Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Cruising the Inside Passage: White Pass Yukon Route Train Ride

alaska travel

Our last excursion in Alaska was a train ride from Skagway to the White Pass Summit. That first photo up there is my favorite from this ride. It doesn't even look real, does it? Actually I was so caught up in the moment I don't think I grasp that it does actually look a little treacherous.

train to white pass summit

The train literally leaves right from the boat dock and and brings you back to the same spot roughly three and a half hours later. It was the most convenient thing ever and so much fun. After boarding and securing our seats the train left and just a mile or so up the tracks they announced that we could go out to the platform and stand.

white pass summit yukon route

 I had no idea that would even be an option!

caution sign on train

I immediately jumped up and headed for the platform at the rear of our car to secure a good spot for our little foursome. I just knew there would be a mad rush and so I wanted to stake out our territory. I'm so glad I did, otherwise I'd never have gotten this amazing video!

I waited...no one followed me. I looked inside the car and everyone was just sitting in their seats. On the platform of the adjoining car an Australian gentlemen with an enviable camera said "I thought I'd be fighting people off over here. There's people asleep in there! I mean, you paid your money didn't you? Might as well get the most out of it, I say!"

alaska train

 Eventually a woman and her husband joined me and while she leaned over the edge with me to look at the view he stood in the middle of the platform and said "I wish you wouldn't do that."

alaska train

I like to call myself a cautious adventurer. I don't like danger, not really. So though a few of these pics look a little scary, I promise I was perfectly safe the whole time. Even if I was leaning over a gate, just a little, to get the video and some of the pictures.

white pass yukon rail

 Notice how lush and green everything is at the beginning of the ride.

cruising the inside passage excursion

 As the train began to ascend the mountain I caught this glimpse of another train coming up where we had just been. The ascent wasn't that noticeable so this sight surprised me.

white pass yukon rail

 Now the trade off for being outside the car was that I completely missed all the interesting history of the railroad, gold rush, and sketchy characters who opened up this area. But, hey, that's what the internet is for. For history of this railroad as well as information about riding it, check out American-Rails.com

So many horses died on this route it was known as "Dead Horse Trail." You don't put that on a tourist brochure so it's just called White Pass. Probably best. 

white pass trail

By the time we reached the area near the Canadian border it was cold and the snow was still fairly deep along the tracks. I'm pretty sure I'd have stayed home in the lower 48 and opened up a dress shop or something. Trudging around up here on the way to the Klondike to look for gold doesn't seem like a good idea to me at all. See what I mean? Cautious adventurer. Plus, I really like to be warm and oh, I don't know...alive.

white pass yukon rail

At the summit the landscape looked moonlike.

white pass summit alaska

Hello, there, Canada!

white pass summit alaska

It might have been spring in Skagway but at the summit it was still winter.


Seriously, no amount of gold.

yukon rail

So along this part I had to be careful not to stick my neck out too far, for obvious reasons. See that rock? Building this railroad was a blast. Literally. Through 16 feet of rock in many places and that isn't even talking about tunnels through mountains.

yukon rail

The Food Maven joined me even thought she is scared of heights, but you'd never know it! Look how relaxed she looks!

Now for my favorite photographs of the day. I saved the best for last. Of course the very best one of all is that one at the top of this post.

white pass yukon route

train in alaska

white pass yukon route

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cruising the Inside Passage: Icy Straight Point


We arrived in Icy Straight Point the day after Ketchikan. We hadn't planned an excursion here and that turned out to be a good choice because this is the most beautiful port for roaming around, taking in the seriously stunning view, and eating doughnuts. Okay, maybe eating the doughnuts isn't something you have on your bucket list, but you should add it right now.

native dance

Our day began at breakfast with my husband spotting whales right between the ship and shore. He's a regular Captain Ahab, apparently. Our ship was so close to shore it was hard to believe the water could possibly be deep enough for them to swim between the two but later we learned that immediately offshore the drop off is 160 feet deep. Okay, no wading then! 

We were greeted at the port by a group of teenagers demonstrating their native dances. Their colorful garb with the breathtaking landscape all around made me feel like I was in Alaska more profoundly than I had up until that moment.


We were immediately in love with this landscape. Everywhere we looked there was a level of natural beauty it is hard to describe. We were headed for a little hike through a rain forest nearby but stopped first to walk along the rocky shore. You have never seen a group of adults more excited about rocks. With every step we discovered treasures so beautiful that they looked unnatural, magical even. We picked up a few to bring home and photographed some of the beauties too big to carry. I am actually embarrassed by how many rock pictures I have. I do love details when I travel.

alaska rocks

I'm only sharing these two. The straight lines and colors just dazzled us! 


The trail through the beautiful temperate rain forest was the perfect introduction to the area.

Sometimes you just have to take that cliche touristy photo.

The whales were visible from time to time throughout the day. When they appeared everything and everyone stopped to take in the sight.

alaska whales

My favorite style of photography. Some charming detail in the front with a sweeping vista in the background.


Like the rocks, there are a ton of these but I'm sparing you. 

Okay, y'all. Let's talk dandelions. Alaskan dandelions are on steroids. They are everywhere, HUGE, and treated like wildflowers instead of weeds. Maybe this is how beautiful they get when everyone isn't constantly spraying them with Round Up. Okay, so dandelions were also a theme of the day.

I'm a little disappointed that I didn't do a better job of taking pictures that give you a better feeling of the beautiful and charming complex they have built at this port.

For a description and history of this area check out, Icy Straight Point/Hoonah, Alaska: Our History.
It was well thought and and adorably constructed. There were restaurants, the old cannery had been turned into a museum and was filled with darling shops. There were outdoor eating areas, the longest zip line in the world, and then there was this. 

alaska donuts

This is the Salvation Army Doughnut Hut. Or as I called it, Icy Straight Mecca. They are making the tiniest most delicious doughnuts ever right there and shaking them in a bag of sugar. There are various flavors of sugar like Maple Bacon. MAPLE BACON! And apple cider, cinnamon, vanilla, and about a dozen other flavors. Here's their link on Yelp. This is where Paleo comes to die.

My favorite thing about this area was how photogenic it all was. There was a stark charm that reminded me of other arctic areas of the world. But as you can tell from the photos I really struggled with the glaring light of Alaska in May.


You can take a bus into Hoonah for a round trip of five dollars. It was so beautiful though that we walked back. Against a fierce icy wind the whole time. Walking to Hoonah and catching the bus back would have been a better plan.

We stopped into the Icy Straight Point Brewery while wondering around. So adorable.

alaska brewery

On the walk back we passed this sweet cemetery covered with dandelions and forget me nots. Again, I have a ridiculous amount of photos of this graveyard.

Okay, maybe the walk back was worth it even with the pounding cold wind. 

I couldn't resist trying to photograph an Alaskan bumblebee. You guessed it. So many photos. 


This is one of my favorite photos of the day. I think it symbolizes Alaska perfectly.

What could possibly be a better way to end a day than this? Whales even swam by one last time while we were sitting here recounting our day and saying "We're sitting by a fire in Alaska!"

alaskan cruise port

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Creating a Fun Travel Photo

fun friend photos

Recently I climbed up into a piece of artwork for a photo op with a friend. As a docent at a museum where I regularly chide people for just standing too close to the art, it felt as if I was committing some enormous crime. But I did it anyway. Let me explain. As we were exploring our ship we passed this sculpture, a version of the iconic Robert Indiana Love sculpture.

love sculpture

As soon as I saw it I imagined the cutest photo ever of me and my friend. I looked around for a sign that said not to touch it or, you know, climb on it.  

There wasn't one. 

 "We should get into this and have our picture made. I'll just climb up into that L and you sit there between the V and E."

Seemed easy enough.

Until I tried it. This sculpture is deep. And really slick. I tried to climb up into the L but it was impossible. There was nothing to grab onto or step on and I certainly didn't have the upper body strength to pull myself up into position. Plus in the attempt my friend and I both began laughing so hard it wasn't going to happen.

A few nights later as we were leaving we told our husbands about our failed attempt at the cutest picture idea ever. My husband thought it was grand but I told him that we'd tried and failed.

"Try again, I'll push you."

So here we were 4 adults, sort of,  all dressed up (because of course we would choose to do this on dressy night) climbing, pushing, snapping, and laughing, all while desperately hoping no one would pass by. The picture was finally taken by her husband while mine stood by laughing.  I have to say it's one of my all time favorites. My idea was just us looking at the camera but when she said "Hey look down here at me!" It was a stroke of genius.

photo op

I...well, love it. I also love the idea that you never get too old to cause a little trouble with your friends. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Cruising the Inside Passage: Ketchikan

road sign in alaska

I've always wanted to go to Alaska. My husband will say that I've always wanted to go everywhere. Cruising makes a lot of things affordable and easy that would be expensive and arduous otherwise. Though, in this current atmosphere airline travel is certainly arduous enough for any would be adventurer and we had a harrowing time trying to get to Vancouver to embark on our ship, the Celebrity Millennium.  If you have ever wondered what a travel agent is good for, now that you can book everything yourself, you should know that we would have missed our ship had ours not been working tirelessly on our behalf all along the way.

cruising alaska

Once we stepped on the ship all the stress and worry melted away. We ran into our friends and fellow travelers, The Travel Bully and The Food Maven, straight away and the festivities began. The next day was a sea day which meant relaxing in the indoor heated salt pool and hot tubs.

millenium cruise ship

Our first stop was Ketchikan, or as my husband likes to call it Catchmeifyoucan. Like all the towns we visited including Seattle, this town was thrown up to make money off the gold rush. All during this trip I was reading a book, Mad Rush for Gold. It's the true account and tragic tale of a group of stampeders. As we went from place to place on this trip it was clear that people had no idea about the landscape they would encounter or the hardships they would endure. The landscape of each place was at once breathtaking and unforgiving. The adventurers who came to this area got much more than they bargained for in the way of hardships but very little gold.

cruising the inside passage

After listening to all the stories it basically comes down to this: Alaska was founded by fortune seekers of all kinds, from prospectors to prostitutes. Throw in the swindlers and scammers and it's quite a colorful narrative. But of course, there were already people living there when the Gold Rush started. Ketchikan is home to the Totem Heritage Center. The museum houses authentic totems and covers the history and cultural significance of these Alaskan treasures to the indigenous people.

ketchikan alaskacruising the inside passage

We enjoyed a little nature walk on what is clearly an easy and beneficial trail to be on. We couldn't resist taking our husbands' picture under this sign. Notice how happy they look. You're welcome, guys.  


 When you read about the history of this area once the stampeders showed up it's refreshing to see a church. Whoever built it had his work cut out for him. Later when came across a brothel that's a museum. Maybe I should say a museum that used to be a brothel, complete with tours but not demonstrations. 

cruising alaska

touring ketchikan

There was good shopping in this area and I bought my grandson a present. It's an aviator hat, but you'll have to wait until he gets here to see it. We also bought salmon and Ulu knives here. I have used mine every day since I got home.

There is a fish ladder here in the creek here. There are several totems around town and the scenery is breathtaking in every direction, but it is remote. The easiest way to get there is by boat or plane. The very best way to get here is by cruise ship. Alaska has been on my list since I was a kid. It did not disappoint and I'll be sharing more about it in the next couple of posts.
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