Juneau, Alaska -- A group of almost 40 north state residents just returned from the trip of a lifetime to Alaska.
We left our homes from Oroville to Chico and from Red Bluff to Anderson, Redding and Fall River Mills. Most had never met before, but by the end of our 12 day journey we had all made friends for life.
We begin our story in Vancouver, British Columbia where we boarded our cruise ship for the last frontier.
Welcome aboard the *MS. Volendam*. A 14-hundred passenger ship. The 3-night cruise took us though the Inside Passage. Along the waterway we enjoyed the snow-capped mountains, forests, and hundreds of islands, pools and entertainment. Our first stop, Juneau, Alaska's capital. It can only be reached by boat or plane and while some took a seaplane ride to see the spectacular views, others stayed on land, making time for lunch at the famous Red Dog Saloon, which dates back to heyday of Juneau's glorious mining era.
The next stop, Skagway, rich with history, the town itself has a population of just 800 during the winter months There are 21 hours of sun in the summer and 21 hours of darkness during winter. We jumped onto the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway in Skagway. The narrow gage train ride took us along the path of the legendary Klondike gold seekers. There were panoramic views of cascading waterfalls and the largest rain forest in the U.S.
Our journey took us down the Alaskan Highway, constructed during World War II, as a military route linking Alaska to the lower 48.
In Tok, we would meet world renown musher Hugh Neff. He's done 32, 1,000-mile races, including the Iditorod and he is winner of the 2016 Yukon Quest.
Debbie: "What do you enjoy most about mushing?" Neff: "Just being out in the woods ya know.. The freedom of the north..being with the dogs.. It's magical. Checking out the stars and the auroras.. But it's really about the dogs.. The dogs are pretty amazing creatures."
We panned for gold at the Gold Dredge 8.. and got a close up look at the Alaska Pipeline. The pipeline was built between 1974 and 1977 after the 1973 oil crisis in the U.S. and runs 800 miles long.
Debbie "500-thousand gallons of oil flows through the pipeline every single day. It's monitored for security reasons from the air and the ground and it's built to withstand aN 8.5 magnitude earthquake."
While in Fairbanks, we caught a ride on the Riverboat Discovery Sternwheeler on the Chena River.
One of the highlights on this journey for me, a guided all day tour through 'Denali National Park and Preserve',one of the last intact eco-systems in the world. We saw several grizzly bears, a momma bear and two cubs stopped our bus as we waited for one of the cubs to finish a nap in the road. We saw a boatload of caribou and on this day, June 20th, we were blessed. The clouds parted just long enough for us to get a rare look at Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America.
On to Wasilla, Alaska where we took an amazing dog sled ride, pulled by the same Alaskan huskies that race in the Iditorod. While visiting the Iditarod Trail Committee Visitor Center and headquarters we learned about the Anchorage to Nome race, the last great race on earth and met these future racers, just pups, and an overload of cuteness..
Another highlight, the Phillips 26 Glacier Cruise in the waters of Prince William Sound, where we got an close up look at sea otters, seals and bald eagles. We came face to face with spectacular glaciers..
Debbie: "The beautiful blue glacier you see over my should is called Surprise Glacier.. It's a tidewater glacier.. And all of the glaciers here are part of the same ice field."
There were too many amazing stops on this 12 day journey to mention in just a few minutes.. but it was truly an adventure to the last frontier.. we will never forget.
In the end, we had travelled more than 7,000 miles together. It was beautiful, exciting and exhausting. A trip to see a slice of America, Alaska. A trip we will treasure.
A special thank you to the North Staters who shared their vacation with me and Holiday Vacations.