Trip to Alaska more than delivered

How many times can a person say “Wow!” in one trip? I asked my wife on our recent cruise tour of Canada and Alaska. From the picturesque city of Vancouver to the pristine beauty of Denali National Park, our recent journey was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Allow me to share a few highlights.

Though our Holland America ship did not embark until Sunday, we left Kansas on Thursday. Basically, I didn’t trust the airlines to get us to the port on time if we left closer to the actual sailing date. We had booked passage on the Noordam. The company also owns the Maasdam, Koningsdam, Eurodam, Westerdam, and several other “dam” ships. Our boat was about 70 percent full at 1,400 souls, most of whom, like us, had planned to travel in 2020. Everyone knows how that worked out.

Before boarding, we had a couple of days to run around Vancouver, and I am proud to say we rode public transportation and walked wherever we needed to go. It is a progressive city with a diverse and young population.

It is also a wealthy town. I have never seen so many Tesla cars in one area. As the stereotype goes, Canadians are very friendly. We pulled our suitcases from the metro station to our hotel, and at least six different people stopped to ask us if we needed assistance. They ranged in age from teenagers to baby boomers.

U.S. currency is worth more than Canadian cash, so prices were not outrageous. We had to be careful, however, if we paid in U.S. bills. We received our change in Canadian.

The Skytrain runs all around the city. If you just miss it, stick around for three minutes, and the next one will arrive. The system is fully automated and driverless but incredibly efficient. For one charge added to a Compass Card, we could ride the train, buses and even a water taxi. While transportation was quick and efficient, for some reason, elevators seemed really slow.

We boarded our ship around noon on Sunday and left the port late in the afternoon. The scenery was amazing as we headed into the Canadian Pacific sunset. Those on board were required to wear masks except when eating and drinking, and it was comforting to know that everyone had to be tested within 48 hours of embarkation.

We sailed through the night to Ketchikan, our first Alaskan port. This city calls itself the salmon capital of Alaska. Don’t dare call their city government building’s color pink. It’s salmon, of course. Unfortunately, we were a bit late to see the fish return to their spawning grounds. Some parts of town reeked of their dead carcasses. I assume readers know that salmon begin to die immediately after they lay their eggs.

Even the bears don’t like to eat the “zombie” fish.

Next stop was Juneau, the capital of Alaska. Its choice for the state government is amazing when one considers the size of the state and where the city is located.

Though there have been several efforts over the years to move the capital to a more central location (the small town of Willow was approved in the late 1970s, and legislators voted in favor of the measure just last February), the projected cost of $8 billion to relocate the government have prevented the move so far. We visited the Mendenhall Glacier and famous Nugget Falls. We were warned about bears roaming the area, but we never saw any.

We sailed on to Skagway, a name readers of The Call of The Wild will recognize as the start of the Chilkoot Trail to the northwest and White Pass on the northeastern side of the mountains. The Alaska gold rush started here, though only a handful of hardy souls made any money from gold. Many more made their fortunes selling supplies to prospectors. The history of the area is fascinating. We rode a narrow-gage train to the top of the pass and visited Gold Rush Cemetery back near town where some of the area’s most famous and infamous characters are buried. On a sign, we read the story of one man who attempted to rob a bank in town with a couple of sticks of dynamite in his coat. During the hold up, his gun discharged and the dynamite exploded. It is said the man’s head was the only part of his body that remained, so he was never identified. Several other tombstones bear no names for

other reasons.

A gorgeous waterfall lies just a short hike from the burial grounds, providing a sense of peace to the troubled souls buried in the rainforest below.

We witnessed the majestic beauty of Glacier Bay National Park and College Fjord from the deck of our ship. Though we heard lots of “thunder” from the glaciers, I only managed to witness a minor episode of calving, the term for chunks of ice falling into the bay. The sheer size of these ancient frozen fields was awe-inspiring.

Our final port was Whittier, though we didn’t see much of the town due to fog and the fact that there isn’t much of a town to see. We boarded an excursion train bound for Denali National Park and eight hours of rocking and rolling. At the start, we entered the 2½-mile Whittier Tunnel. It is one lane only and is shared by both the train and automobiles. On the hour, traffic goes one way, and on the half hour, the other way. I’m not sure how the train fits into that schedule, but Alaskans make it work somehow. Cars drive on top of the train tracks. The sunny weather on the far end was the complete opposite of where we entered.

The scenery was spectacular, and the narration was interesting. The cheeseburger I had for lunch set me back $17. But, hey, it included potato chips. The piece of lemon cheesecake my wife and I shared was $11. We soon came to realize, however, these prices would be all too common as we headed toward the park.

We caught a view of Mt. Denali in its full glory, though we were quite far away. I would say it was like sighting Pikes Peak from just west of Limon. At more than 20,000 feet in height, it is almost always obscured by clouds. In fact, only 30 percent of visitors ever see its summit.

On our first full day in the park, we took a lengthy wilderness tundra tour by bus. The day was cloudy, so there were no further Denali sightings for us. We did, however, spot a grizzly bear, a number of caribou, several moose (including one unfortunate bull with only one antler), a golden eagle, and some dall sheep. Our leaf peeking timing was perfect, as fall comes early to this part of the country. The reds,

yellows, and oranges were beyond amazing.

I could write so much more about this voyage, but I don’t want to run the risk of boring readers more than I usually do. Anyway, any description of this part of America I could provide would fall short of doing it justice. Suffice it to say, Alaska is as advertised. I am hoping I can someday make this once-in-a-lifetime trip a second time.

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