Thursday, July 21, 2011

Home

We had a 8:30 pm flight to Houston and we arrived around 6:15 am. Cara and Robyn were both stopped going through screening. Robyn forgot she bought a pocket knife on the trip and left it in her purse and Cara had a half finished Sierra Mist in her purse. I wish I could say I slept on the fight, but I didn't. I did knit a lot though. We were all pooped when we arrived at Nana's house and we all took a nap. The girls and I left for home around 1:00. Robyn and I had just enough sleep to safely drive home. Phillip and the puppy girls were thrilled to see us. The kitty girls didn't seem to notice we had been gone. It was a great trip and I am so thankful Nana took us.


What I learned about Alaska

1. Alaska is the most beautiful place I have ever been. On my favorite places in the world list, it is 1b. 1a is New York City (I don't know if anywhere can move NYC off of that spot).

2. The people are wonderful. They are very friendly and open.

3. It is a great place to visit in the summer, especially when the heat index at home is hovering around 110.

4. Bring plenty of money. Things cost more here due to inability to get goods to all places. You can only get to Juneau by boat or plane. Other places have only plane or boat.

5. In the summer, the days are way long. Sunset sometimes was 11:15 pm and sunrise the next day was 4:15. I don't know how I would like the winters with the little sunlight.

6. Alaska is very casual. The perfect place for me. I like to be comfortable AND casual.

7. Going on a cruise is a great way to see Alaska. We were able to see some great towns that we would have otherwise not been able to see.

8. Humpback whales are pretty amazing. I had not thought much about whales before this trip. Now I love them.

9. I took a ton of pictures and video and it still was not enough. I wish I had more.

10. I want to go back.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Anchorage

Again we had the morning free and much of the afternoon before leaving Talkeetna. We hung around in the hotel lobby enjoying the wonderful views of Denali and enjoying the fire in the nearby fireplace. At 4:00 we boarded the bus to catch the train down to Anchorage. The train cars had glass tops so you could see in any direction. The scenery was gorgeous and the trip on the train was very relaxing.



We ate dinner in the dining area below where we sat. Dinner was good. Cathy and I had Stuffed Chicken, Robyn had fettuccine alfredo, and Cara was thrilled to have chicken strips. She is a chicken strip expert and it was only her second chance on the whole trip to have them. For dessert, Cara had a brownie sundae and Robyn had the black and white espresso cake. Both dessert plates were licked clean. Nana stayed upstairs and didn't come down for dinner.



We arrived in Anchorage around 8:00 and went straight to the Marriott, where we would be staying for the night. We said our goodbyes to Bill, the bus driver, and Brian, our tour guide. Cara surprised us all by giving Brian a huge hug and lifting him off of the ground. I am a bit sad that this is the last night of our trip, but I will be glad to see home.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Talkeetna

We had the morning free and did not leave Denali until noon.  Many of our fellow tour members went back into town.  We decided to take it leisurely at the hotel.  Today the weather was gorgeous and we were able to see Denali (Mt. McKinley) very clearly.  What a treat.  It is humongous.  Everyone was taking tons of pictures.


Our hotel in Talkeetna was the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. It had the best view of the mountain yet. It was right out of our window, front and center! Very cool.


Talkeetna is very quaint. Supposedly the TV show Northern Exposure was based somewhat on the town. I could see that. We took the shuttle into town and ate dinner at the Talkeetna Roadhouse. It is more known for its breakfast. The menu items were listed as breakfast and not breakfast. It was ok. I am guessing breakfast is much better.


On the way back to the shuttle we walked past this cool art sculpture thing.


When I got a little closer, I saw that is was a totem where passers by were to add tokens about themselves to it. Pretty cool.


When we got back in our room, I hooked the video recorder up to the TV and we watch some of the trip video. I seem to have a lot of footage of things like shoes, the side of the binoculars and other things when I thought the camera was off and it wasn't. I guess I will be working on my editing skills when I get home. The beds here were hard, but the cell phone reception and internet service was good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Denali National Park Tour

We were up bright and early for our Denali park tour.  Nana and Cathy had done this tour before and had seen lots of animals in the park.    The weather is drizzly and pretty much made it messy outside.  We entered the park and a ranger came on the bus to tell us a little about the park.  Some of the road into the park is paved and some is gravel.  Once it turned into gravel, the sides and windows on the bus were muddy.  When we stopped at rest areas, the bus drivers would get out and wash down the windows.  Unfortunately it was not long before the mud was back.  It was a very messy job that day.


As we drove higher up, snow flurries began to fall.  It was a light snow, but hey any snow counts.  Yea snow!  You can only travel about halfway into the park on the tour.  At this point we had seen some elk and a few Dall sheep on the mountain sides.  I was really glad I brought the binoculars.  I would not have seen much without them since the animals were pretty far away.  On the way down we stopped for some hot chocolate or coffee.  The thermometer read 46 at that point and it had finally stopped drizzling.  It was too overcast to see Mt. McKinley or Denali as the natives call the mountain.  The tour guide said only about 30% of visitors get to see the mountain because of overcast conditions.   It reminded me of when we went up to see the Matterhorn.  It was overcast and the guide basically pointed to the fog and said "There is it."


On the way down we were finally able to see two Grizzly bears.  I was lucky enough to be on the right side of the bus and was able to get a good view of one of them.  He was digging a hole and it was fun to watch. Now for some professional quality bear video.  We all sound like a bunch of ninnies watching this bear.

video


We took the shuttle into town for dinner and tried one of the restaurants Brian suggested, Prospector's Pizza and Ale House.  It was the best food of the whole trip.  Absolutely wonderful.  On the way back to the hotel, we saw a mom moose and her two babies on the side of the road.  They were adorable and the perfect ending to this day.  We were able to see all of the animals I wanted to see and I was a happy girl.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Denali

This morning before we left the hotel, a bear wandered through the parking lot.  Some of the people on our tour saw him.  Our bus driver was loading our bags onto the bus and looked to see the bear about a 100 feet or so from him.  Not what he expected at all.  The bear eventually went elsewhere and all was well.  It pays to watch your surroundings round here.  Once on board the bus, we headed toward Anchorage for a brief stop.  The bus let us off at a craft/flea market area.  We did a little shopping and bought cookies and drinks to take on the bus for later.  Cara saw a musician she particularly liked.  We had to stop and listen to his music and take a picture of him.  He was very good.


We stopped again a couple of hours later at a place called Miller's Market to stretch and check out their wonderful milk shakes.  Our tour guide, Brian, suggested the chocolate peanut butter shake.  It was delicious.  We traveled a bit more and stopped once again for a stretch at the Veterans' Memorial.  We arrived at the McKinley Village Lodge around 5:00.  It is nicer than the first place we stayed and the area reminds me a little of Colorado.  We had a first floor room with a little patio area outside.  About forty yards from that is a river with picnic tables on the bank.  Very pretty. Around the hotel notices were posted about a grizzly sighting.  Bears must like hotels.  We ate dinner at the hotel.  It was not so great.  Tomorrow we will try some place in town.



Saturday, July 16, 2011

Alyeska

We left our hotel and headed toward Alyeska.  Along the way we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.  We were able to see moose, musk ox, brown, black, and Kodiak bears, a bald eagle, owls, elk, caribou, and wood bison.


Our hotel for tonight was the Hotel Alyeska.  It is very nice.  It is a popular ski destination during ski season.  The hotel is next to a tram to the top of the mountain where they have wonderful views of the area.  Dinner was at the hotel in one of the restaurants and was excellent.  After dinner, Cara and Cathy went up in the tram to see the view.  By then some fog had come in and they are not able to see the whole area.  Robyn  and I opted to shop in the hotel boutique instead.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Seward

We left the ship around 9:30 to begin the land portion of our trip. Our group was small and that made it very nice after being on the ship with so many. Our tour guide, Brian, was very nice and helpful. Our first stop was the Alaska Sealife Center. There they had many of the animals you would see in Alaska near the water. Cara and I got a big kick out of watching the puffins. They are such funny birds.


We then went to the harbor to take a Kenai Fords boat tour in Resurrection Bay. Cara was seasick again, but the crew was great about letting us know where the best place for her to sit (less rocking) while she waited for the Dramamine to kick in.



Shortly after leaving the dock, we saw a sea otter hanging out in the water. He was funny to watch.


We had lunch on Fox Island. The landing there was amazing. The whole beach was made up of flat rocks. I have never seen so many in my life. They hold the World Champion Rock Skipping contest there each year and those rocks are what it is about. I wish I could skip rocks. Many people practiced their rock skipping skills. Some were quite good at it. After lunch, we returned to the boat and continued the tour. Resurrection Bay is beautiful. It was one of the most lovely places on the entire trip.


After the boat tour, we were dropped off at the Seward Windsong Hotel for the night. It was my least favorite of our hotels on the trip. We ate at the hotel restaurant and went to sleep pretty early.



Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hubbard Glacier

A visit to see the Hubbard Glacier was our next stop. As we traveled closer to the glacier, I was amazed by the amount of ice in the water.

Some of the chunks of ice were huge and it was interesting to see the blue of the ice along with the gray/black from the silt in the water. The water eventually changed from the usual blue to a gray as we moved closer to the glacier.


The glacier was huge. When the glacier calved, sounded like thunder. The ship did a 360 degree turn so all sides of the ship could get a good view of the glacier. Unfortunately the other side of the boat saw the calving and had the most time facing the glacier, but we did get a good look.


We stayed by the glacier until 11:00 and then headed on to Seward. The temperature was nice and cool by the glacier (46) and I spent a lot of time out on the balcony enjoying the cool.


The boat was traveling fast and rocked more than usual. Cara got a bit seasick. Dramamine and the seasick bands helped her a lot. We were at sea the whole day today. We did a little last minute shopping on the ship and then hit the sack.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Skagway

We arrived in Skagway and made it to shore around 9:20. We had a Mushers' Camp tour scheduled and we were excited to ride on a sled.  We met Garrett, our tour guide,, and off we went. He was great. He told us little snippets around Skagway's past and current residents.  Many of the families who live around here are descendants of the original gold miners.


We drove up one of the mountains to the base camp for the mushers. From there we took a UNIMOG up to where the dog teams were waiting for us.


The ride down was fun! The dogs seemed excited to take us for the ride.  I tried a couple of times to put the video on here, but it took forever and it still was not loaded.  I give up on trying to put it here.  This is the YouTube link for the video-->  Mushers' Camp and Dog Sled Experience

After the run, we got back on the UNIMOG and headed back to base camp. There we met on of the mushers, Ryan Redington (his grandfather was instrumental in starting the Iditarod). He told us a bit about the race and how he manages the dogs during the race and how he lives. His best finish was 18th. Impressive. The conditions they race under are brutal.


We went over to the puppy pen and were given the opportunity to hold them. They were sleepy and cute.




We went back to the ship after the tour for lunch. No one was really interested in shopping, so we just hung on the boat.  It was a fun day.

Other pictures from the day...

Garrett and the girls


Sled dogs








Beautiful scenery








Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Juneau

Today we are in Juneau.  I love Juneau  It is beautiful.   Very hilly and lots of trees.  Before the trip, I did some research on yarn shops in the places were would visit.  The one I wanted to go to most is here.  Skeins.  I can't wait to find it. I bought a set of bamboo sheets at Cariloha.  They are amazingly soft.  I know Phillip will love them. 

Skeins turned out to be wonderful.  I walked in and there was yarn from floor to ceiling and the owner, Nancy Fenton, was playing Sting!  I was in heaven.  Nancy was so wonderful.  She is going through chemo and she shared a few things about the joys of that.  I am kicking myself that I didn't get a picture of her or her shop.  Skeins was one of the highlights of my trip.  Robyn and I had a hard time limiting our yarn purchases, but we finally decided on what we needed.  So much lovely yarn.



We met Cara, Nana, and Cathy at the Red Dog Saloon.  What a fun place.  You don't go there for the food.  It is definitely for the atmosphere.  They have so much to look at, a guy playing saloon tunes on the piano and sawdust on the floor.   We added our names to the multitudes already on our table and had a fun time enjoying the saloon. 





After lunch, we headed back to the ship and to our rooms to hang out on the balcony.  Again, I was mesmerized by the sea planes and took a few more videos.   I can't seem to get enough of them.  It was a wonderful day in Juneau.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Icy Strait Point


Today was an exciting day. Whales! Up close and personal. Nana had booked us with a private whales watching company F.I.S.H.E.S. and we were scheduled to go on the excursion after lunch. The ship anchored in the bay at Icy Strait and people were tendered to shore. Icy Strait Point is a small place with a few shops and restaurants. We poked around in the shops and waited for our time to meet for our visit with the whales.



Finally it was time for the whales. We got on board and headed out to a place where Humpbacks had been spotted. It was amazing. We were so close them and the pod swam around for a long time. The seas were a bit rough and we were tossed around a bit, but the whole time I was in awe of their presence.  I made a video and put it up on You Tube.   Here is the link -->Whale Watching in Icy Strait Point.

After the trip, we headed back to our room and hung out there for the rest of the day.  It was certainly a day to remember.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ketchikan


We arrived in Ketchikan around 5:45. We could leave the boat as early as 8:00. We were off around 9:15. The weather was comfortable at 58. Oh how I would love these temperatures at home. Robyn, Cara, and Cathy headed out to shop and Nana and I walked around a little and shopped. We were pretty much done by 10:00. My knees were shot. I waited for the others to meet me back near the boat and said goodbye to our land time. I really enjoy being on the boat. We tried a different restaurant for lunch, the Park Cafe. Afterward we headed over to the Windjammer for dessert.


The passengers were to be back on board by 4:30. Then we were off. We passed by the airport and saw more sea planes taking off. I have a lot of video of sea planes taking off and landing. I am fascinated by them.

Dinner was again at the Windjammer. It is good and everyone finds something. The captain made an announcement that around 9:00 we would be heading through an area called Ice Pass. It was lovely to see the sun set in such beautiful surroundings.



Other pics from the day...