The cruise ship industry has been arguably the hardest hit industry in Alaska. 2020 saw no cruise ships dock at state ports, and 2021 is shaping up to see limited options.
One business based out of Seattle, Un-Cruise, will bring ships through the Inside Passage with passenger numbers of less than 100 people. They hope to have six ships sailing into the Alaska market, bringing some 6000 passengers to coastal communities like Juneau.
Due to the pandemic, Un-Cruise already had to reshuffle when a scheduled stop in Ketchikan was skipped due to a spike in the town of Covid-19 cases.
I’ve traveled the Inside Passage once, although not on a cruise. It is a remarkable experience, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Personally, I can see the smaller cruise ships as being far more enjoyable for this experience than the large ones.
The Passenger Service Vessels Act states that no foreign ship can carry passengers only between U.S. ports. Since the fleet of large cruise ships are foreign owned, a cruise ship from Seattle will stop at a Canadian port before getting to Alaska. With the pandemic, Canada has closed its ports to the large cruise ships, leaving Alaska high and dry. This situation left an opening for the smaller companies like Un-Cruise.
The United States Senate voted last week to temporarily bypass the act for the remainder of the 2021 season. That bill now goes to the U.S. House. If passed, it would allow some large cruise ships to return to Alaska ports this summer.
For an industry that really plans things out long in advance, I’m not sure how much of a boost this will be for Alaska’s coastal communities, although I imagine they are grateful for anything they can get at this point. There will be a scramble for employees and inventory if/when the bill passes. At any rate, it appears that some large cruise ships will be seen at Alaska ports in the second half of July.
National Park Week, Day VIII; Today’s Park Theme: Junior Ranger Day
The “Hottest, Driest and Lowest”:
I have been lucky enough to visit Death Valley a few times. I did skip this Park when I was traveling in the air-cooled VW, but the Land Rover has been here a couple of times, and I once tortured a rental car during a visit to Death Valley in August. I drove the rental here from Las Vegas after a wedding just to see how hot it would get. I watched the car thermometer hit +123F. So my personal variance is -63F to +123F degrees.
It was not over 100 when I drove the Rover through. In fact, I remember it being quite nice, weather-wise. Very cool at night, and above 80F during the day. At one campground, it absolutely poured rain. Gullies filled quickly, but I had the rooftop tent. I could see the rain coming across the desert from my site, and quickly popped open the tent, threw what I needed up into it, then set up a chair under the canopy to eat dinner. The rain came down in buckets, and the wind picked up, so I moved my chair into the back of the Rover, and watched the proceedings. Across the campground, I could see two poor souls battling a ground tent. They should have just waited out the rain, but they stuck to their guns, and kept on with the tent. It took forever, to the point that I was suffering just watching the show. The tent had to be as soaked inside as they were standing out in that downpour.
Death Valley was first established as a National Monument in 1933, becoming a National Park in 1994. The Park encompasses 3,373,063 acres across the states of California and Nevada. Badwater Basin, which I have done some hiking in, is the second lowest point in the western hemisphere at 282′ below sea level. Telescope Peak is the Park’s highest point at 11,049 feet above sea level.
The Valley is a hot and dry place to explore, so bring plenty of water. Hot weather tip: Any water jug left in your vehicle will quickly reach the temperature of the vehicle’s interior. So, if you don’t want to brew a cup of tea after a day out hiking, try to keep that jug outside and in the shade.
The highest temperature ever recorded on Earth happened at Furnace Creek in Death Valley in 1913: 134F. That is a scorcher. The record low for Death Valley is 15F. Practically balmy when you think about it. Badwater gets on average 1.5 inches of rain a year.
I did stop by Scotty’s Castle on one visit. It was named after a local gold prospector, Walter Scott, who neither lived in, nor built, the residence. Construction began in 1922, and the building costs were somewhere between $1.5 – 2.5 million. The history here is intriguing, and involves investments in nonproductive mines, as well as mistakenly building on government property. The stock market crash of 1929 also played a part. When the owners passed away with no heirs, the National Park Service bought the “castle”. It can be toured, during non-covid years, and I thought the tour was well worth the fee.
The castle’s water source was a nearby natural spring, which also powered a Pelton wheel which powered the house as well. Death Valley Scotty may not have lived in the castle bearing his name, but he is buried on a hillside overlooking the home. The family’s pet dog is buried next to him.
There is so much to see at Death Valley. The famed Racetrack is one location, but I did not witness any racing rocks, still it’s a phenomenon that is cool to document. The Eagle Borax Works, or more commonly known as the Twenty Mule Team of Borax fame has some ruins out in the Park, and there are several CCC works still being used. There are trails, and wildflowers galore when it rains, natural springs and arches, and petroglyphs out at Mesquite Springs.
Rail service was just another casualty in Alaska from Covid-19. With no tourists last summer, rail service took a huge hit within the state.
The Alaska Railroad has already announced increased service on all of their routes. Service between Anchorage and Fairbanks will double: 2020 had only four trains per week, while 2021 will see a total of eight. Every day of the week will see either a northbound or southbound run, and Sundays will see both.
Flagstop service will return to the Anchorage-Fairbanks route, which allows riders to get on or off anywhere along to route to access remote cabins and homesteads. The Alaska Railroad is the only train service in the United States that still provides flagstop service.
Not to be outdone by the town of Garrison, Deer River has its own aquatic idol: the lean, mean, northern pike. Although the general consensus of our little band of hunters was that the fish looked more Muskie-like.
Photos were taken of a thirteen year old caught in the jaws of this magnificent carnivore, but they are too gruesome to share here.
Jim Thorpe competing in the Stockholm Olympics, 1912
Jim Thorpe is considered one of the most versatile athletes of modern times. After winning gold in both the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, King Gustav V of Sweden said to Thorpe, “You sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”
Thorpe was a collegiate All-American, NFL All-Pro & charter member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame, and played baseball with three different MLB teams. He also played for a traveling professional basketball team.
Jim Thorpe Olympic statue near Jim Thorpe, PA
When in Pennsylvania for hockey, we traveled through Jim Thorpe, PA. Originally founded as Mauch Chunk, the community made a deal with Jim Thorpe’s widow in 1953. After Thorpe’s funeral in Shawnee, OK, city officials of Mauch Chunk bought his remains from his third wife, and Thorpe’s body was shipped to Pennsylvania without the rest of the family’s knowledge.
Jim Thorpe’s tomb
I had mixed feelings about the monument to Thorpe in Penn. On one hand, the tribute, if a bit dated and weather-worn, was well done and seemed sincere. On the other hand, it was hard to get past the fact that Thorpe has become a road side attraction. Of all the turn-offs I’ve taken traveling, this one was as surreal as any.
Thorpe’s football statue at the turnout/monument
Upon receiving Thorpe’s body, the communities of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk merged and were renamed Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. His tomb was built on a mound of dirt from his native Oklahoma and from the Stockholm Olympic Stadium, where he earned international fame.
In 2010, son Jack Thorpe sued in Federal Court to have his father’s remains returned to Oklahoma. After several court rulings favoring both sides, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 refused to hear the case, effectively ending the suit and leaving Thorpe’s remains in Pennsylvania. Jack Thorpe died in 2011.
The Toe has been stolen. The Sourdough Saloon, located in the Downtown Hotel of Dawson City, has been robbed of one of it’s famed toes. People travel from around the globe to partake in the saloon’s signature drink: The Sourtoe Cocktail. The cocktail consists of a shot of alcohol, garnished with a dehydrated human toe.
It’s the Yukon.
The cocktail, if not the toe, has a long history. A rum runner bringing booze into Alaska from the Yukon, amputated his big toe after it was frostbitten, preserving the toe in a jar of alcohol. The abandoned/lost toe was found in an old trapper’s cabin by a riverboat captain decades later, and the cocktail officially became a novelty at the Sourdough Saloon in 1973.
The rules are quite simple: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe.” Also, if you swallow the toe, there is a fine of $2500. The fine for swallowing was only $500, but a man intentionally swallowed the toe in 2013, laid $500 on the bar, and promptly walked out.
The toe has been intentionally swallowed twice. In the 1990’s, the toe was stolen twice, but was returned both times.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed Tuesday that officers were investigating the toe theft.
71,328 Sourtoe Cocktails have been served since 1973. Travelers in the Yukon can still order the Sourtoe, since the saloon has one backup toe. The cocktail will set you back $5.
In an attempt to get to know the “Mother Road” a little better, we drove over to Ogden Avenue in Berwyn to check out the Berwyn US 66 Museum. That turned out to be a lot like trying to hunt down Route 66 itself.
The museum was closed, and the folks seemed to leave without a forwarding address.
Next door was a hobby store, that sold Legos (“Get your Bricks on 66”) and all sorts of trains. They seemingly had all gauges, and a nice, running, 2-train setup in the middle of one room.
The folks in the hobby store had no idea what happened to the museum.
“What are you doing tonight” Me: Going to a hockey game.
“But it’s Valentine’s Day!” Me: Do you want to go to a hockey game?
“No!” Me: They do have a kissing cam during the second intermission.