Alaska On My Mind


As you peruse this post, Bill and I will be in the early days of a five-week adventure in Alaska. Why Alaska? It just seemed like the ideal domestic travel destination for us this summer as the COVID-19 pandemic winds down (fingers crossed). Most of the places on the itinerary will be new to us, but we’re not total Alaska newbies.

Back in my working days, I was assigned to work on a project on the Kenai Peninsula that would require multiple business trips over a 4-5 month time span. Say what? How soon can I go? I was all in! That was in the summer of 1998.

Over the next 12 years, I went back to the Kenai many times and picked up new clients in Juneau and Skagway in southeast Alaska. I visited during all four seasons, met wonderful people, encountered plenty of moose and bald eagles but no bears, experienced earthquakes (small) and the Aurora Borealis, learned a great deal about Alaskan ways and (hopefully) provided a little help to my clients.

I savored (almost) every minute of my trips. Even without the luxury of being able to play tourist for more than a day or so every once in a while, I faithfully toted my little 35mm point-and-shoot film camera around and snapped a few photos. I dug them out of storage just to share with you.

About Juneau . . .

With a population of only 32,000, Juneau is in the top ten for state capitals with the fewest residents. And you can’t get there by car, only by plane or boat. Located in a temperate rain forest, Juneau sees 86″ of precipitation annually, which includes, on average, 127 snowfall days and 290″ of snow. In other words, Juneau is cold and really wet. It’s rare (but possible) to experience a clear, sunny day in Juneau!

About the Kenai Peninsula . . .

At nearly 25,000 square miles, the Kenai peninsula (located south of Anchorage) is slightly larger than the state of West Virginia, with a total population of about 59,000. Towns include Seward, Soldotna, Kenai and Homer. The area is famous for salmon and halibut fishing, as well as glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park and abundant wildlife, both on land and in the water.

And from Skagway . . .

Skagway is a gem, and I felt privileged to work with local officials on projects that required several visits to this interesting community.

Skagway and nearby Dyea were the gateway communities for prospectors arriving by ship from Seattle and San Francisco during the 1897-98 Klondike Gold Rush. Like other boom-and-bust mining communities in the West, Skagway was “a lawless town, little better than hell on earth” (quote from Wikipedia) during that time.

Today, Skagway plays host to over a million tourists a year (pre-COVID), most arriving by cruise ship between mid-May and mid-September and leaving town less than 12 hours after they arrive. My visits did not occur during cruising season, thank goodness.

My first trip included a half day guided tour of the area with “Buckwheat” Donahue, Executive Director of the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau. Buckwheat was one of the most interesting people I ever met . . . seriously. A highlight of our time together was watching and listening to him recite Robert Service poetry during a short hike on the Chilkoot Trail.

Unfortunately, Buckwheat died a few years ago, but his legacy lives on in southeast Alaska. Check out this local news article published shortly after his death – info about his life and many contributions to the adopted community he loved, including a quest to raise funds for a new health clinic in Skagway:

He started out from Miami, Florida, on Oct. 1, 2005 and walked 4,600 miles, reaching the Teslin River in the Yukon on June 8, 2006. From there he paddled down to the Yukon River and out to Kotlik, Alaska, another 2,200 miles, reaching the Bering Sea in early August. After a flight to Nome, where he walked some more, and another flight to Whitehorse, he set off for the final leg.

On Sept. 8, 2006 he walked into Skagway. The newspaper stopped the presses, the school let out early, traffic halted on a busy summer day, and all the children howled and followed him down Broadway to the AB Hall. After 327 days on road and river, he was home. His shoes were bronzed and hung in the entryway of the new clinic building, for which he raised nearly $75,000. 

I took a commercial flight back to Juneau from Skagway – the first photo in the gallery below was my sweet ride. I sat in the co-pilot seat. Because it was a clear day (rare), we flew the inland route through the mountains and glaciers rather than over the water. What a spectacle! My only regret? I had just three shots left on my roll of film.

And then . . .

Wanting more, I talked my usual travel companions (husband Bill and friends Steve and Marlene) into an Alaska vacation – not a hard sell. We spent a couple of weeks in the Juneau and Skagway area during the summer of 2006. In Juneau . . .

From Juneau, we boarded a ferry for the seven hour trip to Skagway, where we spent another few days.

We drove north from Skagway on a delightful day trip to Whitehorse, Canada.

And just like my earlier visit to Skagway, we took a commercial flight from Skagway to Juneau that featured amazing views of mountain peaks and glaciers.

An amazing conclusion to a vacation that was filled with amazing moments.

The four of us returned to Alaska two years later to check out sights on the Kenai Peninsula and (relatively) nearby Kodiak Island. It was a scenic drive from Anchorage to Seward, where we found glaciers and other cool stuff at Kenai Fjords National Park.

Our next stop was Homer.

From Homer, we hopped a ferry for the nine-hour ride to Kodiak Island.

A highlight of our time in Kodiak, indeed for our entire trip, was a day flight to Katmai National Park.

Our final excursion was spending a day in Whittier, population 300. The town was constructed by the U.S. military during World War II.

Whittier has a couple of unique features. First, the only road into and out of town features a “mixed-use road and rail” tunnel, with trains having priority. Motor vehicles are allowed to pass through the tunnel approximately every 60 minutes.

Second, there are no free-standing homes in Whittier. Residents live in Begich Towers, a single high-rise condominium.

We intended to return once more to visit Denali and other sights in the Alaska interior, but life got in the way, and our priorities shifted for a few years.

But now, Bill and I are back for more. Stay tuned for a series of blog posts from our current adventures. Here’s a map of our Alaska vacations – blue dots for 2006, purple for 2008 and orange for 2021. Should be a fun summer – I hope yours is also!

Categories: AlaskaTags: , , , , , , , , , ,

2 comments

  1. Wow. You put in heaps of work with this post. A fun look back!!!

    Like

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