Tag: alaska

Scintillating Skagway, Alaska: a Wilderness Wonderland!

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White Pass railway train

Skagway, Alaska is a remote wilderness wonderland, and frequent port on Alaskan cruise itineraries. Nicknamed “gateway to the Klondike,” Skagway has an illustrious history of people embarking on a risky but exciting adventure with the ambition of getting rich during the Gold Rush. Today it’s a sleepy town that resembles an Old West movie set combined with tourist commercialism in response to the large number of cruise ships that dock here throughout the summer. I visited while on the Alaska itinerary for the Norwegian Bliss. Luckily, the commercialism does not significantly detract from the historical interest of the architecture in town.

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“Downtown” Skagway today

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Skagway in 1898, during the Gold Rush (public domain image)

My highest recommendation for what to do in Skagway after a stroll through town to observe the Old West late 1800s architecture is a ride on the White Pass train. This train ride affords spectacular views of the White Pass Mountains, including remote wilderness, vast forests, waterfalls, wildlife, and glaciers (including during the summer.)

 

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White Pass train engine

Besides the scenic views, it is fascinating to contemplate, as you listen to the whistles and chugging of the train and feel the vibration of its powerful motor, the efforts involved in building this rail track through these steep, imposing mountains. You traverse over massive bridges, through long tunnels, and on the edge of the mountain. (Afraid of heights? Consider yourself warned!)

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Views from the train

There are a variety of train routes you may take in varying lengths, the longest making it’s way up into the Yukon Territory of Canada. You may purchase tickets for the train ride directly from the operator in town, or purchase an excursion or tour that includes the train ride as one of the included attractions, as I did.

 

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Gold panning lesson

Another attraction included on my tour ticket was a gold panning lesson. During this experience, a very animated woman in period costume explained and demonstrated the process of panning for gold. Following the demonstration, I was handed a pan and given a trough out of which to pan for my own gold. Staff make the rounds to help anyone in need of assistance, but I was still confused… when turning in my gold for an appraisal, it was appraised at about $5. (You do get to keep the gold as a souvenir.) Others did better than I did! The experience was very touristy, but I learned a thing or two about the Gold Rush culture and process of panning nonetheless.

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Iditarod racer lecture

The other portion of the tour I participated in included a sled dog lesson and demonstration. This began with a lecture given by an Iditarod racer, who showed and explained her equipment and discussed what the experience of participating in the Iditarod entails and what life is like for both racer and sled dog. Her presentation was, albeit somewhat touristy, engaging and informative. A short video presentation was also given.

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Sled dogs on a dry run in the summer

After the lecture, a sled dog “race” was simulated on dirt (given it was summer) on a dry run. The audience was introduced to the sled dogs on the team, and allowed to pet both the sled dogs and the puppies on site.

The train experience was definitely the highlight of any trip to Skagway, but if you can overlook the touristy veneer of some of the other offerings in the area much can be learned about history and culture in Alaska!

You may view my full video tour (including all of the above listed attractions!) here:

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Jaunty, Jovial Juneau, Alaska!

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Mt. Roberts Tramway, Juneau

Juneau, Alaska is one of the more “metropolitan” destinations in Alaska, yet maintains its Old West, quaint town feel. On this day, I was feeling even more than that… I was feeling drenched from the torrential downpours that happened upon the city on that densely overcast day! Unfortunately, a highlight of Juneau, the Mt. Roberts Tramway, was not on my agenda with visibility from the peak nearing zero! Many others made the trek in spite of cloudy skies.

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“Downtown” Juneau

I opted instead for a stroll, umbrella in tow, through the main streets. While a small handful of what could loosely be defined “skyscrapers” dot the downtown district, most of the architecture harks back to an earlier time. Some of the building fronts resemble an Old Western movie set, the shadowy fringes of treetops on the mountains peeking out from billowing clouds looming in the background. I imagined Bob Ross capturing these mountains in a painting…

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Old Western Style Building Fronts

If you wish to venture out further, there are glaciers available to visit on a day trip. If you choose to embark on such an adventure, or a tramway ride, I am hopeful your weather will be more cooperative!

For a short video tour of a rainy day in Juneau, you can watch my YouTube video here:!

 

Ketchikan, Alaska: Quirky and Wild

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Clan House, Totem Bight State Park

Ketchikan is your typical first Alaskan stop on an Alaskan cruise itinerary, and it offers a tantalizing contrast in cultures to explore! The best place to start your adventure first is Totem Bight State Park, where you can discover and learn about Native American culture in Alaska, their totem poles, and enter one of their clan houses, brilliantly restored and preserved.

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Richly decorated totem pole

Totem poles served a variety of different purposes. In front of a clan house, it could serve as an “address” marker, much like our address number and street. Others convey local legends, or honor a local clan. And others serve as grave markers, much like cemetery stones.

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This one is akin to a cemetery stone

The totems are decorated in rich, bold colors and depict a wealth of different designs. Animals are abundant in totem design. At Totem Bight State Park there are many different types of totems to compare and contrast. And, if you’re lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of a whale from the waterfront!

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Welcome to Ketchikan sign near the port

The area around the port hosts many retail shops, and can be crowded when multiple cruise ships are docked. Perhaps the most interesting sight here at the port is “The Rock” statue.

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“The Rock”

According to the Ketchikan Story Project, “The Rock tells the story of how Alaska’s First City came to be. Six of the seven figures on the sculpture represents a prominent archetype in the city’s history – a fisherman, a miner, a logger, a bush pilot, a frontierswoman, a native drummer. The seventh represents an actual historic figure – Chief Johnson, a Tlingit who stands on top of ‘The Rock,’ symbolizing the fact that his people were the first to make their home in SE Alaska.” (www.ketchikanstories.com)

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Fishing culture

Fishing is a vital component of the Alaskan culture, and there is no shortage of evidence of this here in Ketchikan. Boats bob peacefully along the docks in a “skyline” of masts at the port, while beyond them brightly colored wooden houses dot the shoreline, and towering dark green mountains are nestled in puffs of mist and clouds behind them.

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Creek Street Boardwalk

Another not-to-be-missed attraction in Ketchikan is the historic Creek Street Boardwalk. It can be a challenge to navigate – attracting hoards of eager tourists – but it is well worth the effort. Here wooden houses in a rainbow of colors sit upon a lengthy boardwalk creek front, where miniature waterfalls provide a chance to witness leaping salmon. There is history here, including “Dolly’s House,” a brothel from 1919. Of course, retail shopping opportunities abound as well, given the crowds.

Ketchikan is quirky and wild, a place of great contrasts, and an excellent place to start your Alaskan journey!

You can view my tour of Ketchikan here:!

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Alaska’s Inside Passage: Mysterious Beauty and Pristine Wilderness!

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Some trees appear to float on air in the mist

During the Norwegian Bliss cruise ship’s Alaska itinerary, the trip through the Inside Passage’s wonderful wilderness is a breathtaking highlight. It is a surreal world of icebergs, weightlessly wafting puffy clouds of mist, placid green-hued waters (so tinted due to sediment from the glaciers), and endless armies of pine trees descending mountains alongside strings of waterfalls that lay like whimsical ribbons on the landscape.

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Waterfall “ribbons”

The journey is slow, as the ship greatly reduces speed through this area, both for safety (icebergs abound), and because this is not a path of travel or means to an end, it is a destination in and of itself. There was one time on the cruise it seemed like everyone else was on their balcony too (I know because I was out there all the time when not at port!) and this was it, the clicking of photos being snapped the only sound echoing in this peaceful paradise.

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Calm waters melt into the soft outlines of mist

With the waters so calm and the mist so surreal in its softness, at times the outline between the two is only a faint one. The icebergs peeking through the serene waters and hunter green humps of land peering through the billowy mists breach the illusion and tell you where the outline begins.

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Thick rows of fog striping the sky

The thickness of the fog completely obscures the land behind it at times, as if keeping the secret of a great surprise it could reveal at any moment… and does. It stripes the sky in rows… and dissipates rapidly only to form again, a playful shapeshifter.

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Where does the water begin?

The inside passage is like an alien world in its mysterious beauty and pristine wilderness. While the Bliss did not continue all the way to Sawyer Glacier as planned for safety’s sake (amid the thick fog and weather conditions), I was completely satiated after seeing the spectacular wonder of wilderness that is the Inside Passage, and would later see other glaciers in Skagway.

My video tours of Alaska’s Inside Passage and the Norwegian Bliss may be found here!:

Inside Passage:

Norwegian Bliss:

Donation

I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

$1.00