for an incredible view of the water and ice.