Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Alaska

Today we set off on a cruise on this ship, the Zaandam, which you can see here, sailing out of the Vancouver harbour, past Stanley Park, with the skyline in the background.

This is not the first time we've been to Alaska. However, although many cruises depart from Vancouver to Alaska throughout the summer season, I really had no interest in going until I discovered the Alaskan author, Dana Stabenow.

Somehow or other, in those mystery novels she writes, she showed me the great love that those who live in Alaska feel for that very special state. I can't remember the first book of hers that I read, for, usually, as soon as I discover an author I like, I read and often buy their backlist. But of that first book I remember several unrelated things. The first is that a single engined Cessna is as easy to drive as a car. Since there are few roads in Alaska, and in any event many of them are impassible for a good part of the year, travel by plane is just as common as going by car in the lower 48 states. The second was that, since for the fishing industry a period for fishing allowed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, called an "opening," can be as short as four hours, it's essential to know where the fish are. Spotter planes go out searching for the fish before the opening and radio the location so that the fleet can be right there and not miss any fishing time in travel. For some reason, those two things held great interest for me. As well there were great descriptions of Denali National Park and I was bound and determined that I would go to Alaska to see this place for myself.

So the following spring, 2001, for our 40th wedding anniversary, we took a combined cruise- land tour to Alaska, a seven day cruise from Vancouver to Seward with a five day land tour of the southeast part of the State. During the cruising we saw the marvelous glaciers up close and personal and lots of the wildlife of the region. We visited several towns on the panhandle, which are similar in aspect to British Columbia but everything became different when we came to Seward.

We travelled through the incredibly beautiful countryside, still covered with snow because it was May. We stopped to visit an Alaskan native cultural centre on the way to stay at a lodge in Denali Park. From the lodge we had the most fabulous view of Mt McKinley or Denali, the "high one," as it is more commonly called, the highest mountain in North America, at 20,320 feet. Often this magnificent mountain is obscured for days at a time, so we were very fortunate that it was clear for the two days we stayed there.

The interesting thing about the landscape there was the strange evergreen trees which are so small with short branches, considering their age. Because the depth of available soil is so shallow and the growing season is so short, these trees make very little growth during a season. There were all kinds of different evergreens, from pine, fir and spruce, with the Sitka spruce being the official state tree, and the Alaska paper birch was a very common sight.

While staying at the lodge we took a trip to visit the kennel of a breeder of sled dogs, which was fun. This breeder always ran a team in the Iditarod Trail dog sled race, the best know dog sled race in the world. Covering 11oo miles, the approximate distance from Los Angeles to Seattle, and lasting from 9 to 15 days, it takes place every March and commemorates the run to take diphtheria serum from Anchorage to Nome during an epidemic in 1925.

This breeder had 75 dogs, all barking and jumping about, although they were chained to their kennels. He did take some dogs out for us to demonstrate and introduced us to his special lead dogs. However these dogs are not house dogs, but working dogs and they live to run. He gave each of us a little velcro dog bootie, used by the dogs in especially cold weather and I still have it to this day. The amazing thing is that women compete equally with men in this race and are often winners. In actual fact, the breeder alternated with his wife, competing only every second year. The great musher, Susan Butcher, who sadly died from leukemia in 2006, won the race an amazing four times out of five years between 1986 an 1990, finishing second in 1989, in the fifth race.

After we left the lodge, we took a scenic train ride on the Midnight Sun Express, a domed railcar which passed through some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine. From Fairbanks we flew back to Vancouver, having thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Alaska.


Above, you see the route we will travel on this seven days cruise, sailing the Inside Passage to the panhandle of Alaska: to Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, all located on the panhandle, which is the narrow strip of land adjacent to British Columbia, and back to Vancouver.

I am planning to post via email to my blog while I'm away. Unfortunately you cannot include images in email postings, but I hope I can give you some idea of the beauty and splendor of the area and post photos when I return. Plan A. Well there is no plan B. If I can't manage it, you will hear from me in a week when I return. Happy blogging while I'm gone.

13 comments:

Helge Mikkelsen said...

Good luck on your cruise, I will look forward to read about this beautiful ship and the trip.

I'll try to translate more in the future.

Liz said...

That sounds fabulous. Hope you have a wonderful time. My aunt cruised round Alaska and she loved it. She was a big bird fan (a big fan of birds not a fan of big birds!) - I don't know if you see many there but she always said it was her favourite place.

Eurodog said...

I wish I could go with you. I am going to do some research on sledge dogs. Oddly enough we have sledge dog races in Belgium and there is no snow here! More about that some other time.
Have a super time and take lots of photos please.

Sarabeth said...

Ex Utero and I did a cruise much like the one you are doing now. Our exception was that we flew back to Seattle from Skagway. That was such a ride!

Janice Thomson said...

Have a wonderful trip. We look forward to hearing all about it when you are back.

james higham said...

Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. I'm so, so envious. Make sure you post lots of pics. I have a lot of Alaska already and want to compare.

Smalltown RN said...

What a wonderful cruise.....you will board your ship in my hometown...Vancouver...today it is sunny and is suppose to stary like that for a few days....I anticipate your ship leaving Vancouver tomorrow...I will have to go to the beach to see it go by....from where I live now I can see all the criuse ships as they make their way to Alaska....

I see you will be stopping in Skagway...that was the end of the line for the great gold rush...there is a wonderful trail there called the Chilcotin...this is the trail the miners had to trek in their journey for gold....to hike this trail in on my things to do in my life....

Hope you have a fabulous time!

Cheers

jmb said...

Thank you all for your good wishes. I am about to pack my laptop, so this is a hasty reply.
It's a lovely day in Vancouver, and I am looking forward to sailing out of the harbour, with a view just like the one in the photo.
Back to commenting and visiting blogs in a week.
regards
jmb

Ian Lidster said...

Lucky you. May the weather gods smile on you all the way.

Ian

Lee said...

Have a wonderful cruise, jmb...I hope you will thoroughly enjoy it. The scenery will be so stunningly magnificent and oh, so awesome. Alaska is one of the areas in this world of ours I'd like to visit. I look forward to your photos upon your return.

Take good care.

patterns of ink said...

I've heard this is one of the best cruises to go on. Have fun!

ipanema said...

Enjoy your cruise, jmb! From your account of a previous trip, it sounds great!

Looking forward to your beautiful photos.

Have a safe trip! :)

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

What a fabulous and informative post, jmb. I know - knew - nothing about Alaska except that it snows so I have learnt a lot. Grest photos, too, and a map! - You are clever! I didn't know about the trees being short or anything about the sled races or that the women were such strong competitors. Happy cruise this time and with your descriptive powers, the absence of photos won't be a problem for us! Auguri dalla Sicilia.