Seeing the landscape of inland Alaska is awesome, but cruising the inside passage is truly magnificent. My husband, Ron, and I traveled to Alaska Aug. 18-30 for a wondrous land/cruise tour. In Part 1 (Oct. 2) I focused on the land portion, and now the focus shifts to the cruising part of the trip.
Friday and Saturday, Aug. 23-24 — Our elegant cruise ship and home for the next week embarked from Seward, and we spent the next day-and-a-half cruising. An exciting buzz, champagne, and our small but luxurious cabin greeted us soon after we boarded. It’s amazing how efficient the cabins are, with adequate storage, king-sized bed, and efficient bathroom as well as a large picture window. Bliss! Cruises are known to be generous and plentiful with all-day sumptuous dining and grazing, and we were not disappointed. Activities, nature presentations, and entertainment were abundant, and boredom was nonexistent.
On the first full day of cruising, the ship entered a fjord dominated by Hubbard Glacier, the largest glacier in North America. It is 26 miles long, and 6 miles wide along the waterfront. This remarkable mountain of ice is a startling aqua-blue color. Regular calving occurs, where first a spray of ice shards appears, followed by a huge chunk of ice dropping into the water, and then a booming sound eventually reaches the ears. This happens continually and is most impressive.
Sunday, Aug. 25 — Our first stop was Juneau, the Alaskan capital, which has no road access and can only be reached by air or water. We took a tour to Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls. Here we got a taste of the beauty of the coastline as we hiked to this ice and water feature extravaganza. Next was a delightful salmon bake. Of course Alaska is all about salmon, as millions of these large fish hatch, and eventually, spawn in the waterways.
Monday, Aug. 26 — In Skagway we boarded the White Pass train traveling through the mountains up to White Pass Summit. This trip was a true highlight with outstanding vistas, and a history of remarkable engineering. Along the way we learned the astounding tale of the Stampeders, who were intent on finding their fortunes. Gold was discovered in the Yukon Territory near Dawson City, and 100,000 people flocked to jumping-off points around Skagway in 1897. These mostly inexperienced fortune-seekers trekked up into the mountains to Lake Bennett where they began a 500-mile river and lakes route to the gold fields. Building the railway quickly followed, and the tracks cling to the mountainsides, traveling though tunnels, and over wooden trestles that are still in use to this day. This is a part of a trip to Alaska that is not to be missed.
Tuesday, Aug. 27 — Icy Strait Point on the island of Chichagoff, near the tiny town of Hoonah, is home to more brown bears than humans, and is a place where eagles soar overhead. It is surrounded by a towering rainforest and set against the backdrop of mist-shrouded mountains. Here is as close to a truly unspoiled wilderness as one can get. We went on a bear walk, but alas spotted no bears, and only one bald eagle. Just seeing this delightful wilderness was reward enough. Our Tlingit guide described what it was like to live year-round in Hoonah, where hunting, fishing, and tourism dominate the lives of the 700 residents. During the long winter months, life slows to a snail’s pace, with the townspeople coming together to support and reinforce each other while waiting for spring to arrive in May.
Wednesday, Aug. 28 — We had a free day to explore the charming town of Ketchikan. The salmon were running, and we watched in awe as thousands leapt through the rapids up the fish ladders of Ketchikan Creek. They spawn and die, and their hatchlings return to the sea in the spring. Remarkably the salmon have the resources to once again return to where they were hatched within a few years to repeat the process. We visited the fish hatchery, where a knowledgeable staff member related the tale of a salmon’s life journey. We stopped in at the Totem Heritage Center to view unique mid-19th-century totem poles. Totems were carved to honor important individuals, commemorate significant events, and to proclaim the lineage and social standing of their owners. We traversed the boardwalks of Creek Street — the infamous former red-light district — shopping, and eating fabulous homemade clam chowder.
We relaxed onboard ship during our one last day of cruising on Thursday, Aug. 29.
Alaska should be on everyone’s bucket list. It offers a unique perspective into what remains of the unspoiled wilderness of our most northern state, as well as an understanding of the pioneer spirit of the people who developed Alaska and the hardy citizens who continue to reside there.
Libby Kinder is a freelance writer and retired clinical mental health counselor. She and her husband have lived in southwest Colorado Springs for 14 years. Contact Libby with comments and travel ideas at email@example.com.