For More Details
AAA Grand Holiday and Holland America Line have arranged two 12-day Alaska & Klondike Explorer CruiseTours July 8–20 and Aug. 14–26. Prices start at $2,668 (Category K CruiseTour only) for AAA members and $2,808 for nonmembers.

Before You Go
For more information and reservations, visit your nearest AAA Travel Agency office, or call 1-888-FON-4AAA. Or visit the Web site www.aaagrandholidays.com.

America’s Last Frontier is best seen by
Wheel, keel and rail

Explore Alaska by land and by sea with Holland America to experience its natural wonders and fascinating history

By Marge Peterson
Published: Jan/Feb 2002

Some of the world’s most remarkable tidewater glaciers can be found in Alaska’s Glacier Bay, where icebergs large and small dot the waters . /Alaska Tourism photo.
A huge grizzly bear, with her cub close behind, waddled out of the brush 10 feet in front of our bus on Denali Park Road. It was 6 a.m., and most of us on the park’s shuttle were half-asleep. When we heard someone say “bear,” we woke quickly and reached for cameras and camcorders.

The driver stopped for about five minutes as we watched in wonder. Mama bear turned around and looked at the bus occasionally but didn’t appear intimidated by it. After a short stroll, mother and cub went back in the brush.

The bear sighting was just one of the thrills I experienced on a 12-day Holland America Alaska & Klondike Explorer CruiseTour last summer.

Portage Glacier

I met the guide and the other tour participants in the lobby of our Anchorage hotel just before we boarded a motorcoach for the 53-mile trip to Portage Glacier, one of Alaska’s most visited attractions. At the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center, we watched the award-winning documentary “Voices from the Ice,” then boarded the Ptarmigan for a closer look at the glacier. After a stop at Alyeska Resort–the site of many international ski competitions–for lunch and a tram ride, we headed back to Anchorage. We left for Denali National Park the next morning.

The weather was beautiful the next day when we took the seven-hour trip through Denali. After we saw the bears, a wolf walked in front of the bus and a fox alongside it. The fox had a marmot in his mouth, which he dropped in order to pick up another one, and then he stuffed both of the rodents in his mouth and walked off. We also saw caribou, moose, a huge Dall ram, snowshoe hares and ravens.

When there is a good view of Mount McKinley, Alaskans say, “The mountain is out today.” Our park shuttle driver said the chances of getting a good view of Mount McKinley on any given day were about one in three, but the gods were with us. The clouds parted and the bold, majestic mountain (which locals call Denali–an Athabascan name meaning “the great one”) was in full view.

After a late lunch, we boarded the beautiful McKinley Explorer train for the trip to Fairbanks. The trip brought back memories of train travel as a child–vista domes, a dining car with white tablecloths, fine china and impeccable service. We passed by mountains, forests, canyons and abandoned log cabins and saw the place where President Warren Harding pounded in the Golden Spike that completed the Alaskan Railroad.

Panning for Gold

We spent the next morning touring Gold Dredge No. 8, a national historic site, and panning for gold. After a half-hour of panning, I took my gold flecks to the “Assay Office” to be weighed–all $4.80 worth, which they offered to put in a glass locket for $20. I asked for the cash, but it didn’t work that way. That night, I accidentally spilled my life’s accumulation of gold on the hotel’s shag carpet. Now I can relate to the miners who lost everything.

In the afternoon, we boarded the Riverboat Discovery stern-wheeler for a trip down the Chena and Tanana rivers. The highlight of the trip was stopping by four-time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher’s home and kennels, which are located on the Chena.

Butcher, her husband, Dale Monson, their two children and many dogs were in the yard. Butcher talked about her dog Granite, who had been so ill the vet said he would never race again. She used Granite to teach the young dogs, but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to run. Ultimately, he ended up being the lead dog when she won her fourth Iditarod.

The following morning we boarded the motorcoach for a trip down the famous Alaskan Highway, with a stop at an Athabascan Indian trading village in the small town of Tok, before we crossed into Yukon Territory. I expected Sgt. Preston and his faithful dog, Yukon King, to ride up any minute. That night, we stayed in a remote little town called Beaver Creek, where we were entertained by the lively Yukon Rendezvous dinner show.

The drive to Whitehorse along Kluane National Park was one of the most scenic of the trip. In Whitehorse, most of us spent the evening at the Frantic Follies, a family-style show about life during the Klondike Gold Rush.

At our first stop the next day, we were transported 100 years back in time at historic Carcross (short for caribou crossing) where we stopped for coffee. The movie “Never Cry Wolf” was filmed in the area. I asked a shopkeeper what people in town do for entertainment. “In summer, we cut wood; in winter, we burn it,” he replied.

Scenic Railroad

The following sunrise saw us boarding the historic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, which followed the gold rush Trail of ’98 to Skagway. There, we boarded the Volendam for our four-day cruise. After I embarked and had lunch, I went back to the port town to explore its interesting stores.

On our first full day at sea, the beautiful flower-themed Volendam traveled to Glacier Bay, which contains some of the world’s most impressive tidewater glaciers. Icebergs that had broken off, or calved, dotted the waters. It was cold and rainy, but stewards provided steaming pea soup and wool deck-chair blankets.

I chatted with Louis and Lisel Goldschmidt, who had been on the motorcoach with me. Louis said he had researched various tours and selected the Alaska & Klondike Explorer tour because it had the longest land tour with the cruise.

“People who just take a cruise to Alaska don’t see half of what we saw,” Lisel said. “It exceeded my expectations.”

The Volendam spent the next day in Ketchikan, where the shore excursions included touring Alaska’s largest collection of Tlingit totem poles, a flightseeing excursion to Misty Fjords National Monument and a salmon fishing excursion. I opted for shopping and a self-guided walking tour that included Creek Street, once the site of an infamous red-light district and now home to art galleries, shops and a museum.

On the last day, we cruised the Inside Passage. I spent most of it on deck watching whales, eagles and other wildlife. The ship arrived in Vancouver the next morning. I boarded my flight home with a variety of souvenirs, many exposed rolls of film, and memories of bears, glaciers and the magnificent Mount McKinley that would last a lifetime.

Marge Peterson is managing editor of Home & Away.

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