Melting Ice, Yukon Territory, 2016

I admit it.  I had preconceived ideas about what the Yukon Territory would look like.  For years, I had read books where tough men in heavy parkas and mukluks fought their way through snowstorms and across glaciers in search of gold.  Luckily for us, our visit to the Yukon was much less work.

I was blown away by the beauty of the place.  I expected wilderness, which was everywhere, but not the fantastic colors- the greens of the shrubs and grasses growing around the rocks, the wildflowers in bloom and that wonderful deep blue sky.   It was late Spring so there was still plenty of snow and ice, but the plant life was taking advantage of the warmer temperatures and longer days.

With this particular photo, I love the way the melting ice reflects the sky.  I also like the way the stream leads you to the mountains where it finds its beginnings.  The Yukon was a fascinating place and provided a great opportunity to photograph some amazing landscapes.

YT Melting Ice

Wildlife Museum, Caribou Crossing, Yukon

I’m not a big fan of taxidermy.  There’s a lot more bad examples than good when it comes to stuffed animals.  I was really surprised, though, by the Wildlife Museum at Caribou Crossing.  We visited the museum as part of a cruise ship excursion in May 2016.  The museum was quite interesting and the taxidermy was some of the best I’ve seen.

From the famous polar and brown bears to the lesser known wood bison and saigo antelope as well as the now extinct woolly mammoth.  The displays are at times beautiful and at other times violent, but always interesting and educational.

 

Yukon Territory, May 2016

One of the things we were most excited about when we booked the Alaska cruise was the opportunity to see some of the last true wilderness areas in the world.  Our excursion to the Yukon territory let us do just that.  It also gave us the opportunity to see wildlife, snuggle puppies, and ride a historic train.

We took a bus from Skagway along the Klondike Highway.  We made a few stops along the way so everyone could get out and enjoy a beautiful day and the spectacular scenery.  Along the way we crossed an unusual bridge, the Captain William Moore Bridge, an earthquake-proof suspension bridge.  It’s only anchored on one side, so if the ground shifts due to an earthquake the other side will move freely.

Captain William Moore Bridge HDR Dark

The scenery was amazing.  I would have never imagined the amount of greenery and blooms that we saw in May in the Yukon.  There was still plenty of ice on the ground but there were plenty of signs of spring as well.

The main destination on the excursion was Caribou Crossing, a tourist stop not far from the little town of Carcross.  Carcross, by the way, was once named Caribou Crossing, but the town changed its name to Carcross to differentiate it from the other six towns in the Yukon named Caribou Crossing.

We had a nice lunch at Caribou Crossing and then explored the taxidermy museum.  We were not excited about taxidermy but I will say the museum was really interesting and the taxidermy was some of the best I’ve ever seen.

Caribou Crossing was also our first opportunity to interact with sled dogs.  The sled dogs at Caribou Crossing are racing dogs and are a good bit smaller than working sled dogs, the National Park Service sled dogs, for instance.  We got to pet on some of the adult dogs, watch a team pull a cart filled with tourists, and pet on puppies.

After our time at Caribou Crossing we took a short ride up the highway to Emerald Lake, a lake known for its intense green color.  Quite beautiful.

Emerald Lake HDR Outdoor 1

Our last stop before connecting with the train ride back to Skagway was the small town of Carcross.  Carcross has been the home to Tlingit and Tagish First Nations people for at least 4,500 years.  The town of roughly 300 residents and is where we caught the train.

After a quick stop in Carcross we hopped on the bus to catch the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad for our trip back to Skagway.  We were delayed for a few minutes so we could observe a black bear that was scavenging along the highway.  It was our first bear sighting of the cruise.

Black Bear Color Efx Detail and Vignette

Black bears can be any color, like this ginger colored bear.  Similarly, Brown bears can range from black to a unique blush color.  Black bears are smaller that brown bears and are missing the large hump over their front shoulders.  Also, black bears don’t have the dished out nose like brown bears do.

Finally, we were ready to board the train for our ride back to Skagway.  The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad is an N-scale that had its origin in the Yukon Gold Rush.  The railroad was started in 1898 and when it opened in 1900 it supplanted the Chilkoot trail as the primary route into the Yukon.  Today it’s primarily a tourist train but does make several stops along the way to pick up hikers, campers and off-gridders who need a ride into Skagway.

The train ride is one of the more popular excursions on the cruise lines and it’s no wonder.  The trip was enjoyable and the train ran through some of the most beautiful scenery in North America.

SS Noordam, May 2016

We selected Holland American for our Alaska cruise.  One reason we selected Holland American was that they had options to extend your cruise to a stay at Denali.  Another reason was that their customers were older than most cruise lines and, since we’re not getting younger, we liked the idea of a fairly quiet cruise.

We had never been on a cruise before and we soon found out that a cruise ship is basically a resort hotel and mall that floats.  There were plenty of opportunities to send lots of money- casinos, shops, an art seller, a jeweler, a spa, even an acupuncturist- but we did our best to avoid the temptations.  We looked at the cruise ship as another part of an adventure and explored the many areas of the ship.

Holland America is famous for the art aboard their ships.  The Noordam had several million dollars worth of art, including several Andy Warhol prints and a Warhol painting of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.

Warhol CFX Detail Extractor Low Key

Warhol seems to be a favorite of Holland America.  In addition to the prints above and the Queen Juliana portrait, the entrance to the nightclub had a Warhol theme.

Entry to Nightclub HDR Chrome Preset

There were a lot of really beautiful places on the ship and we spent a lot of time just exploring the spaces.  We enjoyed the library and the game  room, but one of my favorites was the Ocean Bar, which had a jazz theme.

One of the most grandiose spaces on the Noordam had to be the central staircase, which was three stories high and featured a huge Waterford crystal compass.

Central Staircase HDR Outdoor 2

Here’s a view of the Waterford compass.

Waterford Compass Ektachrome 100E

There was artwork everywhere.  Ship paintings and models, a bust of King William II, sculptures, antiques, and more.  There was always something to catch your eye.

 

As you would expect with a resort hotel, the service was great.  One fun thing was the towel animals we found in our room every day.  They even had a towel folding exhibition to show how to make the animals.

Towel Bunny

But, even with everything there was to do inside the ship we spent a lot of time on deck enjoying the views.  The Inside Passage is truly spectacular. The Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains run along the eastern edge of the Inside Passage.  To the west are a series of islands including Vancouver Island, Princess Royal Island and Pitt Island.

Canada's Inside Passage

The weather, other than in rainy Ketchikan, was great and we had plenty of opportunities to enjoy the sites from on deck.  We especially enjoyed watching the sun set.

Sunset last night CFX Sunset Landscape

We had expected the ship to be just a way to get to the various ports so we could enjoy the nature and history of Alaska.   It turned out that there was plenty to enjoy aboard ship as well and being on ship didn’t keep us from enjoying the natural areas around us.

Vancouver, May 2016

In May of 2016 we were fortunate to be able to take a trip that we had always wanted to take, an Alaska cruise.  We selected Holland America for the cruise line and opted to extend the cruise with a couple days in Denali.

The cruise departed from Vancouver, British Columbia.  We flew in the night before the cruise began so we could have a little time exploring the city.  We didn’t have a lot of time but we made the most of it.

We’re big into finding good restaurants to enjoy and we’d done a little research in advance.  We had dinner in Chinatown at Bao Bei, a modern Chinese restaurant a block or so from the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Garden.  We arrived at 10pm and the place was packed.  We sat at the bar, which had the benefit that we could watch the bartenders show their skills with a shaker.  The food was good, the drinks were good and, despite a long and trying day, we enjoyed our time there.

I’m not sure what was going on, but Chinatown and downtown Vancouver were packed that night.  There were lines of limousines cruising the roads and literally thousands of young people dressed to the nines filling the sidewalks.  My guess is that it was prom night, but it gave Vancouver a young and vibrant feel.

The next morning, Sunday, we had a few hours before we had to be at Canada Place to begin our cruise.  We found a great little restaurant in the shadow of the hotel called Scoozis.  We were the first customers through the door that morning and we were greeted by the very friendly owner.  We had one of the best breakfasts we’ve ever had, a deep dish casserole breakfast that was absolutely wonderful.  If you have the opportunity I highly recommend breakfast at Scoozis.

Vancouver is a beautiful town, with a mix of ultramodern, art deco and classical European style architecture.  It also has a lot of green space, including the world famous Stanley Park.  One of the architectural highlights of Vancouver is the art deco Marine Building, a skyscraper opened in 1930.  Although it is now dwarfed by the surrounding more modern towers, it was Vancouver’s tallest building until 1939.

Marine Building CFX Stormy Sky

As I said, there are a lot of green spaces in Vancouver.  This little park was just a couple blocks from our hotel.

Downtown Vancouver HDR Deep 1

Another architectural highlight is the beautiful Canada Place, the place where all cruises start or end.  A fabric roofs resembling sails covers the structure.  It’s quite a sight.

Canada Centre HDR Deep 1

It took a few hours to work our way through the embarkation process and to get settled in our room.  Once we were on board and settled we grabbed a drink and headed for the deck to enjoy the cruise out of Vancouver.  We said goodbye to Canada Place and began our journey.

Canada Place Grad ND Ektachrome 64 HDR Hyperrealistic

The sun came out for a minute as we passed the Point Atkinson Lighthouse, marking the Burrard Inlet.  Once we passed under the Lions Gate Bridge, we were officially in the Inside Passage and on our way.

Point Atkinson Lighthouse