Homer's Travels: Installment #10: Alaska 2002 - Part 1

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Installment #10: Alaska 2002 - Part 1

Our next vacation was a big one. I had been thinking about going to Alaska since my big 1995 vacation. When I suggested Alaska to the wife she was enthusiastic so I started to plan. There are a few ways to go to Alaska. My original - pre-the wife - plans was to drive the whole thing. I decided this was not practical since we had determined our car limit to be 10 days and Alaska was going to be more then 10 days. I explored tours and cruise options but we decided to do all the arranging ourselves. The wife had heard of the Alaskan Marine Highway System and it sounded like an offbeat, Homer's Travels sort of way to get there. The rest of the plan fell in to place after that.

We started with a flight to Seattle, Washington. We rented a car at the airport and headed to downtown Seattle visiting the
Space Needle and the Experience Music Project. We both enjoyed the Space Needle but we thought the Experience Music Project was just ho-hum. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is much more interesting.

We then made our way north to Bellingham. Here we spent the night. The next day we turned in the rental car at the airport and took a taxi to the Ferry terminal. We were too early to board so we checked our baggage and took a little walk around downtown Bellingham. It's a nice place. We bought some gourmet lollipops for the trip north. We went back to the terminal and boarded the M/V MATANUSKA. The ferry holds 500 passengers and about 88 vehicles. We settled into our cozy cabin. To save a little money I chose an inside cabin. The cabin has two bunk beds (I got the top bunk) and a small attached bathroom with a shower. If I did it again I might have splurged for an outside cabin with a window so we could watch the scenery from the comfort of our cabin but the inside cabin did have it's conveniences. When you turned off the light the cabin was pitch black allowing for a deep, rock me to sleep, restful slumber - which is what we pretty much did most of the way on the ferry. When we weren't sleeping, we were eating in the cafeteria, watching the scenery from the forward observation room where most of the socializing took place, or reading. Another option for staying on the ferry was to pitch a tent on the deck. This was the cheapest way to ride but it took a special kind of person to brave it. It was cold and drizzly from Bellingham to Juneau. Most people don't realize the this part of Alaska is considered a rain forest. Most of the deck campers were young, scraggly bohemian types. The wife and I are not young, scraggly bohemian types.

The M/V MATANUSKA's route is through the inside passage so you have land on both sides most of the way. There are only two spots when you have open ocean on one side. Except for these two spots, the ride was smooth with a slight, soothing roll. The ferry made a total of 5 stops on its 4 day cruise on the way to Skagway, AK. The stops were Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, and Juneau. We would be getting off at Juneau. Most of the stops along the way were short. We got off at Ketchikan, had a good breakfast, and were back aboard and on our way in less than two hours. Petersburg was at night and we did not have enough time to get off. We did enjoy the 4th of July Fireworks that were set off while we were in port.

Sitka was another story. The ferry was going to be there for several hours and there were buses to take the passengers into town so we could tour the area. Sitka was the capital of the area when the Russians still owned the Alaska territories and there is an interesting mix of Russian and native Tlingit cultures on the island. The tour took us past Russian Orthodox Churches and Totem Poles. The town was crowded since there were several cruise ships in port. Apparently the town's population quadruples when the cruise ships arrive. We bought some cool stuff before getting back on the ferry.

The last ferry stop for us was Juneau. We arrive late at night and took a cab to our hotel which was located near the airport. Juneau can only be reached by sea or air. There is no road out of town since the mountains that ring the city are impassable. It had been raining all the way to Juneau but when we arrived the clouds parted and we enjoyed two days of blue skies and gorgeous weather. We took a taxi into town. Juneau, the modern day capital of Alaska, has an old frontier town feel to it. The architecture reminded me of the western gold rush.

We took a tour which took us through the town, the salmon hatchery, and Mendenhall Glacier. We ate lunch at the Red Dog Saloon and took a tram up to the top of Mount Roberts. The views of Juneau, Douglas Island, and the Gastineau Channel are spectacular. The next day we took a taxi back to Mendenhall Glacier. We took a short hike taking us closer to the Glacier. I snapped a shot that has since adorned my computers both at home and at work. While we were there we did a geocache located nearby. I'll have to post about geocaching someday but for now just think of it as treasure hunting using a GPS. (This cache has since vanished - bear tracks were reported to be present in the area where the cache was.)

To be continued ...

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