Part 1- The RV experience
By Michelle Zeng (Age 12)
We stayed in Alaska for two weeks, and for the first week we spent our days hiking, photographing, and driving around in our rented RV. Though the rest of my family and friends would probably beg to differ, I personally loved our first week in the RV. It introduced a new rugged style of life, living in the tiny, compact quarters of the trailer. We lived in that portable house for eight days.
Once we got our RV, we drove over to the mountain ranges that nurtured the immensely famous Harding Ice fields. I remember the beauty of the ‘Exit Glacier’ and couldn’t wait to check it out, and I was excited when I found out we were actually hiking up the mountain.
It turned out that the trail was over eight miles long. With every mile we hiked, we gained approximately 1,000 feet of elevation.
Alaska is bear country; we came across a small black bear wandering down the mountain, which gave us quite the fright. I only managed to stagger about two miles up the trail before I gave up. I didn’t even make it to the point ‘Top of Cliffs’. Despite the exhaustion we all had a very good view of the Exit Glacier.
Mount McKinley – Denali National Park
Our stay in Denali was undoubtedly one of my favorite experiences in Alaska. This park was entirely dedicated to protecting the exotic wildlife and plant life of Alaska, and not only that; it is also home to the highest mountain in North America.
Mount McKinley (or ‘Denali’) has an elevation of 20, 320 feet above sea-level, making it the third-highest mountain in the world after Everest and Aconcagua. However, due the cloudy weather that often plagues the mountain ranges, to be able to see McKinley clearly is a very rare occurrence. We were extremely lucky that we could catch a glimpse of this awesome mountain; a few hours later, McKinley was once again shrouded by clouds.
I was amazed by the sheer height of the mountain and its snow-capped peaks; it held a magnificent beauty that few other mountains held.
Shuttle Bus Tour &Horseshoe Lake trail– Denali NP
Another one of my favorite trips around Denali was the shuttle bus tour.
We saw many bears, gazelles, a female moose, Dall sheep and hundreds of caribou migrating only a few feet away from us. One of my favorite sights was a female blond-faced grizzly accompanying her cute cub.
Horseshoe Lake is truly a sight to behold. With cliffs looming above, the birds singing in the trees and the shimmering water reflecting the sky. Horseshoe Lake really does look like a horseshoe, and there was a small island in the middle of the lake. We found out that the lake was not only home to birds; beavers also roamed around the lake, and Horseshoe Lake was actually formed by beaver dams.
We managed to find a way onto the small island. You could see the finished or unfinished work of the beavers, and dams were everywhere. We unfortunately didn’t see any beavers that day.
Savage River Loop Trail – Denali National Park
This was my absolute favorite trail in our entire two weeks in Alaska. This short two-mile hike traverses upstream and around the Savage River and has a clear view of the cliffs and unique rock formations.
We had a great time on that trail chatting and jumping up and down rocks while we hiked. At one point, we spotted a large Dall sheep staring down at us on one of the cliffs; I found that quite amusing.
We had just turned the corner and were prepared to travel downstream back to the start when two people told us that there was a caribou right by the side of the path! I clearly remember the events that followed. I was ahead of the rest of my family with my camera at the ready. I scanned the sides of the trail searching for the caribou but I didn’t see anything.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I turned around to see a huge caribou just munching grass while watching me.
I was so shocked and excited that I nearly forgot to take pictures. The caribou was only a few yards away from me and was standing on the gravel bed as if it was the most normal thing in the world. My mom was afraid the caribou would charge, so a few pictures afterwards we hurried on along our way to leave the creature at its peace.
Viewing Northern Lights – Fairbanks
Very reluctantly, I bid farewell the awesome sights of Denali and our company headed over to Fairbanks to spend our last days in our RV.
Throughout our entire voyage, we had been hoping with all our might that we could be lucky enough to see aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights.
But when we reached Fairbanks, our anticipation rose. Fairbanks is located extremely far north, and even in the bleak summer days there is still the chance of catching the northern lights.
During our entire stay, we would eagerly set our alarm clocks to the earliest times possible, and I remember my uncle would stay up from twelve to two o’clock am standing outside watching for the lights, but unfortunately, we never did manage to see our aurora borealis.
Gold Mining Dredge 8 – Fairbanks
Another fun experience we had in Alaska was where we ‘struck it rich’ at Dredge Eight.
At first, I was rather skeptical when I heard we were going to go ‘gold mining’. Did my father seriously intend for us to hack at rocks until we struck gold? We hopped onto a small train taking us to the dredge while our conductor taught us about the Gold Rush, and we were also taught how to pan for gold.
When we finally arrived at Dredge Eight, we were each given a pan and a bag of dirt that supposedly contained lots of gold that we were supposed to pan out. I dumped my dirt into the pan and set to work.
Panning is quite simple once you get the hang of it. Just fill your pan with a bit of water and shake it. To me, the shaking seemed at first a very odd thing to do while searching for gold, but I found out it is actually a very important step while panning for gold; gold is heavier than any other metal, and therefore if your dirt really does contain gold, the shaking of the pan will bring all of the gold to the very bottom of the pan.
After the shaking, remove any excess rocks that may have come to the top of the pan, then dip your pan three times into the water to get rid of the top layer of dirt. Then empty your pan entirely of water and commence the shaking once more.
After repeating this process a few more times, I was surprised to see a few flecks of yellow through the plain brown of the dirt. I picked up tiny particles; I had struck gold.
I ended up with quite a few pieces of gold, and later found out that the mere flakes I had collected were worth twenty three dollars!
I had a great time at Dredge Eight panning for gold, and I am glad that I got as much gold as it is; one of my friend’s moms ended up with only four flakes of gold.
Part 2 the Cruise Experience
By Sunni Zhou (Age 10)
On Sunday, August 18th 2013 after the RV tour, over 10 families were preparing for the Norwegian Sun Cruise going from Alaska to Vancouver. In my family was my mom, my dad, my brother and I. When we saw our cruise we were very excited to look at our rooms, but the sad news was the rain. It made us all soaked wet after we panicked around carrying our luggage.
At around 12 noon most of the RV’s were at the cruise line up waiting to get in the ship. After one hour all families were checked in and the room service staff gave everyone a house card, so we could finally go to our rooms.
My parents started to unpack and plan the activities for the day, while my brother and I took turns taking a shower. Once we were done, we gathered at the lunch buffet to discuss our activities. There wasn’t much to do for kids, until four o-clock pm, but the activity was a game of bean bag toss, which is “two hours of boringness” according to my friend. So my friends and I just played cards in my room, until our parents told us to get ready for dinner at a place called Seven Seas.
Everyone was all dressed up, even the boys wore tuxedos. One of the dads reserved 2 tables, one for the kids and one for the adults. I ordered a Caesar salad for starters, lamb shank for main course and lemon sorbet for dessert. I have to say that was one of the best dinners I have ever had
The following day had so much activities! We went on a tour around the ship, got to learn about some animal trivia and watched a video of how things work in the ship. Afterwards, we went to a Chef delight’s performance. It was awesome! The chef asked for two volunteers, and I was one of them. He taught us how to make sushi and I got a plate full of Tamaki sushi and I shared it with all my friends and family.
After lunch, there were more tours up until dinner. We went to another fancy place called Four Seasons. The food was great there too! We went to watch a show called The Party which had a lot of different kinds of entertainment.
All the fun starts on our third day of the cruise. We were on shore at this inland area called Icy Strait Point. The cruise stopped at around 8:30, so our group decided to take action and visit the area at 9:00.
We checked our map and schedule to find out the activities we can do while we were on Icy Strait Point. Everyone decided on walking along the beach trail.. Surprisingly my mom let me go on one of the activities, which was the zip line. I went with my friends and Gordon, a teenage boy who came with us because we needed someone over the age of 18. I have to admit it was the best thing that has ever happened to me that day.
The next day, the ship landed at Alaska’s capital city (the third biggest city) Juneau. We planned to go see the salmon, the glaciers and walk a long trail. We rented two tour vans so that all fifteen people would fit. The drivers first took us to see the glaciers. “This is amazing” said my dad, he was taking a lot of pictures! Then we went to see the Salmon River where lots of salmon tried to swim back to their birth place to give birth to their young.
On our fifth day, the ship landed at Skagway. There were more people who wanted to explore Skagway so we had to hire a van and rented 6 cars! We went to this super small town named Car cross and the populations was only 300in that city. That’s like only one third of my school. Since there were only three restaurants in the city, my mom just bought us hotdogs and pizza.
After eating we came across a small desert. . It might not have been known as the smallest but I thought it was because if we stand at one side of the desert you could see Car cross (the tiny city) on the other side. We crossed it and it only took ten minutes!
The cruise led us to many places, another city we landed was called Ketchikan. My dad found an awesome trail where we could walked close enough to touch the salmon. The small trail was really fun because the salmon we saw were trying to swim up the stream, having a hard time, I just wanted to pick them up and throw them to the other side!
The next day was our very last day, the ship didn’t stop anywhere that day, so it was just our regular routines: get up, eat and chat. After lots of fun activities and craziness around the ship for 4 hours, we went to our last dinner on the ship. I ordered blue crab cake for starters, lobster surf and turf for main course, and pineapple sorbet for dessert.
After the dessert the craziest thing happened, I was chosen to compete in the singing competition! When the emcee called my name, I went up and sang “Someone like you” by Adele. I got second place at the end and a kind man by the name of Chuck, who also sang, told me “Never stop singing, follow your passion till the end”.
Unfortunately, the cruise was finished the next day. And I’d have to admit it was the best week I’ve ever had. The cruise trip and tours was full of fun and educational things about Alaska and its little cities. I wish my whole family could’ve joined us.