15 images Created 16 Nov 2014
Southeast Alaska is the northern terminus of the Inside Passage, a protected waterway of convoluted passages between islands and fjords, beginning in Puget Sound in Washington State. More than 80 percent of Southeast Alaska is in the Tongass National Forest, and with its thousands of islands, fjords and bays, it has 11,000 miles (17703 km) of coastline, about half that of North America. Some of the islands like Baranof Island are large enough and high enough to have permanent glaciers, but many are only big enough to support a single tree. The coastline can suddenly rise abruptly to snow-capped mountains, or open up to fjords and inlets that penetrate deep into the coastal mountains and ice fields. A passage through the waters of Southeast Alaska can take you through tight, narrow passages hemmed in by mountains on either side, and then suddenly open up to a breathtaking seascape dotted with smaller islands and fringed with distant mountains with their summits buried in the clouds. Southeast Alaska has been carved out by glaciers, and many of the fjords and inlets plummet from steep sides down to great depths. Much of the shoreline is rocky, and has been eroded by the combination of waves, wind and tide, which when in tumult create a formidable force, as I found out in my kayak on many life-threatening situations. There are only a limited number of beaches that are accessible by kayak, and many of them are prohibitively jumbled up with large boulders. The nutrient-rich waters that attract so much marine life to Southeast Alaska have also created a rich border of intertidal life that helps to sustain animals from the forest as well as the sea. I often watched bears foraging on the beach and otters patrolling the shoreline for food. The coast is great for beachcombing, although it can be hazardous at times because of the slippery rocks and abundance of beached logs.