Anchorage

Wrap Up in Anchorage

We wrapped up our epic journey to Alaska in Anchorage, the largest city in the state.  With a population exceeding 300,000, nearly half the state’s residents call Anchorage home. Our hotel, the Westmark, included in our cruise package and owned by Holland America, was well-located downtown. We arrived early in the evening before an afternoon flight out of Anchorage the following day allowing us time for just a brief look around.

IMG_5027

Panoramic view from our balcony at the Westmark Hotel, Anchorage

Dinner at Humpy’s came with outside seating made more enjoyable after the brief shower ended. Jim especially liked his caribou sausage but I had seafood again. Thankfully, salmon and halibut would soon be delivered to our door so it wasn’t my last meal of Alaskan seafood.

IMG_5023

Jim and Sheryl outside Humpy’s

The following morning we got an early start to make the best use of our time. Anchorage plants more than 80,000 flowers in 270 flower beds throughout the city and we were happy to encounter more than a few on our walkabout.

IMG_5033

One of the many flower beds planted around Anchorage each year

Our visit coincided with the Slam’n Salm’n Derby on Ship Creek, an annual fundraiser for the Downtown Soup Kitchen. I was intent on seeing this event so we headed straight for the creek. We overshot the mark, however, and ended up further upstream and found ourselves in a seedier neighborhood than we intended. In retrospect, if we had simply walked directly to the Information Center, we could have explored the area from there. The upside of getting off the beaten path, however, was seeing the Streambank Restoration Project to protect salmon habitat.

IMG_5042

Ship Creek Trail

IMG_5046

Fishing for salmon on the bank of Ship Creek for the Slam’n Salm’n Derby

IMG_5051

More derby fishers at the Bridge at Ship Creek

IMG_5077

Derby fisher weighs his catch

I later read the Derby winner for 2015 was a woman who caught a 37.55 lb king salmon early in the 10-day event.

We visited the nearby Ulu Factory and watched a craftsman work on a traditional ulu knife. With a history over 3000 years old, this tool was fashioned and used by native Alaskans and is still used today. We bought one for ourselves and one for a gift. I especially like it for chopping herbs since I don’t skin many seals.

IMG_5058

Craftsman working at the Ulu Factory

IMG_9367

My Ulu with cutting bowl

IMG_5056

The Ulu Factory and Store

IMG_5064

Jim with a dogsled displayed outside the Ulu Factory

A quick stop at the Visitor’s Center told us there was plenty more than we had time to see, and we would have to be content with the briefest of tours.

IMG_5110

Anchorage Visitor Information Center

IMG_5103

Downtown Anchorage

We decided to spend some of our precious time on an exhibit and video presentation of Dave Parkhurst’s photographs of the aurora borealis.  Photography of his work in the exhibit wasn’t allowed but you can check out his images on his website, The Alaska Collection. We once viewed the northern lights in northern Wisconsin and Jim saw them another time while driving in Iowa on I-35 but this show was phenomenal. As a result, I now want to see the aurora borealis in either Alaska or Iceland.

IMG_5119

Video presentation of images of the Aurora Borealis by Alaskan photographer Dave Parkhurst

Then it was back to the hotel to grab our luggage and catch a taxi to the airport. As we said goodbye to Alaska, we were treated once again to views of Mt. Denali. What could possibly provide a more lasting impression of Alaska?

IMG_5390

Mt. Denali

IMG_5148

Mt. Denali

 

 

 

Based on events of June 2015.

 

 

Categories: Anchorage, cruise, Denali, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

McKinley Explorer

If you’ve followed my posts about Alaska, you’re aware that the name of Mt. McKinley officially changed back to Mt. Denali in September 2015. One of the few remaining references to President McKinley is the McKinley Explorer, the dome railway which we rode from Denali National Park and Preserve to Anchorage, Alaska. I wonder how long it will be until they change the name of the train?

IMG_5018

The McKinley Explorer

 

IMG_4710

Our Conductor and his assistant

 

IMG_4716

Selfie and view of the dome car

It was a comfortable ride through the wilderness of Alaska with endless spectacular views and majestic scenery with wildlife sightings of moose, black bear, and beaver. The train crew was more like bartenders hawking specialty drinks and Holland America merchandise but we enjoyed their friendly banter and tour commentary.

IMG_4701

View from McKinley Explorer

IMG_4726

View from McKinley Explorer

IMG_4794

View from McKinley Explorer

And then, we experienced day 3 of Mt. Denali Revealed. Despite a surfeit of superlative scenery, I believe we all continued to feel awe and reverence at every sight of this majestic mountain. I know I did.

IMG_4730

Mt Denali peaking through the trees

IMG_4734

Mt Denali from the McKinley Explorer

IMG_4846

Mt. Denali

IMG_4843

Mt. Denali

Our continued sightings of Mt. Denali were all the more remarkable considering the ongoing smoke from the Sockeye Fire north of Willow. As we approached the area of the wildfire, we saw many acres of burned trees and ground cover, continued smoke in the air, and fire-retardant along the tracks.

IMG_4962

Effects of Sockeye Fire near Willow, Alaska

IMG_4981

View from the train of the Sockeye Fire

IMG_4983

Sockeye Fire effects

IMG_4993

Sockeye Fire, Willow, Alaska

IMG_4975

Firefighter as seen from the McKinley Explorer

At one point, our train stopped and we weren’t sure we’d be able to continue. There were firefighters on either side of the tracks and the fire had jumped the tracks. No announcements were made so it was purely speculation on our part but we suspected danger. We heard that the day before they had to turn off the air conditioning through the fire area and the train cars got unbearably hot. Sheryl later met a woman who told her while traveling on the train the day before us, they were transferred to buses, then transferred back to the train again because the road wasn’t safe. They saw blazing fires and lots of smoke along the way. As I wrote in my previous post, Scenes from the Bus to Denali, the Sockeye Fire, caused by negligence, destroyed 7220 acres and 55 homes at a cost of $8 million.

We finally arrived unharmed in Anchorage but our luggage was not as fortunate. Some of the bags were dirty and seriously damaged. The luggage was transported separately by truck and HAL staff explained that they had to take gravel roads to avoid fire areas. This was an adventure we’d all just as soon have missed but I hope everyone learned the lesson. Do not leave fires unattended.

Based on events of June 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Anchorage, cruise, Denali, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

North to Alaska 2015

I’ve known since 2012 it was time to go to Alaska. That was the year Jim and I went to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine bringing to 49 our total states visited. Prior to that, my state total was 46 and Jim’s was 43. Honestly, Alaska was never really on my short list but when it’s the only state in the U.S. you haven’t visited, it’s time to make a plan.

I sent for the Alaska Official State Vacation Planner at TravelAlaska.com to begin my research. The sample itineraries in the planner were invaluable for narrowing the options. Many friends cited their Alaskan cruise as their best trip ever so I began exploring cruises. Most itineraries depart from Seattle or Vancouver and typically include the inside passage. A cruise seemed like a pretty efficient way to start to see our largest state but frankly, it looked like we’d barely scratch the surface of this vast area. That realization caused me to look at a combination cruise and land tour. The cruise tour would add a land trip by coach and train to Denali National Park with possible views of Mt. Denali, aka McKinley, the highest peak in North America.

Recommendations and research led me to Holland America, the largest tour operator in Alaska. I knew I wanted to go in June and I wanted to get the best price for a stateroom with a verandah on the starboard side, hoping to spot wildlife as we cruised north. I didn’t have a preference for a particular ship or whether the land portion was before or after the cruise, but I did prefer a cruise starting or ending in Vancouver. We’ve never cruised Holland America before but Norwegian, my usual cruise operator, couldn’t beat their price so I booked with HAL.

Holland America

Holland America Cruise Line Logo

Our original price was just short of $2500 per person but then a friend, Sheryl, decided to go with us so with three in the cabin the price went down to $2035 each.  Then the closer we got to our departure date, the more emails HAL sent us offering upgrades and the lower the cost was for the upgrade. With three in our cabin, we decided to spring for the suite upgrade for an additional $100 each which gave us considerable extra space both in the cabin and on our verandah plus two sinks and a whirlpool tub in the biggest bathroom I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. The total for the three of us for the 11 Day Double Denali which included the 7 day cruise, coach to Denali, 2 nights lodging in Denali, tour of Denali, domed rail trip to Anchorage, and one night of lodging in Anchorage was $6400 or about $194 per person per day. I tell you this for reference purposes in case you want to go to Alaska. I do believe I got the best deal available at the time.

Here’s our itinerary from HAL’s website:

Day/ Port
1 Vancouver
Sail from Vancouver, glide under Lion’s Gate Bridge, and enter the scenic wonders of the Inside Passage
2 At Sea
Relax and enjoy a full day of scenic Inside Passage cruising and immerse yourself in Holland America Line elegance
3 Ketchikan
Explore this uniquely Alaskan port, famous for its rich native culture, salmon fishing, and scenic Misty Fjords
4 Juneau
Enjoy a full day of exploring Alaska’s capital-choose from exciting shore excursions and still have time to shop
5 Skagway
Step back to the days of the last great gold rush-choose from exciting shore excursions and still have time to shop
6 Glacier Bay
Cruise the ice-studded fjords of this national treasure for a full eight hours as a Park Service Ranger narrates
7 At Sea (Gulf of Alaska)
Enjoy a leisurely day of cruising
8 Denali National Park
Disembark and enjoy deluxe motorcoach sightseeing to Denali National Park for a two-night stay at this majestic national treasure (lunch included)
9 Denali National Park
Venture deep into Denali on the Tundra Wilderness Tour (snack included), the best way to see wildlife and hopefully Mt. McKinley too
10 Anchorage
This morning, board the luxurious domed rail cars of the McKinley Explorer bound for Anchorage
11 Anchorage
Your Land + Sea Journey concludes this morning in Anchorage.

Map View

Itinerary Map View

The cruise began in Vancouver, B.C, and ended in Anchorage, so after booking the cruise, my next goal was to find and book reasonable “open jaw” airfare. (Open jaw means your roundtrip is from different airports, e.g., the departure is DesMoines to Vancouver and the return is Anchorage to DesMoines. I searched on Kayak but I’ve since learned about ITA Matrix and I’ll try that, too, next time. As long as we were going to be in Vancouver, we wanted to explore the city a bit but the less expensive flights were mostly red-eye or arrived late in the day. I found two one-way tickets actually offered the best times and rates in this instance. Orbitz offered a one way from DesMoines to Vancouver on Air Canada for $291.59 and Delta had a return from Anchorage to DesMoines for $404, bringing the roundtrip total to $695.59. It seemed high but summer flights to Alaska are expensive so I booked it.

Finally, we needed two nights accommodations in Vancouver to allow plenty of time before the cruise in case we had flight delays and to properly see the city. Hotels there are very expensive, as I soon found out. I found a Hampton Inn at $260 a night and booked it but canceled it when I found a darling bed and breakfast, the Barclay House, in a great walkable neighborhood for $230. That rate changed when we added Sheryl to our room, but it was still lower than the hotel would have been if we added a third person.

Barclay House

Barclay House

So, with all the arrangements made, we were ready to set sail to visit our 50th state in June 2015.

Next time I’ll show and tell you all about our departure port, Vancouver, B.C.

Based on events from June 2015

Categories: Anchorage, Canada, cruise, Denali, inside passage, open jaw, Travel, USA, Vancouver | Tags: , | 10 Comments

%d bloggers like this: