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USA & Canada: Alaska | Gustavus - Snow-Crested Mountains and Gentle Giants

Which sounds more like the ideal honeymoon -- baking in the hot sun on a tropical beach or watching two majestic bald eagles frolic on a windy beach off Icy Strait with the jagged, glacier-capped mountains of the mighty Fairweather Range in the background?

If you chose the latter, you should consider a honeymoon in southeast Alaska. This region, only a 90-minute flight from Seattle, has an average summer temperature of 70 degrees and some of the most magnificent scenery and trekking grounds in the world.

In planning your conjugal escape to the land of the midnight sun, include a stay in Gustavus, a tiny village located at the mouth of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. The adventure starts at the Juneau airport, where you board a tiny prop plane. The bumpy takeoff smooths as you gain altitude and Mendenhall Glacier appears below as a strange river of ice. Your humble craft clips its way over the jagged teeth of endless mountain ranges. Passing between two peaks, you can even see the minuscule dot of a mountain goat making its way along the crags.

When your pilot brings you back to earth at the Gustavus airport (a wooden cabin on a runway) a car is waiting to take you to your home away from home, the Gustavus Inn, a comfy farmhouse surrounded by Alaskan meadow flowers, blue lupine, and flaming pink fireweed. Once you're settled into your room overlooking Icy Strait, your innkeeper sends you off on bicycles to the beach where you will, indeed, encounter Mother Nature.

When you return from your escapade, flushed and ravenously hungry, dinner awaits you. Homemade breads, cheeses, and a garden fresh salad dappled with purple pansies whet your appetite for the next course, a perfectly seared halibut steak caught that morning in Icy Strait. Dessert: homemade pie. You can hardly wait till breakfast!

The next morning you're up and out early (after sourdough pancakes) in search of the awesome humpback whale. The endangered humpbacks migrate north in summer, attracted by the abundant krill and shrimp that thrive in southeast Alaska's coastal waters. Adult humpbacks average about 50 feet in length and weigh in at about three quarters of a ton.

Seeing and hearing these graceful giants will change your life. First, a spout of water shoots from the surface of the sea, followed by the high, brassy sound of the whale's forceful exhale. When feeding, the humpbacks erupt from the water, their enormous mouths wide open, scooping up thousands of organisms in their baleen plates.

Your next expedition includes a daylong boat excursion up Glacier Bay with a National Park Ranger to guide you through its natural splendor. During your journey you'll witness the immensity of 12 tidewater glaciers, some of which calve into the bay, not to mention icebergs and fjords framed by snow-crested mountains. If Mother Nature is smiling on you, you'll also meet countless species of marine and land creatures, from the tufted puffin to the grizzly bear, all in their natural habitat.

Other options for your stay in Gustavus include deep-sea and stream fishing, "flightseeing," camping, sea kayaking, and hiking -- or just more eating. The Gustavus Inn will make all the arrangements for you, so you newlyweds can relax and fall deeper in love. For information and reservations, call the Gustavus Inn at (907) 697-2254; contact the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve at (907) 697-2230.

-- Leslie Wright

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