Retire Mechanical engineer. Student at California State university Channel Island studiyingAbout Me

July 26, 2015

Alaska Cruise - Part Three

Due to the small number of passengers, 30 in all, we were given three cars and all had their own window seat.

The voice over the intercom told stories of Skagway, beginning with the town cemetery.

In the late 1800s, the Gold Rush was at its peak and there were good guys and bad guys.

He pointed out both tombstones of the town's hero and villain and how they had gunned each other down in a duel. He told us stories of how people came for gold mining totally unprepared and how many of them died here from hunger and cold.

Then there were the people that didn't come for gold, but became rich servicing the miners, such as Nordstrom who made and sold leather boots. There were the scumbags who scammed miners with such ludicrous things as 'the wire that finds gold,' and 'gold-sniffing rabbits.'

One man built a road and became rich charging toll money for anyone wanting to get to the gold fields. People paid exorbitant prices for sick horses, did not feed them, and thousands died. Of course, the tour guide ended with the stories of whorehouses, madams and their prostitutes.

Such beautiful scenery, but such sad stories.

During our three-hour train journey, I made sure the window was nice and clean, but despite my efforts, all of the photos I took appeared to be blurred and double-exposed.

I gathered my courage and walked out to the platform in between cars and was able to get some incredible shots of the train as it climbed 3,000 feet up to White Pass.

Because there were only ten people in our car and the one behind us, we took turns standing on the platform to take pictures.

Sometimes, I would take my pictures and leave so other passengers could take theirs.

As we traveled up through the rugged mountains, it became clear how much people risked to get to the gold. Our tour guide told us that, finally, there was a law passed that decreed people could not travel through to the gold mines without a year's supply of food and necessities to survive.

To build the railroad, tons and tons of dynamite were used to carve the shear boulders for passageways and tunnels. Wooden bridges were built in the most impossible places.

Sometimes, I have to admit, it was scary to look through the window to see a shear drop down into a canyon thousands of feet below. By the same token, large boulders above could have come crashing down on the train.

It was an hour and a half ride up to White Pass, where the engine was switched for the ride back down.

And the ride back down was just as breathtaking as the ride up. I have seen many places in my lifetime, but this train ride was one of the most unforgettable in my memory.

If you are scared of heights, this is not a train ride you would enjoy.
The next morning, we awoke to find the ship entering Glacier Bay.

Not wanting to miss any of the scenery, we had a quick breakfast, grabbed our binoculars and cameras and hurried up on deck. The naturalist on board told us that Glacier Bay is a product of the Little Ice Age, a geologically recent glacial event which reached its maximum extent about 1750.

The ship slowly approached Johns Hopkins Glacier.

For over an hour we had the opportunity to view this majestic glacier which is over a mile wide, 250 feet high, and stretches twelve miles back into the mountains.

It was colder than I expected, the wind seemed to go right through our layers of clothes and yet the sun was warm on our faces. All around the deck it was hard to find a space at the rail to take pictures. Finally, a couple left and we took their place.

The captain slowly pivoted the ship around so that everyone had an opportunity to take pictures and then slowly and quietly left Johns Hopkins behind and headed toward Marjerie Glacier.

The ship slowed and stopped in front of this incredible spectacle.

Marjerie Glacier, like Johns Hopkins, is over a mile wide, but extends over 21 miles back.

We were fortunate to experience this glacier calving. The sound was something not quite explainable, a roar, a cracking and then large chunks of ice cascaded into the sea.

Each time we heard the sonic booms, the birds would go crazy looking for food. What an experience to witness the power of nature.

As the ship made its way back out to sea, we relaxed in our cabin and dressed for our second formal night. We dressed in the same attire that we had worn on the first formal night.

Our faux pas was a conscious decision and we thought, 'who would notice?' If anyone did, no one said anything.

After dinner, we enjoyed a drink and sat listening to a very talented Irish duo. We had a good night's sleep, although, actually I was not sure if it was night or day. I had lost track of my days and nights, since the sun doesn't set until after 10 pm. We slept late and enjoyed a quiet morning at sea.

After lunch, the ship began its journey up into College Fjord.

We passed glacier after glacier. I counted nine of them. There were places where we saw the remnants of avalanches. The mountains here are so steep, with canyons surrounded by more high mountains, some over 12,000 feet.

The naturalist explained that the snow has accumulated over hundreds of years, forming a river of snow that hardened into ice. The rate of forward movement is several feet per year until it reaches the sea.

As the ice moves down the canyons, it grinds the boulders beneath it, moving them along with it.

At the meeting at the water's edge, the height of the slow-moving ice can reach hundreds of feet high.

The naturalist pointed out several places where these ancient glaciers have receded, leaving fertile soil where plant life abounds.

We took it all in, trying to remember all the facts, but then sat back in our lounge chairs and just took it all in:

The peace.  The quiet.  The unspoiled beauty.

On our last evening, we opted not to join our dinner table companions. Instead we enjoyed salads and Paninis at a much coveted window table in the International Café, where we had an incredible view of the glaciers as we exited College Fjord.

It was a combination of deciding to stay late on deck and take more pictures and the fact that we really did not care to spend another dinner evening listening to Chinese chit-chat.

When we woke the next morning we looked out our window to see that we had docked in Whittier. After the disembarkation process, which to my surprise was quite well-organized, we boarded our bus which would take us back to Anchorage Airport.

We flew Anchorage to Seattle, then Seattle to LAX. When we flew into Seattle, we had the rare advantage of a perfectly clear day and unbelievable views of Mt. Rainier.

As we boarded our flight to LAX, we happened to see the Chinese couple from Alhambra. They saw us and for whatever reason chose not to acknowledge, although the wife kept staring at us.

During the cruise I had asked them how long they have been in the U.S. and the husband told me they had been here over thirty years. Yet it did not seem as though they have integrated into the American society that well, but had chosen to remain Chinese all the way.

This brings up my own personal thoughts about China.

If it wants to be a true world power, it must integrate into the world. Just take a look at the difference between an American and the Chinese tourist. Americans are friendly and open people, they try to understand and learn to converse with people who are totally strange to them.

Chinese tourists have an attitude, especially when they bump into you at an airport.  They carry on with their gibberish language and their rude ways with not one little effort to make conversation with other people.

Sorry, but that is my observation in general of Chinese tourists.

This cruise, as enjoyable as it was, was so unlike last year. On our transatlantic crossing, we meshed so beautifully with the other four couples at our dinner table, and it was such a joy to rejoin each night and discuss our day's adventures.

But, we can honestly say that this year the only downside was our dinner table companions.

The rest of our Alaskan cruise was perfect in every way.