Fourteen members of the Friends of Retzer Nature Center recently flew to Alaska on a fourteen day natural history tour of the state. The trip was led by Board member David Block, who has organized travel programs in Alaska many times.
The trip included overnight stays at Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, Denali National Park, Valdez and Seward. Our first stop was Sitka, where we visited Sitka National Historic Park, toured the historic Russian Bishop’s House, learned about the Tlingit culture and their famed totem pole heritage, and hiked a bit in the Tongass National Forest.
We then traveled by “blue canoe” ferry to Juneau and on to Skagway, where we enjoyed whale watching and photographing beautiful scenery along the Inside Passage waterway. While in Skagway, we strolled the restored 1890’s gold rush era town and traveled across White Pass into the rugged interior of British Columbia and the Yukon.
The first half of our trip ended in the capital city of Juneau, where we toured parts of the historic downtown area and visited the Mendenhall Glacier nearby. We then flew from Juneau to Anchorage to begin the second half of our journey in Anchorage. The remainder of our itinerary included a knowledgeable local driver, Steve Helgeson, and use of his customized tour minibus.
Our trek through southcentral Alaska began with a drive north to Denali National Park. Along the way, we stopped at the Iditarod National Headquarters in Wasilla, and learned about the history of the famed dogsled race. We all had a chance to nuzzle sled dog puppies, and some took a dogsled ride pulled by an Iditarod husky team. Then, nearing Denali National Park, we were wowed by cloud-free views of the massive Denali summit, and enjoyed spending a night in cabins along a scenic creek. The next day, our bus tour of the national park included nice sightings of grizzly bears, caribou, and a moose with babies; Polychrome Pass and views of Mt. Denali and the Alaska Range were memorable highlights of the park’s geology.
After leaving Denali, we headed back south to the oil pipeline port town of Valdez, stopping along the way for lunch in the scenic Matanuska glacier valley. Later, we viewed the Wrangell-St. Elias Range, crossed the rugged Chugach Mountains, and photographed the intriguing Alaska pipeline, the receding Worthington Glacier and the impressive Keystone Canyon waterfalls. We overnighted in Valdez before taking our final ferry ride through Prince William Sound to the Kenai Peninsula.
Our lodging destination on the Kenai Peninsula was coastal Seward, home of the Alaska Sea Life Center gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. At the sea life center, we were able to view puffins, sea lions, harbor seals, and other marine critters. A newly rescued baby walrus drew a lot of viewer attention. Near Seward, the group was able to witness a sockeye salmon run up a local river and several enjoyed a hike up to Exit Glacier. The final day of the trip included a boat tour of tidewater glaciers in Prince William Sound. The highlight was Beloit Glacier, which calved four times into the sea as our boat idled nearby.
Filled with fine memories and a bit of travel fatigue, the Retzer group arrived back in Wisconsin on the Fourth of July… a patriotic end to a tour of America’s grandest frontier.
Here is a link to a photo album from the trip.