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Alaska: Land of the Midnight Sun

In Summer 2002, Fiby and Sumner took Michael, Laura and I on an Alaskan cruise.  We departed from Vancouver and cruised the inside passage along the Alaskan Panhandle to Anchorage. 

Stanley Park

Before embarking, we spent a few days in Vancouver, including a Sunday in Stanley Park (above).  Stanley Park is a 1,000 acre park (10% larger than New York’s Central Park) opened in 1888 by David Oppenheimer in the name of Lord Stanley of Preston, the Governor-General of Canada. Much of the park remains forested with an estimated half million trees that can be as tall as 250 feet and hundreds of years old.

ketchikan

Our first cruise port was Ketchikan (above). With an estimated population of 14,000 when we visited, Ketchikan is the fifth most populous city in the state. Rush hour was a bitch.

Ketchikan is named after the Ketchikan Creek (above), which flows through the town. Ketchikan claims to be the wettest place in the U.S., with an average annual rainfall of 152 inches.  The folks there call the rain “liquid sunshine.”

Out next stop was Skagway, a small town that has that frontier feel you associate with Alaska. As of the time of our visit, the population of the city was 862. The White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad, part of the area’s mining past, is still runs in the summer months. Skagway is also part of the setting for Jack London’s book The Call of the Wild.

Our next stop was Juneau, the capital of Alaska. Above is a picture of us enjoying a drink at the famous Red Dog Saloon. Founded during Juneau’s mining era, the Saloon has been in operation for decades. For a time, “Ragtime Hattie” played the piano in white gloves and a silver dollar halter top. Later, in territorial days, the owners would often meet the tour boats at the docks with a mule that wore a sign saying, “follow my ass to the Red Dog Saloon.”  After getting a snootful, Fiby retired to the ship while Sumner, Laura, Michael and I – despite Fiby’s displeasure and stern warning to watch the time –  visited the Alaska Brewery.  All I remember after that is finding ourselves scrunched in the backseat of some helpful locals’ car speeding to make the last tender to the ship (which, thankfully, we just made).  This adventure led Michael to start designing his time machine.

 After Juneau, we cruised through Glacier Bay. Glacier Bay and the surrounding land is the site of the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Glacier Bay contains sixteen glaciers, twelve of which reach shorelines and calve to produce icebergs. You can see (and hear) the Glacier’s calving, which is a pretty remarkable experience. Above Sumner is enjoying a balmy summer day.

 

Our next stop was Sitka. Sitka was originally settled by the native Tlingit people and was “discovered” by the Russian-American Company in 1799. Sitka was the site of the ceremony in which the Russian flag was lowered and the United States flag raised after Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867, a site we visited.  After the original ceremony, the entire U.S. government presence in Alaska until the Klondike Gold Rush consisted of a single customs inspector on the island. James Michner lived in Sitka for many months while writing his novel Alaska. Below, Michael and I explore the low tide coastline with our ship in the background.

We finally visted our last port of call, Anchorage, where we spent a few days with our friends Peggy and Ed. No longer traveling by sea, we traverse some of the Iditerod Trail on dog sled (above). Anchorage is the ceremonial start for the yearly race.  We also visited the Alaskan State Fair.  The summer’s long days allow for some really large vegetables, as Sumner shows below.

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