Alaska to Daneli and cruise Seward to Vancouver
"Depart Washington DC"
August in Alaska (2003)
15, 16, & 17 August 2003. The thought of Alaska as the final destination, made Washington’s heat bearable. Washington temperatures were in the 90's, when we departed National Airport. We changed in Atlanta for our 7-hour flight to Anchorage. Upon arrival at the Ted Stevens International Airport Anchorage, about 9:30 PM Alaska time, it was rainy and about 55 or 56 degrees F. Given the long daylight hours in Alaska it looked more like 6:30 PM.
We got a cab from the airport to our hotel ($17 + tip), the Anchorage Grand Hotel, in downtown Anchorage. The hotel is conveniently located, 2 blocks from the hub of the city of Anchorage and one block to the train station (Alaska Railroad). Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, has a population of approximately 260,000. After spending Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 16 & 17) in Anchorage we got up early Monday (8/18/03) morning and boarded the train for an 8-hour train ride to Denali Park. The passing scenery from Anchorage to Denali is spectacular beyond description: miles of picturesque white birch trees, streams, creeks, mountains, forests, green foliage everywhere, and a tundra carpeted with colorful wildflowers.
How big is Alaska, or Alyeska? It is the largest state in the U. S. Alaska is 586,412 square miles, with 33,904 miles of shoreline. Alaska has 33% of America’s total shoreline. Alaska is 5 Arizonas, or 277 Delawares, how about 10 Floridas! Can you imagine that Alaska is as large as 7 Minnesotas, or 11 North Carolinas, and 14 Virginias. It would take 470 Rhode Islands to make up the size of Alaska. Aren’t you glad you asked?
18 & 19 August 2003. After seeing unforgettable sights from Anchorage to Denali, you step off the train wondering what other beautiful sights lie north of Denali. Native Alaskans have protected and enjoyed Denali for about 11,000 years. Denali Park is 6,000,000 acres, or 7,370 square miles, making the Park larger than Massachusetts. Denali Park is a national treasure, owned by all Americans and cared for by the U. S. Department of Interior, National Park Service (NPS). The growing season in Denali Park is no more than 100 days, but those days can have 20-22 hours of sunlight. The soil is acidic and the nutrients are poor. It takes years for leaves to decompose. The white spruce trees grow to only about 50 feet, a quarter of the height of spruce trees that grows along the southern Alaskan coast. Trees disappear at about 2,500 feet, where cold temperatures and moisture-sapping winds prevent them from growing. Denali’s climate produces wildflowers only after a long and patient wait. Many plants must grow for a decade or longer, before they can produce buds. It takes several years for buds to develop. When the buds do open the flowers are spectacular. Plants of the tundra are used by Alaska Natives for food and medicine. For example the willow contains salicin (similar to our aspirin) and
"Alaskan Railroad to Denali"
labrador tea is used to treat colds, arthritis, and gout. Young spruce tips are high in vitiam C, and the inner bark of the spruce can be eaten as a survival food.
More than 350,000 people visit Denali Park each year. Denali, meaning the High One, is about 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle. In addition to the Park there is majestic Mount McKinley, rising 20,320 feet into the Alaskan sky. We checked into the Princess Lodge for our 2-night stay in the Park. The 8-hour train trip to Denali passes several interesting towns, or villages. The small town of Wasilla is the headquarters of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Alaska’s adage is: If you are not the lead dog, the scenery stays the same. A truism for sure. Nearer Denali is the small town Talkeetna, once a trapping and mining post. Talkeetna is nestled at the base of Mt. McKinley and is also a staging area for climbing expeditions. A rail-bridge, spanning 918 feet passes over Hurricane Gulch, an exciting photo opportunity. Mt. McKinley, near Denali, is the one picture most people have of Alaska. McKinley is North America's highest mountain.
Our second and only full day (8/19/03) in Denali, Jim took a "flightseeing" tour of Mt. McKinley. Six people (pilot included) took off from the tiny airport and flew to snow capped Mt. McKinley. Seeing Mt. McKinley up close and in your face is an experience one can never forget. The snow blankets the top several thousand feet of McKinley. The weather condition around McKinley is eerily calm. Fresh snow is packed on the mountain every season. The snow atop McKinley has been there for thousands of years and cracks in the snow, are hundreds of feet deep. From a distance McKinley grabs one's imagination, up close it’s impossible to find the right words to describe the highest peak in North America. You know the brevity of your life in a short visit to Mt. McKinley. The mountains in the Denali-McKinley area are 60,000,000 to 100,000,000 years old. The contrasts in and around Denali etch a new and unique memory in one's mind.
20 August 2003, Thursday. We boarded our Alaska Railroad train for our trip back to Anchorage. After a very pleasant train ride and a leisurely lunch in the dinning car we arrived in Anchorage and again checked into the Alaska Grand Hotel.
21 Aug. 2003. We were up early to catch the early morning train to Seward, where we stayed overnight and boarded the Celebrity Cruise Line on 8/22/03. Seward is a coastal town, located at the head of Resurrection Bay, surrounded by magnificent fjords and a National forest. Russian fur trader and explorer Alexander Baranov named the bay Resurrection Bay in 1792. Explorer Baranov chose the name because he found shelter there while sailing from Kodiak to Yakutat on the Russian Sunday of the Resurrection. In the 1890's Captain Frank Lowell and his family were the first Americans to arrive in Seward. Seward is named after the Secretary of State in the Woodrow Wilson administration, who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia for approximately 1.5 to 2 cents per acre, or $7,000,000. The proceeds of the sale of Alaska from Russia went to the Czar himself. At the time of the purchase from Russia, many Americans said
"Cruise Seward to Vancouver"
the purchase of Alaska was "Seward's Folly." The purchase of Alaska from Russia was brilliant!
After our arrival in Seward, we had time to find out where we could do some laundry. A passerby said D.J.’s saloon had washers and dryers in their back room. Only in Alaska can you wash and dry your laundry while listening to awful 1950-1970’s music. With clean clothes and time spent in a genuine Alaskan saloon, we had dinner at a cafe across the street from the hotel. Seward is a small Alaskan town with high mountains on one side and a bay on the other. Walking after dinner, down a residential block, paralleling the bay, we spoke to a lady picking raspberries in her front yard. She offered us some of her raspberries, about twice the size of raspberries in the lower 48. She told us she had lived there permanently for the past five years and works as a reporter for the local weekly newspaper, reporting the goings on of the local city counsel, all volunteers, the mayor included. Life is uncomplicated in Alaska.
22 August 2003. Seward, Alaska - 57 degrees F. After breakfast, at the same restaurant where we had dinner the night before, the hotel's van took us to the pier where the Celebrity Summit was docked and awaiting our arrival. After boarding and finding our cabin we headed topside for lunch. The ship pulled out of the Seward Harbor at 9:00 PM and headed for the Hubbard Glacier, 312 nautical miles south (1 nautical mile = 1.15 land miles).
23 Aug. '03. Hubbard Glacier, 55 degrees F. The ship got as close as possible, about 2 miles, to the 6-mile wide, 300 foot high Hubbard Glacier. A few small sections of the huge ice mass broke loose and plunged into the Yakutat Bay. The Hubbard Glacier stretches over 90 miles from the core of the 12-million acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park to the head of Yakutat Bay. The mighty Hubbard Glacier is one of Alaska’s largest and most unpredictable.
Glacier and polar ice store more water than all the world’s lakes, rivers, and the atmosphere combined, and if the world’s ice caps melted completely, sea levels would rise enough to flood much of the Earth and more than half of the world’s cities. Everyone reading this listen up; we HAVE to pay serious attention to global warming. We do not have a choice. Softened by the warmer sea air and eroded by seawater, tremendous chunks of the 300-foot high ice cliffs “calve” or crack, and crash into the bay below. This dramatic sight can only be seen in three places on Earth – Chile, Scandinavia, and Alaska.
At 4:45 PM the ship turned and left the mighty Hubbard Glacier. I hope the Glacier sits there quietly for another several hundreds of thousands or millions of years. We headed for the capital of Alaska, Juneau, some 257 nautical miles.
24 August 2003. Juneau, Alaska. Juneau is nestled deep within the northern reaches of the Inside Passage. Juneau is considered Alaska’s truly American City. Juneau was founded 13 years after the purchase of Alaska. Mentioned
"Ports of Call"
above, most folk in the lower 48 doubted the wisdom of the purchase of Alaska. Most people considered Alaska vast (it is), worthless (it is not), frozen wasteland (only in some places of the state). The remoteness of Juneau changed in 1880 when two drunk pioneers, Dick Harris and Joe Juneau, brought home some gold nuggets that started a series of gold rushes to this corner of the globe. Suddenly, most Americans thought Alaska was of value and worthy. Dick Harris pulled himself together enough to stake out some claims and give his name to the first township built around the site. His less than honest dealings in land-titles prompted other miners to change the name from Harrisburg to Juneau, in honor of his down-and-out partner. Both however, drank away their fortunes and died penniless.
Juneau has a population of about 30,000 people and enjoys 16-18 hours of sunlight in the summer. Juneau is accessible only by water or by air. So, book a cruise and see the capital of the 49th state.
We set sail at 10:00 PM for Skagway, Alaska.
25 August 2003. Skagway, Alaska. Native Alaskans named Skagway, which means, “land of the North Wind.” By 1896 the word got out that gold had been discovered in the Yukon. Within 24 months tens of thousands of “stampeders” had passed through Skagway to reach the gold rich Canadian Yukon. By 1898 Skagway was a lawless, and a clapboard and tent city of about 20,000. Sometimes ships dumped supplies on the beach or in the harbor rather than take a risk by docking in the port.
Although Skagway had a rough beginning, today it is a bustling town that is 4 blocks wide and 23 blocks long. Although Skagway’s population has dropped from 20,000 in 1898 to about 1,000 in 2003 it has plenty of life left in it. Skagway has several false-front buildings and their plank sidewalks remind one of an old western movie set. Skagway has a rustic pioneering heritage and a “feel” which causes one to walk slowly up one side of the main street and down the other side, all the time letting your imagination guide your thoughts. We set sail at 8:15 PM for Sitka.
26 August 2003. Sitka, Alaska. Sitka is the most Russian city/town in the United States. Sitka was the Capital of Russian America from 1808 to 1867. Sitka was once known as the “Paris of the Pacific.” Sitka offers a nice blend of Russian, Native, and pioneer cultures. Sitka, like Juneau, is accessible only by air or by water. In the 2000 census, Sitka was Alaska’s 5th largest city, with a population of 8,800.
Do you think Alaska is cold? Think again. Sitka’s climate is quite mild: the average temperature in January is 34 degrees F. and an average of 61 degrees F. in July. Rainfall is another matter, averaging about 87 inches and nearly 40 inches of snow a year. Not bad.
"Ports of Call"
Sitka has a small, attractive, and active Russian Orthodox Church, St. Michael’s. St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral was built on its present site beginning in 1844 and completed in 1848. Bishop Innocent Veniaminow was the first Orthodox bishop to reside in Alaska. He also designed St. Michael’s. On January 2, 1966 a fire that started across the street spread to the cathedral. The residents of Sitka saved 95% of the contents of the church. The 1966 fire destroyed St. Michael’s Cathedral, the Lutheran Church and over 22 businesses. The present cathedral, a replica of the original was completed in 1976. There are no pews in St. Michael’s. In Alaska the faithful stand in reverence to God. There are a few chairs and benches, but they are for the elderly, guests, and those physically unable to stand.
Sitka, Alaska is a little town one could go to again, and linger, and stay awhile.
27 August 2003. Ketchikan, Alaska. Ketchikan is a Tlingit Indian name, which means “Thundering Wings of an Eagle.” We were told that if one climbs the 3,000-foot Deer Mountain the town of Ketchikan sprawls out in the perfect shape of an eagle in flight. Although Ketchikan is Alaska’s gateway to the south, it is without road or rail connections; everything must come by air or sea.
Major gold finds in the nearby hills brought miners by the boatload. Ketchikan was incorporated as a mining town in 1900, and a customs house was setup to make it Alaska’s first port of entry. World War I had exhausted much of the gold and copper in the area, and the mines were shut down to free up labor for the war effort.
Ketchikan is a small town, its long main street skirts a waterfront built on pilings over the sea.
Before going to bed we had to set our watches forward one hour, as we left Alaska Standard Time and entered Pacific Standard Time. The ship sailed at 7 PM for our final port, Vancouver, Canada.
28 August 2003. Inside Passage, En Route to Vancouver. Scholars believe Asian people first crossed the now submerged land bridge between Siberia and Alaska some 12,000 – 30,000 years ago. The Inside Passage is a majestic 1,000-mile cruise. The scenery is ever changing and the beauty and culture of Alaska cannot be adequately described by words.
Here are a few facts of what the ship had on board:
24,236 pounds of beef
10,211 pounds of chicken
25,736 pounds of vegetables
600 gallons of ice cream (I’ve tasted better)
9,235 dozens of eggs
"Vancouver and Home"
2,458 pounds of cookies (some were pretty good).
Friday morning, 29 August 2003 we had breakfast on board the ship, afterwards went back to the cabin and prepared for disembarkation. After disembarkation we took the Avis shuttle to the rental office, in the center of Vancouver where we picked up our rental car. We headed south to Seattle. Upon arrival in Seattle we checked into a Marriott for a night’s sleep before our all-day flight home the next day.
Go to Alaska. You will never regret the effort, distance, and money spent. In the summertime Alaska is warmed by the midnight sun, illuminating the beautiful countryside throughout the day and night. Alaska is a state of untold variety: Anchorage, Mt. McKinley, Denali Park, Sitka, Skagway, Juneau, the Marine Highway, Glaciers, and the picturesque towns and villages.
I wrap this up with an Alaskan saying: If you are not the lead dog, the scenery stays the same.” Don’t stay home looking at the same old, tired scenery, go to Alaska for your trip of a lifetime.
Adieu. September 2003.