Alaska Bucket List Trip – Day 3

Day 3 – September 3 (Seward)

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View from Resurrection Roadhouse at Windsong Lodge

Awoke to the wonderful sounds of nature. I have to take a moment here to express that absolutely nothing can prepare one properly for the grandeur and scope that is Alaska. Even when one is traveling through it or looking out the window experiencing it, it’s impossible to comprehend the vastness. The trees are taller and denser than any I’ve ever encountered before, even those in areas where civilization has intruded enough to build.

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View from the parking lot at Resurrection Roadhouse at Windsong Lodge

We had breakfast at the Roadhouse and boarded the shuttle for the trip to the harbor for our Kenai Fjords cruise. Let me preface by saying that the weather was so bad the day before that all of the cruises had been either cancelled or limited to Resurrection Bay. We were scheduled to go out into the Gulf of Alaska as part of our 6-hour tour (cue Gilligan’s Island theme) of Kenai Fjords National Park.

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“Our” Major Marine Tours Catamaran

The Major Marine Tours boat was a catamaran, so I felt certain that the cruise would be as smooth as possible. Our all-female crew was wonderful. Our guide was a U.S. Park Ranger – Ranger Dan. Ranger Dan was originally from Sandy Springs, Georgia (not far from where we used to live). The ride out in the bay was breathtaking. We went past Bear Glacier, where it looked as if an immense vehicle had driven down it. Those areas of dark are called moraines. We passed some water caves and lone standing rocks that reminded me greatly of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the Pictured Rocks area.

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Bear Glacier and Moraines (for size reference, notice full-size boat in front of glacier)

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Standing Rocks Reminiscent of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

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Giant Cave

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Could not BELIEVE someone was out on a Jet Ski (It was very chilly!)

Not far past the rocks, we entered the Gulf of Alaska and happened upon a pod of Orca. There were several adults and a few juveniles. While not nearly as rough as the previous day, there was plenty of rocking and rolling while the ship cut its engines to drift and watch the orca. We stayed as stationary as possible considering the seas for quite a while. Sadly, this took quite a toll on many of our shipmates.

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Adult and Playing Juvenile Orcas

When Captain Kayleigh started the boat back up and headed toward Aialik Bay and Glacier, it was not a moment too soon. Even though I’d taken Bonine (a motion sickness medication), that rocking with the diesel fumes had gotten to me. As we pulled close to the Aialik Glacier, there was a tremendous explosion sound and then intense thunder as the great glacier calved. I’m so glad I was able to see this intense, natural phenomenon. As I was trying to see the Harbor Seals up along the edge of the by, the glacier calved yet again.

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Aialik Glacier in Aialik Bay

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Aialik Glacier Calving (note spray from splash)

 

All through the bay, there were small icebergs from the glacier “calves.” The crew managed to fish one of these out of the bay, clean it off, and shatter it into drink-sized pieces. Jim got a glacier margarita. I was still feeling a bit green, so I abstained from that and the “buffet” lunch.

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Jim’s “Glacier Margarita”

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Harbor Seals at Aialik Glacier (note icebergs from recent calving behind them)

The trip back was quite a bit smoother as the boat was going with the current and waves instead of against it. I also think that the sea had extracted its toll on us so was kinder to us on the return. As we went through the passages in the Channel Islands, we were able to see flocks of puffins (both Horned and Tufted) in the wild. We also saw Sooty Shearwaters and Black-legged Kittiwakes. On the rocks was a huge colony of huge Stellar Sea lions. Most of the trip the sky had cleared greatly and these immense mammals were sunbathing and taking in the warmth. When we passed the area where we had seen the orca on the way out, we found they were still there and even more visible. Luckily though, we had very little time left on the tour, so the Captain and crew made for the harbor after only a short stop.

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Black-legged Kittiwake in foreground – Horned & Tufted Puffins behind

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Large Colony of Stellar Sea Lions (basking in the sun which finally came out)

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Four of the Pod of Orcas

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Ranger Dan Holding Map of Our Route (and all the wildlife seen)

Once back on dry land, I felt a whole lot better and we scouted for someplace to grab a bite and a cocktail. Right next to the boat harbor is Ray’s Waterfront. Our shuttle driver had recommended the place – and it was close, so we gave it a try. I’m very glad we did. The service was a bit awkward, but the bourbon was good and the macadamia-crusted halibut, with coconut curry rice and sauce was very good – actually, one of the better meals on the trip.

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Ray’s Waterfront (picture from Pintrest)

We stopped across the street and bought a pint bottle of Maker’s Mark. (Have I mentioned that everything in Alaska is quite a bit more expensive than in the lower 48? Just getting products into Alaska is way more expensive, so they pass that along in pricing.) The clerk had to see BOTH of our licenses – out of the wallets. Now, y’all know how old we are. I guess a rule is a rule and he could get fired if he didn’t require us to pull out our id, but really?

We caught the last scheduled shuttle of the evening and headed back to the lodge. After a quick nightcap, we headed for bed. It was a very long day, but one not easily forgotten.

Alaska Bucket List Trip – Day 2

Day 2 – September 2 (Anchorage to Seward)

Another EARLY start. We needed to be at the Anchorage Railroad Depot at 5:45 a.m. As our bodies were still on Eastern time, this wasn’t as hard as it sounds (there’s a 4-hour time difference). The depot, though, really isn’t set up for the onslaught of humanity that come to board the Alaskan Railroad trains. There are very few seats in the depot and there were hundreds of passengers (mostly older). That said, we were given our “GoldStar” pins (again, we splurged for top-of-the-line travel in the GoldStar Dome) and sent to the front of the train to find our car.

After climbing a very tight, spiral staircase, we found our seats in a beautiful train car with huge, picture windows. The perks of riding in the top-of-the-line compartment is that you get a meal and two “adult beverages,” as well as unlimited coffee, tea and soft drinks. As a heads-up, the bartenders on Alaska Railroad make a mean Bloody Mary!

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Jim on a Train = Happy Man

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Me on a Train = Tired!

The weather was still not cooperating as far as being sunny or clear and there were still a number of large wild fires in the area. I must say, however, that the scenery is matchless! The entire trip was one beautiful vista after another. I saw my first moose from the train just as we were leaving Anchorage. It was walking down a residential street in a subdivision. As the train move on toward Seward, we were hoping to see more birds and animals in the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, but the tide was out in the Turnagain Arm (a body of water with the world’s second highest tides at over 30 feet) so no Beluga whales or much wildlife.

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Leaving Anchorage

 

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Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge

 

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Glacial River Between Anchorage & Seward

 

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One of the Myriad of Waterfalls Between Anchorage & Seward

We went past Spencer Glacier, Bartlett Glacier and through Grandview Pass. Jim took a great shot as the train headed through the Pass. There was an area in the very back of the train car which was open and it afforded some very good shots of glaciers as we passed. It was a little to “breezy” for me, but Jim loved it. Of course, you put Jim on a train and he’s completely happy.

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Alaska Railroad @Grandview Pass – Photo by Jim Pappas

As soon as we were pulling into the Seward depot, I could see the shuttles for the Seward Windsong Lodge. One was, obviously, a baggage truck and the other our passenger shuttle. From the time we left our bags at the depot in Anchorage, we didn’t see them again until they were delivered to our door at the Windsong Lodge. The efficiency of the tourist programs in Alaska is without reproach! I cannot commend Alaska Tour and Travel highly enough. Throughout the entire trip, our rooms were ready, our excursions had us booked properly, and we didn’t have to worry about transfers or anything. Definitely, the way to go!

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Seward Windsong Lodge

Check-in time at the Seward Windsong Lodge (3 p.m.) is strictly adhered to at the Lodge and, since we had arrived before noon, we had several hours to kill.

We had passes to Alaska SeaLife Center which is down on the Seward Harbor, so we hopped on the shuttle. The shuttle made a stop right outside the SeaLife Center. If you ever get to Seward, this is a great attraction. You can spend a few minutes – or a few hours. The cost of admission helps their mission. From their website: “The Alaska SeaLife Center is the only facility in Alaska that combines a public aquarium with marine research, education, and wildlife response.

While primarily dedicated to marine research and education, the nonprofit Center is the only permanent marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation facility in the state.”

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Spotted Seal in for Rehabilitation

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Horned Puffins @Alaska SeaLife Center

We were really looking forward to seeing the sea birds. We got our first-ever looks at Harlequin Ducks, Common Murres, King Eiders, Pigeon Guillemots, endangered Spectacled Eider, and (of course) the stars of the show, the puffins (Horned and Tufted)! I could have watched these amazing creatures for hours as they flew through the water. They can dive to amazing depths and hold their breath for an astoundingly long time.

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Horned Puffin Chilling

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Tufted Puffin

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Tufted Puffin Playing

After a couple of hours, we returned to the Windsong Lodge to get checked in. The property reminded me of the wonderful lodges in the Smoky Mountains or even Switzerland. There were several buildings with roughly 8 rooms (4 up and 4 down) in each nestled into great woods. We opened the window to the sounds of red squirrels, birds, water from a recent rain dripping from the leaves and needles, and wind.

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Seward Windsong Lodge – Poppy

The Resurrection Roadhouse (on the Resurrection River) is located on the grounds of the Windsong Lodge. It consists of a restaurant area and a lounge. The lounge didn’t open until 5, so we opted for a late lunch/early dinner. Again, while the food was filling it wasn’t a stand out. I was a bit disappointed in the crab cakes because I figured (being Alaska) there would be mostly crab. Figured wrong. I WILL say, however, that the Bourbon Mule (a cross between a julep and a mule – mint and ginger beer) was outstanding. I might be beginning to see a theme here.

Resurrection Roadhouse

Photo from TripAdvisor – Weather Was NOT This Nice for Us