We landed bright and early in Anchorage after a great (although very early) morning flight. Picked up the rental car and we were on our way.
Our first stop was Earthquake Park. It was nice to stretch our legs on the short, nicely paved trail . The trail went along a little marshy area with lots of little information plaques and stops. It ends in a loop with all sorts of information on the big earthquake that struck Anchorage and the residential area that disappeared from that spot when it hit. We had beautiful views of Cook inlet and Mount Mckinley from the spot.
From there we visited Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery. It is still very much an active cemetery for the town, but there is an interesting blend of old, cultural differences than a cemetery that I'd see at home. No whalebones at home .
Time for dinner, so we headed to the Sourdough Mining Company followed by a trip to Alaska Wildberry Products to view the chocolate waterfall and pick up some sweets to send home.
After dinner we enjoyed a really pretty drive out to Potter's Marsh. Just a quiet, peaceful spot to get a good look at one of the local marshes. We also managed to stumble across the Westchester Lagoon Overlook. The viewing platform offers a remarkable view of downtown Anchorage as well as the Lagoon.
From there we headed over to Point Woronzof to see the city skyline by night and possibly to catch a view of the Northern Lights. Sadly, the clouds never broke so no magnetic light show for us. Time to hit the sack.
I should mention that the Anchorage Sheraton is fantastic. Our room is pretty, clean and spacious. We have an incredible view and it is close to everything.
We began the day with an amazing breakfast at the Alaska Breakfast Club. They have been renamed, but for the life of me I can't remember to what. Best coffee ever.
From there we headed out to Chugach State Park. The drive was amazing. My favorite part was this great creek that ran under the road. (View the video here ) Our first destination was the Eagle Creek Nature Reserve . There is a nice little visitor center with very friendly staff. I headed off on the trail to the beaver dam. A good chunk of the trails were closed due to bears which only added to the sense of adventure. The scenery here was truly incredible . This area also used to be a part of the Iditerod dog sled race , fun little piece of trivia.
After the gardens, we drove around the park a bit. We stopped at the turnouts whenever things looked interesting . Personally I was hoping to spot some wildlife. Turns out we were lucky on that front . They were babies , but they were moose (what is the plural of moose? ) and we sure don't see those wandering around home.
Very cool. Now to spot a bear!
We had dinner at the Snow Goose Restaurant which was fantastic. They brew their own beers and they are good at it. I strongly recommend the Highlander. In addition to good food and good beer, you get a pretty view of the inlet from the dining room.
We had another early morning as we boarded the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Seward. Normally I love to drive so I was a little bummed that I wouldn't be at the wheel for this leg of the trip but that feeling quickly melted away. The train takes you through areas where there are no roads and they are all the more beautiful for it. We rode past rivers , lakes , glaciers and amazing countryside. It's definitely a trip worth taking.
We arrived in Seward, checked into our hotel, rented a car and hit the road again. This afternoon we headed out to Kenai Fjords National Park. The park has one paved road and it takes you to Exit Glacier . We parked and the ranger station and took the short trail out to the glacier viewing area. It was a fully paved, easy walk. From there I made the more strenuous hike up to the face of the glacier. I started on a trail that climbed about 3/4 up to the face of glacier. It the top I was about 20 feet away from the ice . Breathtaking. I then hiked down to the base of the glacier. The last bit of the trail takes you along the crushed rocky bed that is left behind as the glacier recedes. Very cool. I could have walked right up to the base of the glacier and touched it. I would have if a20 - 30 foot chunk of ice hadn't calved off right as I approached. I decided then to pay more attention to the signs warning me to keep my distance.
We left the glacier and drove around the area a bit keeping a close eye out for bears. No luck. Lots of beautiful countryside thought. We drove back through town and found this huge waterfall right off of the main road. I wonder if the folks who live here are able to truly appreciate the beauty that surrounds them day after day? We stopped at a restaurant right on the bay for a great dinner, took one last drive through Kenai Fjords and then turned in for the night.
We just couldn't get enough of the Kenai Fjords scenery so we made another drive through the park this morning, stopping at the lodge for breakfast. We were treated to a bald eagle sighting as we ate. Our first for the trip. We headed back into to town for a little more wandering and ended up at the Seward Aquarium. For such a tiny little town, it was great. They have a great local water bird area where we could watch Puffins frolick in the water. Then we could head downstairs to watch them swim. The seal and sea lion exhibits where equally entertaining. We also headed out to the observation deck to spot salmon and otter in Resurrection Bay.
Finally it was time to head to our ship, get checked in and board. The Summit was a beautiful ship. We wandered all over, had dinner and made it back to our balcony in time to watch us sail.
There is nothing like waking up to snow covered mountains floating past your window. All of the 100 degree weather of the last month just fades away.
Today was all about cruising past Hubbard Glacier. I can't do it justice with any written description. We entered the bay and began to see the icebergs float by . The different colors of the ice tell you about the age and history of the chunks, very cool. The occasional bergs turned into a full blown ice field and the glacier comes into view . Unlike most glaciers worldwide, Hubbard has had periods of advancing aggressively as recently as the late 80's. In it's last advance it was moving forward 50 to 60 feet a day and actually cut off access to shipping traffic further up the bay. It has since receded a little, but it is still a very active glacier. As we get closer, we can hear the cracking and groaning of the ice . It is a sound you can feel deep inside. Watch an area of the ice long enough, and you will be treated to fantastic displays of calving , the ice breaking off into the bay.
After a long stretch of watching a listening, we began to cruise out of the bay . I could have watched it for hours.
Today takes us into historic Skagway . Skagway served as the jumping off point of the famous Klondike gold rush. We spent the morning wandering through town , doing a little shopping and enjoying the views . The old building facades and remnants of the White Pass Railroad paint a quaint picture.
I spent the afternoon horseback riding through the practically non-existant town of Dyea. Dyea was the final stop for gold hunters before they started the deadly climb through the Chilkoot Pass. My horse Chuck and I enjoyed a ride through incredible scenery in areas that had nothing more than muddy dirt trails. We even wandered past a sled dog camp.
It was a beautiful, misty day .
Today we visited the state capital, Juneau. Despite being one of the larger cities in the state, it still had a very quaint feel about it. We started out the day taking the Mt. Roberts Tramway to the visitor area way above the city. It was a fun, quick trip up with amazing views of the inside passage.
Once at the top, we enjoyed an great lunch (order the fish and chips, seriously), followed by a short film on the Klingit tribe that runs the center and the tramway. We walked around a bit outside enjoying the beautiful views and visited the rescued bald eagle that they have on site. He is too wounded to ever be returned to the wild so they keep and care for him there and we all get to see him up close. It is hard to appreciate just how big the eagles are when we see them so far away.
After a quick stop in the gift shop, we took the tramway back down. I could really appreciate how high we were by how small our ship looked . Next we wandered around town a bit. Like most of the towns we visit, the store fronts are historic and cute which just adds to the fun. If you can wade through the standard touristy junk, there were lots of cute local shops to choose from. Don't miss the Alaska Fudge company, good fudge and they will ship it home at a reasonable price.
I made one last stop by the fisherman's memorial on my way back to the ship. So sad . Back on board and we were off. Tonight was our dinner reservation at the fancy restaurant on board. It really was a lot of fun. I also had the chance to follow that up with a backstage tour for the onboard shows. Interesting enough.
Today takes us to Icy Straight Point, otherwise known as the town of Hoonah. Somewhat new to the whole "cruise ship port" thing, the town was looking for a revenue stream other than logging so they turned themselves into a destination. I have to say they have done a really nice job of creating a little shopping area at the tender port and lots of interesting, outdoor activities.
We signed up for an ATV excursion . The tour consisted of a short ride into the mountains and then an hour or two of splashing through the muddy trails enjoying the scenery and looking for wildlife. The tour got a bit of a kick start as our guide talked to us driving through the town area. She mentioned she had heard the locals say that whales sometimes come into the bay we were driving next to as it had steep walls and made it easier to feed. She said she had never seen any in there though. At that point she stopped short, pointed out the window and said "Oh my gosh, look!" We all turned in time to see a huge humpback whale breeching, some 20 yards away from our little van. Awesome. We sat there for a few minutes and watched 4 whales circling in the bay right beside our road until they all finally dove . We also spotted bald eagles circling overhead and a few deer on the ride up to the ATVs. We got our warnings on what to do if we came across a bear and we were off.
I should mention it was raining pretty hard at this point, but that didn't stop the fun at all. The trails were just bumpy and challenging enough to make the ride fun, but not too hard to make it a pain in the downpour. The weather prevented us from appreciating the more expansive, panoramic view but added a whole other type of pretty to the misty mountaintops . It was really interesting to see areas that had been so heavily logged starting to regrow naturally.
After the tour dropped us back at the port, we shopped a bit and checked out the old fishing warehouse they had fixed up and filled with old equipment and town history information. Really nicely done. From there we headed back to the ship to get dry.
I only thought it was raining yesterday...today it is pouring ! Doesn't matter though, today is all about kayaking so who cares if the water comes from the sky or the sea.
I got of the ship a bit early so I had some time to kill in Ketchikan before my tour. I wandered around the really touristy area by the port a bit and decided to stop at a lunch counter for a bite to eat. Had the most amazing Halibut fish tacos ever made. I'd give anything to be able to order them again. Oh well, time to kayak.
The most adventurous part of the tour was actually getting to the kayak. First the tender boat ride from the ship to the pier, then the six of us loaded up on an old school bus at the dock and headed out on the one main paved road in town. We got to see the world's smallest Walmart along the way. After a lengthy drive to the other side of the area, we got to our destination where we were issued our wet clothes. The trick now was to put on every layer of clothing we had for the very cold speed boat ride out to Tatoosh Island where we would be kayaking. Once we hit the island, we proceeded to strip down to our light layers and wet clothes so we wouldn't overheat while kayaking and then we added the special life vests and spray skirts. To sum that up it took 2 boats, 1 bus, 2 clothing changes, 4 different tour guides and 2 different life vests...just to get to the point where we could get in our kayaks.
Since they were 2-man kayaks and I was solo on this tour, I was teamed up with Tom whose wife had "gotten sick" this morning and skipped the tour. I think we made a great team. He was a thoughtful partner with just enough competitive drive to want to paddle faster whenever anyone started to pass us, but not too much to be annoying. My kind of partner. It was truly a different experience to see the landscape from the water level. Very peaceful. Fortunately this area wasn't experiencing the heavy rain that town was so the water was glassy at times. We spotted these neat little jumping dolphins and many bald eagles along our route. The scenery was too beautiful to even describe, so I won't even try.
We headed back to the campsite we started from, enjoyed some hot cocoa and then made the treck back to town. It was really pouring by the time we got back, but I was already soaked so I walked into the restored red light district, Creek Street, to do a little shopping. Really cute area and it is right along a creek that was full of salmon. I spent a bit of time just watching them try to get upstream to spawn. When I was tired of being sopping wet, I headed back to the ship to dry off.
Our final day on board was mainly spent watching the world float by. The bulk of the day was spent cruising the inside passage in Alaska and BC. It is some of the most beautiful countryside you will ever see. Most of the views are of undeveloped land as far as the eye can see . Occasionally a little fishing village would pass by and sometimes the villages were deserted.
We spotted a bit of wildlife throughout the day. Most notable were the Orcas and the jumping dolphins. The weather was pretty nice, occasional patches of sunny with lots of pretty misty views of the mountains .
By far, the most interesting sight was a huge house built on a barge being towed by a tugboat . It was pretty obvious people were living on it that way. It came complete with it's own garage/guest house on a separate barge (you know, for privacy) and few smaller speedboats being towed behind. It was fascinating. If anyone knows the story here, please leave it in the comments. I'm really curious.
All in all, it was a very relaxing final day.