Jo Ann Carr, President of Interlude Tours, with husband Dennis in Alaska
My new favorite trip was this month, a land excursion to Alaska. In Anchorage and Fairbanks we experienced 80 degree weather, so, needless to say, I was wishing I’d packed shorts and sandals instead of jeans and fleece–although the fleece came in handy during our excursions and in the evening.
Having daylight about 18 hours a day definitely extended what we could do in a tour day! Starting in Anchorage, we traveled through the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve with mountains in the distance and millions of tall skinny pine trees in all directions. Along the way, we stopped at the Alaska pipeline, not only an engineering marvel designed to withstand earthquakes and other acts of nature, but also a major cooperative effort, since it traverses many Indian corporation lands.
In Fairbanks, one of the highlights was the University of Alaska Museum of the North. The museum was architecturally stunning, reminding one of a glacier. Inside, we explored a fabulous photo exhibit on polar bears, as well as the permanent collection, which featured the culture and wildlife of the various regions of the state. One unique exhibit is “The Place Where You Go to Listen,” a quiet room with ever-changing sound and light environments driven by real time environmental conditions. The other highlight was the Riverboat Discovery: we cruised down the Chena River and the Tanana River aboard a paddle wheeler. We stopped to talk with Dave Monson, husband of the late four-time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher, and saw his dog kennel and learned about the summer sled dog training program. From there we toured the Athabascan Indian Village and learned about their fish camp and culture from Indian guides.
From Fairbanks we traveled to Denali, stopping along the way in Nenana, where we met the mayor and learned about the Nenana Ice Classic, in which you can place bets on the exact minute the river will break up from its long freeze. Hardy souls live here! If you don’t get your supply order in early enough for delivery before the river freezes, you can just count yourself out of luck until the thaw.
Interlude Tours: Flightseeing of Denali/Mt. McKinley
Arriving in Denali National Park, we had a wide variety of optional tours we could take. My husband, Dennis, chose to do fixed wing “flightseeing” of Denali (Mt. McKinley to those in the lower 48). Lucky for him, it was a clear day above the clouds, and he experienced breathtaking views. That evening, we enjoyed the Denali Dinner Theater, a family-style restaurant where your waiters turn into performers… lots of fun with our fellow travelers!
The next day, we chose to go white water rafting. They gave us “dry suits” which did in fact keep us dry the whole time–except for our faces, which were doused several times by rapids with 38 degree water. We learned quickly to keep our mouths shut and duck… then the person behind us took the wave!
In the afternoon, we took the Tundra Wilderness tour deep into Denali National Park where we sighted moose, caribou, Dall Sheep, foxes, and even a grizzly bear and her cub. The vistas were spectacular, and there were abundant wildflowers all over the hillsides.
The next day, we took advantage of other optional tours. I chose to go tour the “Husky Homestead” of Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race winner Jeff King, where we played with the puppies and saw the dogs train. Jeff also gave us a personal presentation about what it was like on the Iditarod Trail. Dennis chose the jetboat tour, and others in our group chose fly fishing while still others hiked with a ranger.
Interlude Tours: Luxury Rail Travel in Alaska
From Denali we traveled by train to Anchorage. The train offered reclining seats, huge sight-seeing windows and a domed car for views of Mt. McKinley and roaming wildlife. We lucked out again and we were able to see Mt. McKinley clearly as well as moose and caribou beside the tracks. What a great way to travel!
Interlude Tours: Experiences of Native Culture in Alaska
Back in Anchorage, we went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where they have a village with interpreters who explained the housing construction and the culture of the people. We also saw a native dance presentation and visited with native artisans. After lunch, we decided to explore the Anchorage Museum, another state-of-the-art facility where a very knowledgeable docent brought alive the history of Alaska from the first people who migrated there to gold rush history and onward to modern times.
From Anchorage we traveled to the Kenai Peninsula and Homer. Kenai is where Alaskans go for boating and world-class fishing. We had an opportunity to see a huge catch of halibut being filleted. As famous as Alaska is for salmon, we found the halibut outstanding also; of course, it couldn’t have been any fresher! In the evening, we enjoyed a charming gourmet restaurant in Homer. We visited the Historical Society Museum to see early homestead cabins; looking at their construction, believe me, they weren’t carpenters who moved to this area to take advantage of the 1947 Homestead Act! The government gave them a “how to build a log cabin” booklet and required that they build on the land they’d claimed. Several of the early cabins were at the museum… lots of gaps between the logs and interestingly joined corners. We actually met one of the women who moved there from Chicago to claim free land. She recounted those early years; when we asked about the hardship, she responded that it was a wonderful opportunity for her and her husband.
From there we went to Girdwood, where we stayed at the Alyeska ski resort. What a beautiful setting! Flowers abounded, and there was a cable car ride to a restaurant offering panoramic views. Again, with plenty of day light for touring, I chose to take a helicopter ride to the glaciers, where we landed among the incredible blue glaciers. What an experience!
Our last excursion was into Prince William Sound aboard a high-speed catamaran. On this small ship we could cruise right up to the glaciers and see sea otters and seals at play.
Even with all the touring and excursions, we never felt rushed, and we were able to relax and enjoy the breathtaking scenery of Alaska. Besides all the sights, we really enjoyed talking with the people of Alaska. We found them a friendly, hardy people: Alaska still has the pioneer spirit and, in many remote areas, the pioneer lifestyle as well. We particularly enjoyed our Alaskan tour director and driver who enhanced the trip with personal insight to life in Alaska. The tour company was our partner “Premier Alaska”–an Alaskan company with Alaskan guides and drivers who always add a personal touch.
If you would like to have a similar incredible experience, we have many Guaranteed Departure dates each summer. Just call for details. I guarantee you it will be the trip of a lifetime!
Jo Ann Carr
President, Interlude Tours
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