That was the name some gave the giant swath of northern territory that Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated to acquire from Russia in 1867.
At the time many people thought he was crazy, and that the 7.2 million dollar price tag was way too high, but it turned out that even at the 123.5 million cost in current dollars Alaska was a heck of a bargain.
We don’t know if it has to do with his haggling skills, but the town of Seward seems perfectly proud to bear ole Bill’s name.
And they should be, because for over a hundred years this has been the gateway into his brilliant purchase.
The seaport on Resurrection Bay was one of the first, and remains one of the busiest, in the territory, bringing people and goods to and from the lower forty eight.
The Iditarod Trail began at the waterfront as the path into the interior, and soon the railroad and highway followed.
Unlike those early arrivals, we came at the town from inland, driving the 127 miles from Anchorage along the incredibly picturesque Kenai Peninsula.
It is no wonder that the Seward Highway has been named a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road.
Our drive began along the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, where some of the largest tides in the world provide ever changing vistas of ocean and mud flats.
About a half an hour in we stopped at Beluga Point, because it is one of the few places that allows for safe viewing off of the narrow two-lane road.
Even without seeing any of its namesake whales, with the sea on one side and the Chugach Mountains on the other, this spot captures Alaska in a nutshell.
At that point we left the Chugach range behind and followed the Kenai Mountains south to the open waters of the Pacific.
After a quick orientation loop through Seward, we looked for a parking spot near the Alaska SeaLife Center, because that was at the top of our list.
Our reason may have been goofy (then when aren’t we?), but we wanted to see a real live puffin.
We found them frolicking in a large enclosure of both land and water where we could watch as they climbed, flew, and dove.
They are expert swimmers, looking as if they are flying while under water.
As mesmerized as we were by our premier puffin encounter, we tore ourselves away and discovered that the SeaLife Center has a whole lot more to offer.
Not only are there several other up close viewing situations to enjoy involving seals, sea lions, giant Pacific octopus, King Crabs, and an abundance of fish and birds, but the center does some very valuable real world work too.
This is not a zoo, it is an active research center affiliated with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, as well as a rehabilitation facility.
In fact, it is only permanent marine mammal rescue operation in the state.
The center rescues and treats stranded animals, doing their best to release them back into the wild, but some of the refugees end up as permanent residents and are incorporated into the displays.
Before we left we had to get one more dose of puffins, then we headed out for a walk around the harbor. There is a cruise ship dock and a cargo area, along with an active fishing fleet of both sport and commercial boats. Every year, tens of millions of dollars worth of fish and shellfish pass through the port.
All of that fish talk had us ready for some lunch. Seafood would have seemed the obvious choice, and there were plenty of places to choose from, but in a nod to Seward’s history as the Alaska Railroad terminus, we chose to check out what is known to the locals as The Train Wreck.
The collection of old train cars pays tribute to Seward’s place as the terminus of the Alaska Railroad and is home to the Smoke Shack restaurant.
The entire café fits inside one of the cars, but for a little extra room we grabbed a seat outside on the patio.
Without a doubt this outpost where the mountains meet the sea near the arctic is not known as a hot spot for bar-b-que, but the pulled pork and homemade sauce we had would have fit right in down in Dixie. Nothing fancy, just good stuff.
Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good description for all of Seward’s former folly.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
YOUR TURN: Isn’t this some of the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen? How about them puffins?