Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for the ‘tourism’ Category

Alaska Trip: Part 8

with 2 comments

This map comes from the US National Parks service: the Volendam sailed all the way from Point Gustavus to just south of the US/Canada border at the top of the map to both Johns Hopkins and Margerie Glaciers. On board we were joined by Park Rangers who gave a commentary on what we were seeing. It is worth pointing out to that they were unequivocal about the retreat of the glaciers and its cause. On the map you can see the lines which show where the ends of the glaciers were in the past.

IMG_3409IMG_3410IMG_3411

These three pictures were taken leaving Skagway – the ones below were posted to flickr once I had access to free wifi ashore

Margerie Glacier panorama

Glacier bay 1 panorama

Margerie Glacier Calving

The last photo shows the Margerie Glacier calving. This glacier flows at the rate of six feet a day and the rumbling and creaking noises are almost continuous. The moments when great lumps of ice fall into the water are entirely unpredictable. The bow of the ship was opened up for the occasion but the press of people trying to get the best shots meant that it was easier to go up to deck 6 where there is a viewing platform under the bridge which is actually available all the time.

IMG_9365

IMG_9392

The water was filled with icebergs from the glacier. There were some sightings of wildlife but I did not get any photos: we did see dolphins and sea otters, as well as large numbers of sealions. Others said they had seen humpback whales.

IMG_3424

Frankly the visit next day to Ketchikan was something of an anticlimax. Essentially it is a small town that has sprawled along the coastline – and because it has four cruise ship berths gets four huge ships in port at the same time and is overwhelmed. There are many gift shops and an interesting area that was formerly the red light district. There is also a funicular, out of service at the time of our visit, and many totem poles.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The weather is Ketchikan is notoriously wet – and it delivered plenty of rain. We had been extremely fortunate with bright sunshine in both Glacier Bay and Dawson. The inside passage back to Vancouver was pretty much invisible in fog, low cloud and rain for much of the time but I did manage some nice rainbow shots while eating dinner on the last evening of the cruise.

IMG_3451

I want to close with some general observations, which I hope might be useful if you decide to make this trip, and I definitely recommend that you do. Understand that if you go early in the season not everything is going to be ready and open, and a lot of the people working for you will be new to the job and still in training mode. Since this is the land of the midnight sun, take a sleep mask or at least a couple of clothes pegs for the curtains to minimize the stray sunshine when you want to sleep. I think an inside cabin on the ship might be a better choice at this time of year. After all you are only going to be in the cabin to sleep.

We had a package deal of fly up, road trip and cruise back: this meant we got to see Glacier Bay. If we had done it the other way around we would have missed that. There are seven day round trip cruises, but they miss out Denali and Dawson, of course. While on board you get pretty much unlimited food, on the land trip only a few meals get included. We did not buy a meal plan and enjoyed some very good experiences: 49th State Brewing and Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage, and Rib & Salmon in Whitehorse were outstanding. Best value for money, without a doubt, was the Salmon Bake in Fairbanks.

On the ship we got a “beverage plan” included, but I would choose otherwise in future. A cabin credit goes further and can be spent on board in the duty free before you arrive in Vancouver if there is any left after gratuities and laundry are taken care of. Laundry is well worthwhile, I think, if you want some nice clean, pressed clothes when you get home. We tend to look after ourselves and not spend a great deal on excursions: the Denali Tundra Wilderness and the Gold Dredge were part of our package. The first I would not miss, the second was better than expected, but there are other dredges and gold panning sites we did not see. We did not do any of the Parks Canada walking tours in Dawson and just got lucky to see the press and the theatre. I am glad we did. The river boat tour was also in the package and could have been better, I think. The salmon bake and stage show in Fairbanks were also a HAL excursion which included transport to and from the hotel by schoolbus.   Definitely rent bikes in Anchorage – great fun and inexpensive. If you just stick to the brochure deals you will not get much time in Anchorage, which is a pity. We paid extra for one night in the Ramada: trust me, its worth paying more for the Captain Cook.

We will definitely go back for the White Pass train ride, and could well be persuaded to do the Inside Passage cruise again if the weather – and a suitably attractive deal – can be relied on.

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

June 15, 2018 at 10:00 am

Alaska Trip: Part 7

with one comment

The final leg of the land tour was supposed to be by bus to the Yukon and White Pass Railway and thence by train. Unfortunately we learned in Whitehorse that a large rock had fallen on the tracks and that trains would not be running until it could be removed and the track repaired. This came as a blow, but it was not entirely bad. First, the bus ride down the highway is considerably faster than the train, so we could have an extra hour in bed and still get to Skagway in time for lunch on board the Volendam. Second, I got really lucky as unusually when we boarded the bus, the front two seats by the door were empty. So we got a great view for the road trip.

We started at Miles Canyon, which we had visited the evening before on our own, but the bus stayed on the top and there was no time to get closer to the water. We had a brief stop in Carcross and had a pleasant chat to the young lady in the station. There is a tour that allows for bus and train travel between Whitehorse and Skagway and there is usually room for people who are not on cruise ship excursions, though obviously booking in advance is still strongly preferred. Since we have family in Whitehorse and Terrace an independent trip is going to be fairly easy to sort out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the other hand we still had to cross the international border and, as you might expect, the BSA did their very best to be as awkward as they could. The tour guide had the manifest she had used on the Air North flight from Fairbanks to Dawson – but that was unacceptable as it is supposed to be submitted in advance. I suspect this might be because someone has to enter the passport data in some computer system – and the border guards preferred that everyone line up and put their passports through computer’s scanner. This might have been arranged better but someone in front of the bus had their own highly complex transaction to complete first – and only one guard was actually available. Apparently they were completely unaware that the train was not running, nor where they able – or prepared – to make any suitable arrangements. As usual the whole performance of “security” has to be followed even in the complete absence of any discernible threat.

There are, of course, no pictures of the border crossing. The scenery was amazing – and we did indeed see the engineers train working on the track on the other side of the canyon. I was on the wrong side of the bus and missed that shot.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once we got to the ship, we had to go through the same performance to “check in”, and we decided not to eat on board but explore the small town. The Skagway Brewing Company is strongly recommended not least for their innovative use of spruce tips in place of hops. Spruce tips are, as I am sure you know, an excellent source of Vitamin C.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had seen from the bus where the trains were being stored – and we also found that there was a city sponsored shuttle bus. Pay $5 on exit on the first ride, then get a hand stamp and ride free all day. I think I must have got a shot of most of the current roster of the W&Y as well as a few historic locos displayed in the town.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We had previously travelled on the Volendam from Vancouver to Sydney, so it was very familiar to us.  And as part of the deal we had a complimentary dinner booked in the Pinnacle.

fullsizeoutput_2706IMG_3407

Up next: Glacier Bay

 

Written by Stephen Rees

June 14, 2018 at 9:55 am

Alaska Trip: Part 6

leave a comment »

Motorcoach Industries (MCI) 45'

The trip from Dawson City to Whitehorse was by bus: this was the vehicle and driver that had collected us from Dawson’s airport and would stay with us to Skagway. It was a long haul, scheduled at nine hours with a lunch stop at Minto and comfort breaks at Pelly Crossing and Five Finger Rapids, a distance of 536km, mostly through wilderness.

Yukon panorama

And of course, at the stops were the usual collections

At one – heavily promoted by our tour guide – were the largest cinnamon buns I have ever seen. Four of us shared one and I have to say the centre of it was far better than the outside. I asked one lady to lend a hand to gave a sense of scale.

IMG_9044

Of more scenic interest

IMG_3389

fullsizeoutput_2702

At Five Finger Rapids there was a steep flight of stairs – and the bus driver issued a challenge to see who could be faster down and up 150 steps – or whatever it was

IMG_9036

Someone asked me why I had not taken the challenge: I answered, perfectly truthfully, “It would kill me.”

The steps lead to a path which eventually gets to the rapids. We did not have time to see these close up, but the extraordinary thing is that at one time the sternwheelers had to winch themselves over the riverbed to get through.

IMG_9035

We arrived in Whitehorse, and were met by my partner’s niece who is resident there. She had already booked us a table at the best restaurant in town (there is usually a long line up even when there isn’t a bus load of tourists just arrived) and has a small car. After supper she took us out to see Miles Canyon and the Klondike sternwheeler. The bus driver was holding a small competition (the prize being a coupon for a coffee shop in Skagway) – the question being how did the Klondike get to its present location, The construction of the Schwatka dam formed a lake and made navigation impossible, so it was moved in a steel cradle over wooden skids lubricated with soap flakes. Even though we were the only people to actually go out that evening, in the rain, we did not win the prize. But one of the nice things about the North is that you can go out exploring after dinner in daylight.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The other disappointment was that the trolley was not running – we were too early in the season. So another trip to Whitehorse will have to be arranged.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

June 13, 2018 at 10:17 am

Alaska Trip: Part 5

leave a comment »

fullsizeoutput_2700

The Moosehide slide has nothing to do with gold mining. There are of course local myths and legends and no real agreement on how old or what might have caused it. There is not even a wikipedia page for it!

Here is that slideshow I promised of the interior of the theatre

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The contents of the bedroom came from the large amount of stuff simply abandoned when the gold rush was over and people left town. It was a bit like walking into the Marie Celeste.

IMG_8842

SS Keno is one of the last remaining sternwheelers: two more lie rotting on the river bank opposite Moosehide

IMG_8819

fullsizeoutput_26f4

Moosehide was the location the local first nation community moved to when the miners arrived. It remains occupied but accessible only by trails or the river and has no electricity, or other municipal services.

IMG_8940

The picture was taken from a small modern sidewheeler used for sightseeing trips – the picture below shows why you need to go to the upper decks if you want to see anything.

IMG_8970

IMG_8816

IMG_8843IMG_3375IMG_8829

The little log house is across the street from the information centre but I know no more about it other than it is the only one I saw with a sod roof and a row of uprights cut from trees with prominent natural boles. I would also like to recommend Klondike Kate’s based on one of the messiest burgers I have ever eaten. It included gorgonzola, bacon,  cranberry marmalade and very juicy beef.

Part 6 will continue to Whitehorse to be followed by the eventful journey to Skagway.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

June 12, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Alaska Trip: Part 4

leave a comment »

We left Fairbanks by chartered AirNorth plane to Dawson – where the airport still has a gravel runway. Apparently, funds have now been found to blacktop it soon.

Air North Boeing 737-200

Dawson City was created by the gold rush in 1898. Quite a lot of the city has been preserved and restored by Parks Canada, but the entire red light light district, on the other side of the Klondike river known as Klondike City has vanished.

Confluence Yukon Klondike panorama

I spent quite a bit of time wandering around photographing the old buildings, so I am going to try something a bit different in this post. I going to put each of my pictures next to one from Parks archives.

The Bank of North America was the first to open in Dawson in 1898 – originally in a tent. It became the Bank of Montreal in 1918 and closed in 1968 when the last gold dredge closed.

The Palace Grand Theatre (top) opened in 1899 and was hugely successful.  It was originally restored in the 1960s with Bert Lahr (the cowardly lion in the “Wizard of Oz”) as the headliner. It has recently undergone two years of careful restoration using original pictures and drawings. It was not open when I got there but a power cut the previous and triggered the fire curtain, and someone had to come and fix it. A very nice Parks employee allowed me to get access and wander around on my own.

On the bottom row is the imposing Post Office – you will note that buildings next door have all gone. There is considerable loss due to the severe winters weather, and melting permafrost under the buildings causing unstable foundations. The post office is still operating, but from another more prosaic structure around the corner.

IMG_8865

Next door to the new Post Office is the office of the Dawson Daily News. Once again we got lucky as that weekend a art show was being installed in the building, and we were shown around by the organizer (another slide show opportunity). My late brother was a printer and would have greatly enjoyed seeing the collection of old presses.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Some of the buildings on the edge of town have become tourist attractions in their own right. The cabins of Robert Service and Jack London (with his cache for storing food out of the way of bears), as well as the former home of media personality Pierre Berton.

Jack London did not spend very long in Dawson City but he turned his experience into a series of very successful short stories, many of which became movies which are memorialized in a bar bearing his name in the Downtown Hotel.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The Commissioner’s Residence has been considerably improved over the years, but those below show signs of dereliction

IMG_8876IMG_8879IMG_8881IMG_8905

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and manse were built in 1901 after the first one burned down. The presbyterians joined with the methodists to form the United Church in 1925, and this church closed in 1932. The manse is still in use as staff housing for Parks Canada – who own both buildings, so perhaps there is some hope for their rehabilitation.

Yukon Hotel

The Yukon Hotel is one of the oldest remaining buildings in Dawson City. This two storey log building was constructed in 1898 by J.E.Binet and was known as the Binet Block. Originally offices, it became a hotel in 1909 and operated [under different names] until 1957. It is now rented out as bachelor suites.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

June 11, 2018 at 12:40 pm

Alaska Trip: Part 3

leave a comment »

The Alaska Railroad connects Anchorage to Fairbanks, but was not used for the second leg of our tour, north from Denali. This reflects, I think, the growth in traffic generated by the cruise ships. It is easy to add capacity by buying old buses: trains would be a much lumpier investment.

On the way up the Park Highway we stopped at a place with a gift shop and an odd collection of old stuff – but of course it turns out that everywhere you go on one of these tours there’s always a collection of old stuff, and a Gift Shop.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fairbanks is a nice little town but we did not get to spend a great deal of time there. They took us on a tour of an old gold dredge. Panning for gold in gravel that has been dug out with hand tools is labour intensive. After the gold rush, serious placer gold mining was mechanized. The permafrost was melted with high pressure jets of water and the gravel was scooped out by a continuous bucket chain which also removed the gold on board and sprayed the rest out the back with a conveyor belt. We did get to try panning and some gold was guaranteed, which caused many to state firmly that the samples of “pay dirt” had to have been “salted’. Actually I do not think that is necessarily true. Placer mining continues using excavators and more modern extraction techniques. Large scale mining using dredges became uneconomic in the 1930s when the US government changed the law to monopsonise the market and fix the price. Although those policies have since changed, the percentage of recoverable gold in the abandoned claims is largely uneconomic. Tourism now pays more people, much better.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We did end up with an old film container with a few flecks of dust estimated to be worth US$37.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

That evening we chose to go to a Salmon Bake which was located in Pioneer Park and then a very well produced live stage show that celebrated the history of Fairbanks. The salmon was silver salmon – not a type I had eaten before – and actually barbecued rather than baked. Even so unbeatable value for money.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 10, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Alaska Trip: Part 2

with 3 comments

IMG_8481

I am opening this part with a picture I should have used yesterday. We got incredibly lucky with the weather as many people who visit the National Park or its vicinity do not get to see America’s highest mountain, since it is so often blanketed by cloud. This shot was taken from the train on route from Anchorage. We had been getting glimpses of the mountain but usually only the top of the peak behind other mountains.

It is 20,310 feet (6,190 metres) high and has over 47 different variants of its name. In Koyukon the mountain was called “Deenaalee” – the Tall One or the High One – until 1896 when a gold prospector, William Dickey, named it Mount McKinley for Presidential nominee William McKinley of Ohio. In 1975 the Alaska Board of Geographic Names  changed it back to Denali but it was not recognized federally until 2015 when President Barack Obama changed it. I think it is sad that Holland America (who provided this information) still call their train McKinley Explorer.

Moose

This moose was the first thing we saw on entering the park. During the calving season they tend to hang around the visitor centre where the presence of people tends to scare off the bears.

Denali bus

The National Park operates the buses that provide the Tundra Wilderness tour along the only road most of which is closed to other traffic. When we visited the tour only got as far as Toklat, since beyond that point recent heavy snow still covered the road to Kantishna. A temporary tented visitor centre was provided at Toklat since the one at Eielson was inaccessible.

Moose with calf

Further into the park we saw another moose and her calf. We carried binoculars – which are essential – and used my little Canon PowerShot A1400 with its puny 5x zoom. Most of the other people on the bus used either stonking great DSLRs with massive lenses or smart phones. There was quite a bit of jostling for the windows. The bus also carries a good video system with a really good lens, so live coverage could be provided by the driver of worthwhile sightings at greater distances. The woman in the front seat always stood up and held her phone in front of the screen whenever there was a really good sighting. She only desisted after I took her aside for a quiet word at one of the rest stops.

If you click on the picture of Denali below there are some bears in the shot. Probably grizzlies – but that look like two brown dots – at the bottom of the image beneath the right peak of the mountain.

fullsizeoutput_26e6

 

Caribou

Caribou higher up the mountain side

Dall Sheep

Dall sheep at the roadside: most visitors later in the year only see these as distant white blobs on the ridge line.

Marmot
Marmot

fullsizeoutput_26f9

While the bus driver said this was a coyote, I am convinced it was a wolf. We saw a number of specimens in taxidermist shops that looked just like this one.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Denali National Park and Reserve is a protected natural ecosystem that keeps the impact of visitors to the absolute minimum. It is also a holdout against the current administration’s attitudes towards science and the need to protect the environment. The following passage is taken from the booklet given to everyone on the bus

What scientists are finding today is that the park is changing, most notably because of climatic warming …

Alaska as a whole warmed by 3℉ (1.7℃) in the last 60 years. This is twice as fast as temperatures are rising in the lower 48 states. The implications are already visible on Denali’s landscape. …Glaciers cover 16 percent of the park, but nearly all of them are now thinning and retreating.

The foundation of the park – the ground itself – is also melting. Permafrost is thought to have underlain most of the park when it was founded in 1917, but scientists predict it will be nearly gone by Denali’s 150th birthday.

IMG_8589

Ptarmigan

And finally a picture taken by Billie Hyde who was our guide throughout the land tour. This picture is used by Holland America in their publications and also is on the back of her business card which I have scanned.

Bears and bus, Denali

Part 3 will cover Fairbanks

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2018 at 2:02 pm