Three years ago we took our first cruise, a seven-night Alaska southbound. We were hooked, not only on cruising, but also on Alaska.
The cruise was a tantalizing taste, which only made us want to go back.
So this past August and September, we took an 11-day Alaska cruise tour. Basically it was a seven-night cruise with four days on land in Denali Park and at Mount McKinley Lodge. There is so much more of Alaska yet to see.
Sitka was the capital of Russian America until 1867, when the transfer ceremony of Alaska from Russian to American rule took place here.
Sitka National Historic Park is the oldest federally designated park, and will turn 100 in March 2010, even though the state of Alaska just turned 50 years old in 2009.
Sitka is steeped in both Russian and native Tlingit culture. Nearby are a dormant volcano, Mount Edgecombe, and the Raptor Center, where injured eagles and other birds of prey are rehabilitated.
Anchorage is Alaska’s most populated city, where more than 1,000 moose are thought to be living within the city limits. It is home to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which features cultural and educational programs, workshops, demonstrations, and the ability to learn about the five major native cultures of Alaska through six authentic, life-sized dwellings, which surround Lake Tiulana.
Anchorage is also the site of the official start of the l,049-mile-long Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, held the first Saturday in March. The race ends nine to 14 days later in Nome.
When we were on this last cruise, we attended a lecture by Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Fairbanks, the heart of the interior, lies on the Chena River and at the edge of the Arctic wilderness. It started as a construction camp for the Alaska Railroad. It is the most easily accessible place to observe the Aurora Borealis — the Northern Lights — visible from September to April.
Fairbanks is also the home of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks’ Museum of the North. Here you can see musk ox, caribou and reindeer at the Large Animal Research Station. The Georgeson Botanical Gardens, the largest in Alaska, are also part of the university.
Near Fairbanks is the easiest place to view the Trans Alaska Pipeline.
Talkeetna started as a supply station for miners and trappers. It was the inspiration for the town in the TV series Northern Exposure. Currently it is the home base for climbing expeditions to Mount McKinley and has the best McKinley exhibit — a room size scale model. Talkeetna has one stop sign and one parking meter, which does not work.
Chicken was a mining community, a National Historic Site, and home to two gold dredges. Chicken got its name because the early miners could not agree on how to spell ptarmigan, the Alaska State bird. The miners thought the ptarmigan looked like a chicken, and chicken was a whole lot easier to spell.
Some fun facts about Alaska
• Dutch Harbor on Unalaska was bombed by the Japanese in World War II, and the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska were actually invaded by the Japanese, the first invasion of U.S. soil since the War of 1812.
• St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea lies 200 miles west of Nome, and only 38 miles east of Russia. On a clear day you can see the mountains of Russia and some Asiatic birds rarely found in North America.
• More people are killed or injured by moose each year in Alaska than by bear. Alaska is home to 35,000 grizzlies, about 95 percent of the brown bears in the U.S. A grizzly’s top speed is 30 mph, compared with a human’s 10 mph.
• Alaska has the highest rate of missing persons in the world. Hikers and campers in Alaska like to include SPAM in their packs, because it never freezes.
• There are twice as many caribou as people in Alaska.
• Mount St. Elias Park has the tallest coastal mountains in the world. They receive more than 500 inches of snow a year. Consequently more ice forms on Hubbard Glacier than melts or calves off. Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in the world, and still growing, at 70 miles long by 7 miles wide and 2,000 feet deep. Mount St Elias, named by Danish explorer Vitus Bering, is the second tallest mountain in North America at 18,008 feet — the tallest is Denali at 20,320 feet.
I was so enthralled with Alaska after seeing part of the interior, that when we returned home, I took the course to become an Alaska expert. I can assist with independent or escorted tours to any part of the state, lodge and hotel reservations, RV and car rentals, fishing or flight seeing expeditions, as well as advice on what to see and do. I find Alaska so fascinating, that I am reading anything on Alaska that I can get my hands on. And yes, I will be going back.
It’s not too early to consider an Alaska cruise or land vacation. Come see us at Cruise Port Travel, 900 W. Driftwood Dr. or call (928) 472-7878.