North to Alaska!

For years we’ve talked about visiting Alaska after we retired and finally it was time for us to make that journey.  This trip would help us achieve one goal by being the 50th state we have visited.  It would also bring us one step closer to another goal of caching in 50 states…making it the 49th state we’ve cached in.  Mona really has never wanted to go to Alaska as she hates the cold but she is big on reaching our goals, so she went…but only after having lodged a formal protest.  She’d go, but that didn’t mean she’d like it!

Seattle

Our start was typical for us in that we took the long route to St. Louis, picking up geocaches in six more Illinois counties.  This made for a leisurely beginning to our trip and we got to cross the Illinois river at Kampsville; something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

We flew Alaska Airlines to Seattle…getting our trip started There is great scenery on this flight path especially as you fly over the Cascades and see the snow-covered volcanoes.  Our Seattle hotel was just a couple of blocks from the Space Needle so we walked over to get a few pictures before heading to bed.  Next morning our trip would begin!

 

 The Carnival Miracle

Our ship was the Carnival Miracle. The Miracle is about a thousand feet long, weighs 88,500 tonsand carries 3000 passengers and crew.

 

We boarded the ship about noon and spent the next few hours getting acquainted with its layout.  At 4:00 we stood on deck as the ship left Seattle and cruised west on the Puget Sound.  The skies were clear and the seas were calm…we had our fingers crossed hoping this would set the tone for our trip. We even saw a whale spouting while we ate dinner; surely, this was a good omen!

Next morning we woke to driving rain and eight foot seas.  Winds were steady at 45 mph with gusts over 50.  Hmm….what happened to our good omen?  No matter, we had a full day of shows, games, meeting new people and of course whale watching.  We managed to spot a couple in spite of the rain.  I was starting to worry that Mona’s fears of a cold and rainy trip were to come to pass.
Whale watching

Next morning we woke to calm seas and sunny skies.  We had left the Pacific and were now in the Alaskan Inner Passage cruising to Tracy Arm Fjord.  It didn’t take long for us to spot our first whale.  Then another, then another!  There were humpback whales everywhere along our route!  There were also pods of Dall’s porpoises, sea lions, and harbor seals swimming alongside our ship.  Utterly amazing!!!  Oh, and of course the scenery was nothing to sneeze at…towering snow-capped mountains plunging straight into the sea.  This route is simply awe-inspiring!

There’s whales out there!

 Tracy Arm Fjord & Glaciers!

Our excursion boat pulling up to the ship

Our ship turned into the Tracy Arm Fjord, going ever so slowly so it wouldn’t scrape against the side of the sheer walls and so it would not hit any of the bigger icebergs that cluttered the passage.  We got about two miles away from the South Sawyer Glacier before we stopped.  We could see the top of the glacier, but it was too risky to take the Miracle any farther.   Luckily, we had pre-booked an excursion to get a closer look.  A small boat came up to our ship and we stepped across a gangway laid from our ship to the boat.

Iceberg

In no time, we were speeding farther up the fjord for our closer look with our boat weaving its way around the icebergs that had calved off the glacier.  The bergs are beautiful and all different sorts of shapes.  Some of them have the most iridescent cobalt blue color that seems to shimmer in the sunlight. Our guide told us that this is because the ice is so densely packed in the berg that it captures all the spectrums of light except for the blue.  We had never seen anything like this before!

Growlers, Bergies and Bergs

The fjord was created by glaciers.  In fact, the entire Inside Passage was formed
by glaciers.  They gouged out all these channels in the last ice age which ended about 15,000 years ago.  Most glaciers are now in retreat, and many are receding at an alarming pace due to global warming.  Our guide told us that the South Sawyer Glacier had retreated over a mile since she started working there three years ago.  As the glaciers retreat the seas rushes in.  The result is spectacular scenery with shear walls of stone covered with forests of green.  The water is filled with growlers, bergies and icebergs.  Growlers are small floating pieces of ice that the boat can run over and they make a growling sound as they pass under the hull.  Bergies are small icebergs, less than 3 meters in height and icebergs are the big dudes over 3 meters tall.  As you look at the pictures, remember that ninety percent of the iceberg is below water.

 

Our first glimpse of South Sawyer Glacier

Finally, we turned a corner and there was the face of the South Sawyer Glacier in all its glory!  It was HUGE!  It’s about 700 feet high and about a mile wide.  Up close you can’t get a full picture of it.  We got within about a quarter of a mile of the glacier; any closer and the boat would be in danger from the icebergs calving off the huge glacier.

The glacier has immense areas of compacted white ice, other areas of dirt/rubble that it has gouged out in its travels from the ice shelf and finally caverns of cobalt blue ice.  Absolutely breathtaking!!!!  We saw several icebergs calve off the glacier with a huge roar and we saw harbor seals riding on some of the bergs.  We were in awe the entire time we were near the glacier…I wish I had better words or better pictures….it’s simply indescribable!

At South Sawyer Glacier!

All too soon it was time to leave.  Our little boat worked its way back west and then went up another channel to our second glacier, the Sawyer Glacier.  Its face is a little smaller than the South Glacier, but it’s just as beautiful and breathtaking.  We spent another half hour there, but finally had to reluctantly leave to link up with our ship.  We got there just in time because our ship headed north as soon as the last person crossed from the boat to the ship.  Back to ship life: shows, music, dining, whale-watching, etc. etc. etc.

Glacier Closeups

Skagway

Next morning we were in Skagway, Alaska.  This is a tiny town of 900 in the summer (200 in the winter).  It was a boom town of 25,000 in the gold rush years of 1898 and 99.

 

Here we finally touched Alaskan soil for the first time…our 50th state!

We walked from the ship to a narrow gauge train for a trip up the mountains to the Yukon.  This was yet another ride with amazing scenery as we made our way up, alongside a steep valley carved out by glaciers.  We didn’t see much wildlife on the ride, but the scenery was outstanding!  After about ninety minutes we crossed the border into Canada, into the Yukon.  Just across the border they uncoupled the engines, brought them to the back of the train, recoupling them so we could return to Skagway.

After the train ride we wandered the nine blocks of the main street of Skagway.  This is where all the tourist shops are, along with the great restaurants. And of course since we’re tourists we visited them all!

 

We found a couple of caches, achieving our 49th state and we shopped for trinkets to bring home.  We then had lunch in the local brewery; sipping beer flavored with spruce tree tips and sampled the locally-caught halibut and salmon sandwiches…which were incredible!  We ended our Skagway visit by walking back to the ship with a crew member from the Philippines.  A nice ending to a great day!

 

Hmm…about that term “day”.  At this time of the year it never really gets dark.  Sunset is at 10 PM and sunrise is at 4 AM, but the sun never gets very far below the horizon so it’s kind of twilight all night long.

Juneau
Downtown Skagway

Next morning began with us docking at Juneau, Alaska.  A few facts about Juneau.  It’s the capital of Alaska and about thirty thousand people live here.  There are no roads to Juneau and you can only get there by plane, by boat or by birth canal. As we docked, bald eagles circled our ship and dive-bombed into the waters alongside to fish.  We hadn’t seen any eagles on the trip until now, but Juneau definitely made up for the dearth from the other ports!  We disembarked and boarded a bus for our next excursion: whale watching.

 

Whales!
Soon we were on a smaller boat headed out into Stephen’s Channel.  Within minutes we spotted our first whale.  We followed it around as it spouted three or four times, and then dove, showing us its tail as it began its deep dive.  Love this!!!  We then moved on to other whales, with them repeating the sequence of several spouts before they dove.  We even saw a pair of humpbacks doing this in synch!  Thrilling!!!  No matter how many whales we see it’s always an emotional experience!

 

Most emotional was when we saw one whale seemingly stand on its head for several seconds before it plunged to the deep.  A 45 foot animal weighing in at 90,000 pounds and it stands on its head!??!?!  No pictures of this as we were too spellbound to even breathe, much less to lift a camera to our eyes.

 

Our boat then came up alongside Shelter Island where there was a colony of sea lions basking in the sun and frolicking in the water.  The young sea lions seemed to be playing tag in the water and there were constant splashes and yelps as they played.  There were also bald eagles in the trees above them…kind of like life guards, watching over the youngsters at play.
Mendenhall Glacier
After about four hours on the boat we reboarded our bus and headed to see another glacier.  This is the magnificent Mendenhall Glacier, just outside of Juneau.  Here, you walk down a little trail from the visitor’s center where you take in the glacier in all its magnificent glory.  Amazing. Beautiful.  Breath-taking.  Awesome…..none of those words is worthy of describing this glacier!  This was a short visit and all too soon we headed back to the bus.

 

While waiting on the bus we heard a stirring in the bushes behind us.  It was a
porcupine!  Neither of us had ever seen one in the wild before. The porcupine didn’t mind us at all. He just kept going from bush to bush…snacking on the way!

 

Duck Farts
Our first wild porcupine!
The Carnival Miracle from Mount Roberts.
The bus dropped us off at the ship and at the foot of Mount Robert’s Tram.  We took the tram up the mountain and we loved the great vistas of Juneau and the surrounding waters.  There were even two bald eagles in trees near the top.  They look as big as three year old kids sitting in the tops of the trees.After returning on the tram we visited The Red Dog Saloon.  This place has sawdust floors, rowdy musicians and an even rowdier staff.  The specialty drinks were Duck Farts and The Cheap Shit…no wonder everyone is rowdy!  Had a blast here and we highly recommend stopping at this particular tourist trap!
Victoria Harbor Scene
Victoria, BC

Our final port of call was Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.  We strolled alongside the harbor…enjoying all the flowers and landscaped gardens.  This is a very English area with a Parliament building and double-decker buses.  It’s well known for its beautiful gardens and formal afternoon teas.

All too soon our cruise was over.  We both teared up at the thought of leaving so soon.  Yes, even Mona was teary eyed.  She really likes Alaska….and yes, Margaret & Pete, Maryellen and Brian, we hear you saying “I told you so!”

Miracle Lobby Atrium
This was a wonderful trip in every respect.  The Miracle is a fantastic ship and we had great meals and enjoyed the largest stateroom we’ve ever had.  The weather in Alaska was perfect with temperatures in the 50s and sunshine every day we were in port.  Even the locals were amazed at the good weather.  They said, we were seeing mountain peaks that are rarely seen because of the rains and clouds.  Also we saw lots of wildlife including more whales and dolphins than we could count! Alaska is truly amazing!

Another Day in Seattle

We’re Going to Miss the Seafood

We ended the trip with an extra day in Seattle.  We cached at Geocaching Headquarters and we wandered around the piers the rest of the day. We had two fantastic seafood meals including our first dungenesss crab.  Total yum!!!

We caught our Alaska flight early the next morning and we got our final Alaska Trip farewell as we flew over a another magnificent glacier in the Cascades.

This was indeed an incredible trip and we are ready to go again!

 

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