Chapter 54: Our Trip to Alaska

In August 1999, we took our trip to Alaska. Many people in University Christian Church had a part in sending us there for a great time. We took our own vehicle and visited friends along the way going and coming. We started from Southern California on the 3rd of August and went to Vancouver, British Columbia, to catch a plane to Anchorage on the 9th. On the way, we visited folks in Gridley, CA, Medford, OR, Zillah and Yakima, WA and Anacortes, WA. At Anchorage, we saw some of the beauty of Alaska on a wide-screen movie, and we took in a video of the earthquake of March of 1964 besides seeing their museum about it.

The next day, we took the Alaskan Rail Road trip to Denali, known to white settlers as Mt. McKinley, where we stayed overnight and went on a Wildlife Tour the next day, 62 miles closer to Mt. McKinley. We were able to see the mountain in all of its beauty as it came out of the clouds for the first time in almost a week. We saw several bears, caribou and Dall sheep, plus some ptarmigans along the roadside. That same afternoon, we went on to Fairbanks by train, having our supper on board as we traveled.

In Fairbanks, we took the El Dorado Gold Mine Tour, taking a bus to the mine and then a narrow gauge train around inside. They showed us the way it was done in the gold rush days both inside the mine and out, panning for gold along a stream. Then we got to do the panning ourselves. We got a little bag of soil which we put into a pan and then placed into some water and wiggled it around in order to get rid of the larger pieces of rocks, etc. All that was left was the gold that was too heavy to go out with the rest. I got $5.20 worth and Chuck got $7.00 worth. Of course, they made it nice and handy for us to have that put into some ear rings, and we bought a little pendant just like it to go with the set. Now I have the perfect reminder of our trip to Fairbanks. No, they didn’t lose any money on us.

After a ride on the riverboat, Discovery II, a copy of those used on the Mississippi in years gone by, we were taken to a theme park where we had a delightful dinner of barbecued salmon and halibut, the best halibut we had ever tasted. During this time, it drizzled off and on, but that didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. All had a great time. At near midnight, we took a plane flight back to Anchorage, and slept in the same Comfort Inn we had slept in when we got there on the 9th. The next day, we took a bus to Seward, about a hundred miles from Anchorage, where we boarded the Mercury, a Celebrity Cruise ship.

At Seward, we had to line up to find out what cabin we had and when we were to go to meals in the main dining room. While in line, we met some folks from the Church of Christ non-instrumental group who were just ahead of us. As we talked, we found out we were truly brothers, so they invited us to go to church with them when we got to Juneau on Sunday. They knew some folks there who planned to pick them up and take them to their church. We were really pleased to have this opportunity.

When we finally got on ship, it was already almost time to go to dinner. We were scheduled to go to the first sitting at the main restaurant, and we were to sit at table 511. However, that first night, we could sit anywhere we wanted. Everything was so fancy. At every place setting there were several pieces of silverware, linen napkins, and the water glasses were lovely goblets. I don’t remember what we had to eat, but we got one of each course listed on the menu. The waiters were dressed in black suits and really looked handsome. The surroundings were beautiful with lovely bouquets of flowers on some tables and a vase with orchids at ours. The rest of the nights, we sat at our own table where we had six companions who sat with us each night. We got to know them fairly well and enjoyed them a lot. At breakfast and lunch, we took our meals at a buffet where we could choose what we wanted from a wide selection.

The first day out, we went to Glacier Bay where we were supposed to see the Hubbard Glacier. We saw it from a distance, but there was a fog between us and it, so they only went to within about a mile and a half of it, so we didn’t get to see it up close. We saw a few very small icebergs, and that was about it.

Sunday we went to a Church of Christ in Juneau with the aforementioned couple. It was a good service, and we appreciated their love and friendliness and their great singing. At Bible study time, they seemed to really know their Bibles. After lunch at the ship, we went on a bus tour to a salmon hatchery and the Mendenhall Glacier. We were taken to the visitors’ center at the glacier, which was a half mile from it where we saw a video about glaciers and this one in particular, besides seeing the museum there. Then we went out and got some good pictures. We saw salmon that had already spawned and a few that were still swimming around in the pond. There were a couple of beaver dams, too, which were quite interesting.

The next day, we went to Skagway where we went on the White Pass Railroad to the top of the pass over the summit to Canada. We passed the obelisk that showed the line and saw the flags on both sides: Alaska, United States, British Columbia, Canada. This was the route that thousands of sourdoughs, or gold miners, rushed to go to the Yukon to pan for gold. At one point, Dead Horse Gulch, three thousand horses had lost their lives in the struggle to get all their possessions up and over the pass. They said that the miners had to tramp over the dead carcasses of these horses in some areas, and the stench went clear back to Skagway, several miles down the pass. That happened in 1897-1898, so that wasn’t really all that long ago.

Later on, when we went on a little historical trip in the town of Skagway, we learned about the other pass that other miners went over to get there, Chilkoot Pass, having to carry a ton of food, equipment and whatever else was needed to get to the Yukon so they would have enough to last them for many months while in the Yukon.

At Sitka, the Russian capital of Alaska, we took the historical tour of the city, actually an island. We viewed the Russian cathedral which had all but one of the original icons after it was burned down many years ago. They built it back to exactly the same replica of the original upon finding records with that information. We also saw some Russian dances at one point along the way, and at another, went on a nature tour and to a museum showing the creations of the Indians at that time. We went up to the point on one mount where Seward had purchased Alaska from the Russians, paying seven million two hundred thousand dollars, which was a fantastic deal, but in those days, many Americans thought that we had been gypped. It was referred to then as “Seward’s folly.”

Ketchikan was our last stop before Vancouver, and we went by bus to a lake about 15 miles away, where we went on a canoe trip. There was room for 24 people in each canoe, and those on the outsides got to paddle. We had a great time, putting on rain gear and life jackets to make us more bulky. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of smoked salmon, clam chowder, French bread and frozen strawberry jam plus hot chocolate. To top off the trip, our tour guide took us to a small island on the lake where he showed us a tiny plant that was the only carnivorous plant in Alaska. It produced a kind of resin that tiny insects stuck to when they got in, and then its tendrils would close over it. The guide tenderly replaced the plant where he had removed it so it would be safe for the next group.

The last day, we went down the Inside Passage where we cruised between the mainland and the islands on the ocean side. That day was warm and sunny, so this was our day to go up and enjoy the Jacuzzi. It was delightful.

Wednesday evening, we had a formal wear night. We wore our Filipino clothing we had worn for our 50th wedding anniversary celebration, and we felt beautiful. That night at midnight, we were allowed to go take pictures of the midnight buffet at which they had ice sculptures on view that were absolutely beautiful. They had sculptures in various kinds of vegetables and fruits, too, and even made things out of baked goods. It’s hard to describe how lovely it was. They let people take pictures of it the first half hour after which it was opened for service. Talk about living in the lap of luxury, this was it.

When we got home, it was time to look at anniversary cards and begin writing thank you cards for the gifts and cards we received. This took almost the whole month of September. There were probably about 250 cards altogether, and they are now in two 4-inch thick notebooks which we left in our trailer. We also made two albums of pictures for our anniversary pictures and Alaskan tour besides another 4-inch thick notebook with things we purchased or picked up while there. These were all finished about November 1st.

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