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Discovering More than Gold in Alaska – Part 2

September 20, 2019

Another Way for week of September 20, 2019

Discovering More than Gold in Alaska – Part 2

The eerie landscape of Denali National Park, many streams of sediment flowing from the melts.

The fog and mist linger much of the day, lacing the trees and mountains in an ethereal, otherworldly haze. Later in the day, it rains off and on, making the chance we’d see the peak named Denali—highest on the North American continent—nil to nothing.

Some of many white caps we saw, especially in Glacier Bay.

The weather overall was so rainy that even though we should have seen Denali (the native word means “the high one”) as we traveled into the Denali Park Preserve by bus (the only way you’re allowed to travel deep into the park), we didn’t. I was disappointed but not crushed, knowing it would have been somewhat rare–only about 20-30 percent of visitors end up seeing Denali. We saw many other beautiful mountains.

The six travelers sitting down for a formal dinner.

How do you capsulize 12 days of amazing travel? Do you tell about the gorgeous, exciting and educational aspects, or do you reveal the things that went wrong (leaving your little bag with your passport on a souvenir store counter)? If you missed last week’s column, my husband and I were delighted to finally travel to Alaska with some of his family. Most of our group have had various serious medical issues these last few years, but none had unsurmountable problems on our trip, thank God.

My biggest surprise: gorgeous flowers everywhere in Anchorage and elsewhere, gift of summertime’s very long days and rays.

We spent our first six days on land, visiting natural attractions beginning at Fairbanks near the Arctic Circle, and eventually took a sightseeing train to Anchorage on the Gulf of Alaska.


Trumpeter swan. Author and NPR reporter Heather Lende says they sound like a middle school student learning to play trumpet. I can hear that!

Overall the scenery in Alaska was stunning, powerfully bringing to mind the creation of the world. It was an intriguingly sparse landscape—often covered with gray sediment from water washing over rocks and eroding river banks. Only six types of trees grow in Denali Park and much of the interior of Alaska. Permafrost keeps the ground too hard for some tree roots to edge down deeper. We saw white and black spruce, quaking aspen, paper birch, larch, and balsam poplar. My biggest surprise was seeing some of the largest flower blossoms I’ve ever seen, on the streets of Anchorage and other ports: they grow huge because of long summer days. Also a nice surprise: very kind and helpful locals in Anchorage when one of our travelers took a spill on a city street.

Our grizzly in the wild, seen from busy windows.

Highlights were watching a black grizzly for a good ten minutes (safely from our converted school bus, and as quiet as 35 excited passengers can get) as he munched on leaves and crossed a stream; we also saw caribou, moose, eagles, a trumpeter swan.

Caribou with fuzzy antlers.

By mid-August the creatures were instinctively preparing for the coming winter. Speaking of winter, we were told it is almost unheard of for schools to ever close for snow! (Take that, Virginia, where we close schools sometimes before snow even starts. Yes, our hills and curvy roads can be treacherous of course.)

David Monson at his rainy home with sled dogs.

I also was intrigued watching the joy and exuberance on the faces of Iditarod sled dogs who were unhooked from their dog houses to pull an ATV beside our river excursion boat. The dogs adore running fast and being part of the pack. This was at the home of the late musher Susan Butcher, who died of cancer in 2006. Her husband, David Monson, explained the training process to us, assisted by his daughters. Susan was the second woman to win the Iditarod in 1986 and then won four out of five sequential years.

Grandma had to buy autographed books for her grandsons, telling the story of Granite, the amazing and beloved dog of Susan Butcher. Signed by her husband, David Monson.

Here’s the gold Stuart and I were able to glean from our panning! They gave us old film containers to store our treasure.

Last week I mentioned panning for real gold. What seemed like such a touristy thing to do turned out to be challenging and educational—learning how the dredging worked and how much gold and oil have helped the economy of the state. But panning was tricky: shaking the pan and rinsing the sand with water until only some gold flecks (tiny nuggets) remained. My husband scored about $25 worth all together.

Finally we boarded our cruise ship in Seward, Alaska, and followed the coast the next five days to four other ports—a great relaxing way to spend the second week. No packing and unpacking and moving every one or two nights, and no cooking or even making our beds.

Margerie Glacier was sobering to watch as ice constantly fell off into Glacier Bay.

Closer shot of Margerie Glacier.

In Glacier Bay, we watching solemnly as glaciers “calved” or broke up, lingering near Margerie Glacier. Someone who’d been there five years ago said the glacier had shrunk dramatically since he was there.


Only in recent days have I grasped how glad I was to share this trip with my in-laws. Sitting down to our reserved table in the ship’s gala dining room each evening, there was never a lack of conversation. Do you agree that family bonds—even though we don’t always agree—are the real gold?

Every day, the ship’s elevators told us what day it was. Probably the most common topic of conversation in the elevators. 🙂

My favorite “take homes” — tiny origami art made by our sommelier: do you see a puppy, butterfly, lobster and why not: lady slippers?

Our favorite town, Haines, Alaska. Flowers all along the gangplank from the ship to the village. Since returning, I discovered a marvelous writer/blogger from Haines: Heather Lende.










See a bit of the school bus tour at Denali National Park, very similar to the one we took:  Or watch a clip from the same Gold Dredge #8 we visited: YouTube:

What’s on your bucket list?

Send your own adventure stories, questions, or comments to or write to Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  


  1. Alice Risser permalink

    Melody I have followed Heather Lende’s blog for several years. I find her inspirational and enjoyable, She like you has authored several books.
    Alice Risser

  2. Alice, I agree and am currently reading what I think was her first book, “If you lived here I would know your name.” I’m really enjoying that. I’m guessing your daughter told you about her? Thanks for commenting!!

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