Tag Archives: Alaskan Adventure

The Chilkoot Trail

Getting the Board Signed at the Chilkoot Trail

When first looking over the destinations on our Monopoly Board, this was the location I was most concerned about getting to. A trip to Alaska didn’t seem to fit our reality. First of all, we see enough winter in Minnesota do we really want to see it during the summer? There have been a multitude of people raving about how great it is to explore Alaska. Do we really want to experience the sun 24 hours around the clock? The wilderness of this area is often portrayed as a dangerous place with the rugged and steep mountains along with the wildlife that call these areas home.

As we began to experience some of our Monopoly adventures and visit areas that could be considered dangerous because of the landscape and/or the wildlife, I began to look forward to our Alaskan adventure more and more. These areas can be dangerous if you decide to approach them in a dangerous manner. Otherwise, they are as safe as almost anywhere else. And the life experience you gain from exploring Alaska is incredible. On to the next destination on the board – The Chilkoot Trail.


I would have never known about this historic and beautiful trail if it hadn’t been for our Monopoly Adventures. The trailhead is near Skagway, Alaska so we had to get here and figure out how to get to the trail from Skagway. An Alaskan cruise was the choice of transportation to this town so now we needed to figure out how to get to the trail. Fortunately there are a couple of car rental places in Skagway, an Avis and Sourdough Rental. For a little more information on our choice check out A Day in Skagway. We could have taken an excursion from the cruise line that would have taken us to the trail but they weren’t appealing because of the portions of those excursions that were in addition to the trail and the cost would have been a lot higher.

Registering for the Trail

The Chilkoot Trail gained it’s fame from the Klondike Gold Rush. Those in search of gold would travel with heavy packs 33 miles into Canada and on to the gold fields. You can read more about the history of this trail here…. 

Along the way we learned more and more about the use of this trail before ever arriving here. That made the significance of being on the same trail that thousands have taken for different reasons even more important. We only had a short time to explore the Chilkoot Trail so we hiked for about a mile or two and turned around. While on this short hike we imagined what it would have been like carrying heavy packs up and down the mountain stepping over rocks and tree roots with a careful step because the trail can get very slippery due to the high amount of rain this area receives. All of these elements combine to make a beautiful tapestry which keeps encouraging you to go further.

I am so thankful that this was on our National Parks Monopoly Board so we could experience this adventure!

The Rugged Yet Beautiful Chilkoot Trail

A Drive to the Yukon

Yukon Pano

It is often said that it’s the journey that’s more important, not the destination. In this case I would say both were amazing. While stopping in  Skagway, Alaska (see post: A Day in Skagway) we chose to rent a car to tour the sights. It was more economical than taking a tour and offered more freedom to see the sights we wanted to take in. From Skagway you take the Klondike Highway out of towards Canada and let the amazing views take over from there. Ultimately our destination was Carcross, Yukon with the option to continue a little further into the Yukon if time permitted

A Foggy Morning in Skagway

The day started shortly after arriving in port on our cruise ship with walking to the car rental shop and picking up our car. It was a dreary morning with fog covering the mountainous landscape and providing a slight mist from time to time. Weather is certainly a consideration in this part of Alaska which receives on average 27 inches of precipitation a year and cooler temperatures combined with drastic changes in elevation. As we began our climb into the mountains the fog became so heavy it was difficult to see much of the road and certainly the views were drastically reduced. Eventually our route brought us to the Canadian border and a stop at the customs facility. Remember to bring your passport if you decide to take this potentially scenic drive.

View at the Canadian Border

At this point we pulled off the road to get out of the car for a few minutes and discussed whether we should continue on or not. If all we’re going to see is clouds covering the mountains then maybe our time would be better spent returning to Skagway and exploring some of the sights in that area. I’m sure from the top photograph you can tell what we decided. Our decision was to continue on a little further and see how things looked. The clouds and fog were a little lighter here than they were when we started, let’s see if it gets any better down the road. What did we have to lose? Very soon after getting back into our cars and continue down the Klondike Highway the skies cleared opening up the magnificent views.

Mountain Views We Had Been Hoping For

Warning: if you decide to go for a drive into the Yukon from Skagway, pay attention to the road. There are so many distractions from the landscape that you could forget you’re driving for a moment. If you’ve never seen an area like this before, be prepared for your senses to be overwhelmed with the beauty. For the next several miles to Carcross, all you could hear in the car was “look at that over there!” and “did you see that?”. But the most frequent sound was “WOW!”. Every corner in the road brought a different view that was just as beautiful as the last just begging for another picture. That’s if you can remember you have a camera and decide to give up a moment of these views to look through it. Unfortunately most of the photos are disappointing compared to the actual views which is fairly typical of most landscape pictures. Still, you have to try. A majestic mountain over there, a waterfall right near the road, or a lake that continues for miles.

Waterfalls Next to the Road

Soon we came upon our destination and stopped for lunch in Carcross. At first there was little conversation as we were all still taking in the surroundings here in the Yukon. As we approached Carcross there were signs for the Alaska Highway. One of my friends had taken a trip through this area many years earlier and described the amazing sights. I couldn’t imagine them very well at that time but now here I was in the same area seeing some of the same sights. For a short time I contemplated foregoing the rest of the cruise and just continuing on to take in more of this area. The consequences were greater than I was willing to take on so back to the days plan it was.

More Yukon Vistas

After lunch it was decided there was enough time to continue on towards Emerald Lake just 8 miles up the road before turning around and heading back to Skagway. This lake is not very large but it is extremely colorful and doesn’t look like it belongs among the mountains. It belongs in a tropical paradise somewhere else. There was a larger desire to climb down to the lake and just test the water with a toe to confirm it’s too cold to jump into. Taking a glance at the time told us it was time to head back to the cruise ship without needing to rush giving us more time to look over these vast vistas on the way back.

Emerald Lake

Our return trip came with a few stops along the way to take in a view or two and then came the U.S. Customs stop requiring another view of your passport. As we continued on down the mountain we encountered the views missed earlier that day because of the heavy fog hiding them. Some of the areas were probably ok to miss as the drop a short distance from the road was steep and endless unless you got caught up in a grove of tree tops keeping you from a terminal drop to the bottom. Most of the missed views were a continuation of the incredible sights we’d been fortunate to see much of the day.

Views on the Return Trip

If ever there was a place to help relieve the stresses of the world, this is definitely one of them. Although I don’t think the winter time would be as enjoyable simply because of the driving on snowy roads. I’m sure the views, however, would be just as magnificent if not even better.

Nearing the US Border

Snorkeling in Alaska?

Snorkeling with the Mountains of Alaska Behind Us

That just doesn’t seem like a good idea. Way to cold. Hypothermia could be a huge problem right? Not if you’re adequately equipment for snorkeling during the summer with water temps around 50 degrees F. We’ve been snorkeling in the Caribbean several times along with Hawaii and loved it so when the opportunity to snorkel in Alaska came up, we took it. Sure, being cold while doing this was a concern but full wetsuits were provided and I’ve been swimming in water that cold before and survived. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for our entire family to compare snorkeling in Alaska to the Caribbean. We did this through Snorkel Alaska in Ketchikan. Our adventure began just after six in the morning. As you can see in the photo below, the sun was close to the horizon as the day was beginning.

Full Wetsuits Including Boots and Hoods Were Provided

First off, protection against the cold water is required and 7mm thick wetsuits were provided. They work by trapping a thin layer of water between you and the wetsuit and that water is warmed by your body. In order for this to happen cold water from the water you are swimming in needs to enter the wetsuit. My expectation was to have a cold water shock for a short time. What actually happened was feeling cool water for a second or two before it warmed to body temp and remained warm for the duration of the snorkeling experience.

Clams and Kelp

I often forgot that we were in cold Alaskan waters because almost everything was covered by the full wetsuit or the mask and snorkel. There was a small section of my face exposed to the water and that is the only way I cold compare the ocean water temp to my wetsuit temp and I had to concentrate a few times in order to feel the cold water. Otherwise I didn’t even notice. The most difficult part about snorkeling in Alaska is putting on the wetsuit. Imagine putting on a pair of leather pants about two sizes too small and you’ll get the idea.

Dive Instructors Bringing up Animals for us to See

Once in the water there were amazing kelp beds and sea stars of varying shapes, sizes, and colors all around. After the entire group was swimming comfortably our dive instructors began bringing up animals from the bottom and providing interesting information about each one. Most of them ended up in our hands for a minute or two before being put back where they were found. It was nice to be able to see these because the water clarity was not great on this day and it was mostly cloudy so not as much light was available to penetrate deeper into the water. We were able to see about 10 feet under the surface before losing visibility.

An Abundance of Sea Stars

These dive instructors were the best I’ve been with. Always helping and showing us different highlights with great enthusiasm and energy. What was even more impressive about these instructors is this was the last few days of August and they had been doing this same adventure all summer. Most people seem to tire of giving the same tour day in and day out over several months. If these instructors were tired of this excursion, they didn’t let it show.

Holding a Sea Cucumber

Holding a Red Sea Urchin

During our time in the water two Bald Eagles joined us and watched as we moved around in the water. That really added to the overall experience. I’ve never been observed by an Eagle at such close distances before. Soon it was time to get out of the water and head back to our cruise ship. I was amazed just how short this time seemed. It felt like we were in the water for less than 30 minutes. We used a GoPro camera to record the event and when I went back over the video we were actually in the water for over an hour. Unfortunately the camera direction was adjusted during the swim by a nearby fin so the video doesn’t really show much. I could have used another hour just to continue exploring these Alaskan waters.

Swimming Next to the Eagle

The Eagle as it Watches Us Swim

Some of the Wildlife in Glacier Bay

A Pod of Orcas

While glaciers may be the focus of Glacier Bay National Park, wildlife is abundant and exciting to watch. Fortunately, most of the wildlife became visible after the glaciers were well in the rear view mirror so a decision on what to watch was not required. For some time whales were surfacing with some regularity with a spout over here or the back of a humpback off in the distance. A highlight was when you would see a tail reach out of the water. After a little while of whale watching we observed several spouts together indicating a number of whales close together which was abnormal with every other whale we had seen up to this point.

Zeroing in on this group with binoculars confirmed a group of whales until one of them came out of the water further. The distinctive white oval on the nose of this whale told of a pod of orcas coming our way. I had really hoped to see killer whales while exploring Alaska and couldn’t believe this was what I was looking at. In the picture above, several dorsal fins of these orcas are seen swimming together. Very exciting! Fortunately there were two more pods of orcas which could be seen from the cruise ship during the short time near Alaska. Unfortunately there where no real great pictures of these to show here. Especially since one of the killer whales came up out of the water creating a spectacular sight. It will have to live as a memory.

Sea Otter Swimming By

Another creature that became plentiful near the entrance to Glacier Bay were sea otters. They almost look as though they are just out for a casual swim enjoying the day. Maybe they were. Fun to watch as they troll along in the water not really paying attention to this huge cruise ship passing by. Probably have seen plenty of these ships throughout the summer as this was the last week in August.

Our most impressive memory from the wildlife in Glacier Bay National Park was seeing a humpback whale breach. I understand that this photo below is not all that spectacular but seeing in unfold with your own eyes is. Keep in mind that this photo was taken about 13 stories up using a wide view since you never know where something will happen. While cruising along in Glacier Bay we decided to set up a GoPro using the time-lapse function which allowed us to catch this event. Some of that time-lapse follows below.

Breaching Humpback Whale


Just Before the Whale Emerged

The Nose is Beginning to Show


Almost Completely Out of the Water

Fully Out of the Water

Returning to the Water with a Splash

A Trip Through Glacier Bay

Margerie Glacier

Glacier Bay National Park is a phenomenal place to explore. That’s why it is so unfortunate getting there can be a bit of a challenge. There are only two ways to get there – by boat or by plane. The most common mode of transportation are cruise ships to experience this beautiful park. Overcoming the challenges to get there are worth it once you’re surrounded by mountains, glaciers, and abundant wildlife. Serenity and excitement overtake you as the rest of the world fades into the back of your mind. As you listen to the sounds of nature and view this amazing landscape a calmness sets in. It’s almost impossible to think about someplace or anything else in this untouched wilderness. The spirit of Glacier Bay burrows inside of you to bring a calmness difficult to find.

Mountains Surrounding Glacier Bay

What’s the main reason for exploring this area – the glaciers of course. There are a number of glaciers most of which are currently receding. Fortunately there is one that is maintaining and that is Margerie Glacier. This sheet of ice moves on average six to seven feet each day providing those lucky enough to be there at the right time a show of falling ice that can’t be imagined. Even though this photo below shows the interesting and spectacular mix of colors, it is still not the same as being there. These colors change as the clouds shift moving the suns rays onto different pieces of ice. As those rays are moving, the ice begins cracking making thunderous noises that tell of the power of a moving glacier. It is at that point you realize how a massive sheet of ice moving can carve the landscape.

The Margerie Glacier Up Close

Watching this glacier finally allowed me to understand how glaciers work. All that snow during the year piling up onto itself, compacting, melting, compacting further until that snow becomes such a dense sheet of ice that the earth below starts to crush under it. Underneath all this ice, streams and rivers form from the melting ice and snow above creating a sort of waterslide which enables this huge sheet of ice to slowly move toward the water. As you watch the glacier from the water you can see places under it all where water is is running and have created tunnels in the ice itself. Amazing force of nature. And to think, all it takes to destroy this is constant moving water.

A 15 Story Ship Next to the Margerie Glacier

To give a perspective on the size of this glacier, this ship is 15 stories tall floating next to the Margerie Glacier. All this ice stand 250 feet tall so you can imagine how impressive it can be when a piece of ice falls off crashing into the ocean below creating large waves. Unfortunately we did not get to witness this in the short time allotted to experience this glacier. The views and sounds gave lasting memories without the calving ice.

Less than 100 feet away is the Grand Pacific Glacier. This is an entirely different story and it is receding. Difficult to imagine. So close to the Magerie Glacier yet does not receive enough snow each year to maintain itself. At first glance it appears like a piece of the mountain. Further inspection shows the melting ice underneath all that debris captured as it carved its way through the mountains. An amazing view it’s leaving!

Grand Pacific Glacier

The Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier Panorama

When traveling to Alaska one of the sights on most people list is to see glaciers. Juneau provides the opportunity to see a glacier up close. There is s short trail which will take you relatively close to it. For an even closer view, using a kayak will allow you to explore this beautiful ice sculpture even closer. Our adventure took us over the Nugget Falls Trail. As you near the glacier, the sound of rushing water overwhelms the air. The trail begins to clear and there is the impressive Nugget Falls pounding its way into the bay.

Nugget Falls

This rushing water appears as though it is coming right out of the mountain because the river above the falls is hidden by the landscape. Once this sight has been absorbed you continue looking over the rest of the scenery and almost take a step back after spotting the Mendenhall Glacier. Seeing the icebergs that have fallen off and are floating nearby, the size of the glacier, colors that you’ve been expecting to see but still are unprepared for, and the texture of that blue ice created from melting waters. To think about all of the stone this glacier has eroded away under its massive size and realize all it takes to destroy this moving sheet of ice is a steady flow of water carving away every hour for days and weeks, even months. What a spectacle of natural forces at work.

Mendenhall Glacier

As the clouds move so do the colors and peaks created in the glacier providing a different view. The urge to swim to the glacier become stronger. Just to walk on it and touch. No, these waters are to cold and there is no good way around the water fall or over the mountains to touch the ice created hundreds of years ago. You have to settle for the view. A very memorable view. Once you’ve taken in the glacier there is more to explore here. In August salmon begin running up stream to spawn. This brings other wildlife as well such as eagles and bears looking for an easy snack.

Stream Salmon Where Entering to Spawn

Unfortunately we didn’t see either along the stream. It was still a beautiful sight and entertaining to watch as the salmon make their way upstream. There was plenty of evidence that bears had been here – fish skeletons along the side of the steam and pathways from frequent use along the shore. Timing just wasn’t right. Plenty to explore at Mendenhall.

Two Salmon Making Their Way Upstream

Images From Alaska

A Beautiful Butterfly

A Porcupine Sleeping High Above

Mendenhall Visitors Center

Not exactly what you had in mind? While I like these pictures and they were all taken in Alaska I’m just showing my sad sense of humor. Well, mostly. The other issue is how to choose only a few pictures from the many we have. Here’s some other images:

The Beautiful Mendenhall Glacier

Fireweed by a Higer Elevation Lake

Emerald Lake

A Spectacular View in Glacier Bay

A Mountain Stream Heading Towards the Sea

Hopefully these are more of what you wanted to see. There will be more in the coming weeks as I continue to go through the many photos.

Anticipating Alaska

The Promise of Grand Views in Alaska

An Alaskan adventure was one of the most anticipated trips on our board once we decided it was time to explore the National Parks Monopoly Board. Anytime someone asked where we were headed this year and found out it was Alaska there were nothing but positive remarks. Either they had been there and would like to go back or would love to go there. We were amazed how many people have traveled to Alaska, usually on a ship. With so many positive comments how could one not be excited to go? Was it possible to have too high of expectations and be disappointed that Alaska didn’t live up to them?

Boarding the Ship

After a few days of exploring Olympic National Park and touring Seattle, the time had arrived to board the ship towards this highly anticipated destination. We were fortunate to share this experience with a number of friends and family who decided to join us for their first cruise making it even more memorable. For the first time our ship left the dock before our 4 o’clock departure time catching us off guard as I usually like to be out on a deck as we set sail. Hmm… maybe I had better pay closer attention to time on this trip. There’s a history of me getting on board at one of our stops right before we sail. In fact, I’ve been the last one getting on the ship before. I could very well miss this ship if I try to do that this time. Noted!

Leaving Seattle

Seattle faded into the horizon and two other ships were in tow as we left Puget Sound bringing rougher seas and more ship motion. A little time settling into our state rooms and then dinner. Completing dinner there was little to see outside as darkness had fallen bringing eagerness for the next days views as we enter Alaskan waters. Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and Victoria oh my.

Rougher Waters with Mountains in the Background

Morning light began shining in the window. A quick look out of the window showed why the ship seemed to be rocking so much – 15 –20 foot swells along with clouds and fog making the shore difficult to see. From time to time the mountain ranges would appear however nothing more impressive than we had been accustom to seeing over the last couple of days. As the day at sea wore on, the clouds and fog continually increased reducing visibility considerably. The cold and wind made taking a stroll outside unenjoyably. Being restricted to the inside of the ship there wasn’t much to do that day but eat. Guess we were in the right place for that. From time to time the shore would reveal slightly taller mountains exciting those who saw it as these indicated what might be ahead.

Seeing an Occasional Mountain Through the Clouds

Day two brought calmer waters as the ship was now sheltered on both sides by mountains and clearer views of shore. Snow was beginning to show up near the peaks on mountains proving the journey further north. If it wasn’t for the snow and cold it would be difficult to know if you were in Alaska or Hawaii as the shape of the mountains looked very similar. As the day entered noon the first glaciers began appearing however the picturesque landscapes were only partially visible due to the low hanging clouds. Still they were beautiful to see. What amazing color these glaciers have even under this dreary sky. At this point I was a little disappointed because this type of weather was in the last forecast I looked at for most of our Alaskan Adventure. That meant peering at these vistas from inside the ship and not being able to see them in all their grandeur. O.K. it was too early to let this dictate my attitude for the rest of the trip. There was still much to see and do.

The First Glacier of this Alaskan Adventure

On to Juneau!