Saturday, June 24, 2017

Cruising the Inside Passage: White Pass Yukon Route Train Ride

alaska travel

Our last excursion in Alaska was a train ride from Skagway to the White Pass Summit. That first photo up there is my favorite from this ride. It doesn't even look real, does it? Actually I was so caught up in the moment I don't think I grasp that it does actually look a little treacherous.

train to white pass summit

The train literally leaves right from the boat dock and and brings you back to the same spot roughly three and a half hours later. It was the most convenient thing ever and so much fun. After boarding and securing our seats the train left and just a mile or so up the tracks they announced that we could go out to the platform and stand.

white pass summit yukon route

 I had no idea that would even be an option!

caution sign on train

I immediately jumped up and headed for the platform at the rear of our car to secure a good spot for our little foursome. I just knew there would be a mad rush and so I wanted to stake out our territory. I'm so glad I did, otherwise I'd never have gotten this amazing video!


I waited...no one followed me. I looked inside the car and everyone was just sitting in their seats. On the platform of the adjoining car an Australian gentlemen with an enviable camera said "I thought I'd be fighting people off over here. There's people asleep in there! I mean, you paid your money didn't you? Might as well get the most out of it, I say!"

alaska train

 Eventually a woman and her husband joined me and while she leaned over the edge with me to look at the view he stood in the middle of the platform and said "I wish you wouldn't do that."

alaska train

I like to call myself a cautious adventurer. I don't like danger, not really. So though a few of these pics look a little scary, I promise I was perfectly safe the whole time. Even if I was leaning over a gate, just a little, to get the video and some of the pictures.

white pass yukon rail

 Notice how lush and green everything is at the beginning of the ride.

cruising the inside passage excursion

 As the train began to ascend the mountain I caught this glimpse of another train coming up where we had just been. The ascent wasn't that noticeable so this sight surprised me.

white pass yukon rail

 Now the trade off for being outside the car was that I completely missed all the interesting history of the railroad, gold rush, and sketchy characters who opened up this area. But, hey, that's what the internet is for. For history of this railroad as well as information about riding it, check out American-Rails.com

So many horses died on this route it was known as "Dead Horse Trail." You don't put that on a tourist brochure so it's just called White Pass. Probably best. 

white pass trail

By the time we reached the area near the Canadian border it was cold and the snow was still fairly deep along the tracks. I'm pretty sure I'd have stayed home in the lower 48 and opened up a dress shop or something. Trudging around up here on the way to the Klondike to look for gold doesn't seem like a good idea to me at all. See what I mean? Cautious adventurer. Plus, I really like to be warm and oh, I don't know...alive.

white pass yukon rail

At the summit the landscape looked moonlike.

white pass summit alaska

Hello, there, Canada!

white pass summit alaska

It might have been spring in Skagway but at the summit it was still winter.

alaska

Seriously, no amount of gold.

yukon rail


So along this part I had to be careful not to stick my neck out too far, for obvious reasons. See that rock? Building this railroad was a blast. Literally. Through 16 feet of rock in many places and that isn't even talking about tunnels through mountains.

yukon rail


The Food Maven joined me even thought she is scared of heights, but you'd never know it! Look how relaxed she looks!


Now for my favorite photographs of the day. I saved the best for last. Of course the very best one of all is that one at the top of this post.

white pass yukon route

train in alaska


white pass yukon route



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cruising the Inside Passage: The Best Excursion We've Ever Taken

juneau glacier

The title of this post is a pretty bold statement because we've been cave tubing in Belize, spent a day at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, and done a vodka tasting in Russia. Which I only vaguely remember. 

Maybe that's why I couldn't find a post about it. 

Sometimes we book our adventures through the ship and other times we find them on our own. After this trip however, I have to say my new goal in life is to do a helicopter ride on every vacation.

glacier

 I'm going to have to sell a lot of honey to make that happen, because it was among the pricier things we've opted for. The only other thing that came close was the Beaches at Normandy for around the same price but that was a 12 hour excursion that included lunch in an ancient chateau. This excursion lasted one hour. I know. I'm the same person who buys most of my clothes at thrift stores. Vacation girl has got a totally skewed sense of money.
 
alaska helicopter tours


    Okay, let me back up. When you sign up online to purchase this frozen joy ride there is a little box on the form for your weight. Are you with me, ladies? Since I'm not in the habit of regularly weighing myself a made a rough estimate. Ahem. Rough being the operative word there. When we arrived at the airport to check in for our tour, the first thing they had us do was to step on a scale.

On vacation.

helicopter tour

Let's face it those are two things that should never be put together in a sentence or anywhere else. I peeked around to see the number. Let's just say after a few days on a cruise ship there was a slight discrepancy between my guess and the reality. Next I sat down and got some nifty boots that would be useful for trekking around on ice and it was outside to be lined up according to weight and balance. Finally our chopper- I was into it, okay?- returned and we got loaded and strapped in.


helicopter excursion inside passage

The views on the way to the glacier were amazing!

coastal helicopters


There it is! There are several glaciers in the Juneau Ice Field. This one is called Herbert.


herbert glacier

Looking for a place to land...

juneau ice field

Look at my fancy boots. They make sense now.

shore excursion inside  passage

So I was paying for this trip which is why he looks so relieved. He's really excitied, I promise. 

walking on glacier


This whole thing was like being on another planet. First, it was absolutely silent. Like nothing I've ever experienced before.

juneau excursion

You think it's just going to be all white, but there was this blue in little melty spots that was other-worldly.

juneau shore excursion


This is basically his Father's Day, Birthday, and Christmas all rolled into one.


juneau shore excursion


Let's talk crevasses. Remember that I told you I was reading a book about some Stampeders who came up here for the gold rush back in the day? Well on three separate occasions the author witnessed fellow travelers disappearing ahead of him. Men, sleds, dogs, supplies--gone. They had fallen into creavasses hundreds of feet deep never to be heard or seen again. This girl was being super careful about where she stepped. 

juneau alaska

The glacier itself was devoid of life but there was this one little fir twig that had been blown there by the wind.

glacier ice

My soul mate and I were having the time of our lives out there. We love any excuse for hats of all kinds and ginormous sunglasses. I have to confess I bought these aviator style ones for this trip just because of this helicopter ride. Oh come on, that's what Target is FOR!

coastal helicopter excursion

Being cold makes us super silly. Or maybe that's just being together. Check out this video of a little gushing river of glacial water disappearing into a crevasse. I really regret not reaching down to get a drink from it.

glacial stream

I'm going to be dreaming of this on those hundred degree days when I'm wearing my bee suit and doing hive checks.

Do you like adventures? Please share in the comments about your favorite one, I love reading about other people's travels!


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Cruising the Inside Passage: Whale Watching in Juneau

travel

For Christmas my daughter and her husband gave us this cute card with the offer to pay for an excursion on our upcoming cruise to Alaska. She hates to be cold and obviously cannot imagine why anyone would go on a vacation anyplace without palm trees. Did you know that research shows that investing your money in experiences returns more happiness for your money than buying stuff?

There is so much about our family being revealed in this card. Anyway, we chose whale watching!

wildlife tour

Our travel companions, The Food Maven and Travel Bully did all the research and found a lovely whale watching tour. Juneau Tours and Whale Watch provided a fun and informative morning on the water in Auke Bay and the Inside Passage. The weather was cool and cloudy, just what we want when escaping Memphis heat and humidity, with breathtaking views in every direction. We did in fact see whales and some seals from a distance.

juneau alaska

Later just as I was about to get a great video of a whale's fluke about to go under this boat crossed right in front of my field of vision! GRRR.


My husband doing his best Captain Ahab.

whale blow

Thar she blows! Everything about this experience made me want to talk like a salty old sailor.

whale watching

There are rules. We liked that.

auke bay

These humpback whales have traveled from Hawaii and are feeding on the krill in this area. So they were basically just thinking--FOOD! Kind of like me when I'm on a cruise. Maybe a hungry whale is my spirit animal. 

After our bus returned us to the cruise dock we headed to the Red Dog Saloon.
 
juneau alaska

You've got to love a place with sawdust on the floor. There were so many things to look at it was really hard to focus on the menu. Did I mention that I am super distracted as well as indecisive when eating at someplace new? This place had way too much stuff for me to look at and wonder about to be able to focus on reading a menu.

juneau alaska

The General and the Travel Bully take a break to think about the next adventure.


There were a lot of great signs in this town but this one combined with the picture above is super amusing to me.

amusing sign

We did all of this and still had time to head back to the ship for lunch and change of clothes for the afternoon excursion...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Cruising the Inside Passage: Icy Straight Point

alaska


We arrived in Icy Straight Point the day after Ketchikan. We hadn't planned an excursion here and that turned out to be a good choice because this is the most beautiful port for roaming around, taking in the seriously stunning view, and eating doughnuts. Okay, maybe eating the doughnuts isn't something you have on your bucket list, but you should add it right now.


native dance

Our day began at breakfast with my husband spotting whales right between the ship and shore. He's a regular Captain Ahab, apparently. Our ship was so close to shore it was hard to believe the water could possibly be deep enough for them to swim between the two but later we learned that immediately offshore the drop off is 160 feet deep. Okay, no wading then! 

We were greeted at the port by a group of teenagers demonstrating their native dances. Their colorful garb with the breathtaking landscape all around made me feel like I was in Alaska more profoundly than I had up until that moment.

alaska

We were immediately in love with this landscape. Everywhere we looked there was a level of natural beauty it is hard to describe. We were headed for a little hike through a rain forest nearby but stopped first to walk along the rocky shore. You have never seen a group of adults more excited about rocks. With every step we discovered treasures so beautiful that they looked unnatural, magical even. We picked up a few to bring home and photographed some of the beauties too big to carry. I am actually embarrassed by how many rock pictures I have. I do love details when I travel.

alaska rocks

I'm only sharing these two. The straight lines and colors just dazzled us! 

rocks

The trail through the beautiful temperate rain forest was the perfect introduction to the area.


Sometimes you just have to take that cliche touristy photo.


The whales were visible from time to time throughout the day. When they appeared everything and everyone stopped to take in the sight.

alaska whales

My favorite style of photography. Some charming detail in the front with a sweeping vista in the background.

alaska

Like the rocks, there are a ton of these but I'm sparing you. 


Okay, y'all. Let's talk dandelions. Alaskan dandelions are on steroids. They are everywhere, HUGE, and treated like wildflowers instead of weeds. Maybe this is how beautiful they get when everyone isn't constantly spraying them with Round Up. Okay, so dandelions were also a theme of the day.


I'm a little disappointed that I didn't do a better job of taking pictures that give you a better feeling of the beautiful and charming complex they have built at this port.

For a description and history of this area check out, Icy Straight Point/Hoonah, Alaska: Our History.
 
It was well thought and and adorably constructed. There were restaurants, the old cannery had been turned into a museum and was filled with darling shops. There were outdoor eating areas, the longest zip line in the world, and then there was this. 

alaska donuts

This is the Salvation Army Doughnut Hut. Or as I called it, Icy Straight Mecca. They are making the tiniest most delicious doughnuts ever right there and shaking them in a bag of sugar. There are various flavors of sugar like Maple Bacon. MAPLE BACON! And apple cider, cinnamon, vanilla, and about a dozen other flavors. Here's their link on Yelp. This is where Paleo comes to die.

My favorite thing about this area was how photogenic it all was. There was a stark charm that reminded me of other arctic areas of the world. But as you can tell from the photos I really struggled with the glaring light of Alaska in May.



alaska

You can take a bus into Hoonah for a round trip of five dollars. It was so beautiful though that we walked back. Against a fierce icy wind the whole time. Walking to Hoonah and catching the bus back would have been a better plan.

We stopped into the Icy Straight Point Brewery while wondering around. So adorable.

alaska brewery

On the walk back we passed this sweet cemetery covered with dandelions and forget me nots. Again, I have a ridiculous amount of photos of this graveyard.


Okay, maybe the walk back was worth it even with the pounding cold wind. 


I couldn't resist trying to photograph an Alaskan bumblebee. You guessed it. So many photos. 

dandelion




This is one of my favorite photos of the day. I think it symbolizes Alaska perfectly.


What could possibly be a better way to end a day than this? Whales even swam by one last time while we were sitting here recounting our day and saying "We're sitting by a fire in Alaska!"

alaskan cruise port