A 5-day land tour, starting in Fairbanks through Denali Nat'l Park and on to Anchorage, followed by a 7-day "inside passage" cruise from Whittier (near Anchorage) to Vancouver, BC, with stops in Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan.
One of the high points (both figuratively and literally) of the trip for Cheri and me was dog sledding atop a mountain glacier.
43 degrees below zero in Fairbanks! Well, at least in a small room set up for tourists to see what that temp feels like (we'd last about 10 minutes dressed like that in the open at those temps!).
From here on, photos are pretty much in chronological order. The first thing we did in Fairbanks was go on a riverboat tour, which stopped at this sled-dog kennel (sled dogs are a BIG thing in Alaska). Here, they are hooking dogs up to an ATV, which they use to train them when there's no snow.
A sled dog (mom) with her two young pups.
As they finalize getting the dog team harnessed, the dogs get REALLY excited to get going - they LOVE to run/pull, and since they can't go forward yet, the jump several feet straight up in the air. We saw this with several teams of dogs over the course of the trip.
And...GO! Once the brake is let off and the dogs (specifically the lead dogs) are given the cue, they take off at an impressive pace!
About 5 minutes later, the team passed by on the other side of the lake, still at a full run!
...and 10 minutes later, they came barreling back into the yard. Alaskan huskies can run 6-8 HOURS without stopping, so this wasn't much of a workout (mostly for us tourists).
The huskies were let loose to jump in the river to cool off. In winter, just stopping (in wind and 20-50 below zero) cools them off!
The riverboat stopped at a native Alaskan "village" (visitor center), where several native Athabascan guides (including this young lady, who had an adorable sense of humor - "This is the traditional Athabascan moose call.....'Here moosey moosey!'") explained traditional ways of doing things. On the rack are hides from a reindeer (i.e., domesticated caribou), a moose, and a brown (aka grizzly) bear.
Minnie and Dick in front of a real (once)live moose.
The village (built for riverboat tours) included a little fenced area where this young lady (an active "musher" herself) answered questions about some of the dogs, which were brought from the kennel in the earlier photo.
Dogs playing/chasing each other. Note that none of these dogs is what you normally think of as (or see in movies) sled dogs, which is typically Siberian Huskies.
These are Alaskan Huskies, which are really carefully bred "mutts," combining traits of Siberian Huskies, Malamutes, and other breeds to create true endurance athletes. Note the lithe, athletic build of these dogs.
Alaskan huskies seem almost skinny, at least compared to what you think of as a "husky" (the word itself just means a dog that pulls). But think of the physique of the humans that win endurance races, like the Boston Marathon. They're "skinny" but superbly conditioned. Same thing here.
The riverboat also passed some grazing (apparently on tree trunks as well as grass) reindeer. Reindeer are the same as caribou, but domesticated.
Where glacial runoff (brownish) meets clear river water (below). Water coming from glaciers contains finely ground mud/silt referred to as "glacial flour." It gives many of the rivers and salt-water inlets in Alaska a grayish blue tint (which you'll see in some of the other photos).
The famous Alaska Pipeline (and a buncha tourists).
Next we took a little train ride around some mining country. Gold mining was a big deal in Alaska (including several "gold rush" periods) over the past century.
An actual gold mining dredge. This whole unit would move along a river.
Leaving Fairbanks, we had a nice sunny day with a clear (albeit faraway) view of Mount McKinley
Mount McKinley, which is normally covered by clouds (only one in three visitors actually gets to see it "out" like this). Supposedly the tallest mountain in the world (from base to peak; Mt. Everest reaches a higher altitude, but its base isn't nearly as low)
Minnie and Dick, and (barely visible) Mt. McKinley in the far distance.
All but the last leg of our land tour (which was on a train) was by "motorcoach" (aka bus). The uneven highways are due to areas of thawing permafrost, which cause the highways to buckle in places.
Approaching the Denali Princess Lodge, just on the edge of Denali National Park.
Cheri and I had signed up for an "excursion" to Jeff King's "Husky Homestead" (where dogs are king...get it?).
4-time Iditarod winner Jeff King tells stories of some of his races and wins.
Cheri got to hold several sled-pups, and you can see she really didn't enjoy it much.
Cheri is pretty much in heaven with puppies...
Our "excursion" group - learning about sled dogs and dog sledding.
As one of Jeff's assistants chooses dogs to hook up for an ATV pull, every dog in the place is barking and pulling on their chain to go!
As soon as the ATV takes off, however, the whole place goes silent, and the dogs relax.
Alaskan huskies have a very special double coat. The outside layer is water-proof and wind-proof, like Gore-tex. The inside layer acts like goose down, trapping and holding in heat. That's important in winter when they often have to just curl up and rest on the trail, exposed to temps of -20 to -50, and windchills twice that!
Norton is a bit of a trouble maker, but at this moment just taking it easy. Sled dogs live in these box/kennels year-round but, because of their special coats, they're able to stay warm (although, in unusual cold spells, their owners add some straw for extra insulation).
Norton attacking a bucket (did I mention he's a troublemaker?)
As you can see, Norton has done his best to destroy said bucket...
Award winning lead dog Salem enjoys a moment with Jeff King scratching his belly.
Salem has two gold harnesses hanging on the post by his house. Like "MVP" awards, they were given for his being the top lead dog in Iditarod races that he (and Jeff) won. Sled dogs keep training - and can actually keep racing - well into their teens. When they're finally too old, there are always people wanting them as house pets.
Sled dog harnesses are designed to be comfortable and let the dog contribute to pulling the sled, as well as stay connected to the team. Note: a sled on snow/ice is very light, so each dog has very little to pull - the equivalent of pulling a few pounds.
Bailey is an up-and-comer - a young dog Jeff thinks could be a future star lead dog. But right now he's bored (according to Cheri), so he's chewing on his house for something to do.
Bailey, getting some attention and loving it!
Puppy Homestead, where the would-be sled dogs grow up together.
This wheel - like those in hamster cages - is used as another way to keep the huskies in shape during the summer. It might look like he's just trotting, but...
...this dog is flat out sprinting as fast as he can (and the wheel is spinning scary-fast)!
The puppies have a wheel, too, but as you can see, they mostly just hang out/nap in it.
Jeff with a standard Iditarod sled. Imagine spending most of 10-15 days and nights and going over 1,000 miles on one of these (the winner usually finishes in 9-10 days)!
And this is what you'd probably be wearing in the Iditarod. For 10-15 days and nights (without a bath or shower)!
Cheri with Jeff King, 4-time Iditarod champion.
Talkeetna, a little town just South of Denali. Just a quaint little tourist town (where the dogs beg for ice cream, just like everywhere else!).
Talkeetna from a different angle.
Waiting to board the train to Anchorage (2 1/2 hours).
It was a really nice train, and apparently runs all the way from Fairbanks to Anchorage.
Our humorous guide, who talked pretty much nonstop for 2 1/2 hours.
Mac'n'cheese...with choice of reindeer sausage or king crab! Yum!
An osprey with a big nest - Traci took my camera and was able to get this shot as we raced by!
Leaning out between train cars...
Leaning out between train cars...just another case where Cheri feels a kinship with dogs!
A female moose at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Anchorage.
Wood Bison - very similar to, but less broad and bulky than Plains Bison (which are in the lower 48, e.g., Yellowstone Park). These are at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (near Anchorage).
Rescued orphan musk ox and moose (at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center)
Musk ox baby orphan - plum tuckered out!
The two moose orphans stayed really close to each other.
A pair of orphaned young moose rescued by the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Adult musk ox - built for cold weather!
Adult musk ox - built for cold weather!
Adult musk ox - built for cold weather!
This black bear was napping roughly 50 feet up in the top of a tree!
Entering tunnel through the mountain - originally built by the military - to get to Whittier (from Anchorage).
This is the only single-lane tunnel in N. America where trains and automobiles share the single lane (traffic is permitted each direction on a schedule). You can see that the tracks are inset right into the "road".
First glimpse of the mega-ship in Whittier, AK, on which we would begin the water portion of our trip!
One of the swimming pools (empty for this particular cruise). Since these same ships are deployed to the Caribbean part of the year, some of the themes are quite tropical.
Another of the ship's pools, this one with a retractable roof (just like the one on Safeco Field where the Seattle Mariners play!). Shot with a circular fisheye lens, partially zoomed.
A view of the retractable roof above the center pool.
Rick's shot of Traci and me relaxing at one of the many refreshment stands (aka bars) on the ship.
The ship's center atrium was filled with people in the evenings, when live music was always playing!
Hubbard Glacier, six miles across and three times as high as the Statue of Liberty!
(More glacier photos later)
A little ice with that? From our balcony looking down as the ship carefully navigates through ice chunks/bergs as we approach a glacier. As much as 90% of an iceberg is beneath the surface, so a chunk like this has a LOT you can't see.
Our entire group, with Hubbard Glacier behind. We had a table reserved for just the six of us every night for dinner. Left to right: Bruce, Cheri, Dick, Minnie, Rick, Traci.
Dick and Minnie, with Hubbard Glacier behind.
The glacier inlets for both Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier are full of ice "chips" (some the size of small houses) that have broken off the glaciers.
A small section of Hubbard Glacier.
Another section of Hubbard Glacier, with a glimpse of the top of the glacier above.
Some canyons where glaciers have retreated. U-shaped canyons like these are created by glaciers, which scoop out the terrain. V-shaped canyons are caused by rivers, which erode their batch lower and lower.
Beautiful terrain everywhere along the way!
Art in nature - water ripples along the ship (taken from our balcony).
Up to 90% of icebergs' mass is beneath the surface, and you can get an idea of that here.
Seagulls love to ride the currents along the side of the ship. (Shot from our cabin balcony.)
Glacier bay - the "dark" glacier, which runs right up against another glacier on the left.
Glacier Bay - front of glacier covered in dirt/rock it has scraped off on its way...
Glacier Bay (see boat on far right for scale)
Glacier Bay (impossible to get both glaciers in one frame, but I tried!)
Glacier Bay and fellow cruisers
Glacier Bay - note the brown specs on the chunk of ice in the foreground...
Glacier Bay - note the TINY brown specs on chunk of ice in foreground (right inn the center, about halfway between bottom and the base of the glacier)
...here is a better view of those two tiny specs.
Glacier Bay - looking away from the glaciers back down the channel
Glacier Bay - view away from the glaciers
View down the length of the ship with levels of cabins/balconies
Glacier Bay - passengers on deck
View of the big outdoor pool (and screen where they play movies), with both Glacier Bay glaciers in view
Circular fisheye lens (not quite circular because I was using it on a camera that has a slight crop factor). You can see 180 degrees left and right, but not quite 180 up and down.
Departing Glacier Bay (far right)
Departing Glacier Bay (far right)
Leaving Glacier Bay (glaciers behind us)
Heading out of Glacier Bay
Another glacier we passed on the way out of Glacier Bay
A smaller cruise ship anchored near the rocks in a glacier cove (lower left)
Closer view of that ship as it unloads a bunch of kayakers (colored bit on its left)
Those kayakers beneath cliff streams, as they head toward glacier (off screen to the left)
A string of kayakers paddling along base of glacier.
A, pair, of, seals, basking, on, some, of, the, "chips", of, ice, that, have, calved, off, of, the, glacier. They look like just two more dirty bits of ice...
...until you zoom in closer!
Waiting to board a helicopter for a tour of the mountains and visit to a sled-dog camp on top of a glacier
Rising in helicopter to what looks like a smaller portion in the snowy mountaintops.
Only to find huge mountains with glacial valleys.
The edge of a high glacier many miles wide as it "pours" through a gap and down into the larger glacier below, which you can see in the next photo.
Land of glaciers! Photo from helicopter that took us up to the glacier to go dog-sledding. This shows how gaps between mountain ridges pack with snow that becomes glaciers (the bluish tinge denotes glacial ice - turned that color by the immense pressure). "Hanging glaciers" like this move down, join others, and make their way to the sea.
These smaller glaciers are known as "hanging" glaciers, and there were hundreds of them, each many miles across. They feed the larger glaciers below, which in turn make their way down to the sea.
Here you can see a hanging glacier as it breaks from the huge glacial field atop the mountain, and falls (to the larger glacial channel lower below). It's hard to judge the scale, but this portion is probably 30 miles wide!
Our summer sled-dog camp atop one of these high glaciers. This helicopter tour/sled-dog camp experience was one of the highlights of the trip - we highly recommend it!
Another chopper landing at summer sled-dog camp.
The buildings in which the humans live while up here.
It doesn't take long for Cheri to connect with the canines!
Because sled dogs have an extra layer of skin that acts like Gore-tex insulation, they are totally comfortable sleeping on the snow.
More face-time for Cheri!
And Cheri gets to be "musher-in-training!"
The view from the sled as we get ready to take off. Note how the lead dog is looking back to get the go-ahead from the musher?
On top of the world! Crossing a glacier high atop the mountains. Alaska is full of breathtaking vistas, and this was certainly one of them!
(More dog-sled photos later)
And we're off! You can see how each dog is harnessed. Pulling the sled takes almost no effort by any individual dog, so this is mostly an excercise in running...and endurance. These dogs can run for 6-8 hours without stopping - amazing athletes!
It was a beautiful day to be on top of the world!
Pausing for a rest - Cheri chats with our musher, who owns this particular team of dogs, and races them in wintertime.
Cheri checking harnesses.
And arriving back at camp.
Each dog has its own box, and they sleep in them all year-round. During the coldest (way below zero) periods, some hay might be added, but because these dogs are bred to endure the elements, they do fine...and can't wait for a chance to be on a team and run!
Some future members of the sled teams - not sure they want to come out and meet us.
Once Cheri got her paws on them, though, her natural animal connection put them at ease!
Atop a glacier at the summer sled-dog camp they've got up there. These are some early recruits...
(BTW, the thing on my hat is a GoPro Hero2 video camera - video to be posted here later...after I remove all the jerky footage!)
And back in the co-pilot seat for the chopper ride back to the ship!
Taking offf, past the rows of dog kennels staked in the ice atop the glacier.
Dick, with downtown Juneau in the background
Downtown Junea from high on the tram.
Junea - on the tram up the mountain. These are a few other ships that were there.
Our ship (at left) and those others - all huge! Like small floating cities!
Our ship, docked in Junea, with some of its many pools visible. It is truly an amazing craft!
Our ship, with a "little" tour bus for scale
Our ship, with Cheri by the line for scale
Cheri with our ship behind
Cylon ship? (Ignore if you're not a Battlestar Galactica fan.)
One of the onboard sessions was a presentation by Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod. It was a really interesting presentation, and gave us a much better understanding of what an amazing feat of endurance the Iditarod is (the winner usually makes it in 10-13 days, getting only a few hours of sleep a day. The dogs are the real athletes, but the mushers pretty impressive, too!
Ketchikan is a quaint and charming little town. Although it still has plenty of tourist places, it doesn't feel as commercialized as Skagway (which is TOTALLY touristy) and Juneau. It's the only one of the three we felt like we would like to spend more time.
Some dumb tourist outside the Totem Pole Museum in Ketchikan.
Cheri, Traci and Rick outside Totem Pole Museum in Ketchikan
The first known photo of an Alaskan tribe with totem poles
The totem pole museum in Ketchikan.
Part of a very old totem pole
Alaskan health food. Hey, you need lots of fat calories to build up your layer of blubber for winter...
There was no shortage of food. In fact, the huge buffet made it far too easy to eat, eat, eat!
Our outstanding wait staff, dressed up for formal night.
Blowing out the candle on his birthday cake!
Dick, who organized and hosted this great trip, gets some well-deserved applause!