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Off the Beaten Path: Spring Break in Southeast Alaska

Posted: April 3, 2014 - 11:00pm
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A white-tailed ptarmigan on the rock above the Mendenhall Glacier.  Photo by Bjorn Dihle
Photo by Bjorn Dihle
A white-tailed ptarmigan on the rock above the Mendenhall Glacier.

The rest of America may be nearing the end of their spring break season, but things are just heating up in Southeast Alaska. Male blue grouse are hooting on forested slopes to establish territory and seduce lady grouse. Red-breasted sap suckers are hammering on trees and chimneys trying to attract mates to warm their nests. On the more wholesome side of the celebration, monogamous trumpeter swans, the largest species of waterfowl in the world, have returned to the Eagle River estuary. Constipated bears are having a party rolling around in their dens. Beavers are getting busy building dams. The wings and songs of newly-arrived birds are drumming the woods, mountains, beaches and wetlands into an orgy of glitz and excess.

Outside of Juneau, a lot of people don’t realize how wild things get here. For instance, an acquaintance from Las Vegas, after looking at pictures of northern Southeast, told me my home looked boring. She suggested building casinos and clubs to better the ambiance and provide locals and visitors with something to do. For a moment I got excited with visions of dancing and gambling while watching bears catching salmon. We could build “green” casinos — the slot machines could be Alaskan wildlife themed and dance shows could incorporate climate change, the Deadliest Catch and Sarah Palin into their routines. We could have giant electric billboards of scantily clad marine mammals in suggestive poses. Clubs could be located near our most prized natural gems like Pack Creek, Berners Bay, Fords Terror, Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay. People would pay a lot of money to get DJ shout outs next to calving glaciers or dance with a friendly brown bear. After all, with oil drying up, we need to consider new venues to keep our economy strong.

On second thought, although I love clubbing and throwing money in the air, I’m not sure if it’s the best way to spring break it up in Southeast.

There’s something even hipper and wilder you can do if you want to get in on the party. Take a walk in the woods, the wetlands or along a beach. Look at tracks. Watch wildlife. Take pictures. Buy a bird book, grab a pair of binoculars and invest yourself in the spring bird migration. Cast for a king salmon or dolly varden. Go camping. Have a beach fire. The list goes on.

I’ll use selected entries from my journals from what I remember of last weekend to illustrate how I like to enjoy spring break:

Friday, 3-29: Got crazy on an afternoon walk with my girlfriend at the boy scout beach! Saw three trumpeter swans, lots of Canadian geese, sea lions and a bird I haven’t yet identified! OMG! It was windy and southern Lynn Canal’s waves looked crazy!

Saturday, 3-30: Was almost too wild to believe! Went on a hike on West Glacier with my friend Ben — the Anchorage dance-off king who came down just for the weekend to party — and saw three mountain goats! Big news of the day was a white-tail ptarmigan! Holler out for the rarest and smallest species of ptarmigan!

Sunday, 3-31: Followed my brother while he went looking for hooters (male blue grouse)! Saw wolf and goat tracks! Beautiful scenery! LOL!

The uniqueness of Southeast Alaska, particularly our wilderness and its intact ecosystems — something that is becoming increasingly absent almost everywhere else in the world — is something worth celebrating.

Forget Cancun, Panama City and Daytona Beach, the real party is right here.

• Bjorn Dihle is a writer based out of Juneau. He can be reached at bjorndihle@yahoo.com.

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