Archives for August 2014

Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014 – Lazy Packing and Mystery Theatre Sunday Brunch

Slept late this morning, before starting to pack. We had a small, quick breakfast, as we had decided to join in on a Mystery Brunch, something we had never done before, and we headed there for the noon start. The girl in charge didn’t do a great job of explaining anything, but it was enough to get us started, and we were delighted to find another couple where the woman was an actress who had recently become an empty-nester and who was thinking about starting a Shakespeare Festivel in Palm Springs, CA. It turned out our characters were married and from Texas, so we both immediately plastered on a Texas accent and started a great improv, while the rest of the table spent most of their time sitting back being entertained by us. We had a great time, and were the last ones to leave the restaurant (much to the relief of the wait staff). We reconvened later in another restaurant and chatted with them at length about their plans, which, would you believe, also included converting some property into a horse camp! All our lines of expertise, amazing! Anyway, we exchanged contact info and promised to keep in touch, before we went back to the room to finish packing. At one point, I had to go searching for my confiscated items, which included the Smoked Salmon-flavored vodka, and an iron which I was sure I had brought but couldn’t find when I went looking for it, forcing us to order one from the steward yesterday. Glad to know I wasn’t completely forgetful, though, since I spent 15 minutes looking for it, not realizing it had been taken out (for safety reasons, they claimed.) Anyway, we finished packing and putting our bags outside the door, enjoyed a small dinner, met up with our couple again, thinking we would go see the comedian again, but he was in a smaller room and it was so crowded, we decided to go to bed instead. Big day tomorrow!

Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 – Misty Fjords Boat Ride near Ketchikan

Woke up this morning pulling into Ketchikan, headed down to breakfast at the Four Seasons. We were seated for only a couple of minutes when I heard a child screeching, and when I looked for the source, I discovered the same bratty kid with the same selfish father from the train yesterday only two tables away. Not wanting to spend breakfast annoyed, I asked to be moved, and they sat us at another table further away, thank goodness. We had a good breakfast, then headed out for today's excursion, the Misty Fjords Boat Ride. We loaded onto probably the nicest boat we've been on so far, a quite luxurious double decker catamaran, though much prettier than the whale watching one. We headed out for quite a ways, with a few whale and wildlife spottings before entering the actual Misty Fjord, including passing an island (well, more like an outcropping) that in the mist looked for a ship under full sail, but in fact was a favorite picnic spot for the locals. Once we entered the fjord, it was magical! The day was perfect, with just enough sunshine to see everything, and just enough mist to fully get the sensation of being engulfed in a fog. Absolutely beautiful waterfalls, sheer walls of granite and fabulous striations, beautiful! Again, worth every penny, and this time, no annoying children or bad parents around to spoil it. I went up to the upper deck on many occasions to enjoy a close up view of something spectacular, while Hubby remained warm and dry on the inside, drinking the free hot coffee and cocoa and occasional snack. Finally we headed back to port, fully enjoying the trip. Once we got back, we showered and changed into our best dress outfits (you have to do it at least ONCE on a cruise!) headed out to the French restaurant for another fabulous meal, with a stop at the photographer's station to have some shots taken. We immediately got annoyed with the photographer's insistence on clasping my hands in front of me in a perfectly horrid and unnatural position, which I politely but firmly refused to do, so afterward, we weren't holding out much hope the pix would be very good, if that was the level of amateurishness that they projected. Anyway, the meal was fabulous, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. About 30 minutes into it, I whispered to Hubby if he had noticed there was a young child sitting at the table next to us, and he was shocked to learn it. This lovely girl had been so quiet we didn't even notice she was there, a clear demonstration that it's not the children, it's the parent, that make a good child. Before we left, we thanked the father for raising such a good daughter, and he seemed very pleased to be recognized for that feat, but after seeing the difference, we just had say something! Another quick nightcap and off to bed! Another great day in Alaska!

Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 – Horseback Adventure and White Pass Train

Another overnight passage, we woke up the next day in Skagway, another small, quaint little town. Today we grabbed some breakfast before heading out in a shuttle van out to a stable near Dyea Flats Recreation Area about 30 minutes away. A string of horses were saddled and ready for us, and we had the best orientation we've had yet (though it was wasted on us, it was good for many novices in the group), but unfortunately, they made us don helmets, something we never use. Because of my experience, they assigned me a horse that didn't like the mounting block, so I mounted away from the rest of the crowd, then we headed out a typical dirt forest road through the woods. I had a nice chat during the ride with the front wrangler, a girl from the lower 48, as the ride was pretty simple. My horse's name was Homer, which is such a scream, as Homer was the name of the town where I took my first ride on a horse named JJ (a nickname of mine for years), and in Palmer my horse's name was Trooper, which was the name the horse the wrangler was riding today. Crazy coincidence, if you believe in those! Eventually the trail came out of the forest and opened up into a field with a bit of a view, though nothing spectacular compared to many we've seen around the country. We stopped for a photo op before remounting and heading back to the stable. Not exactly an exciting ride, but a ride nevertheless, and we enjoyed it, particularly Hubby, who had recovered from his four hour ride last Saturday, and he reveled in a shorter, 90 minute ride. We had a brief snack under a picnic table gazebo before shuttling back to the ship, where we had planned to grab some lunch before our afternoon excursion, a ride on the old White Pass train, but I discovered we weren't allowed to take food off the ship, and we didn't have time to walk into town to get something to eat, so I was frantic for a while. Eventually I decided we had to board the ship and run down to the cafe and grab something, even if we had to put it in our pocket to smuggle it out, and that's pretty much what we did, though we ate something on the walk to the disembarkation area as well. Relieved that we wouldn't be starving the whole afternoon, we boarded the train, looking forward to a nice quiet ride. Unfortunately, that was quickly spoiled by a very rude foreign guy (German, I think) with a son about 3 years old. I knew we were in trouble when, rather than take the boy to the bathroom that was on every car, he led the boy over to the railing between cars and had him pee right over the side! Most of the rest of a trip was a nightmare, with the boy running around, the father either loudly fawning all over him or ignoring him while he spent most of the time on the platform between cars taking pictures and leaving the boy on his own to wander around, or cry for his daddy. It was pathetic, distracting and disturbing example of poor parenting, and frankly, it spoiled the entire trip for us. We enjoyed the views and tried to get some pictures, but every time I tried to get a shot from between the cars, I had to practically push my way past the German guy, who was hogging the entire platform. Eventually, the boy fell asleep on the seat, which just gave the father more freedom to ignore him. At the end of the line, we were supposed to change seats with the people across from us so that everyone got the view from both sides, but because the boy was sleeping in the seat, and no one wanted to wake him, we and the folks in the seat behind us refrained from moving. I think that made the father a little upset because he had wanted to see the view from the other side, despite the fact that he had been seeing it practically the entire time from hogging the public area. I finally got so disgusted I walked to the other end of the car and hung out with a couple of older guys who at least knew how to share photo ops. Again, a beautiful trip, spoiled by the actions of one selfish man. Part of the trip followed the original Yukon Trail, and the trail was still easily visible in many areas. Apparently, during the Gold Rush, the trail was so packed with folks that if you pulled off the trail to tighten a girth or anything else, it was almost impossible to get back on the trail, because people were just so anxious to not let anyone get in front of them and their rush to their fortunes. Be a great trail to try and ride again, though! Eventually we made it back to the Ketchikan station, and were soon boarding the ship. We enjoyed another delightful meal at the Italian restaurant before heading out to the main stage show, billed as the Ladder Guy, whose whole shtick was pretending (poorly) that he couldn't stay up on an extension ladder, as well as a few basic magician's tricks. A really pathetic show, which was as boring to the audience as it was to the performer. Fortunately, it was only about 40 minutes long, to the torture passed quickly. Had a nightcap, then headed back to our stateroom after a long, busy, and trying day!

Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 – 5 Glacier Seaplane Flight in Juneau

Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 – 5 Glacier Seaplane Flight in Juneau

Another day, another port! We arrived in Juneau, which, although it is the capital of Alaska, it is inaccessible by road! Planes and boats are the only way to get there because of the rough, mountainous terrain directly east. Our shore excursion today began with a short walk from the pier to another dock where a row of small seaplanes were waiting for us. With only one seat on each side of the plane, and only four rows, and because of a stubborn man who got on first and insisted he wanted the seat in the middle, Hubby and I weren't able to sit next to each other. I took the front seat and Hubby behind the guy behind me. We took off across the water and headed out for an hour long flight that took us over 5 different glaciers, several islands, and lots of wilderness. It was fascinating to see the different characteristics of each glacier, and that at least one of the glaciers was actually growing, while others were shrinking. Apparently it depends on the source of the glacier, and what the terrain and weather are in those originating areas. Whenever I have asked locals about global warming and melting glaciers, they all seem rather blasé about it, compared to the environmental fanatics we hear in the media. They're attitude seems to be, the glaciers have been melting at varying rates since the last ice age 10,000 years ago, and will continue to melt however they want, no big deal. I have had several conversations with many native and long-lived Alaskans whose attitude seems to be the folks from the lower 48 should leave them alone to decide what Alaska's future should be, but at the same time, because so many residents are now dependent on government contracts, they have to keep their complaints quiet, so as not to lose those jobs. Sounds pretty typical of a welfare state, it seems to me. In any event, it was a fabulous trip, other than the constant chatter of the 10-year son of the selfish guy behind me who was across from me, and the scenery was, once again, outstanding. We made a safe and careful landing, deplaned at the dock, walked the long plank up to the main dock, and took a little walk around town on our way back to the ship, stopping for a beer at the famous Red Dog Saloon, (where there is a framed pistol apparently checked by Wyatt Earp at the Marshall's office, but never claimed because his boat for Nome left before the Marshall's office opened in the morning), as well as lots of other articles from the turn of the 20th century, including the costume worn by the bartender. We walked along the main street past lots of fur and jewelry stores, very upscale for such a small town, catering once again to the tourists. We got back to the ship and settled into our stateroom once again. The ship shortly left port, and headed out toward another glacier at the end of a narrow, gorgeous fjord where the captain carefully weaved his way to the end of the "tunnel" where the glacier lay. Not quite as impressive as Hubbard glacier, it nevertheless was worth the trip. Finally, we headed for another specialty restaurant, followed by a comedy show in the main theatre before having a nightcap and heading back to bed, a full day, with an early morning facing us tomorrow.

Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014 – Icy Strait Whale Watching

Today we landed at Icy Strait Point, a small town that was formerly a fishing processing town, with an old factory turned into a museum and a lot of quaint shops where the local aboriginal population sold their wares, both tourist-y and authentic. Lots of furs, as this had been a fur trading town as well. Here we joined a shore excursion (well, not exactly a shore excursion, rather another boat ride) on a large double-decker catamaran to go out whale watching. Having never been, we were very excited at the prospect. The seas were (thankfully) calm and almost without ripples, though the boat was designed for maximum smoothness anyway. It wasn't long before we saw wildlife, including a bunch of sea lions crowded on a buoy. Not much further ahead, the boat settled down in a promising area, and we soon saw the telltale signs of whale blow and dorsal fins, and eventually huge tails as they made their big dives. We soon learned the pattern, blow, blow, blow, tail, blow, blow, blow, tail. Once we saw that tail, that would be it for another five to ten minutes before they came up again. In the deeper parts, they can be down as long as 30 or more minutes, but in the shallows of the bay, it wasn't necessary. We saw what seemed like dozens of whale signs, and we very happy about the outcome of the trip. We certainly felt like we had made up a lot for missing the Kenai Fjords tour that was canceled, and we got to see whales! We stopped in a few more places to observe more wildlife and more whales before finally heading back to Icy Strait. Since we still had some time before we were due back on the ship, we took a wander around town, going through the museum, taking some pix with the big wooden bear and generally seeing what was there. Eventually Hubby had enough walking, so he parked himself on a bench while I decided to go on a nature trail I had noticed earlier. More like a dirt sidewalk than a trail, but what can one expect from a town that caters to tourists? It was an old growth forest with some big trees and lots of moss, reminding us again that we were in a temperate rain forest. The trail looped around to the beach where I could see our ship anchored just off shore, as well as to a boardwalk that passed several small private houses that had great waterfront views. Eventually I got back to the dock, met up with Hubby, and jumped the next tender back to the ship, where we enjoyed a nice meal at one of the specialty restaurants and a quiet evening resting in our stateroom.

Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 – Day at Sea to Hubbard Glacier

After a very good night sleep on the most comfortable bed we've enjoyed in quite some time, we headed down to the Garden Cafe for breakfast, and it was a madhouse! We decided in future we would go to whichever one of the main restaurants was open to avoid the crush. We had a very nice leisurely day at sea, then headed up a channel toward the Hubbard glacier. While we had seen many glaciers since coming to Alaska, most were ones in mountains that melted into a small stream or river as they had done for millenia, and while beautiful, didn't really capture the imagination the way this one did. This one ended right at the ocean's edge, was extremely high and deep, and was constantly calving as we watched in amazement. I was SO glad I had chosen a room that looked out toward the bow, as it afforded us an unbelievable opportunity to really watch the entire approach to this magnificent attraction. The captain nosed in for awhile, getting quite close, so close we could hear the groaning of the ice as it shifted and calved, then he slowly turned the ship to the side so all could get a good look. The observation deck directly above us was packed, but it was quite cold outside, so we were happy we could jump inside the patio door to the warmth of our room on occasion. It was beautiful, so impressive! A fabulous, relaxing day, just what we needed after all our running around the past few months!

Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 – Train Ride to Whittier, NCL Departure!

Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 – Train Ride to Whittier, NCL Departure!

After getting roused out of bed at 7:00 (apparently that was the time we were scheduled to be out of the RV, though I didn't realize they were going to be that strict!), because they had someone schedule to pick that unit up by 9:00, so we rushed around our final packing and were out soon afterward. Called for a cab, then ran into another couple that was also heading to the train station for the same cruise, so we share the fare and saved a few bucks, though it was a bit of a challenge for the driver to fit in all the luggage. A short trip to the train station, where we checked in our baggage through to the cruise line, thank goodness, and were soon on the train, though it was a bit longer before the train finally left. Beautiful scenery again, and we recognized many of the landmarks we had passed our very first day here, feeling like it had been a long time since we last saw them. We've done so many things since then! Arrived on time in Whittier, which is just a small industrial port, and quickly moved down the line, under canvas to keep us dry (of course it was raining again), and finally arrived at the check-in desk. We produced all the proper forms, and were soon embarking on the ship. We went straight to our stateroom, which was already ready, and it was perfect! I had selected a room on the top deck of cabins, a balcony room that would have connected to the owner's suite had those occupants wanted it, so we were looking straight ahead to the bow of the boat, rather than just out one side or the other. The room had two single beds, but I quickly found the steward and asked him to change it to one big bed, and he said it would be done shortly. Meanwhile, we wandered the ship to acquaint ourselves with where everything was, and to grab some food, as we hadn't had anything since a VERY early breakfast. We found the Garden Cafe on the same deck aft, and had some lunch. We then wandered the ship some more. The Norwegian Sun is a relatively small ship, which we liked, but it had all the mod cons, including a full court basketball court that made me think of my niece, numerous lounges and specialty restaurants, a main theatre, art gallery and duty free shops, and so on. After a few hours, we returned to our room, where we found it in perfect shape, and two of our three bags were waiting for us, so we unpacked. Finally got my third bag later (I had packed a bag of Smoked Salmon-flavored vodka in there, which they removed and gave me tags to collect later), and we finished unpacking that as well. We rested the rest of the day until dinner and an introductory show in the theate, including teasers for the on board comedian and the song and dance troupe. Finally headed to bed, to very comfortable and luxurious sheets on top a very soft cushion-topped bed that we just gratefully sank into! The boat departed around 8:00, and we were out like a light shortly thereafter!

Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014 – Laundry, RV Return, My Birthday

Had a pretty quiet night, though an ATV or two went by rather late, but didn’t bother us much. Headed into Anchorage after breakfast, straight to a laundromat, as I didn’t want to pack a bunch of dirty clothes. Despite good Yelp reviews, we didn’t have the best experience. Free wifi was a driving factor in my selection, but it wasn’t working when we got there, and neither of the two women there knew anything (besides not being able to speak much English), so that was a bust, but the worst was when a very smelly homeless guy sat right next to me, and I couldn’t breathe. Fortunately it didn’t take long to finish, so Hubby and I were out of there asap. We found a nearby Indian restaurant (my favorite food), but the first one we went to was a fast food cafe type, not what we had in mind, so we found a somewhat better one not too far away, and headed there. Enjoyed a nice dinner, with just enough leftovers to have again later in the day, then headed back to Alaskan Holidays to return the RV, though we will be staying overnight and leaving in the morning. Stopped to fill up the gas and propane on the way, per our contract. Did most of our packing, though we were so tired from running around, we left some for the morning. Finally settled down for the evening in the parking lot of Alaskan Holidays where we rented the RV, looking forward to the next leg of our Alaskan Adventure!

Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014 – Travel to Palmer, 4 Hour Ride

With another event planned, we left Talkeetna with heavy hearts and headed for Palmer, where I had found another horse outfitter that seemed to have a more interesting ride than the one I took in Homer. I had hoped to schedule a 1 or 2 hour ride to get Hubby back in the saddle gently, but unfortunately, the only thing going this afternoon was to be a 4 hour ride, but he insisted he could handle it (even though a 4 hour ride is too much for him even WITHOUT any broken bones), and off we went. We met him and the rest of the group at an open beach area next to a bridge on the edge of a national forest and the Knik river. We were introduced to our horses, which, oddly, were mostly Tennessee Walkers. I've never ridden one, and have always wanted to try, because I had heard how smooth their gait was. We soon learned that their walk is really choppy, much worse than our app/quarter horses, and unfortunately, we almost never were able to get up into the smooth gate that's one gear up from a walk. We both managed to do it a couple of times, just to see what it felt like, but obviously the rest of the group, or at least the wrangler, wasn't up for that. Nevertheless, it was a pretty good ride. We left the beach and headed almost immediately into the forest for quite a while, with the only disturbance being the many ATV's that were barreling along on many of the same trails we were using. Being a Saturday, it was quite busy, and this area is apparently a public area with few or no restrictions, though our wrangler, Joshua, said it was actually less busy than usual, probably because the Alaska State Fair was in full swing up the road in Palmer, and the weather was absolutely perfect (for a change), so that meant the park was a little quieter, relatively speaking. Anyway, after going for a ways in the woods, we emptied out onto a beach, with a beautiful lake and a glacier on the other side, and a number of fishermen along the bank. We skirted around them, and went through a bunch of mud flats, getting a bit damp in spots, though I did my best to lift my legs up on my saddle to avoid it as much as possible. After two hours we stopped and rested, and Hubby and I ate the lunch I had packed (though no one else seemed to have done that, and no snack was provided), before heading back home again. In the end, the ride was actually longer than four hours, and Hubby was hurting for the last 90 minutes, but stoically kept it to himself (though I could tell he was in pain, no one else could), and was quite happy and exceedingly proud of himself that he made it in one piece, as was I. I helped Joshua pack in the horses, trailering them in a way I don't recall ever seeing before, nose to tail from front to back, which made sense when he explained it to me. Then off he went, and Hubby and I decided to just spend the night where we were parked, as it was off the road, in the woods, next to a river... What more could you want? ATV activity didn't slow down much until much after dark, so it turned out to be a pretty good choice. Didn't want to get to Anchorage early anyway, with their rules against parking overnight there, and we were close enough that it didn't matter. RV portion of the trip almost finished!

Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 – Travel to Talkeetna, Hurricane Turn, Gorgeous Sunset over Clear Denali

Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 – Travel to Talkeetna, Hurricane Turn, Gorgeous Sunset over Clear Denali

With Denali checked off the list, we decided to head back to our favorite place so far, Talkeetna, and take the Hurricane Turn train, which had been our original plan for last Thursday, but we scrapped when the clear skies drew us to K2 aviation instead. On our drive down, we were about 50 or 60 miles south of the National Park when we turned a corner, and there she was!! Denali (aka Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North American) as clear as we'd ever seen it, absolutely gorgeous!! Starting to get spoiled seeing it so many times, so clearly, since only about 30% that visit ever get to see it, and now we've seen it more than once! We pulled off on several occasions to get good pictures, and the trip was made even more gorgeous because of the beautiful weather. As we got further south, though, it clouded up again, and the mountain was again obscured. Definitely have to take advantage whenever it comes out! We left Denali early so that we could make the train, and got there with a little time to spare. They gave us a permit to park the RV, which they said was good until tomorrow morning, so we decided we would probably just stay the night there, and before we knew it, we were off and running! ANOTHER great day, with unplanned stops all along the way, as this train is one of the last flag stop trains in North America, meaning that in order to catch it, all you have to do is stand by the edge of the tracks and flag the train down! It still services many old homesteaders in the area, and takes many hunters, fishermen, and even rafters up river for a few hours, a few days, or whatever, and they either float down the river or pick up the river on the return trip. Beautiful scenery once again, though we didn't see much wildlife, and the trip back wasn't as leisurely as normal, as one fisherman we had dropped off was suffering from chest pains when we picked him up, so we pretty much had to head straight back to the terminal, with just a few flag stops along the way. We had some interesting chats with the Conductor, though, even delving a little into the taboo subject of politics, and overall had a very good time. Check another one off the list! We opted instead of getting off at the depot to stay on the train until it backed up into town, then had dinner at a little pub behind the main general store that was having a Friday night special, a half pound burger, fries and a beer for $6.95, can't beat that! Then I persuaded Hubby to walk with me down to the edge of the river, where we were rewarded with a gradually clearing view of Denali, as the sun was setting, and got into a conversation with a couple from Oregon, I think, and we were literally there standing on the beach until 11:00! It gets dark so late here, that was just about when twilight was fading! Finally we walked back the half mile or so to the depot, where we spent the night, with only a couple of freight trains going through to disturb us before it quieted down for the rest of the night. Another GREAT day in (still) our favorite place in Alaska!