Sunday, September 14, 2008


While we were in Denali (the small town of shops and lodging outside Denali National Park and Reserve; it completely shuts mid-September and is Stephen King's Shining territory until the next summer), we stayed at the very best resort possible. Okay, so it's a relative term, and the beds were hard. Big whoop. But we deduce that preceding tour groupies had complained bitterly about the accommodations; we received a little "Chill Pill Package" from the tour groupers that included a miniature black bear (we named ours Gnarly, as in Da Gnarly Bear), some chocolate, and a reminder that the group would next go to Girdwood, where the beds were undeniably nicer.

Before we get to Girdwood, I will explain about the tour. Everything starts with the cruise you pick; as Hub 1.0 was our host on this travel extravaganza, he sat down with us and a guide book to Alaska Cruises 2008 to discuss the choices. Basically, there were three sorts: mega-ships with upwards of 2,300 passengers; smaller, more luxurious ships with fewer than a 1,000 passengers; and very small ships that are less luxurious but more educational (I think of these as the Jacques Cousteau option). All three of us were agreed that we wanted some of the traditional appeals of cruising: fancy dinners, spacious areas on board for activities and relaxing, and a sense that everything's been done for you already. But we didn't really want a mega-ship, so that left two options, Regent and Silversea. Silversea, I can only surmise, is priced to exclude the riff-raff; Regent seemed a bit more reasonable. (I'll talk more about the ship when I do the first of the cruise posts.) Nonetheless, the people on the cruise were definitely in a certain financial stratum. And, as the land excursion is sponsored by the cruise company, all the groupies on our excursion were on the same cruise and able to afford a four-day jaunt in addition, so you can imagine some of them felt they were owed a certain cruise-like standard of accommodation. (Bluntly, I just assumed that half 0f them have memberships at their local country clubs, and all of them are Republicans.)

Okay, so according to our tour guide, Jesse, there is precisely one four-star hotel in all of Alaska, and it's the Alyeska Spa and Ski Resort, in Girdwood. (Side note -- don't let the name Girdwood put you off; it's a lovely mountain resort town southeast of Anchorage; under-indictment Senator Ted Stevens lives there.) Frankly, there was precious little reason to go to Girdwood in August except for the fancy accommodations, although we were afforded the opportunity to go up the funicular to the top of an adjacent mountain for the "view." Personally, I was not bummed that it was completely shrouded in mist -- we were pretty high up (what, 6,000 feet?) and I really didn't feel like revisiting the acrophobia-induced psychosis I experienced in the Colorado Rockies. Here, then, is Girdwood:

Yup, it's Hub 1.0 again. Looking out at the landscape below the cloud cover. Some people had gone up the evening before, which was smart, but my intrepid hikers had gone on a nature walk instead. It was on that walk that the guide explained how the local conifers (one of the spruces; I don't recall if it is the Sitka) grow these enormous galls. I'll let Hub 1.0 post a comment and explain the phenomenon, but in the meantime, here's the funny picture:

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