Wanderlust Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Aurora Borealis’

Border

Alaska – a paradise of another kind

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

When one thinks of a vacation paradise, the mind tends to conjure up images of a beach in Aruba or a sunset in Hawaii.  A real paradise is something that doesn’t exist in the tangible world; rather it is a meaning that humans give to something that brings peace, tranquility, serenity and beauty to their lives.  Alaska is, by that definition, the quintessential paradise of the highest extremes. By winter, the cold and ice and landscape combine to create images that can’t be described in words alone.  By summer, the adventures, wildlife and seasonal brevity lure people in for 3 months to catch a glimpse of its majesty.

Alaska as a destination is an adventure of the mind, body and soul.  Each season in Alaska is an unusual, profound, memorable and unpredictable experience in its own right.  There is no wrong time to visit Alaska.  Just ask a native.  Just ask yours truly who has been there in the summer, spring and yes, even the winter.  Just ask anyone with a true sense of adventure who has chosen to go where so few have gone…when so few have gone.

Alaska is a blessed place and one where you need go…..and go again, if you’ve already been.  If you haven’t been, go. Go this summer! (Come with Amazing Journeys!! http://amazingjourneys.net/trip/cruise-alaska-2013) If you have been, you really do need to go again; you’ve only seen “the tip of the iceberg” and there’s SO much more to see and do.  There are many many bucket list experiences that you can indulge in – white water rafting down a glacial river, bear watching along a fishing stream, hiking on a glacier via helicopter, biking an a national forest….and so much more.  And that’s in the summer!   In the winter you can go snowshoeing in a national park, dogsledding in the wilderness, Auroroa Borealis (Northern Lights) gazing in all its glory, party with the locals during the Iditarod festivities….and you get to meet some of the most interesting people in all the world.

Above all else, the experiences and memories that an Alaskan journey leaves behind is a place on the planet that touches your soul.  Between the bucket list checklist and the unpredictable wildlife and deeply rooted culture and the vast uncharted landscape…..you know that you have been in a paradise of unparallelled proportions.  Alaska is Mother Nature’s Showcase.   Come! or…Come back again!

 

Amazing Journeys on KTUU-TV in Anchorage, AK

Monday, March 14th, 2011

During our recent Amazing Journeys Winter Alaska tour, we took part in a remarkable experience in the small remote town of Chena.  Two days and two nights were spent in the wilderness as we swam in the natural hot springs, snow mobiled, went dog sledding,  and gazed at the amazing Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) under spectacular startlit skies.  Sure it was cold (minus 35 to be exact), but that is what brought the experience to the highest level of uniqueness; once-in-a-lifetime to the truest form. 

Ask anyone of our 25 passengers and they will tell you, it was beyond words.  This kind of experience can only be enjoyed and experienced…not just explained.

As true testimony to the very special place of Chena and our memorable experiences, you are invited to watch this video clip, filmed by KTUU-TV from Anchorage as they feature this destination…and Amazing Journeys’ experience:  

http://www.gotoak.com/gotoak/videobeta/watch/?watch=ff19e954-44c7-48b3-9c70-583adebaf9db&cat=empty&src=front

Memoirs of an Alaska Sled Dog – Winter 2011

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

It was Sunday, February 7th and I was perched on my doghouse in Chena, Alaska.  Among the dozens of other tail-wagging, tongue-panting, treat-seeking, barking mongrels hanging out in the bright sunlight of a frigid wintry afternoon….there I was, waiting my turn.  As I scanned the collection of wooden dog houses and all my furry friends hovering around, each and every set of K9 eyes looked at each and every set of homo sapiens, expressing to the extent by which dogs can express, “Pick me! Pick me!”

I was born the offspring of  lab/shepherd mix and a teenage mutant ninga hound.  Some kind of every dog species was somewhere in my DNA, making me a wonderful mix of strength, endurance, and appetite. Because I’ve been crissed and cross breeded and with the best of the best, I am a devoted and loving pup – eager to please my human friends by running fast, playing nice and looking so darned cute for all those tourists who come visit me every day.

Usually these visits are a collection of ooohs’ and awwww’s with a little rub here and a little pat there…here an ooooh, there an awwwww…everywhere a pat pat.  But today….something different happened.  I woke up along with my litter of friends, just a little happier and excited to start the day. Just a little more eager to please.  Just a little more full of anticipation. 

 I soon found out why.

 Amazing Journeys was coming!!

At precisely 11am the first group showed up and the “Pick me, Pick me” looks and barks started emitting from every dog house on the block.  I wasn’t picked…but that was ok because that meant that I could watch all the fun and host a visitor or two to my pen.  I had prepared my doghouse for visitors early that day by peeing on each and every corner of my dwelling.  I even laid a dump on the back wall just so everything would be perfect.  While that first group giddy-upped into the wilderness with Cecil, Hansel, Moonshine,  Stevie, Lucy, Buster and Chester….the next group of humans came to play.

Wobbling up the road like abominable snowmen, they marched.  I don’t mean to sound crass but as I lay around town in my winter fur—and just my winter fur—these city folk were bundled up more tightly than a set of tefillin on the arm of a chasidic rabbi. I overheard a couple of them “bragging” about how many layers they had on.  One lady had—get this—long underwear, short underwear, two t-shirts, thermal socks, a sweater, a vest, a fleece, a scarf, ear muffs, a hat, a hood…and something they kept calling a baklava.  Us four-legged creatures had a good howl later in the day with all the kinfolk. Hellooooo,…look at us; one layer and happy as a clam.

While my comrades ran I had the day off to play with the humans.  I got ear massages, tummy rubs, and back scratches for two straight hours…and then I got to have lunch and take a nap. All without ever leaving my home. 

My next door neighbor, Baily told me a great story about this Amazing Journeys group from the day before.  See, we have eyes and ears…and noses all around this great land of Alaska. While this group called Amazing Journeys was chugging around on snow mobiles we were howling at their adventures.  Poor Master Pete who had to lead the way for them was beside himself with worry and concern.  Pete, who could sing to the Aurora Borealis, couldn’t snow mobile bad enough with this group to make him look good.  One person gave up mid-ride and had to be snow lifted home….one girl steered her snow machine off the side of a trail into an 8 foot bank and had to hauled upright thankfully unharmed.

 THEN, there was the woman they call Annie.  I’ve never heard our commands used for humans, but suddenly it was “Come Hau Annie…Come Hau”.  We don’t know what really happened, but Rusty, who has his nose in everyone’s crotch seems to think she took a wrong turn somewhere in the wilderness and had to walk back when no one noticed she was missing.

Meanwhile, this group just loved our small town of Chena and all the activities they could play.  More ooohs’ and awww’s as they treated themselves to the hot springs, drank martini’s in our famous ice museum, rocked & rolled in the snow coaches for sunset views atop the mountain… and gazed endlessly at the night sky for the northern lights.

 When it was time for this group to go, it felt like loading up a carload of us pups to head to the vet.  No one wanted to go.  But, they were on a quest for the best day of the trip so far, so off they went. 

I heard from my cousins Big Boy and Sunny Girl that AJ stopped by to see their Master Mary Shields and her brood.  What a special place with a special lady; she’s the first woman ever to have finished the world renowned Iditarod Sled Dog Race. I’m told that Mary treats her family of dogs abundantly special and that her loved ones are some of the happiest healthiest dogs in Alaska.  I hear from Big Boy that she bakes her own dog treats for the family….along with a mean chowder and the sweetest brownies for the guests.   I’m told that Mary loves to tell her stories and that the humans love to hear them.  Some of my ancestors are mentioned in her stories and I’m proud to say that I am an Alaskan Sled Dog because of them. 

One of my great great uncles was honored this year at the World Ice Carving Competition.  The ice artists from Norway incorporated my Uncle Rico into one of their sculptures.  I understand that this ice festival is a sight to behold with dazzling sculptures, interactive designs and spectacular artistry.

My butt-sniffing friend Misty went to the festival last year with her owner Miss Melinda and gave the ice festival a perfect 5 wags of the tail.  Miss Melinda is a really cool Canadian lady who raises mushing dogs; some who are noted for continuing the lineage of Balto, the most famous sled dog of all time who lead the way in 1925 delivering diphtheria antitoxin to Nome.  Balto is accredited for paving the way for what is now the famous Iditarod Race and is honored with a statue at the starting line of the Iditarod on 4th Street.

Misty told me of some crazy antics that happen on Iditarod Day. There is a huge gathering of people on 4th Street to watch the start of the race each first Saturday in March.  All the teams line up, all the mushers kiss their dogs and wave to the crowd…and then off they go into the great white north.

After the dogs take off running, so do some crazy people…side by side with reindeer!  Hey, I love a good run, but there’s no biscuit in the world that would make me run besides a crazy caribou with pointed horns coming out their heads. Dogs will be dogs…and people will be people, I guess.

Soon spring will be here and much of the ice and snow will melt.   Those crazy tourists will keep coming to Chena and Fairbanks and the rest of Alaska, but they’ll eventually start looking less like the Stay Puff Marshmellow Man.  But they WILL keep coming…and rightly so-to see the glaciers…to hike the hills…to watch the whales…to fish the salmon… and to escape the crazy world from which they came. 

I’m a Sled Dog and proud to say, Alaskan.  This great land of ours is magical and mysterious.  Its laden with a sense of adventure and a lore that has to be experienced, not just explained.  I’ve been privileged to run through a few fields around the land, but the stories told by my ancestors tell a tale of unbelievable possibilities & realities that this land is famous for. We call her Mother Nature’s Showcase.  I call her home.

The Iditarod and a Winter Wonderland in Alaska

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Cameras flash and crowds cheer as the divas strut the runway clad in mini-jackets and hot-pink booties. Yet this is no walk on the red carpet. These are working sled dogs parading down Fourth Avenue in Anchorage, Alaska, for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

The jackets are for show, but the booties are functional, protecting the paws of dog teams in this grueling 1,049-mile race, which begins March 5 this year and continues for the next two weeks across the snowy Alaskan wilderness to Nome.

Though heading for a vacation in Alaska at this frosty time of year seems counterintuitive, the Iditarod is an awesome spectacle as a modern-day re-creation of the ancient alliance between human and dog against fierce elements.

Highlighting our Amazing Journeys Winter Wonderland tour of Alaska (a vacation for Jewish singles 30s-50s), we will be in Anchorage for the ceremonial start and a  lineup of festivities including The Musher’s Ball and the outdoor festival known as The Fur Rondy. Our days leading up to this true extravaganza will be chock full of outdoor adventure including snowmobiling, hiking, Aurora Borealis (AKA The Northern Lights) gazing, and dogsledding ourselves. We’ll be in Fairbanks and Chena Hot Springs in the days leading up to the festivals in Anchorage (did I mention the hot springs?  Imagine…an oasis of natural hot mineral pools amongst the frozen tundra in the wilderness. Yup – that’ll be us!). Once in Anchorage beginning March 3rd, we’ll partake in all the glamour and pomp surrounding this remarkable event.  Its like Super Bowl week…only its in Alaska, and its to celebrate the sport of mushing, not football.

But I digress.

The official restart of the Iditarod is on March 6th in Willow; just a stone’s throw away from Sarah Palin’s house in Wasilla (AJ’s been there!).  Spectators can get close to the chute on frozen Willow Lake, or for those wanting an authentic checkpoint experience, one can hire an air taxi day flight or stay at a lodge along the race route.

For those with deep pockets and advance planners, the Idita-Rider program offers the best seat possible for the first 11 miles of Iditarod. Minimum bids start at $500, while $7,500 guarantees a ride in the basket in the sled of your choice.

Though it’s vital transportation for some, visitors will find the sled-dog experience sheer joy. Our Amazing Journeys tour includes several authentic mushing experiences including a visit with Mary Shields–the first woman ever to have finished the Iditarod—and her team of mushing dogs.  We’ll also hop aboard a sled and “Hike up!” the call for the dogs as we launched into the winter wonderland (using the word “mush” to a dogsled team is a misnomer. There are actual cadences used for each command of “go”, “stop”, “left” etc)

To those who think dog mushing is cruel, it is not.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  These dogs live to run. They are happiest and healthiest when they run.  They are born..to run.  You just have to meet a mushing dog to see for yourself, but trust me because I have an affinity of love for dogs and I would be the first to share feelings otherwise.  These are special dogs, well cared for and some of the happiest breeds in all the planet.

Four time defending Iditarod champion Lance Mackey of Fairbanks will be searching for his unprecedented fifth consecutive first place finish.

Not just the Iditarod: The Iditarod is the granddaddy, but you can catch a race just about any weekend through winter in Anchorage or Fairbanks.

It’s what Alaskans do.

Its what Amazing Journeys is about to do!

For those who yearn for real snowy fun – Alaska’s Famed “Fur Rondy”

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

In Alaska it’s about surviving winter—a long, long winter. Fortunately, people in Anchorage have not only a frontier spirit but a sense of humor. And so there is Fur Rendezvous, affectionately called the “Fur Rondy” by locals, now in its 75th year and serving up 10 days of crazy winter fun from Feb. 26 – Mar. 6. The festival leads up to the start of the more serious Iditarod dog sled race, which kicks off March 7 (and runs a 1,200-mile course to Nome).

Racing is part of the action during Fur Rondy too, in the form of the World Championship Sled Dog Races, with 30 mushers and their teams competing for an $80,000 purse, on a 25-mile course. But that’s about as competitive as Fur Rondy gets.

And yes, Amazing Journeys is headed there! With over 30 true adventure-seekers, we are headed to Alaska from February 26th through March 6th for a true winter experience. Festivals, dogsledding, snowmobiling, the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) and even a “reverse oasis” of sorts as we warm up at the incredbile Chena Hotsprings are all part of this awesome tour.  Even in this frozen tundra, the volcanic activity actually creates an awesome collection of steaming mineral hotsprings right in the middle of the blustery Alaskan winter.

The festival events range from the sublime to the ridiculous, including whacky snowshoe softball (competitors fall a lot), a Frostbite Footrace (costumes optional) and the World’s Largest Outhouse Race (yup, teams competing pushing outhouses).  Part of the experience will be to watch exhibitions of the Native American blanket toss, where people lifted into the air on a skin blanket–an ancient form of scouting an area for hunting. This event is actually held near the carnival—even though it will be sub zero at times, the festival includes a Ferris wheel and other outdoor rides.

Fur Rondy’s popular Reindeer Run is an Alaskan version of Pamplona, and draws crowds. Thousands will be out for the 6:45 p.m. night-time fireworks. Much of the action takes place on main downtown Anchorage streets, where there are a couple of 20-story skyscrapers and offerings like a Nordstrom’s and Starbucks. Some of those streets were purposely left unplowed in a half-foot snowfall, so, for instance, mushers could race through on their trek.

Try that in New York.