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INTRODUCTIONAlaska represents one of the last unspoiled wildernesses on Earth, a vignette of the primordial world. Imagine tens of thousands of caribou streaming through mountain passes, dozens of brown bears fishing rivers thick with salmon, or flocks of amber-horned sheep scampering over a glacier larger than Rhode Island. As volcanoes vent ash and smoke, the ghostly green northern lights dance among the stars. In Alaska you will see North America in its morning freshness when the rivers had no dams and the trees had yet to feel the ax, and not one animal had ever heard a human voice. Here you may feel young again, and see the world as it was when you were a child, when everything was still new, and wonderful, and incredibly big.Everything in Alaska is off the scale. The state sprawls across 21 degrees of latitude and 43 degrees of longitude. Consider that for a moment. The state is more than 2,400 miles across and 1,400 miles from north to south! From the Alaskan island of Little Diomede, the nearest Russian territory is less than three miles away. In other places Alaska is almost 1,000 miles west of the Hawaiian Islands. And yet, in its southern extremity, Alaska is only an hour's flight from Seattle, Washington. If the state were to be superimposed on the lower 48 states, the southeast tip would rest along the Georgia coast and the Aleutians would extend past Los Angeles into the Pacific Ocean. If you explored 100 acres a day, picking flowers and noting animals and rocks, it would take you more than three million years to cover the state.In Alaska are the largest bears in the world, the biggest salmon in the world, the largest national parks, forests, and wildliferefuges in the world, the largest gatherings of bald eagles in the world. And so on. Alaska is not so much a continental peninsula as it is a massive sub-continent. It extends far into the Pacific, nearly to Asia, and, in terms of fauna, flora, and geography, is often more Siberian than North American. Yet, virtually every ecosystem can be found in the state, from shadowy rain forest to dry frigid tundra, from apocalyptic volcanic wasteland to bird-filled salt marsh, from spectacular glacial fjord to rolling subarctic taiga."The spell of Alaska," Ella Higginson wrote in 1908, "falls upon every lover of beauty who has voyaged along these far northern snow-pearled shores . . . or who has drifted down the mighty rivers of the interior which flow, bell-toned and lonely, to the sea . . . . No writer has ever described Alaska; no one writer ever will; but each must do his share, according to the spell that the country casts upon him." This book has been written in the spirit of Higginson's eloquent passage. Alaska is a place that will change you forever, if you let it, and each must, as Higginson suggests, experience that change in a different way. For me, the joy of Alaska has always been in the small things -- picking wild blueberries on the tundra domes around Fairbanks in the fall, feeling the sharp tug of a salmon while fishing the Kenai, spotting a bald eagle as it glides through the clouds, watching the delicate auroras play among the January constellations, listening to a wolf serenade the moon in the Alaska Range. In after-years such memories return, reminding me of the rare abundance and innocence that are wild Alaska. Come now, and let us together roam this incredible state, which is as much a state of mind as it is a state of the Union.