Tag Archives: tourist traps

Top Tourists?

The red-breasted sapsucker

A new tourism study released by the University of Alaska Fairbanks turned a few heads recently. The group of tourists that spend the most money and stay the longest in Alaska are birdwatchers. In fact, birders spend twice as much time in Alaska when they visit than the non-birders do. In 2016, birdwatchers spent over $300 million in Alaska.

The study probably shouldn’t have surprised as many people as it did. Alaska is a birdwatching mecca. Alaska is home to the largest concentration of shore birds in the world. There are some 530 species of birds that have been documented in Alaska, 55 of which are considered rare.

So, if you want to see a red-breasted sapsucker, I suggest the rainforest of Southeast Alaska. As for Fairbanks, we have a very active and vocal raven population.


Hockey in Beantown

What is a group of Puckheads to do while visiting the city of Boston for the D-1 Hockey National Championship? Prior to the games on Thursday, we visited the rinks for all the teams that play in the annual Beanpot Tournament.

Boston University:

Agganis Arena; Boston University Campus

First stop was Agganis Arena on Commonwealth Avenue. The home of the Boston University Terriers. The rink seats 7200, with plush theater seats. I hate to get in the middle of Boston rivalries, but it was arguably the nicest arena we visited. It was also the newest, having been built in 2005.

Hobey, Hardware and Beanpot

I believe it was an assistant coach who gave us directions to get into the rink, after we tracked him down. Nice guy.


Boston College:

Conte Forum; Boston College Campus

A quick trip down Commonwealth brought us to Conte Forum on the campus of Boston College. The home of the BC Eagles. The Forum seats 8606, and opened in 1988.

Just a few of the banners at Conte Forum

Quite a bit larger than the BU rink, as well as older. Major construction was going on around the complex, but we had no trouble finding an open door. A pick up basketball game was taking place on the floor, and someone was even popping popcorn in the concourse.

Showing off the Hardware

One thing we all agreed on was that BC has a beautiful campus.

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Harvard University:

Bright-Landry Hockey Center; Harvard University Campus

Harvard University was our next stop, but the doors were locked to the Bright-Landry Hockey Center at Harvard Stadium. Luckily, a student with a key card approved of our Quest, and opened a door for us. Harvard had the only rink with the ice still in.

The home of the Crimson

The Hockey Center seats 3095 for hockey and opened in 1956.

We did not tour the campus, but did poke around Harvard Stadium a bit, where the football team plays. The Stadium is an early example of building with reenforced concrete. Harvard Stadium opened in November of 1903.

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Northeastern University:

Matthews Arena, Northeastern University Campus

Our final stop on the Quest was Northeastern University and Matthews Arena. We saved the oldest for last. Matthews Arena, which opened in April 1910, is the oldest ice arena still used for hockey, and the oldest multi-use athletic building still in use in the world. Sadly, this is all we saw of it. There was no sympathetic coach or approving student to allow us past the locked doors. In theory, the arena seats 6000 for hockey. We all agreed that the arena does have a nice arch.


White Pass Railroad to remain closed to Canada in 2022

The White Pass & Yukon Route locomotives in Skagway

In spite of relaxed border crossing restrictions between Alaska and Canada, the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad announced last week that they would not cross the border. Since the White Pass is the largest tour operator in Skagway, the news was a blow to many.

The train will run to the top of White Pass, and then return to Skagway for 2022, unless restrictions are reduced further.

I have ridden the White Pass and Yukon Route twice: Once, after hiking the Chilkoot Trail, I returned to Skagway on the old steam locomotive #73 from Bennett Lake. One really has to plan the trip to get on board the 73, since at that time, it ran only once a month. The second time was a last minute decision to ride the route on their diesel locomotive round-trip out of Skagway to Carcross. The route runs through some beautiful country, and I know several tour operators that rely on The White Pass for their services. Whether it be B&B’s or bike tours along the Klondike Highway, all are disappointed in the decision.


Space Needle

Of all the times I’ve visited Seattle, I had never gone up into the Space Needle. With some unexpected time on my hands, I figured 2022 was as good a time as any to change that.

Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the Space Needle stands 605 feet, and the saucer of a viewing deck is 520 feet above the ground. Tickets to ride the elevator to the observation deck run $35 for non-local adults. The ride takes 41 seconds.

Seattle from the Space Needle

The 360 degree view from the saucer is quite impressive. The rotating floor was moving when I was there, but the rotating restaurant was not open.

Climate Pledge Arena, and the bay from the Space Needle

Jumping the glacier?

The Alaska Cruise Ship Industry is (roughly) forecasting a record 1.6 million tourists in 2022. That would be an increase of 18% over the previous record 1.3 million in 2019.

After two disastrous years due to the pandemic, I can see why the industry is desperate for a good year. But record breaking? That seems like a stretch, and might be a bit premature.

Will people be traveling at that level in 2022? Can the cruise ships, and more importantly, the small coastal businesses find the staff to handle those kind of numbers? 2022 will no doubt remain an interesting travel year within the 49th State.


Cruising the Inside Passage

An UnCruise ship looking to sail Alaskan waters in 2021

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.

Guests leaving the UnCruise Legacy

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.

Photos credit: Un-Cruise Adventures


Death Valley National Park

National Park Week, Day VIII; Today’s Park Theme: Junior Ranger Day

Entering Death Valley

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.

The Devil’s Golf Course

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.

Somewhere along Artist’s Drive

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.

Walking out in Eureka Sand Dunes

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.

Scotty’s Castle

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.

The Pelton Wheel

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.

Death Valley saw 1,678,660 visitors in 2018.

Go Find Your Park!

Alaska Railroad 2021

Alaska Railroad outside Whittier, Alaska

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.

Southbound Alaska Railroad passenger train at the Anchorage Depot


A few Toronto sites

A few random views of our side trip to Toronto:


Deer River Northern Pike

Deer River, Minnesota

A Roadside Attraction Edition:

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.