Friday, July 16, 2010

The Alaska State Bird

I am compelled to comment on the Alaska state bird. No, not the ptarmigan. The "other" state bird - the mosquito. Legendary in proportion according to both visitors and natives to the state, like the big mountain, we had not come across this beast. Of course I'd heard the stories from my sister, her family, and even Gerry from when he visited here in the '70s. I'd begun to think that perhaps they had gone the way of Denali and the other big mountains (17 of the 20 highest peaks in the US once were here in Alaska) and had relocated to Asia.


...last night that is. After a wonderful dinner with Dona and Roger and Beth and Matt (where we enjoyed our bottle of Opus One wine - the last such bottle ever on the Diamond Princess) Beth & Matt took us on a brief tour of the Anchorage highlights. We went out to a place near the airport - very near the airport - where we could watch the planes coming in directly overhead like something out of the opening sequence of "Hawaii 5-0." Judging by the number of cars and people here, this is quite the thing to do on a July evening in Anchorage.The sun had cleared the skies (though not the skies where we might see mountains).

After we watched a couple of 737's and then a deafening DC-9 (or maybe -10), we got back in the car to go back up the road to see Earthquake Park - to see where the 1964 earthquake had lowered a shelf of land some distance into the bay.

Well that was what we were supposed to be doing. The path way is lined with vegetation - apparently just the type of vegetation that moose like and it is not unusual to see moose here, I'm told (not unusual perhaps, but certainly a frightening thought!). So I'm on lookout for these moose to come popping out of the woods.

Until...the mosquitoes descend. They are everywhere. Fortunately we've taken up walking so we're trying to keep up a good pace (what? thinking we could outrun them?) but the word is apparently out - dinner is on the way - and every mosquito in Alaska is now upon us. Gerry, walking ahead of me (as usual) thinks he is immune, that mosquitoes don't like him. I'm too busy waving my arms like some demented helicopter to see, but I hear Beth say "ooh look - they like light colored clothing." And sure enough, I now see Gerry's khaki pants are COVERED with mosquitoes!

Now we are both frantically trying to keep from getting bitten. Gerry has taken to what Matt refers to as the "mosquito dance" (I only wish he had gotten a video instead!) We quickly now get to the point where we can look (although the darn things were now getting in my eyes and mouth) and say yeah, nice drop off, LET'S GO!

On the path back to the car, we go once more through the swarm. I'm now the one covered. I know it looks like Gerry has gone all "Mel Gibson" on me (cuffing me upside the head) but he was really just getting a mosquito off of my cheek. I should have gone "biblical" and turned the other cheek as that one actually completed the job of biting me. We race to the car thinking how are we going to jump in without bringing a bunch of them with us. Of course the answer is WE CAN'T - we're swatting them and opening windows to try to let them out as we drive back to the hotel. Flustered, we barely remember to retrieve our suitcases from the back of their car so we can finish repacking for our flight!

Having seen and experienced most all that Alaska has to offer (no damn mountains!) we are headed back this afternoon to the civilation of the lower 48. Can't wait to come back!

~later, tw

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Princess Wilderness Lodges

This is our final stay this trip in a Princess Wilderness Lodge so I thought I give a bit of a review of the places/programs/etc. that we've encountered traveling via Princess thru the interior (or at least a small portion of it) of Alaska.

Princess has really done a great job of acquiring/leasing land and building their lodges. While they are all very similar and you feel immediately at home in each, there are of course some major differences:

  • Copper River Lodge - the newest and smallest of the Princess Properties, this one is all contained (at least for now) in a single large building with ~130 rooms. The entire building is Wi-Fi with only a couple of computers available for guests (and naturally those were commandeered quickly by children satisfying their gaming fix).
  • Denali Lodge - boasting over 650 rooms, the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge is the largest hotel in all of Alaska. It is spread out over several buildings, including various shops and the Music of Denali theatre (where they serve an amazingly delicious breakfast buffet in the morning in addition to their fun dinner/theatre at night). Wi-Fi is only available in the Main lodge or in the satellite lodges for the out-lying room. Denali is actually a "city" with a vintage Alaskan strip mall directly across the highway (use the darn cross walk at the only stoplight for hundreds of miles please!) with a single gas station (again, no price posted because you pay whatever they charge!)
  • McKinleyLodge - clearly the oldest, this lodge is also arranged with several buildings. The Main Lodge contains the more formal dining area, a bar and of course registration and the tour desk. Both Denali and McKinley lodges have small shuttle buses (or in Denali trolleys) that you just flag down in order to get quickly from one place to another. Gerry & I did a great job of continuing the our walking program in Denali logging many more miles between places, but since it is pouring rain here in McKinley we are opting to stay a bit drier and shuttling back and forth.

One of the best parts, for me, of staying in these lodges is chatting up all the seasonal help. Where you find people from all different countries working on the cruise ships, here you find kids from all across the states - either because they enjoy coming to Alaska each summer (many have done this for several summers) or because they've got student loans to pay off. Last night's server (Matt) was originally from Wisconsin but is currently attending ASU in Arizona. This is his second summer here and he really thinks he's got the best of both worlds - he summers in Alaska and winters in Arizona!

I truly appreciate Princess' efforts - they made sure that in each of the lodges we've stayed we would have had an excellent view of any mountains, had there been any mountains to see. I'm leaving Alaska wondering how the heck did anyone ever discover "the High One"? Seriously, they probably woke up one day and said "what the heck?" and then the next day saying "where did it go?"

Next time, we're coming in early May or late September. It might be colder but we might actually get to see a mountain!

~later, tw

Talkeetna, Alaska the foot of Mt. McKinley (which they still seem to call it on this side of the park).

We arrived here and were assigned buses for the 1 1/2 ride to the McKinley Princess Lodge. We made a stop near the "city" limits of Talkeetna though where the driver told us if we wanted to explore the town and take a later bus to the Lodge, we would avoid the $10/person fee. Gerry was more interested in not riding 1 1/2 hr. to the Lodge, 1 1/2 hr. back to Talkeetna, and yet another 1 1/2 hr. back to the Lodge.

Naturally we opted to get off here at 4:55 pm. The next buses would leave at 5:30 pm, 6:30 pm, 7:30 pm and 9:00 pm. If we hadn't stopped for a local brew, we'd have walked the entire length of town and back and still have had 10 minutes to spare waiting for the 5:30 bus.

As it was we discovered the Denali Brewing Company and felt the need to sample a flight of the four beers they were currently brewing. Let's just say I wouldn't come to Talkeetna just for the beer...

...especially when there are other creepier places to visit. Like the little gift shop/creey wax museum that she wouldn't charge us to visit and then directed us downstairs (which is usually the time in the movie where you get locked in and the creatures come to life. Clearly these weren't coming to life - check out

Diamond Jim's hands!, but the sound effects operated by motion detector were a little discomforting!)

~later, tw

All Aboard!

Wednesday morning began with a quick bus ride back into Denali National Park so we could visit the Visitors' Center there. This center is only open from early May until late September when they move across the road to the Murie Science Center - a much smaller building and therefore easier/cheaper to heat. We saw a video on the "Heartbeat of Denali" so I guess that counts as seeing the mountain that is alledgedly out there somewhere.

We also learned the secrets to making the best blueberry pie!

Then back to the lodge to wait for a short bus trip back to the Visitors', actually the train depot which is directly across the road from the Visitors' Center. This passenger train is, I believe, used exclusively for cruise line passengers traveling between the various lodges and/or port at Whittier. Each cruise line puts on exactly how many passenger cars they need for each run. This particular run Princess had the final two cars and the Weilers were allocated table space in the very last car.

All seats are upstairs in the viewing portion of the car and we take turns heading downstairs to the dining portion of the car for our lunch. The scenery is fantastic (though we didn't get to see too many animals), the meal great and our traveling companions (that we've come to know relatively well) provided great conversations. (Things I've learned: if the Denver area of Colorado is considered the more liberal side of the state, there is no crayon in the box sufficiently red enough for the western half of the state! Our retired friend from Colorado, who's wife is still a teacher with Texas Instruments, is Harley riding, gun owner/lover type who believes that Colorado really needs to enact the Arizona immigration law there.)
Near the half-way point of our trip, we passed two small lakes, one of which emptied to the north, the other to the south as we were passing the Continental Divide and the high point of the trip (~2900 ft.) with mountains there (visible) at only 5000 ft. (not much in the way of mountains for those of who travel I-90 via Snoqualmie Pass, ~3500 ft. , or Lookout Pass on the Idaho/Montana border which is considerably higher). We also passed the northbound passenger train where we slowed down so that the employees could pass notes, etc. to their counterparks (often roommates) on the other train. And after a leisurely (3 1/2 hr to go 120 miles - that's pretty darn leisurely!) our train ride ended in Talkeetna, Alaska (but more on that later).
~later, tw

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Get Out & Check the Tires?

That phrase has a whole new meaning for me today - apparently it is bus driver code for "I know we just stopped 15 minutes ago but I didn't have to go then and I do now and please let me stop and find some shrubbery." We traveled (per National Park requirement) in a school bus into the park. But (Jenny, Sarah & Chris) this is NOT your father's school bus (which he took into the park when he was here in '72 or '73 - the memory is slipping!). Oh no, this school bus is completely tricked out with seats that would be comfy if they didn't have the required seatbelts installed in the most uncomfortable places, video monitors and a driver with a hi def video camera with an incredible telephoto lens - much easier to see those far away critters!

On our visit to Denali National Park. I discovered that Alaska weather here will permit only one of the following on any given day:

  • Cloudy or overcast and slightly cool - you get to see the park's wildlife but no mountain
  • Hot/sunny - you may get to see the mountain but fat chance of seeing any animals
  • Rainy - no animals, no mountain, pretty much a waste of time and money!

We lucked out with choice #1 (okay, it would have been nice to see the mountain but maybe we'll get a chance tomorow or the next day when we relocate to the McKinley side of the park). First up, some Dall sheep (a cousin of our Rocky Mountain big horn sheep). They were pretty high up on the hill but fortunately with our newly acquired binoculars we were able to see them.

Next, a beautiful cinnamon-colored grizzly bear about 20 yds or so away from our bus right after we got into the park. I think even the driver was surprised!

Next up a caribou appeared right in front of our bus.

Then we saw a mama grizzly with her two cubs (they are the lighter colored blips in the picture - "blondes" they are called).

These were followed by two of the largest bull moose I'll (hopefully?) ever see.

Another pair of Dall sheep posed for a close up.

There were other animals we saw as well: golden eagle, arctic ground squirrel, shrew and a ptarmigan (aka "chicken") but if you're having trouble spotting the animals in the photos above, you don't stand a chance with the other pics!

Final tally:

  • four grizzlys
  • two moose
  • five caribou
  • seven Dall sheep
  • one golden eagle

Good hunting!

~later, tw

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Music of Denali

If you ever get a chance to visit a place with dinner theatre (like Disney World's "Hoop-de-doo Review" or Denali Princess Lodge's "Music of Denali") you should really give it a try. The jokes are corny, the food, while not fancy, is definitely plentiful and the kids working the place are some of the hardest workers you'll ever hope to come across.

Here there are six "waiters/singers/actors" plus a house manager and piano player - each sang and danced pretty darn well! The "play" was a musical, no doubt something they put together, to give the history and culture of Denali. The gags were to be expected and everyone had a great time (and the all-you-can-eat menu of coleslaw, rolls right out of the oven, BBQ ribs, salmon, corn on the cob, and strawberry cream cake did not disappoint).

~later, tw

On the (Gravel) Road...Yet Again

Lunch behind us it was time to get serious about getting to Denali Lodge. Only about 100 miles more of the gravel road which everyone knows should only take about 1 1/2 hours back home. But here in Alaska everything is bigger and it takes way more time to get from point A to point B. Those 100 miles would take us nearly four hours!

Not that the time spent traveling thru this land is at all unpleasant. While it poured buckets yesterday, today we lucked out with no rain in sight. The morning clouds had finally cleared out and finally, FINALLY we could see there were honest to God mountains in this country! Things were looking up for our venture into Denali State Park tomorrow. In the meantime, we could see some of the mountains of the Alaska range (650 miles in total) peaking out in all their glory.

We eventually arrived at the Denali Princess Lodge (the Main Lodge and the view from our room) around 4 pm and after a quick trip to the room (hey, we hadn't seen "flushing" facilities since lunch!) we trekked back to the main building to visit the tour desk and switch in tomorrow's 4-hour excursion into the Park for the longer 7-hour tundra trek (the park is afterall why we've come to Alaska!) and also to sign up for the "Music of Denali" dinner theatre. (Then back to our room for a bit to complain about how our luggage is taking so long to be delivered to our room only to trip on the darn suitcases on our way out the door - that Princess is so efficient!)

~later, tw

Maclaren River Lodge

After our pitstop, we were back on the road again which had switched from paved to washed out gravel road (and we were glad to have these nice comfy buses which we were desperately hoping would not break down or suffer a flat tire out here because I'm not sure when/where help would arrive!) There was actuallymore traffic than I had expected. Apparently there is no gas crisis here (although the last price I did see was well over $4/gallon), as HUGE RVs were seen traveling the highway with us (fortunately not too often in front of us as these RV drivers are not acccustomed to the gravel roads and felt that 25-35 mph was a suitable speed).

At some point I noticed there were not very many trees to be seen and our driver explained that the tree line in Alaska is about 2700 ft. - much lower than we were used to seeing. It looked like the entire land was covered with some sort of brush but we were warned (lest we decide to go foraging out there) that the brush was pretty deceptive - about 10 ft. deep in places...places where bears and other critters like to hang out.

It took a couple of hours to reach our lunchtime stop - the Maclaren River Lodge, located on the banks of the Maclaren River which runs thru the Maclaren Valley from the Maclaren Glacier. We learned that there was a large party headed out to strike it rich - the Maclaren family split off at the east fork of the river and were never seen again. They couldn't name all these (or heck any of these) places after somebody a little bit more successful?

In any event, lunch was definitely not haute cuisine but the pie was definitely worth the trip! We sampled the blueberry pie (they got some great blueberries up here....please don't anyone tell me they are importing them from Maine!) and soemthing called "Maclaren" berry pie. Turns out "Maclaren" berries are apples, blueberries, strawberries and rhubarb all thrown together in a pie. Yum!

~later, tw

On the road again..

Paxson, Alaska - a roadstop on the highway to Denali (the paved portion, that is). This view from the outside is a lot nicer than the one from the inside but when you are literally miles from anywhere else in the world, you take what you can get (and they did have "flushing" facilities, as our driver called them).

She also informed us that we would be stopping in a couple of hours for lunch - they had a soup/salad bar for $13/person and if that didn't appeal to you, you might want to pick up some snacks/drinks at Paxson (snacks is apparently code for candy bar because that's all they had for sale there).

The best part was the gas pump - it didn't have any prices displayed, because frankly if you can make it there, you'll pay anything he asks for it!

~later, tw

A joke from the road

This one from our bus driver (Ashley):

They say that a dog is man's best friend but do you know how you can tell?
  • Lock your dog and your wife in the trunk of your car for an hour. Then see which one is happy to see you!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Weighing in at 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the largest park in the US. It's the equivalent of SIX Yellowstone Parks, a couple of states (which ones I can't remember) or the country of Switzerland (but we've got taller mountains than the Swiss!) and I've yet to actually see a single one of them (they do a really good job of hiding them up here!)

After our brief sojourn to Copper Center, AK (pop. 300 and I think that actually includes the larger wildlife), we shuttled out to the main visitor center at Wrangell-St. Elias NP. I've been to a couple of these so I feel qualified to say that this was the best NP Visitor Center I've ever seen (but since this is one of the newest national parks - 1980 - I'm thinking they've had some practice at setting these up by now).

We visited the exhibit building, the main visitor center building (which had a great interactive display) and learned that 9 of the 15 tallest mountains on this continent are in W-St.E (or the neighboring Canadian park) and all of them are taller than Rainier.

I had some pictures of random mountains that we took on the drive out here on Saturday that I was going to insert here but we'll just hope for sunshine tomorrow and then I can insert the real thing here!

~later, tw

(PS - A woman on the bus was explaining to her husband that Princess has other Lodges. Specifically she was telling him about the one in Kenya. Took me a couple of minutes to realize she was actually talking about KENAI! I mean I know that Alaska is big but I didn't know it extended to Nairobi!)

Copper Center, Alaska

AKA the true middle of nowhere!

One entire day without a single "Diamond International" store and some of the women were starting to go crazy. (Not this woman - wouldn't be caught dead in one of those cruise-line owned shops!) So they hopped on the shuttle bus to the booming metropolis of Copper Center, Alaska.

Apparently they were snoozing on the bus yesterday when our driver told us what (little) to expect in this little burg. And they neglected to read any of the info so thoughtfully provided (in our Princess Patter!) upon arrival.

So they were quite surprised to find this little hamlet has no mall, or store of any kind (well nothing that's open on Sunday because the person who owns the only shop I saw - a quilt shop - closed her shop on Sunday because she also owns the roadhouse and it's a far more profitable venture on any day of the week!)

We were told the sourdough pancakes made with real sourdough at Nummy's Restaurant were not to be missed and they did not disappoint. Now what to do with the other 1/2 hour before the shuttle would return? We considered attending the religious service taking place in the lobby of the roadhouse B&B - the local denizens were already seated in the two lazyboy recliners, a sofa and several chairs but there was still some standing room if we wanted to take part (the "altar" was a console tv showing the final World Cup soccer match between the Netherlands and Spain).

We opted instead to hit the local museum and historical society. Not really 1/2 hour worth of entertainment but it was a dry place to hang out. Gerry liked this circa 1950 snow-machine (I'm not sure they aren't still using it this winter!)

~later, tw


Our "behind the scenes" excursion was cancelled (everyone else selected whitewater rafting or fishing and I'm thinking they were sorry they hadn't planned to join us since it was pouring in the morning and ours would have been indoors) so we were really looking forward to dogsledding. Lucky for us the people running the event were prepared for the elements and soone Gerry was suited up appropriately (if looking a bit like the Gorton's fisherman!)

We were off to meet our team and then settle in for our ride. Due to the time of the year (making it difficult to transport male and female dogs together), our team comprised 6 males of varying ages. Pirate, a spirited youngster was learning (hopefully) to be a good lead dog (his lack of focus is holding him back a bit...squirrel) from Red, a really good lead dog with a lot of pride (his only problem is that they can't keep him running all the time. Whenever he has some down time he bites...himself and chews up his back pretty good but he has a new red coat as of today and they are hoping that will solve that problem).

The middle dogs, both 8 years old and brothers, are the most mellow, laid back dogs you'd ever want to meet, well-suited to being in the middle since they neither do much leading or much pulling.

The "wheel" dogs, the ones responsible for doing the most of the pulling, were already ready to run (even when we stopped to give them a rest). It amazed me when they told us that if the dogs get tangled, they let them untangle themselves when they're running (unless they are hopelessly tangled). That way they don't get used to the musher always stopping and fixing things for them. Just after we started out for the second time, the wheel dogs were tangled up pretty good and sure enough, we watched as they figured it out between the two of them and got it all straightened out.

Dogs begin their training when they are only 4 months old (getting used to the harness) and by the time they are one year old they are full-fledged members of the team. They usually work for about 10 years but Jackson (one of our wheel dogs) is still going strong at 11. In the summer they pull wheeled carriages as opposed to the sleds of winter. Today, because of the rain, they had a pretty good day but they generally like it better when the temperature is around 0 degrees.

~later, tw

Copper River Lodge

Princess was really thinking ahead when they purchased the land in Alaska to build these lodges. They are the only ones who can extend their cruise into the interior of the state which makes them incredibly far ahead in this travel/tourism game.

The Copper River Wilderness Lodge seems out in the middle of nowhere but it is just south of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (more on that later). A fairly remote location (which we found out makes life sometimes challenging for restaurant staff. This morning our waitress asked if we were through with the ketchup bottle explaining that they had not yet received their shipment of ketchup and so she needed to squeeze the little packets into this bottle to refill it!)

The view from the central lodge area (and indeed our hotel room) looks directly across a valley at (from left to right) the Mts. Drum, Zanetti, Wrangell and Blackburn. Or so they tell us...apparently the sun was out on Friday and naturally we didn't arrive until Saturday night. It has rained all morning here but the skies are starting to lift a bit and my view from the upstairs lobby area is of a mountain range with what looks like fresh snow and topped by the clouds.

Even though it has been a rainy day, people have found something to occupy their time. In the morning Gerry & I went dogsledding (really fun! - but would have been even more fun in snow!) and to visit the park (more on both of these later).

The Lodge has a wonderful great room with (what would be) an excellent view, a large stone fireplace and a crackly fire (with real wood - no gas or "lincoln" logs here!) and it is a cozy place to curl up with a book (like Gerry here - it's good to be on vacation), play a board game, build a puzzle or visit with new friends over a glass of wine or Alaska Amber Ale.

Our view is unspoiled by power lines of any kind - there simply aren't any. If you want power out in this wilderness, you make your own (with I would imagine a REALLY BIG generator that is located somewhere on the large property away from guests). But they do have unlimited free access to the internet.

There are two restaurants - "Two Rivers" a more formal dining room where you can actually make reservations and the "Whistle Stop" bar/restaurant where the worst kept secret is that you can order off either menu without having to get all dressed up for dinner! Last night we enjoyed salmon (Gerry) and halibut (me) and it was delicious! Of course the fact that it was only about 9 hours from being caught to being on our plate might have had something to do with that.

~later, tw

The Pipeline

In 1968 oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay, the very north of Alaska. Oil companies (as they so like to do) formed an alliance to get their oil from field to market. They purchased the pipe and were all set to commence building. One little problem - who owned the land? It took nearly a decade to sort out all the details but they were finally able to begin construction of the Alaska pipeline - 800 miles of pipeline to get the oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.

The temperature of the oil is about 115 degrees travelling through the pipe and so putting them underground would not always work as some of the territory covered was permafrost (remains below freezing for at least two years). Putting the warm oil through this permafrost would create marshy areas, altering the ecosphere of the area (though I seriously doubt THAT was a major concern of the oil companies). Because of this some 420 miles of the pipeline are above ground - 5 to 10 feet above ground to allow for caribou migration.
When above ground, the pipes are not actually attached to anything. The pipe sits on the support on a frame with teflon pads which allows for the pipe to slide in the event of an earthquake. There was a 7.5 earthquake in the interior not too long ago and the entire above ground portion slithered as it was designed to do!

The project took nearly two years to complete and incurred cost overruns of 1000%! The oil started flowing in June 1977, arriving in Valdez almost a month later. And the oil companies started making a profit only ONE WEEK LATER! Though it flows now at about 70% of what it once did (because the oil is after all running out), the pipeline has exceeded its intended lifespan by over a decade.
~later, tw

Waterfalls and Worthington

Leaving Valdez it doesn't take too long until we are snaking on a highway between very tall mountains in what I believe is part of the Alaska rainforest. Not unlike our own rainforest of the Pacific Northwest, just really, REALLY tall mountains (like Texas, Alaska should come with a sticker "everything you see is larger than it appears"). We round a bend in the road and we are given to spectacular views of gigantic waterfalls. The photos can't convey the size or movement or sound of millions of gallons of rushing water (a seemingly endless supply).

Not too far from these waterfalls, we travel to Worthington Glacier. This glacier was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968. It has been noticeably receding for the past 100 years but is probably still the most accessible glacier (if you're wanting to actually walk on one, that is). This doesn't mean that it will eventually disappear completely because the origin of this glacier does not get above freezing and accumulating snowfall will sustain it indefinitely. While our 30 minute stop here didn't allow us to get all the way to/from the glacier we were able to hike quite close.
~later, tw

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Welcome to Valdez

As if it weren't sad enough to be leaving our lovely home (Diamond Princess), it was pouring rain today and if there are mountains around here, you couldn't prove it by me. Nonetheless, our new adventure was about to begin as we woke up in the port of Whittier this morning. Our next form of transportation - a catamaran (the Klondike Express) was clearly visible from our deck.

We pulled out from the dock around 7 am and were off to the next port - Valdez. Our captain said we had a few minutes to spare so he slowed down and pulled nearer some of the rocks so we could have a great view of the sea lions snoozing. Then it was back to business to get us to Valdez on time. The port doesn't have a pier (which adjusts somewhat to the tides) but rather a dock (which does not move - but we could easily have heard those terms backwards!) so we had to climb to the top of the catamaran to make our exit.

Once safely back on shore we were introduced to our bus and driver (Ashley. As we were travelling in two coaches, her husband was the driver/guide for the other bus). She took us on a brief tour of Valdez, which mainly consists of a couple of restaurants, the bar where Capt. Hazelwood (of Exxon Valdez fame) enjoyed his last meal (and drinks) before setting sail that fateful night, a large chainsaw sculpture (apparently this guy does one for each of the 50 states and Valdez is where Alaska's is located) and LOTS of RV parks - the population of Valdez is something like 4,000 unless it's fishing season and then lots and lots of people come to "put a pole in the water!" Then we were off on our own to further explore (and find our lunch and a dry place to hang out until it was time to reboard the bus).
~later, tw

Friday, July 9, 2010

College Fjord

A “lazy” day at sea - which really means getting up early for our morning constitutional only to find that the staff had also chosen the early morning hours to do deck maintenance (resulting in lots of half laps for us!), the race to the laundry (Gerry’s pretty quick but still nearly missed out on getting quarters and washers) and another win at trivia (we would happily take medals for all our victories but instead we’ve won a large number of blue Princess grocery bags - Dona nearly has enough bags to use for the “Turkey Trot” or “Jingle Jog” winners!)

After inspection of the dessert buffet (as usual lovelier to behold than to eat) and a bit of lunch (seriously - did you expect me to pass up shrimp? I’ve got to get my fill before the existing supply runs out!) and then (sigh!) get a bit of packing done before the wine tasting in the afternoon. The last night of a cruise is such a sad thing - the only small consolation in it this time that we still have another week of vacation before us (and I’m really hoping that the weather is as gorgeous…or even somewhere close as I don’t want to appear too greedy…so that we get some views of Denali, one of the major reasons for this trip!).

Then we enjoyed the "Landfall Dinner" at our favorite table (Pacific Moon restaurant, table 427 with our favorite waitstaff - Henrik from South Africa and Pya from Thailand) and our bottle of champagne (Chateau Last Week) courtesy of Frank (Sinatra that is - we won the Frank music contest last night). The view out the window was stunning as we drifted by the College Fjord Glaciers (each one named for a different Ivy League school).

Then all at once it was time to get a move on. Someone needed to get to the Front Desk to get envelopes to leave a little something for Marlon, who had taken such good care of our cabins all week long; I had to run to the Photo place to pick up a reprint I had purchased so I could get it packed to send back with the Helmers to Anchorage since we wouldn't need it (or have room for it) while on our "road trip". While I was down on Deck 7 I could hear the "oohs" and "aahs" outside on the promenade deck. Fortunately I had the camera with me - the naturalist was trying to get out complete sentences but she was constantly interrupted by the Harvard Glacier calving. Suddenly the events were closer together and larger. What initially sounded like Rice Krispies snapping and popping became thunderous roars as larger and larger chunks of the glacier dropped into the bay. It was incredible to witness (and since I can't really show the movement of the glacier here, this picture really doesn't come anywhere close to the actual experience!)

Tomorrow morning early (6:40 am - and we’ll have to get a walk/showers/breakfast/final packing done before that!) we will arrive in Whittier and proceed directly to Valdez and then on to Copper River. Since I don’t know what internet service might be available to me for the next week, it may be some time before I continue with stories of our adventures!

Must pack!

~later, tw