Thursday, July 29, 2010

Helicopter Glacier Landing

I thoroughly enjoyed every excursion I took on the Twitter trip sponsored by Princess Cruises, but I think that the glacier helicopter landing may have been my favorite. This was only time I EVER got to check two adventures off my Bucket List in the same day! (ride in a helicopter and walk on a glacier).

Hopefully this video will give you a little feel for the awesomeness of this adventure!

We took off from a helipad located just across the river from the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. The flight was much smoother than I had anticipated. The Beaver plane that we took to the summit of Mt. McKinley flew over the range of mountains. On the helicopter, we got to fly in between the mountains. It was amazing to watch as the landscape below us changed from green hills to snow covered mountains.

I took a piece of the glacier for a souvenir but I couldn't seem to find it when I got back to the lodge.
Good thing I got this picture:)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Moose, Drugs and Toilets

Our third day in Alaska began with a bus ride deep into the Denali National Forest.  Our guides were very informative as they explained the terrain and vegetation growing on the permafrost.

Before we got off the bus, we were instructed what to do if we encountered dangerous wildlife.  In a nutshell, you’re supposed to talk to a bear and run from a moose.  It's impossible to out run a bear, so it's best to just try to rationalize with him - just don't look him in the eye. You can't really outrun a moose either, but they have a wide turning radius and if you zig zag around trees and whatnot, you stand a pretty good chance of getting away.

Our guides seem particularly proud of the park’s SST’s  (Sweet Smelling Toilets) which employ some of the latest and greatest toilet technology on earth to maintain a virtually odor free restroom experience. Naturally, since I was walking around with a video camera, I had to get some footage of this modern marvel in the Alaskan wilderness

We learned of the many uses for some of the plants growing wild in the park - plants used for salads, tooth paste, dish soap, hallucinogens and laxatives grew in abundance as did plants to make Vallium, and Absinthe. I'm reluctant to identify which plant are used for which purpose, lest some of my frog-licking and mushroom-eating type friends rape the Alaskan landscape of it's vegetation.

At the turn around point we were treated to stories from an Athabascan guide who interrupted his presentation to chastise me for video taping him. I was actually just gettin’ a shot of the crowd watching him. After his presentation I apologized to him and he explained that someone had once video taped him and put it on youtube and called him an Eskimo. I think Eskimos are cool (literally!), but this guy is rightfully proud of his Athabascan heritage and found it offensive.

It's a long standing Alaskan tourists tradition that if you saw a moose at some point during the day, you have to take a shot of a drink called a "Duck Fart" and flash the international sign for "I saw a moose today."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I Have Been to the Mountaintop!

I've always wanted to go to the summit of Mt. Mckinley. Thanks to an invitation by Princess Cruises to participate in a Twitter Press trip to Alaska, I got to check another item off my bucket list! Shortly after we settled into the Denali Princess Lodge, we took a short ride to the airfield where several of the Twitteratti and our escorts from Princess Cruises hopped on a 1966 Beaver Plane and headed towards the summit!

Here we are pictured with Canada's Adventure Couple, the famous Dave & Deb, along with Karen, Nicole, and Guy (from Princess Cruises) and of course our pilot, Jim Andie (we kinda needed him.)

Sure, Mt. Everest is the highest point on earth, but the  Mount McKinley's vertical rise is nearly 6000 feet higher than Mount Everest from base to summit (Everest sits on the Tibetan Plateau which is17,000 feet above sea level to begin with)

For most of the flight everyone was quiet, taking in the beauty of the scenery. It was almost a spiritual experience.

At one point it looked as though we were going to fly right into the mountain. Someone asked the pilot, "shouldn't you like be turning or something about now?"  The pilot replied "Naw, we're still about five miles away."

After we landed, I got to interview Jim Andie, a man who has traveled all over the world and is living his bucket list.  When asked where he'd like to go, Jim said, "anywhere I haven't been."  Man,  I LOVE that!!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Destination Denali

Day two of the Twitter trip sponsored by Princess Cruises began with a train ride from Fairbanks to Denali. After a wonderful breakfast aboard the train, we adjourned upstairs in the glass covered rail car where we took in the breathtaking scenery. The reindeer sausage and salmon breakfast burrito were yummy!

Our tour guides were incredibly knowledgeable of Alaskan history and geography. They always seemed to know exactly where we were as they give us notice of various photo opportunities in advance.  These are just a fraction of the photos I took on the 4 hour trip that didn't nearly seem that long.

  We saw a HUGE beaver dam, lots of cool looking bridges, rafters on the river and of course snow capped mountains as we wound our way across miles of perma-frost tundra, mountains, hills and canyons.
The ever changing scenery, good food, informative guides and clean restrooms made this a terrific way to experience Alaska. I'm now adding a train rides across the USA and Europe to my Bucket List!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Gold in Them Thar Hills!

I heard there was a gold rush in Alaska so I figured while I’m there I might as well join the frenzy.  So we took an excursion to the Eldorado Gold mine where everyone is guaranteed to find some gold.

Our tour was conducted by a Fiddle playing conductor who entertained us with songs and a wonderful narration of the history of  the Alaskan gold rush.

The Eldorado Gold Mine employs a colorful cast of characters who showed us how to pan for gold. Once you see a few of the shiny nuggets in your pan, it doesn't take long to catch "Gold Fever".

I'm giving serious thought to becoming a gold miner...

... gold miners get to wear some serious bling!

When you finish panning for gold, you can take it into the gift shop where the staff will weigh it and tell you how much is is worth.  I wanted to cash in the $38 worth of gold we had panned, but my wife opted to spend another $50 or so in the gift shop to have our gold nuggets encased in a locket (souvenir bling). No wonder the Alaskan gold miners left the women folk back home.

On the way back to the lodge, we saw some of the state’s modern day gold - the 800 mile long Alaska Pipeline! Nearly 500,000 barrels of oil pass through the pipeline each day. We saw the pipeline near it’s halfway point at the 450 mile marker. All in all, this was a very fun and potentially profitable excursion!