Alaska (continued)

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Skagway:

 
 

This town reminded me of the set of a Western. There were saloons, general stores, and people taking tours in horse and buggy. Skagway is a very small town. It was the starting point for prospectors headed up the White Pass Trail in search of Yukon gold. We had signed up for a tour of the town. However, I don't recommend taking this tour if you don't mind doing a little walking. Skagway is only a few blocks wide and can easily be navigated on foot in a short amount of time. Besides, just about any other excursion you sign up for in Skagway will give you a short tour before you get to your destination.

Skagway

Skagway

The tour consisted of a short ride through the town and up a narrow, winding road to an observation area where we were able to get off the bus and look at Skagway from an overlook point. While we were there, I was able to get some nice video of a bald eagle gliding through the air above us. After taking some pictures (or video in my case), we rode back into town and went into a small Skagway Museum. The museum had some interesting exhibits that gave a sense of what it was like to visit Skagway during the Gold Rush days. The tour ended at a "Days Of '98" show that provided a somewhat corny but cute account of the life of Soapy Smith, a legendary con artist. However, I thought the actors were very talented.

Later that day, my parents took the narrow gauge White Pass railroad excursion. They told us they enjoyed the excursion.

Meanwhile, Traci and I did the White Pass trail bicycle excursion. We had a good time with this one. We were driven up the former White Pass trail into Canada and then given bikes to coast 15 miles downhill on a paved road back into Skagway. It was a nice sunny day and the scenery was beautiful. We stopped to take pictures at a waterfall on the way down. There was only one section of the road that we had to pedal up hill a little but it wasn't too bad.

bicycle tour

White Pass Trail bicycle tour

bicycle tour

pausing by a waterfall

Upon returning to Skagway, we walked around the town, bought some snacks at a grocery store, and browsed several souvenir shops. Traci was still looking for the perfect photo album but had no luck. She also browsed a jewelry store in hopes of using the $50 gift certificate that she won playing Bingo onboard the ship. Unfortunately, most of the interesting items were much more expensive than we were willing to pay, so she never used the gift certificate.

We did our most enjoyable shore excursions in Juneau, the capitol city of Alaska. We started off with the Pan for Gold excursion. I'll admit I didn't have high expectations for this one but I ended up having a ball. The tour guide gives you a short tour of Juneau and then takes you up a hill to Gold Creek. The goal of this excursion is to give you an idea of what it must have been like to be a prospector during the Gold Rush days. When we arrived at the river, our guide gave us a demonstration of how to pan for gold - a simple but tedious process. We were then given a pan of dirt. Each pan appeared to have been pre-filled with a few gold specs hidden in the dirt. We practiced the panning technique in the freezing cold river. The guide gave us small vials to put our gold in after we successfully uncovered it. After that, he took a shovel and scooped up dirt from the bottom of the river and filled our pans. This time I didn't get any gold. However, by my fourth pan I was able to uncover a few gold specs. We spent approximately an hour panning for gold and only found extremely small amounts of it. Our guide told us that people would sometimes pan the river for more than 12 hours per day in the prospecting days and often never find anything. If nothing else, this excursion gave me an appreciation for how determined people were to strike it rich during the Gold Rush.

Traci panning for gold

Traci panning for gold in Gold Creek

gold specs

We're rich! Dad found gold!

After the Panning For Gold trip, we headed for the Mt. Roberts Tram, which was a short walk from our ship. We were, once again, blessed with a warm, sunny day. We had a great view of Juneau from the top of the mountain. There was a nice visitor center at the top that showed a video describing the major native Alaskan cultures. The video was very nicely done. There were also some trails at the top on the mountain that you were free to explore. Although it was a warm, sunny day, some of the trails were still snow-covered.

After we descended Mt. Roberts in the tram, my parents walked around town and checked out the souvenir shops while Traci and I boarded the bus that took us to the pick up point for our helicopter ride. Traci and I had never been in a helicopter and were kind of nervous about it because of the horror stories we had seen on TV about tour helicopter maintenance. However, after reading several trip reports on the Internet about how the Mendenhall Glacier helicopter tour was the highlight of the trip for many people, we decided to push our worries aside and go for it. We were very glad we decided to do this excursion. The TEMSCO helicopter tour company was excellent. They definitely put safety first. The helicopter ride to Mendenhall Glacier was only 15 minutes but the views were spectacular. We landed on the glacier with about a dozen other choppers. When we stepped out of the helicopter, it was almost like we were no longer on earth. The landscape was so different from anything I have ever seen before. There were crevasses (cracks in the ice) that contained streams and waterfalls of dark blue water. Actually, the water wasn't really blue. It only appears this way because it is running over ice that is under so much pressure that only the blue wavelength of light can escape. The guides gave us some information about the glacier and instructed us not to go wandering because there is the danger that you could fall into a crevasse - some of which were over a hundred feet deep. We stayed on the glacier for about 20 minutes and took pictures. The temperature on the glacier was in the upper 30's, but it didn't feel that cold because the sun was shining so brightly. However, I still recommend you bring a jacket, hat, and gloves. The tour company supplied everyone with glacier boots. This excursion turned out to be the highlight of our Alaskan experience.

Mendenhall Glacier

landing on Mendenhall Glacier

crevasse on Mendenhall Glacier

A crevasse on Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier from the sky

Later that evening, while we were on the ship cruising to Ketchikan, the day just kept getting better. As Traci and I were finishing a snack in the Horizon Court buffet room, the naturalist announced over the PA system that there was a whale swimming along the shore. Fortunately, I had my video camera with me and was able to get a shot of a spouting killer whale. Soon after that, I took some video of some harbor seals lounging on the rocks. This was the most memorable day of the trip for me. Continue...

 

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