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A memorable HAL Land Tour of Alaska/Klondike

Author: largsmith
Date of Trip: July 2010

We started our Alaskan adventure when we landed in Anchorage and found much to our surprise a very modern airport, far from the rustic, quonset hut by the airstrip we had conjured up in our imaginations. Once landed we taxied to the Hilton Hotel where we enjoyed a large, seventh floor room with a view of the street fair below and the harbor. Once settled, we had little time for anything except dinner. We found a fine little establishment called the ‘Downtown Deli’, which had quite an extensive menu. The food was quite good. Everyone seemed content to sample all the meals ordered ad the steak, the deli sandwich, the fish and chips, and the reindeer stew were all very tasty and well presented. The wine selections were very good, and my friends said the beers were “very drinkable indeed”.

The next morning we boarded the Denali Explorer to Denali National Park. The seats were very comfortable and the views, even with overcast skies, were quite unforgettable. And they had a full bar so that you could enjoy the passing scenery with your favorite libation. We enjoyed two meals aboard the trains, a lunch and a dinner. The food preparation and quality were quite good, especially the Prime Rib, which was huge, and tender, and delicious, and my wife’s (who is wont to pass her leftovers to me).

We arrived at Denali and checked into our room at the Chalet. They were quite rustic and charming and came with a greeter, a squirrel who just gave us the once over before darting behind a boulder. We got settled in, and decided on pizza at the Prospectors Pizzeria across the street from the Chalet.

The pizza was great, my wife’s spaghetti was great and the wine was excellent. My friend wanted me to taste the beer (it tasted like crap, but all beers do). I could tell he thoroughly enjoyed it as much as I liked the wine. We then went back to the Chalet to board a bus for perhaps the best optional tour we ever paid for.

Jeff King’s Husky Homestead Tour was outstanding and a DO NOT MISS attraction. The four-time Iditarod winner introduces you to his wife, daughter, and about 100 huskies that are all called by name. Each family member gives a presentation on the dogs and the homestead and the Iditarod race; then the dogs get into the act. And did I mention that you get to hold the puppies. Yeah, that was very cool! You’ll be sorry if you pass this up!

The next day, we took the Wilderness tour by bus into Denali Park. We saw grizzly (brown) bears, wolves, elk, caribou, Dall sheep, moose, eagles, etc, etc. The openness and vastness, and rugged grandeur of the park is readily visible by looking in any direction. Truly spectacular is Denali!

From Denali, we railed on to Fairbanks. Our schedule did not permit much sightseeing but we did take advantage of the downtime to rest. Thank goodness for a comfortable bed.

We departed Fairbanks by motor coach to the Eldorado Gold Mine. This is a working gold mine where we were introduced to gold mining and then offered the opportunity to strike it rich employing the greatest Alaskan wealth creation device of the late 19th century: the gold pan. I was able to pan my way to riches; almost. I got $8.00 for my efforts while my wife made $12.00. But a fool and his gold was soon parted as soon as my wife walked into the gift shop. Now what do you suppose that a gold mine would have in their gift shop? Gold nuggets – what else! Women will probably like the gift shop more than men, I think. Then it was back onto the bus for more spectacular scenery.

From the Eldorado we motored to Gold Dredge #8 for a history on gold dredging in Alaska and a hearty miner’s stew lunch after the presentation. Both were highly enjoyable and the dredge history was very educational. Then it was on to Tok (pronounced “toke”, as in “give me a toke”) by bus for still more spectacular scenery.

The really memorable thing about Tok is, well, there really isn’t anything too memorable about Tok. So if you want to talk about Tok, you better have a toke first. The Westmark Hotel there was quite comfortable and friendly, and the food in their restaurant was OK. I just couldn’t bring myself to ordering Mexican food in Alaska. Fortunately, I had the Cobb salad. My wife and friends had the Mexican dishes and I could tell by the looks on their faces and the food left on their plates that the cook was probably run out of Mexico for impersonating a cook. It was interesting to learn that almost everything in Tok closes down for the winter because of the cold (-50 to -60 degrees F). That is a bit chilly. From Tok, we motored to Whitehorse, the largest city in the Klondike.

By the time we get to most of our nightly stops, it is time for dinner and just a smidgen of entertainment like a cocktail, or watching TV or a little reading or a little of anything else you might be inclined to do. In Whitehorse, we actually were taken to a revue called the Frantic Follies and watched a group of performers do several skits and musical/dance numbers. They were quite talented and put on a very entertaining show.

From Whitehorse, we motored to a town formerly called Caribou Crossing, which was shortened to Carcross. I guess folks up there just don’t like to talk much. It is a picturesque town that offers the shutterbug ample photo ops. They also have a good ice cream shop there.

Then it was on to Fraser where we caught the White Pass Railroad to Skagway. You are not going to ride a more picturesque, photographic railroad in North America. Make sure that you have a memory card that has a lot of available space, because the pictures just keep popping up behind every rock, every tree, and every bend. Trust me on this, leave room on your camera card for at least 100 pictures, you can delete some after you get home. This is a STUNNING railroad ride!

Even though I may not have specifically mentioned it, there was beautiful scenery, narrated by a truly professional tour guide (Kyle Kendall of HAL) and a wonderfully knowledgeable coach driver (Doris) who highlighted our driving days with stops for wildlife, history, vistas, lunches. They left us with a longing to return to this beautiful country called “The Great Land”

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