ALASKA - 2016

DENALI - Photo taken in July 1998
Two years ago, Dawn, Bob, Brandon, Sophia and I took an Alaskan cruisetour. The itinerary included a few days after the cruise at Denali National Park. Brett was invited to go as well, but projects at work prevented his being away at that time. When I visited him and Alba this past Christmas, Brett expressed an interest in finally taking that trip to Alaska. I was excited about spending time with him and Alba, and after I returned home, I gathered information to share with them. It included a 7-day cruise and land tour extension to Denali. The fine-tuning began: Brett was uncomfortable being away more than a week and a cruisetour requires at least ten days. Having already been on a short cruise, he reminded me that he dislikes the regimentation of a cruise. I asked if he would be interested in simply going to Alaska's interior, to spend several days at a lodge in the back country. There would be no internet, no television, no cell phones. He declared that would be perfect. It would be everything Los Angeles isn't. There would be few people, no vehicles and lots of quiet and fresh air.

This is what we did: 

Wednesday, June 29 

I flew to Los Angeles and spent the night.  Alba was in Seattle for the day, so Brett and I took a walk along the beach and then had dinner at recently opened 805 Firestone Walker Brewing Company. Back at the apartment, Brett finished packing for him and Alba.

Thursday, June 30

After quickly passing through security, we had breakfast before boarding Alaska Air's 5-hour flight to Anchorage. When we landed at 1:30, bags in hand, we called Lakefront Anchorage to request their shuttle service to the hotel. 

The afternoon was sunny and warm, so once we'd registered and found our room, we set out on what turned out to be a 4-mile walk around Lake Hood, known to be the float plane capital of the world.

The walk finished, we found a table on the patio and sat down to order drinks and an early dinner. Back in the room, Brett and Alba discussed walking into town, 4 miles away, for ice cream. While they discussed the pros and cons of another walk, we all fell asleep.

Friday, July 1

We met the hotel shuttle at 5:15 AM for the transfer to Egan Convention Center where we would board the bus taking us to Denali.  It had begun raining during the night and continued through the morning. Since we had over an hour before the Egan bus would arrive to pick us up, the hotel's driver agreed to drop us a block away at the Westmark Hotel (the hotel where Dawn, her family and I stayed two years ago on our way to Denali) for breakfast. While Brett and I opted for the full buffet, Alba chose the less inclusive continental. Brett and I filled our plates with eggs, bacon, pancakes, potatoes, etc.,  and Alba brought to the table a pastry and oatmeal.  And when she had finished with those, having Brett's permission, she proceeded to help Brett clean his plate! (During the trip Alba proved to have a great appetite without seeming to add a pound to her small frame.)

Before heading to the Egan Center, Alba returned to the continental buffet to select an assortment of breads to snack on during our drive. At 7:00 AM we boarded the bus for the nearly 6-hour ride to Denali National Park's entrance.  We were met by Backcountry Lodge's (BCL) bus about 1:30. Each seat on the 50-passenger bus was filled and 6 hours and 90 miles later, we arrived at our destination where we would spend the next four days.

Although the rain had stopped around noon, the roads were wet and windows became mud-spattered. At this stop at the Teklanika River overlook as well as other stops, Sherri, our driver, squeegeed them clean. Clouds hung low over the mountains the rest of the day.

The three of us at Teklanika River, the first of three rest stops.

Days of rain had resulted in high water and heavy runoff.  This photo illustrates the merging of brown water runoff with the river's opaque gray water.

This wasn't a good day to see the animals. Dall sheep were spied high on a mountain, but binoculars were needed to verify the spots were animals, not snow. Binoculars also con-firmed the sighting of a grizzly that was difficult to see if it wasn't moving. Near the road was a herd of mother caribou and their calves. Sherri explained that when the matriarch goes into labor, all pregnant females will as well and within 24 hours all will have delivered their calves. The massive birthing protects the longevity of the herd. Some calves will be lost to predators, but most will survive. If births occurred over a longer period of time, calves could be taken one at a time, reducing the number to survive to adulthood.

It was at the Eielson Visitor Center at mile 67 that we finally had dramatic views of the scenery.

Saturday, July 2 

Dinner after our arrival on Friday evening wasn't served until 8:00 and it was after 9:00 before we got to bed. But we were up by 7:00 Saturday morning, dressed and on our way to breakfast about 8:00. As we approached the dining hall, a female moose was crossing Moose Creek. I took a photo, but she was already into the woods before I snapped the picture. 

Brett and Alba were anxious to get outdoors and chose to go to Wickersham Dome, a moderate 3-mile hike with a steep climb.  There were several areas where the rain had created culverts along the trail. It was a quiet walk (when we weren't talking) and easily done with pauses for me to catch my breath.

A glimpse of a mountain top from Wickersham Dome

We took a break on top before returning to BCL. Brett and Alba climbed the rock formation adjacent to the Dome and then we sat for awhile hoping the clouds would lift so we could see Denali. On the return to BCL we stopped at Kantishna Air Taxi (KAT) to reserve space to fly from the Lodge to Anchorage, about an hour's flight, on Tuesday rather than take the shuttles for another 11-hour bus ride.

The afternoon was spent sitting beside Moose Creek where Brett and Alba cooled their feet in the ice cold water.

In this photo, taken on the porch of the Lodge, Skyline Lodge and KAT can be seen on the hill over my left shoulder.

A photo of BCL as seen from Skyline Lodge and KAT 

The Lodge is in the far right and center are cabins on the creek

Cairns could be found in several areas on the grounds

Brett and Alba, striking a pose, on their return to the cabin from the Lodge

Sunday, July 3 

On the Botany Trail
Rain again. It finally stopped about 10:00 AM and we headed out to take a short walk but couldn't find the trail's sign post. Returning to the Lodge, we detoured to take Botany Trail in search of the bridge we'd been directed to. It was an interesting walk, but we moved quickly because it had begun raining again. Back at the Lodge, we asked to be taken to the trail head of Eagle Point.

Once at the trail, we had to bushwhack our way through the vegetation. And although the rain wasn't heavy, it was steady. After 1/2 mile or so we reached an outcrop of rock and when we couldn't find the continuation of the path, we decided to turn back and waited at Fanny Quigley's cabin for a ride back to BCL.

The rain continued off and on the rest of the day. Brett and Alba took a nap and then we went to the Lodge to play a board game. We tried to take a walk before dinner, but hurried back to the Lodge when we saw dark clouds headed our way. After dinner we attended a presentation by Carl Tobin, an alpinist who has climbed Denali, who gave a slide presentation of his ascent of Mt. Foraker.

Monday, July 4

I wanted to see Wonder Lake (and if lucky, Denali) and Brett and Alba wanted to walk, so we compromised. They headed out to walk the 5 miles to Wonder Lake and I took the 10:00 shuttle to the lake. At one point they had to cross a rush of water, runoff from the rain, that crossed the road.

Waiting to see Denali
When we met up at Wonder Lake, we took a portion of an easy hike, Blueberry Hill, and then sat on a mound to wait for the clouds to lift so we could see Denali. Instead we watched rain move across our field of vision and soon could see nothing but gray all around us. We walked back to the pick-up point to meet the bus for our return to the Lodge.

This is what we had hoped to see...
After lunch they took a nap and then had massages. The rain stopped as dinner ended. 

Tuesday, July 5

KAT picked us and four others up about 10:30 and delivered us to the air strip. On the plane and in the air, our pilot, Shawn, was unable to get through the pass because of cloud cover, so we returned to base and spent about an hour at KAT waiting for better weather. Loaded up again, we were able to fly to the air strip at the Denali entrance to drop people catching the train to Anchorage.

Alaska Railroad approaching Denali's depot with Park visitors

Savage River, at the end of the 16-mile public access road
into the Park

Cloud cover in Anchorage would make it impossible for us to land there, so we opted to fly north to Fairbanks. Thirty minutes later we landed, Shawn called a taxi for us and we headed to FAI, got seats on the next plane to ANC and landed in Anchorage about 3:00. Luggage claimed, we called the hotel shuttle and were back at Lakefront about 3:30. We headed to the lounge, had an early dinner, the three of us splitting a pear and walnut salad and each ordering the fish and chips that Brett raved about on our first visit. The meal was finished off with berry cobbler a la mode. After dinner, Brett and Alba walked around the lake again. I stayed in, saving energy for the long day ahead flying home. 

Wednesday and Thursday, July 6 and 7 

We had a lazy morning. Our flight wasn't scheduled to leave until 2:30, so we walked to Gwennies for breakfast. At noon we caught the shuttle to ANC. Brett had forgotten he had a pocket knife of his dad's in his pocket and was allowed to return to the terminal to send it to himself rather than have it confiscated. After passing through security, we learned that our flight had been delayed about 90 minutes. That meant that I would likely miss my Los Angeles connection to Chicago. We sat at a table at Starbucks and Brett got the original LAX flight changed to one leaving about 90 minutes later. There were no delays once in the air. We arrived in LA on time, I picked up my bag at Terminal 6, and we walked to Terminal 7 where I checked it in. We hugged goodbye, they caught a shuttle to their car and I went to my gate to wait for boarding. We arrived in Chicago at sunrise, I hoofed it to my gate and the flight to Canton arrived on time, a little after 10:00 AM on Thursday.


Not only did we have rain three of our four days at BCL, it was a rainy month for the Park. Average rainfall for Denali in July is 4 inches.  July 2016 saw almost 16 inches.  The road near Eielsen Visitor Center (at mile 67) washed out on July 30 making it impossible for those in the lodges in Kantishna to leave the Park by road.  A few days later the road was passable but traffic was limited.


Alba wanted to see how cold the water was

ALASKA - 2014

Early this year my fantasy was to take a summer cruise with Dawn and her family, and Brett and Michelle. Amazingly, the stars aligned ... almost.  Dawn and Bob were able to schedule vacations for the same time.  However, Brett and Michelle had employment responsibilities that didn't fit with the timeline.  Thus, Dawn, Bob, Brandon, Sophia and I headed out for Holland America's Alaska 12-day cruisetour the end of June.  Next year I look forward to doing something with Brett and Michelle.  

What follows are the highlights of our Alaskan cruise and land tour to Denali, accompanied by many photos.


Our flight from Cleveland to Vancouver, BC, with a connection in Toronto required us to be at the Cleveland airport at 4:30 AM. Therefore, we spent the night of the 27th at the Crowne Plaza hotel near the airport. Great accommodations and outstanding early evening dinner. Plus, for a minimal upcharge for one room, we had free parking for up to two weeks. On Saturday, we were up at 3:00 AM, took the complimentary hotel shuttle to the airport at 4:00 and checked our bags near 4:30. Our flights from Cleveland to Vancouver were routine. 

4:00 PM Vancouver Time - Lights Out
We went to Vancouver a day early to avoid last-minute travel complications that could result in our not getting to the ship before it sailed.  Fortunately we arrived on schedule, in fact a few minutes early.  HAL trans- ferred us from the airport to the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel on Canada Place, directly across the street from the HAL terminal. Only noon and too early to check in, we walked to Cactus Club to have lunch. The rain, which started as we ate, had stopped by the time we were ready to return to the Fairmont.  Once luggage was claimed and we checked in, both Brandon and Sophia went to bed.  Sophia woke up about 8:00, hungry. From the grilled cheese sandwich ordered from room service, she took a bite and declared she didn't like the cheese. It didn't go to waste -- the remaining four people each had a bite, and then we all went to bed.


Breakfasts were gotten at Starbucks and McDonalds in the shopping area below the hotel. At 10:30, a HAL representative walked those who'd stayed at the hotel the previous night across the street to the terminal where we went through security, and then Customs, before finally receiving our cabin key cards, and for Sophia, a red wristband which identified her as being under 13. In the event of an emergency on the ship, such banded children, if not with their parents, are taken by a crew member to the life boat station imprinted on the band to be reunited with family.

While we waited for luggage to be delivered to our cabins, we went to the Lido for lunch.  It took several food encounters before Brandon and Sophia comprehended that they didn't have to pay for anything they might want to eat.  In fact, if they really liked something, they could have another. Conversely, if they tried something they didn't care for (e.g., anchovies), they could order something else. Nor did they need cash to buy merchandise.  They each had a cabin credit allowance of $50. It was interesting to note how they chose to spend that credit in the days that followed.

Following lunch we explored the ship -- the Rotterdam restaurant, library, spa, shops that would open when we set sail, and the children's clubs -- ages 8 through 12 for Sophia and 13 through 18 for Brandon. Sophia refused to participate in her group's club since the age of the attendees was closer to 8 than 12. She went to Brandon's with him but was not allowed to remain when her red wristband was seen by the attendant. Brandon didn't return after the initial visit, saying that he didn't share the same interests as the others they'd met there.  He and Sophia would do things together, or as the days passed and confidence grew, find things to do independent of each other. 

While waiting for embarkation, Bob, Dawn, Brandon and Sophia played at tennis.  I don't think any had swung a racquet before, as evidenced by their skill. But they laughed themselves silly.  Sophia failed to get out of the way of a ball, and showed us the bruise that resulted.

Sailing away from Canada Place

As the time to leave port approached, we stood on the Navigation Deck where we remained as we sailed under Lion's Gate Bridge and our cruise began.  


Dressed for dinner on formal night

Bob spent most of his day on the verandah, taking in the scenery and recording much of it on the camera. Dawn, the kids and I shopped, but anticipating lower prices later in the week, bought nothing! Dinner was formal, expected on leisurely days spent at sea. Although I didn't go to the evening's entertainment, comments made by Dawn and Sophia led me to believe the show was corny. Fortunately, later in the week, there were two entertainers, both comedians who weren't employees of the ship, that were, in fact, entertaining. The HAL dancers and singers -- or perhaps it was their programs -- were laughable. For the wrong reasons.


We had booked no excursions in Ketchikan, planning instead to walk through the town and visit shops.

The ax is in the air between the target and the thrower
But on Monday evening, one of the crew from the Great Alaskan Lum-berjack Show did a short introduction of the skills used in the Lumber-jack program. Since the venue was an easy walk from the ship and the rain which welcomed us to Ketchikan had ended, we attended and enjoyed the show very much.

Bob had noticed folks driving golf cart-type 4-seaters, so after the show, he rented two and we went in search of Bald Eagles but didn't see any. We also visited Totem Heritage Center, a collection of totem poles, woven baskets and robes.

Button Blanket, a ceremonial robe

Woven baskets

Back on foot, we hit the souvenir shops. Sophia bought sweatpants, a T-shirt and shorts, Bob and Dawn found rain jackets and Brandon found a rock shop where he got several at give-away prices.  

Back on board, Dawn and Brandon attended an afternoon Indonesian tea while Sophia, Bob and I stood at the rail on the deck awaiting sail away. Dinner was eaten in the Lido since we failed to go early for "anytime" dining. The food was a great disappointment to me, and I vowed to eat early, in the Rotterdam dining room, the remainder of the cruise!

Sailing away from Ketchikan


Dockside in Juneau

The day started with spritzing rain, but by the time our bus shuttle reached our destination, the Mendenhall Glacier, it had stopped.  We enjoyed the mile or so walk to Nugget Falls where we took photos before returning to port. We got a snack at the Red Dog Saloon and then spent some time visiting more souvenir shops. Dinner was at Table 112, a spot we requested each subsequent evening. Although our waiter (or his understanding of English) left much to be desired, other attendants, especially Alit, were entertaining.  By the time of our last dinner there, Alit had made three origami animals for Sophia.
Mendenhall Glacier

Menhenhall Glacier on the left, Nugget Falls on the right


Above the tree line where vegetation is sparse
This was the first of several "8 hour" ex- periences. Once again the day started with rain, which got heavier as we headed out on the only ex- cursion we had prebooked, the "White Pass Rail and Yukon Expedition". The terrain rose several hundred feet from sea level, introduc- ing us to a variety of changing scenes ... from heavily wooded areas to elevations where only spindly shrubs could live. The destination was Caribou Crossing where we were given a lunch of chicken, slaw, baked potato and cake doughnuts. We then strolled the grounds and watched sled dogs demonstrate their abilities pulling wheeled training carts.

As we neared our destination, Caribou Cross- ing, we paused to see Carcross Desert, eleva- tion 2,160 feet, which measures about one square mile. It is actually a series of sand dunes. The area's climate is too humid to be considered a true desert. The sand was formed during the last glacial period, when large glacial lakes formed and deposited silt. When the lakes dried, the dunes were left behind.

The small outhouse-sized structure on the right front is
common in buildings in the far north. The area keeps cold air
from entering the home and warm inner air from escaping into
the frigid outdoors when someone enters or exits the house. 

On our return to the ship, we stopped in Carcross before continuing on to board a train for the remainder of our trip back to Skagway.

A bear-proof (and in some instances, people-proof)
trash bin.

On the train through Tormented Valley


Brandon had "complained" that he just wanted to sleep, and now he could with a day at sea. (But he didn't!)

Once again, it was raining and it continued off and on through the day. (We learned later in the trip that this spring had been one of the rainiest Alaskans have seen in several years.)  During the day Bob, while at his post on the verandah, spied some small whales and several seals. We even had a sea gull visitor!

As we got closer to Margerie Glacier, the size and number of ice bergs increased. Unlike Hubbard Glacier which I visited in 1998, Margerie calved often during our two hours there.  Those of us in quiet areas could hear a sound like a gunshot and we would watch the area the sound came from, waiting to see part of the glacier fall away. Most days the temperature didn't rise above 60, but being so close to the glacier made this day seem colder!

The blue water is runoff from the waterfall; the grey water is melt from the
glacier and is heavy with silt and minerals

The face of Margerie Glacier


A day at sea to do laundry, shop (but there was nothing at the drastically reduced prices I had hoped for) and pack.  Before going to bed, suitcases, including those carry-ons permitted by the airlines, were to be tagged for the next destination. Only small bags (suggested to measure no more than 11"x17"x4") to contain medicine and valuables such as jewelry, cameras, etc. were to be carried on the train taking us to Anchorage where our adventure would continue.


Headed north out of Seward along the Kenai Lake

It was a long ride to Anchorage, one that began by rising between 4:30 and 5:00 in order to have breakfast before leaving the ship. About 6:15 we walked to the train and boarded the rail cars to which we'd been assigned.  This was another of what had become unfavorably known as "another 8-hour day". Both Brandon and Sophia had learned by now to listen to music on their iPods when the ride became uninteresting. Rain began as we approached Anchorage and continued on and off through the afternoon.

Clouds cover the mountains leaving Seward

Trees, trees, trees

A glacier,  possibly Spencer

And another glacier, or perhaps this is Spencer!

Mountains rise above the valley


Another train ride, this one with domed windows on the upper level and a dining room below. We were on board about 9:30 and arrived in Denali close to 5:30 (another 8-hour day).

Denali is visible in the middle of the picture, its peak touching
the horizontal white cloud just above it.  Compare its height
to the 4,000' dark mountains in the foreground, below it.
On the ride, a narrow hori- zontal strip of Mount McKinley (aka Denali) was visible at one vantage point.

Brandon questioned what we were going to do the following day, apparently hop- ing to sleep in. We'd been telling him the tour of the park would take a "few hours" without being specific. Then one of the passengers sitting near us, apparently trying to help, said, "6 to 8 hours...." Brandon's reaction had the adults around us laughing out loud.  He said he'd really enjoyed the trip, but just wanted to stop.  We told him it would stop once we got home. (We had to admit we adults were ready to stop, too.)

There are five trees common in Alaska: the white spruce, a pine which rises tall and slender; the black spruce which is short and spindly, appearing to be dead or dying; the paperbark birch, quaking aspen and the cottonwood. In Alaska, these grow in what is referred to as taiga, evergreen forests with shorter, warm summers and long winters. But much of Alaska is tundra, either alpine tundra where trees have been replaced by shrubs, moss and lichen or arctic tundra, where nothing grows.  On this portion of our journey we saw all five trees and all three zones.

White Spruce

Glacier-fed river through the trees

Alpine tundra - a beaver family's dam in the middle of a pond

Our rooms were in the McKinley Chalet Cottonwoods building. Basic, but adequate, accommodations. After we'd looked at our rooms, we went outdoors and found a group of people watching a female moose eating leaves from a tree along the river, only a few yards away. We were told she had a calf nearby and apparently had come to the grounds from across the river, perhaps trying to escape the pursuit of a bear.  We saw her and the calf the next morning, on the way to meet our tour group.


We had the fourth starting time for the Tundra Wilderness Tour, 5:50 AM.  It was to be another 8-hour day.  At this time of year, the sky doesn't darken that far north, so the day was bright when we boarded our city-type bus for the trip 60 miles into Denali's interior. We were instructed to watch for caribou, moose, grizzly bears, dall sheep and the golden eagle.  (The Bald Eagle doesn't nest here because of the lack of its food source.)  We saw them all, but a telescopic lens was needed to verify those white spots on the top of the mountain were dall sheep, not snow. As for seeing Denali, only another narrow strip with no possibility of imagining what the whole thing would look like. Even having our guide tell us that four of the mountain beside us would fit inside Denali made it difficult to imagine.

The photo of the landscape illustrates the U-shape of the valleys that were carved by receding glaciers.

There were many "braided" rivers whose meandering could, and
did, change overnight

Only a few inches of soil on which the grass could grow
This "black" mountain was next to the brown one above
On the excursion in Skagway we saw a Black Bear on the return to the ship. In Denali we saw the mama moose and her baby, as well as a Grizzly Bear, caribou, golden eagle and dall sheep.

Brown Bear
Grizzly Bear


Golden Eagle
Dall sheep, 3 of them.
(They were very far away>)


A bus picked up our group of 50+ for the 6-hour drive to Fairbanks.  Finally, not a drop of rain all day! Our entertainment for the afternoon was a quick lunch followed by a short riverboat cruise ( with a pause, first, at kennels where Iditarod dogs are trained and then at a replicated fish camp where we were shown how salmon are caught, dressed, and hung to dry. We also left the boat for presentations from young Athabascans who explained how the their ancestors had hunted, dressed and lived.

Along the river were stands of cottonwood, aspens and white spruce.

The dogs at the Butcher kennels are tied to the training vehicle and ready to pull. The dogs are bred for strength, endurance and love of the run. They look like "mutts", and are not the huskies or malamutes we usually think of as sled dogs.

A model fishing camp illustrates where the athabaskans lived, how they caught fish, cleaned and hung them to dry before smoking them and then transferring them to the cache.

Pelts used to make clothing include the wolf, lynx, wolverine, fox, beaver, otter and mink.

One of the young women modeled a coat made of several different animal pelts and embellished with beading that is valued at $20,000.

After the riverboat cruise we were all taken to the hotel.  While others went to their rooms to spend the night, we ate dinner, gathered our luggage, and sat in the lobby, waiting for the shuttle to take us to the airport for our red-eye flight home.  We were back in Massillon about 5:30 PM on Thursday, July 10.

Photos taken along the way...

This is what happens when a person gets up at 4:30 AM

Bunny made the trip as well