July 10 - 26, 2008

Joan's sister, Kathy joined Joan and I and 7 of our best friends to take a Princess Cruise/Tour to Alaska.  We made a fun group and really enjoyed ourselves on the cruise together.  This cruise was on the Sapphire Princess and left Vancouver on July 12 and made three landings in Alaska; one in Ketchikan, one in Juneau and one in Skagway.  We went on some great excursions from the boat, including a rain forest tour in Ketchikan, a float trip down the Mendenhall river, a helicopter ride to the top of the Mendenhall glacier, where we visited a dog sled camp and took a ride on a sled, and a ride  on the White Pass and Yukon railroad up to Bennet Lake and the end of the Chilcoot trail.  There was considerable eating and enjoying ourselves on the ship and all-in-all a great seven days. 

Here's a shot of Kathy, Joan and I mushing on the glacier

We landed at Whittier and then most of us separated onto different land tours.  Kathy, her friend Cheryl, Joan and I got on a plane and flew up to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean for a very interesting tour of the oilfields, living at 70 degrees north latitude and then a dip in the Arctic Ocean (we all just went up to our ankles).  It was a great experience to be able to walk in to a place we never thought we would be able to visit.  We stayed at the Arctic Caribou Inn, which was a few modular buildings put together to form a motel and dining room.  The rooms were spartan, but fine and the food delicious!  

Here are Joan and I at the Arctic Ocean

The next interesting part of the trip was driving two days down the northernmost highway in the western hemisphere, the Dalton Highway.  This was built to service the North Slope oilfields and the Alaska Pipeline, which runs alongside the road 416 miles down to Fairbanks.  The pipeline continues another 300+ miles to Valdez.  This highway is open all year and is a gravel road with one lane in each direction.  Going south, it goes through the arctic tundra and across the Brooks Range before crossing the Arctic Circle, the Yukon River and terminating outside of Fairbanks.  This road has minimal services.  The first 240 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Coldfoot (the midway point neart Gates of the Arctic National Park) has NO services other than a few chemical toilet restrooms. 

Here is Joan and I at the Arctic Circle (going SOUTH!)

Coldfoot was an interesting place.  It's reason to be is to be the halfway point on the drive from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay and is basically a truck stop in the middle of nowhere.  It has a cafe and another modular constructed motel.   Here the rooms and the food were just OK.  As we got further south from Coldfoot, we passed a few areas which where the fireweed was in bloom.  It was beautiful!

The highlight of the trip for most folks is the trip to Denali National Park.  We had great weather in Denali and were blessed with being some  of only 25% of the people who actually see Mt Denali (or Mt. McKinley as it is historically known), due to the traditionally overcast skies and low clouds.  It is the highest mountain in North America at 20,000+ feet.

Here is the magniciant view of Denali we saw from milepost 62 of the Denali Highway on our tour

On the Denali trip we saw some moose, fox, ptarmigan, caribou, Dall sheep, and grizzly.  We came upon one grizzly eating flowers and berries just 10 ft from the road and completely oblivious of our presence.  Here's the shot out the bus window (with no zoom!).

We also spent time in Anchorage and Fairbanks; small cities which have no real attractions.  We did go on a riverboat ride in Fairbanks to an Athabaskan village, which was very well done and informative.  I don't have enough space to put in all the great shots, but all-in-all, it was a great experience.