Thursday, 7 July – Going Home

Most of our tour group was scheduled for an early morning departure for San Diego. That meant getting up at 4 am, which did not appeal to us, so we arranged for an afternoon flight the same day.


Dave, the final driver of our Alaska Tour

That allowed to go for a welcome late checkout, and had lunch with Bryce and Elena Newall, and then we signed up for a two hour tour of the area with our bus driver, Dave. We first went to a local botanical garden, with beautiful flowers, and learned that growing things in the summer is usually successful because of the long days. It’s also possible to grow giant vegetables for that reason.

We then went to the Large Animal Research Station, and Creamer’s Field Wildlife Refuge.


Musk Ox

We didn’t quite see the variety we expected, but we did see a group of musk oxen, which were interesting to observe close up.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped by the Cultural Center for a short interesting visit and then to the Museum to pick up Barbara and Bob Eisley and Tina. We waited a short time in the lounge until the shuttle arrived to take us to the airport. On the way the shuttle driver told us of her mother’s Alaska sojourn. Through correspondence she arranged to meet a man, maybe to get married. She was comfortable with the destination, because she thought AK stood for Arkansas. But she headed out anyway with two young daughters. On the way the car broke down, then a truck broke down then she ran out of money, but finally she made it she now teaches special education in Fairbanks. We didn’t hear anything about the guy.

It turned out there we a few others on the same flight, or almost at the time time, so we had a final drink together


Heading home

On the plane, I sat next to a guy who had traveled from the lower 48 to Alaska to do some roofing. In passing I asked how long he had been in Alaska this trip. The answer was “one day”. I expressed surprise and he struggled his shoulders, “That’s how contracts work sometime”. He had been sent to Alaska to do one day of roofing work.

That’s Alaska for you.

I found Alaska to be much different than I had expected. First of all it was quite warm, and flowers are blooming everywhere. The people we met in Alaska love being here, I guess because if they didn’t like it they would have been long gone by now. In the winter there is too much hardship, and if you didn’t like it here, it wouldn’t be worth it. I think people here feel special, and perhaps they are.

I think it is hard to imagine what it is like in the wintertime, although I tried. The northern lights are only visible in the wintertime, and I learned that there is a substantial winter-time Japanese tourist industry to see the lights. Maybe we’ll join them one time. I haven’t yet asked Teresa what she thinks about that idea, but I think I know.











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Wednesday, 6 July – Sled dogs and gold

This morning we took a short bus ride with a driver named Jordan who came from Salt Lake City, which I thought was a good connection. We were driven to the Explorer II, a


Boarding the Explorer II

paddlewheel riverboat holding 800 passengers. The river trip and the attractions along the were well organized for the tourist business, and not only because they served delicious blueberry doughnuts. The first attraction four miles south on the river was a re-creation of an Athabathcan Indian Village which we got to see from the boat. They ran some reindeer out for us to observe.


The Butcher sled dog training facility

The next stop was a visit to the late SusanButcher’s dogsled training compound, where her daughter demonstrated a dog run with a rolling dogsled. It was exciting because their barking made it clear how much the dogs loved to run.

On the way back we got to visit the village we observed from the boat. There were a number of interesting mini-lectures on the native way of living. One interesting talk was about the different furs used by the natives: timber wolf, wolverine, fox, ermine, weasel, and muskrat, with samples of each. The natives did not use mink that p1070236much but were very glad to find that Europeans valued it! Some beautiful parkas were modeled for us that were made from these furs, which I believe were on sale at from eight to $20,000 each. I don’t think there were any takers today.

At lunch time we were ushered into the Discovery Dining Hall,  a huge dining room, where many different tour groups were having lunch. The food was family-style featuring an old-fashioned stew and veggies, as much as you could eat, and very good.


Gold Dredge No 8

On the road again, we headed for one of the few remaining floating gold dredges in existence, Gold Dredge No. 8. It was shut down in 1959, not because it was uneconomical, but because it was too dangerous and there were too many deaths. As we approached the huge machine I assumed that we would get a good look at it, and that would be it. It has a conveyor-like “digging arm” with huge cups to scoop the gravel into the dredge, where it would be “panned” in sluice boxes for the gold. At the other end was another conveyor, the “stacking arm” to deposit the tailings, or waste material. It also had a retort to cast the gold into 55 pound bricks. To my surprise it turned out that we could not only board the dredge, but climb inside and all over it. It was like being inside a piece of industry-themed modern art.


Going for the Gold


There it is!

But first we got to try our hand at panning for gold. The idea is to let the water wash away the lighter sand and small gravel, leaving the heavier gold behind. I figured I was doing pretty well, getting rid of almost all the sand, but try as I could, I couldn’t get to the point where I could see any gold. Then a hostess must have seen my difficulty, for she came over and offered her assistance. In about one shake of the pan, the sand and gravel disappeared, there they were, flakes of pure gold! How did she do that?

On the way back we learned we were driving on part of the road used for the TV series, “Ice Road Truckers”. Fairbanks is the start of a 12 hour journey to Prudhoe Bay, and apparently the driving is as difficult and dangerous as the TV show makes it seem.

In many towns our guides told us that they have a Walmart. It seemed to be a matter of pride that they had acquired one. Also Fairbanks has the busiest Home Depot in the nation, and this is because the extreme winter weather conditions require major repair work every summer, and lots of supplies are required. The northern towns have free plug-ins everywhere to keep vehicle engines warm. Not only that separate heating is often required for the battery.


Trans Alaska Pipeline


Dumb Pig

We stopped at a Trans Alaska Pipeline site where we saw a section of the pipeline as it is usually built above gly whereround to avoid permafrost problems, and minimize earthquake difficulties too, I suppose. But they do have underground sections under rivers, and to provide migration paths for caribou. (Reindeer don’t need  migration paths. They just fly where they want to go.) They had a sample “dumb pig” which simply scrapes the inside of the pipeline as required, and told us about the “smart pig” which examines the inside of the pipeline as it travels.

We also drove through another major operation of the Fairbanks Exploration Company, where they had drilled core samples over 35,000 acres, and knew where the gold was. They dug Davidson Ditch, but to separate the gold required 9000 gallons of water per minute, and to do that, they had to divert the Chattanooga River. It took seven years of construction but it was hugely successful.


Waiting for our final performance

That evening we headed for the Pioneer Park Theater for our performance. The opening act was supposed to be two different barbershop groups, but only one actually performed. There were about 150 people in the audience, which was fine.

After the show we gravitated to Tracker’s Bar and Grill, where the food was excellent.




Tracker’s Bar and Grill











Linda and Teresa at the Gold Dredge. Looking for gold?





















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Tuesday, 5 July – Sled dogs

Today, a substantial number of people slept in including us, while the more hardy travelers got up early for a nature walk that was an included activity of the cruise. Too early for us! They saw two baby orphan moose, which were carefully being observed by the rangers to see if they could survive in the wild, or had to be cared for. The walkers also said the scenery was great, and the discussion of culture was interesting.

We had breakfast with Mickey Harrison and some others at the Grizzly Bar and Grill,


Laura and Mickey at the Grizzly Bar and Grill

and learned that she was very active with Women in Film. One of her recent films is award-winning “Agatha and Tilly”. We’ll have to check it out when we get home. We also learned about how her traveling companion, because she had Mexican citizenship and no Canadian visa, they wouldn’t allow her to board the airplane to Vancouver. Instead she had to take a flight to Ketchikan and join us there, missing the whole cruise. It seems to us Gateway Tours should have noticed the   situation and made sure things were in order.

We then joined a later bus tour of the area, and saw the Hurricane Gulch Trestle, which is a railroad bridge 296 feet high, and spans the Chulitna River. It truly is a windy place, and during its construction the wind blew two men off the trestle to their death.


Teresa with a future sled dog

We had a fun stop at a sled dog facility, and we got to know the sled dogs up close. In the summertime, the “dog sleds” role on wheels so they can train all year long.

The next leg of our tour began at 2 o’clock, with a bus ride to Fairbanks. Actually it was a motorcoach as our bus driver explained because it had a toilet. Buses don’t have toilets. In this area there is a lot of strip coal mining, but the mining company is required to restore the land after the coal is removed.

We then were treated to a poem about a retriever who ate rocks, written and performed by Elmer. It was very funny and ended with the revelation that he is finding rocks of gold because he is a golden retriever.

We were in the vicinity of the Alcan highway which is 1500 miles long, and where engineers first had to deal with permafrost which is a problem when new construction melts the permafrost, and the ground becomes unstable. Also I noticed that in many cases the guy wires to powerline poles were slack, probably because all the ground was unstable. We learned about the Anderson (?) Homestead Lottery which turned out to be not that successful. Of the 26 homesteads that were granted, 26 were eventually foreclosed.

This was the area of the historic Athapaskan from which several other and you will tribes evolved. And some of the local laws include: No bear wrestling, and you are not allowed to look at a moose if you are carrying an ice cream cone.

Therp1070157e is a local lottery based on the exact time that the river thaws every spring. The way it is determined is that a line tied to a frozen log is attached to a tower and when the tower is pulled over, that is the instant of river thawing. The lottery prize has grown to $300,000. During the winter, the wood frog does not hibernate like many other animals. It actually freezes in the mud and thaws in the spring. It’s cells contain antifreeze which present the animal’s cells from being destroyed.

T. Barnett’s story is interesting. Back in 1901 he sailed up the Yukon River with the intent of opening a trading post at a particular location on the river. However the captain of his boat, for some reason, decided he could go no farther and dumped them on the shore with his supplies, way short of his planned destination. Having no other choice, he opened a trading post where he was dumped and was quite successful, and eventually the town of Fairbanks was founded. Barnett himself opened the bank and wound up embezzling funds from his clients. He escaped to Valdez, but the town continued. It was eventually named Fairbanks after a US senator and vice president to Teddy Roosevelt.

On the water, not too much sun, finally!

On the water, not too much sun, finally!

That evening we had supper with the Mostardos and the Bjernefalts at the Pike’s Landing. First decided to join a larger group of our travelers in the main dining room, and they made room for us, but we found too hot and noisy, so we moved to the patio just outside under an awning. But it was not near enough to the water, so we moved to a third location, right on the river. But that table faced right into the setting sun, so we moved again to another table on the water. When it became time for dessert, it was too cold, so we moved once more, this time back

to the patio under the awning. Apparently, we are a very particular group of people!






































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Monday, 4 July – Denali

This was the day for our second land-based concert, The Fourth of July.

Our Mystery Travelers. (Actually Elena and Bryce)

Our Mystery Travelers. (Actually Elena and Bryce)

On a local bus tour we learned that hikers often wear bells on their shoes to minimize the chance of a confrontation  okaywith a bear. Also, that there have been over 100 wildfires (in what area I’m not sure) and that 347 moose had been killed in the year. They maintain a RoadOkaykill List that people sign up for, and take what they get. They do examine the stomachs of the animals to see what

T[his was the only igloo we saw on our trip. A fast food rest stop.

T[his was the only igloo we saw on our trip. A fast food rest stop.

they have been eating. In brown bears they find mostly evidence of vegetables and berries. In grizzlies they find bells. A plant called Fireweed is prevalent, and is called that because it is the first plant to come back after a fire. It’s also used in cooking.

Alaska is large. You could fit 425 Rhode Islands into Alaska or 2 ½ Texases. It has 3 million lakes, and 3015 miles of coastline. Denali is not the highest mountain in the world, but it is taller than Mount Everest from its base to its summit.

At lunch we met Morna (pronounced Mona), from Australia. She was interested in politics, especially because they had just had an election, and the results were not yet complete or conclusive. The main competition was between the Liberals, and Labor. About our politics, she could not understand, amidst the fraud and other financial misdeeds in the US that have been uncovered recently, why no bankers or financiers actually went to jail. I’m wondering why myself.

At 5:30, we walked up to the Great Room to get ready for our concert, which had been

The concert venue. Great view of the mountains for a backdrop.

The concert venue. Great view of the mountains for a backdrop.

well publicized at the hotel. The program went well. There was standing room only, and the performance went well. Tears were seen in the audience’s eyes. audience’s Afterwards, many of the singers went to the Grizzly Bar, and when Tony arrived he got a nice round of applause.




Taking a break at t[he Denali Prinicess Lodge

Taking a break at the Denali Princess Lodge







The mountains of Denali National Park


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Sunday, 3 July – Talkeetna


The stairway is tighter than it looks here

This morning we were instructed not to put our bags out at night, but to put them out at 6:00 am, and then meet at 8:00 for a short bus ride to the train to Talkeetna. It was a double-decker, with tight spiral staircase up to the second deck. The view was good, but the main attraction was breakfast in the dining car.

Before we went down to the dining car, we did learn a few things from our host whose name was Daisy, I think.We passed by Mendenhall Air Force Base. This area was quite flat, and composed of glacial silt, ground fine by glacial action. We saw some caribou along the way, and learned that reindeer are simply domesticated


Our Conductor

caribou and tend to be a bit smaller. Another difference is that reindeer can fly. She said the ratio of men to women is 10:1, which is great for women, but the problem is that the men are not table trained.

In the diner we sat with Patty and Kevin, who have been in Alaska since February.


Pat and Kevin

He said he was an operator for the Alyeska Pipeline. He was familiar with my company, Solar Gas Turbines, that supplies equipment to pipelines. Patty had been a dental assistant, but was going into nursing up here.

Mt. McKinley was renamed Denali to recognize its cultural significance to the Alaskan tribes, and besides, President McKinley never even visited Alaska.


Sten getting a chocolate chip cookie welcome!

At the end of the train ride, some people walked to the hotel, while we took a really short bus ride to the 460-room Princess Denali Hotel. At the entrance we were greeted with chocolate chip cookies! As usual, our rooms were spacious and comfortable. It was built like a motel, and it was a pleasure in the morning to open the door to greenery for a change. In the afternoon, I worked for a while on this blog while Teresa napped, and then we took a walk around the perimeter of the property in the light rain.


Exploring the hotel grounds

We had an excellent dinner in the Mountain View Restaurant that evening.








We met Elmer exploring, too.


It was cloudy all the time we were near Denali, but we got a great view by photo from last year.












Good viewing from the observation deck on the train to Talkeetna

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Saturday, 2 July – Whittier and Anchorage


Danielle, our driver/guide

After meeting in the Bordeaux Room, we disembarked the Coral Princess, and found that Blue 8 meant that we were all destined for the same bus. Danielle, from Texas, was our driver/guide, and a hoot. We had to wait until the single-lane tunnel opened up in our direction, so she had some time to tell us about Whittier. She pointed to a big yellow building and said everyone lives there. I thought she was joking, but it’s


The tunnel entrance

actually true. She said there are no school snow days because there is a tunnel from that building to the school.

At 9:00 the tunnel opened up and we started through. It’s also a railroad tunnel, and we were driving right on


The whole town lives in this building!

the tracks. It seemed just wide enough to allow the bus through. At two and a half miles, it’s the longest in North America. It’s ventilated by jet engine power, and has safety compartments along the way, stocked with provisions in case of disaster. They’ve never been used.

In 1964 there was 9.2 Richter scale earthquake. The earth rose six feet in some places, and sunk fifteen in others. Seawater flowed onto the land, killing the vegetation. 52 years later, there are bare, dead trees everywhere. I expect the residents are leaving them up as a remembrance of the event.

In her most caring tone, she asked, “Y’all feeling a little cold?” When a few people said yes, she said, “Welcome to Alaska.”


Alaskan Brown Bear

There are two creation stories for the Conservation Center. In the first, a man won a paper products promotion contest and instead of selecting the cash prize as was expected, he chose the other prize, an elephant! When the elephant became too large keep at home, it became the first animal at the Center. The other story is that the Center was founded to protect the wood bison. Perhaps both are true, or perhaps we are talking about two different places.


Musk Ox

At the Conservation Center we saw bison,  musk oxen, elk, and a porcupine. Reportedly, there were caribou over in the distance somewhere but I never saw any. Did you know that a reindeer is simply a domesticated caribou?


An Elk

We reboarded the bus and headed for Anchorage, and a huge, bare, Visitors Center. The main option was to wait until 3:45 PM and take a shuttle bus four blocks to the Captain Hook Hotel. Some of us took one-hour city tour bus. Our choice was to take the walk see what would happen at the Captain Cook. They weren’t ready for us, as expected, but we did have hamburgers at Fletcher’s, and I had some delicious seafood chowder.


Hamburgers at Fletcher’s

The hotel is elegant, with interesting shops, and our room was spacious.

That evening we headed for our first of our three land-based concerts. We had, from the beginning, wondered how the attendance would be at a museum that had closed for the day an hour or so before. There were perhaps 30 attendees, most of whom were members of our tour. Also. It was impractical to show the slides.

The good news was that we had a really good performance, and we could hear each other, and it was fun.

Teresa and I headed back to Fletcher’s for a lemonade, and soon Tony showed up, followed by Al and Dorothy, and we squoze everybody in. Then two more strolled in, and more, until we were nine. The couple at the next table gave up and moved, and then we all fit comfortably, and had the evening snack of our choice, mine being another bowl of seafood chowder, since the cup I had had earlier had been so good.




Gettting organized for our first performance on land.


On the road again…






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Friday, 1 July – Getting Ready to Disembark

This morning we had our Disembarkation Meeting in the “Hearts and Minds” Wedding Chapel. We learned that we were a member of the Blue 8, whatever that meant. Our main instructions were to leave our bags outside our door by 10:00 pm tonight and show up in the Bordeaux Room at 7:55 am tomorrow. After the meeting we went down to the kiosk on deck 5, and checked our bill so far, and found that our laundry bill was $86. We had done a lot of laundry, and hotel laundry prices being what they are, we were relieved it was not more.

I got a message from the boat saying that the ship’s Chief Engineer would be able to meet

Talking ship stuff with Chief Engineer

Talking ship stuff with Chief Engineer William Witts

with me after all, at 11:45 am. That was fine with me, and I met William Witts, who is from a town in northern England. We talked engine stuff and so forth for about twenty minutes. He’s been on many ships, including this one for the last three months. The ship was built in 1902 with two main diesels on Deck 1, with a third added later. There is also a GE LM2500 gas turbine (Oil fueled) up on deck 13 which would leave it available in case the engine room flooded. Just about everything on board is electrically powered, including the main props, whose motors are powered by huge variable frequency alternators. The jet engine-looking things on each side of the stack are purely ornamental, with no function at all. I asked how they got the props to run so slowly as we moved through Glacier Bay. You can’t go from zero to 10 rpm, he said. You have to come down from about 30 rpm to 10.

Tony with teacher who worked for him 25 years ago.

Tony with teacher who worked for him 25 years ago.

We showed up at one pm to prepare for our second concert. Tony was talking to Carolyn Gertz, who recognized him as the Principal she had taught under years ago at Clairemont School in Elko Village, Illinois.

The show went well. The sound balance was much better because Daniel had added two microphones to pick up the chorus better. Afterwards, we relaxed in the coffee shop, and as we left I managed to convince Greta to try her hand at Texas Hold’em, one of our favorite games. That

Greta is smiling because she just won all my money ($20).

Greta is smiling because she just won all my money ($20).

turned out to be my mistake, because she cleaned me out (for $20) on our second hand with pocket Kings!

I went to the cashier to settle my poker account and found the lady ahead of collecting fifteen $100 bills for winning at bingo.

At dinner we heard about Bryce’s tour of the entire ship, which sold out the first day. He got to see the bridge, where he met the Captain, and then visited the galley, the laundry room, the control room, and I expect, other interesting places.

It's getting cooler on deck.

It’s getting cooler on deck.

Then came the big question of the day: Could we pack our two big bags so that we could live out of one and ship the other directly to Fairbanks? I turned out to be not such a problem after all. After a cool walk around the ship it was past our bedtime.


One spot late at the cashier - the lady ahead of me collected $1500 bingo winnings

I was one spot late at the cashier – the lady ahead of me collected $1500 bingo winnings

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