So you want to go to Alaska?

Glacier Bay : NPS PhotoIf you'd like to travel to Alaska, you first have to decide on whether you'd like to see Southeast Alaska or what I call Alaska Proper.

Southeast Alaska is a lot like British Columbia, except it is the United States. It has the same scenery, animals, and weather. Mostly it's done by cruise ship, either out of Seattle or Vancouver. The best parts are the glaciers. You can cruise, boat or kayak into Glacier Bay and see what is called Glacier "Calving" when a chunk of the glacier becomes too unstable over the ocean to hang on, it cracks and breaks off and drops, usually dramatically into the ocean. You can literally hear it crack and creak as it is straining to separate from the mother glacier. You do not need to be extremely close to experience this the best. So a full size cruise ship is adequate. Next are the usual port of calls, Skagway, Ketchikan and Juneau

Skagway is what was the gateway to the Chilkoot Trail, that which the miners traversed over the mountains to the gold fields. The trail is still there and part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. As one client put it, the town is pretty much owned by the National Park Service. It's not true, but seems like it. The town is usually populated by 450 persons years round, which swells in number in the summer months to around 4,500 residents. However, when the cruise ships are in port, there can be as many as 10,000 more persons walking the streets. Since the town is about 4 blocks long and 3 wide, it is an easy walk. Although the town has incorporated 455 square miles into the city boundaries , making it the largest city in Alaska, it is mostly forest beyond the few blocks. The town is, as expected, full of boutiques and restaurants/bars. It actually has native handicrafts which are a pretty good buy, once you get past the usual dreck, gold and tee shirts.. The National Park Service has a large visitor center with good displays and a great film accurately portraying the hardships the miners faced trying to get to the gold fields. The Canadian government required each miner to carry one ton (2,000) pounds of supplies. So each miner, carried as much as possible for five miles, stashed it, went back and got another load, until they had carried all 2,000 pounds that five miles and repeated the process until they reached the summit. It is estimated that a miner had to travel around 2,000 miles by the time he went back and forth with his load. Also here you find the White Pass Railroad, a narrow gauge steam engine pulling historic cars up to White Pass Summit. It rises in 20 short miles from sea level to a height of 2,900 feet This railroad, built to carry out the ore, etc from the gold fields is considered one of the top 20 engineering feats of the world, which include Panama Canal. Built in 1898, abandoned when the gold fields petered out, it now has resurgence as a cruise ship excursion. It is exciting to sit in the historic cars and see the magnificent scenery as you pass over trestles built over a 1,500 foot waterfall. Needless to say this is a very popular cruise excursion. What I recommend to clients is that they not only experience the train, but then take the bus back from the summit, so they can see the great trestles and scenery from another aspect. There are several other excursions from this port, which includes whale watching, bear discovery, etc. One should note that the salmon "run" late in the season this far south, so the bears are more visible when the salmon are "running". and the dead end inlet, while sporting some whales is not the most optimum of areas in which to spot them.

This is a continuing article on Alaska- be sure to see the next port of call, Ketchikan featured in next Friday's posting.