Alaska 2016: Alaska’s largest city and an outdoor museum (Part 1)

August 28, 2016  Seward to Anchorage

Seward Depot (photo by Dale Berman)

Holland America Line is very organized for departures and moving people around.  Those of us scheduled to take the Cruise Train from the port of Seward to Anchorage were to meet in the Vista Lounge at 6:05 am.  Lido was open early so we had breakfast at 5:15 and talked to a couple from Belgium, the first people we’d met on the cruise from continental Europe. Dale asked them what they thought of our candidates for president this year.  The wife said she doesn’t like Clinton because she doesn’t like “dynasties.” Both were horrified at the thought of Trump being elected, however!

notrump-religious-symbolsWe had received a packet of information and materials for departure, which Toni had explained the day before.  We had our luggage outside our stateroom before we went to bed, with the appropriate luggage tags attached.  There were a few things I had forgotten to put in, so we had to carry these things as an additional carry-on, in reusable bags, including my cosmetic kit, bag of pills, toothpaste, etc., and my flipflops.  I stuffed my jacket on top of all that stuff in the larger of the two bags.  We had a specific bus to get on when we exited the ship, and a specific rail car to be on.  We had assigned seats on the train and found ourselves at a table sitting across from Karen S. (the woman on the Misty Fjords tour who had asked about totem poles) and her husband.  All carry ons had to be stored under the table, so there wasn’t much room to move our legs.

I took the following pictures on route, from the moving train.

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On this curve, we were able to see the front of our train.
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Our guide pointed out this little gnome that sits on a rock in the middle of a river.
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A glacier winds its way down between two mountains.

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Even before we got to Anchorage, we already got a view of Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) in the distance. This is a rare treat! Only 30% of visitors to Alaska ever see Denali because it is usually shrouded in clouds.

Our first view of Denali! (The white mountain on the right).
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The river between these mountains is barely visible due to light fog.

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A layer of fog hovers just above the ground.

The following two pictures show a dead forest of Sitka spruce trees. A forest fire? No, their demise was caused by a large tsunami that followed the huge earthquake in 1964, even though it was at least 40 miles inland.  The earthquake measured 9.2 on the Richter Scale, larger than the earthquake in Japan in 2011.

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Many of the rivers in Alaska contain large amounts of silt. At low tide, the water level recedes, revealing a muddy layer that is tricky to walk on, because you can get stuck – like quicksand!

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The sun shining on this river gives the impression of a sandy ocean beach.

Denali shares the distant view with two other snowy mountains.  On the left is mt. Foraker, at 17,400 ft.  In the middle is Mt. Hunter, the smallest of the trio at 14,573 ft. On the right is, of course, Denali, the highest mountain in North America, at a majestic 20,320 ft.!

Our second view of Denali!

Our guide on the train told us about Anchorage: started as a tent city for railroad workers, it has grown to a metropolis of 300,000 – about 40% of Alaska’s total population of 700,000!

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Anchorage’s “skyline” – our first view of the city from the train.

The train ride was about 4 hours. Upon arrival in Anchorage, we had a tour booked immediately.  As we neared our destination, our train guide called off the table numbers, or couples’ names and told us what bus we were to get on upon arrival.  In our car, only one other couple was assigned to the same bus as we were. In all, about 17 people boarded the bus that would take us on our tour.

Before we went on our tour to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, our bus driver/guide, Tom, drove us around on a tour of Anchorage.  He took us to a park where you could get a view of Denali.  However, we’d already seen it from the cruise train!

Anchorage from lookout point (photo by Dale Berman)

Another thing he showed us was the airport and another, smaller airport.

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There was a FedEx cargo plane there. The story behind it was that it originally had landed at the wrong airport by mistake.  However, it could not take off from there because that airport didn’t have a long enough runway!  So now it continues to sit there and is used for pilot training.

Several private citizens have small planes or float planes, which they “park” in their backyards!  A law was passed to prevent this, but either these airplane owners were grandfathered in or they simply disobey the law, which clearly is not strictly enforced.  Tom told us the three things Alaskan don’t like:  rules, regulations, and taxes.


We found out about a local coffee roaster – they have their own shop, called Kaladi. It’s right behind our hotel, the Westmark.

At the ANHC, there is a visitors’ center and a museum, and an outdoor path where each of the five cultural groups is represented with some kind of structure and artifacts.  Our guide, Tom, gave us 1 ½ hours to spend there.  I was at first happy that we were going to have plenty of time to see the place, but Dale was hungry and wanted lunch immediately.

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“Raven the Creator” by John Hoover (1998) – Raven is the Creator in many Alaska Native belief systems. In this sculpture are incorporated many different elements, including Raven stealing the sun, stars and moon. The human figures in the claws represent icons used by the Russian Orthodox faith. The face in the belly of Raven symbolizes Mother Earth. On the back of Raven’s head is another face, which represents the different forms Raven could take.
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Inside the ANHC: Young people learn about their native culture through song and dance.
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Totem Pole: The top figure represents Haida watchmen, who alert the pole’s owner of the approach of an enemy or any other danger. The two bottom figures are the Raven and the Dog Salmon representing the artist’s clan. At the bottom is a box to safeguard clan valuables. This pole is a combination of Haida and Tlingit cultures.

It was 1:00 and we had until 2:30 here, when Tom would return to pick us up.  I looked at the menu less than enthusiastically.  Dale ordered caribou stew so I ordered the same.  It took a long time to get our food, and although it was interesting that they served the stew in a bread bowl, my entire helping of stew had only two pieces of meat in it!

KODAK Digital Still CameraBy the time we finished eating, it was 1:45 and we only had 45 minutes to see everything!  I hurried toward the outside exhibits.  There are five native cultural groups in Alaska, classified by region and language groups.  The first one was the southeastern peoples – Haida, Tlingit, Eyak and Tsimshian.  They were the totem pole makers and the model house looked much like the one we had seen in Haines, where they had performed songs and dances for us, with a central recessed area in which there is a fire pit in the middle.

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The Clan House/Long House, built with cedar posts and spruce beams, were found with variations throughout the region.
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All four cultures have the Raven and Eagle Moities. There are additional clans under each Moiety.  This house post shows the Tsimshian respect for their environment:  The singer holds a drum and drumstick and sings praises of the world.  On top are the Eagle and the Raven on the eyebrows of the singer. The Wolf (on the drum) represents the Earth and the Killer Whale represents the Sea.  The Killer Whale is also the canoe that the singer is traveling in.
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Children inherit all rights through their mother, including names, the use of clan land for hunting, fishing and gathering, and the right to use specific crests as designs on totem poles, houses, clothing and ceremonial items.
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This house post represents “Respect for Self.” The human figure, wearing a clan hat and bound by Salmon, represents the Self. Self is supported by the spiritual presence of Raven in a Chilkat robe. Eagle, Frog and Bear represent the strength of the Tlingit culture. The spirit faces throughout the design represent the ancestors that are the foundation of the strength of the Tlingit Self.
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This Eyak house post represents “Respect for Culture.” It reflects the role of the Copper River Salmon (depicted on the bentwood box) in Eyak culture. The Eagle and the Bear are other important clans in the Eyak culture and are central elements of the cycle of life supported by the Copper River salmon. Eyak culture is sustained by the reverence of this life cycle.

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These four cultures live between the forest and the sea and for ages found in both what they needed to sustain them.

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The cultures from southern Alaska, including the Aleutian Islands, were the Unangax and Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) people. They were maritime societies, making their living from the sea. Men hunted large marine animals, including whales, using sophisticated kayaks and poison-tipped harpoons. Women made waterproof clothing and gathered beach grass to make baskets. They were also knowledgeable about human anatomy: practitioners successfully performed brain surgery and amputations. The Unangax and Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) were the only Alaskan natives to practice human mummification. Their climate was temperate compared to the rest of Alaska, but it was always windy.


Skeleton of a grey whale
Skeleton of a grey whale, which was hunted by these maritime peoples.


Continued in next post…

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