Mendenhall Glacier. Photo by Steve Martaindale

Sometimes one travels to see something in particular.

Often, that something is a tourist landmark that everyone else sees – Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, Mount Rushmore, Fenway Park – but when you’re lucky, and when you’re looking, you get to see the unexpected.

The most tightly planned trip Leah and I have ever taken was our visit to Alaska, which provides Exhibit A for this narrative.

We flew to Ketchikan, where we stayed one night, then boarded the MV Columbia for a 20-hour “cruise” on the Alaska Marine Highway to Juneau, where we spent two nights and explored with a rental car, including driving the Glacier Highway some 46 miles from end to end.

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We flew out of Juneau to Anchorage. Instead of a direct flight, we made the “milk run,” hopping through Yakutat and Cordova (the latter at Merle K “Mudhole” Smith Airport). The next morning, we walked to the Alaska Railroad depot and boarded the Denali Star for a 12-hour train ride to Fairbanks. While there a few days, we rented a specially equipped car and drove to the Arctic Circle. The end of our stay was a plane ride home.

Exhibit B is far less complex or exotic and I cannot even pin down the date.

We were driving Texas State Highway 21 between Alto and Crockett, a stretch we traveled often when my parents were alive, and decided to stop at Mission Tejas State Park and do a little hiking.

Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.

Lawrence Block

Mission Tejas (a Spanish name derived from the indigenous Caddo tribe) is a fairly small, heavily wooded park with several short trails. Looking at the park’s trail map now, I’m guessing we were on the Olen Matchett Trail. It seems we were walking downhill and we had hardly seen another soul all day.

While easing down the trail, we heard a rustling noise and looked off to our right to see a tall, dead tree ripping through limbs on its way to the ground.

We’ve spent a lot of time walking through the woods and had never witnessed a tree falling.

Back to Alaska.

While in Juneau, we drove out of town a short distance to view the Mendenhall Glacier. Unlike Mission Tejas, Mendenhall draws quite a few visitors. Most of them, like us, were there to get a glance at the rapidly retreating block of ice.

While watching the glacier terminus, we witnessed a section of the wall calve off and splash into the lake. It wasn’t huge and the small icebergs floating in the lake offered evidence it was far from uncommon … but we saw it!

Get out there. Go, see, listen. Be.

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