The Great Thoroughfare of the North: River of History and Legend

Were a raven to lift off from the tidal flats at the head of Southeastern Alaska’s Lynn Canal, point his beak due east and catch a thermal updraft to carry him high above the intervening mountains, his flight would take him—in just fifteen miles—to a view looking down on the headwaters of not only one of the most famous, but one of the most remarkable rivers in the world.

One might assume that waters arising in such proximity to the Pacific would soon find their way to that close-by ocean. But no. As if above anything so ordinary and predictable, and as if disdaining to be defined as an indistinct, minor stream, finishing its course while still insignificantly small, it instead is seemingly determined to take charge of its own destiny, do something unique, and make a name for itself. So this unusual river immediately does an astonishing thing: it turns its back on the nearby Pacific and chooses a roundabout way to an entirely different, faraway sea.

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