‘Alaska – The Last Frontier’
‘Alaska – The Last Frontier (according to the legend on the license plate of the 49th and largest state admitted to the union), was where the cruise ship was bound, via what is known as the ‘Inside Passage’. Boarding in Vancouver BC Canada, the cruise destination was to be Whittier Alaska, with stops along the way at Skagway, Ketchikan and the state capital, Juneau, finally via coach to Anchorage.
Vancouver lies in the Southwest corner of Canada and for this trip it was a scenic rail journey up from Seattle on Amtrak’s Cascades coastal train that saw me arriving in this very culturally diverse city. The cruise ship I was to make the trip on was the Princess line, but there are several companies that do the same route up or down the Inner Passage and more or less all stop at the same ports of call. The first stop on this particular cruise was Ketchikan.
Known as “The Salmon Capital of the World”, Ketchikan is located “in the midst of the Tongass National Forest, a 17 million acre rainforest full of lush cedar, Sitka spruce, waterfalls and wildlife. A short walk from the cruise ship terminal and I’m in the historic Creek Street district with it’s boardwalks of shops and restaurants, built on piles over-hanging the water because of the hard rock face. As I wandered around I could see plenty of salmon swimming around in the water right below the boardwalks and a further walk up Married Main’s trail to the Salmon ladder you can see salmon leaping out the water. Ketchikan also boasts the largest number of Totem poles in Alaska!
Next stop on the cruise was the capital city of Alaska, Juneau, the second largest city in the United States by area (the largest being Sitka). The city also has no discernible road access and is the only state capital in the United States that can only be reached by airplane or boat. Fairly close by is Mendenhall Glacier, part of the Tongass National Forest, the largest National Forest in the United States, where you can watch icebergs calving off the glacier’s face.
Located at the northernmost point of the Inside Passage in Southeast Alaska, streets lined with wooden boardwalks and restored buildings and a population of just over 1100, sits the city of Skagway, Alaska. It was from here that you can take the short but extremely scenic excursion on board the White Pass & Yukon Railway to the summit. I can highly recommend it.
Official description of the 40 mile round trip journey: “Relax in vintage passenger coaches as you retrace the original route to the White Pass Summit, passing Bridal Veil Falls, Inspiration Point and Dead Horse Gulch. Enjoy a breathtaking panorama of mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, trestles and historic sites. See the original Klondike Trail of ‘98 worn into the rocks, a permanent tribute to the thousands of souls who passed this way in search of fortune.”
Another location to watch the icebergs calving off the glacier face is in Glacier Bay. What grabbed my attention was the sheer size of the glacier face (up to 250 feet) and the huge icebergs calving into the lake below with a crashing sound is amazing to witness.
Getting off the cruise ship at Whittier Bay and catching a coach to Anchorage was the final leg of the journey North. A stop on the way at a nature reserve to get a closer look at some of the wildlife and you are suddenly face to face with huge grizzly Bears with what looks like a barely adequate wire fence between. Brown Bears, a Bald Eagle, Coyotes and of course plenty of Moose roaming around complete the close ups with nature.
I have to admit that Anchorage itself didn’t really appeal to me, but surrounding it are national parks, glaciers, plenty of wildlife and if you need to explore more there is always the train out to Denali National Park or Fairbanks.