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After a leisurely start of the day in the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, we took the bus to the train station and boarded the Alaska Railroad Corporation's Wilderness Express car bound for Denali National Park.

train - YouTube

The day was overcast and would get worse as the train made its way north.  Didn't get much in the way of scenery pics due to low clouds obscuring the interesting looking peaks of either the Talkeetna or Alaska Ranges of Mountains.

 View from one of several bridges we crossed

 The bridge over Hurricane Gulch

 The view from the bridge over Hurricane Gulch

Soon after crossing into the National Park itself, we passed by the 5000 foot tall Panorama Mountain.  The railroad excursion guide made sure to point it out to us as it was really close, and then to imagine three more of such mountains stacked on top of each other to get an idea of the size of Denali.

Soon after the above pic though, it started raining pretty steadily, a nice cold rain and clouds obscuring all the mountain peaks around us.  We slogged our way to our bus upon disembarking from the train; rolled to just outside the park where our lodging is located.

As I type, a pretty steady and cold rain continues to provide "liquid sunshine" to the area.  I hope it clears up tomorrow when we go into the park on their buses to do some wildlife viewing.
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July 15

Lots of pics today, lots done and seen, more to follow as Larry H. processes the stuff he shot too.

First, it was an early start from Anchorage to catch the 8AM train on the Alaska Railroad Company's Wildlife Express to Talkeetna.  Very nice observation car on the top and a dining room on the bottom where we had a nice breakfast:

 Started with Mimosas, of course.

 The Halls sat across from us in the dining room portion
of the private car we traveled in....

 Windblown Martha

 Some of the peaks viewed while riding up towards 
Talkeetna, of the Chugach Mountains. ( I think)

 Arrival in Talkeetna, above is an outside view of our 
private car....very nice way to travel.  Not at all like
the debacle that is Amtrak.

 Jane and Larry by the locomotive

 The girls fooling around with a couple
of tourist trap photo devices

 He Shed and She Shed....hmmmm

We toured the Talkeetna Historical Museum which is mostly a collection of vintage artifacts of day to day living in olden times in Talkeetna.  Quite interesting and worth the $5 fee per person to get in.  The items that caught my eye:

 Sheldon's Wolf Guns.
Truly amazing what you could do 
back in the day.

 Photo proof of early times' attempts to make moose
into horses ....

Larry and a photo of Denali's peak

The touring of Talkeetna and a lunch at the Denali Brewery over with, we took the bus over to the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge where we would spend the night.  The views of the Alaska Range of mountains from the rear of the property were quite magnificent if way too cloudy.

The view of the upper half/third of Denali was obscured by clouds so I contented myself with just pics of the mountain range with the frequent local small aircraft who were taking off from a nearby field.

 Mount Hunter frames the above plane....

A little after 5PM, Bob and Sharon Peek of Wasilla joined us for drinks and dinner.  Bob and Sharon were the couple I met back in 2013 while riding in Alaska.  They took me into their home, provided comfortable lodgings and friendship during my travels and repair issues with the Ural sidecar rig of the time.

 Such a great time seeing Bob and Sharon and them
meeting Martha!

After Bob and Sharon left for Wasilla (75 miles away), we relaxed for a bit at one of the viewing stations in the hotel.  Jane, Larry and Martha then retired to the rooms to rest and I decided to try and catch the sunset.

I had to stay up till after 11PM of course to catch the sunset!  Luckily it's a late start tomorrow, with us leaving for the train station to go to Denali National Park at 10:30 AM.

 Sunset views from the viewing deck area of 
the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge

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A lazy start from the Windsong Lodge in Seward.  We boarded our bus and left at 1030 am and made it into Anchorage's downtown area a little after 1PM.

The highlight of the ride was to be the Seward Highway once we left the Kenai Peninsula.  Sure there were gorgeous green mountains with some remaining patches of snow but as you might recall, I prefer my mountains with snow on them.

Note: it's also rather difficult to get good shots of scenery from within a moving bus....just saying.

Here's a link to my ride down the Seward Highway a bit over five years ago: LINK and here's a link for my return trip from Seward shortly afterwards: LINK

 Mountains in the Kenai Peninsula

Mountains along the Seward Highway

The bus dropped us off at the Fairbanks Market for some meandering, shopping and lunch which we had at the Hard Rock Cafe - Anchorage.

We then were bused to the nearby Anchorage Museum where I was reminded once again how little I know in terms of modern art (which is what the upper two floors were displaying).

I did really like the display of models depicting the 625 submarines built by the USA from the 1890s to the 1980s.

This exhibit made the list only because it was colorful.
I didn't even bother reading the plaque explaining it.

 An eye-catching but not readily understandable main 
exhibit in the museums's open central area.

Like I said, modern art and I are just not compatible apparently.  There were many native american artifacts and clothing on display of course but no pics by me.  After a while, we four reached sensory overload and barely skimmed the museum offerings before exiting for the rendezvous with the bus.

 Caribou Man

 Cool Skull Display

 Behind the 3D display of a bear show below, were these
"bears" covered in feathers.  Here's a pic of the ladies
being amused by modern art.

We went to check into our hotel after the museum and shortly afterwards got dinner at a nearby restaurant after an almost 30 minute wait.  There's not that many places in downtown Anchorage apparently for Saturday night goers and tourists!

Tomorrow, early train to Talkeetna, AK
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July 13

Today we left the Celebrity Millenium Cruise Ship.  Debarking proved to be a no fuss no muss process, a job well done overall by the cruise ship.

Here's a coincidence for you, back in May of 2013, I was in Steward riding my 2011 Ural Patrol Valencia.  I wrote on the blog how my stay at Seward was cut short as I saw this cruise ship come in and I expected hordes of people to flood the little town of Seward.

Link to the 2013 posting:  LINK.

Here's pics from that 2013 posting:

From May 10, 2013

If the ship looks familiar, its because its the same cruise ship that I just arrived on as a passenger on July 13, 2018!

We were led to our bus, along with 24 other people, who would go tour Seward Bay and Fox Island later in the morning.

We first visited the Alaska Sealife Center and toured the various sea life exhibits:

 Tufted Puffin

 Steller Sea Lion

 A Sea Anemone you could touch if you wished.
I passed.

 Steller Seals swimming about.

We also walked about a bit and I found the spot where the 0 mile marker for the Iditarod is marked:

If the above picture seems familiar, it's because I posed Valencia at the same spot a little over five years ago!

May 2013

 Larry on a replica of the iditarod sleds

Back on the bus, it was a short ride to the tour boat that would take us to lunch on Fox Island and then some wildlife sightseeing.

Our tour boat

Lunch on Fox Island was pretty nice and well organized.  After lunch, we reboarded the boat and went looking for whales and other wild life.

Yep, another Alaskan Glacier

Then, we found some whales, the circling birds would give away the whales' location and their sudden activity in flight would presage the whales coming to the surface some of the time.

A small bubble feed?

Closeup view of the previous pic

 At another spot, we saw a bunch of seals resting

As we headed into the tour boat's home harbor, we spotted a couple of eagles just watching over things.

Not a bad Wildlife Boat Tour, and the lunch was excellent. 

Back on the bus, it was a short ride into the outskirts of Seward to the Windsong Lodge where we'd booked rooms for the night.

Tomorrow: Anchorage.

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Today was the "Big Finale" for the cruise.  The Hubbard Glacier, stretching over 76 miles from its origin in the Yukon Territory to Disenchantment Bay in Alaskan waters.

We'd been told we'd get as close as 1/2 mile....well, conditions were excellent today and the captain got us  much closer than 1/4 mile!  He apparently beat his previous record from last year in terms of getting close.  The Alaskan Tour guide who's been doing presentations on upcoming locales said he'd never been this close in 15 summers of doing this.

 The view from our breakfast table.

 And then the ice floes started getting larger....

 I think that upper portion of ice in the distance is 
Valerie Glacier which merges at this point with Hubbard Glacier

 The ship would get even closer....

 This was, as you can see, the closest we got to the glacier.
To my eyes, we were closer than a ship's length!

 The blue ice is the compressed ice, recently exposed to
the air, as it melts, it'll reflect more colors till one
can see the normal "white" of ice.

 On the right, the opening into Russell Fjord
Hubbard Glacier continues to advance and will eventually
close off Russell Fjord, creating Russell Lake!

 The western edge of the Glacier's edge....

 Toasting a successful viewing of the glacier 
with Champagne back at our cabins

Exiting back into Yakutat Bay, headed for open water and Seward.

The Pilot Boat recovering the Pilot who guided the
ship into Disenchantment Bay....

During lunch, we passed by Moun St. Elias
over 18,000 feet in height!

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Jul 11

Again we woke docked to a new port.  This time it was Skagway, AK, Garden City of Alaska apparently.

Serving as an entry point into the interior via either the Chilkoot or White Pass route for "Stampeders", the wannabe miners of the Gold Rush, to the town of Dawson City in the Yukon Territory.  Skagway, with the help of a railroad and a reputation for being less difficult than Chilkoot Pass; remains today while the town of Dyea has withered to nothing.

The regular population of Skagway is 832, today it swelled by more than 12000 tourists!

 Our initial view of Skagway, we were sharing the port
with four other cruise ships.

Martha had arranged for us to rent a couple of scooters for a guided group ride.  Turns out we were the only two to sign up so it was more of a personal guided tour by the guide, Rob.

 Lower Reid Falls, near the old town cemeteryt

 Scenic viewpoint overlooking Skagway and the cruise ships
in the harbor

  That's our guide, Rob, waiting patiently for me
to take pictures

 Overlook of the site where the Bark, Canada, come to rest
after being abandoned.

 Not part of the regular tour, we got shown a real
fixer-upper of a shack.  Known as the squatter's shack.

 Views near the site of Dyea, showing the shallows that
made it a very unsuitable harbor back in the day.

 View from a bridge on the Taiya river, of a small glacier

 Rob, our guide, also took us down by the river where they do kayaking and such:

 These little 50cc Honda Ruckus scooters did very good 
on the dirt and gravel roads we traversed.

 The sandy conditions led to Rob's Honda Ruckus toppling over.
It was fine though.

 A view of the mountain peaks as we made our way
back to town.

 Martha finds Godzilla

 Scooters returned safely with no mishaps, a successful
tour by scooter of the Skagway sights!

 Like this old miner, we were done and ready to return
to the ship.

 Snow blower 

Pretty good day of scootering, weather held out and we were barely sprinkled on at times.  A bit windy though.
Martha, I'm very happy to report, did great on her scooter!
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Jul 10

We woke up with the ship docked at the pier in Juneau, AK.

Quaint little buildings pier side, but perhaps not as quaint as Ketchikan.  The buildings here near the water hug the walls of the canyon or fjord that makes up this part of the harbor.

Two back to back excursions today....

The first was for Whale Watching in Auke Bay.  After yesterday's incredibly close encounters with whales at Icy Strait Point, this outing proved an expensive disappointment.

Crowded conditions, pushy morons, rain and wind all contributed to lousy whale watching conditions.  Not that the whales that were spotted did much to justify the effort.  I took zero pictures and instead napped while the morons moved from one side of the boat to the other in a vain attempt to get a shot.  My friend Larry tried at first but even he gave up in the end.

 A copy of the type of whale watching boat the tour booked.
IMHO, waste of time and money.

The second excursion was to the Mendenhall Glacier.  I found it to be crowded with inconsiderate fellow tourists walking into one's shot with no care or regard.

I skipped the visitor but am told there's a good video on the Glacier.  The photos of us at the glacier show no people, that's because I removed them while post-processing the shots.

 Mendenhall Glacier from Photo Point

 Closer view of the glacier ice, the blue portions
are recently uncovered ice....the true color of the 
compressed ice making up the glacier.

 Larry in front of Nugget Falls

 Another view of the glacier at a spot I found
away from the crowds

View of the Glacier from the parking lot

from googlemaps:
satellite view of the glacier

It rained on us, mostly light rain.  Apparently rain is the normal condition for this part of Alaska.  

Back at the ship, we had lunch and relaxed the rest of the afternoon.  We saw five cruise ships in the harbor as we neared our own ship.  No wonder it was so crowded.  Sadly, the morons we encountered were from our own ship.  Oh well.
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July 9

We arrived at Alaska's Icy Strait Point shortly after breakfast I believe.  It's a spot known for its marine wildlife (whales, sea lions, sea otters and such) and there's an "adventure center" run by the local native tribe that offers such things as zip lining, boat tours and such.

Arriving at Icy Strait Point's docking facility

We were signed up for a Zodiac tour of the area to find its wildlife in the mid-afternoon so the morning was spent relaxing both onboard and on the shoreline.

Our cruise ship from a bit further away, weather was overcast
but not cold, just perfect with a fleece jacket.

Returning to the ship for lunch, I was in time to see the below Orca being followed at the mandated minimum of 100 yards by the same Zodiac boat rental outfit which we had reservations with in the afternoon.

Here's a video of the whales we saw while out on the zodiac boats.  It was a truly amazing experience.  We saw not one but two bubble net feeding events really close to our boats as well.  I didn't manage to capture pictures of these particular event but here's an example from google:

source: LINK

The movement of the zodiac boat on the water precluded clear photos of the whales and so it was that I turned to video capture:

Whale Watching at Icy Strait Point, Alaska - YouTube

The zodiac boat tour guide, DJ, also led us to a buoy nearby where we saw seals basking under the overcast skies:

We could also see a group of sea otters in the distance but never got close enough to get a picture.

Our guide and a fellow zodiac boat crew headed back
towards the company dock

A view of the Celebrity Millenium as we passed her
enroute to the zodiac docking area.
Tomorrow:  Juneau, the state capital and the Mendenhall Glacier
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Jul 8, Sunday.

Excursion into Ketchikan, Alaska today.  As they like to say, a drinking town with a fishing problem.  :)

We arrived before 6AM, in fact, I woke to see the ship on final approach to the pier!

 A bit foggy in in the hills above the town of Ketchikan
early this morning.

After breakfast, it was an early start for a bus-borned excursion to Alaska Rain Forest Sanctuary for a short walk in the temperate rain forest.  They get at least 200 inches of rain here in Ketchikan, per year, with this year having gotten over 240 inches apparently.  Everything was quite green.

 We saw several Bald Eagles as we toured the rain forest.

 An artsy view of moss-covered branches high overhead

 Jane and Martha listen to Codi, our guide, talk about 
the Banana Slug in her hand.

 More eagles

 A young eagle who hasn't yet grown into its white plumage

Part of the tour was a Raptor Sanctuary, where we got a close look at this particular eagle.  Sitka, was hit by a car and injured to the extent that while recovered, he can't be released into the wild because he couldn't feed himself reliably due to damage to his feet.

After the Rain Forest Sanctuary, it was a short bus ride back into town to the Saxman Native Village and Totem Park.

 Atop a "Shame Pole" is a depiction of Secretary Seward 
who failed to follow the gift giving convention of Alaskan Potlash 
ceremonies.  Not only are you supposed to get gifts but you're
supposed to also reciprocate accordingly.  Seward failed to do so.

Beaver Clan House

 Jane and Larry

Next was a walk to the touristy portion of the town, replete with souvenir shops located in what used to be brothels "back in the day".  The picture below marks the trail that used to be used by married men to visit said brothels apparently.

The wives would note the mud on their husbands boots and know where they'd been!

Some more walking through and past souvenir shops, here's a view of Creek Street.  Note that the buildings are located on top of boardwalks and piers.

Here's a view of a competitor cruise ship from the Carnival Lines company.  Slightly smaller I think than our own ship.

 Carnival Lines

 Our ship, the Celebrity Milllenium

Note how the weather had cleared since early morning,
you can see the top of Deer Mountain, Ketchikan's 
highest point.

At 2:30PM, the ship let Concierge Class passengers visit the Helipad at the bow of the ship.  This area is normally closed to passengers but we were allowed this time to witness the ship's departure from Ketchikan.

 Jane and Larry on the Helipad

 Views of the Celebrity Solstice, a larger ship
that Jane and Larry had previously traveled on.

A smaller but very exclusive cruise ship
from the Oceana line, was moored in
front of the Celebrity Solstice.
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Jul 7

A sea day today.  This means we were at sea and no port calls.

After breakfast, we toured the ship's galley to get an idea of the effort and production involved with serving an average of 14000 meals each day!

The executive chef (rank is noted by
black kerchief around neck)
who led our tour group

At sea, the ship's crew provides presentations of this and that matter....Martha attended one on the future cruises in Europe and she managed to win a bottle of wine during the "testing" that followed.

 Martha and her prize, along with snacks, 
at our cabin's balcony.

We both then attended a couple of informative briefing on Alaska's Ketchikan during the afternoon and evening.  While Jane, Larry and Martha attended a shipboard musical show, I went to catch the sunset:

 Looking toward the bow of the ship

 A southbound container ship we passed

Jane and Martha joined me near sunset's end
while Larry tried his luck in the ship's casino.

Pretty good sea day overall, tomorrow Ketchikan, Alaska!
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