FINAL UPDATE

August 19, 2015 by

It’s hard to believe that we were actually in Alaska for 8 days! We truly had a great Alaskan experience and a fantastic adventure. Just think about what we did and saw.

We saw “The Mountain”! We are all members of the 30% club. We saw whales, sea otters, sea lions, caribou, and so many birds it’s hard to remember. Maybe we only saw “stuffed” moose and bears, not the real thing, but we didn’t let that stop us from having a wonderful vacation.

Our weather was great. We had very little rain and when it rained, it didn’t bother us. The “retail therapy” was forever rewarding! The scenery in itself is fabulous and unforgettable. So I would say it was a pretty successful vacation. Everything was so spectacular that it’s hard to remember all we saw and did.

The new friends and family that we made in Alaska, also made this a great adventure. We had a great time – don’t you think! You were a wonderful group of people to travel with and let’s do it again!

Thank you for your cooperation and making my job easy! On behalf of myself and 4 Seasons Vacations, I thank you for choosing to go with us. We love showing Alaska off and we think we have a great trip. Please join us again when we can show you another destination and a great time. Please stay safe and healthy until we meet again.

May God bless you,
Sue Barber

Day 8 ~ Thursday, August 6 ~ Anchorage – Home

August 7, 2015 by

Sorry for the delay in the diary. Internet connection has not been good. We will get caught up and pictures will be on soon. We will be editing the diary so we may add more when we’re home and going through our pictures.

Good morning everyone! We were able to sleep in today. We are liking this. We have a later flight. The only problem is that we will get in late in Albert Lea. Bummer!

We had a wonderful breakfast buffet again. Lot’s of choices and fresh made Omelets. It was great. The comment was made as to who will prepare our breakfast tomorrow!

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Alaska

John came back for us at the Hilton. After loading the luggage we headed for the airport. Because this group is so timely, John took us around places we hadn’t seen yet in Anchorage. She also gave out the prizes for the quiz. Larry and Darlene were the lucky winners. Then we went over the answers. We all know so much more about Alaska.

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Barge

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John kept driving around looking for a moose. No such luck. They are avoiding us. Terry is the lucky winner to have at least seen a little of a moose. We have to come back! Sue gave us quick instructions for the airport. Everyone is a little concerned about the weight of their checked bag!

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Engine that was brought to Alaska from the Panama Canal to begin the Alaska Railroad.

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We were soon at the airport and we had help off loading the luggage. John appreciated that since the bags are much heavier then when we started. We said our farewells to John. What a great driver and friend! He certainly made us feel welcomed and shared an abundance of wonderful information about the state of Alaska. We will be back John and thank you for a great vacation.

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Salmon fishing at Ship’s Creek

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Still no moose!

Everyone was checked in as quickly as we could be. It wasn’t bad. We all made it through security. We even had time to meander around the airport before we started boarding. What a beautiful day for flying! Some even tried out the reindeer sausage dogs.

The flight was a good one. It didn’t seem as long as the flight there. Everyone pretty much napped. We need to catch up on our sleep. That tour director sure kept us moving! We did run into a little choppy weather as we got closer. Actually had lightening and rain as we were landing.

We gathered our luggage and our luggage handlers loaded them up. We said goodbye to our new friends who departed in Minneapolis and we made our way to the coach via the tram. We met our motor coach driver, Don. It’s dark outside. What’s with that! We aren’t use to dark! We also have rain. What’s up with that! We asked Don if he could find us a moose. His moose counter said there 5 sightings.

As we came into Faribault it was raining pretty hard and wind was really blowing. Don had to slow down so we didn’t wash away. It wasn’t raining quite so hard when we dropped off Lester and Jane in Owatonna. By the time we reached Albert Lea, it was pretty much done. Most of us are looking forward to a good night’s rest in our “own beds” and not living out of a suitcase. What a fantastic vacation in Alaska!

Day 7 ~ Wednesday, August 5 ~ Valdez – Anchorage

August 7, 2015 by

Everyone was up early again. It’s cloudy. Now it’s more like Valdez. After a filling breakfast, we loaded up and we headed out. We are ready for another good day.

We stopped at the Fish Hatchery to see the salmon. Everyone stepped off the coach and immediately said it smelled of fish. Then they saw why. Tons of salmon. It was very cool to see them all. No bears though. We also didn’t see any bald eagles which is unusual. They must have heard we were coming!

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Walking down to the water at the Salmon Hatchery

Salmon hatchery

Salmon hatchery

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Getting as close as we can to the salmon.

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Look at all the salmon jumping and swimming!

We stopped at Worthington Glacier which is in the Chugach Mountain near Thompson Pass – the snowiest place in Alaska. Worthington Glacier is a valley glacier and has been steadily retreating for the last 150 year. It is the most accessible glacier in Alaska. Most of us headed down the path to get as close as we could. It is a beautiful day. Many went walking up on the glacier. They really felt adventurous!

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What do you see Terry?

Worthington Glacier

Worthington Glacier

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Walking down to Worthington Glacier.

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Beautiful!

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Should we go climb the glacier?

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Worthington Glacier sign

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Another view of Worthington Glacier

John told us about the earthquake of 1964. It was quite the story. He had a couple of notebooks that he sent around the coach with pictures in of the earthquake. It was very interesting.

We stopped at the Hub in Glennallen for a rest stop. They now have several little trailer food fenders in the parking lot. We turned unto the Glenn Highway and we continued on to Anchorage. The road now became very bumpy. Hope it doesn’t last until Anchorage.
Sometime this morning, Terry sighted a moose. Bill verified it but the rest of us missed it. You have to be quick to have wildlife sightings. Maybe we’ll see one on the way to the airport.

We headed for Grand View Lodge Cafe and were met by Colleen. What a lovely log cafe and so very charming. Everyone enjoyed their lunch. It was delicious! We spotted some Dall sheep on Sheep Mountain. What a sight! Alaska – the beauty is absolutely spectacular!

Grandview Lodge Cafe

Grandview Lodge Cafe

Dall Sheep

Dall Sheep

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Lunch

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View from Grandview Cafe

As we traveled along we saw more fireweed. It’s a pretty pink purple flower which is actually a weed. John told us about the fireweed one day during our trip. Fireweed begins blooming from the bottom and works it’s way up the stalk. Once they are full bloom, the summer is over and snow will begin in 6 weeks. So Alaskans really watch the fireweed.

Fireweed

The road was extremely curvy and the view was awesome. John is some driver! We saw the Matanuska Glacier which is the longest and widest glacier in Alaska. Pretty awesome.

Matanuska Glacier

Our next stop was in Palmer at the Visitor Center. We visited the museum and “gift shop” and walked around the beautiful gardens. Everyone is in awe over the flowers and foliage.

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Beautiful flowers at the Palmer’s Visitor Center

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Lovely

Really large cabbage

Really large cabbage

We arrived in Anchorage and John gave us a little tour. We dropped Mardell off at their home and then we continued downtown. We headed to the Hilton. Sue handed out the keys and we headed to our rooms. We scattered about Anchorage to have dinner and do that last minute shopping. Unfortunately our time in Alaska is coming to an end.

Day 6 ~ Tuesday, August 4 ~ Prince William Sound

August 7, 2015 by

We were able to sleep in today! Yea – what a vacation. Our breakfast was ready for us even if she had to hold it for us for a little while. The weather is a beautiful. Sunny and gorgeous! This is really unusual for Valdez.

Valdez Harbor

Valdez Harbor

John shuttled us the short distance to the pier. We boarded the Valdez Spirit, our home for the day and headed out into Prince William Sound. The sun is staying with us. Our captain is Chris and our narrator is Ben. To correct misinformation by Sue, the water in Valdez does not freeze in the winter. They shared that info on the boat and we saw some photos of winter in January of 2012. We will go about 120 miles into the sound today.

Waiting for the cruise

Waiting for the cruise

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We will board soon!

Black bunny

Black bunny

White bunny

White bunny

Valdez Spirit

Valdez Spirit

Our first sighting was of sea otters. There was a large raft of them. They were laying on their backs floating. Today they were sun bathing. If they had been closer to shore, they might have been feeding and then they would have put their food on their tummys. What a nice table.

Sea otters

Sea otters

We saw several small waterfalls in Mt. Thomas. Really pretty. We did sight a bald eagle. Hopefully it will be one of many. We saw Anderson Falls which is created from Anderson Glacier. The Sound is so beautiful.
We saw a number of commercial fishing boats. There are usually 4 to 6 people on each boat. They are fishing for pink salmon right now. The fishing is regulated and they are told each day where and how long they can fish the next day. Sometimes they have to skip a day or two. This has been a good year for fishing but the price of salmon is down.

Fishing boat

Fishing boat

The Sound is home to many bird life. We saw pigeon guillemots, a small black bird with little white wings. Also, another bald eagle. There was one black guillemot with the other guillemots which was unusual since this really wasn’t the area they dwell in.

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Then we came upon ice from Columbia Glacier just floating around. Only 10% of an iceberg shows above the water. The rest is under the water. That’s the tip of the iceberg. We saw a huge beautiful blue iceberg. Columbia calves many times during the day and produces a great deal of ice. Calving is when ice falls off of a glacier. Columbia is the 2nd largest tide water glacier in Alaska. Huber Glacier is the largest.

Tip of the iceberg

Tip of the iceberg

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Then it was time for lunch. Gosh we haven’t eaten for a couple of hours. It was very tasty. We had chicken with white rice and Alfredo sauce. Good vegetables and a bread stick. They topped it off with Oreo cookies. But where is the milk for dunking our cookies. We’re having a great time.

We saw several more rafts of harbor seals. They can be light white tan to a dark grey. They are all laying on big chunks of flat ice. Maybe Sue should check out for our hotel stay for tonight! Harbor Seals are a marine mammal that is not very mobile.

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Harbor Seals

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Just another day relaxing!

As we headed to Mears Glacier, we started seeing glacier ice. Lots of it! What a spectacular sight! Mears Glacier is an advancing glacier. That means it makes more ice then it loses every day. We saw lots of calving and many got pictures. Most of us didn’t realize we would get that close to the Glacier. We spotted harbor seals out on the ice.

There were many of them. It’s gotta be cold! Our captain was a very good driver missing all the brash ice. One of the crew went ice fishing and took some ice out of the water. She brought it on board for us to touch. COLD!!!! The Glacier was all that we hoped it would be and more! It was spectacular!

Calving

Calving

Mears Glacier

Mears Glacier

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We came upon Humpback whales. How fun! You had to be quick to see them. We followed them in the water for a while. Gosh this was great! Awesome! We had one who followed right beside us and we really got to see him.

Then all of a sudden we were seeing Orcas, “killer whales”. There were many of them playing with us. It was so cool to see them. What a story we get to tell!

Orca

Orca

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Great picture

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Just playing around.

We continued on to Point Bull Head on Glacier Island. We saw Steller Sea Lions on the rocks. Point Bull Head is like a big lounge for them. Many were in the water because it is high tide. These are mainly juvenile males and females.

Steller Sea Lions

Steller Sea Lions

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How many can we get up here?

We saw Horned Puffin and Tufted Puffin. They are different. The Horned Puffin is black with white tummy and yellow beak. The Tufted Puffin is all black with a yellow beak. We also saw Black Legged Kittiwakes.

Puffin

Horned Puffin

A very successful day with wildlife. We saw many different birds: Pigeon Guillkemot, Horned Puffin, Bald Eagle, Black-Legged Kittiwakes, Murre, Cormorant and Tufted Puffin. We saw Steller Sea Lion, Humpback Whale, Sea Otter, Harbor Seal and Orcas. We even saw calving of the Glacier. Life can’t get better. We saw beautiful, I beautiful scenery!

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Beautiful eagle in flight

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Just hanging around!

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagle

As we headed back to Valdez, we were treated to a bowl of clam chowder or minestrone soup. It tasted good. Whale watching, glacier viewing and being in the Alaskan fresh air, sure makes you hungry.

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Alaska, what a beautiful state!

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Just a little of the beauty we saw.

On the way back, we came upon Dall’s Porpoise. They were right in front of us. As we traveled through the Valdez Narrows, we saw the rock with the face again. Also learned about the famous oil spill in Valdez. We arrived back to the harbor very happy, a little tired, but we had a spectacular day.

We still have this evening to enjoy more of Valdez. Many went down to the wharf last night and watched the fishing people bringing in their catch. What a fun place to visit!

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Do we really have to leave?

We will have to hear tomorrow what everyone decides to do tonight.

Day 5 ~ Monday, August 3 ~ Valdez

August 7, 2015 by
Another Alaska day 5

Another Alaskan day

2016 Four Seasons Tour Bus

2016 Four Seasons Tour Bus

It appears that everyone made it up even after last night’s party. Sue received a text last night of several people with the ” motor coach” for next year’s trip. She’s wondering if she can use it in the brochure?
We’re on to the North Pole with the hope of seeing Santa Claus. We are assured of seeing a “gift shop”. We arrived at the North Pole where every day is Christmas. Santa Claus House is “some” gift shop. The whole town has candy cane everything: signs and street lights to name a few. Lots had coffee and many bought home made fudge.

Santa Claus 5

Santa Claus

Santa Claus House 5

Santa Claus House

We continued down Richardson Highway enjoying the beautiful countryside. It’s a beautiful day. Everyone saw moose, oh, they are cows! A couple of people did see a moose. If only all of us had seen it. We are not having much luck with the wildlife.

We stopped to visit historic Rika’s Roadhouse and Landing in Big Delta State Historical Park. First we had a short walking tour of the property with Kyle. We really enjoyed seeing inside the Roadhouse. All the antiques. Rita was one smart lady. She was hired as a cook for the roadhouse. The owner decided he didn’t have time to operate it. So he sold it to Rika for $10 and other concessions!

The pipeline on the river at Rika's 5

The pipeline on the river at Rika’s

A sign from Rika's 5

A sign from Rika’s

Maybe with a little tender care this can be our transportation next year

Maybe with a little tender care this can be our transportation next year

Rika's Roadhouse 5

Rika’s Roadhouse

Garden at Rika's

Garden at Rika’s

Kyle leading our tour.

Kyle leading our tour.

Visiting Rika's and all the antiques.

Visiting Rika’s and all the antiques.

We had a quick lunch or snack. It was lovely walking around the area and visiting the gardens. We did see domesticated animals, sheep and chicken. Some checked out the retail therapy. We did learn a new way to get rid of flies. You take a quart size ziplock baggie, fill it half full of water. Put a penny in each corner. Seal it up and hang it in the door. It will deter the flies from coming in. The lady who runs the restaurant says it really is working for her.

Our lunch stop

Our lunch stop

Wildlife - Sheep at Rika's 5

Wildlife – Sheep at Rika’s

We knew we were going to run into road construction. They told us at Rika’s but we didn’t know that we were going to go down in a gravel bypass. John was concerned we would get stuck. But his excellent driving skills got us in and out.

Road construction 5

Road construction

Alaska

Alaska

Our picture from view

Another view

A photo stop

A photo stop

It's beautiful

Our Pictures from stop

WOW! 5

WOW!

We stopped at a “sst” sweet smelling toilet. It was very “deluxe”. But we could stretch our legs and we saw salmon. Sometimes you just have to roll with the program. Then the road became very bumpy and lots of turns. We felt like we were on a roller coaster. It was time to play Grizzly Bear Tracking. You had to keep tracking the gift you wanted unless you were No. 1 – you watched your gift disappear. Eventually everyone received the Alaskan souvenir they couldn’t live without. Playing cards were in abundance and very popular. The hot item was a photo album shhhhhhhhh! We had a lot of fun and Bill did a fabulous job giving out gifts. The group did very well with the oohs and aahs.

Our treasurers from Grizzly bear tracking 5

Our treasurers from Grizzly bear tracking 5

Bill survived the road and the game. We did stop at the largest National Park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. It is beautiful out and we went to the look out to check out the view of the mountains. Spectacular! Also, many enjoyed their very nice visitors center. John had a picnic for us when we got back on the coach. It was wonderful. Crackers, cheese, salmon, reindeer sausage, nuts, brownies, and pastries. It was great! Thanks John.

Worthington Glacier

Worthington Glacier

As we headed on to Valdez, we were in awe over the beauty of the area. We drove through Thompson Pass and into Keystone Canyon. We stopped at Bridal Vail Falls and Horse Tail Falls. Spectacular! We have really enjoyed this day. A little long!

Bridal Falls in Keystone Canyon

Bridal Falls in Keystone Canyon

Then it was into Valdez. We checked into our hotel. Everyone was ready to walk around and check out the area after the long ride on the coach. We needed dinner too! Another exciting day and still more to come.

Our backdrop in Valdez

Our backdrop in Valdez

Day 4 ~ Sunday, August 2 ~ Fairbanks

August 3, 2015 by
Pretty neat truck

Pretty neat truck

We woke to a chilly cloudy day! But no rain. After a filling buffet breakfast, we headed to the Riverboat. Sue put the Art Gallery up. The pictures of the ” moose” are unbelievable. Believe me, they don’t even come close to looking like anything! Rembrandt is not related to anyone on this coach! Sue will announce the prize winners on the way to the Gold Dredge.

Breakfast

Breakfast

On our way to Steamboat Landing, Sue told us we should be watching for moose. She guaranteed that we would see one and it wasn’t the moose crossing sign. Everyone kept looking around for the moose in amongst the trees. There were actually 2 moose but they were painted on a garage door. The group was not impressed.

Moose - do your drawings look like them at all

Moose – do your drawings look like them at all?

We arrived at Steamboat landing and immediately were into retail therapy. What a gift shop! Way too many choices. Many picked out what they wanted but decided to wait until after lunch to purchase.

Then it was time to board the Sternwheeler Discovery III and set sail on the Chena River. The staff stayed up all night making us complimentary homemade blueberry doughnuts and coffee. That is all we do is eat! There are not that many people on our boat so we have lots of room.

We saw a bush pilot, Steve, take off and land on the river. The private aircraft is essential to the delivery of supplies in Alaska. The pilot spoke to us about the plane and how valuable it is to his life in Alaska. He actually found the discarded plane and refurbished it. We learned that he will need to put skies on his plane by Halloween because the ice on the river will be 4 feet by then.

Float plane

Float plane

Coming in for the landing

Coming in for the landing

Almost there

Almost there

Wildlife, they look like ours at home

Wildlife, they look like ours at home, ducks and geese.

The next stop was at the home and kennels of the late Susan Butcher, four time Iditarod champion, where her husband, Dave Munson, spoke with us about the Alaskan Husky dogs. We saw several puppies being trained for confidence by jumping into boats and walking on the dock. They showed us how they exercise the dogs in the summer. They harness them to a non-motorized 4-wheeler and the dogs pull it just like a sled. It was unbelievable! The strength those dogs have and the energy is unreal. The dogs are trained to know the commands to go, to go right or left, but once they’re running they don’t like to stop. The 4-wheeler does have a brake. It was a good run. It was 3.06 minutes. The dogs are pulling over 600 pounds with Dave and the 4-wheeler. Trailblazer Kennels was an interesting stop.

Dave Munson at Trailblazer Kennels

Dave Munson at Trailblazer Kennels

The puppies

The puppies

Waiting for a practice run

Waiting for a practice run

Practice run

Practice run

FInished

FInished

Let's cool off

Let’s cool off

A fish wheel was pointed out to us. The Athabascans use the fish wheel to make fishing for salmon go quicker and faster.

The fish wheel

The fish wheel

We saw reindeer! We found out that reindeer and caribou are the same animal. Reindeer are domesticated caribou and they don’t fly – unless they belong to Santa Claus! None of them had a red nose either. Caribou means deer who shovels. In the winter they dig for their food with their hooves.

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The pilot of the boat told us about the 2 rivers joining, the Chena and the Tennana. You can actually see the difference in the water between the 2 rivers. The Tennana is the largest Glacier fed river in the world.

Where the river meets

Where the river meets

An Athabascan native, Denay, showed us how to fillet a salmon. It was the kind of salmon that they feed to the dogs. She was at the fish camp which is the summer home for interior Athabascan natives. She showed us where the salmon are hung up and then the smoke house. She also told us about fish head soup which they also feed to the dogs.

Denay at fish camp

Denay at fish camp

We then continued on to Chena Village and the boat stopped. We went unto shore to visit the village and visited various places with guides. We discovered a moose who had been real at one time. Obviously it ate too much like us and was now stuffed!

A stuffed moose

A stuffed moose

We saw how the Athabascan’s lived in cabins made from spruce logs with sod roofs. We saw the primitive shelters and an authentic birch bark canoe. The cache was a real treat to see. It’s where they kept their supplies so the critters couldn’t get them. We saw beautiful animal pelts and how the Athabascan’s tanned the hides of the larger animals like moose and caribou. We were shown the garments that the Athabascan’s made. Kiley modeled a fur coat for us. It was very lovely. It weighs 50 pounds and is appraised at $20,000 but really is priceless.

The beautiful handmade parka.

The beautiful handmade parka.

A statue of Granite, Susan Butchert's lead dog

A statue of Granite, Susan Butchert’s lead dog

A dug out

A dug out

After the village, we headed back to Steamboat Landing. While we cruised, we were given samples of salmon dip on crackers. It’s a pretty simple recipe. One can of salmon to 4 ounces of cream cheese. What a nice treat! Our guide continued to give us interesting facts about Fairbanks, the river, the boat we were on and the Binkley family who are the owners of Riverboat Discovery and the Gold Dredge 8.

Then we were on to lunch. We went to the dining room and were served Miners Stew with salad and a variety of vegetables. It was served family style in big cast iron pots. Just like the miners! One of the waitresses was the niece of the late Susan Butcher. Also, she lives in Woodberry, MN and goes to the University of Minnesota. The chocolate brownies were great! Just ask Bill.

Our waitress, the late Susan Butchert's niece

Our waitress, the late Susan Butcher’s niece

Many went off to finish their therapy and it was all too soon to move on.

On the way to the Gold Dredge, Sue announced the winners of the “moose migration” pictures. It was a stretch to call them moose! Grand prize went to Jim. 2nd prize went to Carol. The random prize went to Roger. The “I can’t tell what this is” or worse moose went to Sharron. Everyone needs art lessons or at least see more moose!

We arrived at the Gold Dredge 8 with several other coaches. We off loaded and waited for Tim to tell us about the Alyeska pipeline. We went under the Alyeska pipeline. The 800 mile long Trans Alaska Pipeline System is one of the largest pipeline systems in the world. Everyone was amazed at how big it is. We’ll see more of it tomorrow as we travel to Valdez. We had a very informative presentation about the pipeline.

Waiting to hear about the pipeline

Waiting to hear about the pipeline

The pipeline

The pipeline

We spent some quality time at the Gold Dredge #8. A ride on the Tenana Valley Railroad took us into the adventure after we were serenaded by our conductor, Earl Hughes. He sang and played the guitar for us. We rode through the area around the dredge and were given some very interesting information about mining. Tim told us about the changes in mining throughout history. We met Yukon Yolonda, a female miner, who told us about the dredge. We all wanted her nuggets which were made in jewelry. Then we had a demonstration about panning for gold. That’s when the adventure really started. It was soon our turn and they gave us a poke and we tried to get “rich”. We determined it wasn’t easy and we’re glad that’s not how we earn our living. The most was $45 for a couple. We added it up for our coach, which wasn’t easy. We did it in our head. We got a total of $560.

Early Mining

Early Mining

Gold Dredge No. 8

Gold Dredge No. 8

Serious stuff, panning for gold

Serious stuff, panning for gold

What did you get?

What did you get?

Fortunately, it didn’t matter how much gold we got, we still got to have fresh homemade cookies and coffee or hot chocolate. This, of course, was served in the “gift shop” and we were captive until the train was ready to take us back. Many ladies were sporting new jewelry.

This is a note for all the children of our Alaskan “family” who are reading this. Your parents are coming home with “gold” but don’t get too excited. It isn’t enough for you to be able to retire!

We headed back to our hotel. We have had such a great day. We made a quick stop at Fred Meyers and most of the coach picked up some goodies for later. Then we were back “home”.  A Block Party soon happened outside a couple of cottages and everyone was enjoying snacks and refreshments. Some went for dinner and some settled in for the night.

Party Time!

Party Time!

Our new Alaskan family is having a wonderful time. Everyone is really enjoying each other and we are having good laughs and lots of fun!

Day 3 ~ Saturday, August 1 ~ Denali Park – Fairbanks

August 3, 2015 by
Denali National Park

Denali National Park

After a nourishing breakfast buffet and a good cup of coffee around 5:30 am we were ready for our 7:15 am departure for the Natural History Tour of Denali. We had already put our bags out and taken our carry-ons to the coach.

Ready for the day, Larry, Mark, Shannon and Kathy

Ready for the day, Larry, Mark, Sharron and Kathy

Our temperature today

Our temperature today

We found out our rafters had a wonderful time. They all lived through it even though many were a little nervous. Martin told us he fell out but we didn’t believe him. We were glad to see them well and happy. They said they would all do it again.

Where our rafters began their adventure.

 We met Steve, our guide for the Natural History Tour, who was entertaining and extremely knowledgeable. How he can remember everything! We stopped at the Wilderness Access Center and watched a movie about the origin of Denali Park. The stain glass windows in the center were amazing. Then it was on into the park to see what wildlife may be in store for us. It’s a little chilly right now, low 40s but nothing we can’t handle. We saw a red squirrel. Yea we’ve seen wildlife!

Are these squirrels or people standing in line?

Are these squirrels or people standing in line?

Steve our driver and guide

Steve our driver and guide

We continued on to Savage cabin which was built in 1925. Originally it was the cook cabin for the road construction workers building the road into the park. We met Norma Jordet. Is she related to our driver John, he has an aunt named Norma?  Norma is a cook who came to work in the park in 1928. She told us what life was like during the time when Denali National Park was first opening and what her life was like in the park. She hoped that we would all take time to enjoy the refuge of the beautiful Alaska land and take that with us. The cabin is now used in the winter by the park rangers while they are checking out the park on dog sleds. We enjoyed the stop.

John and Jim listening to Norma

John and Jim listening to Norma

At Primrose, as far as we were going, we met Denali, an Athabaskan native who told us about her ancestry. She told us about how they process the salmon. She said 1 baggy with about 6 chunks of salmon would cost between $40 and $60.

Primerose

Primerose

So beautiful

So beautiful

During our tour, we kept watching for wildlife. We weren’t having much luck. It wasn’t until we were at Primrose that we spotted a caribou just meandering in the grass. Then we saw 3 of them wandering around together. Success!

Our Caribou sighting

Our Caribou sighting

Dennis checking out the park

Dennis checking out the park

Almost a successful morning. We saw wildlife! Wonderful! But we didn’t see the mountain today. But we saw it in all it’s beauty yesterday so we are ok. But no moose yet.

We headed back to Denali Park Village for lunch. We thanked Steve especially for all his knowledge that he shared with us. We had just enough time for a quick bite. John brought the coach around front to meet us and we were on to Fairbanks. It was a bumpy ride out of Denali because of the road construction.

So beautiful

So beautiful

While we drove, John showed us a DVD called the Deadly Assent. It was interesting. About climbing the mountain and doing research as well. Many snoozed off for a short while. It started raining during our drive.

We made a stop in the community of Nenana. John gave us a mini tour of the little community and told us about the Tripod lottery. You can buy tickets to tell when the ice will go off the Nenana River. Last year there were 20 winners and they won $8000 per person. Several of our men bought chances.

John also told us that a true “Alaskan character”, Joann Hawkins, had passed away . She owned the Tripod Gift shop among many other businesses in Nenana. Ok she owned about 95% of the businesses in Nenana. Most of her businesses are closed and are being sold.

Then we continued on to Fairbanks. Still raining. Sue thought maybe we should liven up. So we played “Moose Migration”. We were to show our artistic skills by drawing a moose. However, the moose migrate. You draw one part and then pass your card back or forward. Then your moose migrates until your very artistic drawing is finished by several people. There was much laughter. Do they even come close to what moose look like!

Upon arrival in Fairbanks, John took us to our hotel, River’s Edge. We have individual cottages right on the Chena River. They are so cute. Each cabin has a little patio. Ask Lester about his.

We had a little time to rest and freshen up before we headed for the Alaskan Salmon Bake. Everyone was ready to eat! We wouldn’t want to miss a meal. The food was delicious and everyone got their fill. We had cod, salmon, and prime rib. As a special “just for us” they had crab. Let’s not forget the delicious hot dogs! Everyone was very happy and content. They gave us a free gift as well. It was a Alaska flashlight card so we can find our way in the dark. Oh wait, what dark. We headed home for a good night’s rest.

Carol and Loren

Carol and Loren, how many crab legs can you eat?

Salmon Bake

Salmon Bake

Alaska Salmon Bake

Alaska Salmon Bake

More Salmon Bake

More Salmon Bake

Retail therapy, Denise and Jean

Retail therapy, Denise and Jean

Good retail therapy

Good retail therapy

Our vacation in Alaska is what we expected and more! This wilderness is beautiful and so amazing. It can ‘t get any better – good new friends, great food, fresh air, fantastic shopping, and lots of great sleep (ha)! What more can we ask for on a vacation.

Totem pole

Totem pole

DAY 2 ~ Friday, July 31 ~ Wasilla – Denali National Park

August 1, 2015 by

We started our morning with a hearty buffet breakfast. It was very tasty. Then we headed to the Iditarod Dog Sled Headquarters. It’s a beautiful day. Maybe we will see “The Mountain”.

Hearty breakfast to start the day!‏

Hearty breakfast to start the day!‏

After a quick drive to the Headquarters, we took a group picture. Difficult to get all these good looking people to look at Bill. Then we watched a movie about the Iditarod race. We witnessed the courage, strength, and perseverance of both the dog and the musher. The movie showed us how they care for the dogs. It’s just like caring for children.

Our first stop of the day

Our first stop of the day

Places please

Places please

2015 Heart of Alaska Family‏

2015 Heart of Alaska Family‏

Sue was super excited that Raymie Redington was there. Raymie Redington, who is the son of Joe Redington – Iditarod co-founder – is who gives the dog sled rides. By the time we finished the movie, Raymie was ready for the rides. Most everyone took advantage of it and enjoyed the ride. Raymie shared with the riders different information while on the ride. You really feel like an Alaskan when you ride a dog sled. Now to do it on snow! Raymie had his puppies there. So it was fun to play with them. We liked the dog booties hanging in the trees.

A statue of Joe Reddington and his dog

A statue of Joe Reddington and his dog

Marlene, Roy, Bev and Roger riding.

Marlene, Roy, Bev and Roger riding.

Carol and Loren

Carol and Loren

The dogs are resting.

The dogs are resting.

Bernie, Jan, Sylvia and Terry

Bernie, Jan, Sylvia and Terry

We boarded our coach and continued on to Talkeetna to board the Alaskan Railroad.
As we traveled, we saw “The Mountain”. John said it should stay open for us this morning and we would stop for a photo opp. The native Alaskans have officially changed the name of the mountain back to Denali. Denali did stay open and we stopped for beautiful pictures. What a sight! Majestic! One of God’s beautiful wonders. Only 30% of the people visiting Alaska see the mountain. We are now part of the 30% club.

Denali‏

Denali‏

The Mountain - Denali

The Mountain – Denali

Members of the 30% club

Members of the 30% club

Beautiful‏

Beautiful‏

As we drove through Willow, we saw the results of the fire from about 6 weeks ago.  It was devastating.  How very sad the forest looked and many lost their homes.  It was a careless accident but with a lot of damage.

The devastating fire in Willow about 6 weeks ago

The devastating fire in Willow about 6 weeks ago

We arrived in Talkeetna about a half hour before the train was due to depart. So we just had enough time to have a rest break and enjoy the beautiful day. John told us about Talkeetna being the town where the television show “Northern Exposure” was patterned after. We did see the neat little town as we started out. John left us here and we will see him in Denali. He tried to get someone to go with him because he thought he might be lonely.

A little of Telkeetna‏

A little of Telkeetna‏

Our Alaskan train‏

Our Alaskan train‏

We have others in our car with us. We go forward one car and we are in the snack car where a few folks enjoyed themselves for most of the ride. Others went more forward and enjoyed lunch in the dining car. Great Alaskan chili. The dome car was behind us and that was a great hang out. Beautiful scenery! We reached Hurricane Gulch and it was spectacular and a real highlight. Totally awesome! The engineer sited a black bear and cubs. But none of us saw them. We did see trumpeter swans. This land is so beautiful and the train was so relaxing.

Our train ride

Our train ride

River on the way to Denali National Park‏

River on the way to Denali National Park‏

IMG_3969

More sights from our train ride.

John met us at the depot. We were very glad to see him. When he left Telkeetna, he knew the road was closed due to an accident. He was’t sure how that would affect him. But it worked out. We headed for Denali Park Village. Lovely property. We think we’ll like it here! Some spent the evening looking around and finding something to eat. Many went rafting on the Nenana River. We can’t wait to hear their stories and see them in the morning.

Jim, Ron and John rafting.

Jim, Ron and John rafting.

Many spent the evening at the Alaska Cabin Nite Dinner Theater. They had a great dinner and enjoyed the show. It was interesting to hear the history of Alaska with song and dance. Everyone was glad they went and the food was terrific. Uncle Dennis and Aunt Marlene were in charge of 2 of our tables. Sue said which ever one did the best job was in charge of the group on Saturday.

Waiting for Cabin Night Dinner Theater‏

Waiting for Cabin Night Dinner Theater‏

Dinner‏

Dinner‏

Dinner

Dinner

Dinner‏

Dinner‏

Dinner‏

Dinner‏

One of the cast joined Charlotte‏

One of the cast joined Charlotte‏

Bill's Dessert!‏

Bill’s Dessert!‏

Fanny‏

Fanny‏

Hopefully everyone will be able to sleep with all the daylight as we have an early wake up in the morning. Our Natural History Tour begins at 7:15 as in the AM!

Fireweed‏

Fireweed‏

Day 1 ~ Thursday, July 30 ~ Depart for Anchorage

July 31, 2015 by

DAY 1 ~ Thursday, July 30 ~ Depart for Anchorage

Just waiting for the morn fritters

Sister Peaks – Isn’t Alaska Beautiful!

We left in the dark! Something we will not see much of in Alaska. We left 4 Seasons before 5:00 am. We made a few stops to pick up a few folks and Don, our motor coach driver, got us to the airport in good time and we said farewell.

This is what

This is what “dark” looks like

Everyone decided to get off of the Tram, no one wanted to keep riding it. Denny checked us in at the Delta group desk and the rest of our group met us. We made it through security! Many had TSA pre-check which is really nice and a lot less time consuming. Our Delta flight pretty much left on time and we arrived almost on time. It was a good flight. We were all very happy to be able to get up and move around. It was a very . . . long flight. It felt like it would never end! We had to get the legs to remember how to move.

Gathering together at the Anchorage airport

Gathering together at the Anchorage airport

We are now in Alaska, the land of the midnight sun. We met our motor coach driver, John, at the airport. It was great to see him again and he was ready for us. We are going to have a great week and learn a great deal about Alaska. John was born and raised in Anchorage. He shared a little about himself.

Our motor coach driver and guide, John

Our motor coach driver and guide, John

It is a nice day in Anchorage. The temp is 71 and partly cloudy. It is actually hot for Anchorage. This is unusual weather for Alaska.

This is

This is ” home” for the next week

Kathy asked Sue before we left Albert Lea if we would see a moose. Sue said “yes of course”. Then she asked about a bear and whale. Sue wasn’t quite so quick with that one. However, we saw a moose right away in the Anchorage airport. So check that off of our list. Kathy didn’t say anything about the moose being live or breathing.

By this time, everyone was hungry. So off to Sourdough Mining Company which is a replica of an old mill house. It opened on Mother’s Day in 1984. We were served family style lunch consisting of waffle fries, cold slaw, spare ribs, barbecue chicken and their famous corn fritters. Wonderful! Sue told us to put our bibs on because she didn’t want any messy people in her group! We topped it off with soft served sundaes. We can also check seeing bear off of the list. We saw a great stuffed bear at Sourdough. Everyone ate their fill and headed across the street to Alaska Wildberry Company.

Lunch at Sourdough Mining Company

Lunch at Sourdough Mining Company

Just waiting for the morn fritters

Just waiting for the corn fritters

Everyone needs to get their bibs on

Everyone needs to get their bibs on

Lunch

Lunch

Great group of folks in Alaska!‏

Great group of folks in Alaska!‏

Sue told us about a wagon that was made in Albert Lea, Minnesota. It is 100 years old. Four Seasons Vacations is located in Albert Lea. Strange how the wagon made it all the way up here from little Albert Lea.

Terry and Roger checking out the wagon made in Albert Lea, MN

Terry and Roger checking out the wagon made in Albert Lea, MN

Then it was time for “retail therapy”, a fancy term for shopping. It sounds better don’t you think. Everyone was amazed at the 3000 pound chocolate waterfall in the store. It’s the world’s largest chocolate waterfall. We all drooled over the chocolate candies and fudge. If we just weren’t so full!

Carol and Charlotte at the World's Largest Chocolate Fall

Carol and Barb at the World’s Largest Chocolate Fall

Quentin and Edna checking out the area

Quentin and Edna checking out the area

Is Barb reading to Martin or just showing him her grandchildren purchases?‏

Is Barb reading to Martin or just showing him her grandchildren purchases?‏

Bill taking a picture of Jan taking a picture!‏

Bill taking a picture of Jan taking a picture!‏

Tired but happy we headed for our hotel, Grandview Inn & Suites in Wasilla. Sue told us that the Walmart in Wasilla sells the most duct tape in the world. So it’s claim to fame is more then Sarah Palin. We actually arrived at our hotel about 4:00 pm (7:00 pm back home) which was really nice since we have been traveling since long before 5:00 am (central time). Everyone went out and about or to their rooms to relax. Bed is really looking good. Our first day in Alaska was wonderful but we are exhausted. Another day tomorrow!

Heart of Alaska 2015

July 10, 2015 by

DAY 1 ~  THURSDAY, JULY 30

Depart via Delta Airlines to the land of the Midnight Sun. Upon arrival in Anchorage, we head to the famous Sourdough Mining Co. for an included lunch. After lunch we visit the Alaska Wild Berry Products where they make handmade jams, jellies and chocolates.

DAY 2   ~   FRIDAY, JULY 31

We begin our day with a visit to the Iditarod Trail Headquarters where we learn about sled dogs and the 1,049 mile Anchorage to Nome race. We then board the Alaska Railroad at Talkeetna and travel the spectacular rail route to Denali National Park. This evening participate in one of the optional tours, White Water Rafting or the Cabin Nite Dinner Theater.

DAY 3   ~    SATURDAY, AUGUST 1

This morning we travel with a local guide into the park to enjoy a sampling of the six million acres of Denali National Park. At only 75 miles away, this will also be your best opportunity to view the majestic Mount Denali. We depart for Fairbanks making a stop in the quaint river town of Nenana. This evening we delight in an authentic Alaskan Salmon Bake. 

DAY 4  ~   SUNDAY, AUGUST 2

Today we will take a cruise on the Sternwheeler Discovery on the Chena River. We will visit the Chena Indian Village, the Kennels of the late four-time Iditarod winner, Susan Butcher, and see a float plane take off and land right next to the boat. A delicious lunch is included at the Riverboat Landing. Then it’s on to the Gold Dredge No. 8 to have a short course in gold mining and try your hand in panning for gold.

DAY 5   ~   MONDAY, AUGUST 3

As we depart from Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway we will follow the route of the Alyeska Pipeline to Valdez. We will stop at the Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska. Then we continue on the highway and stop at the scenic Rika’s Roadhouse in Big Delta National Historical Park. As we continue to Valdez, we will travel through scenic Thompson Pass, one of the highest passes on the Alaska Highway System, see the Chugach Mountain Range, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park,  and spectacular views of Worthington Glacier.

DAY 6   ~   TUESDAY, AUGUST 4

Our day begins as we cruise the majestic waters of Prince William Sound from Valdez to Mears Glacier. We will have a chance to view the Sound’s wildlife in addition to seeing the spectacular Mears Glacier. Lunch and an afternoon snack are included on the cruise.

DAY 7   ~   WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 5 

Today we will travel to Anchorage on the Glenn Highway. The highway is sandwiched between two mountain ranges, the Talkeetna to the North and the Chugach to the South. Enjoy a stop for lunch at the quaint Grand View Café, often offering a spectacular view of the Dall sheep on the mountainsides. We will pass through the agriculturally rich Mat-Su Valley.

DAY 8  ~  THURSDAY, AUGUST 6

After a leisurely buffet breakfast, we will transfer to the Anchorage airport for our return flight home. Our adventure into the “last frontier” will be memories that we will enjoy forever.