Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Sights of Seward (Part 1)

Seward, in the distance, seen from a helicopter
Seward is an unlovely city. Devastated by a tsunami in 1964, which destroyed much of the old town, today it's a collection of squat, modern houses that look as hastily built as they likely were. And because Seward is home to both the state's only maximum security prison, and a number of important fisheries, its not a place that has to spruce up for tourists. It can show its plain jane face and be just fine; it has other industries to support its citizens.

That doesn't mean it isn't worth visiting. The smart visitor uses its extraordinary museum cum aquarium (The Alaska Sea Life Center) as a primer for understanding the area's marine life and lifestyle; and then gets out into nature to enjoy the real thing.

But don't skip the Sea Life Center. It's one of those rare museums that educates painlessly. With the use of interactive exhibits, visitors discover just how important the Bering Sea (viewable from the museum snapshot-worthy terrace) is, to both the world economy (60% of the fish consumed in the US comes from it); and its overall ecology. The lifecycle of the salmon is brought to vivid life, thanks in part to a tankful of the critters. And on the aquarium side of the spectrum are a delightful touch tank (who knew anemones would be as silky as mink?) as well as large areas housing seas, sea otters, sea lions, adorable puffins and more. Its really quite well done, and will delight grandson and grandma alike.

Tourists at the face of Exit Glacier

The other "marquee" attraction in Seward is Exit Glacier. Alas, its "exiting" much faster than it used to, and is thus a moving testimony on the power of global climate change. As one approaches its face (both in the car, and then later on the hiking trail), signs appear, listing dates that show where the glacier was in the 1920's, the 1940's and so on. Its retreated briskly in just the last 10 years. Bring a sweater; the air grows chillier the closer you get to the huge, mottled, downhill swoosh of ice. It glows eerily blue, as that's the only color of the spectrum that doesn't escape from the ice when light hits it.
One of the many lovely views from the hike up to Exit Glacier

More on Seward tomorrow.

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