ALASKACANADA  July 11-24, 2009

(Background Image:  Mendenhall Glacier)



Sat. July 11     Got up at 1:15 to be sure and leave by 2:30 so we could be in Nashville by 4:30 for a 6:30 flight.  Kenneth was at the house early, so we actually left the house at 2:18.  Trip in was uneventful outside of one small truck that preferred to ride the line between the lanes rather than stay in the lane.

                        Check-in was smooth after we figured out that Northwest uses Delta’s check-in and Delta’ gates.  We leave from gate B-4 which is not that far down the concourse – a deviation from the norm for us.

                        Plane left Nashville on time – 6:30.  Arrived in Memphis an hour later – HUNGRY!  Got sub sandwiches at Lenny’s subs.  Had an hour layover in Memphis and the plane left at 8:30 for the 4 hour trip to Vancouverexactly 4 hours and 15 min. to touchdown.  Of course we had crossed two time zones, so local time was 10:45.  Took about 15 min. to get off the plane and find customs, then it only took a little over an HOUR to get through customs and onto the ship!  (All but about 2 min. of that was standing in line).  At one point we were in this incredibly long line, though we were, luckily, toward the front, headed for a passport check.  FINALLY got through that line and they directed us to go beyond a screen (we THOUGHT to the ship) – when we got beyond the screen, there was a LONGER line!  Again to check passports!  We had been in DIRE need of a restroom when we left the plane, but had to wait through the first passport line before getting access to a restroom.  As we approached the 2nd line, there was a shop on the side and I slipped out of line and ran over and got a Vancouver magnet – never missed any time in the line:  went right back to the same place I had left!

                        FINALLY got to the line that would get us on the ship – ANOTHER passport check – and then, when we got to the ship check-in, there were no lines!  Bus ride to the ship was 40 min., but interesting.  Seems Vancouver has a climate much like ours – bus driver said they allow snow 2 days a week – city has no snow removal equipment so it is a major problem to have snow.  Sounds familiar.

                  Once on the ship the only thing open was Lido deck restaurant, so we sat down and casually ate a really nice meal.  Finally about 1:00 they announced we could go to our rooms – we took our time finishing our food and then went to our room.  It has a nice balcony and we have a beautiful view – of the dock right now.

                        We did a boat tour – on our own – to see what was available.  We were tired – had been up since 1:15 this morning, but there was lifeboat drill at 5:15 and we didn’t want to sleep through it.  Amazing:  they gave announcement at 25 min., 15 min. and 5 min. to go pick up your life jackets; there were people who were late, a couple never showed at all, and we had to stand outside crammed together while they checked to be sure each person was there.  I was falling asleep standing there!  FINALLY it was over and we came back to the room and crashed.  When we got up about 8:00 and headed for Lido deck, we learned that they take the food up about that time.  We got enough to eat and got hot chocolate and then walked up on top of the ship – 9:00 and still very light, and still warm!

Sun., July 12   Up about 7:00 (local time) and went up for breakfast.  Weather has changed – very foggy, even misty; I had to pull out sweater and socks.  We are going through a channel between  islands, but all around us are rocky islands covered with trees – very pretty with the fog, when we can see them.  Most of the day went the same way.  Sometimes we were out of the fog and had beautiful views of mountains, some with small patches of snow.  Then we would be in fog again.  There was one waterfall right at the shore – I got the video camera out for that because it was really pretty.  We pretty well stayed in the room – Tommy went up on top once without me as I wanted more clothes on before I went out.  I finished my Harry Potter Book 7.

                  We’ve set an alarm to get up at 5:00 tomorrow morning (Alaska time, so 6:00 B. C. time) to go up on the bow and watch for whales.  Supposed to be some that we can see before the ship enters Tracey Arm.  I went up and got some hot chocolate – hopefully to soothe this acid reflux that has been bothering me.

                        Seas got rough when we pulled out from between the islands about 6:00 tonight – I have really noticed the roll of the ship, but have not had to take medicine.  Don’t think I’ll have to.  Biggest problem I have is I don’t really have a good way to keep my hair from blowing in my face.  OH, well.

Mon., July 13 We were up at 4:20 so we could be up in the Crow’s Nest lounge to watch for whales.  We saw several spouts, saw the tail of one and flipper of another.  Also saw about 3 pods of dolphins.  None of these really broke the surface, but was neat to see.

                  We stayed in the Crow’s Nest for the tour into Tracey Arm.  Tracey Arm is a fjord with a glacier at the end.  We were hoping to get to see the glacier, but there were too many ice floes in the water and the captain decided to turn the ship around and leave before we got to the glacier.  But the part that we saw was incredibly beautiful!  The walls of the fjord were clearly glaciated, but had trees on parts of them.  There was some snow in spots at the top and its melting created waterfalls which snaked their way from the top of the mountains to the bottom:  one looked like the tendrils of a spider’s web draped across the mountain side.  One waterfall came out of the rocks, close to the water’s edge – a beautiful, noisy cascade.  Some people saw a Harbor Seal around one of the ice floes, but we didn’t see it.  I moved from being inside the Crow’s Nest to outside where it was colder and windy, but there was no glass in the way to have reflections that ruined the pictures.  It was hard to find a spot outside – people were everywhere on deck taking pictures.  The Crow’s Nest had nice upholstered chairs, like desk chairs, up at the windows and you were at the front of the ship, so the view was great, but you were also comfortable.  Got some really good pictures, just didn’t get to see the glacier.

                        After we came back out of Tracy Arm – (the entrance to which is VERY narrow and shallow though the water just over “the bar” is over 700 feet deep!) we went on to Juneau, docking at 1:30 Alaska time.  We had been told by one of the guest tour guides that we should skip the cruise ship tours and just get a cab at the dock – negotiate a flat rate to go and do what we wanted as long as we wanted.  But we decided at the last minute to do a cruise ship tour, however, when we got to the tours desk, they were closed.  So . . . back to the cab idea.  What we really wanted to do in Juneau was go to Mendenhall Glacier.  Simple, right?  Wrong.  First – no cabs on the dock.  We started walking, following a lot of people.  There were 5 cruise ships docked, so the crowd was walking toward town (we were the ship farthest from town) and when we reached the dock in front of the Princess ship we found tour “booths” of local people doing tours.  We found a bus ride to Mendenhall Glacier for $14.00 each round trip.  Since the tour on the ship had cost $56.00 EACH, we decided we had made a good deal.

                        At the glacier it was AWESOME!!!!!  Incredibly massive.  There were two waterfalls:  one came from under the glacier – it was “dirty” looking.  The other came from an area to the side of the glacier, actually coming from snow melt on another hilltop.  The ranger came down and gave a talk, explaining why the ice I sometimes blue (because as it is compacted it eventually absorbs all light except the blue spectrum, so we see blue ice).  She also explained that the reason the lake water was a green-gray color was because the silt washed down from the glacier – from the gray waterfalls – was so fine that it didn’t settle out, but remained suspended in the water.  Inside the park headquarters they had some of the ash you could feel – it felt as soft and “silky” as any woman’s face powder!

                        We spent the time we wanted at the glacier and then caught one of our buses back to the dock.  When we got to the dock, I did a little shopping and we went back to the ship for supper and to pack as we could set our big bags out for transfer tomorrow (we leave the ship at Skagway and go by train on the start of our land tour).

                        Another note:  contrary to our usual luck with weather, the people here said this was the first sunny day in weeks – it was a PERFECT day!

Tues., July 14 We had to have our luggage – minus carry-on – outside our door by 1:00 this morning which meant we had to put a lot in our carry-on that we normally would not have carried with us – like our toiletry kits and my gown and house shoes and my morning tea cup.  We managed to get it all arranged and things repacked – as well as pictures transferred from my camera card to the computer – before 11:30.  We then fell asleep, but woke about 5:45:  30 min. before the alarm went off.  So we got dressed and got everything packed into our 2 backpacks and the camera case while the ship was pulling into Skagway.

                        Once we had everything packed, we left the room for the last time and headed for breakfast in Lido restaurant – one last time.  Once we finished that, we headed for the meeting area for our tour group.  They finally called our group and we presented our card for the last time on the ship.  We then boarded a bus for our 1 ½ hour tour of Skagway – with our driver/guide Davie in bus #116.  he was very entertaining and informative – even played the ukulele and sang for a couple who would celebrate 55 years of marriage on Saturday.

                        We went to see the Gold Rush Cemetery and saw the grave of “Soapy” Smith, a con man who preyed on the miners until Frank Reid put an end to it all by killing Soapy.  Frank Reid’s tombstone is the largest one in the cemetery; most were wooden recreations done when a flood washed much of the cemetery away.

                        From the cemetery we took a short hike up to a GORGEOUS waterfall (Reid’s Falls:  you passed right by Frank Reid’s tombstone going up the trail – wonder where they got the idea for the name of the falls???).  Of course I had to take TONS of pictures – in the cemetery AND at the falls!

                        After that we got back on the bus and headed for a scenic overlook of Skagway:  it is amazing how small it is to be as busy as it is.  Back in the gold rush days, Skagway was the port from which the miners set out for Dawson City and the fold fields.  It was also the port where goods came and went; gold was never FOUND at Skagway, but a lot of gold wound up there!

                        That was the end of our tour and Davie then dropped us at our hotel – the Westmark Inn.  They had two rooms set up where they stored our carry-on luggage till we could get into our rooms – which would be after 2:00.  In the meantime we could walk around town and do whatever we wanted.  Well, walking around form expensive shop to expensive shop was not exactly what we wanted to do.  I had seen a tour I thought would be neat:  a glass blowing demonstration where they let you create your own piece.  But when we checked the price, it was over $200 PER PERSON – not exactly in our budget.  Next we checked into one that would go to a swinging bridge which was actually in B.C.  It was half the other – but $109 EACH was still kind of high.  We reasoned that if a tour bus could go there, we could drive there, and we had seen an Avis sign down the street.  So we went there and for a wonder, they had cars available!  We got a Camry (red!) and set off on the northern road out of town – and that was when we found that we had made a VERY wise investment: the scenery was SPECTACULAR!

                        For a while we were not sure if we were going to make it to the bridge:  it seemed like around every curve was a gorgeous waterfall or a mountain view that was just incredible and there were pull-offs at all these places, so we would no more than get started when we’d be stopping again!  At one point we were seeing a lot of kettle lakes – glacially formed depressions that hold water.  Then we saw a large lake   Summit Lake – which was fascinating:  it was two distinctly different colors!  One end was clear and blue, but the other end was the cloudy green that we have learned is caused from the fine glacial silt suspended in the water.  Where the two colors met was a shallow area full of silt – a sand bar in the making.  As we went down the road, we saw the reason for the difference:  the river running from the mountains across the road from the lake was carrying silt – the green in the lake – but also it was managing to deposit some of it as it turned from the river and entered the lake; thus the silty build-up between the two parts of the lake.  The other section was getting only snow melt with no glacial silt, so it was clear and clean.  We climbed over rocks to go to the lake shore to get a better view of the division.  As we did, we noticed the beautiful alpine/tundra flowers and the stunted evergreens growing in the gravel.  Of course I had to take pictures of them – LOTS of pictures!

                        At another point – in fact at the highest point on the road at 3292 feet – we saw a tour bus stopped and people focused up on the hillside.  About the time I saw them looking I saw what they were looking AT:  a mountain goat high up on the hill.  So we turned around really quickly and went back for pictures.  Using the video camera which has such a great zoom we could see him moving around and grazing.  WE had just said a little while before that we should be watching for them and sure enough there was one.

                        We passed Canadian customs and went into B. C. and eventually made it to the suspension bridge.  This is a new construction – only been there about 4 years – but has some really good interpretive displays on the way down to the bridge.  We got a personal tour as there were no cruise tour buses stopped there at the time.  The wind when we were on the bridge was ferocious!  It could push you off balance if you weren’t careful!  They had chain link fence up on the sides and the floor was metal grids, so it was really safe.  And the view of the rapids below was AWESOME!  Again, cloudy water, but rapids that, our guide said, had defeated many attempts to run them:  not something to attempt without a LOT of experience.

                        We had asked the guide about how much snow fell during the winter and he said 6 to 10 feet.  We asked if that closed the road, but he said there was an ore operation at the other end of the road and the trucks had to haul the ore out to Skagway for shipping; also, they had to haul fuel back from Skagway for the mining operation.  Consequently the road was maintained and kept clear in the winter.

                        We went a little father beyond the bridge and decided we needed to get back because we had to put gas in the car before turning it in, and we didn’t know when the gas stations would close.  When we got back to Skagway, we got the gas and then drove around some more.  We found a bridge across the river where it emptied into the fjord up which the ships come from Juneau.  We were watching some birds and realized they were Arctic Terns – a large flock of them.  Then it became a challenge to see if we could video one “hovering” in the wind.  We wound up going to the other side of the river and following a trail along the river.  We finally sat down at a spot we thought would be good for watching, and it was pretty good. But even better, all of a sudden there was an otter surfacing in the middle of the river!

                        Coming back to the car, we decided to find a place to eat and wound up at Northern Lights Café – good food even if it was a little expensive.  But all of Alaska will be that way.

                        When we finally turned the car in and got to our hotel room, we found that we truly are in Alaska:  no air conditioning – just windows open and a fan to run.  But otherwise a good room and comfortable.

Wed., July 15 We were up at 5:00 – I was, anyway, to wash my hair.  We had to have our luggage outside our room by 6:30 and we had to meet our tour guide at 7:45.  We got breakfast in the hotel and then got our “carry-on” bags and met our tour guide.  We boarded a bus for the 5 min. ride to our train, the White Pass & Yukon Railroad.  It began its run along the Skagway River – the scenery was unbelievably beautiful – the early part was things we had seen in our road trip yesterday, but now from the other side of the river.  Beautiful rapids and waterfalls including a view of Bridal Veil Falls which we had seen a LITTLE of yesterday – it was HUGE!  We had seen a trestle leading into a tunnel yesterday, but today we got to RIDE across the trestle and INTO the tunnel – and across another trestle and through a second tunnel!  We lost sight of the highway at that time, and did not get back to it till when we were approaching the Canadian border.  Views were spectacular!  We finally got to Bennett Lake where we got off for a lunch of stew, bread, slaw, and apple pie.  There is a crew of ladies who man a “camp” there (10 days at work and 10 days off) cooking lunches for the trains that come through.

                        As we pulled into the camp, we saw a bear behind one of the outbuildings.  We got pictures of the bear first, and then went inside to eat.  The food was delicious, and, after the meal, we had time to take a walk on the nearby trails.  We went up to a Presbyterian Church building which was the only building left form the gold rush days of turn of the century.  There was an elaborate sprinkler system set up outside the building in case of forest fire; they are serious about preserving this piece of history.

                        Beyond the church we went up a trail to Chilcoot Pass – major point on the gold rush trail.  Beautiful view!  We went on back down and got on the train for the rest of the trip up to Carcross.  Here we were following the shore of Lake Bennett – beautiful views of an area that people only see from the train or a boat.  The train track was VERY close to the shore in a lot of places and close enough to the rocks to reach out and touch them!  We saw some Canada Geese and some other ducks, but besides that did not really see any wildlife, though we saw tracks in the sand in some places.  We presented our passports at the Canadian customs house which we had been by yesterday:  customs officers came on board the train and checked our passports without our having to get off.

                        At Carcross we go toff the train and boarded our bus with our driver “Jen” and she drove us to White Horse.  ON the way we saw a desert that had been created by glaciers millennia ago.  We stopped at Emerald Lake for pictures; it was incredibly green and beautiful.  As we approached White Horse, there was a Bald Eagle nest with an eagle on it who was eating a kill.

                        When we got to our hotel, the room was warm, but they had a fan going.  We put our bangs down (our luggage was outside the door) and then headed for Giorgio’s Restaurant for Italian.  We split a meal (our guide had suggested it) and it was delicious.  While we were waiting for our food, Tommy went looking to see if he could find a store where we could get some chocolate milk to help my reflux.  In the process, he passed a movie theater and saw a line waiting to see the new Harry Potter (6) movie.  So after we ate, we went to the theater and got in line.  We met a man and his daughter and began talking with him.  Learned he was a square dancer.  But just before we got in the door , they put up a sign saying no more tickets for Harry Potter.  But we knew there was a later show, but didn’t want to stand in line 2 hours, so we approached the window in our turn and asked if there were Harry Potter tickets and the girl said yes – 7, but not together – we said it didn’t matter, we’d take two.  So we got to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in White Horse, Yukon Territory!

Thurs., July 16           Bags out at 6:30 then breakfast and meet in the lobby at 8:00.  We are 3rd group in our tour to get on the bus (tomorrow we’ll be 2nd, then 1st, the back to 3, etc.).  After a short tour of White Horse we are on the road again – first the AlCan Highway and then North Klondike Highway headed for Dawson City.  Just after we turned onto the AlCan, we saw a coyote at the side of the road.  Not something we had expected to see in daylight like that.

                        We were mostly in Taiga forest:  spruce, spent, and birch.  Mountains were in the distance, but sometimes we’d have kettle lakes or small rivers to add interest.

                        Our first stop was at Braeburn Lodge, 1677 Klondike Highway “largest cinnamon buns in the world” – and you’d better believe it!   We got HUGE cinnamon buns.  They even had an airstrip – like Southernaire back home – where people would fly in just to get the buns.  We got a bun and I got 2 chocolate milks (one for later).

                        Then we were back on the road and passing through areas which had been hit by forest fires.  The first one was in 1998 and there were really no spruce to be seen, but a lot of aspen.  Jen, our guide/driver, said the spruce would take longer, but eventually they would dominate the area.  She said the roots of the aspen spread out in a wide area and if you checked DNA you would find the trees in a wide area to be related.  The spruce, of course, have seeds that are only released with fire, so allowing the fires to burn naturally is beneficial to the forest.

                        We then stopped at Five Fingers rapids which was a dangerous spot on the Yukon River which claimed the lives of 35 or 40 Stampeders and caused many others to capsize and lose their goods.  The hardships of the Stampeders is very much apparent when we go through the terrain – even in summer.  It is AMAZING to see how MUCH wilderness there is – how few roads are through the area, even today.

                        Our next stop was for lunch at Minto’s Resort – a group of cabins on the Yukon River with a dining hall.  They had bread and deli meats, and various cold salads and desert, so it was a good meal in a pretty setting.  We could have gone out and sat at picnic tables, but decided to eat inside as it was still somewhat cool outside.

                        Back on the road we played a “migrate your moose” game where Scott told us what part of a moose to draw and we’d draw that part and then”migrate our mosse” to the person behind us, then we’d draw another part, etc.  When we finished – and named it – we could then write a poem about the picture we wound up with.  I wrote a limerick:

                                    There once was a moose name sad

                                    Whose proportions were all kind of bad

                                    With legs of blue

                                    And no antlers too

                                    It’s probably best if he’s never a dad.

                        Our next stop was Moose Creek Lodge – a nice place with much interesting primitive art and antiques around.  Back on the road, we are on a road under construction – at least it is not blacktopped but gravel with ruts.

                        Getting closer to Dawson City we find the forest fire of 1953 – trees here are still dominantly aspen, but spruce are taller here.

                        We arrived in Dawson City about 5:30 local time and got our room in the Westmark Inn (same name as the hotels in Skagway and White Horse – owned by Holland America), room 201 – no elevator in this one.  Our bags were outside our door shortly after we arrived.  We went looking for a place to eat and wound up at Sourdough Joe’s where we got sandwiches. 

                        We went back to the hotel to look into tours for the next day – we had wanted to go to Tombstone Territorial Park, but it is far out of town and the road across it is very long; there were two tours – one 6 ½  hours and one 7 ½ hours.  Tommy said he didn’t want to spend that much time on a bus.  We had tried to phone what we though was the local tourist info center, but it was closed, so from what we could tell we were going to have to use the Holland America tours service.  Later, after walking around town, we stumbled across the REAL local tourism place and it was open.  They had several tours that we MIGHT have been able to get but unfortunately by that time they were all closed.  There are no car rental agencies here, and the only transportation we could find were bikes, so we had to choose something that would provide us with transportation.  We finally decided on a rafting tour on the Kondike River.  So then we walked around town some more and finally went back to our room about 10:30 – sun was still up!

Fri., July 17    We slept late today – didn’t get up till after 9:00.  We had decided to try breakfast at the China Restaurant which had a $5.99 special.  Food turned out to be very good.

                        One thing I neglected to point out about Dawson City:  to keep the atmosphere of the Klondike gold rush, their streets are not paved and they have wooden sidewalks – just as it was around the turn of the century.  So, even though they water down the streets, they are still dusty.  Thus I am now taking Zyrtec which really washed me out, so after breakfast we walked a little more and then came back to the room and slept.  We got up about 2:00 and went out to find lunch, winding up a the same restaurant where we’d had breakfast.  Then we went looking for a hat for me because I didn’t want to be on the raft for 3 ½ hours without one.  We found one – fit me perfectly and had a cloth band inside which I like.  And on top of that, it was one sale for half price!!!

                        We finally went on our tour at 4:30.  The water was fast moving – faster than the Current River in Missouri.  Our guide, Mark, was French Canadian, but really loves the wilderness and is planning to try to get a homestead in the Yukon before the end of the year.  He did an excellent job of maneuvering the raft through the rills, avoiding trees, but giving us a great ride.  We had hoped to see moose, but did not.  However, Mars said there were some salmon spawning in the river, so we needed to watch for them.  He saw two but we didn’t see them, then I saw one and Tommy saw it too – bright red and long in the water – about 2 feet from the raft.  We saw a lot of gulls, but in one place we saw about 6 Bald Eagles – two that were mature.  It was a shallow area with gravel bar in the middle as well as a mud flat area, so a good place for the eagles to catch salmon.  Once Tommy spotted a baby gull swimming in the water – the mother was VERY upset at us being there and came flying low at us, fussing all the way.  Mark also showed us a beaver lodge, but we didn’t see the beavers.  He also showed us a tent site of a man who lived on the river year round – and has done so for many years.  Since the river freezes over in winter, he has to stock up provisions.  But Mark said that people around who knew him – like the guides – would give him rides into town.

                        We finally got to he end of the trip where the Klondike emptied into the Yukon.  It was clearly visible where the two came together since the Klondike is very clear and the Yukon is VERY silty.  Just at that point we saw a family of Mergansers – am other duck and 6 or 8 babies – they were really moving quickly; really neat to watch.  WE also saw a piece of driftwood in the stream that was bobbing most peculiarly:  it looked completely like an otter, but bobbing up and down in the water, but when we got close, we could tell it was apparently catching on rocks on the bottom which caused it to turn over in the water – a really weird sight.

                        Back at our hotel, we checked e-mail and then Tommy went out to find some supper (I wasn’t hungry).  He came back with a couple of sandwiches fro the Shell quick mart across the street and that was our supper.

Sat., July 18    We had to have bags out at 6:30, so were up at 6:00.  Got the bags out and then headed for the China Restaurant for breakfast again.  After that we went back to the room for a quick snooze, and then on the bus for a quick ride down to the dock to get on the catamaran, Yukon Queen II.  Of course this is a fancy boat with airplane type seats with try back s and a permanent tray between the seats that doubled as an arm rest.  Our trip down the Yukon River was VERY smooth and VERY uneventful – which you could say was good and bad:  nothing bad happened which was good, but nothing spectacular happened which was not good – no moose, elk, eagles or any other animals of any description besides Ravens and gulls.  Just the murky silty, swiftly moving Yukon River which in many places resembled the Mississippi with its swirls and eddies.  The shore was the same looking most of the way:  vegetation next to the river was sheared off at the same level; back in May when the river ice broke up, it jammed up downstream and the water and ice backed up the river and flooded the towns and villages along the river – tremendous devastation all along the river from that.

                        We crossed the border back into Alaska and the boat ride ended at Eagle, Alaska.  Eagle is a small village which was heavily damaged by the flood.  We spent a little time there and then got on the bus for our “adventure” ride over Taylor Highway.  This “highway” is a gravel road with potholes and washboards.  Not only that, but it is narrow – pretty much one lane all the way though there were pull-offs and wide spots in various places.  There were two buses – ours and another one – and we had a “point” truck which went in front of us to let oncoming traffic know that they needed to pull over.  Also, the road was pretty much laid out like Highway 129 over the mountain to Fontana:  curves and hills!  We stopped at one high overlook and walked out across the tundra – how springy it was!!!! Incredible!!!  Then we stopped at Chicken, Alaska (a set of shops with ice cream and excellent bakery goods) and then continued traveling on Top of the World Highway to Tok, Alaska where we are staying tonight at the Westmark Inn here.  We had supper at the Grumpy Griz Café and may eat breakfast there tomorrow.

Sun., July 19   Up at 6:00 to get bags out by 6:45.  Had breakfast at the Grumpy Griz – nothing spectacular, just eggs and toast, but at a reasonable price.  Then back on the bus for our trip to Fairbanks.  Our driver, Mike, was really good – he and Scott (our tour director) were used to working together and had stories and jokes to exchange.  Scott posted our moose pictures and the winners in 3 categories:  least like a moose, most like a moose, and best poem.  The picture that I wound up with wound least like a moose, but my poem didn’t win.  However, the poem that did win was written on “my” moose – the one I had started – so I didn’t get to keep my moose picture; Tommy threw his away.

                        Also today our TD, Scott, told us what his job was when he wasn’t doing Holland America tours (he had been giving us clues and we had been guessing for 2 days):  he organizes golf outings for corporate groups; he had pictures of himself in a variety of places and named some VERY prominent people that he had “associated” with in the course of his other work.

                        Our ride today was still kind of  same ol, same ol, but we did cross several rivers of a type they called “braided” rivers:  they were rivers which had wide, level beds and they tended to meander in several splits through the width of the bed, often changing their channels as they did so.  The first of these was the Robertson River.  They were all rather similar, differing mainly in how wide they were.

                        We could see mountains in the distance on both sides of us, but the air was hazy:  there are over 60 wildfires still burning in Alaska and some are near us so the air is hazy.  If it had been clear, Mike said, we could have seen Mt. McKinley.

                        Our first stop was at Rikka’s Roadhouse.  This is a historic site but has a museum, store, and café as well as other historic buildings.  It had been an important trade stop for the stampeders and then later had been used by the U.S. Army when they built the AlCan highway.  We got strawberry rhubarb pie and it was really delicious!!!  We walked around a little and then it was back on the bus.

                        We got to see a video about the building of the AlCan Highway in 1942:  it had been deemed critical for the defense of North America from the Japanese.  And, in fact, while it was being built, Japan captured two islands in the Aleutians.  The building of the road – in less than a year – was an unbelievable feat.  It was built across land that no one had been on, that they didn’t know anything about (like dealing with permafrost and bogs) so a lot of improvising had to be done.  It was hard to believe that this really great road we were riding on was as difficult to create – and was really not that “old.”

                        We did finally get to see a moose!  She (we think – there was no rack, but that would not be important) was stepping out of a small pond and moving back into the trees on the far side of it.  The driver did a good job of slowing down for us to take pictures – though there was no traffic to worry about at the time.

                        For lunch we stopped at God Dredge #8 national Historic Site.  They had tables set up in an old mess hall there and had a miner’s stew, blueberry crumble, and biscuits – it was very good.  After the meal we got to tour the dredge (it is HUGE!) and then they gave us each a bag of soil from the “tailings” from the dredge work and we “panned” for gold.  Tommy got 6+ grains and I got 5; about $34.00 worth all together.  That was VERY interesting and worth the stop even without the food and tour!

                        We then stopped at the Alaska Pipeline interpretive site.  That was very interesting as well.  Where the pipeline is above ground, it has supports that allow it to move due to expansion and contraction.  They also had “pigs” on display:  these are large devices which are put in the pipeline periodically to clean residue off the sides of the pipe.  Also we saw where the supports went down to permafrost there was a special post designed to keep the permafrost frozen.

                        After that we had a tour of Fairbanks including a really nice drive through the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus – where Mike had gone to school and where his son now worked so he was very familiar with the campus.

                        We then got to our hotel – Westmark Inn again – and were ready to relax.  Tommy scouted around and found there was a place across the street called “Iris Café & Saloon” which had a reasonable sounding special.  We decided to go there and ordered a 16 oz. prime rib to split.  The waiter brought out 2 exactly same plates:  he put the order in for 2 8 oz. steaks and then still let us each have a potato, salad and veggies.  All for the price of the single plate.  The food was DELICIOUS!!!  Meat was tender as were the veggies and potato.  We HIGHLY recommend the Iris Café & Saloon to anyone going to Fairbanks!

                        Back in the room, I’ve transferred the pictures from the camera and am ready for bed:  9:45 and sun is still well up in the sky!

Mon., July 20 Forty years ago astronauts landed on the moon.  Tommy was working at Camp Mack Morris and I was refinishing Aunt Sarah’s trunk which is the brown, rectangular trunk which held our music for a long time.  I was stenciling the name “Claxton” on the front of it while watching the TV coverage of the moon landing (it would be another 13 days before we would be married, but I figured I was safe in “branding” the trunk as “ours”).  I also remember that Lily and Jim – the tenant couple who lived on our farm in Fayette Co. – did not believe that man had gone to the moon:  they and many other poor people with little education – thought it was just a trick of television.

                        Today we were up at 5:00 because we had to have our bags out at 6:00 to leave at 7:00.  Today we rode the train from Fairbanks to Denali.  This was on the Alaska Railroad which had regular cars, a couple with small domes, and then two Celebrity Cruises cars and three Holland America cars.  These “cruise cars” had dining rooms below with domes on top, so we rode in the dome part and went down to eat – if we chose to do that which we did not.  We had assigned seats according to our ticket, but luckily we got the A-B side which had most of the better views.  There was a bar tender for our car – Adam – and a tour guide (Jane who had retired from teaching and spent 8 years sailing around the world; they kept us informed about things to watch for and Jane gave a history of the railroad.  She had told us to watch for moose, and I was just looking out the window and suddenly there was a moose running through a muskeg right beside the train.  I shouted “Moose on the left side” (which was what Jane had said to do) and Jane interrupted her talk to tell everyone.  I got some good pictures and that turned out to be the best sighting we had all day.

                        We had much the same scenery that we had had on the bus, but this time there were views of meadows with many muskegs:  pools of water where ice melts but permafrost doesn’t let it sink down any further.  These meadows and muskegs were ideal places for moose.  I think in all there were probably 4 or 5 moose sighted though I only saw a couple of them and Tommy may have seen 4.

                        One area we went through was part of the 2004 fire.  Jane said someone threw his ashes from a fire out in the woods thinking the ashes were cool, but they weren’t and they started the fire.  There was a lot of fire weed in this area – as it is the first plant to come back after a fies.  Huge meadows of this with the Alaska range in the distance was really incredibly beautiful.  We do have a problem with smoke from current wild fires:  because of this there was a constant haze over the mountains making them look just like the Smokies when they are “smoky.”  This prevented us from getting to see Mt. McKinley in the one place where we could have seen it.

                        One thing we did get to see was one of the old NORAD stations – or at least the 3 radar screens in the distance.  They were HUGE – Jane gave us the statistics but I don’t recall them except that they were really huge1  They have now been turned over the Alaska National Guard; new technology has replaced the old radar system.

                        We entered Healy Canyon and then we began to see the beauty of Denali.  The train slowed to 15 mph because in some places the track is barely hanging on the side of the canyon.  The river below is swift with class 3 and 4 rapids in some places.  The mountains were really tall with the river below and nothing between:  the mountains came straight down to the water – only Dall Sheep or Mountain goats would have been able to move on the cliff face.  On the other side was our railroad track, hanging precariously from the other cliff face.  There is a lot of construction going on:  tunnels have been “opened to the sky” by removing the rock on top and pushing it to the outside so the track can be moved closer to the mountain.  But still, in some places, we were looking straight down at the cliff face – the railroad bed was not visible.

                        When the train arrived at the station at Denali, we were transported to the hotel by bus.  We were hungry and so once we had put our stuff in the room, we got a shuttle back to the main lodge and a café that was located there.  We got some food and then proceeded across the highway to a line of stores.  We went to the general store to get some junk food to take with us tomorrow as we would not be around a café for most of the day.  After that we just went to all the other shops and I got some souvenirs. 

                        Back in the room we lay down to rest, but I began to have some serious pain of indigestion.  I had been having some trouble for several days, and had been drinking chocolate milk to settle the acid reflux I was having.  The pain was just too much and I told Tommy I needed to find a Dr.  There was a clinic next to the main lodge, so he went downstairs and asked about it.  The lady said it had closed at 6:00 and she didn’t think they took out of state insurance, and they were expensive.  So we decided to try something else – we took the computer out to the balcony at the end of the hall where we could get internet and looked up hiatal hernia, which was what I thought might be the problem.  We decided that maybe Zantac might help, so Tommy went back to the general store and came back with Zantac.  In the meantime I had decided that sitting up was better than lying down, so I am sitting up until I feel that the food I ate earlier is not at the upper part of my stomach.

Tues., July 21 Today we were scheduled for an early jeep tour:  we got the jeep and drove it wherever we wanted, with a few restrictions.  We decided to go south as the man told us we might see more wildlife that way.  We didn’t find out till we were well on the road that since that area was out of the park, it was primarily private land and people didn’t want you walking out across it.  We saw some beautiful mountains and saw a LITTLE of Denali (Mt. McKinley) but it was mostly covered in clouds, so could not see the peak.  We headed back north and took the road past the visitor’s center – the one that goes to Wonder Lake.  We went a few miles on that one and then had to go back as we needed to return the Jeep.  All in all we saw a little beautiful scenery and four trumpeter swans – at a DISTANCE.  Probably there were better choices we could have made about where to go, but we had not done any checking on that prior to the trip.

                        We came back to the hotel, got Subway sandwiches for lunch and then met at 2:00 for our Tundra Wilderness Tour.  That was INCREDIBLE!!!!!  It took us far into the park, beyond the paved road on a gravel road.  We were on a school bus:  the guide (Sarah – originally from Memphis!!!) said this was because they could make the sharp turns better and were not top-heavy like the tour buses.  We saw absolutely STUNNING mountains with incredibly variegated rock colors.  And we saw “The Big Four” (our guide said we would be looking for “The Big Four” during the tour):  grizzly bears, moose, caribou, and Dall’s sheep.  First we saw a moose way down in a valley.  Then we saw a mother grizzly and two cubs (the cubs were rolling and tumbling together when we first saw them).  Then we saw a caribou up on the hill above the bears; as far as we could tell the bears and caribou never were aware of each other, though they could have just been ignoring each other.  Later we saw two caribou right up beside the road – they came out onto the road and just casually walked down the road in front of the bus!  At that same spot a Golden Eagle came soaring off the cliff above us (the road was perched precariously on the cliff side the entire way except when it crossed rivers in the valleys!).  Later, at our second break stop, there was a trail up to the top of the pass (Polychrome Pass) and so of course I had to go up it.  It was COLD and WINDY.  We saw a little Alaskan Ground Squirrel who sat up and posed for us.  We saw the Dall’s Sheep FAR up on a cliff face – they are NOT going to be clear in my pictures!  We saw a couple more Golden Eagles and another moose and another grizzly and two cubs FAR away in an alpine meadow.  Finally we got to mile 62 – end of our trip in – and had a great view of Denali – the top was still clouded over, but we could see it from base up the side in front of us – incredibly beautiful!!!  On our way back (we left at 2:30 and got back at about 10:30) we saw the bears and moose and caribou again.  Our guide had been very serious about asking us to be quiet when viewing the animals and our group did a really good job at that – everyone whispered if they said anything at all.  And most were courteous about letting those on the other side of the bus take pictures through their windows.

Wednesday, July 22   This was our last day in Denali – we head out on the train for Anchorage today.  We had our bags packed and out by 9:00 and then set out for breakfast at the Salmon Bake restaurant.  Took us MUCH longer than we thought, so we missed the ranger demo of dog sledding that we had hoped to see at 10:00.  I wanted to go on the Horseshoe Lake hike (beaver, otter, and moose), but Tommy had left his heavy shirt in his big bag and the wind was cool, so he headed for the depot and I went on the trail.  A short way down it, I decided that I had better go back as it was getting steep and I knew it was going to take TIME for me to get back up the hill.  Got some pretty flower pictures, but didn’t see any animals.

                        LONG train ride to Anchorage.  Some really pretty scenery including what could have been a great view of Denali, but of course it was covered in clouds.  There were sprinkles of rain off and on all day, but never enough to affect our view out the train window.  We were on the Holland America car Chena.  We chose not to eat lunch in the dining car having brought our left-over Subway sandwiches and some of ht ehicps and cookies we had acquired during the trip.  We did decided to eat supper in the dining car:  they had a prime rib which we decided to split.  We wound up sitting with another couple and when we ordered our meal to split, they decided to do the same.  The meal was delicious – best we’d had for a while.

                        The train trip was mostly through a wide valley with some good views of rivers.  We didn’t see much wildlife, though after we were inside the city limits of Anchorage some of the people on the other side said they saw a cow moose; they kept pretty quiet about it, though, so the rest of us missed it.  There were a lot of trees and fireweed and as we got further south there were “meadows” of fiddlehead ferns – as thick as grass – and sometimes there would be fireweed in them too for a beautiful contrast.

                        We saw the town of Willow which our guide said was voted to be the capital of Alaska – to move the government from Juneau.  But when the cost of it was examined and put to the people of Alaska, it was decided to leave the capital at Juneau (Willow had road/rail access and was centrally located in the state).  A lot of land speculators lost big money on that vote.

                        There was also the smallest town in Alaska:  a family had bought the land and house in the 1960’s and thought to move there.  Eventually they raised four children – don’t know that they ever lived there full time, but apparently applied to become a town and now have “City Hall” written on front of their house.

                        We arrived in Anchorage at 8:00, earlier than was expected.  The room here is nice with a balcony (10th floor!) from which we can see the harbor between other tall buildings.  Got a picture of the sunset yesterday and sunrise today – both from the same balcony!  Never done that before!!!!

Thurs., July 23           Today we go on a city tour and a tour to Portage Glacier.  Our city tour took us to the Eisenhower Memorial – “Ike” was president when Alaska became a state and by Ship Creek to look for salmon.  We saw some silver salmon, but no red ones as we had seen in the Klondike River on the float trip.

                        After that we went to the Native Alaskan Heritage Center.  This is a fantastic place – excellent displays and artists on site showing a variety of crafts.  Outside they had set up displays showing the culture and lifestyle for each of the 5 main groups:  Atabascan, Yup’ik and Cup’ik, Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island people, Aleut and Alutiiq and Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian.  Each demonstration site had an example building and examples of various aspects of life in those cultures.  Also, on the inside, they had a group of native dancers/musicians/singers as well as a story teller/historian.  Definitely a must-see destination in Anchorage!

                        We left the heritage center and went back to the hotel to pick up a couple who had opted not to go to the Heritage Center.  After that we headed for Turnagain Arm and from there to Portage Lake and Glacier.  Turnagain Arm is an area where the sea meets the fresh water from the Chugach Mountains.  It is BEAUTIFULnot to be missed!!!!  The tide was going out and we could see the deep deposits of glacial silt mud right on the side of the highway.  Our driver, Gavin, Said we would not see boats there because it was so shallow – then he looked up and there was a large boat (almost tugboat size) beached right next to the road – high and dry.  It wasn’t until we came back that we decided it had a work crew who were laying a phone cable across the silty mud flats – apparently with the boat as a base of operations.  WE saw a beautiful wildllife habitat that had been created by the 1964 Good Friday earthquake:  that quake was 8.5 and continued at that level for almost 5 minutes.  The resulting land shift allowed salt water into some previously forested areas – the trees there are now dead, but are still standing, petrified where they stand.

                        The mountains were beautiful – very steep and pretty with tops that were above the alpine level.  There were pockets of snow and even a couple of small glaciers (the glaciers are blue – snow peaks are white).  There were LONG waterfalls in many areas.  Gavin told us Alaska has the lowest altitude glaciers on Earth.

                        We finally turned away form the Sound and headed up between some mountains into Chugach National Forest.  AS we made the turn off the highway, it started to sprinkle rain.

                        We finally reached Portage Lake and stopped so we could have a snack lunch before going on the boat ride.  It was really raining now – but this is first rain we’ve had the whole trip, so not so bad.  When we got on the boat, the bottom was glassed in, but the water drops on the windows interfered with the camera’s ability to focus.  So we wound up going outside some, but that was WET!!!  But we got some beautiful pictures of the waterfalls and then we were right in front of the glacier.  As we came up the captain said the rocking of the boat was due to the fact that there had been a piece of ice to break off the glacier.  We didn’t see any BIG ones, but I did get a picture of a small piece as it splashed in the water – only one that fell off while we were there.  Tommy and I went up on top once, but rain was too much up there.

                        Finally we headed back to the dock and then back to our hotel.  Tonight we had our “farewell differ” – all had a good time.  We are packed and ready – bags have to be out at 4:00 a.m. and we leave for the airport at 5:00.

Fri., July 24    Bags out at 4:00!!  Caught bus at 5:00 and were at the airport before 5:30.  Our flight left on time – 7:45 local time.  We had a smooth flight, but saw mostly clouds below us the whole way except going over the Canadian Rockies where we did see some snow covered peaks through breaks in the clouds.  The pilot said we were flying over Northwest Territories and then would be over British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.  Couldn’t prove it by anything we could see, that is for sure!

                        When we landed in Minneapolis, we were at gate F – the tee-total end of the airport.  And where was our connecting flight to Nashville?  Gate A-8 – the total OPPOSITE end of the airport, of course!!!  We walked for 10 minutes through all kinds of shops – a mall within the airport – and finally came to a tram that said it went to gate A.  We didn’t take it – didn’t think we needed it.  Yeah, right – it was there for a reason:  about 3 moving walkways later (I’ve lost count of how many we’ve been on!) we found ANOTHER tram stop for gate A – and decided we’d better take this one.  And even after we did that, it was another moving walkway to a food court and another 3 moving walkways before we got to our gate!!  We stopped at the food court and met another couple from Ohio who had been on the trip with us, so we had lunch with them, then we separated and headed for our gates.

                        At our gate, only two other people were there when we arrived:  the current Miss Minnesota National Teenager and her escort!  She is apparently going to Nashville for a pageant.  We have a 2 ½ hour layover here:  got here at 3:30 and our flight leaves at 6:55!  It is getting to be a long day.

                        When we arrived in Nashville, Kenneth was there to meet us – with Drey!  He had been to east TN and had brought her back to spend the week with us.  That made for a pleasant ride back home, but we were really tired after all the airplane travel – it was good to get back to our own house!



































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