Alaska Part One - Vancouver to Fairbanks

25th August, 1997
26th August, 1997
27th August, 1997
28th August, 1997

Monday 25th August, 1997

Drop Cap p at crack of dawn so we could get some breakfast before the Airport Bus came at 7.13. Quite a palaver at Vancouver Airport, going through U.S. Customs and filling in forms. Our plane to Seattle was the smallest I've ever been in, eight rows of four and one row of five. We had time for a drink and a piece of coffee cake, then we were down in Seattle. It's raining again, and somewhat turbulent. We had half an hour in Seattle before boarding the much larger plane to Anchorage. It was just about full to the brim, Alaska is very popular now! We had a cheeseburger, packet of chips and a drink (accompanied by a coloured card with a Biblical text on it - don't they have faith in their pilots?) None of this healthy salad junk, but it was quite tasty and a bit of a change in airline food.

Drop Cap t isn't exactly raining in Anchorage but very overcast. The Hilton Hotel was seething with a tour group just arrived and our luggage went missing for a while but they eventually found it. We discovered that Globus was "working in conjunction with" Princess Tours, the people who run the cruise ships and just about all the tourist activity in Alaska but the girl in their office did not seem very clued up about the Globus side of it. But we found out where we were meeting the rest of the group and the tour director without her help and had a very nice dinner with Ron Secreto, our tour director and all the others. Amazingly, twenty four out of thirty seven tourists are Australian! I couldn't believe all the accents when I'd been feeling rather a minority in Canada. I don't know yet if it is a good or bad thing.

Drop Cap reakfast at 7.30, lobby at 8.15. See what tomorrow brings.

Tuesday, 26th August, 1997

Drop Cap ell, it's raining in Anchorage and looks bleak outside. We have a day cruising the glacier fjords. Hope it clears or we won't see anything! More later.


Glacier photograph

Cruising the 26 Glaciers, Prince William Sound, Alaska

Drop Cap ell, it rained most of the day but didn't really spoil the tour. They went to Harriman Glacier instead of College Glaciers because it was easier to manoeuvre through and we saw frolicking sea otters, lots of them, (they seem to have such fun!) bald eagles and a whole cliff face kittiwake rookery. They are pretty cluey because they nest next to a waterfall which stirs up the krill etc for them to catch.

Drop Cap ut the glaciers were the high point. They poured down to the water, deeply blue because of the lack of sun. Ice was floating everywhere and we crunched and banged through it, trying not to think of the Titanic! We saw some small chunks calve off, but nothing major. The whole scene was incredible and my neck is twisted by trying to see out of both sides of the boat at once.

Glacier photograph

Mac on board, 26 Glaciers cruise, Alaska

Drop Cap e got to Whittier, port for the cruise, in a rather unusual way. There is no road to Whittier so the bus drove us to Portage, where there is a famous glacier which had large icebergs floating around it and we met the Whittier shuttle train. This consisted of flatcars onto which you drove your vehicle, including two loaded tour buses, trucks, mobile homes and ordinary cars and the train trundled off to Whittier. It was a secret airforce and naval base during the war, apparently the cloud cover was so constant that enemy planes could not penetrate it. They are planning a road to Whittier next year in the teeth of opposition from many of the inhabitants who quite like being relatively inaccessible. We shuttled back in the evening the same way, quite unique!

Drop Cap ow I am sitting at our window in the Hilton Hotel, watching an incredible sunset over the lake (it is nearly 10 o'clock) while coffee brews in our personal coffee maker. To Denali tomorrow.

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Wednesday, 27th August, 1997

Drop Cap o, here we are at Denali. We had a wonderful train trip along the Alaska Railroad, the only passenger service left in the state, in a very comfortable dome car with panoramic windows. We had a good lunch and will dine on board tomorrow night. On the way up from Anchorage we passed through a number of fairly pristine wilderness areas interspersed with a few tiny communities including Wasilla, where the famous and gruelling Iditarod 1,000 mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome officially restarts, (a thousand miles in winter! They must be mad!) and Sherman, with a grand total of two inhabitants. Apparently, a man and his wife retired to a smallholding there and his ambition was to be mayor of his hometown. So he went to enormous trouble and expense to have his plot of land declared a municipal borough and has elections every year. Occasionally, however, his wife refuses to vote for him, so last year he stacked the ballot box and won in a landslide of 420 to 1! In summer the population of Sherman increases by 100 - 200% when his grandchildren visit. He even has a sign on his house saying "City Hall" and flags on a flagpole outside. That, however, is not unusual.

Alaska photograph

View from the Midnight Sun Express, Alaska

Drop Cap s we went through we saw wonderful mountain scenery, with the first snow whitening the tops, we even had quite a good glimpse of Mt.McKinley which is called Mt.Denali in Alaska, the highest peak in North America at 20,000+ ft. They seem to have lost 14 feet of it lately in a new survey. They tell us that it is quite unusual to have a good view of the mountain peak as it is nearly always cloud covered. So we were lucky.

Denali Lodge photograph

Denali Princess Lodge, Alaska

Drop Cap enali National Park is supposed to be a good place to watch wildlife. I spotted a moose on the way up and alerted the whole car. But I hope we will see more tomorrow when we are going on a "Wildlife Search" at some ungodly hour tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 28th August, 1997

Drop Cap ell, today was a grand slam day! That's the way our driver/guide, John, described it. We saw the big four, the four largest mammals in the park. He says this is by no means usual, some tours don't see any of them. Anyway, we saw them all, except Dall's sheep, which live high on mountaintops to be safe from predators, close enough to recognise easily with the naked eye. (We saw lots of Dall's sheep with the binoculars, though). Within the first half hour of the trip we sighted our first moose, a cow, then not too long after that we saw three huge bulls with massive span of antlers. Moose stand up to eight feet at the shoulder. Then we saw another three cows. No sooner had the excitement died and we had left the spruce belt (Moose territory) for the tundra (tundra is the definition of plants that grow above the snow line. They can be waist height or only ankle deep) This is caribou habitat. We saw caribou, large bulls and cows both with antlers but the bulls (about 6 feet at the shoulder) had such impressive racks of antlers that it looked as though their heads were weighed down. We saw a whole herd of caribou, some rugged individualists, some part of a group. It was fantastic.

Bear Brochure

Bear Brochure, Denali, Alaska

Drop Cap hen, we started to climb and passed a "wildlife restriction" board. This warned that wildlife could only be observed and photographed from within vehicles on the road. This sign was made of hefty wood, the words not painted but carved deeply. It had rows of large nails sticking out the bottom to discourage grizzly bears. Nevertheless it had chunks bitten and clawed out of it and golden brown bear hair clinging to the nails. Grizzly territory. I really didn't expect to see bears but, stopping behind another tour bus which had pulled up we saw - not one, not two, but three grizzly bears! A mother and two half grown cubs, lolloping through the tundra and actually on to the road. They stayed, playing, on the road for a long time before heading off up the hill, where with binoculars it was possible to see another mother bear, with three cubs! Seven grizzlies, when sometimes they don't see any!

Drop Cap e saw quite a large group of Dall's sheep (like a Bighorn but completely white) low enough to make out that they were sheep and not rocks and that completed the grand slam. I was so elated, I really didn't expect to see bears. The heavily antlered moose were a bonus too. Apart from the animals, the scenery was just beautiful. We climbed a pass over the polychrome hills, so called because of all the colours. I decided it was pointless to try to photograph any of the animals because I haven't the equipment for animal shots. You need a zoom lens or a good video and all the photo spots by the windows were usually blocked by others wielding videos. Some were incredibly selfish. If people by the windows sat down they could see and so could others! I saw a ptarmigan, (the state bird of Alaska) a golden eagle and an arctic ground squirrel, very cute.

Drop Cap fter the tour came back we returned to the train for the dinner tour to Fairbanks. We were the last to be seated and we had reached Fairbanks before some had finished their meal. The scenery was spectacular along the way and we passed tiny rural communities, Military Missile Tracking bases, coal mines and a barge hauling company which takes supplies for the winter to communities upcountry with no road or rail link. We were picked up at the Depot and bussed to the Princess Bear Lodge. It has been a great day but very tiring, as it started before 5 a.m.

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