This adventure started on Monday 10 August with an overnight at the Holiday Inn Express in Charleston, WV and dinner at Tidewater Grill. We managed to get a few hours sleep before the alarm woke us at 4:30 for our 6:30 Delta flight to Atlanta with connection to Seattle Tacoma where we were met by Geri and Greg Evans. We stayed with them for three nights catching up, relaxing, and adjusting to the time change. The plan was to join Mandy and Frank Offerle in Bellingham for the trip north to Alaska and Yukon.
Friday 14 Aug - Made it to Bellingham by 2:45 in time to have lunch with Geri and Greg at Dos Padres. While waiting for our meal heard from Mandy that the ferry Columbia was broken and we wouldn't be leaving. We were provided vouchers for meals and hoped to leave the next evening. Now what? The travel agent had to hustle to figure something out.
Sat 15 Aug - After a very leisurely breakfast onboard, we ventured into town, took a short bus ride to Taylor Park which is a long walk along the sound. After a bus ride back to Fairhaven section, we stopped at Dos Padres for a cool one then went to Haggens grocery for some supplies. A call to the ship informed us that the boat was going. We called the travel agent to let her know the status and she told us our new itinerary. Our time in Gustavus would be compressed but we should still be able to fit everything in except a good night's sleep. Alaska Marine Highway hustled to keep the passengers content under a stressful situation. They provided vouchers for our meals. We got underway at 7:00 pm ADT and were treated to a lovely sunset behind the island mountains. (Great blue heron, cormorant, gull eating star fish.)
Sunday 16 August - Woke up to gorgeous view of mountain islands, had breakfast in cabin, passed a pod of orca near a salmon farm. Watched a movie about the artist community in Ketchikan. Started seeing a lot of birds - gulls, duck, tiny skimmer types.
After several hours of travel, the bellows broke again. The boat kept going but more slowly. Another change of plans and more free meals.
Monday August 17 - Called Nancy at Viking travel agency to arrange flight to Juneau and Gustavus. Ferry limped into dock at 9:00 and we walked and rode shuttle to Newtown section of Ketchikan. There were giant cruise ships and we commented on how glad we were to not have been on one of them with mechanical problems. Ketchikan has an interesting history but now is mostly a big tourist trap for cruise lines. A half day there was enough.
Tuesday 18 August - An early start with a seaplane flight in lousy, rainy, foggy, weather got us to Gustavus just in time for us to board the St. Philip for a tour of Glacier Bay. After an hour or so the weather cleared and we had a wonderful but cold ride to Margerie Glacier and Grand Pacific Glacier, the white glacier and the black one. There was a big cruise ship there which was annoying but it did give us perspective on size. We stayed long enough to see ice calving then headed back making a stop at Lamplugh and Reid Glaciers. JT McLaughlin was the ranger. He is from Ocala area and works in GBNP during the summers.
19 Aug Wed -- Early breakfast and ranger led walk through the forest where we saw a multitude of mushrooms. It was a bit misty bit not too cool. We then flew from Gustavus to Skagway. It was a wonderful flight on a little Piper from Alaska Seaplanes that flew low enough for us to see the glaciers on mountain tops at eye level. Another reason to feel sorry for the cruisers. There is no way what they see compares to that hour long flight. After checking into Sgt Prestons Inn, we went to the NPS visitor center, watched a short video on the gold rush then went for an interpretive walk with a ranger. I wasn't sure why this was an important stop on the itinerary but now see its importance. Our meal at the Bonanza Bar and Grill was a lunch and dinner combo. Roger and I shared a chicken wrap and bowl of chowder. Fish chowder is popular hear. It is basically a clam chowder base with other fish. I prefer the ones made with fresh fish although smoked fish seems to be the usual way of preparing the chowder.
20 Aug Thurs - walked the Broadway board sidewalk to the Sweet Tooth Cafe for a very large breakfast and ordered sandwiches for our ride to Whitehorse. The train ride was good with great vistas but a bit confusing as to where we were supposed to be and which bus to take. The High Country Inn was where we stayed, the Deck restaurant had a good fresh soup, the wifi was great, and I did laundry.
21 Aug Fri - Another early morning, up at 6 for transport to Dawson. Left without breakfast because restaurant wasn't open. Picked up two other couples who had also been on the Columbia with us. They opted to transfer to another ferry and went all the way to Skagway so they could trace a grandfather's route as a "sourdough". We stopped at Tachtun for fuel and picked up some food to eat in the van. Moving on we stopped at Five Finger Rapids for photos just as the fog lifted. It had been as foggy and dreary as I expected with short bursts of sun that come when we need them. I would have difficulty with the lack of vitamin D.
It was surprisingly sunny and pleasant when we reached Dawson City. After resting and walking about we ate dinner on the deck of Sourdough Joes. The prices here were high but we shared a meal so not too bad. While viewing movies at the visitor center we heard an announcement for a walking tour of town sponsored by Parks Canada and decided that since the weather was perfect it would be best to go instead of waiting for the morning.
22 August Sat - It was a good thing we did the tour because the morning brought cold and rain. It was in the forties. We walked back to Front Street, had breakfast at Riverwest Bistro, watched a few videos at the visitor center then headed back in the cold to our rooms. At 12:30 we went back to meet the guide for the Goldbottom mine tour. The Millar family work the claims but subsidize their income with tourism. They still live in a house originally used as a school in early 1900s. It doubles as a museum with archeological and paleontology finds. Some of the folks on the tour panned for gold and found a few sand sized pieces. All mining stops in winter and folks either travel or find other jobs.
Dawson City is the Canadian version of Skagway but without the cruise ships. I did see some Holland America tour buses but there is no deep water for ships. What sidewalks there are are board, the roads are not paved, and Parks Canada have bought up a lot of buildings that are now used for historical tourism. Similar to Skagway. The population is about 1200 at most. Many leave during winter. Very much the reverse of Cedar Key. There is one school with about the same number of students as CK but the facility looks brand new and the library serves all the public. A small hospital is being enlarged.
We had dinner at the Drunken Goat which was the most expensive Greek Restaurant I have ever eaten in.
23 Aug Sun - Not as cold but still dreary and rainy. Walked back to Front Street and Riverwest Bistro for breakfast where we also bought sandwiches for the long drive ahead. After packing, we stowed our luggage and walked to the Dawson City Museum where there are great exhibits from the area's history. The mannequins' faces and hands were modeled after current residents. They had another video narrated by someone whose family had been there for a few generations.
Before embarking on the long trek to Fairbanks we had a cup of soup at Belinda's Cafe.
The border agent was a bit snippy which surprised me. I expect that from the U.S. Agents but usually the Canadians are very pleasant and accommodating. It was a long route between Dawson City and Fairbanks over On Top of the World Highway. We were hoping to see wildlife but no luck. The population is sparse with pockets at small villages such as Chicken, Tok, and Delta. Ownership of houses around Delta Junction is distinguished by the clutter in the yards. Clutter indicates Alaskan, neat with flower boxes indicate Ukrainian heritage. We got a brief glimpse of the sunset over the mountains. Stayed at River's Edge Cottage. Nice place. I liked the individual feeling.
24 Aug Mon - After getting in late the night before, we slept in, then walked the mile or so to Fred Meyer looking for a sweatshirt for Roger and a few other items. We had a quick lunch at Alaska Grill. Didn't care for the soup. The afternoon was taken up with a ride on river boat Discovery III to Susan Butcher's kennels that are now run by her husband. The Chena Village is an Athabaskan settlement but I felt it was not very authentic because of all the hanging flower baskets and landscaping. Otherwise it was a good exhibit on life in the cold.
Before dinner we had happy hour on the patio by the river. It was nice to be able to sit outside for a bit. For dinner we went back to the Alaskan Grill and had a weird pizza that I didn't think too much of. Mandy's crab cakes were excellent though. Another trip to Fred Meyer meant we got in a good four miles of walking for the day.
25 Aug Tues - 7:00 bus ride to train station. The train was a pleasant enough ride. Why do people insist on using their phones and annoying everyone else in situations like that? A similar thing happened the day before on the river boat. Still no wildlife except Sandhills cranes and swans but we are seeing a lot of fall color. There was a bit of confusion at the station when the driver showed up in a six passenger van for twenty one people. Luckily a driver from another facility had no passengers and gave us a ride in a nicer vehicle only to get to Denali Village Lodge to find the computers down and the rooms not ready. We had lunch in the Goldrush dining room which wasn't very good and after finally getting our rooms crashed for awhile before again going to the restaurant for supper. I don't like being in places where I feel captive by distance to other dining establishments. The chicken sandwich wasn't very good but I did like the fries.
Aug 26 Wed - The schedule called for an early (6 am) start for a twelve hour tour with Kantishna Roadhouse. It was rainy and cool and stayed that way until noon when we finally saw blue sky and Mt McKinley. The wildlife viewing was disappointing. We did see moose, brown bear, caribou, Dall sheep, Ptarmigan but they were spread out to about one sighting an hour. The soup at the Roadhouse as really good and I got some photos of mushrooms but am not quite sure why we spent two hours there. Shortly after we started back through the park it started raining again and the driver, Kevin Hay, got word from the driver grapevine that there was a slide down the line. It turned out that there were actually two. One was quite extensive and held us up. After sitting for an hour Kevin decided to take us back to Tolkat visitor center for toilet facilities. There was a whole fleet of busses waiting for the go ahead. We finally got through that backup to make it to the next one that was a coal seam burst. It was almost 10:00 when we got back to the lodge and a very late dinner. Roger and I shared a pizza that wasn't too bad. It was a long day and another opportunity to remind me this is an adventure that requires flexibility and patience.
Aug 27 Thurs - finally a sunny day for a long coach ride to Anchorage. The masses of people waiting for transportation at Denali Village Lodge was reminiscent of Disney. I was glad to move on. Part of the ride I had two seats but at Talkeetna we picked up more passengers. The drop off was at the airport and we decided to pick up the car early which worked out well since there was a mix up in the hotel reservation and we ended up down town in the Clarion. That also worked out better. Dinner was at Benihana's and we had interesting conversations with a couple from the Air Force who are moving to Patrick AFB, FL and a father/daughter combo celebrating his birthday.
Aug 28 Fri - glad we have the Dodge Journey. It fits everything and is roomy enough for long trips. It took all day to get to Homer because we stopped in Seward at the NP and had lunch at Gold Rush Bistro. There were winds in the 60 to 70mph range that made it difficult to walk. The scenery is gorgeous and the road is good so the drive was very pleasant. Our view at Land's End Resort was fabulous. We watched the moon rise and the people run into Kachemak Bay water then run back to the fire on the Beach.
Aug 29 Sat - Roger and I had breakfast at Boardwalk Bakery on the way to Ocean and Islands Visitor Center where we walked the estuary trail before talking with Doug Stewart, the naturalist on duty. He gave us a good run down of things to do in Kodiak. We went back to get the Offerles for the ride on the Danny J to Halibut Cove. We thought the lunch was included but after checking realized that only the reservation was. This was another case of only one very expensive restaurant. If we had known, we would have brought sandwiches and had a picnic lunch. It was a good ride and we saw a lot of birds on the way. The bald eagles are destroying the kittiwake population on one of the bird islands. There were also otters, seals, and sea lions. Halibut Cove has a wonderful boardwalk all around the town area and out to the "isthmus". I hadn't seen much until I turned to come back and there were whales in the distance. Too far to get good photos. I did see a kingfisher and some gulls, too.
The next day we were scheduled to cross on the ferry to Kodiak so we chilled in our rooms after buying sandwiches for lunch. Both nights in Homer afforded wonderful moonrises over the mountains. We also saw otters and whales from our rooms. The variety of travel and camping apparatus was interesting. There was even an old Subaru with a tent attached to the top.
Aug 30 Sun - The plan was to have breakfast, check into the ferry terminal then chill in our rooms next door until departure at 10:45. When we got to the terminal, we found out that the ferry would not be leaving until 5:30 at the earliest. It didn't pull away from the dock until 7:45. Since we had all that time we headed into town for the Pratt Museum which was quite interesting and inside. There was a display of things found on the beach after coastal cleanup and turned into art.
While I parked the car, Roger went onto the ferry and got two cabins so both couples would have a place to sleep. That was an expense we wouldn't have had if the ferry had been on time. Plus, we had to pay for the room reserved in Kodiak at the Russian Heritage Inn.
August 31 Mon - The ferry arrived in Kodiak at 4:30 a.m. It took an hour to get off and to the Russian Heritage Inn where we woke up the owner to let us in. He gave us directions to King's Diner where we had breakfast. We took a nap break before heading out to see what was there. While searching for the ferry terminal we went to the visitor center. Voila! That is also the ferry port. We picked up a local map, walked across the street to the Kodiak NWR center to find it closed. Across the side street is the Barranov Museum which has a lot of info on the 1964 tsunami that took out a good portion of town. A shared lunch at Henry's and then a visit to the Coast Guard Base gave us time to get laundry done before crashing.
1Sep Tues - Another trip to King's for breakfast and a stop at Safeway for sandwiches for lunch got us started on our trek down the island to Pasagshak Park. we made a lot of stops along the way for photo ops. The scenery is magnificent, the weather was the best we had had since coming to Alaska, and the company was great. At the Olds River we saw salmon spawning and later at Surfer Beach there was a herd of bison. The salmon were expected, the bison, not so much.
I was excited about the fossils on the beach. You could see where the rocks were sloughing off the side of the cliff and how at one time this 150’ cliff was under water. It is obvious that a glacier had gone through there and at the other end of the moraine is a launch tower for rockets. We ate our picnic lunch then headed out with a detour to Chiniak down a long dusty unpaved road that had several real opportunities for photos. We went as far as the Rosalyn River before turning around. Didn't see the wild fire that had destroyed the library and some homes. It was good for the President to be in the state. He brought the best weather we had seen on the trip. We got back to town, rested then went back to Henry's for dinner, sharing a salad and fettuccine. I want to thank the President for coming to Alaska and bringing good weather. After two weeks of yucky, the sunshine felt good.
2 Sep Wed - Our plan to get going by mid morning was caboshed when Offerles overslept. We had a late breakfast at King's Diner then drove across the bridge to Near Island where we're were summarily kicked out of a Marine Research Center by a student. A little further down the road was the Aquarium which was free and interesting but didn't take long to go through so we headed on down the road and found a Rotary Park with a good trail through the woods. Drove around taking photos then headed north to a point we had not investigated. There were stops along the way for photos and at the end was another park with a path down to a black sand beach with a shallow area full of salmon. By time we got through it was time to get back into town so we could visit the Kodiak National WR. It is a very modern facility with excellent diorama right across from the ferry terminal. We waited for over an hour to be boarded and I had to back the car a long way into position. That was stressful for me. As soon as we got on board we ate the supper purchased earlier at Safeway.
The ferry,Tustumena, left close to on time and stopped in Port Lion. Slept as best we could on not so comfortable beds and we actually got into Homer early. That was a big surprise after the other two experiences on the Alaska Ferry Highway. Being an hour early was helpful in the long drive to Anchorage to catch our flight to Seattle. The view out the plane window was magnificent and provided a lot of great opportunity for photos of glaciers on mountain tops. It was almost 9:00 when we checked into the Rodeway Inn. That gave us enough time to walk next door to the Clarion for a quesadilla and a couple of beers.
The Rodeway was a bit tacky but cheap. Roger woke up with bug bites all over.
Fri Sep 5 - A 7:30 a.m. Shuttle got us to the airport where we said farewell to the Offerles. Delta actually let me change my ticket to match Roger's without cost. That gave us time for breakfast before flying to Atlanta where we had several hours before the last leg to Charleston, WV. It was 11:30 before we got checked in to the Holiday Inn Express where we found our car to be in good condition although a bit dirty. We drove to Selbyville the next day, Saturday.
This turned out to be another great trip. I am grateful to be physically and financially able to enjoy my life and am especially appreciative of friends like Mandy and Frank Offerle who were great company and traveling companions. The climate and terrain is just opposite of what I am used to in Florida. I learned more than I could ever imagine about the goldrush and its effects on Alaska and the Yukon Territory. My only disappointment is that I didn't see as much wildlife as I had hoped.
It is obvious that the glaciers are melting, the sea water is rising, and the overall weather pattern is changing. The temperate rain forest was in drought and on fire, the desert was getting daily rains, native villages are in need of relocation as the water encroaches. For my tastes there were too many people at Denali NP. Since I was one of the masses, I really can’t really complain.
Not sure I would recommend the ferry system at this point. It would be a great way to travel if they didn’t breakdown. I know the problems were “not normal” and worse happens when there are anomalies on big cruise ships. The slow pace affords good views and wonderful photo ops. The staff on the Columbia did an awesome job of keeping the passengers informed and making a bad situation tolerable. All our meals were free and we were allowed to stay on board as long as needed to make other arrangements.
I used Viking Travel in Petersburg, AK and they were great to work with especially in the rearranging of the schedules. This is the second trip in a row that we have had to make changes on the fly and working with an agency in the area has been great.