Touring Alaska (and a Poem)!

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

From the North Slope to Valdez harbor, the Alaska oil pipeline is extremely important to the state

A handstand near the Worthington Glacier

I have just finished a 9 day, custom trip in Alaska. My clients were predominantly from Oklahoma and while quite elderly, they were / are excellent and enthusiastic travellers.

This trip was not the typical cruise adventure, rather they wanted to go inland and frankly so did I. Everyday was an event and I remember why I love the North.

For such a massive territory, Alaska has very few roads – in fact our longest day driving (from Valdez to Fairbanks) was nearly 400 miles (640 kms) and effectively the route involved one left turn!

Referred to as ‘the Longest Run’ the Alaska highway winds from British Colombia, through Yukon and into the heart of Alaska

While costal Alaska is truly dramatic and must be visited, I have a special love for Fairbanks and the interior. Developing and maintaining a large city that close to the arctic will always be a fascinating work in progress. Houses sink into the permafrost and the city experiences remarkably hot summers and profoundly cold winters.

Set along the chilly Chena River, Fairbanks is unapologetically northern and isolated.

The Antler Arch near the excellent visitor center in downtown Fairbanks

As I have done on every tour I have ever lead up here, I took the group on the Riverboat Discovery paddle-wheeler tour. Fans of my blog will know I do not often promote specific products, but this smooth tour is absolutely outstanding.

In three hours they manage to offer a glimpse into northern life, respectfully discuss Native Alaskan Culture and sell their delicious smoked salmon. The trip really is reason enough to visit Fairbanks.

The Dome Cars of the Alaska Railroad and really comfortable the the service runs on time!

Pioneer Park with its salmon bake is also well worth a visit. Learning about Fairbanks somewhat improbable settlement in the theatre is extremely enjoyable.

Among other highlights of a tour to Alaska is the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage. The group absolutely loved the Alaska Railroad trip from Seward to Anchorage up in the dome cars (and that train manages to run on schedule).

Of course I have to mention Prince William Sound. We had a fairly inclement day, but the small boat tours (we used Stan Stephen’s) allow close-up visits of glaciers and wildlife viewing.

Anchorage is of course Alaska’s largest city. I’ve always liked the saying; “Anchorage is a nice city and it is only 20 minutes from Alaska!”

Roughly 1/60 Alaskans has a pilot’s licence and Lake Hood in Anchorage is the largest floatplane ‘airport’ in the world.

The setting for Anchorage could not be better – set along the North Pacific Ocean, Cook Inlet experiences the second largest tides on earth and the dramatic Chugach mountains frame the city perfectly.

The two main sites we picked for the group were the recently renovated and excellent Anchorage Museum and the must-not-miss Alaska Native Heritage Center. Learning about indigenous cultures in a land as vast as Alaska really is a requirement and absolutely fascinating.

Of course being July, there were no northern lights – there wasn’t even night! Finn was with me on this trip and we had to close the curtains tightly in order to sleep. It was the first time I brought him on a full tour and he had a wonderful time.

Eating outside late into the evening at Pioneer Park – in July there is nearly 24 hours of light!

I have not been to Alaska in the winter (except for Skagway) but I have dog sledded in Yukon during December – the darkest month. Living in the Canadian Rockies I understand cold and snow all too well, but the winter darkness up here must have a powerful effect on the culture.

Dog sledding is the traditional winter transport

Generally touring Alaska is a summertime activity, but the great north must be seen as a year-round destination. I would have loved to take the group up to the arctic or out to Nome on the Bering Sea (There’s no place like Nome).

For this group and our budget this was a wonderful adventure and busy enough. In fact I enjoyed the tour so much I am about to do it all over with a new group, but in reverse this time!

Alaska is made for group tours. Flying up here is the largest single cost so plan far in advance. If you are interested in a trip to Alaska, please feel free to contact us through our website.

Alaska’s hub is in Seattle

Lastly, because we did see a small salmon run during our trip, I borrowed an idea from the Rocky Mountaineer and and we had a poetry competition. The theme was salmon and I’ve included the winning entry below. Well done Coleen – and what a pleasure to have you on tour!

Salmon’s Ode to Life

Although this life of mine Isn’t all that I had planned One brother’s on the menu And my sister’s in a can :(.

I’ve proven wrong the adage That you can’t go home again Mama says that it’s possible But you’ve gotta learn to swim!

Life’s journey takes us upstream That’s where the goodies lie But in order to keep livin’ It’s a cinch you’re gonna die.

As a salmon this is something That I’ve never understood But I think its in the by-laws Of the Arctic Brotherhood!

Hugs from the North: Coleen Buckmaster, July 10, 2015

Alaskans seem to have given up on Ms. Palin – and it is possible to see Russia, but not from Anchorage!

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