Rain tapping on the sliding glass door woke me at 5 a.m. on day 6 of our Alaskan cruise. The ship felt stationary in calm waters. Fog and low clouds swirled around tall mountains rising from the surface of the water. It was time to grab the camera and see the sights.
Glacier runoff and snowmelt rushed down the mountains in waterfalls entering the sea in a splash. Scarred mountain faces wore the signs of a glacier movement from years past.
Draped in green, hanging valleys appeared midway down from the peaks.
The ship sailed through mini icebergs floating in the water, their white and blue colors sparkling under the cloudy skies.
Years of compression forcing out tiny air pockets between the crystals creates denser glacial ice over time. The dense ice absorbs a small amount of red leaving the bluish tint in the reflected light that we see. Tiny air bubbles are still encased in the ice that we see as white.
Shorebirds hitched rides on the icebergs. An eagle even gave us an aerial show. Unfortunately, bears, goats, deer, or harbor seals did not appear for a sighting.
As we navigated toward the Sawyer glacier, the overcast skies, occasional rains, and stately mountains on either side of the ship created a spiritual atmosphere that was humbling given the forces of nature that created this magnificent environment.
We weren’t the only tourists to experience the scenery. We shared the splendor with a smaller cruise ship and a private yacht.
The triangular shape of the North Sawyer Glacier came into view. Although the ship had to keep its distance due to the ice floating in the water, it was a sight to behold. The rubber boat, filled with passengers from the smaller ship, gave the massive cliffs perspective.
Obligatory selfies, of course, were required to document our presence near the glacier.
After seeing the Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm from a distance, we wondered what a trip to Glacier Bay might reveal. Hmm, perhaps another cruise is in our future.
Puffy clouds and blue skies in Juneau gave way to cloudy, rainy, and windy weather in Skagway. An early morning walk along the promenade deck revealed majestic mountains rising from the bay.
We weren’t the only ship in port. In the foreground is where the ferry docks. Note the tube that passengers walk through on their way to shore.
Our excursion for the day was a ride on the White Pass Yukon Railroad, an International Historic Engineering Landmark. We arrived about 30 minutes before the departure time and joined the queue. The best thing to do when waiting in line is to pull out the camera and find things to photograph. Geometric shapes will do.
Thank goodness the crew allowed us to board early when the drizzle turned into a full-on rain. Many of the passengers carried umbrellas to ward off the drops. While waiting for the all aboard, I spied this pair walking beside the train.
Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the narrow gauge train climbed 2,865 feet in elevation from the port to White Pass Summit. Crewmembers pointed out mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, and historic sites as the train traversed the rails through tunnels and atop trestles during the 40-mile round trip tour. It wasn’t the best day for seeing all the sites as clouds shrouded many of them.
We shared a train car with other tourists and a triplet of older couples from Germany. One woman in the group from Germany was so excited she reminded me of a hyperactive child who forgot to take her Ritalin. In and out the door she came and went, hogging the space on the platform, snapping photos on her mobile phone, humming, and chit-chatting with her family members, all the while with a big smile on her face. I doubt she sat down for more than five minutes.
After the woman shoved me aside a couple of times while I attempted to take my photos, I gave up. Perhaps she would cede possession of the platform and let the rest of us take photos on the way back down the mountain.
During the Gold Rush, mounted police stationed at the cabin shown in the photo below checked the provisions carried by people wishing to enter the territory to ensure their supplies were sufficient to sustain every man, woman, and child for at least one year. If provisions were not sufficient, entry into Canada was denied. The flags of the United States, Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, and Canada fly next to the cabin.
The train switched direction at Summit Lake. We all stood up, moved the backs of our seats from rear to front, and changed seats from one side of the train to the other. This allowed everyone the opportunity to have views from the windows, either going up the mountain or down.
Yes, my turn to take photos. I hurried out the door to claim my space on the platform, snapped a few shots and let a couple take my place. I was shocked when the woman barged out the door and muscled her way between the couple so she could click away with her phone.
I must admit I may have been a bit rude myself on the way back to the dock in order to capture the photos I did. The woman just would not budge otherwise. This was my last opportunity to capture the Ghost Trestle and I wasn’t going to miss out.
Isn’t Bridal Veil Falls beautiful? I wondered how many falls are called bridal veil falls. Wikipedia lists 24 in the United States, 5 in New Zealand, 4 in Chile, 3 in Canada, and 8 in other countries.
We looked forward to exploring the little town of Skagway when we returned to the station, except the rain and cold pushed us toward the ship instead. We were sorry to miss out on the Klondike Gold Rush National Park and the seven blocks of shops and restaurants that line the colorful Victorian storefronts along Broadway. Another time perhaps.
Back on the ship, Jon and I opted for a two-top table that night. We needed quiet time to ourselves after a day spent with annoying strangers. Then we posed for a photo, watched comedian Russ Nagel perform his act in the Princess Theater, and ended the night with a stroll around the Promenade deck.
We hope to return someday to the town incorporated as a city on June 28, 1900, and as a borough on June 5, 2007. I’d like to see how the 750 Skagway residents accommodate up to 8,000 visitors when 5 ships dock for the day.
Next up on the itinerary was a cruise up and down Tracy Arm Fjord to see icebergs and glaciers.
On the fourth day, let there be land. Islands popped up out of the ocean, and long stretches of hills and mountains took shape under puffy white clouds and blue sky. Spouts of water shot up from the surface of the water and dark shapes rolled out of and back into the water. Although they weren’t close enough to get a good shot, we enjoyed watching for the puffs of water that signaled whales were near.
The ship pulled up to the pier at 1:30 p.m. and the first thing we saw were eagles flying around from tree to tree, gliding on thermals, and landing on buildings and light poles. We had never seen so many eagles in one place before.
I think all the passengers had cabin fever like us because it took us forever to get off the ship. Something must have happened to cause the delay, but we never heard. We selected a guided hike through a rainforest to see Mendenhall Glacier for our excursion.
We couldn’t have asked for a better day to take a rainforest hike. Prepared for showers, we soon stuffed our jackets in our backpacks. The high school student who served as our guide taught us about the different plants in the rainforest and about the glacier. It was interesting to hear her perspective on the receding glacier that differed from that which environmentalists espouse. If it hadn’t been for the melting of the glacier, there would be no rainforest, and some residents in Juneau love their rainforest as much as the glacier. I’m not sure who is right or wrong, but I’m positive time will provide the answer.
We wanted to get a closer look at the lake and the waterfall, but we barely had time to visit the facilities before catching our bus back to town.
We also wanted to take the Mount Roberts Tramway, but it had closed by the time we returned to town after our hike.
We finished off our day in Juneau with a cedar plank salmon dinner with green beans at Twisted Fish Company. They serve up a casual atmosphere and great food. We couldn’t have asked for more, and it was nice to eat something that didn’t come from the ship.
Back on board, we pulled away from the pier at 10:00 p.m. Next stop on the cruise was Skagway.
Leaving the truck and fifth wheel behind, we climbed aboard the Grand Princess in San Francisco on June 5, 2018, for a 10-day round-trip cruise to Alaska.
I was shocked at my first glimpse of the ship as we crossed the Bay Bridge. The San Francisco skyline impresses me every time it comes into view. But to see the ship tower over the embarcadero was something to behold. From the perspective of the ship’s sun deck, the city looks like a Lego set in comparison.
As soon as we entered our stateroom, I was giddy with excitement and wondered about our forthcoming sail on the high seas. Whoopee! A real vacation, I wanted to scream. I managed to contain myself, not wanting to alarm the neighbors.
Wait a minute. Didn’t we just spend almost three months traveling around the southwest in an RV? Isn’t that like a perpetual vacation? Well, sort of. When we’re on the road, we cook our own food (most of the time), wash up the dishes, launder our clothes, make the bed, clean toilets, dust and vacuum, and patronize grocery stores. All this plus Jon keeps busy with all the maintenance and we (mostly me) plan our route for our next stay, make reservations, and arrange sightseeing activities.
No, we’re not tired of our RV trips. We love traveling and driving the highways and byways of these beautiful United States. But ten whole days of doing none of those tasks listed above was going to be heaven.
We left our bags to unpack later and headed to the Horizon Court on the Lido deck for lunch. The pocket-sized map served as our GPS for getting around the ship. So many decks and keeping track of aft, forward, midship, starboard, and port was going to challenge these two novice sailors.
We found our way back to our cabin after lunch, unpacked our bags, and with an hour or so before our departure time, Jon relaxed on the balcony.
Unable to sit still, I spied on the delivery inspections and the U.S. Coast Guard and captured a ton of city skyline photos from the perspective of the ship.
When the captain announced that the ship would soon be on its way, we joined other passengers on the sun deck. As the ship prepared to sail through the San Francisco Bay, servers offered a specialty drink, for an extra fee, of course. Why not? We’re on vacation.
Cruising the bay was nothing new to us, but from the height of the sun deck, it was magical. Especially the way the buildings shifted positions as we made our way toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Notice how Coit Tower (the fire hose looking building on top of a hill), the Transamerica Pyramid (the pointy building), and the new Salesforce building (the tallest of them all) shift positions in the triptych below.
I have driven on the Golden Gate Bridge and admired its beauty from the south, west, and north, but never have I sailed under the rust-colored steel structure. This would probably be my only chance to take a photo from underneath. With continuous shooting on and my eye to the viewfinder, I clicked away while fighting the wind and the movement of the ship.
And so our adventure began as we took one last look at the bridge and skyline and headed for open waters and north to Alaska.
Two Days at Sea
Managing to keep busy for the two days at sea was not an issue on the Grand Princess. Exploring the ship was like a treasure hunt with a lot of climbing up and down stairs multiple times a day. The elevators worked fine, I just prefer not to cram myself in one if I can help it. Then there was the calendar of events that began at 9:00 a.m. and continued into the night for I don’t know how long. I had trouble lasting much past 10:00 p.m.
One afternoon, Kelley White demonstrated totem pole carving. Kelley, a member of the Tlingit tribe, learned his craft from Nathan Jackson, a master carver and famous Alaskan artist. Kelley amazed us with his storytelling and carving skills. He had the audience in his hands as he told stories about the Tlingit tribe, history, and purpose of totems while he wandered around the log, examining his cuts, thinking how he was going to approach a certain section, and chipping away the wood to create the animals that will adorn the totem. I was in awe at the way he kept talking while straddling the tree and digging bits of wood out with a hatchet pointed in his direction. I was so afraid he was going to slip and hit a knee, or worse, his private parts.
We learned the population of the ship included a number of Bay Area folks. On June 8, the ship broadcasted what turned out to be the last playoff game when the Warriors beat the Cavaliers. Passengers filled the room and hallways with their Warriors T-shirts and hats, and high-five slaps and hoots and hollers rang out at the end of the game. If there were any Cavaliers fans about, they must have kept quiet.
Fun Ship Facts
Built in Italy in 1998
24 knots maximum speed
949 ft. length
188 ft. height
Coming up next is the port of Juneau, our first stop on the cruise.
The weather forecast predicted a week of heat-wave temperatures for California and Arizona on April 9, 2018. Since the best places to hang out when it’s scorching hot are a forest at high altitudes or along the coast, we headed for the San Diego Resort-Sunland in La Mesa, California. Although in the 80s, it was better than panting in temperatures that approached 100 degrees.
The goal of our recent San Diego visits is to explore places we have never been before. We checked off Mt. Helix, Cabrillo National Park, and Lake Murray on this trip.
The children of Mary Carpenter Yawkey built the 12-acre Mt. Helix private, non-profit park as a tribute to their mother in 1925. Open year-round, the park attracts residents and visitors to explore the trail that circles the crown of the mountain; engage in a fitness work out by using the amphitheater steps, seats, and retaining walls; and to marvel at the 360° views. After tackling the steps five or six times, I surprised myself and managed the seats as well.
Cabrillo National Monument
We visited Cabrillo National Monument a few years back, but that was before I had my National Park Passport. So off to Point Loma to add another stamp in my book.
Lucky for us low tide coincided with our arrival. We wandered around the rocky intertidal zone for about an hour, peering into the pools to watch the sea anemones and snails going about their business. Witnessing sea life under the water takes a little patience A quick glance won’t do if the aim is to watch the animals move around. Other creatures clung to the cliffs for a bit of sunbathing while waiting for the onslaught of waves at high tide.
We stopped off at the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, cooled off while watching the movie at the visitor center, and gazed out at the views of San Diego’s skyline and watercraft in the bay.
The monument recognizes the arrival of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in September of 1542. Cabrillo was the first European to explore the west coast of the United States. He described the bay as “a closed and very good port,” and named it San Miguel. Another explorer, Sebastian Vizcaino, changed the name to San Diego 60 years later.
Military uses of the point include a military reserve beginning in 1852, the installation of gun batteries in 1899, and a harbor defense system during World War I and II between 1918 and 1943. Visitors can see remnants of the batteries and an old radio station where an exhibit of “They Stood the Watch,” depicts the military history of Point Loma.
From the ocean to the San Diego skyline, the views are spectacular from the monument.
Lake Murray Reservoir
Less than two miles from our base camp, Lake Murray Reservoir is a convenient park to visit, enjoy a lakeside walk and a bit of nature, or grab a picnic table and eat lunch. A 3.2-mile paved service road outlining the lake’s perimeter and ending at the dam is popular with walkers, joggers, and bicyclists. Fishing is also available. Or, rent a paddleboat or a kayak on a first-come-first-served basis from the concessionaire. We chose a 6-mile walk around the lake, turning around just short of the dam.
It’s a Wrap
That pretty much concludes our 2018 Winter Tour. We left San Diego on April 15, 2018, took a detour through Lake Havasu to take care of some business and arrived home on April 20. This was our longest tour yet, a total of 81 days, almost 12 weeks.
As much as we love being on the road, we were both glad to make it home safe and sound. Time to dust ourselves off and catch up with family and friends. Oh yeah, Jon has a long list of RV preventative maintenance projects to complete before our next tour.
Before we packed up the rig and hit the pavement again, we needed a little vacation. A roundtrip Alaskan cruise from San Francisco seemed the ideal adventure for these two road-weary travelers.
Onward we traveled to trade in the Orange County crowds for peace and quiet in Borrego Springs on April 4, 2018, the 68th day of our 2018 Winter Tour. We arrived at Palm Canyon Hotel and RV with time to check out the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center.
We watched the introduction movie and picked up a few pamphlets and maps to plan our days.
Anza-Borrego is known for its fabulous display of spring wildflowers when winter rains provide ideal conditions for the show. The winter of 2017-18 did not bring enough rain.
Wait, stop! A lone ocotillo in bloom. We wondered if someone drove by each day and gave it a drink.
Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego Palm Canyon Trail is a popular hike that skirts a creek through a canyon. Doves cooed and bees buzzed, and sand-colored lizards dashed about as we walked by, and a few wayward cactus blooms poked out their heads
A white dot appeared on a ridge. Was it a bighorn sheep? I zoomed in to see and wished we were closer.
The 2004 flood uprooted a bunch of palms in the canyon and scattered them along the trail and in the creek bed.
After scrambling over creek boulders, we entered an oasis. The canyon must have been a beautiful site before the flood.
We joined a group of people in the shade and enjoyed our snack before making our way back down.
The streaky clouds hardly subdued the heat.
We woke early to hike The Slot, hoping to beat the heat. Although the sun had already risen over the horizon, the valley floor was still in shadow when we started out.
It was a good thing we woke early to hike The Slot. The tight squeeze through the canyon would have been challenging if we encountered people coming toward us.
Although the walls lacked the variated red of other canyons we’ve explored, the formations were still impressive.
Only a few cliffs showed off iron oxide layers.
These man-made formations enhanced the interest of the landscape.
Yaqui Well is located near the Tamarisk campground. Parking along the road is available, some with shade. Sunscreen and plenty of water are recommended during hot weather. This trail is a desert botanical garden featuring several varieties of cactus.
We didn’t find a well, only a spring. The greenery was a clue water existed, but it was not visible.
Narrow Earth Trail
We missed the turnoff for the Narrows Earth Trail and had to turn around. Although tire tracks were plentiful at our turn around spot, they disguised the deep sand. The back tires of the truck stuck hard. Our son, Kevin, and his girlfriend, Bailey, dug out sand from in front of the rear tires, then the three of us pushed the tailgate while Jon drove out, spewing sand all over us. We learned our lesson and now carry a shovel in the toolbox.
Bighorn sheep were our reward once we found the trailhead and started walking. We watched as a bighorn scrambled through the brush and climbed the hill. Then another one came and grazed while keeping an eye on us.
They watched as we slowly made our way up the trail and whispered to each other, “Look, look, over there, kids and juveniles.”
Although it was a pain in the behind to get stuck, our timing was perfect to see the Bighorn sheep up close.
The Town and Surrounding Area
Christmas Circle Community Park
If something is happening in Borrego Springs, it is likely occurring at Christmas Circle Community Park. On Thursday, vendors set up shop at the farmers market. We chowed down on a couple of tamales from a woman who kept busy serving her patrons. The pico de gallo was the perfect complement for the chicken tamales.
Borrego Springs is completely surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and boasts a population of over 3,500 seasonal and year-round residents. It holds the distinction as California’s first International Dark Sky Community due to its distance of 55 miles from the highly populated California coastline.
With tourism as the primary industry, the town includes a variety of resorts and inns for all price ranges as well as restaurants. Borrego Outfitters offer clothing, footwear, outdoor gear, and gifts. Spas, fitness centers, medical services, a grocery store, and a library are other amenities available.
A chock-full calendar of events from October through May provides plenty of events for the tourists and residents.
Galleta Meadows Estate
Visitors to Borrego Springs have fun with the sky art throughout the area. Dennis Avery turned his private estate into an art museum when he commissioned Ricardo Breceda to create a series of sculptures inspired by the history and nature of the Anza-Borrego Desert.
Dirt roads weave in and around the sculptures, which began arriving in April 2008, allowing visitors to get up close for photo opportunities.
The detail of the metal structures speaks to the craftsmanship that went into their creation.
From prehistoric creatures to this miner and his mule, Breceda depicts life in the desert throughout the years.
Not only does he depict a mule burdened with the miner’s supplies, he sets it in motion as if the jenny is spooked and pulling away from something that has frightened it.
Breceda pays tribute to modern times with the jeep navigating boulders in the backcountry. In Anza-Borrego State Park and surrounding area offroaders have a dilemma figuring out which of the many primitive roads they want to explore.
Visitors crowd around the serpent that crosses the road, taking one photo, two photos, and more. We waited several minutes in order to take our selfies. The tail of the serpent continues on the east side of the road.
And here are a scorpion and a grasshopper poised for battle.
I can’t wait to get back to Borrego Springs and Anza-Borrego State Park to explore all the places we weren’t able to visit. In the meantime, I’m praying for lots of rain during the 2018-19 winter. Come on, rain, bring on the wildflowers.
Now that our Disney adventure had ended, Jon commenced repairing our cracked fifth wheel steps that failed to open and close properly. The rickety step stool we used as a temporary fix for the past couple of days had to go. Fortunately, Camping World was only a few miles away and they had the replacement steps in stock, one of the benefits of being in the big city.
While Jon uninstalled the old steps, trucked to the store, and installed the new ones, I scoped out a few places to visit around Anaheim. Since we had already ticked off Lyndon Johnson’s and both Bush’s presidential libraries, top on our list was the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum located in Yorba Linda.
Nixon Library and Museum
We arrived early on Sunday, April 1, 2018, walked around the building and grounds and peaked in the windows until the doors opened.
The turbulent 60s, the Vietnam War, opening peaceful relations with China, and working with the Soviet Union to prevent a nuclear war are among the issues Richard M. Nixon dealt with during his tenure as president beginning in 1969 and ending with his resignation on August 8, 1974.
After reducing US troops from 536,000 in 1968 to 24,200 in 1972, Nixon ends the Vietnam War by signing the Paris Peace Accords on January 7, 1973. In February 1973, the POWs return home.
On May 27, 1972, President Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and Interim Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT).
Other exhibits at the museum include one of Nixon’s legal pads with notes displayed and Nixon in popular culture, which includes a Nixon Halloween mask with a Pinocchio nose. The 1910 quote by Theodore Roosevelt appears to sum up Nixon’s presidency.
Visitors can pretend to be the president for a minute while they sit for their photo opportunity behind the desk in the replica of the oval office. Or, gaze out the mock window at the replica of Nixon’s study at the Western White House La Casa Pacifica. What a view.
Nixon’s Oval Office Replica
La Casa Pacifica Replica
The museum tour continues outside in a courtyard where there are a reflection pool and rose garden.
On-site is the house where Nixon was born on January 9, 1913. His parents, Frank and Hannah Nixon, built the humble farmhouse in 1912 from a kit. Tours are included in the admission price.
Tours are also given of the actual helicopter—a 1960 six-ton Sikorsky VH 3A “Sea King” model—used by Nixon during his presidency. As part of a major renovation to the library and museum, the helicopter also received a facelift at the Chino Airport and was returned on October 6, 2016, in time for the reopening of the museum on October 14, 2016.
When I looked at the dates of birth and death engraved on Richard and Patricia Nixon’s headstones, I thought it interesting that she was born before him and died before him, so I had to dig further. It turns out that Richard was born 299 days after Patricia and he died 304 days after she did. He lived only 5 days more than she did. I wonder how often something like that happens.
It’s a shame that people within Nixon’s administration weren’t more confident in his ability to win the election. After all, he won reelection with more than 60% of the vote. Was the win the result of the clandestine illegal activities orchestrated by members of the administration, or was his victory due to Nixon’s leadership in ending the war and working with China and the Soviet Union to reduce the threat of annihilation? What would United States history look like today if there had been no Watergate?
We highly recommend visiting the Richard Nixon Library, Museum, and Birthplace when visiting Anaheim.
Oak Canyon Nature Center
Finding a slice of nature to explore in an otherwise concrete jungle is not always easy, but we managed. As airplanes flew overhead, ducks nearly mowed us down as they traced their flight along the creek. The 58-acre Oak Canyon Nature Center consists of three adjoining canyons and four miles of hiking trails that wind through an oak woodland and coastal sage scrub. The John J. Collier Interpretive Center was closed during our visit but contains a small museum and live animal and exhibits. Restrooms and shaded picnic tables are also available.
We started our easy 1.5-mile loop hike with an elevation gain of approximately 200 feet along the Roadrunner Ridge portion of the trail that skirts along a cliff and was mostly sunny. We ended up shedding our outerwear as we looked down on the shady Stream Trail and anticipated the cooler temps once we made the hairpin turn.
There were quite a few century plants in bloom. They must have been planted around the same time.
An abundance of purple orange and yellow wildflowers entertained us along the trail.
Prickly Pear Bloom
Yellow Daisylike Wildflower
Lizards skittered across the trail in front of our steps and squirrels rustled through the undergrowth sounding more like a bear ready to jump out at us.
Ancient mining equipment on display gives visitors a feel for life as a miner. No mining activities occurred in the canyon, however.
Anaheim, with a population of approximately 350,000 people, has managed to set aside a place where residents and visitors can experience and explore nature. Oak Canyon provides a stream fed diverse environment for the continued growth of the cactus, oaks, and sycamores, and for the ducks, acorn woodpeckers, and other creatures that have made the canyon their home. We enjoyed the little respite from the city noise while at the park.
Where shall we head to next? We had enough of overpopulated Orange County, on to Borrego Springs, California, and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for a week.