ALASKA TRIP REPORT
Day 1 June 1
Our flight is at 2:45. Before we leave we go to My Thai
for our fix of Thai food, knowing that it might be some time before we are
able to enjoy Thai food again. Our flight is oversold, I try to arrange
it so that we can still make our Fairbanks connection and take a later flight
to Seattle. There is just no way to make it work. We barely make our connection
in Dallas. Our plane from Amarillo is very late leaving. When we get close
to Seattle I see a breathtaking site. Probably the most awesome site of
our whole trip. I was noticing several mountain peaks popping just above
the clouds when all of the sudden Mt. Ranier busts
into view. It is huge and seems to rise above the clouds forever. It really
was an awesome sight. We get into Seattle and have a short layover before
getting on Alaska Airlines for our flight to Fairbanks. We arrive Fairbanks
at 1:45 AM. We are met at baggage claims by someone to take us to the hotel.
We wait and wait for luggage. Never shows. They tell us it will be in on
the next morning flight and they will deliver it to the hotel. What really
struck us odd was the fact that it was still very light outside. There was
no real need for the driver to use his headlights. He said that this was
about as dark as it gets this time of year. We are only about 125 miles
from the Arctic Circle. We are staying at the Wedgewood Resort. It is real
nice with a kitchen and living room. We learn that in the winter they rent
these out to college students at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.
Day 2 June 2
We get our first taste of Salmon at the breakfast buffet
(Salmon quiche). After breakfast we meet our tour guide, Kathleen. She is
concerned that we have no coats. It is quite chilly out and our jackets
are in our luggage. We go to the gift shop and buy two sweat shirts and
a disposable camera. Cost us $70.00 but at least we will be warmer. We get
on the riverboat Discovery for a trip down the
Chena river and then down the Tanana river. A bush
pilot takes off from the shore showing us how little space is required
to take off and land. He uses only about 200 feet. We then stop by Susan Butcher's house and see where she raises
her sled dogs. Susan has won the Iditarod sled race four times. We get to
speak with her and she tells us what she looks for in sled dogs. We then
get to see the "wedding of the
waters" where the two rivers meet. The Chena is spring fed and
the Tanana is a glacier fed river and carries much silt. You can see where
the two join. We then go down to see a fish wheel that is used to capture
Salmon for the native tribes. We see a demonstration of how they clean the
Salmon and then smoke it for their use
and also to feed their dogs. We then go through an Indian village to see
how they lived. We see a variety of fur pelts and
see their reindeer. The only difference between
reindeer and caribou is that the reindeer are domestic and the caribou is
wild. (Also, reindeer can fly). We see a sled dog demonstration by Susan
Butcher's husband and he explains what the role of each dog is on the team.
We then go back up river. We get our first taste of reindeer sausage; but
not our last taste; every breakfast has reindeer sausage offered. We get
back to Fairbanks and then go out to see the Alaskan
pipeline. The pipeline is really something. It is 48" in diameter
and is at least 5 foot above the ground so as not to interfere with migration
of animals. It travels above the permafrost and below ground where there
is not permafrost. It averages 1,435 million barrels a day and takes 6.2
miles to make the 800 mile trip. It is zig
zagged to allow for sudden temperature changes and also earthquakes.
There are some used pigs that are sent through
the pipeline to clean it.Back to our hotel and still no luggage.I called
the airlines and they said it arrived around noon and they would deliver
it. By 4:30 it still had not arrived and I called again and told them we
needed cameras and coats for our show this evening. They said they would
try to get it to us before we left at 6:00. It came at 5:45. We grabbed
the cameras and coats and got on the bus to go to Alaska Land and our Salmon
Bake. The Salmon bake was all the Salmon, Halibut and ribs you could eat.
The Salmon was the best I have ever tasted. Ann said the ribs were real
tough. I ate several helpings of Salmon and Ann ate mostly Halibut. If you
didn't want the fish or ribs, they had a 19 ounce steak available. We then
went to a bar where they had a musical play about the early Alaskan frontier
and the gold mining. It was pretty good.
Day 3 June 3rd
We got on the Alaskan railroad
at 8:30 and then traveled by rail to Denali. We were in a domed sight seeing
car. Breakfast was provided on the train. It was a good breakfast. We saw
some beautiful scenery on the way to Denali. We arrived at Denali National
Park about 12:30 and lunch was on our own. We went to a dog sled demonstration
put on by the Park Service. They still use dog sleds to patrol the park
in the winter. The dogs sure got excited when she went to select which dogs
would get to pull the sled. You could go up and pet the dogs before the
demonstration. It was raining very light and they smelled like wet dogs.
We checked into our lodge at McKinley Village. It was a rustic lodge made
out of spruce. The only trees up here are spruce, aspen and birch. That
evening we go to supper at Fanny's Roadhouse and enjoy cabin
night. It is all you can eat of Salmon and ribs. The Salmon was OK,
but the ribs were out of this world. I saw a guy eat more ribs than you
could imagine. The waiters were the actors and singers and they put on a
show after they served us. They were really good and had excellent voices.
We went to bed early tonight since we had to get up a 5:00 the next morning
to go on our wildlife tour. We liked the lodge because we were able to get
it dark in our room. It never got dark and that made going to sleep tough.
Day 4 June 4
We board our bus at 6:00 for our trip into the Denali National
Park for a wildlife tour. The bus is a modified school bus driven by a naturalist/guide/bus
driver. His name is Rich and he really is knowledgeable. As we begin to
gain elevation, it begins to snow on us. At times the snow is so thick it
makes it hard to see the wildlife. We learn later that the snow was a blessing,
keeping down the dust on the dirt road. There is only one road into the
park and after about 25 miles, the only vehicles allowed to enter are our
buses. We see a moose and her calf down by a creek.
The next animals we see are the Dall sheep. They
are white and easy to spot where it is not snowing. They love to live on
the steep inclines. We get to see them up close and personal as they cross
the road in front of us. We see a Snowshoe hare; they have large white feet
and are quite a bit larger than our rabbits. We see two herd of Caribou.
There were probably twenty in each herd. We see a variety of birds including
Harrier's and a Gere falcon. There are only 500 of these alive in the world
today. TheGere falcon took over the nest of a golden eagle. Our guide said
that he saw the two battle over the skies a week before and the falcon won.
The Gere falcon is nesting on a cliff. Ann keeps wishing that we would see
a bear and it is beginning to look like we won't, when someone spots one
down in the river valley. It is a large grizzly that is digging up what
our guide called Eskimo potatoes. We use our binoculars to watch him for
quite some time. Then we go to our last stop before turning around and have
hot chocolate. It really hit the spot. Our lunch
today was a box lunch provided by the guides and tour service. It consisted
of reindeer sausage, cheese, croissant, dried fruit and several snacks.
At this site on the river you are able to watch a herd of Dall sheep on
the mountain cliffs ahead of us. On the way back Ann and I spot the moose
at the same time. We pull over and watch the moose again. Then farther down
the road we see another grizzly. He is a little closer, but you still need
binoculars to see him up close. The grizzly is about 80% herbivores (plants)
and 20% carnivores (animals). We are instructed what to do if we should
encounter a moose or bear in the park. For a moose we should start running
away from it and it would probably leave us alone. If it had a calf close
and we encroached on its territory, it would charge us if we stayed put.
For a bear we should wave our arms and start talking (praying?). Running
here would trigger a stimulus in the bear and he would attack. Denali National
Park was really great. It is thousands of miles of untamed wilderness and
the Park Service is seeing to it that it stays that way. When we get out
of the Park, 4 members of our party ask the bus driver to take them over
to the souvenir shops to do some shopping. It is about three miles out of
our way, but he agrees. We cross a bridge and drop them off. Then as we
start to go back they are bringing a wide load across the bridge. It gets
stuck on the bridge and it takes 3 hours before they finally get it off.
What an experience. We finally ask our driver if we can get off and stretch
and he lets us. We are lucky in that there is a raft renting outfit close
by and they have restrooms. This is probably the largest traffic jam Alaska
has ever had. It has the road from Fairbanks to Anchorage is blocked for
3 hours. Traffic was really backed up, but not near as much as I had expected.
There is just not that much traffic up here.
Day 5 June 5
Today is the farthest we will travel. I get up and notice
that for the first time since we have been here that there are no clouds.
I am hoping that we will be able to see Mt. McKinley or Denali (the great
one) as the natives call it. After breakfast, Ann and I take a 30 minute
walk along the Tanana river and surrounding area. The two girls that we
took to go shopping and caused us the three hour delay showed up to get
on the bus with bags on their heads. Pretty funny.
We are very fortunate, only about 25% of the tourists ever get to see Mt. McKinley as it is only visible about 10%
of the time. It is so large that it makes it's own weather. After about
25 miles of traveling we stop to take pictures of the mountain.
Even though we will be closer, we take no chances, clouds could come up
and cover it up rather quickly. The scenery on
the way was spectacular.Thirty miles down the road we stop and take more
pictures. Denali is the largest mountain in North
America. I think it is over 20,000 feet tall. Lunch is on our own. We stop
at a place called the Sheep Creek Lodge. We thought she said Cheap Creek
and we were looking to eat cheap. No such luck. Food up here is about 50%
more than we pay in Amarillo. We go though Anchorage and up to the Alyeska
Lodge. On the way we stop and view the Portage
Glacier. You have to travel by boat to see the Glacier. We just visited
the information center and the lake caused by the melting glacier. On the
way back we saw many bald eagles. They were really beautiful. We also saw
an example of a hanging glacier. They are just
hanging in the mountain.The Alyeska Lodge was spectacular. The resort is
used by skiers in the winter and by the tours in the summer. It was very
luxurious. Supper was from the menu at the Lodge. Ann chose the Rib-Eye
and I had the fish off of the buffet. We saw the ultimate use of Salmon.
Salmon spaghetti. They use Salmon in everything. That evening we went up
the chair lift to the lodge at the top
of the mountain.This view was rated the best view in North America by a
famous travel magazine We saw hang gliders
jumping off of the mountain and gliding down to the base. Ann had her eyes
closed all the way up and all the way down. They had a very nice pool and
exercise room. I went down and worked out.
Day 6 June 6
Today we left for Seward to go out in the Kenai Fjords
National Park. We go around the Turnagain arm to get to Seward. The Turnagain
was named by Captain James Cook when he
was searching for the Northwest Passage. He would sail up one of the tributaries
only to turn around again and go to another one. On the way the way there,
we see scenery made for a postcard. At Seward we
see two bald eagles resting in a tree. We get on our boat and head out to
see some wildlife. Lunch was provided by the boat. It was a box lunch with
either Halibut or chicken. The first animals we see were Dall's porpoise.
Then we were able to see Orca Whales (Free Willy).
We saw the humpback whales, Stellar
sea lions, sea otters, along with many birds including puffins, bald
eagles, murres and cormorants. We also saw a black bear on one of the islands.
Ann was real excited and grabbed the binoculars to watch him. We saw the
Holgate glacier and were really lucky to see it
calve (have ice break off and fall into the ocean). The glacier is 400 ft
tall and over 700 miles long. It really was a spectacular
view. Supper was on our own. We got off the bus and ate at a small restaurant.
After supper Ann and I walked two and a half miles back to the Resort. We
were the mosquitoes supper. They were huge and they stalked you. They say
that the state bird of Alaska is the mosquito. The pool really felt good
after the long walk.
Day 7 June 7th
Hey, we get to sleep in today. I went down to the pool
and worked out this morning. Then we had breakfast and didn't leave the
resort until 11:00 to go to Anchorage. We take a short tour of Anchorage.
I notice that fisherman are lined up along Ship
creek and are fishing for King Salmon. We are let out along 5th avenue just
a couple of blocks from our hotel to go shopping. We eat in the food court
of the mall and shop for souvenirs. That evening we go to the Gold Mining
Company for our farewell supper. Guess what? Salmon and Halibut along with
ribs are our choices. I go with the Halibut. I'm sick of Salmon. Ice cream
bar for dessert. We then go across the parking lot to a huge souvenir shop.
It has the world's largest chocolate waterfall. Back to the hotel and time
to say good-bye to everyone. We really had a great group. There were 44
of us and we got to know most pretty well and some real well. It was pretty
sentimental to say good-bye.
Day 8 June 8th
Since our flight isn't until 1:45 the next day we get up
late and eat breakfast at a deli and then back to our hotel. We check out
at 12:00 and check our baggage at the bell desk. I am going to spend the
afternoon fishing and Ann is going to shop til she drops. I start walking
down to ship creek (about 6 or 7 blocks) and smell onions cooking. Some
is selling reindeer dogs. I choose a bratwurst and it really hit the spot.
I buy a one day permit and a king Salmon stamp. I also rent a reel and pole
and buy some bait. I meet a guy from Las Vegas that is a newbie to Salmon
fishing also and we split the cost of the bait. (Fish Eggs). We find a spot
on the dam and begin fishing. It takes me
a couple of casts to figure the reel out, but finally I am casting like
a pro. We see several caught, but for everyone that is hooked only about
5% are landed. This is the only time I have been fishing where the fish
has the edge after being hooked. One guy on the far bank hooked one and
he came clear across the river to about 10 feet from us and then headed
down the river jumping about 4 or 5 times as he went. He finally shook the
hook out. After about two hours of fishing, I set the hook on one and he
was close to the shore. He took off and caught the line of the guy fishing
next to me. It broke his pole and then he broke my line(30 LB test). I don't
understand how it happened, but it did. I had several hits after that, but
never got another one on my line. I saw several good
ones that were caught. they were about 30 pounds on the average. I checked
my poles back in and then headed up the hill to meet Ann in the food court
of the mall. I washed my hands over twenty times and put lemon juice and
cologne on them, but the fish egg smell still lingered.We ate at Phyllis'
Cafe. Then we went shopping and finally went back to the hotel to get our
luggage and leave for the airport about 9:00. Then we had a long time to
wait for our flight at 1:45 A.M. The trip home was pretty uneventful although
we saw Ranier again, but this time it wasn't as spectacular. When we got
home it was out to My Thai for supper and then Walmart for groceries and
then to bed. It got dark and I slept the best I had in weeks.
Overall, Alaska far exceeded my already high expectations. The scenery is beautiful and the people are very friendly.
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