I was concerned that visiting a major tourist destination mid-summer the place would be packed with people. Alaska included. It seems everyone has been, is going, or wants to visit the 49th state.
As it turns out the vastness of the land spreads crowds. Restaurants may be crowded, but that is expected in any resort area. And we plan accordingly. Eat dinner early, find places off the beaten path, try odd hours.
Our Holland America tour, eight days on land followed by a 4-day cruise, counts 28 folks. We do not feel pushed around or on a too-tight schedule.
Hub and I usually plan our own trips. But I admit it is nice to have someone else do all the planning, hand us a sheet of paper everyday with what's happening, where to be when, meal suggestions, room keys…we are definitely getting spoiled.
The train to Denali is outfitted for tourists - comfortable plush seats, plenty of leg room, domed car with second-level seating, slow speed. The lower level dining car is outfitted with tablecloths, cloth napkins, silverware, table service, an interesting menu and good food.
We pass through few towns. Spruce trees, wide flowing streams and rivers, blue lakes, and an occasional home dominate the landscape.
North of Anchorage the train rumbled through Wasilla, known as the home (past tense) of Vice-Presidential candidate, ex-governor of Alaska, Tina Fey-look alike - Sarah Palin. No Sarah sightings in Wasilla. Rumor places her nowadays somewhere in the Arizona desert.
We did not see Russia. Trees, mountains, and curvature of the earth prevented clear viewing. Sarah must have climbed a high tower to see Siberia.
We were informed there was a 30% chance we would see Denali, previously Mt. McKinley, the highest point in North America. Clouds usually hamper clear sightings. We were lucky. Via the train the snow-capped mountains appeared clear and spectacular, and the following day the view from Denali park was also picture perfect. The weather was warm and sunny, few clouds blocking views of surrounding mountains.
We packed for cool weather, the 50s usual this time of year for Denali, and our weather-appropriate clothes remain stuffed in the bottom of suitcases taking up space. The temperature hit the high 70s and low 80s.
We went rafting one evening (it is light past midnight) and although the air was warm the water was cold - very cold - 17 hours earlier river waters were glaciers - packed ice - on nearby mountains. We donned dry suits over our clothes, necessary as we got drenched. The rapids were rated one and two, but we hit three’s (according to our 20-year-old guide and paddler). There was not a calm portion of river the entire ride.
We saw a moose and her two calves walking along the river. In Denali we viewed caribou, bear, eagles, ravens, moose, and humans of all sizes, shapes and ages, most with cellphones and real cameras angling for pictures of the spectacle surrounding them.
Food is always an important part of our trips, and Alaska does not disappoint. We sampled local cuisine - various renditions of reindeer, caribou, halibut, salmon, cod.
Our tour bus, train, plane rolls on. On to the Yukon, Canada.
No pictures because wifi connection poor.