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by ZweiBieren Alaska and the Yukon, 2013 Alaska Railroad engine
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Video of Margerie Glacier calving

Our Alaska/Yukon trip

We've been to Alaska before: a few days travelling the panhandle. Not even as far as Anchorage. So I knew what to expect: jagged mountains, scenery galore. So when Susan proposed a tour of Alaska, I had certain expectations. Wrong. Alaska is mostly flat. Think Nebraska, but with caribou. And there is nowhere in Alaska. Our bus stopped at these major destinations:  Tok, Chicken, Delta Junction. Respective populations 1300, 7, 1000.  And that's about it for the 400 miles from Fairbanks to Dawson. Indeed, Wikipedia lists 146 cities in Alaska and two-thirds have fewer than 500 people. There was so little to talk about that ourdriver resorted to telling jokes. Actually, he was pretty good.


The impetus fo the trip was niece Xxx's high school graduation. Nice ceremony in the Concast Dome. Mostly the 500 kids trooped across the stageas their names were intoned by a tag team of three diffeent speakers. I bought a Sony NEX-6, my first SLR. Amazing -- great pictures and instantaneous shutter reponse. I can now take pictures of birds.


Think about it, does anyone name their town "harbor" or "station?" It always Xxxx Harber or Yyyy Station. And "Fair banks." All banks are fair. (That is, river banks; let's not get sidetracked.) But there's no need to be so specific in Alaska.

Eighty-five degrees in Anchorage. Not just uncomfortable. Many buildings in Alaska are built over permafrost. "Perma" is short for permanent. When the termperature soars, the perma becomes tempa and the houses sink. Not to mention the accompanying methane release, both caused by and contributing to our global warming challenge.

On the way out of town, S tells me the train passed Wasilla. There was neither city action nor coutry scenery: I slept thru it.


Okay, Denali is this big mountain that used to be called Mt. McKinley. For decades Alaska's congressional delegation introduced legislation to change the name to Denali. And Ohio, McKinley's home state, introduced legislation to name it solely after McKinley. But a couple of years ago the Ohio folks dropped out of the running. So now it is Denali.

We saw it "up close." That is we took a four hour bus ride through Denali Park to a point where we were only forty miles away. But two-thirds of visitors take that bus ride and don't see Denali. Could be our fortunate viewing was due to temerature; it was eighty-five again both days we were there. And let me tell you, nowhere in Alaska has airconditioning. (Hawaiian places don't either; and don't have heating. I wonder if their climate will change.)

Denali patrols in winter with sleds and dog teams. A visit to the kennels is a must. he most amazing part is when they get out the sled. Every dog in the place gets hyper-excited and wants to be on the team. As soon as the chosen team is hooked up, the cacaphony subsides.


The train continues on from Denali to Fairbanks. Not so lucky on this leg; the train's air conditioning had been taxed beyond its imits and given up trying. Eighty-five as we sped along.

Fairbanks has, we were told thrity-five thousand residents. But one-third are transient collegestudents, one-third are air-force transients, and many of the rest are tourists. No matter your category, you had to face a temperature that day of -- wait for it -- eighty-five.  (Too bad we weren't in Dawson where the same weather woud show a temperature of only 30 :-)

Fairbanks is home to Riverboat Discovery, a paddlewheel steamer on the Chena River. In some tourist areas major attractions throw together all sorts of stuff in hopes of attracting more patrons. We can call them portmanteau attractions. Discovery is one such. No sooner had we boarded than we got the floatplane demo. One landed and tookoff right next to us. Then came the Butcher dog kennels. Susan Butcher won the Iditarod five times with these dogs before losing a battle wih cancer; she is an Alaskan legend. Then the confluence of the Chena and Tanana rivers, with its mixing of turbid glacial waters and clear spring fed waters. Turning around we docked at an indian village demonstration with elk, clothing, fisheries, and whatever. Returning to the steamers dock we were treated to lunch. While eating we were introduced to another Alaskan legend, Lance mackey, who won four times in a row. And then on to the enormous emproium where every kind of saleable product was available. No visitor with any interest in divesting himself of dollars was left without at least one unbelievably attractive option. Portmanteau or not, Riverboat Discovery was a great time, with so many facets one need go nowhere else.

map of tour
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Bus tour

A little calculation showed that we bussed about 2000 kilometers, so I alliterated it into our "Multi-Million Meter Motorcoach Marathon."

We did get to see the Alaskan pipeline as it crossed a river. Not really all that impressive at that location.

We passed North Pole although most other busses stopped there. Perhaps our tour vendor had not reached a profit sharing agreement with the store. We stopped at Delta, an old settlement near Delta Junction. Mildly interesting collection of artifacts. We stopped at Chicken, so named because the founders wanted to name it after the state bird but could not spell Ptarmigan.

From Delta Juntion to Tok, the bus traveled the Alcan Highway built in WWII as a land route to inland Alaska. Rather than construction crews, the task was entrusted to soldiers. Unaware that the task was impossible in the time allowed, they completed it in about eight months. From Tok we proceded on the Top of the Woeld Highway, stopping at the Forty Mile region overlook. The most interesting/dullest part of the trip was an hour-long wait to take the ferry across the river to Dawon. We got to watch the ferry make dozens of trips with vehicles  given priority to ours. The current was so strong the ferry had to make a curve to cross.


The 1898 gold rush was for the discovery of gold around Dawson. Claim seekers from all over the United States flocked to the area. By the time they arrived, all the gold site had already been claimed by local prospectors. Bult on a marsh where a tributary joins the Yukon River, the town suffered from the various waterborn diseases. Some had wwealth, however, and a few ornate building survive still.

The non-profit Klondike Visitors Association runs the biggest bar in town, Diamond Tooth Gerties. There's not one, but three, Gerties who rotate in leading the thrice nightly floorshow. None has a diamond tooth. The chorus line is four professional dancer's. Quite good. Hertie dragged me up to the stage, dressed me in a skirt and had me waggling my butt. Everyone in the crowd seemed to enjoy it. Especially when I "claimed my reward," dancer Stephany's garter. Told I could take it any way I wanted, I dragged it down with my teeth. I was a gentlemen though and forebore from touching the leg.

I invested the change from my beer in a spin at the wheel of fortune. Douibled my stake. Put it on red and doubled it again. Given half the stake, Susan tripled it with a bet on 1-10. Then we executed the most crucial step in gambling: we cashed in our ships and went back to the hotel.


Even at Whitehorse the Yukon River is several hundred yards across and forms a virtual highway to Dawson, some three hundred miles to the North. Since Whitehorse is a "short" distance from Skagway, this wasthe lgical route forgold seekers. Whitehorse was just north of a set of rapids, so it grew up as a southern terminus of the trek. The start of the rapids became a place called Canyon City, but it has not survived at all except for a pathway where a tram once by-passed the rapids.

Liek Dawson, the biggest thing going in Whitehorse is a show, though without a casino. The Frantic Follies is another portmanteau attraction, combining everythin one might see in a show: dancing, singing, banjo ensemble, miusical saw ensemble, magic, poetry, comedians,  and what have you.  Somethingforeveyone. I loved it. And they dragged me on the stage and had me cradle the singer in my lap while she sang a song. She called me "Pookie."

White Pass

And this was the easier of the two routes fromSkagwa. Spectacular scenety though. Not only did the prospective prospector have to get across this pass, but the Canadian government imposed regulations for entering that country. Too many unprepared people were coming across and dying so the Candians required a whole host of supplies like food, housing and transportation. All told the immigrant was required to have a ton of supplies before proceding. All I had to carry was a suitcase, a camera, and a CPAP machine.


Yup. It's a panhandle port. Lots of shops. Every native knows the time and capacity of every ship arriving in the next seven days. The main drag was peculiarly devoid of eaterys. We did find an Indian retaurant on a side street hich offered decent indian food, at least judging by the number of Indians eating there.


We cruised aboard Holland-America's MZ Zuiderdam. The ship docked in one port, Ketchican, I did not disembark.

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