Sunday, June 8, 2014

Alaska! Planes, Trains & Automobiles

On May 29th, we loaded the CAR for the first leg of our Alaskan adventure, and headed West to Seattle.  Much of the driving part of the trip was along the path of the Oregon Trail.  As we drove this rugged countryside, I was once again overtaken by the thought of just how difficult the journey West had been for the early settlers.  It is almost impossible to imagine covered wagons filled with household goods going overland in this territory.  There are steep mountains and valleys, wide rivers and gorges to deal with, not to mention wind and weather.  These were some hardy people for sure.  Our journey was only 12 hours in a comfortable automobile, with stops along the way for food and drink and bathroom facilities, none of which would have been available to those who crossed in the 1800's! Can you imagine coming across a gorge like this in a covered wagon?  And believe me, the depth of this gorge is not captured in this picture!

The scenery on our drive was absolutely amazing and so diverse.  Every corner we turned provided a new vista, a new viewpoint on what a beautiful and interesting country we are lucky to live in.

When those original crossings were made there were no bridges, oh there were probably a few ferries for those who crossed later, but can you imagine the hardships encountered by those who made the first pilgrimages across this vast and varied landscapes.  I found it mind boggling to consider.

Plains and parries where there was little, if any water....
Where lovely farms sit peacefully in the valley now, challenges of finding water, fighting difficult weather,  finding food and providing for their families.

There was all kinds of wildlife, and they had to hunt to provide for their families and themselves and hope they didn't become the prey instead of the hunter.

This West is some rugged country to say the least.
 Rugged and beautiful...much of it is still in the process of being tamed...much of it, thank goodness, is being preserved in it's pristine state.

I am thankful for all the State and National Parks we saw along the way.  Remember this is June, and note the snow still in the mountains.  Those long ago travelers had to face snowy passes in their passages to the West..and this is JUNE.!

Timing had to be everything, or they would have frozen to death or fallen from ice covered trails.  Even with modern equipment, drilling and blasting through the mountains is still difficult work.  Now as we travel across country we find beautiful farms and ranches which are the evidence of those who were willing to brave the hardships necessary to settle the American West.

But this is just the beginning of our Alaskan Adventure story...there is so much more!

The next leg of our trip would take place on a Ship, the Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas....We arrived in Seattle the night before our cruise was to leave from the Port.  I had to drive from our hotel to pick up friends who were coming in by PLANE.  By the way, the traffic in Seattle is absolutely terrible (especially at six in the afternoon heading south!).  I was able, however, to pick up my friends and head back to the hotel for a light meal before heading to bed.  So far Cars, Planes and next to the Boat/Ship part of our trip.

Readying ourselves to board the Rhapsody, Aaron, Melanie and the girls take time to pose for a pre-boarding picture.

It was rather chilly in Seattle on our departure day, so I was glad I had packed many layers of clothing for the upcoming trip!  That seems to be the trick for an Alaska cruise.  You don't actually need heavy, heavy clothing - just layers of clothing you can put on or take off as necessary. We found the weather could be quite changeable.

The Rhapsody is a smaller ship in the Royal line.  The larger ships (mega ships like Oasis and Allure) couldn't make the journey through the inside passage and the narrow passageways to the glaciers...and believe me you do want to SEE the glaciers up close!

We had some of our excursions previously booked, so we were anxious to get going and see the beautiful landscapes awaiting us.  From the Cascades, to the Olympic Range and much to see so little time!

Our first excursion in Alaska was a Salmon Sport Fishing trip, which turned out to be more of a glorious boat ride than a fishing trip.  I did land one small Salmon, but he he was too small to keep and had to be returned to the 48 degree water of the Pacific to grow a bit more.

Although no one managed to catch any keepers that day, we saw incredible scenery including a huge Ice Sheet in the area!  Which was visible from our cruiser...and by the way, it was a lovely boat.

In spite of our failure at fishing, our Captain was determined to make this a memorable experience for the six of us aboard.

Several times during our trolling, he whistled for Bald Eagles which frequent the area.

At the very end of our trip, the Eagles finally heard his calls.  It turns out he carries a large bag of fat strips to feed them, and they are aware of his frequent visits and the fatty treats.

At first there was one, then two...and finally, about TEN of them were circling above the boat...soaring and diving as he chucked the pieces of fat into the air around us.  Here are a few shots of them!
So, in spite of the fact we caught no King Salmon (apparently it was a bit early in the season), we had an amazing time watching these graceful, gigantic birds swoop and soar around us.

They are definitely beautiful and I was glad to see so many of them thriving in the Alaskan Wilderness.

We didn't manage to see any whales on this leg of the trip, but we did see a couple of really cute sea lions checking us out in the port....perhaps they smelled the fat the Captain had brought along for the Eagles...

 So, in spite of several hours of unproductive fishing, we actually had a beautiful afternoon in Juneau, the first leg of our Alaskan tour on the Inside Passage.

Melanie's family had decided on a Sea Plan excursion which flew them over FIVE glaciers.  Livie, who is seven, is now in love with Sea Planes...even buying a toy one to bring home. Needless to say, it was an amazing adventure for them, and one I would highly recommend to all.

On to Scagway, and our TRAIN adventure!  Kevin and I boarded the White Pass and Yukon Railway's Van for the first leg (BUS) up one side of the pass, before boarding the White Pass and Yukon TRAIN for the trip down the other side of the pass.  On this excursion we learned all about the men and women who came searching for Gold in the Yukon.  They were called "stampeders" for good reason.  So many were taken with the thought of getting rich after the depression, that they literally stampeded to Alaska and the White Pass in the quest to get to the Yukon and become wealthy.  Looking down from the train at the tiny path through the Pass which these individuals (men and women by the way) took in their attempt to reach the gold fields was revealing of just how badly they wanted to find the end of the rainbow!  The trail was narrow and treacherous.  They couldn't actually cross the area in the warmer weather because the terrain was so incredibly rough they had to wait for the rivers to freeze so they could take their goods sliding down the ice toward the fields.  Those who tried to take pack animals to carry their 2,000 pounds of goods required for permission to cross, found that the terrain was too rough even for them! One gorge contains the bones of around three thousand horses and mules and oxen which died along the way.

 Many of the men would carry 50 to 60 pounds at a time across the pass and go back until all their goods were ferried to the trailhead to the gold fields.  Can you imagine!?  Here are a few pictures of that very terrain...Oh, by the way, if you go to Skagway, DO NOT MISS the TRAIN!!!

 The individuals who will transport you up and down both sides of the pass are extremely well informed and you will learn more than you can imagine on this three hour tour.

 Flags along the track at the Canadian Border.

The pass is actually at the bottom of this deep is barely a foot wide in most places...rocky and cold and long....

Calling this a Gulch...doesn't give you any idea how deep and frightening this track looked...the one above is the old one...but the train actually does travel along on tracks that are only three feet wide because blasting the sides of the mountains to make it any wider would have been too expensive.

Sawtooth Mountain...intimidating to look at for sure.

The town of Skagway is an amazingly preserved vignette of what Skagway was during the time of the Gold Rush.  Most of the buildings have been meticulously preserved, and it is a joy to visit there. There are lots of local artists and if you are interested in obtaining some beautiful, original pieces they are available at reasonable prices.

Our kids went to the Dog Mushers camp and also had an amazing day!  They learned all about the dogs and even got to go for a ride.  I think the little one enjoyed playing with the puppies most of all. They learned most of the dogs are called "Alaskan Mutts" as they have mixed various breeds to obtain the best dogs for speed and strength.  These dogs LOVE to run by the way, and get extremely excited when it is their turn to take someone out!

Now, on to the glacier.  I can't tell you how awesome this experience was.  I can show you some pictures, but we were a MILE away when we took them, and you can't begin to imagine how HUGE the glacier actually is.  Along our way up Tracy's Arm, we began to see more and more little "bergs" which got larger and larger as we progressed up the Arm.  We had a little seal follow us for quite a ways, and I had to wonder whether someone had fed him from the ship at some point.  Here are a few pictures representative of what we saw along the way!

 As you can see from just these few pictures, the scenery is amazing!  Can you believe that BLUE!?! The ice berg on the top right looked like a beautiful exotic gem floating atop the water.  It was huge!  It was hollow!

Sweet Friend Roberta stands in front of the glacier for her "bucket list" picture! This is Alaska .... Dawes Glacier in Tracy's Arm!

Although it was chilly, it was not as cold as I was afraid it might be.  We did order FOUR pots of coffee to the cabin however, to warm our hands!

This is another glacier peeking down through the mountains.  We were unable to see it until the clouds began to lift, and then it was like a mysterious blue secret slipping downward toward the sea...look how green everything is surrounding the waterfall at the bottom of the canyon...breathtaking!
We hated to leave the glacier, but we were soon off (after the Captain made three complete 360 degree turns in the fiord so everyone had plenty of time to view and capture pictures of the glacier) back down Tracy's Arm toward our next destination of Victoria, British Columbia!
This was the first time I had a balcony on the rear of the ship! I will do it again.  The balcony was spacious and beautiful as well as quiet and the views were unsurpassed...look at this sunset!

This lovely BOAT was our transportation to the San Juan Islands for Whale Watching.  There are three pods of Orca in British Columbia J, K and L.  The J pod was the one which we spotted and got a chance to follow ... one of those (and we were fortunate enough to spot her) is Granny..the oldest Orca in recorded existence at 103!  We learned a lot about these beautiful creatures and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to spend about four hours watching them move about in the icy waters off British Columbia.

 This lovely manned lighthouse sits in the harbor outside British Columbia...there were seals sunning themselves on the rocks at the base of the point.

At first I was worried we might have another day of a boat ride "searching" and not "finding" what we were looking for, but it didn't take long before Orca were spotted of the shore of the San Juan Islands and we were off for a great whale watching adventure!

What a glorious adventure this was...if you are ever in British Columbia, you must take the comfortable, well appointed Orca Spirit for the best whale watching ever! The crew was super informative and we learned tons about the whales that day!

It's funny how things work out sometimes...I was afraid that Victoria, British Columbia, might be the least interesting on our Alaskan cruise, but this definitely wasn't the case.  After disembarking from the Orca Spirit we began to make our way back to the ship.  On the way we noticed this lovely Pedi Cab girl and enlisted her to take us on a tour around Victoria.  Haley is a great tour guide and took us all around Victoria in the Pedi Cab ...if you are ever there, be sure to look her up! She is great!
Victoria is chock full of beautiful homes.  The cost of living here might be a bit prohibitive however, as the AVERAGE (and they are small) home starts at $850,000!  Food and other living expenses are quite high here also.  It is a great place to visit however!

Beacon Hill Park, which is only ever visited by about 2 percent of the tourists to visit Victoria, is absolutely glorious.  It seems flowers and trees grow bigger here than anywhere I have ever been.

I can only share a few of the pictures here, but take my word for it...this park was well worth the visit.  I really believe the Pedi Cab experience is one not be be missed if you want to get the most out of your Victoria visit.

The Empress Hotel (which has a famous Tea Room within its walls) is impressive inside and out with some of the most beautiful wood and lighting you will see anywhere.

And, of course, ever city has its China Town.  There were tiny alleyways with store fronts lining the alleys as well as the street.  Lovely.

This is an average home in Victoria.  Remember what I said about the prices? Stained glass is abundant in many of the beautiful old Victorian style homes.

They are small, but quite lovely and all are surrounded by the most lovely flower gardens.

On the way back to the port we couldn't help but chuckle that the area is "Ogden Point" here in Victoria, British Columbia....while we are visiting from Ogden, Utah!  Small worlds in a lot of ways!

Thanks Haley, for one of the best tours we have ever had!

I think Victoria may merit another visit.

Did we really bring this much stuff with us! Geesh!!!

Last but not least, we are on our way back to Seattle to spend a day and night in that lovely city.

 Our View from the Hotel Warwick in Seattle was awesome!  This is a really nice hotel on 5th in Seattle and in walking distance to Pikes Place Market and just a couple blocks from the Monorail which takes you to the Space Needle.


View from the top of the Great Wheel pictured here!

Did I REALLY say I wanted to to this!?

Crazy Fish throwing guys, and the most beautiful flowers for such cheap prices.  Pikes Place Market is a crossroads with every kind of ethnic restaurant imaginable and flea market object possible as well as a cheese maker (yep, we tried it, and it was delicious). Bought some cheese to take home. 

They had a rope attached under this fish and yanked it when unsuspecting people were standing close by..confession...I JUMPED!
Our Night time view of the Needle.

After a beautiful day and night in Seattle we headed home for Ogden.  What a wonderful time was had by all.  It's time for a rest now!



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