Friday, September 1, 2017

Ketchikan

Our first port of call was the interesting little town of Ketchikan, where we visited the wide variety of shops located on the docks in the Creek Street area, once home to more than 30 houses of prostitution. The profession was, in fact, legal until the 1950's.


In the afternoon, we visited Totem Bight State Historical Park, within Tongass National Park, the world's largest temperate rain forest and second largest rain forest in the world. Ketchikan averages 152 inches of rain per year, making it the wettest city in America.



                                               
Ketchikan was one of several cities visited by President Warren Harding shortly before his untimely demise. Rumors have swirled ever since that his wife, unhappy with the discovery that Harding was juggling two mistresses, assisted in the "shellfish poisoning" that was listed as the official cause of death when he expired in San Francisco at the conclusion of the trip. Mrs. Harding refused to allow an autopsy.

Juneau

The capitol of Alaska comprises the second largest land area of any city in the county, even larger than the state of Delaware. A few facts help put the size of Alaska into perspective. It is 2 1/2 times the size of Texas, with a population density of approximately one person per square mile. If Manhattan had the same density, there would be 16 people living in the borough.

Curiously, Juneau is essentially landlocked. Because of the surrounding rugged terrain, it is not accessible by any road and can be reached only be plane or boat. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of airline transportation in the state. Many communities can be accessed only be air travel, and nearly 1 in 8 Alaskans is a licensed pilot. Docks to accommodate float planes are extremely common, but nevertheless still much sought after in urban areas.

We enjoyed a few adult beverages at the storied Red Dog Saloon, where a former owner would meet cruise ships with a mule and a sign that read: Follow my Ass to the Red Dog". We also visited the nicely restored bar at the Alaskan Hotel.



                                               

The tramway to the peak of Mt. Roberts allowed for some spectacular views.




                                       
                                                      Rescue eagle on Mt. Roberts

Afterwards, we boarded a float plane for a memorable day of salmon fishing at Muir Lake.






Catch and release only, but what a catch!

Skagway

This little town sprang into existence to accommodate the thousands of eager folks who surged north during the Klondike Gold Rush. Today, the gold is found in tourism. The Red Onion Saloon, Skagway's first bordello, thrives today as a popular tavern.


Only steps away, the Artic Brotherhood Hall boasts a fa├žade made entirely of driftwood, and the golden dome of the Golden North Hotel shimmers nearby.

                                                  

We spent the afternoon on the White Pass and Yukon Route railway, which chugs along Glacier Gorge, Dead Horse Gulch, and the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls.



Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay National Park is part of the largest World Heritage Sites, designated by UNESCO. To cruise through the bay, surrounded by floating chunks of ice and bordered by stark mountains rippled by swaths of green, is indescribably beautiful.










The ship paused at the famed Hubbard Glacier, where we witnessed 'calving' when sections of the glacier broke free and thundered into the icy water.




For additional information on glaciers, please see the post of 3/7/17 on El Calafate, Argentina




Homer

We disembarked in Seward in time to witness a spectacular sunrise:


Photos from the port in Seward

From Seward, we continued on to Homer, with a stop along the way at the Islands and Ocean Visitors Center. The views from our hotel that evening were stunning.


Visiting the Homer Spit, with its assorted restaurants and shops, was interesting. We did, of course, visit the Salty Dawg Saloon. How could we not? For a great breakfast, a shout out to La Baleine, and lunch at Captain Patties was great.

Halibut fishing success




                                                         Interior of the Salty Dawg


An afternoon wildlife cruise was entertaining and informative. Otters and guano-washed rookeries were plentiful!

Anchorage

On the trip from Homer to Anchorage, we stopped along the way at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The viewing of wildlife at the Kenai Refuge was outstanding as the enclosures are relatively close together and elevated platforms offer observation points unobstructed by fences.

                                               









For dinner, we visited the iconic Humpy's. A cold beer and plump slice of salmon made for a damn fine meal!!



Denali

We caught the scenic train in Talkeetna for a beautiful and comfortable ride to Denali.

                                     

                                     

After boarding a bus to the hotel, we were fortunate that the clouds parted and we witnessed the majesty of Denali (Mt. McKinley).

                                                                   


 The next morning, we stopped at Iditarod champion Jeff King's Husky Homestead. It was extremely interesting to learn about Alaska's state sport, dog sledding, and observe some of the training.


That afternoon, we had a 7 hour tour of Denali National Park. Words cannot capture the beauty of the park, so I'll let the photos speak for themselves:

                                                







Farewell to Alaska

Nice final destination--Fairbanks, Alaska. During the first day of our stay, our initial visit was to that marvel of technology, the Alaskan pipeline:

                                          

Later, we enjoyed a pleasant paddle wheel riverboat tour to the confluence of the Tanana and Chena rivers. This included a visit to the Trail Breakers Kennel, operated by four-time Iditarod winner, Susan Butcher, and her husband until her untimely death. We also toured a reconstructed native American village.


Native American Village

Salmon Smokehouse

Our farewell dinner--all you can eat salmon bake

                                             
The next day, we spent the morning trying to pan for gold at Gold Daughters, located just outside the city. The process requires patience and a deft hand, which are apparently two qualities I lack. However, learning the process and appreciating the 'gold rush' aspect of Alaska's history was fun.




During the afternoon, we explored a real find: the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. This is, quite simply, one of the most impressive automobile museums I have ever visited. Over 85 vehicles are displayed in a spacious building and the craftsmanship that was devoted to creating these fine vehicles was remarkable.

All too soon, we were off to the airport and the journey home. Farewell to a remarkable state and a memorable trip!