Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Journey to Alaska

The time has come for me to reveal where I have been during the first two weeks of June. Some of you may already know, but just in case you do not know, I have been living the dream of a lifetime!

Alaska

Attempting to write about this wonderful experience is very humbling. Tears of joy come to my eyes just thinking about all of the beauty around us as we traveled Alaska. We experienced areas where it is literally impossible to get to or drive to by car. We experienced the people, their lifestyle, and animals in the wild as we embarked on a four-day land tour followed by a week-long cruise on our journey thru Alaska.

Thank you to my sister who invited me to go with her on this Alaskan journey … it is an experience we will cherish to eternity!

Our guides told us right up front that people who come to Alaska hoping to see certain things do not necessarily get to see them. If they do see them, it is an awesome sight, but not guaranteed. Likewise, being able to see an awesome site does not guarantee you will get a photo. Getting the photo is another awesome moment. Sometimes people have to be satisfied with only the memory of seeing it.

Blessed we were! The grizzly bear roaming in the wild paid no attention to us as we captured bear movement on camera. Likewise, seeing the whale’s tail was a magnificent experience, but getting it on camera is by far an accomplishment left to only a few.

That is all I will say for now. I will share our experiences along with photos in multiple blog posts, as many as it takes to tell the story. Time to get on with our adventure…

Journey to Alaska

I left on Wednesday, June 1, and returned on Tuesday, June 14th. Over 760 photos returned with me on my digital camera, and my brain feels like it is on overload. We saw so many things. Every place we went, we had very knowledgeable guides who shared information about the places we visited.

The first leg of my trip was from Albuquerque to Seattle via Alaska Airlines. John drove the motorhome and dropped me off at the Albuquerque Sunport International Airport departure terminal for Alaska Airlines.

The excitement of getting on an airplane left me with mixed emotions. Bonnie and I have enjoyed many vacations together and flying never bothered me, but that was before 9/11 and the implementation of TSA safety rules. I am not afraid to fly, but now it was necessary for me to know what I could take and how to pack it in order to easily get through TSA. Fortunately, my boarding pass for boarding at Albuquerque was marked as pre-check, which, in this case, meant I did not have to take off my shoes to go through the security checkpoint.

After emptying my pockets and laying my purse and carry-on bag on the conveyor belt, I walked over to the open security doorway that I needed to walk through. The man on the other side met me before I went through and asked if I had any metal, i.e. knee replacement or hip replacement. I looked him in the eyes and told him no, just an underwire bra. He said not a word and motioned for me to walk through with no problem. I gathered up my stuff and proceeded to the gate without incident. I had already checked my luggage all the way to Fairbanks, so upon landing in Seattle, all I needed to do was locate the gate, check in, get a seat assignment, and meet up with my sister and three others in our party. They had told me in Albuquerque that seats were available, but they were unable to assign them because they were blocked.

After my sis and three other friends landed in Seattle, I learned that she and one other in our party also did not have a seat assignment, and none were being assigned. Boarding time came, and when we heard them asking for volunteers to give up their seats for vouchers, we realized the plane had been overbooked. Two of our party got on the plane to Fairbanks. Three of us were guests of the airlines at the Red Lion Hotel in Seattle that night with a very early departure the next morning.

Flight Change – Anchorage, Alaska

We were re-booked on a flight into Anchorage, after which we would change planes to fly into Fairbanks.  When I saw the scenery, snow-capped mountain tops, coming into Anchorage, it hit me – a blessing in disguise! If the flight to Fairbanks would not have been overbooked, we would have missed seeing Anchorage from the air…and missed seeing these beautiful snow-covered peaks. Wow!

(Note: Click on the picture to see it in a larger version, and simply click on the x to close out of it.)

Snow-covered mountains from the air photographed
thru the plane window as we descended into Anchorage.
What a spectacular view!
Viewing clouds through the windows of the airplane has always been a sight I love to behold. This time was no exception.

Descending through the clouds... into Anchorage 
We had time before boarding our flight to Fairbanks to each get a light carry-out lunch from McDonald’s. It was a light chicken wrap with a few trimmings and a drink. We found a row of chairs on the side opposite the gate boarding seating where we enjoyed this beautiful view of the mountains through the windows of the terminal while eating our lunch.

Could this be our bus, 'Prospector'? 
Saturday, when we boarded our bus for the land portion of our Alaskan adventure, I realized the bus in the lower portion of the above photo looked identical to the one named ‘Prospector’ that we would be on.

We had to go outside of the terminal to board, so this was the first time for me to set foot on Alaskan soil. Our flight to Fairbanks was on a smaller bright yellow plane, (I should have taken a picture), a type of regional jet that holds less than 80 people with two seats on each side of the aisle. I was in Row 18 near the tail end.

Again, we ascended above the puffy clouds.
Like a sea of white caps, we descended through multiple puffy clouds.
Fairbanks

We landed in Fairbanks approximately twelve hours later than originally planned. Our original flight carrying our luggage landed at 12:02 AM and it was now near noon.

Aerial view as the landing gear came down -- we were about to land in Fairbanks.
The writing on the plane read "Sea Wolves". 
We were told that any luggage that rides the baggage claim conveyors for twenty minutes without being claimed is taken to a secure area. Upon arriving, we, therefore, went to the secure area to claim our checked bags, which were waiting for us. The land portion of our tour would technically start Friday when we would meet our tour guide. We were very happy that Bonnie had planned for us to arrive several days before the tour started. Even though we arrived twelve hours later than planned, we still had ample time to rest up and do some exploring on our own.

Bear Lodge

Our shuttle to Bear Lodge was only a phone call away.  This was the season for displaying a lot of hanging plants with flowers, which added a lot of outside color in setting areas, etc.

Bear Lodge was our headquarters in Fairbanks.
Bear Lodge was only one of the buildings in this over 30-acre complex. Not far from Bear Lodge was a section of apartments for other guests. There was also a vintage car museum. Beside each vintage automobile was a manikin displaying a lady's outfit popular for that period in history, which interested the ladies while the gents looked at the cars. Nice touch!

I loved the bear claws at these entry doors. The reflection in the glass shows the beautiful sky, etc.

 Bear claw handles on the entry doors of Bear Lodge.
The lobby was fairly large with multiple sitting areas convenient for conversation, waiting for shuttle buses, or meeting other members of the tour. There was a bear on display within a sealed case.  The airport also had two sealed cases with a grizzly bear inside each, but the lighting and reflections made it hard to get a good photo.

This was the best photo I got of the grizzly bear, reflections, and all,
and it was taken in the lobby of Bear Lodge.
Bear Lodge had a sizable dining room featuring their breakfast bar, and a menu was also available for lunch and dinner meals. Another area of the lodge had a small bar where all five of our party had occasion to share selections they offered such as soup and salad. One day in particular when we were in between normal times for meals, we found it palatable to order the soup and salad, letting one person savor the soup while one other ate the salad.

Their gift shop offered a nice variety of items for their guests, whether they be shoppers, lookers, or just needing to get a bottle of water or use the internet to check emails.

View of gift shop taken from sitting area on opposite side of lobby.
After getting settled in our room on the third floor, we decided a nice evening meal of salmon would be tasty on our first night. The Alaska Salmon Bake was recommended to us. As our luck would have it, there was a bright red shuttle school bus that came by Bear Lodge regularly on the hour. The driver had an established route to and from local places of interest as well as nearby hotels, picking up approximately one hour from the time he left people off.

The Alaska Salmon Bake at Pioneer Park was one of its stops. The driver, who was a barbershopper, not only sang us a tune, but was very informative. He told us about local points of interest we could see and do in the area that were accessible by the red bus. Riding the shuttle to and from the Salmon Bake that evening gave us the opportunity to learn about the local area and plan what to do on Thursday, our free day. There were actually more things to do than we could squeeze into the time we had available.

Pioneer Park
Pioneer Park had a variety of things to offer.
The 44-acre Pioneer Park was built for the Alaska 1967 Centennial Exposition. In 1968, it was renamed Alaskaland until tourists came from far and near expecting to see a Disneyland personna. It held the name Alaskaland until October 1981.

Alaska Salmon Bake

The Alaska Salmon Bake has served authentic Alaskan seafood using flavorful family recipes since 1979. It is the oldest single family owned restaurant in Fairbanks. It is an all-you-care-to-eat nightly dinner from 5PM to 9PM. Guests enjoy slow-roasted prime rib, fire-grilled salmon and beer-battered Alaskan cod with salad bar, baked beans, dessert, and assorted hot and cold beverages included. Beer and wine are available for an extra fee.



When we went through the line, the entire length of the next photo was full of trays of salmon, some with a special sauce and some plain. They also had cod on this end, not visible, and beyond the other end, they had prime rib.


They also had a salad bar. People could eat outside, or eat inside of another building.  Desserts were available in still another building, and refreshments were located at another building between the outside (shown below) and inside heated dining areas.

Outside eating area at the Salmon Bake. It was cool, so we ate inside one of the buildings.
Pioneer Park appeared much larger after we started to walk the grounds. This was a big place. The "farthest north" square and round dance center was in this complex with a parking space reserved for the caller.
Farthest North Square and Round Dance Center
Harding Car

The Harding Car is also "stationed" in Pioneer Park. The name on the outside of this train car is “Denali”. I walked through the car. Its original furnishings had been removed, but it still gave the appearance that it would have been quite luxurious in its prime.

This was the first time ever for me to enter a Presidential train car.
As the sign says, the Harding car was used by Warren G. Harding on his trip to Alaska in 1923 to drive the golden spike for the Alaska Railroad. “Denali” is the Indian name for Mt. McKinley, “the Great One”.
This sign is in front of the right end of the train car in the previous photo.
It was impossible to see everything there was to see in Pioneer Park, but we certainly enjoyed the things we saw.

By the time we walked back to the entrance, our bus was pulling up, so we boarded and headed back to Bear Lodge to get a good night's rest. On Thursday, we decided to go to the Museum of the North!

Stay tuned for more of Alaska as I will be sorting through more photos and adding more posts!

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