Denali National Park & the Glass-Top Train

Bus ride north

Our cruise ended in Seward, Alaska. It’s a small city, mostly a busy port, located a couple of hours south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. This area’s proximity to Anchorage combined with its many natural attractions makes it a very popular destination for those who want to hike, fish and camp in a beautiful wilderness. Along the west side of Kenai toward Anchorage the road runs beside the shores of “Turnagain Arm.” Called one of the most scenic roads in America, the route follows the shoreline around a narrow bay cutting deeply into the peninsula. Outlined by mountains, it is among the most beautiful places in Alaska (and in America).

Tundra Tour Moose

From Anchorage the highway travels north toward Denali National Park and on into northern Alaska. Along the way we saw such interesting sights as moose grazing beside the highway and the tall fence around Sarah Palin’s former home in Wasilla. The two-lane highway winds through mountains covered in spruce trees. We stopped briefly at Talkeetna, a native town south of the national and state parks at Denali. Some of the cruise lines offer overnight stays and excursions at Talkeetna but our destination was the cruise line’s resort near the entrance to the park. We stayed there for three nights. The accommodations were very comfortable. There’s a small business district at the town called Denali, mostly featuring expensive restaurants. One memory I will keep forever is of dining on planked salmon at 11:00 in the evening with the sun shining in my eyes through the blinds on the restaurant’s window. We were there in early June and the days were very long indeed!

Tundra buses passing
Two buses passing on the Tundra Trail with Mt. Denali (McKinley) hiding behind clouds in the rear.
tundra bear 1
We saw wild grizzly bears several times — from the safety of the bus!

Our cruise package included a “Tundra Wilderness Tour” into Denali National Park and Preserve. We were told that the only wheeled vehicles allowed deep inside the park were the school bus type chosen for official park-run tours. (Private vehicles can only go about 15 miles into the park.) A narrow dirt road has been dug into the sides of mountains. It loops around and up and down over an essentially empty landscape. Our tundra tour lasted nine hours. We were slowly driven deeply into the park toward the great mountain we know as Mt. McKinley, the highest in North America. Our naturalist-driver was a very pleasant woman who clearly enjoyed her job and her life in Alaska. (She also bred and trained sled dogs and in winter she raced them.) Here’s a tip for anyone planning to take this tour: bring your own lunch unless you really want to survive for nine hours on reindeer jerky and one small bottle of water!

Tundra rams
Wild mountain goats grazing alongside the road.

The dictionary definition of “tundra” is a vast, treeless area in the far northern regions of our planet. That describes the Denali tundra perfectly. We were too early to see the flowers, but we were told the mid-summer color in places is quite beautiful. We did see many strange trees: short trees with no leaves or needles in the first ten feet of their height. We saw grizzly bears. They are a pale color in Alaska, presumably a natural adaption to the color of the tundra. We saw moose and mountain goats and reindeer.

Wayne in Denali.
My friend Wayne posing for the cameras.

During our time at the resort some members of our group enjoyed white water rafting. Others hiked and some shopped and some took photographs. The visitor center included a small museum which we found to be educational and interesting. Food is expensive, as you would expect in an area with a short growing season located so many miles from the food-producing areas of the U.S. It was quite good — especially the native salmon.

Train - Tom & Ruth ann
A view of the train and the view.
train view
The train was quite long; it pulled cars from several cruise lines.

For me the best part of the Alaska cruise and tour was the eight-hour journey back to Anchorage via glass-top train. The train was very comfortable and the dining car served fine meals but the highlight was the spectacular scenery all around us. We were able to stand between cars as the train slowly followed its curving tracks around mountains and over the cleanest of rushing streams. These pictures are truly “worth a thousand words” in describing the scenes we passed.

so beautiful
A favorite photo taken from the train.

Upon our return to Anchorage we spent the last evening of our cruise/tour in a hotel in the center of the city. Imagine our surprise when one of our group discovered that by standing on the sidewalk outside and looking to the north along a city street, we would find our only view of the mountain called Denali.

Mt McKinlay seen from Anchorage
Mt McKinlay seen from Anchorage, 200 miles south of the great mountain.

Now it’s your turn! Please use the Comments section below to share your best memories of your own Alaska vacation. What did you like best? What surprised you most?

Here’s a link to an excellent article about Kenai peninsula.

North to Alaska!

Departing Vancouver 2We boarded our ship in Vancouver, BC and sailed beneath a high bridge. We headed north into the Inside Passage, the route that slips past islands and along the northwestern coastline of North America. The first day on most cruises with a south-to-north itinerary is a relaxing sea day because of the distance to the first stop, Ketchikan. The scenery surrounding us as we sailed was green with evergreen trees, laced with deep water and mountainous – perfectly northern Pacific coast.

Ketchikan classic
Ketchikan’s waterfront

Ketchikan is an old gold-miners town and the town’s leaders keep it just as it was more than 100 years ago – “house of ill repute” and all! The buildings at the entrance to the town have appeared in many ads and brochures for Alaska cruises. They house gift shops and other tourist favorites and make good subjects for amateur photographers. We enjoyed a tour on an amphibious vehicle – one that drove us around town and sailed us around the harbor. As in every Alaska tourist town, pontoon airplanes and adventurous activities are very available.

Juneau
Juneau and the mountains that cut it off from the world.

The next day we were in Juneau, America’s smallest state capital. Juneau can’t be reached by road because it’s surrounded by mountains. Travelers to Juneau must arrive by plane or over the water. Some of our group took pontoon-plane tours and enjoyed seeing mountains and glaciers from the air. There’s not a lot to see and do in Juneau besides tourist shops. That makes this a good day for an adventurous excursion.

Skagway 1
Skagway, where ships practically tie up on Main Street.

Skagway was our final stop on the Inland Passage. The town is mostly owned and leased by the U.S. Department of the Interior. It’s a retail national park. The shops are carefully chosen to keep both the sense of gold-rush Alaska and to offer a wide variety of merchandise. Many of the buildings date from the late 1800s and the more recent buildings are in the “gold rush” style. Skagway the most fun of the three cruise-port towns.

Tom Ganner
Tom Ganner and a couple of French-speaking photography students.

 

haines alaska
A view of the nature preserve near Haines Alaska

This was my favorite day of the cruise because my friends and I enjoyed a photography excursion with professional photographer, Tom Ganner. Click the link at his name to see some of Mr. Ganner’s nature photography. Our day with Tom began with a short but interesting ferry ride to the town of Haines, Alaska. This gave us an opportunity to see a small town that’s not a tourist haven. Tom showed us around, gave us a history lesson, and introduced us to totem poles. Then we drove outside the town to a wildlife preserve along a small river. Tom pointed out nesting eagles in this area of serene beauty. We aren’t expert photographers and two of the four of us didn’t speak much English but Mr. Ganner was very patient with us and that excursion was a highlight of the cruise for me.

Glacier Bay 1
A much smaller ship than ours approaches the great glacier.

As our cruise days were dwindling we entered Glacier Bay. We were there at the very beginning of June, still a cold time in Alaska. We saw and heard the enormous slowly moving glaciers. We watched small tour boats approaching the pale blue ice, dodging mini-icebergs. Global warming is causing the glaciers to shrink more each year. If seeing the great glaciers is important to you book your cruise for early in the season.

Glacier Bay
The shrinking great glacier.

I know some of you have cruised in Alaska. Please use the “Comments” section below to tell us about your favorite experience on your cruise. You may be more adventurous than I am. If you ventured farther from the ship by seaplane or kayak, please tell us about it.

Libbie

Find Tom Ganner’s photos and arrange a photography excursion with him by going to  www.TimeNSpace.net.

 

An Alaska Cruise & Tour

train imageHave you taken an Alaska cruise? Have you gone to Alaska without a ship? If you have, I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the Comments section below. I enjoyed a cruise and land tour of Alaska a few years ago. It was one of my most-enjoyed travel experiences.

My Alaska vacation began with three days in Seattle. What a great city! If I were younger I think I’d live there. It reminded me of the way San Francisco was forty years ago! (My next post will tell you more about the wonderful days we spent in Seattle.) We were bused to Vancouver to catch our ship. A quick taste of that fascinating city has put it on my short list. I can’t wait to return!

Map-of-Alaska
This map is found at NationalAtlas.gov NationalAtlas.gov via WikiCommons.

Once underway we sailed north in the “Inside Passage.” If you look at the map shown here, you’ll see that the United States somehow got possession of most of the coastline of Canada along the Pacific coast. The area includes the towns of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. Each of these popular cruise ship ports-of-call is quite “touristy” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting and fun. The scenery of mountains and water along the Inside Passage is gorgeous.

If you take a cruise that is a round trip out of Seattle or Vancouver you will travel only in this lower part of Alaska. To experience more of that great state you must take a one-way cruise which will begin or end in the center of the state. My cruise included days at the cruise company’s resort hotel at Denali National Park where I spent one (long) day on a bus, taking a “tundra tour” deep into the park. We spotted bears and other wild animals from the bus windows but we didn’t see Mt. McKinley — it was fogged in that day. Surprisingly we saw it when we returned to Anchorage. We could see America’s tallest mountain from the street outside our hotel although it was about 200 miles away! (Incidentally the name of Mt. McKinley was changed back to “Denali,” its original name, in 2015.)

The best part of the journey for me was the glass-top train trip from central Alaska to Anchorage. A day-long adventure, the trip allowed us to see many miles of wilderness beauty.

In the posts that will appear here over the next few days I’ll tell and show you more of my experience on an extended Alaskan cruise/tour. I hope you will join me by sharing your experiences in Alaska in the Comments section below.

Libbie

P.S. I have been trying to make some changes and improvements to the structure of this blog – trying off and on for weeks. For the moment I’ve given up and will be posting new content regularly. If things look a little odd, that’s why. I hope to find a way to make changes – I’ll keep trying!