Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Travelogue - North to Alaska

Well, well, well.  Here it is Wednesday again and I've only just returned from a trip. Which means I'm NOT prepared with a blog post! So I'm going to share my vacation with you while I continue to return to my regularly scheduled life.

DH and I flew into Seattle to a perfect day where we had excellent views of the skyline beside Puget Sound, and Mt. Ranier looming on the horizon. We then started out toward Juneau on a cruise ship. Friends, I've never been seasick before, but the passage was pretty rough. That first day at sea was a challenge, and although I didn't feel so very green, the waves definitely shook up my insides. Fortunately, it didn't take much to settle things down, and with only a minor interruption in the schedule, we arrived in Alaska on the second day.

For those of you who don't know, Juneau is not accessible over land. As our guide told us, you get there by air, by sea or by birth canal. They have one road with loops that bring you back if you venture off. Our tour of the day was whale watching. With the water a bit more serene, we started out from Auke Harbor, where we saw bald eagles the way we have robins or cardinals at home. How amazing to see these impressive birds just hanging around! And then there were the whales. Yeah, we saw some hump backs dipping around, and then we found a calf who was in a playful mood. That whale breached the surface 15 times in a short period of time! Breaching whales are unusual. Seeing it that many times is amazing! We continued on to a hike through the rain forest toward the Mendenhall Glacier, where we ran across "bear sighting" signs. Never did see a bear, although we did run a cross a porcupine. We went into town and rode the tram to the highest point in Juneau. Now, Juneau has what you call microclimates. When our ship docked, it was raining. When we got to the harbor to go whale watching, the sun had come out and it was a beautiful day. When we returned to the city, there was a shroud of fog. Riding up the Tram, we went through the fog, and while we were at the top of the mountain, the fog cleared, allowing us some excellent photos!

The second day, we came into Skagway. Our tour there took us on the White Pass railway, which followed the "Trail of 98," where gold rushers had climbed the mountains on their way to Canada, the Yukon, where the gold actually was. Sad stories accompanied those gold rushers, of their mania and the consequences of their actions. Today, the narrow-gauge train takes you to the top of the mountain,  past stunning scenery and breathtaking cliffsides, over trestle bridges and through tunnels.

On the third day we arrived in the Tracy Arm Fjord at the foot of the Sawyer Glacier. If you've ever seen a cruise ship, you can understand the size of those monstrosities. Imagine feeling dwarfed beside the towering mountains and thick glacier surrounding. We were fortunate to sail in close to the glacier, past ice floes where seal moms protected their seal pups. Dozens and dozens of them. Where the glacier has melted back, plant life is reclaiming the land with no soil for a foothold. Moss. Alders, Spruce. Hemlock. Mountains and waterfalls, snowcaps and sheer rock faces. Just stunning.

Our last stop was in Victoria, British Columbia. One of the things that most impressed me about our tour all through the area was the temperate climate. We were told you can grow anything in Victoria because it rarely freezes. They had palm trees! And I walked through a real-live castle! (Craigdarroch Castle.)

When we returned to Seattle, we took a trip to Mt. Ranier. More stunning vistas, mountain peaks, alpine meadows, waterfalls... I never get tired of it. So beautiful. Talk about seeing the fingerprints of God! And yet we should maintain a healthy respect for the wilderness. While we were there, a guide hiking the glacier on the other side of the mountain to the summit got separated from his party and died.

For many years, I have measured trips to the mountains against my trip to Scotland, where the scenery is also wild and untamed. I had a friend who used to tease me that certainly we had similar terrain in the U.S.A. I have admired a variety of landscapes this side of the ocean, but this trip to Alaska was the only place I've visited in the U.S. so far that compares.

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