Exploring Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

For our stop in Hilo on Wednesday, Cathy and I hired a private guide to take us on an all-day tour of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. This is a lengthy post, but it was an amazing day, and it took 40 of the 250 photos I shot to share it properly.

The first photos of the day, of the dawn light, were shot from our balcony for a change – this one at 05:59.
Dawn light among the Hawaiian islands
Mauna Kea, 4,205 meters (13,796 feet) high forms the island of Hawaii as you approach from the north-east along the Hamakua Coast.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
At 07:20, the crew was already hard at work rebuilding the second outdoor pool on the Celebrity Solstice.
Rebuilding a swimming pol on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
On top of Mauna Kea is an observatory complex operated by 11 nations including Canada, France and Japan. Among the telescopes is the largest one in the world, in the W. M. Keck Observatory. It has a 33-foot mirror which is made from 33 small hexagonal mirrors, rather like a fly’s eye.
Mauna Kea observatories
The ruins of a sugar mill, seen as we neared Hilo. Beaches are rare along this coast, volcanic cliffs being the norm.
Sugar mill ruins near Hilo, Hawaii
A bridge on Heritage Drive, Highway 19, a few miles northwest of Hilo.
A bridge on Heritage Drive, Hawaii Highway 19
Although the volcanic cliffs look solid, that is apparently not the case, as this one has slid away to the point that the concrete slab foundation of this house is now hanging over the edge a few feet.
House falling off a cliff into the sea near Hilo
Moku Ola (Coconut Island), a beautiful park in Hilo Bay near the cruise port.
Moku Ola (Coconut Island), Hawai'i
This restaurant, jutting many feet out over the water, appears to be abandoned.
Abandoned restaurant at Hilo, Hawaii
The Pacific Princess arrived a few hours before us, and would leave a few hours before us as well.
The Pacific Princess in Hilo, Hawai'i
The Celebrity Solstice docked at Hilo at 10:30, and we were allowed to disembark at about 11:00. Our guide had us walk a couple of blocks to meet him away from the very busy terminal area.
The Celebrity Solstice docked at Hilo, Hawaii
Cathy had found Warren Costa online while looking for the highest possible quality tour of the volcanic area. He operates as Native Guide Hawaii, was born in Hilo, and among other skills, has worked for the National Park Service. He first took us to an area of beautiful beaches along the Keaukaha coast (that can be reached by Hilo city bus).
Beautiful beach along the Keaukaha coast near Hilo
Once the most popular driving route around the Kilauea volcanic region, a few miles of Crater Rim Road is now closed due to volcanic activity.
It was 1:00 pm when we reached our first volcano-related stop, at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory overlooking the Kilauea Caldera.
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory overlooking the Kilauea Caldera
On the drive up to about 4,000 feet elevation, Warren had given us a lot of information about the volcanoes, and tucked away behind some water tanks, now showed us a cross-section of volcanic layers going back to AD 1500. This was certainly not a site that many people would see. At the 1500 layer was a substance called reticulite, which is mostly air and crumbles like dry foam.
Volcanic layers at Kilauea Iki Crater, Hawaii
The size of the Kilauea Caldera is staggering, and would clearly take days to properly explore. Most of the roads and trails around it are closed due to the activity, particularly the poisonous gases including sulphur dioxide that are sometimes being expelled along with steam from the many vents that are visible everywhere for several miles, even along Highway 11.
Kilauea Caldera
We stopped for an excellent lunch at a picnic site at the Kilauea Overlook, which offers a somewhat different view that the one from the observatory area. This is an incredibly powerful area – not only the obvious physical power of the earth, but spiritual power as well, and Warren feels that power deeply. Traditional Hawaiian beliefs hold Mauna Loa and Kilauea as wahi pana (sacred areas) – this is the home of Pelehonomea, the deity of volcanic power (her name is usually shortened to Pele).
Kilauea Overlook
The crowd of tourists at the parking lot for the Thurston Lava Tube literally made my stomach churn, and I was very pleased when we didn’t stop. A single day can only give visitors a very brief look at the park, and Warren knows how to give people who want to really understand it the best experience. Within a couple of hours, Cathy and I were extremely pleased with our choice for this day.
Crowds at Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii
Heading down the Chain of Craters Road, a 19-mile dead-end road that drops 3,700 feet to the coast, we next stopped beside the road near Hi’iaka Crater, and walked down a barely visible trail towards the crater to get a close-up look at a recent lava flow (1973) as well as older formations. This sliver that Cathy is holding is lava that was spit out by a vent.
A sliver of lava
The colour and texture variations of the lava are endless, depending on the mineral content, the temperature, the pressure that the lava was expelled with, and other conditions.
Some of the lava has so much air in it that it is quite light – I don’t do this with Yukon granite! :) That chunk probably weighed about 50 pounds.
Hoisting a large chunk of lava
We were often walking on thin layers of lava, but it only became obvious where someone had broken through (none of us did, but I can see how a hiker could be injured this way). The layer shown in this photo is less than 2 inches thick.
A lava tube
The texture of the lava can be very different on the bottom side of a layer.
Cooled lava in Hawaii
Among the lava flows, many of these orchids were growing.
Wild orchid in Hawaii
How incredible it would be to see this flowing! At several points through the day, we could smell forest fire smoke, from the area about 30 miles away where lava is currently flowing.
We reached the Hi’iaka Crater a few minutes after 3:00 pm, and I was very conscious of the fact that sunset was only 3 hours away. I’m still rather at a loss for the right words to describe the experience of seeing these signs of Pele’s power.
Hi'iaka Crater, Hawai'i
We were surprised to hear that it can take hours for a tree to burn. When the hot lava reaches a cool, damp tree, a bit of it is cooled enough to slightly insulate the tree, and by the time the trunk burns through, the lava around it has sometimes cooled enough that the rest of the tree doesn’t get burned. When the trunk is completely consumed, a hole remains forever in the cooled lava.
Dead tree on cooled lava in Hawai'i
The views from a mile of the Chain of Craters Road down to the coast is superb – Apua Point is in the centre of this photo. Warren was mostly excited about the great waves, and a forecast for very good surfing the next day :)
I could spend days taking pictures of the infinite variety of lava forms and shapes, especially when various types of vegetation are colonizing it.
At several spots along the top of the slope, two dramatically different lava forms can be seen side by side. The smooth flow is known as pahoehoe, the rough one ‘a’a. The most significant factor in the creation of the two types is the temperature of the lava – pahoehoe is hotter so flows more smoothly.
Pahoehoe and 'a'a lava in Hawai'i
Warren asked if we wanted to go on a hike, and when we answered in the affirmative, he stopped at the trail to Pu’uloa, one of the most revered cultural sites in Hawai’i. Ke ala kahiko (the path of the old ones) is now a 1.4 mile (2.3 km) route from the Chain of Craters Road, marked by cairns. Pu’uloa is home to the largest array of petroglyphs in the state, carved into lava flows from 400-700 years ago, and to us, is a “must-experience”, though relatively few people do.
Trail to Pu'uloa petroglypths in Hawai'i
Untrained eyes would be unlikely to see this spot beside the trail as anything of cultural significance, but the bush at lower right marks a pit created by mahi’ai (farmers) by piling rocks. In such pits, enough soil and moisture could be gathered to grow ‘uala, a small sweet potato. One of things that we really enjoyed about listening to Warren is hearing Hawaiian names and terminology pronounced correctly – although there aren’t many letters in the written language, pronunciation of them is often quite different than English speakers expect.
A pit for growing 'uala in Hawaii
At Pu’uloa, a boardwalk protects the petroglyphs by keeping visitors to a specific route, and above the ground. The area where the petroglyphs have been carved is very much larger than what can be seen from here – there are a total of over 23,000 carvings, some in shapes such as human forms that are easy to recognize, others more abstract.
Boardwalk at Pu'uloa
The name Pu’uloa (large hill) carries a kaona (hidden meaning) – hill of long life. Families with genealogical ties to this land have come here to place the piko (umbilical cord) of their child, in the hope that the mana (spiritual power) of Pu’uloa would bless that child with a long and prosperous life, and root them to their ancestral lands. Each puka (hole) is made for a single piko – of the 23,000 petroglyphs at Pu’uloa, about 16,000 are piko related.
Petroglyphs at Pu'uloa, Hawai'i></center> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <center><img src=“>
The best photo I got of Warren is this one of him taking a selfie among the pictographs for his Facebook page.
Warren Costa among the pictographs
Looking back up at the slope we drove down, I tried to imagine what that would look like with molten lava flowing down it. “Incredible” is a word that I used a lot this day.
Lava flow along Chain of Craters Road in Hawai'i
Chain of Craters Road is now gated about half a mile from where it ends at one of the lava flow that has come across the road in recent years. Work started a few days ago to re-open it, initially just as an emergency access road for residents of Lower Puna who may be cut off if a flow that started in late June crosses Highway 130 at Pahoa.
Chain of Craters Road
At the end of the Chain of Craters Road, a very short walk takes you to the impressive cliff edge – there are several signs warning of the dangers.
The main feature there is the Holei Sea Arch. A photographer there was waiting for what he called “the perfect wave” – one whose spray would hit the top of the arch. Although it could come, I wasn’t nearly that patient :)

From there, Warren drove us back to the pier – we arrived well after sunset, and it was pitch dark. This had been the day that both Cathy and I had been looking forward to, and it was even better than we expected.

At 8:00 pm, we sailed for Kona.

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A Circle Tour of Oahu by Car

We overnighted aboard the Celebrity Solstice in Honolulu Harbor Monday night, and had a car booked from Enterprise for Tuesday morning. The general plan was simply to circle Oahu, or at least the eastern half of it, with stops at whatever spots attracted any of us at the moment.

My day began as almost all of them do, with a quiet coffee or 3 on the back deck. The sun was just coming up when I shot this at 06:09.
Morning light from our cruise ship docked in Honolulu, Hawaii
Although Enterprise was running a shuttle from the ship, Cathy and I walked the 4 blocks or so, and by 09:00 had a full-size car, for about $75. The car had only 9,000 miles on it, and I was amazed at the amount of minor damage on it – a few really bad drivers had obviously driven it! With a half-hour to kill before picking MJ and Jim up at the pier, we went for a drive and then a short walk along the beach. What a way to start a day – ahhhhhh… :)
The beach at Honolulu, Hawaii
The temperature of the sea is about the same as the air, in the low 80s. There are a lot of people living in their cars and vans, and in tents in Ala Moana Park. Lovely for the campers no doubt, but I’m surprised that the city allows it.
The beach at Ala Moana Park, Hawaii
My 44-year-old memory of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific was that it was a beautiful and moving site, and as Jim is a Vietnam vet, we started our tour there. It turned out to be not a good idea. The only bathroom open (men have to stand guard while their wives use it) is a disgrace, and construction has closed or hidden much of the main memorial.
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific - Oahu, Hawaii
The battle-map gallery was open behind a construction fence, but none of the others climbed the many stairs to see it, so I just had a quick look and we continued on.
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific - Honolulu, Hawaii
When I saw a sign for Tantalus Drive, it was irresistible, and I turned right out of the cemetery rather than the way my navigator wanted to go, and it turned out to be one of if not the best experience of the day. It’s a very narrow, steep road that winds up the mountains above Honolulu, and as well as offering some spectacular views, the road itself, with very thick forest tightly crowding the pavement, was wonderful.
Honolulu, Hawaii
On the way back down Round Top Road (which is what Tantalus Drive becomes), Puu Ualaokua Park provided another great view over the city.
Honolulu, Hawaii
The seaward extension of the Honolulu Airport.
Honolulu Airport
Our ship can be seen just to the right of centre in this photo taken from Puu Ualaokua Park.
Honolulu, Hawaii
The road back down from the park to Round Top Road (this road is much wider and more open than Tantalus or Round Top).
Honolulu, Hawaii
From the peace and quiet ot Tantalus / Round Top, we made our way back to the busy H1 freeway, then headed north on H2 to see the famous North Shore. Even though this is the quiet season as surfing is poor, it was still very busy, and although we had an excellent lunch in a tiny cafe in Haleiwa, we made few other stops. This stop provided awesome mountain views, but the sea came right up to a high wall, so no beach.
Oahu, Hawaii
The two crosses on the cliffs above suggested that this might be paradise for many people, but others still want out by any means available.
Suicide crosses on Oahu, Hawaii
The ruins of a sugar mill brought another sad note in the guide book we were using – the son of the owner had died when he fell into a vat of boiling sugar.
Oahu, Hawaii
When very heavy rain started, I almost took a short-cut back to Honolulu, but decided to keep going in the hope that not only the weather but the whole experience would get better. The North Shore had certainly been a dud, although looking back at it now, with a different plan and more time I see how to enjoy the area.
Heavy rain on Oahu, Hawaii
Just after 3:00 pm, we got a view of the Makapuu Point lighthouse, from the opposite side we saw it from the ship as we sailed in. There were many people camping on this beach despite signs prohibiting it, and between those camps and a very large pile of garbage, what might be a very nice beach was far from inviting.
Makapuu Point lighthouse - Oahu, Hawaii
Makapuu Beach Park was lovely from the viewpoint above, and it appeared to be a good body-surfing spot.
Makapuu Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii
Manana Island is impressive, and beaches on the north end (not shown in this photo) make it easily accessible. In the foreground is Kaohikaipu Island.
Manana and Kaohikaipu Islands - Oahu, Hawaii
Sandy Beach Park, seen from the viewpoint at the Halona Blowhole.
Sandy Beach Park - Oahu, Hawaii
Sandy Beach Park - Oahu, Hawaii
This lovely little beach is accessed by a natural staircase down from the blowhole parking lot.
Oahu, Hawaii
Getting a close-up look at the Halona Blowhole. Many people apparently get themselves into trouble and even get killed getting a closer look.
Halona Blowhole - Oahu, Hawaii

We were back into heavy trafic as we neared Honolulu, but had the car back well before the office’s 6:00 pm closing time (they don’t allow after-hours drops), and for our 6:00 dinner reservation in the ship’s main dining room. Although the day hadn’t been as good as I’d thought it would be, we saw some interesting areas and it gave us some ideas for our hotel stay in Honolulu after the cruise. And while we were driving around Hawaii, our friends back in Whitehorse were dealing with several inches of snow!

At 8:00, we set sail for Hilo, on the Big Island. The lights of Honolulu attracted many passengers to the top decks as we sailed away.
Sailing from Honolulu, Hawaii, at night
Sailing from Honolulu, Hawaii, at night
As always, while we’re enjoying ourselves, hundreds of people are hard at work keeping everything in order for us. That’s something we can always count on – even on our worst cruise, on a Carnival ship, that’s been the case.
Oahu, Hawaii

As I finish this, the sky is just starting to turn orange, and we’re 6 hours from Kona, where we have another car rented. My next post will about yesterday’s superb full-day tour of a corner of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with a private guide.

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Arriving at Honolulu by Cruise Ship

We’re now about half-way to Hawaii, “the Big Island”, having sailed from Honolulu last night at 8:00 pm. We arrived at Honolulu at noon on Monday after having the islands in sight for several hours. Sailing in is a perspective that not many get, which is a shame, because it is spectacular, and it’s hard to not put yourself in the position of the early European explorers when they first saw the islands and tried to figure out what they would be like to land on.

Cathy’s only visit to Hawaii was in 1982, mine was in 1970, so we knew that nothing would be the same. We had no plans for the first afternoon on O’ahu, and had a car rented for yesterday for a circumnavigation of the island.

Monday began as usual with a lovely sunrise at 06:20, with only a handful of other passengers on the back deck having coffee (which is available there 24/7).
Sunrise from the Celebrity Solstice near O'ahu
A small Matson container ship seen at 09:20 – an inter-island ship, I expect.
Matson container ship in Hawaii
We could see some islands, notably the big island of Hawaii, but haze and clouds made the sightings unremarkable. By 09:45, though, the eastern shores of O’ahu could be seen fairly well despite the rain that the windward side was getting. The highest land in this photo is Koko Crater.
First sighting on Oahu from the Celebrity Solstice
The spectacular cliffs north of Makapuu Point, and Manana (Rabbit) Island.
Makapuu Point and Manana (Rabbit) Island
My first sighting of a large and beautiful frigate bird.
Frigate bird off Hawaii.
Amazing place. The Makapuu Lighthouse can just be made out in this photo.
Makapuu Point, and Manana (Rabbit) Island
As we got nearer, the volcanic origins of Koko Crater became obvious.
Koko Crater, Hawaii
A final look at Makapuu Point, the lighthouse and Manana Island from the sea.
Makapuu Point, the lighthouse and Manana Island
Koko Head, with heavy surf pounding the shore despite the fairly calm sea (reported as 1-meter or 3-foot seas). Seeing those homes in the background, it occurred to me that choosing a home or building site in Hawai must be exciting if you have a huge budget :)
Koko Head, Hawaii
Koko Head and Maunalua Bay.
Our first view of the towers of Waikiki, appearing from behind Diamond Head at 11:10.
The towers of Waikiki, appearing from behind Diamond Head
Waikiki Beach, with the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the centre.
Waikiki Beach, with the Royal Hawaiian Hotel
At 11:48, the local pilot met us. I always find it funny that a pilot is still seen as a beter option than millions of dollars worth of electronics on the ship as well as a very experienced captain. Pilots must have a great union!
Hawaiian pilot boat at Honolulu
When discussing which cabin to book on a cruise ship, it’s often said that getting a balcony cabin isn’t necessary because you’re seldom in your cabin anyway. Cathy and I disagree – having a balcony is wonderful at times like this. MJ and Jim joined us, as their balcony is on the port side which is much less scenic for this particular sail-in.
Sailing into Honolulu
A rock wall protects part of the container port and adjacent Ala Moana Park from the surf.
Surf at Honolulu Harbor
This is my favourite image from the entire trip so far, shot from our balcony on Deck 7 as we approached Pier 2.
Classic Hawaii - Ala Moana Park and Diamond Head
While we waited for clearance to go ashore, we went for lunch in the Oceanview Cafe, as did pretty well every other passenger. It doesn’t get over-crowded very often, but that was one example of what it can be like. It can be avoided by going to the main dining room, however, or to varying degrees, to one of the many other eating places on board. This scene was shot from our balcony at 1:20 pm as we got ready to go ashore.
Our friends can’t do long walks, so the Aloha Tower was our only destination by foot.
Aloha Tower, Honolulu
The Celebrity Solstice, seen from the viewing area on the 10th floor of the Aloha Tower. That’s a fuel barge tied up to the ship.
Celebrity Solstice at Pier 2 in Honlulu
The main container port, seen from Aloha Tower.
Container port at Honolulu Harbor
This struck me as being the location of the “Hawaii 5-0″ offices, but I don’t know whether it really is or not.
Hawaii 5-0 offices in Honolulu

While Jim went back to the ship, Cathy, MJ and I took a cab over to the Ala Moana shopping centre to pick up a few things. The size was overwhelming and proved to be a very negative experience until we discovered that the main level we ended up on, which has every high-end brand in the known universe, was only part of it. The lowest level is where people like us shop (that is, people who have the word “budget” in their vocabulary), and we found everything we wanted.

Looking across at the Aloha Tower from Deck 14 of the ship as the sun went down at 6:00 pm. Overnighting on board the ship is an increasingly popular itinerary option, and we have 2 of them on this sailing, at Honolulu and Lahaina.
During our shopping, Cathy, MJ and I decided to something really silly – to get matching outfits. You know, do the thing that tourists get laughed at for doing in Hawaii. Jim was a good sport about it, and the 4 of us got a good reaction back on board when we went for dinner in the main dining room all decked out – to finish the look, I even had a puka shell lei :)
Murray and Cathy on the Celebrity Solstice in Hawaii

It’s now just after 07:00, about 4 hours from going ashore at Hilo for a full day of volcano hiking with one of the best guides on the island. :)

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Crossing the Pacific Ocean on Celebrity Solstice

As I start writing this, it’s 05:20, about an hour before sunrise. I’m on the back deck of the Celebrity Solstice, 8½ hours out of Honolulu, and it’s about 82°F. As usual, only a handful of other passengers are up and about, but crew members are seen often, cleaning or working at all the other jobs that need to be taken care of before the day begins for most people.

I’ve mentioned the wonderful art collection. Among the most unique pieces is “Night Solstice”, by Nancy Friedemann. This is an entire room, which the artist painted on the ship’s walls, floor and ceiling as construction of the ship was being completed. It also includes a glass sculpture and a special soundtrack. It is on the route that everyone takes to the specialty restaurants and the Ensemble Lounge.
Art by Nancy Friedemann on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
I’ve only seen 2 other ships up close – this container ship passed through our wake as the sun was coming up Friday morning.
A container ship seen from the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Not many people on the ship see the wonderful sunrises. There have been a lot of clouds for much of our voyage so far, but also some wonderful skies at the right times.
Sunrise from the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
The other ship we’ve met, on Friday evening just before sunset.
Container ship seen from the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
As the days go on I find myself less and less driven to do anything – simply relaxing has become the main activity (or lack of activity, I suppose :) ). For many people, shopping is a big part of the cruise experience, and the Solstice has quite a few places to do that – this is the main mercantile “street”.
Shopping on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
The quality of the Solstice experience has been consistently extremely high, and that includes the entertainment. On Friday night the show in the theatre was by Greg Bonham, who not only has a great voice, he blows a mean trumpet.
Greg Bonham performing on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
By Saturday morning, crews were putting the final touches on the rebuild of one of the 3 swimming pools, just in time for what was forecast to be our first hot day.
Rebuilding a swimming pool on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
During our last Celebrity cruise, on the Millennium in 2012, Cathy and I spent a lot of time in Cafe al Bacio on Deck 5, having specialty coffees and pastries. For no particular reason, we haven’t this time, but it’s a wonderful space, and we were there with MJ and Jim on Saturday morning.
 on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Executive Chef Markus shared his tips on how to cook a perfect steak, or more accurately, how to spice and season a perfect steak.
Executive Chef Markus on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
With people able to see and hear from several decks, the Grand Foyer is an excellent spot for events like the cooking demonstration.
Executive Chef Markus on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
With so many events competing for attention, it’s handy to be able to watch some on tv – such as Dr. Peter Wasilewski’s presentation on the glaciers on Mauna Kea that we missed.
Dr. Peter Wasilewski speaking on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Saturday afternoon – getting warm and getting close!
Navigation channel on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
We finally made it to one of the regular Hot Glass Shows, and it was so good that I’m sorry we didn’t see more shows. The artists, Helen Tegeler, Elizabeth Perkins and Diane Stendahl, not only create some wonderful pieces but give great narration of the process during the 2-hour shows.
Hot Glass Shows on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
The glass shows are sponsored by the Corning Museum of Glass, and artists get to work on the ship through a CMOG scholarship program. Here, Elizabeth re-heats a piece in the electric furnace while Diane narrates.
Hot Glass Show on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Helen and Elizabeth work on a piece. Two-person teams are common – in this case, Helen was bringing pieces of hot glass to Elizabeth when things such as handles were being added.
Hot Glass Show on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Diane nearing completion of a complex little crab-themed cup.
Diane Stendahl - Hot Glass Show on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
As well as the live shows, there’s a Corning glass museum, with some glass creations as well as descriptions of the tools seen in the shows.
Corning glass museum on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Mother Nature continues to be the overpowering artist on this voyages, with constantly changing skies and light. The first image below was shot at 5:30 pm on Saturday evening, the next one at 06:30 Sunday morning. The morning shot is an HDR image that I created from 3 shots.
Evening sky seen while crossing the Pacific on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Morning sky seen while crossing the Pacific  on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Even the public washrooms on the Solstice are beautiful, and attendants are usually close by. There are a very large number of electronically-controlled wheelchair-accessible stalls.
Public washroom on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
I had thought about booking a 3-hour tour of the ship’s bridge, engine control room and theatre back rooms, but had delayed too long and it was sold out (at $150 per person). However, a special tour of the navigation bridge was set up for Sunday morning for those of us who got put on the waiting list. The youngest officer of the ship, a well-spoken man of 21 who already has 3 years of maritime college and 2 years at sea, gave us a good tour of the controls and systems. The woman and little girl in the centre are looking through a large glass panel in the floor.
The navigational bridge on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Looking aft from the port wing of the bridge.
The view aft from the navigational bridge on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
By 11:30 Sunday morning the skies had cleared, the temperature had climbed into the mid-80s, and the pool decks were packed. I bought a bucket of iced Heinecken and took it back to our cabin so Cathy and I could soak up some sun in solitude.
Pool deck on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
We ordered room service lunch – pepperoni pizza, a roasted chicken sub with fries, and a fruit plate. It arrived within 6-7 minutes, was freshly made and piping hot, and although I gave the steward a $2 tip, it was clearly not expected.
Room service lunch on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
One of the really cool features on the Solstice is the huge manicured lawn on Deck 15, aft of the Hot Glass studio. The lawn is available for various games, or just to enjoy walking barefoot on :) – and there are even foot-baths at each corner of the lawn.
Lawn on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Even some of the benches around the Lawn Club are works of art. We have come to expect nothing but the best on this ship, and haven’t been disappointed yet.
Artistic bench on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
On Sunday night, the second formal night, when many of us enjoy getting dressed up, the 4 of us went to the French specialty restaurant, Murano’s. As good as the Tuscan Grille was, this may have bene even better. Here, our waiter cooks Cathy and MJ’s lobster beside our table. Jim and I both had veal, and rave reviews were the standard for each dish.
Murano's restaurant on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Sunday night’s show in the theatre was stunning. “Solstice – the Show” is “a spectacular European-style theatrical circus about the timeless battle of day and night, featuring incredible acrobatics, beautiful movement and haunting music.” I haven’t seen a Cirque du Soleil show (on which this show is modelled), but find to hard to believe that it could be any better than what we saw.
Cirque du Soleil type show on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
There were dancer/acrobats in elaborate costumes soaring 50 feet over our heads, some amazing jugglers, and the physical power and grace of some of the performers was hard to believe.
Cirque du Soleil type show on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice

It’s now 08:40 and we’ve passed the Big Island of Hawaii a few miles off to port, though it was mostly hidden by clouds. A narrated sail-in (by naturalist Dirk Younkerman) is going to start at 11:45, so it’s time to post this and get ready for a very busy day.

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How to Fill 5 Sea Days on Celebrity Solstice

One of the first questions asked by people who haven’t been on a cruise is often “what do you do on the ship?”. That’s particularly true on an itinerary such as we’re on, which starts with 5 days at sea between Vancouver and Honolulu.

The short answer is that you can do nothing but relax and de-stress, or you can keep busy up to 18 hours every day doing an enormous variety of things. Every cruise line, and even every cruise ship, has its own personality and will appeal to different people, but for Cathy and I (and it seems to be true for our friends MJ and Jim as well) the Celebrity Solstice is perfect. In this post I’ll show you a bit of what has gone on the past couple of days.

My days start much earlier than they do for normal people :) I’m usually in the Oceanview Cafe on Deck for coffee at around 05:00, and there are never more than 3 or 4 other passengers up and about.
Oceanview Cafe on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
My quiet corner in the Oceanview Cafe at 05:30 – in another hour and a half this will be a very busy place. The early-riser breakfast is available starting at 06:30, with full service a half-hour later.
Oceanview Cafe on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Every evening, a newsletter, “Celebrity Today”, is put in our cabin. It includes a schedule of events for the next day. The next 2 images show about 1/3 of a typical list (typical for the Celebrity Solstice – other ships can have very different activities).
Daily schedule of events on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Daily schedule of events on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
The weather and sea conditions can play a part in the activity list. With a 35-knot crosswind and 7-meter (22-foot) seas the first sea day, one theatre performance was delayed until things calmed down, and some people were quite seasick.
Navigation chart on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
We stopped by the workshop on making leis, though we didn’t take part. It attracted about 50 people to the Observation Lounge on Deck 15.
Making leis on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
The pools were all closed, though might have been useful for advanced surfing lessons!
Pool on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
There are countless places to chill out. Cabin balconies aren’t on the list yet, but the library has a wonderful vibe and is very popular.
Library on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
The naturalist for this sailing is Dirk Younkerman, who I worked with on the Celebrity Infinity a few years ago. He lived on Maui for a few years, and has a presentation in the theatre every day at 10:30 am. He started with an overview of the islands and is now geting into specifics – today’s presentation is about the volcanoes that formed the islands.
Dirk Younkerman's show on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Cuisine is a big part of the Celebrity experience, and is a big part of why we chose this sailing. A demonstration and sampling by all 3 of the main specialty restaurants on board, Silk Harvest (Asian), Murano (French) and Tuscan Grille (Italian) was very popular.
Sampling food from the specialty restaurants on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
There’s always something going on – we happened along as this waiter was showing how to pour 11 martinis at once! No, I won’t be trying this at home :)
Trick martinis pouring on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Most events and activities offered are free, but some have a charge. Cathy and I went to a sampling of wines from around the world. For $20 we got to sample 12 wines, and some of the pours were very generous.
Wine sampling on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
As well as the wine, there was lots of cheese and other nibblies. We were so exhausted from all that learning that we went for a 2-hour nap after :)
Wine and cheese on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
I really enjoy rough seas, and joined a few other people on the lowest open deck, Deck 5, to get some shots. The odd wave sent heavy spray onto the navigation wing on Deck 10- that’s over 100 feet above the water!
Heavy seas on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
For people who don’t bring their own computers, a large Apple-equipped computer room (the iLounge) is available. Using the computers is free, but Internet access runs from 79 cents per minute down to 26 cents per minute if you buy a 1,680-minute package. I got a 600-minute package for $198 (a 10% discount from the usual price as a prior Celebrity guest).
The iLounge on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
I’m constantly impressed by the design of the Solstice – it’s bright, it’s modern, and there is wonderful art everywhere. Part of our plan to minimize weight gain during cruises is to always use the stairs rather than the elevators. It doesn’t always work out that way, but we’re both usually good about it.
Stairs on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
There are 2 wonderful canopied hammocks-for-2 in a covered corner on the pool deck, and we spent an hour or so in one.
A hammock on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
The view from the hammock helps make it a great space for some quiet time together.
The sea view from the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Another of the eating places with a surcharge is Bistro on 5, which is available for breakfast and lunch. With a surcharge of $7, it specializes in crepes and paninis.
Bistro on 5 restaurant on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
We had been to Bistro on 5 on a previous cruise, and it was a “must” on this voyage. The Mediterranean crepe I had as the main course (seen in the next photo) was excellent, and the Grand Marnier crepe for dessert was amazing!
Bistro on 5 restaurant on cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Dancing lessons are quite popular on the ship – waltzing, the cha cha…
Cha cha lessons on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
… and a series of lessons on how to do the hula.
Hula lessons on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
The other major speaker is Dr. Peter Wasilewski. Yesterday his presentation was about the red, green, yellow, black and white sand beaches of Hawaii, today it’s on the glaciers that used to be on Mauna Kea. Having multiple speakers, especially one sof this calibre, is not common on cruise ships anymore.
Dr. Peter Wasilewski speaking on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice
Last night, we had dinner at the Tuscan Grille, and it was simply superb. In particular, I have never had calamari that good, and Cathy’s filet mignon could be cut with a fork.
Tuscan Grille on the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice

It’s now Friday afternoon, and sun has become the major focus for many people, including us. The pool deck was packed, and some of the very red people we saw there are going to be very sore people tomorrow! It’s not hot yet (it hit 21°C, 71°F), and there are still some clouds, but it was wonderful – and we’re only halfway to the islands yet!:)

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The Cruise on the Celebrity Solstice Begins

When I closed the blog on Tuesday morning, a glorious sunrise had just started the day. As I write this, we’re out in the Pacific Ocean a few hours southwest of Vancouver Island. It’s dark (06:00) and the seas are heavy – there will certainly be some sick people today. I, however, love it. The Celebrity Solstice is a magnificent ship, and we’re headed for Hawaii. The Solstice has been on our “want-to-sail” list for several years, and she’s the perfect ship to end our cruising period (for a few years).

We were in no big hurry to leave the hotel yesterday. We were extremely pleased with every aspect of our stay at the Pan Pacific, and will be back some day. Our room was an amazing place to watch the float planes and other action in the harbour.
Float planes in Vancouver Harbour
A last look at “The Drop”, and Mahoney & Sons Irish Pub, our dinner spot on Sunday night.
The Drop sculpture, and Mahoney & Sons Irish Pub in Vancouver
My little buddy, Nanook, is travelling with us on this trip :)
Husky Nanook explores the world
We called the hotel porter to have our bags taken to the ship (one of the advantages of staying at the Pan Pacific, which is right on the dock), went for a light breakfast, then outside to have a look at the Solstice as boarding time neared.
The Celebrity Solstice at Canada Place
We met MJ and Jim in the hotel lobby a few minutes before 11:00, took the elevator to “CS”, the Cruise Ship level, and walked a block or so to get in line for boarding.
Walking to our cruise ship at Canada Place
It was the most efficient boarding we’ve ever experienced. Within 45 minutes we were on board, and went for an excellent lunch in the Oceanview Cafe on Deck 14 while our cabins were being made up. An announcement was made at 1:00 that the cabins were all ready, and shortly after that, we got our first look at cabin 7258, our home for the next couple of weeks. As with everything else we’ve seen on the ship so far, we were extremely pleased with it. It’s spacious (for a cruise ship cabin :) ), bright, in excellent condition, and spotlessly clean.
Balcony cabin 7258 on Celebrity Solstice
Even the bathroom, sometimes a tight little closet of a room, feels spacious.
Bathroom in balcony cabin 7258 on Celebrity Solstice
With our carryon bags in the cabin, it was much easier to go for an initial reconnoiter of the ship. Everything is simply beautiful, from the grand staircase…
Grand staircase on Celebrity Solstice
… to the main theatre which seats 1,387 people…
Main theatre on Celebrity Solstice
… to cozy little spaces that are found in many locations around the ship – this one is near the martini bar.
One of the many cozy little spaces to relax on Celebrity Solstice
We had neglected to tie our reservation to that of our friends, so had dinner reservations at different tables. To rectify that, we went down to the main dining room, Grand Epernay, and the Assistant Maitre d’ soon had that fixed.
Grand Epernay dining room on Celebrity Solstice
There are 3 main “specialty dining” restaurants on the Solstice which have surcharges – this is Silk Harvest, which features Asian fusion cuisine. The others are Murano (contemporary French cuisine) and Tuscan Grill (an Italian steakhouse).
Silk Harvest restaurant on Celebrity Solstice
Cruise ships normally sail from Vancouver at about 4:30 pm, but as 5:00 approached we were still docked. Oh well, I never get tired of the buildings that make up Vancouver’s skyline, from old to under-construction.
Historic building in downtown Vancouver
It was chilly with sporadic light rain, so nobody braved the pools. I saw a notice that one of them will be closed for renovations for this voyage.
Pools on Celebrity Solstice
At 5:15 we backed away from Canada Place and I got a better look at some work being done at the North Vancouver drydock.
North Vancouver drydock
That’s a spectacular skyline whatever the weather.
Vancouver skyline
Passing the Brockton Point lighthouse in Stanley Park.
Brockton Point lighthouse in Stanley Park
The Lions Gate Bridge is one of the things that makes Vancouver one of the most popular sailaway ports in the world.
Celebrity Solstice approaches the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver
The mast on the Solstice had to be modified so it can be lowered to fit under the Lions Gate Bridge (this is her first year sailing into Vancouver).
I was going to stay and watch how the mast was raised, but the late departure meant that I had to make a choice between that and our dinner. I took a few last photos of Siwash Rock and the freighters in English Bay, and headed downstairs :)
Siwash Rock, Stanley Park

When I wrote this post it ended with: “It’s now 07:00 and the ship is starting to wake up, so I’ll post this and go for breakfast. We have a busy day planned – in my next post I’ll tell you about what that entails for us.” However, it took me 24 hours to figure out a way to upload the photos – my usual way that has worked on every previous cruise just wouldn’t work, and the type of software I use may be disallowed, as others such as Skype are. It’s now Thursday morning :)

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48 Hours in Vancouver, the Cruise Port

Cathy and I are in Vancouver for 48 hours before boarding the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice. We’ll be on her for 12 nights as she sails to Hawaii and around the islands, and Vancouver is a marvellous city to get into the vacation spirit.

We took the afternoon Air Canada flight out of Whitehorse on Sunday, in an Embraer 190. We seldom fly Air Canada anymore, but it’s hard to argue with free flights with Aeroplan points. It was a dreary Fall afternoon in Whitehorse, with rain and 7°C (45°F).
Air North Boeing 737 in Whitehorse
We took off at 2:30 pm. I hadn’t checked he enroute weather, but expected that, with beautiful weather in Vancouver, that we’d get an hour or so of great views, but that wasn’t the case. We had already started our descent into Vancouver at 4:30 by the time there were any photo ops. It may have been sunny, but the visibility in the Vancouver area from the plane was very poor.
Aerial view of the coast of BC
Making the final turn to line up with the runway, over the Fraser River at New Westminster.
Aerial view of New Westminster, BC
We’ve stayed at a few of Vancouver’s best hotels, and when we found a a great rate at the Pan Pacific through the Entertainment Book, it was our choice for this trip, which is to celebrate Cathy’s 50th birthday. Room 1532 is stunning – well, the view over the harbour and mountains is stunning, but the room itself is extremely nice, too.
Pan Pacific Hotel, Vancouver, BC
We got to our room a few minutes after 6:00 pm, and 20 minutes later, watched the Golden Princess sail for California, having finished her Alaska season.
Vancouver, BC
We asked the hotel bellhop for some dinner suggestions, and one place he recommended was Mahoney & Sons Irish Pub, overlooking the harbour next door at the Vancouver Convention Centre. It was a great choice, and we give them top marks in every category. It was very noisy inside, but our table on the patio offered excellent people-watching as well as the best views.
The view from Mahoney & Sons Irish Pub in Vancouver, BC
The Drop” is an $800,000 sculpture beside Mahoney’s. Public art with price tags like that are always controversial, but I like it – and $800k is a drop in the bucket compared to the Convention Centre cost, $900 million.
The Drop sculpture in Vancouver, BC
I slept like the dead Sunday night, and woke up Monday just before 07:00, just as the Norwegian Sun was approaching the dock below us. This is the same ship I saw in Skagway when I drove down on Sunday.
Norwegian Sun docking at Canada Place in Vancouver, BC
Cathy and I spend a lot of time looking out the windows of our room. The view is always changing as the light changes, and there’s always something going on – boats and ships of all sizes coming and going, float planes landing and taking off, people walking and cycling around the sea walk. This photo was shot at 07:00.
The view from the Pan Pacific in Vancouver, BC
By 09:30, the weather had gone sour, and it looked quite nasty from our room. But we were going for a long walk regardless, after going for a light breakfast.
Rainy Vancouver from our room at the Pan Pacific
The walkway along Canada Place is now signed as “The Canadian Trail” – when it was built, tiles with the names of communities across the country were laid along it. Most communities in the Yukon are there, from Carcross to Old Crow.
The Canadian Trail in Vancouver, BC
Our first shopping stop was Saje, a wonderful herbal health shop that Cathy had found on her last trip. She was very happy with the product she bought on that trip, and we bought several new ones of the relaxation and sleep-assist type this time. It’s always a pleasure dealing with staff who are passionate about the products they sell.
Saje in Vancouver, BC
We wandered around town (the rain quit after an hour or so), met the friends we’re travelling with for a wonderful dim sum lunch at Kirin, then went back to our room to relax and watch the world go by for a bit.
Vancouver, BC
Action in the harbour at Vancouver, BC
While Cathy was at the spa, I went out for another walk, and spent a while with one of my favourite buildings in North America, the Marine Building. This art deco gem was built in 1929-30, and for a while was the tallest building in the British Empire.
Marine Building in Vancouver Harbour BC
Marine Building in Vancouver, BC
Another of the buildings that I have many photos of is the Hotel Vancouver, now a Fairmont. One of Canada’s great railway hotels, it was completed in 1939 after construction had been stalled for many years by the Depression – it has a fascinating history.
Hotel Vancouver
Hotel Vancouver
We love walking around Vancouver – whatever the weather, it’s beautiful and it’s vibrant.
Vancouver, BC
Back in our room I took this photo of “the BC wilderness” – it’s the roof of the Convention Centre :) This 6-acre field even has bees that produce large amounts of honey now!
Grass roof of the Vancouver Convention Centre
I always enjoy watching freighters coming and going, and imagining what they might be carrying to which distant ports.
Freighter in Vancouver, BC
My niece, Sari, had suggested that we all go to Fly Over Canada, a new attraction that’s been getting great reviews. The weather started to threaten, but it was a short walk, and the rain never did actually arrive.
Vancouver, BC
The show was awesome!! The actual “flying” is only 8 minutes long, but we all agreed that it was well worth the price of admission. In the final half-minute or so, you fly above the clouds to see the Northern Lights – it is a superb ending to the show.
Fly Over Canada
This is the helicopter and camera setup that created the film/experience. What an incredible job that would have been for a pilot!
Fly Over Canada
A souvenir photo? Toss in the 25-page souvenir booklet that describes the show and locations for $14 total, and we’re all in :)
Fly Over Canada
As well as being wonderful company, Sari has turned into a great tour guide for us, and suggested CinCin for dinner. It was simply superb in every way. I would really like to do a full Italian-style dinner experience the next time, though the bill for that would be substantial. Our Canadian-style main-and-dessert was a bit pricey but still good value – we certainly have nothing like it in Whitehorse!
CinCin restaurant in Vancouver, BC
Cathy, Sari, MJ and Jim at CinCin. Just thinking about that meal as I write this makes me salivate :)
CinCin restaurant in Vancouver, BC
While Cathy, MJ and Jim took a cab back to the hotel, I walked Sari back to the Canada Line station, then went for a bit of a wander. The massive “weather globe” in the main lobby of the Convention Centre is wonderful.
Vancouver, BC
It feels great to be able to come back to a hotel like this.
Vancouver, BC
I was up quite early this morning, getting pretty excited about boarding the ship today. A few minutes before 07:00, there she was outside our window. Unfortunately, she docked on the opposite side of Canada Place. Oh well :)
Vancouver, BC
A few mintes later, the colours of the sunrise were incredible. A few people at the hotel pool below us were taking photos of the Canada Place sails lit up, but we couldn’t really see what they were seeing.
Vancouver, BC

It’s time to get this posted, and get ready for a busy day. We’ll be at sea for 5 days crossing the Pacific to Hawaii, with Honolulu being our first stop. The Solstice is a ship that we’ve been wanting to sail on for a few years, so having 5 days to explore her is perfect.

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Fall Colours & the Yukon Suspension Bridge

I had to make a quick trip to Skagway yesterday to pick up some stuff for the motorhome at the post office and Wings, but with Fall colours at their peak, a great lunch at the Yukon Suspension Bridge and some other fun, it turned out to be a much longer but wonderful day.

The light in the morning was dark and flat, and not even the bright colours along the South Klondike Highway made any photo stops worthwhile until I reached Windy Arm, when the sun came out for just a couple of minutes. That’s more like it, Mother Nature!
Fall colours along the South Klondike Highway
I got stopped for 10 minutes by a scaling crew bringing down a lot of loose rock from the cliffs along Windy Arm, but had a nice chat with the flagwoman, who loved my dogs :) You can see one of the scalers above and to the right of the loader.
Rock scaling along the South Klondike Highway
The Fall colours faded quickly once the highway went over the low pass to Tutshi Lake, but the light started to improve in the White Pass.
Shallow Lake, White Pass, BC
With the season rapidly winding down, there were only 2 cruise ships docked at Skagway. One was the Norwegian Sun, which my Dad and I had sailed on from Vancouver to Los Angeles last September.
Norwegian Sun in Skagway, Alaska
Gulls on the quiet Ore Dock, which was a good place to take Monty and Bella for a walk and get some shots of the ships.
Gulls at Skagway, Alaska
Some of the buses at the Railroad Dock picking cruise ship passengers up for tours. The kids and I spent quite a while at the dock meeting people. Monty and Bella each seem to attract different people – Monty initially because of his blue eyes, Bella just because she is so cute. We’re more than happy to give dog-people a little “fix” while they’re far from home :)
Tour buses and cruise ships at Skagway, Alaska
Don’t trust photos – this looks like a really quiet camping spot, but they’re in the busy parking lot for Skagway’s Pioneer Cemetery.
Camper and glacier at Skagway, Alaska
Heading back home, I stopped at Summit Creek with a purpose, but got sidetracked by the wonderful colours at my feet.
Fall colors in the White Pass, Alaska
Fall colours in the White Pass, BC
My actual purpose was to get rid of the most obnoxious of the rock graffiti that’s become so popular. When I was driving up from Phoenix, I noticed a sign at the Columbia Icefield saying “NO” to building them, “YES” to kicking them over. I was glad to see that there’s an official policy in some places about this. To me, those are no different than spray-painting your name on the rocks – simply disrespectful of the environment and in the case of these “inukshuks”, of the culture being copied.
Kicking over rock piles in the White Pass
I was going to stop in Carcross for a late lunch, then as I reached the Yukon Suspension Bridge at 12:40, decided to try their new Cliffside Restaurant instead.
Cliffside Restaurant at the Yukon Suspension Bridge
The bison burger with a Yukon Gold beer for $21 looked like it would fit the bill nicely. There were only a few people at one table in the large facility, so I got a stool at the window to enjoy the spectacular view into the Tutshi River canyon directly below.
Cliffside Restaurant at the Yukon Suspension Bridge
The architecture with its soaring 40-foot ceiling is very impressive, but there are lots of really nice small touches as well, like these rails along the base of the bar and the table I was sitting at.
Cliffside Restaurant at the Yukon Suspension Bridge
The view of my table and beyond. The bison burger was exceptionally good, but I’m a big a fan of garlic. If you’re not, the menu has lots of other interesting options.
Cliffside Restaurant at the Yukon Suspension Bridge
Having lunch, or showing a Yukon or Alaska drivers license, gets you half-price admission to the suspension bridge. People who do neither but have a copy of my $5 guide to the South Klondike Highway with them, get $4 per person off.
Yukon Suspension Bridge
Looking back at the restaurant from near the suspension bridge.
Yukon Suspension Bridge
The bridge is quite impressive to walk across, and the property as a whole gets better every year.
Yukon Suspension Bridge
The view up the Tutshi River from the bridge. It would be great to see rafters going down the river, but my timing hasn’t been that good yet.
Tutshi River from the Yukon Suspension Bridge
It takes some work to get a broad photo of the property. This panorama was created with 4 photos shot vertically at 18mm. That’s the restaurant to the right – to get the main building in would require 2 more shots added to the left!
Yukon Suspension Bridge
Photo-bombing the North West Mounted Police! As well as the stunning scenery, there are several fun paintings and photos like this for photo ops around the property.
Photo-bombing the NWMP at the Yukon Suspension Bridge
Dropping back down to Windy Arm, the light had improved enough to make several photo stops worthwhile.
Fall colours along the South Klondike Highway
Dail Peak, at the BC/Yukon border.
Fall colours along the South Klondike Highway
Looking up some of the slopes, there was a wonderful variety of colours.
Fall colours along the South Klondike Highway
Looking back to the south.
Fall colours along the South Klondike Highway
The scaling crew was still busy and I had another 10-minute stop. There’s a job that every boy wants – climbing and rolling rocks! :)
Rock scaling along the South Klondike Highway
I had planned on a short stop in Carcross to see friends, but it turned into a lengthy series of visits. Among them was a tour of the historic Caribou Hotel, which the owners are determined to have open next year. From what I see now, it’s going to be a great addition to the community.
Caribou Hotel

I didn’t get home until after 5:00 pm, a good 3 hours later than I’d planned. Now I need to focus on getting everything in order for our next big trip on Sunday :)

Posted in Fall Colors, Skagway | 6 Comments

A Fall Colours Weekend at Congdon Creek Campground

For our first “no-services” camping weekend with the RV, we chose Congdon Creek Campground on Kluane Lake, and it was perfect, with spectacular scenery and wonderful Fall colours.

I had the rig ready to go when Cathy got home from work Friday night, and stopping for dinner at the Otter Falls Truck Stop instead of cooking at home helped make the getaway quick and stress-free.

As we neared Sheep Mountain at 7:45 pm, I was disappointed to see no Dall sheep on the bare slopes. What a surprise a couple of minutes later to see about 40 of them right beside the highway! I included the bulldozer blade in this photo because it’s one of my favourite artifacts along the highway – it’s only been moved a few feet since it first shows up in a photo dated 1943. The barge dock that it sat beside was destroyed in the last highway re-routing, and I was afraid that it would be trashed then too.
Dall sheep beside the Alaska Highway in the Yukon
That’s a pretty tough trail for a baby! Some of the many lambs were still trying to nurse, but none of the ewes were cooperating.
Dall sheep at Sheep Mountain, Yukon
We reached Congdon Creek Campground (operated by the Yukon Government) a few minutes before 9:00 pm, a half-hour after sunset. All of the 8 waterfront sites were taken, but the 31 forested ones are very nice, too. We were soon set up in site #21 (a very large pull-through site), and had a cozy fire going. The $12 per night camping fee includes unlimited firewood. Congdon Creek was named for Frederick Tennyson Congdon, who was Commissioner of the Yukon in 1903-04.
Evening fire at the Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
The bed is a bit too cozy for the 5 of us, so we made up the couch-bed for Monty and Bella, but no thanks, they liked our bed better. Oh well :)
Dogs in bed in the motorhome
The weather forecast was for lots of sunshine for the weekend, but a stiff, cold wind was blowing a lot of cloud around Saturday morning. The first of several long walks was west along the beach – you can walk for miles in either direction. Right beside the campground, we found a large sage-scented meadow that the kids loved!
Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
A gentle head-lock to slow the puppy down for a couple of seconds for a portait in the lovely light.
Cathy and the puppy in the Yukon
Phew – time for a drink in the crystal-clear glacial water.
Kluane Lake, Yukon
We walked up the beach as far as Congdon Creek, which has a broad bed for occasional torrential floods, one of which appeared to have occurred in very recent days.
Congdon Creek, Yukon
Nothing warms my heart more than seeing a smile like that on old Monty’s face. Getting Bella has made a huge difference in his life, and getting out in the motorhome has added even more joy – at 12 years old, he’s still an Adventurer at heart.
Dogs playing at Congdon Creek, Yukon
Bella is pretty much always smiling.
Bella at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Whoohoo! She loves the water, though she moves fast enough that she was doing a good job of levitating over several inches of it here :)
Puppy playing in Kluane Lake, Yukon
That ominous cloud bank sat in that spot for the entire weekend. Caused by the wet coastal air, it dissipates when it hits the dry Interior air.
Coastal mountain clouds in the Yukon
I love Kluane Lake! We knew that just having a weekend was going to be a bit frustrating, but we’re still testing a lot of things with the motorhome (both equipment and ideas), and it was well suited to that.
Kluane Lake, Yukon
Some of the Fall colours are quite subtle, but I really liked the pastels at my feet in the meadow.
Subtle Fall colours, Yukon
Congdon Creek really is a lovely park, and gets consistently very positive reviews at sites such as RVParkReviews.com. This large field is between the waterfront and forested sites, and is home to the children’s playground, picnic shelter and firewood shed seen in this photo.
Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
While on a wander around the park, I found a wonderful interpretive trail that goes 500 meters to a raised viewing deck. I didn’t understand why there are no signs pointing it out – you really do have to just luck into it.
Interpretive trail at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
The viewing deck at the end of the trail. A more faint trail appeared to offer a loop, but we didn’t follow it this time.
Viewing deck at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
As the noon checkout deadline approached on Saturday, several waterfront sites opened up, so we moved down to #8, the furthest-west one. This is what #21 looked like after we left.
Forest camp site at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
Having forgotten some grocery items, we set up our chairs on the site and then drove the 16 km (10 miles) to Destruction Bay to stock up. This is Bock’s Creek about halfway along – I really like the dynamic nature of these creeks, always changing.
Bock's Creek, Yukon
Settled in the new site, with the beach 30 meters (100 feet) to the left. While the other waterfront sites are all back-in, this particular site is easy to drive into forward so we had the lake view out the front windows.
Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
This photo may best summarize the point of our new lifestyle. Slow down, smell the roses, and enjoy quiet time with the family. Some 20 years ago, I used to camp along Kluane Lake occasionally and came to love it, but Cathy has never spent quality time here before.
Loving couple on the beach of Kluane Lake, Yukon
Molly loves her new life :)
Cat enjoying Kluane Lake, Yukon
Near the base of the cliffs across the lake, a road can be seen. It’s been tantalizing me for 25 years now, and next year, we’re going to go and find it with the Tracker! I’ve heard that it goes some 40 km (25 miles), to a mine site, I think.
4x4 road along Kluane Lake, Yukon
Saturday evening, I took the kids for a long exploratory walk, starting along the beach to the west again. I decided to hike up Congdon Creek. It is said to offer decent gold panning, having gold with few other heavy materials, and some red garnets.
Congdon Creek, Yukon
What I found was quite interesting. The creek is now flowing through a forest that hasn’t been the creek’s route for many, many years. This is where the creek now veers away from its usual bed into the forest. This change appears to have just happened in the past few days.
Congdon Creek, Yukon
Walking up the creek until we reached the Alaska Highway, we then walked a few hundred meters (yards) to the campground entrance.
Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
The campground’s service yard has an enormous amount of firewood still in stock. The amount of beetle-killed spruce forest just to the east a few miles is quite incredible, so there’s no shortage of it available.
Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
Due to bear problems (and possibly to low camper numbers), the campground has been greatly reduced in size (every camping Web site states that it has 81 sites, but there are only 39), and tenting is no longer allowed.
No tenting at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
The best campsite may be double site #2/3, seen here. It might have been large enough for 2 tents, but there’s certainly not enough space for 2 RVs.
Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
Saturday afternoon, the wind got much stronger, and stayed that way through most of the night.
Waves on Kluane Lake, Yukon
I found a spot shielded from the wind, and fired up the new Cuisinart portable barbecue to grill some pork chops for dinner. It gets great reviews, and I concur.
Cuisinart portable barbecue
This license plate looked good on the Subaru, but it’s even better on the motorhome :)
XPLORing the Yukon
Time for dessert, and for Cathy to show me the fine art of cooking her favourite camp dessert, pies! It’s very simple with a pie iron. Put the bread in the iron, add your favourite sweet pie filling, close the pie iron and stick it in the campfire…
Cooking pies over a campfire in the Yukon
… and about 3 minutes later, yuuum! The iron wasn’t level in the fire, so it didn’t cook quite evenly, but hey, we were roughing it :)
Cooking pies over a campfire in the Yukon
As darkness closed in, what I at first thought was a swallow arrived to dine on the tiny flies that had been bugging us. I soon realized that it was a Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus). Its speed and size made getting a good photo all but impossible, but I gave it a few tries. He stayed around our camp for almost half an hour – I’d never seen a bat before, so was very pleased to see him. With winter fast approaching, he’ll be migrating to the coast any day now.
Little Brown Bat in the Yukon
Little Brown Bat in the Yukon
Sunrise on Sunday was simply superb – this was shot at 07:30, a couple of minutes after the orange glow had woke me up. I had slept on the couch bed in anticipation of being able to shoot the Northern Lights (the aurora forecast was for a high level of activity), but it was cloudy for most of the night, and the one time I saw stars, there was no aurora.
Sunrise over Kluane Lake, Yukon
Early morning in the campground. There are so many comments one could make about this shot of “a loo with a view” :)
Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
Another long, brisk walk with the kids before breakfast.
A beach walk with the dogs at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
We walked the interpretive trail again, and took the loop. It was then that we realized how large the campground used to be. I was extremely pleased to see the response of the Parks department to bear problems – you don’t get rid of the bears, you completely close/abandon the part of the park (with 42 camp sites) where the bears were finding an important food source, soapberry (Shepherdia canadensis), particularly in the Fall. A 2014 study, though, indicates that I was too optimistic, that dropping numbers of campers was part of the reason. This bear-proof storage locker dates from the time when tenting was allowed.
Bear-proof lockers at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
We left the campground at 11:30, intending to go for a hike at Soldiers Summit and get home in time to relax before getting our heads into the busy week ahead. At 12:10, we started up the Soldiers Summit trail. Ahead in this photo is the original Alaska Highway tote road – the trail, which is the original highway, is nowhere near as steep. You can see many more photos of the trail here.
Soldiers Summit Trail, Yukon
At this point, the Alaska Highway was officially opened on November 20, 1942.
Soldiers Summit Trail, Yukon
Although the wind was still very strong, it was at least too warm to wear a jacket on the trail.
Soldiers Summit Trail, Yukon
My favourite part of the trail is past the dedication spot where most people turn around. While the views from anywhere along the trail are wonderful, just 5 more minutes of walking gets you this spectacular view to Parks Canada‚Äôs Tachäl Dhäl (Sheep Mountain) Visitor Centre and up the Slims River. This panorama was created by stitching 2 photos shot at 18mm.
Soldiers Summit Trail, Yukon
Another pair of my favourite artifacts, the foundation for one of the poles from the CanTel telephone system that was installed along the highway, and a section of the Canol pipeline.
CanTel and Canol artifacts along Kluane Lake, Yukon
There were so many spots that I wanted to stop and shoot Fall colours, but I only made a couple of stops, this one at Christmas Creek.
Fall colours at Christmas Creek, Yukon
The Jarvis River is a spot that I often stop at – the photo ops here are often very good.
Fall on the Jarvis River, Yukon

We decided to have an early dinner in Haines Junction at Frosty’s, always guaranteed to serve up a great burger. That made our arrival home very relaxed – 15 minutes to clear most of our stuff out of the motorhome and then just chill. The only one who wasn’t relaxed was Molly – she made it very clear that she wasn’t ready to be back in the house!

Now, we have a very busy week getting ready for what is intended to be our last cruise for many years. Next Sunday, we fly to Vancouver to start that trip…

Posted in RV Travel | 12 Comments

A Special Trip on the WP&YR Railway

It doesn’t matter how many times I ride it, I never get enough of the White Pass & Yukon Route railway. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve ridden it – 30 perhaps. Yesterday, though, was very special – a long-time friend was being honoured by the company for 20 years of promoting the railway on his private Web site, and for his efforts to preserve White Pass history.

The day required a fairly early start, and just before 07:30 I stopped at the Emerald Lake viewpoint to take a few photos, including this one of the fresh snow on Montana Mountain.
Fresh snow on Montana Mountain, Yukon
In another week or so the Fall colours on Bove Island should be at their peak.
Fall colours on Bove Island, Yukon
The weather across the White Pass summit was very bad, and it was a much slower drive than I’d hoped for, but I met a few friends and White Pass employees at the depot in Skagway at 08:00 (09:00 Yukon time). We all walked over to “the Junction”, and at 08:17, our train, pulled by a pair of 45-year-old Alco 251D locomotives, arrived from the dock.
WP&YR train at Skagway, Alaska
Right behind the locomotives was our car, a luxury Club Car which I didn’t know existed. Even the car’s name is unique – the other passenger cars are all named for northern rivers and lakes, #400 honours Michael J. Heney, the railroad contractor who made the White Pass dream possible.
WP&YR Club Car 'Michael J. Heney'
We quickly boarded and got settled, and the train continued north. Yes, the chairs are as comfortable as they look :)
WP&YR Club Car 'Michael J. Heney'
Passing Shops on the way out of town.
WP&YR Shops at Skagway, Alaska
After the car’s attendant served drinks and snacks, Allison Haas, Marketing Manager for the railway, presented Boerries Burkhardt with some material to thank him for his work with Whitepassfan.net, which he started in 1994, and the White Pass & Yukon Route Fan Mailing List, which he started in 1998 and which currently has 465 members around the world. Included was a 20-year pin, usually presented to employees for service of that length – presenting it to a railfan is unique, and I’m extremely pleased to see the company recognize the priceless PR work being done.
Allison Haas and Boerries Burkhardt
Boerries then introduced the group to a series of presentations that he’s making to museums during this trip from his home in Germany. The gem is this original map of the British Columbia Yukon Railway (part of the White Pass), from the White Pass Summit to Bennett Lake. It is signed by Michael J. Heney, and at a scale of 400 feet to 1 inch, is 21 feet long! The detail is wonderful and it’s truly a work of art. Another map from the series, the one showing the line from Skagway to the summit, went up for auction on eBay at the same time as this one, and went to a private collector for some $7,000. I Would really like to see this map rolled out and be able to study it for a while!
Original map of the British Columbia Yukon Railway from the White Pass Summit to Bennett Lake
Boerries “preaching to the choir”, sharing his passion for the railway and its history.
Boerries Burkhardt in the WP&YR Club Car
The weather was cool and wet, so the large covered deck at the front of the coach got little use.
White Pass Club Car #400
Though hidden by the fog, we reached Summit Lake (which is a few hundred feet north of the international border, in BC) at 09:40, and the locomotives were run to the other end of the train to pull us back down the hill.
Summit Lake, BC
As is usually the case, we met another train at Summit Lake, and its locomotives were also moved to what would become the downhill end.
White Pass train at the foggy Summit
WP&YR train at the foggy Summit
One more manual switch at the south end of the Summit siding, and at 09:55 we were on our way back to Skagway. The border monument can just barely be seen on top of the rock bluff on the left.
Switching at the foggy White Pass Summit
Looking especially eerie in the fog, this is the long-abandoned cantilever bridge, bypassed when heavy ore hauls started in the 1960s.
WP&YR cantilever bridge in the fog
Exiting the tunnel at Tunnel Mountain.
Tunnel Mountain, Alaska
A more distant look at the tunnel.
Tunnel on the White Pass railroad
Bridge 15B (the second bridge north of Mile 15).
Bridge 15B on the White Pass railroad
The photos of construction crews working to cut the grade at Slippery Rock in 1898 are among the most impressive railway construction photos ever taken (see this illustrated article.
Slippery Rock on the WP&YR line
Bridge 15A.
Bridge 15A on the White Pass line
Boerries has started making books of photos from his huge White Pass collection (not for sale, just for fun) – this one has some 50 photos of the railway operation at Whitehorse.
A White Pass historic photo book
The weather may have been dull outside, but it was certainly bright in the rail car :)
WP&YR Club Car #400
The Skagway River. This is a pretty typical early-Fall day in Skagway.
The Skagway River on a rainy Fall day
Back in Skagway, there’s a great deal of work being done to expand the car storage yard.
Railroad car storage at Skagway
Back on the ground at 11:10, retired Whitepassers Carl Mulvihill and John McDermott modelled the old and the new of White Pass jackets for the group.
Retired Whitepassers Carl Mulvihill and John McDermott model the old and the new of White Pass jackets
A shot of the ticket window in the depot before heading out for lunch and a walk around town.
White Pass ticket window in Skagway
It’s End-of-the-Cruise-Season 80% Off Sale time!! Get your baubles now before they’re all gone!! :)
Sale at a Skagway jewellery store
Looking south on Broadway. The temperature hit 56°F (13C) but the dampness made it seem cooler. At the Summit, it was 41°F (5C).
September on Broadway, Skagway
Okay, just a couple more train pictures and I can move on :)
White Pass train in downtown Skagway
I took a walk out on the breakwater to get some photos of the Grand Princess. In 9 days, Cathy and I will be flying to Vancouver to board our next cruise ship, the Celebrity Solstice, to Hawaii!
The Grand Princess at Skagway
Before leaving Skagway, I walked over to the car storage area for a closer look at the yard expansion work being done.
Railroad car storage yard at Skagway
After many more miles of driving through thick fog, it was great to get back into the rain shadow of the coastal mountains, and then the Fall colours – this was shot at Dail Peak, right at the BC-Yukon border. I have a very busy week coming, but I hope to be able to make one more drive down for the peak of the colours.

I got home at about 4:00, extremely happy to have been able to spend a few hours with people who are passionate about what they do. It’s pretty impressive to see a company in the modern world that can attract not only workers, but fans, with the kind of enthusiasm and loyalty that Whitepassers have. I’m proud to be one of them – my RailsNorth site has now been running for 17 years (and some day soon I need to take an inventory of the material in the White Pass part of my collection) :)

Posted in Railroads, Trains | 6 Comments