Here are a few of the pictures that we took along the way in Alaska. Some of the best parts have no pictures as 1) My camera didn't have a good enough telephoto lens to get some of the pictures or 2) My camera died about 2/3rds of the way through the cruise. I have not tried to optimize any of the pictures. The trip was from August 5th, 2009 to August 16th, 2009. The land portion was from the 5th to the 9th. We went on board on the 9th and disembarked on the 16th.

Getting there

Getting there was not half the fun as there was a large forest fire around Fairbanks. We were to fly into Fairbanks, but the only runway with instruments was down for repairs (I thought that's what they said) so we were diverted to Anchorage. There they trundled us on a bus and we arrived in Fairbanks about 6:30 am (9:30 am Chicago time). We were out on tour by 8 am and the crew on the bus was remarkably good natured, possibly too tired to complain! Others lost a day of vacation because the delays in getting into Fairbanks. Every vacation has to have a trial. To have it that mild and at the beginning was great.


Note -- larger copies of all pictures will open up in new windows if you double-click them

river boat We started on a riverboat cruise. This is the riverboat Discovery III and yes, it was that foggy. We had a nice cruise down the river. While on board there were presentations by various native people. One woman showed furs from various animals and discussed what the natives would have done with them. Here she shows ermine fur, which see commented, "we like to refer to these as Texas polar bears." furs
furs Along the way, we got to see them training sled dogs. This is the late Susan Butcher's training program. Susan Butcher won the Iditarod sled race several times. As you can see, at this time of the year, they don't use a sled but a motorless ATV. The dogs do a mile loop at about 20 mph. The driver in this picture is planning to run the Iditarod in a couple of years, once she gets the money together. We also visited a reconstructed native village. You can tell the weather from the forest of umbrellas. river boat

Gold Mining

river boat river boat
river boat river boat

We then went to a gold-mining place, where we rode a little train, saw gold-mining equipment (pictures available if you want) and did some panning for gold. Between us, we got about $30 of gold; the gold in this pan was worth a bit more than $15

Wildlife Viewing

raftingDenali Park has only one road and private vehicles can only go about 13 miles into the park. The number of buses is also strictly limited. We went out about 60 miles. Along the way we saw the state bird of Alaska, the ptarmigan, not the mosquito; several bear families with mother and cubs playing (grizzlies), dall sheep (like mountain goats) and caribou. Unfortunately most of the wildlife was too far away for me to get good pictures so I show only the nice caribou. On the bus they had a 100 power spotting scope hooked up to screens on the bus, so we could see that that little white dot really is a sheep. We also got a good view of where Mount McKinley/Mount Denali would have been if the smoke and clouds hadn't been so thick.


rafting rafting rafting

We went rafting. Margo does not like rides, being wet or cold; all strong negatives for this. She did seem to enjoy it. We were wearing full dry gore-tex wet suits with gaskets around the neck. They were fairly protective of the dry suits as they run about $700 each. We were rowed/guided by a crew person, who did all the work. Others took a tour where they paddled and a guide just steered. Our tour director said she took one of those tours and fell out. That was enough for Margo! (and me).

The train from Fairbanks to Denali and other adventurers

rafting rafting rafting

We took the train from Fairbanks to Denali, which went along the Nenana river. Above you see pictures of the train and a couple of rafters we saw on the river as we were going to Denali. We would be doing that later the same day. The third picture shows two of our friends from the trip on an ATV. The driver, and instigator was Marj; Diane is hanging on the back. Afterwards, Marj said something like "I've tried that; I don't see any reason to try it again." You might note the snazzy footgear that they were wearing.

The transition

rafting On Sunday, the 9th, we transitioned from the land portion of our tour to the see portion. On the left you see Margo with our tour director on the tour, Stephanie. Stephanie did an excellent job keeping people together and having fun. On the right is the Statendam, one of the "dam" ships of Holland America. It normally holds about 1200 people but I think we were more like 1500 as there were parents with children (or grandchildren) aboard. rafting

Glaciers and chocolate

glaciers Here we are in front of a glacier in Glacier Bay, another National Park. We were able to see the glaciers calving, but my camera was obstreperous and refused to catch the calving. This was taken by a lady we met on the cruise, , who was traveling with her husband and two teen-age boys. Also while we were in Glacier Bay, they had a program on chocolate. The key was a trivia contest on chocolate, which Margo won. As you can see from the picture, she won a chocolate martini. We split it. It was actually not bad. Note the sweatshirt she is wearing; she wore it quite often and get many positive comments on it. glaciers

Scenery and eagles

scenery scenery scenery

While in Haines, we took a lovely hike. Here we see a view through the woods to the bay. In the afternoon, we took a float trip through eagle country and saw many bald eagles. Here you see another of the floats. With the limited zoom and the continued recalcitrance of the camera, no eagles appear in this picture, although we saw many, including a nest with an eaglet in it. Finally a view from the ship back towards Haines, one of the last pictues the camera took before dying.

We have no pictures of the orcas, harbor seals or humpback whales, although we saw quite a few of all of them. We were even fortunate enough to see hump-backed whales bubble-feeding. You can google for information on that, but it is really neat to see 4 or 5 hump-backed whales come out of the water with their mouths open, scooping up fish. As the tail of a hump-backed whale is the size of a full-sized pickup truck, it truly is a sight.

The end

Friends FriendsFriends

A trip like this is more than scenery. It was the shows on board (which we weren't allowed to photograph); it was the food; it was the service such as the little animals that the cabin stewards would make each night in our cabins out of the towels.

And it was the people. Here we are with Marj, (of Marj and Diane, see above with the ATV). We ate with Marj, Diane and Shuli twice in the evening. Shuli, Margo and I did the 5k walk for breast cancer. The only excitement on the 12 laps around the deck was when the captain made an evasive maneuver and the deck tilted. Shuli and I headed for the rail (for that faux pas, they served a glass of free champagne the last night.) A sampling of the people we met would include the former Veteran's affairs disability lawyer who was now teaching middle-school science and doing the disability work on the side, Gail, who was talked into a float plane trip and ended up loving it, the Australians (from Eastern Europe), who lived in near the brush and had wallabies using their cat flap -- they made her tidier; she had to clean up every night and the lady from Pennsylvania who shared her back yard with bears. There was also the dentist who worked for the state psychiatric hospital -- people with germ fetishes so bad that they would stick their hands in boiling water, but not brush their teeth. One woman was enjoying herself despite broken ribs and I could go and on. Alaska was wonderful and so were the people.