The Berry Family of Central Texas

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Alaska

Travel

We learned of this Holland America Line tour by watching a program on the Discovery Channel.  The program was about Ten Great Train Rides.  Holland America Line has several domed railway cars called McKinley Explorer, which are added to the Alaska Railroad's train between Fairbanks and Anchorage.  Since we were never going to take the three months necessary to visit Alaska in the RV we decided to book this tour instead.

We had not realized it when we booked the tour but the theme for the entire trip was retracing the route of the Klondike gold miners.  This added an extra dimension that was quite interesting and entertaining. 


Vancouver
We arrived in Vancouver a couple of days early to see the city.  We visited Granville Island, Stanley Park, and walked about twenty miles in two days. 
 

The Cruise
We embarked from Canada Place on the mv Zuiderdam, took a diversion into an iceberg strewn fjord, and stopped in Juneau before disembarking in Skagway.  The ship was very comfortable.  It was a bit cool to sit on our veranda so we spent a lot of time in the Crow's Nest bar where the view was best.  In Juneau we visited the Mendenhall glacier and Glacier Gardens, where upside-down trees are used as flower pots.  We did some shopping in Skagway and then boarded the Whitepass and Yukon railway for trip up the mountain and into Yukon Territory. 

The Trail to Whitehorse and Beyond
The Whitepass and Yukon railway took us up the mountain following the gold miner's trail.  At the top we met a luxury motor coach for our ride to Dawson City with a rest stop in Carcross and an overnight stop in Whitehorse.  We saw a great vaudeville show at the hotel in Whitehorse.  The next day we continued on to Dawson with a rest stop in Moose Creek. 

Dawson City
Dawson was our favorite city on the tour.  It has wooden sidewalks and no paved roads.  Sunset was 12:49 AM and sunrise was 3:49 AM - it never got dark.  The entire city seems frozen in time around 1900.  We took a guided tour of the Palace Theatre and a walking tour of the city.  Our guide for both was a year-round resident who had moved from Quebec and is a dog musher during Winter.  At the theater she taught us to play the card game Faro, and had us act out a short play in costumes of the period.  We also visited Diamond Tooth Gertie's Casino and watched the review. 

Yukon Queen and Eagle
From Dawson we took the Yukon Queen, a modern high-speed catamaran, down the Yukon River to Eagle, Alaska.  Eagle is a tiny town but quite picturesque.  Fort Egbert was located there at one time but it's now a National Historic Landmark. 

Road to Chicken, Tok, and Fairbanks
The motor coach met us in Eagle and we continued on to Tok with a rest stop in the big city of Chicken.  We spent the night in Tok and noted how high the sun gets on their shortest day of the year.  The next day we continued on toward Fairbanks with a rest stop at Rika's Roadhouse, a gorgeous old roadhouse that is very well-preserved.  Beside the roadhouse are log buildings that were used by the U.S. Army Signal Corps who provided communications in the early 1900s.  We also stopped to view the Alaska oil pipeline. 

 

Fairbanks
In Fairbanks we toured the Eldorado gold mine.  After a lunch of "hearty miner's stew" we toured Dredge Number 8 to see how gold was mined mechanically in the 20th century.  We then boarded a train for a trip into a gold mine where we learned about gold veins and placer mining techniques.  We watched our hosts pan for gold at the sluice, and finally we got to pan for gold ourselves.  We actually found about $20 worth!  We actually think they "salted" the gold flakes into the bags of dirt they gave us because they sell jewelry settings you can have it mounted in. 

 

McKinley Explorer and Denali National Park
From Fairbanks we rode a McKinley Explorer domed car on the Alaska Railway to Denali.  These railcars are first class.  Each car has luxurious seating on the 2nd level and a first class restaurant on the lower level.  The menu was great - for breakfast we had reindeer sausage and blueberry pancakes.  In Denali we stayed at the McKinley Chalet Resort and took a National Park Service bus into the park.  Private vehicles are only allowed part of the way into the park and to see any wildlife you have to go in quite a distance.  We were in 60 miles, which took about 4 hours.  These buses were cramped and not comfortable at all, but they had fold-down TV screens so we could monitor what the driver was filming on his video camera with telephoto lens.  We saw all the major species:  Dall sheep, caribou, moose, a grizzly sow with two cubs, a wolf with two pups, fox, and two young ravens.  Mount McKinley is truly spectacular.  It towers over all the other surrounding mountains. 

Anchorage
We stayed at the Hilton downtown near the harbor and spent a couple of extra days here before flying home.