Reflections on Alaska

Written by Willie Karidis
    Tuesday, 23 April 2013
Kenai Fjords National Park tour Kenai Fjords National Park tour

In September the Urban Ecology Center will be taking our second trip to visit the greatland, Alaska.  Last year my wife Christine and I were fortunate to guide a trip, which we called The Great Alaska Adventure, with 44 Urban Ecology Center members and friends. Having lived in Alaska, on the border of Denali National Park, for 25 years, my memories run deep and my experiences were varied. After growing up in Wisconsin I feel like I was shaped into who I am today, literally in the backcountry of Denali.

Christine’s journey to Alaska started in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. When she was very young her mother used to tell her stories of how her Great Grandfather had traveled from Missouri to Seattle where he took a ship to Skagway and traveled the 600 miles overland to the gold fields to strike it rich. After spending some time in the Yukon he ended up in Fairbanks where he lived for 6 years, enough time to find some gold and head back to Missouri where he bought a farm and raised his family. Coincidentally, Christine and I had a cabin in Fairbanks where we would spend some of our weekends whenever we were doing a “town run” from Denali 120 miles away. Christine always knew she would come to Alaska one day and fortunately for me, that is when we met.

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Denali in the background, Eielson Visitor Center

Leading a group from the Urban Ecology Center turned into one of the best experiences of my life. We felt at home everywhere we went and seeing old friends along the way enhanced the experience of everyone who came on the journey. When we arrived at the Denali Education Center we had a group of friends there to meet us. It set the tone for an amazing week where people went out of their way to show our group an exceptional time and why they are proud to call Alaska home.

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Alaska Railroad, Anchorage to Seward

As we planned the trip it was decided that September was the best time to travel. The crowds are fewer, the mosquitos are long gone, the fall colors are peaking and there is a chance to see the northern lights. Kay Heyer, one of our participants wrote, “I found the beautiful colors, magentas, greens, reds and yellows so beautiful and they just went on and on. The ride through Denali displayed just the vastness of it all. Like stepping from the business of life into this beautiful, glorious space where you could get in touch with your soul.”

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Savage River, Denali National Park

For those who have traveled in Alaska you understand the vastness of it. So hard to describe on paper or with photographs because of the immensity surrounding you. However one thing stays the same and is a common feeling which has never left me. Each time I walked out the door while living there a new adventure awaited me. Yes, you could say that for wherever you live and this is a good thing but there is a difference, a wildness of being surrounded by mountains and the weather created by their presence. You never know what you are going to get, surprising and inspiring. I am fortunate to have learned this lesson of anticipation for nature each day.

Leading a group of people through our former home of Alaska was a thrilling opportunity for both Christine and I. Dennis Mack summed up the experience perfectly, “I cannot express the love I have for these people. We met so briefly but very intensely. Returning to Anchorage on the motorcoach for our flight home brought out so many memories. I was glad to be wearing tinted glasses because behind them were tears.”

We are so looking forward to our next trip September 5 - 14, 2013. The price is $2,350 per person, which does not include airfare. Still a few seats left, join us if you care to see Alaska through the eyes of a couple of former locals. For more information on the trip, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Willie Karidis

Willie Karidis

Willie Karidis was born and raised in Milwaukee then took off for Denali National Park, Alaska, spending 25 years enjoying the wilderness of the Big Country. Gold mining in the bush, roofing in the Aleutian Islands and discovering the furthest inland whale in North American history were adventurous days. Working as the Executive Director of the Denali Education Center for 16 years was a time of wonderful exploration. 


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