Sunday, January 29, 2017

ALASKA! GRIZZLY BEAR WATCHING ON CHICHAGOF ISLAND AND A CRAB LEG FEAST IN JUNEAU

Because of bad weather, we had missed a planned trip to fly out of Homer to Katmai National Park to do some grizzly bear watching. A few days later when our ship docked in Juneau, we booked two seats on a similar trip Princess Cruises offered to Chichagof Island.

The cruise people drove us to Bear Creek Outfitters, where we were fitted with stylish rubber boots and loaded on a float plane--a first for us.

Our Bobcat plane had six seats. We were joined by a second plane, also carrying six people.

We were in the air for about half an hour, and the scenery from our eagle's eye viewpoint could have been footage for a Hollywood movie:




Sunday, January 22, 2017

YUKON TERRITORY

When we weighed all the options in Skagway provided by our cruiseline, nothing really grabbed us, so we decided to do our own thing. We rented a car and drove 125 miles north into the Yukon Territory. On the map below, the star is our starting point, and our destination, marked by the arrow, is Whitehorse, the capital of and only sizable city in the 186,272 square miles of the Territory. 

The Yukon is the smallest of Canada's three northern territories and fourth Canadian province or territory we have visited. We had previously traveled to British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. Only nine more provinces/territories to go! (I don't know if we'll ever get to Nunavut. Who visits Nunavut? I haven't ever heard of it.)



We went through a border crossing, but we didn't even have to get out of our car:

The landscapes were stunning and everything you would expect in this wild, undeveloped place. The entire territory only has about 37,000 people, which means if they were equally distributed, there would be five square miles per person.

The roads were mostly wide and straight and very well-maintained, which made the miles fly by:

Of particular note is Emerald Lake, obviously named for its stunning jewel-toned waters:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

ALASKA! SKAGWAY AND THE GOLD RUSH CEMETERY

Our next cruise destination was the booming metropolis of Skagway, population 1,000 in the winter, which grows to 2,000 in the summer to serve the 900,000 tourists who come through town.

The rocky hill across from the dock is covered with all kinds of interesting graffiti:


Some of it looks like ads for local enterprises:


Sunday, January 15, 2017

ALASKA! GLACIER BAY

Well, it didn't take us long to get into the cruise life as our Princess ship glided smoothly through Alaska's icy waters. We had been on the go for over a week, and a little bit of R & R was definitely welcome:


Our next destination was the coastline of Glacier Bay National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses 5,130 square miles or 3.3 million acres on Alaska's southern panhandle. It's a little hard to see in the map below, but our cruise starting point at Whittier is the red oval on the left and Glacier Bay is the center oval:
I think we saw about 1/10% of the park, but it was a spectacular 1/10%.  No roads lead to Glacier Bay, so the only options are to get there by air or by sea. Most visitors see the bay by cruise ship (400,000 visitors/year), but the number of ships per day is limited, which made our viewing experience very nice.

There are fifteen tidewater glaciers in the park, and while we didn't see them all, we did see quite a few. One nice thing about this day at sea is that we had a park ranger on board talking on the ship intercom most of the day. I would never have guessed there was so much to say about glaciers. Honestly, this was our third trip to visit glaciers, and though every single one was gasp-worthy, they were all beginning to look alike to me. That is not to say that it wasn't a fantastic day of glacier viewing, because it was, but a second day of being on the ship all day was causing Cruise Ennui to set in.

And that is my excuse for not having taken better notes as our excellent park ranger spoke.

Monday, January 9, 2017

ALASKA! FROM ANCHORAGE TO WHITTIER AND A CRUISE SHIP TRIP TO THE HUBBARD GLACIER

Our first week of wandering on our own all over Alaska had come to an end, and it was time to get on the cruise ship. (We wholeheartedly recommend our itinerary of self-directed travel + cruise.)  

We had to drive from Seward all the way back to Anchorage to drop off our car at the Anchorage airport, a distance of about 125 miles, but there really was no other option. Dropping off the car where we were getting on the cruise ship would have been horribly expensive. 

We met the Princess Cruise people at the airport, and they put us on a bus with others from our cruise and sent us to Whittier, the cruise port located about 60 miles away but which we had pretty much driven by on our way to Anchorage to return the car. Oh well. Driving anywhere in Alaska is a visual feast, and we enjoy being in the car together.

Our bus drove southeast along the scenic Turnagain Arm of the Gulf of Alaska:


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

SEWARD, ALASKA: KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK

After spending a couple of days in Homer, we headed north, then east, then south towards Seward, a distance of about 170 miles
Traveling in Alaska in any way but on a cruise ship requires stamina. Distances are long, but the sights are worth the journey.

Seward is a cute little town of only 2,500 people. It was named after William Seward, U.S. Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, who is famous for orchestrating "Seward's Folly," the best land purchase the U.S. ever made other than the Louisiana Purchase. It was William Seward who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867, adding over a half million square miles to the United States. The price was $7.2 million, or about two cents an acre. (The Louisiana Purchase was almost three cents per acre 64 years earlier.)

Seward is a fun little town and, like so many of its Alaskan counterparts, if full of quirky "art," some of which once again reflects Alaskans' bizarre passion for ice cream:

The flowers all over Alaska were stunning. With such a short growing season, how do they manage this?


We had booked an 8.5-hour Kenai Fjords Cruise leaving out of Seward at 9:00 AM, so we made our way to the docks . . . 

. . . and boarded the Melissa Ann, a boat for 150 people. Luckily, there were just 34 passengers and 3 crew aboard:
 
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