Thursday, August 18, 2022

Zion: A memorable merging of rock, water, sky, light and history

 
Zion National Park is a splendid unfolding of nature's dramatic rock, water, light and more.

GORGEOUS NATIONAL PARK IN UTAH IS PROUD TESTIMONY TO POPULARITY OF OUR TREASURED PARK LAND


STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS

As soon as visitors disembark the shuttle,
they can shop for drinks or souvenirs
and await the buses that tour the park
.
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

THE PIONEERS who first drove their wagons into this stunning natural wonder, would probably be amazed at the traffic in Zion National Park today. Long gone are horse and wagon. But hundreds of cars line the nearby roads, at a variety of well-marked shuttle stops.

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie"
Meyers hike one of Zion's trails.

So popular has Utah's first national park become that one must take a shuttle into the park and then get around in little touring buses. Still, it's a wonder to behold. We recently joined hundreds of fellow park lovers to retrace the same paths native people and pioneers walked. 

IT WAS  WARM -- a hot and dry day -- 100 degrees -- so we made certain we had water bottles and sun hats. Then we set off on tour buses, winding under the park's massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red. One has the option of exiting the bus at various stops, to soak up the scene under a brilliant blue sky. We were dwarfed by towering cliffs as we hiked through the park's beautiful wilderness in a series of narrow canyons.  

Christene "Cookie" Meyers hits the trail.
 Zion stands as proud testimony to popularity of national parks in the U.S. Millions visit from around the world.  We heard an international mix of language -- Japanese, Italian, French, German and Norwegian -- during our three-day visit. The only disappointment was the inability to drive through the park and take our time in our own vehicle as we can still do in Yellowstone.  But we understand the change from private cars to group transportation. 
THE ZION shuttle program began a few years ago, following suit with programs begun in other national parks since 2,000.
According to a National Park Service spokesman, the parks began operating shuttles because of traffic overload. The attempt to reduce both traffic and the parking problems caused by cars has been successful and millions of tourists now use shuttles in several of our most popular parks.
"The shuttle system has restored tranquility to Zion," a park ranger told us. He explained that the shuttle system has helped restore vegetation and maintain the park's natural landscape.
So which of our national parks are the most popular?
Hikers and nature lovers from around the world drive in
a tour bus to various stops for exploring Zion.
In 2018, Zion ranked fourth among America's most visited national parks, ahead of Yellowstone, which came in fifth and Yosemite which placed sixth. 
Grand Canyon National Park tops the list, with Rocky Mountain National Park and Acadia National Park right behind. Each had over 4 million visitors.
In Montana and Wyoming, Yellowstone's neighboring Grand Teton National Park had 3.88 million visitors.

Outside the park, shuttle stops are
well marked.  One pays for parking
though, and can use a credit card.













The Narrows is worth
the hike and wet shoes.
 IF YOU HAVE limited time -- and can choose only one hike -- we recommend going into The Narrows,  the park's narrowest and most dramatic section, deep in Zion Canyon. The gorge  walls are a thousand feet tall and the river sloshes over on the trail, so your feet may get wet. We carried an extra pair of shoes, based on a ranger's recommendation and were grateful to have the change. It's a challenging hike on a hot day, about 1.5 miles from the bus drop-off. But there are shady places to shelter on the way.
Other popular hikes are Angel's Landing and Canyon Overlook Trail. Another beautiful area of Zion National Park is Zion Canyon, easily accessed along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, a curving road running along the canyon floor, with towering cliff walls on both sides.
DO YOUR homework to prepare for Zion.  There are many trails and various fees depending on if you are walking, on motorcycle, etc. We recommend reserving and paying on line to make the most of your time once you're there. Here's a website to get you started:
www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/fees 
 
Christena Robbie Cosgriffe, named after two of her aunties,
is a happy well adjusted child with her special needs looked
after. Here she poses with Aunties Olivia and Christene,
and uncles Rick and Bruce, at a family gathering.



NEXT UP: "Raising Christena."  Our 12-year old niece and my namesake, Christena, was born with Down Syndrome.  The challenges of raising a child with a birth defect -- "special needs" -- is one shared by the child's entire family and support system.  Christena's "Village," as Hillary Clinton called it, is a sturdy one with family, friends, doctors, nurses, speech therapists, musicians, teachers and more. Read how we're dealing with the challenge and remember to explore, learn and live: www.whereiscookie.com
 
 

























Thursday, August 11, 2022

Cody's wild west show offers whiz bang revue

Dancing, singing, storytelling and a lively pace keep the audience entertained in Cody, Wyoming,
at the popular Wild West Spectacular.  The show just ended a successful run, based on the life of showman, soldier and entrepreneur "Buffalo Bill" Cody, after whom the town of Cody is named.  

Wyoming's Wild West fun in vintage theater tells of Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley and more

A cast including college students and graduates, theater majors 
and professional dancers and singers entertains to applause.



The 1936 Cody Theatre is the venue for a
rousing spectacular about Buffalo Bill and more.
STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

WE WITNESSED THE OLD West in glorious, boisterous entertainment at "Wild West Spectacular, the Musical," a rip-roaring show in Cody, Wyoming.

Rocky Mountain Dance Theater produces this visual treat to raves each summer.  It took its final spirited bow for the 2022 season last weekend. If you were fortunate enough to book tickets, you were delighted, amused and perhaps even surprised at the high quality of the extravaganza, produced with a cast of 30 since late June with an ambitious docket of both evening shows and matinees.
 A new season will debut in early summer of 2023, and tickets go on sale in January.

THE HIGH CALIBER of the show has garnered accolades and favorable reviews since its 2016 inception from True West Magazine  and TripAdvisor. Cast members come from across the country. Most have theater degrees or background on the stage.  

Tourists are lamenting the end of the show's run, while Yellowstone National Park and other attractions are still attracting crowds to Cody, but marketing director Jennifer Kaelberer explains. "We have a shorter summer season than other attractions because our actors have commitments."

Members of the talented 30-person cast takes a bow at show's
 end. Additional behind-the-scenes workers include lighting and
technical staff, marketers, costumers, choreographers and more.
Many of the professionals contracted are college students from across the country who must return to campus. Some have contracts with other companies or must satisfy a commitment to a job elsewhere.

THE SHOW has a fresh feeling, boasting both an original script and choreography.  Some of the music is from Broadway's treasure chest of western lore ("Annie Get Your Gun," for instance). Set and lighting are imaginative, augmented by additional original musical pieces.

The legend of Buffalo Bill Cody comes to life as snippets from Cody's colorful life are woven into the action. The international showman had a town named after him and the show pays tribute to his talents and energy with a non-stop dancing, singing, music and storytelling yarn.

It's laced with good-natured humor, colorful costumes, tap dancing, ballet and audience interaction.

We joined a crowd in the vintage Cody Theatre, in downtown Cody on the main street, Sheridan Avenue. If you don't know Cody, look for the famous Irma Hotel -- named after Buffalo Bill's beloved daughter. The theater is right across the street. Clem's Canteen and Creamery offers light refreshments and sweets, including ice cream.

THE FULL, two-hour production ended its run with hoots, hollers and an ovation after a seven-week stint beginning in late June. The venue is the 1936 art deco theater in downtown Cody Theatre, across the street from the Irma Hotel, which is the jewel on Sheridan Avenue, the main venue in town.
Actor Evan Wambeke takes a bow as Buffalo
Bill, surrounded by other capable cast members.

Families, couples and young and old joined in the merriment of the two-hour show, popcorn, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages in hand, purchased at Clem's outside the auditorium.
The show is the brainchild of director and Cody native Elizabeth Fernandez assisted by Kaelberer, director of public relations and marketing.  Kaelberer also  runs the front of house and ticketing, and observes each production from the tech deck, taking notes for the director.

Bruce Keller and Christene
"Cookie" Meyers in the house.

A VERSATILE cast of singers, dancers and actors is headed by Evan Wambeke, in his seventh season as Buffalo Bill. Other colorful characters dart in and out of the story -- headliner Annie Oakley, Wild Bill Hickok, Frank Butler and a top-drawer dance ensemble, whose numbers are show highlights, particularly a poignant homage to the buffalo.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR and choreographer Fernandez long dreamed of producing a show about the Wild West and its colorful characters. In 2016, the show debuted -- a full-fledged musical incorporating both original and Broadway tunes, imaginative dancing, vintage film and a lively narrative. A large cast of 30 includes a partial "split cast" -- several "doubles" for the two youngest characters. Each show, though, features 18 energetic performers on stage.

Buffalo Bill's daughter, Irma, as a young woman, is played
by Willow Fernandez. Other actors play Irma as a child.
Here she sings a wistful ballad, missing her touring father.

Tickets for the summer 2023 season go on sale Jan. 1, 2023 and next summer's season will run the last week of June through the first week of August at the historic Cody Theatre.


More info or for next season's ticket information: Social media platforms: Instagram and Facebook @codywildwestshow; codywildwestshow.com;  rockymountaindancetheatre.org; 307 527-9973.
 

Zion National Park is known to travelers worldwide, and
treasured by residents of the United States who visit
Utah's first national park in all its summer glory.
UP NEXT: ZION! Our splendid national parks are a priceless treasure in the United States, enjoyed by a worldwide clientele. We're attempting to visit all of them. Our latest discovery is Zion, Utah's first national park with massive sandstone cliffs of gold, cream, pink and red. The sky is a brilliant blue and golden with extraordinary sunsets over the canyons. We'll take you there.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, the arts, family, travel and more: www.whereiscookie.com


 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Van Gogh immersion yields lavish, hypnotic multi-media experience

   

Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh's life and art come to life in a mesmerizing show in Las Vegas.
The show gracefully weaves state-of-the-art technology, lights, music and imagery.

VIEWERS FEEL THE SPIRIT OF FAMED PAINTER WITH STATE-OF-THE-ART TECHNOLOGY, ANIMATION, MUSIC, HYPNOTIZING LANDSCAPES

 STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS

Christene Meyers, left, and Bruce Keller, savor their
souvenirs from a magical morning at "Immersive Van Gogh."
Several cities are hosting the imaginative production.
Our travel-writing duo saw the original, in Las Vegas.

PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER


AN IMAGINATIVE look into the life and times of Vincent Van Gogh is getting raves in Las Vegas as it plays to enthusiastic international crowds.

The unique show has garnered kudos in 15 other American cities, but the "Vegas version" is the original.

 The "Immersive Van Gogh" exhibit begins with your ticket purchase -- easy, on line.  A couple options are available beginning at $38 if you shop around on the web for bargains.  Our tickets were "VIP" which included a sunflower pillow for sitting on one of the comfy benches, a lovely poster and a chance to correspond with Vincent himself (yes, through cyber wizardry, he answers your note.)

WE ENTERED  the magical space at The Shops at Crystals, on the third floor, right in the middle of the famed Las Vegas Strip, next to Aria.  A huge room has been transformed to an immersive digital art museum. The trendy show is captivating audiences in Las Vegas, just as it has worldwide, from Tokyo to Paris, Atlanta to Bordeaux. Toronto even staged a drive-in exhibit as each city puts its unique and special spin on the tormented genius.

We happily joined the ranks enjoying "Immersive Van Gogh," in this breathtaking Las Vegas version. Only a few dozen people are allowed into the huge exhibit space so one may sit, stand or move around without being crowded, enjoying a 360-degree experience. It evolves in pleasant rhythm, accompanied by an enchanting musical score including Handel, Schubert and many other composers.  The soothing musical arrangements and several original compositions are cleverly rendered by Luca Longobardi, who did a beautiful job integrating the music with flowing landscapes, portraits and other familiar Van Gogh works. You'll see the famous bed painting and many of the works by the tormented Dutch painter who sold only a single painting in his life before he died at age 37. Everyone knows the sorrow, but this experience honors his brilliance.

EVEN SO, THE SHOW has a wistful, sometimes melancholy feel as large-scale moving images are projected onto walls, ceilings, and floors in the space. The suffering in his self-portraits is evident.  It's all so mesmerizing we stayed for part of another show -- which the audience is encouraged to do.

The artful design is by the award-winning team of "Atelier des Lumieres" in Paris, which viewers may recognize for the digital art show featured in Netflix’s "Emily in Paris."
Imagination, technology and the original work
of Van Gogh are set to an exciting musical score.

We chose to sit on two different benches in two parts of the space to watch for an hour more than 500,000 cubic feet of projections.
All the iconic van Gogh works are in the spotlight, including The Potato Eaters (1885), Starry Night (1889), Sunflowers (1888), and The Bedroom (1889). Large-scale digital animations of the prolific painter’s work come to life with Longobardi's passionate musical choices -- including, appropriately, opera befitting the composer's Italian heritage.
Said my partner, photographer Bruce Keller, "This is a magnificent artistic effort worthy of a brilliant man who took a path less traveled and failed to achieve the fame he deserved in his lifetime."

Christene "Cookie" Meyers enjoys the whimsical,
moving immersive Van Gogh show in Las Vegas.
 

SEVERAL DOZEN of Van Gogh's post-impressionist sunflowers, perhaps his greatest masterpieces. These are highlights in the show, truly hypnotizing as they play a prominent role in this exquisite and powerful exhibition.
The show is running or will play in 29 U.S. cities; several other cities have closed the show after successful shorter runs.

Its an imaginative telling of Van Gogh's story, reminding of those 1970s Pink Floyd laser light shows at a planetarium. Truly it is a trip back in time with a futuristic portrayal of the tortured Dutch painter, considered to be among the greatest painters of all time -- right along with Rembrandt van Rijn. Despite selling only that single artwork in his frustrating career,  Van Gogh became -- in the century after his death -- perhaps the most recognized painter of all time. The show celebrates his art in joyous fashion, yet the viewer feels a tinge of melancholy in knowing that depression eventually overcame the artist.

Photographer Bruce Keller is happy
after a morning with Van Gogh.
MY FAVORITE segments capsulized his two years in Paris from 1886 to February 1888, when he left for Arles. The excitement and joy are felt in this Paris time, which critics believe laid the foundation for his  unique style, exposing him to famed impressionists Monet and Pissarro.
Emmy Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated designer David Korins, known for his set designs featured in Broadway hits such as "Hamilton" and "Dear Evan Hansen," introduced elements he considers "experimental" in transforming Lighthouse Las Vegas into such an imaginative venue. It's good entertainment for anyone, but thrilling for those of us with a passion for art and art museums. For more information or to book: www.vangoghvegas.com/



Singing, dancing, cowboys and saloon girls await as the
colorful story of Buffalo Bill Cody and friends performs in the
town named for the famed showman. The well done,
spirited review features top musical talent and fun stories. 



UP NEXT: A spectacular Wild West revue is performing several nights a week in Cody, Wyoming, and it's a top-quality production.  We saw it recently, with an appreciative crowd, and were pleasantly pleased at the dancing, singing, storytelling, costumes and humor.  It's part history, part pure fun and terrific entertainment. Rocky Mountain Dance Company does a whiz-bang job. More next week, and meanwhile remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on the arts, travel, nature, family and more: www.whereiscookie.com





Thursday, July 28, 2022

Utah's Tuacahn: Spectacular performing arts space in natural setting

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers marvel at the spectacular view from Utah's Tuacahn.

THEATER LOVING ROAD TRIPPERS DELIGHT IN DISCOVERY OF A SPLENDID AMPHITHEATER IN UTAH'S RED ROCKS 

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS

PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

and courtesy Tuacahn Center for the Arts 


 "Mary Poppins" sets take a whimsical look at London.
This is one of several lovely designs. Also included are a park,
bank, children's bedroom and other places in the story. 


WE HAD no idea such a wondrous place existed in the remote canyonland near St. George, Utah. It's called Tuacahn.

Everyone has heard of Zion National Park, and most veteran road-trippers have visited St. George. But we were new to a marvelous discovery during this year's auto journey from San Diego to our place in rural Montana. 

Some say the name "Tuacahn" comes from a Mayan word meaning "Canyon of the Gods." It couldn't be more fitting. For located in the mouth of the Padre Canyon, adjacent to Snow Canyon State Park, in Ivins, Utah, it's a sight to behold.

Keller and Cookie
at intermission.
An artful display of photos from the current season
gives the full house options for future tickets.

TUACAHN IS part nature preserve, part performing arts center, and total magic. Several visionary people were instrumental in its founding, including  Utah playwright Douglas C. Stewart  and philanthropist Hyrum W. Smith. They and others planned the creation of a setting to showcase a play about the founding of the southern part of their state. 
Hyrum Smith, Tuacahn philanthropist, had a 
vision to merge nature with performing arts.

THE PARTNERS' VISION was to create a space the people of Utah could enjoy. The venue would showcase nature's beauty with the added  enticement of first-rate performance.
The patrons' love of nature and theater combine artfully in Tuacahn where we recently saw a delightful production of "Mary Poppins." It was Broadway quality -- from technical wizardry which floated Mary across the sky, to beautifully designed sets and costumes, spirited choreography and top talent including a well tuned orchestra.
THE PLACE was christened in 1995 when Tuacahn's debut performance. "Utah!" danced its way across the red rocks and into the hearts of the people.
Amphitheatre seats are comfortable and seating
is designed so there are no obstructed views.

But after four years telling the story of the area's ancient inhabitants and pioneer settlers, Tuacahn's board of directors shifted the strategy to a repertory season of popular shows.
The successful result is a showcase of several productions in a setting which itself is a natural amphitheater. 
WRITERS HAVE compared the evolution of this natural wonder to the physical building of Tuacahn Center for the Arts. Centuries of pounding heat and relentless desert rains created the canyon land. Wrote one reviewer, "Just as the land has been shaped, the center was molded by winds of change and the power of dreams."
In the play's final scene, Mary Poppins takes
to the sky, her mission accomplished (far right.)
  

Donors can remember
friends or family in
tasteful stones by
the lyrical waters.


In foreground: Neil Starkenberg as Bert, Gail Bennett
as Mary Poppins, sing "A Spoonful of Sugar." 
Real estate baron and state senator Orval Hafen was a major player, too.  The original owner of Padre Canyon enthusiastically endorsed the concept. Adding his own doseof drive and ambition was entrepreneur, arts promoter and producer  Doug Stewart who helped propel the mission. 
It was a daunting dream that many thought impossible, but with this quartet of creative force it blossomed into a flourishing orchestra of reality. 
Sold out shows, happy families, first-rate talents tell the tale of Tuacahn and confirm that an inspired vision can come true with the right combination of imaginative people, drive and money. Artistic director Scott S. Anderson carries on the mission of creative performance art against a naturally theatrical backdrop.
The season is in repertory with "Mary Poppins," "Wonderland," and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" playing into late October. "The Buddy Holly Story" runs in the mix until Aug. 13. "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" promises family enjoyment Nov. 25-Dec. 22.  Tuacahn's venues include the 2,000-seat amphitheatre and a 328-seat indoor theater where the holiday show is staged, a black box theater, dance studio, costume and scene shops and the campus of Tuacahn High School for the Arts. The venue also  produces a spring and fall concert series, and Christmas in the Canyon featuring a live-action recreation of the nativity called the "Festival of Lights" with spectacular holiday lights and decorations.
ACTOR GAIL Bennett and other Actors Equity performers have garnered national attention, as has the venue itself.  Bennett won awards for her leading roles in "My Fair Lady," "Kiss Me Kate," "The Sound of Music" and many productions on Broadway, at Hollywood Bowl and in other major venues.
You may think you've gone down the rabbit hole as you explore this gorgeous venue -- truly a "wonderland" of its own.

More info or tickets:  tuacahn.org; box office 800 746-9882; 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins, Utah 84738

Christene "Cookie" Meyers rests and savors
during a visit to "Immersive Van Gogh."
UP NEXT
: Van Gogh Immersion.Another artfully done surprise presents itself on our road trip. The artfully done installation, "Immersive Van Gogh," is attracting viewers across the nation in several cities.  We check out the original exhibit in Las Vegas. It's a wondrous merging of technology, storytelling, animation and many of Vincent's paintings. We found it    captivating and will share in our next feature. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on the arts, travel, family, nature and more. www.whereiscookie.com; VanGoghVegas.com





Thursday, July 21, 2022

Whale of a time awaits in remote, breezy, gorgeous waters of Juneau



 

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers aboard a Juneau Tours and Whale Watch vessel.
The well run company is family owned and prides itself in personalized service -- and whale viewing!


Juneau's harbor has a pastoral feel, almost painting-like.
The surrounding forest and scenery are spectacular.

ORCAS, HUMPBACKS, DOLPHINS, EAGLES, PLUS WILD, UNTAMED SCENERY AWAIT WITH JUNEAU WHALE WATCH


Yes, it's in the distance, but it's a definite
whale sighting.  The boat will pull slowly closer.
STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

SOME OF the best whale watching in the world happens off the North American continent in the chilly, lively waters of Juneau, Alaska. 
Alaska's capital city is thriving again and the whale business is back.  After a couple rough financial years -- without the usual tourism that feeds the year's economy during three busy summer months -- tours are booking and folks are cruising again. 
The scenery around Juneau is vast and varied.
A bird's eye view aboard Radiance of the Seas.


The best whale tour we've found in several trips is with Juneau Tours and Whale Watch. 
Veteran photographer Bruce
Keller is a regular on Alaska's
waters. This time he chose
Royal Caribbean's newly
renovated Radiance of the Seas. 
 

We sailed into the pretty port aboard  Royal Caribbean's graceful  Radiance of the Seas,  recently refurbished to the tune of multi-millions, and by far the spiffiest ship in the harbor. We like Royal for its well designed Alaska itinerary, which hits the high spots with ample port time: Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau and the Inside Passage for a spectacular day of viewing.  
Juneau Tours works with Royal Caribbean, which courts family-owned and operated businesses such as Juneau Tours. The
The boat is roomy, the windows large and perfect
for viewing.  Passengers may also go on deck.

 business was started  nearly two decades ago by an ambitious couple from Hawaii. Many of its employees have been with the company for years and everyone is pleasant and knowledgeable -- from the bus driver who greets you and gives commentary from the ship to the pier, to the deck hands and naturalist guides. 
We've met the same entertaining guides a couple years apart -- enthusiastic fellows who know and love the water and wildlife in it. We enjoyed their lively commentary as they pointed out dozens of beautiful, high-flying bald eagles and playful dolphins skipping along the boat. 
Plan to spend some time driving to the harbor because Juneau is a big place. Because of its vastness, it takes a while to get around. But you're guaranteed two-plus hours of on-the-water whale watching for humpbacks and orcas, sea lions, dolphins, bald eagles, and other wildlife.
We met several of the stars of Auke Bay, feasting in their summer feeding grounds –  whales Sacha, Flame and several others.  Our guides recognized  the whales because of the markings on their flukes -- each one unique to the individual whale.
The company's naturalist guides offer engaging
commentary and fascinating whale facts. 
WE WERE thrilled to see whales breaching. Scientists suspect humpback whales breach and slap their fins and flukes as a way of communicating. Our guides explained that the slapping sounds also send messages to other whales. 
The company's comfy, customized boats offer panoramic views for optimal whale watching even if you don't want to venture out on deck.  
BECAUSE YOU are so near one of the world's most famous glaciers, you have an opportunity to stop at  Mendenhall Glacier. The tour is arranged with  
Mendenhall Glacier is a wondrous sight. Even
with global warming, it is still miles long. 

several buses back to your ship or town center, allowing for as little or as much time one wants for glacier viewing.
If you haven't seen been face to face with Mendenhall Glacier, it's an easy add-on to the whale watch trip. The glacier is a a 1,500 square mile remnant of the last ice age, cradled high in the mountains and an extra hour's journey but well worth it. “Amazing!” We heard that over-worked adjective many times as we hiked with new friends to Nugget Falls, with its bird's eye views of the glacier.
Alaska has more bald eagles
than any other state in the
union -- up to 25,000. This
one performed for our boat.
A nicely designed visitor's center gives an overview of glaciers and this close-by one in particular. Mendenhall is perhaps the most accessible glaciers in North America, just 12 miles from downtown Juneau and a few minutes from the airport. It's large -- like everything in Juneau -- a half-mile wide, with ice as deep as 1,800 feet. And it's 13.6 miles long.
WE'RE PROUD to recommend Juneau Tours and Whale Watch, which has made a name for itself in southeast Alaska and around the globe. The hands-on approach and joy in their work is obvious, making the outfit a pleasure to travel with, share and enjoy.
And consider cruising -- the only way you'll see four distinct parts of this huge 49th state in a week's time.
info@juneautours.com; 1 844-494-2537.
royalcaribbean.com; reservations 866 562-7625


Tuacahn Center for the Arts is a magical place
with a range of theater productions in a
state-of-the-art amphitheater in Padre Canyon.

UP NEXT: Utah's Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Ivins, Utah, is a delightful discovery. We'd never been to this marvelous treasure of a performing arts center near St. George, Utah. So this year was our time for a visit. We were doing stories and taking photos near Zion National Park when we overheard fellow tourists talking about Tuacahn.  We went on line and found a gem of a theater set in a beautiful canyon near Ivins, in the mouth of Padre Canyon. A first-rate docket of Broadway shows is on tap, and there are activities year-round at this magical place.  www.tuacahn.org/


















 









Thursday, July 14, 2022

Take a wild scenic ride on White Horse, Yukon Pass railroad trip

We've taken this spectacular rail journey several times -- late summer, fall and recently, when snow can
still be seen, with wildflowers. White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad from Skagway is a stunning trip. 
 

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER


SKAGWAY IS known perhaps best for its rugged rail ride deep into Yukon territory.
You'll see spectacular beauty as you traverse dangerous mountain passes, and you'll hear a lively commentary on the daring souls who explored the region, in search of adventure and riches. 

All aboard, as the train pulls into the Skagway station
for a trip into Alaska's wilderness -- still chilly in summer.

All heads are turned toward spectacular scenery.
IT'S DIFFICULT
 to imagine our forefathers blasting a train track through the granite rock of Alaska's spectacular White Pass in the winter freeze of minus 60 degrees.

But they did!
We followed in their footsteps -- the easy way on a recent trip to Alaska with several days in Skagway.
Our gear included binoculars, protein bars, bottled water and  winter coats.  We weren't carrying the pick-axes and dynamite our ancestors needed, and we rode no hungry horses.
But we did have our winter coats on -- and were glad for them -- as we recently answered the "all aboard" call to ride the spectacular iron trail outside Skagway.

SKAGWAY IS on Alaska's panhandle, a compact city in the state's southeast, along the popular cruise route the Inside Passage. It's home to early gold-rush-era buildings, carefully preserved as part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. There's the Red Onion Saloon, established in 1898 as a bordello for lonely miners and today a popular downtown saloon. This colorful and lively place houses a museum that preserves the seamy history of the town.
So have a wee nip there, then head for the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, joining many of the million Skagway visitors each year.  It combines scenery with history in comfy cars driven by vintage locomotives and provides an entertaining morning or afternoon to give you a great overview of the city's past and important place in Alaska's development.
Picturesque Skagway is home to sled dogs and mushers,
beer makers, glass blowers, fishermen and wood carvers.

IF YOU HAVE not been to Skagway, you'll want to make this stop, even if for only a day on a cruise. You'll traverse the famously steep Chilkoot trail and see sweeping mountain views during your climb toward Canada.

Sure, there's plenty to do in Skagway if you're here for several days: dog sledding, gold rush history and an interesting main street with restored buildings. But this time, we left colorful Skagway behind, to climb a steep grade past gorgeous falls, gulches, canyons and riverbeds still white with winter's snow, heading to White Pass Summit the international boundary between the U.S. and Canada.

 

As spring comes, the mountains green up and on the curves,
passengers can view the impressive length of the train.

A lively commentary describes the building of this legendary railroad and the brave men who cut grade on Tunnel Mountain and other foreboding hills to accommodate determined, even frenzied gold miners.
THE HISTORY dates to 1896 when George Carmack and two Indian companions, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie, found a few golden flakes in Bonanza Creek in the Klondike.  Although their discovery barely filled the spent cartridge of a Winchester rifle, it triggered a stampede for riches.  The Klondike gold Rush was on.

A detail of the massive snow plow
used by the train in winter.
Our knowledgeable guide didn't 
sugarcoat this colorful episode in history.  It had its tragic side. More than 30 men were killed during the building of 110 miles of track and many horses and pack animals plunged to their deaths or starved in the bitter cold and treacherous pathway.
NOT ALL miners thought to bring proper horse feed or treat their faithful pack animals with care. Some of the work took place in dead of winter when heavy snows blocked the 16-degree turns and temperatures plunged to minus 60 degrees.
We enjoyed the cars' names -- they're all christened after lakes and rivers in Alaska, Yukon and British Columbia.  Most are at least 40 years old.  Lake Tutshi, vintage 1893, which starred in the 1935 movie, "Diamond Jim Brady," or Lake Lebarge, which carried Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the same trek we took -- back in 1959. The oldest car is Lake Emerald, built in 1883 and still traveling the line.

Snow melt provides gushing streams; the train tour offers
stunning views of the gullies and ravines on the route.
 Along the route, there's plenty of history -- of the vigorous miners who dared the dangers of the pass in search of their fortune and other enterprising souls whose luck was not with them. Various shady characters tried to cash in on the miners, including George Brackett, a one-time construction engineer who built a 12- mile toll road up White Pass canyon. This worked for a brief time, until angry miners tossed the toll gates down a ravine making his road  a failure. But clever Brackett made out well, eventually, when White Pass and Yukon Railroad Company organized and paid him $110,000 for the a right-of-way.
Safely back from a thrilling
rail ride, "Keller and Cookie."


On our return back towards Skagway with its quaint pastel buildings, we took a last look at the Sawtooth Mountains and admired the bright colored flora: golden arnica, pink fireweed, purple monkshood, scarlet columbine, lavender geranium, white yarrow and the deep red berries of the mountain ash.

For more information or to book: 1 800 343-7373; info@wpyr.com

 

All eyes are on the horizon as an orca pod is spotted.
UP NEXT: Juneau is the place to be if you're looking for superb marine-life viewing. There's much more to Alaska's capital city than Sarah Palin. We take readers on a wild and chilly  whale and dolphin watching tour. It's good fun and a serious boat ride deep into the Gastineau Channel and Alaskan panhandle.  The air is crisp, the sun shines bright and the whale-watching boats are back in business  with Juneau Tours and Whale Watch. You're in for an exciting whale watching tour, one of the best we've experienced in looking for whales on several continents. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly!
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